Account of travels across the world. This blog provides descriptions of travels in different parts of the world. Pictures related to many of the blogs can be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/7330879@N05/ and for more information I can be e-mailed at ananda@wfu.edu

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Spain 2006

February 24

We left from Winston Salem on Friday February 24 around 1:00 in the afternoon. Picked up Srijoy from school, grabbed a quick lunch and then drove to Raleigh. The drive was event free, although there was a lot oftraffic. Parked and went over to terminal. American now charges $2.00per bag for curbside check in, so took the bags inside and completed the check in . Security was straight. Unfortunately the flight to La Guardia was eventually delayed 2 hours and so left Raleigh only at about 6:18pm.

It was a clear flying day and Srijoy had a good view of the Manhattan sky line. The taxi to the hotel was OK. Having printed directions made things easier. It was $25.00 with tips to go from LaGuardia to theRamada Plaza Hotel near JFK. The hotel is mediocre but the location and price is really good. They did not have room service, so got a carry out from the restaurant below. The food was very expensive. Finally called it a day about 10:30 pm.

February 25

We had an early start and left from the Ramada hotel near JFK using their shuttle to go to the AA terminal. The bus dropped us off at the domestic AA terminal and had to walk over to Terminal 8 for the international departure. The check in was smooth and so was security. The duty free shop was closed and we got some coffee and suff. The terminal was not particularly good, and did not have too many facilities. We waited for a while, but the flight eventually left on time.

The crossing took a little longer than usual, but the 777 wide-body was comfortable and the flight was virtually empty and so we had sufficient space. We were in row 26 which has power ports and they worked fine. Generally, the service was OK, the food was fine but the stewards and stewardesses kind of disappeared after serving the food and were not seen for quite some time. Landing in Heathrow was OK.

We were in Terminal 3 and immigration took a long time with several people from India and Africa ahead of us and they were taking a while. We eventually got our bags and had to get a cab from Millenium to get to the Slough Marriott. There was a wedding going on at the Marriott and it was quite crowded. We got a room on the top floor, ordered room service and called it a day.

February 26

We had a little difficulty getting up in the morning due to the jet lag but eventually we were up and had the free breakfast at the Marriott. They do a really good spread and it is worthwhile just for the breakfast (the room was 73 sterling plus taxes). Then took the 8:30 am Hotel Hoppa bus to Terminal 2 (it is 3 sterling per person with the child free). It takes about 20 minutes to get there.

The check in with Iberia was relatively smooth. It was a little crowded at check in. Went through security and were in the shopping area. Bebo bought his Nintendo DS at duty free and we just hung around there for a while before boarding the delayed Iberia flight.

The flight was delayed about 2 hours which meant we were about to miss our connection to San Sebastian. We left around 2:00 pm from Heathrow. The flight was not bad but we had to pay to get a lunch. We shared a couple of sandwiches for about 12 Euros. The flight landed in the satellite terminal, a jetway was not available and we had to walk down. We were bussed over to the terminal and then had to take a train to the main terminal. There was no sign of any Iberia agent. Our Iberia nightmare had begun.

The boards showed no signs of our flight, which was obviously gone. Was herded through security Nazi style and then had to run to the help desk which was essentially a mess of people with hardly anyone around to help. This is where I realized that in the rush at security I had left one of my bags with the camera and my wallet at security. So Mikku had to rush back there to get it while I fought the crowd at the help desk. Eventually someone took pity and offered to put us on a flight that was leaving for San Sebastian in twenty minutes. Mikku was able to recover my bag and so we rushed to the gate and realized that the flight was going to be late. Eventually left around 6:00 pm from the gate. It was a propeller plane of the regional partner of Iberia. Got a couple of free drinks and the service was pretty good.

Eventually reached San Sebastian about 7:00 pm. None of the bags had arrived. Lodged the complaint and took a taxi to the hotel which was about 12 miles away (cost 35 Euros) and checked in a the Monte Hotel Iguldo on top of a hill overlooking the bay with an absolutely amazing view of San Sebastian. Got on the phone with Iberia and got the worst service ever (note to all: Never fly Iberia) and after a lot of screaming and shouting realized that the bags were not coming that night. Went to the restaurant for dinner. It was overpriced and the food was inedible. Got back to the room and ordered room service sandwiches and called it a day. It was an interesting day in that the hotel was really nice, the flying experience was miserable and the food in the restaurant was bad and expensive, and the drink at the bar of the hotel was very expensive.

