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About Me

Found 8 results

  1. Some people like surprises. And what could be a nicer surprise than finding out you've got an extra day on holiday? Alas, we didn't enjoy finding out about ours. Arriving at the airport, we knew that our flight was slightly delayed. No harm there. A little later, we noticed something of a commotion in front of our gate, three hours before the revised take-off time. We ignored it but a little later Clare overheard a man explaining to his wife, who was sitting next to Clare, that there was a problem and that the plane might not land. I made a point of going up to the gate to hear for myself. That's when we got confirmation. The plane was not only en route but was also on time ... and always had been. It had been circling above the airport looking for an opportunity to land. Madrid, in the centre of the desert that is Spain, was experiencing inclement weather. We'd already seen the downpour ourselves arriving at the airport. It happened that the weather was so bad that it wasn't possible to land a plane safely. The staff informed us that the plane had been diverted to Barcelona to refuel and that Head Office would later make a decision on whether it would come back afterwards. The best-case scenario was that it would arrive at 01:00 if it were allowed to return. This was no good to us personally, since we wouldn't be able to retrieve our car until 05:00 at the earliest, making it very unlikely that we'd be back at time for work, especially for Clare's early-morning work commitments, which required her to be suited and booted. The staff were trying their very best to be helpful, especially given that they didn't know anything beyond the information which they were passing back to us. They informed us that we would be given food vouchers for a restaurant, although they didn't know which ones at that moment. In spite of the total innocence of the staff in this matter, some passengers seemingly couldn't resist taking out their frustrations on them with infantile outbursts about wanting a flight rather than a food coupon. The news later came in that the flight wouldn't be returning soon from Barcelona. The latest update was that it would leave at 08:00, and that the airport would arrange overnight accommodation and food. At least, I thought that's what was being said; people seemingly couldn't stop grumbling such that those of us trying to get accurate information could clearly hear it, and the staff members were soon inundated by a queue of people all asking the same questions and getting the same answers. We waited until the end and then spoke to a staff member, who was taken aback at somebody being polite and even said 'Thank you for your kindness!' Things became a little unclear once we'd retraced our steps back to Terminal 4, 20+ minutes away, and, as instructed, had joined the chaotic customer services queue. Nothing was budging there for half an our until finally a woman told people that there was a bus outside to pick us up, and off we headed. Well, not quite all of us. There were people for whom Madrid was a connecting airport who were complaining that they couldn't retrieve their hold luggage. If they'd been listening up top, they'd have heard a gentleman informing everybody that hold luggage couldn't be returned so late at night because of security reasons. We waited at the bus stop without much happening. Business Class passengers were allowed to get on board the bus but for seemingly little benefit; they were sitting down in the dark with nothing happening whilst we were standing. Meanwhile, the sky was flashing, followed by extensive roaring and rumbling. I think we probably all felt better being on the ground than in the air! Eventually, a second bus pulled up and we were allowed to board, after which we were transferred to a hotel. We received coupons for the restaurant whilst we queued and then checked in. The lady doing so stated that there was no news on when the next flight would be but if it were early, then we'd all get wake-up calls. Otherwise, we could pop down casually after breakfast and check to see whether any information had been printed and posted. We could see some posters for a rescheduled flight to Berlin, so the process seemed easy enough. At this point, it was 00:30, with the restaurant closing at 01:00, so we didn't spend long in our room. Our first impressions were very good: There was plenty of food and we weren't slow in finishing it, so soon were back in the room ready to sleep. I woke up at around 6 and headed downstairs to see whether there was any news. The lady who had checked us in hadn't heard of anything. My phone had, though: Oh, crikey. That's a lot longer than we were expecting. Getting to work really wasn't going to be possible today. And there was the problem of our cats; they hadn't had fresh food since Monday morning, when their feeder had discharged the final of its four offerings. They were now going to go without for not only Monday evening but all of Tuesday too. I thought of a solution but it was too early to act upon it. Their regular catsitter, who visits daily when we're on longer breaks, has a key, and so I texted her as soon as I thought it possible to get away with it, which was 07:00 UK time. She's a star, who did an emergency visit and made sure they were well loaded for our return. The breakfast spread was a very generous one, although neither of us was particularly hungry having eaten dinner only a few hours before. The morning then became one of idleness, with us having nothing to do but wait for our bus, which was due at 12:00. I bought an obscenely overpriced book at the airport yesterday evening anf managed to resist the temptation to read it because I didn't want to have to spend another 20€. We got to the airport with no fuss but then hit a roadblock: our flight wasn't mentioned anywhere on the boards. A quick check with a staff member was fruitless, and she recommended we go to customer services. More queuing followed, accompanied by the frustration which always results when there's no movement and you can't understand how everybody being served could possibly need so much time. We finally got through and got some fairly uncomplicated instructions: retread yesterday's steps and at some point your flight will be on the board. This we did and thus it was, although rather unhelpfully it was yesterday's flight details and an indication that it was cancelled. We knew that we were entitled to a food voucher and so set off to find someone who could give us one. The answer to that request was initially no but magically turned to yes within minutes and, eventually, we were able to get the required paperwork. We headed off and ate a fairly standard meal. And now we're sitting near our gate. It's two and a half hours until our flight is due to leave. Let's hope we don't get another bonus day in Madrid.
