Madrid – Part one – October 2017

I’ve spoken in the past about my love of London and my clear bias when it comes to London. I’ve lived in Peterborough for 22 years but in my heart I still consider myself a “Londoner” – born and bred! It’s my favourite city in the world.

Recently I wrote about my trip to Washington and with things going well it was only a matter of time before Haleigh made the return journey. I was so excited to show off London – an unbelievable city with the added attraction of all of the Christmas lights and decorations across the city.

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London, December 2018

In my eyes it’s the best city in the world but the funny thing as a traveler is I’ll refrain from outright calling it the best city in the world. It’s the best I’ve been to but I always welcome the challenge to be proven wrong. Growing up I would dream about so many incredible places and cities that I hoped I’d visit some day and I’ve been lucky to visit some of those over the last few years.

In the last decade I got to visit places such as Sydney, Berlin, San Francisco, Paris, Edinburgh, Budapest, New York City.. I could keep going but it was that latter one that I really set the standard for.

If any city would surpass my love of London surely NYC was a contender. In this post here I took everything in to consideration and came to the conclusion it failed due to the harshest of reasons (NYC isn’t London). Alright, so as judge and executioner perhaps I wasn’t impartial enough but London is home and it’s hard to compete with that. The wait went on..

Rio de Janeiro? Rome? Helsinki? Cape Town? There was still hope for me that I’d find somewhere that might yet surpass my love of London – enter Madrid.

“Madrid!?”

I know! I’m as surprised as you are. The easiest comparison to make would be to Washington DC – a city I visited six months earlier. Both DC and Madrid were cities I figured I’d visit eventually but I was in no real rush to go to either. They were nowhere near the top of my bucketlist. I knew I’d likely visit them, particularly Madrid as it’s so close to home, but nothing particularly drew me towards either city to make them appealing.

As it was, Washington DC surprised me a lot! I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did but I left there knowing it was a city I’d happily return to. Madrid was exactly the same for me, however I’d go one step further than that and say that Madrid is quite possibly the best city in Europe.

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Plaza Mayor, Madrid

After London..

I’m sorry, I can’t help it! Seriously though, Madrid has to be the most underrated city in Europe. I’d argue doubly so because Western Europe is arguably one of the most glamourised destinations in world travel and yet nobody hypes up the Spanish capital in the same way that they do London, Paris, Berlin, Edinburgh, Amsterdam.. need I go on? Within Spain itself I’d even argue Barcelona gets a lot more love than Madrid does and it’s a travesty!

If I was being sincerely objective I would struggle to split Madrid alongside London and New York City. It’s THAT good! If Madrid is not on your list to visit that needs to change right now. Yet the only reason this trip happened for me is because I was visiting for football (are you shocked?).

It’s clear I wasn’t all that bothered about Madrid itself but watching Spurs in the Santiago Bernabeu was a complete dream come true and made this a “must do trip”.

It was only when I started looking for things to do outside of the football that my expectations for this city began to grow a little. It looked like there was plenty to do and even with my growing expectations, Madrid surpassed every single expectation I had of the city. It’s a city that has it all!

Anyway, I sense that some of you are sceptical about Madrid being so fantastic so let’s dive right in and I’ll tell you about my trip!

For starters, when booking this trip I wasn’t really looking to be in Madrid particularly long. I had a week off work but I figured I could spend three nights in Madrid and then spend two or three nights elsewhere dependent on money. With Washington in mind, I booked a one way flight on Monday and decided I’d plan the second half of the week once I was back from the US.

Whilst in Washington I got that dreaded email from Ryanair with the subject something along the lines of – “your flight has been cancelled!”. Some of you, particularly in Europe, may remember Ryanair had made a huge scheduling cock-up in that they had no pilots to fly their planes before the end of the year and consequently ended up cancelling tonnes of flights across the continent.

My hope was they’d cancelled one of my flights later in the year but of course it had to be this one! Three weeks before I was due to travel – it certainly could have been worse but it wasn’t ideal and I wasn’t even on the right continent to sort it out.

I got back from Washington and that was priority! Get a new flight booked! Priority two was decide what I’m doing in the second half of the week. European laws (who needs those?) forced Ryanair’s hands a little as they protect you from such inconveniences. Ryanair had to either offer me a full refund (worthless as flight prices had shot up) or put me on a replacement flight. I took the option to go a day earlier (Sunday).

Better yet, Ryanair also offered compensation of £40 (or euros, I can’t remember) to use on a future flight which was just enough to book a one way flight home on the Thursday. My bank balance decided against going anywhere else but the funny thing was due to Ryanair’s mistake I’d gone from having a one way flight to having a return flight with an extra night in Madrid. Please feel free to do this again some time! Haha.

Anyway on to my first impressions of Madrid. I arrived in to Madrid’s airport and was quickly hopping on the Metro to make my way in to the city. There were already a few Spurs fans in town, I couldn’t help but overhear a group of Brits chit-chatting on the metro to my right and puzzled by a (football-related) question asked. I looked up, interjected and a little further down the carriage bizarrely saw a familiar face.

My friend, Natalie, had flown in on a different flight from a completely different airport but we landed around the same time and by chance just happened to be in the same carriage on the same train. A little odd!

