... but there will be another one along soon
12.06.2012 - 14.06.2012
Bag End, Sunday 1 July, 2012
I've been nagged (thanks Antonia) into drawing this Blog to a conclusion and I'm sorry it's taken so long to get round to it.
At the start of the trip, flying from Miami to Los Angeles, the thunder clouds cleared as we passed near Dallas/Fort Worth and it struck us that we were following the route we would be driving over the next month, in reverse.
This made the whole journey quite daunting. Away for the more gentle Eastern side, the USA from the air looks agressive, unwelcoming and downright difficult. Have we really got to drive through that lot?
The section across Kansas and southern Colorado, of course, we drove in the same direction we were flying but, apart from that, and the hop from North to South when we flew from Denver to El Paso, was driven every inch by one of us.
Any changes we would have made with hindsight? Probably not. If you don't go there you wouldn't know you don't particularly want to go back!
(I'm working on a map which puts all of our routes onto one map of the US to put it all into perspective. Will publish this when I can.)
So we were last in Fort Worth - I have no doubt confused you all by hopping back and forth from Bag End to Del Rio, Texas. But there are some gaps to fill and, hopefully, loose ends to tie.
We left the hotel at around noon
and caught a glimpse of a couple of cops patrolling Downtown
We'd set our navigator (we think we may rename her Brenda for reasons we will not go into here) to take us to DFW airport "avoiding motorways". The drive we had the day before out towards and around the aiport was manic.
Today we were reminded that, although it appears at first that the 38 or so mile gap between Dallas and Fort Worth is being in-filled by new roads and cities (indeed the new road building was frightening - literally when caught up in the madness along temporary lanes and round massive roadworks) this area can be quite rural and pleasant. But only by avoiding the freeways. At the drop of a hat, the locals get onto the freeway.
Avoid them, and the journey takes no longer and is infinitely more pleasant. We did the same in Los Angeles, and never, never get onto I-15 when driving locally in Las Vegas if you value your life and your sanity!
So no hassle and, like all airports should have, there's one car rental centre where all the companies are located, and there's a shared rental bus to shuttle you to the terminal of your desire. Airports that have not implemented this suffer from terrific traffic jams involving only shuttle buses!
Our only criticism of DFW is that they have fallen for the temptation BAA fell for a long time ago: building shops in place of airport facilities. But only here with respect to the amount of space available for security checks which could easily have been doubled in size to allow a free flow of humanity. Our "Priority Access" which comes with the business class of travel, only enabled us to skip a short standard line and then we were back in the general melee of "shoes off, belts off, laptops out".
One thing that has improved, though, is the attitude of TSA national security staff who are now invariably human and very pleasant, even amusing. "Love the hat" said one, nodding at John's cowboy hat whilst Bob was waiting for his bag, containing Arthur and Stan, to be triple-checked as they'd suspected one of them was carrying a gun (it was the shoulder pod we use on the video camera).
Soon we were in the calm and comfort of the American Airlines lounge which looked right out on to a couple of the seven operating runways (c`mon Heathrow/Gatwick) all of which can be operated simultaneously. American Airlines has a couple just for its own flights.
Through the big picture windows, Arthur could supervise the loading of meals onto our shiny 777.
The flight confirmed we want to try and avoid a night flight if at all possible next time. First, you don't get to enjoy the business class experience so much (by the time we'd settled in, chosen our meal from the menu, been served drinks and then dinner) it was time to try and bed down for the night.
The 777 business class cabin at boarding:-
Orders from the menu are taken following "FEBO", starting at the front if an even flight number - West to East - and at the back if an odd flight number - East to West. So we chose to sit near the front on this flight to ensure we got the meal we wanted
Mojito shrimp with fresh pineapple and spiced coconut appetizer served with seasonal greens with a Caesar dressing or olive oil/balsamic vinegar plus assorted "gourmet" breads
John's savory chicken breast served with a balsamic white chocolate sauce offered with tomatoes, grilled asparagus and pumpkin cranberry rissole
and Bob's Seared Shrimp topped with a tomato, lime and caper Veracruz sauce paired with a bell pepper medley and Mexica-style creamed rice
Both were excellent. Arthur likes rissoles. And followed by a Ben & Jerry's chocolate-y Oreo-crunchy ice cream (already started here!), not as per the menu..
You get Bose noise-cancelling headphones for the flight (not to keep) which are excellent
as well as a window with a view, before the sun sets:-
The beds do go flat but it still is not like having your own bed to stretch out on.
but this guy had not really go the hang of it and his seat is not set to the "ZZZZZZ" position. People you can't see on the far side have and they are out of sight, fast asleep.
