Posts Tagged Madrid

Airline Rankings Around the World

We ended up flying on 8 different airlines during our 30/40 World Tour, since we booked our flights individually.  Below is our ranking of airlines from best to worst.  This is not meant to be a comprehensive study; it’s merely our impressions from the economy flights we experienced during the summer of 2011.

View over New Zealand

View from our flight over New Zealand

  1. Air Emirates (Mauritius to Dubai; Dubai to Munich)
  2. Air New Zealand (Auckland to Nouméa)
  3. American Airlines (DC to LA)
  4. United Airlines (Madrid to DC)
  5. Qantas Airways (Nouméa to Sydney)
  6. Air Mauritius (Melbourne to Mauritius)
  7. Air Pacific (LA to Fiji; Fiji to Auckland)
  8. Air Berlin (Munich to Barcelona)

To learn the price of each of these flights (ranging from $137 to $946 per person), see the previous post on the cost of our trip.  But price did not directly correlate with a positive experience on an airline.

Air Emirates

Air Emirates flight attendants

The signature red hat and sweeping scarf of the Air Emirates flight attendants

We were so impressed with our Air Emirates flights.  The uniform of the flight attendants with the red hat and sweeping white scarf is quite striking and exotic.  When we first boarded, I wondered about the practicality of such an outfit.  But after we were airborne, the hats came off.

The Air Emirates food was delicious.  I’m sure you’re laughing about delicious airplane food, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Perhaps it’s because I haven’t eaten hot food on an airplane in years!

The personalized entertainment screens for each seat were the best of all of our flights.  The screens were the biggest of any airline and provided on-demand entertainment options including movies and games.

Air New Zealand

Air New Zealand was another of our favorite airlines.  Their economy seats were beautifully passenger centric.  The back of each seat had a drink pouch that fit my water bottle perfectly.  It’s so easy and obvious, but I’ve never seen it on another airline.  I usually have to stuff my bottle into the magazine compartment, which forces the whole pocket wide open and takes up far more space in already cramped quarters.

We also loved the personal entertainment screens for each seat, and both watched Cedar Rapids at our own pace.  I started my movie slightly earlier than Mr. HalfFull, so I was pre-laughing at all the funny parts.  Finally, he asked me to pause so that he could catch up and we could laugh together!

I think it’s wonderful when airlines let you play and pause your own movie.  You can sleep when you like, use the restroom whenever, and still catch the full movie.  It’s so nice to be in control!

American, United & Qantas

I don’t really have any strong feelings one way or the other about American Airlines, United Airlines, or Qantas Airways.  I’m also not married to that specific order.  All the flights were fine; nothing stood out to me positively or negatively, so they are all nestled in the middle of my list.

Air Mauritius

Air Mauritius only issues paper tickets.  Enough said!

Air Pacific

Air Pacific

Our Air Pacific flight landed early in the morning in Nadi, Fiji

Air Pacific ranks toward the bottom of the list because of their carry-on policy.  We specifically purchased our bags to be compliant with carry-on size restrictions.  But we had no idea that Air Pacific also has a weight restriction for carry-on bags.

I’ve never had my carry-on bag put on a scale.  But our bags turned out to be too heavy, and we were forced to check them.  I think this may have been because it was a double-decker plane which required more attention to avoid being top-heavy.

I don’t particularly mind checking my bags if I don’t get charged an extra fee.  But the problem was that we had packed with the intention of carrying our bags, meaning that we had our rain jackets rolled on the outside and other items clipped to the outside of the bags.  It’s stressful to repack a bag at the ticket counter with a line of people staring me down for being ill-prepared, especially when I thought I was perfectly prepared!

The other problem with Air Pacific is that they don’t have a regular counter in the LAX airport, so we couldn’t check in when we arrived from Washington, DC.  We we returned to the airport hours later, the line was frustratingly long and we didn’t get the seats we wanted.

Air Berlin

AirBerlin plane

Air Berlin was our least favorite airline of the 30/40 World Tour

Our original plan was to travel via train through Europe on a Eurail pass.  But for our specific plans, it wasn’t cost-effective or a good use of our time.  So we decided to book a budget flight from Germany to Spain.  It was our worst flight of the trip.

It included our only airport layover and our only flight delay.  Double whammy!  Plus, the children on the flight were unbearable and my sandwich was inedible.

