By Nancy Todd
I flew on a bird . “Ave” in Spanish means bird, and AVE is the name of the fast train I took from Barcelona to Madrid traveling at 186 miles per hour. It felt like flying for 2 1/2 hours. Riding AVE in tourist class for Madrid travel is as good as your private Lear. Lots of leg room. Big comfy seats. Tables and Internet connection. A dining car. Clean, you read that correctly, clean bathrooms.
I love old train stations. Philly’s Union Station. Grand Central. A little Victorian station in Antibes. D.C. Rome. Paris. Valencia. Monaco. Most of all I have fond memories of Detroit’s now dilapidated Michigan Central Station. My Dad and I would take the train from Detroit to Hamilton, Ohio, to visit my Grandmother. We ate with elegance in the dining car with tables set with white linen. Water pitchers were nested in a holder for sudden lurches. I learned a mean game of Gin Rummy from my Dad riding those rails.
Walking into the huge old Atocha Train Station in Madrid was a shock. A towering glass and steel ceiling allows the sun to spill light over a jungle. A jungle? I couldn’t believe my eyes. It’s big. Banana and palm trees. Orange birds of paradise flowers and giant philodendrons that looked like they were going reach out and grab people.
Then, to add to the jungle scene, is a pond with dozens of turtles – moms, dads, and babies sunning and swimming. Atocha Train Station was built in 1851, burned down a few years later and was reconstructed in 1892. The Catholic Church wends its way even into Madrid travel as the station is named after Our Lady of Atocha. I suppose the Catholic Church gets royalties for using ‘Atocha’. I hope so as they need to pay off the abuse victims and all the gold embroidered dresses the Pope wears.
Toss in a few restaurants, some cheap stores, (good for when you have lost your gloves) and even Lady Atocha would be happy. The best restaurant is upstairs, next to the jungle. Much less crowded and you get a view included with your meal. If your train is late, you can always go watch the turtles. No macaws or monkeys.
Tip: Paseo del Prado is the lovely boulevard a banana’s throw from the station. The Prado, Reina Sofia, Thyssen Museum plus more are within an easy walk. Retiro Park is just down the street on the right.