Trip Wrap-Up — Phoenix, AZ — September 6, 2017

Finally, the trip wrap-up that I intended to write three days ago. In addition to having jet lag, I got wrapped up in yard work when I got home. There had been a destructive local monsoon thunderstorm about two weeks before I returned on Saturday, and when I looked at my property on Sunday morning, I saw that it was full of pine needles and tree branches that had blown in from my neighbors’ trees. Luckily, I have discovered no damage to my house, but not all of my neighbors can claim the same. Several large trees blew down in the neighborhood, and one of them fell on top of and heavily damaged a house. Just a few doors away from my house, the remains of a large, uprooted tree lie upon the ground. I’m told that it fell across the street, blocking it, and that portion of the tree that had been in the street had been removed. The uprooted trunk still lies in the yard.

I made my way from my hotel to the airport on a Madrid city bus on Saturday morning and got checked in early. I had a pass to an airport lounge, so after I passed security I went to the lounge for breakfast and to wait for my flight. It was the largest airport lounge I have ever been in, and it was almost empty as the following picture shows. There was an extensive buffet breakfast plus any sort of booze one could desire, all for free. It was too early to start boozing, but I did have too many cups of coffee with breakfast, and falling back on an old custom when I was working as an electrician in Germany, I also had a bottle of beer. Prost!

My three flights were uneventful and all on time: Madrid to Newark, Newark to Denver, and Denver to Phoenix. All three flights were full, but with my aisle seat, I was able to stretch my legs and even stand up in the aisle from time to time.

From the time I awoke Saturday morning in my hotel room until I hit the sack at home Saturday night in Phoenix, about 25 hours had passed. Due to the nine-hour time difference, my body thought it was time to wake up, not to go to sleep. I managed three hours of sleep before becoming wide awake but still groggy at 2 am.

Did I learn anything from my trip? I did not learn anything new, but I once again observed how Europe is now surpassing the United States in just about every field that makes for a comfortable life. When I first traveled to and lived in Europe in the 1960s, the United States was far ahead of every European country in the standard of living that it afforded its people. Now, every Western European country leads us in life expectancy, health care, transportation, working conditions, etc. Northern European countries have pulled far ahead of the United States in education and Southern European countries are catching up.

Why is Western Europe progressing when the United States seems to be in a standstill? I believe that we are held back by the dysfunctional governments that we elect, both at the national and state levels. Where I live in Phoenix, the streets are full of potholes and outside of town, many bridges are in danger of collapsing. That is not a theoretical possibility. Occasionally, one of our bridges does fall down, sometimes plunging people to their deaths.

There is one light rail line in the Phoenix are, but otherwise public transportation consists of a fleet of grubby, aging buses that could use a good cleaning, but there is no budget for that. If I wanted to take public transportation to visit my sister, I couldn’t; buses don’t run out there. There is no passenger rail service whatsoever in Phoenix, the fifth-most-populous city in the USA, let alone the 185-mile-per-hour bullet trains that connect the major Spanish urban areas.

By traveling abroad, I get a better perspective on the malfunctional governments that we elect. One can argue with any generalization, but I’ll make one anyway.  In Western Europe (I am purposely excluding East Europe) voters in general elect politicians who can make government function and deliver services to the people. In the United States, we elect politicians who cater to our prejudices, to our religious beliefs, and to our tribalistic party affiliations. Political debate in the United States is more likely to revolve around whether guns have constitutional rights than around improving education and the standard of living for working Americans.

The federal government that took office in January of this year has passed zero major legislation in the almost nine months that it has been in office. Neither the president or Congress gives a damn about ordinary people. While our president spends his time watching Fox News and sending out contradictory tweets and our senators and congress people spend their time fund-raising and catering to the wealthy, our streets and bridges deteriorate, our public education drops in quality, and voters, whom one expects to make logical voting choices, divide into groups that scream inane political slogans at each other.

The present administration may be much worse than those that went before it, but when was the last time that we had a government that actually governed?

Barajas, Spain, September 2, 2015

I spent last night in a hotel in Barajas and did little beside sit in the room and read. I thought I would walk to the airport this morning carrying my luggage, so I did a dry run yesterday afternoon and found it to be a boring walk on pedestrian bridges over freeways, through an airport parking garage, etc. So, I took a bus back from the airport, and I intend to ride the same bus line to the airport this morning after I upload this blog entry. If United Airlines doesn’t mess up my plans, as it does more than half the time, I will sleep in my own bed in Phoenix tonight.

