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Tearing your hair out

What hair?

sunny 37 °C

Room 1122, Hilton, Fort Worth
Monday, 11 June 2012

A long but enjoyable drive through, at first empty, then gradually filling up Texas as we approached Fort Worth. Safely installed in the Hilton, previously Hotel Texas, built in 1916 and where Kennedy spent his last night on this Earth.

We went out to Stockyards for a meal last night and forgot to take the camera. Plan to revisit today after a walk round a reviving Downtown and some final shopping. So more on that later. Meanwhile, some thoughts about hotel life for the over-60s!

Part of touring these days involves staying in the modern hotel room.

For we elderlies rapidly approaching Pensionable age, this can prove to be somewhat of a challenge.

Waking up at a Hampton Inn or Best Western motel one first has to work out where on this Earth one is. And then, where the heck you put your glasses last night in order to find and switch off the buzzing mobile phone you set as an alarm.

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The room is inevitably in total darkness, although, when you went to bed, those curtains were not keeping out the noise nor the headlights of vehicles on Interstate over which the room looks. Now it’s the Black Hole of Calcutta. The first thing you find with your fumbling hands in the dark is the glass of Sprite Lite on the bedside table which goes flying, soaking you and your bedclothes. What will the maid think caused those bright yellow stains on the undersheet?

Glasses found, now dripping in sticky Sprite Lite, you put your first foot tentatively to the floor. It finds the little mat so thoughtfully provided to protect your feet from whatever foot condition the previous occupier of the room suffered from. The mat, of course, immediately folds into a ball and takes your foot with it as it skids towards the solid wooden bottom of the bed with which your big toe comes heavily into contact. Ouch!

As it was not possible to find the light switch by the bed by groping, one heads for the dim outline of the bedroom door where there should be a switch for the lights. Tripping happily over a suitcase left in the middle of the room by somebody else, one eventually finds the switch and all the blinding lights come on to wake one’s slumbering but now grumpy companion.

Next comes the trauma of the dreaded coffee machine. No one machine is the same as another so each has to be approached differently. The first task is to fill the jug with water. Of course, the basin tap is carefully designed so that no coffee jug will fit under it. So it has to be the bath tap. Some thoughtful soul has left the control on “shower” so turning on the main tap to fill the jug gives our happy traveller a damn good soaking. Thoroughly wet, the jug now full, it is now time to negotiate a sodden floor back to the coffee machine.

Another thing carefully designed is the spout on the modern coffee jug. Of course, its design means that, when trying to pour the water into the tiny filler of the coffee machine, 95% of the water goes everywhere else except into the machine. Eventually it is time to plug the beast in. Naturally, there is not a socket anywhere near the coffee machine so it has to be balanced precariously on a bathroom shelf where the short cord will just about reach the shaver socket.

Now it’s time to open the coffee bag which has to be inserted into the machine. This is treble wrapped for freshness and any attempt to tear along the perforations yields nothing apart from raising the blood pressure. Eventually a small pair of nail clippers can be used to make a tiny nick in the plastic, enabling one to tear open the wrapper, at the same time tearing open the coffee bag itself so that coffee grounds are strewn all over the already wet and messy bathroom floor.

Similar problems are encountered opening the packet of whitener and sachet of “Sweet ‘n Lo”, which together, are wrapped in unopenable cellophane, but eventually a cup of warm stuff vaguely resembling a coffee is produced.

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Aah, next its shower-time. The controls are unfathomable but through trial and error, after first scalding then freezing oneself, a gush of tepid water is produced and it’s time to open the little bottle of what is assumed to be shampoo. Wrong! It’s the Body lotion. Nice greasy hair now. Of course these containers are even more difficult to open with hands covered with body lotion but, either by using ones teeth, or trying to grip the top using the slimy shower curtain, eventually the top is off and, splunk, down the plug hole before making it to one’s head. Maybe this one is the shower gel? It’s impossible to tell without glasses but they are somewhere in the bedroom. And they'd steam up in here anyway.

Once the refreshing shower is complete it is time to finish preparations for the day by cleaning the teeth and applying any medical lotions that may be required.