In retrospect, maybe it wasn’t as bad as it seemed at the time.  Perhaps our recent awesome flights on Air Emirates skewed our judgement.

 

  • What’s your favorite airline?
  • Have you had a delicious airplane meal?
  • Do you know of another airline that still only uses paper tickets?
  • Have you had a carry-on bag weighed?

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Motorbikes Around the World

I started riding motorcycles in 2006, back when Mr. HalfFull and I were single neighbors.  He would often see me practicing in the parking lot, and thought that my motorcycle phase wouldn’t last long.

Boy was he wrong.

Old Rag

Ms. HalfEmpty rides her Ninja with Old Rag Mountain in the distance and Mr. HalfFull’s antique BMW on the side of the road during their honeymoon

Just Married on Skyline Drive

Mr. HalfFull shows off his “Just Married” helmet along Skyline Drive

He joined me with his own motorcycle license in 2009.  We even spent our honeymoon riding throughout the curvy mountain roads and fall foliage of Virginia on our red motorcycles with red helmets.

Basically, I created a monster.  Mr. HalfFull had no interest in motorcycles until he saw me riding, and now he’s completely addicted.

In fact, he’s on his 3rd motorcycle in as many years.  His first 2 motorcycles were red, and we matched nicely.  But he just got a new orange one this summer.  What a show off! =)

While we were on our 30/40 World Tour, we did not ride motorcycles.  But Mr. HalfFull would often ogle over them and snap photos as we traveled around the world.

Mr. HalfFull thought it was super cool that the postal workers in New Zealand use motorcycles to deliver the mail in both rural and urban areas.

NZ Postal Worker

NZ Postal Worker between Napier and Taupo

Postal Motorcycle in Auckland

Ms. HalfEmpty with a postal motorcycle on the sidewalk in downtown Auckland

Police Moto in Sydney

Motorcycle policeman in Sydney on a sport bike — not your typical American police moto!

Honda Cafe Racer in Manly

While spending the day at Manly beach (near Sydney, Australia), Mr. HalfFull was mesmerized by this Honda café racer waiting at a stop light.

Motorcycle at the beach in Mauritius

People drove their motorcycles right up to the edge of the beach in Mauritius

Motos @ Palau de la Musica Catalana

Motorcycles and mopeds were a common site in Barcelona, as seen here outside the Palau de la Musica Catalana.

Moto in Madrid

After visiting the Egyptian Temple in Madrid, Mr. HalfFull spotted this beauty walking back to the subway.  He spent a great deal of time walking around it and telling me about the features.

I enjoy riding as long as the roads are interesting and the ride isn’t too long.  I also appreciate beautiful motorcycles, but I don’t really care about the specs or customizing my own bike.  Mr. HalfFull and I are just different breeds…in more ways than one!

  • What activity did someone take up after watching you?
  • Have you ever inadvertently created a monster?
  • What catches your eye and demands photos when you travel?

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Final Days of Fun & Sun in Madrid

After a week in El Barco de Avila, we took the VaughanTown bus back to Madrid for the last few days of our 30/40 World Tour. It was a bittersweet time. On one hand, we were excited to go back home to a life of more than 3 pairs of underwear and the same bed every night. But on the other hand, we were embarking on the last few days of our life of leisure and exploration together. Work? A job? What’s that???

View along Calle Alcalá

The French architecture of Edificio Metrópolis is a focal point along Calle Alcalá near our hotel

Once we got to Madrid, we took the subway to our hotel, but we had no idea the ride would be so exciting. We were joined by a rapper who traveled with his own microphone and speaker to “entertain” us. I think most of the passengers would have paid to make him stop.

Nun outside Retiro Park

Ms. HalfEmpty encounters a nun outside Retiro Park

The pope was about to visit Madrid for World Youth Day, so the city was aflutter in preparation. Workers were erecting stages, screens, speakers, and bleachers in the city. Nuns in habits and volunteers in official t-shirts were a common sight.

During our final few days of touring, we took advantage of the sun and explored outdoor sites in Madrid including Parque del Retiro, Puerta del Sol, Plaza de Oriente, Plaza de CibelesPlaza de España, and Parque del Oeste.

Headless Man in Retiro Park

This headless man in Retiro Park was one of the best. We saw various inferior imitations throughout the city.