Yesterday morning was spent getting ready to leave the hostel and traveling here to Barajas. I took three subway lines to get here, all on the same ticket, of course, and the journey took over an hour. Luckily, the Madrid subway trains are not nearly as crowded as those in Paris.

Barajas is a suburb of Madrid and is where the airport is located. Below is a picture I took yesterday from my hotel window on the fifth floor as Europeans count floors or the sixth floor as we count them on the west side of the Atlantic. The airport is located beyond the buildings and the flat-topped mountains in the background. I couldn’t see any part of the airport itself, but I could see the planes landing and then see the top of the planes on the runway until they disappear behind the buildings.

This is (I hope) my last blog entry from Spain until my next trip in January. I hope to write a summary entry tomorrow afternoon from Phoenix.. One piece of advice I will give to anyone who wants to travel to Europe, don’t fly here on United Airlines if you want to arrive  on the day your flight is scheduled to get you here. I still have some air miles with United to use up, so I will fly with United one more time in one direction only, and then I will do my utmost to use another airline for all future trips. In three of my last four trips to Europe, United has got me here one day late.

September 1, 2017

Today is my last full day in Madrid or in Europe for that matter. Assuming everything goes as planned with United Airlines, (and most of the time when I fly United to Europe things do not go as planned) I will be in Phoenix tomorrow night. Today, around midday, I am moving from the hostel to a hotel within walking distance of Terminal 1 of the Madrid Airport, which is the terminal that United flies from.

Yesterday morning my Greek roommate left as did a heavily-tattooed Ukrainian guy, who only stayed one night. When I got back from my daily outing, I was the only person left in an eight-person dormitory.

When I set out for my morning walk yesterday, I didn’t have a goal in mind. I decided I would walk to wherever my nose pointed, which was in the direction of downtown. I didn’t pass any famous landmarks on the way, so there will be no photographs of them in today’s post.

Over the years, I’ve posted scores of photographs of centuries-old European churches in my blogs and in my ebook, A Senior Citizen Walks the Camino de Santiago. Sometimes it seems, even to me, that there are no new churches in Europe, but today I found one. I didn’t note its name, but here’s a picture of what it looks like inside.

Most urban dwellers in Spain live in condominiums  called pisos in  medium-rise apartment buildings. Stand-alone houses are not common. Even in the countryside, many people live in multi-family dwellings.

During the real-estate bust of 2008, which started in the USA but hit Spain much harder when it arrived here, many large apartment buildings were left standing empty. Now construction is beginning again. Workers were busy in the lot behind the sign shown below preparing the foundation for a building that I suppose will look like the one in the sign. Notice the name of the development, Riverside Homes. It is considered chic in Spain to insert a few words of English in advertisements, even though most Spaniards don’t speak English.

If I were Spanish and lived in a building called Riverside Homes, I would feel myself to be part of the privileged class, even if the place were a dump. In fact, I’m thinking of naming the shack where I live in Phoenix La grande maison de Jack. Few people will know what that means, but that’s not the point. It’s French, so it indicates prestige.

I took the picture of the apartment building shown below because of the metal structure on top of it. I am mystified. I have no idea what that metal structure is or why it is there. If anyone who reads this blog entry does know what that structure is, I would be grateful if you would leave a comment below the post and explain it to me.

Finally, almost man major roundabouts or traffic circles (whichever name you prefer to call them) in Spain have fountains in the center, always surrounded by carefully manicured grass and other vegetation and sometimes accompanied by a statue. I walked past several such fountains yesterday but only thought to take a picture of this one.

Madrid, Spain — August 31, 2017

Tonight will be my last night at the hostel. Tomorrow I pack may bags and make my way by subway to a hotel within walking distance of the Madrid airport terminals. The day after I take a mid-morning flight to Newark Airport as the first step in my flight back to Phoenix, Arizona. United Airlines has me routed from Newark to Denver and then to Phoenix. At check-in, I will try to get the clerk to switch my second flight to a direct one from Newark to Phoenix. Given the rotten treatment I have received from United in the past, they owe me much more than that small favor. My next trip to Spain, in January, is booked with Delta Airlines.

