Mooching around Madrid [Part 2]

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Despite being a capital city, Madrid goes at a much slower pace than the likes of its counterparts. Weaving my way through the crowded pavements, the locals do not walk, they seem to wander aimlessly, with no destination in mind, and no awareness that there are other people trying to get past. They kept reminding me that I could actually take my time.

I did not pack my days with itineraries, but I had an idea of the activities I wanted to do. I have collected some of the highlights of my trip!

Highlights of my week

Spa afternoon

For my first day, I booked a trip the the Hamman Al-Andalus baths to de-stress and have a good start to the trip. My favourite spa in Spain, I have been to the Madrid location before as well as the one in Granada and I highly recommend going. Make sure you pack a swimsuit!

Day-tripping

Smack-bang in the middle of the country, Madrid is so well connected to other cities by public transport. I took a high-speed train to Córdoba in Andalucia; usually a 4-hour car journey, however after rolling out of Puerta de Atocha station, I was in the sunny south of the country in only 90 minutes! There are loads of other day-trip options, Córdoba is quite far! Most people go to cities like Salamanca, Toledo, Segóvia. However, I have been to these places before and Córdoba was at the top of my list.

El Palacio Real

During my first visit to Madrid, I had attempted to visit the Royal Palace, to only learn it was closed – it is often closed for important events. This time, better informed, I made sure I checked availability online and booked my tickets in advance. The palace is beautiful and fascinating if you are interested in Spanish history and the royal family. The armory collection is particularly impressive too. Don’t miss the temporary exhibition (this was an extra 1€ to my ticket). Not many people seem to choose this option as I was the only one in there when I went in, but I was glad I did; I learned all about Carlos III and the exhibit was brilliant!

Museo Reina Sofia

Free to students and there is a cat cafe next door. Definitely a good museum choice for people like me who still have a valid student card and are cat-mad. There are much fewer queues here than the famous Prado (which I still have not been to). It is a massive museum and has a range of temporary and permanent exhibitions. Most famous for the museum where you can see Picasso’s Guernica. Nevertheless, I absolutely loved the temporary exhibit about George Herriman and the Krazy Kat illustrations and from the permanent exhibit on war, I learned about the extreme poverty in Las Hurdes in the 20th century, through Luis Buñuel’s shocking documentary, Las Hurdes: Land without Bread (1933).

Opera

Researching online before my trip, I discovered that they were showing my favourite opera, Carmen (Georges Bizet) during the dates that I was there. Okay, I have seen this opera twice already, but third time is the charm, right? Plus, I had only just purchased some opera glasses in an antique store a few weeks prior and needed to test them out… I had a great time at the opera, and although it was the one thing I splurged on, it was absolutely worth it!

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Way, way, way up, but I had a great view!

Templo de Debod

I had been here before, but I loved the sunset over this Egyptian Temple that I had to go back. It is a popular place to see the sunset as it is so beautiful, so don’t be late!

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Madrid has so much to offer and I feel like I made the most of my time there. From the highlights mentioned above to the little things like: speaking Spanish with anyone and everyone, sitting outside a café munching on pan con tomate and sipping a warm Colacao for breakfast and walking everywhere – something I dont get to do much at home, made it a great autumn getaway.

What do you think of Madrid? Let me know in the comments!

p.s. apologies for the lack of photos, I had to factory reset my phone and lost most of my photos, including ones of all the cute cats 😦

Robyn

 

Mooching around Madrid [Part 1]

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Eight weeks long, the first and also the longest half term in the school calender finally came to a close last week. The first 2 months as an NQT have been tough,  but having my little trip to Madrid kept my head above water.

I booked cheap flights on a whim earlier in Spring, knowing very well that neither J. nor any of my friends would be able to accompany me. The Ryanair scare of thousands of cancelled flights did not affect me and I was still able to go.

This was not only my first time back in Spain since my Year Abroad and but also the first time I have done solo travel in two years. I visited Madrid on my own before flying home two years ago; three days in summer was not enough to make the most of the city, so this time I booked 5 days to make the most of my time off.

I have travelled alone so many times over the last 5 years and really enjoyed it: Paris, Madrid, Porto, Wroclaw, Warsaw, Lisbon… but admittedly, it was something that took a few days for me to get re-accustomed to. I chose my hostel in particular as from the reviews, it was very sociable and friendly, but unfortunately it was anything but. Frustrating, as when I have travelled alone in the past, the hostels have really been a highlight of the trip.