Remember how we talked about street performers in Barcelona? Madrid seemed to be the Mecca of street performers in comparison. We saw several headless men reading newspapers. The first time was a neat sight, but after we saw the same act all over the city, it wasn’t so novel.  Quite a few of them could have used an outside eye to help them look more realistic.

Petrified Street Performers

These guys held the most awkward positions for long periods of time and really looked like clay until you saw the whites of their eyes. Very impressive!

There were street performers who posed as statues with their entire bodies and clothes painted a single color. Some of these guys were just amazing; they were in impossible positions and completely lifeless. You didn’t know they were real until one guy would show the whites of his eyeballs.

Bubbles in Retiro Park

Kids loved the huge bubbles in Retiro Park

Bubbles were another favorite performance art form. Every park, plaza, and monument had a bubble man or woman. The giant bubbles were certainly a winner with the kids.

Of course, musicians staked out their territory throughout Retiro park, as well. The park is beautiful with green spaces, statues, fountains, and waterways. It was filled with people enjoying picnics and exercisers in hot pursuit of fitness. We even saw an inline skating class.

Lobster & Clam Paella

Lobster & clam paella and sangria — delicious!

After a disappointing paella experience in Barcelona, we knew we had to try again before leaving Spain. This time we got recommendations from our VaughanTown friends who lived in Madrid, and scored with lobster and clam paella.

Puerta del Sol

Puerta del Sol is filled with people

The next day, we ventured to Puerta del Sol, a huge square filled with tourists. Earlier in the summer, it was an occupied tent city. It seems unimaginable since it was already so crowded with tourists and no tents while we visited.

Chocolatería San Ginés

Ms. HalfEmpty dips a churro in chocolate at Chocolatería San Ginés

It is also home to the popular Chocolatería San Ginés where patrons dunk churros in chocolate.  After waiting in line, we purchased our chocolate and attempted to find a place to stand along the crowded bar. Fortunately, Mr. HalfFull and I only ordered one cup of chocolate to split. It was so rich, we didn’t even finish it.

Don Quixote & Sancho Panza statues in Plaza de España

Don Quixote & Sancho Panza statues in Plaza de España

After getting fueled with chocolate, we headed to Plaza de España.  The main attraction is a statue of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza; everyone wants their photo with this duo.  But the park is also full of statues of other famous Spaniards like Cervantes.

Egyptian Temple

Egyptian Temple in Parque del Oest

Our final destination of the day was Parque del Oeste where we saw an Egyptian Temple.  I’ve been to Egypt, but didn’t expect to see such a sight in Spain!

Go-kart ran out of gas/electricity

Not a good day for the guy pushing the go-kart that ran out of gas/electricity!

On our way back to the hotel, as we thought about our tired legs, we felt like we were running out of fuel.  But we weren’t the only ones…there was a man pushing a go-kart down the street.

Gin Bar

Massive drinks at Gin Bar.  I know it doesn’t look massive in this photo, but it’s all perspective.  You’ll have to trust me.

On our final night in Madrid, we met the VaughanTown program director for drinks out on the town.  Apparently, she is an avid gin drinker, so we all met at Gin Bar.

XXX Café

For some reason (perhaps the drinks???) Ms. HalfEmpty ended up in sunglasses at XXX Café

The drinks were massive and I only planned on having one, but of course the program director bought another round!  Then she suggested we move to a bar down the street — XXX Café.  Woah!  I certainly didn’t need any more drinks, but when in Spain…

When we arrived at XXX Café, we were the only patrons.  Perhaps it was too early for Spaniard night owls.  We sat in the window and could see a few passers-by check out the scene inside.  The program director informed us that it’s a gay bar, so perhaps we scared all the regulars away!

End of Night

Ms. HalfEmpty collapses on the hotel bed after a night of drinking

By the time we got back to our hotel, I was certainly feeling the effects of the alcohol.  Plus I knew I had a flight back to reality the next morning.  A rough transition lay ahead…

 

 

 

  • Do you start thinking about going back to work toward the end of your trip?
  • Is it better to give money to a performer to satisfy his monetary needs for the day in hopes that he will stop, or does this encourage further “entertainment?”
  • What beautiful or intriguing sites have you seen (or do you hope to see) in Madrid?
  • Is drinking the night before your flight a good way to cap off the trip or a recipe for a painful ending?
Cibeles Palace

Cibeles Palace (now City Hall)

Royal Palace

Royal Palace of Madrid in Plaza de Oriente

 

 

 

 

 

 

Metropolis Building

Metropolis Building at the corner of Calle de Alcalá and Gran Vía

Royal Palace

Manicured gardens and statues surround the Royal Palace

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Happening Upon My Namesake

Four Posts panorama

After our one day layover in Madrid, it was time to take a 3 hour bus trip west to VaughanTown. You won’t find VaughanTown on a map because it’s not actually a town.  In fact, it’s in 5 different towns.  Our VaughanTown was outside the village of El Barco de Ávila.

