Wednesday, July 5, 2017

July 2017: Madrid, Lisbon...Then Back to the USA

It was another leisurely morning for us as our train didn’t depart until late afternoon, so after a room service breakfast we checked out at noon and walked to the adjoining mall area for some shopping (wine and scotch mostly), and later a light lunch.
The Train Station in Malaga - Clean, Bright, Modern

The well-established train system in Spain has a solid and well-earned reputation for timely and reliable service, and our scheduled departure was a good example of that – with boarding as advertised promptly at 1530. Then without any fanfare or announcement it quietly glided away from the station at exactly at the scheduled time, 1555.  This was the high speed link to Madrid…reaching up to 271 kilometers per hour during the open stretches, or 168 MPH.  By the time you added up the comparative time to/from airports, standing in long airport security lines (which were a good deal more streamlined at the train station), and then the cumbersome boarding processes, the 2.5 hour train ride at half the price of an airline ticket sure looked to be a good idea.  Plus we had nearly first class seat and leg room, along with vistas of the Spanish countryside and Internet access most of the way.
The Digital Display in the Train Clocks Us at 271 KM/H

There were a few short stops along the way at interim stations, and we arrived in Madrid not at the scheduled 1841…but 10 minutes early at 1831.  The Madrid Atocha train station was another story – huge, not particularly good signage for foreigners, a maze of levels, exit and entry points, and packed with way too many people.  The reason for that became all too apparent a short while later.  From here it should have been a quick ten minute taxi ride to our next abode, the Hotel Europa, which we had selected based on its central location; plus it came highly recommended by Rick Steves’ guide books and by Bernie Francis, who had passed through there on his way back to the states ten days earlier.  But when we finally found the taxi stand thirty minutes later and asked a driver to take us there, his response (in Spanish) was “impossible”.  Eh? 

In his best broken English he explained that all streets between here and our hotel were closed for a “celebracion” – which turned out to be “World Pride Madrid 2017”….think Mardi Gras in New Orleans plus Fantasy Fest in Key West, then add a couple more million people.  It was an LGBT festival on a rather grand scale.  And we walked straight into it.  You can’t make this stuff up.
World Pride Festival in Madrid....Weaving Our Way Thru Massive Crowds

We’re pretty sure we walked through about a million of those partying throngs enroute to our hotel, which involved a fairly circuitous route given the closed streets and clogged crowds we had to negotiate, all while hauling our luggage packed with two months’ worth of travel gear.  We tend to think of ourselves as an American military family with generally conservative leanings on many issues, but have never believed in politics that dictate lifestyle.  So while we were frustrated at our own poor or unlucky planning, we saw this as just a big freaking party, and a well behaved one at that.  At any rate, it took us two full hours to make the trek to the hotel.  If it weren’t for Google Maps and the Spanish National Police – who are a no-nonsense but reasonably friendly sort in spite of the Uzis slung around their necks – we probably wouldn’t have made it to the Europa Hotel until sometime in August.

For a wildly jubilant and partying crowd of that size, and one with a somewhat culturally-charged change agenda, they admittedly were the best behaved mass of people that we have encountered in such quantities at a single time and place. At one point, as we were hand carrying all that luggage down a steep set of stairs, one of the revelers just grabbed a suitcase handle and helped Chelle get her gear to the bottom. If you care to know more about the event then click HERE

After Sunset the Crowds Continued to Grow as Did
the Decibel Levels
Of course the hotel room we had reserved was one of the few remaining premium rooms with a balcony overlooking the square – which was packed with more of the aforementioned crowds.  But now we also had a big outdoor stage that featured Spanish rock bands blasting percussive music at higher decibel levels than any jet engine Rick had ever encountered.  Given that we had reserved that room in ignorance, the hotel staff gave us the option of changing to a quieter room; but we said “oh what the hell”, let’s experience the whole damned thing.  So we did. 

We chose to eat dinner in the hotel restaurant around 2300 (11pm) more due to fatigue than culinary preference, although the steak was actually pretty good, and the place did offer some acoustic relief.  By the time we got back to the room and our balcony view, the crowd size had increased even further, and so had the decibels.  For the most part the recorded music and live bands were sticking with Spanish language contemporary rock, but when they played the USA version of “YMCA” (remember the Village People?) the place went more nuts….thousands dancing and singing in synchrony.  Chelle even joined in from four floors up.  We were exhausted by 0200, and by 0300 the celebration had finally wound down to something less than a riot level.  For a brief video (oh yes, and audio) of the event as viewed from our hotel balcony, click HERE.)

Watch out New York City – the World Pride festival is headed your way in 2019.

One of Several Elaborate Palaces in Old Madrid
By this time our circadian rhythm was totally wonky, and our feet, knees & backs ached, so we didn’t get even partially motivated until 0930-ish. And even then we just hung around the room catching up on some emails and the typically confusing news from the states right up until the noon checkout time.  We had a nice brunch at one of the nearby sidewalk cafes and decided we’d tour Madrid strictly by bus today….we were pretty spent, and definitely done with walking for a while.

