Madrid: Our Introduction to Europe

After spending 3 months in Asia and 7 weeks in Africa, returning to the Western world in Europe was a bit of a culture shock. It was also a major climate change (from extreme heat to cold). Somehow, we knew carrying those jackets since Nepal would pay off.

Phi smiling through the cold.

While we were sad to be leaving Africa behind, we were both excited about a few things:

  • The ability to walk more freely, especially after sunset. We never felt unsafe in Africa necessarily, but we were always advised to stay at our lodging or campsite after dark.
  • Access to washing machines!! Excluding South Africa, we haven’t had access to washing machines since Asia.
  • A reprieve from the bugs. In particular, the mosquitoes and other creatures with wings were rough on Phi.
  • Free walking tours! If you’ve been to large cities in Europe, chances are you’re aware of the free walking tour concept. The tours are usually about 3 hours through the central part of the city and just require a tip to your guide at the end. It’s a great way to be introduced to the city. This concept is not common in Asia or Africa.
  • New places: This was Phi’s first time in Europe and my first time in Spain.

Here are the highlights from our 4 days spent in Madrid:

  • Visiting with Margarita: In 2015, Margarita was an exchange student hosted by 2 of our best friends in Richmond. While she was staying with them, they visited us in Seattle where we met her. She is currently studying at university in Madrid and was a wonderful host! As she was leaving town for the weekend, we met on a Friday afternoon. Margarita gave us a great tour of the city and took us to one of our best meals in Spain. We were introduced to Spanish cuisine and had calamari sandwiches, croquettes and patatas bravas. She also took the time to prepare a list of all of the things she recommended us to see and do while in Madrid! It was great to see her.
Margarita, us and Madrid’s bear.
  • Retiro Park: Retiro Park is a large park in the central part of Madrid. Since this was the first large park we encountered in quite some time, we both really enjoyed this stop. We spent part of an afternoon walking through the park and the following morning running in the park!
  • Prado Museum: The Prado Museum is considered one of the greatest art museums in the world (some lists rank it higher than the Louvre). While neither of us are art connoisseurs, we both really loved visiting this museum.  The Prado lets you in for free after 5 PM. We got there around 4:30 and were able to spend nearly 2 hours in the museum.   The museum boasts many many works by Goya, Velazquez, El Greco and Rafael. Our favorites were “Las Meninas” and “The Descent from the Cross”
  • Walking Tour: While it was bitterly cold that day, Phi and I learned a lot about the history of both Madrid and the entirety of Spain on this tour. We also fell in love with Spanish architecture while walking through the city. A little foreshadowing that this wasn’t our favorite walking tour. We were both particularly touched by the memorial that symbolizes the Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths living together in peace.
  • Neighborhood: Our Airbnb was tucked into a great neighborhood about 20 minutes walk from the city central. Phi and I loved the local feel of the neighborhood from local restaurants and bakeries to the tapas market next door to our home.
  • Churches: One of my favorite things about Europe is that you can go into almost any church and it will take your breath away. Most cathedrals and churches are really large, ornate and feature paintings and/or incredible stained glass windows. While in Madrid, we visited 4-5 cathedrals and even got to witness 2 wedding ceremonies taking place.
  • Food: European bakeries filled with wonderful pastries, cookies and bread!! This was a huge hit for both of us. As mentioned earlier, we also experienced zapatillas (which were huge) and tapas fare sucha as: croquettes, calamari sandwiches patatas bravas and jamon (ham). Additionally, we discovered a great pizza and taco restaurants.

Overall, Madrid was a great stop! Our highlight was getting to spend time with Margarita and experiencing Spanish culture. A little foreshadowing again, but we both preferred the city of Madrid compared to Barcelona. However, we did have a once in a lifetime experience in Barcelona that we will never forget. For more on this, read on to our next blog post.



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