Before I go on with today’s activities, let me tell you a little about Google search. A few weeks ago MLW wanted to send flowers to a friend in Seattle. Now rather that use one of the national flower sending businesses, we like to use local businesses because a) you get a better product for the price and b) the service is far more personalized. So I searched and found a place near to the friend’s house and MLW called them and made the order.
Two things happened. First the delivery was poorly executed and when MLW called to complain, the phone rang busy perpetually, odd when you consider in this modern day of voice messaging and smart phone grids to get an actual busy signal. Second when MLW reviewed her credit card bill, she was charged but not by the business we’d called. I did a bit more searching and eventually found a name and phone number (other than the one we’d used) for the owner of the store we thought we’d called, eventually reaching her. She was very defensive and only warmed up once she felt we were not trying to accuse of her of something. When asked about her business, she said it had been closed for years and that she had tried repeatedly to get Google to remove it from their search. Sort of the analog of an automobile navigation system directing you off a bridge that had been closed in 2007.
I suppose you’re wondering at this point what this tale has to do with our current adventuring in Spain. Well yesterday afternoon we decided to go looking for our favorite chocolate and churros place, Valor, in the neighborhood where we had stayed on our first visit here. We were already nearby and working our way through an afternoon ice cream (I - mandarino and chocolate ; MLW - stracciatella and limone) so we thought it might be fun and easy enough. After circling a few blocks in a fruitless search we went and grabbed a bench in the little park across from the Belles Artes Museum in order to fully focus on the Google search I was about to perform. Not to be taken lightly because data roaming is very expensive over here and knowing the cost often makes me cringe for the parents paying the phone bills of all those American teenagers walking down the lanes with their noses pressed to the screens of their iPhones. When I arrived at Barajas in Madrid two days ago, 90 seconds hadn’t passed before AT&T texted me with the generous offer of $20 for 1MB of data, a nice reminder to turn off cellular data before leaving the airport. So deciding to use my phone to find Valor was indeed a momentous act. I did so, quickly glanced at the map and turned the data fountain right back off. The map placed it loosely where we’d been so I was a bit surprised. We left the park and re-traced our steps making our way back down to Calle Bailen and in turn Calle San Pablo and stopped right where we thought it was. But it wasn’t there. I did a quick calculation and turned data roaming back on and clicked on the little red dot representing Valor – “Chocolateria Valor, permanently closed.” Thanks Google! Now when archeologists look at the Google Archives in 300 years from now they’ll know that for one short moment in the early years of the 21st century, Chocolateria Valor actually stood on this corner. Maybe as they dig deeper they’ll find a copy of my cell phone bill too.
The streets were surprisingly empty when we went out this morning around 10 AM and the temperature was actually cool, something we’d not felt since we’d arrived. The limpiadores, the lucky guys and gals who clean up each morning following the march of the Hermandades were out in force, power washing the square below the cathedral with fire hoses. Rounding the corner onto Placetines we were disappointed to find our favorite coffee shop not yet open. Nor were any of the others along the street, except of course for our trusty Starbucks. An Americano for me and a Dirty Chai for MLW along with two of the stalest pastries we’d ever had. Actually quite surprising for SB. Powered up we took a long stroll down Constitution to try and find the bus station, with a trip to the nearby town of Carmona sort of on our agenda for next week. Like many cities, once you get out of the popular sections, real life takes over and that’s what we found. Largely deserted, regular neighborhoods with what few people there were ,doing regular people things. We found the station after a bit and figured out where the bus left from - not the station, but rather a kiosk outside that required reading every tiny bus schedule that was posted on the inside corner of the shelter. That mystery solved I suggested we take the Metro back, rather that retrace our steps through those average streets. The station was located just opposite the bus kiosk so we crossed the street and took the escalators down under the street.
It was absolutely deserted. So much so that I was compelled to ask the only person there, an aide wearing an orange safety vest if the trains were even running. He replied in the positive and graciously offered to help me with the ticket machine. When I asked for help with the return station, he was sort of stunned, having never heard of Avenida Constitución, perhaps the biggest street in old town. I tried to narrow it down to “the station just before the river” which didn’t help and only when I said “Triana” did the light come on. “Plaza de Cuba” was his suggestion so I bought the ticket and in we went.
The projected arrival time for our train was five minutes so we killed some time looking at the really nice map of Linea 1 (the line we were riding.) Of course had this map been upstairs next to the ticket machine, we would have completely avoided the entire discussion about where to go as “Puerta de Jerez” was the name of the station I was thinking about. But no matter, now we knew what we needed to know. The projected arrival time kept increasing a minute for every minute and that original estimate of 5 had by now turned into 10. But then the train arrived and we got on and purposely took went to the Cuba station just to have the option of walking back across the bridge over the Guadalquivir River, stopping first to look down the long pedestrian mall that leads to the fairgrounds where we’d spent a long hot afternoon ogling the horses and carriages and beautiful women in flamenco dresses back in 2013. It had seemed like such a long walk that year, and yet today it didn’t appear nearly as bad as we were remembering. Perhaps the world shrinks as you become more familiar with it?
Having had our brains baked for no good reason over the last two afternoons, we decided to follow local custom and get out of the sun for the afternoon. After a quick stop at Corte Ingles for some fresh bread and novel chocolate we went inside for nice lunch of Iberico ham, tangerines, cheese and bread, watching as the sun made its way up and over the parapet of our building and shining straight down into the air shaft that our living room window opens into. This time of the day the color of the sky says “hot” and we were glad to be inside.
Sufficiently cooled off we went for an early evening walk before settling in for a tapas dinner on Mateo Gagos. Cod croquettes, grilled mushrooms and potatoes in garlic mayonnaise. The men’s room was one for the record books, almost China standard, with no room between the front of the toilet and the wall and a broken seat that was lying perpendicular to what should have been its correct orientation. As we exited we heard music coming from the cathedral and made it down there in time to see the palio of the Hermandades Carretería exiting the church. We followed it for a bit before peeling off and taking a very long circuit around the Alcazar and meeting back up with the procession just as it crossed Avendia Constitución. We’d beat the palio by good ten minutes and were able to get even better photos of it there. Once past the street opened up and we walked back to the cathedral before encountering such a jam of people that heading back the way we came was clearly a better option.
Deciding the night was not quite over we stopped for ice cream and wandered around some back streets, away from the restaurants and noise, places where actual people lived. It was a nice break before heading home. One last procession was exiting the church as we arrived but the crowd was truly crushing. I think in retrospect we might have been underestimating the number pf people. Twenty deep doesn’t really describe it accurately, it’s more like 100 deep along all the miles that the procession covers. And when they’ve passed, all those people turn around, light cigarettes, stick their faces in their phones and start bumping into each other.
Interestingly when we got home we discovered that the whole shebang is covered live and pre-recorded on the local TV. No crowds, no cigarettes, nothing obnoxious. And the best views ever.