Un semestre en Madrid

February 2018-May 2018 —

In February, being semi-acclimated to the city life, my fellow SLU participants and I boarded our mini bus to head to Madrid. I felt very unsure of what to expect, but confident that it would change me for the better. 

After having met my host family at the Universidad Complutense, the main university in Madrid, they helped me settle into their apartment and my new room. My host family consisted of a mom, dad, and three brothers around my age. The view from my window of the Paseo de la Castellana, a main thoroughfare, was magnificent. I happened to receive an awesome placement and I could see the metro stop entrance of Cuzco from my window as well! My stop was on line 10, only a 20 minute metro commute to my university for classes. If you were to look at a directional map, I was placed in the northern part of the main city. 

My classes were in the Colegio Mayor Isabel de España, the residency building of Isabel of Spain, part of the Universidad Complutense. Which is located in the sub region of Madrid often called Ciudad Universitaria, or University City, the Western side of Madrid. I absolutely love how fluid and perfectly laid out this area is for students! This particular residency building also has a cafe in it, which is most opportune for grabbing a snack, coffee, or lunch in between classes!! It is a place of social gathering, and there are often students and staff from nearby university buildings.  

Everyday after class and for dinner my host mom would prepare a lovely meal for myself and my host brothers! This was one of my favorite times with them because I got to practice my speaking, and we chatted about anything and everything you could think of. After meeting my best friend Emily, who was also studying in the program, her and I began regularly exploring the city and visiting her host mom whenever we could. We established a bus route to and from her house, in Arturo Soria, and mine in Cuzco, which was about a 20 minute ride. 


Places to See And Things to Do

Some of our favorite things to do included: walking in El Retiro, the Central Park of Madrid; exploring new parts of the city; scanning for thrift shops and in particular Humana stores as they were our favorite; looking for interesting venues, bars, parks, and cafes where we could do our schoolwork; visiting museum exhibitions; planning out cool trips we could do; and going out on weekends. For her and I the sky was the limit! We loved doing just about anything as long it was together.   

El Rastro ~ Every Sunday in the neighbourhood of La Latina and the surrounding streets, there is a massive flea market that spreads as far as the eye can see. This is quite possibly the coolest flea market I have ever been to and there is always something to see, hear, buy, and look at!! It is one of the most amazing parts of the city and is a great way to shop or stroll around on a casual Sunday morning. The first time that Emily and I went, I was speechless because there was just so much to see! There were vendors everywhere, selling nick-nacks, gifts, clothes, decorations, fresh fruit & vegetables, souvenirs, antiques, retro items, accessories, and so much more! Whatever you are looking for this market has it! Another time when we went, we happened upon this handmade jewellery stand, and an older man approached us. He picked up a handcrafted tiara and placed it on my head, and then proceeded to yell aloud ‘Dulce princesa!,’ or sweet princess. It was very funny for us, but since I had no need for a tiara, we politely declined. There is something for everyone! The market usually runs from 8am until 3pm, and is always a fun time whether you are looking to spend money or not! : )

El Retiro ~ This is hands down one of my favorite parts of the city!! Did you know that there are tons of little green parrots floating around? It is comparable to Central Park in NYC, but since Madrid is 1/3 in size the park seems much larger! There is a lovely pond in the middle with boats one can rent and row around while basking in the warm Spanish sun. There are several intricate gardens and monuments as well with areas for exercising and chatting with friends. It is easily accessible by metro, bus, and by foot, plus there are lots of little restaurants and vendors if you feel like grabbing a bite or an ice cream cone. There is also a Rose garden which is particularly delightful from June to October with bright colors and sweet fragrant smells. It makes a perfect place for photo taking and spending a couple hours reading the newspaper in the sun or the shade. 

Humana Thrift stores ~ One afternoon Emily and I were wandering the streets not that far from her house, and we happened upon a thrift store called Humana. It looked really nice, so we took a gander and happened to fall in love with all the variety of name brands they had in store! They also have a program set up where the majority of the proceeds aid various African countries in distributing clothing and assorted other resources. If you are a fan of shopping secondhand or even if you are not, I would highly suggest checking one of these shops out! There are 20+ shops in the Madrid area plus they have shops in Portugal and other regions of Spain as well. 

One time Emily and I were exploring a shop near the Plaza Mayor and we happened to come across a variety of wedding dresses in very good condition! So I decided to try one on just because and it was nearly a perfect fit! It was more fun than you could imagine, and then this little Italian man was walking by and he asked if I was getting married. Of course I wasn’t, but we chatted with him for about 10 minutes or so. Thus, you never know who or what you are going to come across when you visit a Humana shop. So keep your eyes peeled for one when you’re in Madrid! 

Additionally, if thrift stores are not your thing, there are lots of other wonderful shops! Some of my favourites include Natura, Mango, Stradivarius, and Bershka. I happen to be almost obsessed with Mango, and it is most definitely under my list of travel brand recommendations. They have wonderful eco friendly clothing that is both super stylish, neutral, sophisticated, and not too expensive for the quality!