I mentioned that I have a Greek roommate in our eight-bed dormitory in the hostel, but I didn’t mention that two nights ago we had a third roommate, who stayed just one night. He was an Arab-Berber from Morocco and a quite interesting person. He said he works guiding Italian tourists in his home country and has dual French-Moroccan citizenship. I can testify that he speaks English, French, and Spanish fluently, because I speak those languages. He must speak Italian if he guides Italian tourists. He said that he also speaks  both Arabic and Berber, the languages of his two parents.

He left yesterday morning driving his car northwards toward France. He told me he was picking up four French people here in Madrid who had hired a ride with him through a ride-sharing service.

I did start the day intending to go to the Prado Museum, but I didn’t quite make it there. I left the hostel early, and the museum doesn’t open until 10 am, so I thought I would walk the 3.3 miles. I underestimated how tired my old man’s legs already were from the walking I had done the previous days. Before I reached the Prado, my legs were hurting, and I decided to stop for my favorite Spanish second breakfast, a café americano with a fresh crescent roll. I then took the subway back to the hostel. I managed to take two photographs before I stopped walking.

The first is of another former industrial site converted to a park. The building on the right is an abandoned factory building of some sort. It is in poor condition, standing there deserted with broken windows. However, the land around it is luscious, green, and a pleasure to walk through.

Many of Madrid’s streets are shaded and a pleasure to walk along. The street shown below, the Passeo de las Delicias, is a one-way street with four traffic lanes plus a very wide parking lane on the left. However, it carries a light traffic load, and the mature shade trees on both the right and left make walking the sidewalks a pleasure. If one gets tired of walking, as I did, there are well-shaded benches on both sidewalks.

Now a digression. I am currently re-reading William Faulkner’s novel The Sound and the Fury. I read it once before when it was assigned to I our English literature class when I was an undergraduate university student. I had forgotten how difficult the book is.

I remembered that the first chapter is challenging, because it is the stream of consciousness of Benjy, a mentally retarded male who is unable to speak and whose thoughts jump at random to different times in his life, often in mid-thought. I thought I remembered that the novel got easier to read in Chapter Two. Wrong! Chapter Two is the steam of consciousness of a mentally disturbed man and jumps around in time at random intervals. I have many more pages to read before I finish Chapter Two.

Faulkner gave us some help by putting some of the time changes in italics. When read the novel in college, my professor told me that Faulkner wanted to used different colored text to indicate the different times but that the publisher nixed that idea because it would have been too costly. I haven’t verified that story.

I also managed to complete a few more pages of the novel I am writing. I am far from having William Faulkner’s skill however. My novel will be much easier to read than some of his are.

Today it’s off to….. that hasn’t been decided yet.

Madrid, Spain — August 30, 2017

It was cloudy yesterday morning when I once again set out walking for El Retiro Park, and this time I made it. By midday, the sun was peeping through the clouds from time to time. The forecast of no rain turned out to be false, but the rain showers held off until late afternoon when I was back at the hostel.

Madrid is chuck full of public parks. I walked almost eight miles in total yesterday, and most of it was through parks. Even abandoned industrial sites have been converted into parks. In the case of the park shown below, a rusty smokestack was left standing, and a pedestrian walkway was constructed leading up to the roof of the old factory, which is now a raised vantage point. No, I did not walk up there.

In the same park, I found this abandoned train station. The greenery planted around it would disguise it well if it weren’t for the graffiti painted on the gate.

From the abandoned train station, this walkway leads up to a pedestrian crossing over some currently operating and busy railroad tracks. You can’t see the tracks until you are on the bridge directly over them. The picture below shows the ramp up. When I walked up that ramp, I still had a long walk ahead of me to reach El Retiro Park.

At the top of the ramp, an elderly man had parked a stroller, and in the stroller was a boy of perhaps two years of age. Perhaps he was the man’s grandchild. The boy was having a great time waving to the passenger trains that passed under the bridge. That reminded me of when I was that young and waved at the steam engines pulling coal trains past our house outside Beaverdale, Pennsylvania , but in that case, the engineer and fireman waved back. My Dad worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and all of the train crews that passed our house knew whose child I was.

