Madrid Station – was spotlessly clean, and very impressive.

Our four nights in Barcelona just flew past, and on the final morning we were once again making our way to the railway station for the rail trip to Madrid. Once more we paid a little more for the extra room, but this time we were unable to book the four seats around a table, even though I had booked several months in advance. The trip, at three hours and twenty minutes, was smooth and comfortable. We reached speeds of 300 km per hour on some of the stretches, but one never had the feeling of rushing past the scenery in a blur.
On exiting the station area, we were met by our driver. I’d booked a chauffeur driven car to meet us in Madrid, and at the end of our stay, take us from our apartment to Madrid airport. I did this because I wanted reliability on our departure day. The trip to our apartment was about thirty minutes.

When I saw these doors, I had thoughts of Paris all over again.

At the beginning of the holiday we tossed a coin to see who had first choice of the rooms – we won in Paris, so our friends had their choice in Barcelona, and we had Madrid, and they would have Lisbon.
The apartment was on the second floor and the building had a ‘cage’ type continental lift that worked well.


DSC02895r.jpgThe entrance area of our apartment. The main door on the right of the picture had coded locks.

On our departure we would be flying this time, rather than travelling by train. Although the chauffeur driven car was more expensive it accommodated four passengers and our entire luggage with ease. The trip to the airport would be during the morning rush hour, and we might have required two taxis, due to our luggage, and the thirty-minute trip could have been stressful and uncomfortable. I booked the transport through Spain Select, ( the company that handled the renting of the Madrid apartment. They were very efficient and easy to deal with over the Internet. Our greeter, Alex, met us at the apartment and explained everything in detail. A very nice touch was the welcome gift of individual small packets of tea, coffee, milk, savoury biscuits etc. To top it all, the apartment had a big ‘Wow’ factor particularly after seeing the old wooden door that led from the apartment block to the street.


 Then we walked in to our apartment – it was beautiful!


I took the picture from the laundry door past the kitchen bench to the dining area.



The above picture was taken from the agent’s web site.

The kitchen had everything you could possibly want, from a microwave, specialty oven, to a sink disposal units for waste food. Everywhere was spotlessly clean and all of the appliances were hidden in the walls – a gentle touch and a hidden cupboard door would open. We couldn’t have asked for anything more.

DSC02885r.jpgHallway from the kitchen area to our bedroom. The first door on the right was the third bedroom.

DSC02892r.jpgThird bedroom

Further along the hall you san see an indent that is our friend’s bedroom.


Our friend’s en-suit bedroom.


His and hers sinks in our friend’s bathroom.


Our bedroom


We had his & hers storage areas.


As well as his & hers sinks in our en-suit. The chair that can be seen is in our bedroom.


 Fancy a bath – the shower is a stand alone shower on the left.


Taken from our small balcony.


Our Madrid location was about five or six minute walk to the Royal Palace.

dsc03001rRoyal Palace


Happy hour – local wines, pâté, cheeses, and bread or crackers along with good company, what more could we want?
In our opinion the city of Madrid is less vibrant, but with a more historical culture than Barcelona. The free tapas with a beer or wine were noticeable, because in Barcelona all the tapas that we had with our drinks, were charged to the final bill.


Madrid tapas were a good size.


Every time we ordered a drink we had tapas. We sat outside under a sun shade and watched the world pass us by.


Inside the La Mi Venia



Bar across the road from our accommodation – just right for a night cap.

Just one small disappointment while in Madrid, and a warning to my ‘older readers’.
We booked a hop on hop off bus trip through a local travel agent, which was located not far from the apartment. It cost us Eu 25.00 each, about $39 AUD.
On boarding the bus, we were given route maps, which included various pieces of information. Reading the information I noticed that for those of us over 65 were entitled to a discounted rate of Eu 13! ($18.50) I asked at the information centre when we left the bus if I had understood the information correctly and was told that we should go back to the travel agent and ask them for a Eu 12.00 refund.
Of course, when we did return to the agent they were closed for siesta and due to our other commitments we never did have the time to challenge the travel agent. There is no way that I would be considered under 65 (my age at the time was 70), so I would expect a competent travel agent to offer the discount without being asked. The youngest of my group was sixty-seven, so the agent failed in her job and her customers felt cheated.
I wrote about this on Trip Advisor and the travel agent responded blaming us for not asking for the discount, as if we, as foreigners should have known. Fortunately, this experience did not spoil our enjoyment of our few days in Madrid.

