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July 10th 2008
Published: July 16th 2008
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Portugal - France

It was a long haul with only a two day stop in Madrid, but I made it home to Cornas. The last time I visited my family here was in 2005. It's been a long time coming.

Madrid MinaretMadrid MinaretMadrid Minaret

I'm still looking for signs of Spain in the "Golden Age" when Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together. There's more obivous Arab architecture in the south near Granada, but even in Madrid it's easy to find.
When I got to Lisbon I felt tired (probably from four days in a row of sun and beach) and wasn't up for being a tourist in a strange city by myself where I didn't know the language. Sometimes I'm in the mood for that sort of thing, but I wasn't when I arrived at the bus station in Lisbon. I've heard wonderful things about the Portuguese capital and I do hope to spend some time there some day - but it won't be this summer.

I wanted to take a night train to Madrid but the bus was more convenient so I bought a bus ticket for 9pm and set off to see a bit of the city before I left Portugal to go back to Spain. I only had seven hours in Lisbon and didn't actually do much. I was too tired and my backpack was too heavy to do any real tourism.

The next morning I woke up in Madrid and set off to walk around and try to find a hostel. Lesson #1: Madrid is booked in the summer and it's extremely hard to find a place to stay if you don't have a reservation.
Arab DoorwayArab DoorwayArab Doorway

Across the street from the current royal palace in the center of the city is another relic of Madrid's Muslim inhabitants.


Eventually I found a place and dumped my backpack and set off for a "free" tour of the city. Free tours are organized at 11am and 3pm every day. There are posters around town and in hostels telling you where to go to meet the tour guide at the appointed time. There are no reservations; anybody can show up. This was my style of tourism.

The tour was led by an Australian named Debra who has been living in Madrid for three years. We walked around the major touristy places in the center of the city and it was a very good preview of what there is to see and do in Madrid, plus a good way to orient myself to the major streets. Downtown is fairly compact and I had no problem getting where I needed to go by foot. Madrid also has an excellent metro system that I used when I had my backpack weighing me down but there's no need to use the metro to get to museums and the parts of town that have hostals.

The tour is advertised as free, but they do warn you up front that the guide isn't paid
Plaza MayorPlaza MayorPlaza Mayor

When Spain won the Europe Cup in soccer a few weeks ago this square was packed and apparently the celebration was even crazier than the one I saw in Granada.
and tips are appreciated at the end. It was a nice group and Debra knew a lot about the city and its history, which was interesting for me. I learned that under the Moors Toledo was the capital and Madrid was just a military outpost to protect Toledo from the Christian kingdoms to the north. The word Madrid comes from the Arab name for the river that flows through town which was called "lma ghrid." I know that lma is water and the story is that ghrid means sweet. It's not a word I know, but my Arabic is so far from perfect that it sounds good to me.

The next day I decided I had had enough of big cities and wanted to relax, either on a beach or at home. The closest home to Madrid is in Cornas, France, so I got a train ticket for a night train that night to Barcelona and spent the rest of the day at the Prado.

The Prado was amazing and currently has an exposition on Goya, which was really good. There was also an exposition on the evolution of portrature in Spain which was very well put together. I'm not big on museums but I learned a lot and enjoyed walking slowly through the galleries of centuries of priceless art.

That night my train left Madrid at 9pm and I slept very well the whole way to Barcelona and arrived at 7:35am. I had hoped to spend a few days in Barcelona but there was no place to stay since I am traveling without any plans or reservations. I wanted to get another night train up to France and leave my backpack in a locker at the train station, but there aren't any night trains to France and my options were to leave on a train at 8:30 or spend the night wandering around the city without a hostel.

If it had been the beginning of my trip I think I would have gone fo the second option but I'm tired of traveling alone and sleeping in hostels where I have to share the room with five or ten strangers. I took the 8:30 train going north and called Michèle Lafuste from Montpellier where I had an hour layover to change trains. She picked me up at the Valence train station at 5:30 in the evening and took me home to Cornas to rest.

Home sweet home.

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