Even after having spent a total of 8 days in the Spanish capital, I cannot say I have done everything, but that was not my intention. I did what I wanted in my own time. I saw some museums, slept during siesta, did some shopping, did the day-trip I wanted, splurged on that opera ticket, went to a spa, went to the cat café. I actually did quite a bit but it was not rushed. That is the beauty of going to a place and having the time to do it slowly, you don’t have to rush and cram everything in.

So I am home now, mentally preparing myself to go back to work tomorrow and also for the next seven weeks before the Christmas holidays. At least it is Bonfire Night tonight!

Stay tuned for Part 2

Weekly blog posts about my South American adventure published every Sunday!

Robyn

Travel Update: Where am I going next?

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So today I had my final formal observation of my teacher training year! Relieved is an understatement. My final evidence bundles are ready to hand in on Wednesday. Just 4 and a bit weeks to go until I qualify – I can see the light out of this very long, dark tunnel.

At least I have so much look forward to: holidays that is – lots of them!

July 2017: Prague and Pembrokeshire, UK

Two days after I qualify (!) I am flying out to Prague for a few days with some of my old school friends. I’m glad to be squeezing some time in to explore a bit more of Europe this summer! If you have any recommendations, let me know in the comments.

Flash forward a day or two and I will be in Pembrokeshire, Wales. It started out as a nice, quiet weekend with just me and J. but then he came up with the idea of inviting all his old uni friends, so it’s quite the group who are going now. I’m glad some +1s are going otherwise it would have turned into a lads trip + me! Not so relaxing… It’s my first trip to South Wales and fingers crossed the weekend won’t be a wash-out! Although saying that, I am sure it will be.

August 2017: Peru, Chile, Bolivia

This trip has been so much more complicated to plan than South East Asia was, I just hope that it all works out. Stay tuned for a post later this week on 3 reasons why I am looking forward to returning to Peru.

October 2017: Madriiiiid

For my first October half term as an NQT teacher Spanish and French teacher, I have 5 days solo travel in Madrid booked. I’m being a good Languages teacher – I am going a Spanish-speaking country for professional development…

I am being constantly reminded that, “okay, so you’re finding your training year tough? Wait until your NQT year…” This is not filling me with much confidence, but I am one to focus on what I have to look forward to, to get me through.

I have my hostel and my flights sorted, nothing more. I spent 3 days there two years ago at the end of my Year Abroad and I regretted not going sooner, as I absolutely loved it! I’m looking forward to visiting the museums (finally), eating my favourite food and going to the Hamman Al-Andalus Baths again to chill out. It would be great to do a day trip somewhere new like Córdoba. I cannot bear to return to my Spanish home, Salamanca, for a day. The idea weighs heavy on my heart and fills me with too much nostalgia now I no longer live there.

Are you looking forward to any future travels this coming year? Let me know in the comments 🙂

Robyn

Impressions: Madrid

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I had passed through Madrid, or should I say, Madrid-Barajas Airport, five times already.

Madrid. It has always seemed like an annoying necessity; a stop-over when travelling to Peru, the closest city with an airport when heading to my Year Abroad destination, Salamanca.

Although only a 2h45 minute journey from Salamanca and the closest city of interest, you would have thought I would have visited Madrid sooner – but I didn’t. Instead, the capital was the final trip during my semester in Spain after a determination to visit everywhere but.

Whenever people had mentioned Madrid to me, words such as “underwhelming, overrated, not as good as Barcelona” soon followed. The ‘idea’ of Madrid just didn’t reach out to me all that much because of this. It seemed like a trip to visit the city for a few days would be worthwhile, before I headed to the airport to fly home, just to see it for myself. I had really wanted to go to the Hammam Al-Ándalus baths again which are in Madrid as well as Granada and other cities in Andalucía, plus I found out there was a cat café there too, so it couldn’t be all that bad.

Perhaps going to Madrid with no expectations at all made my experience better, but all I can say is this – I loved it! Yes, I actually absolutely loved Madrid, who could have seen that coming? I am kicking myself for not wanting to go earlier, even after three days there I didn’t even manage to go into the Prado or the Reina Sofia… (well you are talking to the girl who has gone to Paris twice and has yet to even go inside the Louvre…). It is indeed extremely different to Barcelona, and although Barcelona is fabulous to visit, I wouldn’t ever consider living there, whereas Madrid gave me the vibe “Wow, I could totally see myself living here, but why it is so hot?!” So that was good. I’m pleased Madrid surprised me but I understand it may not be for everyone.

I stayed at SunGate Hostel which was in a fantastic location near Puerta del Sol and loads of shops. The vibe in the hostel was great and I met some truly lovely people to enjoy Madrid with. They do free evening meals every evening which proved to be popular but I didn’t manage to actually go to any during my stay. Still, after staying in the luxurious Gallery Hostel in Porto the week before, I wasn’t used to some of the issues with normal hostels and I was utterly disappointed with breakfast which was cold churros con chocolate and nothing else.

