Obviously a posting that is out of date, so forgive the incorrect tenses.
We have left our lovely compact home on wheels, full of all our nice things of the kind that make travel easy, and leaped blind into jaunting about in countries where we don’t know the language fully pledged to that sharing economy you’ve read all about.
We arrived in Madrid this morning. Why start in Madrid, you ask? Since our travel dates started mid March, we were looking for someplace warmish, cheapish, and easyish. Generally speaking, we were incorrect on all three points but you have to start somewhere.
The previous 10 days were spent in Texas at my mother’s house initially trying to decide if the Eurail Pass was the way to go, or should we book all train travel ourselves? After three days at the library wandering decision-less through travel sites, we decided to trust The Man in Seat 61 that we could book train, bus, ferry, and plane ourselves. Gone are the days of the trusty pass that got you everywhere you wanted to go allowing you to be blindly unorganized, usually hung over, and never fearful of extra costs. Now mandatory reservation fees are tacked on, planes are incredibly cheap (apparently, I’ll check back in once we actually use one of these legendary cheap flights of which they speak), ferries are no longer covered 100%, and buses, metros, taxies and Great Britain are not, of course, covered at all. And this is after shelling out $4600+ for the Family pass (two adults, one Under 10 (discounted since we were always traveling together) and one separate Youth pass for the 13 yr old (she didn’t show up on the drop down menu so she didn’t get to be part of the ol’ discounted family price). Gripping information, I know, but we couldn’t find anyone who was doling out blog wisdom that covered a family of four, traveling for an extended time (4 months), in Europe. Probably because its soooo expensive and all the smart nomadic families go to Asia.
Gone too is the hostel option, for good or evil. Its sad, and probably obvious, to say that neither Simon nor myself have adventure-travelled since those heady late teen/early 20’s years. If you are a single person, hostels are probably still a great way to do it. As a family of four, $25 dollars each gives us a luxurious budget to find an Airbnb place in the historic quarter (my personal preference when staying in a city) possibly even giving us two bedrooms, and certainly a kitchen dubiously kitted out. As I write, our petite flat with two bedrooms, three beds, and tiny balcony overlooking a cobbled sidewalk cost us $98/night after cleaning fees and all the yada yada. This was more than I shelled out in the following bookings, but Madrid wasn’t dirt cheap, and I thought that the girlies would appreciate a bed of their own for a few nights after 8 months sharing one in the RV.
Arriving with trusty guide book on kindle, we sought our way out of the airport and into the bright world un-caffeinated but wide awake with adrenaline. Our guide is the quite dorky but surprisingly dryly humorous Rick Steves in book form. He gets you out of the train station and spoon feeds you the practical info you need most. So fortified, we found our bus after a ridiculously easy stamp through customs, and walked from the bus stop to the metro. It was painful, I’m sure, to watch us get stuck in the turnstiles with our luggage and be defeated by stairs but we made it onto the Metro just fine and with most of our dignity in tact. The Metro is very easy to navigate: the ticket machines have an english button, the map is standardly confusing, and the upcoming stations are announced as well as scrolled at the front of the car. I have to say, we would still be on the Metro platform without Simon. I have no sense of direction, and Metro stations are incomprehensible to me. I can read the map just fine, but getting to the appropriate platform is nothing short of a minor miracle to me. I am sure, left to my own devices, that I could eventually find my way, but it wouldn’t be without much back and forth resulting in a full and repeating tour of the station.
Madrid itself is beautiful. I wish for an apartment with tall, wooden shutters and a balcony overlooking a plaza or a narrow street.
Our first day was spent in the best way possible: taking a walking tour through the historic part of the city. Then we spent the rest of the afternoon clocking another five miles of wandering through churches, into squares and down the most narrow and empty alleys we could find. Cafe and pastries at the bar of La Mallorquina bakery was our first tourist victory; late lunch was an overpriced, not to be repeated but apparently unavoidable tourist paella in the Plaza Mayor; and the Metro was confidently navigated back home to our neighborhood square.
Some nuggets of info Rick Steves left out: milk is found unrefrigerated in the grocery aisle, the Apple store in the Puerta Del Sol is a good place to pick up wireless, and it’s a sore trial to look on all of the happy and beautiful cigarette smokers and not feel strong pangs of jealously.
We were in Madrid for 4 days and did much of the same style of visiting every day. We found the Palacio de Cristal and a beautiful installation of bones and a crucifix suspended in the conservatory. I mention it just so I can post at least one of the 300 photos I took in there.
Churches such as Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Almudena, and the attached Crypta de la S.I Catedral de Madrid were beautiful places we spent an afternoon in pondering the might of religion.