This is the second post in an ongoing series about our 2009 trip to Spain, mostly to ride roller coasters. The first post is here.
I have a rather idiosyncratic way of numbering the days I'm on a trip, particularly if almost all of the first day is spent in travel. I number that day as "day 0", then start "day 1" when the real activities of the trip begin. Thus, I began what I considered Day 1 of my Spain trip as soon as we touched down in Madrid's airport at 10:20 AM their time, though there were still a few travel nuisances to get through--not to mention a bit of rest--before we'd actually get out on the town. At least with no set agenda for the day it didn't really matter that the plane had arrived a bit late.
After our long flight in cramped conditions I was eager to exit the plane. However the airport initially didn't offer much better comfort. The A/C wasn't very effective. We had to lug our bags through a seemingly endless maze of tunnels and staircases, with no escalators to make the task easier. Finally we did come to a hallway with a moving belt, which made things a bit easier.
Another annoyance, this time a personal one, was that I had taken my contact lenses out for the flight. Though I had my glasses on they were not nearly as useful for distance viewing, making it hard to read directional signs, or even get a good look at such scenery outside as there was to se. My blurred vision made me more irritable, so all the other inconveniences were magnified. As soon as we came to a bathroom, just off a big hall right before the passport check, I used it to put my lenses back in. I felt much more on top of things after that.
We had no difficulty at all getting through passport control or customs and wound up quickly in the arrivals area. With no baggage to pick up it was one of the smoothest entries I've ever had into another country (let's not even get into re-entering the US).
We were pretty sure that our hotel offered a shuttle from the airport, but we weren't at all certain where to find it. We walked up and down the concourse several times, as well as outside along the drive-up area next to a seemingly endless line of taxis. A few times we passed by a strong-smelling tobacco shop, which made an easy landmark. We must have looked comically confused as we crossed the street several times, but finally Janna found the stop.
We weren't entirely sure whether we were going to have to call the hotel or could just wait for a shuttle to come by. I had brought an international cell phone but was a bit uncertain about how to use it, and wasn't really up to trying to try to communicate when I didn't know the native language. So we decided to wait and hope.
While waiting I was struck by how cool the weather felt. I had been gearing myself up for hot weather so much that it was surprising when I was not miserable from the moment I stepped outside. The cool temperature was a bit illusory--it was still early enough in the morning that the 90-degree highs hadn't struck yet--but even later in the day the heat was dry enough that shade or a breeze could make a big difference.
While we were waiting somebody came up to us. Though I didn't recognize him, he knew me from the 2002 European trip we'd participated in with American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE). He and a group of other ACErs were staying at the same hotel as we were, and were also waiting for the shuttle. Moreover, when it came we found several other people we knew already inside, having boarded at another terminal. The four people we'd spend the most time with on the trip were all there: two guys named Chris (I'll distinguish them by calling them Chris M and Chris T), Philip, and Chris M's brother Tim (not to be confused with the Tim we'd traveled with on other trips).
We all rode to our hotel, the Hotel Clement Barajas, not far from the airport (because we were going back to the airport the next day to meet the rest of our tour group it made sense to stay nearby). The hotel, like many of those we'd stay at on the trip, seemed to be pretty modern, both in terms of cleanliness and style.
We were a bit early for the noon check-in time, so we had to wait for a while to get our rooms. We sat in a lounge in the lobby and just talked for a while, ultimately doing so until well after we could have actually checked in. Once we did get our rooms, some of our friends were inclined to go out and explore Madrid right away, but Janna and I decided to go up to our room and rest for a bit. We'd have a couple of days at the end of the trip for Madrid tourism that the others did not have. On the way up in the elevator I saw an incongruous sign saying that the restaurant was "pleased" to inform us that they were to be closed from the 3rd to the 23rd of August.