  2. The weather forecast had warned that there could be storms today and sure enough, when we opened our curtains in Segovia this morning, things looked rather grey and damp. We got slightly wet on our walk from the hotel to the bus station, where we were due to catch a 10.15 bus to the town of Ávila. Ávila is only about 40 miles southwest of Segovia but the two towns aren't connected by rail, so when we were doing our research it seemed that to get to one from the other by train it was necessary to go via Madrid. There are only a handful of buses between the two towns, so we'd booked tickets in advance on the only bus which was leaving Segovia for Ávila this morning. We arrived at the bus station ready to fight our way onto the bus, but it actually turned out to not be a very popular route and the bus was almost empty I guess that's why they don't run very frequently! It's not a very long journey, and within an hour we were stepping off the bus in Ávila. I'd hoped that when we got to Ávila it would be fairly obvious in which direction the historic town centre was, but there turned out not be many signs so we walked in the wrong direction initially and had to resort to Google Maps to get back on track. We knew we were finally in the right place when we got our first glimpse of the town walls. Ávila is a world heritage site, because it has a complete set of medieval town walls, built between the 11th and 14th centuries. It's also home to a lot of beautiful churches, including the basilica of San Vicente. The walls looked incredible and reminded me a little bit of Carcassonne. I knew it was possible to walk around about half of the walls, but initially we struggled to find the way in. Eventually we located the tourist information office, where we picked up a map. There were also some impressive models there, both of the walls... ...and the cathedral. We realised that the walls are illuminated at night as well, which must be spectacular to see. Maybe on a future holiday we'll have to come and stay overnight in Ávila! With the help of the map, we walked alongside the walls for a while and managed to find the ticket office. It only cost €5 each to get in. The entrance to the walls was close to the cathedral and once we'd climbed up into the open we had some amazing views of it The cathedral was built partly as a fortress and its apse forms one of the turrets in the walls. Our route led away from the cathedral and we could soon see down towards the basilica. Once you were up on the walls the path was pretty flat, but every so often there were little staircases you could climb up for better views. They were usually worth the effort! We could see for a long way out over the countryside... ...and towards a rather strangely shaped church in the distance. There were other people on the walls, but it was nowhere near as busy as walking around the walls of Dubrovnik! I guess it helps that Ávila is a long way from the sea We were able to walk for about an hour before the accessible part of the walls came to an end. In the distance we could see the walls continuing around the far side of the town. If you were able to walk the entire way round I think it would be several miles! I'd expected Ávila to be quite small, but the town within the walls is actually pretty large. Eventually we'd got as far as we could go and it was time to climb down. We walked along some pretty streets in the old town... ...before coming to a square where there were several restaurants. We chose one which had a menu of the day for €14. This include a starter, main course and pudding, as well as bread and a glass of wine. I had pasta bolognese as my starter, while Tim chose a caesar salad. For the main course, Tim had croquetas caseras, which seemed to consist of melted cheese with potato, while I had fingers de pollo, which were like chicken goujons. Pudding was chocolate mousse. The consistency was a bit like Angel Delight which has been made with too much milk to set, but it actually tasted really nice It was a lovely meal and seemed like really good value for the amount of food we had! Once we'd finished eating, it was time to head in the direction of the train station to begin our journey back to Madrid. When we were booking our train back from Ávila to Madrid, we'd had a choice of two different trains. One would have got us to the airport too early - over three hours before our flight was due to depart - and the other would have got us there with just under two hours. I deliberated over the options for a while, but in the end we decided to play it safe and book the earlier train, which left Ávila at 15.47. The trains between Ávila and Madrid aren't quite as fast as the high speed trains between Madrid and Segovia, and so it was a fairly leisurely train journey. We arrived into Madrid's Príncipe Pío station around 17.30. The plan was that from here we would catch the suburban C1 train directly to Terminal 4 of the airport. This was the same train which we had caught to Madrid Chamartín on Saturday, but a slightly longer journey, because the Príncipe Pío station which the Ávila trains arrive into is situated further south in Madrid. Príncipe Pío turned out to be a rather confusing station and we walked around for a while before finding the correct platform for the suburban trains. Things were confused further by the fact that both C1 and C10 trains seemed to depart from this platform, with only C1 trains going as far as the