However, I do recommend taking great care before doing this. It is not at all pleasant starting the day with the taste of PreparationH in the mouth and the sting of Colgate where the sun doesn’t shine, anymore!

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Aah, what it is getting old!!

PS Packing sorted, checked in online for flight which is not until around 5.30pm tomorrow (Tuesday). Hoping to get a Blog on Fort Worth done before we get going. Great city, disappointed with the hotel to a certain extent. See you soon!

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Yep, we get a real cowboy at last!

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Posted by Johnash 16:34 Archived in USA Comments (10)

Farewell Texas

We'll be back!

sunny 38 °C

Started: Room 1122 Hilton, Fort Worth
10.00 Tuesday, 12 June, 2012

Here's a great track to accompany this page:-

We like Fort Worth but, for various reasons, disappointed with this hotel. It was the Hotel Texas, built in 1920 (not as said before) and converted and changed to a Hilton in 2006. Now it's aim seems to be the bottom profit line rather than providing hospitality for its guests. Oddly we found the same with the only other City Hilton we've stayed at in the last few years (Boston). The pattern was the same. Meanness, eg joke breakfast served in "Executive Lounge", no room upgrade, no response to complaints (eg carpet stained and grubby). They have not taken care of their loyal customers! Last time we use a "Hilton". Completely unlike the other Hilton brands especially, Doubletree whose City Centre hotels have been great. Judging by what I read on Tripadvisor the once iconic Hilton in Park Lane (London) is another thread in the same story.

Hotels hijack most of a road for valet parking, though normal traffic can drive through the middle. Also, during the evening, restaurants put out cones and 2 out of 3 lanes around Sundance are used for valet parking! The Hilton (the road under the canopy is actually East 8th Street):

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Kennedy and party leaving the hotel for Dallas.

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Fort Worth has a vibrant and developing Downtown (the blocks that make up an area known as "Sundance Square"). Loads of restaurants (mostly in restored original buildings), new Arts Centre, cinemas, shops, a huge Barnes and Noble and they are currently developing new "traditional" buildings and an open space for concerts. It is refreshing to see that Downtowns can be revived. Most importantly, people want to live there, which is the key to bringing these areas back to life. Cities like El Paso need to take note.

There's also a combined Amtrak, Greyhound and local bus station as well as a new local line to Dallas, all in one transit centre, which we could watch with delight from our room:-

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Inside the restored station (we got shouted at for going in an "unauthorised area" while filming a train. The guy must look out the window all day waiting for someone to do that. "Excuse me SIR" where the word Sir takes on a whole new meaning):-

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The brand new arts centre. Camp!

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The developing Sundance Square:-

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This is where we should've stayed: Beautiful:-

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Separately, Fort Worth has a totally different but still buzzing "Stockyards" area. Much more touristy but still pretty genuine with a rodeo arena (we went to the show in 1994), proper stockyards, a steam train to Grapevine and the beautifully restored Stockyards Hotel where we first stayed in 1994. Not much change really.

A big star of the show, and doesn't she know it, sorry, he:-

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Who's looking at the horse?

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Inside and out of the beautiful Stockyards Hotel:-

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We've generally "pottered", wandering around Downtown and Stockyards. The heat (100+ during the day) has not encouraged too much walking.

We wandered up to "Sundance" to find somewhere for dinner and found the Cowtown Diner owned, it turned out, by a Moroccan guy who happens to be flying back to Spain today! He designed the menu including "Shepards" Pie and Chicken HotPot Pie. The "Shepards" was made with trimmings from the best steaks from the sister restaurant next door. Chopped not minced (not much mincing goes on in Cowtown. Not true but just had to say it). John had a long conversation with the waiter about the spelling and the fact it should be called "Cottage Pie". We'll check the menu next time. Sorry, forgot to take pictures but both dishes looked and tasted good. Not much cottag...... Er, I'll leave it there.

This morning, looking for somewhere for breakfast, there was only a choice of 2 places and one was self service and plastic cups so we went back to the Cowtown Diner again for an excellent breakfast.

