Madrid 1

posted 5 July 2005

Written 22 June 2005

MixloSaturday morning, 18 June, I strolled to the bakery for the last time, we had breakfast, then I systematically emptied the fridge and the kitchen cabinets, setting aside items (like one left-over can of pumpkin, a bottle of dill weed, half a pound of sugar) that Patrick and Patricia might want. We packed and sealed the last box (of six) to be shipped home, bundled the golf clubs (and my broken tripod) into their large and cumbersome mummy bag, closed up all the suitcases, conducted our usual last-walk-around-the-campsite inspection for forgotten items (turning up a couple of items that someone else had left behind under a wardrobe but none that we had), shook Patrick's hand as he set off with his buddies for a day's sailing among the nearby islands, packed the car, made sure Mixlo was safely perched in his flower pot on top of the old stone well and not under the car, and set off for the airport (via the Plougonvelin post office of course, to ship that last box—the postmaster knew us well by that time).

At the airport, I dropped David at the terminal with the small mountain of luggage, then set about returning our trusty Renault Clio, following the directions the nice young many had given me on the phone two days earlier. Step 1, proceed to "visitor" parking log P0. Drat, parking lot P0 is full up, and two cars were parked in front of the gate, so I couldn't even try to get in. Step 2, follow the instructions posted at parking lot P0, e.g., proceed to "long-term" parking lot P2, where I'll be given the first hour free. Okay, did that. Step 3, assemble all the stuff I have to turn in. Drat. David still had the contract in his briefcase, and I couldn't find the second car key (which I had had in my hand within the last two hours). Step 4, hike to the terminal (not that far, fortunately, and it's not like I can't use the exercise) to get the contract from David and to search my luggage for the car key. There is was, finally, between two layers of clothes in my suitcase—I had apparently set it on top of the open suitcase, in plain sight where I wouldn't forget it, then accidentally covered it in the packing process. On the way back to the car, I ran into Patricia. She had had to leave early that morning for a course she teaches and had said she'd try to drop by the airport to say good-by, since she teaches quite nearby—I directed her to David's spot in the waiting room and headed back to the parking lot. Step 5, report to the little yellow offices at the far end of parking lot P0 (which at this point was 2/3 empty) to meet the nice young man. I was still way early for our appointment, but I hoped he'd be there anyway. No, he wasn't; could I come back at 11:30 a.m., when he had agreed to meet me? Step 6, back to the terminal to chat with David and Patricia for 45 min. Step 7, back to the little yellow offices, where I was greeted by a nice young woman (a friend of the nice young man who works in one of the airport boutiques and fills in for him sometimes) with a checklist. We strolled over to the car, where she checked that it still had (a) its radio, (b) its spare tire, (c) all four hubcaps ("enjoliveurs"; what a great word), (d) all its paperwork (contract, registration, owner's manual, ticket for parking lot P2), and (e) both keys. It did, so we repaired to the yellow offices, we both signed off, she gave me a receipt, and that was that. We returned it with about a pint of fuel in the tank and 4 minutes to go on the hour's free parking. All in all, we would recommend Renault's "Eurodrive" program pretty highly.

We caught our flight to Lyon without a hitch (except that the luggage was way overweight, and that cost us a bundle), then changed planes for Madrid. We could have gone all the way to Santiago de Compostela that day, but we would have gotten in very late at night, so we stopped overnight to do a little sightseeing. Our cab driver spoke about two words of English (to my four words of Spanish), but he recognized the name of our hotel and set off to cover the 12 km to the town center. Unfortunately, several kilometers short, we encountered a police roadblock. The driver got out, conducted a spirited (well, shouted) discussion with the police, who wouldn't let him through. He got back in, and tried a different route. Meanwhile, we haltingly parsed the signs carried by the huge crowds behind the barricades and concluded that this was one heck of a big (but fortunately cheerful) anti-gay-marriage march; families had been bused in for it from miles around (perhaps the whole country; we saw scores if not hundreds of buses). The new route hit another roadblock, and the driver did some more shouting. Finally, he located a young policeman with 10 words of English who managed to convey to us that we would have to get out and walk the rest of the way. How far? About 20 minutes' walk. Right, uphill, through elbow-to-elbow crowds waving signs saying "The family is important" and "Mariage = a man plus a woman" and (on children) "I need a mama and a papa," carrying about 80 kg of variously shaped luggage. Much gesturing and miming—was there no way to go around to get closer? The driver shouted (at the cop, not at us) and pointed angrily to his watch, but he got back in and took a wide circle route through several tunnels that eventually brought us within sight of our hotel (overall, the 12 km took about an hour). We overtipped him, dragged our luggage across the street and to the front door of the hotel, only to find it locked. A small hand-written sign directed us to the hotel next door. "Tryp," it seems, is the Spanish equivalent of Accor and is buying up and "chainifying" hotels all over Spain. The Tryp Washington, where we had reserved, is now part of the Tryp Sol Melia/Washington, and you have to enter through the Sol Melia lobby (up two short flights of steps just to get your luggage to reception).

After checking in, we were directed to the elevators and told where to find the connecting walkway from the Sol Melia 8th floor through to the Washington 8th floor. The walkway turned out to feature another short flight of steps, so the bellman's trolley we had borrowed (in the absence of a bellman) had to be abandoned halfway, but finally got everything into the room, which was entirely satisfactory.

