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Oct 1: Madrid, travel to Barcelona


Today we slept in a bit late. I was up first, so I showered, dressed and headed over to Starbucks for some quality internetting. I was able to connect for about an hour or so before Kurt and Phil arrived. After downing a coffee and snarfing down a croissant, we headed back to our hotel to check out, and then set out for the Royal Palace, which was a short walk away.

It was Saturday morning, and the streets were relatively quiet for a change. Perhaps everyone was partied out from the week? Or maybe the people frequenting the streets are from the 'burbs and were home on the weekend...

The Royal Palace was built in the late 1700s. According to Rick, it's the third most impressive palace in Europe behind Versailles and one other. It was quite impressive from the outside, and bordered a large gardens,the Campo del Moro, not quite as extensive as Versailles, but still quite nice. The gardens created a border between the palace and the rest of the city, so it didn't feel quite so hemmed in.

From the courtyard you have a wonderful view of the 'burbs... the large apartment buildings and other more modern architecture surrounding the older part of Madrid.

We decided to take the guided tour, as it was only 1 Euro more than the price of entry (and the audio guide was more than that). Our tour guide led us through each room in the palace, and explained the purpose of the room and the decorations within. Many of the rooms were done in a rococo style, but even so, they were quite nice.

The most impressive room was the banquet hall, which had a table that could expand to sit 150 people. The room was big enough to hold our entire house! This room is still used to hold official state dinners.

We were also treated to a room where 5 Stradavarii instruments are stored -- a viola, three violins and a cello -- along with several old pianos. These instruments are still in use; apparently they have concerts at the place every couple of weeks. It would be nice to be invited to one of those!

As we worked through the tour, I felt sorry for those unfortunate souls who didn't select a tour. The public area in each room is small enough that one of the guided tour groups fills the entire space, much like it did in Versailles. As much as I'd normally prefer to tour these places on my own, in retrospect, it would have been more enjoyable to tour Versailles had we hooked up with a tour group. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em!

After finishing the tour, we moseyed around the large courtyard inside the palace, visited the gift shop, and poked our heads into the adjacent cathedral (which was far more impressive looking from the outside than from the inside).

We decided to tour the gardens below, and made our way around the palace and down to the entry. Just as we got there, a bride and groom stepped out of a car, and walked down the steps for some pictures. From the entrance to the park, there is a beautiful walkway and view of the palace. During our stroll through the gardens we saw three other couples in picture-taking poses, prompting Kurt to wonder where the funeral was (get it? "Four weddings and a funeral"?).

We took a short stroll through the gardens, which were quite beautiful and very peaceful. It was one of the few places in Madrid that wasn't teeming with people.

We headed on out the gardens and off to find a place to eat. I really wanted to patronize a place recommended by one of our books. The problem was, many of the places that Rick recommended didn't have outdoor seating, and Phil really wanted to eat outside. So we compromised on a place in Plaza Mayor recommended by Rick Steves.

The restaurant was in a nice shady part of the square. After a quick inspection of the menu we sat down and ordered. We started off with a delicious Spanish omelette, which we shared between the three of us. Our main courses arrived, which were only so so... most everything was fried. Dessert, on the other hand, was quite delicious. The meal was quite expensive; we paid a premium for eating in the Plaza. But it was quite relaxing sitting in the square watching the world go by. So it was probably worth it.

It was now nearing 5, and we decided to head back to the hotel to wait for our shuttle to take us to the airport. We walked through Plaza del Sol (the center of the city), and discovered where everyone went. It seems to me this Plaza is really like the Times Square of Madrid. It's wall-to-wall people all day and all night. But especially today. We wove our way through the crowds, found our little side street and made it back to the hotel pretty quickly despite all the foot traffic.

At 6 our shuttle came, and we loaded our luggage in and left. It was just the three of us (quite reasonable at 22.50 Euros for all three). Although the traffic was somewhat heavy, we made it to the airport by around 6:30. We checked into the airport, and checked our bags. (Good thing I brought a couple of spare bags, because we sure needed them!)

The airport wasn't that crowded, and we found a place to hang out until our flight left. I made a few calls since I still had time left on my phone.

A short uneventful flight later on Spanair, and we arrived back in Barcelona at around 10. We headed down to the baggage claim, and our five checked bags came off in no time at all. We hailed a cab and headed over to the Tryp Barcelona Aeropuerto, a short cab ride away.

This time, we had separate rooms. Both of our rooms were on the ground floor. The hotel was very modern and reasonably priced (55 Euros per room). Our room was fine, but Phil had a problem with the plumbing in his room and had to change. They upgraded him to a suite on the top floor of the hotel.

It was around 11 by now, and we still hadn't had dinner, so we headed over to the hotel restaurant, where they had a very nice buffet. Also eating at the restaurant were members of the French air force. There was to be an air show on Sunday, and apparently the pilots were also staying at our hotel. (They were a loud bunch.)

The buffet was very nice -- it was nice to be able to see what you were eating before you ordered it! We had a nice, relatively healthy meal there. (It was rather expensive though, this being a hotel.) We polished off our dinner with a nice dessert and retired to our rooms.

One thing had puzzled us when we looked at our plane reservations. We were scheduled to leave Munich tomorrow at 3:20 but arrive in SFO after 10. With a 9-hour time difference and an approximately 12-hour flight, you'd expect to arrive at around 6. What happened to the missing hours?

I still had some time left on my phone, so I called United (there being little internet access at the hotel) to find out where the discrepancy was. The automated recording informed me that the flight would be arriving in Chicago in the afternoon, and after a two-hour layover would head off to San Francisco. Doh! There was no mention of this on our ticket or when we booked the flight. Most annoying. I called my mother-in-law to break her the news as she's scheduled to pick us up tomorrow night.

I stayed up pretty late finishing the book I had taken along. (I didn't want to drag it with me on the plane as it was rather heavy.) Because this was an airport hotel, it was rather noisy, with people arriving and leaving at all hours. But we still slept pretty well.

Tomorrow, we head off on our long journey home.