The Adventures of BJ and Tony Morris

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Madrid and Toledo, Spain
November 2010
"Acción de Gracias en España!"

We added a new traveler to our fold this year. Our niece, Emma, was finally brave enough to travel with us! Jared, Lauren and David had time off from college as well, so with Dave's mom, we would be a 7 group.

As we did our trip research, many cities looked like possibilities. England was a strong possibility, but the extraordinary departure tax was a deterrent. Our next possibility was Strausburg, but the commute from Stuttgart was too complex and pricey. Finally, we decided on Madrid. A few days before we were to leave, our friend Marily found that her trip to Dubai had fallen through so she asked if she and her two kids could tag along to Madrid, making us a 10 group with kids ranging in age from 15 to 23.

Departure day was awful for BJ who is joined at the hip to her Blackberry. She noticed when we got to the airport that her cell phone had no signal. She tried restarting it, but that resulted in an "initialization failed" message. After a troubleshooting session with T-Mobile, it was determined that she had a bad SIM card. The solution would be a new SIM card, but the dilemma was how to get one since we were already at the Atlanta airport and about to leave for New York, en route to Madrid. BJ phoned the T-Mobile store closest to the JFK airport and made arrangements for them to stay open past their closing time of 6PM. Our flight was to land at 5:40PM. BJ would hop a cab to get the SIM card and be back in time for the 8:10PM departure to Madrid. The plan was workable but stress inducing. Thankfully we remembered that our friends would be on the ATL to MAD flight later in the day so we made arrangements for our friend Nancy to pick up a SIM card that BJ would get once we hooked up in Madrid. Nancy phoned us with the serial number of the SIM card and we called T-Mobile to have it activated. They advised that it would take a couple of hours to complete the activation. No matter, it would be WAY over that by the time BJ and her SIM card were united!

We happily secured business class seats to New York and made our way to the Sky Club to wait for our connection.

There have been some changes to the Sky Club since we were there last. They now have a "pay" menu in addition to the complimentary items. We're not sure how happy we are with the new arrangement since the quality of the free items seems to have deteriorated with the addition of the "pay" items. For instance, the free white wine is a Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay is on the "pay" menu. The free food buffet was less fancy as well, consisting of only cold appetizers like crackers, nuts & pretzels.

The agent in the Sky Club said that we needed to take a shuttle to terminal 4 for the Madrid flight. We hope that is a temporary arrangement as it is quite inconvenient. The shuttle leaves every 15 minutes and we just missed one so we were almost late for our flight.

We were very pleased with our seating arrangements again for the 6 hour flight to Madrid.

Champagne on the ground, followed by a nice dinner in the air and it was nap time. We awoke when it was time to raise our seat backs to their full upright and locked position.

It was a long walk through the Madrid airport to the Metro station in Terminal 2 where we would meet our friends. We found them at the automated ticket machine for the Metro. We were able to share a 10 trip ticket. With the 1 per ticket Aeropuerto surcharge, the 10 trips were 19. Each person had to insert the ticket, retrieve it, get themselves and their luggage through the turnstile and then pass the ticket back to the next person.

We took the Pink line #8 to the end, then connected to the Dark Blue line #10 for 3 stops to the Tribunal stop, and then went 7 stops on the Light Blue Line #1 to Atoche Renfe train station. Quite a feat on a crowded subway with 10 people, 8 rollaboards and a few backpacks and purses. We arrived at the train station in plenty of time for the 12:30PM train, but alas, it was full. We bought tickets for the 1:50PM train.

We found a nice restaurant (La Barrila) with "outdoor" seating inside the train station arboretum. The forest was filled with giant greenery and HUNDREDS of turtles! 


We had sandwiches and beverages and the group got acquainted with one another until it was time for our train.

Enroute to the track for our train, we were fascinated by the giant baby head statues!


There was some confusion over the seats but once we were seated, it was a quick 30 minute ride to Toledo.

The 20 minute walk to town (according to our newly purchased Rick Steves' 2011 guidebook) actually took us an hour. It was, as Rick said, an uphill haul over rough cobblestone. We should have stopped at the TI in the train station for a map and directions. Instead, we followed the GPS on a convoluted route. The more direct route would have been to go through the Bisagra Gate to Plaza de Zocodover and then slightly downhill to the Cathedral near our hotel.

The hotel was fabulous! We got 2 triple rooms for the kids and 2 double rooms for the adults. There was a special November rate of 60 double and 80 triple AND they offered a 10 percent discount for carrying the Rick Steves guide. Instead of numbers, the rooms had names like Los Curtidores, Los Tintoreros and Los Alfareros. We won the room lottery! Our room (Los Curtidores) had a double bed, a twin bed and a small courtyard. Oh, and a strange looking saddle. The kids rooms each had three twin beds and the other double had two twin beds. All of the rooms had a private bath.