On our departure day we opened the street door a couple of minutes before our departure time, to find our transport waiting for us. The ride to the airport, during rush hour, took us thirty five minutes, even though the driver diverted a few times to avoid traffic jams. I do love efficiency, and reliability.
Check-in education started as we entered the airport building. We checked the departure board for our Iberia flight (the national airline of Spain) for our check-in counter and made our way to the correct area. On arrival we found it all to be self-service.

I placed my passport in a reader and it pulled up our booking. On completion of the check-in the computer required the number of bags that we were lodging. I input four, and the machine started to print our boarding cards followed by four self-sticky luggage labels. The machine then started a short video on how to strip the backing from the labels and to attach them to the bags, along with instructions to remove the sticky receipt label.
We then dragged our bags to a lodgment counter where a ‘real’ person accepted our boarding passes; asked us to load the bags on to a conveyor belt, and then pushed a button to activate the belt.
The whole episode made me wonder how far the self-service aspect of flying would be taken – perhaps the next step is to use a flight simulator before boarding, and the person with the best score gets to fly the aircraft. Those who just fail the flight test might become cabin crew to explain the safety procedure to the rest of us who are too thick to get involved.

The aircraft was an AB320 (not sure of the version)

The seats had been packed too tight. I am over six feet in height, so my knees were jammed in to the back of the seat in front. Every time the passenger in front moved I had to stick my legs out in to the aisle so as not to have my kneecaps damaged.
The flight was just over the hour, but it seemed much longer. Our destination was Lisbon, a city famous for its sardines, which are exported worldwide packed in tins. Of course after our flight, we re-christened Iberia to Air ‘Sardinia’.

We had planned to take a night train from Madrid to Lisbon to experience the rail en-suit sleeper service. After I’d investigated the train I realised that the train would arrive in Lisbon station at 7.00 am, and we would not be able to check in to our accommodation until 2.00 pm.
What would we do with all our luggage for seven hours – I suppose we could have found a left luggage office, but as the station is not in the centre of the city we would have to find places of interest in a town that didn’t open until mid to late morning. It all seemed too hard so we decided to fly and have a leisurely breakfast in the Madrid accommodation and leave at a civilised hour of 8.30 am for the airport.

The additional benefit was that the airfare was cheaper than the rail fare!!

Speed can not be seen.


Speed like the wind can not be seen, but unlike the wind you don’t feel speed.

Our Paris taxi had been ordered for 6.00 am on our departure day and it was a pleasure to see it pull up on the stroke of six, for the twenty-minute drive to Gare de Lyon. As I mentioned in the previous blog we had decided to use the train to our next destination, Barcelona, rather than fly.
The train being a double decker allowed us to book four seats upstairs around our own table. The extra height, due to double decking, gave us a much better view of the scenery during our trip to our first Spanish city. The transit time was supposed to be about six and a half hours, but due to a problem on the line we were about half an hour late. The delay didn’t bother us because we were not due to meet our ‘greeter’ at the apartment until 3.00 pm.
The trip was well worth the money because of the views of the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean Sea at the same time as we glided along at over 300 km per hour.


 Pyrenees in the distance.


Crossing very low lying ground on the coast

We stopped at Perpignan, 30 km short of the Spanish border, followed by the next stop Figueres Vilafant, which is in Spain, via the 8.3 km Perthus Tunnel.
Until recently passengers had to change trains, because the rail gauge in Spain was different than that of France. Fortunately for us, this problem had been fixed in December 2013.

Our apartment was a three-bedded apartment with the master bedroom en suite and the second bedroom next to the main bathroom. The layout was quite ‘roomy’ and it also had a large balcony with a table and four chairs for our ‘Happy Hour’ before dinner. Although we had everything that we wished, from microwave to percolator, the one thing that was missing was a kettle to make a simple cup of tea! We had to use the microwave to boil the water.DSC02723r.jpg
We were on the second floor. The lift looked ‘old’, but it wasn’t, plus it was very efficient.


