Before I spent two weeks in Valencia, I stayed at the Spanish capital for a while exploring it in all its glory; from roaming around its lively barrios to breathing in its culture through eclectic food and art.
My plane from Abu Dhabi landed in Madrid on the morning of July 12, 2017. Once I found my way through the airport, I took a shuttle bus to Termino Cuatro, where the Madrid Metro had a station. Looking forward to the commute ever since my stages of planning, I got my ticket from the machine, boarded the train to Nuevos Ministerios Station, and transferred to another that led me to the Sol Metro Station where I got off.
The moment I stepped out of the station I got completely disoriented, going the opposite direction to where I was supposed to be heading. Though after numerous wrong turns, I finally made it to the Far Home Atocha, a laid-back, and mid-century modern hostel located in the center of the city. I arrived hours before my check-in time, so I left my luggage at their storage room, rested for a while in their very millennial common area, and prepared for my first day itinerary.
I left the hostel and walked a few minutes to the Plaza de Sta. Ana. And you know something that I realized while observing my surroundings…? Plazas are an integral part of Spanish culture. These communal havens give you the best opportunity to sit down at a local café, chill with friends – and strangers – while having a refreshing sip of your choice of drink. And as much I wanted to do so, I didn’t because of my tight schedule… So I took shots of some statues (Pedro Calderón de la Barca and Federico García Lorca) and headed off to my next tourist destination, the Barrio de las Letras.
I could not help but feel like I passed some kind of time portal while walking around this part of the city. Known to have been the home of famous authors and artists alike, the alleyways were already a sight to behold, with its colonialesque facades and cobblestone streets that would greet you with a “former tenant’s” quote engraved on the pavement. Everywhere you turned you’d see pop-up art galleries, bookshops, and cafés lining the narrow streets.
After getting a taste of the past, I always have had this tradition of visiting any church I would stumble upon in my travels. So on my way to lunch, I knocked on God’s Door and prayed at the Basilica de Jesus de Medinaceli, and thanked Him for guiding me on this trip so far and what was yet to come.
I had “almuerzo” at Bar El Tres along Plazuela de Antón Martín, ordering a Spanish must-try, bocadillo de calamares with alioli sauce and rocket leaves. It was a savory introduction to what this country had to offer gastronomically. It was also quite the experience people-watching and taking in the everyday culture of Madrid while chomping down my squid baguette.
Fueled up and ready for the next half of my day, I headed to Buen Retiro Park, one of Madrid’s famous public parks for some R&R. For your future reference people, the area of the park is huge – so if you plan on going here, be sure to cover the main parts such as the Monument to Alfonso XII, and the Reina Sofia Museum venues – Palacio de Velazquez and Palacaio de Cristal (both of which having seasonal exhibits where you can enter for free). The best thing about this park is that there are more than enough places for you to sit and wind down from the business of Madrid’s city bustle.
Now what would be a visit to Madrid without going to the prestigious, Museo del Prado? I was on a tight budget for my stay so instead of shelling out 15 Euros (890 PHP/65 AED), I got a free ticket.
And how did I do that, you may ask? Madrid is one of those cities that values art with museums like the Prado and with this give free access to spectators at a certain time after its peak hours. So right after my visit to Retiro Park, I went straight to the Prado and queued myself an hour before the distribution of free tickets (Monday to Saturdays 6PM-8PM, Sundays 5PM-7PM). The ‘gratis’ line though is no joke, so the earlier you come, the faster you’ll get in and have more time to roam around.
An hour and a half later, I got my free ticket and got in through the Jeronimos Entrance. The Prado closes at 8:00 PM, so I had 1 hour and 30 minutes to take in at least the majority of the art (as Barney Stinson would say, challenge accepted). Funnily enough though, I remember taking my sweet time in the beginning reading each artwork’s title and description, really digesting as much as I could – then later on panicking when I realized how many minutes I had left. So imagine me just brisk walking around the galleries, going up and down the stairs of this huge museum trying to absorb as much precious art with the hopes of it improving my artistic taste before its closing time.
One of the very last pieces I was able to check out was “Queen Isabella the Catholic dictating her Will” by the 19th century modern painter, Eduardo Rosales, who after stumbling upon it, I secretly wished he were an ancestor of mine (who knows – he might’ve had a relative who went to the Philippines and had a good time…?). I was very proud to have also seen some works by the notable Velazquez, Goya, Rafael, and some El Greco pieces – so mission accomplished in my books – at least for now.
Ending the day in my bed, chatting up with some of my hostel roommates, whilst hammered by so many factors from the day, I felt a strong sense of achievement, which made me look forward to what the next day had to offer.
Waking up in time for the hostel’s breakfast, my hostel roommate, Hyunsook, and I went down to have the morning spread. We talked about our itinerary for the day – I was planning to hit up the major tourist spots: Gran Via, The Royal Palace, Templo de Debod, Plaza Mayor, and the Mercado San Miguel. Hyunsook on the other hand, had a more laid-back itinerary where she planned on going to the Reina Sofia Museum and stroll around the city. She then asked if I was planning to watch flamenco while I was in Madrid. I didn’t originally plan this particular item in my itinerary, and I kind of questioned myself at that moment on why I didn’t! Excited to witness our very first flamenco show, Hyunsook and I agreed to meet back at the hostel at 7:30 P.M. and plan from there.
