Christmas in Spain 2019 – Day 5: Madrid

When we woke up this morning, I checked the tracking site that TAP had provided for us to see where things were at with Marie’s missing bags and – good news! – her bag had been located and the “delivery process initiated.” We just had no idea what that meant in terms of actually getting her bag back.

Our plan for today was first to get some groceries to put together a Christmas Eve dinner for us tonight as many restaurants will be closing early and those that aren’t will be putting on special (aka expensive) dinners – then sort of hang around for a bit before heading to the airport to meet Caitlin who would be arriving at 4:10 pm on a flight from Birmingham. So we kind of lazed around a bit in the morning and then headed to the DIA grocery store a couple of minutes away to grab supplies for dinner.

We picked up a nice assortment of bread, meat and cheese along with a fresh prepared salad, some braised meat ravioli along with wine, olive, balsamic vinegar and some desserts… The real prize though was a half kilogram of fresh prawns for €3!! In all, the whole bill came to €37 and that included all the ingredients for scrambled eggs and french toast for breakfast on Christmas morning as well. We’re definitely getting hosed on the price of food in Canada…

We swung by the apartment to drop off our groceries and then headed out to do some shopping and sightseeing. We’d also figured out (it was Marie’s idea actually) that it would be much cheaper to get a prepaid local sim card than to continue “roaming like home” on my cell phone and we decided to do that today as well.

So we headed for a Vodafone shop at Puerto del Sol and got a 25GB prepaid card for €20 that will be valid for 30 days and will work throughout Spain (and much of the EU as well for that matter). The whole process took about 20 minutes and most of that was spent waiting for an agent to become available… You hand your passport over, there’s some clicking and clacking on the keyboard and then you hand over your money and you’re given a SIM card and some documentation. Then it’s just a matter of swapping out your old SIM card, putting in the new one and entering the correct PIN number… Honestly the hardest part of the whole process was finding a safe place to store my old SIM card so that I won’t lose it… Roaming like home would cost us over $120 for the duration of this trip… so for $30 CDN, the local SIM is a substantial savings. It isn’t quite as convenient (for example, I can’t send text messages and I have only 150 minutes of domestic calling) but we’re familiar with WhatsApp from our trip to Africa and it fills in for any missing cell services pretty nicely.

After getting set up with the new SIM we sort of wandered around the Puerto del Sol and Gran Via shops… ostensibly looking for a pair of new boots for Marie but really just kind of killing time before tackling the metro system to get to the airport… We didn’t end up buying anything but we did see a lot of pretty nice shoes and before long it was time to head for the airport.

We figured out (with help from google maps) which entrance to take to get into the system and were then completely overwhelmed by our choices of routes, tickets, etc. Thankfully they’ve got quite a few staffers working just to help the rubes like us and with the help of one of them we were soon on our way. The Madrid metro system, once you get the hang of it, is actually easier to navigate than Vancouver’s skytrain system (not surprising… I think launching nukes would be easier to figure out than navigating Vancouver’s transit system). The only real confusion came when we went to get on the pink line #8 train only to see green #11 signs onboard… Turns out they must use the trains on more than one route because the pink signs were there too but just weren’t immediately visible as we entered. We also found the locals riding the trains to be very helpful and if there was ever a point where we seemed to be a little lost of confused, someone was immediately offering to help.

It took us about 40 minutes to get to the airport and when we arrived we headed to the Terminal 2 Arrivals area so we could make our way back to the lost luggage counter to speak with them in person to find out what was happening with Marie’s bag because despite the encouraging morning update nothing more had happened through the day… It took a bit of doing but we were (with the help of a number of friendly and helpful airport staff) able to find our way back to the arrivals lounge and to get past security to get into the arrivals area without a boarding pass… We were clearly not the first people to have to do this… When we got to the lost luggage counter for TAP, Marie’s bag was sitting right there amongst a pile of other bags looking lost and forlorn without her… We spoke with one of the agents behind the counter who told us that they were just preparing to call the owners of the various bags to arrange delivery… which is not the world’s greatest service when we learned that Marie’s bag had arrived at the lost luggage counter at midnight – a full 15 hours earlier – and they were just getting to it. But all’s well that ends well and we were happy to be reunited with the bag – especially because it contained the carefully wrapped presents we’d brought for Caitlin to open on Christmas morning.

After collecting Maries’ bag we needed to make our way to Terminal 4 arrivals to meet Caitlin’s flight. This is easily done as they run a free terminal connector bus that makes the loop around the various terminals and we were soon waiting along with hundreds of other families… Clearly today is a popular travel day for people returning to Spain… We hadn’t thought to check Caitlin’s arrival time and of course it was delayed by 40 minutes so we made our way to the departures area to grab something to eat (at McDonald’s gasp!!). Then it was back to the arrivals lounge to wait for Caitlin… and wait… and wait… While we were waiting we remembered Caitlin commenting one time that she’d never been picked up at an airport by someone holding a sign with her name on it so I whipped something up on the iPad (complete with a picture of the Grinch) and waited until we saw her before holding it up above my head for all to see… she was mortified… it was pretty much a perfectly executed dad moment…

After collecting Caitlin we made our way to the Metro to make the 40 minute trip back to our apartment and got caught up with Caitlin… Then it was a matter of making the short hike back to the apartment and getting Caitlin settled in. No one really felt like eating when we got back and it was only around 5pm so we decided to head out and do a bit of exploring… which led to us making an epic march to the Royal Palace and beyond and then meandering through a bunch of the side streets before heading for Puerto del Sol and then back to the apartment. We had explored much of this area when we were in 2012 but that was only a couple of days at the very end of a month long trip and no one really had much recollection of Madrid… so we were all sort of seeing it with new eyes. As we had been warned (thanks internet!) many places were shut up tight for the night but there were actually quite a few more open restaurants than we’d been led to expect… But we were actually sort of looking forward to putting something together at the apartment (and had bought a lot of food) so we avoided the various temptations and made our way back to the apartment around 9:30… by which point everyone was pretty hungry.

Once back at the apartment we set about putting together a pretty awesome dinner if I do say so myself. We (and by we I totally mean me) boiled up the ravioli then fried them in some olive oil and gave them a light dusting of grated parmesan, boiled up the prawns and served them with some butter melted in the microwave and then added the salad with a dressing of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and charcuterie meats and cheese to make a delicious – and very filling – Christmas Eve dinner. With some rosé wine and beer to wash it all down with, we thoroughly enjoyed our little feast. The standouts of the night were definitely the half kilogram of prawns (remember they cost us a whopping €3) and the €1.95 loaf of fresh bread we’d picked up… In fact, everything we had was very good quality and really reasonably priced. We are definitely missing out on some things in Canada when it comes to food…

After dinner we washed up the few dishes and that was pretty much our Christmas Eve in Madrid. In all, it turned out to be a pretty great way to spend Christmas Eve. Marie got her bag back. Caitlin joined us. We explored a beautiful old European city and “we ate well and cheaply and we drank well and cheaply…”

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