So, I’ve just returned from a two month trip to Spain and Portugal – and not only has it renewed my interest in Spanish culture and language, I found out how underrated Portugal is to visit, and how much I take the classic British fish and chips for granted.
Now, here’s my map of the places I visited:
I pin everything on a map to remember where I went, but that’s a story for another time. I’m going to tell you the good places and the bad places, tips and whatever have yous if you’re thinking of making an unforgettable Iberian trip.
And lastly on my trip, my home for a month and a half, the bustling capital of Spain, Madrid.
Highlight: Like London, Madrid is a city that is constantly buzzing with activity – the only difference is that the party doesn’t stop here until 6am! And unlike in the south of Spain, the place doesn’t shut down entirely for the siesta, either. Also unlike down there, the public transportation is frequent and ON TIME! (That’s a story for another day).
Lowlight: Realising that Madrid has a far superior underground system than London. Not to mention unlimited youth fares for €20 a month on all city travel. That doesn’t even cover two days of unlimited travel in London!
Verdict: Whenever you walk through the centre of town, you know that you’re somewhere special. Madrid is a city where you’ll remember every moment being there, and especially those that you spend at the wide variety of incredible restaurants and tapas bars available.
Tips: If you’re staying for a while, and especially for those under 26, organise yourself a TTP, the local oyster card that works in all of the Comunidad de Madrid, which also includes Toledo! It’ll save you a lot of money, and is a cool little souvenir to take home. If not, you can buy a ticket for ten trips for €12.20, which, by London standards, is eye-poppingly affordable.
Highlight: I volunteered at the prestigious Madrid Film Festival during my month and a half in the city – and the best part was easily meeting all the other film-makers, discussing the films we watched, our cultures and the differences between the film industry in the UK and Spain. It was a learning experience, and I definitely felt as if all the Spanish volunteers definitely accepted this one random Londoner on the team whose grasp on the language was not quite up to scratch.
Lowlight: When the cinema screens were full, so there wasn’t enough space for us volunteers to snag some seats! (It’s OK, we went up and watched from the projection room!)
Verdict: Spanish people are generous, friendly and have a big sense of humour – they also don’t mind striking up a conversation with you. Not quite like the Americans do, which for a typically inwards Londoner is really a culture shock of sorts, but you’ll learn to feel comfortable just chatting with strangers. They’re just a different class of people, and it makes the entire country feel so safe and warm.
Tips: The Festival de Cine Madrid is an annual event in late autumn, usually October, that showcases some of the best national and international shorts and features. The tickets are free and they also hand out locally made vermut at some of the cinema entrances, which alone is worth coming for! If you’re in Madrid during the festival, take a look at the tickets and explore Spanish film, an important institution in the country.
Highlight: The sierra to the north west of the city is stunning – I went up to Rascafría, a cute small town right up in the mountains, by a big lake. It was autumn – so the colours of the leaves really made the whole experience. Alcalá de Henares is also a beautiful town, but is rather small, so not too much to do past a half-day, full day at a stretch.
Lowlight: I can’t think of anything subversive to write, so I’ll just say nothing.
Verdict: I stayed up with a family as an au pair in La Moraleja, an affluent neighbourhood to the north, which, despite being nearly at the end of the city itself, had great transport links to the centre and big houses in the area. It’s also cool to see water fountains around town. i have no regrets about my stay in Madrid.
Tips: Chamartín station has transport links to Segovia, Avila and Alcalá de Henares, if you wish to make those visits. Toledo is from Atocha. And Cuenca, whilst in Valencia, is only 1hr30 from Atocha and looks a good place to visit also. I can’t vouch for it personally, however.
Anything else for Madrid?
Have a calamari sandwich, they are delicious. And churros at Chocolatería San Ginés! I guarantee that you will not regret either of those decisions. I also highly recommend the microteatro in Malasaña, the Shoreditch-hispter part of town, and the cable car that goes through the Casa de Campo park, which gives you an amazing view of the city.
And that was the end of my trip! I hope this has been interesting. Madrid is a beautiful city that I would be happy living in and returning to, and the country of Spain itself is inspiring in the warmth of its people and weather. The weather especially helps!