airport, but eventually a C1 train was advertised as being the next train on the departures board. The only problem was that its destination wasn't shown as being the airport, but a station called Delicias, which was only a couple of stops along the route. We figured that maybe this was a C1 train that was terminating early for some reason, but decided to get on it anyway and change at Delicias if need be. We sat on the train and within a few minutes we had arrived at Delicias. The train did indeed terminate there and we had to get off. We progressed from being slightly confused to extremely confused when we walked along the platform and found that the entire station seemed to be out of service, with no trains running towards the airport at all. Eventually, with the help of Tim speaking to a staff member in Spanish, we managed to establish that there were repair works on the line and therefore the C1 wasn't running between this station and Chamartín. In order to get to the airport, we therefore needed to catch a bus from Delicias to Madrid's Atocha railway station, another suburban train from Atocha to Chamartín, and then rejoin the C1 from Chamartín to the airport. Wow At this point I was extremely glad that we'd decided to hedge our bets and catch the earlier train back from Ávila. It was pouring with rain in Madrid by this point, but luckily the bus stop we needed wasn't too far away from the station and we managed to get on the correct bus almost straight away. The tickets we'd bought for the C1 journey worked on the bus, which was good, but once we got to Atocha and tried to get through the gates to catch the train to Chamartín, we found that they were no longer functioning. Tim spoke to yet another staff member in Spanish, who explained that they had expired. He wasn't able to do anything about it and said that we'd need to go to an official desk. We found the desk but there was an extremely long line of people, so in the interests of actually getting to the airport we decided it would be better just to buy another ticket! €6 and two more trains later, we eventually made it to Terminal 4... only to find that once we'd checked in and gone through security, we had to catch yet another train from Terminal 4 to Terminal 4S where our (delayed!!) flight was departing from. All in the all it hasn't been the easiest journey home, but that shouldn't take away from the fact that we've had a really nice relaxing weekend in Spain and visited some beautiful places
  3. This weekend feels like a holiday which has crept up on us, because for quite a long time we didn't think we'd be going on it. We booked (reasonably!) cheap flights to Spain for the August bank holiday back in November 2018, flying to Madrid from Heathrow. The plan was to visit Segovia, a town recommended to us by a Spanish friend last time we were in Madrid in 2017. But as we got closer to summer 2019, the news was full of threats of strikes at Heathrow and the bank holiday weekend was one of the dates which was announced for strike action. It was only in mid-August that the airport announced that the strikes for this weekend were being delayed, to give unions more time to vote on a new pay offer, and so suddenly our Segovia trip was back on the cards By our standards it wasn't too early a start this morning. Our flight was at 09.15, so we left home just after 04.30 and drove down to Heathrow. Tim had booked a slightly unusual airport parking at a golf club in the general vicinity of the airport (it was cheap!) and we arrived there to find a car park and a couple of portacabins, one of which looked like it was the reception to check in and one of which looked like it belonged to the security guards. We were slightly confused to find the reception one was locked, but we were invited to sit in the other portacabin by one of the guards, who assured us that the staff would be back soon... A staff member did indeed eventually appear and the situation became clearer when, after we'd handed over the car keys etc, he led us out of the portacabin, locked the door and proceeded to drive us to the airport in his car It seems like it's a rather low-budget operation, without even a shuttle bus, and just one staff member to do both the admin and the driving! Luckily the drive down had taken less time than I'd expected, so we still arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare. While eating breakfast in Wetherspoons, I realised that last time we'd been here we'd been about to fly to Russia! This weekend should hopefully be more relaxing The flight to Madrid took just over two hours. It was a sunny day but for a lot of the journey there were just views of the sea as we flew over the Bay of Biscay. We landed in Madrid at around 12.30 local time and we could feel a blast of heat as soon as we stepped off the plane. It was definitely warmer here than at home! We had landed in Terminal 4 which was convenient, because Terminal 4 is home to the airport's train station. For around €3 each, we were able to catch a train straight from the airport to Madrid Chamartín, one of the capital's main train stations. Madrid Chamartín was where our train to Segovia was due to leave from, but not for a couple of hours. After the experience we had when trying to get to Toledo in 2017, when we couldn't travel on the train we wanted because it was already sold out, we had booked our train tickets in advance for the 15.40 train. This gave us some time to kill in