The metro and more across Spain – would I make it?

The Madrid Metro during Covid

As soon as I entered the arrivals hall, I dashed to the ladies!  All the layers came off and were stuffed into my now bulging bag. I disposed of my mask, washed my hands and face and put on a cloth mask with an official medical one on top. No Covid wanted! Then I skedaddled in search of the Madrid metro. There was a sign with an emblem, and then just the emblem so predictably I had to return to make sure I had noted the correct emblem. Then the emblems became random and I had to do a few U-turns.  Eventually I got there and I guess what confused me most was that I had to go up two levels instead of down which in the normal world is where you would expect the metro to be.

waiting in Madrid

I scanned the luminous hall and saw a lone ticket machine in a corner with three officials chattering nearby. I approached with dread. I’m awful with ticket machines, but fortunately one red-faced official removed himself from the group and asked if he could help.  A one way ticket to Atocha Renfe please to catch the Ave?  The only option on the ticket machine was a 5 hour pass for 7.50€!  I read on the Internet it was 3.60€ and took 25 minutes, but this man insisted no singles were available and the journey took 45-50 minutes. Not a time to argue so paid my money and a non-eco rigid plastic card fell into the dispenser. The official gave me a map with the route marked out and directed me to the metro platform.  There would be two changes.

The train came immediately. Fab. My Ave was due to depart at 15.40 and now it was 14.25. I was hopeful.  I entered a largely empty carriage and sat down, clutching my map.  Lockdown must be pretty bad in Madrid, I decided, and examined the map carefully. At the next stop, Feria de Madrid, a few people got on, including an interesting hippy street kind of couple in fake military gear with weird masks on. They slouched in the seats opposite me, stretching their legs and huge clunky boots out in front of them.  I tried not to stare as in fact they were very striking – I just wished I had the nerve to snatch a photo.

At the next stop, Mar de Cristal, quite a gathering of oddly masked people of all shapes and ages boarded. Some had their face coverings placed under their noses, or even inside out!  I began to realize that my original assessment of “The Madrid Lockdown” was a bit off. The seats were filling up and a petite Asian lady sat demurely one away from me. I continued to steal glances at the hippy couple that now seemed to be practicing some sort of secret sign language with each other.  I briefly wondered if they took drugs. However, as they looked too healthy I decided not and returned to my map of the metro.

Trains in the time of Covid
Packed train in the time of Covid

At the next stop, Pinar del Rey, even more piled in, and then at Colombia, we were officially jam-packed. A fat woman slotted herself determinedly into the seat between me and the petite Asian.  I tried to ignore our unavoidable body contact, congratulating myself on double-masking.

At Nuevos Ministerios a third of the train along with the hippy couple and I disembarked while a greater throng entered impatiently, rubbing shoulders with whomever.  I hurried along to train line 10, direction Puerta del Sur, well signposted. The platform was crowded for that hour of day and quite frankly the only clue of a pandemic raging across the world were the masks. However they were worn, everyone had one, even the children.

Madrid Metro, 14.30 during Covid
Madrid Metro, 14.30 during Covid

The train arrived almost immediately again, and after 3 stops the next change went smoothly as well.  I just did not sit down this time.  Soon we reached Atocha Renfe and I stepped out amazed. The journey had taken precisely 25 minutes as per the internet.  Despite the over-crowding in the time of Covid, the Madrid Metro is impressive and I knew that if I lived there, it would be my go-to transport.

The Madrid – Valencia Ave in the time of Covid

Upstairs in the main hall there were a few open shops, but no signs for the Renfe/Ave trains.  Nor did I see any info booths so I asked a policeman for help finding the Valencia Ave.  I worried that he might ask this obvious foreigner for her papers, especially as she was clearly planning to travel to another Communidad.  But no, he pleasantly said it was easy to find and pointed out the route.

Valencia Ave Train from Madrid
Valencia Ave Train from Madrid

The time now was 15.05.  I walked down to the platform entrance and waiting train. My ticket was scanned and I passed through. A tall elegant lady with white gloves approached me and handed me a packet with tissues, one pre-soaked wipe and hand gel. She showed me to my car.

I entered, sat down in my allocated place and placed my bag on the single seat next to me. Looking around I saw the rest of the carriage was empty, but soon a few more solo travellers entered.

At about 10 minutes before departure a young lady came in and informed me that my bag was on her reserved seat!  Pointing out that almost the whole carriage was empty, I asked if she couldn’t sit elsewhere and if a sudden mass of people arrived we could re-assess?  She was more than happy with the suggestion and shortly after the train took off with a total of 5 in our carriage. Yet again I wondered at this weird seating policy in the time of Covid.

The trip was relaxing and the train sped along smoothly, super quiet.  There were plugs to charge my phone and the views outside the window, although mostly flat, were incredibly romantic and verdant. In no time at all, 1hour 28 minutes  to be precise, we pulled into Valencia Joaquin Sorolla.  From there I needed to get the metro to Valencia Airport and that was a bit of a disaster, on top of which my shoulders, hips and knees were in agony. I clearly was not fit enough to run around in spurts with 15 kilos on one shoulder during a journey that so far had taken 11 hours.

The rest in the time of Covid

After 75 minutes I managed to find the correct station, having bought a ticket from a machine in the wrong one (it did say to the airport!). I found myself alone on a dark platform with two dubious characters, a set of bongos and a worker who advised me to get the hell out of there!  I limped as fast as I could and struggled for another kilometre to the correct metro opposite Valencia Nord Station, asking for instructions from a somewhat intense young man along the way.

