There’s a Polish saying “życie jak w Madrycie” (life like in Madrid) which is supposed to mean that Madrid is a place where you can live in wealth and without worrying. Having that in mind, I was curious to experience life in Madrid.
Unlike in Marseille or Bologna, it took me a while to warm up to Madrid. Even though our stay started with a cup of great coffee and fun party vibe on the streets thanks to the pride parade, I didn’t feel like I belong. And for the first few days, the smell of urine mixed with dirty streets was just revolting. As it turned out later, that must have been mainly the result of the street party weekend as it wasn’t as bad later on.
Spoiler alert – once the streets were cleaned and I got to explore more of the city, I ended up liking Madrid quite a lot. It reminds me of Berlin and Melbourne (Hubby says it has some SF in it too), mostly because of the mix of street art and good coffee.
Our neighbourhood & accommodation
We rented a decent Airbnb apartment in Lavapiés – the most multicultural area of the city. Large groups of Indian, Chinese, Arab and Senegalese people live there which translates to a lot of exotic shops and restaurants. The area is also more hilly than the rest of Madrid (it was always uphill for us from grocery shopping) and is (in)famous for drug deals out in the open on the main plaza.
The apartment itself was good, especially the kitchen, but had its downsides – being on the ground floor on a narrow street we didn’t get much natural light or privacy. But the central location near metro, train station, 24h supermarket and museums at a price well within our budget made it an OK experience.
Impressions about Madrid – likes & dislikes
Are there any cities in the world that are not filled with smokers? Point me to them please. In Madrid, not only everyone seemed to smoke, many people were smoking weed which is even worse. Most days we couldn’t even open the windows of our ground floor apartment because people would stand next to them and the stench would fill the apartment.
Keep it clean
Like I mentioned before, there was a lot of rubbish on the streets which didn’t make for the best strolling environment. Most of it turned out to be a side effect of the all weekend long pride party and the city wasn’t as dirty later on. What I liked a lot is that the streets were cleaned every few days with pressure cleaners – both the roads and sidewalks. Some days they had glitches in the matrix and were going past my window twice a day. That also had a nice cooling effect.
All the foods of the world
I wasn’t expecting to get this much variety of food in Madrid. It’s way more multicultural than I assumed. And there are pretty much all the foods you may want – Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Mexican, Peruvian, Polish just to name a few. Quality-wise it’s pretty good too.
People of Madrid really love to sing and they do this regardless of skills. Our neighbours were really going for it – one was on Adele’s best hits and the other on some sappy Spanish songs.
I absolutely loved how easy it was to find good coffee. The fact it was cheaper than in many other big European cities and similar price to Australia made it even better. While we were still enjoying our Aeropress every morning, we went out for afternoon flat whites many times as well. Read more about the best coffee in Madrid here.
Public spaces done right
There are many small squares and gardens as well as huge parks and they all are designed to be useful for everyone. Especially Parque Madrid Río along the river and Parque Juan Carlos I close to the airport. They have equipment for workouts, playgrounds, paved and unpaved paths, lawns for picnics, water features not to mention the obvious – toilets and benches. Well done Madrid.
Four weeks and I just couldn’t switch to the Madrileño meal schedule. They eat small, sweet breakfast with their morning coffee, a snack or toast around 10-11am, then lunch after 2pm, tapas from 6-7pm and dinner after 9pm. Sticking to our earlier hours, meant I had to make/cook most meals as restaurants weren’t open for service at those times. There was also a chance that if the restaurant does serve food, it won’t be busy at the time we come to eat.
Because everyone seems to go to Barcelona or, in summer especially, coastal places and islands like Malaga, Valencia or Ibiza, Madrid doesn’t get as crowded.
Which doesn’t mean it’s completely free of tourists – there are still some places (like Puerta del Sol or Plaza Mayor) that are always packed. That also comes with people selling tourist crap and big mascots walking around posing for photos and selling balloons.
A big dislike here. Catcalling is quite intense in Madrid so I prefered to walk places with Hubby. As soon as I was anywhere by myself I heard ‘mamita’, ‘guapa’, ‘preciosa’ and other unidentified words and sounds. Definitely did not enjoy that.
Closed for summer
Closing businesses for summer – for a month, two or just a few weeks – is a thing. It’s kind of like in Australia between New Year and Australia Day. Some yoga places I was interested in were closed, some restaurants but what’s the most devastating, our fantastic bread place closed for their summer break before we got the chance to buy our goodbye bread!
