SPAIN CHEAT SHEET
- Visa: No for US / Canadian / Australian Citizens for tourist stays less than 90 days
- Best Time to Travel: April to June, September. Peak season is July - August and December
- Currency: 1 Euro (€) = $1.12USD / $1.49CAD / $1.59AUD (Exchange rates as of 9/2015)
- Cost of Typical Meal - Food and wine are affordable, with wine approx 8€ for a bottle at restaurants and 12€ and up for a tourist friendly, no frills meal.
- CC friendly: Yes
- Transportation: Trains, this is a metropolitan city after all
- Airports: Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport (MAD)
- Language: Spanish and English, with a good mix of people speaking English.
ONGOING RUMOR: Spanish people look like the rest of South Americans.
MY EXPERIENCE: While Spain ruled most of South America for centuries and left a heavy influence on the people, Spaniards are European and have lighter features in skin tone and hair in general.
EL IMPERIO EN EL QUE NUNCA SE PONE EL SOL
THE EMPIRE IN WHICH THE SUN NEVER SETS
During the 16th and 17th centuries, Spain had one of the most powerful kingdoms in all of Europe. During it's peak, Spain possessed land from the Americas to the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium, France, Asia, Africa and Portugal and all it's territory. The Spanish empire was so encompassing that it was said the sun never set on all the territory at once. When I traveled through South America, the Spanish influence was palpable. Cartagena and Lima after all, were founded by Spaniards. In Peru, it was the Spaniards who had conquered the Incans and taken their gold.
PLAZA MAYOR AND GETTING THE BEST ADVICE FROM SOME LOCALS
Spain has a thing for town squares. These squares were used as central meeting places for marketplaces, political conversations as well as public executions and bullfights. Today, Plaza Mayor is a tourist trap, crowded with pigeons (seriously, I thought they were only in NY), and panhandlers. The Tourist Information Center, is here so you can grab maps to get your journey started. Interestingly enough, three of the buildings here are actually apartment buildings, and people LIVE HERE. You can even find some apartments to rent on airbnb.
While I do not recommend eating any of the overpriced food here, I do recommend getting some wine and sitting outside to people watch. If you're lucky, you might make friends with some wonderful locals and learn some local customs. It's here that we learned of a little beverage called "TINTO DE VERANO".
"TINTO DE VERANO"
1 PART RED WINE + 1 PART CASERA OR 7UP/SPRITE + ICE + LEMON SLICE = TINTO DE VERANO
On hot days, a Tinto de Verano is the perfect drink to get you rowdy and keep you hydrated enough to party (No hangover the next day). Translated as the "Red wine of Summer", I've reworked the lyrics of "The Boys of Summer" to "Red Wine of Summer" so that you can go ahead and jam out. Click here to listen and sing along.
But I can see you-
Your red tannins shinin' in the sun
You got your bubbles and your condensations, baby
And I can tell my love for you will still be strong
After the tinto de verano has gone
PLAZA DE CEBADA
A HIDDEN TREASURE YOU CAN FIND ONLY IF YOU LOOK CLOSE ENOUGH
About a 10 minute walk from Plaza Mayor is the Teatro La Latina, a theatre rich in vanity and glamour with each ticket ranging in the hundreds. This is a home for the arts and upper crust of Spain, and yet, directly across the street behind an inconspicuous blue fence lies an urban community, home to some of the hip and cool in Madrid.
"LIMPIA TU MIERDA" or CLEAN YOUR SHIT
Hanging off a makeshift stage flaps a bed sheet with the words "Limpia tu mierda". "Clean your shit" is one of the only rules of Plaza de Cebada, a community park that's owned and operated by the community of Madrid. Neighbors hold the key to the gates and can open and close the park as they please, rotating between one other. The saying humorously attributed to these neighbors goes, "If the gate's not open, then it wasn't meant to be". Every year, architecture students from all around the world come to this park to take apart the setup and redesign the whole place for assignments using repurposed scrap metal, wood and other materials.
When we stumbled into the area there were all sorts of areas to hang out. We found a group of teens having a brake dancing photo shoot, some twenty somethings smoking weed and drinking beers in another section and a few couples making out on the outskirt. It was like a 1990's urban kids after school special. On one side, a young man practiced shooting hoops as two boys battled each other in soccer just a few feet away. In the summer outdoor movies and concerts are held here. A very cool place to catch and see if you happen to be in the neighborhood.. if you can find it. Behind this lot, you'll find the Mercado de Cebeda, a massive indoor food market with all sorts of different vendors.
