Confession time. Not so long ago, when I was a hard-working driving instructor in Telford, I used to know my way around the many roundabouts and interchanges very well. So on a long day, when I was getting tired of the abuse and poor driving skills of some of the locals, it was possible to put yourself in the correct lane at a certain junction and keeping your eyes fixed dead-ahead, e-e-e-e-e-a-s-e yourself (still in the correct lane) across to the left and push the hapless driver who’d wrongly got into the left lane, down on to a slip-road and on to a dual carriageway. Where they didn’t want to go. I mention this because Karma has a way of paying you back for your misdemeanours. On the ring roads around Madrid for example.
It’s bad enough sailing a big barge like Vince around at the best of times, but abroad? On the wrong side of the road? In a big city where the locals take no prisoners? I lost count of the times Gill said, “This exit. The one on the left. No this left! Noooooo!” We missed so many junctions I had no idea if we were in Madrid or Milan, it was that bad. Although it was Saturday, the motorway network seemed to be just as busy as any weekday. Thankfully our satnav came through and corrected all the wrong turns, bringing us safely to Camping Osuna where we planned to stay for a couple of nights.
We hadn’t done any washing for a while so we decided that Saturday would be for chores, and Sunday would be our ‘explore Madrid’ day. Of course, I’m ashamed to say that by “WE” hadn’t done any washing, I meant Gill hadn’t. As part of our division of labour when we’re away, I do the driving and the outside jobs – water filling and emptying, fuelling and doing unmentionable things with the toilet cassette. Gill does pretty much everything else, bless her. So while she kindly got on with the laundry I went for an ill-advised run through the streets of Madrid. Not smart when you’re used to cooler climes; I got back to the campsite sunburned, dehydrated and panting like an old labrador. I may have smelled like one too.
We got chatting to our Canadian neighbour in the afternoon, she and her husband are doing the big European tour in a British-registered converted-to-a-camper army truck. She explained that her husband had been called back to Canada for work, so she was on her own for a week but seemed quite happy to tour the city on her own. Which reminds me – if the bins on the lower field at Mossyard are looking a bit full Graeme, just give me a bell and I’ll zip back to empty them. In your dreams.
And so to Madrid. What a city! We probably saw it at its best; before the season gets into full swing and you can’t move for the crowds, and on a beautiful Spring day before the summer heat turns the streets into a furnace. Everywhere you turn there are blinding-white spectacular buildings, arches, churches and monuments. The streets are wide, often tree-lined and parks are everywhere. I’m talking about the historic centre, of course, as the grottier suburbs and industrial areas stretch for miles around; it’s a huge city.
Fortunately we by-passed the less nice areas by travelling into the city on the Metro. We found Madrid’s underground system a little more complicated than Lisbon’s which we used last December, but once we’d got our heads round the ticketing system we found it just as efficient.
We’re on a bit of a museum kick this trip. The Museum of Human Evolution visit in Burgos hadn’t diminished our interest in all things ancient so we spent the morning in Madrid’s Archaeological Museum. There were no boring old dinosaur bones to be seen here, just a bright, airy, spacious modern building housing well-displayed artefacts with interactive screens and full English translations and explanations. That’s not too common, we’ve found, the translations, I mean.
After a pizza lunch (‘What’s the difference between a traditional pizza and a gourmet pizza,’ Gill asked, looking at the menu. About four Euros, we discovered) we enjoyed just strolling around the litter-free squares and gardens, slowly making our way to Madrid’s famous art gallery – the Prado – for the Sunday 5pm free entry for the Great Unwashed. Yes I know we could probably have afforded to pay our way, but after visiting Lisbon’s equivalent in December we just weren’t that desperate to see more halls full of paintings of Saints, cherubs, and people we’d never heard of. I’m such a Philistine. If you remember how taken we were by Hieronymous Bosch’s weird and wonderful The Temptation of Saint Anthony in Lisbon, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that the main reason we wanted to visit the Prado was to see his even more famous The Garden of Earthly Delights. It didn’t disappoint. We were amazed to find that, as in Lisbon, you could get up really close to the priceless 16th Century painting – no glass, no alarms, no barriers – just a stern finger-wagging from a security guard when I took a picture for you. My case comes up next Thursday.
After a very full, and very hot day, we fought our way back to Vince via the Metro system pretty well exhausted. Then our train terminated one station too early due to a technical fault on the line. Oh no! More walking. It was on that weary trudge back that we decided a lazy day was in order for today, with a short hop to Aranjuez which was recommended to us by a Facebook friend. Thanks Celia – you were right; a very pretty town full of gardens and royal buildings and just right for a lazy stroll and too many coffee stops.
Our day today finished with a wee tipple and a crossword sitting by the river with Vince’s shade keeping the sun off my ever-increasing forehead. It feels like Summer’s here at last. We’re missing the seaside so the new plan is to get some big miles in tomorrow, hopefully to Granada and the Alhambra Palace before hitting the beaches the following day. But if we don’t get that far in one day? I’m sure Vince will find somewhere a little nearer for us to explore – he usually does 🙂
Chat soon xxx