This is my first guest post for API! Check out my post on there website here: http://www.apistudyabroad.com/blog/on-site/what-a-way-to-start-exploring-madrid/
The start of my study abroad orientation in Madrid could not be any easier. Thanks to the metro instructions conveniently provided on their website, the trip to the hotel in the heart of Puerta del Sol, the center of the city, took only about 45 minutes from the airport. I was immediately impressed by how clean and modern it was. My room’s balcony, overlooking the plaza, was a welcome and unexpected bonus. The first day of orientation set a precedent for the rest of the four days we would spend in Madrid and a peek into the much more relaxed Spanish take on student programming. Their goal was not to run us into the ground seeing every single exhibit, museum, palace, or famous something or other in the city. Instead, we were able to enjoy tours of the most important sights Madrid has to offer and orientation meetings while still having our own time during the day and night to explore on our own and get a feel for the city.
Sheep really enjoyed the view from the hotel room.
Plaza Puerta del Sol: Home base
Our location in the heart of the city made it easy to walk anywhere we wanted to go. One of the most memorable places we visited was the famous Prado Museum, the biggest art gallery in the world. The works were stunning and our two hour tour gave us an opportunity to see the highlights and get a feel for the place. The Royal Palace, or Palacio Real, also left an impression. It was a look at royal decadence in the 18th century, with extravagance bordering on the line between beauty and tackiness, slipping to one side or the other in certain rooms. It was easy to see how the King Phillip II of Spain favored El Escorial over his other palaces. The grounds and surrounding towns are so peaceful and quiet they must have made a welcome retreat.
El Palacio Real.The Royal Palace.
The lovely gardens of El Escorial.
It did not take long for me to understand the Spanish need for siesta. Afternoons are hot and sunny beyond belief and the only thing you want to do in weather like that is eat and stay inside until the worst is over. Thankfully it’s a dry heat, so at least you’re not automatically drenched in sweat when you step outside like everywhere I’ve ever lived in the United States.
Madrid was also my introduction to the cervercerias. My favorite, which I visited on at least three separate occasions, is the100 Montaditos right on Calle Mayor. Besides having a vast selection of 100 bocadillos, or little snack sandwiches, it also has a good selection of huge salads and on Wednesdays and Sundays everything on the menu is 1 euro (except salads, which are 2). It was a look into tasty and efficient Spanish fast food, where you give the cashier a small form with your order filled out and they call your name within minutes to pick up your meal.
A cheap and delicious lunch.
One of my favorite places in Madrid has to be El Parque del Buen Retiro, which is located right near the Prado Museum. Besides being a large and lovely place to relax during the day, it is also host to a colony of cats cared for by the citizens of Madrid. I discovered around 7 or 8 playful kittens there during the day and when I returned later that evening at sunset, I had the opportunity to talk to a Spanish woman who was bringing food to them and the number of cats doubled.
El Parque del Buen Retiro.
A playful kitten.
Overall, my first impressions of Spain and the API coordinators was more than good, but by the end of the four days in Madrid I was just ready to go to Granada, settle down with my host family, and work on my Spanish!
Kilometer zero! The origin of Spain’s road.
Sunset over Retiro Park
Interesting…art in a sangria bar.