Hello there and welcome back. I do hope that some or all of you have read my last little series of entries about my trip to Madeira. If you have not, they begin here and I do hope you enjoy them.
Why then, having spoken of so many trips to Sri Lanka and Canada, did I decide on a very short trip I made in 2013 to Madrid? Simple really. Firstly, it is a relatively short project of only four full days which I might as well get out of the way. Secondly, after my complete stupidity of the Madeira writing experience, I have found that I obviously spent a long time years ago researching and writing up this trip and have even managed, against the odds, to save my scribblings Thirdly, most of my images, upon which I rely so heavily as aides-memoire for my writing are all on a couple of SD cards, available and ready for use.
The venue may have changed from a rock in the Atlantic but the basic pronciples remain the same. If you are in the slightest bit interested, and there is no logical reason why you should be, just press the “read more” button and come and join me.
If you have clicked on the “read more button”, a huge thank you as always, you really must have too much time on your hands but I am glad of your company.
This short series of entries begins with a slightly cryptic explanation. Despite having long wanted to visit Madrid, it was only the impetus of a friend who was there on a business trip that propelled me to go. For personal reasons she does not wish to be identified online and so I am going to call her Siobhan or S. here and even that is a private joke that she’ll get (thanks for the lovely Xmas gift, S).
Just so you get it, and the pronounciation does catch people out as it is a difficult tongue, Siobhan is a Gaelic name and is acrtually prononced as “Shivon”. S may or may not even be the initial letter of her real name, she will know who she is. I may not be much of a blogger but I hope, at the very least, that I am an ethical one and if the lady (for such she is) wants her identity protected then that is how I will go about things. That’s all a bit James Bond for a kick-off, isn’t it?
Shiv was at the time, working for a very large multi-national company and happened to be heading to Madrid for a “working week” of meetings. In her lovely way she asked if I fancied a run down there which took me all of about three nanoseconds to decide on.
She had a hotel room, which I knew would be good at her level of operation, not that that bothers me so all I needed was a flight to Madrid and that wouldn’t be a problem in the days before the virus. I should mention that this whole escapade was in late November 2013. It was actually a few days after my 54th birthday so I could hardly be described as an “innocent abroad”.
In much the same way as I had booked flight and accommodation in the last blog series in about two hours, I sorted myself in fairly rapid order for my Madrid trip. I did not even have accommodation to worry about, just get a flight and it was job done. That was easily done and led to the first happy part of many on this trip.
I have moaned at length about the so-called London airports and I believe I have done so accurately. There is actually only one airport calling itself London that is technically in London and that is London City, built on re-developed land at the old East end docks near where I live. “London Heathrow” (LHR) is actually outside in Surrey, “London Gatwick” is in Sussex, the jokingly referred to “London Southend” is 26 miles East of the capital in Essex. I won’t bore you with the rest.
A quick online search gave me the option of a flight from LCY, to give London City it’s international designation, and at a reasonable price which is surprising. LCY is designed for business travellers and, with the shareholders funding the travel, business types will pay anything. I have to embark upon one of my numerous digressions here to tell you how good City Airport is.
Many years ago, I had decided to head to Vilnius in Lithuania (as you do) on the back of a week of night shift. I took a few hours off on the Monday morning and had a cab booked from my usual East end firm who very rarely let me down. I had to connect at Frankfurt.
I cannot remember the exact time of the flight, early morning, but I know I had my cab booked for 0700 and the cab dumped me at the airport in very short order as we were going against the commuter traffic in the Limehouse Tunnel.
I was just about to say I queued at the check-in desk but that would be a lie. There was no queue. Because it is so geared towards the business traveller, most passengers have nothing more than a briefcase and a “carry-on” bag with a laptop for their business meeting in Geneva or Paris or wherever. Most of them would be home in time for tea!
I checked in, spent a little while browsing the books in the newsagents outlet and purchased a couple I fancied, I always have reading material when I travel. I headed outside for a smoke and a look, at the ‘planes and I checked my watch. 0810. What? Are you serious? I was checked in, boarding pass in my passport and ready to go 70 minutes from leaving home, I could not believe it. It really is a brilliant airport and in such stark contrast to the awful alternatives.
LCY is wonderful, as described above, but it is still a complete rip-off. I think the only airport I ever flew that was not was the wonderfully named Newquay International airport in Cornwall (UK). Back in about 1989 or 1990 I flew down there to see my mate Simon as it was cheaper than the train. It was the most hilarious flight I have ever been on.
After a five minute touchdown at Plymouth we made the hop to Newquay in about 15 minutes and I doubt we reached 2,000 feet. Newquay International at that time shared a runway with RAF (our air force) St. Mawgan. I do not know if this story is apocryphal as it sounds crazy enough to be so but I heard that it initially got it’s “International” tag because of a commercial flight coming from Heathrow or Gatwick or wherever running into trouble and having to put down there. With such a long military runway, it was no problem and the RAF guys put the pilot down safely, the ‘plane was fixed and eventually headed off to the Americas.