As I wrote above, yesterday I actually did reach the park that I was headed for after walking through several others to get there. El Retiro Park is quite large and varied, so no single photograph could do it justice. Part of it looks like a forest, and some sections of it are carefully cultured gardens like the one shown below. As I snapped the picture, a park worker was kneeling beside me to my right using a small pair of garden shears to carefully trim one of the little plants like those in the foreground one twig at a time. Madrid must pay out a fortune in salaries every month to the multitudes of workers who painstakingly maintain its public parks.

The Fallen Angel Fountain is also in El Retiro Park. It is pictured below. By the time I reached it, I had already walked almost seven miles, and my 75-year-old legs were feeling sore. It was time to return home, and this time not by foot. Google Maps showed me that there was a subway station not too far outside the park, so I walked off in that direction.

It turned out that the subway station is on the other side of an immense roundabout from the Antocha railway station, which is one of Madrid’s two largest. The other, the one where I arrived on the train from Santiago, is Charmatin. The buildings in the background in the picture below are only part of the station. I had no desire to walk across to visit the remaining part of Atocha Station.

Today, rain showers are forecast. I don’t know yet what I will do. As you might have gathered, I like to pass the day in Madrid walking to a place I want to visit and then taking public transportation back to the hostel. Perhaps I should do something indoors today such as visiting the Prado Museum, one of the world’s greatest museums of art. If I go, I’ll probably spend the whole time inside the museum viewing some of the museums 800+ works by Goya. I visited the Prado once several years ago, but it is so large, that I only saw a fraction of the paintings on exhibit. I’ll decide after breakfast if I’m going there, and I’ll let you know in tomorrow morning’s post how I passed today.

Rainy Madrid, Spain — August 28, 2017

The weather forecast yesterday morning called for a 100% chance of intermittent but violent thunderstorms, and there had already been loud clashes of thunder during the night. However, after breakfast the sky was overcast, but it wasn’t raining, so I set out on foot with the goal of walking to El Retiro Park, which is an immense park in Central Madrid that is reported to have several remarkable cultivated gardens. It is alleged to be one of Madrid’s top places to see, and I had never been there.

I stupidly walked a course that took me mainly through parkland with no place to find shelter if it did start raining. I didn’t bring an umbrella on the trip, and I didn’t carry my rain jacket on the walk. We innocents have luck, however. A light rain fell at times, but it didn’t start to rain in earnest until just as I was leaving the park. I found a niche at the front of an apartment building just big enough to keep me from getting soaked and with a ledge that I could sit on and read Nathaniel Hawthorne on the Kindle app of my cell phone. Here’s what the weather looked like peering out from my niche. The picture may not show it, but the rain was very heavy. You’ll notice an absence of pedestrians. Even an umbrella would have been little protection in that downpour.

The torrent eventually turned into a sprinkle, and I left my niche, but I decided that it might not be such a good day for sightseeing after all. I changed direction and walked under the railroad bridge that you can see in the background of the picture above to an area that was more built up.

I stopped in a café and ordered a coffee and an American-style muffin, you know, one of those pastries that looks like an over-sized cupcake with no icing. I had to point to the muffin, because, as I told the man behind the counter, I didn’t know what it was called in Spanish. He told me he didn’t know either. It’s not a type of pastry that is usually found in Spain. However, it was delicious. The Spanish rival the French for making heavenly-tasting pastries of a quality that is almost impossible to find in the USA.

It was still raining lightly, so I lingered over my coffee and muffin in the café as long as I could, and then I decided to hoof it to the nearest subway station and ride back to the hostel. it wasn’t raining when I emerged from the subway, so I went to a nearby grocery store and bought a beer and a salad to have for supper and then walked the half mile to the hostel. I took the following picture of a building near the subway station that I hadn’t noticed before with its cross on a tower. It’s not a remarkable building, but I felt I needed some sort of photo to remember the day.

I arrived back at the hostel before noon, and  all afternoon there were intermittent very heavy downpours interspersed with lighter showers. Today is forecast to be partly cloudy, and then there are to be two more days of scattered rain showers, I hope not as heavy as yesterday’s were. I want to make another attempt  today to walk to El Retiro Park.



Madrid, Spain — August 28, 2017

I was awakened at about five this morning by what sounded like a tremendous explosion. It was very loud thunder. When I got up an hour later and looked outside, the ground was only slightly damp, so the rain must have been insignificant.

