We made sure to make an early start because we had to have our rental car back to the airport before noon if we wanted to avoid being charged for an additional day. The estimated time from Ávila to the Madrid-Barajas International airport was just an hour and a half, but we are known to some as the ‘crack-of-noon-ers’, and heading out into the world as early as 9:00am was unusual for us. We enjoy our lazy mornings, dawdling over breakfast, checking the internet for email and reading newspapers online.
However, when pressed, we can meet tight timelines with the best travellers anywhere. It was a beautiful morning and the sun was shining on the massive walls of the fortified city. It really is a sight to behold. I especially enjoyed it because I had been disappointed the previous night when I learned that due to the recession, the city no longer lights up the walls at night. I had been looking forward to comparing the beauty of the floodlit walls with those we had seen in Jaisalmer, India.
Everything went smoothly as we approached Madrid and I took the correct exit to merge onto the M-30 from the A-6, these routes didn’t mean anything to us, but we followed the directions as outlined in Google maps. If we had made plans to go straight to the airport to drop off the car, we would have had few problems, but we had decided that we wanted to leave our luggage at the hotel first so that we wouldn’t have to take it on the metro or the bus. This seemed to make the most sense. Besides, we planned to travel to the airport on the metro to pick up Adia in two days time, and this way we would be familiar with the route back and forth.
We found our hotel with little difficulty, but as time was tight and it was still early, we asked the receptionist to store our luggage in her office and we ran back to the car and raced to the airport. The one thing we hadn’t anticipated was the fact that there are four terminals at the airport and we didn’t know if we had to return the car at a certain terminal; it didn’t make sense to us that they would have rental desks at all four. As we approached the airport, we had to make a guess and I turned into Terminal Two. We made the loop through and departures zone and could see no signs for car drop-offs. Of course, it stands to reason that it would be at Terminal One, the first terminal built, so we headed out and tried to get to the terminal but missed the exit, as it wasn’t clearly marked.
The only reason I am going into this amount of detail, is that it was the beginning of our horror story with Madrid traffic signs. Over the course of the next ten days, we would have frequent and lasting frustrations with the crazy way in which Madrid drivers are forced to navigate the highways of their sprawling city. I’m not much for GPS devices in cars, but by the end of our driving in and around Madrid, I was considering laying my visa card on the line.
While struggling to get to Terminal One, I ended up taking a turn that put us on a toll road leading to the new Terminal Four. To add insult to injury, there was no way to avoid paying the hefty toll for the privilege of seeing the modern architecture of the new massive structure. We were pleased to find that we could drop off the car there, and that there was a municipal bus that would take us all the way to Avenue of the Americas, not far from our hotel. We were so stressed by the whole experience, that we decided to walk from where the airport bus dropped us and by the time we reached our hotel, we were relaxed ready to explore this outlying part of Madrid. We even managed to spot an interesting restaurant along the way, one that we returned to the following day for a great ‘Menu del Dia’.
While we were waiting for our meal to arrive, I noticed that the requisite bottles of olive oil and vinegar on the table were uniquely designed. The top of one bottle fit into the bottom of the other bottle so that they could be stacked and take up less space on the table. I took out my camera and snapped a photo to share with you. I was so fascinated with the bottle design that it never occurred to me that the bottles were labeled with an “A” and a “V”. The “A” stands for ‘aioli’ and the “V” for ‘vinegar’, but it was my friend Alaka Kembhavi who pointed out to me that the letters also stand for ‘Anil’ and ‘Vicki’. He He!
We had a great lunch, a dish that I will try and replicate once we are back in Canada and I have to resume cooking some of our meals. We had a baked eggplant that had the flesh removed and the shell was filled with ground meat in tomato sauce. The flesh was cut in strips, arranged on top of the filling and topped with grated cheese before the whole creation was baked a second time in order for the cheese to melt. Yum! It was so appetizing that I started eating right away and half the dish was gone before it even occurred to me to take a photo to show you how delicious it looked. I had already put my camera away; I must have been pretty hungry.
We had a day and a half to relax and for me to work on this journal before Adia arrived to join us. She had travelled from Victoria to visit her cousin Puneet and his family in New York and now was coming to spend our last 10 days in Spain with us. We made plans to show her some of the sights of Madrid while she got over her jetlag and then we would rent a car for a week and make day trips to several cities within driving distance of the capital. We wanted to show her Toledo (my favorite city in Spain), as well as Salamanca, Segovia, Cuenca and hopefully we would also get a chance to see some of the iconic windmills that inspired Cervantes to write ’Don Quixote’.
Adia arrived as scheduled and we had a joyous reunion at the airport. We had last seen her when we bid her farewell at the airport in Colombo, Sri Lanka. It seemed like it had been longer than four months since we parted, we had packed so much into our travels during the intervening weeks. Adia slept for most of the afternoon, but we were delighted to find that she was ready to hit the streets of downtown Madrid in the evening so we set off for the metro to show her the sights. The city is one that never seems to sleep and the streets were alive with ‘Madridlenos’ out enjoying the warm spring evening air.
We walked through many of the familiar streets we had explored the previous September when we first visited Madrid with my sister Donna. We showed Adia the 6th floor apartment where we had stayed, we pointed out some of the places where we had eaten and then we headed to the Plaza Major to locate a restaurant where we had eaten one of our last meals with Donna before she returned to Canada. The bar food was plentiful if a little greasy, but we felt we had to start Adia’s visit off with glasses of sangria, after all, this is her first visit to Spain.
For the following three days, we spent our time showing Adia Madrid’s beautiful architecture. I was surprised at how much less astonished she was compared to our reaction when we first arrived, but then I remembered that this wasn’t her first time in Europe. She has seen some stunning buildings in France and the Czech Republic in the past so she was less an astonished tourist than we were when we arrived. However, she did appreciate the energy of the city, the ease of getting around and she especially enjoyed the Rastro Flea Market on Sunday afternoon.
She also liked our plan to rent a car for a week and for the next several days, we alternated a day in Madrid visiting the magnificent art galleries with a day trip outside to visit the cities I have mentioned above. This meant we wouldn’t be spending all our time in a car, but it meant we wouldn’t be spending all our time on our feet either. There’s so much to see and do, it was important to pace ourselves and not wear ourselves out trying to see and do too much. In the next several entries, you will hear about how we explored some of the most beautiful cities in Spain and how we enjoyed our last week in Spain in the company of our relaxed and delightful daughter. Could there be any better way to end off our fourth year of retirement travels?