18th May – Saturday
We are up early so we can talk to Hayden and Honey-Rose before we leave, it is good to have a chat, even though we are still half asleep after another crappy night in uncomfortable beds.
We are gone soon after 9am, and as we leave Cynthea spots a coffee machine hiding in the dark under the stairs! We walk to the train station, and as we arrive the train leaves. We probably could have gotten away with not buying tickets because the gates are open again. Tony stood close to one of them to get a better look at the departure board, and that gate opened to let him through as well. He briefly thought to hell with buying a ticket at all, but thought better of it. There is a good 20 minutes to the next train, if it is running, and with our luck it will probably go bad if he doesn’t. We buy the tickets, but don’t bother putting them through the reader at the gate. Down on the platform there is no indicator where to wait for the train, or what side of the platform to wait on. Tony spots a sign that says “average distance” and figures that this is the half way point of the platform. He figures wrong, the sign is repeated all the way down the platform. Go figure… we sure as hell couldn’t work it out. We hear the train coming, but it is still anyone’s guess what side it will arrive on, or how far along it will stop. As the train appears round the bend the sign on platform three lights up, a bit bloody late telling us now, we think. We dash over to that side and try to guess where it will stop. We have to run a bit because we guessed wrong, it stopped at the beginning of the platform, well before where we were standing.
It is only one stop to the main station. Tony tells Cynthea to wait and look after the bags while he goes to check where the bus leaves from. It is not where we were told the other day, but at least now he knows where to go to find out. Well, no, he doesn’t. That is for the local buses into town, and he is needing the intercity ones, two floors down she says. Tony ends up in the parking building. He goes up to level 2, and there is the bus depot, all 40 stops, it goes forever. And our bus, according to the board, (for now), will be on number 37, waaaay at the far end.
For the huge size of this station there is sweet bugger all in the way of services. We look for a cafeteria at the train station end, but nothing. We figure it must be outside, so decide not to bother. With luck there will be something downstairs at the buses. We go to one of the waiting rooms and Tony heads off in search of coffee, most of the shops are closed, and there is only a vending machine. He gives up and heads back to Cynthea, then spots a café hidden back a bit from the concourse. You would think these people would want to advertise once in a while. He gets a coffee to go and heads back to Cynthea and fruit for breakfast.
We are told we have to check in 20 minutes before departure, but there is no where to do so. There is also an instruction on the mobile ticket to print it off. We just have to hope it will be ok, we didn’t have to print tickets off for this company before. The bus arrives from Barcelona, and we put out bags in the luggage compartment. Tony’s cabin bag will not be able to go inside with him as the bus is full, so he reluctantly leaves it with the other bags underneath. A bit of a worry, it has the laptop in it, and there is always a free for all getting bags at the other end, so he will just have to be quick and get to it first.
All the bells and whistles on this trip, screens on the seat backs that are connected to the internet (free), free movies, and a route map showing where we are on the journey. There is free wifi too, but the password for that is at the front of the bus where we cannot see it. Not that it matters, because we both have data now.
The trip takes 4 hours, and is nice enough. It was difficult not to nod off on the journey. There were lots of wind farms on the way. We have one stop for coffee and to empty the tanks, and we are in Madrid by around 3pm. Cost from Zaragoza is €42. It is a steep narrow tunnel into the bus depot, not really built for buses this size. The metro is up a couple of levels (no lifts again, but there is an escalator). Finding the metro is easy enough, but working out what to do to buy a ticket is not. It seems that we need a transport card here, you cannot buy a one-off ticket. The card costs €2.50, about $4, and can be reloaded. The upside is that, as it was in Barcelona, you can share the card between people. Tony buys a 10-trip ticket for €15 ($26).
The hostel is a short walk, all downhill. Lots of narrow lanes but it is easy enough to find. We have another nice place to stay. Large lounge area at reception, and through to the living area is a common room with tv, an outdoor area, and the kitchen. Only a small cooking area (one cooktop, so there is a bit of a wait at times), microwave, tea and coffee facilities (yay), and a bar – five Heinekins for €6, we hope it is not a party place. Plenty of power points here too. Our room is on the second floor, eight beds with an ensuite, and power points and reading lights at each bed. The room is full, five students from Estonia, and a Canadian in there with us. €79 for two nights, expensive because it is the weekend. We will see how things go tonight before deciding if we are staying an extra night here. Plenty of activities on offer here.