There has been no more than the very occasional light sprinkle of rain since I began this trip in Lisbon more than three weeks ago. I have been very lucky.

The night clerk is going leaving on vacation on a several-week hiking trip in Armenia later today. Breakfast is theoretically not served until 8 am, but he eats his breakfast at around 6:30 and allows me to do  the same. He makes himself a pot of coffee and shares it with me. Who knows if the person on duty early tomorrow morning will be so obliging.

Yesterday was anther day when I didn’t feel well, I didn’t feel sick, but I was tired and had no energy. I even slept several hours in the afternoon, which I never do. I still don’t know what caused it, but I am swearing of pre-packaged supermarket salads beginning today, just in case they are the culprit.

Staying in the hostel all day does not make for an interesting blog entry. About the most interesting thing I saw yesterday was a chess game between two of the Arab guys staying in the hostel. I was outside eating my lunch at the other end of the picnic table where they were playing. As you can see, the one on the left, playing black, was getting clobbered.

The third Arab is setting on the bench in the background. The three of them seem to be together. I wonder if they are refugees.

I tried speaking to one of the Arab guys staying here two days ago, but it didn’t work. I spoke to him in Spanish and he answered in Arabic. I don’t think he understood me any better than I understood him. Later I tried French with one of the guys, and that didn’t work either. The person to whom I spoke got me to understand that the only European language he speaks consists of a handful of Spanish words. It’s a shame. I have found almost all of the Arabs I’ve met in Europe to be very outgoing and friendly.

Here’s hoping that today I will feel energetic, walk to someplace exciting, and have some interesting photos to post tomorrow. One positive thing about the two days I haven’t felt well and have stayed in the hostel is that I made quite a bit of progress on the new novel I am writing.

By the way, Donald Trump’s pardon of our former Maricopa Country Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio made all of the major European news organizations. Most Europeans could not locate Arizona on a map of the USA, but those who follow the news know who Arpaio is.

Madrid, Spain — August 27, 2017

I think my Greek roommate is adapting well to Spanish customs. When I got home from my trip into town yesterday, he was fast asleep on his bed. The afternoon siesta is a great custom.

Yesterday morning my sickness of the two days before was gone, and I felt energetic enough to walk into town to the Puerta del Sol, one of Madrid’s principle plazas. The distance on foot is about six kilometers or just over 3.7 miles. You would think I would cover that distance in about an hour and a half, but I dilly-dallied along the way, stopping to sit on benches in the shade to read a few more pages of Huckelberry Finn on the Kindle app on my cell phone, stopping for coffee, and detouring whenever I saw something of interest.

Below is a picture of a complex I walked through on one of my detours. I couldn’t divine its purpose. The buildings were well-kept, and their exteriors looked as if they had been sandblasted clean. One of the doorways offered a living art show, whatever that is. Should I have gone in? Does living art mean that there were people inside standing around nude? At my age, that’s not something I need to see, so it’s probably best that I didn’t investigate.

There was also a door on one of the complex’s bulidings with a sign stating that entry tickets were on sale inside. Tickets to what? I couldn’t figure that out. However, I was able to understand the following sign hanging above the entrance of a building with a tall clock tower. It is good to know that refugees from the Middle Eastern and African wars are still welcome at one place in Europe.

Being a cheapskate, I bought lunch in a supermarket instead of in a restaurant. Because street-front space is at a premium in Madrid, most supermarkets have only a small show window and door facing the street. When you go inside, the space is many times as large as one would expect from the store front. The main part of this supermarket is below ground. Here is the staircase leading down to it.

Incidentally, I bought a delicious fruit pastry inside for desert. There were candied apples and strawberries on top, and the crust as as flaky as an top-notch French pastry. it cost me 64 European cents or the equivalent of 76 cents in United States currency.

An off-topic remark, the United States dollar has been losing value due to the antics of our president, so every day I stay in Europe, it costs me a bit more. I pay for as much in advance as I can, because it does not look as if the situation in the USA is going to improve in the foreseeable future, and the dollar seems destined to continue downhill.

The picture below shows one of the narrow streets I walked along as I approached the Puerta del Sol. Behind me was a small square that was full of black Africans talking loudly to each other. Most of the talking was in a language I could not identify, but some was in heavily accented Spanish. I assumed I was passing though a neighborhood made up mainly of recently arrived African immigrants.

