tom911 goes to Madrid, Toledo and Berlin

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  1. tom911
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    Hello this Friday morning from Madrid. Heading over to Toledo for a day trip by rail later today. Tried to do that last year and all the daytime trains were sold out 24 hours ahead and I couldn’t make it work. Forecast high for today is 20C (68F). Did have a few minutes of rain last night but otherwise partly cloudy all day and great conditions for walking around.

    I’m on a $700 AA ticket which I was able to upgrade to/from Madrid. I do have a sidetrip to Berlin this weekend on separate tickets.

    WEDNESDAY

    Departed on the 0850 SFO-JFK flight. My breakfast choice was steel cut oatmeal which is currently my favorite AA domestic breakfast.

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    On arrival at JFK I visited the Flagship Lounge for about 90 mins. Felt like it was Thanksgiving as they had mashed potatoes, green beans and sliced turkey. Had a Sam Adams with the potatoes and turkey I selected.

    Headed to the gate for my Madrid flight and we boarded at 1850 and departed on time at 1920. Had a 100 mph tailwind and arrived 30 mins early at 0830 (Thursday). This is a 757 which only has 4 rows in business class. I'm at the window seat.

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    I had beef as my dinner choice and an omelette with chicken sausage and potatoes for breakfast. Did watch one movie (Wild with Reese Witherspoon about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail).

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    Rest of the meal photos (appetizers, salad, dessert) are here:
    http://tom911.smugmug.com/American-Airlines/American-Airlines-My-Carrier/i-vKChpJ4
     
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  2. tom911
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    THURSDAY

    Our plane parked at the very end of the terminal in Madrid and it felt like a good mile walk to passport control. Bags came out pretty quickly and I opted for the 0928 RENFE train (2.6 euros, $2.80) which took 35 mins and dropped me right in front of my hotel, the Holiday Inn Piramides, a property I have stayed at before. Same trip by Metro would have cost more and taken over an hour with train changes. Rate is about $80 and they did upgrade me to a nice fifth executive room.

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    Time for a nap as I don’t think I got more than an hour or two of sleep on the 6.5 hour Madrid flight (arrived at the equivalent of 11:30pm in CA - just hard to sleep around that).

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    Was out at 1630 and headed over to Atocha station, 30 mins by foot, to book train tickets to/from Toledo, about 40 mins away by rail. Ticket machines would not handle my transaction for some reason, though it did price out and allow me to select trains. Ended up in the ticketing hall where only three windows were open and 30 guests were ahead of me (you print a number when you first walk in). Some of them seemed to have wandered off and I was called after a 30 minute wait. Ticket was just over 21 euros ($22.50).

    Atocha station:

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  3. tom911
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    The Atohca train station has a rather grand hallway and even a turtle exhibit.

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    Headed out past the botanical gardens (3 euros, about $3.20, but no time for a visit today), Prado Museum, and then up the Gran Villa where I stopped at a sandwich shop for a chicken cesar salad and a drink for 6.15 euros ($6.60). After all the airline food that was all I needed to finish the day.

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  4. tom911
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  5. tom911
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    Along the Gran Via (this building sucks with the Samsung ad campaign-- I'll show you in the following photo what it normally look like from a past visit).

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    Rental bikes are new here:

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    Protest at Plaza del Sol:

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    Overhead menu at my dinner stop:

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  6. tom911
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    Last edited: Apr 16, 2015
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  7. tom911
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    Little warmer than I expected in Toledo today. When I arrived at the train station for the trip back to Madrid at 1730 the temperature sign nearby said it was 26C (79F). I had a polar fleece along to start the day but it came off when I reached the city center in the morning. Should have brought shorts on this trip with temps like that.

    Getting to bed early so I can head out to the airport at 0600. Haven't even started working on the Toledo segment so will need a day or two more. Quite surprised how much I enjoyed it over there.
     
  8. tom911
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    Friday - Toledo, Spain

    Caught the 0905 RENFE train over to Atocha station (1.70 euros, $1,80), to connect to the 1020 train to Toledo. One of the travel sites I checked said to allow an hour extra before departure. The first security checkpoint I went to for long distance trains was not for Toledo. They sent me down a level where the trains for Toledo departed from and I cleared security there (just a bag check through a scanner). Ended up with 45 minutes to kill. Maybe the earlier arrival is more of an issue during peak travel periods as I could have shown up 15 mins before departure and been just fine.

    Track wasn’t announced until 10 minutes before departure and we left on time. One passenger across the aisle from me did not have a seat reservation and was booted out of his seat by someone who did. Our car looked full.

