I went on a little pre-summer vacation to Madrid a while ago. It was my first time to Spain and to be honest I didn’t really know what to expect. One of my old friends from University proposed the trip a couple of months ago, and I said yes without knowing much about the place. I was disappointed to eventually find out that it was in fact inland, and not on the coast as I had originally assumed.

Even though there was no beach time, I had a pretty good time. I was only there for about 4 days, just enough time to see some of the city, do some shopping and eating, and relax.

I stayed with friends in the north of the city. We flew in to Madrid Barajas Airport, and took the subway to where we were staying. First thing I noticed was the the public transit there was exceptional. Buses, trains, and subways combined provide you with multiple inexpensive routes to your intended destination. Cabs are really cheap as well.

Once we got settled, we went into the city for some tapas. While in Spain, you must have tapas I was told. I was also told that tapas is really more of a touristy thing, and the locals aren’t so obsessed with it as foreigners are. Tapas are basically small dishes intended for sharing. We ordered 6 or 7 between the four of us and chowed down. The iberico ham was the highlight of the meal. It’s this really thinly sliced, salty, cured ham that they put on crisp bread with a little olive oil. I could have ate that for the whole meal.

We also ordered cuttlefish, which was disgusting. I didn’t even want to try it at first, since I don’t really like seafood, but I thought “when in Rome…” It was rubbery and the consistency was enough alone for me to spit it out. The taste was pretty abysmal as well. Plain and like plastic. I’ve been told it’s only good warm. Well, the piece I had was warm, so I can’t even believe what it would taste like cold. Uberbarf. Luckily there was enough sangria there to drown the memory of it away.

The next day we went sight seeing at Parque del Retiro, which was in the middle of the city. It was really beautiful. Lots of people just lounging around on the grass, playing tennis or football, and enjoying the sun. There was a pond / lake in the middle of it where you could rent paddle boats. Very romantic.

Most of the rest of the time we spent walking around the city. Puerta del Sol was our main base, as the subway went there, and it was pretty central to everything else. We saw the Royal Palace, which was impressive, but there was a huge line up to actually go in, so we just observed from the outside. Once you’ve been to a few European cities, these massive churches and palaces start to all blur together, so unless you have a real appreciation for architecture, it can become a bit tedious to see each city’s landmarks. They are pretty though, and the amount of work that went in to them is staggering.

We did some shopping on one of the main streets, Calle Gran Via. You’ll see a lot of familiar stores there. Pull & Bear, Zara, etc. Oh, and Burger King :) Things like food, and clothes in Madrid aren’t as expensive as some other major cities. The shopping is actually quite reasonable. And the restaurants are great in both price and taste. Just stay away from the ones where guys on the street are trying to get you to come in (aka, tourist traps).

It’s pretty common for people to go out for dinner at around 10 p.m. We went out on a Saturday with a group mixed of locals and tourists to a great restaurant called Ginger. I had mushroom risotto, and was in heaven. We finished the meal and went out to the gay part of Madrid. While the clothes and food is reasonably priced, drinks in clubs are definitely not. You can expect to pay around 8 euros for a mixed drink. Though, there are these little side bars that will sell you liter mixed drinks for about the same price, which you can then take with you on the street. I didn’t really get a good feel for the nightlife there, as half of our group were straight and weren’t really into it, and I don’t think we went to the best places, but the guys there were gorgeous.

The trip was a great weekend getaway. I loved hearing the language, it’s so much more elegant than the harshness of dutch. I think for my next vacation I won’t go to a city though. I’ve had enough of that. Bring on the beach!