Part of my Madrid tour was a side trip to Alcalá de Henares, the hometown of Miguel de Cervantes, Spain's greatest writer.
While researching before my trip, I learned that I had to take a Renfe train from Madrid-Atocha Station to Alcalá de Henares. On my second day, I took the tour bus around Madrid and hopped off at the Museo Reina Sofía stop to get to Atocha Station for a look-see.
(Passing through Calle Mayor on the Madrid hop-on-hop-off tourist bus)
But alighting at the stop and walking towards the station, I chanced upon KFC across the road, and since I was getting hungry, I decided to go in.
Interestingly, just like at Starbucks in Manila, Lidira, the KFC crew who took my order, asked for my name so she could call me when my order was ready. I told her, "Me llamo Alfonso, Rey Alfonso." ("My name is Alfonso, King Alfonso"). She smiled. I knew that the Spanish history was full of kings named Alfonso, and she probably smiled thinking that here was another pretender to the Spanish throne lining up at her counter and ordering fried chicken. Ja-ja-ja!
(Fast food lunch fit for a king)
After munching down lunch, I hurried towards the Station, and even before I crossed the street, the whole structure was impressively huge. It didn't look like a train station; it looked like a sports stadium!
(Atocha Station's dome)
Although the purpose of my look-see was to ask about the schedule of trains heading to Alcalá de Henares, I was distracted by the beauty of the whole station.
It was spacious with very high ceilings, airy and had shops, cafés, restaurants, a garden and a pond! With turtles! Lots of turtles!
(Turtles by the pond discussing
The whole station was so interesting and unique that, if I didn't have a schedule to keep, I would have sat in one of the cafés, ordered coffee and watched commuters the whole afternoon! Atocha didn't feel like a train station; it felt like a plaza! It should be one of the most beautiful stations in Europe!
The station was inaugurated on February 9, 1851, under its original name Estación de Mediodía, but was rebuilt in 1892 after a fire. The architect of the 1892 structure was the Spanish engineer Señor Alberto Palacio Elissagne, who collaborated with no less than Gustave Eiffel, Señor Alberto's teacher. No wonder the station was all lines of steel and wrought iron that provided an 'industrial' feel.
(The Station's centerpiece clock telling the time through the wrought iron lines)
In the morning of March 11, 2004, coordinated terror bombings hit trains leaving Alcalá de Henares (which I was visiting during my trip), including one train heading to Atocha Station. One hundred ninety-two were killed, including one Filipino, and a memorial was built for the victims next to Atocha Station.
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Next stop, Alcalá de Henares.