    It’s not a long trip, taking only 30 minutes to get to Toledo, mostly through farmland. The train speed does display an the end of the car and I noticed 200kmh (120mph) at one point on our RENFE “AVE” train. On the trip back later in the day I saw it as high as 246kmh (150mph). Smooth ride both ways. Not bad for about $11 each way.

    Arrival in Toledo:

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    Train station:

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    It was already getting warm, so took off the polar fleece once in town. I opted to walk in as it’s only about 2km (1.2 miles) to the city walls and it is a pretty scenic route with the The Alcazar of Toledo (dating back to 1545 and being used for everything from a royal residence to a prison to military barracks) and the Greco museum atop hills on the way in.. The last third of the route is uphill, though, so I can see why many opt for the bus in. I walked in via one route and at the end of the day came downhill via a shorter route. Ended up being 45 mins until I was in the city center where the local buses drop passengers, though some of that time was for photo stops and I did walk around a park area.

    Alcazar of Toledo:

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    El Greco Museum, opened in 1912:

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  9. tom911
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    Entering via the city walls:

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    A nice park area just outside the city walls:

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    Hadn’t had breakfast and it was coming up on noon. Toledo doesn’t have a large town square like a lot of other cities. It’s more like an intersection of roads with a pedestrian area in the middle and bus stops on the sides. Looking around that area, the lunch options were McDonalds. Burger King, or a cafe advertising tacos that was empty. Burger King worked today and I had a whopper meal before setting out for an afternoon of city touring.

    Walked along narrow streets and alleys, some with shops and others with apartments. Pretty apparent that swords and knives are very popular here as many shops have them in the windows and some even had suits of armor out front.

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  10. tom911
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    My main destination here was the Catholic cathedral (referred to as Primada Cathedral) which was once the center of the Catholic Church in Spain. They charge 8 euros ($8.50) which besides entry provides you with an audio guide with some narrative and background classical music. The cathedral itself is huge and the current building dates back to 1226. It is worth the price.

    Cathedral exterior:

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    There was a small musical group rehearsing when I arrived and it seems like members came and went over the next two hours.

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    There’s just too much to view here to properly cover it all. There are small chapels along the sides, at least two areas where royalty are buried and have chapels, and large enclosed areas where members of the clergy would pray (you’ll see the wooden seats there in upper and lower rows). There’s stained glass, organs and art, including a famous painting by Greco, and a whole room filled with portraits of past church officials.

    The 10 foott tall Great Monstrance of Arfe, behind glass here, is paraded along city streets once a year on the feast of Christ the King and contains the first gold brought back by Columbus:

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  11. tom911
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    The choir area which could accommodate all the Cathedral's clergy:

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  12. tom911
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    The main chapel constructed between 1494-1504:

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  13. tom911
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    One of the chapels:

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    El Transparente baroque altar piece with ceiling artwork above it:

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  14. tom911
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    Chapter Chamber:

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  15. tom911
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    One of the royal chapels:

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  16. tom911
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    Sacristy:

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    The Disrobing of Christ by El Greco:

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  17. tom911
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    More details on the Cathedral on these sites:

    http://www.toledo-turismo.com/en/primada-cathedral_243

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toledo_Cathedral

    I did pass a Jesuit church that I wanted to tour, but after the Cathedral figured it’s worth a future trip. There is a day pass that covers a group of churches (not the Cathedral) or you can pay each church separately. I felt like I barely touched the city with 7.5 hours there.

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    In addition to all the walking around (my Fitbit hit 18,777 steps today, over 10 miles), I sampled several food groups (beer and tapas at a pub, cookies baked by nuns at a convent, and gelato).

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  18. tom911
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    [​IMG]

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    Walking about:

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  19. tom911
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    [​IMG]

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    Headed downhill to the train station at 1700 and was there in 30 minutes. Some views from the trip down:

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    1820 departure back to Madrid:

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    Back at Atocha station at 1850. Looked around at some restaurants there but in the end just grabbed a chicken and soft cheese sandwich, chips and a drink for 6.5 euros ($7) and back to the hotel by RENFE local train.

    Toledo photos are here (about 300 of them so use the slideshow feature or right arrow to get through them):
    http://tom911.smugmug.com/Travel-Europe/Spain/2015-Toledo-Spain/
     
  20. tom911
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    Bright sun in Berlin today - polo shirt was just fine. Just back from the east side gallery which has sections of The Wall painted by street artists. Actually thought some of the artwork on a nearby building was a bit more creative. Have photos from both locations. Will try to get the next segment up late tonight or tomorrow night from Madrid when I relocate. Have uploaded all the photos but need to label some of them and write some text.
     
