My arrival in Madrid in about two weeks will mark my second trip to Spain. The first occurred way back in 1973 when I ventured over to Europe shortly after graduating from college. A mere lad of 22, I had no knowledge of the Camino de Santiago then.
In fact, before I made my way to the land of Cervantes, I spent about a month in Germany. A childhood friend who was studying in Munich offered me a free place to crash for as long as I wanted. No second urging was needed. I bought a “student fare” airline ticket for less than $400 round trip, purchased $300 in travelers cheques, and put graduate school on hold. In early October I boarded a plane in Columbus, and connected in Atlanta, New York, and Frankfurt, before eventually arriving in the Bavarian capital. It was the final week of Oktoberfest. All was good.
While my friend worked and attended classes, I toured the city, visiting museums, cathedrals, and an occasional McDonalds for a much-needed “almost” American meal. I rode the trams and experienced just about everything that Munich had to offer. I visited the Olympic Village from the previous years summer games, did a day trip to Nymphenburg Palace, and took a train to the Alpine city of Garmisch.
When around four weeks had passed, I decided that I wanted to see more of Europe before returning to Georgia. So I bought a third class train ticket for Madrid with the opportunity to de-train wherever I wished along the way. The first significant stop, Zurich, was much too expensive. I stayed briefly in Geneva, passed through Avignon in the middle of the night, and decided I needed a bed when I got to Barcelona.
After a few days there I took an overnight journey (that’s all my cheap ticket would allow) to Madrid. I checked into a pension on Jose Antonio which was under $10 a night. After a Sunday afternoon at the Corrida de Toros, an almost full day in the Prado, a tour of the Royal Palace and photo opt at the statue of Don Quixote and Sancho, I planned my return to the US. I was booked on now defunct TWA; however, it turned out their flight attendants were on strike, so they re-scheduled me with Iberia.
The lady at the TWA office in Madrid told me that since I was flying back to the States from Madrid rather than from Munich, where the flight had originally been booked, that I would be owed a small refund. I would have to wait to collect when I got to Columbus. A couple of weeks later I received a check for somewhere between $20 and $30, as I remember. Airline policies have certainly changed.
I don’t expect to do much sightseeing in the capital city on this trip. What I do expect is a beautiful traverse through northern Spain and an opportunity to join with other pilgrims from all over the world on a spiritual walk to Santiago. Now 44 years later, I think this visit to Spain may be just as exciting as that first. I have a lot more mileage on my legs, but they’re inspired and looking forward to the journey.