Madrid, Ojalá Estuvieras Aquí
Madrid. The first place I fell head over heels in love with Spain, when I was there for a few days at the beginning of my Granada stay in 2006. The place I returned to and made a life for ten and a half months and fell even harder for Spain. To say I think Madrid is fantastic is the understatement of the century. I adore Sevilla as well, and I feel extremely lucky to be living here, but with Madrid only a 6-hour bus ride away, I couldn’t wait to go back. So a few weekends ago, I did, and, oh, was it good to be back.
I was able to sleep and watch movies on my laptop, making the bus ride go quickly, and then, there I was, back in Madrid! I took the metro (the greatest metro in the world, no exaggeration) from the bus station to Argüelles, near where I used to live and go to school), where my friend from UCLA, Tasmin, who’s currently studying in Madrid via the same program I did, and her friend Peiley, who I had met once through Tasmin, came to pick me up and take me back to Tasmin’s apartment, where she generously let my friends and I stay with her for the weekend. After getting our energy back, we headed out to a nearby club where they were offering free salsa classes for students. I’m an awful dancer and cannot follow dance instructions for the life of me, so it was a bit of a failure, but, hey, it was free, there was good music, and it was fun hanging out with Tasmin’s friends who are also studying in Madrid.
From there, we headed to the barrio Lavapiés, a wonderful neighborhood full of culinary diversity and interesting people, for Tapapiés, a tapas festival where many of the restaurants were offering one of their tapas for 1€. Not surprisingly, many involved seafood, so I skipped those, but I did have delicious falafel, an interesting sausage/bread/corn sauce dish, and some kind of delicious Indian savory pastry. Then, we went to El Tigre, a bar in the center that serves tapas Granada-style: order a drink, get free tapas. Always a good deal. It was insanely crowded, as it usually is, but I had sangría and some free tapas and was happy to revisit an old haunt.
Saturday morning, Jean, one of my favorite high school friends who’s currently an auxiliar in Castilla-La Mancha, arrived in Madrid! Jean, Tasmin, Peiley, and I went to Plaza de España, my old neighborhood, to have lunch at one of my favorite restaurants in the world: a run-down little Chinese restaurant hidden in the parking garage under the plaza. My friends and I absolutely loved eating there when we were living in Madrid, and I’ve often craved it since returning, so it was great to be back. So delicious and cheap.
Then we walked up Gran Vía toward Cibeles, one of Madrid’s most famous landmarks. Inside, they were hosting a free media/art exhibition. At the entrance was an exhibit where you could film yourself and your face would be inserted into famous Spanish paintings. Silly, but fun. The rest of the exhibit was mostly just projections and videos of paintings in the nearby Prado, Reina Sofía, and Thyssen museums, most of which I had seen, but it was fun revisiting them. Particularly my favorite painting ever, Bosch’s Garden of Earth Delights. Next, we walked to Parque del Retiro, Madrid’s version of New York’s Central Park, if you will, where we strolled, chatted, people-watched, and did all of the activities that make me love Retiro so much.
Peiley left to meet up with a friend, but Tasmin, Jean, and I continued our paseo through Madrid, heading back to the center where we bought pastries in the popular bakery La Mallorquina, visited Botín, the world’s oldest restaurant where I had one of my favorite nights in Madrid last time around, and then stopped for a jarra de tinto de verano and girl talk at every guiri’s favorite restaurant chain, 100 Montaditos (I think the number of locations has doubled since last time I was in Madrid!).
We returned to Tasmin’s apartment, made pasta for dinner while I drank Guaraná Antárctica, a delicious Brazilian soda I’m kind of obsessed with but can’t find in every corner alimentación in Sevilla like I could in Madrid, and then headed back out for a night on the town. We met some of Tasmin’s American friends and his Spanish friends at a park near Príncipe Pío for a botellón, then to a nearby discoteca. We got some good Spanish conversations in while in line, but upon learning the cover charge was 10€, Jean and I decided to skip the club and instead wander around the city.
We headed back to the center, getting a free chupito (shot) from one of the many promoters on Calle Arenal (note: the free “shots” are about 99% juice and 1% alcohol) and a chat with another promoter, who I talked to about Umberto Eco (because his name was Umberto; I’m pretty sure he had no idea who Eco was). Then we went to Plaza Mayor, where we sat on the cobblestones, watching all the passersby and admiring the plaza. One of my favorite things to do in Madrid is to just sit and take in Plaza Mayor, so I’d say this was a pretty good alternative to a night at a club. Then we stopped by Chocolatería San Gines, everyone’s favorite all-night churro restaurant that I spent many a night in two years ago. Madrid may be known for its nightlife, but, for me, the Madrid nightlife I love is simply walking around and seeing all the activity at 3 or 4am without any particular agenda or direction, so it was a perfect night.
Man, could I go into any more detail babbling about Madrid? Continue reading part II of my trip here.