February 27

This was the day of my conference presentation. Got out early enough and started calling the airport for the bags. No news. Eventually had some coffee in the restaurant. After Mikku and Bebo got up they went down to the restaurant for the free breakfast which was actually quite good. Eventually around 10:30 left for the conference without being able to change and shower. At that time the bags were delivered as well. We took a taxi down to the city (about 7 Euros) and most of the day was at the conference. Eventually connected up with Mikku and Bebo at the Pizza Hut at the railway station. Had gone to the station to pick up the car but as with many businesses the Europcar office was closed for the siesta. Walked around the old town area of San Sebastian and stopped by for coffee at a place, then walked by the waterfront, stopped for a drink at one point and then went back to the Europcar place to get the car. On the way went by to two of the cathedrals and they were both the Gothic style ones. Eventually picked up the car, Toyota Corolla, and drove back to the hotel. Spent the evening trying to fix the Internet problem, but realized that the signal was too weak in the room for a good connection. Eventually had dinner of sandwiches and called it a day.

February 28

I got up early and went down to the lobby of the hotel where the Wi-Fi Internet signal was stronger and caught up with work. After Mikku and Bebo were up and after breakfast we packed the car and left from the hotel very late, about 11:30 in the morning. Drove down to the harbor area. This is the place where there is a statue of Christ on top of a hill and a harbor at the bottom. Parked there and walked around the harbor area. There is also a famous sculpture there and we got some really good views of the hotel on the other side of the bay.

After spending some time there drove over towards the aquarium and entered the parking lot next to the Town Hall. As I was driving into the parking lot, a pair of pillars rose up from the ground and hit the car. These are the barriers to stop cars entering the lot. The car was damaged as I was pulling back. The "rent a cops" who were at the lot stopped us and demanded papers etc. We called the police who said it was really not my fault at all and let us go. A bystander acted as an interpreter. It is always interesting to interact with police in different countries, now I have added Spain to the list that includes Portugal, Poland and England!

We left the parking lot and headed out of San Sebastian. The car was drivable and did fine. We took the highway towards Vittorio and then to Burgos. The road signs are very good in Spain and finding the correct highway was not a problem at all. The weather was bleak and as we headed towards Burgos we saw increasing amount of snow on the ground. We stopped at a rest area to get a lunch. Bebo ordered a ham sandwich and it turned out to be Iberian ham which is quite inedible. Remember to order sweet ham sandwiches which is what we are used to. The total distance was about 250 kilometers and there was toll of about 16 Euros on the way.

We eventually pulled into Burgos about 6 pm. Finding the hotel was not too difficult. It was the Best Western Rice hotel and was quite comfortable although it did not have a laundry as was promised in the web site. We rested in the hotel for a bit and then took a taxi to the city center. It was carnival day at the city center and this was like a city-wide Halloween. It was quite festive and we stayed there for some time walking around the souvenir stores and the toy stores of which there were many. Eventually went into a random hotel and asked the desk person to order a taxi (this is the best way to get a taxi since it is sometimes difficult to flag one down) and got back to our hotel. Bebo had ham sandwich through room service and Mikku and I got a Chinese take out from the store downstairs. It was cheap (9 Euros) and very good. The Internet was working well in the room and so I did some catching up with work before going to bed. Incidentally all the rooms offered 3 beds and that was good so Bebo had his own bed.

March 1

We had an early start and went down to the hotel's restaurant for the breakfast. It was a good spread and after a good meal I loaded the car and we headed back to the city center. Parked in the underground parking lot at the city center and then walked over to the cathedral.

The Burgos cathedral and castle are well known. It was 3 Euros to enter the cathedral and it was a large cathedral and was very nice inside. Spent about an hour there and then went to a store to get a new memory card for the camera and then to a cafe for some express. That morning I had also bought a Vodaphone pre-paid SIM card and got that working with the old Siemens phone. After the cafe went back to the car and headed towards Madrid. It was a really sunny and nice day but cold and as we pulled out of Burgos on E-5/A-1 there was significant amount of snow on the ground around us.

It was blindingly bright and we stopped often so Srijoy could enjoy the snow. He had an excellent time with the snow since he had not seen any snow all season in Winston. We stopped at an Autogrill restaurant and had a pretty heavy lunch. Eventually as we got closer to Madrid the traffic was getting thicker and the snow disappeared. Mysteriously we also lost the Siemens phone. It was unclear exactly where Srijoy might have dropped the phone but it was lost. We got to Madrid and took M-30 and exit 5C to get to the Novotel.

There was some confusion with directions and we ended up lost. Had to follow a kind taxi driver who directed us back to the hotel. The hotel was standard like most Novotels and was comfortable. I finished up doing the insurance claim with Amex and then left to return the car.

