Magnifico Madrid

A long bus ride later, I arrived into the sweltering intense forty degree heat of Madrid. I had been feeling ambivalent about Madrid. I didn’t feel like it had the biggest calling being a massive capital city right in the centre of Spain with no beach in sight. Reading about it on Nomadic Matt’s website was what convinced me that spending a couple of nights there would be worth it. And in fact by the end of my Spain trip, Madrid was my favourite city.

The first night I went walking in the El Retiro Park with a Canadian guy I met at the hostel. We watched the sun set and then got quite lost trying to find our way back out of the park. Everything just looks so different in the dark.

Clockwise from top left: A Madrid sunset, top of a random building, and a palace on a lake within El Retiro Park.
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Then I found a small Spanish bar and decided it was time to try the national dish paella. The traditional story behind paella was that it was made with rice in a big pan by men fishing away from their families. They put anything they could find into it including rats and shrimps. These days it is more commonly made with either seafood or rabbit but there are many flavours available. I tried the seafood version with mussels and shrimps paired with beautiful sangria. And oh it was so so delicious. My mouth is watering just writing this. It’s almost like the rice risotto my dad makes.

After a good nights sleep in my air-conditioned hostel (the first hostel I have stayed in that actually has had a/c!), I began with my favourite way of getting to know a city – a free walking tour by Sandmans.

Again it was excellent value for money (lol lol see my pun there??) with an enthusiastic friendly guide and funny tales. For example the tale of how tapas came to be. Back in the day, the workers were so poor they had to choose between having food or alcohol in their lunch breaks. Being alcoholic spanaids they of course chose the booze. Productivity was so bad in the afternoons that the king made a new law that bars had to serve free food (tapas) with alcoholic drinks so that the workers wouldn’t get quite so drunk. And that law has held ever since in Madrid. What a cool tale I thought.

The walking tour was great for highlighting places like Plaza Major, the best bridge in town for suicide, the Cathedral, and the Royal Palace. Of course now with that bridge being so popular, there are plastic barriers to stop people getting close to the sides.

Clockwise from left: Plaza Major monument, the Cathedral, and the local suicide bridge.
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Left: A statue I have forgotten the name of, Right: In front of the royal palace.
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Later after a nice siesta (lovingly Spanish naps!), I went into the Prado Museum. It contained a huge amount of art. The standout piece for me though was a weird one of a woman breast-feeding her father. I still get a little creeped out thinking of it. Not too sure what was happening in the artist’s mind. Afterwards I did a €14 tapas tour with Sandmans. The tour was pretty good fun although the quality of the tapas wasn’t fantastic. You could tell the food had been prepared ahead of time for us and kept warm. It was a great way to try many different Spanish foods and to drink more sangria.

This was also the day that I quite suddenly fell in love with Spain. And realised it had knocked Germany out of its top position in my list of favourite countries. The atmosphere and friendliness of the people is very welcoming. The lifestyle is quite different with the day tending to start late at noon, dinner from 9pm, and partying until sunrise. In fact most of the best clubs won’t open until 3am usually. But I loved the food, the sunshine and the culture.

On my final day in Madrid, I checked out the inside of the Royal Palace. It was certainly pretty amazing on the inside. No photos were allowed but I felt reasonably blown away by the decor. The Cathedral was okay. Seeing the amazing Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona made all other cathedrals seem very plain to me now. For lunch I had Spanish ham and some cheap tapas from Mercado de San Miguel. This is a glass building near Plaza Major worth having an easy cheap lunch at.

Then it was time to head to the train and catch the train. There was no way I planned on missing this train. I had tripled checked the time on my tickets, and then double checked again just to be definitely sure. I arrived at the train a little bit too early with a couple of hours to spare but hey, better too early than too late.

There had been a couple of other things I planned to do in Madrid but just couldn’t with the limited time. Like seeing some flamenco dancing would have been really cool. There were a couple of other museums and gardens that would have interesting to see as well. But I find that when travelling, I prefer a non-rushed style. Cramming as many sights and activities as possible in each day just makes me tired. I don’t appreciate the sights as much. Being a proper culture-vulture doesn’t leave a lot of time for that afternoon siesta nap either. Which admittedly I am growing quite fond of.

Sitting at the train station people-watching and contemplating life, I felt very happy about being in Spain and a little sad that I hadn’t planned more time to stay in this country. I had just one more city to visit before my flight back to England. The seaside city of Valencia. Most well known for oranges and of course La Tomatina.

And if you are interested, my hostel was called 360 Madrid. Amazing location right in the city centre with blissful air conditioning. I slept so well with the controlled temperature. Reasonably cheap too at €12 a night (on a weekday) in a ten bed room. It was more the atmosphere that made this hostel stand out though. Very very friendly staff and free churros (a yummy spanish doughnut) with chocolate dipping sauce in the mornings. Different free interactive hostel activities each night. It was easy to make friends among in such a relaxed and cheerful place. I feel very happy in recommending this hostel. Even if you decide to stay here just for the churros ;)

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