Day 10: Escape to the Madrid Airport Hilton - 06 Jan 2010
I planned to tour the Palacio Real in the morning then spend the rest of the day relaxing at the Hilton. No one let me in on the fact that it was El Día de los Reyes (The Day of the Kings), a state holiday celebrating the end of the Christmas season and specifically the day the Magi from the East arrived to worship and bring three gifts to Jesus.
When I arrived at the palace, there were hundreds of people waiting to get into the courtyard and an some kind of royal honor guard on horses trotting about. I contemplated trying to get into the palace grounds, but it was nearly noon so I instead began exploring the last quadrant of the city.
Note to self: always have your camera out. I had my camera in my bag when I heard sirens and saw three police vehicles rushing past me. I thought nothing of it, but seconds later the royal motorcade rolled by including King Juan Carlos I in a really nifty vintage Rolls Royce. That would have been a great picture. I also missed photographing Putin's motorcade leaving the Kremlin during my trip to Moscow and Chirac's motorcade during my 2006 trip to Paris because my camera wasn't handy. You would think I would have learned by now.
I walked around for a bit, noting Madrid's version of Paris's Arc de Triomphe and Seattle's Space Needle.
After a quick lunch at a pizzeria across the street from my hostel, I hopped back on the Metro, returned to airport, and only had to wait a few minutes for a shuttle to pull up from Hilton. The trip to the hotel took ten minutes and I thankfully wasn't hassled by a bell hop when I alighted the shuttle at the hotel.
Airport Metro Station
A very nice Spanish girl checked me in. After welcoming me to the hotel and checking me in, she explained the hotel's amenities and invited me to call down if there was anything else she could do to take my stay comfortable.
The hotel had a modern feel and I was pleased with the size and layout of the room--particularly the marble/glass bathroom.
I used to hold Gold status with Hilton, but my allegiance now is with Priceline and Starwood. Still, a welcome note from the manager was waiting in my room along with a bottle of water. A small touch, but a nice touch.
I did some reading, did a workout (the fitness center was small, but adequate and the indoor pool was large), then hiked over the airport to see about changing my Lufthansa flight for the following day. I was scheduled to depart at 0550 for Frankfurt. The problem, and one of my two complaints about the hotel, was that shuttle service did not begin until 0600.
Because I did not want to spend EU20 on a cab and more importantly because I wanted to sleep in the next day, my goal was to change my departure time from morning to midday. Knowing that I was on an award ticket and Lufthansa is a stickler for rules, I did not think I would be sucessful, but figured I would check-in and at least save some time in the morning.
I used one of the self check-in kiosks and clicked on the standby button. Surprisingly, it gave me the option of changing my departure to any departure (about five flights) the following day. I chose the noon departure I wanted, collected my boarding passes, and headed back to the hotel.
I was getting hungry but only one of the two hotel restaurants was open due to the holiday and the menu did not look to appetizing. I spied a mall down the road and decided to walk down and find some food there. Problem: there was no walkway to get there. Against my better judgement, I walked along the highway (think I-5 at 6pm in So. Cal) and even had to cut across traffic twice. I got honked at and swore at, but I finally made it to the mall.
The mall featured a large food court and I gravitated toward a Mexican restaurant. Let's just say this eatery did not do Tex Mex well. My enchilada plate cost EU10 and contained two small chicken enchiladas. They were bland and the tortilla-like doughy bread that encumbered the chicken and cheese was not authentico. I was forced to augment my dinner with a large meatball sandwich from Subway.
Could have eaten at this restaurant again--but I know my stomach was thankful that I refrained!
Full, I traced my way back to the hotel. That required walking though the mall parking lot, crossing the street, scaling two fences, then walking along the freeway again. Traffic had calmed down a bit, but I had a close call crossing an off-ramp. After crossing another off-ramp, walking though a storm drain, climbing up over a bridge, and crossing one more busy thoroughfare, I made it back to the hotel. As I jumped over the hedges in front of the hotel, I felt like an intruder sneaking around where I wasn't supposed to be.
Back inside my hotel room, I vegged out for a while (my first TV in over a week) before going to sleep. The bed was comfortable and the hotel was very quiet that night--perfect for sleeping.
Don't let the shuttle hours deter you. The Hilton Madrid Airport is a great place to stay. Just be careful if you decide to walk to the mall.