My Experience As A Solo Traveller In Madrid

Sunday, 22 April 2018

I finally reunited with my travel buddy yesterday after five days of wandering around the Spanish capital on my own. First of all, I never thought that I could easily find my way in Madrid considering my ridiculously poor sense of direction. Well actually, my previous trips to Madrid probably helped, although I can only remember the places that I went to but not how to get there. Luckily, citymapper works in Madrid so it saved me (although not totally) from getting lost. So, on Monday morning after J and I stuffed ourselves with pastries and delicious cured meats, I geared up for my solo adventure.

My first stop was at The Almudena Cathedral, approximately 15-minute walk from Central Madrid and located just beside the Palacio Real de Madrid. It has become my tradition to visit at least a church when I travel. I chose Almudena because I saw photos of its ornate ceiling on instagram and I was intrigued. So, after giving my thanks to the Lord (yes I did), I looked up and was amazed by the geometrical artwork on the ceiling. The church is new and was only consecrated in 1993. I spent almost an hour inside the church admiring the ceiling, the golden altar, the pipe organ which was also stunning and the gothic-style columns. 
Cathedral de Santa Maria la Real de la Almudena
Calle Bailen 10, 28013 Madrid  Spain

I was getting lost in the beauty of the church when I realised it was time to move on. I made my way to Mercado San Miguel, a foodie haven where you can find just about anything you want to eat in Madrid- tapas, ham, cheese, pastries, baked goods, canned foods, etc. It was still closed when I got there so I went for a little walk around the area to keep warm as it was a bit chilly that day. The market opened at 10am and already, it was packed with locals and tourists alike. It was as I remembered it- busy and full of mouth-watering food and meticulously arranged fruits and vegetables. I decided not to eat there this time because I wanted to eat churros.

Less than 5-minute walk from Mercado San Miguel is the most famous and oldest (it opened in 1894) chocolate shop in Madrid- Chocolateria San Gines. When I arrived, there was already a long queue (it's open 24 hours) but it didn't take long before I was seated. They have a ticketing system which is very efficient in my opinion, and they mainly serve churros and chocolate. When my crispy-looking churros and perfectly thick chocolate came, I was in heaven. Definitely the most delicious churros I have ever tasted. The churros were crunchy and not oily, and the chocolate was deliciously sweet.
Chocolateria San Gines
Pasadizo San Gines, 5, 28013 Madrid Spain

Still in churros heaven, I walked back to our hotel for an afternoon nap. When I woke up, I hung out in the balcony and read my book until it was time to meet up with J. We went to dinner with his colleagues that evening.

The following day, I visited Templo de Debod, an ancient Egyptian temple. My memory of this place was a blur. I had no memory of how I got their last time, so I followed a group of school kids and that led me to a hill overlooking the city and the Almudena Cathedral. When I walked further up, the temple revealed itself to me. I enjoyed taking photos of the mirrored images, but what I was very pleased about was the fact that I learned how to do a proper selfie that day. :)
Templo de Debod
Paseo de Rosales, Madrid Spain

Happy that I learned a new skill, I passed by Plaza Mayor on my way to Calle Miguel Servet. Here's the story: I know that I may have missed the beautiful cherry blossoms in London (Regent's Park and St James's Park), and so I tried my luck in Madrid. I read somewhere that apparently, Calle Miguel Servet has a line of cherry blossoms. I walked almost half an hour away from central Madrid, through what I could only assume as the rougher part of the city. As the streets were getting quieter, I became more and more insecure. It dawned on me that I was the only tourist-looking person in the neighbourhood. Walking through that long stretched of very unfamiliar street, I feared that I could get mugged on broad daylight. I continued to walk anxiously until I finally saw the street that I was looking for. But I realised I was late. Perhaps, too late because all that greeted me was this:

No cherry blossoms sadly. I didn't bother to explore the area anymore so I went back to Plaza Mayor to have lunch. Now, in Plaza Mayor, it's always hard to identify which restaurant is a tourist trap or not. So, I consulted theculturetrip.com  and they recommended Cerveceria Eboli for their Galician-style octopus. I devoured my octopus al fresco while listening to a couple of performers playing "I did it my way" and people-watching at the same time. My day couldn't have been any better than that.
Cerveceria Eboli
Plaza Mayor 4, 28012 Madrid

On the third day, I decided to visit Retiro Park. I walked through Gran Via, apparently the street that never sleeps. It's one of the busiest streets in Madrid, filled with cinemas, cafes, bars, nightclubs, retail shops and theatres. After about 1.7km walk, I finally hit Puerta de Alcala.

