Thursday, April 16, 2015

One last evening and one last night

We chilled out at home for a couple of hours, arranging our suitcases and getting in the “time to go home” mindset. The gray weather had passed and there was actually sunshine pouring in the skylights so we thought it might be nice to have an early evening walk. We left, headed down Carretas across Puerta del Sol and picked up Arenal for a stroll down to the Opera district. The weather was nice now, no clouds, a mild temperature and just enough of a breeze to be enjoyable. We took a new street out of the Plaza de Cervantes and walked through some nice neighborhoods, well-tended apartment buildings, clean streets, nothing like the commercial grime of the street where we’ve been staying. I’d remarked about the cleanliness of our neighborhood when our train to Avila passed through the northern suburbs. No uncollected trash, no overflowing bins. I think it comes from the mix of the area around Plaza Mayor, where you have tons of restaurants and shops located on the ground floors of the apartment buildings. More trash generated means less trash collected.
For grins we walked along Calle Ferraz with the goal of visiting the Temple of Debod, the friendship gift from Egypt to Spain. Crossing Cuesta San Vicente, we marveled at the most amazing Wisteria plant, pale purple blossoms covering both sides of the bridge over 4 lanes of traffic. The Temple was closed which meant that the park was more or less empty, a nice change from the last time we visited when it was sort of mobbed. We’d hoped for a last view of the Guadarrama Mountains from the paseo at the back of the park, but the air was too hazy. We left the park, crossed Plaza de España stopping for a look at the statue of Cervantes, gazing down on his two most famous creations, Quixote and Panza, and then took the exit on the far side, braving the commuting crowds on Gran Via for the walk back home.



We had promised our friends at El Mandela that we’d come by on our last night for dinner, but when the time came I just didn’t feel like doing it. After more than 2 weeks of restaurant eating in a foreign language with all the extra mental work that involves, I just wanted to do something simple. We left the apartment and headed off towards an alley we’d nicknamed “Paella Street” when we’d discovered it a couple of nights ago. But mentally I just wasn’t into it and the thought of spending 40 euros for a pan of rice just wasn’t appealing to me. The sky had gotten pretty ugly since our earlier walk and I wondered if it made sense to stop at home for the umbrella. I let it go though as the suitcase was packed and it was on the bottom and I really didn’t want to undo all my good work. Besides, we were only going to be out for another hour or so and what could possibly happen in that time?
We wandered past a few more options, scoped for empty tables at Mercado San Miguel (there were none) and finally decided that we’d just follow our original plan. Turning down Calle Espejo we walked up to the door of El Mandela and found it locked. Jose saw us and came over and opened up, smiling and showing us to “our” table. We ordered wine and food and settled in for what turned out to be a very nice evening. MLW had her signature fish, I chose the chicken and plantain stew this time, and spiced it up a bit with their infamously hot pepper sauce. We had a nice talk with Jose about their business model (since they get virtually no guests during the week) and an in depth discussion of the politics of the anti-monarchy people and the Spanish Civil War. While talking, I had one eye on the sidewalk outside as it had started to sprinkle. Not much at first, and not consistently. But of course by the time we were ready to go, the thunder started and the skies opened up.
People were passing by without umbrellas, and I kept joking by saying “They don’t care” but they were getting soaked. We left in a sprint, hugging the side the building where the downpour was somewhat mitigated by the eaves up above. But it kept getting worse so at the first opportunity, we ducked into the shuttered doorway of a building and sat on the stoop, out of the deluge.
People kept passing by in various degrees of wetness. A few good shots of lighting streaked overhead, followed by almost instantaneous thunder. The rain kept getting stronger and stronger and a small river started flowing down the middle of the cobblestones. I suggested we give it 15 more minutes before deciding and so we sat and watched and tried to guess the volume of the rain in the one streetlight overhead.



And it did let up a bit, almost at the end of that 15 minute wait. Deciding that we really couldn’t sit there all night we made a dash for it, running from overhang to awning, crossing Calle Mayor and darting past San Miguel until we got into the first tunnel at Plaza Mayor. At least now we could stay out of it for a good portion of the remainder of our walk. MLW scavenged some cardboard from the trash pile of one of the restaurants and we used it to fashion some rough hats. Under better circumstances we could have stayed dry on the portico to the far side, but this year two of the sides are under construction so we were deprived of a significant portion of the cover. Our cardboard hats did help though as we forged ahead. We passed a street vendor who tried to sell us an umbrella twice in two blocks, refusing him both times. Shooting out of the Plaza we rounded our corner and then only had to concentrate on not falling down on the wet marble sidewalk until we reached our front door.
Airport trips always come too early, but at least there was a cab waiting for us at the end of the street this morning. The rain had stopped which was nice for us since starting on a 24 hour trip with wet shoes was not something I wanted to do. The cab absolutely reeked of some cheap masking scent, like the worst toll road bathroom cleaner you’ve ever smelled. The drivers are all smokers, and I’m sure smoking in the cars is against the rules so they cover it up with a suffocating level of scent. This guy did drive fast though, and his constant Facebooking while driving didn’t appear to put us at too much risk.

From the front door at Barajas T4 it was just the ride home. 10.7 hours in the air - eating, dozing, movies, landing, a new process at immigration (scan your passport and go on) and now the final hour waiting for the last leg home. A long day with a good bed stocked with better pillows, waiting at the end.

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