Nearly empty Mercado San Miguel at midday

Let me get the weather out of the way first: it continues to be very nice in Madrid. It was mostly cloudy but warm when we were out. I have very few pictures from Thursday.

Happy Birthday, Laurel!

Here’s what I mean by a “very mixed day:” when I planned what I was going to write, about 8:00 last night, it was a gloomy report. However, by the time we got back from our espectáculo at Villa Rosa, there was plenty of good to write about.

On Thursday morning we woke to the news about U.S. travel restrictions. Not good news. Given the administration’s incompetent messaging, we thought it might only be days before they decided to not let anyone cross the borders and that we would not be able to return home on schedule. So I decided to see about changing our flight from Madrid to Boston.

The flight is changeable (with penalties) but changes aren’t allowed through the Air Portugal (TAP) website. Who knows why? So I tried to call TAP. The calls—there were many—would ring 2 times, then drop. They didn’t respond to SMS messages. I tried calling the American phone number and got the same result. TAP publishes a number for SKYPE calls; that didn’t work. I tried their online chat service and that service wasn’t up.

I guessed that TAP might be overwhelmed by a flood of change requests so I decided to [simply] buy one-way tickets back to the U.S. That would be expensive, but at least we would get back. I went online to TAP (clearly not thinking clearly) and found that there were no economy seats available for the next few days, but there were, wonder of wonders, business class seats that were less expensive than our original tickets. I quickly purchased 2. But not so fast; at the end of the purchase process, just before I entered my credit card, the web page disappeared.

When I managed to get back into the website, I tried to make the reservation again, but was not allowed to because there was already one with the same parameters. Oh, good: the reservation I was working on must have completed. In fact, I got an email from TAP saying I had a reservation and an email would follow. But no email followed and didn’t follow, and didn’t follow. You get the idea. 

When I tried to look up the reservation online, it could not be found. However, the app on my phone found it fine and even let me select seats. Great! I decided to cancel all the other arrangements for our last week here while waiting to complete the flight arrangements. I cancelled our places to stay and made new arrangements for when we got back to the U.S.

Big mistake! [foreshadowing]

Now, since the return home was in place, we decided to go out. We headed to Mercado San Miguel, an upscale market with lots of food stalls along with some fish and other sellers. We like to have paella and pizza from a couple of the vendors. Usually San Miguel is so busy that it is like a rugby scrum to move, which I do not like, but the food makes it worthwhile. Hmmm? There were hardly any people inside. Well, that should make it easy to get our food. HORROR! the pizza place was gone! OK, we’ll settle for just the paella. The quality and variety was drastically reduced from the last time we were there. We walked around inside the market for a while, but it was clear that there were few buyers at the stalls, and hardly any tourists. Patricia got a little sandwich to take the edge off, but that was a disappointing return to a favorite place. 

We then headed to El Corte Inglés, a 9 story department store with a nice food court on the top floor and great vistas. On previous visits, also a very busy place where it was hard to find a seat. Not this time. There were few gawkers or diners. Fine. That makes it easy to find a place to eat my churros with chocolate. [You know where this is going, don’t you?] NO CHURROS CON CHOCOLATE! Another thing I had been looking forward to had changed. I didn’t suffer too much, though. I had a gofre (waffle) with three kinds of ice cream, caramel sauce, and whipped cream. 

We noticed on the way back to the apartment that the Puerta del Sol, usually a very busy place, was very quiet.

When I did not get the email telling me how to pay for the flights, I became concerned that there was something wrong. So I tried calling TAP. You already know how that story went.

I looked at the TAP website and noticed that the price of the trip I reserved in the morning had more than doubled in a few hours and I got concerned about our reservation.

I decided to go to the airport to talk to TAP customer service—they must have a customer service desk at a major airport, no? No. I got to the airport, which was quite a mess, given that the U.S. travel restrictions were changing lots of plans. But the TAP area was suspiciously un-busy. When I got to the counter, the service person said that she did not work for TAP so there was nothing she could do, but she did tell me that it did not appear that I was on the Monday flight. She sent me to the representative for TAP.

Those representatives didn’t actually work for TAP, so they had only slightly more access to information than I did. They confirmed that I had no reservation but offered to get one of the high-priced ones for me. No deal. They looked at changing my current reservation and the cost to do that was even higher than buying a new ticket. They told me that they thought TAP had been caught by surprise and I had probably been caught while they were changing prices. So, now, no ticket back to the U.S. and buying a ticket from TAP would be terribly  expensive, even if there was availability. The agents suggested trying other airlines. [Of course I should have thought of that first.]

When I got back from the airport—2.5 hours gone forever—I was able to find a relatively inexpensive ticket back for us. Thats’s a good thing, because we learned in the afternoon that the museums and art galleries were closing for the duration.

Our new tickets will take us from Madrid direct to Dallas and from there to Albuquerque on Monday.

That was going to be my gloomy story. Lots of trouble cutting our vacation short, lots of expense getting back, and sad conditions at Mercado San Miguel and El Corte Inglés.

But then things improved dramatically. We thought we had better get something to eat but didn’t really feel like doing the necessary research. However, we found a place close by that we had seen on previous visits but thought might be too expensive. We had a really good, and not too expensive, dinner there that perked us up.

Then we went to a flamenco show at Villa Rosa, a venue we have been to several times. I don’t know if it is a coincidence, or good customer tracking, but we were seated at what I think is the best table in the house: just at the right corner of the tablao. That’s where we sat the last 2 times we visited. BTW, there were very few patrons last night.

We were expecting a show at Villa Rosa, but got a party

We went expecting to see an espectáculo (show) but a fiesta (party) broke out. It became clear that something was different when each number went on longer than normal and with more improvisation than normal. At one point they waved up a lady who had been dancing in the bar area and she danced on stage for 5 or 6 minutes. Then, after some discussion the performers decided to take a break—something we had not seen at Villa Rosa before. The performers went to the bar area where they joined up with some other people and had their own little party for a few minutes.

When the guitarra, Yerai Cortés, came back on stage, he was alone. But not for long. He was quickly joined by the 2 cantaores we had seen the night before at Teatro Flamenco. They were in street clothes and gave us some wonderful cante jondo. Then the regular performers came back and we were treated to more long sets which were clearly full of improvisation because we could see the interplay. The cantaores, Juañarito and Antonio de Manuela, worked very well with each other and the guitarra and dancers. Inmaculada  Aranda was very good, but José Maldonado stole the show. What a baialor! He went on and on and every little “scene” was better than the last.

Everyone on stage seemed to be enjoying what they were doing, The patrons enjoyed it. Even the waiters were standing and clapping when they weren’t taking care of us.

Fin de fiesta – end of the party

The normal 1 hour show had lasted more than 2 hours. It is a good thing that our apartment is only a 2-minute walk from Villa Rosa, because we were exhausted. That show was one of the best we had ever seen-anywhere, any time.

It was Patricia who mentioned that she thought what we saw was a party or celebration of some sort. She may have been right: today we learned that many of the tablaos are being closed because of COVID-19.

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