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We have not covered our drive from Del Rio to Fort Worth, full of adventure (well some). This will be covered along with stuff missed out from other Blogs, at leisure when back at Bag End where we arrive Thursday evening.

We have our flight DFW to Madrid later, overnight, then a night in central Madrid, and the train to Murcia on Thursday afternoon, so our vacation if far from over... yet!

Thanks to you all for sticking with us!

Posted by Johnash 09:46 Archived in USA Comments (12)

Back Home!

In case you were worried...

Room 1, Bag End, Sunday 17 June 2012

Bob and John are settling back in at home despite jet lag and John's slight cold picked up in the air or airport.

We heard through the grapevine (aka Brenda) that some may be worried we had not yet completed our journey.

Well we have and had a good flight home, some really enjoyable time in Madrid and a relaxing train journey back to Murcia followed by a welcome lift home courtesy of Jean, Brenda (and John H. in backup car!).

There is another page of this Blog to come just to tie up the loose ends and to voice our appreciation to you all and to the "Home Team" who made it all possible. We "love you all".

It'll be a day or two coming but it will be here.

It would seem that quite a few on the list have not been receiving messages each time the Blog was updated. We have no idea why unless they have been going into Spam or Junk mail boxes somewhere. However, the Blog is always available by checking this page

http://justdrive.travellerspoint.com/toc/

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Posted by Johnash 11:37 Archived in Spain Comments (6)

From Del Rio to Fort Worth

A journey not to be forgotten. I almost forgot!

semi-overcast 37 °C

Bag End, Tuesday 19 June, 2012

A week ago, that's almost a quarter of our whole trip, we were waiting for our flight to Madrid. It does not seem possible that so little can be done in that same space of time when so much was done when we were away. Of course we had a day in Madrid (more on that) and the train journey home (yes, more on that too. Is there no end to all this excitement?), but not very much has been achieved at home, apart from unpacking and putting away (on reflection, quite an achievement) making as much fuss of Sofi as she has demanded (a heck of a lot) and getting rid of, and then getting back, a Summer cold.

Back to Del Rio, Texas, which, basically, and in Arthur's best purple prose, was a "dump". We should have come back via San Angelo, as suggested by Bob but, out of all the routes we took and all the places we have been to, getting just one wrong ain't bad. "Next time".

We mentioned we had a steak in a local "Manuel's Grill" and the only photo is taken half way through the eating of what were fabulous steaks (Bob's Rib Aaaaahee and John's Nooo York Strip. Best of the whole trip, though John had only had two, no three, including the steak 'n eggs at the Gold Nugget).

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Our waiter, we thought, was probably a member of the local "royalty" and we speculated what an earth one could do for a fabulous camp night out in the clubs and nightspots of Del Rio. Nothing, came the reply! Poor s*d.

Next day (Sunday) we had a long drive ahead of us. Just over 400 miles, and non-Interstate all the way looked the best option. We would not bother with the "free breakfast" (of course these breakfasts they now provide are not free. Who the heck pays for them? Not the manager out of his own pocket!) and stop within a couple of hours at a nice little cafe for our last breakfast "on the road".

So we pulled out of the car park of the Hampton Inn which, though new and smart, had a few problems (noise from other rooms, and rooms not big enough for the furniture they pack in them).

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And the only recognition Bob got for his now senior Diamond-Geezer-Status was this

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Do you think I'm joking?

We have not made much mention of wildlife spotted on this trip except, perhaps, the coyote in Big Bend and some small deer in Kansas. We also saw a road runner with which Arthur was quite impressed though he did say it was nothing like his hero in the movies.

We had also remarked as we drove across Southern California, Nevada and into Arizona, the lack of vultures. We had seen one or two in Kansas but now they were beginning to build in number. Either it was because we were in the Texas countryside or because they sensed we were getting older by the day, but more and more hovered, circling over our car.

Stan was getting worried. And it suddenly got much worse when we go to the Border Patrol checkpoint about 15 miles "inland" from Del Rio. These are placed on all roads leading from the border and, when we were stopped before, it was merely routine and we were waved through, no doubt helped by John's best BBC Radio 4 accent, after a cursory glance at our passports. However, there did appear to me no entry stamps nor that card you give up when leaving the USA. Very odd.

