Madrid: The End of a Long Journey (Nov. 10-16)

Retiro Park

Retiro Park

I arrived in Madrid late with an anxious feeling about getting into a city for the last time of my journey. But I guess mostly I just wanted to get to a place where I could dump my stuff – a common feeling of any backpacker between cities. I would be staying at my friend Katelyn’s flat, an American I spent a few days traveling in the South of France with, although she wouldn’t be back from New York until the next morning. Her roommates let me in just before 1 am.

I slept in on Tuesday and decided to take a bit of a rest day. I’ve said it before that when traveling is your life, you can’t just go go go without taking days or time off, and this would be my first time not staying in a hostel in weeks. After hours of resting, next-door pizza, television and writing, I left for dinner with two friends from high school who were teaching English in Madrid.

Sam Claflin at the Hunger Games premiere in Madrid

Sam Claflin at the Hunger Games premiere in Madrid

On the way to the restaurant, El Tigre (which serves free tapas with drink purchases), I noticed a huge crowd around a movie theater off of Madrid’s main street, Gran Via, and a large screen showing a red carpet. Apparently the new Hunger Games movie was having a small premiere there, and the super hot guy playing Finnick was standing outside flashing his sexy smile for the cameras. Not sure if there were any other celebrities there, but I was happy with him.

It was great catching up with Michelle and Kate after so many years (I had eaten lunch with Michelle in December but hadn’t really seen her or Kate otherwise since graduation), and El Tigre was a really fun (albeit very fried and greasy) place to have dinner. For about €8, I had two sangria-like drinks and a beer and all the potatoes, bread, meat and croquetas I could eat.

Wednesday was probably my most productive day, waking up at noon and heading to a popular sandwich chain called 100 Montaditos for lunch. I caught a 2pm walking tour, which was one of the better ones I’d been on. The guide was really awesome and made it easy to pay attention to 2.5 hours of history. Usually I find myself tuning out a little bit (being tired, on my feet and distracted in a new place don’t generally help me focus), but he’d talk for 20 minutes and I’d realize that I actually was keeping up with the whole story.

Sabatini Gardens and the Royal Palace

Sabatini Gardens and the Royal Palace

After the tour, I met up with my friend Adi, a Spanish girl whom I met in Marseille. She would be the fourth friend from my time there for me to meet up with. Adi and I walked around a few cool neighborhoods in Madrid, stopping for coffee and a drink at a cool café/bar and for a nice dinner at a restaurant called Lateral. I then headed to grab drinks with my friend Roope from Finland and ended up out until 3 drinking lots of red wine, which is not normally my style but is a must in Spain.

Kate, me and Michelle in the Plaza del Sol

Kate, me and Michelle in the Plaza del Sol

I took Thursday mostly off again due to the late night, getting lunch with Katelyn and again catching up on some writing and television. Thursdays in Europe had been American Horror Story days since its airtime in America is equivalent to 5am in most of Europe. That night, I met up with Katelyn and her friends for my first ever poker night, where I won €20. I felt pretty good about that.

Friday was much more productive – I left early afternoon to check out the Sabatini Gardens and the gay district of Madrid, Chueca. There wasn’t really much going on there, it being the middle of the afternoon and all (“siesta” time is 2-5 or so and a lot of places are closed then), but it was nice to see the area.

Us with the symbol of Madrid, a bear and a tree. The guy we asked to take a photo cut off the top of the statue, obviously unaware why we wanted the photo.

Us with the symbol of Madrid, a bear and a tree. The guy we asked to take a photo cut off the top of the statue, obviously unaware why we wanted the photo.

I met up with Michelle and Kate for a fantastic dinner at a hip spot called La Musa, which had a weird combination of Spanish tapas and Japanese fusion dishes, all of which were delicious. We got the guacamole (you mash it yourself and it was perfect), empanaditas (Asian dumplings affectionately translated as “little empanadas”), California roll, a plate with a well-seasoned selection of meat and shrimp, croquetas and red wine. In true Spanish/European fashion, we took our time with our meal and ended up ordering another bottle of wine after we had finished our food. We sat and talked post-entrees, sipping away at our bottle of wine before ordering dessert. I had carrot cake, which is one of my favorites and didn’t disappoint, while the girls split a chocolate brownie and cheesecake. Delicious all the way round.

Roope and Me

Roope and Me

After dinner, we taxied over to one of Kate and Michelle’s friend’s apartments for pre-drinks, my friend Roope and some of his friends from Croatia coming there to meet us. I randomly met this girl who I went to camp with ten years ago who was also teaching in Madrid and knew Michelle and Kate – always interesting the people you run into in the world! After some drinking games and conversation, we all left for a club called La Nuit. One of the girls knew someone at the bar and was able to get us table service for about €12 each. I figured it was probably my last night out in Europe, so I dropped €60 on taxis, dinner and drinks, which really isn’t that bad (especially considering I’d won €20 the night before!). I ended up getting home probably at 5:30 in the morning, but we didn’t leave for the club until probably 2 – the schedule in Madrid is pretty wild. There’s a reason they have “siesta” time!

Predrinking before going out

Predrinking before going out

I got up late on Saturday and went to get my first Mexican food in months with Michelle and Kate. We walked around for a while after, Michelle getting some well-needed shopping in and buying a cape. I made fun of her by pretending to toss my hair back a bit as she had done to get it out of the way, and the store attendant laughed out loud. I felt pretty accomplished with that one. I got another pizza from the place next door to Katelyn’s flat for dinner and then went to watch The Fault in Our Stars with Roope. I didn’t cry, although I cried a lot reading the books – maybe the movie was a bit more boring and the characters less charming. Nevertheless, it was nice to have a relaxing last night abroad.

I woke up on the last day of my journey with the bittersweet feeling that comes with the end. I knew I’d want to take advantage of my last day, but I would feel the empty feeling of parting ways with something I loved throughout.

Me and my favorite (and now lost) hat in El Rastro market

Me and my favorite (and now lost) hat in El Rastro market

I met up with Kate and Michelle at the El Rastro Sunday Market in La Latina. The market was really busy but had some great finds, including a green wool brimmed hat that I fell in love with, bought and promptly lost in my taxi getting back to Chicago. I was obviously extremely upset about losing my favorite souvenir and European style statement from abroad. I did make it home with all the things I bought my friends and family, though, including a tapestry for my friend’s birthday, some pottery and some baby shoes for my niece.

Later I would walk around Retiro Park alone, getting some time to reflect on my travels while looking at another stunning European park. After about an hour, it was time for my to go home and gather my things before making my way to the airport and the following 26-hour lonely journey home.

Madrid was a great choice to end my travels on and remains a place I would love to spend more time in. Oh Europe, how I miss you.

Retiro Park

Retiro Park

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