Spain July 2017 (Madrid)
Thursday 27th July 2017 (Madrid – Tren de Filipe II & El Escorial)
Arrival at Principe Pio was quite early, for the 1020 departure of the Tren de Filipe II to El Escorial. This is a newly operated tourist train, run by bus company ALSA, who own a few old coaches and more importantly, two Alco DL500’s 321048 & 321050. With 321048 currently being the regular train engine while 321050 undergoes overhaul and is expected ready by the end of 2017; so the travelling fitter told me. Tickets can be booked online via www.trendefilipeii.com and there are now three packages available, Imperial (includes a visit to El Escorial & the Monastery), Royal Legends (includes a tour of the Gardens of the Casita del Infante) & Trevesia (just train travel only – which wasn’t available when we travelled but has since been introduced). The website isn’t as user friendly as it could be and the English translated page doesn’t translate that much so it’s better to actually try and muddle through in Spanish. I personally had issues trying to pay for my tickets and found that using internet explorer, instead of Chrome, rectified the problem so it probably works better in IE?
Check-in for the train is performed at the side gate to the platforms, to the right of the barriers if coming into the station, by the building next to them. This is to allow the staff to give out stickers that correspond to the tour that you’ve booked. This then allows them to direct everyone to the correct bus at El Escorial. We had pre-allocated seats in the middle of the three coaches but the staff confirmed that the train wasn’t well frequented on this day and that we could move to wherever we wanted; the front compo in the front coach was duly commandeered.
It was a pleasant 50 minute run to El Escorial and on arrival everyone off the train is gathered up at the top of the steps, on the platform, for a pep talk. I used this time to leg it over to get some photos of 321048 in glorious sunshine, before legging it back just in time. Once out of the station the two groups were split onto different buses and ours then took us towards El Escorial Monastery. We were dropped off at the bus station, where we were given a free drinks voucher for the café there. Then afterwards we were given a short tour around the old town of El Escorial, which was but of a waste of time really. The tour is in Spanish only and everyone is given earpieces to listen to the guide’s commentary. As we didn’t understand Spanish we kept close to the guide, who explained things to us in English first.
Once at the Royal Site of San Lorenzo de El Escorial the guide explained that she’d get us both audio guides in English, which were paid for by the guide as well, and she then took off with the main group, leaving us to our own devices to wonder around as we pleased. Now, considering the train journey alone is €19.90 per person and entry to the site is €10 with the audio guide being €3; that makes a total of €32.90. The cost of the trip that includes the train, El Escorial Monastery visit, bus rides to/from town & free drinks voucher is €32! So, if you’re planning on doing the monastery as well it’s cheaper to book the package and do it with them anyway.
The Monastery itself is well worth a look around but there are a few hassles along the way, the first being the fact that large back-packs aren’t allowed into the main area of the site and have to be left in lockers; which are at least free by way of using a €1 coin that is returned to you after reopening it. The place makes a mockery of this rule though and many normal style carry bags are allowed through the net, which were bigger than the back-packs we were forced to leave behind by the site staff. The second issue is the fact that officially, you’re not allowed to take photos inside the site. This is depicted on a warning sign somewhere near the entrance, which isn’t very clear, and is not made clear anywhere else throughout the site. The security staff enforce this rule vigorously though but it’s quite easy to hide behind things and get the pictures you want while they’re not watching. I was probably told to stop three times but at no point was I asked to erase the photos I’d taken. Other than those two mute points it was quite a nice amble through the site, which isn’t usually my cup of tea, and it took us about 90 minutes to work our way around. The audio guide & iPad were eventually helpful but a bit of a pain to try and operate and the map directions through the site from one section to the other weren’t very easy to understand.
Once back out into the oven of the Madrid suburbs we found a Chinese Restaurant, called Hong Kong, away from the main area and had a decent meal there before the place shut up for the afternoon. Most fooderies in El Escorial seemed to close in the late afternoon, so don’t leave lunch too late.
Rather than wait for the bus to take us back down to the station we had an amble back on foot. Its downhill to the station from the town. There was no sign of the stock when we got there so we relaxed in the shade and watched the local youth go about their business; which clearly wasn’t legitimate and even we could smell what they were smoking. Eventually the police turned up, who we think had been tipped off by the station staff, but they were just too late as the main culprits managed to scarper on their bikes. Despite trying to find them on foot, the police returned empty handed and later disappeared. There was clearly some upset in the camp though as a short while later an older lad came to the station and gave the two young lads left behind a right bollocking; we assumed this was for almost getting caught and getting the police involved where they weren’t wanted?
Watching the locals passed the time if nothing else but we were grateful when the bus turned up with the rest of the gang from town. I’d been a little concerned that we’d missed them entering the platforms and had checked with the station staff which platform the train went off. It always seems to be the only platform you can access without going through the barriers, which makes sense for those not coming back with the main group.
The stock was sweltering on the journey back to Principe Pio, after it had sat baking in the heat all afternoon. We were grateful of a compo to ourselves on the way back as it would have been uncomfortable if the train had been wedged. Arrival into El Escorial was in the lower through platform and once the driver had acknowledged me photting the train, he gave a spirited departure with the empties as 321048 hammered away into the tunnels.
After a very good day we headed straight for the Oven Mozzarella Bar and reflected on our day in the relaxing cool atmosphere. Food was as good as it had been the previous day and it was a fitting end to a good day. The cooling AC of our hotel room was very, very welcome.
Photos for Thursday 27th July 2017
Tren de Filipe II
El Escorial General Photos
Friday 28th July 2017 (A day in the Madrid heat)
Not wanting to venture too far, as it was bordering on the ridiculous heat wise, we headed back to Principe Pio again; this time to take in some of the nearby sites. There’s plenty to stroll around in the immediate vicinity of the railway station but ultimately the heat got the better of us and we were back at the hotel in our nice air-conditioned room by the early afternoon!
We managed to walk round the grounds of the Madrid Royal Palace and down to the Cathedral of the Almudena before walking up the hill to the Temple of Debod; where there are good views across to the palace and cathedral. That was enough for us though and we spent the rest of the afternoon sheltering from the sun, eating and relaxing before heading home the following morning.
Photos for Friday 28th July 2017