LIZA LEONARD- My time here in Madrid is, unfortunately, winding down. For the last three weekends of the semester, I committed to staying put, not traveling, and soaking up everything I can of my surroundings here. Well, unsurprisingly, I felt myself discovering magnificent little corners of Madrid over and over again. I think the sun must have something to do with it. It ushers everyone outside, on to the streets (even more than usual!) and washes everything bright and beautiful.
As I hang on to the final dregs of my time here, I have been feeling more enamored with Madrid than ever. I have found a few nice spots and fun things to do that I thought I would pass along to anyone reading. I have found that I love doing things the Spanish way—slowly, a few hours later than you expected, and with no urgency to leave anywhere to get to the next thing.
As a self-proclaimed lizard, or someone that is happiest in the sun, it is no surprise that many of my recommendations are outside. The parks in Madrid are lovely, especially the famous Retiro. It is a nice place to bring a picnic, so this past weekend some friends and I shopped at “Plaza de la Cebada,” a covered food market in La Latina, for fruits, vegetables, and bread, and we toted it along to the park. Lots of people were lying in the long green grass, showing thirsty skin and sharing the sunny spot with friends.
Another fun outdoor day was spent in La Latina, shopping around el Rastro, the weekly outdoor flea market offering up a huge variety of clothes, jewelry, incense, and crafts. El Rastro tends to be really crowded and full of English chatter, so after lunch we migrated to Malasaña, another neighborhood known to be “artsy,” “young,” and “hipster.” There was some sort of party or festival going on. We didn’t know exactly what it was for or when the music was starting, but we were clued in by the hoards of people standing and sitting around in clusters throughout the plazas in the neighborhood. The people watching was fantastic. Right next to a clump of twenty-somethings drinking huge beers and smoking, there were children running circles around their tattooed and painfully stylish parents. I was struck by the awesome display of personal style, by the intermingling of patterns, trends, sneakers, stilettos, grunge, bohemian, and utterly mismatched. Just as people felt free to mismatch their styles, people of every age group were there, sharing the same space. It is cool that drinking and socializing culture here is so out in the open and unstigmatized. Partaking in drink and smoke (this part may be less cool) is not relegated to gatherings of people of the same age. College-aged students don’t necessarily need to hide what they are doing and can even drink and hang out with their friends in front of families!
At night, I have been enjoying a tiny little spot in La Latina with awesome drinks and friendly bartenders. I figured I couldn’t possibly find all the best bars in Madrid, so why not become a regular at a really good one? I like that the bartenders, as well as the other regulars (who bring their little dog) are conversational and speak to us in Spanish and remember us visit-to-visit. Shakir, the best bartender and sometimes-chef, makes awesome gin and tonics and mojitos, and smiles at you as if you are his long-lost best friend. He is super positive and laid back, and ushers everyone into his bar with a laugh. One day, I saw him sitting outside on his bench with his friends, clipping his toenails! He really treats his bar like home. He clips his toenails outside, but somehow it is endearing, and I still voluntarily eat the food there.
Now is the part where I will recommend a discoteca out of the total of two I have been to in Madrid. Being an expert, I liked Goya Social Club because it was relatively small and a really good place to dance. I’m sure there are better clubs in Madrid, but I am not enough of a clubber to go and look for them. Really, I just like to be with good friends and dance and feel the energy of Madrid at 4 am all around me.
After a night out, or just in general, I like getting a falafel from one of those dingy hole-in-the-wall places with pictures of the food outside. Specifically, there is one that my friends and I are partial to in La Latina, probably just because it is open the latest, and it is super cheap. We definitely had a life changing experience the first time we ate their falafel wrap, but after getting it on a few more occasions and feeling pretty sick each time, it may have been life changing for the worse.
There is so much to do in Madrid—the beautiful parks, the endless places to sit and get drinks and tapas, the museums, gardens, and galleries. I love that I have fallen in love with Madrid, even though it took a while. I took on this semester as an opportunity to improve my Spanish, meet a new culture, and travel. Though I have done those things, I have also gotten to know a city with so many surprises. I will be leaving here in 10 days, a little heavy hearted and probably not entirely ready to go, but I am will be cramming in as many Madrid adventures as I can before then!