My flight from Chicago arrived nearly an hour late, but it was still early by Spanish standards (before 9 AM). It seemed to take at least 30 minutes to exit the gate and terminal and get out to some cool, fresh air. This was likely quite true as I found out on my return to the airport. Madrid’s Barajas Airport is very spread out, and most flights from the U.S. arrive at Terminal 4S, which is literally miles from the other terminals.
Before I left, I had researched how to get from the airport to the city center on public transit. The Madrid Transit System recently started a new service: the airport express bus. Thank goodness for this efficient, cost-saving service! I had exchanged money to have a few euros when I landed, so I had the 2 € coin in hand for the bus driver. Once on the bus, I was happy to discover that it also had free WiFi. The bus terminated at Atocha train station, which was about a six-block walk from my Madrid accommodations: Hostal Gonzalo.
While trekking to the hotel, consulting a free map picked up at the airport tourist information booth I turned a corner and saw a long line of people on the street. As I got closer to my hostal, I had to literally struggle my way through an increasing glut of people who were trying to access a church at the end of the same block my hostal was on. While I checked in, the proprietor tried explaining to me that there was something special about the date and visiting this church, but I really didn’t understand it.
After an eight-hour flight and maybe two hours of sleep, I was tired and glad to lay down for about an hour. Then I headed out to do some more business tasks. I needed to get more cash from an ATM and pick up a SIM chip for the unlocked mobile phone I had brought with me from the U.S. (borrowed from a friend in the biz…thanks, R!) So I headed out on foot towards Puerta del Sol, considered the center of Spain.
I stopped at the first ATM I encountered: a Servi-Caixa machine. I was disappointed when it notified me that an additional 3€ charge would be levied for me to use the machine. According to my research, ATMs were largely fee-free in Europe, yet here I was being charged! Happily I found this an anomaly; there were a few ATMs that charged for use, but once I saw a screen notifying me of the fee, I would cancel the transaction and then walk a bit further (no more than a block usually) to use a fee-free ATM.
As I arrived at Sol, I was dazed by the plaza around me and dodging sprinkling rain.
I wandered around a bit, entering the big department store chain El Corte Ingles (found in every major Spanish city), and the Vodaphone store where I waited to purchase a SIM chip for my phone. While in the store I had a chance encounter with a young woman I had met at the departure gate in Chicago. It seemed like a funny coincidence to meet up with her there, and we chatted for several minutes about the flight and how we were finding our way in Madrid. She was meeting her sister shortly (who had been studying in Valladolid), then heading to Granada next. I commented off-hand “Maybe I’ll see you in Granada.”
While at Sol — which was a major transportation hub — I also purchased a 10-ride ticket for the Madrid public transit system for about 10€. I had to pay cash for the ticket since neither my credit nor my debit cards would work in the machines. I used my ticket that same evening as I rode the 27 bus up Paseo del Prado to the Madrid Knitters Night.
When visiting a strange city, it is a comfort to find others with whom you can connect. Every time I travel for pleasure, I try to find a knitting group meeting and/or visit yarn stores. People who share your interests are usually very welcoming and this group was no exception. There were a few ex-pats in the group, so I had no trouble communicating with my limited Spanish.
The knitters helped me stay awake and engaged on this day where I was tired and jet-lagged. They also helped me with a pesky problem I had been trying to tackle. I had been looking for a power strip to purchase, and it was here I learned that a power strip was called a ladron (thief) and that I was likely to find one in a ferreteria (hardware store) or a chino (a small, neighborhood store typically run by Asians, hence the slang name).
I bought a sandwich at Starbucks to eat in my room for dinner, then left the knitting group about 30 minutes early and made my way back to the hostal. (Passing by lines of people still waiting to get into the church!) I ate my sandwich as I used the WiFi in my hostal to call B on Skype, then went to bed.
On this first day in Spain, I was tired and lacking confidence in my communication skills. I did OK, though, thanks to the kind people at my hostal and the knitters.
Incidentals: 15,00€ (SIM card)