I’d like to begin by giving my blog some brief context. Having arrived in Spain in early November, with only a tourist’s knowledge of the country, I could never have predicted my experience thus far. Unique doesn’t quite do it justice.
First off, Spain has winter too! Having only visited Spain previously during the summer months, it didn’t occur to me that it can get quite cold here too and that the thin jacket I had optimistically stuffed into my bag in the hectic week leading up to my arrival wouldn’t suffice. Here as an English assistant teacher, I work in a school north of Madrid, in the mountainous sierra region. The decision to come to Spain was made spontaneously in the post-uni doom and gloom all post-grads know all too well. Within 2 weeks of the thought entering my mind, plans materialised and I found myself upon foreign shores. With no place to live, however.
Fortunately, my predicament provided the Augustinian friars (linked with the school I am teaching at) with the opportunity to showcase the first (and certainly not last) experience I had of Spanish hospitality since my arrival. Offering me to stay for a few days until I found a more permanent solution, those few days became a month and a half due to the immense difficulty of finding accommodation in Madrid in November. Whilst the language barrier made things tricky, they were extremely welcoming and kind. Refusing my offers of payment, I settled with buying a hamper full of spirits before I left (the Augustinians, as I discovered, don’t view God and booze as mutually exclusive!) Finally finding a flat in Moncloa (central Madrid), it is from here that I write to you now.
From here onwards, I intend only to offer advice and recommendations for those of you interested in either visiting or living in Madrid. Things happen later and slower here. By later, I refer mainly to mealtimes and nights out. It isn’t unusual for Spaniards to have dinner at 9, 10 or even 11. Furthermore, whilst I would expect to have had pre drinks, clubbed, devoured some greasy food and be tucked up in bed by 2am back in Blighty, it’s at this time when most people head to the clubs in Spain, finishing at around 5am. The nightlife in Madrid is exceptional. With cheap drinks, dynamic clubs and quirky bars, Madrid has it all. With pints of beer from €1.50, meeting up for a beer has never been so cheap and easy. For cool and quirky bars, head to Malasaña. I’d also thoroughly recommend a restaurant in this area called “Roll” which does delicious “American” food. Spanish food is also delicious, and tapas bars will never be more than a stone’s throw away. For those under 25, you can get a travel card called an abono which costs €20 a month and covers all public transport within the community of Madrid (which extends to about an hour radius around the city itself). Although this tends to be an investment residents would make, people have suggested that it’s financially worthwhile getting hold of one if you intend to visit Madrid for more than a week. You can get one in the Public Transport Office in Moncloa with your passport.
The priorities for attractions within Madrid would be the Royal Palace, the “Reina Sofia” and “Prado” museums, Plaza Mayor, Retiro park, Malasaña, Sol, Gran Via and Temple of Debod (a genuine Egyptian temple relocated to Madrid). I’d also recommend trying to see a flamenco show as they are extraordinary (Cueva de Lola is great and you can get great discounts through Groupon). I have also visited Toledo, Salamanca (all pictures), Avila and El Escorial, all of which are outside of Madrid but pretty close and all are absolutely worth visiting - in that order. Toledo is home to Toledo swords, Salamanca to exquisite architecture like Avila, and El Escorial has an enormous monastery that used to be the Royal Palace and is now also a museum. If you visit Salamanca, make sure you do the tour of the Cathedral, which allows you access to the rooftop and to panoramic views of the city. The walls of the Cathedral are littered with stunning and intricate designs, largely of a religious nature. I use “largely” because amongst the saints, angels, crucifixes, cherubs and Virgin Mary’s hide both an astronaut and a frog - both of which, upon discovery, claim to endow you with good luck.
Hopefully, this helps to give you an idea of what you’re in for if you choose to visit or live in Madrid. I would whole-heartedly recommend this city - for the places it has to visit, its culture and for the friendly people who live within it.
Thanks for taking the time to read the blog and best of luck in your travels :)
Written by Seb Harris (editor of travel simply)