After a bit of research, we learned that El Escorial is accessible by intercity bus from Madrid. All we had to do was to take the Metro nearest our apartment all the way to the end of the line at Mancloa where a major transportation hub links the subway system to the intercity bus system.
Who needs a tour bus?
Instead of paying 83 euros, here is the cost per couple to go yourself on public transit:
Metro to Moncloa–4.80 round trip
Bus 664 or 661 to El Escorial–16.80 round trip
Entrance to El Escorial–20 (Interestingly, they refused to give me the senior discount because they said it was available to EU passports only. First time that has ever happened.)
Audioguide to El Escorial–8 (And their audioguide is a Samsung tablet with excellent visuals and commentary.)
Total: 49.60 euros, not much more than half the price of the paid tour that never showed up.
Believe me, El Escorial is worth the trip.
Commissioned by Phillip II in 1557, it was completed in 1584, a remarkable achievement, considering the times and the scale of the complex. El Escorial includes two palaces (one for the Hapsburgs and one for the Bourbons when they became rulers of Spain); a monastery; a basilica; the pantheon where most of the Spanish kings are interred with a separate pantheon for princes and princesses; a library of more than 40,000 volumes; the formal gardens or alcuzar and an enormous showcase of art.
Inside the rooms of El Escorial hang paintings by El Greco, Titian, Tintoretto, Velazques, Veronese, Ribero and dozens of other rock stars of European Renaissance and Baroque painting. As an art museum alone, El Escorial would rank with the best in Europe.
It took us three full hours to follow the detailed audioguide. You can choose a shorter, two-hour visit in the audioguide, but as long as you have traveled the 20 miles or so out of Madrid, you might as well go for the entire experience. We did, and we were happy with our choice.
After a quick lunch in the bus terminal, we jumped aboard the 664 line for a pleasant ride back through the choked traffic of Madrid’s freeways. By the way, the intercity buses are exactly the same as the tour buses, with very comfortable seats and large windows to view the scenery.
Back in town and after a bit of rest and cocktails, we celebrated our triumph over tour companies with an excellent dinner at the Taste Gallery across from Mercado San Miguel, where we had dined previously. Uncharacteristically, Lynn ordered the Argentine steak, which came out perfectly done and delicious. My lamb chops were equally tasty though quite thin. The restaurant offers a three-glass tasting of wine, which we chose to our pleasure. The waiters were friendly, accommodating, despite the crowds that showed up right after we walked in.
By the time we returned to Lavapies, the neighborhood was rocking. It’s Friday night, after all.