Friday 6 September
It is still dark when we get out of bed at 6.00am. No tea or coffee in the room unfortunately, although in other respects the 3 Star Codina Hotel is modern and comfortable. We are packed by 7.00am and decide to head out for a walk. With luck we will find a cafe/bar open with something for breakfast. The hotel buffet and bar don't open until 7.30am which only gives us half an hour before Irene wants us to depart. We find said bar close by, and are back at the hotel with plenty of time.
There is a #45 bus that stops outside which could take us to the Renfe station, but it only leaves every half hour so Irene has decided on taxis once again. Three taxis and an €8 fare (refunded) gets us to the station and the Madrid Alvia service that takes 5½ hours. The line from San Sebastian is not rated for high speed trains unfortunately, so no AVE service. No white wine in the buffet car but the coffee is OK and the tuna & egg sandwiches adequate. We arrive in Madrid and everyone heads for the escalator. Pity it isn't working. We join the long queue for the lift and eventually make it up to the concourse. Although it would probably be OK to take the Metro to the hotel (it is very close to the station) we opt for an easier course with the big bags and take a taxi. There is a freeway for almost all of the route, and although the traffic is heavy on Friday afternoon, our demon driver gets us to the hotel in what feels like record time. We are able to check in and the rest of our group duly arrives 10 – 15 minutes later.
The final tour activity on our North Spain Discovery with Intrepid Travel is an orientation walk around the centre of the city, followed by a last supper. Irene shepherds us on a short metro trip to Puera del Sol which is located in the centre of the city and a good place to take in the sights, or the bars and nightlife. We walk down Calle del Arenal which is a pedestrian mall and although it appears quite busy, Irene is surprised at how quiet it is. We take a short diversion to look in the window of Chocolateria San Gines and the chocolate galettes.
Then on to Plaza Espana and the Opera (Teatro Real) and behind this is “the biggest palace in Europe" Palacio Real de Madrid. The royals don't live there but it is used for State occasions, has some 3,000 rooms and part of it is open to the public. Across the square is Catedral de Santa Maria la Real de la Amudena. Walking back eastwards past Plaza de la Villa we end up at the impressive Plaza Mayor with Casa de Panaderia, the showpiece. A municipal building dating from 1619 with a frescoed facade repainted in 1992 by artist Carlos Franco.
We exit the plaza by the Arco de Churchilleros and pass Sobrino de Borin that claims to be the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the world, and has a certificate from the Guinness Book of Records to prove it, in the window. Evidently since 1725 there has been an eating establishment here on the Calle Churchilleros. We walk on a short distance to a more modern restaurant that I didn't get the name of, but came highly recommended by Irene. Our host was very congenial and the food good. Tony opted for a veal escallop, and Kathy an Ensalada Mista, whilst others tried the paella. With Intrepid, everyone pays for their own meal, and the “Leader" gets out her calculator to divide up the bill. However there are usually a few extras and at this restaurant guests are offered local liqueurs, one of which was a strong clear yellow liquid, probably orujo (grape brandy) and the other was a Bailey’s style creamy drink based on orujo, unsurprisingly known as crema de orujo.
Most of us opted to accompany Irene back to the hotel. We had an early start in the morning and as we will have another 6 nights in Madrid, we weren't worried about the night life.