But before we know it, breakfast is served, not fancying the hot omelet option we take fruit and cereal
and, without even time to watch a film, we are crossing the coast of Portugal
Plenty of room for bags "under the seat in front" ready for the exit scrum
Vast and empty was the description for Barajas airport Terminal 4S(atellite). A tip for next time is to take the elevators rather than the escalators. Much more rapid. Shuttle train to the main terminal and through Immigration in around 0.5 of a second. Beat that Heathrow!
Our bags were ready to collect by the time we'd visited the "bathroom" and we were out straight to a taxi. The driver insisted our bags would fit into the boot of his SEAT but, despite him hammering them and slamming the lid down on them, he eventually accepted they wouldn't.
Instead we got a taxi with just a little more boot room and one of the nicest drivers in Madrid.
Within minutes we were at our hotel, near Chamartin Station (see handy hint below) and at the North End of Paseo de la Castellana, which forms the main drag down to and through Central Madrid.
The hotel takes up a section of one of three new towers here and, thankfully, they had a room ready for us on the 19th Floor.
A lot of money has been spent on this hotel and the rooms are ultra-modern and high tech. It was not until just before we left the next day did we feel we were beginning to take control of it with electric blinds, remote control lights etc etc. We never did work out how to turn off the bathroom lights though!
Great fun was had by all, especially Arthur. But the basin splashed the mirror when you turned the tap on and the standup shower leaked water under the door into the rest of the bathroom. But then, who expects perfection (don't answer that!). Although very nice, we think we prefer more "Grand Hotel" than this "ultra-boutique" home to the Barcelona football team when they're playing in Madrid.
After a couple of hours fitful rest, we ventured out to explore Madrid for our first time. A 5-minute wander brought us to a major bus station and from here we took a bus to the centre. All very convenient. There's a subway station there but we stuck to the buses as, that way, we could see more of this great city. We took to Madrid right away.
The Bankia building looks as if it's about to collapse, just like it's owner!
Our neighbour, Antonia's Dad, Pepe, had told us to go and have a "famosa" Calamari sandwich at a cafeteria near Atocha station. Who were we do argue? Worth it but we should have shared one!
Note grey-haired guy in background. It's Peter Cook, alive & well and living in Madrid, pretending to be an intellectual and trying to impress birds with it.
We asked about breakfast at the hotel (we'd booked a special bed-only Internet rate) and were told that the buffet breakfast was 25€ plus IVA each. No thanks! A 3-4 minute walk brought us to a bustling Cafeteria where we had coffee and tostadas con tomates for around 5€, total.
Here's the handy hint: We decided to travel back to Murcia from Chamartin station rather than the vast and very confusing Atocha station. For one thing, Chamartin is the terminus so the train starts from there and secondly it is much smaller and much more manageable. There is a handy lounge for "Preferente" passengers and this is right by the platform entrances, much handier than Atocha's which was miles away and through a security checkpoint. Also, for future reference, a train goes direct from Chamartin to Barajas Airport. No need to change.
RENFE lounge at Chamartin:-
The train journey was smooth and totally relaxing - except for poor Bob who was annoyed for the last part of the journey by a Spanish guy in a seat nearby who was whistling tunelessly to the music playing in his earphones.
We were served an excellent meal of Smoked salmon & leaves, Gazpacho, Hot Chicken with spinach & sauteed potatoes, and cheese & coffee, all included in the cost of our heavily discounted (40% with our Tarjeta Dorada) Preferente tickets.
We were kindly met at Murcia station by Jean and Brenda wearing cowboys hats and had a safe journey home (albeit via Parc Med, Cartagena, an unintended diversion).
Before we knew it, we were unpacked and back at Bar Miguel's for breakfast on Saturday:-
So that's it. But only for the time-being happy blog fans. For Bob is already researching routes for our next trip (the Mississippi in Wisconsin sounds interesting, would you believe, as does a long drive up the spine of the Sierra Nevadas in Calfornia and on to the Canadian border).
But not until 2014. What do you think?
The response to these Blogs has been overwhelming. Thank you so much for your support.
Also, the trip would not have been possible without "Team Bag End" who stayed behind to look after the house and family (ie Sofi) and those who helped them whilst here:- Brenda, Jean & Dave, Lyn & Norma (who wondered if we really had a cat!), and Jean, Terry & Vivienne, Ian and Antonia & John H (reserve driver!). Thank you all very much.
Click the "play" icon then on the little box in the bottom, right-hand corner to get this fullscreen. Love it!
Not forgetting that there is plenty of this to come:-
Adios amigos. See you soon!