We are on the oldest 767 in operation, flying an excruciating 16-hour route on frequent flyer tickets to Madrid via Dallas-Ft. Worth. The plane is unbearably hot. There are only those tiny old style TVs playing something that looks like the original ‘Cars’ movie. The flight attendants are a little surly. And of course we are in coach.
That’s right. The food is terrible and the portions are so small. We are headed to Madrid for free and complaining about it.
The truth is, we love it. The tougher it is, the better. Lily jokes with the attendant “Do you have any Happy Meals?” We all have our electronics, headphones and books to entertain us anyway – although the seat back screens have become so ubiquitous that you miss them dearly when they are gone.
And we have Amanda to entertain us. This is Amanda’s first trip with us and we thought she would be really sorry. But here she is throwing Emma down and fighting Lily to get into the girls room first. She’s going to give us a fight.
Spain is the third European country we’ve done this year, and it’s a big change from the developing and exotic destinations of the past several years. There are a few reasons for that. One is that London was my work location for much of the year. But I might have come to Europe anyway.
It’s also a little easier, and honestly, I wasn’t so sure I would do it very well as a single dad. The other is that Europe is really an adult place. Kids easily’get’ safari in Tanzania, mummies in Luxor, jungle temples in Cambodia, but Churches, artwork and cafes? Not as quickly.
Trish and I did a four week Europe trip in 2006 as a ‘test’ and we mostly spent our time in playgrounds and ordering pizza. It was successful but our standards at the time, and ambitious with a 3-year old, Lily. But it made us realize Europe would be better in the future.
Madrid Modern Art
That theory was tested quickly as we touched down, bused to the Madrid central station ‘Atocha’, stored our stuff in luggage lockers, and walked the short walk to the Reina Sofia museum of Modern Art. Inside is some of the worlds greatest 20th century art, including Dali and Picasso.
And it proves mostly true. Emma and Lily eagerly walked for at least two hours looking at early modern art, and listening to my often incorrect guesses (and better informed interpretations using Wikipedia.) We covered the Spanish Civil war, the use of new media in modern sculpture, the exploration of the subconscious mind, political themes and abstract art. Emma in particular is developing intellectually so quickly.
Guernica stopped both in their tracks, and they just looked and looked. I’ve wanted to see it in person since college.
We don’t even get a day in Madrid, just an afternoon of art and lots of jet lag coffee, including one Amanda had to drink to make change to pay for the public toilet (which seems counterproductive since coffee makes you pee.)
Our train leaves Atocha railway station at 4pm. The hustle and swirl, intensity and grit, of European train stations are archetypal travel experiences like nowhere else in the world (or that we have ever been anyway.) The girls and I talk a little about the industrial revolution and trains.
The Atocha station has been the site of both renewal and tragedy. After one hundred years of gradual decay following the 1892 building, the interior of the concourse was redesigned elaborately with shops and huge tropical plants in the mid 90’s.
But in 2004, almost 200 people were killed here in a terrorist attack, possibly connected to Al Queda. The bombing and investigation are widely believed to have been conducted poorly – and there are many conspiracy theories surrounding the attack.
Amanda’s is a fluent Spanish speaker, who spent junior year here in the 90’s. She makes ordering food a lot easier, since the girls always want something slightly modified from the menu. (No cheese!, No Mayo! No vegetables!) Here she is ‘helping’ us figure out where car number cinco is. (It was just past car ‘seis’. I think we would have figured that one out, Amanda.)
I meant to get us tickets on the fast train, but failed. So we have a four hour ride to Granada, which means Pomegranate in spanish. The train is old but not uncomfortable, and fairly empty. I nap, get coffee, nap, get coffee and nap three or four times until we arrive.
At the Granada station we are picked up by the Air BnB hosts, and driven through the windy dark streets of the muslim quarter. Our apartment is right in the center of it all, which will be awesome for walking and exploring. Sadly the AirBnB is pretty cold and sparse. We run out of hot water for showers quickly and the power goes off when we try to run all the electric heaters.
But we’re in Spain and travelling again. We love it.