We took a few minutes to relax before setting out to explore the town. After a short nap, we roused the kids and walked up the pedestrian street to Plaza de Zocodover. We did a little window shopping along the way.

The adults settled in at the Café-Bar Toledo and sent the kids out to explore with instructions to stay together. Of course, as is tradition, they came back with a soccer ball that they had procured and played a pick-up game with some kids in the square.

The kids had an afternoon snack of McDonald's items to tide them over until dinner. BJ took a walk, looking for the Tourist Information office which she did not find, but she was rewarded with a nice view of the town.

We set out in search of a restaurant for dinner. The fixed price menu at Taberna Lizarrán interested us and they were able to seat a party of 10. Of course, we were eating pretty early (around 8PM). The Spaniards, it seems, don't start dinner until 10PM. The three course meal choices were between 8 Euro and 12 Euro and included a beverage (wine, beer or water). For our first course, some had paella while others had pasta. BJ ordered the spaghetti marinara which was noodle looking squid atop plain pasta with no apparent sauce. We ordered a variety of main courses; chicken stew, lamb chops, roast pork and veal. Dessert choices were ice cream, custard or flan. 


Back at the hotel, we gathered in our room since it was the largest and the kids caught us up on what are the popular videos. Apparently this year, freaking out is the popular thing to do. All of the kids were aware of the "Greatest Freakout Ever" video. Freaking out became a theme for the trip as the kids imitated the boy in the video.

Several of us fell asleep during the viewing so we said goodnight and agreed to meet for breakfast at 9AM.

Tuesday morning breakfast in the top floor breakfast room was white bread, ham, cheese, packaged rolls, coffee, juice, milk, cereal. There was a breathtaking view of the cathedral and town from the breakfast room.

Our first stop for the day was the Cathedral. We weren't allowed to take pictures inside the cathedral which was a shame because it was so pretty! We admired the elaborate reliefs, carvings, frescos, statues, paintings and stained glass, finishing our tour in the treasury.

It was a beautiful sunny day so we stopped at the outdoor seating area in Plaza Juan de Mariana and enjoyed beverages from the nearby taberna La Flor de la Esquina. We were served a plate of tapas with our drinks. The spaghetti looking squid were again featured.


We decided to follow the Islamic Toledo walking tour that BJ had downloaded from the internet but the map was confusing and very few of the streets were marked.

The streets were very narrow but that didn't stop the motorized traffic! We frequently had to step into a doorway to avoid being hit.

We finally found the Puerta de Alfonso VI and the Puerta de Bisagra so we could begin our walking tour. We never located stops 3 or 4, the Gate of Valmardon and the Gate of El Sol (that we know of). We continued on looking for the Mosque of El Cristo de la Luz.


Everyone was hungry so we stopped for lunch at Cason de los Lopez de Toledo. We chose to eat in the cafeteria which is reported to have the same food as the restaurant at lower prices. A couple of the kids got the fixed price menu which they said was good. The sandwiches which the adults ate were nothing special.

After lunch, we finally found the mosque we were looking for! Buoyed by our success, we decided to continue the walk to the next stop, the Mosque of Tornerias. We circled the block where it was supposed to be located before we finally found it near the Cathedral.


We all needed a potty break by now, so we made a quick stop at the hotel before proceeding to Alcazar.

We strolled back past Zocodover to the scenic overlook for some pictures.

Back at Plaza de Zocodover, we secured seats at our favorite watering hole and let the kids take off to go shopping. They came back periodically to show us their treasures.

BJ got a facebook post from her flight attendant friend recommending the Meson La Orza restaurant. She decided to go alone to take a quick look at it (a group of 10 people don't run to take a quick look at anything). There is too much opportunity to stray off course or to have inertia set in!) BJ saw a number of sights that we had missed on our walking tour along the way.


The menu at Meson La Orza was in English but seemed a little extravagant for the kids who would rather have pizza anyway.

BJ checked out a few more menus on the way back to Zocodover, but ultimately pizza won out at a little place called Patucci near the hotel. We were the only diners in the restaurant which was probably a good thing since we were a little bit rambunctious!

Back at the hotel, we convinced the desk clerk to let us play cards in the breakfast room. We tried to be quiet, but eventually she had to come upstairs to shush us!

We gave the kids an 8am wake up call, met in the breakfast room for a quick bite and then started the long walk to the train station for our 10:30AM train. 

This time we got directions and a map from the desk clerk, but we made a wrong turn and went down an escalator to a parking garage. At the bottom, we discovered that we needed to go back up one level to exit. We were still pretty far from the train station at this point so we quickened our steps and made it with 10 minutes to spare.


From the train station, we were able to jump right on the light blue line #1. 6 stops to Gran Via and we were 2 blocks from our hotel. The Hostal Alcapulco was located on the 4th floor of the building at Salud 13. In Europe, the ground level is considered level 0, so the 4th floor is actually up 5 flights of stairs. Thankfully there was an elevator to pile the bags in. We were too early to check in so we dropped the bags and left to do some sightseeing. 

