Sunday morning in Madrid means El Rastro if you happen to be a tourist, or judging from the crowds, a local as well. It was actually easier to find it this time than in the past because there was a steady stream of people heading down the hill from Plaza Mayor. We took the easy route this morning because the offerings rarely change. Coming here is more about the experience than the shopping, at least in our case. We left there, went up and over the hill through Plaza Mayor and over to Mercado San Miguel for coffee and a satisfying bowl of paella as an early lunch. Mine had hot dogs in it, a first for me and honestly pretty good.
After a bit of shopping at our favorite refrigerator magnet store near the opera house, we took a long slow stroll up Calle Arenal and down into the Belle Époque part of Madrid. Home to so many beautiful buildings including the iconic Metropolis which was, today, clothed in scaffolding and canvas, only its beautiful crown there for the viewing. From there around the corner and stop for coffee and then a stroll by The Prado and a peek into the Real Jardín Botanicas where the spring flowers seemed to be at their very best. We considered going in but the line was long, figuring we’d come back on a weekday.
There was a very strong police presence in all the squares today, including many with automatic weapons. It’s a bit disconcerting, because you start wondering about what they know that you don’t know. In any event, it was a long, peaceful climb back up Las Huertas for an afternoon break.
Our plan for tomorrow is a day trip to Ávila, apparently the home to one of the best medieval towns in Spain. But the train supposedly leaves only from Chamartin station, on the far north side of Madrid and at the end of a long Metro ride. So when I discovered that there is a local train that leaves from the nearby Atocha station, I thought it might be worth our while to head down there today to buy the tickets for tomorrow. We walked down the hill and caught the Metro at Sol station for the quick ride to Atocha Renfe.
Buying the tickets turned out to be quite an adventure. I tried first at the automated systems and couldn’t find Avila as a destination so we walked on to the ticket office where the queue was lengthy. Off next to customer service where the woman behind the desk told me “of course you can use the machines.” Not satisfied with that clearly incorrect answer we went to the other ticket office where my Spanish was instantly met with English. Is my accent really that bad? Apparently.
She told us that we had to go to the other ticket office (the one with the long queue) so about-face and back where we took ticket #446 vs. the current customer number of #386. We settled in for a long wait but eventually, perhaps 30 minutes worth of eventually, we were called.
Just as I stepped up to the counter, #445 showed up, cutting me off. The agent gave me a sad nod and indicated that I should wait. And wait I did, because the people in front of us were either Serbian or Swedish or some of nationality that didn’t speak English or Spanish or have even the slightest idea what they wanted. After the next 5 numbers after me successfully navigated the nearby counters, my guy nodded to his pal who called us over.
Once again I started in Spanish and he offered English so I took it. I complimented him on his mastery and he said he only knows how to talk about train problems. He was modest, because he got us set up very well. We got our tickets and went off to find our way around the station for tomorrow. I was looking at the printouts when I realized that they didn’t say Atocha, but rather Chamartin and the time was wrong. So after a bit of dithering, we went back in to ask. The people who had come to the window after us were just leaving and when we stepped up, he said, “They’re going to Avila too.” We pointed out the time and the station and he said, “Oh!” and ran out from behind the counter and after the people who had just left. He called us all back and explained that the machine had printed the wrong time and station, but that the tickets were fine, just be at Atocha at 9:41. He smiled at me because that was the time I’d originally pointed out.
Back down to the Metro and back up at Sol. We climbed up the hill to our apartment and went beyond, down Las Huertas to the Las Madroñas café, home to one of our favorite local meals - fried cod with madrone sauce. We’d had it last year for the first time and couldn’t wait for a second chance to have it again. They were as good as we remembered. We stopped for a nightcap at San Miguel where we shared a table with four petite elderly Spaniards and enjoyed the kind of people watching that only nighttime upscale Madrid can provide.