Madrid

Michael: I will never again take a nine-hour overnight train without getting a berth. Peter warned me, but I wanted to save a few Euros. I figured how bad could it be. Well, the overnight trains from Santiago to Madrid are not the same as the other trains I have happily rode while in Spain. It was older, creaked a lot, the seats were uncomfortable, smelled a bit bad, and wobbled for nine hours. I couldn’t sleep at all and I had to fight down the occasional bout of nausea. Even the lavatory door would not lock. Sigh. On the plus side, it was miserable. Enough said about that.

Sandy: The flight overseas was on Lufthansa – what a wonderful airline. They really highlight how bad Air Canada is to their passengers. The leg room however was still much shorter than almost everyone who sat there. Oh well. Sleep was not an option – they came around every couple hours with juices or hot towels – hard to complain when they are trying to take care of you. Free alcohol, by the way. The boys were doing okay – they could sleep. We had packed a handful of books too – they were a lifesaver on the trip as I think every book was read by all of us.

Michael: When the train rolled into the Madrid station I was overjoyed; not only because the train ride was finally over, but I was going to see my family soon. My heart was thumping and I was so very excited! However, before seeing them I had to get to the airport and the Madrid central train station is so very intimidating! It is massive, contains several levels, incomprehensible maps, and guides for non-Spanish travelers who have not had enough sleep and can’t think straight, and they have most wonderful staff in the world! A very helpful woman who worked there very happily helped me get the appropriate ticket, and pointed me to the right level, track, and train. I was on my way and I was hoping to arrive before my family’s plane landed. I had about an hour to go. It was a strange feeling riding the train in Madrid, pack on my back and staff in my hand, but people for the most part seemed to ignore me. They must get a few pilgrim running through the city so I was more self conscious than they were.

The train finally arrived at the airport, and I hunted down the arrival lounge. Their plane was a little late, and I had 15-20 minutes to relax and have a drink. At last, the plane started to clear and people started to pass through the doors. Slowly the trickle of people disappeared… I began to worry that they had missed their connection in Dusseldorf when finally, the door opened and just beyond I stopped Sandy for the first time in five very long weeks. She was smiling at me and I was enchanted by her again. They were stuck behind a bit as their luggage was left in Germany, but they were here! They came out and I hugged Sandy, Kieran, and Aleksander. I have missed them so very much and it I am still amazed that they are here, albeit without luggage. Both boys seem to have grown, although that I know it must be my imagination. Sandy looks happy and excited to be here, and quite fetching in the new outfit that she purchased for the trip.

Sandy: He is so brown, and thinner! I’m caught standing at the luggage carousel waiting for the lost luggage, wanting to ditch the whole thing and run out to see him. For such a big airport, there is no one standing where we are. We finally give up on the bags and race out to see him. 30 seconds into reunion and I already have a problem for Michael to fix. At least they have drawings of luggage types to point at on the airline counter.

Michael: After dealing with the airline and the lost luggage, we hopped into a cab and took a death-defying cab ride through Madrid, at a speed that, to be honest, I just was not used to anymore. We checked into the Novotel Madrid Sanchinarro hotel and asked the front desk to expect our luggage at some point. We spent some time just being together as a family again, chatting, telling stories, etc., and then I convinced them to travel the trains to downtown for a look around.

Sandy: It’s not so much the speed that freaks out the sedate prairie drivers, as the lack of space between vehicles while switching lanes or coming up behind another car. Madrid looks like they are building everywhere – scaffolding and new building pop up all over. It is warm but not hot, and red poppies and yellow flowers colour the sides of the freeways. The ride takes about 20 minutes – not sure how we didn’t get there faster while approaching light speed. The cars are all much smaller – no big SUVs or Hummers here. The taxi is filled to the brim with us, luggage and carry on bags. How do you get anywhere with 5 pieces of luggage?

Michael: We walked about 1 km to the station, found our train, completed a transfer at another station and found ourselves in bustling downtown Madrid. That was a lot to take in; the streets were packed, the hustle and bustle was tremendous, and all a bit over whelming. As well, it turns out we were all exhausted. Too exhausted to enjoy ourselves so we hit a café, ate (Kieran and Aleksander did enjoy their first Spanish hamburgers) and had something to drink, and then headed back to the hotel.

Sandy: Wow. The buildings where we got out are positively medieval to my eyes – stone sidewalks filled to overflowing with the flow of constant pedestrian traffic. You can’t walk around the masses, you must slip through. I have a vague idea of what New York must be like, and I suddenly want to go home. My day is long, I have been awake for more than 24 hours and my temper is fraying. Michael suggests lunch and we find a restaurant. I can’t even remember what it was. The trains are great! We need trains like this! The systems calls out the next station in either a male or female voice and then switches gender for the next announcement. The maps are well marked and the trains are clean. The weather has shifted and suddenly we are cold, and the rain has come in. We stop in at a gas station on the way back to the hotel and the boys stock up on Spanish candy, while we grab beer.

Michael: Back at the hotel, we lay about, called the airline a few times, watched the news, and vegetated for a while. Finally, we went down stairs to the hotel bar for a pricey, but nice supper and cerveza. The kids were a little unhappy with the pool still being closed for the season, but nothing could be done about that. Back at the room we relaxed some more and planned tomorrow. The luggage finally arrived and that allowed us to relax a bit more too. Tomorrow, Sandy and the kids will be flying to Granada, but since the plane is full I will be taking the train. I will need to leave very early, take the train to the Atocha station, and catch the train to Granada. Hope I make it in time.