Christmas in Spain – Day 7: Madrid to Cádiz

Today we’re packing our bags and leaving Madrid for Cádiz – a four and a half hour train ride away. Our train was scheduled to leave at 10am so we figured we’d sleep in a little and just eat breakfast on the train while we were traveling. It had been pretty late by the time we packed it in last night so we all appreciated the little bit of extra sleep time. We made one last check of the apartment, contacted the host to let them know we were leaving, left the keys on the table and locked the door behind us. The walk to the train station took about 15 minutes (if not a little less) and once at the station we made our way up to the second floor departures area. In order to get to the departure platforms you need to deposit your bags on a x-ray scanner but they don’t care what you carry on your person (no wands, scanners or pat downs) which seems like a bit of a glaring oversight but it’s their train system so they can do what they want I suppose… After screening you sort of mill around waiting for the specific departure platform to be listed for your train… and wait… and wait… wait… Apparently they usually indicate the departure platform about 30 minutes before departure. In our case our platform wasn’t displayed until about 10 minutes before departure. In order to speed people onto the train, they opened up a second gate and directed us through that one. Despite the late assignment of platform the train was loaded and departing by about 10:10 – the Spanish train system does not mess around. Nor do Spanish grandmothers… As Caitlin was heading for a couple of vacant seats where we could wait, this woman, clearly experienced in the ways of train stations accelerated to warp speed, planted herself in the middle of the row and flat-out dared Caitlin to sit anywhere in the vicinity… Caitlin wisely chose another row…

The first leg of the trip was on a Renfe high speed train (top speed was about 295 km/hr) from Madrid to Sevilla and passed pretty uneventfully. I’ve ridden the Renfe trains before and found them very comfortable but Marie and Caitlin had never ridden them before. For some reason we all found the rocking motion a bit nauseating this time and the trains were a bit too hot but otherwise, it’s a much more spacious and comfortable way to travel than by plane. The only real disappointment was that – unlike trains we’ve taken in other parts of Europe, the seating arrangements weren’t the 2 seats – table – 2 seats configuration we’d been hoping for but were instead airline style seats where everyone gets there own seatback table. The seats were comfortable enough and very spacious but it’s not as convenient for picnicking and playing cards when you don’t have the table between you… There seemed to be two sets of those seat+ table combos in each car but I have no idea how you reserve them… Probably by paying more than the super economy, ultra basic fares we tend to pay…

When we arrived at Sevilla we had about 15 minutes to grab our stuff, get off our train and find our way to the Media Distancia train (a commuter rail line with more basic cars and slower trains). Everything is effectively signed in English and you basically go up one escalator, check your departure gate and then go back down an escalator to the train a few tracks over from the one you just got off of. You also have to scan your ticket as you pass through the subway-style gate to the platform for the second train.

The trip from Sevilla to Cádiz took about an hour and 45 minutes with a number of stops along the way. Each stop is clearly announced (and posted on a screen) in both Spanish and English so there’s no confusion. The MD class trains are definitely a little more beat up than the high speed ones but they motor along at a pretty good clip and the seats (airline style again) are quite comfortable and far, far more spacious than anything you’ll on a plane.

We arrived in Cádiz right on schedule and followed our trusty Google Maps guide to the location of our apartment. We were a bit early for the 4pm scheduled check-in time but we were met at the apartment by the host’s partner – Carmen – who very graciously checked us in early and let us drop our bags while she finished cleaning the apartment. She spoke no English at all and we speak almost no Spanish so we were very grateful for Google Translate… After dropping our bags we headed out to find a place to grab some tapas… We settled on a place that seemed pretty popular with the locals and where the staff spoke no English (something we’re encountering a lot more of since we’ve left Madrid) but they did have an English version of the menu. I ordered croquettes and some aged manchego cheese (delicious!), Caitlin ordered a ham and brie on toasted bread (also delicious) and Marie ordered something none of us can remember at this point… After our “snack” we sort of wandered around a bit before making our way back to the apartment.

We seem to have chosen wisely again. The apartment is very spacious and well appointed and is super conveniently located. We’re close by the main pedestrian streets but away from the really busy ones and are within walking distance of all the major old town sights. We hung out for a little bit in the apartment and then Marie and Caitlin went out exploring while I napped for a little bit (by a bit I mean almost 2 hours…)

When Caitlin and Marie returned I dragged myself off the surprisingly comfortable bed and headed out to see what they had discovered. Perhaps not surprisingly (if you know Marie at all) their discoveries largely seemed to be about Christmas decorations (there’s a lot of them in Cádiz) and festive activities. The Christmas decorations were actually quite well done. As in Madrid they don’t go in for the giant Christmas tree but instead use a tree-shaped metal scaffold that is then brightly lit… often with paisley type decorations fo some reason. They’re very bright and colourful and much more eco-friendly than hacking down a real tree every year… In addition to the Christmas “tree” the square was decorated with festive lights and they even had a little hill for the kiddies to go sledding and a skating rink… Marie was very disappointed that Caitlin wouldn’t let her try the sledding…

After checking out the festively decorated square we wandered around a bit more… Cádiz is a great wandering town… Lots of cool side streets to explore and lots of little shops and eateries. It’s also surprisingly busy during the day and the early evening – probably with people visiting from the beach resorts in the newer parts of Cádiz and from the cruise ships… In the course of our wandering we came across O’Connell’s – a grungy, dive Irish bar that is quite possibly my ancestral home… with €5 doubles of Bushmills and definitely the most generous whisky pours I’ve ever had from a bar anywhere! We had a couple of drinks, played some cards and generally soaked in the atmosphere of this grungy, dingy little slice of heaven. Eventually, though, our stomachs reminded us it had been some time since we’d last eaten so we headed out of O’Connell’s and planted ourselves at the closest restaurant we could find… The pitcher of sangria Caitlin thought would be a nice touch went down really well after a couple of double Bushmills… especially considering it was just Caitlin and me drinking it because Marie doesn’t really like it. After dinner we sort of rolled ourselves the 200 metres back to our apartment and called it a night. So far Cádiz is looking like a great addition to our itinerary and we’re looking forward to exploring it more fully tomorrow.

Leave a Reply