This is the corridor from the main entrance – our bedroom and the main bathroom was on the right.

I searched my original booking looking for website pictures of the bedrooms, but the whole place has been refurbished.

27723388What a difference to my original picture of the corridor from the entrance. The mirror made the place look a lot bigger and lighter.


Our room which has been refurbished, I couldn’t find a photograph of the room during our visit.

Our friends had the main bedroom and en-suit, after all they did sleep with a washing machine in Paris.

P8290340r.jpgThis a a picture of the original main bedroom.


Dining come sitting area in the large lounge. In the picture below you can see the door to the main bedroom.


dsc02820arHappy Hour area


Our location was about a ten to fifteen-minute walk to the major shopping stores and the main city square – very convenient. Our first port of call was to the tourist office for a map so as to familiarise ourselves with the layout of the city. As the sun set the lights of Barcelona added to the excitement of the city.




Barcelona is a vibrant and entertaining city with plenty of places to visit on foot, although we did use the metro system a couple of times – buy ten trips and get a discount. We were four adults so we passed the card back and forth over the barrier every time we used the system – this worked very well and the system, being colour coded, was easy to follow after our first usage.

The difference in the standard of accommodation between Paris and Barcelona was huge. The pictures of the Barcelona apartment matched the web site. Decent accommodation adds to the overall enjoyment of the first visit to any city.
We would return to the Barcelona apartment if we ever do the self catering again in that city, but there is now way that we would return to the Paris accommodation – even if it was free.

Next stop Madrid.

They never said ‘If only . . .’

A baker’s dozen of real life, but different, e- books that I’ve read in the last couple of years.

Once again, from a cost point of view, the e-book has the advantage of the printed book. As I said in my last blog I’ll risk a dollar or so on unknown authors to read novels, but I also like biographical books about people who have stepped out of their comfort zone.

I do enjoy reading books written by people who have changed their lives for one reason or another. Perhaps the change was caused by redundancy, or a casual remark that grows in to action, or the thought that you would like to do something in memory of a loved one – I find them all very entertaining and readable. The percentages have been taken from Amazon reviews of each book.

82% – 4 & 5 * reviews – a total of 148 reviews

A light hearted look as to how a family coped with the loss of employment by the bread winner. Having been made redundant myself at 55, I had great sympathy for the family and wanted to know how they coped. I think they had more fun, and really lived `life’ the day they left their secure environment and took up narrow boating. The flow of the story pulls you along with the family, whether it is turning a seventy-foot boat in a sixty-eight foot wide canal or the male leaping ashore to moor the boat, only to realise what he thought was solid ground turned out to be less solid than anticipated. It has drama, comedy, pathos within a travel book that doesn’t travel all that far from its origin. The book is different, and for me it was a pleasure to read.


   64 % 4 & 5 * reviews – a total of 503 reviews

It’s a long time since I laughed out loud when reading a book, but I did with More Ketchup than Salsa. The author captures the feeling of ‘is this all we have’ in a down trodden job in a grimy north of England city. You can feel the dampness and the rain in the author’s writing. For me this was an enjoyable book to read. I was surprised at the low 4 & 5 * percentage.

journey83% 4 & 5 * reviews

Have you ever thought that a casual comment would change your life?
It did for Craig Briggs, and Journey to a Dream is his story. I read this book while travelling in Spain, so  my location added to the overall enjoyment. The story is entertaining and the author’s style of writing makes it an easy read.


sequinsA light, but an interesting read. I enjoy books where people step outside their normal comfort zone and make a ‘go’ of the change.

89 % 4 & 5 * reviews




I wonder what the future will hold for these Anglo-Saxons living in Spain, now that the UK is leaving the EEC. I think they will take it all in their stride, and perhaps produce another book.