The next order of business was to go for a stroll, in search of a nice place to have dinner. It was hot, over 30C, and the streets were full of demonstrators wandering back from the march, which seemed to be breaking up. It's true what they say about Spain, that the evening begins at 9 p.m., and dinner is never before 10 p.m. We weren't willing to wait that long, so we figured we were in for a dinner of "tapas," the small munchies sold somewhat earlier as snacks and appetizers, but we came to a nice-looking "sideria" (which we correctly interpreted as a cider-based restaurant, by analogy with all the cerveserias, vinerias, and cafeterias, based, respectively, on beer, wine, and coffee) called Galopin that fit the 100-yard rule, whose menu looked interesting, and whose sign said that it opened at 8 p.m. We strolled around a bit more, then returned about 8:10 p.m., to find the door locked. The guy inside stuck his head out to say, in the usual sign language and mime, that he really opened at 8:30 p.m. It was just like the old days when we tried to eat in French restaurants at their 7:30 p.m. opening time—we were waited on by the boss for the first half hour, until the wait staff and the first other customers showed up.

The amuse-bouche was four tasty little sizzling-hot sausages and warm bread buns. I started with scrambled eggs with black (i.e., blood) pudding (revueltos con morcilla), which I enjoyed thoroughly. I had pictured scrambled eggs with the pudding on the side, but the pudding was finely chopped and the whole things scrambled together, with a little cheese, I think. David even tried it and pronounced it "earthy" but okay. He started with two red "piquillo" chilis stuffed with crabmeat, then deep-fried in a puffy batter and served on a sweet tomato sauce. Those were great! (We plan to go back so that we can both order them.) David's main course was grilled breast of duck with currant sauce, boiled potatoes on the side; the duck was good, but he pronounced the sauce way too sweet. I had "mixed grill," which was a lamb chop, a couple of duck-breast slices, some beef, and maybe some lamb, all grilled rare, with crisp matchstick potatoes on the side and half a "sucrine" lettuce. On the side, they served a double cruet of olive oil and house-made cider vinegar. David plans to order that next time. For dessert, I tried "home made sheeps milk curdle with honey," a little earthenware pot of coagulated sheep's milk (much like rich yogurt but without the sour tang) and a small pitcher of warm honey. David had flan, which is ubiquitous on menus (and hotel breakfast buffets) here—very thick and firm, with caramel sauce so dark it had almost a bitter edge.

The restaurant's most amazing feature, though, became apparent only when some regular customers arrived, partway through our meal. As they were shown to their table, the waitress took down two tall glass tumblers, which she held with the bottoms in the palm of her left hand, at hip level. With her right hand, she reached up to a little tap over her head, set in the end of what I had assumed was an ornamental barrel (about five feet in diameter), and unerringly squirted four-foot streams of foaming cider into the glasses, tipping her hand slightly to move the first glass out of the stream and the second into it. David turned around when he saw my jaw drop, but he missed it. Fortunatley, the performance was repeated several times more, as additional customers arrived; each glass was filled only about 1/4 full. From where he sat, David could see that there was, in fact, a small bucket on the floor in case of drips or misses, but we saw none. The only thing I would change about the place is that the muzak was playing the same dratted wailing woman (I-I-I-I will always love you-u-u-u-u-u!) they played in the Italian restaurant in Gdynia.

On the stroll back along the Gran Via to the hotel, yes, the streets had come to life. We were in the theatre district, so many groups of well-dressed people were on their way to shows, the restaurants and cafés were in full swing, what had been drab-colored buildings were lit up with giant animated neon advertisements. We walked past at least eight other newly Tryp-ified hotels on the way.

Sabatini gardensThe next morning, we cut over one block and walked the length of the Sabatini gardens (where the southern magnolias were in bloom) as far as the Royal Palace (shown below; it's used for state dinners and whatnot, but the king apparently doesn't actually live there anymore) and the Opera House. The square between the two was lined with eight-foot pyramid-shaped "topiary" of pink geraniums—actually pyramid-shaped planters. It was also lined with statues of the kings of Spain all the way back to the 9th century! It was early yet, so only two buskers were in evidence. An accordeonist was playing to the accompaniment of one of those electronic rhythm-sections-in-a-boom-box that made him sound like a whole band, and a young woman in white robes put on a white cloth cap and was busily applying pasty white grease paint while studying both a photo and her own reflection in a small mirror. I thought she must be a mime, but in fact, when we got close enough to see her little advertising sign, we found that she was in fact making herself up as Mother Theresa (the resemblance really was remarkable) so as to charge 1 euro to take her picture—2 euros to let you pose with her for the picture. Now, we've come across several similar arrangements since, including a guy here in Santiago who charges for you to take a photo of his little dog, who is carefully dressed up as Sant Iago himself, complete with brown tunic, floppy hat, walking stick, water gourd, and scallop shell—1 euro seems to be the going rate—but the Mother Theresa thing was by far the most macabre. I wonder whether business got better or worse when the real Mother Theresa died.

Palacio RealBecause we would be returning for two more nights at the end of the week, we got the hotel to agree to store one of the suitcases, so that we wouldn't have to shlep it to Santiago and back, but they wouldn't take the golf bag. Our taxi got us to the airport must faster than the we had made the trip the other direction, so we had time to get a bite to eat before checking in. I elected to carry one a bag I had planned to check, so as to keep the overweight charges down, but then just as my purse disappeared into the x-ray machine, I slapped my self on the forehead—I had forgotten to take the sharps out of it! Drat. When the security guard on the other side asked, somewhat incredulously, "Do you have a knife in your bag?" I had to apologize profusely and answer yes (although I did not bother to add that it was actually three knives, a small Leatherman, and a set of rather expensive embroidery snips that would put a box cutter to shame). Fortunately, I was able to go back to the check-in desk, explain the problem, transfer my sharps pouch from my purse to the carry-on and check that. They didn't even charge for the extra weight. The 50-minute flight went smoothly otherwise.

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