Ah, the last major blog post of vacation. This is always a tough one, mainly because one’s mind starts to focus on going home, going back to work, going back to reality, etc., and also, one is dead-ass tired from so much backing-and-forthing, here and there, everywhere.
All that said, I am determined not to let our trip to Madrid go un-blogged! That happened to me last year when we went to Cardiff—probably the best day we had spent in the entire six weeks—and I didn’t have one ounce of energy left to write it up, choose pictures, upload the pictures, edit the blog, do all the hyperlinks, etc. etc. I have often thought about going back to that day in Cardiff and writing the blog post anyway, but hey, even I’m not that mental.
But … Madrid! Olé!
We had an early 8:25am flight time, and luckily for us, J’s mum drove us to Stansted Airport, which is about an hour away from Harrow. It was an early rise, for sure, and we were out the door around 6am. The only good thing about leaving that early is the lack of traffic, which is never a bad thing when in London.
Once more, we were treated to the finest in No Frills Flying with the illustrious Ryanair. Now, really, with what other so-called airlines are offering (nothing, or less than nothing) at outrageous prices, I’m starting to think that the No Frills way (hey, at least it’s honest) is the way to go. The flight was on time, smooth, and about ¾ full. Perfect.
We arrived at Madrid’s Barajas airport around 11:30am, and very quickly, we were on the Metro, which couldn’t be easier to navigate. There are only 12 lines, all numbered 1-12 and colour-coded. It’s almost impossible to get lost. Also, we both noticed immediately how very civilized (i.e., quiet, spacious, spread out, timely) the Metro is. Compared to London’s tube, it’s downright quiet! Sure, it does get busy on a Friday night and during rush hours, but that’s a given for any subway system. Overall, though, for a major metropolis, it’s remarkable how well the Metro works.
Again, our Super Sleuth Advanced Planning and Logistics Team (J & J Enterprises, Inc.) had it all sussed out ahead of time, so of course, we were centrally and conveniently located at the Hotel Charmartin, which of course is right at the Charmartin Metro station! So, a few stops, and we were there. And, a few steps later, we were escalating up above ground and checking in.
Right before we walked in the door, we looked to our right and saw four gigantic skyscrapers, one of which (the one on the far left) looks like a giant flash drive! Right? It even has a hook on the top for a key ring! Heh.
Anyhoooooo … this hotel was different from the one in Salzburg in that it is more of an inner-city, business hotel (meeting rooms, etc.) with no real boutique charm to speak of. But, we knew that going in. We chose it for its central location, attachment to the Metro, free breakfast (!), and price. Now, we could have picked a hotel more central to Downtown or Old Madrid, but really, we are talking about a few stations away, and at night, Downtown/Old Town is pretty whack-a-doodle crazy, as the Spaniards, they are a … ummmmmm … lively bunch.
Now, our room was just as simplistic as any other budget-y European hotel—maybe even more so. Case in point? Save for the bathroom, there were no power outlets in the room! Oh, wait. There was that one outlet. Behind the TV. That can’t be accessed because the TV—that is bolted to the credenza—blocks access. Oh, I suppose one of the Wizard of Oz’s very best Lollipop Guild members could have slid a finger back there, but both J and I tried several times (and I’m practically half Munchkin!). After about 10 mins of that crap, we decided we could do everything we needed to do with the one outlet in the bathroom. Well, that lasted a few hours, and finally, I decided that charging the computer in the bathroom, on a wet counter, wasn’t a wise idea. I mean, I know I have only half a PhD, but even I could cleverly work that one out. So, I asked about the Mystery Spanish Power Outlets (Olé!) at the front desk, and as nonchalantly as you can imagine, the front desk dude says, “Oh, there’s one behind the TV,” to which I replied, “Yes, I know that, but you can’t actually get at it because the TV is right against the wall blocking access.” He looked at me with his fiery flamenco eyes, and said, “Hmmmm. I’ll send up an extension to plug in then!” I’m also pretty sure he threw in a “Pfffft” and “Arriba! Arriba!” as well. Now, silly us, when he said he’d send up an extension cord, we foolishly thought this would also involve, you know … PLUGGING IT IN. Jaysus! When we returned to our room later that night, yes, it was there, with four nifty outlets. Neat. Only … still no card carrying member of the Lollipop Guild. So, there was J, down on his hands and knees, arm strainingly stretched out to full length behind the TV, with just the 1.5 fingers he could actually extend, trying like hell to get this thing plugged in … fumbling around blind! Of course … again, stupid us … we just weren’t smart enough to realize that the holes in this particular wall, in this particular outlet, would be, for some reason, unlike every single other outlet in Spain, turned sideways! Sigh. Somehow, J the Wonder Handyman did resolve it, and lo and behold, he somehow got the prongs in, and power was upon the land! And it was good.
