“Penny lane is in my ears and in my eyes, there beneath the blue suburban skies…”
– Penny Lane, The Beatles
Our grand tour of Spain necessarily required a stop in Madrid, the great old capital city.
We weren’t sure, however, that we were ready for staying in a big urban center, especially after our bucolic week in Valencia.
We took a high-speed, long-distance train from Valencia to Madrid. At the huge Madrid central terminal, we changed to a local train for what we thought would be a short ride out to Tres Cantos.
As we came to learn, however, Tres Cantos is isolated way out in the countryside, in the middle of what is otherwise purely an agricultural area. It is about a 45-minute train ride from central Madrid, well beyond anything resembling a suburb.
Tres Cantos is a modern, planned community dating back to the 1970s, the Franco era. Everything is new, orderly, neat and nicely groomed. There is no trace of history there.
We found a grocery store for our basics, a produce market and a butcher’s shop. We noticed plenty of restaurants in the neighborhood as well (including an Irish pub), although we did not frequent them during our stay. It is an attractive place for young families, and there were lots of children and teenagers roaming about pretty freely.
It felt like we had landed in a Twilight Zone episode in which the mythical, quintessentially British suburb of Penny Lane (from the Beatles song) somehow got transformed into a planned community in central Spain.
There are walkways all over Tres Cantos, many of them covered with wisteria vines, and at exactly the time we were visiting the wisteria was in full, glorious bloom. The streets were perfectly safe from any sort of crime, and the layout is designed to be accommodating for pedestrians and bicycles.
Initially, we thought we might have miscalculated in booking a little efficiency apartment so remote from central Madrid.
But Tres Cantos did afford us tranquility, and thanks to the train service we were able to take in a good bit of Madrid during our weekend visit in early April.
Yes, we liked Penny Lane!
The train station in Tres Cantos was a pleasant 15-minute walk from the apartment, just enough to stretch our legs, and the train service to and from central Madrid was frequent, punctual and rapid.
On Saturday morning, we caught an early train into the city and joined an informative walking tour of the historic center of Madrid, starting at the famous Plaza Mayor.
The highlights of our walking tour were the old Moorish ruins, the history of the various dynasties and their palaces, the great variety of neighborhoods in Madrid, the Sabatini Gardens next to the Royal Palace, and the Royal Palace itself, a contemporary replica of its cousin in Versailles (both of them built by the Bourbons).
After the guided tour, we visited the cathedral, and then found our way to Madrid’s sprawling Parque del Buen Retiro, perhaps the most beautiful urban park we’ve seen anywhere in Europe.
We also stayed in the city for a “Tapas Tour” that night. We met a group of young, female Israeli university students, accompanied by their professor, at the final stop of the tour. The young women were beautiful, animated and friendly. At first we mistook them for fashion students. They were just so pretty! But they laughed at our mistake and told us they are actually industrial engineering students studying in Tel Aviv.
We were not, of course, giving Madrid the full treatment. Our brief visit was more like a respectable tip of the hat to the capital of Spain, a country we had come to love.
We say we love Spain, yet we are also mindful of its history. Every major city we visited in Spain has a “Jewish Quarter” completely devoid of Jewish people, and beautiful, ancient mosques entirely closed off to Islamic worship. This was an early example of “ethnic cleansing,” under the notorious Spanish Inquisition.
If the Nazis had won the Second World War, isn’t this something of how Germany would look today?
Despite all that, we still loved Spain. The people are hardworking, forthright, friendly and welcoming, the climate is mild, the culture is rich and varied, the food is delicious, and the architecture both ancient and modern is outstanding. We saw no trace of discrimination or animus toward immigrants or toward ethnic or religious minorities.
* * *
On Monday morning, we left our tiny apartment in Tres Cantos and took the local train into Madrid for the last time.
In Madrid, we caught the long-distance train for our next stop, Córdoba.