Life’s been a bit crazy lately, with so many changes on the horizon. But if there’s one thing that’s constant, it’s how much I love to travel and how much I love Spain. So when my friend invited me along on a trip to Madrid, how could I say no? The plan was Madrid, Florence and Disneyland. Well, I’m up for anything that involves Spain so quickly booked the time off work, but I wasn’t so crazy about visiting Disneyland. I know, I know, but I’m not the biggest fan of queueing or crowds, so I decided to skip Disneyland and would return to Spain. Then I got to thinking that as I had already been to Florence, maybe I could go solo after our stint in Madrid and really push myself to see if I could travel solo.
And so, after a lovely day with my family on the Saturday, I was in the car at 4.30am on a chilly Sunday morning on the way to the airport courtesy of parents’ taxi. I’d had absolutely none of my usual pre-trip worries, and that in itself worried me. Why wasn’t I worrying? Had I forgotten to worry about something? Even the prospect of being alone in another country wasn’t really worrying me…what had happened to me? After a quick reassuring chat with my parents that if it all went Pete Tong and I hated it I could book a quick flight home, I was on my way.
A smooth flight later and I landed in Madrid, quickly picked up my bag and was on my way into the city. It had all seemed so easy and straightforward, until I found myself wandering around a metro station for 30 minutes unable to find the line I needed. The early morning start and sudden realisation that I was lost made me want to cry. A few ahhhh texts to friends, a moment to gather myself and I found someone to help me. Come on Becky! I soon found my way to Atocha station where I had to spend an hour in a queue to drop my bag in a luggage locker, before finally making my way to Sol to meet my friends.
Sitting in the sun, with a cold drink in my hand, a paella on the plate and friends sitting across from me, my stress of the morning was instantly gone. I was in Spain. I had Spanish food and sunshine. I was happy – it doesn’t take much! And after a delicious welcome to the city it was now down to the serious business – let’s see Madrid!
My favourite way to see a new city is to just wander. Of course I like to see ‘the sights’ but to really get a feel for a new place, it can’t get much better than just walking around and seeing what’s what. A gentle stroll up through Sol, past CentroCentro and towards Retiro Park. Deciding the short walk was enough for now, we sat at a cafe next to the water and watched everyone bustling about, posing for photos while we got a nice cold drink and sat soaking up the sun. After posing for a few photos ourselves in front of the water and people rowing, we carried on to the Crystal Cathedral. And yes, I do keep thinking it’s called the Crystal Maze.
Although very pretty, there’s not much to see inside other than an art installation, so after seeing that and walking around the picturesque lake out front, we made our way back to the lake with the rowers and took a seat on the steps the other side we’d previously sat.
People watching is my favourite thing to do, but it was soon time to head back to Atocha, pick up my bag, grab some dinner and make our way back to the Airbnb to enjoy a girls night in with what can only be described as the biggest and best Spanish platter put together by my friend.
Spain, I have arrived. But now, time for bed!
Next morning we were up and ready to explore the Spanish capital. After the short metro ride into the city centre, we were Prado Museum bound! As we neared, the end of the queue loomed into sight, and while my friends secured our spot I wandered ahead to check out how long we’d be queueing for. On and on and on it went, and after walking for a few minutes I spotted the front of the queue. Wow. Once back at the end of the queue my friends agreed they didn’t have their hearts set on El Prado so we opted for an alternate exhibition we’d passed earlier on Moulin Rouge-y Cat Noir type stuff. Not really my thing, but it was really interesting to see it anyway, and we even had a quick stop in a climate change pop-up on the floor below.
A friend who lives in Madrid had given some suggestions of things to see, and so next on our hit list was Plaza de Colón and the huge flag that lives there. Seriously huge. Aside from the flag, there wasn’t much else of interest to us in the area and so the great empanada hunt began, which led us to Gran Via and the shopping district.
Churros were calling, and after picking up a few tickets for a flamenco show we sat down to an actual cup of molten chocolate – a cup! – and some churros to dip. They’re not real calories if you eat them on holiday, so we enjoyed the churros guilt free before returning to watch the flamenco show. I’ve been to flamenco before in Seville, and it was a super intimate experience. Here, there was a big stage and felt much more touristy, but we enjoyed it nonetheless and all left clicking our heels with aspirations of being sexy Spanish flamenco dancers.
Another day nearly finished and it was time for tapas! My friend had spotted an area that seemed to have a lot of tapas bars, so we made our way straight there with tummies rumbling. Tapas is one of my favourite ways to dine, and I always try to enjoy them when I’m in Spain. This time, it was definitely a different experience as there were no ‘traditional’ tapas dishes on the menu. Instead we enjoyed some new dishes in a fantastically crowded tapas bar. The food wasn’t the best, but the setting was amazing.
Next day was our last one in Madrid together before we went our separate ways. Another quick ride into the centre and we made our way for the Palace via the theatre. Yet more photo opportunities before stopping for breakfast with a coffee and some homemade snacks – we’re on a budget! It occurred to me that although we were all leaving tomorrow, I hadn’t booked my next stop! As we sat planning our day and munching our breakfast, I quickly booked a train to Valencia and an apartment to stay in. The original thought had been to go from Madrid to Seville but the weather wasn’t looking great so Valencia won.
A tour of the Royal Palace and the exhibition housed there filled the rest of our morning, and a quick stop in at the Cathedral next door topped it off nicely. Opting to walk back to Sol to see more of the city, we stopped off at Mercado de San Miguel to treat ourselves to empanadas for lunch. Although the market is quite pricey, it’s cool to look around and see everything on offer. Carrying on, we walked through Plaza Mayor and were shocked with what greeted us. So, so many men drinking in the square, chanting and generally making us feel a little uneasy. The police presence confirmed our suspicions that something was going, which we later found out was a big football game. Recovering in a nearby cafe we reflected on our time in the city so far. It hadn’t been quite what we’d expected, but it had been fun and delightfully Spanish!
Our last evening in the city was chilled – I went to meet a friend who lives in Madrid and my friends went to a nearby tapas bar for a better tapas experience than we’d had the previous evening. Before long we were all back in the apartment, packing up ready for early starts in the morning as we left for our respective next stops and I started my first section of solo travel. Nervous? A little, but let’s see how it goes!