  21. tom911
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    Hello this early Tuesday morning from Berlin. Heading back to Madrid later today on another cheap flight, this one with Air Berlin for $69 (about 64 euros but I was billed in dollars). Flight time is 3 hours. Some amazing prices on the low cost carriers in Europe (they’d even be less if I didn’t have to pay additional for a checked bag in the final price, usually about $20 of the final cost).

    SATURDAY

    Checked out of the Holiday Inn Piramides at 0545, purchased a train ticket for the 0605 RENFE train to the Madrid Airport, and arrived after 35 minutes. Not a big demand for travel on the first train of the day.

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    Made my way to the Iberia Express check-in counters and checked myself in by kiosk and printed a luggage tag. Off to a different area to leave my bag. Scheduled departure was 0835.

    Wasn’t sure I’d get lounge access with the discount arm of Iberia but they let me in. Agent even noticed my AA number had dropped off my booking and reentered it, assuring me priority boarding instead of group 3. Enjoyed some breakfast before departure.

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    Travel time gate to gate was just under 3 hours. These is little legroom on these flights and I’m wondering if Iberia Express has replaced Vueling on this A320 route, who was associated with Iberia when I used them to Lisbon in 2013, as the configuration looks very similar. Was happy to have an empty middle seat next to my window seat, but the poor guy in the aisle seat who was taller than me had his knees forced into the seat in front of him. If the passenger in front decided to recline, he’d suffer serious kneecap injuries. My only loss on this flight was the inability to use my 11 inch chromebook-- not enough room between me and the seatback in front of me to open it. It was that tight. Everything cost extra on this flight so no free drinks or food. For 61 euros/$66, though, for a 3 hour flight, it’s a concession I’ll probably make again. We don’t see this type of fare for 3 hour flights in the U.S.

    Safely arrived at Berlin Tegel Airport around 1130 (is the new airport in Berlin ever going to open?) and made my way by airport TXL bus to Berlin Hauptbahnhof station. Walked into the train station and took the U55 train two stops to Brandenburg Gate, all covered on my one-way ticket of less than $3. The Spree River runs right by the train station.

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  22. tom911
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    [​IMG]

    Walked over to Potsdamerplatz, about 10-15 mins away, where the Grand Hyatt is located. Passed the U.S. Embassy on the way, always with a police presence outside:

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    My room was not ready yet (just after 1300), but I was escorted to the lounge where I had a Coca Cola light and worked on my Toledo segment. An agent came up to the 7th floor and gave me the key about 30 mins later. I’m here on an award stay so no cost to me. Regular rate was 199 euros (about $216) a night plus 5% city tax.

    I’ll just post three photos here and the rest will be in the Grand Hyatt Berlin gallery here:
    http://tom911.smugmug.com/Hotels/Hyatt-Hotels/2015-Grand-Hyatt-Berlin/

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  23. tom911
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    View from my room (Berlin Philharmonic on right in the mustard colored building):

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    Hung around the hotel until the evening social hour where they had 6 types of wine, beer and soft drinks/juices, along with an assortment of jars of food (cheese, potato salad and shrimp tonight) as well as small desserts. No need for dinner after grazing here. This is one of my Hyatt benefits. I really enjoyed the Reisling Brut:

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    Across the street from the hotel is a theatre and it adjoins a casino.

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    I did go out at 1900 for a walking tour west of the hotel which includes a canal, embassies and Tiergarten, a large park that runs through the center of Berlin. One of many cars I’d like to own in Berlin:

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  24. tom911
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    Austrian Embassy:

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    The Turkish Embassy has metal barricades pushed to the side and a police presence, the only one I saw like that. At least the U.S. Embassy didn’t have barricades out.

    Back to Potsdamerplatz where I walked through the Sony Center which has restaurants, cinemas and lot of office space.

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    Potsdamerplatz at night:

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  25. tom911
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    Billboard across the street near a new shopping mall:

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    You’ll also notice the double brick pattern in this part of the city to designate where the Berlin Wall used to be. The whole area around Potsdamerplatz was right along the wall.

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    My ride has arrived:

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    Called it a night around 2200.

    SATURDAY

    Enjoyed hotel breakfast in the lounge.

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    No real plans for this trip, so started walking along the canal behind the hotel in the opposite direction to Kreuzberg with the intent to get over to the west side of Berlin by train at some point. Saw the Technikmuseum, which I’ve noticed on the U-Bahn train line that goes right by it, and decided to check it out. Entry was 8 euros ($8.50). Once inside, I realized that I underestimated the time it would take the view everything here, and bailed after 2.5 hours.

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