Madrid, but there doesn't seem to be a lot you can do in the area around Chamartín station. When we arrived here from Salamanca in 2014, we got so confused in the mass of roads and bridges outside the station that we eventually gave up on trying to find our apartment on foot and had to take a taxi instead! So our plan for today was to stay in the vicinity of the station and get something to eat. We ended up finding a nice cafe and had a very nutritious lunch of a pizza slice and a doughnut, accompanied by a much-needed cup of coffee Spanish stations are similar to Russian ones in that you have to pass your bags through airport-style security before you can get near a train. We were travelling on a high speed train to a station called Segovia-Guiomar, which is several kilometres outside the main town of Segovia itself. The display on the train indicated that the outside temperature was 35 degrees, but the train itself was beautifully air-conditioned and we had a pleasant journey, arriving in Segovia-Guiomar just before 16.15. A lot of the train journey had been through tunnels and as we stepped out of the station we got a glimpse of the mountains we must have travelled through. The internet had made catching a bus into the centre of Segovia sound quite confusing, but in reality it couldn't have been simpler. We walked straight out of the station and crossed the road to the bus stop, where a bus was already waiting to take us into the town. It cost about €2 each and took around 15 minutes to deposit us at the edge of the old town. This was the view we got when we stepped off the bus! One of the attractions of Segovia is that it's home to this amazing Roman aqueduct The hotel we're staying at is about 1km away from the aqueduct bus stop, so we had a short walk through the old town (which looks absolutely beautiful). The hotel room is small, but comfortable. The only thing that's a little bit odd is that the air-conditioning is controlled from reception, so you have to call them if you want it turned on or off! The real bonus is that we've got a little balcony with amazing views In one direction we can see the mountains... ...and in the other direction we can see the Alcázar of Segovia in the distance. It's been quite a long day of travelling, so we were glad to get to the hotel room for a bit of a rest before heading back out into Segovia in search of dinner
  4. Clare

    Day 9: Madrid

    Sunday was our first full day in Madrid and an opportunity to explore. We didn't succeed in making quite an early a start as we had hoped, but still managed to successfully negotiate the metro across the city and arrive in the central Puerta del Sol before 11am. We had a few hours to explore before meeting up with some more local Esperantists, so we decided to focus on the main sights and investigate the cathedral and royal palace. From the Puerta del Sol we began walking down the main road and the first impressive building we came across was the Casa de la Villa, which used to be the town hall (and prison) of Madrid. In front of the Casa de la Villa was a beautiful display of flowers: We continued along the main road from the town hall until we reached the Almudena Cathedral, which is situated opposite the royal palace. Construction began on the cathedral began in 1879 but civil war and lack of funds meant that it wasn't finally completed until 1993. It's hard to convey in photos quite how huge the cathedral is. Around the side there is a statue of Pope John Paul II who consecrated the cathedral in 1993. Across from the cathedral is the Palacio Real de Madrid, the official residence of the Spanish royal family. The royal family don't live there, but it is used for official ceremonies. We managed to get a photo through the bars of the gates. From the palace we headed south to the basilica of San Francisco el Grande, which had an amazingly large dome (larger than that of St Paul's in London). A little further down the road we found the Puerto de Toledo, an impressive gate into the city. From there we wandered through some of the side streets towards the main train station, Atocha. This pink church we saw looked like it could have stepped straight out of Talinn or Vilnius and reminded us of our holiday in the Baltic countries last year. Without doubt the most surprising building which we saw was the Ministry of Agriculture; it was so grand that we can only conclude that Spain is a country which takes agriculture extremely seriously! Here are some of the things we saw whilst walking through the streets at this time: It was time for us to catch the metro again on our way to gatecrash a meeting of the Hispana Esperanto-Federacio (Spanish Esperanto Federation). We had noted down the address in advance and were fully-equipped with maps of Madrid, so we found our way to the correct street with no problems. We understood the Esperantists to be located in building number 13, which we quickly identified, but we became confused because there was one entrance (which looked like a heavily-locked gate) labelled 13 and another (which looked more like an entrance into a block of flats) labelled 13D. We decided that 13D looked more promising but it wasn't possible to get into the building without a key. As luck would have it, just as we were hesitating outside a lady emerged from the building - holding the door open for us - so we were able to slip inside. It was quite dark, but we found a light switch and took the lift to the