October 28 – November 1
Kyra: While talking to a local service designer, I learned that the Occupy Wall Street movement began in Spain and it is called 15-M there. The events inspired a political party known as “Podemos,” which took a number of seats in the last election and have played a larger role than anticipated in Spain’s political and economic news.
Ben: In 2009, Madrid was ranked third in terms of wealthiest cities by GDP. Even today they are still quite a wealthy city. At first I was surprised by this fact, but after seeing how clean, well kept, and vibrant the city was, it made sense.
How we got there
Ben: We could’ve taken a flight directly from Sicily, but that was a few hundred dollars more, so instead Kyra and I flew back to Rome for 24hrs and then on to Madrid. I don’t think there was anything memorable to note on this flight, but if I remember anything crazy I’ll come back and edit this. (11.15.2015)
Kyra: I let the guy staying in the bunk above me back into the room when he forgot his key after going to the bathroom. As quite generous display of gratitude, he gave me a roll of Oreos he had brought with him from Morocco.
Ben: UHostels. Yet another fun-filled hostel experience. This one wasn’t the worst, but we still encountered the following things:
- Breakfast which included coffee, water, and your choice of 2 churros or up to 4 slices of bread. They had an industrial toaster, one flavor of jam, and an olive oil + tomato sauce combo to add to your carb – but it was free.
- Very strong smells coming back to the room one day. As if a traveller had mistaken our 12 bunk room for the 12 stall bathroom.
- People checking in at 3am (we got the beds by the door, so we were able to hear and see anytime someone entered the room).
- While asleep and wearing earplugs, both Kyra and I were awoken by someone snoring. I was angry, Kyra was concerned. She thought this guy might seriously die, so she stayed awake to listen until the snoring settled down to a “normal level.”
Kyra: Near our hostel was a three story “market” reminiscent of Uptown Global Market in Minneapolis.
Kyra: We ate two meals at the market. Our first was a paella type dish and our second was bought because the chef/saleswoman was incredibly good at her job (she is pictured above). I sat down at a table in the center to wait for Ben and she waved me over. She was cooking a steak for another customer but asked if I wanted to try some off the end of it. On principle, I do not say no to free food. She cut a piece off, seasoned it with coarse salt, told me a quick synopsis of the region it came from, and sent me on my way. When Ben came over with the other tapa we had ordered, she waved him over and let him try a piece.
Kyra: Ben found possibly the best meal deal of our trip in Madrid. For five euros each, you got a first and second course with homemade lemonade, iced tea, or water. The food was fresh and our server cheery.
Ben: One of the more average meals we had was from a tiny taco/burrito/quesadilla place on the main shopping road in Madrid. This place was never busy, in fact, it usually had one or zero people in it (including the person behind the counter). This was one of those “let’s each eat a $2 taco so that we don’t have to buy as much nice food at dinner,” or similarly, “let’s eat anything because our body needs fuel.”
Local View and Lessons Learned
Kyra: My favorite Madrid anecdote is that of the statue of King Philip III in Plaza Mayor. Directly following its construction in 1616, the square was apparently incredibly smelly and unsanitary. It had butchery on one side that often reeked of spoiled meat, hosted bull fights, and was the dumping grounds for all the apartments’ residents’ bed pans. However, the worst smell allegedly came from the statue. No one quite knew why but Spaniards are superstitious so the assumption was that the statue was simply unlucky. Finally, during riots, the horse’s belly on the statue was cracked, revealing hundreds of dead, rotting birds. The birds would fly into the horse’s mouth to rest and nest, then become disoriented and eventually die inside the belly. During the hot, summer days, the metal horse would roast the birds, adding to the unpleasant smell.
Kyra: While Halloween has been celebrated in Madrid the longest of any Spanish cities, it is still a relatively new phenomenon. When we inquired about the history of Halloween in Madrid, our waiter lamented its popularity, his frustrations fueled by its consumerist roots in in Madrid. There were fewer “pumpkin spiced latte” advertisements than in the States, but generally Halloween traditions and decorations seemed rather commonplace. We saw kids trick-or-treating at shops in town, restaurants with orange streamers, and even Halloween tattoo specials (who can say “no” to an angry ghost for 50 euros).
Kyra: El Retiro is a park that would probably be most aptly compared to Central Park. It’s impressive in it’s sheer size and incredibly well-maintained. When we visited, there were families, photo-shoots, and boats abound.
Real Madrid Game
Ben: Spaniards love their futbol. When we attended the Real Madrid, I was expecting something similar to a rowdy Vikings game – I was just a bit off. Arriving at the stadium, there were thousands of people streaming through the street near the stadium, yelling, drinking, eating and sporting their favorite player’s jersey (maybe even a REAL MADRID scarf as well). Our section in the stadium wasn’t too crazy, but there was a “fan” section in which a few hundred people were playing instruments and banging on drums…for the entire match. It was unbelievable, I’m not even sure if any of them knew the score, there was even one guy standing on the railing of the upper deck, facing the crowd and cheering them on.
Kyra: Easily one of my favorite activities of the trip. In Flamenco, the guitars are striking, singers commanding, and dancers mesmerizing. “Gracias a dios” that the Moors brought Paella and Flamenco to Spain.
Ben: I loved the Flamenco as much as Kyra, but there was one highlight and one lowlight that stuck out. One highlight: The Sangria was delicious. One lowlight: The chubby man in the photo kept checking his cell phone as he was singing…I didn’t even see anyone in the audience check theirs. Maybe this is a cultural thing, but I found it unappealing.