There’s a lot of interesting and often large-scale street art around Madrid. My favourite though were the augmented street signs by Yipi Yipi Yeah.
Fans of fans
Every woman carries (and uses) a hand fan. When I saw hand fans being sold in every souvenir shop, I was sure that’s a tourist thing that is just associated with flamenco dances and Spanish culture. But it does seem like local women really use them in summer.
Inclusive pedestrian traffic lights, street names painted on tiles, stunning architecture, unusual sculptures and lots of greenery – all those things made the city interesting, pretty and different. Keep those coming, Madrid!
For the first two weeks, we kept saying grazie instead of gracias or buongiorno instead of buenos días. Looks like Italian stuck to our heads much better than Spanish. I tried, I really tried to learn a bit but there is something about that language that is not working for me. I’m pretty sure I learned more Vietnamese words (to read and understand, not to pronounce) during our stay in Saigon than Spanish in Spain.
Good news for me was that almost everyone seemed to speak basic English, enough to order coffee or food which was the majority of our interactions.
I also once was asked by a woman on a street ‘something something metro Lavapiés something something?’ and pretty sure she asked for directions to the metro I pointed her in the right direction and said ‘aquí’. I think it counts as a conversation.
Prices in Madrid
In July 2019 100 EUR cost us around 160 AUD (at the same time, it would be around 112 USD).
For day to day grocery shopping you can see the prices on supermarkets’ websites. We mostly shopped at 24h Carrefour and sometimes at Dia. Prices-wise Spain felt similar to Italy, although the wines might have been more expensive.
How much do groceries cost in Madrid? For example:
- 1.25L sparkling water: €0.33 = 0.53 AUD
- 6 eggs: €0.95 = 1.52 AUD
- 250g pack of cherry tomatoes: €0.99 = 1.58 AUD
- 100g of fancy jamón ibérico: €17.50 = 28 AUD
- butter: €2.99 = 4.78 AUD
- can of local beer: €0.59 = 0.94 AUD
How much you should expect to pay for:
- one small flat white in a cafe: €2.50 = 4 AUD
- burrito: €6.95 = 11.12 AUD
- beer in a craft brewery: €5.50 = 8.80 AUD
How much we spent in 4 weeks (2 people)
Accommodation: €1 399.54 = 2 239.26 AUD
Groceries: €373.61 = 597.78 AUD
Eating out (we went out for meals or snacks 24 times): €327.85 = 524.56 AUD
Coffee: €132.80 = 212.48 AUD
Alcohol: €261.42 = 418.27 AUD
Transport (public transport, Uber, Taxi etc): €43.60 = 69.76 AUD
Entertainment (cinema, museums, tours etc): €127.68 = 204.29 AUD
SIM: we’re still using our Hungarian SIMs
Total: €2 666.50 = 4 266.40 AUD
Happened this month
Talked to God
One day we were stuck next to a building during a heavy downpour. We were getting bored as the rain didn’t seem to be going away so to entertain myself I started smiling to strangers braving the rain. There was an older man with long white hair and interesting clothes walking past so I smiled and said hola. So he stopped, looked at us and reached into his pocket for a notebook and pen.
He started writing questions to us, simple things like are you German? Czech? Then more and more about us and some airy-fairy things about nature, AI and Scott Morrison. At the end, he asked our names so in return I asked for his name. To that he wrote ‘Bóg has no name’ and I wasn’t sure if the first word was what I thought it was, so he saw the confusion on my face and wrote ‘God’ (Bóg is Polish for God). He tore the page of the notebook, gave it to me and walked away. It was like one big mic drop.
So if you ever wondered, God is an old hippy, lives in Madrid, is mute and has terrible handwriting.
I decided to have some me & art time and set aside Wednesdays for that. So one Wednesday I spent a wonderful three hours wandering around Prado Museum. Then next Wednesday was time for Reina Sofia. Both are fantastic, both have some big-name art. Reina Sofia has more of the modern vibe going on while Prado is full of classics.
For both, but especially for Prado, it’s better to pre-book tickets (it doesn’t cost more) because the lines outside are crazy long. While inside, most people go to see the most famous artworks (Guernica in Reina Sofia and Garden of Earthly Delights in Prado) so I was pretty much alone with some wonderful things like Goya’s Nude Maja and Clothed Maja or Las Meninas by Velázquez.