The plan was to get moving by 10:45 to get the train to the Royal Seat of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. It was an hour or so away on a train. Well, 11:00 rolled around and not a creature was stirring. This seemed sort of like college. Oh, right. I was staying in the apartment of three college juniors. When in Rome, do as the Romans, I always say.
At the crack of noon the four of us set out to hail a cab to the train station. “Hey, does anyone know how to say ‘take me to the train station?’” asked my cousin, who had been here in Madrid for four months. “Holy crap!” I thought, starting to fumble for my phrase book, though I probably could have come up with estación de tren if I’d just paused to think. No English was necessary. It turned out that the cab driver knew what a “train station” was. I was starting to learn that it is pretty easy to travel in Spain without Spanish. With apologies to Steve Martin, Spanish people have a different word for almost everything, yet most of them the common decency to speak English.
Our cab ride cost twice what we expected because lots of streets were blocked due to some national holiday. Since said holiday canceled Jen’s classes, I wasn’t too upset about it. We got to el estación de tren with less than ten minutes to spare. The next order of business was to purchase tickets. We finally found a place where tickets were being sold, but this was apparently the wrong train line. The ticket guy gesticulated and used the word izquierda, which I was pleased to recognize as meaning “left.” We ran off in the direction he indicated. I kept looking for the appropriate place to turn left. Someone else found our trains and a bank of machines that appeared to be vending tickets. We managed to purchase tickets (the machine offered instructions in English), and boarded our train with minutes to spare.
As the train started moving, Jen noticed that the first stop was Sol, a station just a couple blocks from her house. When she had researched what train to take she had not noticed that the train also stopped at Sol, or, more likely, the train we missed by oversleeping was an express that did not stop at Sol. Had I chosen the train, I might have been embarrassed or felt silly. Jen, however, just reminded us all that on our return we might be able to catch a train that would stop at Sol. There was no crying. No milk was spilt. I was learning that my wizened cousin–less than half my age–had a lot to teach me about travel.
When we arrived at our destination, it was time to figure out how to get to this palace that we had come to see. There was a bus that said S. L. Escorial. Jen suggested that we get on that bus. “Do you want to, like, ask whether it’s going to the palace?” I asked, trying not to sound concerned.
“No, if it doesn’t go the right place we’ll just get on another bus,” she said with a matter-of-factness that exuded utter calmness.
This was in stark contrast to another European Vacation I took in which every decision seemed life or death. “If it goes the wrong place, we’ll just get on another bus.” I was starting to think that I might need to revise my notion that choosing the wrong bus would result in starvation and imprisonment.
We got on the bus. A few minutes later, it stopped and everyone got off. With my new-found travel skills, I discerned that it would probably be a good place to get off. We were just a short walk from the palace thing. Not a prison in sight.
The palace thing was pretty cool. There were all of these displays that showed how they built in and stuff. Sadly, they wouldn’t let us take any pictures. I think it was because they didn’t want us to build one too. Here we are at the palace thing.
We walked back to the bus station, got back on the bus, and ended up back at the train station. We checked the schedule, found a train that would stop at Sol, and then looked for something to eat. We found The Hippo where we ordered drinks and some sandwiches to go. We got back to the train in plenty of time and enjoyed the tasty snacks on the way back to Madrid, where we got of at Sol.