Madrid, Toledo and WiFi

Zaurus internet is back! More details below, but first a description of our latest travels.

Yesterday’s train ride from Barcelona to Madrid was one of the highlights of Spain. The landscape tended to dry, stark and rugged, the route winding through valleys and mountains. The colours of Spain erekhaki green, ochre and grey stone. Ruined fortresses overlooked old stone towns from atop the hills. My recommendation is to try to sit on the left side of the train from Barcelona to Madrid as it tends to have better views.

We reached Madrid in the early afternoon, checked into our hotel, the High Tech Petite Palace Ducal. Dissapointed to discover that ours was not a “High Tech Room” with its own internet terminal and exercise bike. We still had free ADSL access (though no way of using it at the time).

After dumping our bags we set out to explore Madrid. The hotel is located adjacent to Gran Via, a major thoroughfare lined with shops. We walked down to Plaza Sol and then on to Plaza Major, famous “squares” were Madrilois (and tourists) hang out.

By this time night had fallen, so we tried to find decent tapas bars south of Plaza Mayor, as recommended by the tourist office. Hungry, tired and surrounded by more an more unfriendly looking locals we ended up in a bit of a tourist trap kind of restaurant. The food was okay, the price reasonable, but nothing special.

Back at the hotel I tried out the “hydromassage” features of the shower. The needle streams of water felt good after a long day. However, the night was not as relaxing. We thought that we had the airconditioner on, but the hotel had switched to heating, so the settings were irrelevant. That night, it got extremely hot and we both had a very rough sleep. It didn’t help that the traffic noise was very loud outside of our window (“the room has good views of outside” said the receptionist. She should work in real estate.).

At least the heat dried out our recently washed clothes. We are living a day at a time now, washing a shirt and undies each night and hopng that they will be dry enough for the next day. Haven’t seen any laundromats nearby and the hotel washing charges are outrageous.

Slept in this morning, before we used the metro to go to the bus station. Unfortunately, the Toledo railway line is closed at the moment for trackwork. The bus had reserved seats, which confused the american passengers no end. The trip out to Toledo took about an hour. The scenery outside was just like any other city. Furniture shops in the outskirts making way for yellow grasslands, ready for future development.

A lot of foot slogging was required to get from the bus station at the bottom of Toledo up to the main sights atop the hill. It’s a fascinating city with a mixture of Visigothic, Catholic and Muslim architecture. By far the greatest attraction was the cathedral. The interior detail and displays was breathtaking in splendour and craftmanship. An absolute must see.

We wandered around the narrow streets of Toledo, stopping to look down upon the river valley where we could. Lunch was the traditional partridge stew and suckling pig at the posh Casa Aurelio restaurant, as mentioned in the Lonely Planet. Refreshing pineapple and melon rice pudding dessert as well.

In the end we couldn’t resist purchaisng a decorative, but cheap, sword at one of the many tourist souvenir shops scattered around the city. A few other trinkets also emptied our pockets and filled our bags further. The local marzipans did not impress my tastebuds, however.

The bus ride back was a lot slower than the one there, with long traffic jams. Went shopping at El Cortes Inglese (see below), which closes at ten and ate a late dinner of chicken kebab. I still prefer Fabulous Kebabs of Menai! Then it was back to the hotel, with the air-conditioner/heater switched off!

I still haven’t got a mini-A USB cable, so no connecting up the USB mouse, MP3 players or USB ethernet. Just couldn’t find one in Madrid, not certain about Paris, so I’ll wait until Japan, where I know where the PC shops are located.

Instead I went to the Department store El Cortes Inglese and picked up an Apple AirPort Express WiFi base station. Just plugged it into the powerpoint and inserted a cable from the free ethernet port into the AirPort and viola, instant WiFi access n the hotel room. I have a WiFi CompactFlash card, so the Zaurus is back online. Hopefully it should be this easy in Paris as well, as our hotel also has free ADSL over Ethernet.

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