Commentary by Jason for a change :)
I just spent a week in Madrid, where our pilots were flying with/against the Spanish Air Force in a NATO Exercise. I didn't get around too much in the city between working and sleeping, but here's the 20 or so of the best pictures that came from the trip.
Yes, aircraft first :) (They ARE why I was there.) I was one of the "lucky" ones that flew down on a KC-135 tanker. We left from RAF Mildenhall (5 miles away) and landed at the former US Air Force Base, Torrejon AB outside of Madrid. Although there's only four windows and we had to sit in nylon-web jump seats along the sides of the aircraft with cargo boxes down the middle, my alternative was a 3-hour ride in a C-130 (can you say loud, bumpy, slow and LOUD?) or a 2-hour bus ride to Heathrow in London and then fly down to Madrid International on British Airways. While the commercial flight might have been more comfortable, I'm happier to take the 10 min bus ride from Lakenheath to Mildenhall and back.
Since we were in a tanker, our jets stayed in formation with us on the way down, and took on fuel a couple of times. This really wasn't necessary as they are quite capable of flying the distance without refueling, but it gave the crews some practice before they had to do it during the exercise. No, those aren't bombs underneath the jets... sort of. They're travel pods that we put aircrew luggage, engine intake covers, chocks, probe covers and the like into. When I say they "sort of" aren't bombs, they USED to be napalm canisters. Since there were so many of them after they'd gone out of use, someone decided to put a door on the side with a hinge and put luggage inside instead.
They are split up... three jets on each side of the tanker.
The boom operator told us that they were about to start tanking, and did anyone want to come back to the refueling pod and watch? Nobody got up... so I grabbed my camera :) Naturally, once everyone saw you could take pictures they started lining up to do the same. I'd already been in the pod a few years ago (even got to fly the boom around... though not with any aircraft near by ;) ) so I took a few quick snaps and let others get in. First time with a digital camera though, so a little disappointed with the number of pics, but oh well.
With this next picture, I know what you're thinking, "Heh, he accidentally put in a picture of Southern Idaho". Nope, this is what Spain looks like just outside of Madrid. Relatively flat (a few hills and mesas), very dry, and tumbleweeds.
In case you're wondering, we were put up in a "four star" hotel. See the Meliá Galgos website. Yes, the suites were nice, although I was only in one for less than an hour. Once rooms opened up after the first weekend, we were stuffed into two bed rooms. The only thing classy about them was the marble floors and walls in the bathrooms. Otherwise, it was a pretty standard hotel room... although it had a 4 star price. About €130 per night, which is US$160 or AU$210.
One day before work I got up a few hours early and went with a couple guys to the old part of the city so that I could say I'd been. We were told the subway was cheap (and it was, €1.15 one way, anywhere the subway goes) so we went to the nearest station. Not being used to subways (or maybe their system could use some work) we couldn't figure out which train to jump on.. they weren't labeled on the outside with any markings as to what line they were running on. Not speaking the language well didn't help either. I have had two years of Spanish, but that was over twelve years ago, and I haven't really used it other than order Taco Bell. We decided to just jump on the first one that came along. Luckily it happened to be going to the station we were hoping for and all was well.
We only had a couple hours to spend so no tours or excursions. Just some pictures of the more interesting things as we walked along.
This is a monument in front of the Palicio Real (Royal Palace). From what I can translate on the inscriptions, it was just put there in 1844 by Queen Isabel II for the purpose of art and "decorating the capital". It's apparently King Felipe IV (1605-1665) although I didn't see anything that said that. Just found it while researching on the internet. The little sign at center near the bottom says the water in the fountain is not drinkable ;)
Four old guys in the park ;)
This is the courtyard of the Royal Palace as taken through the wrought-iron fence. Pretty big, the palace covers 135,000 square meters. It was commissioned in 1734 after the last palace burned down. Apparently the only thing that's made of wood in this one are the doors :) Didn't go inside as the tour cost €10 and we were short on time. Follow the link above for some facts on it.
Directly opposite of the palace is Almudena Cathedral. While it looks a few hundred years old, it was only officially finished in 1999, just over a hundred years after it was started. This is the northern face that looks toward the palace courtyard. We DID go inside this one since it was free ;)
The eastern face and main entrance. Note the door in the bottom left of the picture. Since it's a relatively modern building they even put in a parking garage!
Looking west inside the main doors to the altar.
Designs on the ceilings of the "arms"
The dome at the center crossing. At the time I didn't know it was only finished 12 years ago and I wondered why they had paintings and designs that looked like something you'd see on a 1960's rock concert poster...
The marble floor was nice though, and it has a large pipe organ, although it wasn't being played at the time.
In addition to a parking garage, the benefits of a modern cathedral are that you can have plasma flat-screen TV's to go with your brightly colored religious paintings.
Time was running short, so off we went to find our way back to the subway station. Not wanting to jump on a train and end up 20 miles away, this time we decided to take a cab back. As I said, my Spanish is very limited, but the cab driver wanted to talk about basketball and American teams... although he didn't speak ANY English outside of "Chicago Bulls", "Houston Rockets" and "uh... Americans?"
Anyway, this is a typical street scene around the "old" part of the city.
So then, off to work.. and aircraft :) This would be Weapons dropping a centerline pylon so the Crew Chiefs could fix something of theirs. We were waiting on the other aircraft to come back from their last mission of the trip.
My usual, "cool sunset and silhouetted jets" picture that never comes out as good as it looked in person.
Spanish Air Force F-4 Phantoms. No, these aren't in active use, they're all parked close together to conserve space. Not sure why they leave them on the flightline instead of towing them somewhere out of the way. Most of them are missing engines and various other bits. The SAF no longer flies F-4's, they've been replaced by F/A-18 Hornets.
And here we are, about to get back on our KC-135 to England.
As I said, it was a short trip and I didn't do as much sightseeing as I would have if I was there being a tourist. But, Madrid is a nice enough city to visit, it's clean and the people seem friendly enough though most don't speak any English (not that I was expecting them to). The downside to it I think is the cost. There's very little that's cheap by American standards of money. An 8oz bottle of Coke was likely to cost the same as a 12oz bottle of beer, around €2. Most meals would cost between US$20-30 per person.
And that is all.. short trip, short ending :)