I am very proud to say I have flown into and out of Newquay International and the catering facilities, well, all the facilities, are worthy of note. It had amused me slightly on the inbound that we had to stand at the back of the aircraft and identify our kit. There was one fairly elderly guy who served as the entire baggage handling operation, it really was so funny but I could not laugh as he was taking it so seriously. Bless him, he humped all the luggage out onto the tarmac and we were left to sort it out ourselves. I had to tell him to be careful with the guitar case I was brinnging down to play at a friend’s wedding but that is a whole other story.
To try and keep things in some sort of order, when I went for the return flight I was sitting in the small Portakabin that served as the check-in, departure lounge, refreshment facilities, toilet facilities and, well, just about everything else. Shall we just say the eating and drinking facilities are limited but that was no problem as I was nursing a hangover that Oliver Reed would have been proud of.
The elderly lady, who seemed to be the only member of staff apart from the young girl checking the tickets and the old guy in his orange overalls doing the baggage, had obviously hadmade the rolls and the soup and I can unequivically state that the soup and filled roll I had in Newquay was the best food I have ever had in an airport anywhere in the world. Basic principles and why does it appear so difficult to do? Simple home-cooked food served at a reasonably price, how difficult can that be? I shall allow the reader to ask any international airport in the world.
So what has all this got to do with the Madrid I promised you? Not a lot really but you know how I ramble. We haven’t even got beyond the E16 postal district in London yet. The flight was totally unremarkable except for the take-off in London which you can see here and the landing in Madrid, which you can see here. Barajas airport did not overly impress me and here is what I wrote at the time which thankfully saves me the bother or doing it all again.
Clean, modern and very slow.
“The title of this section says it all really. I arrived into Barajas mid afternoon on a November Monday with the flight actually early due to quite a strong tailwind. The plane parked on the tarmac away from the terminal building and as the captain remarked on the PA, “our early arrival seems to have caught our friends at Iberia off-guard”. Indeed so, as we sat there for long enough whilst they summoned a set of steps and a bus to take us to the terminal building.
When we eventually got there we had to wait for a transit (basically an automatic train affair) which then took us to another building. I should mention at this point that I arrived and departed from Terminal 4S, perhaps other terminals are better.
Having reclaimed my baggage which had understandably arrived before us I went through passport and customs control which was a breeze as we were flying between two EU countries. I noticed that there was an arrivals duty free shop which is just opposite the baggage reclaim but I gave it a miss.
The signage was good throughout (in Spanish and English) and I followed it to the Metro station.
If you are going to buy a travel card as I was, then the desk for that is just on the left before the entrance to the Metro and the staff there are helpful and speak good English. If you are not using a travelcard you should be aware that a Metro journey to or from the airport attracts a €3 supplement (back then) even though it is not nearly as far out of town as some of the other lines go.
There I was with only the vaguest idea of where I was going (i.e. the nearest Underground station) yet I was as happy as could be. What was the worst that could happen to me? Worst case scenario was that I would get lost, in which case, when I got to central Madrid I could jump in a cab.
Madrid airport seemed to be remarkably free of people and was a joy to breeze through after the initial delay, all the way to the completely integrated “Renfe” station. Renfe are the national rail carriers in Spain and on my very limited experience of them I found that they seemed to be very good, punctual with clean and tidy rolling stock and not horribly over-priced.
I love just travelling to the most remote terminii of an urban train / bus / tram route just to have a look round. That is a great travel trick, you should try it. You will be well away from the tourist areas of any given place and get a look at how the locals live, it really is an education. I am not even going to tell you about Upminster here!
I had bought a five day one and I could possibly have saved a few € by buying inividual tickets but the convenience was well worth it. I do advise it as a general principle and certainly in Madrid. If you want to do as I did, here is the info, prices will obviously have risen since I wrote this.
“I purchased my billeta at the airport and should you wish to do the same the desk is right at the entrance to the Metro station, just follow the signs from arrivals. The young man there was charming, spoke perfect English and the entire transaction (conducted via UK debit card) was completed in a couple of minutes.
I had looked at a map previously and knew that I would only need a billeta for Zone A which is the central area but the man told me that a Zone T ticket covering all areas including the suburbs was the same price. I was happy with that although I am not sure if this is merely an off-season offer or something else. My five day billeta came to €26:80.
Suitably equipped, I ventured onto the Metro system to use my newly prchased billeta and there are a couple of points to remember here. The ticket itself (pictured out of the wallet) will only go into the machine one way. Yes, there is an arrow on it to indicate which way and no, I didn’t have my spectacles on so it took me a little while. Basically, stick it in red end first! The place to put it is on the front of the barrier on the right hand side and the ticket will the shoot up on the top of the machine which brings me to my second point.
Don’t forget to take it with you!
I have to say that for some reason my billeta did not work one night as I was returning to my hotel. I do not speak Spanish but explained via hand signals and demonstration to a helpful member of staff who let me out of the station. It was too late for the ticket office to be open but I returned next day and an equally helpful lady was able to interrogate it, found it to be valid and reactivated it”.