Retiro Park's entrance is adjacent to Puerta de Alcala. A few metres away from the entrance is the lake where you can find the statue of Alfonso XII (King of Spain from 1874-1885). I was still hoping that somehow I would see some blossoms in the park but unfortunately didn't. I remembered the sculptured cypress trees in the park, so I went to look for that instead.
Retiro Park
Plaza de la Independencia, 7, 28001 Madrid

By this time, I thought I have explored Madrid enough to say that I have really experienced the city. I very much enjoyed walking through the tiny streets before the shops were opened. Surprisingly, Madrid has been quite chilly in the mornings even when the sun was up. I stopped at every tapas restaurant that looked appealing to me. In the end, I was overwhelmed by how much tapas and jamon were on offer that I decided to stick with my  own "list of restaurants to try in Madrid".

On my fourth day as a solo traveller wannabe, I was contemplating whether to go for another long walk or to lounge in the hotel balcony instead so I could finish my book. In the end, I thought I might as well take that 45 minute walk to pay respect to our Philippine National Hero- The Gat Jose Rizal.

So, off I went to Avenida de Filipinas to find the statue. The area was unsurprisingly quiet. In fact, I was the only tourist in the area at that time. And when I asked someone to take a photo of me with the statue, she gave me that "seriously?" look and a sarcastic chuckle. I didn't care as I know I probably won't see her again. Besides, she took my photo anyway so what have I got to lose, right?

After that very long walk, I decided to treat myself to one of the best paellas in Madrid (apparently)- Rosi La Loca Taberna. It was my second attempt to eat at the restaurant actually, and I wasn't disappointed. The guy who greeted me at the door spoke to me in Spanish despite telling him that "hablo poco Espanol". I kept hearing him say, "guapa and hermosa", while looking at me from head to toe. It was only when he asked me if I was alone (solo) in Madrid that I realised I was probably being chatted up. I confidently said I was with my husband but he was in a meeting so he couldn't join me for lunch. His face dropped then gave me the menu instead. Lol.

Anyway, their paella was indeed the best paella I've had in Spain so far. Not that I have been to many places in Spain but I had some in  Madrid already before and then in Barcelona and Toledo, but they were not as good. I would definitely recommend the restaurant to anyone who is looking for a good paella in Madrid.
Rosi La Loca Taberna
Calle Cadiz 4, 28012 Madrid

Before I went back to our hotel that afternoon, I dropped by Antigua Casa Talavera in Calle Isabel La Catolica, a store with a massive collection of handmade ceramic plates, saucers, bowls, cups, jars, tiles and a lot more. I had to ring the bell to be let in. The door was opened by the lovely owner who gave me a brief history of the store. Apparently, he and his wife are the fourth generation to take over the shop. Their products are handmade, from Toledo (not the city he said) and Talavera. At the bottom of some of the products are handwritten names of the family who created them. I was in awe. I wanted to buy one of the plates but I almost choked when I asked for the price. For a standard plate, it was £120 a piece. The owner then said that I had a good taste. I settled with that compliment because I couldn't afford the plate. Haha. I left the store with a £10 bowl (a small one) and a hope that one day, I will be able to go back and buy that beautifully crafted plate. :)

On Friday (my last day as a solo-traveller),I didn't have a plan as such because I thought I have already done everything that I wanted to do in Madrid. I still went for a walk in the morning though, and went back to Calle Mayor, another main road in Madrid. After which, I went back to the hotel to meet up with J and move our luggage to another hotel nearby. For lunch, I went to La Casa del Abuelo. The restaurant was recommended to me by J's boss. He said I must have the sizzling Gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp). Reviews were very good to be fair, but because I know how to cook garlic shrimp, I was expecting more. I was not that impressed to be honest. Not to say that I cook it better (perhaps I do), but the shrimps were swimming in butter. It was tasty but it was lacking something. Perhaps it would have been better if it was less buttery?
La Casa del Abuelo
Calle de la Victoria, 12, 28012 Madrid

My adventure as a solo-traveller ended with a bubble tea from a popular cafe in Gran Via called Wowble. It was nothing special but the bubbles were interesting as they popped inside my mouth. They were not the bubbles (or tapioca) I am used to really, but it was good enough to satisfy my cravings.

So, I guess it has been a successful solo travel for me. Maybe not quite a solo travel really as I am technically with J, but I am happy that I was able to explore Madrid on my own and made new memories with myself and then today, with J. I particularly enjoyed my morning leisurely walks. I might have had one too many tapas as I feel like I have gained at least 5 kilos in the last five days, but I am happy because I got to eat some really nice food.

I also learned a few lessons during those five days which I will be writing about separately in the next few days.

TIN x


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