Once on the platform the train arrived immediately, as it it had until now, and I stepped into an empty compartment.  Boom, the doors shut, and it remained empty all the way to the airport. This actually made me a bit anxious as at every stop I half-expected a potential mugger to board. Call me paranoid, but I did spend my youth in New York when it was rundown and quite dangerous.

Alone on the Valencia metro
Alone on the Valencia metro

Curiously It took 1 hour and 28 minutes to get to Valencia from Madrid, but 2 hours to get from Valencia Joaquin Sorolla to the airport. Served me right for not taking a taxi.

At the airport it was clear why the train had been empty. It was mostly shut up and practically abandoned. I was desperate for the loo, but couldn’t find an open one.  Luckily a security guard took me through a back passage to one that was in service.  By now I was so hot, despite shedding my layers that I thought I might expire.  I looked at my lobster red face in the mirror and it suddenly dawned on me that I had not eaten or drunk all day. In my concentration to get home I had not even thought about this.  Hey-ho, I heaved my bag onto my left shoulder and went for the last lap.

I paid a rather uninterested lady 236€ for the car park (the long term one was shut due to Covid – what’s new), and was told I had precisely 20 minutes to leave or I would have to return and pay more.  So I summed up one last wobbly run to my car, hoping that after 7 weeks the battery would not be flat.  I had taken careful note of its position, but for a moment could not find it. Why?  Because it had been cordoned off with a criss-cross myriad of those white and red police caution tapes!  What???  I ducked under them, unlocked the car and dumped my bag. I tried the engine – thank God for Skoda!  15 years old and it roared into life instantly.

Pausing for a nano-second and remembering the 20 minute warning, I did what any seasoned traveller would do.  I tore the tapes off and jumped in the car, going in reverse with a stream of what I decided were welcoming banners floating around me. When I got near the exit, there were literally caution tapes everywhere, and I thought fuck, I can’t stop, too much to tear away, too spread apart, another car might come, no time!  So I drove right through them and they sailed up over the roof in sequence as if I was passing through a  ticker tape parade.

Home to quarantine in the time of Covid

Soon I was on the motorway and the last part of the journey slipped past in a blur. I had made it! Hallelujah! At 21.00 I drove up to my masia to be greeted by an manically happy Chica. She did cartwheels and jumps and raced up and down my dry stonewalls.

Carrying “the bag” inside, I note that the house sitter had left a stocked fridge for me. I poured a medicinal wine for aches, and ate some cheese. Then some ham. The crusts and fat I fed to Chica while tickling her tummy. I examined my goody bag from the Ave curiously.  I looked up the meaning of red and white police tape in Wikipedia. Fire prevention and protection equipment. Of course, makes perfect sense, what?  Had my actions been caught on CCTV?

… 3 hours later, I woke up bowed over the table. I crawled to bed. In the morning a brilliant blue sky and a car covered in red sand from Africa greeted me. Despite having travelled 15 hours the day before, my fatigue slippedl away like a silken robe.  It was so warm that I was able to breakfast outside. Thus began and continued the best place to be alone for the next 10 days…

Good morning Spain!
Good morning  to Covid quarantine in El Maestrat, Spain!



  1. Colin
    March 24, 2021

    Yes, the Madrid Metro is excellent but . . . If you don’t already have a red card, you have to buy one with your first ticket. And then add tickets to it for future trips. The charge for this card (2.50??) bumps up the price of your first ticket. And any future ticket if you lose it and have to buy another one, You can’t just buy a ticket , , ,

    But I’ve never heard of an obligatory return ticket. As opposed to the special airport tax added to every ticket to/from it.. Still cheap compared with getting to Heathrow, though.

    I much enjoyed your write-up but was almost as exhausted as you by the time we got to Lavanda. Testament to your writing, I guess.

    Loved your approach to the tapes challenge. But I suspect you thought ‘Fuck!!’, not just ‘fuck’.

    Well done.

    P. S. 15ko on one shoulder is not a good idea for anyone, not just you . .
    P. P. S. As my mother used to say: If you don’t eat your crusts, you won’t get curly hair..

    • stephanie de leng
      March 25, 2021

      It was the only option on offer. I was told it lasted 5 hours, then 6 months, then something else I did not understand. I had time constraints and also decided the options were limited as only a machine was available. So I got the damn thing and raced off.

  2. Ingrid Spiegl
    February 22, 2021

    What an astonishing journey! The world is crazy at the moment but congratulations on your feat, and on your nerves. Love the bit about the red tape……so you!!

    Hasn’t made me want to travel yet.

    • stephanie de leng
      February 22, 2021

      Im not to keen on going anywhere again either. But it was a journey. Others have much worse. Obviously mine is counter-intuitive to going on holiday! Not to mention expensive for a family of 4.

  3. Jane Bourvis
    February 22, 2021

    Takes me back to all the frantic trips I’ve had, you are brave, Stephanie, congratulations for getting back… x

    • stephanie de leng
      February 22, 2021

      Yes, I remember as a child travel was never that straight forward. We got spoilt in the last 15/30 years. In my case more than anything it was one heavy bag, the paperwork being accepted and the timing that worried me. It worked out. So fine. Easily could have gone the other way.

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