(From our winter camino, late February to early March 2020)
As usual we stayed over in Liverpool the night before so we could wake up, roll out to the bus and go straight to the airport in the morning. We both had hand luggage only – my poles were shipped to our hotel in Astorga – so getting through security was a breeze. Arriving in Madrid we had some, but not a lot of time to get to Terminal 4 to catch our ALSA bus to Astorga. A fellow peregrina on the camino forum was posting the week before about how to get from the main terminal and on to the bus, and how long it would take, so we decided to take some explanatory photos of the process:
- When you get to the luggage reclaim area, find and follow the sign for the T4 transit bus. Keep the exit doors to your left and keep moving forward, then take the escalator up one floor as modelled by our own Scouse Spouse, before leaving the building.
- The transit bus should be waiting by the kerb outside, so walk along until you find it, and if it isn’t, it will be on its way any minute. It is free and frequent and gets you to Terminal 4 in about 10 minutes. It will look like you are on the wrong bus as it leaves the area completely, but panic not – the add-on terminal comes into view eventually.
- Take the lift down to planta zero – level 0 – where there should be a big café called Mahoudrid, and practically opposite that is the ALSA info board and desk. Be aware the queues can be horrendous, so book online if you can and print the ticket yourself.
- The buses leave from outside and across the road, so if you have a ticket already, you can just go over there. They don’t always tell you exactly which bay your bus will arrive at, so get there at least 10-15 minutes before and check with the driver.
- The buses are comfortable, but they don’t like you to bring backpacks inside, so make sure you have a smaller bag with valuables, water, snacks, maybe a fleece and definitely some toilet paper. There will be a toilet on board, and on long journeys the driver will also stop somewhere with toilets and cafés/bars/shops, but there is no guarantee there will be enough toilet paper when bus loads keep having breaks there.
- Getting from our flight to the Mahoudrid café with hand luggage took us less than half an hour. Hand luggage and covid measures might add to that time. Hope that helps.
(On a covid note, there were no precautions, arrival forms, hand sanitiser stations or masks at that time.)
So far, so good. We had time for a drink, a loo break, filled our water bottles and got some snacks for the journey, and then went out to find our bus. This is not for the faint of heart, as the buses never seem to have my destination written on the sign in the window. Just make sure it’s an ALSA and approach the driver in a friendly manner (some of our fellow waiters for buses didn’t and annoyed the driver needlessly). Just saying the destination works, though there may be more than one bus going to the same place via different routes so offer your ticket for perusal!
In our case it took some time to figure out which passengers needed to have their luggage on which side of the bus, mainly because of a group of very giggly nuns of a certain age – we were wondering if they had been at the altar wine! Bless them though, they seemed to have a riot of a time on the whole journey, and even though some sour elderly passengers were tutting loudly at them, we enjoyed the good mood. Getting them into their seats was a bit like herding cats, but they got there in the end.
Finally settled in our prime (prebooked) seats, we were on our way! Or so we thought. Turns out our bus was faster than the other route to Astorga, but it still found time to stand at a different station in Madrid for nearly an hour. It was a good thing I had toilet paper in that bag I brought on board, as the toilets inside the station didn’t. And then, suddenly, we were off!
We drove and we drove, I think this was the 4 hour 35 minute, fast route.
We had a pit and potty stop somewhere – just enough time to share a beer in the last of the evening sunshine – and then arrived at Astorga around 20.30. The nuns and the driver all wished us a buen camino as we left.
From the bus station, cross the road and you can take a short cut straight up to the back of the Bishop’s Palace. You’ll see the hotel Gaudí on that square as well, with the cathedral to your right. From there we turned left, first into the big square with a lion statue and then into the Plaza Mayor with the town hall, bars and restaurants. I don’t know what it is about Astorga, but it has a big place in my heart and it always feels like coming home.
Five years ago we stayed in the hotel Astur Plaza, with its lovely low-key bar and eatery downstairs, so we’d booked it again. We checked in, picked up my poles – yay! – then dropped off our bags, got the toothbrushes out for later, and went downstairs for a well deserved celebratory beer with some insanely delicious chicken stew tapas on the side. The kind barlady let us have another dollop of that same stew with every drink, because we didn’t feel like a big meal. We offered to pay for it, but no – instead she stamped our credencials and bid us buen camino when we went off to our bed.
Only one more sleep and we would be back on the road!