VaughanTown is an English immersion program for Spaniards.  As native English speakers, our job was to help the Spaniards gain confidence in their ability to communicate in English by exposing them to a wealth of speech and accents (including American, British, Indian, and Australian in our group).  The Spaniards pay for the program individually or through their companies, and the Anglos, like us, are volunteers who are compensated with free meals and a free stay at a 4-star luxury hotel.

Bus to VaughanTown

Anglos and Spaniards on the chartered bus to VaughanTown. Some are getting their last few moments of sleep, and others are already chatting away.

Before we could start our little English haven in the middle of Spain, we had to get out of the city and away from all the Spanish speakers.  Most of the participants took the chartered bus from Madrid with us to the middle of nowhere.  But along the way, we made one stop outside the town of my namesake.

Before our 30/40 World Tour, I didn’t even know why my parents picked my name.  But when my mom heard that we would be in Ávila, she shared this with me:

Ending the 30/40 World Tour in Spain is more than just a wonderful place to visit before heading home, but it is also a symbol of being on the edge between the east and the west.  The Greeks called Italy Hesperia or “land of the setting sun” and referred to Spain, still further west, as Hesperia ultima.

Spain is the place from where Columbus changed the understanding of where the world does not end, going from the known world to discover the new world. It is a place where Miguel de Cervantes created a fascinating hero with Don Quixote, the dreamer chasing the windmills. It is a place where you can hear amazing guitar tunes (La Tuna, Segovia, Sarasate, and Albeniz) and see flamenco dancing. While each region in Spain is unique in food, scenery and history, all Spaniards share a love for living life to its fullest with time for siesta and time for workkeeping soul and body well balanced.

highway exit to Ávila

The bus made one stop outside Ávila on the way to Gredos

More amazing, is that the last landing of the heroine’s journeyis not only in Spain but also in Ávila, the city of the famous Teresa of Ávila. While it is a coincidence and not a pre-meditated plan of Ms. HalfEmpty and Mr. HalfFull, it is a potential revelation for the couple, but especially for Ms. Half Empty.

In fact, there is a strong resemblance between our heroine and the famous saint of Spain who was constantly in search of perfection, while at the same time she challenged many of the existing social norms for women in the 16th Century. One of her most famous books, The Way of Perfection, describes her experiences in prayer which ultimately culminates in rapture.

St. Teresa of Ávila painting

1827 painting of St. Teresa of Ávila by François Gérard

The secret as Teresa explained in prayer is that it does not matter as much to think as to love.  Loving in the first place is allowing oneself to be loved. “Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift…”  Hopefully, our heroine will discover this on her quest.  It is not about righteousness in perfection, but about letting go to find oneself.

St. Teresa was a trailblazer, a reformer, a Doctor of the Church, and a very smart woman. She was a fascinating señora like our heroine. She liked adventure at an early age; she even ran away from home at age seven with her brother Rodrigo to find martyrdom among the Moors. She was beautiful and atypical of women of her time by making the most of her intellect and challenging the men of her time. She had a mind of her own, which she manifested as a mystic, writer, teacher of meditation, and founder of the Carmelites. Her work became classic text in Christian spirituality, mysticism, and Spanish Renaissance literature.

Four Posts

Ms. HalfEmpty at the Four Posts, which overlooks the walled city of Ávila in the background.  This shrine marks the place where St. Teresa’s uncle stopped her from running off with her brother to seek martyrdom in battle with the Moors.

Our heroine’s last landing is truly fitting before crossing the Atlantic Ocean and coming home to hit the road running and engage in a life of love.

Hotel Izán Puerta de Gredos

Our four-star accommodation during VaughanTown — Hotel Izán Puerta de Gredos.  Our room was on the top floor with one of those windows peeking out of the roof.