I have come to expect somewhat small rooms in European hotels, but on almost all occasions on this trip I found our accommodations to be more than adequate; and this was no exception. The rooms were modernistic, as seemed to be common in the Spanish hotels we stayed at. The trim was hardwood, and had a hint of a Scandinavian flavor, reminding us incongruously of the Copenhagen airport. Also odd was that there was a photo of the Brandenburg Gate above our bed, rather than anything distinctively Spanish. We'd wind up back at this hotel on the final night of the trip and in that room we'd see another seemingly out-of-place photo, the Tower Bridge in London. Out the window we had a view of the street and the mountains beyond. It was sunny but didn't yet feel outrageously hot, though everything did look somewhat dusty. I noticed laundry on lines outside windows across the street.
Having gotten little sleep on the airplane I wanted to nap a bit, but I knew that too deep a sleep would not help me adjust to the time zone. I made sure to set the alarm, then read until it wasn't possible for me to stay awake any more. We also left the TV on in the background for a while, and noticed a surprising number of German channels (later on I'd also see Futurama with Spanish dubbing, which was quite interesting). When the alarm went off I made sure to get up rather than succumb to the temptation to go back to sleep.
Instead I tried to freshen up a bit. After all, one never feels at one's best after an overnight plane trip. I also had a snack (not having eaten since our last meal on the plane), accompanied by a Coke from the complimentary mini-bar. "Bar" is a bit of a misnomer here since none of the drinks were alcoholic, but we still appreciated them and wound up using them all (the Coke, a bottle of orange juice, and two waters). The Coke was particularly refreshing, as it had real sugar rather than corn syrup, just like I remembered it being when I was a kid. Throughout the trip we'd get "sugar Coke" whenever we could.
We certainly didn't want to spend the entire day in the hotel so eventually we prepared to go out. I hadn't done much research on tourism opportunities in Madrid, but Janna had some ideas about what to do. In fact, we had an overabundance of options. Eventually we decided to do about the easiest thing possible, to go to Puerta del Sol, the heart of Madrid. There were plenty of things to do around there, to the point where we could just wander around if we wanted to and find things to do and see, as well as places to eat. In order to narrow things a little, we confined ourselves to walking toward the Royal Palace, and then walk back toward Sol along Calle de Mayor. Somewhat to the southwest of Plaza Mayor it sounded like there were some interesting restaurants, so I figured we could eat our dinner by the time we reached that point.
Before leaving I made sure to apply sunscreen, something that would be necessary throughout the trip, and which would become a daily habit! Janna also suggested that I take some money out of my money belt and leave it behind so I wasn't carrying everything with me. I hadn't thought about doing this but it made good sense since Madrid was reputed to have a lot of pickpockets. I couldn't do this every day because we were often switching hotels, but I did try to keep the money that was on me in several different places so nobody could get it all at once.
We left our room at about 4:30. Upon exiting I noticed that the hotel had "magic lights" that only came on when somebody was nearby. I was surprised more hotels on the trip didn't have them. We'd seen it throughout Germany and had thought it a good idea. Since the Spanish hotels seemed pretty modern I'd have thought they'd have such a feature.
As was often the case in such situations we had trouble getting ourselves oriented once out of the hotel. We had a Google Maps printout directing us to the nearest Metro station, but it didn't help unless we knew which direction was which. We chose what we thought was the most likely direction and tried to keep an eye on the streets we passed as best we could. It turned out we didn't quite get our bearings right, but we did get there in the end.
Along the way I noticed a thermometer showing the temperature at 34º Celsius, in the mid-90's Fahrenheit. This was much warmer than I'd been used to that summer, yet though I was wearing long pants it didn't feel terribly hot to me. One of my big concerns about the trip had been how well I'd do in the heat, but all in all I found the temperatures to be less difficult to deal with than I expected. In the direct sun it could be hot, but mornings and evenings were usually reasonable, and even mid-day in the shade or in a breeze the temperatures were tolerable. Only one or two days was there enough humidity to make it really uncomfortable. I did find myself feeling a bit sticky at the end of a day, and needed to drink water often for fear of being dehydrated, but it was not nearly as uncomfortable as I had expected at first.
