Ronda is an ancient town in Andalusia near the Mediterranean Sea, and has been a settled town since before Roman times. It used to be settled by local tribes, then was settled by Scipio Africanus during the Punic wars. After the Roman Empire crumbled, it was conquered by Visigoths from what is now Germany - till it fell to the African Berbers, who were the start of the Muslim moorish occupation of Spain in the first millennium AD.
The Muslim period of Spain is a most fascinating period - when the Moors and Arabs kept alive the flame of learning and science when Europe was stuck in the dark ages. When the rest of Europe was a disgusting medieval mess, Cordoba and Malaga were bustling metropolises!
I read a book by Louis L’Amour called ‘The walking drum’ about this era, and it had a great effect on me. Louis L’Amour was a writer of cowboy adventures in the old west - six guns and quick draws and all that stuff. But this was the only historical romance he wrote, and it was the only book I had ever read that referred to this fascinating era. I recommend it highly.
After an intense couple of days, its ‘adios Madrid’ for now - it was time to go to the train station and catch a train to Avila.
I could get there by chasing a couple of trains, but the Uber rate was very reasonable - so I went in comfort in a fancy car instead of struggling in a crowded metro and changing trains a couple of time and so forth.
The train journey to Avila was very smooth - Spanish trains are very nice … comfortable, roomy and very fast!
Madrid day 3 morning
It was time to go - I would be leaving Madrid today…taking the train to Avila to see the ancient walled city there.
But I still had the morning free, and I was determined to see the Mercato San Miguel and sample some delicious artisanal food there.
A ‘Mercato’ is a covered marketplace, where the various food producers used to bring their stuff and sell there in ancient times - butchers, winemakers, cheese makers, fishmongers, vegetable and fruit sellers, vinegar and garum makers and so on - much like Crawford market in Mumbai.
Over the years the place evolved to be a place selling artisanal food to be eaten there itself, rather than being a wholesale market. Now it is a place for tourists to find and try kinds of fancy artisanal food.
This particular Mercato is more than 100 years old - Today, this historical building stands out as one of the world’s main gastronomic markets. It allows visitors to experience the essence and most significant flavors of every corner of Spain.
From the finest Iberian ham and freshest fish and shellfish brought in daily from Galicia, to Mediterranean rice dishes and the most exquisite cheeses from Castile, Asturias and the Basque Country – at the Mercado de San Miguel, you’ll find all the highlights of Spanish cuisine. Spread out over more than 20 stands, the common denominator here is a commitment to high-quality tapas and pub fare.
COVID had forced the closure of this market for more than 8 months! It had opened just in July 2021 and now it was back to running full blast. The crowd seemed to be mostly local Spanish people - the only foreigners were a few Americans…and me.
I woke early and packed my bags and went down to have a local specialty at the downstairs cafe - churros and chocolate.
Madrid Day 2 continued
After seeing the Palacio Real and the Almudena, I thought that I should now come down from the sacred to the profane, and worship my belly by going to the Mercato San Miguel and eating local Spanish delicacies.
It was only a short walk - but when I reached there, I was shocked by the crowds! The place was as packed as VT station during rush hour! I pushed my way in, and shouldered my way to the oyster booth where I was jostled here and there until I got my hands on two oysters.
After the Palacio Real, the next thing to see was the famous Almudena cathedral - the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Madrid. And it was pretty easy to find too! Just turn around - and there it is!
Today I was going to see two of the iconic sights in Madrid - the Royal Palace of the King of Spain - the Palacio Real, and the Almudena cathedral right in front of it.
Yesterday, I had been dog tired when I got back from seeing the Prado and the botanical garden - the jetlag, the disrupted sleep schedule and the lack of lunch all added to the aching feet. Slow walking in museums always leads to ‘barking dogs’ and the poor fellows have to support my very heavy weight!
