European Space Agency headquarters and Madrid
I arrived back at Heathrow from the US at 9am, looping around London and flying over Wembley, UCL, the Thames Barrier, a block of flats in Rotherhithe that I used to live in, the Wheel and Parliament. I hung around at Terminal 3 for a couple of hours and then it was time to head off again, this time to Madrid.
During my three days on the other side of the Atlantic, I'd been waking up at 3 or 4 am, and definitely hadn't got over the jetlag. Coming back so soon, I thought perhaps it would all cancel out and I'd feel fine. But I think actually it just doubled everything, and I had no time to recover. I was here to learn how to process data from the Herschel satellite, and the workshop started at 9am the day after I arrived. Not only that but it was 30 miles outside Madrid, and the bus left at 8am. Not only that but I was staying about 20 minutes walk from where the bus went. So at 7.15am I headed out into a sunny morning to find my way. I crossed the Gran Vía and headed north, stopping at a cafe for a few strong coffees on the way.
After two days of workshop there was an early finish, and I was back in Madrid by 4.30pm. I'd last been here almost eight years ago, staying here accidentally on the way to La Palma. I had only had time for a quick wander around the city centre before heading out to the Canary Islands. I'd been to the Plaza de España, and I went back there now with a copy of El País. In the years between my two visits to Madrid I'd spent four months in South America, made four more visits to the Canary Islands, and five to the mainland. My Spanish was definitely better than it had been the first time around. I practised by reading the paper.
ESAC was a good place to work. It was way out in the countryside, peaceful and sunny, and they supplied enough coffee to keep me happy. I got into a nice routine of walking from where I was staying on Santo Domingo up via San Bernardo and a few cafes to the bus stop on Alberto Aguilera. Mornings involved a few more coffee breaks. Afternoons were a bit trickier, with large lunches being followed by a long session of hard core data reduction. By the end of the day I was normally flagging severely, falling unconscious on the bus back to Madrid and having to revive myself with more strong coffees on the way back down to Santo Domingo.
After four days at ESAC, I spent the weekend in the centre, staying with a friend who had just started a post-doc here. Normally one of the things I like doing best in Spain is going to clubs and coming out after the sun has risen, but I was still recovering from my double jetlag and went for some quieter pursuits. We went to the Reina Sofia and saw Guernica. Then we made an early start on a Sunday to see what was going on at El Rastro market. It was sunny but a chilly wind was blowing, so after we'd bought a few things we took refuge in a cafe for some churros con chocolate.
I almost got caught out by the hour changing. It's happened to me before: coming back from La Palma in October 2006 I had no idea the hour was going back, and I arrived at La Palma's airport at 6am, to find it still locked. In March, the situation is much more dangerous, but luckily I realised early enough to avoid any mad dashes to the airport. Two trips back to back had been tiring enough without that. I headed home.