Madrid was the second stop on my Spain trip. We traveled there via the Eurorail from Barcelona. At the time I liked Madrid better than Barcelona, but when I looked back, I can’t really decide.
Within an hour of being in Madrid, my phone was stolen. I’m not going to embark on that story, but i promise to tell it another time.
As a result, I felt I paid more attention to where I was and what I was doing, instead of snapping off hundreds of photos.
Meandering Through Madrid
The first day in any city, just wandering is one of the best things to do, to take in the atmosphere and get your bear a little. We set off to enjoy Madrid with only 2 things on our list – free museum hours, and to eat. We walked down side streets, winding in the general direction of the museums and bought paella magnets as souvenirs (which is the second best thing to eating it).
We rented bikes and rode through the Bien Retiro and up and down the main strip by the museums. The architecture was incredible and similar to running, we got to see a lot in a short period of time. For $10, it was a great way to burn off all the croissants we’d been eating and experience the city in a different way. Europe’s bike lanes made it way less scary than riding in NYC.
This wasn’t originally on my list of museums I wanted to see, but ended up being one of the best. We went during Siesta, so admission was free. Most of Madrid’s museums have free hours, so check when they are. These museums are world reknown and worth paying for, but when budget traveling, free is free!
As required by every trip to Madrid, we visited the Prado museum. There are free hours at night, with the line starting 1 hours before entry. We jumped on line and quickly made friends. The museum is huge, and can take you hours, but we did a quick 1 hours tour. Christian art isn’t really my forte. I can appreciate it, but it’s not high on my favorite art list.
Behind the Prado is San Jerónimo el Real, a beautiful cathedral. Spain is a network of beautiful cathedrals, and I never tired of seeing them.
Palaces, Paella and Kodak moments
Dessert for Breakfast
We started the morning at Pasteleria la Mallorquina right of Puerta Del Sol. I’m talking the freshest, most decadent, beautiful pastries in a bustling bakery. There were bar stools to eat and sip coffee, but we took our breakfast to go, ambling down the streets, savoring the sweets.
The Royal Palace
Europe might be dotted with castles and royal palaces, but El Palacio de Real was my first.
We were able to use our college IDs (no expiration date = I’m a senior forever) and only paid $7 for admission. The palace, while no longer used as the official residence, was half museum/half history tour. You walk through all the rooms preserved in their 17th, 18th & 19th century splendor. The courtyard alone is breathtaking. You also get admission to the armory which ended up being one of the cooler parts. Looking at the helms and plates, it’s a wonder they could even fight under all that weight.
I bring the rain with me
Things that are true: when I traveled to the desert in Arizona, I brought with me 3 days of rain. When I traveled to Madrid, I brought with me a monsoon. With a pelting cold rain falling from the sky, we ducked into the Mercado de San Miguel.
This market was a gourmet food festival gone crazy – olives stuffed with muscles and clams, cones full of baby sausages, tubs of paella, fresh hand made pasta. Oh, and the paella was a joint deal with wine. For $10 I was stuffed, satiated, and most importantly, dry.
After eating as much as we could, we decided to brave the outdoors. I will never again judge a plastic Poncho-wearing tourist. Covered head to toe, we skipped through the city. Unpopular opinion: Madrid is beautiful in the rain. The cobble stone streets, the emptiness – it made for a great afternoon regardless of the weather.
Baby’s First Hostel – Let the solo travel begin
I parted from my friends and began the solo part of my trip, starting with the most important part: tracking down a disposable camera since I was phoneless. It was incredibly difficult to find but eventually I found a Kodak store and purchased 2.
I checked in to the most amazing hostel, The Hat, Madrid – http://thehatmadrid.com/. If you are looking for a hostel, I can not recommend this enough. There was a rooftop bar where I was able to sit and relax, and even had free breakfast.
The next morning I jumped on the hostels free walking tour – the guide gave us an incredible tour, citing the history and importance of all the places I’d been walking around, with fun trivia. From now on, I will always start my trip with a walking tour. The smaller places we’d passed became important, the quirks of the city we’d been wondering about were explained. They brought us into the Cathedral de Almundena and taught us about it, rather than me just assuming it was another gothic church.
I then grabbed lunch with friends I’d made on the tour. In one day, I was starting to realize, traveling alone isn’t lonely, but rather freeing. I was free to be on my own schedule, and enjoy without compromise.
The Useful Things:
Travel on the Cheap:
Look for free museum hours/discounts – out of all the museums, we did all for free/discounted rate. Art is more enjoyable with free admission.
Madrid is a very walkable city – with the exception of arriving (our eurorail pass included a free transfer to the local train), we walked everywhere and didn’t pay for any transportation while there.
The water here, unlike Barcelona, was safe to drink. I saved so much money drinking tap water. Embrace it.
Madrid is in the center of Spain and perfectly positioned for day trip. I chose to stay overnight in the places I was visiting instead of doing day trips, but for places such as Cordoba, Valencia, Sevilla, a day trip (albeit a long day) is good if you only want to spend a few hours there.
Check out the parks and take it slow. While every city has them, parks are a great way to slow down and enjoy your vacation. You might feel pressured to get as much done as possible, but we found city at café’s and walking through the parks were some of the best moments of the trip.
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