The train ride to Madrid was rather uneventful. Shortly after departing Paris the rail attendant came by and picked up our tickets and passports, so he didn't have to wake us at 2 or 3 in the morning when we crossed into Spain. However, both Hosa and I did wake up briefly during the border crossing because we heard a pounding on the door to the cabin next to us and then some talking. Apparently someone in that cabin had to answer a few questions for the border guards, but that was it and he was still on the train in the morning.
We arrived in Madrid a couple minutes early. After we got off the train Mike, Hosa, and I all went our separate directions. We arrived at the Madrid Chamartin station, but I was heading to central Madrid so I caught another train to the Atocha station nearer to central Madrid. However, before doing so I reserved another Couchette to get to Lisbon Monday evening.
On the ride to Atocha, I thought I heard 3 people speaking English. Later I noticed one of them was wearing a Mountain Equipment Co-op backpack, so I just had to say "you must be from Canada?". And, not only were they from Canada, they were from Calgary as well. Boy it's a small world. We chatted a bit until we got the station, them we went I our separate ways.
At the Atocha station I made my way outside and powered up my GPS device to see how far it was to the area I was heading. I did that before leaving the Chamartin station and there it said I was about 31km away, so I was a bit shocked to find I was now 42km away. I immediately new something was wrong and my first thought was that I got the directions wrong and went to the wrong station. I went back inside the station and started looking at the sub-way map to see where I needed to go, but from that map I convinced myself I was at the right station. So back outside I went and this time I used a different way-point to see were I needed to go and this time it said I was less then 2km from my destination, so I decided to start walking. A couple blocks away, I came across a map for that area of Madrid and I could not find the place I was supposed to be going to. At that point in time I new something was wrong. I either had wrong directions or programmed the way-points into my GPS device wrong. So, I headed back into the station to figure things out.
After re-reading my travel books I discovered I was in fact at the right station and I had programmed one of the way-points wrong. The reason the map out side didn't show where I was going was because it was a little too far away.
So, off I went in search of a hotel. After a short walk of about 2km I arrived at the first hotel. It was supposed to have internet access, but I couldn't get it working so I decided to keep looking. The second hotel was supposed to be more expensive, because it was a bit more upscale then the first. However they wanted less then the first hotel, so I took it immediately. Here I have nice room, probably the best so far, yet its the cheapest so far. It is just 4 blocks from the center of Madrid, very close to most everything I want to see while I'm here, and it has somewhat of a view.
After I got cleaned up, I found some great food in the restaurant attached to my hotel. I could not believe the price. I was getting used to the high prices in London and Paris, so the much cheaper prices here are a welcome change.
I spent the rest of the day exploring the heart of Madrid, walking the area from the Royal Palace in the west to the Retiro Park in the east. Along the way I checked out places like the Almudena Cathedral, the former City Hall, Plaza Mayor, Kilo Zero, Puerto del Sol (center of Madrid), and Paseo del Prado.
What kind of surprises me is how easy it is to get around here with just English. Most folks I needed to talk with understood enough English to get the message across.
In the evening I had dinner in an outdoor cafe in the Plaza Mayor, a large square surrounded by buildings just a couple blocks from Puerto del Sol and my hotel. The outer area of the square was packed with outdoor restaurants and in the center a stage and seats where set up for a concert. I hung around the square after dinner to see what the concert was like. The opening show, a play of some sort, was interesting but it was completely in Spanish making it really hard for me to understand. So I decided to move on.
By this time it was around 10:30pm and the streets were all packed with people of all ages. There were also plenty of street vendors, and some street performers. One band blew me away. Their music was just awesome. It was a Spanish style instrumental version of songs I was familiar with like "the sounds of silence" (I think that's what's it's called). I wandered the area for a while taking in an atmosphere which was quite different than anything I seen before.
Here a few pictures of the day.
View from my hotel room.
Old city hall.
Kilo Zero, starting point for the numbering of all roads in Spain.
Various photos of central Madrid.
I came across this parade before dinner. I'm not totally sure what it was all about, but it was interesting to watch.
Mayor Plaza at the start of dinner. By the time I was done with dinner it was dark and hard to take pictures. By that time all the outdoor restaurants where packed and so was the square.
An attempt to photograph the crowd in the square just before the concert started.
This sign on the east end of Puerto del Sol was the first billboard in Madrid.
Statue of King Charles III, affectionately called the "best mayor of Madrid".
The awesome street performers, or at least a sub set of the group as it was too dark to get a good picture of them all.