Add to that the fact that I was wearing heavy hiking shoes this time, instead of my usual sneakers…the Antarctica boat guys insisted on waterproof hiking shoes…or at least SHE WHO MUST BE OBEYED thought that they insisted on such things. But when I saw videos of people who had done these voyages, they pooh-poohed the idea and said that there was no need for them…the boat would issue high gum boots for going ashore on Antarctica and sneakers were fine aboard ship. I wanted to carry sneakers as well, but there was no room in my baggage!
Bharathi growled at me and said ‘INFIRM OF PURPOSE! CARRY ONLY THE HIKING SHOES! I COMMAND YOU!’ And that was the end of that. So I bought some fancy Decathlon hiking shoes which are rated to walk on snow and stuff.
I must say that for shoes which are intended to be for walking very long distances, they are not comfortable! Hopefully I will get used to them. But till then…OW OW OW.
Day 1 in Madrid and I woke up before dawn in spite of sleeping very late. That’s not as impressive as it sounds actually - for one thing, the day dawns pretty late in summer in Spain- and for another, I was still on India time.
The hotel room was really tiny - Bombay level tiny - to quote Circuit from Munnabhai - ‘ye room to shura hote hi khatam ho Gaya!’. But it was neat and clean and had an en suite bath and even had a balcony! What more do you need anyway?
The shower was so small that I kept bumping in to the tap and turning the warm shower into either a scalding lava fountain or a freezing torrent - and the shower curtain would lovingly drape over my wet body and surround me like a shroud.
(Though that is more of a comment on the size of my butt than the size of the shower stall, I suppose…)
I sat around writing a blog and suddenly realised with a start that I was almost late for my date with the Prado museum! SHE WHO MUST BE OBEYED had booked a ticket for 10 AM and I quailed to think of what she would say if I was late for my very first booking!
I quickly got ready and checked with the hotel dude as to the best way to reach Prado - Bharathi had babbled about metro lines and how I had to recharge that one day card with 10 rides and all that stuff. But the hotelier said that it was just a 10-15 minute walk, and gave me a map and marked the route on it.
Well - to go down to the metro, add the 10 trips on a machine, go down to the platform, wait for the train, get out to the street level, etc would probably have taken more than 15 minutes. Anyway the weather was very nice and a walk sounded most agreeable.
And no time for breakfast! ‘What?!’ My tummy squealed ‘…but …we didn't have dinner either yesterday…’
‘Oh shut up…’ I said ‘A fast will do you good.’
Finally the D Day Dawned!
All the planning and preparation and nail biting had come to a climax! The trip was starting today! WOOHOO!
‘REACH THE AIRPORT WELL BEFORE TIME!’ Bharathi hair was standing on end and curling and furling like the fretful porpentine, as Shakespeare would say. ‘THEY MIGHT MAKE YOU DO THE RTPCR TEST AGAIN!’
‘Eh?’ I said ‘Why would they do that? I have a PCR test already.’
‘YOU NEVER KNOW! THEY MIGHT MAKE YOU UNDERGO A PCR TEST, AN X RAY, AN ULTRASOUND, A STOOL TEST, AN HIV TEST, A DNA TEST…’
‘Er…my Uber has come…chalo bye…’
I hastily left before she get could get to the stool test and the prostate fingering and so on…
Luckily none of this happened - the Emirates people were very nice. An agent checked my PCR result and waved me on, and the check in was very smooth indeed. I enquired about a free upgrade (Hey, you never know…never hurts to ask) … but she just waved me away. Bloody phukatchand.
The flight to Dubai was very nice - saw the ‘Friends reunion special’ on the plane and it made me emotional and moist-eyed for some reason. Go figure.
At Dubai I went - as per boss’s orders - and asked the Emirates people about cancelling the Brazil Dubai sector, and they informed me that while only one sector cannot be cancelled, I could definitely cancel the entire Brazil Dubai Mumbai leg and ask for a refund.
‘Ah great!’ Bharathi said ‘I will wait till the laaaaaaaast minute - if they only cancel the flight then they will issue a full refund! BUHAHAHAHA’
The last night before the trip was action packed …well, it was action packed for Bharathi.
I blog about my travels - and the thoughts they set off! Sometimes the simplest destinations can be the most thought-provoking!