At noon on Saturday, October 7, we checked out of A Casa do Peregrino and walked to the Santiago train station.
Along the way we stopped at Cafeteria Alabama (for obvious reasons) and had lunch.
After lunch we walked another half-mile to the Santiago train station and boarded the train to Madrid a few minutes before it departed at 3:12 p.m.
The boarding process was a real hoot. Our 1st Class reserved seats were in Coche 12. This would not have been a problem if any of the train coaches has Coche Numbers on the outside. We figured that 1st Class (“Preferente”) would be at the front of the train, but that wasn’t obvious either as both ends of the train looked the same. So we picked an end coche and boarded. As you might expect, once on the train we saw the ID Number for Coach 18! Oops, opposite end of train from our seats. And to make matters worse we were already committed with other passengers both behind us and in front of us.
With only 2 minutes before departure, getting off the train to advance to our coche was not an option. So we started walking down the aisle one coach at a time to arrive at our seats, hopefully, before the train began to leave. Well, it seems that we were not the only passengers who had erroneously gotten onto the wrong coche. And we were all moving in opposite directions down a very narrow aisle, most with luggage, frantically seeking our assigned seats. Eventually we made it to our seat only a few minutes after departure before the train got up to speed.
“Up to speed” on our Alvia series 120 high speed electric train was 245km/hr, that’s 152mph!
We traveled through mountains for the first half of the trip and it seemed like over half of the time we were going through tunnels, some of them quite long.
We made an unplanned stop in A Gudiña, a small town at the very southern tip of Galicia and near the Portuguese border. Apparently a brush fire had blocked a slower northbound train just a few minutes before A Gudiña, where it was scheduled to normally pull off to a side track to let us through. Thankfully, communications between the trains was perfect, so we stopped and waited for nearly an hour and a half for the brush fire to be brought under control and for the northbound train to pull to a side track to allow us to move on south.
As we traveled south toward Madrid the colors transitioned from green to brown and the mountains became meseta like.
Our train arrived at Madrid Chamatin train station at 9:45 (a very unusual 90 minutes behind schedule). A 14 minute taxi (19.60€) ride brought us to the Madrid Airport Hilton (142€), where we were pre-checked in to our outstanding room & home for the next two days.
We spent a quiet Sunday on the hotel terrace in the sun and shade after walking to a nearby small bar for breakfast.
Our room price is very reasonable compared to any large city luxury hotel. But we thought 25€ each for a Hilton buffet breakfast was excessive. The other meals, bar prices and other costs were equally too high, such as 5€ for a half-liter bottle of water. So we decided to get our meals and snacks, etc. off-site and the walking was good to help make the transition from Pilgrim to Tourist to Civilian.
Lunch, dinner and chill time occupied the afternoon and evening.
Monday morning after breakfast (6€ in nearby bar instead of 50€ for Hilton buffet) we walked from our hotel, across the expressway overpass into a nice, treed residential area. We moseyed around trying to get lost and eventually sat down for a relaxed lunch, outside, at a small cafe amongst the trees and apartment buildings and shops. Again, the gentle, packless walk and prolonged stop to eat helped in our transition.
We spent the afternoon getting organized and packing up for the trip home tomorrow morning. Jim settled our bill with the hotel tonight to avoid the line tomorrow morning.
Tuesday morning we caught the 8:00 a.m. complimentary hotel shuttle to the airport.
Our flight was not until 12:30 and begins boarding at 11:40. As “seasoned” travelers, we normally try to do everything early. It’s unusual for everything to go as planned when traveling. We figure that if you are going to wait somewhere, it’s best to do it as close to your final destination as possible. Therefore waiting at our gate for an extra hour is better than waiting at the hotel or in traffic or in the checkin line or in security lines or in passport check lines. And we find that many times we have no lines at all by getting there early, like this morning when we had no wait in line to check our bags, no line at security, and a ten minute line at passport check.
For us, having extra time to respond or adjust to changing circumstances is a way to prevent unnecessary stress. It’s a way to enjoy the journey more and not dread it, especially in foreign countries where one has limited command or knowledge of the language, protocols and traditions.
Madrid Barajas Airport is a beautiful and modern and huge airport. Here are some photos:
It’s 11:30 a.m. and we’re waiting at gate R02 about to board AA flight 749.
We landed safely in Charlotte 25 minutes early at 3:15 but took another 20 minutes for a gate to become available. Beth picked us up shortly after we retrieved our bags and cleared customs. We had dinner with her family and then drove home to Greenville, arriving safely at 8:50 p.m. ( 2:50 a.m. Spain time) after a very long day.
Great to be back on the ole’ USA after 78 days away!