My first thing was to get some tapas at El Tigre. If you order anything there be warned, portions are massive. A tapa is more like a ración (sharing plate) and I ordered a plate of pimientos de padrón to feed 100 people.

That evening, I ended up going to the Templo de Debod at sunset which was the most perfect moment. As I was there on a Monday evening, it may have been less crowded than at a weekend which was great for taking loads of photos! The light on the temple was beautiful and it was amazing to look at as the sun was going down.

Me at El Templo de Debod

Me at El Templo de Debod

The following day I walked all the way to Retiro Park which is somewhere you have to visit when in Madrid. It was boiling but it was lovely to walk around and enjoy the quiet of the gardens in the center of the city. Next time, I am hiring a rowing boat on that lake!

Oh and what is Spain without a bit of frozen yogurt in the afternoon? Smooy were handing out an offer for a free extra topping on your frozen yogurt – perfection!

As I said, I also went to a cat café, but I was the only one there and the cats didn’t seem to want any attention as they were already so spoiled with affection and were quite moody. But there were free unlimited drinks which was much needed! It was right by the Reina Sofia which I intended to visit, but I was walking around ages trying to find the right entrance and I was exhausted -a siesta sounded much more appealing at that moment in time instead of walking around one of the most amazing art galleries in Spain (next time?).

After a well-earned siesta, it was time to go to the Hammam Al Ándalus baths which I wrote about here – the perfect way to relax during my final evening in Spain before going home!

The following day, my flight was not until late at night so I had all day to see more of Madrid. I took the Sandman’s Free City Tour of Madrid with my hostel, as I still hadn’t seen anything at all of the historical center of Madrid (cathedral, Royal Palace etc.). It was well worth it as Madrid has a very interesting history from humble beginnings which is not very well known. Plus, it only lasted 2 hours which was good as any longer would have been unbearable in the heat.

Next, I purchased some cookies from a Convent by talking to some nun’s through wall without seeing them which surely was an experience, with some new friends from the hostel. We also intended to visit the Royal Palace which apparently is even larger than Versailles (can you imagine?!), but it was closed for an official event which was a shame, so it is worth checking before you go if it is open to the public that day. It is no longer the offical residence of the monarchy but is still used for state affairs.

We made a quick detour inside the cathedral but I must admit, for being the cathedral of the capital of Spain, it is so ugly and it was quite sad. It has nothing on Barcelona, Sevilla, Salamanca, Toledo… the list goes on. It could be at the very bottom of a long list in all honesty.

We stumbled across the Mercado San Miguel on the walk back. It’s a beautiful building although quite small with a wide selection of stalls offering tapas, patisserie, wine and other products, but it does seem to be high-market and quite touristy.

It wasn’t long until it was time to head to the airport, to say goodbye to Spain for the forseeable future. Yet due to the air strikes with Ryanair, my flight was delayed an hour and a half and I didn’t manage to get home until 2am! Spain obviously didn’t want me to leave…

So all in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Madrid and what I saw of it. I will definitely be returning in the future.

But for now, VOU PARA LISBOA (I’m off to Lisbon!)

Beijinhos (getting into the Portuguese vibe now),

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Hammam Al Ándalus in Madrid

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Ever since my wonderful experience at the Hammam Al Ándalus in Granada (which I wrote about here), I wanted to return straight away! The Hammams are located in Granada, Málaga, Córdoba and Madrid, so if you find yourself in any of these cities, it is definitely worth booking in if you appreciate some well-deserved relaxation.

Unfortunately, I was living in the north of Spain, and therefore a minimum three-hour train journey from the closest Hammam (Madrid) which made it more difficult for me to return. I managed to prevail though, and squeezed in a return trip to Hammam Al Ándalus, this time in Madrid, during my first visit to the capital. It was the perfect treat to end my four months living and studying in Spain, the evening before flying home to the UK.

Relaxation Room

The Hammam in Madrid is excellently located in the city center, between Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor which makes it easily accessible and was only a five minute walk from my hostel.

After taking a walking tour during my visit to Madrid, it was interesting to learn that the city itself has a fascinating Moorish history which nowadays is very unknown; originally known as Mayrit, Madrid was founded in the 9th century. Its location in the center of Spain was no coincidence either – at that time, it was a crossroads between the divide of Christian North and Moorish South and therefore in an important defensive position, especially as it is slightly north of Toledo, which was the capital of Spain, to protect it from invasions from the north. Although the Hammam baths bring some of the luxury of Andalucía to the capital nowadays, the baths are in fact perfectly at home here in Madrid, which was once an Arab city with a mosque, souk and hammams, however much of this is now lost and Hammam Al Ándalus is the only hammam now in Madrid.