The street we walked along was called Calle de Tropica (Calle seemed to be their equivalent of "Street" or "Avenue"). This brought us next to a very bare-looking park. All the plants were brown; I couldn't be sure if it was just due to the dry climate or due to lack of upkeep, but it did seem to be a bit unkempt in general. There was a grilled onion smell coming from somewhere. However it still seemed to be a quiet hour of the day, perhaps still within their siesta hour; we didn't see too many people walking about.
Past the park Janna spotted three feral cats in a little side alley. One seemed to have a seriously injured eye, but another was reposing as if it were a tame cat. We took some pictures and film, as we would always do the several times we encountered cats on that trip.
About this time we tried to reorient ourselves on the map. I thought I knew which way to go but wasn't entirely sure. Seeing a guy walking across the street Janna tried to ask in Spanish if he could direct us to the Metro. He answered in what Janna thought was gibberish, but after a few seconds I realized he was asking if we spoke German. It was the last thing I expected to hear while in Spain. Though I knew some German I was a bit too slow to realize what was going on before he just started gesturing and talking too quickly for me to follow. I did get the gist of what he was trying to say, but was just as relieved not to have to talk back to him. I gathered we were headed in the right direction, which was all I really needed to know anyway.
In fact, the Metro shelter turned out to be on the corner of the next major intersection. Interestingly we could look a bit further down the road and see the planes taxiing at the airport, demonstrating how close we were to it.
We decided to purchase a 10-trip metro ticket to share between us. We would not use all 10 trips that day but we could save the leftover rides for our return to Madrid about a week later. We tried to use the credit-only machine by mistake, wondering why it wasn't accepting any bills. Once we figured this out we had no more trouble getting our ticket.
Our remote location meant we had to connect twice to get to Puerta del Sol, but Madrid's subway system was efficient and convenient; we have come to expect nothing less in European cities. Some of the trains were modern than others. The last one we took did not have LED readouts to indicate the stations so we had to pay closer attention to announcements. The one real inconvenience was that at some of the connecting stations we had a considerable walk to get from one train to the other. On one of these walks I heard a guitar-playing busker doing a rendition of "Dust on the Wind", not the first song I'd have expected to hear!
The Sol station, our ultimate destination and the center of all of Madrid, looked very old. Some of this might have been due to there being extensive construction in the area (in some places I'd see exposed wires). There were no escalators; we had to take the stairs to get to the surface.
The construction was even more pronounced when we found ourselves aboveground. The entire interior of the plaza was inaccessible. To get around, people had to squeeze through narrow spaces around the sides. The subway construction seemed to be the main motivator. Older entrances appeared to be closed, and newer ones under construction.
At one end of the plaza was a building with a big sign depicting a bottle with a sombrero, and the lettering "Tio Pepe". It looked tacky to me, but Janna said it was a famous landmark. We'd later see it at night lit up, but were unable to photograph it then as our camera batteries had run down.
We were due to stay at a hotel right on the plaza in about a week, after the coaster part of the trip was over, so we decided to see if we could find it. The construction blocked our way almost immediately and we didn't manage to spot it just then. Rather than struggle through the crowds we decided to just continue with our original plans.
There were four major streets radiating out from the plaza. Our plan had us walking down Calle de Arenal (it took me a while not to read this as "arsenal") toward the royal palace. This street, as several others, had sun shades above it in triangular patterns. The shades were very useful; throughout the trip it was rare to find more than a few clouds in the sky, so anything that blocked direct sunlight was welcome.
I was a little taken aback when the second café with street seating that I saw was a Starbucks. Though the cities were not entirely Americanized, we did see a number of Burger Kings, a few McDonalds's, and more KFC's than I'd have expected. I don't recall any other American chains.
A bit further along I spotted a little bookseller down a side street with his books out on tables on the street (the cash register seemed to be inside a doorway in a rather tiny room compared to the tables spread out). We spent some time looking at it. I was surprised to see several books about keeping tropical fish, including some in English. There was also a manual for a "superhet" radio which I found somewhat tempting as an aficionado of old electronics. It certainly wasn't a book I'd ever have expected to find in Spain.
