Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Night train to Madrid

Four person sleeper cabin
Yesterday evening, I checked out of my rented room and took the subway to Santa Appolonia train station, in Lisbon, where I caught the night train to Madrid. We left Lisbon at 930pm and arrived in Madrid at about 830 this morning.

In anticipation of the long nocturnal journey, I'd reserved a bunk in a four-person sleeper cabin so I might catch some zees while I traveled. Well, I don't doubt that the four person sleeper cabin in which I spent the night was better than sleeping in an upright seat. Nonetheless, I've had more comfortable accommodations.

All four bunks were reserved. One for myself, and the other three for strangers: two Spaniards and a Russian. The Russian was a friendly fellow who spoke neither English nor Spanish, but still, in his amiable way, felt it best to make an effort at getting to know his roommates. It turns out he is from Rostov, on the Sea of Azov. He'd been in Lisbon visiting his brother and was now making the long journey back home: from Lisbon to Madrid by train, thence to Moscow by airliner, thence to Rostov. He showed me photos of his 4 sons, his wife, and his grandson. I showed him a photo of Maty and I in New York. In a short time, we were friends.

Myself, Anatoly, and his sister-in-law
The bunks in the sleeper cabin were narrow and cramped. There was not much room for moving around. I was most thankful to find an AC outlet that I used to plug in my CPAP machine, which worked for me throughout the night.

Once the train left the station and in spite of the close quarters I slept well.

I dreamed that Maty and I were back home in Portland, going about our daily tasks. In the dream, I became aware of a shaking and rolling, a trembling, as if the earth were alive. "This is it," I thought. "Portland is finally having the big earthquake that we've known would come." I sought to reassure Maty: "Don't worry, honey, it'll be alright." But as my dream continued, the earthquake gave no indication of abating and doubt gripped my heart.

I awoke with a start to the rocking and rolling of the train car as we rumbled along toward Spain, and smiled to myself as I faded back to sleep. That's what dreams are made of, after all.

Luxuriously spacious accommodations
Once I had detrained, I caught a taxi to my accommodations in the heart of Madrid. I was delighted to find that the place I'd rented (through Airbnb which I highly recommend to my fellow travelers) was a full suite, with bedroom, bathroom and living room, as well as a shared kitchen. Luxurious! And only $176 for 5 nights!
Ejercito Del Aire = Army of the Air
Air Force HQ?
I got unpacked and settled in, took a short rest, and then set out on foot to explore the neighborhood.

This is actually my third visit to Madrid, but I don't doubt that it will prove to be the most rewarding of the three. The first time I came here, with sister Mia in 1999, I was so jet-lagged that I could scarcely absorb my surroundings, let alone appreciate them. The second visit was brief and limited to a quick trip out to El Escorial. This time I've got 5 full days and my body clock is well-adjusted.

Arc in the center of a traffic circle
It's a rainy, windy day here in Madrid, but I was prepared with my umbrella and hoodie. As I walked through the streets, a warmth grew in my heart. I remembered how much I love Spain.

In Ernest Hemingway's masterpiece, For Whom the Bell Tolls, there is a scene wherein Pablo and Pilar, two guerillas fighting for the Spanish Republic, have a conversation about a horror they had seen earlier that day. Pablo and his men had captured all the Fascists in a small village and held them prisoner in the church. A crowd of Republicans formed a cordon outside and the Fascists were compelled to walk out through the crowd, one by one, where they were beaten to death by the Republicans, who were armed with clubs and farm tools. Within the church, a Fascist priest led his doomed comrades in prayer while they awaited their fate.

As the day wore on, the crowd outside became drunk and their bloodthirstiness increased. Pablo recognized that events would soon accelerate beyond his control and so opened the doors to the church allowing the drunken mob to rush in and hack all the Fascists to pieces. The priest at first attempted to be brave, but when the mob ran at him, he lost heart and tried to flee before being cut down.

That evening, Pablo says to his woman, Pilar: "I was disappointed with the priest. The way he died."

"What did you expect?" Pilar asks. "You gave him a dog's death."

"He was a Spanish priest," Pablo replies simply.

"Ay! The arrogance of these men!" cries Pilar.

The reason I mention this anecdote is because I think it reveals something about the Spanish character.
Ain't no cool like Spanish cool
Spaniards have a high opinion of themselves and their countrymen. And for good reason. No one does cool like a Spaniard. Their lifestyle, their culture, their language are highly-evolved, very sophisticated. Spain is an acme of human civilization. If you doubt it, come see for yourself.

Rainy day plaza
I'm finding that my Spanish language skills are better than I'd imagined. I haven't yet had to resort to English, whether to give instructions to the cab driver, order food from a restaurateur, find items in a grocery store, or get directions from a person on the street. Very encouraging and a vastly different experience than when I traveled to Chile in 2004. (Chilenos are notorious for their eclectic accents and idioms.)
More Madrid
Tomorrow, I will visit El Prado, which I have eagerly anticipated for years. I never managed a visit in my two previous trips to Madrid, but this time for sure.

Tomorrow, I'll view the masterworks of El Greco and Hieronymous Bosch! What a treat!

Beautiful architecture
Thanks to everyone who is enjoying my posts. More later!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

When I was a kid I lived in Madrid, and my childhood memories are all pretty much happy ones. I lived a 11 Calle Jorge Manrique, near the Nuevos Ministerios right downtown.