Paris to Madrid

After a leisurely-paced morning which included an indulgent 20-minutue shower, I pack and check out of the hotel. Even though it’s early, I decide I want lunch. With my mouth watering from memories of yesterday’s delicious lunch, I go back to Le Chant des Voyelles. My starter is gazpacho which is delicious and refreshing. I go with the faux filet au roquefort again as it was so delicious. It didn’t disappoint the second time around. I notice young couples with toddlers disappearing into the restaurant and learn that there’s a lower floor that connects to the catacombs. I’m guessing their celebrating a toddler’s birthday as most carry gifts. I forego the icky cocktail and just have water and Coke. Oh, how I yearn for a Pepsi. Coke is everywhere but Pepsis are few and far between.

I walk back to Notre Dame and circle it to see its architecture from different perspectives.

Book stalls still line left bank of the Seine. Among the used books are cheesy souvenirs. With no particular destination in mind, I walk along the Seine, past the Louvre and loop back towards the hotel. There’s an intersting tower near the hotel called Tour Saint Jacques. And I walk around the St. Merry church by the hotel and discover some great public art. It’s a few short blocks to the Pompideu Center and its contemporary architecture. I scope out the route to Chatelet les Halles which is the train station that I need to use if I decide to take public transit to Orly airport for my flight later today. There’s a nice fountain nearby.

Back at the hotel, I grab my two suitcases and roll the 8 blocks to Chatelet les Halles and catch a RER train for the 35-minute ride to Antony station. It’s warm and I’m a bit sweaty from struggling with the bags. The A/C on the train is weak. At Antony station, I transfer to the Orlyval automated train for a short 9-minute hop to the airport. Public transit for under 10 Euros is a wise choice if you don’t want to cough up 35-45 Euros for a taxi ride in heavy traffic.

There’s a huge line to check in with Iberia. While they are operating my flight to Madrid, I had purchased my tickets online via LAN, one of Iberia’s partner airlines. Little did I know the wisdom in this purchase. After waiting 30-minutes, I’m greeted by a happy young airline employee. Seems that Iberia’s baggage policy is just one checked bag, but LAN has a policy of two free checked bags. Thank you LAN! I saved about $100 on bag fees.

I buy a boxed sandwich and water. I think the cardboard box might have had more flavor. The gate area is over run by children hopped up from their visits to Euro Disney. Seems Orly is they airport closest to this attraction and luck would have it that I was surrounded by a see of Spainish families returning from their weekend with Mickey. I’m all for letting kids romp in the airport in hopes that they’ll be exhausted and sleep on the plane, but I knew the rambunctious behaviour was going to spell disaster. Sure enough, one of two brothers that were sprinting back and forth between two sets of chairs tripped and fell only to have his sibling literally run over him. I’m sure he was going to have a bruise on his back. But not blood, no foul. Boys from three families descended on the Wii player that was clearly not functioning and began to pull on the hand controllers until I thought the stand was going to topple over. They announce the flight is delayed by one hour. Oh, joy! I’ll have a ringside seat for juvenile mayhem for another hour.

The flight is uneventful and I land at Madrid-Barajas at 10:25pm. It’s one of the prettiest airports I’ve been in and clearly not the terminal I experienced when passing through to Malaga in 1996. I gather my bags and make my way to the taxi stand. Rather than struggle with my bags on an unfamiliar subway at night, I decide taking a taxi would be best. This proves to be expensive (43 Euros) and ill advised. My friendly taxi driver doesn’t speak English well but he does communicate through lots of hand gestures and a few words of English that the street my hotel is on (Gran Via) is closed. He’ll take me as far as he can but I’ll have to walk some.

What I didn’t know is that I had arrived on La Noche en Blanco. It’s an annual event that has art galleries, museums and other attractions open until 4am that attracts some 750,000 people to downtown Madrid. Well, the cabbie got me as close as he could. Some 8 long blocks from my hotel. I wasn’t prepared for the crowds. Here I am trying to weave my way through the crowds, not roll over anyone’s toes, nursing my crippled suitcase and its battered wheels. I was anxious at first but it turned out to be amazing. I even stopped and took some photos. There were two people slathered in what looked to be wet terra cotta posing as one of the public art installations. And some of the buildings were striking with dramatic lighting.

Before I knew it, I had arrived a H10 Villa De La Reina. The front desk staff quickly checked me in and were apologetic about my having to trek on foot. I dropped my bags, turned on the A/C and washed my face. This hotel had an interesting feature: you had to slide your key card into this holder by the door to turn on the A/C and most of the lights. I guess it saves them money but turning off everything when you exit the room. It just means that the A/C can’t cool off your room while you’re out.

I head out looking for food as the airport sandwich isn’t going to hold me over. Even though it’s nearly midnight, the streets are bursting with folks out for La Noche. It’s surprising for me to see families with very young children out this late at night, but everyone is having a good time.

I investigate a couple of restaurants that I’d seen rolling to the hotel and decide on Vitamina as it has immediate seating. I order a hamburger and patatas vitamina. The burger is okay, but the fried potatoes are delicious. Lightly battered and deep fried, the potatoes come with three different sauces: ketchup, melted cheese or BBQ. It hits the spot. While I’m eating a multi-generational family is seated at the next table. It’s half past midnight and the kids’ energy is starting to wane.

Actually, my energy is waning, too. I take a few more photos on the way back to the hotel before falling into a deep slumber.


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