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November 18, 2002 — Madrid

Jane Houston Jones


Leonid Mission day five continued Monday November 18th when we touched down at NATO Torrejon AFB near Madrid Spain. We kept to our local California time, so days became nights and nights became days — we worked by night and slept by day. After a few hours of afternoon sleep in the Hotel Aida in Torrejon our whole team gathered at El Restaurante "Parilla Don Jose" for a traditional Spanish meal. Afterwards some researchers went to the aircraft to prepare their instruments for Leonid night even though it was cloudy. My group was given the OK for some sightseeing instead. Even though it was nearly midnight, this would be our only time to see Madrid before mandatory crew rest time set in. We needed lots of sleep for Leonid night.

Six of us walked a mile to the train station only to find it had closed at 10:00 p.m. and wouldn't reopen until 5:00 a.m. Then we took a local night-bus (called 'buhos', meaning owl) into Madrid and arrived after midnight. The city was quiet, clean and beautiful. Luckily, Dr. Rüdiger Jehn, our ESA teammate was with us. He travels to Madrid for business, speaks Spanish and was a wonderful tour guide!

We were the only ones in the Plaza Mayor at 4:00 a.m. On New Years Eve it is not so quiet. The bells above the Puerto del Sol, one of the buildings forming a side of the Plaza Mayor, ring twelve times. Everyone eats 12 grapes. 12 grapes for twelve months of luck. The Puerto del Sol becomes the radiant for a different kind of firework display at midnight on New Years Eve — different from the natural firework display we expected to see in a few short hours. In front of the building is a small plaque marking Km 0, from where distances along the country´s highways are measured.

We walked the cobblestone-lined streets and were drawn to the Havana Club and La Negra Tomasa cafe by the sounds of Cuban music. After Mojitos, excellent cafe con leche and dancing, we closed the club down at 3:00 a.m. and sought other local experiences.

Soon we discovered Chocolateria San Gines, where we ordered thick hot chocolate, accompanied by sweet fried churros at 5:00 a.m. After a bit more walking and sightseeing, we walked to Estacio De Atocha for a commuter train ride back to the Torrejon de Ardoz station and a walk to our hotel. The trip costs $1.5 Euros!

Looking on a map now, I see we were close to the Observatorio Astronomicico, but I don't think they were open at 6:00 a.m. on a Monday morning. The gibbous moon was still visible low in the sky. When we arrived back at our hotel, some of us ate breakfast, slept the day away, and awoke for a final dinner before boarding our DC-8 for Leonid night. Others decided to forgo some sleep for a daytime walking trip around Torrejon or a quick morning rush-hour trip to Madrid and back. I didn't get to buy any souvenirs, but at least I got to see Madrid in the quiet hours before the storm.

Next: Day 6 November 19 — Leonids!