Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.
|Saturday, May 14, 2016 08:34:39|
Spain 2016: 1 Preparation and Madrid
Monday, May 9, 2016
This trip is for "adopted" granddaughter, the daughter of our first caretaker and his wife. While we were able to get a visa for her older brother Jesus to travel to Canada, we were never able to get a visa for Stephanie. Marilynn tried several times after she was 10, and was always turned down by the US embassy for reasons they refused to divulge. The US visa was required only to change planes between Costa Rica and Canada Stephanie is now a young lady 20 years old, so this trip was to make up for the others she had missed.
Yesterday we left San Jose on a very comfortable Iberia Airlines non-stop flight to Madrid on an Airbus 340-600. It was the first time Stephanie has been out of Costa Rica, and the first time on a plane. The food wasn't great, but the service was good and the continually circulating bottles of wine ensured we would drop off to sleep easily.
For some reason Stephanie was pulled out of line at customs and sent through an area where we were not permitted, but was soon returned with no harm done to our great relief. We took the internal train to terminal 1 where our Eurorail passes were validated. The helpful employee also pointed out that because of the train pass we could have free tickets for the 38 minute trip into the central part of the city where our hotel was located.
Once off the train we were trying to figure out a dispenser for metro (subway) tickets when I noticed I had left my backpack on the train. The fellow in the ticket booth was very abrupt and unhelpful, however a security guard went out of his way to track down both the train and my backpack. Minutes later another security guard showed up with the backpack, which they had me check carefully to ensure all contents were intact - they were. I tried to give the guard money for his trouble, but he refused, saying it was his job. He then told us that it was only about a 10 minute walk to our hotel, and we really wouldn't need the subway. After walking us to the street and pointing out the way he gave a friendly wave and headed back to the station.
At this point it began to pour cold rain, and the route to our hotel was all up hill. Fortunately we are staying in the old part of the city with many neighbourhood bars and restaurants, so we ducked into a bar for beer, snacks and warmth. The friendly bartender went over the map the hotel gave us, confirming we were on the right track, however the rain continued so by the time we found the hotel we were soaked.
The Sercotel Suites Vienna Hotel was more modern than I had expected, and very clean. We were in a fairly basic fifth floor room with three single beds, plus stove top, sink, fridge and microwave oven. It had a large bathroom with tub and shower. The location is excellent on the narrow streets of the old city, and near palaces, squares and monuments and the staff very helpful.
Being a bit tired of walking in the rain we took a cab to Plaza Mayor, recommended by hotel reception for restaurants and shops. This is a beautiful ancient area of winding pedestrian streets and interesting shops. We had lunch at a restaurant on the square, with ample wine, finishing with Sangria, which Stephanie decided she liked very much.
Near to the square Marilynn spotted a market, which turned out to be unlike any we'd ever seen. It was full of different beer, wine and food stands. There were people circulating with trays containing bottles of wine and glasses. Almost everyone had a glass in their hands. It was a pretty amazing place, where we tried sangria at a variety of locations before heading off on foot in a very happy state of mind.
There were a large number of huge, old churches along our route. I can't imagine how so many in such a small area could support themselves Fortunately, the rain stopped and the sun came out as we wound our merry way through the old streets. One street had brass letters embedded in it saying it was paved in 1567. When we arrived at the Palacio Real it had closed for the day, so we took a taxi home where dinner was at a local restaurant.
Back at the hotel Marilynn checked with reception to find that they had been unable to book a paella cooking class they were both keen on, but that we were confirmed for a flamenco show tomorrow night. None of us had any problem getting to sleep!.
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
The hotel has a good, and reasonably price, breakfast, which we took advantage of before walking to Plaza de Espania where we didn't find a mobile phone shop, but the women did get in some shopping. We noticed a hop on hop off tour bus stop, so bought a day pass each, riding both routes and stopping to go through a science museum. Madrid has some very beautiful old buildings. It was quite cold on the bus, although not raining.
Once done with the buses more shopping was in order, so I waited in a bar drinking beer and eating free snacks with each drink. This used to be the custom in Costa Rica, but no longer. The women were to join me, however after four beer I headed back to the hotel where I found they had missed the taverna I was in, so we walked a short distance to another local restaurant for dinner.
Wednesday, May 11, 2016
Today we were determined to find a SIM for Marilynn's mobile phone, as I had promised a phone number to various guides and hotels along our route. The hotel recommended we go to the Cortes Ingles department story where we were successful. The price was 15 euros instead of the 70 euros the airport kiosk wanted.
Our next target was a money changer, so after trying a couple of banks with no success and Banco Santander where they did change money, but there was a very long line, we found a Western Union. We received a lesser exchange rate than official, but the service was quick, so I exchanged less than I had originally planned to.
The ladies wanted to go shopping, so I waited in the sun on a bench in Plaza de Espania. When they were shopped out we walked to Palacio Real, a palace worth visiting. The public are permitted to tour the part of the palace where King Carlos III resided, however the residence of the current king is private. It gave a very good impression of the opulence in which past kings resided.
We were on our way into the Cathedral, which faces the palace across a paved plaza, when I check my pocket and discovered my wallet was gone, and with it money, passport, inoculation certificates, bank card, Canadian drivers license and many other cards and documents. It is one of those moments where the stomach seems to drop to the toes! It had been in a zippered pocket in my jacket, not easy to remove, but I didn't feel a thing.
We headed for the Canadian Embassy by taxi. The driver didn't know where it was, but his GPS led him to a building where there was a Canadian flag on the roof, so out we got. After walking around and asking questions we couldn't find the embassy, so we took the elevator to the Swiss Embassy, where they kindly printed out directions to a new location far away.
During the next taxi ride we phoned the number provided by the Swiss, and found the embassy was still open but only for another 15 minutes. We arrived with minutes to spare, and were presented with a pile of forms and instructions, plus they notified the Canadian Consulate in Barcelona to expect us, as they could do a temporary passport.
Among things we required were new passport photos as the ones I carry are more than 6 months old, and a police report. We were provided with directions to a photo place 10 minutes away. The walk was more like 20 minutes, and when we arrived they were closed in spite of their published hours showed 2 hours later.
Some people in front of the building gave us directions to another place a "few minutes" away. This proved to be another long hike, with my bad knees protesting strongly at the abuse they were getting. This one fortunately was open, so photos were obtained. The next taxi was asked to take us to the closest police station, which turned out to be less than two blocks away. After a long wait we received an official report.
One more long taxi ride took us back to a neighbourhood pub where drinks were more important than food, so we ate snacks for dinner. We were drained, but at least they did not get my CR drivers license or ID, my credit card, the euros or our prepaid train tickets. We were still functional. Marilynn contacted our Costa Rica office where they notified the bank of the problem and ensured sufficient funds would be available for Marilynn's debit card.