Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The long haul home

One thing I will say about Spain is that it has the best taxi fleet in the world. Not only are they hanging around taxi stands when you need them, but there are so many cruising that you rarely have to wait more than a few seconds, in every single city we’ve visited.
After loading up our gear and walking down Carretas one last time towards Puerta del Sol, we were in a cab in less than a minute. So different than Paris where you either have to brave the subway with your bags or hire a driver in advance because cabs are rare as hen’s teeth. At least in the neighborhoods we’ve stayed in. And what a driver we had, deftly maneuvering through the (what seemed to be unusually dense) traffic, getting us to the airport in about 40 minutes. American was taking tickets and since we were traveling on miles, we were able to use the priority check-in. The couple in front of us had at least 8 suitcases, and eventually she bashfully told us that she now has 5 grandchildren and that she loves to bring them things. We admitted that we’d had to buy a suitcase in Madrid, for that very same reason.
VIP security in Barajas is excellent, but even regular security was moving as we passed by. One thing about this airport that one needs to remember is that for international flights, you have to ride a train from ticketing to the gates. Which adds about 20 minutes to your time in the airport. They have signs posted as hurry-up reminders “25 minutes to R Gates” which are nice to have but I bet very stress inducing if you’re already running late. There is also a big escalator penalty – going down 4 levels to the train and back up 4 levels to exiting immigration. In short, it takes a while to get where you’re going. For us it was about 90 minutes from taxi to the lounge where we stopped for one last authentic meal of bacon and Spanish tortilla.
Our flight was delayed for 45 minutes which got me going a bit, knowing that we only had 2 hours in Dallas to make the transfer. And we also had checked two bags. But when we passed through the second level of security on the concourse, the agent told us the winds had made the plane arrive late but that those same winds would mean arriving on time. We waited, boarded and left about 40 minutes later than scheduled.




One thing I love to do when flying home from Europe is to try and figure out where the plane exits the continent. I managed to get a photo in 2012 that showed us leaving land just north of Porto, Portugal. It was clear blue as we banked away from Madrid, the Sierra Madre showing a bit of snow from all the torms we’d had. As we crossed the countryside heading west we passed over Segovia, one of my favorite places, and I tried to find it but it wasn’t presenting itself clearly. And then it started to cloud up as we flew over another snow-capped mountain range on the way to the Atlantic. As we arced along the northern coast of Galicia, the clouds began to break up and I thought I might have a chance. The skies were uncooperative in 2013, 2014 and 2015, but today they cleared up just as we approached the coast and I got a few photos as we passed out onto the water, just south of the city of Camariñas in the province of A Coruña, in the autonomous community of Galicia. From this vantage point, the beaches looked quite welcoming.


The flight was like any other, although a bit bumpier than some. Too much food (although this time we wisely declined the second meal,) not enough sleep and the inevitable moron who opens his window shade two or three times during the flight, blinding us all. I was lucky enough to have clear skies on this side as well, catching the moment we left the ocean and crossed onto land at Perth Amboy, New Jersey. 


As predicted we landed right on time at DFW, and being close to the front of the plane we got out pretty quickly.
Many times when traveling I spot someone whose behavior is bizarre. On this day it was a little gray-haired woman who dashed out of First Class and tried to get out the door before the attendants had secured it. She then bolted up the jet-way and took off down the corridor.
We were close behind her entering the immigration hall and she veered into Global Entry. I took one look at the lines figured we were toast but it turned out that they were for non-US citizens. We continued and our entry point was a bank of kiosks. I walked up to the machine, scanned us in and we were on our way.
The little gray-haired woman beat us to bag claim by 30 seconds, so much for all than running. Our bags came out immediately as did hers and she was once again off like a rabbit. We collected a cart, talked to the customs office, got stamped and re-checked our bags.
So far things were going quite well. That is until security. The set-up in Dallas/FT. Worth is unbelievably makeshift and the result was pure chaos. They were feeding pre-check people in with regular people so a second TSA agent had to double check every single person’s shoe situation as they fed into one of two scanners. It was polite to say it was a mess. I got through first and my bag was pulled. That little twist of fate ended up costing us more than 15 minutes because the guy in front of the guy in front of me had brought in a pile of circuit boards and wiring harnesses that frankly looked like bomb parts. And of course they only had one person running the check station. Three suited supervisors, a couple of uniformed trainers, and one guy dealing with the “problem” bags.
The bomb-maker was finally cleared, shrinking the line to just the guy in front of me. Who of course had packed his can of aerosol shaving cream. He was sternly reprimanded by the bag inspector for that little gaffe but things got far more interesting when the inside of his suitcase failed the bomb chemicals analysis. This was when we really got to see TSA in action. One guy telling everyone to back away, the supervisors looking like they had no idea where they were, the trainer trying to decide what to do and the agent supervisor staring gape-mouthed at the mass-spectrometer screen. I figured they were about to clear the terminal but someone came to their senses and dragged shaving cream guy off to the side and freed up yet another agent to finally check my bag which of course passed with flying colors.
We got on the people mover and rode over to Terminal B and got a coffee and sat for a short wait. No time for the lounge given what was left of our transfer time but that was fine with me. We boarded on time, and lo and behold the little gray-haired running woman was in the seat in front of me. We took off on time and arrived 90 minutes later.
Curiosity piqued, I asked the little gray-haired woman if she’d been on the flight from Madrid. She said “yes” and added that she’d come from Lisbon that morning where she’d been on a horseback riding trip. Turns out she lives here in Corrales, not far from us, and horses are her hobby. Small world indeed.

