I passed a lovely few days in Madrid. It's not necessarily the most exciting city, but it is kind of lovely: clean, well-run, very lush and green, beautiful architecture, good museums, and parks everywhere. I really enjoyed my time there. I did a huge amount of walking and exploring and getting a little lost in the winding streets.
My hostel was in a quiet neighbourhood that felt peaceful, away from the hustle and bustle of the touristy downtown areas. The mornings were on the cool side, so I was able to explore the city a bit more by going for runs most of the mornings I was there.
Madrid is home to some awesome things. I particularly loved all their green spaces: the botanical gardens with its tropical greenhouse, the Parc de Retiro with its beautiful pond and “Crystal Palace” (which looks like a giant greenhouse minus the plants), and the main train station which literally is an enormous greenhouse full of tropical plants and home to a bunch of turtles! The city is also awesome about making their museums accessible to everyone: they are usually free in the evenings for the last few opening hours. I was able to see major works of art at the Prado museum and the entire Salvador Dali exhibit at the Reine Sofia for free, which is wonderful.
I had some cool food experiences in Madrid as well. It was my first time trying chocolate and churros, and we went to the most famous place in Madrid which happily is not even touristy. They are so generous with their servings – 6 huge churros and a big cup of dark, thick chocolate per order – and it's all so delicious, not too sweet, just perfect. I also tried paella for the first time and it won't be the last, I loved the texture. We also sought out a bar that is still serving tapas the old fashioned way: when you order a drink, you get a free (and generous I might add) plate of tapas, usually fries and little sandwiches with meat or cheese. For 5 euros, I got two delicious glasses of cider and enough to eat for dinner! Best deal going. On my last day in Madrid, I took a trip to Toledo, and we found a bar that did the same thing there as well. Score!
Toledo was very, very hot but a beautiful old town as well. We saw the huge, impressive cathedral, had a long lunch and wandered through the old streets. It was a good little day trip.
- El Estragon Vegetariano: a sweet and delicious little vegetarian place in a quiet, pretty neighbourhood. I had the lunch menu which included a starter, main, dessert, bread and water for 12 euros and it felt almost wrong because the food was so incredible and so generous. I had a salad whose dressing I would do anything to acquire the recipe for, a delicious rice bowl with fried eggs, and poached pears in dark chocolate sauce. It was amazing, I had a long lunch, read my book, and was happy.
- El Tigre: the tapas bar I was raving about that serves cheap drinks with free tapas. It's a bit of a madhouse inside, and there are no seats, but it's such a fun local atmosphere.