LA to Madrid via Moscow

This post is going back in time a bit. It’s about our arrival in Madrid via Moscow. yes, Moscow… do you already see the punch line?

Seriously, besides the novelty, a landing cam? I guess it’s neat to know that when the gear fails, and the cam squishes into the pavement, we know we are f&@ked.

Seriously, besides the novelty, a landing cam? I guess it’s neat to know that when the gear fails, and the cam squishes into the pavement, we know we are f&@ked.

In an effort to go to Font again, we had to find a cheaper way to make things work out. We found it by first flying to Madrid and then renting the car there too. Spain right now is very cheap, primarily because their economy is suffering along with high unemployment. This makes a car rental only $9/day compared to about $23/day in France through Kemwel, and it helps out Spain by dumping some tourist dollars their way (some $$ but not a lot because we are on a tight budget). The rental itself was over $1300 less if we rented in Spain. This was good, but not ideal. The next issue was the flight. We waited until about a month before leaving, before buying them, and Aeroflot, a Russian company, remained the only option we found that was very cheap. Our flights ended up costing $690 each. That was over $200 less per person than flying to France. Of course we end up in Madrid, not Paris. This wasn’t a problem as we really wanted to visit Albarracin, see Madrid, or whatever airport city we ended up with in Spain, and it allowed us to stop by and visit an old friend who lives in the middle of nowhere, in southern France. Literally, there are 4 houses in his “community,” but he lives next to a stellar set of established route crags near Saint Antonin de Noble Val; I don’t remember the gorge name that the limestone walls line.

sochi everywhere

sochi everywhere

...and some.

…and some.

We didn’t think flying to Madrid via Russia would be too big of a deal considering the cost savings, though it did add a few hours to the trip, approximately 19+ hours compared to a nonstop to Paris (not likely with cheap flights), or even a connection through London to Paris as we did last time. The exact flight/layover times for the trip are 12:20 hours to Moscow, 4:25 layover, 5:25 hours to Madrid. This of course didn’t include the time spent in LAX, or the epic of getting nearly 80 lbs of stuff through 3 metro transfers to the “Hostal Rayuela” in downtown Madrid from Terminal 1 in Madrid’s airport. I don’t mind admitting our mistakes, and there were a few. First, we flew out of LA on February 13, 2014, and something called the Olympics was going on in Russia. I just didn’t connect the dots as the Olympics are in Sochi, and we fly through, just through, Moscow International. Also, we don’t watch TV, so the Olympics aren’t on our radar one month out, climbing is. But I should have known, having read a fair amount on Chechnya and Russia’s experiment in Afghansistan when the CIA waged a counterinsurgency war supporting the Mujahhadin  (I think the Russians would call that a terrorist action from their POV, just saying… perspective is a tricky thing; not that the Russians had any interest in preserving the broader Afghani cultures, though they were pro-women, etc, etc).

Trader Joe's to the rescue; backup nutrition...

Trader Joe’s to the rescue; backup nutrition…

This is what Aeroflot called a salad. :/

This is what Aeroflot called a salad. :/  Maybe in Russia “salad” means multiple kinds of meat garnished with a piece of lettuce and a single olive? 😉

BTW, the Moscow airport doesn’t seem to have water fountains. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or bad as we really don’t know the airport water health condition. The airport does have free internet, at least the terminal we were at, Terminal 4??

But back to the Olympics. Turns out that due to the “elevated terrorist threat” associated with the Sochi Olympics, absolutely zero ounces of any kind of liquid, gels, powders, blahblahblah would be allowed in carry-ons. At the gate the airport authorities examined each and every nook and cranny of every single item of carry-on luggage (which for each of us, included a regulation duffel and backpack with camera gear and laptops–all our expensive possessions stay with us on the flight, expendables go with the checked luggage). They also wiped our carry-ons, and even our hands (!), with their special little cloth pieces and scanned them in their machine. As a result of this inspection and the zero-tolerance liquid/gel/etc. policy, our precious little jar of Joshua Tree Climbing Salve (pretty much irreplaceable in Europe) was confiscated and thrown away. 😦 Ugh. Last time we fly through a country that is hosting the Olympics.

The next possible mistake was arriving in Madrid on a Friday night, and not just any Friday night, Valentine’s Day Friday night (I assume this is a double mistake as the Spaniards really enjoy their night life, and they specifically enjoy dinner later than the French. Suffice it to say, the metro (and the streets) were still quite crowded after midnight. We wanted to save on the rental (and parking costs) by not having a car until we were ready to leave Madrid, especially because we would be staying right downtown in the center of everything—between the Malasaña and Chueca barrios, parking is expensive and hard-to-find, and the metro is cheap and goes everywhere. Anyway, Parisians are mildly amused at two Americans with giant crash pads, backpacks, and duffels, but the Spaniards were enthralled, or mesmerized or aghast! Who knows. They stared intently.

By the time we got our gear organized for walking through the metro, which is by the way excellent, (or maybe that’s just normal as in the OC, we haven’t any, none, nada, but we have cars, lots of cars, and big ones that still can’t be parked well even with the largest parking spacing in the civilized world! Sorry for the tangent…) we had to walk, partially assisted with horizontal escalators about .75 kilometers to the ticket area.

