I love your €1 bocadillos, endless tapas and cervesa, Madrid, but I’m struggling to keep right on the escalator! September 12-17

28 Sep

It’s 1 pm and a vocal buzz perforates traffic noise from Carrera San Jeronimo, flowing onto the footpath outside Museo de Jamon, one of Madrid’s many stand-up Tapas bars. There are signs on the windows and doors advertising €1 bocadillo (bread roll with filling) or bebidas (drink), an insanely good price that is snatched up by what appears to be the City’s entire population, which is literally bursting out of the bar’s doorways into the cloying inland heat of the day.
€1 Bocadillo or beer at Museo del Jamon

20121003-003553.jpg Museo del Jamon

After a couple of days practise at this typical lunchtime rush, it becomes clear that if you can think quickly, talk quickly and move quickly, you will get along just fine in Madrid. We have been here for a few days and in Ibiza for 10 days prior, so we are primed in the language and custom of ordering a meal in Spanish, but getting fed and watered in this cacophonous meat market requires the mettle only a cash-strapped and starving backpacker knows. More than 100 patrons are packed four-deep to the narrow stainless steel bar that runs around the length of the small shop on the corner of Madrid’s famous eat-street Calle Victoria, laughing, chattering, devouring food at speed and tossing napkins and crusts of bread onto the floor.
Lunchtime rush at Museo del Jamon

If you can get close enough to the glass and plate-cluttered bar to be heard and for your cringingly pitiful Spanish to be understood, then you should come away with an unbuttered crusty bread roll with cheese, ham or chorizo slapped inside it and a half-pint glass of ice-cold Estrella or San Miguel beer for €2. So, if not for the spectacle, the price makes the ordeal worth it.

Tapas, which has recently found popularity in other parts of the world, including Australia, is one of the reasons that I cannot stop talking about Madrid. Less about the food (although it is delicious!!) and more about a culture of sharing and enjoyment, I think Tapas speaks loudly in encapsulating the Spanish ethos.

Madrid, particularly the central barrios (neighbourhood) of Sol, where we stayed, is absolutely chock-full of tapas bars, restaurants and cafeterias, mainly small and family run. We ate out a lot and drank a lot in Madrid – it’s fairly cheap, the food is to die for and beer and Sangria is cheaper than water. Chorizo and Patatas Bravas are recurring favourites and we noticed the locals ate a lot of bite-sized empanadas, which look like small pasties, green olives and deep-fried cheese and ham-filled croquettes.

One afternoon, for about €12, we bar hopped on a Sandeman’s New Europe ‘Tapas Tour.’ we met some really cool people and tasted a variety of traditional tapas foods, including tripe stew! (Sandeman’s is a really great tour company, we’ve also done a few walking tours with them and they’re fun and informative.)
A plate of Tapas from our Tapas tour

Now, back at the beginning, a little worse for wear, but better than expected, we flew into Madrid from Ibiza on another surprisingly good Ryanair flight (highlights included watching other passengers get busted for oversize hand luggage). I thought Madrid might give us a few days rest, but how wrong I was!

Like Ibiza, Madrid does not sleep. Shops open around 7 am, after the party has finished around 5 am… every night of the week.
Central Madrid by night

I was going to recall the ridiculous hour plus trek we made to find our hostel, Barbieri Sol, amongst Madrid’s winding alleys, but a tale of stupidity and lethargy would only ruin the story of a city so, well, perfect.