walk I like `off centre’ books that tell of personal desires to create, or complete tasks, that others might find a little `odd’. I came across `Vic’s Big Walk’ on Amazon while looking for something to read during an anticipated long flight. Not knowing anything about the author or his goals the thought of someone recording his effort to walk from the Pyrenees to Blackpool at seventy years of age, sparked my desire for an off centre read. I was not disappointed, as the author’s prose is very readable. He drew me in to his, and his wife’s, life as he walked nearly 2000 kilometers towards his childhood home town in the UK. His observations of the people he meets and the places he visits, along with his daily stop for coffee, creates a feeling that the reader is looking over the author’s shoulder and is part of the experience. I thoroughly enjoyed Vic’s Big Walk and at the end of the book I was pleased to note that all profits from the sales would go to pancreatic cancer research – a cancer that caused the early death of my own father.
If you like a well written travel book, which isn’t a travel book, but a personal record of a man’s effort to do something unusual, and still benefit others, read Vic’s Long Walk and enjoy his story, while making you feel good.  93% 4 & 5 * reviews

lifeA very interesting story. I am of a similar age to the author, so his book brought back a lot of memories of my youth. The influence, of the company created by the author, on the music world, comes alive without it being a brag about the author’s accomplishments. I read this while on holiday and found it strange that it stuck in my mind long after I’d finished the book. If you are interested in the history of how they created popular music in the 60’s & 70’s this is the book for you.  85% 4 & 5 * reviews



What an interesting travel book –
It is the type of travel book that you can pick up and put down – each destination has a short 500 word story of the author’s experiences in a particular destination. I was able to dip in and out as I pleased and periodically through the book, the author has included photographs of the previous places mentioned. Besides the author’s admiration of certain places, he also points out the pit falls – particularly when eating street food in Asia. 89% 4 & 5* reviews


An entertaining short book of about 89 pages, read it in a single sitting. It reminded me of the sort of chapters one reads in Readers Digest – condensed information of the writer’s trips. Enjoyable, but only up to a point 63 % 4 * 5 * reviews

yearOverall I enjoyed the book, it was an easy read, and each chapter could be read as a stand-alone piece, if the reader had a particular interest in a specific destination.
This not a negative comment, but I had the feeling that each chapter could have been sent to magazines as a single article. I think it is a book that would interest those who have not travelled a great deal, rather than a person who has travelled. 80% 4 & 5 * reviews – 198 reviews

peace I haven’t met the author, nor heard of her as a filmmaker, but she e-mailed me and asked if I would like to read her book. I checked the outline of the book and found that she worked as a young woman in Afghanistan filming news items, and this sounded interesting, so I agreed.
The first part of the book was exciting as she detailed her time in Afghanistan as a young film reporter for TV stations. The reasons for various TV station & print media showing or rejecting her work confirmed my own thoughts on the moral standing of certain elements of the media in today’s world.
On the author’s return from overseas we are told of her relationship with her then boyfriend, and various girlfriends, as well as her mother. After the excitement of Afghanistan & her visit to Russia during the cold war, for me, the soul searching for a spiritual anchor and her relationships with friends and relatives was of less interest than her work. Overall I found the book to be an easy read at 180 pages, and the details of her  time in Afghanistan was fast paced and read like a  novel. 98% 4 & 5 * reviews



A clear account of how people can be conned. I was surprised that so many Christians were duped when one would expect them to question how such a high daily return could be obtained, and from where the high return originated. 88% 4 & 5 * reviews



An educational read without being force fed information. Obviously one eyed from a US perspective, but that was to be expected considering the book’s title. I enjoyed the book, even though it was ‘shallow’ in parts. It is not a deep historical book of politics and tactical military moves, just many anecdotal tales by those who took apart in WW2.  88% 4 & 5 * reviews a total of 487 reviews




A very funny book with strong Australian overtones, but with sad moments as the author tries to find his son.

95 % 4 & 5 * reviews




An uninvited guest of Franco

For whom the bell tolls – it tolled for me on this holiday –

franco In 1961 I was invited once again to accompany my friendly schoolmaster for another trip to Europe, but this time it would be southern Spain, staying in a hotel rather than YHA. We’d moved up market. I was also asked if a friend of mine would like to join us because the group would be larger than the YHA group the previous year.

We used the train service this time from Merseyside to Dover, and had our fill of the smell of steam and blackened smuts suspended in the clouds of smoke from the engine.


A ferry carried us to Calais, in France, where we boarded a coach to take us to Sitges, in Spain.

