1. Airbnb Apocalypse
There are sooo many upsides to using Airbnb that it can come as a bit of a shock when you eventually have less than perfect experience.
In Madrid I stayed in the La Latina neighbourhood, a fun area that comes alive at night with music and bars overflowing with friends. I arrived into La Latina from rainy San Sebastian to a wall of heat and humidity and completely overdressed.
After getting the street wrong for the Airbnb, hitting the wrong buzzer and then crying a little I eventually found the old wooden door which lead to the correct location. I rang my host and waited…and waited…ignoring my phone calls he eventually buzzed me in and I made my way inside to be met by a majorly hungover host. As he showed me round the place he admitted that his partner was away so he through a huge party for him and his friends, so I had just walked in on the middle of the morning after. Semi- conscious friends draped over sofas and a vast array of drugs scattered on the coffee table, I wanted to turn and run to the nearest hotel. My room, although looking pretty neat and tidy compared to the apocalypse outside, had the distinct smell of a sweaty man that had maybe passed out drunk and been removed 10 minutes ago.
Despite being a little bummed and planning a scathing review in my head, I decided to instead brush it off as a funny travel story and stop being such a loser. Funnily enough, once the hungover friends scooted home, the place became actually became a really calm sanctuary in crazy Madrid.
2. The Best €30 I Spent in Madrid
As a bit of a control freak I usually have the activities of my holiday nailed down before I’m leaving Portland, but this trip I decided to let go A LOT, to go with the flow and plan the day before or the day of arriving in the new place.
With limited funds, a lot of Madrid to see and some pinxos to work off I opted for a city bike tour with Bravo Bikes For just €30 the 3 hour loop includes visiting all the main tourist sites, so you get a good feel for the city and where you might want to re-visit on foot, oh and a little stop in Retiro Park for a quick drink and snack.
With a group consisting of me and two of the keenest Germans I’ve ever met, Kaspar our tour guide kitted us out with a bike, helmet and water and took us off for a gentle ride around Madrid; stopping to fill us in on history and local knowledge. Very kindly Kaspar takes photos of you throughout the tour so you don’t have to. He then emails them to you later on that day, perfect for the solo traveller.
During the loop we stopped to pop our head in the world’s oldest (continually running) restaurant Botin. As waiters casually set up for lunch I wandered down to take a peek into their insane wine cellar and I even got to stick a little suckling pig in the oven, a pretty unique experience!
3. A Walk in the Park
The bike tour took us briefly through Retiro Park (Parque De El Retiro) in the centre of the city, I wanted to return to see more and enjoy the beautiful weather Madrid was having. I packed a picnic from the local supermarket and along with my fully charged iPad I walked through the winding streets to the park.
The most picturesque of park sites was the Monumento a Alfonso XII surrounded with marine green water with bright blue skies and predictably loved up couples getting all romantic on the rowing boats, it’s a pretty magical place. I chose a little cafe to side of the fountain and watched the world go by for a few hours. I wandered through the park eventually getting to the Crystal Palace (Palacio de Cristal) which I have to say I was a little like a massive, empty green house. I sat down in one of the many rocking chairs and had a little doze.
The park is a great place to have a little sunbathe or there are plenty of shady spots for having a picnic out of the midday sun. The park is clean, huge and there are ice cream stands on every corner, for buying *ahem* water.
4. The Touristy Bits
I did more than my fair share of touristy things when I was in Madrid, some were particularly terrible, like the paella and The Sofia Reina museum, so dull. Then there was the good stuff like, the Palacio Real beautiful regal interiors and exteriors. A lot of the palace was open for visitors and each room was fancier than the next. I didn’t spend as much time as I would’ve liked in there as I got hounded by some Spanish dude wanting to take me out to dinner. I got the creeps and told him I was late to meet my boyfriend, then made a hasty exit to the armour room across the grounds.
I spent one sun down getting some disappointing photos of the Templo de Debod, which is perched high above the city and offers jungle like views across Madrid, like seriously, why so jungly Madrid? I stayed and watched the sun go down, trying to get a perfect glowing picture but the best I got was this guy worshipping the sun. I’ve included a supremely derpy picture of me at the Templo during the day photo so you can see what you’re supposed to be looking at!
Other touristy sites worth a visit are, Plaza Mayor, San Miguel Market and the Gran Via.
5. Shoes to Line Up For
Walking from the Airbnb up to the fabulous Plaza Mayor I noticed a curiously long line outside a simple red shoe shop. I’m not usually like ERMAGERD SHOES! but I had been eyeing up a striped pair of espadrilles, for that traveller street cred, so later that night, still intrigued by the massive line I looked them up and found Casa Hernanz.
Open since 1840 Casa Hernanz is a family run rope business and their most popular item, the oh so Spanish espadrilles. The shop is open twice a day 9am-1.30pm & 4.30-8pm, later on Fridays and don’t even think about them being open on a Sunday. Sometimes if you get there super early I hear there’s no queue, but on my last day I slept in and decided to hit the queue around 12 and lined up for 1 hour.
The choice is pretty overwhelming, so I opted for a simple blue and white striped pair and made sure I took a photo to show the man behind the counter. Be prepared to lose your shit as everything is so cheap, leading to temptation. If I didn’t have a back pack with me I would’ve bought 2 more pairs, easily. The woman in front of me in the line bought 8 pairs, 8! Also worth noting that they don’t speak much English, so be sure to practice your Spanish numbers and colours before you head in.
6.Taking Cookies from Nuns and Other Things I Should’ve Done
I crammed a lot into my 4 days in Madrid but there’s a few awesome things I missed out on that if I could go back I’d do.
a. Getting some cookies from these baking nuns of Madrid (Las Carboneras)
b. Prado Museum
c. Getting a table at El Club Allard