Unfortunately I took a wrong turn and ended up going in the wrong direction. Then had to take an exit and a virtual U-turn on a highway to get back in the correct direction. Doing this in rush hour traffic in Madrid was quite a trick. Thankfully, there was no police around because this one move must have violated numerous traffic rules. I remember there was a lot of honking. Eventually got to terminal 4 to return the car. The lady at the return garage merely noted the damage, and the fellow at the counter gave me some hassles; this accident issue and who pays for the car repair will take some time to sort out.

Walked down to the exit of the airport and took bus 204 which takes about 25 minutes to bring you back to the central Metro and bus station. From there changed to the underground and took the train to the station near the hotel. After that it was a 10 minute walk back to the hotel. This is the thing about being in Europe that one gets to walk quite a bit. Eventually did a room service dinner and called it a day.

March 2

This was the first day in Madrid. We got up early and went down to the cafe infront of the hotel for breakfast. Two cups of tea, an expresso, croissants and water came to 10 Euros. That was not too bad. We then took number 53 to the Port del Sol, the central area of Madrid. Here we bought the Madrid Vision bus ticket (14.50 Euros per adult, allows access to all the three routes). Got on the bus and it took us to the Prada stop. Here we got off and walked around the circle taking pictures and then took another bus which took us around the railway station area, by the Botanical Garden and back to Prada from where we decided to walk all the way back to Sol stopping on the way taking pictures.

At Sol, we went to the Vodaphone store and bought a phone (got the black Motorola Razor, it was cheaper in Madrid than I have seen anywhere else and it was unlocked, unlike the phones one gets in the US).

We then walked over to Plaza Mayor the key plaza of Madrid. Here we spent some time at the souvenir stores before going to a cafe for lunch. The food was easy to order since there were pictures of all the dishes. Bebo got eggs and stuff, Mikku got a Spanish specialty and I got a plate of ham croquets which is somewhat similar to the "chop" of Kolkata tradition. After lunch we walked over to the palace and was able to see the changing of the guards.

It was a brilliant day in Madrid, a little cold but really sunny, so we took a lot of pictures and just enjoyed the walks. Got back on the Madrid Vision bus and the route took us through the modern part of Madrid (reminiscent of New York) and we ended up getting back to the Prada stop. Here we made a quick decision to visit the Rene Art museum. We took another bus there and got to the museum about 3 pm.

The entry fee was 3 Euros and it was an absolute treat since we got to see the original works of Picasso and most specially Salvador Dali. This was really a treat for me since I have been a Dali fan for years and to be able to see the originals was just amazing. We spent about 2 hours there, had coffee at their cafeteria and then got back on the Madrid Vision bus after inspecting the street vendors selling stolen ware (such as cell phones etc.).

Took the bus all the way past Plaza Colon and then on towards Plaza Castille. Eventually had to walk nearly a mile to get to the two leaning towers of Madrid. These are modern buildings in the New Madrid area but they are quite a curiosity as they lean towards each other on two sides of a major road. We stood in the middle of the road (tad dangerous and not advised) and took some pictures and then started to walk back towards Plaza Colon.

On the way we first stopped at a Tapas bar for drinks. The tradition of Tapas is that when you order drinks they offer some little snack (tapas) as a free food. We experienced that and then were walking to the bus stop when Mikku saw a restaurant with a special Spanish dish. We went inside and Mikku was able to convince the fellows to make that dish (even though it was only 6:30 in the evening and like most civilized people the Spanish do not eat dinner before 8:30 or 9:00 at night) while Bebo had a ham sandwich, and I had croquets.

We then took the bus to Plaza Colone and then changed to number 53 to come back to the hotel. It is good for Bebo to be able to do these things since he can learn how to negotiate a big city which he is simply not learning in Winston. But having traveled as much as he has, he is able to do this fairly well. We finally got back to the hotel and called it a day.

March 3

We had a slightly late start for the second day in Madrid. We had breakfast at the hotel which was a little more expensive but did include a fruit juice, the service was really slow though. We then took number 53 to the Plaza Celibes and walked to the Prada museum.

We got into the Prada right around 11:30 and the entrance fee was 6 Euros for adults and they do not take credit cards. I had taken out some cash in the morning. We saw some Rafael, Van Dyke and Botucilli but the real treat at the Prada were the numerous works of Goya and El Greco. There was was also many works of the Spanish artist who had chronicled the various battles.

