While I was only there for the weekend, I was still able to cover a lot of ground. I decided to travel with a friend rather than with a large group through the university. I really liked this because it allowed us to see exactly what we wanted and at our own pace. However, this meant planning transportation, accommodations, meals, and activities all on our own, which I was a little nervous about. Fortunately, everything went as planned, and we saved money, too!
On Friday, I woke up at 5:00am to catch the bus to Madrid. Once we arrived, we had the whole day ahead of us. We checked into our hostel, Las Musas. This was my first time staying in a hostel, and I had absolutely no idea what to expect. My friend and I had a private room for the two of us with a community bathroom, so it was kind of like living in a dorm. The place was clean, and the staff was incredibly helpful… Every staff member spoke multiple languages and had great advice. They also organize low cost activities for the residents each night. On Friday night, we went to the "tapas" dinner. Tapas are snacks, or finger food, that originated in Spain. Tapas come in many different forms and are often served as a snack with drinks, or with other tapas as a meal. To "tapear," going from bar to bar for drinks and tapas, is an essential part of the social culture of Spain. I've been looking for truly authentic tapas since I've arrived in Spain, and haven't found anywhere impressive… Until Madrid! Our hostel tour guide, Pablo, took us to Madrid's famous "El Tigre." Before we left, Pablo told us this was the real deal. He told us the atmosphere is chaotic, extremely noisy, and the waiters are rude. He told us at an authentic tapas restaurant, you eat standing up with several people crowded around one table. My table consisted of me, my friend from MSU, and coincidentally, two other Michiganders, and some Canadians. The tapas were SO good, and very greasy. We had napkins all over, and Pablo told us it is considered rude to have them on the table, but completely normal to throw them on the floor. We paid $13 for all-you-can-eat tapas and sangria. Pablo told us they would bring us food until we told them to stop, and he wasn't lying. There was an endless supply of breads, cheeses, potatoes, meats, and sauces!
Prior to my tapa experience on Friday, we explored the city from end to end. We had churros and chocolate (which Madrid is well-known for) before visiting the Palacio Real (Royal Palace, where the king and queen of Spain live). We decided to go inside, and I have never seen anything so intricate and beautiful. It has over 2,000 rooms, and the ones we were able to see were amazing. I cannot even begin to explain how beautiful it was. You can Google images of it, but it still won't do it justice. It is breathtaking! We also visited the Jardines de Sabatini, which is the garden the palace overlooks, as well as the Catedral de la Almudena. I told my mom I have pretty high expectations of wedding venues after seeing all of these amazing cathedrals! ;)
We also walked around La Plaza Mayor and several other parks and gardens. One of my favorite parts of the day was seeing the Palacio de Cibeles, which was always pictured in my high school Spanish textbooks. It seemed so surreal that I was seeing something I only knew from photographs. I also visited the Museo del Prado, which is the main Spanish national art museum that houses one of the finest collections of European art. I found Las Meninas, the famous painting by Diego Veláquez, which I spent a lot of time learning about in high school as well. It was GIGANTIC in real life! I wish I could have taken a picture, but again, no photography was not allowed here, either. :( I've never been big on art museums, but it was neat to be able to see such famous works and finally be able to appreciate them.
On Saturday, we spent a lot of time on Gran Vía, the city's main shopping attraction. We walked the entire city once again, catching things we didn't see the first time around. We visited more gardens and the Templo de Debod, which is an ancient Egyptian temple. We also stopped by El Botín, which is the oldest restaurant in the world according to Guiness World Records. It opened in 1725 and has been operating ever since. It even retains the original 18th century firewood oven! Unfortunately it was way too expensive for our budget, so we couldn't try the food. We woke up early on Sunday morning to go to El Rastro, which is a huge flea market on the streets of Madrid. There were endless booths full of artwork, clothing, and accessories. Shockingly, I didn't buy anything, but we didn't stay too long because it seemed like a prime place to be pick-pocketed.
I am so happy I travelled to Madrid. I like the city as a whole more than Valencia, as the population is much younger. However, it would not be a good place to study Spanish, as everyone seems to speak English there. No worries, though… This week will be full of Spanish as I study for midterms and anxiously await next weekend's adventure in Granada!