by Bob Sparrow
One typically doesn’t look forward to 13 hours in the air plus another three or four sitting around an airport waiting, and I certainly wasn’t looking forward to the ‘getting there’ part of this journey to Madrid, but I have to say, this trip was pretty painless. Two reasons: 1) our group of ten travelers was always entertaining, typically grabbing the attention of those around us with our laughter, either in the airport or on the plane, and 2) British Airways, which has now become my favorite airline. From Los Angeles to London, we were in ‘Economy Plus’, which had the benefits of a little more legroom and unlimited free alcohol. And it seemed that the more unlimited alcohol we had the more unlimited fun we had. Since our seats were not together, but rather spread throughout the Economy Plus area, our conversations with each other were spread across the entire section and seemed to get the rest of the passengers involved in our good time. Making it even better was that the flight attendants handling our section were good, fun and funny. Love British Airways!
Once landing in Madrid and met by our bus driver, we walked what seemed several miles to get to the bus as buses are not allowed to pick up outside of where the luggage is picked up. Not sure why. We get to our beautiful hotel, Puerta de Alcala in Madrid, around 6:00 pm local time, which is 9 hours ahead of California. We all had varying amounts of sleep on our redeye flight, so we decided to catch a quick nap, change the clothes that we’d been wearing for the last 24 hours, and were now a bit ‘gamey’, and meet at the hotel’s rooftop bar at 7:30 for dinner.
The rooftop bar at sunset was spectacular as was our server. We had our first introduction to tapas as we ordered 10-12 different dishes ranging from Peruvian chicken to octopus – complemented by various drinks including some very nice Spanish Rioja wine, all very delicious. A night cap in the downstairs bar and our body’s said, “I don’t know what time you think it is, but I need some rest!”
After a good night’s sleep and a great buffet breakfast at the hotel, we met our tour guide, Eva, who would be taking us on a walking tour of Madrid. We walked through all parts of the city (six hours worth), seeing the palace, the world-famous museum, the park, the opera house, all the major sites in Madrid, with Eva giving us great detail on the history of this magnificent city. It’s really hard to imagine the amazing architecture and relate it to America, where something in the US is an antique if it’s one to two hundred years old; here, there are things that are thousands of years old.
Before we head out to dinner at a restaurant just a few blocks away, we meet at the hotel bar and have each person tell the group what their favorite part of the day was. While the guys listed things like the palace, the museum, a great deli, the girls were most interested in the young, studly, local police officers who were guarding the congressional building. OK, maybe it wasn’t their favorite, but it was close!
We walked to our restaurant for our 7:30 reservation; the place was empty except for one other couple. Again, another great dinner of salmon, veal, Ox tail, along with some great olives and bread. By the time we left at 9:30, the place was packed and people were still coming in for dinner. After dinner we wandered the streets for a bit, stopped to have a drink and discovered a Michelin three-star restaurant and made a reservation for tomorrow night.
Our last day in Madrid is ‘on our own’, so the group scatters to all part of the city; with everyone hitting the Prada Museum, as it holds one the world’s greatest collection of art; works from Raphael, Ruben, Velazquez, El Greco, Goya, Rembrandt, just to name a few. I was amazed at the size of the paintings; many of them were 8-10 feet wide and 12-14 feet high, some bigger. After the museum we walked another couple of miles through the city to eat lunch at the ‘World’s Oldest Restaurant’ – it’s been open since 1725, but we needed to make a reservation as it was Saturday and the city was buzzing with activity, so we never got in, but the Warrens and the Webbs made it, as we saw them dining there when we arrived. Then back to the hotel for a little rest before we topped off the evening with dinner at a Michelin 3-star restaurant within walking distance from our hotel. After tapas for two days, a nice steak tasted mighty good!
Sunday is ‘moving day, so it’s up early for breakfast then a bus to the train station and a two-and-a-half-hour train ride to Malaga, where our ‘official Collette ‘Spain coast/Portuguese Riviera Tour’ starts. We arrived around 1:00 pm in a fairly heavy rainstorm, check into our hotel and meet up with the other travelers at the ‘Welcome Meeting’.
Next report is on Thursday