5 Months in Europe: First Stop Madrid
January 1, 1970
by The Backpack Rambler
The Journey Begins!
So after a year of saving, and surprisingly very little forward planning, my girlfriend and I left our stable jobs in London, dusted off our trusty backpacks from our previous South East Asia trip and once again reduced our personal effects to what we could carry on our back.
The itinerary was plotted in a spread sheet and a daily budget had been set to keep us in check. So what was the plan? 5 months of taking in 16 European countries starting with sunny Spain, first stop Madrid!
Madrid City Centre
We landed in lovely Madrid after leaving the not so lovely Luton behind us. Officially time to swap our “Leather Laces” lifestyle for 5 months on a “Shoestring” budget.
The Metro from the airport to our hotel was easy – I think once you’ve navigated London’s underground network you can survive almost any public transport system. Madrid’s was spacious, had air conditioning and best of all, two Spanish guys busking on guitars playing traditional Spanish music! Split screen to London at the same time (6pm) and witness the commuters battling for an inch of space and a toothless tramp begging for 20p!
We embraced our new found frugality at the nearby Supermercado, buying chorizo, Manchego cheese and olives for our hotel room budget tapas dinner! Who needs the Ritz to have a good time? It seemed ludicrous to pay over 10 Euros in the nearby restaurants for a meal we could easily recreate at home, at a fraction of the cost that was just as tasty. After all, we now had a budget tracker spread sheet to keep happy!
The following day we walked for 4 hours around most of central Madrid, on that first day, we covered off:
- Palacio Real (The Palace)
- Templo De Debod (an ancient Egyptian temple rebuilt in Madrid as a “thank you” to Spain for their help in saving the Abu Simbel Temples)
- Kilometer Cero (KM Zero – all KM markers on the road are measured from this point)
- San Miguel Markets (a vibrant fresh produce market with numerous stalls, delis and eateries – think a Spanish version of London Borough Markets)
- Peurta Del Sol (lots of shops and bars)
Totally pooped from our half a day walking in 35 degree heat, we got into the Spanish way of life and had a siesta at our hotel and researched where to go at night. Foreign SIM cards are not always an option so you may have expensive data roaming plans to contend with. I recommend all travelers download maps locally to their phones, so you can easily navigate around new cities without having to be connected to the internet. It’s definitely got us out of a sticky spot or two!
That evening we checked out an area called La Latina which conveniently has its own metro stop (Latina), which boasted narrow busy streets full of tapas restaurants. At the first bar we tried out we got a free plate of paella just by ordering a beer, which was quite unexpected! There was a moment where as quickly as we were trying to tell the waiter we hadn’t ordered it, he was smiling telling us that it was “on the house”. Apparently it is commonplace to be given a complementary bite or two when you order a drink here in Spain.
The second bar however didn’t follow suit and we had to order food on top of our drinks. For a brief moment I thought we were going to be able to survive by getting free samples all night, but sadly not! We tried some grilled chorizo slices and crispy potato croquettes that were tasty, filling and most importantly cheap!
For our final day in Madrid we took the metro out East as far as metro stop “Ventas” to visit the (free) Museo Taurino (bull fighting museum) as it is currently bull fighting season here in Spain. It is also the infamous “Running with the Bulls” event where locals get stampeded by a load of fired up bulls through the narrow streets of town and often end up being battered against walls, flung in the air or try to madly climb up door arches to avoid being skewered by the bulls’ horn. Despite knowing two people who have done this and lived to tell the tale, Kate and I figured that the experience was far too similar to a weekday commute on the Central line in London – less bulls, just more angry people and the fear of being jabbed by an unwieldy umbrella end rather than a bull’s horn! So we gave running with bulls a miss.
The Museo Taurino was interesting but there was no information on the actual origin of the “sport” and where and why it started – just cabinet upon cabinet of blood stained Matador uniforms with a story about how they were all “gored” to death by tormenting a bull. So after 40 mins of perusing almost identical tales of death by goring (albeit one Matador who died in a car crash – I bet he was bitter he wasn’t gored too!) we meandered to Jardin Retrio.
The Jardin Retrio was massive! A really nice outdoor space for a city with well-kept gardens and a picturesque boating lake in the middle, where we stopped and shared a Paella from the café. We chilled out in the shade on a bench and read our Kindles for an hour, (well actually I played Angry Birds but I definitely looked like I was absorbed in an intellectual novel to passers-by…)
We finished up the day by getting another homemade tapas spread from the supermarket for dinner to keep our costs down and went to town on the “50% off” deals…well so we thought… The part of the label we didn’t understand as it was in Spanish was “Buy one and get the second half price” so we ended up with naff wine and really expensive sun cream, instead of half priced goods, which really upset the budget tracker!
The Journey Continues!
All in all we really enjoyed Madrid and have loved getting into the Spanish way of life, doing our best to try out our limited Spanish whenever we can, which only really covers, Hello (Hola), Please (Por Favor) and Thank You (Gracias), but it certainly goes a long way with the locals.
Next stop – Costa De La Luz on the South coast of Spain!