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This time, the same almost happened but then, this officer-type appeared from the office and became very unhappy with our passports. We were waved into a holding pen and told to wait "for a few minutes" while he made a few calls. The few minutes turned into several minutes into what seemed like a very long time. Everyone else was being waved through, including old trucks full of men with big sombreros, huge mustaches, with striped blankets over their shoulders, swigging tequila.

The flocks of vultures increased and they started landing on the fence near us where they could keep a better eye on our pulse rate.

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Were we due to be thrown ino a stinking jail full of illegal immigrants or, worse, walk the rest of the way, stalked by coyotes and vultures?

Suddenly the officer reappeared all smiles and, now, very personable. It was Sunday morning. He could not get through. Then they could not find John on the computer as having arrived in Miami. But, after another call, they did. There can't have been that many Ashplants arriving on that day?

So, 30 minutes wasted we got under way again. Leaving some very disappointed vultures behind.

After some more straight roads, we were looking forward to our breakfast, having got around 150 miles under our belt (Bob did a lot of the driving, some of it quite tricky on dead straight but bumpy ranch roads with a speed limit of 75mph).

We arrived in a place called Brady which looked to be the most likely candidate to get our breakfast. Yep, it had a very busy "gasoline alley" and a dead downtown. Gas stations, McDonalds, Sonic, KFC, Arby's, motels, they had everything, except anywhere serving breakfast. We blame the demise of the little cafe in American towns on the policy of those "free breakfasts" in motels.

So we ended up buying something called a "breakfast burrito" which resembled a wrap of teatowel-like material containing gloop which would perform well as wallpaper paste. And John succeeded in overheating them in the gas station microwave so it remained hot, no, continued to get hotter for the next couple of hours.

What a disappointment. And as we went back through the town centre and out on the Fort Worth road, there it was, a homely little cafe called "The Peppermill", roses round the door and an illuminated sign saying "breakfast being served". Grrrrrrrr!! Another 30 minutes had been wasted on the "burrito incident" so we could not afford yet more time on a proper breakfast, I'm afraid.

So then we had a lot more of these,

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(note vultures still in attendance; they don't give up that easily) a lot driven by

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with yet more of these:

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until finally, within about 70 miles of the Dallas/Fort Worth conurbation, the towns started getting closer together and busier and the ranches smarter until they were "hobby ranches" with stupid gates, model horses and cattle and, of course, executive jet landing strips. Arthur says he forgot to take his executive jet.

Another Blog to come with any good pictures that can't be missed as well as our really enjoyable time in Madrid (we stayed where Barcelona footballers stay but they were not there at the time) and our train journey home.

Your comments have been so flattering it is embarrassing but very welcome all the same. Thank you all!!

STOP PRESS:- After complaining (of course) about our experience at the Hilton in Fort Worth, Bob received an Email full of abject apologies along with an offer of 35,000 Hilton points to be added to his Double-Diamond-Geezer account. Enough for a free night somewhere. It always pays to complain........

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Posted by Johnash 10:06 Archived in USA Comments (6)

End of the Journey

... but there will be another one along soon

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

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and caught a glimpse of a couple of cops patrolling Downtown

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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.

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Through the big picture windows, Arthur could supervise the loading of meals onto our shiny 777.

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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:-

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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

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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

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John's savory chicken breast served with a balsamic white chocolate sauce offered with tomatoes, grilled asparagus and pumpkin cranberry rissole

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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

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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..

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You get Bose noise-cancelling headphones for the flight (not to keep) which are excellent

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as well as a window with a view, before the sun sets:-

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The beds do go flat but it still is not like having your own bed to stretch out on.

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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

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and, without even time to watch a film, we are crossing the coast of Portugal

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Plenty of room for bags "under the seat in front" ready for the exit scrum

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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:-

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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.

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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:-

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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.

And finally:-

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!

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Posted by Johnash 08:05 Archived in USA Comments (12)

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