Traveling Solo in Madrid

I did it, I backpacked alone. NYC – Madrid – Milan – Venice – Barcelona – Paris – NYC. What an amazing September vacation. Where do I start?????

After a long day at work, I flew out of JFK airport to MAD airport (Madrid). I usually like night flights to Europe because you get enough time during the day to run last minute errands, and you also get to Europe in the morning; just enough time to settle in and plan your days/activities.  I usually fly Delta Airlines, but after this trip I had to reconsider my loyalty to them. Tip: As you start traveling, establish frequent flier status with at least two airlines – Major carriers: Delta and United (they have great alliances).  I will talk about my trip to Madrid in this post and in subsequent posts, talk about my trip to Venice, Barcelona and Paris.

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Where I visited and stayed:
Spain: Madrid

I loved my trip to Spain, another country I can see myself living in. The culture is amazing, very laid back people, nice weather, great food and drinks. In Madrid, I stayed at Way Hostel in Puerta de Sol (main district in Old Madrid). The place was clean and safe, the staff was really helpful, they taught me how to use the city map (yes I didn’t have GPS, so I had to navigate the cities with a paper map). The hostel had a lot of fun activities for its guest, including pub crawls; this is how I made a lot of friends during my stay in Madrid.  Madrid is a very cool city; very historical yet modern. I loved the architecture here, it has a very Islamic feel to it ( I learned more about the architecture style during my trip). I enjoyed that I could walk to the major districts without feeling burned out. I call Madrid my big – small city.

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How I spent my days:
Madrid:

Prior to flying out, I had printed out all my hostel and hotel addresses, boarding passes for my local commute within Europe, bus and train directions, and tourist sights information. I had everything in a folder I labeled Euro Travel (yes I like to be organized).

On arrival in Madrid, I went through normal travel protocol: immigration and customs, then headed out to catch a taxi.  Lesson#1 – Do not take a taxi from the airport. Taking a taxi in Europe can be ridiculously expensive especially when you’re not sure of your destination. The public transport system in Europe is very reliable, you can get to anywhere via bus or train. I navigated the city using the Metro (their subway system) and walking around town. Don’t waste money on a taxi, except you have a lot of luggage, or you’re extremely tired from flying or traveling with a group. The taxi I took dropped me off at the wrong location, and still had to deal with the ridiculous taxi fare.

At this point, I wasn’t liking my first impression of Madrid. I walked into some hotel and asked the concierge for direction. Luckily he spoke English (when you’re in a non English speaking country, hearing English is like a breath of fresh air) and gave me the right direction.

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I got into another taxi and he was a really nice guy, somehow we were able to communicate in “Spanglish” and he took me to my destination safely. I really liked the location of the hostel, it was right in the middle of Old Madrid, close to Puerta de Sol and Plaza Mayor (major tourist areas with restaurants and bars).  It was the perfect location for a tourist like me.

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On my first day in Madrid, I spent half the day on the city tour bus (such a tourist – later realized I could have walked around the city or taken the train and saved some Euros). I still had a fun time on the bus – at least it was a good overview for day one. On day two, I went on the free walking tour organized by the hostel (they usually have a lot of free walking tours in Europe – another great way to meet people). The hostel also had tours to neighboring cities such as Toledo. I did not go on any of the tours, but on my next trip to Madrid, I will.

I spent the remainder of my time sightseeing and eating during the day, and partying at night. I visited two great historic museums: Museo Del Prado and Reina Sofia (the museums in Madrid are free at certain times). I’m sure you can guess that I only visited the museums when it was free.  I walked around the different neighborhoods, and the ones I really liked were Gran Via and Salamanca – this area has a lot of beautiful modern buildings with upscale shopping and dining. It is also a very nice and safe neighborhood.

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FOODIE: I usually asked the staff at the hostel for advice on places to go eat, and most time I’d walk up to random restaurant to try out their food (I don’t remember the names of the restaurants but I know my way there hahah). I would definitely suggest to try out the Paellas, the 3 course meals for 10-12euros was always a good deal, tapas night, wine and oysters at the famous Food market – Mercado San Miguel ( here you can experience Madrid’s food culture), and of course, Sangria while watching the Flamenco dancers – that is real talent right there. I always forget to take food pictures because I’m such a grubber; I’d be half way through my food then I realize…Oh Shit, didn’t take a picture ( I will do better next time). I got the drinks though 🙂

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One of the best experiences I had in Madrid was going to watch the Bullfight in Plaza De Toros– definitely not what I was expecting – it’s crazier than you think. The Bullfight is legal in only Madrid.

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Every night, I went pub crawling with folks from the hostel ( this is another great way to meet people). I had quickly formed my clique in Madrid: some cute guys from Brazil, and my German and Australian roomies. We all added each other on Facebook, and now they are my go to people for information when I’m traveling to any of those countries.

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Four days went by pretty fast with fun filled activities and an almost dying liver.  It was time to head to my next city: Milano-Venezia.

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