Madrid Por el Año

September 2019 – March 2020

Throughout my senior year in college I applied to numerous jobs, had countless interviews, and went to several job fairs, but nothing seemed to make sense to me. There was only one thing that I knew for certain, and that was that I wanted to return to Spain to explore, expand my language skills, and to live my life! 

Therefore, I applied to teach English in the public high schools of Madrid, and I got accepted! Suddenly it was like my whole life came together. I felt like what I had always dreamt of was possible, like I was laying the foundation for my life puzzle to be completed. After months of patiently waiting, making multiple trips to NYC, and getting more and more excited by the day I finally arrived back in Madrid on September 10th, 2019.

Arriving back to my second home brought such relief, joy, and at the same time uncertainty. I would be teaching 4 days a week with 3 day weekends, and I would have all the normal school holidays off, so I knew that traveling around Spain and to other countries was going to happen. But how to decide when and where to go? I had my host family, Emily’s host mother, my dear friend Patricia, and my great college friend Carlos, who was studying in Madrid at the time, to keep me company during the year. Patricia and I went for walks and drinks almost regularly which was terrific! Of course the plan was to just stay from September to June 2020, but I really didn’t have any formal plans made after June, so in theory my life plan was an open book.

For the first 7 days I had a hotel room, which is part of the teaching program I was doing through CIEE as a Language and Cultural Teaching Assistant in the public high schools of Madrid. I had met a potential roommate and thought that we could get an apartment together, however this turned out to be a complete disaster and I ended up booking a room in a shared flat/apartment though Spotahome. Spotahome is a unique housing company that scopes out rooms and flats prior to you seeing them so that is is easier for you to get a rental agreement and you do not have to spend time searching for apartments. They are super user friendly, have awesome ratings, and make both the renters and landowners lives easier. Think of them as your proxy for confirming the cleanliness, truthful nature, and validity to an apartment/room posting online.

My shared flat and room ended up being exactly as they were on the Spotahome app, so this was sweet! I moved in smoothly and had a prime location in the city! My apartment was on Calle de Fuencarral 36, one of the principal shopping streets of the city. It was nestled just in-between the barrios, or neighbourhoods, of Chueca and Tribunal, and is only a 7 minute walk to the city center of Sol. Living with 10 other people was not ideal in some ways, but I did get to meet my newest friend Maika who would become my adventure buddy around Spain. She is from the UK and was also teaching as I was. Our flat had 3 bathrooms, a large kitchen, and 2 washers.

 

My lifestyle

Naturally, I immediately set out to begin my eco-friendly European super budgeting lifestyle as a vegetarian! I got myself an organic cotton produce bag too! As it happened, legit the best frutería, or produce store, I have ever visited in Madrid called Supermercado Hortaleza was right around the block. The lady who owned it was great and she ordered really fresh, unpackaged, and loose produce of all kinds. She even had some bread, milk, canned goods, and other essentials. This store instantly became my livelihood and I went there 3-4 times a week to get myself more and more delicious Spanish produce!

On average I probably spent between 9-15 euros a week for the bulk of my produce food each week, and an additional 10-15 euros for non produce items. I also shopped at an Eroski City supermarket a couple blocks away from my house for anything aside from produce that I needed, and at the Mercadona near my school placement perhaps once every couple weeks to get more specialty items. Occasionally, for things like maple syrup I went to El Corte Ingles, which is a high quality department store chain all over Spain. Bi-weekly I always went to the Herbolario Navarro natural foods store to get natural products like wheat germ, tofu, chickpea flour, dark chocolate bars, and more. There are a couple of these specific health food stores in Madrid, along with another chain brand, and I am addicted to their natural tasty products! Whats not to love about that?! Usually once a month, I went to a ‘bulk goods store’ called Casa Terra, which was only a few blocks form my flat. They have anything you can think of as a dried good: pasta, rice, flour, sugar, lentils, beans, seeds, nuts, dried fruits, spices, coffee, etc. in many different types, and you can bring in your own reusable jars to keep refilling!! What I spent depended on the week and how much I was getting, but it was no more than 15-20 euros a month. I absolutely loved purchasing things like dried apricots, raisins, mixed nuts, pecans, lentils, flour, and more from them!

