An Un-Guide to a Spontaneous Madrid Weekend

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When your friend asks you if you’d like to join her for a weekend trip to Madrid, you say hombre, claro. If, like me, you finish work early on a Friday, you should aim to get into the city just in time for the typical 9:30 P.M. dinner with a local. I happened to know one through our previous contact in Logroño, so I was in luck. We feasted on cachopo: “A gooey meat feast from Asturias, Spain,” according to The Guardian. It’s a combination of steak, ham, and cheese, which is crumbed like a snitty (which pleased my Aussie gut immensely).

After dinner and a gin-tonic, I was left to fend for myself in Lavapiés, so I made a bee-line to the closest craft-beer destination. I can almost sniff them out nowadays (not really…I use Google Maps to ‘star’ the cool joints before my trip. Genius.). The lucky bar that got the pleasure of my presence this lovely evening was Chinaski, where I enjoyed a couple of nice stouts and accidentally joined a Couchsurfing meet-up due to a fellow Australian accent that stood out in the crowd. I had also walked past Madritallica earlier (yes, it utilised the Metallica logo on its sign) and I’d planned to go in for a beer later, but it will have to wait until the next Madrid visit.

In the morning, make sure you head straight to Toma Café. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Order one of their creatively lovely pan options and enjoy your beautiful coffee. Grab a bag of beans to go, if you’re that way inclined (like me).

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Strawberries, goats’ cheese, and sunflower seeds. Can’t go wrong.

By this time, feel free to make your way towards the Plaza Mayor to meet your friend, who is due to arrive on her bus at anytime. I recommend standing at the statue in the centre of the plaza. That way, while you are waiting, you can photobomb everybody’s photos and have a good laugh. When your friend arrives after figuring out the Metro (go, Jill!), make your first stop Chocolatería San Ginés, where you can catch up over six churros and a classic Spanish hot chocolate combo for €4 each.

Next, if your body is ready, go to the Mercado de San Miguel and squeeze through the crowds and enjoy some great Spanish food and drinks. We thought we should make it a complete tourist day and fill ourselves up on sangria and paella. Walk off some of your new kilos on your way to the Palacio Real de Madrid, and detour past the Catedral de la Almudena. Pay the donation (€1 is sufficient) and check out the wondrous ceiling inside the cathedral. If you have access to them, bring along those special belay glasses that allow you to look up without moving your neck (if you have no idea what I’m on about, check them out here. I need some for cathedrals, honestly.).

Spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the streets, and don’t be afraid to indulge on the occasional mojito. Wave goodbye to your friend in the afternoon and head to your next hostel, which you may need to do if your trip is spontaneous like mine, and the place you stayed the first night doesn’t have any beds available for the second night. I stayed in U Hostels the second night, which I was really impressed with. If you didn’t sleep well the first night, now is your chance to have a quick siesta before Saturday night gets underway.

I was conveniently located near Tierra Burrito Bar and I got there around 8:30, just before the line snuck its way out the door. After my scrumptious pork burrito, I was on my way to The Stuyck Co to enjoy some nice craft-beers, when I bumped into my friend from the night before! It was such luck that I had to follow his group of friends to their destination, Macera Workshop Bar, a bar that creates a huge number of specialty gins, rums, and more. Set in a really creative space that draws in the hipsters by their perfectly pruned beards, Macera uses the process of maceration to create the wonderful flavours of their drinks. I recommend the Rojo Fruto Ginebra (with tonic, of course).

 

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Photo taken from the Macera website (their photography is much better than mine).

Once you’re finished here, feel free to have an early night, or check out one of the many bustling bars in the area, then let me know what life is like at that hour. If you had an early night, you’ll be up for a Sunday morning breakfast and coffee at HanSo Café in Malasaña. If you still have an hour to kill, don’t miss La Bicicleta Café, where you can bathe in the hipster essence a while longer, sipping your short-black and listening to The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and Elvis. If you want to hipster-up even more, ride your bicycle there, or take your sketchbook to keep yourself from looking like an outsider.

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I’ll leave you here. I have to tend to my succulents whilst listening to a band you’ve never heard of.