The Puerta del Sol is not huge as Madrid plazas go. In the center of it is this statue of King Carlos III on horseback. Just in case King Chuck is not immortalized sufficiently by his statue, I thought I would include him in this blog.

When I first came to Madrid in the 1960s during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, almost all of Spain except for the Mediterranean coast was very isolated from the rest of Europe. A glass of white wine cost the equivalent of one US cent as did a ride on a streetcar. The streetcars are gone now.

The city’s plaza then were places where the locals came out at night to sit with each other and gossip in the cooler temperatures of the evening. Today, the plazas are teeming with tourists. The picture below  shows one of two identical fountains in the Puerta del Sol. The other is behind me.

I didn’t notice the couple in the center of the shot above when I snapped the picture. Does that guy have an unusually thick beard, or is he wearing a black veil? It makes me think of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “The Minister’s Black Veil” or the song “The Long Black Veil” recorded originally by Leftie Frizzell or perhaps the black veil that Caddy wears to a funeral in William Faulkner’s novel The Sound and the Fury. In each case the black veil is presumed to hide adulterous behavior. The song makes that explicit.

Digressing some more, I think the next book I should re-read in English is The Sound and the Fury. It’s a difficult read for anyone who approaches it for the first time, but it gets more enjoyable every time it is re-read. It’s on almost everyone’s list of the top ten novels in the English language.

But, getting back to yesterday’s trip, I was in no mood to walk back to the hostel, so I took the subway or metro. Here’s what the subway train looked like inside. Notice how clean and new everything looks. It’s also not as crowded as the Paris subways, which means that there is much less concern about pickpockets. I wish the dirty Phoenix buses were this well maintained. However, in the USA, we do not believe that government money should be spent for the public good. We believe that it is government’s duty to take as much money as possible from ordinary people and transfer it to people who are already very wealthy, so we elect politicians who do just that.

Back at the hostel, I collected my laundry, which I had washed out by hand in the morning and hung to dry. Everything was dry except for the cotton socks, which are now hanging on the end of my bed. Memo to self: when packing light for traveling, don’t take cotton socks! They take too long to dry. Thin wool socks are more comfortable and dry more quickly when hand washed. Why didn’t I remember that when I was packing for this trip?

Madrid, Spain — August 26, 2017

I’m sorry to report that I have little to write today and no pictures of the city of Madrid. When I got up yesterday morning, I thought I  was over the effects of the stomach ache that I had had the night before, but that turned out to not quite be the case. I found myself tired and with no energy, so I spent almost the whole day in the hostel and part of it in bed sleeping. I also slept about ten hours last night, a lot for me.

Breakfast is officially not served here in the hostel until 8 am, but I enter the breakfast room around 7 when the night watchman is eating his. He always seems glad for the company and makes sure that I get my breakfast early. In general, the Spanish are very friendly and quite anxious to be helpful to others.

I  did get some writing done yesterday. I am writing my second novel, although I make little progress on it on the days when I am up and about. My first novel plus a  book about my hiking the Camino francés are featured in the left sidebar of this blog.

Let me tell you a bit about the hostel where I am staying. I’m in an 8-bed dormitory, which is divided into two rooms by a high partition. There have been three of us in the dorm room since I got here. A Spanish guy sleeps on the other side of the partition. He is in Madrid for work and leaves every weekday morning for work and comes back in the evening. Today is Saturday, and I notice he is taking advantage of the weekend to sleep in. It is after 9 am, and he is still in bed.

There are two of us on my side of the partition., The other man is a middle-aged, bent over Greek man who is very meticulous in his habits. it takes him almost ten minutes to wash his hands. He speaks reasonable Spanish and some English, so we can communicate. In the picture below, my bunk is the one at the lower left with the sheets in disarray and the junk sitting on it. The Greek sleeps on the other lower bunk. You can only see part of it, but I assure you that it is neatly arranged.

I cannot communicate well with the Spanish guy. He speaks with an accent that I am unfamiliar with, and he speaks very fast. It doesn’t seem to occur to him that I would understand him better if he would slow down. We have little opportunity to speak in any case, because up until today, he has come to the hostel mainly to eat, shower, and sleep.

