Jennifer was selected to be a “tester” and to travel around Europe with a Global InterRail pass, keeping a diary of her travel and thoughts. She has shared these for Silver Travel Advisor.
The journey, days 5 and 6
Saturday Dec 13: Santiago de Compostela
My previous visit to Santiago de Compostela was for a week in the summer of 2004, on an OU residential school, and I loved it. While Saturday dawned cold and wet, I had a whole day before my night train to Madrid and was determined to make the most of it.
The Hospederia San Martin Pinario was everything you could hope for: a 16th century Franciscan monastery, used for centuries by pilgrims on the Camino. Set on the Plaza de la Inmaculada, it is only a minute away from the Plaza del Obradoiro facing the Cathedral, unfortunately screened at present with scaffolding.
I spent the morning exploring the old town of Santiago, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1985, and strolling through the markets, indoor and outdoor. As it was still raining, I returned to the Hospederia, which was hosting a Christmas Fair full of tempting things to buy, making me wish that I wasn’t travelling light! Lunch in the impressive vaulted dining room consisted of typical, and substantial, Galician dishes such as Callos a la Gallega (tripe soup), and was a convivial affair.
The rest of the day was devoted to a tour of the Cathedral Museum, including the archaeological excavations, the Crypt of the Portico of Glory and the nearby Exhibition Hall and ending with a service in the Cathedral itself.
After a quick snack I collected my bag from the Hospederia and made my way back to the train station to catch the overnight train to Madrid. This left at 22.33 on the dot.
My sole occupancy first class cabin was a £121.00 reservation/supplement. While pricey, this did save a night’s hotel cost, ate up the miles to Madrid, and allowed for more sightseeing time the next day. The cabin itself was compact, with a separate shower and toilet cubicle. The bed was already made up. Two small bottles of water were provided, along with towels and complimentary toiletries. I didn’t sleep deeply, mainly because the temperature in the cabin was very hot and turning the controls to off didn’t make any difference. The bed was clean and comfortable though; it was good to be able to stretch out in privacy; and I dozed on and off.
Sunday Dec 14: Santiago to Madrid (4th day using Pass)
I set the alarm for 07.00, had a shower and the train arrived in Madrid Chamartin at 07.55, on time and without incident. While the Pass suggests that this allows access to the First Class Lounge from two hours before a journey, Peter Lynch had commented in his report that, arriving in Vienna at 06.30, he was able to access the OBB Railway lounge with his first class pass, so I thought it worth a try. Unfortunately the receptionist, a sharp young woman by the name of Adrienne, gave me short shrift and refused access on the grounds that I would not be ‘eligible’ for entry until 19.50, two hours before my night train to Lisbon. Sadly, there’s no arguing with a ‘jobsworth’. But this wasn’t a good introduction to Madrid.
All in all, not a very good day. The receptionist’s behaviour had put me out of sorts. The rain was torrential. I deposited my case in Left Luggage and decided to take a taxi into the city centre. This cost 22 euro; the tram back in the evening was just 3.10 euro.
The taxi driver was helpful though. I had asked to go to El Rastro (flea market) and he was full of advice about how to avoid being mugged there. As it was, the weather was so miserable; everyone was trying to protect themselves and their wares from the downpour and didn’t look as though mugging anyone was top of their To Do list!
So, what do you do in Madrid in the pouring rain? In my case, I joined the crowds heading for the Prado. According to the publicity materials, “the more than 7000 paintings held in the Museo del Prado’s collection (although only around 1500 are currently on display) are like a window onto the historical vagaries of the Spanish soul, at once grand and imperious in the royal paintings of Velázquez, darkly tumultuous in Las Pinturas Negras (Black Paintings) of Goya and outward-looking with sophisticated works of art from all across Europe.”
Granted, it can be a little overwhelming if you try to absorb it all at once. However, having paid the entrance fee (7.00 euro for seniors), the free ‘Plan’ from the ticket office helps you make your choice of what to see by listing the location of 50 of the Prado’s most famous works and giving room numbers for all major artists. The masterpieces by Goya and Velázquez are the Prado’s standout highlights though. While there’s so much else to enjoy in this extraordinarily rich collection, I found that these two artists were a good place to start.
After that, it’s a matter of personal choice. It’s worth taking time too to admire the architectural masterpiece that is the building in which the Prado resides. The western wing (Edificio Villanueva) was completed in 1785, as the neoclassical Palacio de Villanueva. In contrast, the eastern wing (Edificio Jerónimos) is part of the Prado’s stunning modern extension, which opened in 2007. Dedicated to temporary exhibitions (usually to display Prado masterpieces held in storage for decades for lack of wall space), and home to the book shop and cafe, its main attraction is the 2nd floor cloisters. They’re a stunning way to end a visit. It’s perhaps worth mentioning too that the café has free internet access.
If the weather had been fine, I planned to have a stroll through the Botanic Gardens. It was still raining though, so I succumbed to comfort eating with “churros and chocolate” until it was time to head back to the station. On this occasion, the (new) receptionist did allow entry, although the process of affording internet access took almost 20 minutes and a lot of form filling, temporary passwords etc. I was the only passenger there, and I wouldn’t recommend it. Black mark to Madrid Chamartin.
Note to Readers
Please see the information at the end of Part 1 regarding this ‘test travel’ project.
• Read European travels with a Global InterRail pass – Part 1
• Read European travels with a Global InterRail pass – Part 2
• Read European travels with a Global InterRail pass – Part 3
• Read European travels with a Global InterRail pass – Part 5
• Read European travels with a Global InterRail pass – Part 6