Thursday, April 19, 2012

We head home

When we were getting close to moving from Valencia to Madrid, I asked the rental agent at our destination if there would be any problem finding a taxi on the day we packed up to head home. I didn’t get an answer so we spent part of our wandering time assessing the cab situation in the streets around our place. There were two options – try to flag one down on Calle Mayor or to take advantage of the taxi stand that was located in the opposite direction across the plaza in front of the Teatro Real. When you don’t live in a city, the regular workings of the taxi culture are an alien scheme. Taxis are just not part of our lives here in New Mexico, and I’ve pretty much forgotten what it was like in China. So you worry about urban things like this a bit, but a couple of times out walking suggested that the either of our options would work, so what we planned to use the option that involved walking down hill instead of climbing.

There was plenty of time before our check out so we went off in search of breakfast, planning to reenact what we’d done the day before – coffee and a slice of tortilla de papas at San Miguel. Unfortunately and much to our surprise, the Mercado was not open and would not be for at least another hour – or, the time we needed to leave. Instead we stopped at the Chocolate and Churros place on the corner of our street. We opted for coffee instead of chocolate, figuring that we could live without the sugar blast at that early hour. In any case, the Napolitano (their version of our chocolate croissant) was slightly tastier albeit without the negative metabolic effects. This coffee experience was different – My Lovely Wife ended up with the small, demitasse cup for a change. Ordering coffee has sort of been a crap shoot. There are three options at most places – con leche which is usually a regular cup with milk, Americano which is supposed to be two shots of espresso with hot water added and solo which is supposed to be black. I alternated between solo and Americano and received large and small cups for both. Sometimes from the same restaurants (on different days.) I was never sure what I was going to get but My Lovely Wife always got a big cup until today.

Juan the apartment guy arrived promptly at 10 to return our deposit and collect the keys. I waited until I had money in hand before pointing out that the latch on the washer was broken. These little European washers are funny, they lock solidly until the cycle is done and a reasonable waiting period has passed. Someone clearly got tired of waiting and pulled this one open too soon and broke the point where the handle and the locking mechanism meet. We were able to use the machine, but in order to get our clothes out I had to sit on the floor and pry the lock open with a butter knife. I pointed this out to Juan and told him it should be fixed. I said, “Yo soy enginero así yo puedo usarlo.” He thought that was funny.

We had a chat with him about the apartment which was by and large pretty darn nice. It had a few flaws such as no hairdryer, no trash can in the bathroom and a poorly designed shower stall that, like every Chinese version, flooded the floor. But the location was perfect, the building was safe and the streets were quiet. We were curious about the hairdryer in particular and he said it’s because they get stolen. I asked if they often had problems with clients and the answer was interesting, although perhaps expected – very few issues in an expensive place like this, many more so in the less expensive units. He also said towel theft was problem although considering the quality of the linens, I’m surprised. We made our farewells and headed down the hill to the taxis.

There was one waiting for us and we had allowed about 3 hours to get to the airport figuring that we had no idea how long it would take and that we had to do an international check in. The first 20 minutes of the trip were spent trying to get around the block in Madrid morning traffic which was compounded locally by no signals, steep streets and a traffic cop that had no idea what she was doing. After that the sailing was clear and the total time was about 45 minutes. Once again we had a great driver; I’ve had so much fun talking to these guys. Barajas airport is enormous by any standard I’d care to apply. On the first day there, the cabbie had pronounced it “enorme” and he was right. Our check in went fast, the product of having priority access tickets. What shocked us was the sign that said it was a 22 minute trip from the desk to the gate. We also had priority security which was nice - it was empty and fast compared to the proletariat line. From there it was a host of escalator rides and a long trip on the train and then more escalators before we arrived at the U concourse. It had taken darn near the time predicted on the signs and we arrived about 35 minutes before boarding (90 before departure.) It was plenty of gap, but I was glad we’d allotted what we did and I wondered if people often got surprised. The last bit of time was spent in the business lounge where I found a slice of the tortilla de papas I’d longed for earlier in the day.

There isn’t much to be said about the flight home other than 10 hours is a really long time unless you compare it to the 13 it takes to get to China. This was our first time flying to Europe from the Midwest (Dallas) and it was different. In the past we’ve flown to Chicago or Washington and thus broken the trip up into 4 and 7 hour segments with some waiting time at the transfer point. By this route, it was 10 on the long leg and 1 on the short and so a bit more painful crossing the ocean. I’d do it this way again though.

We flew up and over the northern suburbs turning to the west in front of the Sierra de Guadarrama, all cloaked in snow, no doubt the chillier result of the rain we’d had in town. They average about 5000 feet in altitude, reaching a maximum of 7965 atop the highest peak, Peñalara. Given that their bases are at 1500 feet, they’re not very big and so the amount of snow was surprising. Putting the mountains behind us, we headed northwest across the plains and crossed out into the Atlantic just south of the Portuguese city of Vila do Conde. I know this because of the wonders of Google Earth. Take a picture, search the coastline and there you are.

It was lucky that we were in the front of the plane and that we’re fast walkers because we were able to beat a whole bunch of Americans getting off a plane from Cancun through the Immigration and Customs checks in Dallas. After spending two weeks among urbane, well dressed and stylish people, it was a bit of a shock to our systems to be forcibly mingled into a horde of sunburned people wearing bathing suits, board shorts and ball caps. It didn’t do much for my mood, as I was already pretty close to considering selling all of our stuff and moving to Spain. Maybe I wonder how the rest of the world sees us, or maybe I don’t. We got out of there, caught the Skylink for another stomach churning tour of DFW and after securing coffee, settled in for our wait. Not much to report about that other than presidential candidate Gary Johnson (our former governor) showing up and being fawned upon by some loud Texan. John was on his way to New Mexico and I am happy to report that he rode in coach.

The trip home was uneventful other that the annoying people surrounding us. A woman behind us who liked to pull our hair when she got out of her seat and her daughter and granddaughter in front of us both of whom belonged to that class of traveler who simply pushes the recline button on the seat and jams it back as hard as they can. I’ve spoken of those people before. We landed, collected our bag and availed ourselves of the newly installed self-service checkout at the parking garage. A short drive home and a reunion with a squirmy dog that turned himself inside out with happiness at our return.

As vacations go, this one was pretty darn nice. All the arrangements worked, the weather was great, the sights, history and food, all excellent. We made some new friends and did some new stuff. About all you can hope for any time you hit the road.



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