After an incredible stay in Barcelona, we headed towards the Barcelona-Sants station, the main regional train station in Barcelona. The building resembled somewhat of a “mini-Airport” and required all riders to pass luggage through scanners. This process was relatively painless compared to our previous experiences with airport security.
Within a short period of time, we made our way to the platform to board our sleek AVE train. We were greeted with a modern-looking cabin with automatic sliding glass doors between each car. We were pleasantly surprised to find that each individual car offered spacious legroom compared to the tiny spaces we were accustomed to in an aircraft.
Even more pleasantly surprising was that we were able to book this almost 650-kilometer journey for about €15 (around $16.8) each by booking well in advance. The AVE train whizzed us the great distance in less than three hours. I stared, initially fixedly, out the window as the rolling Spanish hills passed. Soon they became a blur.
The best way I could describe this phenomenon was looking out of a commercial airplane that had gained enough speed to take off but never did. I had the pleasure of riding the Amtrak to Chicago previously, but this was on an entirely different level. “Velocidad 303 km/h” read the brightly-illuminated red LED display towards the front of the cabin. After some light reading, my eyes became heavy, and I drifted off as the AVE made its way westward.
Before I knew it, we found our way to the Madrid Atocha station, a large building with an enormous botanical display in the main hall. The station was connected to the Madrid metro system via the tunnel. Very quickly, I realized that Madrid was a city of a slightly different character than that of Barcelona.
The Madrid metro felt strangely familiar to the subway in New York City, having a little more grime than the spotless trains in Barcelona. I could say the metro system in itself was a microcosm of the city. Compared to the wide, oak- and palm tree-lined boulevards in Barcelona, Madrid’s roads consisted of narrow cobblestone streets filled with the whirring sounds of Vespa scooters as they snaked through the city’s corridors. The entire city felt remarkably more “European” to me, or at least what my preconceived notions would be for a European city.
Despite wanting to explore this city more, we were quickly losing sunlight and our time in Madrid was scarce.
Royal Palace of Madrid
We made our way towards the city center and Palacio Real de Madrid (Royal Palace of Madrid). This mezmerizing building was impressive in not only its sheer size but also its Baroque architecture. Being the residence of the Spanish royal family, the building surprisingly was originally built by the Umayyads in the ninth century.
Our adventure took us next to the Ópera neighborhood in Madrid where we found Restaurante Himalaya, one of the only Pakistani restaurants in central Madrid. After a dinner with many items out of the tandoor, we found ourselves in a large rectangular courtyard known as Plaza Mayor.
For those who have seen the 2008 film Vantage Point, this courtyard will re-ignite memories. At nighttime, the courtyard was illuminated with multicolor flying toys being sold by street vendors. The lively energy here was palpable despite the ongoing pandemic. Although the vibrancy was thrilling, our energy for the day was running low, and we retreated towards our hotel. The security guard stood at the entrance to the hotel with his temperature gun. The thought of having a high temperature and being denied entry to the hotel in a foreign country alarmed me.
Thankfully, I let out a sigh of relief as he waved us through after verifying our non-febrile temperatures. Another surprise awaited us in the hotel as we were flabbergasted to find a foot-washing sink for Wudu in the bathroom.
However, we soon figured that these Spanish bidets were common in many of Spain’s hotels but were definitely not meant for washing your feet. I will let you solve that puzzle on your own.