Further down this little side street was a "Chocolateria". This turned out not to be quite a chocolate shop as I'd guessed but more like a coffee house. I wasn't sure but I think the chocolate in question was some kind of drink. We thought about trying some, and may even have stepped inside briefly, but in the end decided to just go on.
To get back to Calle Arenal we just had to take another side street back the way we came. On this street Janna noticed a restaurant that put its seafood on display in the window, including a giant flounder.
Once back on the main street, continuing toward the palace, we saw a few miscellaneous sights. Most significantly was a store advertising Jamón--ham. As a major product of Spain we could hardly avoid it, but we were thrilled to see the first such shop, though eventually we'd see many. Across the street was a guy with fake angel wings on his back handing some kind of flyer out. We also saw mounted police. We came upon another square with construction, which we passed quickly and then passed the opera, I believe.
Just off the palace plaza a restaurant with outdoor seating that had a good solution to the potential unpleasantness of eating in the Spanish heat--water misters above the tables to cool the air. This would turn out to be quite common but at the time it struck me as a novel and good idea.
One of the first things we saw when we reached the palace square was a Segway tour running in front of us. The "square" was not really square; the side opposite the palace was curved, with elegant-looking buildings bordering it. There was a garden with some topiary, in the middle of which was a fountain. Some of the hedges reminded me a bit of Schloß Mirabell in Salzburg.
Around the side of the palace was a downward slope, beyond which I could see some green-looking hills, and mountains further in the background. There were other gardens visible down the slope, one nearer and one farther. The nearer one appeared to be reachable by an easy walk, so I suggested going down to it. Before going we both took some pain medication because of incipient headaches, perhaps due to dehydration and being awake for so long.
The garden, called Jardines de Sabatini, was down a large stone stairway. It had hedges configured in small square mazes with dirt paths between them. There was a large central pool with fountains along it, as well as small fountains in some of the hedge squares. The pool didn't have any obvious paths to it but people were gathered around it anyway, apparently having stepped over a low hedge to get there. At one end there was something that looked like a concert stage. At another point there was a grate that we could look through and see streets further down. It was a telling indication of how hilly the area was. On one of the larger pathways was a topiary tree that had a distinct underhang. Janna took a photo of me "holding it up". I think the same tree or one very nearby had a topiary tunnel to walk through as well.
We did not linger too long, as the garden was off our planned path though it had been a pleasant side visit. As we began to make our way back up the stairs we saw a guy selling water bottles for 1 Euro apiece. This would turn out to be a fairly typical price, but at the time it struck us as cheap, and we definitely needed to stay hydrated.
We continued by heading southward past the front of the palace. Along the way we saw some nuns eating ice cream. There were also a lot of skateboarding kids outside the palace entrance (which seemed to be closed). The police didn't seem to mind this.
A little past the central palace door, on the other side of the walk, was a trailer advertising city info. Janna had a map with her (apparently made by McDonald's, as it had icons representing their restaurant locations throughout the city) but wanted to get something more compact. She asked if they had anything smaller, and got the answer "It's not very small but it's very good". She took it, and I think we used it through most of the rest of the trip, during which it got pretty beaten up.
We didn't get into the palace (perhaps a mistake, as I've heard it's one of the three best in Europe), but just looked at it from the outside. Looking in on a courtyard I saw one lone guy walking from one end to the other; there was no other sign of activity. Just across a small square from the south wall of the palace was a cathedral. The first view of the cathedral around the corner of the palace was great, but it got a bit spoiled as I walked further by a big fence and crane in the area. The wood fence was actually quite elaborate looking, but it was still a construction site. In the square a guy was playing "What Child is This" on a violin.
