If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll know that I recently planned and took a trip to Germany! I found a fantastic flight deal, and was so excited to be taking my first trip to Europe.
I found round trip plane tickets for around $300. Initially, that price was for non-stop flights from Chicago to Frankfurt, but because I didn’t commit and purchase the tickets right away, by the time I booked my flight, I had to book a connecting flight both ways.
I chose to stop in Madrid on my way there. I had an hour long layover, which made me very nervous, but after researching the airport and seeing that on my ticket, both tickets said Terminal 4 (for arriving and departing), I assumed that I would be okay.
I got to the airport earlier than usual on Friday, the day I was supposed to depart. Checking in was confusing. I was expecting to go to Terminal 5, as that’s the International Terminal at O’Hare. However, my tickets and all the information I could find actually said to go to Terminal 3, which is American, and the terminal that I almost always fly out of.
I was flying Iberia, a partner of American Airlines, so it didn’t seem too crazy to be leaving from Terminal 3. I found the Iberia check-in at the far end of Terminal 3. I’d been to Terminal 3 so many times before, and never even noticed their tiny area! As I paid to check my bag in, the woman told me that my flight was about 40 minutes late. It was interesting. She said that, but that information was not reflected anywhere on the arrivals/departures boards around the airport. Anyways, I went through security and waited for my flight.
I spent the time sitting in the Admirals Club (for this reason, I was grateful I was in Terminal 3), getting work done on my laptop. With about an hour before takeoff, I got up and asked at the desk if it was true that my flight was delayed. There was still no updated info on the boards, or on the app, or on the website. I figured I’d just ask in person before leaving the comfy Admirals Club and making my way to my gate. She called down to the gate for me and informed me that my flight was, in fact, 45 minutes late.
I had a feeling I wouldn’t be making my connection in Madrid, and so I texted Kerstin, who would be picking me up in Frankfurt. We hoped for the best, and I finally boarded my flight.
The flight wasn’t bad at all, on the way over. It was less than 7 hours from Chicago to Madrid. It was an overnight flight, which I thought would make life easier for me. We took off at 5p.m. Chicago time, and landed just before 9a.m. in Madrid. I thought that would make it super easy to sleep. Unfortunately, I got on board and fell asleep right away. I slept for 2 hours, before being woken for dinner by my seatmate. After that 2 hour nap, I couldn’t fall back asleep for the rest of the flight! I got maybe another hour of sleep, max. I spent most of the flight reading on my Kindle.
When we landed in Madrid, I saw that based on the time alone, it was highly unlikely I could make my flight. As we descended, they played a video that explained the layout of the Madrid airport. It had Terminal 4, and Terminal 4S (a satellite terminal). The video depicted how you get from one to the other and what you have to do. You have to go through customs, then go back through the airport, then get on a train, and then walk to your gate, to go from Terminal 4S to Terminal 4. After watching that video, I knew I would never make it, but was determined to try.
I got off the plane and hustled through the long walkways of Terminal 4S. After I got off the final moving walkway, a woman was standing there calling out, “Connecting flights? Connecting flights?” so I approached her. She asked for my name, and immediately pulled out a new boarding pass for me.
She informed me that there was no way I could make my flight and that they rebooked me for the next flight from Madrid to Frankfurt. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until almost 4p.m. She said to go to the desk and ask for a voucher.
Well, I wasn’t in any hurry now, so I lined up at the desk and waited to talk to an agent. She told me that they could give me a voucher for lunch at the airport, which I took, just in case. Then I asked her if I would have time to leave the airport. She told me that I absolutely had time. She gave me directions on how to use the subway, and recommended places for me to check out and walk around in. Luckily, it was a gorgeous day.
I made my way slowly through customs. The line was agonizingly slow and long, but I finally made it through into Spain! I regretted choosing to carry a duffle bag rather than a rolling carry-on. It got heavy really fast. Once through customs, I had to take the train over to the main terminal. I finally got to the exit of the airport. I thought of taking the subway, as the gate agent had recommended. However, Google Maps said it would take well over an hour, and I wanted to make the most of my time in Spain.
So I walked over to the cab stand and asked if cabs took Visa (I hadn’t yet changed any money to Euros). Once I got an affirmative answer, I headed outside and hopped into a cab, telling him to take me to the Museo del Prado, the place the agent had recommended. While in the cab, I did some quick googling. Firstly–Was I supposed to tip in a cab in Spain? The answer is no, and that made me super happy, because the cab ride was not cheap! It cost me about $30 to get from the airport to the center of the city. Secondly, I needed a Bagbnb. My duffle bag was already killing me, and if I was going to spend hours walking around, I needed to not have to lug it with me.
I talked about Bagbnb in my post about Seattle! I’ve now utilized the service 3 times, and would not hesitate to use it again. It’s like coat check for bags, if you have a late check in or early check out. It works perfectly for so many different purposes!
Luckily, I was able to find a Bagbnb location only a block away from where the cab was dropping me! I booked a slot for my bag starting immediately, planning to drop it off ASAP so I no longer had to carry it. The cab dropped me off right in front of the Museo del Prado, and I hopped right out.