Woah, no pressure Mom!  Those are some big expectations.  But I do still love Mr. HalfFull (even after spending 24 hours a day with him for 10 weeks), so maybe that’s a good start on the life of love.

At the end of our bus journey, we reached Hotel Izán Puerta de Gredos, which sits on 15 acres of land in view of the Gredos mountain range.  The location was beautiful and secluded — a 30-minute walk from town.  This would be our home for the next 5 days, during which we would spend 16 hours a day speaking English to Spaniards.

  • Who is your namesake?
  • Have you found a life of love?
  • Have you ever participated in a program like VaughanTown?

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One Day Layover in Madrid with my “Dog”

We arrived in Madrid early in the morning after our overnight train adventure.  Officially, our hotel check-in was at noon (which is pretty common elsewhere in the world, but is usually 3 PM in the US).  But we were so tired after missing a night of sleep that we hoped they would have a room ready for us when we arrived.

They did!  We enjoyed glorious slumber in a fully reclined position (including our feet) with clean sheets, an abundance of pillows, space to spare, and silence.  Beds are so wonderful after trying to sleep in a full train compartment.

Laundry

On this leg of the 30/40 World Tour, we only had a day in Madrid before joining VaughanTown early the next morning.  The program organizers told us that laundry service would be very expensive at the hotel in Gredos, so laundry was one of our priorities. With 3 pairs of underwear, laundry was a consistent concern on our 10-week trip.

We asked at our hotel in Madrid; they didn’t have weekend laundry service.  We wouldn’t have gotten our clothes back until Monday, but were leaving on Sunday.  So we scoured the internet for local laundromats and wrote down the addresses.

We had 3 laundromats on our list.  Surely, one of them would be open.

Lavanderia in Madrid

Closed lavanderia disappoints Ms. HalfEmpty

The first one no longer existed.  We walked up and down the block, but it was long gone.  The second laundromat was still in existence…yay!  But it was closed for the entire month of August…boo!

Isn’t it amazing that much of Spain takes the entire month off?  Plus, they get siestas when they are working!  I think I need to move.

We still had one final laundromat opportunity.  The third time’s the charm, right?  As we approached the third establishment, it looked open.  Our excitement started to build when we saw people inside!

If you remember our laundry experience in New Caledonia, speaking the native language was rather important in a laundromat.  The same was true in Spain.  Between bumbling our way through Spanish (difficult) and reading the signs on the wall (much easier), we learned that they were getting ready to close and were also closed on Sundays.  So once again we wouldn’t get our laundry back until Monday; by then we’d be long gone.  Super bummer!

So we ended up taking our dirty laundry to VaughanTown and planned to do some sink washing.  Apparently, there are many people who are not able to bring clean laundry to VaughanTown despite the warnings, so there was a special announcement about laundry when we arrived.

Before we were even allowed to check into our rooms, Mr. MC gathered the group in the meeting room to go over a list of rules.  Mr. MC was a young humorous Brit, so don’t think it was a long boring lecture.  There were definitely lots of laughs.

One rule concerned laundry:  we were not allowed to do laundry in the bathtub and turn on the jets.  Hahahaha!  A DIY washing machine with agitator!

I know that rules only exist because it happened before.  So I asked Mr. MC about this afterward, and learned that pair of underwear got clogged in a jet during a past session.  How embarrassing is that?  I wonder if the person reported the broken jets or if the hotel staff found the rogue underwear after check-out.

Lunch

Our short trip in Madrid (this time — we’ll have more for you after the VaughanTown posts, Tracy) wasn’t a total bust.  One of my dear friends from home introduced me to her friends from Kansas City who now live outside Madrid.  Mr. and Mrs. Missionary met us for lunch at El Museo del Jamón.

El Museo del Jamón

Mr. HalfFull with Mr. & Mrs. Missionary at Museo del Jamón

As we learned in Barcelona, Mr. HalfFull is unable to resist hanging legs of meat.  I think they make him feel like a manly hunter.  So how could he resist a restaurant called The MUSEUM of Ham???  A museum where you could eat the exhibits!

He was irrationally excited.  In fact, I think he picked our hotel because of it’s proximity to El Museo del Jamón.  Plus, Mr. & Mrs. Missionary didn’t object, so the location was decided.

