Week 1 Snapshots: Toledo y Madrid

Toledo this past week has been a truly memorable experience. My classes have started and so far I enjoy all of them, and living with a host family is significantly improving my Spanish vocabulary and ability to articulate sentences. Walking up and down the steep, cobblestone roads of Toledo that wind throughout the city has taken a toll on my calves, they are becoming more toned each day. 


Because I am studying here, there has been less desire to experience touristy destinations right away. Mostly I have just spent a lot of time wandering about Toledo and trying to get completely absorbed into Spanish culture, adjusting my lifestyle to meet the demands of Spain. What does this mean? Late nights, later meals, siestas and new foods. It all has been somewhat of a shock to the system, but I am slowly getting used to all the changes. 

 

Food/Dining
First things first, one thing that has been difficult for me to get used to is the schedule of eating here in Spain. Breakfast is fairly standard, small and simple such as some juice, coffee and cereal or yogurt, satisfying to get through the morning, nothing like a big American breakfast at all but it does the trick. For awhile, anyway. Problems start to arise around 11:30 because the stomach starts to growl but the brain realizes that when in Spain, lunch isn’t until at earliest 1:30. I have managed to adapt and get used to having roaring stomach pains before having access to lunch, and not only has it become tolerable but it seems to make much more sense to wait until starving to eat a big meal.
Lunch is the biggest meal of the day here in Spain, Toledo is no exception. Salads, bread, big entrees (typically meat) and various sides (generally rice dishes or potatoes or pasta) all come together to satisfy the starving study abroad student. I have really started to enjoy this aspect of living in Spain, eating big, complex meals midday to keep myself fueled and ready to go instead of just eating a sandwich or something light. It makes more sense to me in terms of calories to eat more when there is still daylight to burn, things to do and see.
 
Dinner has been the hardest to adapt to and plan my day around. After stuffing myself at lunch, finishing classes and typically snoozing for a bit, I generally don’t get hungry again until 8. This wouldn’t be a problem, except in Spain dinner isn’t usually served until at least 10pm. 
10pm?!?! That is so absurd to me and I am still getting used to it. In the United States most restaurants CLOSE at 10pm, here in Spain, that’s when things start going. I am generally starving once again by dinner, because it seems to me that snacking isn’t really a thing here, meals are what you eat and between them not much is consumed unless one goes out to enjoy tapas before dinner. 
 
Speaking of tapas, this past Friday I was very fortunate to be in Madrid at the same time as my friends parents, and I met up with them for dinner. We first ate tapas at Mercado de San Miguel near Plaza Mayor and then ate dinner. It was wonderful to see them.
 
Gran Via in Madrid

 

Going out/Nightlife
 
Toledo is a very touristy town, it attracts visitors from all over Spain and the world, especially now for the summer. There are several clubs/discotecas in Toledo and many bars to pass the evening at, and just like with their meal habits, the Spanish go out to start their evenings much later than what I’m used to in Minnesota. 
 
So far the majority of my evenings have been spent at Dragos, a cute little bar just down a narrow street from plaza de Zocodover in Toledo. The owner Jesús is an extremely nice man who encourages us to only speak Spanish while in his bar. Tinto de Verano has become my new favorite drink, red wine with an effervescent sour/soda mix and black vodka. We have also indulged in some chupitos fuegos, flaming shots. 

 

 
On Friday in Madrid we stayed at Cats Hostel, a beautiful, well run hostel centrally located near plaza mayor and Kapital, a well revered nightclub many from my program were excited to experience. I’m not big on nightclubs personally, but the club is huge and very famous, so for the experience I kept an open mind. 

 

It was a fiesta loca! It was a very exciting and fun party experience even for someone who is not so partial to night clubs. The drinks were ridiculously expensive but with the 16 euro cover we received 2 included drinks, and fortunately planned ahead and started drinking long before we got to the club. 

We stayed out until about 4:30AM and then headed back to the hostel, the party was still going strong at all the clubs at this hour. People in Spain truly party into the morning. 

Overall the first full week in Toledo was really enjoyable.It was pretty hectic and bustling, as it was Corpus Christi week, a major religious holiday that is celebrated here in Toledo. Residents from all over Spain come this week to take part or view the festivities, which made it even more flooded with tourists.  It has been somewhat of a major lifestyle adjustment, but it is going well for me so far. Here are more pictures from the first week of adventure

Street decorations for Corpus Christi

 

Vivá Madrid!

Madrid is a beautiful city that is a great place to visit, especially if you are interested in Spanish and potentially studying abroad there.  It is almost smack dab in the middle of Spain, and access to surrounding areas (Barcelona, Malaga, Seville etc) are fairly accessible and close by a train or flight.

MADRID
1. Where to Stay

Hostal Salamanca: (José Ortega y Gasset 89) This hostal is perfect for groups traveling with people who would not be considered “youth” in Europe (over the age of 26). Our room when we stayed there with my mom, aunt and my friend Jenna had 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a living area with a fridge, all for about 50 euro a night. Definitely not a bad deal.

Students Hostel Luis Velez: (Calle Luis Velez de Guevara)  My friend Laura and I stayed at this hostel for the two nights we ended up staying in Madrid on a separate trip, and it is a really nice hostel for location as Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor are only a short walk away, but be warned, it is a bit of a hike (uphill) from the train station, so if you arrive from there be prepared to walk or maybe even take a taxi, depending on how much luggage you have.  This hostel is very accommodating and has a nice staff with clean rooms and bedrooms, great place to check out if you’re under 26!

