Despite most vocal Barcelona natives’ aversion to Spain’s capital city, some of my fellow study abroad companions and I felt obligated to explore Madrid. So, living up to our stereotype of cheap college students, we booked a roughly 7 and ½ hour one-way bus ride to and from Madrid. While globetrotting might appear glamorous from behind a computer screen, the physical traveling aspect is straight up difficult.
We booked the tickets in a hurry, so we didn’t immediately realize we had booked our bus out of a station we were unfamiliar with – Nord. The day before we left we realized we were not leaving from Barcelona Sants – Barcelona’s main metro, train and bus station that we pass through daily. Then we needed to figure out where the heck Nord was located in the city. I thought it was near the Arc de Triomf, but some of my friends thought it was the airport. Luckily, another girl, who had successfully found the overnight bus I failed to book, left the night before us and told us exactly where to go.
At 8 a.m. Friday morning, we were off! We successfully navigated the metro to Nord and arrived 45 minutes early (but at least we made it?). The first half of bus ride was uneventful as most passengers were sleeping. I decided to watch one of the free movie options, which were all dubbed in Spanish. Dubbing doesn’t make too much sense to me because the voiceover almost never matches the characters’ personalities or intonations, but I had fun watching Bella and Edward awkwardly interact in Spanish nonetheless. After I finished the movie and slept some, I noticed that our bus driver had been whistling, off-key, to American pop songs the entire trip. Some painful One Direction and Rihanna songs later, we were finally within Madrid’s city limits.
The Madrid metro was almost an exact clone of Barcelona’s, so we didn’t have too much trouble finding our hostel in the city center. This hostel was much smaller than our one in London because an older Spanish couple owned it. It almost had a home-y feel, and the five of us were able to have our own room! After we were settled and had used all of our locks to create a makeshift locker out of the closet, we went out on the town.
Lauren’s friend suggested an incredible tapas restaurant where we got a couple pitchers of sangria. Then, we headed to Madrid’s “La Latina” neighborhood to check out the bar scene. A word of advice from this experience: Try to have friends recommend specific bars and restaurants. Wandering can only get you so far, and you’ll probably end up in a place that says “cheap drinks” on the outside that isn’t the best.
We headed back to the hostel early, so we would be able to wake up early and explore Saturday morning. The next day we finally satisfied our craving for American-style brunch at Brown Bear Bakery and then got free admission to El Prado, an art museum comparable to the Louvre, and barely scratched the surface of the masterpieces it hosts. Next, we wandered through the center of downtown, passing La Puerta del Sol and La Plaza Mayor. Then, we perused El Mercado de San Miguel, one of Madrid’s markets, where we ate some more tapas and Sarah and I chased a shot of vodka with caviar (I would recommend, Sarah definitely would not).
After we left the market we headed back to the hostel to get ready for our big night out. We stopped by the Temple of Debod, which is an ancient Egyptian temple given to Spain as a gift. I’m completely obsessed with Egyptian antiquity, so I was excited to geek out over the hieroglyphics. We also arrived to the temple at sunset and the view was breathtaking.
For dinner, we met up with one of my good friends from high school who happens to be studying in Madrid this semester. We went to El Tigre, which is the Spanish version of a dive bar. For every drink you order, you get a massive plate of tapas. So, after sufficiently stuffing ourselves, we bar hopped a little in the “Chueca” neighborhood before walking over to the infamous club Kapital. My friends and I like to consider ourselves fairly well-versed in European clubs at this point, but Kapital blew every one we’ve ever been to out of the water. The building was 7 stories tall, and every floor held a different bar and played different music. The main floor was a dance floor facing the stage, which hosted live music and DJs all night long.
Sunday was our last day in Madrid, and we made it to the king’s royal palace, Retiro Park and the Reina Sofia (a modern art museum that hosts Picasso’s “La Guernica”). By the time we had to catch our bus back to Barcelona, we were completely wiped. We felt accomplished, though. There’s no doubt that we all want to return some day to really take our time and explore this enormous Spanish city.