I’m not sure if Mr. HalfFull realized El Museo del Jamón wasn’t really a museum or that it was a chain restaurant.  But it was inexpensive and the tapas weren’t bad.

The company was great.  We learned that Mr. & Mrs. Missionary had just come from the protests in Puerta del Sol.  As part of the 15-M Movement (because it began on May 15, 2011), young Spaniards occupied the square to protest high unemployment and the political establishment.  Earlier in the summer, they had erected a tent city like the Occupy movements throughout the world.

Mr. HalfFull and I aren’t religious and we didn’t know that Mr. & Mrs. Missionary were missionaries before we met them.  But we were pleasantly surprised to find that they were not singularly focused proselytizers.  We had great conversations on a range of topics.  I don’t think we discussed religion at all.

¿Cómo se dice “Dog?”

Perros No

Mr. HalfFull pretends to tinkle by the “Perros No” sign

I often call Mr. HalfFull Dog (or Dogg, Dawg, etc.).  I’m quite bad with names, but I don’t think I started calling him that until we were married.  So I doubt it was a name placeholder (like the way my dad calls all 4 of his children “Baby” because he can’t remember our names).  I think Dog was in the media at the time and it just stuck.

So in the French-speaking countries on the 30/40 World Tour, like New Caledonia and Mauritius, I would call him Chien.  Of course, in Spain I had to call him Perro (and practice my rolling Rs).

Walking back to our hotel in Madrid, I saw the perfect sign.  It read “Perros No.”  So of course, I had to have my dog pose with it.

Anglos

Eurobuilding 2

Ms. HalfEmpty @ Eurobuilding 2

Our final activity in Madrid before heading off to VaughanTown, was to meet the other VaughanTown volunteers (aka Anglos) at a tapas reception the night before our departure.  Free food and drinks are always a great way to gather a crowd, but this was probably a brilliant idea to make sure everyone could find Eurobuilding 2 and not be late for the early bus departure.

I was surprised to find that many Anglos knew each other and had already been to VaughanTown.  Many of them were expats from the UK and US living in Spain, mostly as English tutors/teachers.

It seemed like an interesting mix of people.  We were nervous and excited about the upcoming week at VaughanTown.

  • When did you most appreciate a bed?
  • Have you ever lost an article of clothing in a laundry attempt?
  • Have you met a friend-of-a-friend abroad?
  • Do you have a silly name for your significant other? 
  • Have you considered living and working abroad?

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Adventures in Overnight Train Travel

Barcelona Sants Train Station

Remember how hard it was for us to buy train tickets in Spain? That may have been a foreboding sign for our upcoming overnight train trip.

We tried to book a sleeping car with an actual bed, but those were all reserved. We ended up getting Perferente tickets, which is first class. Keep in mind that there are 2 classes (Litera and Turista) worse than ours as you read.

Barcelona-Sants Train Station

We arrived at the train station early, assuming that the train would just be stopping for a few minutes to pick up passengers in Barcelona before continuing on the journey. In our limited train experience, you need to be on the right platform at the right time, or get left behind. But as an American, much of the tempo of Spain is slow and train travel (especially the ticket buying process) is no different.

In all fairness, we didn’t give them much of a chance to be fast by booking the 9-hour overnight train instead of the 3-hour day train, which is three times more expensive.  Once again, we learned that you get what you pay for!

When we approached the entrance to our platform, we were told that it was too early to get our bags scanned and to come back in an hour. We grabbed a bite to eat and then looked for seats in the terminal. There were very few seats, and most of them were in the middle of the shops, not near the platform entrances.

While we sat, I used the time to edit photos on our netbook. After several minutes, a young man with a large rucksack approached Mr. HalfFull to ask we would watch his bag while he went to brush his teeth in the bathroom.

Red flag! Huge alert! Don’t they always tell you to never leave your bags unattended, and never to watch a stranger’s bags? Of course, Mr. HalfFull being a good guy, agreed to watch the bag.

After the guy returned, Matt decided to use the bathroom before boarding the train. But he couldn’t because there was a fire in the men’s room! It seems like a strange coincidence that the guy with the rucksack was just in there and didn’t want to be weighed down by his bag. I have no proof; it just seems very suspicious.