I took my time heading to the Bagbnb. Well, as much time as I could, considering the bag was KILLING my shoulder. I stopped and took a few pictures, and meandered around to the burger place where my bag would stay.
After dropping my bag off, I headed back towards the Museo del Prado. I walked up and around that area, finding myself in a place called Parque de El Retiro. I contemplated checking out the Botanical Gardens, but I was trying to keep costs low on this unexpected outing, and I had already spent a fortune on a cab. I think it was only like, 2EUR for students, but I’m glad I didn’t do that and just checked out the free Parque de El Retiro instead. I sat and enjoyed the sun. It was about 50 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny, so I just enjoyed it.
After sitting and relaxing, I spent awhile just exploring the park. It’s MASSIVE. And looking at the map online as I write this, I’m realizing, I didn’t even cover half of it! It just keeps going. I walked out of the park back around to the Museo del Prado. I didn’t want to go too far and risk getting lost. My phone was still adjusting to being out of country, and so my service was not the most reliable. I definitely did not want to get lost.
I walked around and listened to a busker sitting outside the Museo for a little while, then walked up and around through the Cortes area of Madrid. I told myself I would grab lunch at the next little place I stumbled across, and of course, it took me 7 years to find any sort of place to eat at!
But I did find a fantastic place, El Almacén del Pan, and grabbed a bite there. I ordered a sabrosa, which was a delicious smoothie of mango, pineapple, and orange. I had this with a slice of chicken and bacon quiche.
At this point, I believed that my flight departed at 3p.m., based on my quick glance at the new plane ticket I had been given. I knew I didn’t need to rush back to the airport, but my exhaustion was finally catching up to me. I decided I should just head back to be safe.
I slowly headed back to the restaurant where my bag was being stored. I took my time getting there, and actually sat down in the sun and just enjoyed it for a bit longer. I didn’t want to go back to the airport and do nothing, but I was so tired, it just seemed like a better plan than possibly missing my flight to do nothing but sit in the sun. I decided to call and Uber, instead of hailing a cab. I thought it might be cheaper (which it was).
I got my bag and called an Uber. Interestingly enough, Uber in Spain asks for all of your passport information. So I had to dig out my passport and find the number and enter it, all before I could get a ride. The minute I got into the Uber, my exhaustion really hit. I could hardly keep my eyes open! They kept sliding shut and I was so nervous that I was going to fall asleep in the back of this random guy’s car in the middle of a foreign country. Oops!
I got out of my Uber, thanked the guy, and headed inside. I decided to exchange my currency while I had the time, so I went to the currency exchange and got a bunch of Euros, then headed to the bathroom to freshen up. Next, I went back through security.
Unfortunately, I was so early to my flight, there was no gate information yet. I’m not a fan of how the Madrid Airport does this. Once through security, there are very limited seats in the middle of the Duty Free shops. The Airport only announces gate information like, 40 minutes before your flight. So you have to fight for a space in the tiny areas and wait for that information to be released. This is also when I realized that my flight was not actually at 3p.m. That was the boarding time. My flight actually was not until 3:40p.m., so I still had a bunch of free time.
I checked out the duty free shops and just wandered around until my gate was finally announced. Of course, it was about 7 miles away. So I started walking. Once I got there, I just sat and waited. I FaceTimed my little brother, showed him the exciting Madrid Airport, and just waited for my flight.
Something else that’s interesting about the Madrid Airport… They don’t make boarding announcements over the PA system! I was literally sitting not 50 feet from the gate, waiting for them to call Group 4 for boarding. It didn’t seem like many people were going through, so I was just waiting. Finally, I looked up, wondering, “What’s taking so long?!” To my shock, above the gate, the words, “Final Call” were flashing. I hustled to my feet with the other stragglers and asked them if they knew if it was time for us to board. Everyone else was confused, so I just walked up, scanned my ticket, and headed towards the plane.
I was about the last person in line to board, and of course, as soon as I get into the jet bridge, no one is moving. We all had to stand and wait there for a slight delay. Finally, we were allowed out onto the tarmac, where AGAIN, we had to wait. And it started to rain. Typical. Once I was on that plane, I PASSED out. I was so exhausted, I slept through almost the whole flight!
When we touched down in Frankfurt, I was over the traveling. It had been almost 24 hours since I left home, and a lot had transpired. Of course, we got off the plane onto the tarmac, and immediately had to board a bus. The bus then drove us all the way to the terminal. Once at the terminal, we all got stuck waiting outside, because police had to check our passports one by one.
Finally, I got into the airport and to baggage claim. For the first time ever, my bag was one of the first off the plane! I grabbed it and headed towards what I thought would be more customs. But nope, the police check was it! I finally was in Germany, ready to greet Kerstin and her family!
So… My unexpected 7 hours in Madrid was definitely not as amazing as it could have been. Had I known it was going to happen, I would’ve researched and made a thorough plan on what to do and see while there. I also totally would’ve downed some cold medicine or something so I would’ve actually slept on my flight! However, I think that the gate agent recommended a good place to walk around! It was so nice and touristy, and I’m glad I got to check out Madrid! It’s definitely now on my list of places to go back and explore more.