Our last stop in Spain was to the city of Madrid. Due to a bad hotel choice, we ended up in a really far location away from all the action and basically lost a day and a half of being able to do any sight seeing. This taught us a very valuable lesson that trying to save extra money on a hotel that’s not centrally located is never worth it.
Once we finally switched to a different hotel that was much better located, we went to our failsafe route of getting to know a city quickly and went straight to Plaza Mayor to join Sandeman’s Free Walking Tour. This was the largest group we’ve joined so far and our guide, Enrique, did a really good job. He was my favorite tour guide of all the walking tours we’ve taken. He was really animated when telling stories and the way he provided information was very entertaining!
As with almost every walking tour (and the reason we like taking them), is that you get to visit most of the main sites within a few hours and learn a little more about the history of the city you probably wouldn’t know otherwise.
Some fun facts we learned while on the tour:
- Madrileños are nicknamed Gatos (cats) which dates back to the medieval times when soldiers jumped the walls to take over the city from the Moors. In addition, cats are nocturnal creatures who stay out all night, just like Madrileños who are no strangers to living the nightlife to the fullest!
- Tapas were originally a small piece of bread or meat placed on top of wine glasses to prevent fruit flies from getting into the drink. Apparently sometime in the 19th century, the King at the time ordered a drink at a tavern, and being a King who probably was always served fresh wine without having to deal with flies, was served his wine with a piece of ham on top of his drink. Not knowing what the ham was for, he asked the bartender what it was, and the bartender told him it was just a tapa (a cover). The King liked it so much that every time he ordered a drink, he would ask where his tapa was. Bars followed suit and started offering tapas with drinks, and has evolved from there.
- The reason Jamon has such importance in the Spanish culture is not due only to it being amazingly delicious, but also to religious history. Jews, Muslims, and Christians all lived in harmony during the ruling of the Moors, but that changed once the Spanish Inquisition happened. During this time, Jews and Muslims were being forced to convert to Catholicism or leave Spain. Because people were being persecuted for practicing other religions, hanging a giant leg of ham (something that Jewish and Muslims do not eat due to their religion) to cure in the window of their homes, was a big obvious proclamation to everyone that they were indeed a Christian. This also makes total sense as to why Lechon is so huge in the Filipino community as well, since the Spanish made their way over to the Phillipines and there is also a huge Catholic population in the Filipino community!
- There’s a convent of nuns in Madrid who spend their life dedicated to the church but also making cookies! They do not interact with people outside of the convent walls, so there’s actually a turnstile in the door of the convent in which you can place your money into, and out come your freshly baked cookies. Apparently they’re some of the best cookies around because outside of praying and church duties, these nuns are practically making cookies day in and day out all their lives, so you know they’re probably going to be pretty amazing. Unfortunately it was already closed when we were there, so we never got to try them 🙁
The day of our tour landed on Halloween, and the Sandeman Tour Group was hosting a special Halloween Bar Crawl later that night. We decided to join to see how Madrid celebrates Halloween. Celebrating Halloween in Madrid was a great experience, as there were people out and about everywhere! It also could have just been a regular Saturday night with people dressed up though, since Madrileños definitely can party it up!
The Bar crawl promised free shots at each bar with our ticket, but it ended up being a sugary syrup-like shot with no alcohol and was pretty gross tasting. It was a great way to encourage people to buy drinks from the bar, and we were shocked when the bill for 2 gin and tonics came out to 20 Euros (about $12/drink)! That’s like Vegas Nightclub drink prices in a small bar in Madrid, so we were not expecting that.
The bar crawl itself, however, turned out to be pretty fun as we met lots of other international travelers from all over the world there. It was great to go out and experience the nightlife with other travelers and like-minded people and just socialize. Minh and I headed home “early” as we didn’t want to deal with finding transportation home after the last train. It was a little after midnight and as we were on our way back to our hotel, the train was packed with young kids starting their night. We definitely felt super old and not accustomed to the party-til-dawn lifestyle!
On our last day in Madrid, we started off our day strolling through Retiro Park
From the park, we walked over to Museo del Prado where you can get in for free after 6PM. The line was incredibly long around 5:30PM.
Museo del Prado: Get free entry after 6PM. Don't be discouraged by the long line, as it moves quickly!Two Peas Travel Tip
The line moved really quickly and we were inside within 5-10 minutes. They actually separated the line into 2 groups into different entrances, so once we got in, it didn’t feel crowded at all. The museum is really huge and you could probably spend a full day there, so if you’re planning to do that, you’re better off purchasing tickets and going in the early morning. Minh just wanted to check out the Goya exhibit, and we left after walking around for about an hour.
To finish off our time in Madrid, we had to end our day with yummy Churros con chocolate!
Our time in Madrid was great as we met lots of other travelers and experienced a small bit of the nightlife it has to offer. Our time being able to explore and sight-see was cut short due to bad hotel location choices, so if you plan to go, make sure you’re staying in a good location!
We really enjoyed our time in Spain and there’s still so much left for us to experience. The delicious food, the great sights, and the friendly people made it a place we definitely want to return to. Until next time, Hasta Luego!