30.05.2014 - 02.06.2014 24 °C
Monday 2nd June: Coach 2, ALTARIA train, Chamartin- Madrid-Murcia
(Completed at Bag End, Friday 6th June)
Speeding through the green Castilla-La Mancha countryside on the “we no longer serve lunch” train to Murcia. Another word in favour of Chamartin station vs Atocha: recommended as THE civilised station of Madrid, but set in the Northern part of the city rather than Atocha which is in the centre. They have refurbished the “Sala” available to all travelling Preferente class, here, to its detriment, of course. But it’s still a welcome oasis of peace and free drinkies away from the bustle of the station. A nice station that still feels like a station.
Meanwhile, here´s a song that followed us around. If the video is too sugary for you, just listen to the music!
(Click on box, bottom right for fullscreen - we enjoyed it anyway - press ESC key to come back here!)
Back in San Diego, Friday morning, for $10 each we could upgrade the “Continental Breakfast” coupons Bob got for his card (OK, OK, more on the Gold card later!) for the full Hilton buffet breakfast, which was well worth it. A splendid selection including omelettes/eggs cooked to order. (“Two eggs, over-medium, please” Easy can be a bit too runny…). Bob had a good chat (in Castilian) with the chef who was Mexican but who had a Spanish girlfriend; so he was learning Castilian!
No rush this morning so a gentle pack and then a call to the Valet to get our “Benz” out, as they call it, ready for our departure. Everyone is interested in the fact we live in Spain and want to know about Bag End etc. The Valet said he would be visiting us in about a month!
We drove over the spectacular Coronado bridge to the island, location now for many million dollar+++ properties and the famed Coronado hotel, home, in its time, to presidents and Marilyn Monroe etc. Of course, it had all changed. When we were there last the island was home to the hotel, the Navy base, and a few officers’ homes. Now it’s the Sandbanks x 10, of San Diego.
Spotted: Placn landing at San Diego aiport. It was placed by a TV programme amongst the 10 most dangerous airports in the world. It is difficult as it is right in the city centre, which has grown up around it
We spotted a Uranus (cf Camposol)
and a Jupiter
We parked by the ocean and up pulled a bus full of young, muscular men, who politely filed past us ("Good Morrning Surr") and onto the beach. They were trainee Marines from the nearby base, but we could not work out why they were going onto the beach (sandcastle building contest?).
A navy plane, we thought, flew over but I have just spotted it seemed to be wearing a Japanese livery?
We did a “drive through” at the Coronado Hotel. Still much the same, except they have built a large block next to the old hotel. John had checked the rates here, but they were prohibitive (no Hilton Gold Cards accepted) and it would certainly have been pretty galling to book an expensive room here, only to end up in the modern block. On our last visit in 1983, we had tea in the lounge, and very civilised it was too.
Back over Coronado Bridge, providing a great view of the docks
We then joined the mayhem on the Freeway towards Los Angeles. On quieter freeways, people tend to keep in the right-hand lane. But here, it’s everyone for themselves and people stick in the lane they fancy, at whatever speed (usually at least 10 over the speed limit). So most people are swinging from lane to lane, to pass slower traffic, at 75-80mph.
As a motorbiker sped past us, following the dividing line between the outside and “middle” lanes, John remarked how dangerous that was. The guy was dressed in military fatigues so was probably a serviceman. Only a couple of minutes later, the traffic slowed down, eventually to a halt. And we then crawled past a motorbike in the road, on its side. Bob spotted that the rider was sitting up and someone was talking to him. It can have only just happened and was most upsetting. John felt somewhat guilty for predicting the almost inevitable outcome. You see very few bikes on these roads, and now we know why!
Loren, our trusty TomTom lady, was suffering from a form of laryngitis which had completely silenced her, for some reason, and we had to revert to the default posh English woman who diverted us onto the California version of the AP7 (the empty toll road near us in Spain). This was almost as empty and it was a pleasure to drive on it, compared to the earlier mayhem and chaos. However, it was not possible to pay the toll (no toll booths, only cameras). This had to be done online. We did this later but were not convinced it had gone through. As we have not received our final Hertz invoice, we are biting our nails that they may have surcharged us, as is their wont. (Things got worse with Hertz - see below).
We pulled off the “AP7” at very well-heeled Newport Beach to visit a very serene and posh “Ralphs” supermarket for Stan to do his final bit of shopping. Non-stick cooking spray. Cake mixes etc etc. We would like to shop there every week but our shopping bill would skyrocket enormously given the huge range of stuff you can get in any American supermarket.
TomTom “Serena” then took us back, not to the “AP7” but to the freeway on to Long Beach and “LAX”. As every mile passed the traffic got more frenetic and the road got wider and wider, merging with other freeways, then dividing again.
At one stage, it got so bad that Arthur had to take over the driving.