Went to the souvenir shop and got a book and finally left from the Prada around 1:00 and walked across the street to the street vendors and hung out there some. Eventually tried to take a taxi to the Plaza Santa Maria but the taxis driver refused to go since it was so close. So we walked over to the square stopping at another souvenir store on the way and picking up the replica of the Spanish Toledo fencing sword.

The plaza was smaller but we had lunch at one of the Tapas restaurants. The idea of Tapas is that the meal is made up of smaller dishes and one orders several of these dishes to complete a meal often accompanied with a drink. We first sat outside to enjoy the serenading gypsies and then went inside because it really was very cold. We ordered some green chilies, an egg dish and of course croquets and then Mikku also had a Spanish omelet and we eventually walked over to the Metro station and bought the day pass for bus and Metro and took the Metro to the Central Park of Madrid.

It was a little deserted in the middle of the afternoon (siesta time for Spain) and so we walked around the monuments and then left the park and headed to a cafe. It was cold so it was good to get inside and Mikku got into a spat with a local old man at the cafe (it was a neighborhood cafe, where regulars come) because she was taking a video of the inside of the cafe. The other patrons said that the guy was crazy and asked us to ignore the person. We were leaving anyway and we took a bus back to Sol the central shopping district of Madrid.

At Sol, we went to the largest chain department store in Spain called El Corte de Ingless and I had to buy underwear. We hung around the store and checked out the place and then went on to one of the numerous cafes and Bebo ate a burger, Mikku got a Paella and I ordered some Spanish potatoes, we just hung around there for some time and checked out the festive atmosphere of the Sol eventually taking a bus back to the hotel. Mostly spent the evening in packing, I later went to the bar had an Irish coffee and a chocolate cake before going to bed.

March 4

We had to get up a little early to be able to make it to the airport on time. It was a dreary day outside, cold and rainy. I pulled my back muscle and I was in real pain and was unable to lift any bags at all. Bebo too was feeling ill. Anyway, we made it to the airport in time and got checked in and got a little breakfast, went through the terrible security point in Madrid ariport (Terminal 4, curiously there are no Terminals 2 and 3!) and then Iberia in its own classic way changed the gate with no warning. Then they could not find a crew (I think they also could not find some planes that morning), eventually we left about an hour delayed. Bebo was naseous on the plane, but then he slept a little and we got to Heathrow and it was sunny outside.

We got into Terminal 2 and went through passport control but that took a little bit of time. We were eventually outside and we called Bhasker, my high-school friend, and he said he was tied up at the hospital so could not come to see us. We took the tunnels under Heathrow and got to the Heathrow Express terminal. The person at the ticket counter was really nice and he accpeted Euros for the train ticket. Helped me to unload the Euros without having to pay any change fees at the money changers! The train was really crowded and we ran into a couple of completely (and I really mean completely) clueless Americans. Tried to help them out some but when we got off the train at Victoria they took all the wrong turns I had advised them against, and were not willing to listen!

We took a cab to the Marriott Maida Vale, dropped off our bags and took a taxi back to Picadilly. Lunched at our regular Garfunkels and then walked through Haymarket to Trafalgar Square, chased some pigeons, and it was really cold but sunny. We then got the day bus pass (3.50 sterling for adults) and took the bus to Parliament Square and took some pictures of the Big Ben and the Parliament House. Then took a bus back to Trafalgar Square and spent some time at the Waterstones book shop. Eventually got back to Regent Street, went to Hamleys toy store and then to Bond Street and looked around the shops, bought a small suitcase, then to Marks and Spencers and eventually took the number 98 back to the hotel. Bebo had a burger for dinner and Mikku and I ate the lamb roll from the corner take away store. It was a good day in London.

March 5

Had a really hearty breakfast (part of the room price at Marriott which was 84 sterling before taxes) and then took a minicab to Gatwick North Terminal. The cab driver was from Ghana and we had really interesting conversation as we drove through the city on the Sunday morning (did not take the Motorway) but went through some of my old haunts - Brixton, Croydon, Tooting, Michum, etc. - and got to the airport. American Airlines was pretty empty and we had a tailwind so the hop to Raleigh only took 8 hours. The power ports quit working about half way through the flight and so was computer less for the last two hours. Eventually reached Raleigh at 4:30 and got back home about 6:30. Picked up Snowy, our dog, from Linda got back home


Countries visited - UK and Spain
Airlines - American Airlines and Iberia
Hotels - Ramada JFK, Marriott Slough, Monte Igeldo, BW Rice, Novotel, Marriot Maida Vale
Car rental - Europcar
Number of flights for Bebo - 6 segements

posted by Ananda  # 9:54 AM


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