The bags came out, our car started, I asked the gal at the ticket booth what would happen if I said I had just lost my ticket and she told me that they do an inventory of long-parked cars every night just for sneaky people with that idea. So, don’t try that. At least at the Albuquerque Sunport.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Madrid iVb - Pure Dumb Luck

Sometimes the best things happen when you don’t expect them. After relaxing for the later part of the afternoon and packing our bags we decided to avail ourselves of what had become a really beautiful evening, and go out for a paseo, in the true Spanish tradition. We figured one last walk down Arenal to the palace before going and finding something interesting to eat for the last meal of this vacation.
It was that time of day when the low angle sun blinds you unless you make your way to the shady side of the street, which we did for the long stroll down the mall. When we reached the area in front of the Iglesia de San Ginés de Arlés, we knew something was going on. The police had set up barriers, behind which were hundreds of devoted senior citizens. And in the courtyard of the church, the parochial float was out and parked for all to see. San Ginés surrounded by spring flowers sitting atop a big silver urn. Having done a Semana Santa or two, we were familiar with such a sight. So I took a couple of photos and we continued on our way, passing a Madrid Police color guard, resplendent in brass helmets and decked out Andalusian horses, a block or two later.
The park by the palace was pretty busy as we took a spin around it, exiting the way we came. The half-moon was rising over the apartment buildings that ring the square, and the sky was a deep clear blue like nothing we’ve seen in the last 3 weeks.


As we approached San Ginés again, the police color guard was lined up, heading in the other direction and the parochial float was close behind it. We’d stumbled via pure dumb luck into some mini-festival for this parish. A perfect end to our stroll around town.
First came the parish flags, then groups of parishioners dressed to the nines. Then came the float, held aloft by 30 or 40 people, swaying in time with the music from the trailing brass band. It was quite extraordinary, and completely unexpected. Avoiding the crowd, we headed up a side street and at the top, realized that the whole procession as going to climb that very hill. The police color guard was half-way up and trailed by the rest of the retinue when we crossed Calle Mayor.




















We had our final vacation meal on Plaza Mayor at a restaurant called Los Gayolas. More deep-fried Iberico ham chunks (literally pieces of pig on the menu,) a nice plate of grilled vegetables and an order of Delicias de Bacalao. The sun was setting, the air cool, the food wonderful, just a perfect moment for both of us.




Of course, one cannot leave Madrid without one last portion of ponche so off to Mercado San Miguel it was, and that in hand, back home for the last of our evening.

Selfies Everywhere, Part II

And of course, what's a vacation without a lot of photos of yourself standing in front of something you hardly remember? Most of these are regular, but the first two gain Selfie Special Merit Awards.

First Place goes to Both Photographing the Same Thing But From Opposite Directions.


Second Place goes to What Isn't Special About the Inside of a Starbucks?


Honorable Mention goes to You're Doing It Wrong














What We See - Madrid Edition

We didn't do a "What We See" in Sevilla, because we were too busy taking photos of horses and Flamenca dresses. With no such distractions in Madrid, we returned to our old form.