The next day, I got up early to have one last look at the spectacular view from Cuenca’s bridge, in the morning light this time.
Then I set off to the station to continue my route to Madrid. My second Spanish train trip was not as smooth as the first. The modern-looking but empty station of Cuenca had a security check for baggage and the bored and zealous staff there detected my Swiss army knife in my bag. I had no idea this was not allowed on the train. They got very excited (this must have been the highlight of their day) and told me I had to leave it somewhere inside the station. I took this as a hint that if I concealed it discretely somewhere (just not in the bag which went through the scanner) they would turn a blind eye, so I ducked out of sight, hid the knife in my pocket and returned to the platform….to see one of the guards waiting for me, armed with a hand-held metal detector. I didn’t want the indignity of having my fur checked so took out my knife and left it on a table where he could see it, but the guard still checked me anyway, even making me take my hat off. He then recorded my ticket number – maybe as proof that they had been working, maybe to report me. It was the third Swiss army knife I had lost on my travels. At the ticket check, I had another surprise. The man there said that the free baggage allowance was only for a small bag (the size of carry-on luggage in a plane), and I would have to pay 30 euros to the staff on the train to transport my suitcase. My favourable impression of Spanish trains was beginning to wane, but once onboard, I stowed my case quickly in the luggage wrack and nobody asked me to pay extra for it. The train sped through the flat Spanish countryside, reaching Madrid in an hour.
I already knew the city from previous visits, so decided to spend a relaxed afternoon visiting some familiar places, and a few new ones. My flat was right in the centre, and I walked down the wide avenues to the Royal Palace….
….and then back across town to the Parque del Retiro, where Madrilenos go to cool off in hot weather (although it was only May, it was already quite hot). I spent a happy couple of hours there, enjoying a drink in the shade, visiting the crystal palace and the rose garden.
From the park I headed to the Reina Sofia Art Institute, which houses work by famous 20th century Spanish artists like Picasso, Miro and Dali. It was a very large building and I found the layout confusing – the works by the best-known artists were spread out amongst dozens of different rooms, forcing you to visit the whole museum if you wanted to sure not to miss the more famous paintings. Maybe this was intentional, but I had already spent the whole afternoon walking and soon my little legs were tired. Still, it is hard to not like a museum that is the home for Picasso’s magnificent Guernica painting, which I saved to last to enjoy (smaller crowds near the museum’s closing time!). Sadly, no pictures allowed so here is a link to the famous picture…..
After the museum I just about had the energy to walk home, popping in to the Casino de Madrid for a well-earned aperitif. The casino is now a private members’ club, and my membership of my London club gave me access. It was a beautiful building, with many impressive rooms and a stunning staircase.
After my aperitif, I had dinner back in my flat, accompanied by a bottle of red wine given to me by the exceptionally friendly owner. It came from his own vineyard near Cuenca, and I had great pleasure in telling him how much I had liked the place.
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