third floor where we believed the Esperanto federation was based. When we arrived at door number 7 on that floor, however, there were no indications that it was anything to do with Esperanto at all, so we lost our nerve and decided to go back outside and try phoning the Esperantists. To our horror, it soon became clear that not only was a key required to enter the building but it was required to exit it as well! We were now stuck in a random building which appeared to have no relation to the Esperanto association and which we didn't have permission to be in. Whoops! Much to our relief, within a few minutes we were saved by another person wanting to leave the building and unlocking the door for us. Phew! A quick phone call revealed that the Esperanto association was located in the adjoining building (13 rather than 13D!) and one of the Esperantists soon came to let us in. We were excited to meet Tonjo and Alex in real life (as we had previously only been acquainted with them online) and to see the headquarters of the Spanish association. Tonjo kindly donated us two copies of a book about Don Quixote in Spanish and Esperanto (one for us, one for the Butler Library) and we also came away with a collection of leaflets and newsletters. As we sat outside having a drink together, the most therapeutic thing for us was to know that the Hispana Esperanto-Federacio faces many of the same challenges as the Esperanto-Asocio de Britio and that we are not alone in some of our frustrations. Our aim after lunch was to explore Parque del Buen Retiro, a large park in the centre of Madrid which used to belong to the royal family but is now a public park. We were hoping that the park would provide some respite from the fierce afternoon sun, but unless you were standing directly under a tree it was still pretty hot! Within the park there were some beautiful gardens, full of roses. The most exciting thing for me was that after just over a week in Spain, we found our first ducks!!! I wasn't prepared for quite how grand the park would be. This building is the Palacio de Cristal, built in 1887 to exhibit flora and fauna from the Philippines. This one was another exhibition hall, known as the Palacio de Velazquez. The most impressive part of the park, however, was this monument to King Alfonso XII. There were so many beautiful photos that we took in the park that we've not been able to choose only one or two to put below!) We managed to pack a lot of Madrid into one day but there's still a lot to see, so we're lucky that we've got the whole of tomorrow to explore as well
  5. As we arrived in Madrid pretty late last night, we didn't have any time to see anything. Once we'd had breakfast this morning, we therefore wanted to head into the centre of town and see some of the parts of the city which we remembered particularly enjoying when we first came to Madrid in 2014. The apartment we're staying in is quite close to several metro stations, so we were able to jump on a metro to the central station of Puerta del Sol fairly quickly. It seems like a ride on the metro to anywhere except the airport is €1.50 which is extremely good value. There's a large square at Puerta del Sol, with various roads leading off from it like spokes. We decided to follow one of the main roads which would take us in the direction of the royal palace. As we walked along that road, the first impressive building that we came to was the Casa de la Villa, which used to be Madrid's town hall. It's an impressive building with towers which wouldn't look out of place in a Nordic country. From there it wasn't far to walk to the Almudena Cathedral, which is located next to the royal palace. It's an absolutely enormous cathedral. On one side there's a statue of Pope John Paul II who consecrated the cathedral in 1993. Around the corner from the cathedral is the Palacio Real de Madrid, the official residence of the Spanish royal family. The palace is huge too. You can pay to go inside, but we contented ourselves with a photo through the bars of the fence Once we'd spent some time admiring the palace and the cathedral, we wanted to seek out a church which we particularly remembered from last time we were here. We caught sight of it in the distance and tried to walk in the correct general direction. Our route led us through the Sabatini gardens, which are in front of the royal palace. They're lovely peaceful gardens, with some impressive hedges... ...and some great views back towards the royal palace. We were getting closer to the colourful church now. The irony of this church is that when you're close beside it, you can't actually see the beautiful dome. So we ended up accidentally walking past it, and found ourselves in a neighbouring park, which is home to the the Temple of Debod. This is an ancient Egyptian temple, which was donated to Spain by the Egyptian government in recognition of their assistance with preserving historical monuments during the building of the Aswan Dam. When we realised our mistake, we turned around and walked towards the views of the church again. Eventually we tracked it down The church is called Santa Teresa y San José and the roof is made from coloured mosaic tiles. It's really unique. From there we walked back towards the palace, through another of the pretty parks which is situated alongside it. We needed to walk across to the opposite side of Madrid, to where the Biblioteca Nacional de España (National Library of Spain) is located. Our