It was a pleasure to be spat out on to Sepulveda Blvd with its traffic lights and comparative order. We were soon pulling into the “porte cochere” of the Hilton, Los Angeles airport. We were led to believe that this was a hotel fading from its previous glory and the low rate we got seemed to confirm this. But it all seemed pretty impressive to us. A busy, very large, airport hotel with lots going on. Check-in was friendly and efficient but, given that it was only 1pm, it was not surprising that our allocated room was not ready. We could have another (no airport view) or go and wait in the “Executive” lounge where the attendant would keep us informed and give us our key.
We were admitted into the empty and very impressive 19th floor lounge by an elderly and somewhat regal member of staff and were gob smacked (again!) by the stunning view of the airport runway and taxi lanes etc etc. A plane-spotter’s dream of the damp variety.
We just settled down with a cold drink and bowl of nuts (“may contain nuts”), only to be told by the regal attendant that our room was ready. “I have upgraded you”. He must have taken pity on his almost-as- regal old guests, who probably all bat for the same side.
John went along to the room to check the view. And upgrade us he certainly had. A massive suite with a great view of the airport. A double dream for any plane-spotter worth his pencil. Bob’s Gold card magic continues to work for us!
Bob had to do a complete re-pack so the suite was soon filled with all of our rubbish. We managed to throw away a sack full of stuff gathered during our long journey, from bottles of shampoo, bottles of water (at every Hilton hotel, we are given 2xbottles of water, courtesy of… you guessed it, Bob’s Gold card, so we had built up quite a stock), Bob’s old shoes…..
We then tried to time our trip out for a final visit to the Denny’s in Culver City to get back in time to watch our final episode of Jeopardy where some woman from Chicago had amassed nearly $½million and had been on the show a record 20 appearances. Oddly for an American quiz show, the questions are quite erudite and beyond us, let alone the vast majority of Americans, we would guess.
At Denny’s (“we always sit here, don’t we Don!”) Bob had the Santa Fe Skillet, with avocado and chillies
And John the “Healthy Option” burger, with chicken patty, Swiss cheese, with a side of fruit(!!).
But we had forgotten about refuelling the car. We should have filled the very, very large tank in Newport Beach where it would have been considerably cheaper than the $4.10 per gallon it was in Los Angeles city. The fuel gauge was on ‘E’, Serena was taking us on a busy route in what appeared to be the wrong direction, we were late for Jeopardy, we were in an area devoid of gas stations….. things were getting fraught.
We eventually pulled up to a distressed-looking gas station in a poor area, where the pumps’ credit card slots were taped over with the message “Please leave credit card in side”, dodgy! Anyway, we started pumping gas, and it seemed it would never stop. Ouch, that was costly. The nice (Asian) Indian in the office, who knew Southall, was most helpful but had no idea where LAX airport was.
But we did make it safely back, just in time for Miss Smug-features to win Jeopardy yet again.
Our car was due to be returned to the LAX depot but the hotel also had a Hertz desk so the Valet suggested we return it there and get the courtesy bus to the airport. From Hertz, we would have had to get a courtesy bus anyway, so it made sense. So, in the morning, we dropped the Hertz ticket and Valet ticket into the box and fingers crossed we won’t get surcharged either for the toll or for returning to a different depot (we had cleared it with Hertz on the phone, we think!) But, oh dear...... see below.
It certainly was the easiest option and we were checked in and ready for security without any hassle. Then John spotted “TSA Pre-check” had disappeared from his boarding card, whilst Bob’s still had it. Suffice to say, Bob was through security in 5 seconds, whilst John’s line took over 20 minutes. No one seemed to know why this privilege had been removed (Bad behaviour? Losing cool with TomTom? Missing a couple of Jeopardies?)… Herumph. Bad use of resources: one line & one machine for one third of the people with Precheck and one line and one machine for the two thirds without. And, of course, the two thirds without also takes longer as shoes, belts and coats have to be removed…..
The Hilton, LAX, from our plane:-
Our flight from Los Angeles to Dallas-Fort Worth was a very short 2 hours 30 minutes, when we were served a pretty nice breakfast.
John´s bacon & mushroom quiche, very nice..
Bob´s "Breakfast Skillet", pretty good too:-
Great to see the California desert and Salton Sea, which we went to last trip:
And just amazing to see how man conquers desert, from the air:
We then got the train the wrong way round the various terminals at DFW (deliberately) and were surprised how big it was. We eventually got into the busy lounge at Terminal D, and were soon in a “conversation” with a deaf and slightly disabled guy who was off to Buenos Aires for a spot of fishing (for “Golden Dorada”) and his many girlfriends. (Or was it that he was fishing for girlfriends and had ordered the Golden Dorada for dinner on his flight?) It was a long walk to the bar at the other end of the lounge so John made the journey twice to keep him topped up with beer. Anyway, it passed the time before we were due to board our 777 to Madrid.
