Published: June 7th 2012June 27th 2009
La Plasa Mayor
With Zhara at this Famous square in Madrid
2009 Was a very exciting year for me. I graduated college, and was preparing for my first trip to Europe ever! So in other words, I was going to be losing my Europe virginity! That summer I got invited to visit my childhood friend Zhara and her family in Madrid, who immigrated there years ago. Every time I look back on this trip I'm filled with so much gratitude... I'm just so thankful that they welcomed me to stay with them and experience Spain from a locals point of view, it was an amazing experience that I wish I could relive over and over. And I made new friends I'll never forget. (Note to blog reader: sorry for the lack of photos, I have hundreds of Madrid photos in a scrap book, but by the time I wrote this blog I no longer had them saved on my computer. I will try to scan some later as they are gorgeous!)
To prepare for Madrid I purchased a couple travel books. The one I still have is Eyewitness Travel Top 10 Madrid, and is a good book to keep with you on your trip because its small enough to fit in
El Parque del Retiro
It's like the "Big Apple" of Madrid
a purse, it's straight to the point, and has maps inside to guide you. But the best way I prepared for my trip was to let my friend Zhara lead the way... what better way to experience a country then through a local's point of view?
My flight was ok but I was also nervous. This was my first time ever crossing into a different time zone; 6 hours difference. I had a connection flight in Amsterdam and I only had 30 minutes to figure out where to go and make it in time but I couldn’t even read or understand any of the airport's signs which were mostly written in the Dutch language! When I finally landed in Madrid safely and saw Zhara it was a relief. I was hit with the excitement of being in a new foreign place and seeing someone I love and care about all at once!
I was also being received at the airport by Zhara's family and they all had the brilliant idea of getting right into Spain by taking a road trip out to remote countryside towns or "pueblos vecinos" and also visiting a castle called Castillo Ignacio de Loyola.
My First Paella
You can not visit Spain without eating their national plate of rice with mixed vegies, meats, and seafood
After having some wine and pasta at Zhara's house we all left on the short road trip. Torremoenia village was beautiful, there were many wine cellars and a place with huge clay jars. Then "Patones de arriba" village which reminded me of pictures I'd seen of Italy. All the places we saw that day were very rustic and romantic, far different then any place I had ever been before. There must have been so much history here in these old country villages that we didnt know about. I was enjoying my first day in Spain so much I was afraid it was going to go by too fast or that I'd forget it all one day. It's a good thing I always keep travel diaries and make travel scrap books at home to look back on these experiences and remember how I was feeling.
By the time we got back to Zharas house I was exhausted and seriously jet lagged... I had to get to the point of exhaustion though to fall asleep, with all the excitement I was feeling inside! Day one was a blast and I can only thank Zhara and Zhara's family for making it such
Visiting the Royal Palace of Madrid
a special time.
Everyday after that I pinched myself because I felt so lucky to be there. Zhara lived less than an hour bus ride from downtown Madrid, and we took that route downtown so many times that summer that I memorized how to get downtown by bus, and it was pretty easy.
Day two was my first official day going to the city. Zhara and I were going to meet some of her university friends at a famous park called El Parque del Retiro. This park is like "the big apple" of Madrid and its pretty big. The park features many fountains, ponds, gardens, and statues. In the center of the park is a large white monument with an even larger pond in front of it. In the summer the pond is full of little row boats that you can rent and row around the pond, and that day it was full of boats. I was really glad I brought a lot of summer clothes on this trip, because Madrid is extremely hot in the summer. Like 100 degrees Fahrenheit hot. We walked around a bit and passed "street dancers" and musicians playing live music around the
Reina Sofia Museum
My favorite Museum featuring Picasso and Dali art
park. We chose a spot under the trees to lay out and have a snack. Europeans, especially the young adults, like to sunbathe and just lay out at the parks. I really enjoyed meeting Zhara's university friends and thought they were really sweet. I especially loved hearing them speak in their native Spanish accents... I'm obsessed with accents! I learned that day that the word "vale" means "okay" and I used it as much as I could while I was in Spain. On our way home we stopped at a church named "San Manuel y San Benito." I also had a "calippo" which is a frozen sorbet ice-cream.
Day three was probably the best day I spent downtown because we covered so much of Madrid. First we visited el Palacio Real (the royal palace). We went inside the cathedral located across from the royal palace called Santa Maria la Real de la Almudena, it had a gorgeous golden mantel. If you come here you NEED to go to the crypt underneath, just pay a separate entrance fee. This was an amazing place. There are royal, holy, and famous people buried under the floor in their own tombs. Next we
went to the "times square" of the downtown which had a lot of businesses, stores, advertisements, and movie screens just like times square. Zhara showed me that close by was a long street of prostitutes called Calle Montera where it's legal for them to actually be there. Calle Preciados is a street to go shopping at stores like H&M. Next we went to the famous Plaza Mayor which is a historical square/court yard. We walked some more to see La Plaza de Colon and to see kilometro zero where all the streets in Madrid meet. When we got hungry we thought it'd be funny to eat at a nice restaurant near the prostitute street. We ate at 100 Montaditos where I had my first sangria and loved it.
The next couple days were a series of "chill out" days spent at the pool and meeting more of Zhara's friends. We even got together for a public out door Spanish rock concert. Then there was a Saturday night we went bar hopping on the best bar hopping street in Madrid: Calle Palma de la alta. The bar we liked the most was Scruffy Murphys which is an Irish pub.
We had two Museum days. One of them we visited the Reina Sofia Museum which was my favorite because of the modern styles of Picasso and Dali. You are allowed to take pictures of the art as long as your camera's flash doesn't go off. And guess who's flash kept going off? Mine! They almost kicked me out I was so embarrassed. We also visited the Atocha train station with its famous architecture and botanical garden featuring little cute turtles.
Museum day two was really fun because I ate my first Paella at a restaurant called Sabatini. I also had the most delicious Gazpacho with bread. Zhara's friends joined us to go to the Prado Museum which is the most well known museum in Madrid. Then we took a trip on the teleferico (cable car ride) which is lovely because you see all of Madrid's skyline from a good point of view.
On my last days in Spain I also visited el Real Jardin Botanico (Madrid's botanical garden) and I took my time visiting the Palacio Real inside. Zhara wanted my last experience to be like a party, so we went clubbing downtown which was really fun. Before we went to the club we grabbed a bottle of wine and started drinking it outside. You are not supposed to drink outside and we were promptly surrounded by police officers which was the closest I’ve ever been to getting "arrested" but in the end they let us go. It is so funny when I look back on that experience. Zhara wanted me to dance in a "flaminco" style and had all the guys in the club teach me. I had to say "Oleeee!" too hahaha.
I got really emotional saying goodbye to Zhara at the airport. I knew I was going to miss her so much more now. And I still miss her all the time. She is a rare person in my life because she's one of the only people who's known me from a baby, to an adolescent, to a young adult... and we've shared a million memories together. I look forward to seeing her again some day, and we both know we will. This Madrid blog is dedicated to her, for giving me one of the best summers of my life :)