Madrid and Home...
Cordoba to Madrid
We get up early and drive to the train station in a thick fog. The Avis office does not open until 9 AM, but fortunately, our AVE train back to Madrid does not leave until 9:40. At 9:10 the desk agent saunters up, chatting with the woman who runs the candy concession next to the rental desk. We're obviously on Spanish time.
We have no problems returning the car, and go into the train station cafe for a pastry, tortilla on baguette, and cafe con leche. They allow us down to the platforms around 9:30 and we stand, waiting for the train to arrive from Sevilla. The trip back to Madrid was fast, and again, the movie was an odd choice, "Casa de los Babies", an American independent film about six women who go to a fictional Central American country to adopt babies.
Upon arrival at Atocha, we walk the 3 blocks up the Paseo del Prado to the Westin Palace hotel.
The Palace ( 5 stars, http://www.westinpalacemadrid.com/eng/) is a "grand dame" hotel, built in 1912 by King Alfonso XIII. It sits directly across from the Prado Museum and the famous Ritz hotel. We arrive around noon and are allowed to check in right away. I'd asked for a room with a view and we certainly were not disappointed.
Our room, on the 4th floor looks out directly onto the roundabout on the Plaza Canovas. The room is enormous by European standards, with the Westin's signature "heavenly beds" and a fantastic bathroom. I didn't want to leave the room, but since this was our last day, we had to get going and set out to see the Royal Palace before it was to close at 2PM (on Sundays).
We walk up to the Banco de Espana stop, take the metro to the Opera and go 3 blocks over to the palace. The line to get in is huge, and admission is steep (8 euro as it seems everything is in Spain), but we wait, pay and go in. We check out the Royal Pharmacy first and it's interesting with 3 or 4 rooms filled with glass jars and drawers, labeled with various herbs and potions. We skip the armory.
Next, we go over to the formal rooms which include the grand staircase entrance (more Baroque than any church), the throne room, a dining room with seats for 100, and dozens more formal rooms. Honestly, it wasn't the most interesting palace I've seen, but it certainly was big and ostentatious, befitting a king. The view from the central courtyard off the "back" side of the palace is fantastic, overlooking a large part of suburban Madrid.
Old windows looking onto central courtyard in Royal Palace.
After the royal palace, we walk across Madrid back toward the hotel, stopping at an internet place and a restaurant for a mid-afternoon snack of (yet more) fried calamari and Mom's first real Spanish paella (mediocre). We pass the hotel and keep walking, toward botanical gardens and the grand Retiro park behind the Prado museum. For reasons I can't remember, we pass up the Botanical gardens and go through the Retiro to check out the lake. It's a warm sunny day, and the Madrilenos and tourists are out in force, relaxing in the park, rowing paddleboats on the lake, and generally enjoying the nice weather. I tell my mother how, when I lived there in '91, I used to go to the Retiro and sit on the steps leading down to the lake. I would eavesdrop on tourist's conversations and pretend to be Spanish if they talked to me (ok, I was young, and found it amusing at the time). We go back to the hotel to rest in the "heavenly beds" before dinner.
After a rest, we head out for our final meal with my printed recommendations in hand. Unfortunately, we somehow make a wrong turn leaving the hotel and wind up walking about 10 blocks out of our way. We find ourselves on Calle Atocha, which (at least where we are at that point) is a bit seedy with quite a few "Live Sex" emporiums. We manage to figure out where we are on a map and make a big circle back to the hotel and try again. We end up at two tapas bars a couple of blocks from the hotel.
Taberna Dolores (Plaza de Jesus, 4) is over 100 years old according to the plaque embedded in the doorway. There are yummy tapas here; Jamon jabugo de pato (duck ham), salmon and soft cheese tosta, anchoa tosta, two glasses vino valdepenas, 8.4 euro. The place is packed, a little warm and smoky (typical) and has jolly atmosphere. When I order the anchovies, the bartender corrects me; they're not boquerones, they are anchovies. Whatever, they taste great, and later he hams it up in a photo for me.
Next, we head across the street to Cervezas La Fabrica, (Calle Jesus, 2). I'm pulled inside by the sight of a large, steaming, purple pulpo (octopus) sitting on the counter. We don't order any, but we do get two glasses of lovely Crianza '97, a smoked tuna tosta, and one toothpick containing an olive and two anchovies (odd, but my fault, when I ordered "one" I thought we'd get an order of many, not just a single toothpick!) for 9.1 euro. Off to bed since we have to get up early.
The Trip Home
We leave once again in the dark and walk the 3 blocks up the Paseo del Prado to the Banco de Espana Metro stop. Our flight to London departs around 11 AM, so we leave the hotel around 8 hoping we'll have enough time to get to the airport via Metro. From Banco de Espana we go two stops and transfer at Principe de Vergara and transfer again at Colombia from where it's 4 more stops to the Barajas airport. It sounds complicated, but it was fairly easy, and very inexpensive compared to a taxi. I think it took us under an hour door to door and that was probably slower than normal because it was a Sunday and the Metros are less frequent.
Our flight to London was on British Air, but a code share with Iberia. They don't have the same carry-on restrictions as BA, so we were able to take our luggage aboard with us. A couple comments about Iberia; drink service is not complimentary of any kind, not even soda or water. The second is what I thought as we screeched to a landing at Heathrow; "Spanish pilots fly like taxi drivers in Madrid drive".
Our layover at Heathrow was uneventful and we spent most of our time in the United Red Carpet room. The flight home was fine, and passed quickly with reading and watching movies.
I thought those of you planning your own trip might appreciate a breakdown of our expenses. And, since I am completely obsessive, I have a down-to-the penny account.
The costs below are Per Person for the 10 days/9 nights we spent in Spain in October 2005.
Transportation- $725- This includes tax on FF tickets, R/T Airfare London-Madrid, Train tickets, 3 days car, gas, tolls, parking, taxis, Bus (Sevilla-Granada), and metro tickets.
Hotels-$545-Nine nights in hotels, one to 5 stars.
Food-$310- all meals, snacks, drinks, ice cream, etc. We did not have a lot of sit down, fancy meals, opting instead for tapas and wine a majority of the time.
Misc.-$135-Includes sightseeing, souvineers, internet, etc.