Around about 6 weeks ago, I was curled up in bed sifting through Facebook on my phone, insanely jealous of what seemed like everysingleperson I know on a half-term city break. Don’t get me wrong, staycations are great, but when you live in a city where doing anything mildly entertaining costs you half your wages, you may as well pay for a flight to somewhere else and spend 3 days marveling at how ‘everything is so cheap!’ and ‘we should probably move here instead of London’.
And they say Londoners don’t do anything but moan about living in London…
ANYWAY. Madrid. We didn’t choose it as such, but rather I felt skyscanner did. I.e. Madrid was the cheapest flight on their with the hope of some glimmers of sunshine. We flew with Ryanair and the flights were £60 return, WHAT A DREAM.
We opted to stay in a hostel rather than an Airbnb, as it was only Laura and me on the holiday and we both rather like making holiday pals. We arrived at our hostel, which seemed pretty empty, except a couple of very young groups of what we thought were German youths.
At this point, we panicked, our quarter life crisis once again kicking in, deciding that we must be far too old to stay in hostels at the ripe old age of 25 and that we should probably leave right away.
Of course, that evening in the hostel bar, we met people from all over the world ranging from 18-35ish and were instantly relieved of our fear.
Madrid is a bloody beautiful city. It is very typically European, full of expansive plazas, stunning architecture and rammed full of tourists with backpacks of their fronts standing as in the way of all the locals as possible.
On our first day, after dumping our bags and having a quick clothing change at the hostel, we headed out in search of ‘Chocolate con Churros’ , a Spanish specialty. Essentially a really thick, dark hot chocolate which you dip fat, deep-fried pastry into. We were recommended to go to ‘Chocolateria San Gines’, just a couple of minutes from the Plaza Major, where tourists and locals sit outside the café, drinking and eating all of the heart-attack inducing goodies.
We then took a Time Out recommendation and took a wander down the ‘Grand Via’, Madrid’s answer to Oxford Street. However, the roads are so bloody wide I did also pretend I was in the US at one point. Not sure why, never been.
We ended up in the Plaza de Espana, and decided to take a 15 minute nap/lay in the sunshine. Bliss. It was at this very point Laura and I remembered why we are good on holiday together. We both enjoy regular breaks to lay horizontally.
Our plan was to then go on a walking tour. Now, many people groan at the idea of a walking tour, I know 20 year old Christina certainly would have. But TRUST, they are the best way to get an overall view of the touristy parts of the city, as well as a load of historical information. I try and go on walking tours in pretty much every city I go to, and from experience I can say they are always informative and the guides are usually super enthusiastic and knowledgeable, as a good walking tour should say it is FREE. Of course, nothing in life is actually free and what this translates as is ‘free to begin but pay in tips what you think the tour is worth at the end’. Hence why the guides are good, they usually ONLY get paid what you tip them.
However, sadly we rocked up too late to the meeting point and were told no way, Jose, and to come back tomorrow. It was Saturday and sunny so we probably should have got their earlier but NAPS.
Instead, we decided to head to the ‘hipster district’ of Malasaňa, which turned out to be the best decision in the world. We found a lush little plaza full of locals sitting in the sun and drinking cervezas, whilst listening to some bloke having a right good go on a clarinet. We ordered a load of food and sangria, and proceeded to sit and drink and eat for about two hours. In typically British form, we also realised after sitting in direct sunlight for two hours without suncream, we were burnt. When we arrived back at the hostel, we realised that I looked particularly ridiculous as I had burnt my nose and the top of my throat and chest thanks to my high-neck top. This scrapped my plans for a Bardot top for the evening as I looked like patchwork quilt. Cheers fashion of 2016 and your ever changing necklines.
That evening, we went out with people from our hostel to a variety of terrible bars thanks to our participation in a bar crawl. Luckily, we were both pretty merry and had made some pals so it was all good fun.
One thing we hadn’t been prepared for was how late everything happens here. We went to a wine bar type place prior to aforementioned bar crawl, returning to the hostel at roughly 11pm thinking we would be heading out soon. Oh no, 1 o’clock was our time of departure. And Madrid by night is thriving. There are people EVERYWHERE eating, drinking, chatting and just generally loving life. Of course, London and many cities in the UK have people all over the shop late at night, but the main difference was that no one was throwing up in the street. No one was sat on the floor with their heels kicked off wailing to their mate or scoffing a big Mac. It all just seemed a bit more sophisticated. People can handle their drink.
This is probably largely down to the tapas culture. With every drink you order, you receive usually olives or crisps to nibble on while you booze, for freebies. If you hunt out some of the more local places, you can grab patatas bravas or more substantial tapas for free with your drink. In fact, on our second evening, we went to a place called ‘El Tigre’, where we paid 5 euros for a PINT of sangria, and with it came two dinner-plate size portions of tapas. The delightful bartender also produced two shots of vodka, which when we refused to drink them, dumped them into our sangria before we could protest. Fab. BUT. Dinner and giant drink for 5 euros each. Cannot complain.
I’ve skipped ahead to the evening on day 2. During the day, we did actually attend the walking tour, which was ran by SANDEMANs. They have tours all over Europe, the Middle East and the US. So yeah if go away anywhere check to see if they have a tour in your chosen destination.
On our final day in Madrid, it was raining an absolute shitload. We spent the morning lolling around the hostel, moaning about the rain. We then spent the afternoon hot-footing it to various eating and drinking establishments, whilst moaning about the rain. We spent the evening on another Sandeman’s tour, this one a TAPAS TOUR (that’s right, a tour involving eating tapas as three different restaurants, one stop being the ‘Museo de Jamon’ aka The Ham Museum. Lolz), whilst now moaning to other people in our party about the rain. I think it comes with being British.
Anyway, I cannot recommend Madrid enough. Small enough to walk everywhere, yet plenty to see and do. Oh and Tapas and Sangria. All of it.
Chocolateria San Gines – for chocolate con churros, local style
El Tigre – Cheap as chips, good pre-night out nibbles
Rosi La Loca – Andalusian tapas
Walking Tour /Tapas Tour– check out SANDEMANs for more info
Plaza Major – Main Plaza
Puerta Del Sol – Another plaza, large meeting place for Spaniards on night out, some nice fountains/statues etc
Plaza de Espana – at the end of the Grand Via, there were market stalls there when we were there on Saturday
Royal Palace – a replica of of the one in Versailles!
Cathedral – hilarious to look at as encompasses many different architectural styles as built over very long period of time
Malasaňa – cool neighbourhood not far from the Grand Via, local hangout
THINGS WE MISSED BUT YOU SHOULD DO
Retiro Park – big old park, too rainy for us sadly though
Art Museums – there’s 3, but we’re not that bothered about art (so uncultured)
Temple of Debod – nicknamed ‘Egypt in Madrid’