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Hot Water - Day One

Our first day in Madrid

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Our first step towards the Camino de Santiago could have gone better. Cindy’s backpack did not show up in the baggage carousel. Iberian Airlines said they would deliver it. We found a bus heading into town and to our neighborhood.

Our apartment was in downtown Madrid in a multi-story 19th Century stone building on a cobbled street of similar buildings. Lined up at the ground level were restaurants, cafes, cobbler shops, and dress shops. We found a door between stores. The number matched our reservation.

After entering the code for the lock, we pulled our luggage down a dark marble hall past a brass elevator and black iron stairs. In the bright courtyard, we looked up to balconies, clotheslines, and pots of flowers. Our apartment was on the fourth floor with a living room, two bedrooms and a very small kitchen.


After dropping our luggage, we headed out into the narrow winding streets. Since the door was locked, we gave the airline Fredrico's number. Fredrico was the apartment owner.



When we returned a little later, the airline had made one delivery attempt, but found the building locked, and they never called Fredrico. I mistakenly had my phone on silent. The bag was back at the airport. It would wait until morning.

Cindy, my wife, Sally, our neighbor, and Eileen, Sally's sister-in-law, and I were headed to the Camino de Santiago after a few days in Madrid and Bilbao. The Camino is a 1000-year-old religious pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Saint James (Santiago), but now many walk for non-religious reasons.

There are multiple routes through France, Spain, and Portugal, but all end up at the Cathedral. We were taking the French Way, an 800-kilometer (500-mile) route, but we planned to start at Sarria, 130 kilometers from the Cathedral, but a little beyond the minimum 100 kilometers required to receive a certificate as a pilgrim. Each year over 100,000 people take one of the routes.

After the Camino, we were headed to Portugal, to meet my son, Peter, and his family for a few days in Porto.

With the backpack issue settled for the day, we planned to shower and find supper. Oops, no hot water. I found the gas water heater in a kitchen cabinet. There was no spark. I called Fredrico. He was not surprised. The ignition didn't work. He sent me a video of how to light the heater. "Watch my video," he said. "Easy to start." We decided to shower later.


After exploring the neighborhood and supper at a market, we returned. I was able to start the water heater with a Cricket lighter. Voila, hot water.


I texted, "Good news, the pilot flame is lit, and the heater is working."

"What is a pilot flame," Fredrico messaged back.

"It is the little flame that lights the gas. This is no problem. Our house in Virginia has gas. This is like our house," I messaged back.

"What, there is gas! I will come and check What gas. Do you smell gas? I will come right away."

I messaged back," No, it is fine. You can come to check, but there is no problem."

He responded, "Maybe you are talking about the heat. Is electric. No gas."

"No, everything is fine. We have hot water, and there are no problems."


"We are happy, do not worry."

"That is important."

I took a shower.

Posted by Deuxenvacances 13:13 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Backpack retrieved but new problems

A lost skirt

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Starting early, I picked up coffee at the cafe downstairs. I asked the clerk for help calling British Airways/Iberian Airlines but that led to nothing so decided to show up at the airport.

Getting there was a choice, Taxi or Metro, easy or uncertain, expensive or not. I chose Metro, three lines, 41 minutes. My phone’s map showed trains, stops, times, etc. There was WiFi in the subway. At the airport, I went through the 'no entrance' doors because a sign in Spanish mentioned luggage. Within ten minutes, I was on the subway with her backpack.

Cindy, Sally, and Eileen were eating pastries when I returned. We hit the streets. I had already walked 8,000 steps. The Museo Del Prado was a mile away.

Prado, the Spanish Art Museum, think Goya, Rubens, El Greco, and Velazquez is fantastic. No photographs, but I managed one. We wandered around wonder-struck.


After four hours of paintings and sculpture, we were hungry. Our first stop was tapas and Sangria. This was where we first encountered Iberico ham, that delectable savory ham from a specific breed of dark pigs raised on acorns, more valuable than gold ($50 a pound in some cases) but eaten by the 1/2 ounce. It made the cured ham at home seem a crude heavy handed thing.


