Madrid; the city of Spanish prosperity, a global landmark for European football and a prestigious hub for international commerce, the Spanish capital brings a culmination of everything that’s beautiful about a capital city but at the same time, brings an entire new outlook on cultural experiences and personal feelings alike. However, like every capital city, or any large city for that matter, there is always something that you can never quite click with. Whenever we are surrounded by the beauty of architecture or whether we’re immersed within the particular cuisine for example, we always seem to try and ‘grasp’ a city, we always try to make sense of our surroundings and really come to terms with everything that’s involved. But, can we always do this? Is this is the correct approach to a capital city? It’s always been something I’ve found myself doing whenever I’m embarking on a particular venture in a large city. This was certainly the case with my recent trip to Madrid. As a Spanish student (and having never been to Madrid), my mind set was one of excitement yet having been there for a week I never at one point got that ‘hold’ on the city. Letting your feelings of being over-whelmed and feeling daunted really create a large block in the search for finding what’s so beautiful about Madrid. So for me, working out whether Madrid is a truly, unique, special, elegant city or whether it will just play with your expectations becomes a strange task that only the beholder can really embrace. Strangely enough, my head space was more infatuated with the latter – all the expectations I had of Madrid were entirely blown out of the water. Whilst in my opinion, Madrid isn’t as wonderful as London, Warsaw or Paris etc., Madrid brings something to the table that no other city in the world can really bring. Here, I’ll talk about 10 things that were distinctive about Madrid and things that I probably wouldn’t experience anywhere else, some of which will be entirely obvious but nonetheless, they are integral;
1) Feeling hot, hot, hot? Like, really hot? You’re probably in Madrid then. Okay, the weather in Madrid in the middle of July is going to be sweltering, right? Actually, it’s even beyond that. Imagine what you think Madrid will be like weather wise and double it, it is unreal. I remember being in our hotel and checking out the BBC World News channel (trying not to immerse myself too much with Spanish) and seeing that Madrid in particular was hotter than a lot of the USA and most countries in Africa and in the Middle East, and quite possibly, when I was there at least, Madrid was one of the hottest places in the world. I have never experienced heat like that before, walking on the streets of Madrid felt like walking into a giant furnace with the surrounding walls being the burning tarmac.
2) Forget tapas, even some of the most basic foods feel distinctively Spanish. Food is great. But in Madrid, whether it’s a sandwich, a pizza or even just a takeaway burger (don’t forget to say ‘para llevar’) it brings a whole, new sensation to the tongue and palate. That said, don’t expect every street in Madrid (or any part of Spain for that matter) to have beautiful, exquisite, savoury collections of tapas complemented with the ice-cold, fruitilicious jugs of sangria! It’s not all ‘haute cuisine’.
3) The people. There’s a lot of misconceptions about Spanish people, for instance, they’re rude, they all have dodgy haircuts and they don’t know how to queue etc. Whilst the last point is true (c’mon, British people love a good queue), Spanish people are lovely and will always love it when someone non-Spanish makes the effort to speak the language! For example, when we arrived and got into the taxi from the airport to the hotel, I became very apologetic for my well-iffy Spanish but the driver knew that I wasn’t from Spain and wasn’t the verbally aggressive stereotype that a lot of people categorise Spanish taxi drivers. Furthermore, buying train tickets to my Year Abroad destination from Madrid felt like a really scary concept. Waiting in the queue for about 20 minutes I kept thinking to myself; “Ahh, maybe I shouldn’t buy them, maybe another time” but the constant umm-ing and the ahh-ing was pointless as somehow I comfortably managed to get return tickets and managed to ask what times were available etc. and the lady was generally very helpful. So, whatever perception you have of Spanish people – get rid of that now and see them for yourself!
4) Chaos. Beepity beep beep. BEEEEEEEEP. Taxi drivers, people going to work, buses, motorbikes on the big roads, it was insane. Crossing the road felt like an accomplishment. Madrid is most certainly a city that never ever sleeps.
5) The architecture. I’m not really one for fancy buildings but the buildings in Madrid are second to none. Everywhere you look, there’s beautiful old-fashioned structures scattered everywhere throughout the city. Baroque architecture at its finest.
6) “Por favor”, “gracias”, “lo siento”. The amount of times I said these words/phrases, hot damn!
7) Mañana mate, mañana. I think spending a week in Madrid really indicated that there isn’t really a huge sense of urgency. Even going to my host university and walking around the campus felt a bit like a ghost town (I know it’s the middle of Summer and all that, but you’d expect to see someone there, right?). Its laid-back nature isn’t necessarily a bad thing but compared to the UK, you certainly miss how organised British people are.
8) I like trains. The train system in Spain is actually pretty awesome. Weirdly enough, I felt that the UK would strongly benefit from having a fast-speed train system like what they have in Spain, the AVE system I believe it’s called. I’m going to be living in a small town about 100 miles from Madrid for the Year Abroad and being able to get there within an hour on the train is pretty amazing. Let me give you a comparison, the journey will take you 3 hours by coach, so yeah. Having enjoyed the ‘delights’ of the Polish train system and the lack of concise modernisation for the British one, the Spanish trains really put into perspective how lucky the Spanish are for having a rad commuting system. If you’re going to Spain anytime in the near future (and you want to travel around the country) take the high speed train for sure!
9) Do a coach tour, seriously! Annoyingly, I can’t remember the name of the company who provide the tours but anyway I did this on the first day, or should I say these. Yeah, that’s right, there’s two separate tours of Madrid that take you on two different routes allowing you to capture every monumental sight of the Spanish capital. Being able to see the Gran Vía, the Royal Palace, Santiago Bernabéu as well as seeing all the picturesque landmarks, it’s a true spectacle.
10) PLAN. Keep your mind occupied. The most important one! This was the problem I had. I went to Madrid without really having a plan in my mind and thus I become much more depressed by the fact that I knew I had committed to be within this kind of environment for about 9 months. However, once you give yourself something to actually do and achieve, you just can easily forget what you’re worrying about and just get on with stuff! You just got to suck it up and get on with it because if you’re getting down about it, you’ll fail to realise what’s really going on around you.