We are too late for the 5pm walking tour, it looks to be a long way in to town to get to the start (we later find that there is a misprint on the map, and it is only 10 minutes walk to get there, if we had gone we would have followed the map, taken the metro, and probably ended up I the wrong place, depending on which of the instructions we followed. We head out for a look around the area, Tony finds an Irish bar! And there is a Tim Horton’s coffee shop too. We find a supermarket, and have fun trying to shop. We get fruit, bread, milk… well we thought it was milk. Tony thinks he has started a new trend, replace milk in your coffee with yoghurt! Oops. Hahaha. We went for a convenient wee size carton of milk, one that that has a screw on cap. Just what we need. Get back and open it, and it is very thick... turn the box around, and there is a wee picture of a bowl of yoghurt and fruit, hahaha. Note to self: learn the Spanish name for yoghurt and not rely on pictures of cows on the box. As for the taste... well it isn't really a winner, but Tony was lucky that it was unflavoured, so will go with what I have got for now.
We had a late tea, and see that Sangria is provided at 9pm, it is after that, and we think that maybe it isn’t happening, but they are running to Spanish time! Juan Carlos arrives with Sangria, there is only three of us there to drink it. He says it is ours to drink now or keep… Keep? Pfft!
19th May – Sunday
We join the morning walking tour, it is set to take about 3 hours with break. We are surprised at how small the centre of the city is, it is very easy to get around, and we think we probably didn’t need a 10 trip metro ticket, however we have to leave so will be using the ticket for that.
We have a wonderful walk around town, finishing around 2.30pm by the museum. We start at Sol Square, the centre of Madrid, and of Spain. The symbol of Madrid is a bear eating fruit from a “strawberry” tree, they are not strawberries, but taste like them. There is a statue of the bear and a tree in the square, the bear has a shiny foot, and a shiny tail, where people have been touching it for luck. The place is packed with locals and tourists, and there are several characters about enticing money from the parents of young children. Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Pooh, Peppa Pig and a few others are walking around giving balloon animals to young kids, and then asking for the parents to pay for what their children “bought”. Scamming pricks. The parents pay up or risk a tantrum. There are a few women walking around with sprigs of rosemary, and anyone who accepts it is asked for money. Some give a very small amount, and one who only gave a few cents gets spat at (luckily not on). We also see a lot of people dressed up at “statues”, one had a chess board in front of him and someone sat down to play with the chess board… he got a fright when the guy moved, haha.
The kings palace is enormous! We are brought into one area of it, and cannot see how big it really is, and Nicole ask how many rooms we think the building has. 200 – 300 are rough guesses, she said there are many. Tony says 620, but he is still out with his guess. There are 3400 rooms. Why would anyone need that many. We are told that the palace before this was not liked by the king, and he demanded a new one be built, however his demands were refused. One Christmas there was a suspicious fire, the family traditionally spent Christmas there, but this year they went away. And there was the fortunate removal of priceless artefacts from the Palace just days before the fire. Oh, and it took four days to put out… hmmm. Luckily the King had plans already draw up for a replacement building, but karma kicked in and he died before his dream was completed.
We went to the impressive Cathedral, though it is hard to be impressed these days as we are suffering a bit of A.B.C. (another bloody cathedral/church/castle). We are told that a few hundred years ago the locals were being invaded, so they hid their precious statute of Mary inside the Cathedral walls. 300 years later they decided it was safe to recover her, but no one knew where she was by then. So they prayed for 9 days and nights, and suddenly the wall of the cathedral crack at the exact spot where the statue was hidden. And when they looked through the crack there was the statue, holding two candles, still burning from when she was hidden away all that time ago. Yeah, right. We go into the cathedral, and there is a service in progress. The music and singing is wonderful, but we feel like we are intruding, so do not stay long.
We head for the park across the bridge – there is high opaque glass walls the length of it as there have been quite a few accidents and suicides from here, it is a long way down to the road below. Our tour takes through the narrow, steep city streets, and through a number of squares. We are taken to the world’s oldest restaurant, opened in 1725 and certified by the Guinness book of records, having operated nearly 300 years, by the same family, and having never closed it’s doors in all that time.
The tour ends around 2pm, we have walked some 6km. It was a great tour, and we pick up a few tips on what to see. We walk around the area, heading for the botanic gardens and the museum, but there is a queue for the museum, and a charge for both. We had been told that there museum is free the last two hours each day, so we decided to come back later. There is a huge park, Parque del Buen Retiro, nearby and we head in that direction, looking for a coffee shop on the way. Despite the crowds of people about, any places are closed, and passing finding the third one we go to closed, we decide that we will go to Starbucks, we know where it is, we know it will be open. It is just that we have walked up the hill to the park already, and now have to go back down. We need something to eat and drink, and aren’t going to go any further on in the hope that something ahead might be open. Cynthea wants a calamari sandwich from one of the restaurants, she had been hanging out for that since Nicole told us about them on the walking tour. Then to Starbucks for iced coffees, and a chicken sandwich for Tony.