Cheese and meat platters vanished quickly. I fed cheese to an aggressive little sparrow.

From there, we wandered through narrow streets, past people drinking and eating at cafes, through a small playground in a square, and returned to our apartment.

After a search on Yelp, I suggested a tapas place that was local, obscure, and not touristy. We returned to the neighborhood, gawking at buildings, cafes, and fountains. Using the iPhone maps, we finally arrived, after complaints and discussion of another 'Hickman death march.’ El Sur was small, old, and half full, but it was early, about 7:30 PM. While we could eat inside, there was a large collection of tables outside in the plaza.


We ordered small plates, shrimp in garlic, Cuban shredded pork, squid, moussaka, salmon on skewers, and a bottle of wine. Our whole meal cost about $50 in total. As we ate, the place filled, and a line formed outside. The plaza overflowed with young people, families with children, and business people headed for something to drink. Almost every restaurant on the plaza had a line. Children kicked balls as adults either waited in line or talked, ate and drank.

Later, we walked home a different route, picked up gelato, and arrived at the apartment tired. My distance for the day was 23,000 steps.

We had clothes to wash, an almost nightly chore of traveling light. There was a small front-loading washer and a clothesline out the window hung between buildings. While hanging out clothes, Cindy shrieked, "I've dropped my skirt." She asked a man walking in the courtyard below, but he didn't see the skirt.

I was sent to retrieve the skirt. From the street level, it was not obvious how to reach the courtyard. I entered a restaurant, but the bartender spoke only Spanish. A customer from New York translated. After a few laughs about my wife throwing her skirt out the window, the bartender returned to say there was nothing in the courtyard. Cindy shrugged. The skirt was relatively inexpensive.

We set our alarms for 6:00 AM and went to bed.

Posted by Deuxenvacances 13:14 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Train to Bilbao

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At 5:45, the alarm went off. By 6:45, we headed down our stairs with luggage and backpacks. I carried my backpack and a large suitcase. On one of the steps, I stumbled and strained a muscle/tendon in my right heel. That added to my left knee, which was aching. An old bicycle injury left me with one replaced knee, and other knee, bone on bone, needing replacement.


We found the Metro, and after metro line changes, switched to light rail and, finally, the train station. Stairs led down to a tunnel under the rows of tracks. There were local and out-of-town tracks. In the tunnel, stairways led up to individual tracks.


It was unclear which stairway led to which tracks. The signs were vague, and the iPhone map didn't have details. Suddenly a cute girl with brown hair, the kind you might meet in a wine bar, pointed to the electronic board on the wall. We climbed the stairs. On track 19, our bags were scanned, and we found our seats on the train.

Because of coffee deficit, we walked to the cafe car. The bacon and ham sandwich on a nice roll was good.

The train rolled out of town into farming country. Small evergreen trees, round green tops with limbless trunks, green lollypops, were scattered over the relatively flat land, in groves, patches, and one by one. Between the trees lay somewhat scrubby land with tall snow capped mountains in the distance.


The land progressively became greener and mountainous, with peaks, gorges, and small towns tucked into the folds. We emerged back into flat land. Farms, large and small, cows, sheep, grapevines, and green fields passed. Red poppies bloomed beside the tracks, along with some unknown blue flowers, and the yellow blooms of mustard.

Finally, the train returned to mountains. It wound along the mountainside, giving us a view below of flat valleys and more villages.

We arrived in Bilbao. From the train station, we took a light rail to where I thought the apartment was, but it wasn't. We called. The owner's father, who spoke some English, showed up and directed us across town, a neighborhood of older high-rise blocks, small bars, stores, and people chatting in the street. On one block was a park where kids of all ages played, and families sat around tables drinking and talking.


Our apartment, on the third floor, had small rooms, exposed beams, and a balcony. We dropped our bags then, walked across a bridge to a market, ate Tapas in a food court, and then picked up wine, ham, cheese, and bread from a friendly woman at a convenience store across from our apartment. A great day. Just for those interested: Steps 15,988

Posted by Deuxenvacances 13:17 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Guggenheim Museum

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We prepared breakfast with supplies bought from the store across the street the night before and then took the tram to the Guggenheim Museum. The building is a work of art, a complex steel and glass construction along a river.


