aking a trip to Spain was never much of an “if” and always more of a “when” because I was stubbornly set on visiting one of my best friends, Sarah, who is also studying abroad. On the last Friday of February, I set off to spend five and a half days in the sunniest capital of Europe and managed to successfully navigate my way to Madrid. Once Sarah and I were connected, we left the airport, took a ride on the Metro, and started on our adventure! As I stepped out of the Vodafone Sol station, it took all of two seconds for me to become completely enamored.
I had been told that trying Chocolate Churros in Spain was a must, which made San Ginés the perfect first stop on Sarah’s itinerary. We ordered six to share and they came with a wonderfully thick chocolate sauce, which I may have consumed half of. After dropping my things off at Toc Hostel Madrid, we decided to grab lunch at Cervecería Cruz Blanca. This was my first introduction to Spain’s food culture. Unlike in Ithaca, it is typical for Spaniards to have lunch at 2pm and dinner at 9pm. (A stark contrast to my grandmotherly ways of having dinner at 5pm.) Additionally, I quickly learned that lunch is a big affair as our meal came with two courses, drinks, bread, and a dessert! Once I finished my pesto pasta, anchovies, and limón helado, Sarah and I walked to Palacio Real, Templo de Debod, and Plaza de España. All of the sights were beautiful, but I found myself most in love with the small, winding streets, colorful houses, and intricate balconies.
The next morning, I checked out of Toc Hostel Madrid and headed to Retiro Park with Sarah. Now, every city’s major park aways seems to be compared to Central Park so I went in with eager curiosity to see how it matched up. I can’t say which was better because they were so different, but Retiro Park definitely felt a lot more tropical. Sarah guided me through the park, past the crystal palace, and finally to the lake where we chat, munched on snacks, and people watched. We then stopped for lunch at McDonalds to try their Macaroons, yes they sell Macaroons, and I used my Spanish for the first time! After polishing off some McNuggets that actually tasted like chicken, we walked through Plaza Mayor to get to my second hostel, The Hat Madrid. I loved this hostel so much that I will actually be writing an entire blog post with more details and information for anyone planning a trip to Madrid.
Monday was my first full day on my own and I was nervous about not finding enough to do. Fighting my pride, I decided to do a free walking tour around the city. It ended up being really fun because I got to hear more interesting facts about many of the landmarks that I had seen with Sarah. A highlight was passing by the cafe that Ernest Hemingway used to frequent, especially because The Sun Also Rises is a favorite book of mine. After the tour, I walked to El Museo del Prado and successfully got a free student pass. Although I’m not a huge art connoisseur, it was cool to see so many paintings and to read about the context behind them. When I got back to the hostel, I took a quick nap and then spent the rest of the day wandering the streets of Madrid. Quite literally. I left the hostel, picked a street, and walked around until I found myself at the palace once again. Palacio Real easily became one of my favorite places to visit in Madrid because of it’s proximity to my hostel. The ability to sit in the Palace’s garden and gaze at this historical landmark with over 3,000 rooms was definitely one of my favorite parts of the trip.
On the morning of my last day, I woke up to gray clouds and light rain. There was something sad and unnatural about a sunless Madrid, but I joked that the gray clouds were Ithaca and London catching up with me. Eventually the sun came out, which allowed Sarah and I to spend a majority of the day hanging out on the rooftop bar of The Hat. Because the bar wasn’t open yet, we only had to share the roof with a group of young Portuguese people who were celebrating a birthday. I also seized the chance to climb up a ladder on the side of the roof to grab a snapshot the city’s rooftops before the sun set. With a stunning view of Madrid, there was no better way to spend the last few hours than laughing and relaxing with my best friend.
My trip to Madrid was a special because it was filled with wonderful memories and so many personal victories. By the end of my trip, I was comfortable walking around Sol on my own and even knew where I was going. I got over my fear of using Spanish and found myself using it frequently (though only on a basic level) by the end. I ate everything on my list of things to eat (Churros, Tapas, Paella, Flan, and un Bocadillo de Calamares) and went the entire week without paying for a single activity! Even though I got to see the most beautiful fountains and monuments, my absolute favorite part of the trip was being able to spend hours talking to Sarah. Because of this, Madrid will always hold a special place in my heart. Though it probably won’t be anytime soon, I have hope that I will someday return to this beautiful city with kind people, vibrant culture, and endless sun.