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Report 1969: Five Wonderful Weeks in Northern Spain

By caplanco from Colorado, Fall 2011

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Page 9 of 10: Madrid

photo by MEC

Entertainers shouted "Eh, Poppa!" at M

It was time for our train adventure. I’d purchased our discounted tickets online before we left Boulder, thanks to excellent information on Trip Advisor. We got up in the dark at 5:45am, schlepped all the bags down to the door and then watched on our balcony for the taxi which had been ordered for 6:45. It certainly was a different street at that hour. We only saw a couple of young people who we assumed by their staggering that they were on their way home, not just going out.

The taxi came right on time. It was pretty easy at Sants, found out which track and went through security. We were quite early as you can only board 1/2 hour before the train is scheduled to leave, 7:30 in our case. So we got café and juice and waited for access control to open for track 1. Took the elevator down, found car 7, and got all our bags on. The two small spaces near the door for heavy luggage were already taken. We found our seats and began lifting all six pieces and M’s backpack into the overhead rack. The only other people on the train were a couple sitting right across from us. He got up and helped get everything into the overhead. They were a nice couple from Brasilia, Brazil and he chatted with us for awhile. The AVE was smooth and quiet. This one made three stops along the way so it took 3 hours and 18 minutes rather than 2 hours and 45 minutes. I watched the countryside pass by.

We got to Atocha and waited until everyone got off before we started to download the bags. One man with a briefcase offered to help and walked off the train with one of M’s cases. M, fearing a thief, ran after him while I waited on the train with the rest of our bags, wondering just how long the train would stay still. M finally came back – just a helpful man, not a thief - and we unloaded the rest. The nice guy from Brazil actually came back to see if we needed more help. We finally had everything together and – guess what – no elevator. A mechanical moving ramp was the only way up, and it was a bit frightening for me as I had both hands full of baggage so nothing to hold on to while I had to get on the moving floor, which was not really wide enough to have the bags on behind me. I finally turned one of them sideways and managed to make it to the top, get off, and get on the flatter moving sidewalks.

We got a taxi and arrived at Hotel Preciados around noon. We waited in the lobby for about 1/2 hour until our room was ready. The room was nice, with a balcony facing a quiet side street. There was air conditioning, an automatic shade and a double door so it was quiet at night. Our main reason for staying two days in Madrid was to visit the museums. Fortunately both the Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Prado are open on Sunday and we’d planned to do both. We started with at the Thyssen-Bornemisza (€15 with audio guide) with a shared lunch of smoked salmon salad and a pork bocadillo in the terrace café. It’s a terrific museum and we were too tired to really do it justice. I would recommend spending at least four hours there and using the audio guide on every painting for which there is information. We quickly went through the early part of the collection (14th century religious), then savored the impressionists and enjoyed the 20th century. I had planned for us to then go to the Prado to revisit the Goyas, Grecos, and Bosch but even I had wound down too much to do anymore.

In the evening the plan was to go tapas hopping in the La Latina area, which we assumed would be like the wonderful pintxos bar areas in San Se. We got a bit lost going there and were dismayed that when we finally found the Casa Baja and Casa Alta, there were hordes of rather rowdy 20-something folks crowded at every tapas place that I had on my list. This was very different from our San Se experience, and was not pleasant. I had the name of one wine bar in the area, Taberna Matritum and when we found it, it was quiet so we stayed. Each had a glass of wine and we shared three small plates (€49.85) then we walked back to the hotel.

We spent our last day in Madrid walking through the Salamanca neighborhood. This is an upscale residential and shopping area. Very expensive shops and we enjoyed just walking around and looking in windows. We had lunch outside at Sula where we ate too much good food; we should have either shared or asked for half portions as I noticed the people at the next table had done. I had white asparagus from Navonna with artichoke hearts and “habitas” – whatever they might be – and a citrus foam, followed by a mushroom risotto. M had a plate of Iberico jamon followed by pig cheeks cooked/glazed in red wine over a sweet potato mash; shared a bottle of vino blanco (€110). We walked back through Retiro, a huge and beautiful park with fountains, formal gardens, paths, cafes, etc.

Around 9pm we walked to the Mercado de San Miguel. It is a great vibrant scene and I wish we’d gone there instead of to La Latina. There are lots of food booths, standing tables, and you can pick up a variety of food and drink and stand and eat. I was too full for anything of substance but did manage to down a chocolate mousse with chocolate sauce. M had a variety of olives with anchovies and a martini glass of aged vermouth with a fresh squeezed pina colada juice on the way out. On our walk back to the hotel we stopped to see a “troupe” doing a combined ballet and comedy on the plaza. It doesn’t matter what night, the buzz goes on and the cafes and restaurants are full.

There is an unbelievable amount of traffic in Madrid at 8am. The taxi got us to the airport in plenty of time. One perk of business class is the ability to stay in the airline lounge. The lounge in Madrid had free flowing alcohol in additional to coffee and pastries; obviously at 10am we did not take advantage of the alcohol. The flight from Madrid on United operated by Aer Lingus was smooth and easy. The On Demand system had the five hour Mildred Pierce series with Kate Winslet which kept me occupied for most of the trip. The only problem was bad coffee.

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