Everything about the Guggenheim was dramatic, the exterior, the interior, and the art. A massive steel sculpture had been erected inside a football field-sized room. Multiple steel plates were set on their edge, bent into curves, canyons that narrowed then opened again into spaces as big as a house, a massive labyrinth. Walking through it was disorienting. After that, we went from floor to floor in the central part of the building, spending hours, and then exited.

Everyone was ready for something more than tapas, so we ate an outstanding meal at a restaurant beside the river. The octopus was fantastic.


We walked home and went to bed. Steps, 14,274.

Posted by Deuxenvacances 13:25 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Rainy drive to Sarria

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Time to move again. In the morning, we fixed breakfast and headed to our rental car, but we showed up at the wrong rental office. The correct office required a quick metro ride. Bilbao's metro is new and artistic.


Once in our car, we drove out of town and into the misty mountains. In Spain, they are serious about speed control. Radar was set up every few miles. That certainly kept a lid on crazy drivers. It began to rain.


A little while later, looking for a rural lunch, we found a fantastic place. News had just come of Anthony Bourdain’s death. We had been talking of his love of local food when we saw a weathered sign, a stone building and a dark dining room with rustic tables. A fire burned in a giant hearth. Over the fire was a steel grate and slabs of meat, ribs, maybe lamb or pork. We were just getting seated when the man behind the bar walked over. They opened after 1:00 PM, but it was barely noon. We drove a few more miles and ate at a working class bar with locals in a small town. Fun but not five-star lunch but maybe Anthony would have appreciated it.


It was a hard drive with the rain, but we arrived in Lugo, where we were to drop off our car. The rain finally stopped, but we could not find the car rental office. After searching and searching, it appeared tucked away in an old industrial area. The office was closed for lunch. People were waiting outside under a cold grey sky. With time to kill, I walked around. Behind the building, I discovered a group of men grilling something over a fire. Women stirred pots. Children raced around. I took them to be Roma. They looked at me suspiciously, so I turned around.

After we dropped off the car, there was some uncertainty about transportation to the train station. We had a train to catch at 5. We asked a woman standing outside how to call a taxi. "This is our taxi. Get in with us."

We arrived at the train station with just a few minutes to spare but discovered that the train left at 4:25. My mistake. I had the time wrong. We looked pitiful. The taxi driver took us to Sarria for another 40 euros. It began to drizzle, and we worried about the Camino.

The driver dropped us off close to where we thought our rental house was. We walked up and down the narrow street, trying to find the address. Luckily, we found a woman digging in her flowerbed. The dreary day wasn't stopping her. Her son owned our rental house. She pointed down the road to a small house. We found a living room and kitchen on the first floor and two bedrooms on the second.

I still had to work out luggage transport to our next lodging. That's how the Camino works. You can carry everything or have some transported to the next stop. Just give the company a list of stops, and they will pick up and drop off. We had extra bags for our travel after the Camino. I took a few things out of my backpack, but Cindy seriously lightened hers to essentials for the next day. Cindy also had an extra suitcase for Portugal. Sally kept a basic backpack and sent her suitcase. Eileen planned to carry her pack, which was larger than ours.

With a phone call, I arranged for our luggage to be picked up in the morning after we were on our way. I put a note on the bags detailing where we were staying each night, a hotel, albergue or pension. An albergue has mostly dormitory rooms, a pension is similar, low cost but private rooms.

We have reservations for two nights ahead, so we could only list those drops. We would update them later. I paid for transportation the whole way to Compostela.

Each night on the Camino, I would estimate how far we would walk the next day, reserve lodging for the next day or so, and then write a note for our luggage.

Logistics completed, we headed up to the main street and found a cafe. We ordered the meal for Peregrinos (people walking the Camino). It could have been better, not excellent, but filling. It included wine. We walked down into the town to pick up warmer clothes and then back up the hill to our house. It began to rain and cooler than expected.


Only a little walking, 8,718 steps but my ankle and knee were already complaining.

Posted by Deuxenvacances 13:27 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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