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Die Puerta de Alcalá, Bild: LucVi / shutterstock

Madrid – my second home in the south

written by Julia from Secludedtime

It’s been almost three years since I found my second home in the south of Europe. Within a very short time, Madrid has grown so close to my heart that I can hardly stand half a year without a visit to Spain’s capital. But let’s start at the beginning: How did the Madrid adventure begin? And what is it all about?
Madrid, Gran Via
The Gran Vía, shopping street in Madrid, Image: Matej Kastelic / shutterstock

In the summer of 2017, my friend Felix and I packed our seven things into boxes, emptied our apartment in Germany and stuffed everything we thought we needed into our small car. Thanks to the ERASMUS+ exchange program of our university, we had the chance to live in Spain for a year. Who can say no to something like that? We said goodbye to friends and family and a little later we were on our way to faraway places! Our small car was panting under the weight while we were looking forward to a year of summer, sun, wanderlust!

To be honest: Madrid was actually not my number one dream destination for me! I would have been more drawn to a city right by the sea, but only Madrid offered both of us an exchange place. So the desire to spend the year together defeated my longing for the sea. And I haven’t regretted this decision for a second. With the first foot I set foot in this unique city, it was over for me. I immediately and irrevocably fell in love with Spain’s underrated capital.
Salamanca, Madrid
Street in the residential neighborhood of Salamanca, Image: JJFarq / shutterstock

What makes Madrid so special? Well, where should I begin! The city is full of life, great people and unforgettable sights. We lived in the Salamanca district. There, magnificent, old buildings and ostentatious shops adorn the streetscape. There’s always something going on and as soon as you step outside the front door, tons of honking cars whiz around in front of your eyes. Even though the car noise can sometimes be a bit stressful, I have always loved the hustle and bustle. I also liked the fact that I could reach the nearest supermarket in less than three hundred meters on foot. Two streets away from our apartment there was even a shop that was open all night. Being able to shop at any time of the day – even at two o’clock in the morning – is a luxury that I have never been able to enjoy before.

El Ritiro Park, Madrid
El Ritiro Park, Image: Isa Fernandez Fernandez / shutterstock

Also just a few streets away from our apartment was the famous El Retiro Park. Madrid is a surprisingly green city, not least because of the numerous parks that characterize the cityscape. The Retiro is almost 1.5 km² in size and offers the city dwellers a lot of nature and relaxation. On a landscaped lake in the middle of the park, there is even the possibility to sail across the water in a rented boat. In addition, one of the most beautiful buildings in the city is located in El Retiro: the Glass Palace! Almost the entire façade is made of glass and so you can also see inside from the outside.

From the Retiro, it’s a short walk to the center of Madrid. And there is a lot on offer. If you like hustle and bustle and shopping, you are in good hands on Gran Via – Madrid’s shopping mile. Picturesque skyscrapers, shops for every budget and swirling crowds in between. At first I had to get used to the many people who all come together in one place, but after a certain warm-up phase I learned to love the colorful chaos, the many loud voices and all the hustle and bustle. If you don’t get along well with crowds, I recommend that you don’t visit Gran Via before ten o’clock in the evening. Most shops are not closed until ten o’clock and peace returns everywhere.
Museum fans and history buffs are also guaranteed to get their money’s worth in Madrid. With the Prado, the city is home to one of the most important art museums in the world.
Steeped in history and absolutely worth seeing are the classicist archways: Puerta de Alcalá, Puerta de San Vicente, Puerta de Toledo and Puerta de Hierro. The Puerta de Alcalá is also one of Madrid’s most important landmarks.
Plaza Mayor, Madrid
The Plaza Mayor, Image: Farbregas Hareluya / shutterstock

What else is there? A visit to Madrid without a detour to the Plaza Mayor is a serious mistake – at least that’s what I say. The name Plaza Mayor stands for Town Hall Square. Colourful houses were once built around the square and stylish restaurants await pleasure seekers under the shady arcades. The surrounding old town district is just as beautiful and in my opinion the pearl of the city. Especially in the evening hours, there is an ambience that simply takes you along. If you are hungry and looking for a cheerful restaurant, you are guaranteed to find it on one of the smaller squares.

Culinarily, Madrid is a blast anyway! I admit that I’m not necessarily a huge fan of Spanish cuisine. At least I don’t need tapas and paella every day. However, Madrid does not only offer Spanish restaurants, but simply everything your heart desires. In our Madrid year, we tested Indians, Chinese, Mexicans and many other delicious restaurants. And it always tasted wonderful! Our absolute culinary highlight, however, is and remains unrivalled the Chocolateria San Ginés. In a densely packed restaurant, you will be served the best churros in town, including dreamy hot chocolate. A poem and a must-see for your visit to Madrid!
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