When I got to Madrid it was cold and raining. It was the end of February, but spring was not showing its face just yet. Not exactly the sunny Madrid that I had beautifully pictured in my head, but it was my first time in Spain so I wasn’t going to allow a few specks of rain, fade my enthusiasm.

As there were still a couple of hours until my friends would join me, after I checked in, I started wandering through the city by my own, only using a map to set a general direction. I wanted to get a feel for the city.

The vibe? Fast paced, entertaining, young, alive. It was already 11 30 PM on a Thursday evening when we went for dinner. In February. But the streets were buzzing with people.

“Doesn’t anybody work tomorrow?” I thought to myself as we walked in a half full restaurant

The morning brought an early rise, to get out there and explore Madrid:

The FOOD

There were a few things that I HAD to try when visiting Spain for the first time, which I made sure to check off my list. Started off easy, with a paella and sangria, on our first evening in Madrid. Make that 2 sangria actually. But who’s counting..?

What else did we try? Tortilla Española – traditional dish which is like an omelette with potatoes and onions -, tapascroquetas, empanadas and different types of cheese -, jamon iberico, patatas bravas and thought just to top that up with some churros for desert.

My first encounter with churros was at the Greenwich food market, where they make churros with dulce de leche, which is a sort of caramel. If you haven’t tried it, you must!

However the churreria we landed in Madrid, must have been… well, let’s just say that maybe it wasn’t one of the best, as I cannot believe that the English make better churros than the Spanish!!

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Empanadas

MARKETS

Mercado de San Miguel is a very elegant looking market. Huge glass walls and an iron framework, but the magic is all inside – there are food stands with everything from olives, yogurt, nuts, oysters to fruits and sweets, drinks, jamon, cheese, you name it!

It’s crowded and noisy and finding a chair would be a privilege, but grabbing some tapas, a cerveza and enjoying the food and the atmosphere with some friends is something that I would definitely not miss, if I ever get a chance to go back to Madrid.

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FLAMENCO show

I’ve heard that flamenco is not to everyone’s liking, but I absolutely loved the show. It felt authentic, mesmerizing and for one hour, I was completely immersed in the music, the dancer’s steps and expression and the entire performance overall. The show we have attended, with Essential Flamenco was held in an old cellar, which made the show more intimate and acoustics were excellent as well. This was definitely the highlight of my visit to Madrid, so try it!

I’ve booked the tickets in online and for the 25 euro, you also get a sangria before the show.

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HISTORIC sites and landmarks

Although Madrid has a lot of history, it doesn’t feel like an old city. There are plenty of landmarks around the city centre that you can easily visit in a half a day walk – Palacio de Cibeles, which is a magnificent building at the end of the Gran Via, Plaza Mayor, Plaza de Oriente, Puerta del Sol, and a bit further away, Prado museum, Palacio de cristal and Retiro park. With a comfortable pair of shoes and a bottle of water (and an umbrella in our case) you can just walk around, with no need to use the public transport system.

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Royal Palace

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Plaza Mayor


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Retiro Park


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Palacio de Cristal


GRAN VIA

When you’re joined by two slightly shopaholic friends, one does not just go past Gran Via. All the shops you can think of are conveniently lined on the via, with plenty of cafes and restaurant where you can stop to grab something to eat or just to have a coffee and rest your feet (and get access to WIFI, not that we’re desperate or anything). If you just prefer window shopping or you’re the kind of guy/girl who looks up more than looking where you’re going when visiting a new city, Gran Via will make for a nice walk for you as well, with its impressive building architecture.

 

WANDERING

When I travel I always give myself time to wander. I find it fascinating to just walk, watch the people, listen to random words and bits of conversation, feel, immerse, discover.

As you cannot say you know a person just by looking at their profile picture on Facebook, the same I think I cannot discover a place by just visiting the “main attraction”.

In Madrid, I wandered into a protest where people heavily affected by the economic crisis and the austerity measures imposed by their government took to the streets for a better life. The protesters passed through a public square. In that square, a group of traditional dancers and singers were performing, inviting the passers by to join them.

The sounds of the angry crowd and the music and cheering blended together for a few minutes in that public square in Madrid. It gave me a lasting memory and a feeling for the city that I have so briefly got a chance to explore.

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