I spoke my broken Spanish to the friendly doorman and he led me up to the 6th floor of my cousin’s apartment building. As soon as I walked in, I went, “Oh, Thank you God.” This place was beautiful--- tastefully decorated furniture, huge windows, a stainless steel kitchen… I could go on and on. Not to mention it was spotless.
As much as I loved hostel hopping and life on the farm, it was just nice to be somewhere quiet and—well—classy. My cousin, Philip, and his lover, Miguel, had this whole floor to themselves—like a penthouse. Since they both were still working when I arrived, I relished in a couple hours of silence and solidarity. I even did some yoga in the living room—I couldn’t remember the last time I had been that alone. I felt so lucky to be a guest in their place—I had my own bathroom too! Amazing, I hadn’t had that in months. Oh, the little luxuries in life we take for granted sometimes.
Once Philip came back, he made me a drink and we sat and talked forever—It had been nearly two years since I’d seen him last so there was a lot of life to catch up on. He’s an English teacher and tutor in Madrid—He and Miguel (A true Spaniard) met at a place called the Black and White club about 20 years ago—ever since, Philip has never returned to the states to live. I don’t really blame him.
Madrid is a fabulous city--- I liken it to a Spanish New York—There is an endless amount of things to do. Whether you are into the culinary scene, the entertainment scene, the shopping scene, the history scene, etc… You will find something here to capture your interest.
Since I was really burnt out on museums and playing Tourist at this point in my trip, I lived more like a local during my stay in Madrid. The first thing I did was go grocery shopping and start cooking for myself. I had never felt so happy to be in a grocery store before. I was actually beginning to crave healthy eating more and the (another one) luxury having a kitchen to cook in! And Madrid was also a wonderful place for me to run—I didn’t make it to every one but there are many parks for fitness fanatics to spend their early mornings, lunch breaks, or evenings in. My favorite was called Retiro—mainly because it was filled to the brim with beautiful trees, both dirt and cement paths, quaint cafes, playgrounds and a lot more. It seems like everyone in Madrid ran there—something that always keeps motivated is a fellow runner. Plus, I could take the metro near Philip’s place directly into Retiro- it was awesome.
The metro in Madrid was top-notch, and so easy to figure out. I barely even had to glance at a map. There are metro stops on every other corner; they’re clean, and incredibly convenient. The one downfall was the Americans’ (including myself) obsession—Starbucks. I was really disappointed to see it sitting proudly in several different parts of Madrid. It was my first time seeing it on my trip—they won’t even let it come to Italy. I just don’t understand why anyone would want to spend the money on Starbucks, which is only mediocre compared to Spanish coffee. It really is just so much better and it’s usually only one Euro. That is ONE DOLLAR AND 50 CENTS!!
Anyways, my first weekend there was a little bit out of control. Granted, I was celebrating my 23rd birthday with Sarah (my friend from Australia who I met in Florence), and she was ALSO celebrating her birthday. So, we had endless reasons to live it up as much as we possibly could—and we did it. The first night of our celebrations ended at 8 am. I literally was on a metro at 7:30 in the morning… living life like the true Spaniard party animal. I really don’t know how those people do it! But it sure is fun to do every once and a while. Sarah and I spent our weekend dancing (in a ridiculously expensive club), indulging in too much alcohol and delicious Spanish cuisine. By the end of that weekend, my body hated me and my mind was floating somewhere else, but it was definitely an unforgettable birthday!
After that, I took it easier… which is nearly impossible when you are living with Philip. He is in his 50s, but his energy is like that of someone who is my age—no older than 25. He is so much fun to be with—he never fails to make me laugh. He took me to the best bars, the best tapas bars, and when my mom came to visit, he took us to a Flamenco show! It was amazing…. I could have watched it all night long. I still can’t fathom moving my feet the way those dancers did.
It was SO refreshing to see my mother—she flew in on Thanksgiving day, which was fabulous because I wasn’t quite sure what it would be like spending my favorite holiday somewhere that no one even really knows what it is—let alone celebrate it! So, we spent it like Spaniards and ate some raciones (which are dishes in between tapas and entrees) and drank lots of red wine.
Madrid is where I really learned about after-dinner liquors, one of Philip’s favorite things. Averna was my favorite—it’s hearty semi-sweet delicious liquor… It’ll put you right onto sleep, that’s for sure.
My mom and I explored together--- on Sunday, we went to the Rastro—the huge weekly flea market that has really anything you could imagine---clothes, jewelry, shoes, lingerie, purses, home accessories, etc. It truly is cheap—I bought a poncho for about 6 euros—that’s not even 10 dollars. Can’t beat it. But you really have to choose wisely there and come early on in the day. Otherwise, you’ll end up being smashed between a mob of locals and tourists all trying to walk in different directions.
We really got used to eating like Spaniards… I got to thinking about it and it’s whole lot healthier than the way we eat in the States (this is probably part of the reason why Americans are fat and I maybe saw one fat person the entire time I was there). They eat a small to moderate- sized breakfast, a very substantial lunch (followed by Siesta!!—the nap) and a very small dinner or a couple of tapas later on at night—I’m talking 10-11 p.m.
The Saturday my mom was visiting, Philip and Miguel drove us to two lovely mountain villages north of Madrid. The first one was called Granja, a quiet and charming city where the Spanish court’s “Summer Palace” is located. It was probably the most beautiful palace I have ever seen in my life—and I didn’t even go inside. The gardens were enough to take my breath away, equipped with several bronze statues and fountains, seemingly never-ending gravel pathways, secret gardens and even a labyrinth—a maze we --almost-- but made sure we did not to get lost in!
We had a glass of wine and a little tapas at a bar in Granja and made our way up to a little medieval village called Pedraza, to have lunch. We had reservations for 3:15 – and man, did we eat. My mom and I always let Philip and Miguel take control on the food thing. We enjoyed delicious warm bread straight out of the oven, white asparagus, famous bean soup, red wine and lamb—which was hard for me at first.
Since I just crossed over from a vegetarian to an occasional meat-eater, lamb was hard for me to think about eating. And the presentation in Europe is so much different—in a raw, straight-off-the-hunting-grounds kind of way. But, once I took a bit, I got it. I understood why the lamb was so famous there and I wanted to keep eating it, and I did. Of course, my favorite part was the skin, which is the most fattening and delicious part of the animal. Sorry, little lamb L
My time in Madrid was amazing and it is the place where I could see myself moving to one day for a period of time—who knows. Nevertheless, I know I will be back.