Madrid will always hold a special place in my heart because it’s where I began this journey. My flight touched down at 8am on August 20 in this city where I knew no one and spoke roughly 3 words of the local language. After a brief “What in the world have I gotten myself into?” moment, I pulled it together and made my way to my hostel. I’d never slept in a hostel before, so it was a little out of my comfort zone. Thankfully, Hostelworld‘s suggestion of Mucho Madrid gave me a clean, quiet place to stay and this incredible view.
In an attempt to stay vertical and combat jetlag, I joined a MadRide Travel tour— the first of many free walking tours. The guide was knowledgable about the city and had a great story to share for almost every plaza or statue.
The tour began as we stepped (with gusto!) on kilometer marker 0 in Puerta del Sol. Legend says that if you step on this place, you’ll return to Madrid. It worked because after stepping on it, I was back just 8 days later!
We saw one statue of a king on his horse which is just a little different now than when it was first built. Our guide explained that originally the horse had an open mouth, but birds kept flying in and being unable to fly out. The square where it’s located played a part in the Spanish Inquisition, and so when people heard the dying birds, they naturally thought the sounds were the ghosts of those who had been killed. It wasn’t until someone set off a firecracker that burst the stomach of the horse that the culprit of the ghostly noises became clear. The statue was repaired with a very important closed mouth adjustment.
We passed by the oldest restaurant in the world, where Hemingway once ate, and also passed by a restaurant that was tired of being asked whether Hemingway ever ate there.
For lunch, Mercado de San Miguel offers drinks, tapas, and sweets to satisfy any craving. I can definitely recommend the Italian stand that offers all kinds of mozzarella on bread with different kinds of meat, fruit and vegetables. I would definitely recommend skipping the sea urchin stand. It’s the only new thing I’ve tried and regretted.
In Texas, we eat churros— fried bread covered in cinnamon and sugar. In Spain, churros have no coating because they’re served with rich, warm chocolate for dipping. There are several places to get these, but Chocolateria San Gínes has been around for over 100 years and is a popular destination. I can’t vouch for it, but a friend tried the chocolate cake and raved about it for the next week!
As wonderful as the food and the culture and the chocolate was, though, the highlight of Madrid for me was Real Madrid. An incredibly generous new friend from my week with Pueblo Inglés offered me her season ticket seat with the condition that I cheer for Real Madrid. As if I would cheer for any other team in a city whose Saturday evening fútbol game was as intense as the Super Bowl.
“Hala Madrid” (a powerful musical anthem) began to play and fútbol became an emotional sport. I quickly learned the word vamos (GO!) and shouted it with all the fans. The seat was next to the hooligan section, which is a concentration of the most die-hard fans. They cheered the whole entire game with chants everyone knew and beat drums and waved giant flags. Their energy pulsed throughout the stadium and pumped up the fans as Real Madrid scored again and again (and again and again and again) for a 5-0 game. You can see a few of my favorite highlights in this video.
And here is the face of Real Madrid’s newest fan!
I’m hoping my next trip to Madrid will be a little longer than a stopover… and will definitely coincide with a Real Madrid game!