Madrid is a decent sized city, but you would never know it. There are no skyscrapers piercing holes into its’ historically rich skyline casting cold and looming shadows on taut-faced business people (Well, they are limited to one district). In fact, midweek, not even a suit can be found in its’ central parts – though there many very stylish women! Madrid did not feel like any city I have ever been in. It is intense, vibrant and non-stop, but for a large, modern European hub, Madrid is remarkably warm, inviting and homely, even for the foreigner.
Madrid’s buzzing streets

One of the many street performers we passed by each day

The City is divided into 21 unique districts and unfortunately we didn’t get to visit them all.
Sol, the namesake of our awesome hostel Barbieri Sol, is in the district Centro, best known for the busy Sol metro station and corresponding Puerta del Sol public square.
Puerta del Sol on a sunny Autumn day

Our landmark to get ‘home’ – Sol metro station

We rowed boats on the lake (€4.50 for 40 minutes) and watched rollerbladers in Retiro, home of the beautiful Retiro Park, took in some culture at the Reina Sofia Museum in Atocha, Arganzuela, mingled with dense crowds at the neverendingly huge El Rastro flea market in Latina and witnessed the slaughter of six bulls during the weekly Sunday bull fight at Las Ventas bullring in Ciudad Lineal, the ethics of which I won’t go into during this post.
We also ate a standout meal of succulent Cabrito Lechal (baby goat), downed burgers and Budweiser, American-style at Tommy Mel’s diner and indulged in our first ever ‘chocolate and churros’ at Chocolateria San Gines, which is open 24 hours!
Rowing on the lake in Retiro Park

The leafy Avenida de Mexico in Retiro Park

El Rastro flea market, Sundays in Latina neighbourhood

Before the bullfight at the beleaguered Las Ventas bullring

Alhomora restaurant on Calle Victoria – serves a mean (and massive) leg of goat dish

Tommy Mel’s Diner – if you need a break from Spanish cuisine, this place is fab

All American- burger, chilli fries and Budweiser

Chocolate, churros and coffee at San Gines Chocolateria

Madrid has been the standout City for us so far on this trip. Madrid’s Metro system is beautifully functional (the best in the world?) and sometimes quite beautiful and, albeit loud, positioned in the middle of Calle Victoria, our hostel was lovely, made even more so by the very kind and helpful staffer Sofia. We did have to move hostel for our last night in Madrid, to the old, dark and ghost-like Hostal Naranco, on the other side of Gran Via -a far cry from the fun at Barbieri Sol.
An underground art gallery at one Metro station…

… and this characteristically Spanish and fun mosaic at Retiro station

I ended up shipping 7 kilograms of stuff back to Perth, which cost €50 and should take about 8 weeks. And yes, Nic did say ‘I told you so.’ But, the hair straightener stayed and is being well used, I’m pleased to say, however my gold sequin hot pants got shoved into a green cardboard box at the Correos (post office) on the third floor of the maze that is Il Cortes Ingles department store, along with an assortment of other impractical items. Literally and figuratively though, it was a weight off my shoulders.

Besides still looking the wrong way for cars coming down the road, we found our feet quite quickly and easily in Madrid, even eventually mastering right-hand-side escalator and stair walking etiquette, which was quite surprising and amusing on our arrival.

Hostal Barbieri del Sol, Calle Victoria 6


Perfectly central location, close to the best food in Madrid and 2 minutes walk from the Metro. We had a shower and sink in out private room, but the toilets were shared and they were super clean and nice. The free continental breakfast is nice and all of the staff were very friendly and helpful. Wifi is free.


Very very loud at night, given that it is situated atop a street of bars. Earplugs a must and even then, don’t expect to sleep much.
Nic relaxing with the hostel cats over dinner on the terrace at Barbieri Sol hostel

Naranco hostal, Calle Pueblo, 6


It was cheap? And available. It was also clean and the owner is a nice lady in her 50’s, but she cannot speak a word of English. Wifi is free.


The hostel is dark 24/7, which is a bit spooky. It’s also not in the best part of town and a bit of a trek to civilisation.
The entrance to Hostal Naranco – it wasn’t that bad, but, you get the idea

In the air: 22 hours.
Total travelling including flights, buses, airport time: About 43 hours.


One Response to “I love your €1 bocadillos, endless tapas and cervesa, Madrid, but I’m struggling to keep right on the escalator! September 12-17”

  1. bonziburns September 28, 2012 at 8:28 am #

    Great read Lyndsey, making me jealous reading it on the bus in to work.

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