Overall, the weekend in Spain was a disappointment. Since we didn’t have a lot of time, we opted to fly to Madrid rather than taking the train and the always-uncertain ferry, with its fluid notions of scheduling, to Tarifa in southern Spain. The flight is 1 ½ hours and the train ride to Casa a little over an hour, which is much shorter than the 4 hour train to Tanger, the hour-long crossing (they claim it’s 30 minutes and it is if you only count the time on open water), plus however long you sit in port waiting for the 3:00 ferry to leave (up to 6 hours). But we realized that the differences, obvious on paper, wisp away in reality, eaten up by the hours in the airport (we took an early train rather than cut it fine and risk being late; our plane was an hour late) and then spent finding the bus stop and bus information, and waiting for the bus. We left our house in Rabat at 9:40 a.m. and didn’t get to the guest house in Madrid till nearly 8 p.m. local time (an hour ahead).
I’m sure Madrid has many charming facets hidden just below the surface, but we really didn’t find them. It’s famous for museums, but we were only there one full day and didn’t even try. Our main goal for the day was a visit to Carrefour and similar stores, where we planned to stock up on pork products as well as things like socks and jeans for the kids, a new headset for skype since our second one has broken now, and birthday presents for the twins. So on Sunday morning, we caught a bus downtown, got out and wandered round an area looking for breakfast. It always takes a while to acclimate to a strange city, especially when you don’t speak the local language. We eventually ate in the “Juan Valdez Café” –yes THAT Juan Valdez, the guy with the hat from the old commercials. He has his own cafes now, very Starbucks-esque only with more of a fuchsia-pink theme, and we had very good espresso and some pastries. I studied the free map I got at the airport and we found a tourist office, and they sent us off downtown on the metro, where, again we wandered around.
We saw statues. We went in some shops. We found the Museum of Ham. Seriously, they have the Museum of Ham in Madrid. At first I was all excited and had warm fuzzies toward the Spainards, these considerate people who not only make excellent ham but have also thought to preserve (HA!) their methods for others to learn from. But then we went in and it was just a shop and restaurant–admittedly a shop with a truly impressive display of porcine products, and a packed and bustling restaurant. We had to eat standing up at the bar, where we had excellent serrano ham and cheese sandwiches and green olives for lunch–for 1.50 euros per person.
This is how the Spainards eat sandwiches. They take a roll of ciabatta-like bread and slice it in half. They put a slice of jamon Serrano and a slice of cheese (I forget the name but it starts with M and is very very good) and then you eat it. No butter or oil or mayo or tomato slices. It’s very good, although I am partial to lots of veggies on my sandwiches.
I’m sure Madrid is charming.
Have you ever been there? What did you do? Please tell me in comments, so that I can realize what losers we are for not finding the good spots. But after we had wandered the town a bit, visited a big department store having an awesome sale and yet been unable to find anything in our kids’ sizes, dealt with aching feet, it was time to leave. After one last stop that brought much joy to my heart… (so worth the extra foot-related agony, as it was not on the way…)
(and yes, I have totally forgiven them…)
We caught a bus headed towards Torrejon. We knew there was a Carrefour on the way. We asked the bus driver to let us off near Carrefour, which he did. I do not believe he was a sadistic man, or in any way anti-American. We said we wanted that stop, so he took us there. It was not his job to ask if we were trying to go to Carrefour or, perhaps, meeting Spanish friends who lived nearby.
Nevertheless, he dropped us off on the side of the freeway. We made our way across an overpass, limping a little on our sore feet, and down the other side. We could sort of see the big Carrefour sign in the distance, and eventually figured out we needed to go further down the freeway. It was probably about a mile. We walked across a river on a tiny little walkway on the side of the freeway, then triumphantly crossed another road and entered Carrefour’s parking lot…
…which was completely empty.A bad sign. We looked and saw the shopping carts lined in front of the door.
Carrefour was closed. It was, after all, Sunday afternoon, and we were in a Catholic country–admittedly in a major city, one where about half of the downtown stores were open.
There was nothing to do. We knew we wouldn’t have time to come back in the morning. Bitterly disappointed, we limped back along the river, across the freeway, and down to the bus stop, where we waited and waited because the buses went to Therathwala, not Zarazuela.
Really, there were 2 highlights of the weekend. One:
The second was a little Italian restaurant located just round the corner from the guesthouse, the Chacabuco. We went there on Saturday night. The lady who runs the guesthouse recommended it, and pointed in a sort of general way off the balcony. We went in that general direction for some time before we asked someone on the street, who pointed in a different direction. Did I mention it was 8 degrees (celcius) that night?
We eventually found it and entered the warm cozy space with much contentment. While we were looking, we had already inspected the menus of several other restaurants, cringing at prices like 19 euros for beef when we have a teenage boy and two tweens to feed, none of whom had really eaten enough lunch. So we eyed the fun décor and linen tablecloths with some trepidation. Would this place be affordable?
It was. They did pizza and pastas and offered many pork products in their entrees. After a hostess dealt with our uncomprehending and apologetic smiles and shrugs, she sent us a waiter who not only spoke English but exuded a joie de vivre and a sense of humour. “Ask me any questions you have about the menu,” he told us. “And if it’s too expensive don’t worry–two hours of this big boy washing dishes in the kitchen (nudging Elliot), and the bill will be paid for.” He was a perfect waiter–solicitous without being obsequious or obnoxiously present. I wish I’d gotten his name or his picture but trust me–if you are ever in Torrejon, near Madrid, go to Chacafuca.
The food was delicious; the company congenial. We left sated and happy, so warm inside that the cold night air wasn’t noticeable. It was such a good experience that we went back again on Sunday night, where we had a different waiter but overall the same experience.
(Coming up next; I will finally finish talking about what was actually a really short trip…)