09.10.15 — Travel
Beware that this is a very long post, so grab some sangría and settle down, and pop on this terrible Spanish cheesy music to get into the spirit. Done? Fabuloso. Let’s boogie…
And so, following up from my previous blog post on my trip to the Spanish Province of Murcia, I finished off by revealing that I’d headed to the town of Balsicas to grab a train up to the capital city of Madrid! This I did indeed, spending a good few hours in the comfort of one Spain’s lovely Renfe trains.
After a rather cosy yet uneventful journey (except having my passport checked by the Spanish police), I rolled up in Madrid Atocha Train Station at about 10pm, and headed straight for the Metro – only I didn’t, because my eTicket wouldn’t open the station gates. Good start.
After some confusion and some terrible Spanish in the panic, I managed to get through and found myself on one of the spacious tube trains, which to my delight was fully air conditioned. Upon finding my way to Gran Vía, the large artery road running through the centre of the city, I resurfaced and took my first glimpse at Madrid.
10pm it may have been but the city was buzzing – with cars flittering around and swathes of people milling around a large square and up and down the streets. I wasn’t in the mood for taking in such niceties, however – I was tired and wanted to sleep. To this end I whipped out my phone, paid EE a ridiculous £5 for 24hrs of internet and followed Google Maps to my hostel, Hospedaje Dolce Vita.
However I was in for a shock – I rocked up to an unlit sign and a blacked out, locked door. Uh oh. Panicked, I wandered around the block to try and find another entrance, but with no other option I had to turn to the trusty Spanish – asking a guy on the street corner if he knew if the hostel was actually still open and how I could get in. Luckily, he tapped an intercom on the wall, I spoke with a guy on the other end and I was in.
The hostel was as lovely as I’d seen on the online photos, and I was shown to my cosy room, where I made a beeline for the balcony and took a photo overlooking the street – a street which was an offshoot two minutes from Gran Vía itself. The location was excellent!
The following morning, like in Berlin and Stockholm and Copenhagen before, I decided it would be beneficial to take a free walking tour of the city just to orientate myself a little and get a feel for the place. Having picked up a Sandeman’s New Madrid leaflet in the reception upon arrival, I headed down to Plaza Mayor (Madrid’s main large square) and met up with our Scottish tour guide, Naomi, who’d been living in Madrid for over 5 years.
The free walking tour, it turned out, was a crash course on the history of Madrid and Spain in general, which was super informative and enjoyable. I even got chosen to act as King Carlos II, which was fun, even if he did turn out to be infertile “bewitched” result of inbreeding who lost his family the throne. Better than nothing, I guess.
Anyway, Spanish history aside (if you want to read up on that, you can visit Madrid and take the tour, or you could just grab a cup of tea and do some Googling), the tour was an excellent first look at the beautiful sights of the historic city, and provided some great context for the coming days snooping…
Sooner or later we’d arrived at the Palacio Real, the Royal Palace, and I’d gotten chatting to two girls from Argentina and another who was from Thailand and studying in London. A larger copy of the palaces in Versailles built by the royal family from France, the area was a breathtaking break from the little streets of Downtown Madrid.
Naomi was a great tour guide, and when she mentioned that there was an afternoon tour round the creative writer’s district of the city, I signed straight up alongside the three girls I’d met. For the time being, though, we’d headed to Puerta del Sol, (literally meaning “Gate of the Sun”) and had a chance to stand right in the (geographically inaccurate) centre of Spain. As incorrect as it may technically be, it’s the spot from where all postage was calculated and from which all road signs are measured, and so I didn’t pass up on the opportunity to stand on it and bag myself a photo souvenir…
After a tortilla española sandwich (yes, really) and some juice it was time to head back to Plaza Mayor and regroup for the afternoon tour. Heading to the creative district, I learned of poets and playwrights and bullfighters and scandals and much, much more, all before ending in an area known as Majestic Madrid, with it’s array of fountains, beautiful buildings and parks, all centred around the Museo Del Prado, Madrid’s world-renowned art museum.
Finishing in Parque Del Retiro, the city’s main park, I had no time to mill around as I had to dash back to the hostel to get ready for my third tour of the day – a tapas tour I’d signed up to earlier on also! I bid the girls farewell and grabbed a tube back, donning a fancy shirt and some shorts for the evening, before heading back once again to my now-second home, Plaza Mayor.
Meeting the new group, we wasted no time in speeding on down to the first tapas bar, where we had paella, patatas bravas (roast potatoes in a spicy tomato-based sauce) and croquetas, all washed down with a lovely mix of sherry and lemonade from Andalusia called rebujito.
I got chatting to a girl who was visiting Europe from New York, but we were soon whisked off to the next tapas bar, which turned out to be the infamous Museo De Jamón (literally ‘ham museum’), where we indulged in some Spanish Manchego cheese and delicious Iberian Ham, with the drink of choice being a Sangría-like bottled drink who’s name I have totally forgot – email me if you know (fancy new link now on top right of each page).
As the night wore on we were taken to the final tapas bar, where we had a selection of more tapas, and engaged in the tricky art of pouring red wine from a leather sack directly into our mouths. Caring way too much for my immaculate white shorts, I decided to give the risk of stains a miss, and opted to just drink mine by the glass!
All too soon, though, it was time to head back home for a good night’s sleep after a super busy first day in the city.