-Monet

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Small Town Life in the Basque Country

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As I write my Pros/Cons list, I become less and less clear if I have made the right decision to come here and participate in this program. Before I chose to do it, I read all the blogs and reviews on the program, so I began my journey with my eyes and my mind open. You may have heard of the Auxiliar de Conversación program that I’m currently undertaking. If you haven’t, it involves working in a school or a university as a teaching assistant, helping students all over Spain to learn English. In my case, I am working in a primary school in a small town in the Basque Country. The school has just over eighty students, and the town houses around 600 people.

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My local walking track through the vineyards.

When submitting my preferences, I chose a small town for the raw cultural experience. After a quick Google of Spanish geography, I chose the Basque Country because “it looked nice”. Honestly, I had no idea about its history, its culture, or its language. In a way, I’m so happy that I chose a region with such a rich culture and history. I have learnt so much of the Basque culture just by living here and participating in the school activities. The language, which is unlike any other in the world, is fascinating to listen to, and it’s fun to learn basic words, but I never knew how much it could get in the way of my quest to really learn Spanish. Don’t get me wrong, my Spanish has improved greatly since being here, but sometimes I feel as though I would have been better off in a region that only speaks Spanish.

After a trip down south to Andalusia, I realised how different the areas really are. I have stopped saying “I live in Spain” and I have started saying “I live in the Basque Country”. It really isn’t Spain at all, and I love it.

When it comes to the Auxiliar program, I have a huge list of pros and cons. I don’t know where to begin. I decided to do the program purely because I’m getting paid to travel. I mean, I love children, and I love getting to know these adorable Basque kids, and it has been amazing to finally put my “Grammar Police” skills to good use, but I know that I’m never going to be a teacher myself. This program was the doorway to Europe for me. Coming from Australia, it’s almost impossible to take a weekend trip to another country unless you have a private jet or are able to teleport. This weekend I am off to London! It’s my first international weekend trip I have taken in my six months being here because I was too afraid to ask for time off work. After the Christmas break, I realised that I would be wasting this opportunity if I didn’t take trips like these, so I planned some long weekends and found that the teachers were completely fine with it. Why didn’t I do this earlier?!

Living in a small town without the convenience of a car has been tricky. I thought about buying one, but for multiple reasons, it didn’t happen. I’ve memorised the local bus timetables and I’ve stopped feeling bad asking people for a lift into the closest city, Logroño. If I were to ever do this program again (which is highly unlikely), I would choose to live in a city like Logroño or Vitoria-Gasteiz that has a good connection to the rest of the country, or better still, somewhere like Bilbao or Santander, with an airport. Despite the inconvenience of living in a small town, I feel like I’ve made the most of my time here. For the first few months I was in a different city every weekend. It meant lots of buses and late Sunday nights, but at least I have seen most of the surrounding areas, unlike a lot of the others doing the program with me. I was lucky enough to have saved a generous amount of dinero before coming here, so I can afford to take these trips despite not getting paid regularly, or on time.

Throughout the week I only work twelve hours at the school, so the rest of the time I feel like I could be in so many better places. It makes me wish I had just saved a little longer and travelled all around Europe instead. However, I have all of this extra time that I don’t have whilst at home studying full-time and working on the side. I have started drawing more, and sometimes I study Spanish. Other times I catch up on Netflix, which I never had back home. I’ve started exercising more as of late to work off some of the pinchos and churros. In this respect, I’ve had so much more spare time to clear my head from four years of university stress, and to work on unleashing some of my creativity that is restricted by uni work.

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The result of my increased creativity. Inspired by La Rioja.

On the other hand, I’m scared that I might actually be going a little insane. I was talking to myself today, and I caught myself saying “You and I both know…”…to myself. This experience has been great for me to “find myself”, as cliché as that might sound. You see, my boyfriend did his Europe trip a couple of years ago, but I was still yet to travel sola. Although it has been incredibly hard for the both of us, it’s something I have to do, and I don’t know when I will have this opportunity again.

I have realised what I really want in life, and what I do not want. I have developed an immense love for Australia that I never had before. I have always loved home, but I never realised how deeply rooted I am in the Australian way of life. I appreciate all of the things I’m learning about other cultures and the way people live in other parts of the world, but in the end, I’ll always be an Aussie, and I’m proud of it.

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Take me home!