Still, the cathedral in Madrid, called “Almudena” although named after a medieval icon of the Virgin Mary, the Patron Saint of Madrid, the word “Almudena” in Arabic translates to “the citadel,” and traces of Madrid’s Moorish roots are still to be seen. Therefore, a visit to the Hammam in Madrid is still a culturally enriching experience as well a relaxing one.

My hammam experience this time also started with a 15-minute full-body massage, and I chose the Red Amber oil again as I loved the scent the last time. In the Relaxation room you can find a “Fuente de té” (a tap that provides hot Moroccan Mint tea). I love the tea so much and I drank countless cups of it in between relaxing in the heated pools. There are three pools to choose from: cold (18°C), temperate (36°C) and hot (40°C) and also a steam room, my favourite being the hot pool. I enjoyed starting in the temperate pool, moving on to the hot, the steam room and then cooling off the with cold pool and a shower – I was not as brave as some of the other people who got fully submerged in the cold pool! It is just so cold.

As I went mid-week at 8pm, there were not as many people in the baths as there were when I went to Granada on a Friday evening. This was great as there were fewer people in the pools and I mostly had each area at a time to myself to unwind! I would definitely recommend booking to go during the evening as it allows you to relax after a long day of sight-seeing during the day and I fell asleep easily when I went to bed.

All I have left now is to check out the remaining Hammams in Córdoba and Málaga (hopefully sooner rather than later!), when I am in Spain in the future. I still hope they will expand and come to the UK – it’s cold here and we need some Hammam luxury please…

Hasta luego,

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Salamanca, te echaré de menos

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(Salamanca, I will miss you)

I have had a fantastic time living and studying in the beautiful ciudad dorada, Salamanca, for four months. It is a small city but it is absolutely beautiful. I’d like to share nine of my favourite things to do since living here:

9. Tapas

What is Spain without tapas? My favourite spots are: La Mariseca on Rua Mayor (I love their mini burgers) and Atelier which is a veggie/vegan tapas bar.

8. Casa Lis

The Casa Lis is an Art Deco/Art Nouveau museum in the most beautiful building with incredible stained glass windows and ceilings.

Casa Lis ceiling

Casa Lis ceiling

7. Climb up the towers of the Universidad Pontifica de Salamanca

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Personally, this gives the best panoramic views of the city but the climb up the Cathedral Towers nearby is also worthwhile.

6. La Universidad de Salamanca

I loved studying in beautiful surroundings every day at university. The Languages Faculty, spread across three buildings, is a tourist site in its own right (El Colegio de Anaya). Not only this, but the main university building in the Patio de Escuelas is magnificent and even holds a museum about the history of the university inside, the oldest university in Spain! Next door to the Patio de Escuelas is Escuelas menores, a small courtyard which also holds El Cielo de Salamanca, a beautiful painting fromt he 15th century.

The famous main facade of the university

The famous main facade of the university

The inner courtyard of the Languages department!

The inner courtyard of the Languages department!

5. Micro-theatre at La Malhablada

I only discovered La Malhablada in May, which is a shame as I really enjoyed going! From Thursday-Sunday, they hold “mini-plays” of 15 minutes which you can see for 3€ each. I have seen three so far and would like to go see some more this weekend before I leave Salamanca. It’s especially good to practice listening to Spanish, but of course, if you don’t speak Spanish, this isn’t going to be of much interest unfortunately.

4. Relaxing in Huerto de Calixto gardens

A hidden gem

A hidden gem

It’s very difficult to stumble across these gardens unless you are walking around or have already heard of them. Huerto de Calixto is a small garden, tucked away in a corner near the cathedral on the remains of the city wall. It is never overly busy and is a great place to go to sit, read, have lunch and enjoy nature. Although Salamanca has parks, it doesn’t have much greenery in the center amongst the golden buildings, so this is a nice little haven.

3. Dar un paseo al lado del río

Relaxing by the Rio Tormes

Relaxing by the Rio Tormes

(Walking along the river). The River Tormes is a great place to stretch your legs: walk, run, jog, rollerblade, it’s the place to go. It’s lovely and sunny during the day to sunbathe and cool in the evening.

2. El Laurel

The best nachos and guacamole ever (we got free refills!)

The best nachos and guacamole ever (we got free refills!)