All set for the day to come, I mentally prepared myself for the amount of steps that my feet were going to take to reach the different attractions. First up was the Puerta del Sol – one of Madrid’s busiest squares – then later the Gran Via, a tamer version of New York’s Time Square where other than its glamorous shopping potential, had so many beautiful buildings; so beautiful that at each stop I couldn’t help but take photos of their facades and rooftops. From the avenue, I walked – and got lost again – looking for The Royal Palace.
Once I finally understood where my Google Maps was trying to lead me, I made it to the majestic quarters and stood there in awe of its graceful architecture and prestigious, yet intimidating high gates. Again, to save money, I just admired it from afar, hanging out at this cathedral-like (wherein I found out it was really a cathedral later on) building’s stairs whilst reading a book.
I decided to move on and find the Templo de Debod. On my way there, I passed by the Jardin de Sabatini and the Plaza de Sta. Ana, which are pretty nice places to visit in Madrid if you haven’t yet.
At the Templo, I was surprised to see not many tourists so there were plenty of opportunities to take photos without that unwanted other fellow tourist in the background. Also, there’s a great view of Madrid at the back of the site that no one should miss if they are there. By this time, I got hungry and my feet were already cursing me, so I said goodbye to the ancient structures and went off.
I was walking along this sidewalk when I noticed that the restaurants’ signs and banners have my last name plastered on it. I thought that my eyes were fooling me, but when I continued on, ‘Rosales’ kept on popping out of nowhere. Curious, I searched for a calle sign and was pleasantly shookt. It just so happened that my tired feet led me to Madrid’s very own P. Rosales St. (Fun fact: The street I live in the Philippines is of the same name)!
Happy to have stumbled upon this outside my itinerary, I decided to sit down at an outdoor resto-cafe and ordered some Spanish tortilla and horchata.
Completely satisfied with my meal from a restaurant that had my last name on it (maybe I’m biased), I decided to head back to visit the last places on my list. So I got on the metro and rode back to Sol Metro Station.
Before heading to the Plaza Mayor, I was feeling a bit disheartened because I was supposed to get some churros from one of Madrid’s best, the Chocolateria San Gines. Though because I didn’t download the map directions to it, I was walking blind and was too exhausted to even ask anyone in Spanish.
However, while sulking my way towards the plaza, I stumbled upon a second-hand bookstand at a corner of a street. I looked through the books casually and appreciated its old-fashioned setup. And then it happened. With another sheer coincidence, I looked up at the street sign and read “Calle de San Gines”. I was seriously screaming inside before turning to my left and seeing at the very end of it no other than the churro paradise itself! Skipping with excitement, I went. And it did not disappoint. The churros were crispy and delectable, while the chocolate was thick and the sweetness was just right.
After getting my fill on the renowned pastry, I headed for the Plaza Mayor. Underwhelmed though by the event setup in the middle, I still admired the liveliness of the busy square with its cafés, restaurants, and shops occupying all sides. I roamed around it a couple of times before heading to my last stop for the day, the Mercado de San Miguel.
In the Philippines, when you say market, the first image in your head would definitely be a wet one that would smell of fish, poultry, fresh veg and fruits (and vendors shouting their USPs). This particular market was nothing like that. It had air-conditioning; classy stalls that served an enticing range of tapas and sangria, and a sitting setup in the middle where locals and tourists could eat. They sold items similar to the ones back home, although this was more of a gastro hub than a ‘market’ market. Nonetheless, it was remarkable and I got myself some tropical sangria to cap off the afternoon.
I headed back to the hostel right afterwards, where I rested my feet and waited for Hyunsook. Once she arrived, we Googled nearby flamenco venues and found that the nearest was going to start in half an hour; so we quickly left the Far Atocha to catch it.
We made it to the Essential Flamenco show just in time and apparently were the first ones to be seated (not a lot of people during weekdays I’m guessing). The ticket cost around 40 Euros (the only things I splurged for the whole trip) for an hour-long show and included a beverage of choice (Hyunsook and I opted for the Sangria). The show was outstanding and intimate; and I was highly in awe of the artists before me (the band to the dancers) who gave one heck of a show. I remember walking back to our hostel with this new kind of energy, just expressing how happy I was to Hyunsook, thanking her for putting it in my mind to attend.
It still surprised me how in mid-July there was still daylight at that time. So Hyunsook and I decided to end the day with some good talk at our room’s terrace watching the sunset before saying goodnight (and goodbye) since I would be bound for Barcelona the next morning.
I dived into what Madrid had to offer and even with careful planning was able to experience its spontaneous side. It taught me how to be more open and flexible – to improve on that ‘come what may’ attitude. I got lost – a lot, but in those moments I found more of myself in each wrong turn or misled step. The city made me more appreciative of the arts in which it proved that passion and quality would always prevail in whatever circumstance. Madrid is definitely one of those cities that I won’t mind coming back to since it made a mark in this wanderlusted heart.
Check out the trip in a nutshell below!