When I began planning for this two-week trip to Europe, I knew I wanted our journey to begin in Madrid, capital city of Spain. Back in 2010, I was a sophomore at the University of Puerto Rico, longing for a life changing adventure. I worked, I saved up, I busted my little toosh off studying, and I applied to my school’s study abroad program with the Universidad Complutense de Madrid for a spot in their 2010 – 2011 student exchange program. I got in and my life after such experience would never be the same.
I went back to Madrid in 2015 for a short vacation, only to notice how little to nothing had changed. The University looked exactly as I'd left it, the apartment I used to live in, the streets, the sidewalks, and even the local spots we used to hang out at. Time passed, yet everything felt so familiar. I knew I wasn’t the same girl who ventured on her own to a new country; I’d changed quite a great deal.
In short, living in Madrid completely redefined my perspective on life. For it being so dear and special to me, I knew I had to come back. But this time, it was different. This time, I was coming back with a person who is as special to me as the city itself (and maybe even more).
(Want to read part II of my Madrid travel diary? Click here!)
Madrid, Day 1
Upon my return to Madrid last year, I opted for the lodging option most budget travelers seek out – a hostel. My experience at one of Hostal Cruz Sol’s private bedrooms was so incredible, I didn’t think twice when booking it again this time around. The hostel’s location is exceptionally centric, close to most sightseeing spots and nightlife. They offer free WiFi and your room gets cleaned on a daily basis. What else could you ask for?
On Being Tourists
On our first day out and about, we were starving. After an 8-hour flight, we landed at the Madrid Barajas International Airport around noon and were pretty much famished. Our local friends suggested we hit up a nice little restaurant with outdoor seating to enjoy the marvelous weather in Madrid.
La Mucca de Pez was the place, in the heart of el barrio Malasaña. Their menu is ever changing so I suggest checking out their Facebook page beforehand. Still, delicious food, ultra warm atmosphere, and cheap beers. Baby, I was sold!
After our bellies were filled, I was ready to give Terry the ultimate tour of Madrid, starting off at Plaza de España. The lovely square is propped up with a beautiful fountain and my favorite monument to Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, the greatest writer in Spanish literature; better known for writing The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha (a.k.a. my favorite novel and the reason why I named my dog Quixote).
After strolling around the Plaza for a bit, we made our way to the Temple of Debod, an ancient Egyptian temple, dating from 2nd Century B.C., which the Egyptian government donated to Spain in 1968.
Story is, Spain greatly aided Egypt in the rescue of a series of monuments and archeological sites, which were in danger of getting destroyed due to the building of the Aswan Dam across the Nile River. As such, Egypt felt all warm and fuzzy and decided to send the Temple of Debod to Spain as a thank you gift. Score.
We roamed the Temple for a bit and headed over to the Palacio Real de Madrid or Madrid’s Royal Palace. Hah! This is the official party place for the Spanish Royal Family, located right in front of the mesmerizing Plaza de Oriente square. The Palace also has a ridiculous garden setup, so feel free to buy a refreshing beverage and walk around the garden to enjoy its stunning landscaping. It costs around 11€ to do a full tour of the Palace and you can also stop by the Almudena Cathedral, which elegantly stands at the Palace’s side; very much worth the visit!
By the time we were done with the Palace and its surroundings, our tummies were growling. Thankfully, we were a few minutes away from my favorite place in all Madrid, el Mercado de San Miguel. Easily Madrid’s most beautiful market, el Mercado de San Miguel has all the tapas, wine, cheese, and prosciutto you could ever dream of. In summary, this gourmet tapas market hosts over 30 vendors, whose thirst-quenching drinks and succulent food will absolutely blow your mind.
Let’s talk about food coma. Oh boy! Luckily enough, the Plaza Mayor and the Puerta del Sol were not too far away from the market. I really wanted to end the day with a nice little stroll through these lovely spaces, so it worked out perfectly!
The Plaza Mayor was built back in the day of Philip III’s reign. Think early 1600’s. It is Madrid’s main square and you can always stop by for a decent glass of wine and some superb people watching. Most of the restaurants in the Plaza have outdoor seating, which is wonderful if you’re in the mood for a delicious Spanish meal al fresco. Though the Puerta del Sol is one of the busiest places in the city, it’s still quite a lovely scene. It hosts Km 0, the center of the radial network of all Spanish roads. Legend says if you step on it, you are destined to come back to this enchanting city. Trust me, ever since 2011 I’ve made sure to always step on Km 0 before leaving Madrid.
Madrid, Day 2
On Reminiscing About Being A Local
After going through most of Madrid’s main tourist attractions (glad we got that out of the way!), I wanted to show Terry a bit more of the local scene in Madrid. We started our day with a solid Spanish breakfast at the Taberna El Papelón. What exactly did that imply?
- 2 orders of pan con tomate = toasts with a delicious tomato spread.
- 2 zumos de naranja = freshly made orange juice, squeezed right before your eyes. Bam!
- 1 surtido "La Jarta" = an assortment of Spanish meats and cheeses.
- 2 papelones de jamón ibérico = cured ham and manchego cheese sandwich.
Our breakfast was probably the saltiest meal Terry had ever tasted, but it was absolutely divine. Alas, we made our way to the Metro (probably the cleanest one I’ve witnessed in my lifetime) and continued our journey to my old neighborhood in Vallehermoso, Madrid.
As a student of the Complutense University of Madrid, I lived in a quiet residential neighborhood in the vicinity of our campus. Same observation I made back in 2015, nothing really changed; it all looked exactly as I’d left it back in the day.
We walked from my old apartment to the University and I couldn’t help but to get all these flashbacks... The crazy nights, the wild parties, the friendships made, the lessons learned, the experiences gained, the night long laughs, the homesick cries; wouldn’t have traded any of it for the world.
Natalia Solis, a good friend from college, invited us to the Mercado San Ildefonso in the barrio of Malasaña. This modern urban market is located in one of the trendiest barrios of Madrid and hosts several street food joints – totally worth the visit! There, we got a Nutella, strawberries, and oreo crepe, which completely satisfied our sugary cravings. Pure delight!
On our way back to our hostel, we stumbled upon the shop where I got my first tattoo in 2011, Tattoo Center. Yes, you can laugh. The name is the tackiest thing but you have to admit, they did a mighty fine job.
Time will tell, my very first and most favorite tattoo. Also, my life motto.
I got it a few weeks after I fully settled in as an exchange student and it meant the world to me. Still does! But back then I was beginning to understand some pretty major things. Most of these lessons surrounded the realm of life not exactly going your way and how you were going to react to it. A lot of times, you simply have to let go and let time do its thing. Easier said than done, I know, but I promise you’ll get it right eventually.
That night, we went to a very touristy club and we absolutely loved it. Yes, Joy Eslava got turnt right around 2AM and we had a huge blast! The drinks were a bit pricey, obvs, but the music was right up our alley. Touristy or not, it was the best night we had in Madrid. Live dance show and everything.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter where you are, where you’ve been, or what you’ve been doing or not doing. All that matters is, who you're with and how much you're growing together, supporting each other, and enjoying each other's company while you're at it, regardless of whatever it is you're up to.
That's it for now. Though I’m not done with Madrid just yet! Part two of our Madrid travel diary is coming up next week, so hold on tight to your knickers because I still have a whole lot to tell ya!