Getting to Know You: Madrid

Getting to know youuuuu, getting to know all about youuuu – I feel like Julie Andrews in the King and I, except I’m talking about a city, not the King of Siam.

When I first got to Spain nearly two months (!!!!) ago, I was so excited to be in Spain that every weekend I went somewhere else, from day trips to Toledo to a long weekend in Logroño, to spending a weekend in a country house in Guadalajara. Even if I only went somewhere for a day, when I got back to the city I was too exhausted from sightseeing and walking around all day to go out and experience Madrid nightlife (I know right?! It’s literally the one thing I knew about Madrid before coming here). So I realized that I needed to cool it with the travelling and get into el ritmo madrileño (Madrid rhythm). These past few weekends I’ve been staying in Madrid in order to get to know the city and its people better.

Outside every bar/cafeteria, at any time of day, you will see a little group standing at the tall outside tables having a drink

Outside every bar/cafeteria, at any time of day, you will see a little group standing at the tall outside tables having a drink

I’m very glad that I’ve stayed in Madrid the past month, as now I feel much more in touch with the city itself through my wanderings, as well as more connected to the culture and language through new Spanish friends. Madrid isn’t a flashy city that automatically grabs you (at least it didn’t for me), but is more a city that needs to be lived in and experienced. I’d been to Barcelona on my trip last year, and at first glance, Barcelona’s beauty is instantly seen, with Gaudí’s influence everywhere in the buildings and parks, not to mention the labyrinth that is historic quarter, and of course its sprawling beachfront. On the other hand, I’m 100% sure that if I came to Madrid for a few days and just saw Gran Vía (commercialized shopping district), Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor (touristy main squares) I wouldn’t like the city at all. Especially not now, with all the garbage from the garbage workers strike piling high in the streets. (Though today an agreement was made – wahooo we can all start breathing again!)

Day 10

Day 10 of the strike

I have  to say that I haven’t experienced as great of a culture shock as I think some people in my program have: coming from living all my adult life New York City, I’m already used to taking the metro everywhere (I’ve never had nor wanted a car, which surprises many Spaniards), walking constantly (it’s the best way to get to know a place!), dressing halfway decently when going out of the house (you couldn’t exactly wear your pajamas to class in NYC), and not having mega stores like Walmart at my disposal (won’t even start a rant about how much I hate Walmart here). I feel completely at home in large cities, I’m not afraid to walk home at night, and I know how to clutch my bag in front of me at all times so as not to get anything stolen.  (I do need to mention though that the robbers here could win the Olympics for their thievery skills: I was witness to a theft once and I didn’t even know it. Travelers BEWARE!) Plus it helps that I’ve perfected the steely city walking glare so that no one ever bothers me.

Cervantes, Spain's most famous writer, writer of the first novel, Don Quixote. He lived in Madrid during the early 1600s.

Cervantes, Spain’s most famous writer, writer of the first novel, Don Quixote. He lived in Madrid during the early 1600s.

That being said, Madrid is obviously not New York. For one, there are no skyscrapers in the city, and the population is much smaller: 3.3 million vs. 8.3 million in New York. While my students and other Spaniards I’ve met are really interested in all the skyscrapers in New York, my favorite parts of New York are the ones without them: Greenwich Village, the East Village, the Lower East Side…I think the smaller, historic buildings make the neighborhoods feel more intimate, and give the illusion of a community, even if it doesn’t exist anymore in the megalopolis that is New York.

But so far the biggest thing I’ve learned in the past few weeks is how to navigate the nightlife here.  So I’m not a huge party animal by any stretch of the imagination. Confession: I haven’t been to Kapital, the 7 story nightclub that many rave about, but I just don’t want to get my wallet, coat, or phone stolen, okay? Before I came to Madrid, all I knew about Madrileños, and indeed Spaniards in general was that they like to party and go out late, coming home at 6 am, and I admit I was a little apprehensive.   The truth is that yes, they do go out later than Americans are used to, but if you know the tricks of the trade, then you too can be enjoying a night out in Madrid meeting new people and feeling like a pro speaking Spanish instead of wanting to fall asleep into your cerveza. Besides, just like any large city, you can find whatever scene you like, and I’ve been quite happy with the live music and array of bars that suit my tastes more than large discotecas (nightclubs).

Bar graffiti: "In the fight against reality, man has only one weapon: imagination"

Inspiring bar graffiti: “In the fight against reality, man has only one weapon: imagination” (Excuse my awful Huawei phone camera)

So the key to a successful night out in Madrid is to do as the locals do:
1) TAKE A SIESTA around 3 or 4 after eating lunch at 1 or 2. This is very important. (optional afterwards: coffee) You need energy for later, and if you’re like me and can’t stand being cooped up inside doing nothing, then you will need to recharge from whatever you were doing during the day. Plus taking naps in the middle of the day is perfectly acceptable here, so why not? When in Spain…
2) Eat dinner at home late (at least 9 pm) or go out for tapas around this time
3) Leave your house late (11 pm-midnight)
4) Find your venue of choice and enjoy the cheap cervezas and vino that more often than not come with a tapa (appetizer) FOR FREE.
5) Since you will undoubtedly be returning home after the metro has closed at 1:30 am, you will either have to learn the night bus system or walk, depending on where you live and if you just missed the night-bus when the next one is in 40 minutes. (My least favorite part about the nightlife here – why can’t everything just be 24 hours?!?)

Make up shop sepia

Finally, this starts the beginning of a series of blog posts I want to do about Madrid –  just like when I take my camera places I notice the beauty in streets that I might have otherwise passed by, in writing posts about Madrid, I know will pay more attention, and go out to explore those unknown neighborhoods while thinking critically about what makes them unique. So I’m going to be doing posts on the different neighborhoods of Madrid, as well as the different parks in Madrid, as Madrid has the 2nd highest tree-person ratio in the world (only Tokyo has it beat)! Stay tuned!

What other cities or places need longer stays to be fully appreciated? What’s the nightlife like in your city/town? 


2 thoughts on “Getting to Know You: Madrid

  1. I grew up in New York City and have visited Madrid a couple of times. I think I fell in love with Madrid because of what you’re talking about — it has many characteristics of a big city but also its own charm (and history, of course) that needs to be explored. Please keep posting photos, and enjoy the city!

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