Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Our first visit to Madrid

Today we set off on a new adventure. We took the new AVE, high speed train service, from Figueres Vilafant to Madrid. Web specials made the price very reasonable. What a joy. You arrive at the station, park right outside, pass your baggage through an X-ray machine but you don\'t have to disrobe or remove your shoes. You walk out to the train and that's it. The seats in tourist class are extremely comfortable with lots of leg room. The train stops at Girona and then the main station Barcelona Sants. What a trip. We arrived in less than an hour at speeds of 299 kilometres an hour. After a very brief stop we were off again heading south to Tarragona. From here we traveled north passing through flat countryside with lots of mesas in the distance. Then the land became hillier with lots of olive trees on the lower slopes and then finally the land was flatter but arid. We stopped at Lleida and Zaragossa then Madrid. It was a lovely trip that took four hours without all the hassles of flying. We did buy a sandwich at the cafeteria but next time we will probably take our own. There was even a movie showing, The Artist, which we had already seen.

Once in Madrid we took the Metro to our hotel. The subway service in Madrid is very good and much cheaper than Barcelona. You can travel all over the city for a euro. Very helpful Metro employees are only too willing to steer you in the direction you want to go.

Once we were settled in our hotel we took a walk around the local area, Callao, which included all the major chain stores found everywhere in Spain, lots of McDonald's and Starbucks and some theatres. We walked to the big square called the Puerta del Sol. This is the place to come to on New Year's Eve to eat your twelve grapes, before the clock finishes chiming twelve times, to give you good luck. We stopped on our way back to the hotel at Lizzaran, a tapas bar. We frequent Lizzaran in Figueres, which is a little nicer than this Lizzaran but still great tapas. Why can I never think of all these combinations on little pieces of bread when I want to make a small open faced sandwich?

After a brief rest stop at the hotel we took to the streets again. We spotted a shop selling costumes. What a find. Carnaval is next month. We looked at the costumes that were quite inexpensive. Unfortunately, we couldn't decide on anything before the shop closed. We will return. In fact later in this evening\'s walk we passed several costume shops all gearing up for the Carnaval season.

Our walk took us past the Palacia Real de Madrid, a huge palace that is owned by the state but which the Royal family uses for state occasions. We continued on, our walk taking us down several narrow streets and finally reaching the magnificent Opera House. We continued on our way through the lane ways lined with old buildings all with wrought iron balconies. We spotted the vast gourmet market, a huge covered market filled with gourmet tapas stalls including ones where you buy wine in proper glasses. The selection of food was incredible with seafood cooking, Iberian hams, cheeses and fruits. By this time we wanted to sit down but this is not a choice. It is stand up only and the place was packed.

Now in the Latin Quarter we decided to look for a place to have dinner. Each restaurant we passed was not busy at all except for people having drinks and in a few, some tapas. We looked and looked and there really wasn't one place with people having a meal. We decided to return to the area of the hotel for dinner. Several of the sidewalks had salt spread on them. The more we walked the more salt we noticed. The snow must be coming tomorrow.

We stopped for dinner in a restaurant near the hotel. There were some nice touches like a little glass of pumpkin soup and a lovely chocolate truffle to finish the meal. I didn't like my spaghetti bolognese at all. Seamus had a steak, which he seemed to like. It was time to return to the hotel to plan for tomorrow.


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