Dessert

Dessert was glorious

When Spain is characteristically known as the land of jamón, it is unusual to find not only a vegetarian ta

pas bar, but also a vegetarian restaurant here! El Laurel has been one of my favourite restaurants here in Salamanca – great quality food and I will probably spend my final meal here. Best to book in advance because I have been turned away as they were all full up before now!

1. Plaza Mayor (usually coupled with a frozen yogurt)

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The Plaza Mayor is the central hub of the city and rightly so. It’s where you go to meet up with friends in the evening, it’s great for people-watching, it’s extremely clean so you can just sit on the floor in the sun – it’s just so pretty to look at. I especially love walking through during the evening when it is all lit up. There is a reason why Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor is the most beautiful in the whole of Spain.

So, this is it! The next few days, I will be doing a combination of a few of these things here before I leave.

What do you like most about Salamanca?

Hasta luego,

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The Best Panoramic View: Salamanca

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It’s officially summer! I finished exams today which means I have completed my semester studying at La Universidad de Salamanca. Now, I have that normal “post-exams feeling” where I don’t really know what to do with myself; I don’t need to procrastinate from the work I all of a sudden no longer have to do. I can just indulge in Netflix without feeling guilty, which seems a lot less wild than it felt a few days ago…

I posted about my Final Five Week To-Do List which as the title suggests, is a bucket list of things to keep me occupied with during my final weeks in the Golden City, which don’t involve Netflix. I can confirm I am doing well with checking things off – actually, I have done six out of a total of eight which is pretty impressive. All I have left is a revisit to the Casa Lis to see the Coco Chanel exhibition and pop into the General Archive of the Spanish Civil War next door. But today I want to talk about my visits this week to the Torres de la Catedral and also the Scala Coeli Torres de la Clerecia at the Universidad Pontifica de Salamanca.

Before tucking into my beautiful Chinese takeaway on Saturday evening whilst watching Eurovision (I was rooting for Italia if you were wondering), Becca and I headed out to climb up the Cathedral Tower at 8:30pm. We went up way back in February when it was freezing, so it was nice to go back when the weather was more forgiving and I actually came prepared with my camera. They have started allowing reserved access at specific times on weekend evenings for the summer season, which is worth knowing if you are only visiting for a few days..

We had a guided tour but I didn’t expect it to last so long! I was craving my duck pancakes the entire time…. We ended up missing most of the acts in Eurovision but arrived in time for the last seven and of course the voting. We learned that the climb up the tower is “una ascención de la tierra hasta el cielo” / an ascent from the ground towards the sky (in a spiritual sense) and that the climb allows us to get closer to God. It just reminded me of Danté’s journey from Inferno to Paradise but without the Inferno part, which is probably a good thing. Anyway, there are amazing views at sunset, so it was pretty cool:

View from the Cathedral

View from the Cathedral

The interior of La Catedral Nueva

The interior of La Catedral Nueva, lit up

The Torres de la Catedral in Salamanca, known as “Ieronimus” is a popular tourist destination in the city and is considered the best place to go to get a good view of the city according to TripAdvisor. However after climbing the Scala Coeli Torres de la Clerecia this afternoon at the Universidad Pontifica de Salamanca, opposite La Casa de las Conchas, I will have to contest this statement. For a similar price (3€) you have access to even better views where you can actually see the cathedral nearby.

View from La Universidad Pontifica de Salamanca with a well-timed bird shot

View from La Universidad Pontifica de Salamanca

Both the Scala Coeli Torres de la Clerecia and the Torres de la Catedral have similar priced entry fees (3€). There is more to see in the cathedral as you can see the interiors of both the Catedral Vieja (my favouite) and the Catedral Nueva (if you are wondering, there are two cathedrals joined together, not confusing at all). You can visit the cathedrals at ground level for a seperate price but if you just want to peek at the interior, it’s best to pay to go up the tower as you can get great views AND see inside the cathedral – 2 for 1.

There are interesting original manuscript collections in the cathedral and information about its history throughout the tour. I was able to test out my new knowledge of reading medieval French and Spanish texts from my History of the French Language class here, and it was cool to be able to put the skills to use because I don’t know where else I am going to use them for the time being.

View of the cathedral from La Universidad Pontifica de Salamanca

Panorama view

The Scala Coeli Torres do offer some information but it feels a bit “forgotten in time,” and not a lot of effort has gone into the collections which are very spaced out, especially as we saw the interior of the chapel area which was cornered off and coated in dust. It just looked creepy, sad and neglected but must have looked magnificent “back in the day”. Still, the  Scala Coeli Torres offer the best views in my opinion of Salamanca and it is worth the climb just for that. I enjoyed both visits but they each offer different experiences.

Hasta pronto,

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