Gear with Jill in the Madrid subway system

Gear with Jill in the Madrid subway system

Gear with me, not looking happy.

Gear with me, not looking happy; nice metro stop.

It took us over 1 hour to reach the hostel through 3 metro transfers from 12:30 to after 1:30am…after landing at about 11pm. which means we had to walk to each stop. This isn’t a big deal, really, it’s actually good to walk, better than sitting in a car and getting fat like most American do, but occasionally there aren’t any escalators and staring at a bunch of stairs loaded to the gills with nearly 80 lbs can be demoralizing, just a bit. Some of the trains we just missed were so crowded, they reminded me of rush hour in Osaka, well not quite that bad, but close. There wouldn’t be a chance in hell that we’d get on those trains, so we waited for the next one, positioning ourselves along the plank for the least busiest areas, and not for convenience either, we wanted to sleep! Truth was it wasn’t that bad and before we knew it we were at the front door to the hostel, 4 flights up after getting rung into the building. We tried to use the elevator on one go, but couldn’t fit all of our gear and ourselves. Jill took the first one since she spoke some spanish, and I followed on the next.

In the room, yay! …and we couldn’t sleep hardly at all! Jill fared better than me, but I’ve always had a hard time sleeping, regardless. I finally tried to sleep at 5am and got maybe 3 hours of pseudo rest. Besides REM sleep, there is NREM, or non-REM sleep, with 3 levels. I felt like I was stuck in level 1, ugh. The next two days we enjoyed the downtown area of Madrid.



Random people behind wall, BIG palace (not in picture, trust me... Palacio Real).

Random people behind wall, BIG palace (not in picture, trust me… Palacio Real).

Cool music school, I think.

Cool music school, I think.

ok, wtf... it's a pontiac; no matter how long you make it, it's still a pontiac.

ok, wtf… it’s a pontiac; no matter how long you make it, it’s still a pontiac.

Random woman, Jill left of center. Egyptian ruins... Temple of Debod. Free admission.

Random woman, Jill left of center. Egyptian ruins… Temple of Debod. Free admission.

Spanish donut... maybe to compete against the Dunkin donuts at are also in Madrid.

Spanish donut… maybe to compete against the Dunkin donuts that are also in Madrid. Honestly, this donut was very tasty. Chocolate wasn’t scary brown waxy stuff, and insides tasted pretty caky and smooth!

The second morning I felt ill from hardly any sleep for 3 days. I ate marginally which isn’t a good thing since I was in fighting shape for climbing, low body fat! Those two things don’t go well together; nevertheless, we went out to the Moorish quarter next to the major market area on Sunday am, and then headed to Terminal 1 again to pick up our car.

big marketplace, one "leg" of the enormous market seen in photo

big marketplace, one “leg” of the enormous market seen in photo (El Rastro)

this guy was all smiles and then made me feel bad for not forking over change, it worked, I gave him money, then I got an applause. I felt good.

this guy was all smiles and then made me feel bad for not forking over change. It worked, I gave him money, then I got an applause. I felt good.

One of them is real.

One of them is real.

Residential area (Plaza de la Paja) in the Moorish quarter (La Moreria) with political banners visible high up. We also found a good vegetarian restaurant, to the right of photo, where I had some soup.

Residential area (Plaza de la Paja) in the Moorish quarter (La Moreria) with political banners visible high up. We also found a good vegetarian restaurant, to the right of photo, where I had some soup.

Now the fun begins. Our rental through Kemwel we assumed would be an OK thing. Two years ago, we got a lease-buyback through Kemwel and Peugeot OpenEurope and it was excellent. This time we opted for a rental because our car was smaller, our budget tighter, and we relied on our credit card coverage to save on the car insurance… all the while knowing problems can arise from this arrangement. Peogeot OpenEurope made a real difference, including my bumping back into another car while in England. Time will tell… but this time responsibility may end up sitting with Kemwel or Dollar, not sure. 

This time we had to go to the Dollar rental desk to get the car, fine, but Dollar is administered by Hertz for us to get our Kemwel vehicle. See the pending issue? Hertz couldn’t care one bit about us, and it showed. We first got lectured on the rental length since Hertz won’t rent for longer than 89 days… schengen anyone? The Hertz employees claimed it was Spanish law. Right there we had to lose 5 days and the money we paid for the car for those days by signing an agreement just to get the car from Hertz. Where is Dollar in this? There was absolutely no indication anywhere during the reservation process on Kemwel’s website that we could not rent the car for the 94-day period we had reserved (and paid for). Nor did they send us any kind of follow-up email saying “hey, turns out you can’t rent a car for more than 89 days in Spain after all.” No warning whatsoever. Hertz kept insisting that the problem was with Kemwel, so we made a mental note to email Kemwel to ask them to fix it so we could keep the car for the days we had rented it, or at the very least give us a refund for our unused days.

