November seemed like a good time to revisit Europe. I hadn’t been across the pond since I studied abroad in college, and I had a three-day weekend coming up so I looked up flights. The cheapest destinations were to Manchester, Vienna, and Madrid.
I chose Madrid.
After attempting to reach out to the few people I knew in Madrid, it seemed everyone was either out of town or avoiding me. So I found an inexpensive but decent hostel near Plaza del Sol and set off in search of a weekend adventure.
On the overnight flight I sipped my Merlot (the only time I’ll willingly drink Merlot is on planes) and pondered what I’d like to accomplish during my visit. Perhaps the high altitude was getting the better of me, but the only thing I could think of was: Eat a churro.
Arriving around dawn to a crowd of Justin Bieber fans screaming in anticipation of his arrival (apparently Mr. Bieber was on my flight, but he must have been in first class because I somehow missed my chance at a sighting), I was groggy but excited. I’m in Spain for the first time in ten years!
As I dragged my carryon across the polished airport floor, I looked up to see thousands of round white lights shining down on me like a scene from Close Encounters of a Third Kind.
It was too early for churros, but just in time to get a taste of what Madrid had to offer.
After checking into the hostel (Good news: it’s clean! Bad news: I’m bunk mates with a girl who smells like cheese and never leaves the room), I followed the desk clerk’s advice and went in search of lunch at the Mercado de San Miguel.
Holy smokes, was this place awesome!
I’m learning that markets are quickly becoming my favorite destinations while traveling. Completely packed with people (doesn’t anyone work around here?) and buzzing with energy (or is that from the Tempranillo?), this market became my place of refuge throughout the trip. I settled on the tastiest cherries I had ever encountered, fresh spinach and mushroom empanadas, and a glass of wine. It’s 5:00pm somewhere. And that’s when I saw it:
My first Spanish Churro.
I’m not one to turn down sweets, and these churros were paired with melted chocolate. So tempting. But I wanted to get going with my sightseeing, and I knew this churro (or rather a churro) would still be here later, so with a silent vow to return, I was on my way.
I walked from the market through the cobblestone Plaza Mayor. I watched the sun peek behind Catedral de la Almudena and marveled at the Plaza de la Armeria.
Exhausted, I headed back to the hostel in hopes of a restful night.
But this was Madrid. And I was staying in a hostel. Which meant one thing:
No rest for the weary.
Within five minutes of setting down my purse, I was convinced to go on a Tapas Tour. But we had to leave at that moment. In fact, we were already late.
Not one to miss out on the fun, I agreed to go even though I knew as a vegetarian I wouldn’t be able to consume 80% of the tapas on the menu.
Ironically, the tour was not led by a Spanish person. (This also became a trend: the people who owned and ran the hostel were Argentinian and I met more Australians and Americans on the trip than anyone else). Instead, a scruffy yet oddly charming Australian (see!) named Jeremiah took us out for a night on the town. The tour actually deserves a blog post of it’s own, but there’s one important detail to share here:
On the tour we returned to the Mercado de San Miguel. Seeing the market at night was even more enthralling. And after a night of salty tapas and sweet sangria (also part of the tour) my newfound friend Elena and I decided to try some pastries. Halfway thru mine I looked up and caught a glance of the churro station. Suddenly hit with a wave of guilt for having chosen a meringue over a beloved stick of fried dough sprinkled with sugar and dipped in chocolate, I pulled out my Euros to buy one. But my efforts were thwarted by Jeremiah insisting it was time for the next location. And the next. And the next….
Cut to: Morning sunshine peering in through the (Spanish) French doors while I convince myself that the perfect cure for a hangover would be to visit museums and to finally eat my beloved churro. With Elena and her boyfriend Bill in tow (and equally hung over) it was off to breakfast and COFFEE we went.
Feeling slightly more human after eggs and caffeine, we wandered through the massive halls of the Mueseo del Prado. The Goya Room felt like something out of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, Velazquez’s La Familia de Felipe IV was far bigger and more impressive than I had expected, and I found myself with a sudden urge to learn about Queen Joanna the Mad of Castille after viewing her as the subject of several paintings.
Leaving the museum, one thing was certain: It was coffee break time. Again. Since it was a beautiful sunny day we perched ourselves at the only remaining table at the outside Cafe Lavazza. I thought about asking the server if they sold churros, but after waiting 45 minutes for service, I decided to keep it simple and order our cheesecake and cappuccinos and leave it at that.
With our blood sugar at alarmingly high levels we soldiered on to the Museo Reina Sofia. Not a huge fan of modern art myself, I was along for the ride since Elena proved extremely knowledgeable on the subject. After an hour or so went in search for dinner, since they had a flight that night back to London. Note: It wasn’t until I got back to the hostel that I found out there was an entire second floor of the museum housing the likes of Picasso’s Guernica. Sigh. Next time.
Second to my goal of consuming a churro, was the consuming of Paella. Fortunately, Elena and Bill were extremely accommodating and agreed to partake in the search for their last meal in the city. Well, Elena went along with it, while Bill ate a steak. We stuffed our faces and practically ran back to the hostel so they could get their bags and I could get some rest.
Within five minutes of their departure, an Australian named Kate (Aussies were everywhere!) whom I had met on the tapas tour decided that instead of sleeping, a much better plan would be going out dancing with the rest of the hostel. So we quickly changed clothes and left with twenty other people to do some bailando.
Cut to: Morning sunshine peering in through the (Spanish) French doors while I convince myself that the perfect cure for a hangover would be to walk around all of Madrid. I filled my stomach with a pastry and coffee at the famous and frenetic La Mallorquina, got stuck in the crowds at El Rastro Sunday Flea Market, and wandered aimlessly with camera in hand.
And after getting lost for the 150th time, I decided to head back to the hostel to finally get some rest before flying back to NYC in time for a 3:30am call time for work.
It wasn’t until I was on the plane that it hit me: I’d been so busy being in the spur of the moment, that I forgot to do the one thing I’d planned on: Eat that damned churro.
My 48 hours in Madrid still tasted sweet.
Now it’s your turn! Have you ever had a trip be more than you expected? I’d love to hear your story in the comments below.