There were statues on either side of the main cathedral door. One was of "Pavlvs", the other of "Petrvs"-Peter and Paul. The main door was closed, but we found an open door when we walked around to the side of the building that fronted the street rather than the palace. There was a sign for "Neo-Romanica Cripto", presumably crypts, but we didn't do these. However we did decide to have a look inside the cathedral.
There was no charge to get in, but they had a place to put donations. I put in a 2 Euro coin, which made a rather loud clink in the silent room. Near the entrance were some electric "candles". They could be activated by a coin. For the most part they shone constantly but occasionally they blinked for some reason. Sometimes they would blink in patterns, either all at once or in rapid succession. I wasn't quite sure of the significance of any of this.
Janna noticed some rather elaborate scenes in alcoves around the side of the building. It appeared these could be illuminated for a coin. She called them the "Stations of the Cross" but later we thought perhaps the actual stations might have been represented by smaller plaques. Neither of us was familiar enough with Catholic symbolism to really know.
I wasn't entirely sure if it was frowned upon to film inside, but eventually pulled out my camcorder (Janna did take some pictures, and we saw others doing the same later on). I tried to get a view of some impressive yellow stained glass high above the floor, but the sun was shining directly on it, making it hard to get a good shot. I did better later at getting its projection on the opposite wall. The patterns struck me as rather geometric; I was expecting something more free-form.
When we'd first entered I'd seen some pews facing toward the opposite wall and what looked like an altar area. Naturally I thought we were facing lengthwise through the church, so I was very confused when 3/4 of the way around I saw the same kind of setup, but with more pews and a bigger altar. It then occurred to me that we'd come in a side entrance and that what I was seeing was the view from the main entrance. I'm not sure why they arranged the church as though there were two intersecting congregations but it was an interesting effect.
Outside once again, we saw a statue of Pope John Paul II. Across the street was a café named Juan Valdez. There had been a similarly-named café while on our layover, so I commented that it was "just like the one we left in Newark".
We turned back to the left to head along the Calle Mayor, the street we were planning on taking back to Puerto del Sol, keeping open the possibility along the way of wandering down some side streets to look for a place to eat dinner. We saw a place called La Mayor Cerveceria that offered Duff beer, down to the proper Simpsons logo for it. Nearby we also saw a pastry shop and a "Guitarreria" on the other side of the street, where guitars were sold.
During our walk we came upon a souvenir store. Outside on the sidewalk were tiles depicting a bear standing against a tree. I noticed this before Janna, but only she understood the reference. It was a famous emblem of the city that we'd see a statue of later on. I'm not one for buying souvenirs but do occasionally like to browse stores to see what's available. The most interesting things I saw were a refrigerator magnet shaped like a pan of paella, and some animal statues covered with mosaics of tiles.
It was about this time I first noticed something that would strike me several times during the trip. Though Madrid seemed to be bustling, there were also a fair number of closed shops, even in obviously highly traveled districts. One of my first indications of this was a boarded up building right on Calle Mayor. They used big X beams to block the windows.
We passed by another jamón shop. Janna prepared to take a picture of their window. She was so focused on the picture that she didn't notice the man behind the counter waving at her. When I pointed it out to her and she looked at him, he turned away as if abashed. I thought we should go in and at least look around as a reward for his friendly behavior but we wound up not doing so; it would have been difficult to have deal with anything we might have bought anyway.
Almost by accident we came upon a place where we'd wind up spending quite a bit of our Madrid time, Mercado de San Miguel. It was a market building with a variety of stands inside. I was intrigued when I got a first glimpse of it along a side street, then encountered another side of it a block later, where Janna first noticed it. Seeing some fruits and other merchandise on display, we decided to go inside and see what it was about.
The market reminded me a lot of Reading Market in Philadelphia, or the large market building in Budapest. The building had an ironwork look with glass windows around the outside. A few days after we got back Janna found a writeup of it in New York Times indicating it had been very recently renovated. I overheard somebody saying they didn't like how the market was driving out smaller vendors. I didn't really understand the comment at the time (thinking the market was older than it was) but even so thought that I'd consider myself lucky to have more places like this in the US.