We had a little catch up on route and then went our separate ways at the end of the metro line. We agreed to catch up later in the day but Natalie had to catch another metro, feasibly I could have too but as it was mid morning I was in no rush to reach my hotel, I couldn’t check in for a while yet so I figured I’d just exit wherever we were and wander through Madrid for a while.

Greeting me outside were bright blue skies. I’d finally arrived in glorious sunny Spain – proof of which were the Spanish flags hanging from multiple balconies throughout various streets. I don’t know if this was typical of Madrid, perhaps the city is like this year round but I had a suspicion that there was also an element of politics on display.

You see, Madrid’s similarities to DC hadn’t ended with my low expectations. I’d booked my trip to DC forgetting all about the 2016 election and arrived to a divided nation with a new president in town in April 2017. On day one in DC I accidentally stumbled upon an anti-Trump (tax-related) protest.

Well it was more of the same here. At the time of booking this trip to Madrid it seemed a perfect escape to sunny Spain before the Winter season kicked in. Spain in October? Sign me up for some of that!

Then on the 1st of October the Catalans voted and declared independence from Spain and inevitably it felt like for the second time this year I’d be visiting a divided country in political turmoil.

So yeah, the Spanish flags hanging in the street might be normal but I also suspect wasn’t entirely unrelated to the political affairs in Spain at the time. Either way I felt its presence added to some of Madrid’s character, also adding a little colour with red and yellow flying high everywhere you looked.

Moving on I soon found myself in the heart of Madrid and like DC (final comparison, I promise) my eyes were immediately drawn to the stunning architecture. There are some truely beautiful buildings in Madrid and I couldn’t stop snapping away. I instantly liked Madrid, there was just something about it that excited me.

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My first real stop of the trip was some cathedral I can’t recall the name of. Given it was a Sunday I think I walked in towards the end of a service which was unfortunate timing. I like visiting religious buildings but I’m conscious of not interrupting things so it was only a brief visit, I liked the little that I saw though.

After coming out of the cathedral I turned left, went around another corner and BAM! Five street performers were casually playing some music on the side of the street and quickly found themselves an entertained audience. I’d been here an hour at the most and I was already swooning over Madrid. Admittedly it probably helped that the sun was shining and that it was a weekend but there was a buzz to Madrid that made me feel at home.

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Street performers in Madrid

As much as I could have stayed there for much longer I figured I’d try and locate roughly where my hotel was and also grab somewhere for lunch nearby. My hotel was roughly in the vicinity of the Anton Martin neighbourhood which was seemingly home to a lot of street art and murals. Naturally I quickly found myself distracted on my quest for lunch – decent street art – another tick in Madrid’s favour.

After wandering for a little bit I stumbled upon a place to grab myself a sandwich and put my Spanish to the test. I’d probably favour a little better now because my Spanish is improving but at the time it wasn’t great. I didn’t want to be too reliant on English but my Spanish is nowhere near as good as my German. I’d done a little practice before flying out and made sure to remember some of the basics such as “Un cerveza por favor” which I figured would come in handy over the next four days.

Having seen a little of Madrid and having filled my stomach too I went in search of my hotel so I could check in to my room. “Hello Jason, here for one night? We’d like to upgrade you free of charge..”

Of course, yet another reason to fall in love with Madrid! Scrap the flight home. I’m never leaving!

The hotel was annoyingly lovely too, annoying because I hadn’t planned to be here today. I’d only intended for a three night trip and booked myself three nights in a hostel. This was my unexpected bonus night in the city and it made checking out the next morning very difficult. I didn’t want to leave to go stay in some hostel dorm! Haha.

After I checked in I just relaxed in my room for a little bit. The view from my room was nice and I did contemplate going up and making use of the rooftop pool given I probably wouldn’t get another chance. As tempting as it was, instead I got myself back out and wandered through the streets of Madrid for a little while.

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A common sight in Madrid. Street art shutters!

My focus soon switched to evening plans and catching up with my friend Daniel who was also here for the football. We met up in one of Madrid’s prettier and more famous squares – the Plaza Mayor. It’s a nice square but more importantly was also likely to be where our fans would congregate on Tuesday so it was useful knowing where it was and how to find it from where we were staying.

Myself and Daniel met up and whilst admiring the view of Plaza Mayor quickly bumped in to a couple of other Spurs fans, we exchanged pleasantries and discussed thoughts about the game before heading our separate ways.

We were heading over to the nearby Mercado de San Miguel – a popular little market hall with an emphasis on street food and atmosphere. It wasn’t a huge place but was a nice place to hang out, had a fantastic atmosphere and was pretty cheap to pick up some dinner too.

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Mercado de San Miguel

Natalie joined us later on and we shared a few more beers before eventually calling it a night. Back at my hotel I swung by the hotel rooftop which supposedly had a bar and also gave me a brief opportunity to see the pool. It was kind of cool lit up and the views over the city were cool too. I debated grabbing a drink but thought better of it and instead got myself a decent night’s sleep.

My introduction and first day in Madrid wasn’t too exhausting but I was really encouraged by the early signs. This was a city which, as far as I could tell, ticked all of the boxes and if the next three days were even half as good I’d be well chuffed.

More on that to come soon! Stay tuned!

Jason