The next day I had myself a custom itinerary written up, based on what I’d seen on the tours and what had been recommended to me. I headed off back to the Puerta Del Sol and visited the brand new huge Apple Store, which had been fitted to a gorgeous wood and steel finish much unlike any other Apple Stores I’ve ever been to.
After a nosey round looking for new Apple Watch Straps (read my review here), I headed back towards Majestic Madrid and Parque Del Retiro now that I had some time to fully appreciate the sights. Passing by the Puerta De Acalá, I headed into the park and spent a good few hours nosing around and relaxing in the sun.
Wandering past the large man-made lake, I found another fountain at which to relax, and then set out to find the much discussed world-first statue devoted to the devil. Called The Fallen Angel, the sculpture sits atop a column at 666 meters above sea level and is very controversial in the city, as one must look up at the devil to see it – I was unsurprised to find that there were no plaques or signs announcing the sculpture’s subject.
I also took some time to wander over to the Palacio De Cristal (Chrystal Palace), a slightly smaller but not-burned-down version of the English counterpart, which was much more impressive than I though it’d be.
I then visited the Museo Del Prado, as I have always loved Goya’s Pinturas Negras (black paintings), which he created just before his death as he was ravaged with illness. I spent a particularly long period of time gawking at my favourite, Saturno Devorando A Su Hijo, (Saturn Devouring His Son), but unfortunately no photos are allowed within the museum, so I leave you with a Wikipedia link to have a nosey instead. I also had a nosey at the most famous of Velázquez’s paintings, Las Meninas, which I studied in Design Theory – it’s huge!
That afternoon I decided to make like a true Spaniard and headed back to the hostel for a siesta. Before jumping into bed, however, I took a trip up some (very narrow) stairs to the roof of the hostel, to take in the breathtaking views from their roof terrace. I then had a rest for a couple of hours, before heading out in the evening to appreciate the city in the darkness like a true Spaniard.
When the time came to have some tea, something got lost in translation and I ordered two burgers instead of a double, but with the second one being free I resolved not to moan and to attempt to eat both, which was a great idea at the time. They were (two of) the most delicious burger(s) that I’ve ever had!
By this time it had gotten pretty much fully dark, and I headed down Gran Vía to grab a view of the other government-protected neon sign in the city, the huge and beautifully colourful animated Schweppes billboard which is visible from all along the huge street. Also, being as obsessed with lighting as I am, I found my paradise in the form of a shop dedicated solely to specialist lighting.
Heading down into Puerta Del Sol once again, I was delighted to find the place abuzz with street performers, locals and tourists, all soaking in the ambience and having a few tapas and cañas (small beers). I stayed a while, observing a protest pass by and watching a couple of guys playing an instrument unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, before heading down to Majestic Madrid to see what was going on down there in the moonlight.
Majestic Madrid looked beautiful in the evening, with the buildings all lit up brilliantly. I was drawn to the fountain from before in all it’s bright green glory, and stopped for a while to take some photos and watch the traffic pass before I headed back up Gran Vía to turn in for the night.
On my third and final (boo) day in the city, I spent a couple of hours packing and checking out, before heading to a rather interesting sight I’d heard about, the Temple of Debod, an Egyptian temple which was donated by Egypt to Spain and moved brick-by-brick to it’s new home in the centre of Madrid. I grabbed the tube, wandered through the Plaza De España, and found the temple perched atop a hill overlooking Madrid’s suburbs.
I didn’t initially realise that you could go inside, but once I’d gotten up close and personal, I noticed the automatic glass doors and headed inside. Covered from floor to ceiling in ancient Egyptian art and hieroglyphics, it was pretty neat to be able to appreciate some African history in the middle of Europe. I soon had to bid the temple farewell, however, and head back to Downtown Madrid to eat some churros and buy some souvenirs.
Needless to say I didn’t go to the churrería (churro café) above, I headed for the Chocolatería San Gins, the oldest churrería in Madrid, and apparently the best. I had a delicious snack (okay, large snack) of churros with chocolate, before heading out once again to buy some traditional violet-flavoured sweets from La Violeta, another Madrid institution.
With just a few hours left until I had to pick up my bag and head for the airport, I decided to head back to the Royal Palace and the huge cathedral which stands in front of it, as I remembered that Naomi had mentioned that the old “once you’ve seen one cathedral, you’ve seen them all” phrase does not apply to this place. Began in 1879, the Catedral De La Almudena fell victim to the Spanish “mañana” attitude (leave it ’til tomorrow) and was only finished in 1993, and the different styles of the generations which passed have left their rather beautiful mark.
Inquisitive, I grabbed my trusty Canon and headed inside…
Everything in the cathedral is huge and massively impressive, but my favourite thing was the colours and style of the roof some 70 metres above. After wandering around for a considerable time with my eyes towards the sky, I lost track of time and ended up having to rush out and head back to pick up my bags!
I wound up back at my hostel, and after picking up my bag and a few tube stops, I arrived at Madrid Airport for my flight back to Manchester. After some confusion finding my gate and the gate which they subsequently changed us to, I settled down to a Burger King (oh yeah) overlooking the airfield.
With the news that my mum’s flight back up from Murcia had been delayed by three hours, I settled down for the journey and took some photos of the city as we ascended into the night.
I say hasta luego (see you soon) to the city with good intention, as Madrid has been my favourite city I’ve visited so far in my many travels (travel section coming soon) around Europe and beyond thus far. With my Spanish in tow (Spanish site launching soon also) and with portfolio updates ongoing, I plan on applying to work in this amazing city in the new year!
Hasta el año que viene…