friend Jorge works there and had offered to give us a private guided tour, which was too good an opportunity to miss. The exterior of the library is very grand. There's very tight security and in order to be allowed in, we first of all had to pass our belongings through an airport-style scanner, and then show our passports at a security desk to be given special visitor badges, including our photos. We weren't able to take photos inside the library, but it was really fascinating. There was a really grand staircase and a beautiful reading room. We were also able to see behind the scenes, from where the books are first received into the library, to where they are processed, catalogued and finally stored. It was amazing to see the rows and rows of shelving, and in particular the rows of antique books, with shelves full of books dating back as far as the seventeenth century. After the tour we went to have lunch with Jorge at a place called Café Gijón. That was quite an exciting experience too, as it was a posher place than we might have dared go into on our own. There was a fixed price lunchtime menu for €12.50, with various options to choose from. We both had a clear soup to start, then I had a steak and Tim tried some Galician ham, which was in a sort of paprika sauce. Drinks and pudding were also included in the price. I expected to get a glass of wine, and ended up with half a litre! Overall it reminded me a bit of a coffeehouse in Vienna; both in terms of the atmosphere and the slight unfriendliness of the waiters After lunch, we walked back into the centre of town, wanting to find some bookshops where Tim could stock up on Spanish novels. We walked past the Palacio de Cibeles, an incredibly ornate building which is the home of the city council. We continued along a street called Gran Via, where there were some really beautiful buildings. We must have been enjoying looking at them too much, because we ended up walking further than we intended, ending up at a gate called Puerto de Toledo. We didn't intend to see it, but it seems quite fitting, because tomorrow we're going on an excursion to Toledo To get back on track, we tried to walk through the Campo del Moro park. This is another beautiful park by the royal palace and it looked like it was criss-crossed by a useful network of paths. We tried to follow them in a direction which we thought would lead us out close to where we wanted to be, but unfortunately several of them were closed for maintenance, so we ended up going round in a big circle and having to retrace our steps. En route though we passed this lawn which was covered in what looked like some sort of parakeets! Eventually we made it back to the centre of town and were able to visit the bookshop, before going back to the apartment for a short break. In the evening we went out once again, this time to a Lebanese restaurant with a group of local Esperanto speakers. The food was excellent and we got to try some different desserts and tea which we would never normally have ordered We've had a great day in Madrid and tomorrow, as mentioned, we're going to travel slightly south to Toledo, a town which looks really beautiful in pictures. Although it may be on a hill
  6. Our flight to Madrid wasn't until 17.15 this afternoon, so we had some free time to spend in Lisbon this morning. We decided to use the time to visit an attraction we hadn't seen yet: Parque Eduardo VII. The park is not far from the centre of Lisbon, and the guidebook said that it had some great views out over the city. We took a metro from the Baixa Chiado station near our apartment to the aptly named station Parque. This turned out to be the most unusual metro station we'd visited in Lisbon, with all sorts of pictures and engravings on the walls. This one seemed to be something to do with exploration of South America. When we came out of the station it wasn't immediately obvious where the park was. The first indication we got was when we caught sigh of this pavillion. From there we climbed up some steps and we were in the park. We'd come for the views, but the first thing which caught our attention was this very odd fountain! Once we turned away from that though, we found the views we'd been expecting We could see all the way down the park towards Lisbon and the river estuary. As you would expect of a park in Lisbon, this one is on quite a steep slope. Fortunately, for once we were actually walking downhill, back towards the town. When you get to the end of the park, there is a huge statue of the Marquis of Pombal. The Marquis of Pombal was the Portuguese prime minister during the eighteenth century and is remembered today for his strong leadership after the 1755 earthquake that destroyed Lisbon. From his statue, we began to walk down Avenida da Liberdade, which is a long boulevard, lined with greenery and statues. We found the monument to the Portuguese fallen in WW1... ...and elaborate water features like this one. Soon we were back in the centre of town. There was just time for one last lunch in Portugal before it was time to start our journey towards the airport. There is a metro line which runs straight to the airport, so the journey was quite easy (although a bit crowded) and excellent value at only €1.65 each for a ticket. We arrived at the airport just after 3pm and everything seemed very straightforward with dropping our bags and security. Unfortunately, once we got through security we realised that our flight