Note: Reposted from RealTravel.com and branded "Editor's Pick".
So I finally made it to gorgeous Madrid! I have 4 days to live it up and take as many pictures as I can before I head off to South America. I flew into Madrid on Sept. 14th from Istanbul and took 2 metro lines to Bull’s Hostel located in Plaza Domingo. Since the metro directions on their website were wrong, I ended up getting off at Plaza de Espana station (several blocks away) and walking to the dormitory instead. Luckily I found it since it is inconspicuously located inside a bank building without an signage whatsoever. Odd.
It’s the tail end of my trip and I am quickly running out of funds. Italy and Greece strapped me financially so I have to scale back while I’m here. The dollar is unbelievably weak right now. Thus, I am trying to find creative ways to save cash. So I am now sharing a room with 12 other strangers for $30 per night. I currently sleep on the top bunk. Unfortunately, every time the person below me moves, the entire bed shakes. The jostling wakes me up throughout the night so I haven’t been able to sleep very well. I am quite relieved that I brought an eye mask (courtesy of Turkish airlines) and ear plugs since I can hear locals/tourists partying until well past 5am. There was one instance when I heard several women screaming (singing?) at the top of their lungs in Espanol. They were obviously inebriated. I also have to comment on the hostel bathroom situation: There are 20+ people sharing 2 bathrooms so I’ve had to run to the nearest Starbucks on several occasions just to use the restroom. Quite an experience so far. My accommodations are cheap so I can’t complain.
There are so many people roaming the streets throughout the day/night. I am quite surprised by this. I can’t tell if they are tourists or locals. In either case, the streets are packed and lively. I actually feel quite safe staying out late since most people do. So far, I’ve come across an eclectic mix of street performers – those performing dances (tango), musical acts, juggling displays, etc. One night, I saw a group offering free hugs. How friendly! I didn’t actually take them up on their offer, but a few people did.
My 4 days were spent targeting the primary tourist hotspots. First up: Palacio Real – The King of Spain uses this palacio for official ceremonies, but resides elsewhere. I’ve seen plenty of palaces on my trip, but I preferred this one since it’s not ostentatious as the others. I particularly liked the silk drapery separating each of the rooms throughout the premises. I also visited the adjacent distillery located on the palace grounds. This is the first time I have seen anything like that.
My favorite thing to do when I visit a new country is to randomly walk down side streets and stumble upon different landmarks and sites. That’s how I found two key areas in Madrid: Puerto del Sol and Plaza Mayor. The first is a bustling hub, where different streets converge into an area filled with restaurant/shop goers. Puerto del Sol is also surrounded by numerous walkways catering to the shopaholic – stores such as Zara, Sfera, and H&M are everywhere. Plaza Mayor is a square flanked by outdoor cafes serving paella, tapas, and other local treats. Since this is my last night here, I decided to treat myself to paella mixta and a glass of vino blanco to commemorate my short visit. I also visited this plaza on numerous occasions just to park myself on one of the circular benches and people watch. The other day, I saw two women hobbling and leaning on each other for support since they were wearing 3-inch stilettos. Ouch.
Sundays in my opinion are the best days for tourists. First of all, I gained free access to two very popular museums – The Museo del Prado contains a massive collection of artwork from various origins – Spanish, Flemish, Dutch, German, Italian, and French. The Spanish collection in particular, showcases masterpieces from Francisco de Goya and other well-respected artists. After spending several hours in the first museum, I walked down Paseo del Prado towards Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. This is my FAVORITE museum on my worldwide trip thus far. I only had an hour before they closed at 2:30pm, but it was an hour well spent. The exhibit is on 2 floors: the 2nd and 4th. Spent most of my time on the 2nd floor since there were so many pieces from Picasso and Dali throughout. LOVED LOVED LOVED it all. I could have easily spent all day in there since there were also numerous sculptures and surrealist photography displays. Captivating.
El Parque del Buen Retiro is also one of my favorite tourist spots. The park is located a few blocks past the Museo del Prado. It is huge. There are areas that are completely quiet – spots where people can sleep on the grass and take their siestas. There are also park locations bustling with activity, especially on Domingo (Sunday). I walked towards the most popular part of El Parque, the Estanque and Monument of Alfonso XII. So many families – some were on rowboats traversing the lake; Others were eating popsicles/snacks on various park benches lining the perimeter. I loved the monument with its many columns. Reminded me of Roma. Around the lake, there were also rows of tarot card readers, snack vendors, and oddly enough – two people dressed in Winnie the Pooh and Minnie Mouse costumes making balloon animals for the kids.
There isn’t a ton to do in Madrid, so 4 full days is WAY too long to spend here. Two of my Irish dorm mates (Keith and Patrick) invited me to do a pub-crawl with them these past 2 days, but my alcohol tolerance is not as strong as theirs so I sadly said no. Plus, they’ve come back to the hostel around 4am on both days not remembering where they had been. 2 ½ months into my trip has made me slightly tired. I am not as resilient as I was during my first month. Otherwise I would have joined them.
Tomorrow, I will be taking a 12-hour flight to Buenos Aires. I can’t believe I am nearing the end of my journey. The last 2 countries await!