Majestic Madrid, the capital city of Spain and the third largest city in the European Union. To be honest, after my visit to Spain last year, I was a bit biased towards beautiful Barcelona and sunny San Sebastian. Regardless, this time I was surrounded by the fun squad and committed to giving this city a clean slate is I could really discover its magic, which I feel like I did. Now I can proudly say that I’m converted. Madrid is a bustling place, but the centre feels small enough that I could easily blend in and experience it like a local. I felt satisfied that I’d fully experienced the high points of the city in the relatively short amount of time I had here on this trip – we made the most of every minute!
The Centre Of The Sun
Faith and I set out on our first day to explore around the square known as Puerta Del Sol, which literally translates to “gate of the sun”. If you were to look at it from above, it is obvious that this central point of the city mimics the sun’s rays, as all of the streets branch out from it like beams of light. No matter what time of the day or night, the square is always a bustling place, with crowds of people moving in all directions and a wide variety of street performers, from Sesame Street characters to full mariachi bands. Off to one side, we stumbled across the little plaque in the footpath set at 0km, which is the centre of the Spanish road system (meaning the street numbers are numbered based on their distance from the plaque). We took a quick look around, but we were actually women on a mission, heading for the palace and the oldest churros restaurant in Madrid (because crowns and chocolate are what all girls want, right?).
Chocolatería San Ginés has been making people chunky monkeys since 1894, with its thick cups of dipping chocolate and churros, which are deep fried sticks of doughnut batter. Now don’t get me wrong, the place is pretty cool with its green and white marble interior and old school vibes, but my personal opinion is that I’ve had better churros on the streets of Melbourne. A funny moment occurred when the waiter decided he liked Faith and I after we’d just finished up six churros, a coffee and the cup of dipping chocolate. He kindly brought us out a huge slice of chocolate cake, and although I was already so stuffed, I couldn’t be rude, so I reluctantly worked my way through it with a ‘gracias’ and a smile on my face. The whole time, all I could imagine was that scene from Matilda, when Miss Trunchbull forces poor Bruce Bogtrotter to eat the entire chocolate cake. I feel your pain, Brucey!
To work off our rather overrated treats, Faith and I walked to the palace, which is quite gorgeous from the outside, with awesome views away from the city. We spent a bit of time walking around it, from the square between the Almudena Cathedral, around to the other side where there are some maze-like public gardens. Afterwards, we settled at a local restaurant for some vegetable paella, before making our way to the Temple of Debod for sunset. This is actually an authentic temple from ancient Egypt that was relocated and rebuilt in Madrid in the 20th Century. Now it’s a popular spot to sightsee by day, and relax on the grass in the evening and watch the sun set over the palace in the distance.
Crystal, Cancellations and Cats
Our second day had already arrived and there was still plenty of things to tick off the to-do list – the first being Retiro Park. This huge area was originally used by the Spanish Monarchy as a recreational and relaxation area, which is what us common folk have used it for since it became a public park in the 19th Century. Here you’ll find a cute man-made lake where you can hire rowboats; wide paths through manicured lawns and shady forest; and the gorgeous Crystal Palace. This glass building resembles a green house, with warm yellow light pouring in at all times of the day. Unfortunately, I had to cut my visit to the park short, as I had a walking tour booked to learn about the history of Madrid and its notable writers and academics (geez, I have no idea why no one else in the squad wanted to join me?!).
After walking to Plaza Mayor, the central plaza of Madrid, I found out that the tour had been cancelled due to not enough people booking in. As a seasoned walking tour veteran (nerd), I didn’t let this stop me from exploring, so I followed my stomach to the San Miguel Market. This place is always packed, and for good reason. Each food stand holds its own little Spanish delicacy, including tapas, pintxos, croquettes, and everything in between. I feasted on way too many olives, then cursed myself when I remembered I was heading back to the Cats Hostel for their paella night, cooked fresh on their rooftop bar. I reunited with the squad there and ate way too much, but it felt good to have a relaxed evening, for a change.
Two nights earlier, excited for our first night in Madrid, we’d hopped off the coach from Valencia and went on the Sandeman’s Pub Crawl at 10pm, where we had a dance for a few hours at the local bars. We all retired fairly early, thinking we’d have an early night after traveling all day, but were met with herds of people at our hostel door. It turned out the Cats Party Hostel lives up to its reputation, and we couldn’t resist heading out again at midnight to crawl with the Cats crew. Let’s just say, three bars, one super club and a sunrise later, we made our way back with tacos in hand and a good night had by all.
Let’s Go, Lisbon
Before we knew it, we were back on the coach, headed for Portugal’s beautiful capital city, Lisbon. Sitting down and reflecting on my visits to Madrid so far, I realised how much I’ve experienced there. This visit was obviously fun filled, but last year actually had been too. I ate my way through a tapas tour, watched a flamenco show, went on a walking tour, and bought the weirdest biscuits I’ve ever tried (seriously, on an unmarked doorway in a tiny street, I followed a labyrinth of hallways through a convent before getting to a turntable that I put my cash on, spun around and received biscuits. The reclusive nuns on the other side of the wall bake them from secret, ancient recipes from Roman times. Strange but true!). I was actually sad to leave Madrid, but grateful that I’d gained a new perspective and sense of appreciation for this city.