My food budget for each month was approximately 120 euros or 30 euros/week, including eating out once or twice and getting coffees at my school. My cellphone bill was 20 euros a month as a flat rate through Vodafone. Before I had used the company Orange, but I think that the Vodafone pay as you go is a better plan. All I had to do was pop in the new SIM card, and set up my online account and I could refill monthly as I needed. It was so simple! For transportation, since I am under 26 years old, is only 20 euros per month with unlimited use!!!! That means as many times as I want I can use any of the Comunidad de Madrid Transports, like busses, Cercanías trains, metros, and night busses. That include any of the transportation zone in the whole region too! Thus, the extent of my expense every month was 160 euros, which I usually rounded up to 200 euros when I include going our a couple times and getting drinks. My rent was 590 euros per month with ALL utilities included.

So overall, I needed roughly 800 euros per month to live in Madrid. My monthly stipend payment was 1000 euros per month, plus I did some private tutoring on the side every week. Therefore, my monthly income was never more than 1200 euros per month. That gave me about 400 euros a month of disposable income to travel with, however, since I like to save, I limited myself to just 300 euros per month for traveling. 

So at this point you are probably wondering how is traveling anywhere exotic or not is even remotely possible? The answer is that I worked prior to arriving and saved as much as humanly possible to make my dreams come true. I am the queen of budgeting, and such I have disciplined myself as much as possible. I knew that traveling around Spain was something that I needed to do more of and I wanted to visit the Netherlands/Belgium, Scotland with my friend Maika, and Italy.

For the months of September, October, and November I mostly stayed in Madrid and did some mini day trips, which enabled me to save even more for my other big trips! I also decided that I wanted to go home for Christmas to see my family, so I had already previously allocated funds for this. Really, truly, honestly, you can travel to the most amazing places with WAY LESS than you think!!

 

Budgeting will be your best friend, along with staying safe, minimising what you pack, and planning ahead! Be sure to check out my other posts on these four amazing tips! Click on each for a link to my posts : )

  1. Budgeting: Where to Stay & How to Get There
  2. Plan Ahead: Do More & Worry Less
  3. Minimize: Pack Lighter & Smarter
  4. Be Smart, Vigilant & Observant

 

Staying Active in My Spare Time

First of all there is always something to do, see, or goto in Madrid! My good friend Maika and I decided early on that we wanted to do some sort of physical activity classes, but we weren’t sure what specifically. We did not want to have to goto the regular gym, and neither one of us wanted to spend lots of money. She did some research and found that on the opposite side of the block we lived on there was a Fit-boxing gym that offered weekly classes as very affordable rates! It is called Brooklyn Fit-boxing, and they have locations all over Madrid, and in many other countries too. So we joined, and chose the membership to go twice a week, each week of the month, so essentially for 8 classes a month you paid 55 euros. That is less than 7 euros per class! And you can pick and choose what days/times you want accordingly to your weekly schedule. 

Plus, they are hour long group classes with a personal trainer, and they give you the boxing gloves and hand wraps for free on the first day. Maika and I absolutely loved these weekly classes! Each one you did a set of rounds with different components until you added them all together into a final round like real boxing. If you are looking for a lower cost membership that keeps you moving, builds your cardio, and is fun, not embarrassing like the gym, then this is your type of membership!!

Maika and I also both loved hiking, or senderísmo, as it is called in Spain. We went on numerous day trips to the Parque Regional de la Cuenca Alta del Manzanares, which is a national park of Spain similar to the National Parks in the U.S.. There is actually a mini bus that will take you a couple miles into the park where the trailheads start, which can be really nice! Be forewarned though, it only runs from like April to October, so you will have to take a cab or walk from he small little town of Manzanares el Real to the trailheads. I have done both, and it just depends on the weather and your game plan really. We also went to the Parque Nacional de la Sierra de Guadrrama mountain range just an over an hour outside of Madrid. Both are essentially part of the same mountainous area, but the latter is a lot more steep with several downhill ski mountains. The latter also really looks like Iceland and Scotland in a lot of ways. The first park really reminds me of Aspen, Colorado because when I went there the first time it was fall, there were all sorts of trees with bright yellow falling leaves like those in Aspen, Colorado. Though these recreational trekking locations are about an hour to an hour and a half outside of Madrid, there are lots and lots of busses and light rail trains that can get you there in no time. These are truly amazing places that are FREE to go to!!! And if you have the under 26 years old metro card, it is basically free to get to them!!! : )