was delayed for about 20 minutes. It ended up being delayed by at least half an hour and there wasn't really any explanation, which was a bit frustrating. Boarding the plane seemed to take forever, but eventually we were on our way and we had some really clear views of the Portuguese and Spanish countryside as we flew towards Madrid. Both landscapes looked very mountainous, and some of the Spanish countryside in particular looked very arid. We landed in a sunny Madrid at around 8pm (having lost an hour due to the time difference between Portugal and Spain). It's tempting to complain about the delay, but on the other hand we did only pay €20 each for our flight with TAP, plus another €20 each for the luggage, so it's probably the cheapest flight we've taken in a long time. And we got a free biscuit One thing that was really nice about flying between two Schengen countries was that we didn't have to go through passport control on either side. So there were no long queues once we arrived in Madrid, just a bit of a wait for our luggage to come off the carousel. Madrid's airport is also linked to the city centre via a metro, although the tickets for this one are a bit more expensive (€4.50 each). As luck would have it, the apartment I had booked was not far from where the metro line from the airport terminates, so we were able to get straight onto one train, sit on it for 20 minutes and then arrive in the vicinity of where we were staying. It took a bit of time to find the apartment once we got off the metro... and then when we found the correct building, we had to ring the owners because there was no indication as to which of the multiple flats in the building it might be... but eventually we found it and it seems fine. Tomorrow we're looking forward to seeing some of Madrid, a city which we really loved when we first visited here in 2014, and catching up with some friends
  7. Clare

    Day 10: Madrid

    Monday was our second day exploring Madrid. We caught the metro into Puerta del Sol in the centre of town again and walked along one of the main shopping streets for a while before turning off onto some quieter side streets. The first impressive building which we saw was the Palacio del Senado, the seat of the upper house of the Spanish parliament. We were walking in the direction of the royal palace again to see some of the gardens which we didn't have time to investigate on Sunday. They were worth coming back for, with some beautiful flower displays and statues of former Spanish kings. There were also some lovely views back towards the palace.... As we were walking around the park we caught sight of a stunning church dome in the background. We'd never seen anything quite like it and decided we would definitely have to walk in that direction to explore. On the way we stopped at the Plaza de España, which features a large monument to Cervantes. Behind it is one of the tallest buildings in Madrid, the Edificio España, which reminded us a bit of one of the buildings we had seen in Riga last year. Eventually we found the church we were looking for. It turned out to be the Iglesia de Santa Teresa y San Jose. We couldn't find anything in our guidebook to explain why it had such an unusual roof, but it was really beautiful. Not far past the church we found what is perhaps the strangest monument in Madrid: the Temple of Debod. This is an ancient Egyptian temple, originally built near Aswan and dedicated to the goddess Isis. The temple was donated to Spain by the Egyptian government in 1968 in gratitude for their help preserving other historical sites during the construction of the Aswan Dam, and subsequently rebuilt in one of Madrid's parks. It was quite surreal to see it there. After seeing the temple we walked back into the centre of Madrid along one of the main roads, Gran Via. This was a recommended walk in the guidebook and it didn't disappoint as the street is lined with imposing buildings. We soon found ourselves outside the Banco de España, a building so enormous that it was difficult to fit a respectable amount of it into a picture. Just down the road from the bank was the Palacio de Comunicaciones, an incredibly ornate building which we were surprised to read was home to the Postal and Telegraphic Museum until 2007 when it replaced one of the buildings we saw yesterday as the new town hall. It certainly looks far more fitted to being a town hall than a mere postal museum. We walked north from there to the Plaza de Colón, a square built to commemorate the explorer Christopher Colombus. We also saw the Biblioteca Nacional de España, the largest library in Spain. We stopped for lunch and then walked south towards Retiro Park again for an afternoon stroll. On the way we passed the Puerta de Alcala, an archway into the city constructed in 1778. It was quieter in the park today and we had a pleasant stroll under the trees. Walking around the lake, we had a better view of the monument to King Alfonso which we had seen up close yesterday: Finally we found the Fountain of the Fallen Angel, which depicts the moment when God expelled Lucifer from heaven. It is said to be the world's only public statue depicting the devil! We have had a lovely time in Madrid and tomorrow will be moving on to Cordoba. The plan was to travel by train, but a visit to the railway station today revealed that the prices were much higher than we had expected (more than €60 each!) so we are hoping to travel by bus instead.