Madrid has some very good touring buses with reasonably priced one or two-day pass options, and we were able to split the afternoon into two parts with a break in the middle: the first couple hours touring “old” Madrid; followed by a Sangria and Mohito break; and then a couple more hours touring “new” Madrid.  It was all quite enjoyable and informative, and didn’t involve much walking.
And Another Palace in Old Madrid

Madrid is Spain’s capital and largest city, with 3.5 million residents within the city, and well over 6 million in its metro area.  It is the EU’s third largest city behind only London and Paris.  While lacking the absolute charm and appeal of those “White Hill” towns we so enjoyed, it is still an impressive community.  Whether you’re in the new or old sections, for a big city it has more visual appeal and character than almost any U.S. large city environment.  Judging traffic was a bit difficult given it was Sunday, but overall it appeared to be well-managed with very good streets and thoroughfares.

New Madrid is Modern, Clean...and Green.
That evening we had an early dinner (and another Sangria) and then took a taxi to the Madrid airport to catch an easyJet flight to Lisbon, Portugal. That marked the unofficial end of our tourista days, since the only thing we’d have time to do in Lisbon would be to go to the hotel, sleep a few hours, then head back to the airport for the long ten hour flight back to the USA – crossing the big pond once again.

The flight the previous night was blissfully boring, the hotel was more than adequate for the few hours of sleep we managed, and then we were back in the Lisbon airport by 0815 (GMT+1) for a mid-morning departure on a TAP Portugal Airbus A330.  By 1040 we were tucked into our comfy business class seats and airborne; and shortly after 1100 we were “feet wet” at 35,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean, pointed directly at the Azores.  It was an interesting thought looking down at all that blue water – we had been almost exactly in that same spot in a fairly small boat – headed in the other direction – just 16 days ago.  This particular crossing would be faster, more comfortable, and boring as hell. 
Elaborate Fountains Are Also a Prominent Feature in Madrid

But as Chelle had said the night before, “I’m tired and done with living out of a suitcase; it’s time to go home.”  We had been traveling rather energetically in some shape or form since 10-May, or roughly for 54 consecutive days.  And we were running low on clean clothes as well as energy.

We never thought we’d say this about Miami, but it felt good to be back here as we disembarked the plane just after 1400 Eastern Time.  We wouldn’t get home for a few more days since we wanted to visit friends and tend to some boat business in Jupiter and Palm Beach.  We’ll keep you posted on what kind of adventure might develop from that.


·        Crossing an ocean is more about preparations than the actual execution of the journey.  Assuming you selected a capable boat (and in the powered vessel world, that admittedly is a short list of brands) then most of the real work is in prepping the boat, and to some degree, the crew.  That includes vetting the boat’s mechanicals of course, but also loading up with the right consumables, tools, supplies, safety gear and provisions. Securing a good weather router with multiple means of communication falls into that prep category as well.

·       Speaking of provisions, Chelle did a fantastic job of planning and procuring those for Relish; we didn’t lack for anything, and not just coincidentally, we ate very well all along the way – even when sea conditions should have dictated much less time and effort in the galley.

·        If we were to make such a journey again – on our boat or someone else’s – we would want to do it with exactly four crewmembers (assuming the same or at least equivalent skill sets); three is too few (tiring); five is too many (crowded).

·        We highly recommend the Garmin inReach device to any long distance cruisers as well; it does not replace an EPIRB but its tracking and messaging capabilities are impressively flexible and reliable, and its backup SOS/SAR option is a smart redundancy.

·        We enjoyed each place we visited, but we ranked Gibraltar and Arcos as the top two; the former for its marina environments, Med access, and the international variety of interesting sights and sounds, plus its amazingly affordable prices on everything; the latter for its well preserved old world charm, stunning views and superb hospitality.

·        We were treated well at every stop we made along the way; and that’s saying something as Americans aren’t exactly viewed favorably these days by a good portion of the globe.  So kudos to the hospitality forces in Bermuda, Portugal, Gibraltar and Spain.

·        Of all the places we visited, the Spanish hospitality and service ethic in the small towns was the best of them all; you could tell they wanted you there and they wanted you to enjoy their unique experience.  And they delightfully lacked those hustle/bustle and stress factors that you can see in the eyes and hear in the voices of the big city staffs.

·        Iberian ham is fabulously delicious, especially when sliced thin like prosciutto and served with eggs and toast for breakfast or brunch.  If you are not familiar with it, read about it by clicking HERE; but when you taste it you can tell it takes up to four years to make it that way.

·        Our two new favorite fun drinks, particularly when made in Spain, are the Sangria and the frozen Mojito; it is easy to see why Hemingway fell in love with them during his time there.

·       And finally, re-crossing the Atlantic Ocean on a TAP Portugal A330 Airbus in business class is a very nice way to make the return trip across the pond both boring and fast.  Cheaper, too.

Frozen Mojito and Sangria -- CHEERS!


  1. Rick and Michelle,

    Cher and I want to thank you for taking us along with you on your great adventure. Through you detailed accounting, descriptive and interesting reporting and informative local information we felt like we were along with you for the ride. We will miss your logs and can't wait to see the movie.
    We're glad you're home safe.
    Rick, you once shared with me something that your dad told you that I would imagine was thought of at times at sea and must have seemed quite profound.... "Experience is a harsh teacher. She gives the test first and then teaches the lesson later..."
    From what we read you and Michelle passed all the tests.
    Thanks again,
    Dan and Cher Clark

  2. Glad you are safely back in the "Good Ol' USA"...enjoyed your details immensely. We hope to see you again in or around Ft. Myers. Good luck on your boat shopping expedition. And how well we know it's an expedition. Congratulations on a travel experience only a few will ever encounter.
    Jerry, Christine, and Annie