A big factor the lots of people don’t consider about moving to a city without a car, is that you end up walking a lot more than you would if you could drive everywhere!! When I wasn’t taking the metro or bus to work I was walking most everywhere else that I could!! Between walking and Madrids fabulous public transportation system, the sky’s the limit in terms of getting around!  El Retiro park, which is like the Central Park of Madrid, was only about a 10 minute walk for me from my flat. I am obsessed with this park because it is really quite large for Madrids population, which is significantly less than half of that of NYC for sure! And the park is probably half again the size of Central Park. Inside it there are lots of fitness areas, a lovely pond with rental row boats, food vendors, and some other really cool buildings. Some other really nice parks in Madrid are Parque del Oeste for sunset watching, and Casa de Campo which is a little bit more spacious for outdoor activities.

I also love walking around looking at all the fascinating little shops that encompass every block of Madrid! Stores like Humana, Flying Tiger Copenhagen, Natura, Mango, and El Corte Ingles are always good for finding interesting things, whether you are buying something or not. I would suggest going to Flying Tiger Copenhagen if you are in need of something specific or are looking for a gift as more than likely they are going to have what you are searching for or something similar! Mango and Natura have awesome clothes and a few other cool accessories jam packed in. El Corte Ingles, especially the one near Sol has legit three separate buildings because the store is that large! Think of it like a ‘mega Target’ with a full size bed/home goods display floor, a massive higher end grocery store, multiple technology floors, and a whole seven story building for shoes/clothes. Needless to say, I almost got lost the first time I went in haha!

At my school I made pretty good friends with some of the other Language Assistants (LAs), and went out sometimes too. In addition, my good friend Greta was studying abroad for the semester in Madrid as I did with my university in the same program. We went to lots of places, and one time we even went to a Medieval Festival in Alcála de Henares, a smaller city nearby. Carlos, Greta, and I went out fairly frequently and we even went to Madrids own version of Oktoberfest. My bilingual coordinators daughter, Clara, and I also became really good friends! We liked to go out for a few tapas and drinks and plot out the places we’d both like to visit someday. Emily came and visited me for a week as well!! As usual, this was a spectacular week filled with smiles, a few bottles of wine, and lots of laughs. 

No matter what your preference on staying active, there are soo many options! Spain's geography is so wonderfully diverse and accessible that its almost a crime not to go out and see it for yourself!

Also, if you are eager to hear more about all the super awesome things to do and places to see in Madrid, check out my post Un Semestre en Madrid.

 

However, like all good things this essentially perfect Madrileña, or Madrid city, lifestyle had to come to an end too. Around the first week of March 2020, a strange phenomenon hit the world and it came from China, it would later be called the COVID-19 or Coronavirus Pandemic. At first it seemed contained to only a few countries, but soon it struck Spain and Italy very intensely, and I realized that my dream trip to Italy in April had to be put off. At the same time, the Spanish Educational Ministry decided that all schools would be shut down for a month. Then, during the night before my friend and I were supposed to leave for Scotland, the United States announced that it would be closing its borders to all international travellers the next day. Frantic as I woke during the middle of the night and saw the news, I realized that I had to exit the country immediately! So I swiftly bought a plane ticket to leave that morning, and I threw everything I had packed for a year into my suitcases.

Upon arrival home, back in NY, the serious nature of the Pandemic began to arise. In April 2020, it became abundantly clear that this virus would shut down the whole world indefinitely. And so it has as I am writing this exactly a year later. The world is now partially recuperated, yet there is still a long road ahead, but I shall not be tamed by it. I intend to return to Madrid, Spain in the Fall of 2021 to continue my construction of self identity through travel, hard work, and perseverance.

Myself chilling in the bulk foods shop Casa Terra in Madrid.
The Roselada, or Rose Garden, inside El Retiro Park Madrid.
A jousting knight prepares for battle in a reenactment at the Medieval Festival I went to in Alcála de Henares.
On the trail in Parque Nacional de la Sierra de Guadrrama in late February.

The video above is was taken while hiking in the Parque Nacional de la Sierra de Guadrrama in February. 

It was the most pristine day we could have chosen for this utterly stunning hike! 

the photo above is also from Parque Nacional de la Sierra de Guadrrama, but the the photo to the right, was taken in the Parque Regional de la Cuenca Alta del Manzanares.
This photo, and the ones below, were taken in another hiking location near Cercedilla, Spain. It is part of both the parks I have previously mentioned, but specifically is part of the Valle de la Fuenfría.

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