  8. On Saturday morning we said goodbye to Salamanca and travelled south to the Spanish capital, Madrid. The town was almost deserted as we walked through it at 9am on the way to catch our train, and we were pleasantly surprised when we got to the station to find that the train itself was very quiet and peaceful too. The journey to Madrid took under three hours and took us first through the flat arable countryside which we had grown used to from our bus travels, before entering a more rocky landscape which became increasingly hilly until the train was winding its way through mountains. It was a very scenic route, and we had some tantalising glimpses of walled towns as the train sped past. We arrived at Madrid's Chamartin station in the early afternoon and my plan was that we would leave our bags in a locker before having a stroll around and finding somewhere for lunch; we had some time to kill before we were allowed to check into our apartment at 3pm. We saw signs pointing to the luggage lockers almost immediately and followed them across the station concourse, out of a door, through a large car park, round a corner and back into the station building, only to realise that we were within a few metres of where we had originally started and the lockers were right in front of us. It all turned out to have been wasted exertion as with charges of €5.20 per suitcase it was more than we (/Tim!) felt like paying. Instead we formulated Plan B, which consisted of finding somewhere to eat in the station itself. Happily Chamartin is a big station and we found somewhere without much difficulty. It was actually a proper restaurant, with a menu of the day which offered spaghetti carbonara as the first course and lasagne as the second course, so we were quite fortunate. We had a nice meal, complicated only by the fact that as soon as Tim stood up to go to the bathroom - leaving me unattended for a few minutes - I was approached by a slightly crazy old lady who was seemingly walking around the station collecting ringpulls off cans. At least it gave me the opportunity to utilise my only two words of Spanish: "No comprendo"! The apartment we had booked was only 2km from the station so our plan was to walk. As we came out of the station building, however, we were confronted with a confusing array of bridges and highways which weren't easily identifiable on our (not very detailed) map. We made an attempt at walking in the correct direction but soon had to admit defeat and return to the station in search of a taxi. When we checked into the apartment we were pleased to find that it had normal beds which didn't require folding down (yay!) and two separate air conditioning units. At an altitude of 667m, Madrid is the highest capital city in Europe and has very hot, dry summers, so we had a feeling we might be grateful for them. We cooled down and relaxed in the apartment for a while before heading out to meet local Esperantist Jorge Camacho and his wife. By sheer good fortune we happened to be staying in an apartment near to the part of town where he lives, and posting some of our holiday photos from Bilbao on Facebook had alerted Spanish Esperantists to the fact that we were in Spain, making it possible for us to arrange a spontaneous meet-up. It was exciting for us to experience an evening out in Madrid with locals. We went to a little bar first of all where we sat outside and drank beautiful white wine out of little goblets. We were amazed both at how reasonable the prices were and how much food we got for free! Every time someone bought a round of drinks we were given little plates of food to share; we started with pork scratchings, moved on to different types of potato in sauces and finished with my favourite which was fried potatoes and onions on bread. I may have accidentally eaten Tim's portion while he was inside checking the football score. Later we moved on to a different bar where we were able to sit and eat. Our hosts kindly took on board our disinclination to eat fish and ordered a large plate of entrecote for us to share. Confusion ensued when they tried to explain to the waiter that we would like it without blood. When the meat arrived it was delicious; little pieces of beef which were still sizzling on the plate. We had bread and fried potatoes to accompany it, as well as some green peppers which we weren't brave enough to try. We finished the meal with some pieces of custard-filled pancake and a Basque liqueur made out of some sort of red berries. We were absolutely stuffed by the end but we had a great time and are very grateful to Jorge and Chen for such a lovely evening
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