Now, it’s a shame our plane had been changed to the 3-class 777. It’s usually a two-class 767 and business class service is actually officially better than on 3-class planes. It’s a bit odd but you can certainly tell the difference.
Bob was convinced it was Arantxa Sánchez Vicario, the tennis player, across the aisle from him. But we don´t think it was..
We know it must sounds a terrible hardship but you will see the difference in the way the meals are presented. On the flight coming out (2-cl ass 767) , they are nicely plated up by the crew. On the 777 there are in the bowl they were heated in and the FA simply whips the foil off and puts it in front of you. The meals were certainly nowhere near as appetising. Hey-ho, the woes of the weary and somewhat spoilt travellers!
However, the starter was pretty nice, melon & mozzarella balls with air-dried ham
John had chosen the “Sautéed Chicken: accompanied by ratatouille sauce, bacon mashed potatoes and baby vegetables”. Sounded better than it was and looked. Though the chicken was very succulent and tender
A better choice seemed to be Bob’s “Pan-seared Halibut: with truffled corn salsa, truffled sweet potato puree, haricots verts, tomato and red onion”. A bit heavy on the truffles, though!
The best part of the meal was the Ben & Jerry’s “Traditional Ice Cream Sundae” with choice of toppings. OR gourmet cheese plate, offered as an alternative here, but on the way out, had been given as another course.
We definitely noticed the difference in service on this flight compared to the one out from Madrid to Miami. All supposed to be the same class, of course.
John managed to get some shuteye and was rather surprised when Bob was shaking him to wake him up for breakfast. Uggh! Anyway, that was quite appetising with some delicious fresh fruit, yoghurt and muffin or biscuit (no gravy, to Arthur’s disgust).
Before we knew it, through sleepy, bleary eyes, we were glimpsing the still-snowcapped mountains of Cantabria and gliding down to a slightly bumpy landing at Madrid. Arthur says he should have taken over.
We were through immigration in even less time than last (about 3 seconds) and our bags were almost the first on to the carousel, so we were soon waiting outside, impatiently, for the courtesy bus to the hotel. "5 minutes" she had said when John phoned. That turned into "25 minutes" when John called again, 15 minutes later. But she had meant 12.25, and the bus was there in another couple of minutes. Within a few more minutes we were in our room at the Hilton eyeing up the gorgeous looking beds.
After a couple of hours sleep we did not feel much better so our planned excursion into Madrid on the Metro was postponed and we spent a pleasant couple of hours watching Sunday afternoon (and evening) BBC. For food, a few snacks in the "Executive" lounge were more than sufficient.
Taxi to Chamartin (an easy 15 minutes, or less) and into the reformed lounge there where we learned of the abdication of King Juan Carlos.
Then an easy ride in the elevator down to the platform for the 12.34 to Murcia. No lunch, of course (the ending of these meals really has detracted from these train journeys. The food available in the buffet car was pretty poor). Boo-hoo.
Jean and Vivienne were gleaming on the platform waiting to escort us home and all was well there, with cat Sofi wailing for attention as soon as we got in.
Thank you all (friends, neighbours) for looking after everything whilst we were away and Bloggers, for all of your support. We are planning the next trip.... watch this space!
The only fly in the ointment? Hertz at the Hilton in LAX. It emerged that they had not acknowledged receipt of the car. As far as they were concerned, we still had it. It was a sleepless night Tuesday wondering how we were going to pay for a big Mercedes-Benz 4x4! The car was still in the valet car park but Hertz had not collected it. John had spent the evening on the phone trying to sort it out, with little result, it seemed. However we "awoke" next day to an Email from Hertz with the final invoice. They had added 3 days rental for late return. That is now being argued in the Supreme Court (well, not quite), but we are confident we will get that back!.
Thank you all again, and see you soon. Just Drive!
Just a couple of Postcripts: that Hilton Gold card was originally obtained for free when we signed up to join a now defunct "Hilton F1" club, which was also free. They last 2 years which mean the Gold status always runs out just before we travel. On the last two occasions, begging has obtained the necessary extension of Gold status. This time, that failed to work. However by joining the advanced status on some frequent traveller web site for around $46, we got Gold status again for this trip. Unfortunately that offer is no longer available so we will be looking for another way of getting this for 2016 (possibly!).
I know that in all the excitement of doing the Blog, we did not make it clear what our overall route was. So here are the maps. Just in case you may be interested....
Los Angeles start, Great Falls Montana finish (Highway 395)
Chicago Start, Minneapolis finish (Great River Road)
Tuscon start, Los Angeles finish (Tucson to Los Angeles, via San Diego)
And a map to put those "start and finish" points into perspective.
After those 4,000 or so miles we have driven together, we´ll leave you in peace now! Thank you....