Welcome to Madrid!

Tuesday, September 7th, 2004:  Madrid, Spain

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Barcelona to Madrid: 658 kilometres

Madrid is an interesting curiosity: rising out of a dry, brown plateau, the city welcomes its driving visitors first with urban sprawl, punctuated with ugly low-rise apartments on congested and confusing ring roads and highways. The second thing we notice is the horizon studded with enormous cranes, many and numerous, hovering over vast building sites. There is definitely an economic boom in Madrid. First impressions aside, we aren’t entirely sure of what to expect from Spain’s capital city. But more on that later.

Our journey from Barcelona today takes us through some wild and rugged terrain, vast plateaus of brown, olive green, and burnt umber, tinged with the occasional thin strip of lush forest green. We climb over the Sistema Iberico mountain chain and down onto the plain. “The rain in Spain” doesn’t seem to have fallen on this plain in the recent past. The temperature continues to rise as we approach the city, topping 32 degrees Celsius. Traffic grinds us to a halt as we navigate around the city to our hotel. (Our living arrangements in Barcelona were far below expectations and we have decided to stay in the Ibis chain of hotels for the duration of our driving trip in Spain. They run a clean and efficient shop and offer a cheap and welcome no frills alternative to where we have been staying. Air conditioning is guaranteed, and in the heat of Spain’s fall, very welcome.)

Our hotel is outside of Madrid’s city center but it is quickly and easily accessed by either metro or train and we don’t want to have to deal with parking in the center of town. (In addition to the unpleasantness of the Barcelona hotel, the price rose unexpectedly with the discovery that parking in any lot near our hotel was about $60 per 24 hour period.) We unpack, and walk the short walk into the heart of Mostoles, the suburb we are staying in. It is decidedly not glamorous, but exudes vitality and life. Every 2 blocks there is another plaza with a beautiful fountain, and the streets are full of people enjoying them.

We wind up back at the hotel and have an early night of it, thankful for the extra pillows and crisp sheets. We will save Madrid for tomorrow morning, refreshed, wide-eyed and ready.

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