Train Museum, Madrid, Spain — August 25, 2017

Yesterday, my first full day in Madrid, I decided to walk to the Railway Museum. I’ve been in Madrid several times, so I had already seen such sights as the Prado Museum, the Royal Palace, the Plaza de Sol, the Plaza de España, etc. My father was a railroad worker on the Pennsylvania Railroad in Western Pennsylvania when the company was still using steam engines, so I have a love for old railroad engines and cars. I used to enjoy going down to the freight yard in South Fork, Pennsylvania with my father, sitting in a caboose or climbing up to visit the engineer and fireman in a parked steam locomotive.

This morning after breakfast, I walked from the hostel to the museum, a distance of about two miles, mostly through a long park called the Parque Madrid Río or the Madrid River Park. It was a pleasant walk away from the traffic noise most of the way. However, the river is not visible from the park. Where could the river be?

I snapped this picture of the park as I walked through it.

My walk took me toward Madrid’s downtown area, although I didn’t walk quite that far. However, I could see the buildings of the downtown area ahead of me. In the photo below, the figure to the left of the path in the distance is a fellow pedestrian. There were not many people walking in the park although there were a fair number of cyclists.

I kept wondering where the river was. Finally , after I left the park, I found it. The river, more of a stream in reality, runs down the median strip of an expressway. I snapped this picture of the river from a pedestrian bridge that crosses the busy highway. The river is well hidden from view. Instead of putting expressway lanes on either side of the stream, I think the city should have incorporated the river into the park.

As I approached the museum, it was time for a coffee stop with a small sandwich for brunch. Then I found the museum down a side street. In front of the museum stands this ancient steam engine. I don’t believe it was used for mainline train travel. It was more likely used at a mine to haul ore to the main rail line.

I entered the museum and purchased a discounted senior citizen’s ticket. I asked at the ticket counter if the receptionist wanted to see my passport to prove my age, but she said that wasn’t necessary. I joked that I guessed it was obvious that I qualified to an old person’s reduced entry fee, and she replied, “No! No! it’s just that I trust what people say.” it was a very polite white lie. 🙂

There were scores of old steam engines, a few old diesel-electric engines and a number of old passenger cars in the museum as well as items such as station clocks, switch levers, etc. I could have easily filled my camera’s memory card with pictures of them all. However, I’ll post only a few.

The steam engine below has the side cut away so that visitors can see the inner workings of the boiler. The tubes that carried water into the firebox to be boiled into high-pressure steam are colored in blue.

I snapped the following picture of a dining car through its window. Did people really travel in such luxury by train? In the days before private jets, yes they did. Very rich people had their own railway cars that would be attached to trains for travel. I am old enough to remember when President Truman had a private rail car instead of two 747 airplanes and traveled during campaigns from city to city by train, stopping to give speeches from the back platform of the train at “whistle stops.” I remember that when I was a child, my parents drove the ten miles to Johnstown, PA to see president Truman give such a speech. I’m sorry they didn’t take me with them. I would like to have that memory.

I also snapped the following picture of a train bathroom through the window of one of the passenger cars. What looks like a toilet beyond the sink is actually a bidet. The toilet was right under the window and didn’t fit into the shot. This bathroom is certainly much larger and more comfortable than the cramped bathrooms on today’s trains.

Below is a bank of control levers for switches, probably from the control tower of a freight yard. I remember when many of the switches along the Pennsylvania Railroad were connected by a series of rods and joints to a control tower where the yard master could watch the trains being assembled and remotely throw the switches to switch the freight cars onto the correct sidings as freight trains were being made up.

Naturally, I had to get into the action. Here I am pretending to be the only passenger in a spacious passenger car traveling though Spain. Of course, the car was fixed in place in the museum and didn’t move. it was much more pleasant sitting there than sitting in cramped conditions on a modern train. Riding in a newer European train is almost as uncomfortable as flying economy class in a plane. it’s good to remember that trains were once more comfortable, even if they were slow.

Yesterday evening I was a bit sick in the stomach for some reason. Naturally, my Greek roommate, with whom I speak Spanish, was trying what it was that I had eaten that caused the problem. I don’t think it’s possible to know. In any case, I feel fine this morning.

I still haven’t planned what I am going to do today. All I can say is that it will involve a lot of walking, and I will document it in tomorrow morning’s blog entry.

by Jack Quinn, Phoenix, Arizona USA paybay1(at)