Finally, it was time for us to check in and get our bags scanned. This too, was different than the US. Granted, I haven’t ridden a domestic train in a while, but I’ve never seen baggage scanners for trains. The Barcelona scanners were a complete facade of security. We were required to place our bags on the conveyor belt, but no one was watching the screen! Plus, they didn’t require passengers to walk through metal detectors either. So it all seemed like a waste of time.

We proceeded to walk to the correct platform number, but were shooed to a section of seats. I was very confused by this. There was no explanation (not that I would have understood it in Spanish anyway).

Eventually, a man carrying a sign reading Madrid told us to follow him. So everyone grabbed their luggage and proceeded to follow this guy to the other side of the baggage scanner, past the ticket windows, past the shops, and out onto the street. I had no idea what was going on. I thought we were supposed to be boarding a train on a platform beneath where we had been sitting, but now we were walking back out onto the street!?!?

So remember all that heavy-duty security? Anyone could have joined our group walking through the terminal. So much for being secure!

Bus to ???

The man with the sign lead us to a bus. What? A bus? I thought we bought train tickets. Some of the Japanese passengers freaked out and started yelling about the train. I’m not sure they ever got a sufficient answer due to language barriers, but eventually, they too, boarded the bus.

The other problem with a bus is that all our luggage was underneath us, only accessible from the outside. This made me very uncomfortable since we had been repeatedly warned that thefts are common. We had no control of our luggage, but people on the outside had direct access.

Eventually, the bus started moving. We were driving through the city of Barcelona. Mr. HalfFull seemed to think that we were not heading toward Madrid, since he had guided us through the city all week. Eventually, we got on a highway. I began to panic as I wondered if we were taking this bus the whole way to Madrid. It didn’t have a bathroom! I really wished I had gone at the train station.

The bus drove farther and farther from the city lights until we were in a desolate area with a tiny train station 40 minutes later. Woo hoo, we were going to ride a train! Relief flooded over me and my bladder.

To this day, we still have no idea what the bus was about. But we think that perhaps there was some sort of labor strike, which may also explain the fire in the bathroom.

Overnight Train to Madrid

When we boarded the train and entered our 6-person compartment, there was already an older couple nestled in. Somehow, they must have known about the location of the train and avoided the bus ride. This couple had gotten so comfortable that they took over the entire compartment. None of their luggage was on the overhead racks; it was all across the seats and floor. Plus, they had each taken one side of the car in preparation to stretch out across 3 seats per person. Well, we ruined their ideal situation.

Mr. HalfFull proceeded to lift their luggage into the overhead racks, so that we could enter the compartment. They took one side of the compartment with 3 seats and we took the other. Not too bad; it still seemed like we could get some sleep before arriving in Madrid.

But then another man arrived. He was quite a loud, gregarious fellow. I know loud and gregarious; after all, I live with Mr. HalfFull! But this guy may have also been partially deaf, which made him even louder. Or perhaps Spanish is just a loud, boisterous language. He chatted up the other couple for quite a while. It was a rather animated conversation. Eventually, the loud guy left and we all went to sleep.

The chairs slid out into a full reclining position with your legs on the floor. It wasn’t super comfortable, but it was a much better angle than an economy plane seat. On the downside, the seats were old and some of them didn’t lock into place.

Unfortunately for us, the loud guy returned to slumber around 1 or 2 AM. I can only imagine that he was consuming copious amounts of alcohol elsewhere on the train. He was still loud and quite odoriferous. Of course, he sat right next to me. He was so drunk and/or his chair was so old that he ended up sliding all over the place. He would be mid-sentence and his chair would slide out from under him into a full recline. It was kind of funny, but also a bit scary because he was older, intoxicated, and not a small man.

Finally, the car got quiet again and we were falling back asleep when the snoring started. This was fully reclined, open-mouthed, drunk snoring. It was so loud. This old man was relaxed! He got so relaxed that he started talking in his sleep and at one point threw his arm across me. I freaked out and threw it back at him like a hot potato!

Later that night, we got a 6th compartment-mate. This guy was young, but was also a drinker. He slid in late at night with the lights off.  We were all back to sleep when suddenly, the overheads lights abruptly illuminated and a uniformed train officer was standing in the doorway.  The officer only asked the young guy for his ticket, and summarily kicked him out of our car.  The officer didn’t even speak to the rest of us.  I wonder where that kid was supposed to be sitting or if he was even supposed to be on the train.  Another young kid tried to take that same seat later in the night, but he too was removed by security.

