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Sunday, February 15, 2004

Public Transportation to the Rescue

There is a big contemporary art show going on in Madrid which is very bad news for an American who did't think to make a hotel reservation for Saturday night. No problem. I threw on my trusty North Face pack, jumped on the metro, and headed to the train station. I figured I would just take the train to Segovia or Toledo and get a room there for the night and return to Madrid the next day. This is Saint Valentine weekend and everybody and their sister decided to take the train for Segovia or Toledo which is very bad news for an American who didn't bother to make a hotel reservation for Saturday night.

I am always impressed about how well European cities hook up their public transport systems. The Madrid Atocha station is truly a marvel. There is a new terminal at the station which is wired directly into the metro system. All of the local trains (cercanias) are right off the metro stop. I bought tickets for Toledo, a one hour and fifteen minute train ride ($8 round trip). The train was completely full on this early Saturday morning. The track is closed in Toledo for repairs so we had to take a bus the last few miles.

I asked at the first hotel outside the station for a room and the woman told me that it would probably be a problem getting a room in Toledo. Not what I wanted to hear. It was now noon and there were only two returning trains: one at 1600 and another at 1800. We ditched our bags in a locker at the station and climbed up the hill to the historic section of Toledo to look for a room in earnest. I wasn't too stressed about the room thing--it isn't like I haven't slept in a train station before. Besides, it was a beautiful day and Toledo is an amazing city.

We walked across the Puente Alcántaro and through the Moorish gate into the city. In the second hotel I went to I asked the guy for a room for two. He said he didn't have a double. I said I was desperate and would take anything. The guy was apologizing to me about the room as he opened the door. I don't know what he was talking about because the room was beautiful and the hotel was in the heart of town. I would have taken a mop closet at this point.

Toledo was definitely worth the trip and now I'm very glad to have been forced to leave Madrid for the night. Its streets are incredibly narrow and a historic wonder is around each corner. The city is built on the shoulders of several civilizations including the Romans, the early Spanish, the Moors, the reconquering Spanish, and the present occupants.

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