Our first stop was at Plaza Mayor. It was a sunny day so we looked around for a cafe with outdoor seating. We were surprised to find that none of the places lining the square had their tables out. We soon learned why. As we were thinking of leaving the square, we saw men on horseback in elaborate costumes entering. We stayed to watch the parade.

We asked what was going on and were told that there were dignitaries in town. A few minutes later, a limo pulled up and some people got out and went inside the building. Soon afterward, a horse drawn carriage entered the square. The dignitaries got in the carriage and rode away. A few minutes later, this process was repeated for more dignitaries.

We took a peek into the Torre del Oro Bar Andalu to see the gory depictions of bull fights.


Lunch was at Bar Eduardo Cerveceria just outside of Plaza Mayor near the Mercado de San Miguel. 

We continued our walk to the Palace, stopping at the Cathedral of Almudena on the way. We were permitted to take photographs in this cathedral.


We finally made it to the palace only to discovered that it was closed, presumably because of the dignitaries we had seen in the horse drawn carriages.

We decided to head for the Prado museum. We had read in our guide that the museum was free to anyone under 18 and discounted for students, but there was nothing on the ticket signs about this. We asked at the counter and were required to present both student ID and government ID to get the discounts. The Prado was overwhelming but we were not allowed to take photographs.


Tony elected to find a place for some quiet time while we toured the museum. Thanks to text messaging, we were able to find him at the Cafe Bar Ricote near Puerta del Sol. We went inside for some tapas and beverages.

We wanted to make one more stop for a treat we had enjoyed on a previous trip. The Argentina restaurant just up the hill from the Hotel Europa had previously served cheese grilled over hot coals. We stopped in and found that they no longer feature this delectable item.

It was past dark so we went to check in at the hotel and freshen up before dinner. When BJ had made the reservations via email, Javier had emailed back to tell her that he had looked her up on facebook and that she "had a nice smile!" After check-in, Javier gave us some recommendations for restaurants and sight seeing.

We got two rooms with balconies that overlooked the Plaza del Carmen where a Christmas market was being set up. The other two rooms were interior rooms and were not quite as spacious. All of the rooms had private baths and were clean and quiet.

We had dinner on the back side of the building where our hotel was located at a little place called Puerto Rico. They gave us an English menu that did not seem to contain all of the choices that the diners around us were having, but the food was good and very reasonably priced.

We had planned to take a day trip to Avila, El Escorial and the Valley of the Fallen on Thursday, but the kids didn't seem to want to get up early again so we elected to skip the day trip.

The adults left the kids to sleep while we went to Puerta del Sol for our Thanksgiving breakfast. We got back to the hotel and woke the kids up at noon with doughnuts from the nearby bakery. We decided to give them a free day to shop which seemed to make them happy. We secured a table outside at the Hotel Europa and stationed Tony there as our sentinel. The rest of us set out to explore the plaza.


We asked the waiter at Hotel Europa to take a picture of us but he misunderstood and thought we wanted him to be in a picture with us.

By the time we all hooked back up, it had gotten too cold to sit outside so we looked for a place for lunch indoors. Ginos Ristorante caught our eye. They had a very large dining area downstairs that could easily accommodate our group of ten.


After lunch, we went back to Puerta Del Sol and found that a demonstration was going on. More questions to Spaniards resulted in hand gesturing that looked like handcuffs. We speculated about what the demonstration was. When we got home, and looked it up on the internet, we found that it was a protest by the prison guard union regarding their pay and working conditions.

We did a little shopping for souvenirs and then relaxed at the hotel for a bit. The adults went next door to the Irish pub while the kids went out exploring on their own. We stopped back by the hotel to see if the kids wanted dinner but they were still out. We went to Garbo next to the hotel and got a nice quiet table for 4. Just as we were finishing our delicious dinner, we got a text from the kids. They made a loud entrance to the restaurant so we shoo'ed them out and gave them money for McDonalds.

It was a late night for all of us so the 7AM wake up call was a rude awakening for BJ whose job it was to wake the others. Incessant knocking on the girls' door resulted in no answer so the desk clerk kindly unlocked the door so she could shake the girls awake. Nobody was happy on the commute back to the airport. We took the light blue line #1 one stop to Tribunal and then connected with the dark blue line #10 to Nuevos Ministerios. The pink #8 line then took us to the airport. We had that LONG walk from terminal 2 to terminal 1, then there was check-in, passport control and security before we could find a place for breakfast.

After breakfast, we started to the gate only to find that Tony and Rachel had been selected for a random security screening. The rest of us went to the gate where the kids stretched out for a short nap.

Everyone got business class except for our most junior buddy passers, Jared and Lauren. They were just as happy to be an an almost empty coach section where they could stretch out and get some sleep. 

Another great trip with great friends and family!