Needless to say, there wasn’t much sleep that night between the people in and out, the snoring, the odors, the fugitives, the lights, and a random arm landing on me! We did save a night of hotel expenses, but I’m not sure we would do an overnight train again.

  • Would you watch a stranger’s bag?
  • Has your travel ever been affected by a strike?
  • Do you have much experience with train travel?
  • Have you endured an overnight train?

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Train Ticket Turmoil

Our first morning in Barcelona was spent in our space-themed hotel room at Barceló Sants.  When we finally emerged at 1 PM, we were famished and opted for the nearest food — the hotel restaurant.

Lunch @ Barcelo Sants

A contented Ms. HalfEmpty prepares to enjoy her 3rd lunch course — dessert and a latte

We were the only patrons and weren’t sure if we were early or late for the lunch hour.  After a few misunderstandings due to our limited non-existent Spanish, we were seated and enjoyed a delicious 3-course lunch.  I think wine was included in our meal (as we later learned is customary with 3-course meals in Spain), and our server was quite shocked when we declined the carafe.  She didn’t know that we were still recovering from Germany.

Since we had gotten up at 1 PM and just finished lunch, it was time for siesta.  When in Spain, do as the Spaniards.  You really can’t get enough sleep!

The main reason for including Spain on the 30/40 World Tour was to attend VaughanTown.  It’s an English immersion program for Spaniards in various locations throughout Spain.  The program (including 4-star-hotel accommodations and meals) is free for native English speakers, who are there to help increase the fluency of Spanish business people.

Before meeting up with the VaughanTown group in Madrid, we planned to spend 4 days in Barcelona.  We figured that it would be easiest and perhaps cheaper to get our train ticket from Barcelona to Madrid while in Spain.  So obtaining those train tickets was on our agenda.  We were staying above the train station, so how hard could it be?

It was so much harder than we ever imagined.  But we had an inflexible schedule at this point and needed those tickets.

Our first attempt was online.  Mr. HalfFull was able to see the various times and prices.  He decided that a slow overnight train was our best option because it was less expensive and would save us on a night at a hotel.  He tried several times to book it online, but our credit card never seemed to go through.

At this point, we weren’t too worried.  We just headed down to the train station to buy tickets at the counter.  We saw one area with about 10 windows where people took numbers and waited to be called.  It seemed rather crowded, so we went to the shorter line on the other side of the station.  After waiting for our turn, we were told that this line was only for same day tickets and we needed to wait in the other line.

Sleeping in Train Station

If you had to spend all day in the train station, you might take a nap too! Never miss a siesta…that’s my motto.

Too bad we just wasted time in line, but no big deal.  We went over to the other line and took a number.  Then we discovered that there were 150 numbers in front of us!  It was already 4 PM and unlikely that all those people would be served by closing time.  Plus, we had sites to see.  We decided to try again via the website from our hotel room in the evening.  Hopefully, the site would work better this time.

Mr. HalfFull was so nervous about us not getting to Madrid on time that he stayed up all night trying to use our credit cards on the website.  He even set an alarm to try at various hours to see if that made a difference.  But the transaction always failed.  (We later learned from comments online that only cards issued in Spain will work.  It would have been nice if the website had that info!)

Worrying is usually reserved for me.  Mr. HalfFull is generally the one who tries to ease me out of my tizzy.  But the roles were reversed!

Barcelona-Sants train station

Efficiency was not the strong suit of the Barcelona-Sants train station, but at least Hotel Barceló Sants was right above it, so we could visit often during our ticket quest.

We finally decided that the only way to ensure that we get tickets and don’t spend all day waiting in the train station was to be in line before the ticket counter opened at 6 AM.  Apparently, a bunch of other people also had this idea.  Fortunately, it wasn’t another 150 people.

With tickets in hand, Mr. HalfFull was finally able to relax.  Travel within Spain is not as easy as you might think.  We’ll tell you the tale of the actual train ride from Barcelona to Madrid in an upcoming post.  For now, let’s just say it was certainly another adventure.

  • Do you make travel plans before leaving home?
  • Have you had difficulty with your home country credit card in a foreign country?
  • Have you experienced a painfully difficult time purchasing tickets abroad?
  • Are you surprised that Mr. HalfFull was losing sleep over our tickets?

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