We wandered about for a few minutes, just looking at the various stands. Among the more interesting was one where a man sliced up fish for customers. At the opposite end of the building was another that served cocktails, including the amusingly misspelled "Cape Code". Food and drink were predominant but not the only things for sale. For instance there was also a book stand that sold cookbooks. One, oddly enough, had "pimp" in the title.
After wandering about for a while and being appetized by the food and drink for sale at multiple stands we decided rather than seek out a restaurant we could just eat there. We kept open the option of going somewhere else afterwards but as late as it was getting I rightly suspected we simply wouldn't. We began by getting a few cubes of cheese wrapped in fish (anchovy and tuna, I believe) from a stand called "Vermouth" (Janna said that vermouth was very popular in Spain, and much different from what one could get in the US). They also had some green olives, which we got a plate of. It cost 3 Euros, which I thought was a good deal! As a second course Janna picked up some "bocadillos", a kind of Spanish mini-sandwich and some cheese.
Both the olives and the sandwiches were good. One sandwich had some kind of salami, another had jamón. The salami sandwich came with two different types of salami-which we didn't realize at first-both of which were good. The jamón was kind of oily, but in a delicious way. We also had some cabrales cheese and another variety I couldn't identify. It had a kind of pleasant chalky flavor.
Naturally I wanted to try some of the local wine. There was a wine bar nearby so I went over to get a glass for each of us. There were several riojas available of varying expenses. I got a "reserva rioja" that seemed to be on special, at 4 Euros a glass.
There weren't too many places to sit and eat. Eventually we went to a long table next to a bar that featured a local brand of beer called Mahou. (I never had this beer but later learned it was supposed to be quite good.) Though I wasn't sure if people who weren't patrons of the bar should eat at that table, we took a couple of seats there. The market had the same misters as we'd seen at the outdoor restaurant earlier.
There was an interesting group of women, apparently a mother and her two daughters, sitting nearby. I got the sense they were celebrating something, perhaps a graduation. One of them asked how the wine I was drinking was, but I think they wound up getting some white wine instead. They got some plates with cheese, and were very impressed with the sharpness of their bleu. I recall one of them saying it made her tongue numb. This may have been the same cabrales cheese we were having.
All in all it was a very pleasant little meal. I was really enjoying just being in that environment eating good food, drinking a bit, and truly having a chance to relax. In the end, this modest meal in the bustling market area was one of my favorite memories of the trip.
Leaving the market building, we came upon a street just off of Calle Mayor, where we saw a sign for something called Museo de Jamón. At the time we thought it might literally be a museum, but we later found it was a chain of shops.
Through an archway we came upon the Plaza del Mayor, obviously one of the central points of the city, and a more pleasant place at that time than the under-construction Puerta del Sol. There were many cafes, so the entire square was populated with tables around the edge where people were having leisurely meals or drinks.
In addition to the cafes, there were a lot of performers. The first that caught my eye was a guy playing a piano on what seemed to be his own full stage. However he was nearly drowned out by other activities across the square. Somewhere there were tambourines, guitars, clapping, and singing, making both of us think of Give Peace a Chance. Later I think the same people put on a skit. Elsewhere a man playing guitar accompanied a flamenco-dancing woman. Even more than the piano player, they seemed drowned out by the noise elsewhere on the square.
Many of the most interesting performers wore costumes. One had a devil mask, and another looked like Death in a white robe. He had a kind of noisemaker that made vocal-like squeaking sounds. He was very expressive, often wordlessly imploring people to drop him a coin. The only time he seemed to use his own voice was to make odd shrieking noises, almost like a hawk. It was funny to hear, and a bit incongruous. Elsewhere there were people dressed in Minnie Mouse and Tigger costumes. I couldn't quite tell what they were doing but I doubted they were Disney-authorized!
