On the eve of our departure I opted out of sleep, considering that Suze and I were going to have to leave New Cross at 2am. After packing, unpacking, and repacking my backpack multiple times, I knocked on Suze’s door and we set off for the bus stop. The 321 bus that we needed to catch only came every 15 mins and the next one was in two, so we booked it to the stop. We probably looked ridiculous trying to run with such large monstrosities on our backs, but it was 2am and who really cares, right? Luckily we made it in time and rode our double-decker down Central where we needed to catch another bus that would take us the rest of the way to Old Street Station tube stop, where we needed to catch yet another bus to take us to the airport.
Well, when we arrived at our first stop, we found that the bus stop we needed was right in the middle of a lot of construction and was consequently closed…so we decided since it wasn’t that far and we had a little bit of extra time that we would walk the post-apocalyptic-like windy, empty streets of downtown London to Old Street Station. Trash was blowing around us like tumbleweeds in a desert. It had to be one of the windiest nights I had ever experienced in London. By this point we were delirious and, beginning to feel our bodies crying out for sleep, we got the giggles, laughing at anything and everything that wasn’t funny.
Finally we made it to our Easybus airport shuttle pickup point. The bus smelled like B.O. so badly and I was too scared to put my backpack on the luggage rack so I rode the 1.5 hours from Central London to Stansted airport with my 30lb bag on my lap. This was my first experience flying a discounted airline so when we got to the Stansted airport I was all sorts of confused, luckily we made it through passport check, security, and the maze of shops that lined the sparkling path to our gate. We decided to go to the bathroom before getting on the plane since we had like 45 minutes until the gate was supposed to open, when we came out of the bathroom and looked at our flight’s status though it read, “LAST CALL,” which made no sense at all but not wanting to miss our flight after all the trouble we had gone through to get to the airport, we once again had to book it through the airport to our gate, backpacks bouncing all the way.
I slept the entire 2.5-hour flight and woke to find us in our final descent into Madrid. We figured out how to buy a bus ticket down to the center of town all by ourselves and I definitely did a mental fist pump; always such a proud moment whenever you successfully navigate public transportation in a foreign country.
The 75-degree weather greeted us and we set out to find a place to get some food and change clothes (we were still dressed for London weather). We couldn’t check into our Airbnb for another 3-4 hours, so we found some cheap coffee and I accidentally ordered ham pate with my bagel…it said “jamón” which is ham just for future reference, not jam (you would have thought I’d have known better what with a Spanish teacher for a mom).
After eating we sat in a park and basked in the glorious sunshine until finally setting out to find our Airbnb. Our host, Mariano greeted us happily and showed us around his beautiful home. We later did some research and discovered that he was a fairly well known artist/painter, as was apparent by the many different pieces of artwork that adorned his walls and shelves. It was so beautiful. His little terrace had an assortment of cactuses and the natural light that came in through the windows lit up the living area. Because we still had some sunlight, we decided to head out to find Circulo de Bellas Artes, the rooftop of a museum and restaurant where you could get a 360-degree view of Madrid. After hanging around on the rooftop for a while we decided to head back to the plaza right near our Airbnb and get groceries for breakfast before heading to bed and catch up on sleep. Suze fell asleep right at 8pm and I stayed up and cried watching “Eat Pray Love”…not sure if it was just because of a lack of sleep or if the movie was really that moving…
The next morning we woke up and made ourselves breakfast. Pineapple, strawberries, chocolate chip muffins and the blackest French press coffee you ever did see. The living room was so warm so we sat and shared our meal crisscross-applesauce right there with Mariano’s cacti.
That day we walked all over, accidentally stumbling upon all of the main tourist attractions without trying. We saw the Royal Palace, cathedral, and central market. We spent the rest of the day trekking across Casa de Campo, a park 5x bigger than Central Park. Mountains and greenery were the backdrop to our walk in search of the gondola that would take us back in to the heart of Madrid. Though I have been on less-sketchy gondolas in my lifetime, the ride was still pleasant and only cost 4 Euro, so we felt pretty good about it. We spent the rest of the day relaxing in a park just at the end of the gondola called Parque de las Montañas. Later that night we went out for tapas at a place that had been recommended to us by one of Suze’s friends who had studied in Madrid.
The next day we woke up early and went to the Prado Museum. Thank goodness for student ID cards because we got in free and were able to see quite a few famous paintings. Later that day we walked to Malasaña, a neighborhood recommended once again by Suze’s friend, and fell in love with the area. We went to a coffee shop called La Bicicleta. It was very trendy and reminded us both of what coffee shops in the States sometimes feel like. We later walked around the cute shops in the area and just before we were about to leave, realized that we had never paid for our coffees! We had sat in the coffee shop for so long talking that we had walked out and completely forgotten to pay. We felt awful and went back to pay…the guys working the counter laughed, so at least they weren’t upset about it.
After restoring our good karma, we went back to the flat and made our own version of tapas for dinner. Fully intending on going out to a club recommended to us by Suze’s friend, we soon found that the Cava and tropical fruit mixed drinks that we had made for ourselves had made us sleepy, so we decided to stay in that night, vowing to go the next day.
On our last day we woke up and walked for a very, very long time to another recommended coffee shop called Toma and then walked back to our favorite spot in Parque de las Montañas again. We decided that we would make our last night in Madrid count, so we went back to Malasaña to find a good place to get food and some drinks. On the way to Malasaña we had to walk through the central courtyard, Plaza Mayor, and were lucky enough to stumble upon a procession for Semana Santa. It was such a cool experience to see this sort of cultural side of Spain. We watched the entire procession, and even though the uncomfortably-KKK-like robes worn by the “brotherhoods” freaked us out, we were glad to have been able to see some of the festivities that tie into the Spanish Easter celebrations.
After arriving in Malasaña, we found that the bar we had initially picked out was packed, so we settled on one nearby called Ojála. It was such a cool bar and we enjoyed some delicious patatas bravas, chips, salsa, and strawberry daiquiris. We soon discovered that in the basement of the bar they had created a sort of indoor beach. The floor was covered in sand and the tables and chairs were all low to the ground. It was probably the most unique restaurant/bar I have ever seen and it made us both sad that we did not have more time to explore Madrid and the neighborhood of Malasaña. After finishing our meal we set out to find the club Space Monkey that had been recommended to us. Unfortunately, the Holy Week festivities meant that the club was completely dead, so we walked back to our Airbnb late that night to pack up and prepare for our early morning departure.
We woke up early the next morning and walked from our Airbnb to the train station. Luckily everything went smoothly with activating our Eurail passes and we made it onto the train and prepared for our 2.5-hour long ride southward to Málaga, España.