Day 18 – a day in Madrid, then a long journey to the south coast

Madrid – Antequera Santa Ana – Algeciras

Oddly I’ve not been to Madrid before. With only limited time available, as ever on this trip, the idea was to spend until mid-afternoon exploring then jump on an express service at 4pm directly to Algeciras, which is the station closest to Gibraltar.

RENFE require you to book reservations in person so I was up and out before 8am. Unfortunately the direct train I wanted was fully booked, so I had to take a later service, which meant getting onto the Malaga service and changing in the middle of nowhere, before an almost midnight arrival. Not ideal, but it would get me to where I needed to be.

I took the opportunity to look at the old station, which is unofficially known as the tropical garden, for obvious reasons.

The "tropical garden" at Madrid Puerta De Atocha
The old station at Madrid Puerta De Atocha

I then headed into the city, pointing myself to the central area to find some breakfast. It was perhaps inevitable that having picked the first vaguely reasonable looking street cafe, where the food turned out to be decidedly uninspiring, I’d not been back on the move for 2 minutes when I found the food market. What a stunning place, the sights, colours, smells were incredible. I was in Madrid for most of the day, so I could always call back (which I did.)

It was a shame that the central square and indeed a number of other streets were being repaved, but I’m sure it will look wonderful when it’s done. The architecture throughout the city is so distinctively Spanish, not just the overall style, but they detail their buildings in a way you just don’t see elsewhere.

In the middle of the day I headed towards the park and the Crystal Palace, which I’d seen mentioned on all the tourism pages I’d looked at before I got here. What I found wasn’t quite what I was expecting from that phrase, but it was pleasant enough. I also enjoyed the violin and bassoon busking duo, which was a new combination to me.

After a while it was time to go back to the market for lunch. These wraps were like an elongated muffin, very soft and light. The fillings I chose were spicy lamb meatballs with sweet potato mash and herbs in one, and mini chorizo sausages with sliced red peppers and a herby tomato sauce in the other, the centre images on this photo. Very tasty.

After picking up my bags I headed for the station. I was in first class again, but unlike yesterday there was no free food and drink on offer. I guess that only happens on the competitive routes like Barcelona-Madrid.

The scenery across the middle part of the country is similar throughout. I’m not quite sure what the crop is from all these trees, oranges maybe?

Antequera Santa Ana is an important crossing point for the various high and low speed lines in the south of the country, so quite a lot of people got on and off my train here but there was nothing in the station itself barring lots of seats. The vending machine was well used by those with longish waits, as I had. Outside the station there is nothing at all. The town of Antequera is 20km away, and is the nearest place of any size.

An odd detail about this place is that it is one of the few places where the high speed standard gauge (4’8½) Iberian gauge, (5’6″) lines meet. If I’d made the earlier train I would have gone through the “gauge change shed” (see this ADIF video) but unfortunately that didn’t happen.

By the time my train arrived the sun was setting. By the time it left it was pitch dark. For some reason we sat waiting to depart for over half an hour. Time we didn’t make up on the very winding route to Algeciras.

It was just after midnight when I stepped off the train at the most southerly station in Europe. A few photos were taken to mark the occasion, before heading across the road to my hotel.

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  1. Celia Lyon

    Food ok fab in Madrid. Another place ti add to my list.

    Glad to see the maps. I see you went through Ronda on the second leg of your trip south. Shame this would have been after dark, it truly is a stunning setting.

  2. Celia Lyon

    Meant to read food looks fab 😉

  3. I came through Ronda in the daytime on the way back, so expect a mention 🙂

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