There are queues for Africa outside the museum now that it is free, and there is no way we are waiting that long, so it is back up the hill past another impressive cathedral, San Jeronimo et Real, to Parque de El Retrio (Retirement Park), previously hunting grounds for the king. We only saw a little of this impressive 140ha (340 acres) park so close to the centre of the city. Hundreds of paths take us through this park, and it is difficult to choose which to take. We decide to head for the centre where the fountain is by the lake, and on the way our attention is taken by large Cypress trees, sculptured to look like brain sections. Really cleverly done. We visit the Crystal Palace, built of iron and glass in 1887 for the Philippines Exhibition. There is quite a queue to get in, but it moves quickly. No charge to get in to this exhibition. We are thinking it will be a green house of some sort, but instead of plants the conservatory has half a dozen white sculptures, with a warning not to touch as they are more fragile than they look. A Japanese couple have a toy ala Digby and Doug, but theirs is a “bacteria bug”. They get their photos taken together. Tony nearly trips over someone crouched down tying their shoes, but it is a statue, his shoes and any clothing for that matter, are imaginary, but the lack of clothing leaves nothing to the imagination! The lake next to it has hundreds of (probably??) terrapins either sunning in the shallow water, or up on planks that allow them to get out of the pond.
We stop in at Velázquez Palace (to look for a toilet!), there is an art exhibition on, something to do with automating the human body by the looks of it. Not really our thing, and after waiting 10 minutes in the queue for the one and only toilet, we gave up and headed for the boating lake. Here we see just how busy the park is today, heaving with people out for Sunday afternoon. After the last boating incident there is no way Tony is taking Cynthea out on the lake today, besides, there is a huge queue for the boats as it is. We spend a bit of time at the impressive monument to Alfonso XII, around 30m high and 90m long. We have done a few kilometres today, so it is time to head back. We use the metro pass, and Tony goes to the wrong station, oops, so there was a bit of extra walking involved. Our three hour walk has lasted nine hours, we covered 13 km today.
20th May – Monday
We have a quite morning catching up, and book our bus to Lisbon. We were going to take the metro when we went out, but the hostel staff said we would spend more time walking to and from the metro stations, than we would walking direct there. On the way we decide to grab something to eat and drink at the park, so we pop in to a supermarket on the way. For €2.15 Tony gets a bacon and egg sandwich, and a can of beer. Cynthea grabs a potato fritter and a salad. Our last afternoon is spent at a park near where we are staying, and a cable car (€6each for a return ticket) takes us from Parque Oeste, in central Madrid, to Casa de Campo, the capital’s largest park. The distance is 2.5 km, taking eleven minutes to get from one station to the other, rising no more than 40 meters above ground level. We have great views of the city’s landmarks like Almudena Cathedral and the Royal Palace of Madrid. The whole set up is showing its’ age (built 1969). The terminal at the park end is huge, but run down and mostly empty. The top level has a huge cafeteria, there are notices up apologising for the renovations, but the signs look like they have been there a while, and there is no sign of any work being done. The park itself is pretty dusty looking from lack of rain. There are trails galore for people, but here is a distinct lack of infrastructure to support it, and a huge contrast to other attractions. The few maps are so faded they are illegible, and even the panoramic pictures pointing out city highlights are out of date, and faded beyond usefulness.
Tony goes for a wander along the trails in search of the lake, but lack of information hampers things, so he heads back to Cynthea and they spend time on the park benches in the sun. There are a few people about, but for a warm late afternoon there are not as many as we would have expected. There is a bit of bird life, and a more than a few rabbits, but generally speaking not a lot here. We can see a roller coaster some distance away, but it looks closed (and found out later it is not open every day).
We head back to the city and visit the rose gardens. It was a huge garden, but unkept. They had installed a sculpture display in the garden, but the condition of the roses themselves was poor. Old blooms had not been dead-headed, and there appeared to be diseased leaves on some plants. We were delighted to see many of Sam McGredys’ roses.
We call in at the supermarket to get some supplies for tomorrow’s bus ride, and just happen to turn into the main street at the place where there is a Tim Hortons. So we called in for an iced coffee and latte. Then as we headed back to the hotel Tony turned the corner too soon, and walked into the Irish bar. Oh dear, better have a Guinness then. €10 for two pints (they need lessons on how topour though!), and was served with tapas. Won’t need much tea tonight, haha.
Back at the hostel we are on our bunks having a rest before tea. Cynthea is lying on hers, while Tony is sitting at the end of his, with his feet over the edge, talking. Next minute there is a loud crack, and Tony disappears. #fatarse ? He is doubled up, feet in the air, arse planted firmly on the bunk below. A bit stunned from whacking his head on the wall as he went down, and trapped by the mattress on one side. After checking he is alright, Cynthea takes photos! On investigating it was found that slats were missing from the end of the bunk, and there was only one in place where there should have been three. Tony is surprised that the bloody thing didn’t break sooner, especially as it is at the end where the ladder is. If it had broken while he was getting into the bunk it would have been a lot worse, he probably would have taken a header and done some real damage.