Before arriving in Madrid, my dear friend Trish mentioned that her sister was living there and teaching English! I knew that if Trish’s sister was anything like Trish, I would love her. As soon as I arrived, I dropped my bags at my hostel and went to meet up with Trish’s sister, Maggie at a street food festival. As soon as I met Maggie, it was as if I was hanging out with an old friend. It was so amazing to have someone here with me to help me get around the city, joke about what’s going on in the USA with Trump’s presidency and make me feel at home. The first day in Madrid was a whirlwind of a day, Maggie recommended some Spanish dishes to try at the food trucks, then we headed off to walk around the city after devouring some delish tapas. After I took a nap (since I was still a bit jet lagged) I headed to Maggie’s apartment to meet her roommates, have dinner and go out dancing with them. That night was so much fun and I realized quickly, Spain was going to be hard considering everyone only spoke Spanish and if I were lucky a little bit of English.
The next day, I headed out to explore the city with a list of Maggie’s recommendations. Since I was back in Europe I ordered some Nutella pancakes to start off my morning and headed to Plaza Mayor to see the Sunday antique market. The plaza was an awesome place to hang out, people watch for a bit and soak up the sun. For the rest of the morning, I allowed myself to walk around and get lost in the city. I ended up at the Royal Palace and the La Almudena church. I learned from Maggie that this was the church that the King and Queen got married at in 2014. The church is huge and has a stunning exterior as well as interior, for a small 1 euro donation you were able to head in and look around. I could only imagine how glamourous this wedding ceremony was. The next stop on my walking tour was to head to Casa Hernanz to buy the “trendiest shoes in Madrid”. Whenever I go to a different country I try to purchase something authentic and ship it home. When I got to this small hole-in-the-wall store, I was luckily the only person in there and had a selection of brightly colored shoes to try on. I went with the plain colors and bought 4 pairs that I shipped home later that day. The next day when I passed this small shop at 4 pm the line was down the block to purchase these shoes. I realized that people do not get up early in Madrid and that all the action happens in the afternoon so I really lucked out with going in the morning! After shipping the shoes home, I met up with Maggie and her two roommates to head to the El Parque del Buen Retiro where we enjoyed a bottle of wine, cheese and crackers. The last two days in Madrid were relaxing, filled with laughs and new friends! But of course all good things must come to an end or at least my immune system thought so. The next 2-3 days I spent in bed trying to recover from sinus infection and caught up with a lot of Netflix episodes. I must admit while I was sick in the hostel room that held 15 other people, all I wanted to do was be home in my own bed with my own bathroom with hot tea and honey but unfortunately, I still had a couple months before that would become my reality.
After finally battling my sinus infection with a lot of prescription medicine from the pharmacy (a big THANK YOU to Maggie who helped me talk to the doctors about my symptoms) I had a week left in Madrid. For the weekend I decided to head to Toledo to have a relaxing weekend away from the hectic city.
After my treacherous hike from the Toledo train station to my hostel (around 400 stairs), I arrived and was ready to explore the city for the next three days. Most people who visit Madrid go to Toledo for a day trip but after fighting my sinus infection and desperately needing some good sleep, this was the perfect escape for me. The first day I walked around and admired the small city for all its beauty, perched on top of a cliff with stunning views of the rural areas of Spain.
The next day, feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, I went to see The Cathedral, the Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes, Museo del Greco, walked around the Juderia district and got lost in the local streets. When I was walking around, watching the locals and the tourists take photos I felt as if I had been taken back into the medieval times. This city was also very unique because it is a city of 3 cultures all in one, Arabs, Jews and Christians used to live in Toledo until the Christians ran them out. While you walk around the city, there are still Jewish and Arab remains such as Jewish stars tiled up walk ways and remains of Arab architecture. My first stop was The Cathedral, the outside was extremely detailed with a story coming alive from the statues that were perched along the top of the arc. Every part of this Cathedral was stunning and mesmerizing that artists and architecture can be so detailed back in the 15th century. This Cathedral is claimed to be the most impressive building, let alone church, in the entire country and I understand why after walking around and through it. Once you head into the cathedral the alter shows the composition of Jesus’s life with so much detail! After spending an hour walking around, I decided to head to another church on the hill top, Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes. Although this church wasn’t as impressive as The Cathedral it had a different approach to the architecture with a Gothic Style to the outside of it and an Arab style on the interior. I took a quick lunch break to eat a baguette with some ham which had been my go-to since arriving in Spain. After people watching for a little bit and finishing up my sandwich with a chocolate bar (another one of my daily guilty pleasures), I decided to head towards the Juderia district which was once the city’s Jewish quarters. As you walk up the stairs or look around, you will see many colored tiles with either the Star of David, a menorah or something that represents the Jewish religion. There was also a synagogue you could visit and many stores that have souvenirs representing the Jewish culture. As you walk around the buildings and upstairs, you will see how well preserved this part of the city was in relation to where The Cathedral and restaurants were. I decided to end my day tour here and walk back to my hostel to get a good night’s sleep. Not before eating some tapas at a local restaurant and 3 glasses of wine because the wine was only $1.50 each glass (score)!
The next day, I decided to go for a run around the outskirts of the city to get an outside view of the city. With the castle walls and the stone bridge leading into the city, it was a beautiful picture and a great area to go running around. After a nice 4 mile run I felt like I had seen a totally different side of the city along a trail that ran down a river to get to the next city. That day I decided to relax and go to the Museo del Greco that hosted a lot of El Greco’s paintings. The museum was located in a small house in the Jewish quarters of the city and had an array of his paintings that he either produced while living in Toledo and also during his lifetime. It was interesting for me to almost walk in his shoes around the city and see where he got his influence from. The rest of the day I enjoyed some of the street artists music and drank plenty of delicious red wine around the city.
After catching up on some much needed rest in a quiet hostel setting, I was feeling refreshed when I got back to Madrid! The next couple of days in Madrid I spent running around the park that Maggie showed me, chasing peacocks and eating paella with Maggie. I loved my time in Spain and Maggie made me feel like home and it was so refreshing to have a friend with me to enjoy the city and laugh about everything that was going on back home. A big shout out to Maggie Reynolds for helping me communicate to everyone who spoke Spanish to me and for providing me entertainment for the 12 days I was in Spain! THANK YOU!!!!
Off to another journey in Morocco, stay tuned!