Next we had to give the Hertz guy 2 phone numbers, and he was adamant about it. We had one phone and therefore one number. He got peeved and said he’d write a note that says we “wouldn’t” give him another number. (wait a minute, sir, I’ll go out a buy another phone to make you happy… wtf?) We gave him a number of a mobile phone in the states.  The next problem came when we didn’t get our gps. Kemwel had offered a free gps if we rented by a certain date, but Hertz wouldn’t give us one unless we paid them 140€. In the name of cheap, we opted out. (Truth is this is our fault as we didn’t read the fine print on the GPS rental, which required contacting them seven days before we left to have them mail it to us in the States.) Later on we had realized our mistake as Madrid can make Paris feel like Salt Lake City when it comes to getting around. (If you’ve ever spent any time in SLC, you’d know how logical and well laid out the city is, of course it’s a micro dot compared to Madrid or Paris, but the numbers of the streets tell you exactly where you are or where you’re going… really cool). Madrid had so many one ways, non-linear and simply confusing pathways, and with only our Lonely Planet guidebook maps, it was a farce. We finally made it back to the hostel, parked in the only places that seem to be available, parking garages the size of matchboxes, and retrieved our stuff from the luggage storage at the hostel. Off to Albarracin!

Oh the Spaniards, including a “train” of children, were enthralled with our Flashed Shogun pads filled to the brim, maybe thinking maybe we were mountain climbers! haha… and we’re boulderers!

Thank you google. Leaving town and reaching Albarracin was pretty simple, until we arrived much later than we intended. Albarracin doesn’t really have many street signs. Though the hotel was right on the main path, we missed the sign of the hotel and for the street we couldn’t find, that we were on. It seemed not obvious at night, but in the day it was; we’d driven around town quite a bit until we found our destination: Hotel el Gallo. We marched upstairs and read the note that said we have to call a number to be let in. No big deal. We called the number, but my phone wouldn’t work. I use a Truphone card that cost 11 cent per text and incoming texts are free. This way I don’t have to get a local sim for only a few days in the country. All sounds good, except the phone wouldn’t put the call through. I called Truphone service, and they explained the service I was connected to, Vodaphone ES, was the preferred one, and that the phone shows it’s working correctly. Hmmm. Talk is cheap, but we’re still standing on a stairwell with an iPhone 3gs (two years ago I used a jailbroken iPhone 2g without a problem including using it as a wifi hotspot to get wireless for our laptops with an SFR card). Finally, I asked if they could call the number of the hotel and get the person to come down to let us in. Sounds simple, right? Nope. The Truphone person did their best but couldn’t really make communication as they didn’t speak Spanish (Truphone is a british company with call service in the USA, yet the 2 operators had english accents, weird.) After a 45 minute call, the proprietor of the hotel came in and opened up and all was good. Ugh. To the hotel’s credit, they were so nice and forgiving, and the Truphone support staff was excellent, nothing like the Hertz pricks we dealt with in Madrid.

update: Truphone wants me to help them troubleshoot the problem by my sending some texts then reporting back, but I’m already using an SFR card with text, calling and limited internet. I should help them.

One would think all is well, right? Wrong. For me that is. Remember the fighting shape I was in? Unfortunately, I again didn’t sleep much that night. I rested all night, but slept maybe 2-3 hours. We got up and made the main crag at Albarracin (Arrastradero) by 2pm, climbed until nightfall, and returned and had dinner at the restaurant below Hotel el Gallo. Long story short, we got a great deal on an authentic Italian Pizza—Spanish style and a bottle of Lambrusco free to hotel guests. We’ll talk about that more in a separate post. That night I did sleep slightly better, only slightly. The next morning I had a cold. By the afternoon, I had vomited and felt bad. With limited nutrition, and a propensity to continue vomiting, I decided to stop it in its tracks and took prescription anti-nausea pills. Now I just had a cold and no sleep; we decided to take the day off from climbing, given how we both felt run down in general.

Jill did some research on the internet, and found out that Ondansetron HCL is a seratonin blocker, and nausea, separate from motion sickness, is caused by excess seratonin in the digestive tract. In truth all my pills are past the expiration date as I almost never take them. I have them for going places like the Sinai where medical help isn’t necessarily easily had. No big deal, but… seratonin screws with your sleep patterns, not to mention just about everything else known to human research, it seems. And with low body fat, a cold that needs fats to support the immune system, and Jamón everywhere and no veggies anywhere to find, a seratonin blocker in my system, well, you get the picture. The next 2 days were not fun, and finally I gave in and took 2 benadryl and passed out. I dislike taking meds of any kind. (For the record, motion sickness pills use an antihistamine, but researchers don’t know why it works. Dramamine also has a mild stimulant like caffeine, but not caffeine, to equalize the effects of the drowsiness because histamines are what help the body stay awake. That’s why antihistamines make one feel drowsy.) By Thursday morning, our last full day in Albarracin, I felt good though still with a bit of a cold, and we charged the crag.

Bouldering went well. On to France.

Oh, if you’re curious to know what Moscow looks like?

Exactly, cold and bleak. Sorry Anita, but it fits the stereotype so well!

Exactly, cold and bleak. Sorry Anita, but it fits the stereotype so well!


~ by r. mulligan on 2014/03/06.

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