FORMER SLAUGHTERHOUSE, PRESENT HIPSTER ART + RESTAURANT SCENE
Matadero, spanish for slaughterhouse is actually now a massive campus of art exhibits, work space, restaurants and overall cool atmosphere. The massive space makes way for bars and places for the hip new twenty somethings to hang out and eat. So Po Mo! A huge music library showcases some of the most influential music of all time in private sound booths from all around the world. Movie theatre and restaurants here to see. Be sure to grab a bite at the delicious restaurant or grab some tapas from the bar and enjoy some vino as you explore the art outside. You can also rent bikes here to explore the campus. Once you leave you can walk by the water and cross the little purple bridges. Enjoy a delicious meal at CANTINA or see a movie at CINETECA.
BUEN RETIRO PARK
ROW BOAT TO ENJOY THE DAY CAUSE...I'M ON A BOAT MOTHA EFFA!
I know this sounds crass, but when I go to a new city, I hate being told to check out the different museums and parks there. The truth is, yes they are beautiful and I can appreciate art, but at the same time, I don't feel as if I'm fully discovering the city, but merely a picture perfect curated version of how the city wants to be seen. If I barely go to visit these at home in NY, why should I spend my time doing so elsewhere? And after traveling for months, all the museums and artwork can be a blur to you. That's why I always, always try and go a little offbeat and try to discover the best parts of the cities.
Normally parks don't do anything for me, but Buen Retiro is worth visit. You'll see plenty of people milling about, riding, walking, talking and see plenty of beautiful scenery, but my favorite part was row boating in Buen Retiro Park. If you can, sneak a beer or two in your bag and maybe some snacks to enjoy while enjoying the beautiful scenery. If you're lucky there'll be some lovely jazz playing as well.
A NIGHT OUT WITH COCKTAILS
1862 GIN BAR and CASA DEL PEZ
In Madrid, you'll find plenty of wine and beer options, but rarely, rarely will you find any cocktail bars. I was so excited to stumble on 1862 Gin Bar, home of some of the most finely imported bourbons, scotches, whiskies and spirits you could find. The owner of the bar also collects decanters from all over the world, including some old ones from his grandmother's collection. Take a walk downstairs to look through his collection of alcohol and decanters in the sophisticated, James Bond esque basement.
If you want to go for a little more low key then make sure you go for a drink nearby in the Malasaña neighborhood at the Casa Del Pez - a local pub with a great selection of beers, cocktails and darts in the downstairs. It's quaint, cozy and the best part is they have a wall that you can draw on. Look for my drawing of two magpies if you ever make it there! The neighborhood of Malasaña is a little more grungy and sassy. It's a young neighborhood full of artists and you can clearly see this in the streets. This area is popping during the weekends but slow during the week.
TAPAS, PAELLA AND JAMON
Oof. You'll see tons of places that say "TOP RATED" and "FIRST OF THE ONES IN MADRID". Do not, I plead DO NOT go to these places. Calamari on a roll is a thing here - and though I had calamari a lot, I have yet to find anything good around the touristy area so I recommend taking a PASS. There's a small street of paella restaurants that are known for having the BEST calamari and I was left unhappy with them. Tourist traps if you ask me. You'll have to do some more searching. You can check out Museo de Jamon for a cheap sandwich - 1 Euro will buy you a pretty big if simple sandwich with Jamon and cheese. Be warned, the free tapas every other restaurant gives you will have better Jamon than these places. There were a ton of delicious pastries and markets and the wine was amazing as well as cheap. 8 Euros for an entire bottle of wine was magnificent.
mercado san miguel
A FANCY MARKET TO INDULGE IN SOME TAPAS, BEER AND WINE
This little piece of modernity is located right behind PLAZA MAYOR. You'll go from historical setting to a modern food enclave. Tapas as far as the eye can see sit side by side with artisan cheeses, jamon, burgers, coffees, wine, beers and desserts. This enormous eatery is a place to check out for both locals and tourists,much like Chelsea Market in NYC. Pop in for a "quick" lunch if you happen to be around Plaza Mayor.
WHERE I STAYED:
THE HAT MADRID: This hostel is one of the most beautiful hostels I've ever stayed in. It's new, modern and green with a rooftop bar (open to the public) and amazing views of the city. Rooms in the higher floors have balconies and the hostel is located just three minutes walking from Plaza Mayor.