Tuesday, September 29, 2009

settling into Madrid

Madrid day 1

It was a *very* early departure from Portland Monday morning, and a quick 5 hours to JFK, where we had a 2 hour layover.

While hanging around by the gate, we amazingly ran into a couple of guys that we had met and actually had spent quite a bit of time with last December in Oaxaca. They were enroute to their Seattle home, after a vacation in Greece. We all agreed that it was a very odd coincidence.

The flight to Madrid left pretty much on time, and it was completely full of mostly-young Spaniards - very little English was audible in the hubbub. It was an 8 hour flight, and sleep wasn't happening, due to the movies, chatter, announcements, cramped seats, and frequent interruptions for dinner, drinks, and snacks. Travel fatigue was setting in.

When we landed in Madrid just after 7 am (Tuesday), it was still pretty dark, and we had been largely sleepless for a long time. Customs was a breeze, our bags showed up quickly, and it was easy to find the shuttle service I had reserved, to take us to our hostal, which I had reserved many months ago, thanks to recommendations from Rick Steves and TripAdvisor.


The hostal building and the one next door are both under rennovation, with workmen plastering and banging away. Our room was teeny, airless (one very small window, which had to be closed to keep construction dust out) and very noisy, with a bathroom that gave new meaning to the word 'cramped'. We were tired and dirty, but the WiFi was great, so we got caught up on email, and showered, and headed over to the Prado, a very short walk away.

I had purchased tickets in advance, and we waltzed right in without any delay whatsoever. We headed to the Cafe, and ate a couple of little sandwiches, before attempting to deal with the amazing art collection.

We spent over 3 hours, before burnout hit big time, even though we took it easy, stopping for soda and espresso halfway thru. Highlights included the 'Garden of Earthly delights' and other Bosch works, Albrecht Durur, Velasquez, Reubens, Goya, and a zillion other european masterpieces. It's not my favorite stuff, but pretty darn impressive, despite the crowds. The galleries go on and on and on.

By the time we agreed to leave the Prado, exhaustion was with us. Still, we didn't want to give in and sleep too early, so we set off walking. It was overcast and mild, and the streets were busy with walkers (tourists and locals) and construction zones.

We hit a couple of the big plazas, and even walked thru the 'Museum of Ham' restaurant in the Puerta del Sol (hundreds of hams on display, for the obvious eating pleasure of the masses). We ended up taking a break at an outdoor cafe in the Plaza del Angel, before returning, with dread, to the ominous Hostal Cervantes.

The workmen and the dust were still going strong, and, even though we were REALLY tired, we had to make a change. The owner said that there were no other rooms that were better, and the workmen's schedule was going to be 8 am thru about 2, then again from 5 pm to 8 pm every day. It was really intolerable - the place was just not going to work.

He said his brother ran another hostal 'just around the corner'. He called and they spoke for a minute. He said there was a room that would be better and gave us directions. We hastily repacked everything that we had previously unpacked, paid him 25 euros for the use of his awful room for a few hours (seemed like a lot) and, feeling totally adrift, burned out and on the verge of disaster, lugged our bags down to the street and around the corner.

When we got to the address, we were dismayed to see and hear guys-with-jack-hammers actively engaged on the street directly in front. It seems that most of Madrid is under construction this week. We tried to buzz the hostal, but the hammering was so loud we couldn't hear the response.

This was the low point of the day.

Finally, we got in, and, surprisingly, found that, not only did the brother have a room facing away from the street, but it has a large window facing a lovely, peaceful garden with birds chirping, has a ceiling fan, a large bathroom with more big windows, and pretty comfortable beds, for the same price as the original place, and the helpful owner even called to arrange a ride to the airport for us, Friday morning.

We unpacked - this time for good. We had finally arrived. We were totally beat.

It was about 4:30 pm. We both snoozed for an hour. Karen is still out.

In another hour or so, we will get dressed and head out for some dinner. Life is appearing to be very good. Thank you, Hostal Armesto.

Thanks for Skyping, Steve. Now you know 'the rest of the story'.

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