The coach crawled through the late evening town traffic until it came to the motorway (freeway) at which point the driver flawed the accelerator and we were truly on our way to sunny Spain.
The excitement of the trip began to fade as evening became night, and the chatter of the students drifted in to sleep. I tried to sleep, but the movement of the coach and the smell of the plastic seating, caused my travel sickness to return.

The occasional whisper as a student pushed another’s head from flopping on their shoulder would interrupt the steady throb of the coach’s engine. Every couple of hours the driver would take a rest by calling his colleague who sat close to him. During the change over process the coach didn’t stop. The current driver would stand gripping the steering wheel, while keeping his foot on the accelerator; his mate would slide in behind him, place his foot on the accelerator, and grab the steering wheel. The first driver would then move away to rest and sleep. It was a sight to see, and very smoothly accomplished so that the speed (about 100 km / hour or 60 mph) didn’t alter. I’m not sure how many of the students watched this change over; perhaps it is just as well that many, if not all, slept through the process. Seat belts were still in the future.

The single-decker coach was modern for the 1960’s, but nothing like today’s intercity coaches. The only time we stopped during our road trip to Spain was for toilet breaks. If anyone required a toilet the driver would be warned and the passenger would have to ‘hold on’ until we reached the appropriate place. On stopping everyone was told to leave the coach, even if they didn’t wish to visit the toilet, and walk around the car park area. It seemed a good idea at the time, but then we had the problem of counting everyone back on board in the half-light of petrol stations or a café’s poor outside lighting. Our schoolteacher leader would count everyone at least twice, and then get me to count the students again, once all were onboard. The last thing he wanted was to write to a parent and tell them that their daughter was lost somewhere in France.

The total distance from Calais to Sitges is about 1350 kms (865 miles) and from memory it took us around fifteen hours.
It was not until lunchtime that we arrived in Sitges only to be told that the hotel did not have enough rooms for all of us, and they (the hotel) suggested that two ‘guests’ sleep in a small apartment near the hotel. Our leader asked if I, and the other ‘helper’ (who was my friend) would mind sleeping in the apartment, because he wanted to keep an eye on the younger members of our group, in the hotel. We were quite happy to agree because the whole idea was a new adventure for us.

Sitges is located on the Mediterranean coast of Spain, about thirty-five kilometres south of Barcelona. It was a very pleasant town with a church on a headland that jutted out in to sea. The beach was very clean, and not too crowded. I have no idea what the place looks like today, but I have happy memories of Sitges.


The famous Sitges church Sant Bartolomeu I Santa Tecla in the background



& perhaps a walk along the beachfront.

Trips were arranged to various places of interest including a bullfight at Tarragona, sixty-five kilometres south of Sitges. I believe the authorities have renovated the old bullring and now it is used for Castells, or the building of human towers – see the picture below. Also music festivals and sporting events are held there today. I don’t know if it is still used for bullfights. In a way I am glad that I saw the bullfight, because the experience put me off bullfighting for the rest of my life. At the time of my visit to the bullring everything was new and exciting, including the next experience.


While in Sitges it rained heavily one night, the first time in months. The day after the rain my friend and I met a group of semi professional boxers from Liverpool. They had camped in a dry riverbed, and all was well for a few days, until it rained and the river washed away or damaged much of their equipment. They had ridden to Sitges on their motorbikes.

We recognise some of their names, and once they found out that we were from Merseyside (Birkenhead is across the river from Liverpool) they asked a favour of us. They wanted to ‘camp’ in our apartment for a couple of nights while they sorted out their gear and fixed their motorbikes. We had plenty of space and thought that it wouldn’t be a problem, so they moved in to the apartment.

The boxers went out on the first evening and my friend and I had our meal in the hotel with our group of students, and returned to the apartment to go to bed, which was around 10.00 pm. The sun, sand and seawater had tired us out.

The next thing I knew was when a rifle butt struck me in the back. From a deep sleep I was brought suddenly awake and tried to protect myself. A soldier, or militia, in a green uniform, was indicating that we should get up and get dressed. We did, very quickly. While getting dressed I could see another soldier looking over our balcony in to the street. Before we went to bed we had two potted palms, one each end of the balcony. It appears that our boxer friends had returned from a night out and decided to have a pot plant competition (the pot plants were very heavy) to see how far they could be thrown from the balcony.