Venues & Bars ~  As you may have heard, Madrid is a city of vibrant and exciting nightlife as well! Los Madrileños, the people of Madrid, are known for staying out all night long and then waking up the next day to go to work. Emily and I had several venues that were our favorite for going out. We typically went out almost every weekend, either on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday. Normally in Madrid, Thursday’s and Saturday’s are more for clubbing or staying out super late, and Friday’s are more for going out to the bars for a few copas, or drinks, and tapas. Really though, one can walk just about anywhere and find soo many cute little eccentric places to have a drink and some tapas!!

Fun fact, it is said that Spain has more bars per capita, or inhabitant, than any other country in the world!!!

Our favorite bars were: El Círculo de Bellas Artes, also called La Azotea de Bellas Artes, which is an art exhibit that also has a rooftop bar and lounge with excellent sunset photos; El Corazón which has the cutest little booths and a great atmosphere; and pretty much any bar in the barrio, or neighbourhood, of Chueca. Other really fun locations include El Mercado de San Miguel and El Mercado de San Ildefonso where they sell fresh foods and tapas in addition to drinks where one can shop around and socialise at the same time. We also went out a lot in the barrios of Madrid called La Latina, Lavapies, Sol, Antón Martin, and Malasaña. 

For cafes that allow you to work with your computer, Café Federal is really great as they have food, coffee, and free wifi. We also went to Starbucks sometime because they have really good seating options, and free wifi, plus bagels!! Don’t get me wrong a Spanish Starbucks bagel isn’t that good but I really love bagels! : )

Museums and Exhibitions ~ Madrid hosts several world class museums such as the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza and the renowned Museo Nacional del Prado. As such, while we were there we took advantage of all the amazing museum exhibitions that were around as much as possible. An important note is that they offer extremely discounted admissions for students/youth!!

Given that Emily and I were college students, we were able to take advantage of all of the wonderful student discounts that are offered in Spain and most of Europe. In Madrid specifically, such discounts include the metro/public transportation, which if you are under 26 is only 20 euros per month with unlimited use!!!! This is unreal and legit the best for those on a budget!! I mean who wouldn’t love being able to get around without buying gas or paying for car insurance?! Even if you are over 26, it is still quite affordable!!

In order to have proof that Emily and I were students, we purchased ISIC cards for about $20 each, or International Student Identity card. I would highly recommend getting a student card, a IYTC International Youth Travel card if you are not a student, or the ITIC International Teacher Identity card if you are a full-time teacher because it will be well worth the savings you will have! All of these cards are internationally recognised and you can scope out all of the possible discounts on the website. These cards ensure reduced fares at museums, shows, exhibits, and even some transportation as a with the valid ID card. I believe that you can also purchase these cards through STA Travel. Emily and I used our ‘student status’ as much as we possibly could, and as a result we were able to extra stretch our funds!! 

We visited numerous exhibitions and art galleries too! At the Fundación Canal we had the opportunity to view a one of a kind mobile exhibit on the Holocaust Camp Auschwitz. Another time at the same location we saw an art gallery for a prominent French artist Toulouse-Lautrec [#expoLautrec].

One day while waiting for our next metro train, we saw an advertisement for a Saber Tooth Tiger exhibition at the Museo Arqueológico Regional, or the Regional Archeological Museum, in Alcalá de Henares, a smaller city just outside of Madrid. The CaixaForum near the train station Atocha in the Southern part of the city boasts a truly wonderful array of galleries every year, and is known for its contemporary art exhibits. This building is really abstract, for it has a vertical garden wall outside as part of the entrance. Once inside, in my opinion, it hosts any art gallery or exhibition perfectly with multiple floors and even a small cafe. My first weekend in Madrid I went out on my own and I stumbled upon an advertisement for an Andy Warhol exhibit. So I went and it was super fun and educational! To many, he is known as the Campbells Soup artist, as well as for his multi-color prints of famous people and objects, such as Marilyn Monroe.

Madrid is like the ideal European city, for it is modern yet anciently historic; hip yet old fashioned; diverse yet unique; and navigable yet at times one can lose them-self amongst all of its international hub. There is a feeling of freedom, endless possibilities, and comfort all at the same time. 

@The_Traveling_Guapa, 2021

Thus, it is fair to say that Madrid offers something to everyone from all walks of life. If you are planning on going to Spain, it is essential that you spend some time in Madrid for the full Spanish experience!

~> Did you know? The name ‘Madrid’ comes from the Arabic word ‘Mayrit’ which means plenty of water. As I have learned, when the city was founded, it was perched on the edge of the Manzanares river, and is near the Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range. 

What more can I say, other than that Madrid is my second home! 

An art exhibit preview of Sorolla at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza.
This is the view from the Círculo de Bellas Artes towards the Northern part of the city where I lived as a storm rolls in.
Above is the iconic 'Tio Pepe' sign in the center of Madrid. And to the left, is the wedding dress that we found at Humana.
The advertisement for the Toulouse-Lautrec art gallery at the Fundación Canal.
Emily and I happened upon this older lady selling paintings she had made at El Rastro, so of course I had to get one! And I still have it to this day, though she agreed to let me take a picture with her, I do not know her name.

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