By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Mar 08, 2008 at 11:26 AM

MADRID -- It took 10 days and three countries (four, if you count the airport in Amsterdam), but this morning, we ran into our first Wisconsinite, a guy named Ben from outside Wausau.

On our last full day in Europe, we grabbed a light breakfast (as are all breakfasts around here) at a café near our hotel. Velia heard a dude, speaking in heavily American accented Spanish, telling the clerk that he's from north of Chicago. Anyone who's traveled outside the United States knows that's code for Wisconsin, and Ben told us he's an exchange student from UW-La Crosse. How about that.

Let's pick up where we left off in the previous blog by flashing back to last night. After our siesta, we headed back to Plaza Mayor and had dinner and drinks at one of the "mesones," a 400-year-old cave-like restaurant that's a local favorite for cheap dates. We wandered around the area a bit after dinner, watching the city come alive as it approached 11 p.m.

Today marked our final real day in Madrid, and we made sure not to run ourselves too ragged, as we're leaving for the airport at 4 a.m. tomorrow.

We began with a walk through Gran Via to Chueca, which is beginning its gentrification and is a little a Spanish Walker's Point (gay-friendly, full of boutiques and becoming more mainstream).

Next, we picked up some empanadas at a little restaurant and walked into the beautiful Retiro Park. This 300-acre green space is Madrid's answer to Central Park, but far more placid. Felipe IV had the park built in 1635 and it opened to the public in the mid-18th century. More recently, the city built an artificial rectangular lake, and locals and tourists alike rent small boats and toodle around.

The park really represents the easy-going side of Madrid, which contrasts the hustle and bustle during work hours. I read another surly Talkbacker who chided a previous blog in which I mistakenly said "metropolitan" instead of "cosmopolitan." Sorry about that: the word I was searching for was definitely cosmopolitan ... these locals know how to work hard and play hard. Again, I really like their style. In many ways, I prefer Madrid to Paris and Munich.

We spent a good two hours in the park, as today marked the first day in which the weather passed 60 degrees. We strolled, lounged and soaked up the scene, eventually heading back to Puerta del Sol for a final strategic souvenir shopping strike.

Now, we're packing, getting ready to post this blog and preparing for a very early evening. Tomorrow will be an 18-hour travel day, and I expect it to be grueling.

So, before I sign off, a few final random observations about our exceptionally educational, enlightening and fairly exhausting tour around Europe:

In the Chueca neighborhood, we walked past an ironic t-shirt store. Anyone who knows me also knows how much I enjoy ironic and/or inappropriate t-shirts. But one on the wall pissed me off: it depicted Osama Bin Laden wearing a T-shirt that said, "I Love New York." I can't imagine who'd buy that shirt, especially in Spain, where the people here are still smarting from a subway terrorist attack in 2004.

Scooters and dogs are omnipresent, though unlike France, people don't bring their pooches into subways or in the metro. Scooters, however, seem like a great way to get around, and I'm pledging right now to ride mine more this spring and summer. Of course, I'll have to, since the BMW won't arrive in Milwaukee for six to eight weeks, and the lease on our Saab ends on Monday. It's either carpooling with my wife, riding the scooter, or driving the '75 MGB convertible until the BMW gets here. All three options are less than ideal in March, but I made my bed ...

Finally, the people of Madrid look a lot like people we'd see around Milwaukee, with two exceptions: far fewer blondes, and far fewer overweight people. The latter is unbelievable, considering how much ham and bread they eat. I don't get it. And one last observation on that note: chatches look the same in Europe as they do in Milwaukee. If I had a Euro for every popped collar, tight jeans, white belt and white shoes, mirrored sunglasses and faux hawk ... well, I wouldn't be complaining about the poor exchange rate.

Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.