Janna's very favorite performer was on one corner of the square. He was beneath a table so that only his head was visible, along with two fake monster heads on either side of him. He would put on fully expressions at passers by, occasionally saying "psst" to get their attention. He seemed very friendly, often smiling broadly. Janna was so taken by him that he was the one person we gave any money to--picture taking was frowned upon unless you tipped the performer.
Another strange form of artistic expression that we first saw in Plaza Mayor but would see several more times on that trip was some kind of toilet paper art. Arches and loops of toilet paper were connected elaborately above subway vents so they blew upwards from the airflow beneath.
Though we liked the atmosphere of the plaza there wasn't much reason for us to stay there, having already eaten and expecting the prices of the outdoor cafes to be somewhat expensive anyway (throughout the trip we would find surcharges for outdoor eating). We exited the plaza in the direction that would take us back to Calle Mayor. Outside the plaza there were yet more performers scattered about like a guy playing music on crystal glasses and some "living statues", people dressed up in costumes and standing very still. One had a kind of gold flake outfit and stood on a pedestal. Later we saw one dressed in green (looking almost like a corroded copper statue) who looked like a street sweeper with a pushbroom. Janna took a picture of this one without paying for it; there were enough people looking that I don't think anybody noticed. One of the odder performers we'd see that day (back at Sol) was a bagpipe player, not the sort of instrument we'd have expected to hear there.
We saw one other interesting street sight that evening--one which we'd see often that trip--street vendors. The most popular vendors seemed to be Asians selling fans. They'd hold one in their hand and snap it open and closed to get attention. They seemed to do a decent business; at least I did see several people with such fans during the trip. Later on I'd see one woman quickly pack up and move off, suggesting that the business was not entirely legitimate.
Though by this point we'd decided to give up on dinner plans, we couldn't pass up getting some ice cream. In spite of my lack of Spanish, I ordered my own, "vanilla chocolate and cookies".
It was about 9:30 when we took the Metro back. At the time it felt pretty late, but by the standards of that trip it would turn out to be an early night. I was tired and had to struggle to keep awake to make sure we didn't miss our stop. If we had we'd have wound up at the airport. This meant staying somewhat sharp as there were no "proxima estacion" announcements on this train.
When we exited the subway station at Barajas we found cooler, more comfortable temperatures. There was a crescent moon low to the horizon. Over the course of the trip I watched it wax until on our final evening from the same viewpoint it was nearly full.
The way back to the hotel was initially more obvious than the reverse direction had been. At first we just had to walk down the main street until we reached Calle de Alanis. From there we weren't quite sure where to go until I spotted the hotel sign above some intervening buildings. The sign had a distinctive blue color and curvy logo.
Before going back to our room we stopped at a convenience mart in a gas station across the street. We got a big bottle of water for only 1 Euro, a price that felt cheap to us. It was about average for the trip, though we'd sometimes find even better deals. We weren't sure if we could trust the city tap water (though I brushed my teeth with it to no bad effect). I found I needed a good amount of cold water anyway. Even though I never felt as hot as I'd feared that day, I did feel dehydrated and just a bit sticky by the end of it.
It was about 10:30 by the time we got back to the hotel. I was surprised to find that there was still some twilight out, much later than I expected. On previous summer trips to Europe I'd gotten used to later sunsets, but that was in cities further to the north. There, the sun had also risen quite early, whereas in Madrid mornings seemed to be later than I expected. My conclusion was that we were near the western side of the time zone, which made for late nights and late mornings.
Before getting to bed I had to set up my electronic equipment so I charged everything I possibly could. From past experience I wanted to minimize the possibility that any of my equipment would run out of batteries in the middle of a day. I had enough spare power that I could probably go an evening without charging some items if necessary (in fact I brought more camcorder batteries than I ever needed), but I never risked it if possible. Meanwhile Janna took a quick shower, which she said was very refreshing after such a long day in the hot sun.
It was a good first day to the trip, though somewhat exhausting. I was glad for an opportunity to get a chance to explore Madrid somewhat. Such opportunities would be limited for much of the rest of the trip, for as of the next morning we'd be on the strict schedule of our tour group.