The room was pretty basic (no, really?). Our Advanced Research Team had alerted us to the small size of beds in Madrid, so we opted for the Ricky and Lucy Ricardo Special twin beds. We were tickled to end up with a toilet and a bidet (of course, this begged a rehearsal of the bidet scene from Crocodile Dundee, heh). Once more, the so-called ‘hairdryer’ was more akin to a 1980s Eletrolux, but hey, that wasn’t nearly as catastrophic as the other realization that came upon me as I entered the bathroom for my routine inspection: I had left my hairbrush back in London! Well, given the 28c we were expecting for the next 3-4 days, this was going to make for either a very interesting Hairdo Epic Fail, or perhaps the best hair day known to mankind. *shrug*
Once I recovered from that massive shock, we decided to take off and explore. Given our central Metro location, this was as easy as a quick ride to the Sol station from Charmartin. Puerto del Sol ("puerto" = port) is perhaps Madrid’s most central plaza. Oh, and let’s just establish right now that navigating Madrid—especially Central Madrid—is really about just accepting that every turn means another plaza, and every plaza has about 6 or 8 streets that branch out from the plaza, each ending in another plaza, another 6 or 8 streets … another 6 or 8 plazas … you get the picture. After a while, you stop trying to precisely map your way and just go with the flow, which for J & J Enterprises, Inc., is a major paradigm shift in thinking. Luckily, I had Magellan with me, and dude has some seriously mad navigation skillz.
So, up we came above ground at Puerto del Sol, in the neighbourhood by the same name, and what greeted us, but a peppy mariachi band! No joke. Immediately, we were sweating like hookers in church. We agreed that there is undoubtedly a different sun beating down on Spain than the one that heats either Vancouver or London. Seriously, 28c in Vancouver is not the same as the 28c we were in!
From the Puerto del Sol, we started off, and from here, I think it’s best if I introduce each section of our trek with a short preface, followed by a series of photos that exemplify that section. It’s simply impossible to keep track of every plaza, every garden, every building, every church. Madrid is a constantly brimming maze of history, architecture, people, flora, fauna, you name it. Unlike Salzburg, where we were treated to alternating vistas both high and low, in Madrid, you are almost always surrounded by structure. Madrid is Europe's highest capital city, but most of that height above sea level is occupied by lowlands and city. Also like Salzburg, the photos really don’t do it justice. But, here we go anyway.
This first trek took us from Sol, up to Plaza del Callo, to the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales ("real" = royal), one of the ‘Top 10’ places to visit in Madrid, at least according to our nifty guidebook. While I ran around taking pictures of the monastery and the adjacent Plaza de San Martin, J hung with the locals, heh.
From there, we were on to Plaza de Isabel II, in the Centro neighbourhood, another massive plaza, bordered on one side by the Teatro Real (Royal Theatre), which then leads to a truly magnificent plaza among magnificent plazas, Plaza de Oriente. The Plaza de Oriente is essentially a huge gardened square, with nothing less than the Palacio Real (Royal Palace) bordering its western edge (of course, the palace is another 'Top 10' Must See). We spent quite a bit of time there, exploring the gardens (including yet another walkable maze!), statues, and palace. The palace itself is very much like Buckingham Palace in its size and structure, but it’s decidedly more open, with no major fencing/gates, at least along the Plaza del Oriente side.
A walk along the palace’s boardwalk takes you to the Plaza de Armas and then to the Catedral de la Amudena, perhaps Madrid’s biggest and most important cathedral.
From there, we were on to one of Madrid’s major park areas, Campo del Moro (campo = “park”), which also happens to be the royal gardens. We didn’t know that it's fenced off and thus not accessible to the public, so instead we walked its southern perimeter, found a comfy bench (and a cute dog!), and took in a few games of Spanish bocci (I know that’s Italian, but I don’t know what Spanish bocci is called!). Then, a wee bit more rested, we headed just a few steps across the street to the Manzanares River, Madrid’s major riverway, although that’s not saying much, as apparently even the locals treat it as a kind of joke. It’s quite tiny, narrow, and shallow, and this is probably Contributor #1 to Madrid’s ongoing water problems.
It really was a lovely evening, as once again, the setting sun and twilight were on our side, photo-wise. In the distance, we got new views of the palace and cathedral, and along the river’s edge were plenty of bridges, walkways, more statues, and lots of locals out for their evening stroll.
After a leisurely walk, we finally made our way back up to the main street—and an amazing Arc de Triumphe-esque archway roundabout—and the Principe Pio Metro station, which is attached to the large Estacion del Norte (Estacion = “station”), one of Madrid's oldest and most historic buildings. From there, it was only 15 mins back to Charmartin and a much needed good night’s sleep (after wrestling with the power cord, mind you)! Night!