Friday, August 3, 2012 and Saturday, August 4, 2012
My morning flight to Washington got me in around 4PM. With 90 minutes to kill, I tried to get into the United lounge, but learned that they’d very recently stopped accepting American Express Platinum or Priority Pass members.
Airlines are very good at getting you to dislike them. As a direct result, I do everything I can to minimize their profit. Linda is a shark at finding the lowest fares – she has a very good sense of how to play the airlines’ annoying pricing games. I avoid every fee possible, bring my own food onboard, and never pay for a single extra service. The thing of it is, I could easily afford first class tickets on any flight. But the airlines are so idiotic in how they go about their business, they deserve only my scorn and as few dollars as possible.
Off to Madrid, this one a code-share between United and Aer Lingus. Countless sudokus, meditation, and one or two hours of light sleep was about it. I watched a movie, one called The Hunger Games. Breakfast was served an hour outside Madrid, but I decided to wave off the plane coffee, waiting instead for the good stuff that Spaniards drink.
Down into Barajas Airport, out from the gate, and immediately into Janel’s arms. What a joy – it was so good to see her! She looked fantastic – young and pretty and radiant and energetic. A wondrous sight for a dad’s eyes.
On their last trip, Linda and Janel had discovered the “secret” of the airport express bus, which shaves about 45 minutes off the trip downtown when compared to the using the Metro. Within 15 minutes we were onboard (5€ pp) and headed non-stop (well, 1-stop) toward Atocha station.
I’d been mostly awake for about 16 hours, and now faced 8:30AM and a new day in Madrid. Time, finally, for some coffee! We found the very first café near our lodging, one in the Las Huertas neighborhood, and took a seat. Janel laughed at our selection, not one she would normally make. It was what she called an “old man” café, very traditionally Spanish, filled with older men and workers starting their shifts. A continual waft of coffee beans and whiskey accented the room. And the coffee – divine and worth the wait!
We caught up for an hour, then strolled to the Reina Sofia for a 2nd cup, settling in for another hour at El Brillante outside the museum. Plates of pan con tomates and churros were OK, nothing special, but the outside table was great. Our waiter was very friendly and smelled like a locker room. And for a while we watched an old guy in the plaza wearing cowboy boots, with a distant look about him. We started laughing when he began to very loudly trim his fingernails. Snip. – – – Snip. – – – Snip.
Around noon we found Calle de Cervantes and checked in at the Hostel Dulcinea. Linda had found this inexpensive place online and set us up in it. Very friendly proprietor, simple check-in, clean room, hands-off service, working A/C, a perfect choice. We even took a photo of us reclining on the beds and sent it off to Linda in appreciation.
Despite my drooping eyelids, Janel semi-forced me up and out on a hike to Mercado de Maravillas, with a motive to keep me going and adjusting to Madrid time. Always a treat, we just love checking out the amazing selection of produce and meats. Pigs’ heads, falda (a cut of beef), entrails, weird produce, lovely cheeses, and a great many fishes and crustaceans caught our eyes.
We hiked back through Bilbao and Malasaña, crossing Gran Vía to Sol, then finally back to Huertas. We found a Lizarrán, a fast-food pintxas and tapas place, for a snack and a caña, picking out a pre-assembled tapa of egg, jamón, and anchovy to share. Unfortunately, both of us found the anchovy much to pungent to enjoy.
Naptime, the national sport of Spain! I passed out for a couple hours, but not before introducing a wonderful time-waster phone-app game called 100 Floors to Janel. I was really impressed at how fast she plowed through the floors, ones that had taken Jack and I many minutes to solve.
We arose around 7:30PM and strolled to Janel’s residence in the nearby La Latina district. Her good friend and roommate David had been putting some finishing touches on lampshades around the house and showed them off for us. I also met roommate Kyo and friend Alberto. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see Janel’s room because she had sublet it for a few weeks, and the girl was inside with the door closed. Janel told me her renter was sort of an annoying household addition anyway – fortunately temporary. The place itself is great – clean and simple, with a certain comfort brought on by its company. The kitchen is particularly fine, conducive to cooking with an oven and nice outdoor lighting from a window.
The evening cried out for dinner, and our taste buds yearned for greens. Janel expertly led us to Kaixo Taberna, just south of Sol, where we found a great outdoor table, glasses of wine, and a delicious salad of fresh spinach, roasted tomatoes, and a gloriously singed goat cheese.
Next was Juana La Loca in La Latina, where we took on their trademark tortilla de patata and met up with one of Janel’s good friends Sean. I’m guessing that Sean might have been a bit apprehensive about meeting Janel’s dad, you know, an old guy of who-knows-what sort of character. But I can tell you that Sean and I hit it off immediately.
The lively conversation was transferred to a local favorite, El Tempranillo. The wine service in this great place is always excellent and the tapas are always forthcoming. We enjoyed glasses of Albariño and strange but delicious tapas made with salmon and bananas.
The icing on the evening’s cake: El Siete. Our all-time favorite ultra-chill no-frills eclectic-comfort non-tourist neighborhood bar. Hola Jesús! This place is still and always will be an A+ – just don’t tell anyone else. Sean, Janel and I enjoyed two or three more glasses of wines, sang ABBA songs, conjured on Sean’s future, and discussed a variety of global issues. Within a few days, Sean will head to see family in Boston, and then will return to Dublin for school in the fall. So in addition to a wonderful night out, this meeting was a good-bye between Janel and Sean, at least for a while.
Hike to and crash at the Hostel Dulcinea. They have some thick pillows there.