I'd checked on train tickets from Seville to Madrid and saw the number 74. Assuming it meant 74 euros total for 3 travelers (since that's the way Alsa's website works), I thought it was a done deal. But nay, Renfe shows you prices per individual ticket rather than the total. So booking passage to Madrid became a little more difficult.
Instead of a 4 hour, 200 euro/passenger train ride, we opted to spend half that for a 7 hour bus ride (via carrier Socibus). Mr. Go likes buses better anyway, something about a better scenic view than trains. Given my tendency toward motion sickness, I was not looking forward to it.
We downloaded shows on our phones to keep Babs entertained, made sure we had puke bags handy and set off.
ProTip: Much of the time, bus routes, especially between smaller destinations, are not listed online. Save grief and money by going to the bus station beforehand to scope out the destinations and timetables.
I stocked up on some snacks prior, because I had no idea how many times the bus was going to stop. I'm glad I did. We had one 15-minute stop about halfway through the trip, at a roadside gas station.
Babs felt sick for a little while, so I held her head over the plastic bag. Luckily no vomit, but she fell asleep with her forehead sagging against my palm.
She'd been snoozing on my lap for about 10 minutes when our bus was stopped and searched by the Guardia Civil. I knew I was completely innocent, but my heart started thumping anyway when the golden retriever came on board to sniff everyone. Two passengers had to deboard for a search. After a quick search of the luggage under the bus, we were released.
We stopped in Madrid, just a few kilometers from our airport destination, so the bus could top off on some oil, I think. A Spanish girl translated for us, but we were not convinced she knew what she was talking about. We loitered in the bus station for 20 minutes until the bus returned and brought us to the airport, where we called the SHS Hotel Aeropuerto shuttle.
We'd been using Airbnb this whole time. This was our first actual hotel since the States. Aside from the outrageous restaurant prices, it was lovely. Crisp sheets, an unending flow of hot water and good wifi.
Madrid has great public transportation, and between the hotel shuttle, the train and the green bus (with a stop directly outside our hotel), we were able to make the 7km jaunt from our hotel to city center for the next two days.
Madrid felt like New York City to me. As we were making our way to the Puerta del Sol to check it out, I looked down the major pedestrian streets to find a sea of people. It made me shudder. We didn't spend much time there.
Instead we walked through El Retiro, one of the city's big parks. Mr. Go wanted to take a boat on the lake, but when we reached it we realized the lake was no more than a large pool. So we walked around it, then headed off for sushi.
Sibuya Urban Sushi Bar was phenomenal. As a large city with something for everyone, we found plenty of gluten-free options. Celioso was an exclusive gluten-free bakery with cupcakes, cakes, breads and cookies. Not all-star caliber, but we were tickled to sit down for coffee and cake just like Spaniards.
The next day, we managed to slip in just ahead of the lunch rush at the #1 rated restaurant in Madrid Los Montes de Galicia. With entrees starting at 20 euros, it was one of the pricier meals, but still cheaper than some mediocre meals in Denver, plus it was absolutely delicious. They served us two free tapas plates, plus a free dessert for Babs, who, as per usual, charmed all the wait staff.
We were so clever to book our flight to Spain in the evening, so our bodies could sleep on the long 9-hour leg. For some reason we neglected to do the same on the return journey. Our flight back to the states left at 8am (via Wow & Norwegian Air) which meant taking the airport shuttle at 5am.
With the sunlight streaming in through the plane windows, it was nearly impossible for Babs to snooze. We cajoled her into a 20-minute nap but for the remaining 8 hours and 40 minutes, she was wide awake.
We watched a movie, we listened to a book, we had snacks out of my backpack, she colored a little, took seventeen trips to the bathroom. She was a wreck by the end, tired but wired from a day of inactivity.
We landed in Chicago at 3pm, (10pm Spanish time). Then we proceeded to stand in the customs line for an hour. Due to the government shutdown, there were very few staff working and it was chaos. Finally we got our bag, got our rental car and drove an hour and a half to a Motel 6 in Saukville, WI.
It was 6:30pm (1:30am Spanish time) so we picked up a pizza from the Domino's next to the hotel. Babs couldn't stay awake long enough to eat it, so we saved her slice for her breakfast. (At 2am when we all woke up.)
At a 24-hour Subway we realized we could have basically an omelet by piling veggies on their egg patties. We puttered around at 24-hour Walmarts and Meijer (Babs needed snowboots) until it was time to return the car to the Green Bay airport and meet my in-laws, who would deliver us home.
The feeling of walking into my house was beyond lovely. I thought my house was small before, but after living in European apartments for months, our place seemed enormous. It was clean and spacious and smelled like home.
Not even the 2 feet of icy snow could spoil my happiness at being home. Re-integrating into U.S. society was easy. I appreciate the dependability so much more. And the ease of everything! To be able to call or go somewhere and explain what I need and to understand instructions.
I feel like I'm still processing everything. The ways in which we stretched the limits of our capabilities will have lasting effects in every area of our lives. The experiences and lessons we learned will continue to affect us as we reintegrate ourselves into our lives, as does any stint of extended travel.
We've already had a few conversations about what adventures 2019 will bring us, but for right now, we are thoroughly enjoying home.