I had to change lines in the middle of town and this is where the problem started. There was no problem withthe Metro, the problem was with me. Having passed on the expensive beer on th ‘plane, I was getting thirsty and so I ascended to street level in search of one and I didn’t have far to go. About 20 yards from the front door of the Metro station I found a great little snack bar which was surprisingly completely empty.
I ordered my beer and proceeded with a little ritual I have which usually provokes some amused looks. When I arrive in a country I always photograph my first beer and this happened to be a Mahou which seems the most popular brew although I did get to sample several others. I was in no great rush as I knew my friend would not be back from work until later but I didn’t stay too long just in case.
I made it to Herrera Orio station and it was only a couple of hundred yards to the Sheraton Suites Maresierra although I see now it has been taken over by Eurostars Hotels who I must confess I have never heard of. Again this review carries the caveat that it was some years ago and has probably been altered considerably since I was there.
Excellent but a touch dated.
“Regular readers of my pages know that I usually travel on a budget that is not a really tight backpackers nor does it extend to five star hotels and haute cuisine generally. However, occasionally circumstances dictate that I do get to stay in posh places and so it was on my recent visit to Madrid. By circumstances I mean that someone else was paying the bill!
I arrived at the Sheraton in Mirasierra (I know there is another Sheraton in Madrid) and made my way to the suite and herein lies the crux of the whole place. The Sheraton is variously described as an hotel and suites and the latter seems the most apt description.
A little research indicates that there are no rooms in the accepted sense here, there are only suites. To be specific there are 182 of them, the smallest of which is 60 sq.m and I believe that this is the size I was in. Having said that, it certainly ranks amongst the largest “hotel rooms” I have ever been in and was certainly more than adequate for my friend and I.
The suite was of an open plan comprising a small kitchenette area, fridge (with minibar), seating area / bedroom, washbasin area (his and hers) and separate toilet and shower. I use the term kitchenette but it is really a sink and a microwave. I didn’t find any cutlery nor crockery although there was, bizarrely, a trivet there. I suppose they don’t want the table scorched with your takeaway and reheated meal.
There is a separate bathroom should you fancy one instead of a shower. All in all, it was extremely well-equipped and I was at a bit of a loss as to where to explore first as it really was a bit of a trek to get round it all! Having spent five months living in a nipa (bamboo and thatch hut) in the Philippines the previous year and which I thoroughly loved, this really was a different world.
So why do I use the title “a little bit dated”? Well, that is what it appeared to me. It was spotless, well-maintained and perfectly comfortable (including an excellently firm bed which was great for my bad back) but it just looked like it was from the 90’s or even 80’s. For example, the TV, complete with satellite channels, was an old-fashioned affair, not a flat screen which seems to be about standard in hotels these days. The decor seemed, well, just a little bit old. Very comfortable certainly and I have no complaints but it just struck me as a bit in need of a makeover.
The staff were excellent and very friendly but I would advise against the bar. Sure, it is probably great for the people who normally stay here but €6 for a small glass of Heineken was a bit rich for my blood. In retrospect, it is probably a bit rich for most peoples as I was the only person in there when I went to wait for my friend . I suggest you take a short and pleasant walk to the nearby Aolmar bar where you can get a large glass of local beer (they do not have Spanish draught in the hotel) and have a much better time. Hotel bars, like airport bars, are generally expensive so avoid.
I know the hotel has an indoor swimming pool and spa which I did not use (I was not that fit any more) but I also discovered an outdoor swimming pool out the back when I went out there for a smoke one night (I told you I wasn’t that fit!). Regrettably, the Sheraton here has followed the American model and gone completely non-smoking. Late November at about 0300 hours and with snow threatening was not the time to try the outdoor pool but I am sure it is delightful on a summer afternoon.
It has to be said that this hotel is not the most central in Madrid, it is actually quite a way out but it is close to the Metro station which is about ten minutes easy walk away. I know that most people coming here will not be using the Metro as they will be either driving their own expensive car, being chauffeur driven or in a cab paid for by the company.
I have been told that the Real Madrid football (soccer) team use this place the night before a match. I was there the night before a game but didn’t actually see any of them, they were probably all tucked up in bed by the time I got home! For the likes of me, the Metro is quite good enough. Given the state of some of the traffic conditions I saw on the Madrid roads in the evening, I think the Metro was a good choice!
The hotel / suites have an attached restaurant called Verdil which I did not try as I never saw anyone in there at any point and it was horrendously expensive. Again, a short walk down the road will bring you to the Aolmar bar / restaurant where you can get authentic Madrileño food and eat it with proper Madrileños at a fraction of the price. I know where I would rather be.
No rest for the wicked as they say and S. had decided we were going back downtown to visit various eateries that her Spanish colleagues had intoduced her to and which she was keen to show me. After a quick wash and brush up we were back on the move but this entry has gone on a bit now so if you want to hear about my first “tapas tour” stay tuned and spread the word.