This picture illustrates the small balconies and the narrow Sitges streets.

The soldier pushed my friend and I down to the street and motioned for us to pick up a broom each and to start sweeping the street.

soldier      sweep

He had a rifle and I had a broom – I began to sweep the street. The boxers had been ‘corralled’ along a wall by additional armed guards.

It appears that after throwing the potted plants the local neighbours called the police, who, when they arrived met the drunken belligerent ‘boxers’. Not wishing to get in to a fight, the police called the army, (General Franco was still in charge of Spain). Shortly afterwards my friend and I were sweeping the street.

The army tried to get the boxers to start sweeping up their mess, but when a guard pushed one of the boxers; the boxer threw a punch and flattened the guard. That was it!



We were quickly ordered in to a line and surrounded by armed troops and marched off to the local police station. The boxers treated the whole thing as a joke and started to sing ‘Working on a chain gang’ and other prison type songs. My friend and I were not at all happy at being included with our drunken acquaintances.

At the police station I asked to see the British consul, but the Spanish police were not having anything to do with consuls, particularly a British consul. At that time the Spanish government was demanding that the British return Gibraltar to Spain, so the police were quite happy to lock us all in a small cell below street level. The cell was square shaped with three solid concrete walls, the outer wall having bars high up over a small window, where we could just see the pavement if we held on to the bars and pulled ourselves up to check the street outside. The fourth wall was a wall of iron bars, which also contained the door. The cell was not large enough for us all to sit down (nothing to sit on anyway) and the toilet was a hole in the corner of the cell on the outside wall, without the usual cistern, pan and seat.
The two side concrete walls had graffiti scrawled across them, and some Spanish words, which I couldn’t understand. It was a depressing place and it smelled of urine and other waste products. We organised ourselves to be as far away from the toilet area as possible. My friend and I were left in the corner near the meeting of the iron barred door and the concrete wall.

The boxers kept singing, for what seemed hours, until they eventually stopped as they slowly sobered, and realised where they were.

On the floor we used a large oblong piece of bread which was used as a football, and tapped from one to another. Not that we could kick it far, considering the smallness of the cell, but it did help to pass the time. I tried to sleep standing up and then I tried as I squatted down, but this brought too much pressure on my knees forcing me to stand again.

The grey light of dawn brought some relief, because in the cellblock there was only one small light bulb that glowed by the main door into the underground cell area. Perhaps we could make someone understand our need for the British Consol in daylight.

gaollAs daylight strengthened the outer door of the cellblock was unlocked and a guard entered. We asked for food and something to drink. The guard pointed to our ‘football’ and bent down to turn on a water tap over the toilet. Leaning over the toilet we were just able to catch a single handful of water. The other hand we used to balance ourselves away from the open toilet hole. The cold water was welcome, but I was concerned that it might not be normal drinking water so most of mine went on washing my face to try and get rid of the tiredness.

The now sober boxers, asked to see the officer in charge, and when the officer, who spoke English, arrived, they spoke up and told him that we had nothing to do with the damage. It was obvious that my friend and I were much younger than the boxers, and after a few minutes the officer opened the cell door and let the two of us out. He relocked the door just in case the boxers thought of escape.

My friend and I were taken upstairs and told to stand in front of the officer’s desk. He then lectured us and told us to behave while in Sitges, and that he didn’t wish to see us again. We quickly agreed with everything he said, although later I considered that we were only guilty by association, and innocent of any wrongdoing, unless helping fellow British travellers was a crime. At the time we would have agreed to anything just to get out of that stinking cell.

We were able to get back to our apartment for hot showers and a change of clothes, before making our way to the hotel for breakfast. We acted as if everything was normal, even though we did yawn a lot. I didn’t tell our leader because I didn’t wish to add to his worries, nor did I want our adventure to get back to our families.

The rest of our time in Spain was sightseeing local places of interest, sun bathing on Sitges beach and eating. All holidays come to an end and it was another fast drive to Calais, ferry to Dover, and the train home with a great suntan and the experience of being a gaolbird.

The Spanish holiday was my last overseas trip for over a year, because I knew that I had final examinations before leaving HMS Conway in 1962 and the results of this examination would determine the shipping company that I’d join – if any shipping company would have me.

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