36 hours in Madrid

Thank you, LAN Airlines, for your el cheapo fares to Madrid. Your service can use some warming up, but the AVOD, real silverware and real glassware, and the A340 are a refreshing change from the usual flights within Europe.

So my friend was in Spain, and I decided to meet him for a Tuesday evening dinner, so it was a brief trip to Madrid from late Monday until mid-afternoon Wednesday. Plus it was a nice escape from the lingering winter weather in Germany, compared with a balmy, sunny 23 C in Madrid. After a 17-year absence I stepped foot on Spanish soil, landing in the very swank, futuristic Terminal 4 at Barajas.

What a gorgeous structure! Too bad the signage is really confusing, and that it took 40 minutes for the luggage to arrive. The airport is gigantic, and you can pretty much fit central Madrid between the two main structures of Terminal 4. Getting into town by Metro was straightforward, although inconvenient, with a couple of changes and long walks en route to my hotel near the Puerta del Sol.

Now I’ve been here before, so I intended on making an excursion to Toledo, only to find out when I arrived at Atocha station that the trains were full until early afternoon. WTFBBQ? So I made the rash decision to catch the next train to Escorial leaving in three minutes, quickly bought a ticket, and was on my way to the castle / monastery.

The monastery is impressive, in a forbidding, severe manner. In particular, I was very taken by the proportion, formality, and the minimialism of the structure. The interior rooms were interesting, with plenty of art from the famous Flemish and Spanish masters, a number of El Greco paintings (instantly recognizable with their extended figures), and some astounding inlaid wood doors from Augsburg. But just like the outside, the interior was, with the exception of certain rooms, quite plain, livened only by the presence of tiles along the lower walls. I sneaked into the library with a Russian tour group, and avoided the extra charge. This was one very nifty vaulted room full of ancient manuscripts and books, together with some amazing examples of early cartography. Also notable was the Pantheon and especially the staggered set of staircases leading to the burial vault.

The monastery dominates the town, which is built on the slopes of the foothills of the Sierra de Guadarrama, and overlooks the haze and skyline of Madrid, 20 miles away. The plaza of the monastery serves to heighten its presence.

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Plaza, El Escorial

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Exterior, El Escorial

So then it was back into the city proper, for lunch at 4 PM, and then a quick tour of the Plaza Mayor area before dinner. My friend had driven from Cordoba at rather high speed in his rental Mercedes, and arrived too late for pre-dinner drinks, but we eventually met up in time for the dinner reservation.

Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor

Calle de Alcala and Gran Via

Calle de Alcala and Gran Via

I had a typical Madrid evening, which meant dinner from around 10 PM to past midnight, at Sacha (excellent!), followed by drinks until around 2:30 AM. And this was a Tuesday night.

And Wednesday, it was back to Germany. Needless to say, I woke up quite late, with enough time to buy a lunch to go (a very tasty anchovy sandwich, an egg and potato pancake, and a Coke), and then a long-ish journey back to Barajas Airport.

Terminal 4, Barajas Airport

Terminal 4, Barajas Airport

Terminal 4

Terminal 4

Now the flight is within the Schengen zone, but because it’s with a Latin American carrier carrying passengers to / from Santiago de Chile, you have to exit and re-enter Schengen.

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