 
2. Things to DO! 
 – Reina Sofia: Modern art is definitely not my favorite thing in the world, in fact I think it is quite strange and difficult to appreciate, but the Reina Sofia is a fun place to spend a few hours, especially because it is free for college students, so be sure to bring your ID. Not having to pay admission gets rid of the guilt of leaving after not seeing all the eclectic exhibits, as this is definitely not the museum for everyone to enjoy and appreciate.  There are many famous modern art works here, in particular the famous Picasso piece “Guernica,” a large mural depicting Picasso’s interpretation of the Spanish Civil war.  Interesting sculptures and rooms playing various artsy videos and sometimes documentaries, as well as a variety of photography and paintings.

– Museo de Prado: The Prado is an internationally renowned art museum, and a must-see if you are staying in Madrid. It hosts one of the most impressive art collections in all of Europe and is definitely a place to spend several hours or even a whole day exploring the various exhibits.  There is obviously a strong influence of works by Spanish artists, but works from all over Europe debut in this lovely museum.

– Palacio Cibeles: A major Madrid landmark and a great place to get a view of the entire city is the Palacio Cibeles.  It is in the city center, and for a small fee of about 2 euros, one can go to the very top observation deck for 30 minutes to take pictures and see the sights from above.  Definitely a must see as it provides a great panoramic of the city and is an inexpensive activity.  Sunset provides beautiful views and a great visual of the city of Madrid 🙂
– Retiro Park and Botanical Gardens: If you go to Spain in the spring or summer months, Retiro park and the Botanical gardens are a must see.  An absolutely beautiful spread of intricate landscaping and beautiful sculptures, in particular the monument to Alfonso XII which sits at the head of the lake in the middle of the park, on which you can rent paddle boats to enjoy a sunny afternoon.



– Puerta del Sol: Located in the heart of Madrid, Puerta del Sol is a great place to explore during the day or night, to check out the restaurants and shopping in the area and take pictures of the various monuments and buildings surrounding it. It’s always a bustling part of the city, be aware of pickpockets in this area.  As long as you stay alert and keep your belongings close, no need to worry. Definitely a highlight of Madrid and is within a close walking distance of many other attractions of the city.

– Plaza Mayor: Being the central Plaza of the city of Madrid, Plaza Mayor serves not only as a space for municipal and other government affairs, but also hosts a variety of tourist shops and restaurants.  A large statue of King Philip III stands in the middle, and various street performers mill the streets looking to make a quick buck in this area. Definitely a central highlight worthy of walking around, and a great location to get tacky souvenirs for friends and family back home.

 

– Palacio Real: The Royal Palace of Madrid, no longer in use for “royalty” except for state ceremonies, is the 2nd largest palace in Europe, and definitely one worth checking out while in Madrid. I would recommend getting the headset, as it is very informative and helps you e.g.
 
 

– Mercado San Miguel: Located in Plaza de San Miguel, Mercado de San Miguel is a popular tourist destination to check out the local food fare and walk through the wide variety of vendors.  It is in close proximity to Plaza mayor and a nice place to walk through and purchase fresh produce if you so desire




3. Places to Eat

Montaditos

Montaditos literally means “little sandwiches” and to try a variety of Spanish style sandwiches, Montaditos is definitely the place to go.  It is a chain restaurant, so it’s easy to stumble upon several locations throughout Madrid. With prices from as low as 1 euro, you can try a variety of little tapa sandwiches. My personal favorites are lacón (American-style ham) with cream cheese, Iberian ham with brie, and the iberian ham with tomatoes.  All are very delicious and inexpensive.  Another great thing about Montaditos is that they also serve their sangria by the mug, which is more convenient if you don’t want to order a whole pitcher.  They also have great salads here, my friend and I loved the caesar as it was a nice touch of being back in the states after two weeks of eating European food.

 

Museo del Jamón

Another chain bar with scattered locations throughout Madrid is Museo del Jamón, or “Museum of Ham.” A comical name that is extremely accurate, as cured pig legs line the walls and ceiling, covering every square inch of free space.  Museo del Jamón is a fun place to go, one of those “gotta try it” places since it is pretty signature to Madrid. Yummy little ham sandwiches and good beer make it a great place to stop for a quick bite to eat.

 

Carmencita Bar: Located at Calle San Vicente Ferrer, Carmencitas is a charming restaurant to stop in for gourmet tapas and wine.  Definitely a bit more upscale, but well worth the stop.  It is owned by a lovely woman from Arizona (a nice change to talk with someone who speaks perfect English, if your Spanish is less than fluent).  She made us an awesome variety of tapas, my persona favorite was a toast with brie and a raspberry spread. Absolutely delicious, more than worth a stop.

 

Chocolateria San Gines

A typical Spanish dessert is “churros and chocolate,” cinnamon pastry sticks and a thick, gooey chocolate for dipping, and when coupled with sangria, it makes a great late night snack or a pre-drinking pleasure.  Chocolateria San Gines, located at Pasadizo de San Ginés is a great place to stop for them, as it has a nice atmosphere and is perfect for sitting outside (weather permitting)

 


Mesón del Champinon


Mesón del Champinon, or the mushroom bar, is a famous tapas bar in Madrid.  Located at Calle Cava de San Miguel, this is a great place to stop, have a pitcher of sangria and try their awesome mushroom based or other tapas.  Pictured below is their sausage stuff mushrooms, definitely a plate to share.  I would recommend ordering a variety of the mushroom and other dishes to share with a group, but for sure try the sausage (chorizo) stuffed mushrooms, which are sauteed in garlic to order. YUM!

That’s all for now folks! Hope you enjoyed it and found some useful information for a future trip you may be planning to visit Madrid! Special Thanks to my friends Jenna Pysick and Laura Medcalf for letting me use their pictures for this blog post 🙂

 

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