Thursday, September 3, 2015


I can't sleep on planes.  I felt like I had dozed, but my fitbit didn't log any sleep.  So I landed in Madrid at 11 a.m., kind of groggy but ready to take it on.  I didn't have a guide book but knew my first item of business after getting my bag was to find the RENFE, or train station, and get a senior discount pass, which would entitle me to 40% off on the trains.  I always remember advice like that, even if I don't know where I'm supposed to go.

|I had to go down the crazy little steps to get off the plane, a real challenge with hand baggage and no sleep, then walk forever to get to the main part of the airport.  The main airport is beautifully set up for tourists, with bus, Metro and distance trains right there. I found where I needed to go and bought an immediate ticket to get downtown and a ticket for Saturday to Pamplona.  I had booked a small hotel right across from the train station so I wouldn't have to walk far with my luggage.

It took me a few tries to figure out which exit to take out of the huge train station, then to find the "right across the street" hotel whose street wasn't shown on my map and nobody I asked knew where it was.  A helpful man whipped out his cell phone and found "Calle Dr. Drumen" and directed me.  It parallels the main street and is definitely tourist oriented, with a McDonalds, KFC, Burger King, and Starbucks all on one block, along with numerous sidewalk cafes.  Hostal Buelta was smack in the middle of the block, but I was too early to check in.

I asked about finding a Spanish SIM card for my iphone so I could avoid Verizon roaming charges. The man at the desk told me there was a phone store "right up the street, not sure how far."  I left my roller bag and went out for a walk in the beautiful sunshine.  The neighborhood consists of a mix of government and commerical buildings made of stone.  The sidewalks are wide with room for plenty of sidewalk cafes.  Many shops are closed due to Spanish siesta time, from approximately two to five.  After walking about a mile uphill, I hadn't seen a phone store.  In Africa and Latin America they are all over.  I decided to get my tired body back to the hotel, rest till the shops reopened, and try another street.

Around four, I opted for dinner at one of the lovely sidewalk cafes.  My dinner is actually lunch, since Spanish custom is to have supper at 9 or 10 at night. If I wanted to eat, I had to get to one before they closed lunch service.   A lot of the restaurants don't even open till 9, and nightclubs don't open till midnight.  When do these people go to work in the morning.?  The restaurant I chose specialized in calamari, even though Madrid is far from the ocean.  I wanted something little and asked for a local beer and a mini bocadillo, the classic Spanish sandwich.  I got a slab of chicken on a dry French roll, with no mayonnaise, tomato, lettuce, or anything.  Well, it was cheap and I got to watch the people go by.

I had better luck on the other road I chose to walk along.  I passed the Prado, a famous art museum, and walked about a mile up and found an internet store that sold SIM chips.  Ten Euros for two gigabytes of data, plus 8 mb of talk/text.  The owner changed the SIM card for me and I was careful to store my Verizon card where I could find it again.  Interestingly, I still got a couple of texts on my Verizon phone number after this, so I'm not sure how that works.

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