Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Adventure Begins

Well the adventure begins. We left BUD for AMS only to connect to another flight to MAD. Travel is alphabet soup. Flying KLM, we had to go farther north in order to arrive on Spanish terrain. What makes these types of flights more manageable are the Diners Club lounges along the way. Budapest has a lovely lounge, which has been made lovelier after the remodeling of the airport. After 1 hour and 40 minutes, and arriving in AMS we were treated to the DC lounge there for another 2 hours before moving on to the next leg, which would be 2 hours and 5 minutes of air travel. KLM does have comfortable seating, I do have to admit. There was plenty of legroom, making it unnecessary to accept their offer of reserving seats with extra legroom at additional cost. As airlines go these days, the ‘meals’ were poorly constructed sandwiches with little to no nutritional value and best skipped over entirely. A lesson I applied to the second part our journey.

Madrid’s airport is huge. After taking seven moving sidewalk rides, we arrived at three escalators to take us to baggage claim. From there it was well marked to reach the metro. Buying a pass is easy as there is an office that looks more like a tourism agency than a ticket counter. Our all inclusive transportation passes for 3 days inclusive of the inner city, was 19 Euros each. We were given better instructions for a less tedious trip to our hotel than what we had originally thought. One metro ride to the end and then a train one stop; voila, we were there. However in order to get to the metro, it took 3 long steep escalators and then some walking. The metros are half way down to China or whatever is directly across the earth from Spain.

As we were emerging from the metro, mobs of people were pushing their way in. For moment’s it was uncertain whether we should risk leaving the metro for fear that this crowd was escaping some natural disaster or Godzilla was outside waiting for his next meal. As unfathomable as it seemed, outside the metro was even worse. The crowd was so thick with people, my first impression was that they were giving away tickets to see Lady Gaga accompanied by Pope Ben as a sideline performance. This is a crowd the Million Man March would have admired. 

Fortunately, our hotel was only a stone’s throw away from the metro exit. Our room is clean and plain, which is fine, because the location is excellent. Right down the street are the Christmas Markets, which are a major disappointment. Booth after booth after booth are loaded to the stable rafters with objects for a crèche. There are hundreds of versions of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus. The three wise men come in more wardrobe choices than Barbie. There are more animal choices than any zoo in the world. Just naming them all would have given Jesus a vocabulary to be admired by a college admissions board. There are different stables from poor down and out to luxury condo style. Why let tradition dictate how you can out do your neighbors? The best part is the moving figures. You can get Joseph hammering wood, women washing clothes, a man shoeing a horse, and Mary changing diapers amongst other things. 

We tried finding a restaurant for dinner, but they were all as mobbed as the streets were. It seems the entire population was out and about tonight. The few places we found that were hungry for dinner guests were those that were charging 20-30 Euros for an entree, something I refuse to pay in any city. We finally found a lesser crowded, lesser expensive place. The food was filling, not very tasty, but also didn't break the bank either.   
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