Madrid, Spain

March 2018

Cost
  • Train ticket from Barcelona to Madrid: $100
  • Food/sightseeing/transportation ~ $300
  • Total for 7 days ~ $400
  • Total for 2 weeks in Spain ~ $2,333
Highlights
  • Madrid’s Snow Zone (indoor snowboarding)
  • Primark
  • Palace of Madrid
Parque Dalieda de San Francisco, the park overlooks the city.
After seeing Barcelona for the week, I hopped on the train to Madrid, which was only 2 hours away. The train station from Barcelona was really easy, and all I needed to do was go through a mini security check before boarding.
Mercado de San Miguel had yummy treats, wine and tapas of all kinds, including oysters.

It was smooth sailing to Madrid. I whipped out my laptop on the seat tray and was ready to get some work done, until suddenly…

The stench of 5 homeless San Francisco bums

An old neighborhood near Retiro Park in Madrid.

A certain smelly passenger walked in, and the tiny whoosh of air that followed him practically made me gag and eyes water. He smelled like he had rolled around in week-old garbage with dead animals in it. Sour. Rotten. Wrong. I could not believe how badly he smelled.

The part that surprised me most was that he was kind of dressed nicely. His odor did not match his outfit, and it threw me through a loop. He was decked out in a button down shirt and nice jeans and had a backpack on, without a care in the world and apparently without a clue that he stunk up the entire car.

The guy was from India, and he sat in the seat in diagonal from me. It’s one thing to have some B-O, ok fine, you forgot to shower, but this was on another level.

Every time someone walked past our section — the nice lady pushing the cart of snacks, other passengers — would cause the stench to redistribute. It was awful. I wrapped my scarf around my nose and mouth, and tried my best to ignore it.

The only silver lining I saw from this situation was knowing I wasn’t the poor guy sitting next to him.

Madrid vs Barthelona (as the locals say it)

Gran via is a popular shopping destination.

Madrid was stunning. Just like Barcelona, you’re immediately greeted by historical architecture all around you. I just could not get used to the fact that this is what Spaniards get to see every day. If I were from Spain, I’d think places in the U.S. like San Francisco and L.A. were boring.

This plaza was steps away from the San Miguel Market.

Besides day one, it rained the entire time I was there, and it even snowed one day. The snow didn’t stick, but it was freezing, probably in the mid 30s.

Peaceful pond inside Buen Retiro Park

I kept thinking how much snow the nearby mountains were getting. Madrid has a ski resort close by, but the one bus service wasn’t running this season, so the only way to get up there is to drive.

Disappointed once again, so I decided if I couldn’t get to the mountain, I’d go try the next best thing…

Indoor Boarding: Xandau!

The entrance to Xanadu.

During my epic layover in Frankfurt, Google pointed me to an indoor ski center called Snow Zone, outside of Madrid. I scoured TripAdvisor and researched more than I normally would, just to see if it would be worth the 1.5-hour trip out there.

I decided I had to do this, since there’s nothing like this in the Bay. I took two trains and a bus to get there, but I made it. It cost 39 euros for 4 hours on the slope. Singular. One slope.

Renting my jacket, pants, boots, helmet, and gloves

I’m feeling good, on the “top” of the hill.

The equipment rental process was definitely an experience. The rental employees are lightening fast, sizing you up and grabbing your jacket, snow pants, boots and board. I got all my gear in less than five minutes.

I was given a blue outfit that basically made me look like I worked there. My jacket and pants didn’t even have pockets, and the jacket had a tiny, crummy zipper that barely zipped up.

The helmet came with a hair net, in case I wanted to protect my head from the previous smelly heads.

I was glad to see that the board was Burton, but it was so beat up, the edges were literally frayed, and my boots were… gasp… lace-up! What!

I admit, I felt a momentary pang of sadness that made me long for my well-researched and beloved gear back at home, but beggars can’t be choosers, so after changing in the locker room (that is unisex), I moseyed over to the indoor slope.

The doors to the freezer

The bunny slope for the kids.

Before you walk into the ski area, you have to punch in your ticket into a machine turnstile, which starts your time.

In hindsight, I should’ve just purchased two hours instead of four. What the hell was I thinking? Boarding up and down one damn hill for four hours? Was I insane?

I grabbed my board and walked up to the supermarket-like sliding door that automatically opened. The freezing air immediately smacked me in the face.

Good Lord it was cold in there, much colder than it normally is on the real mountain. I’m guessing it was probably 20 degrees. I didn’t dress appropriately, but I kept moving to stay warm.

The chairlifts. For the first time ever, I didn’t fall once, getting off the lift.

I thought there would be at least two hills, but alas, there was a solo hill that I would circle… down and back up on the lift, down and back on the lift.

Fake snow, fake experience, inner turmoil

The whole experience was the biggest oxymoron.

One part of me was like, hey, this is really cool and I can get lots of practice. The other part was like, “Is this it?!” Inside, I quietly sobbed for Whistler, Heavenly, Kirkwood.

I can’t explain how it felt to board indoors, other than I loved it and didn’t, all at the same time.

Short, short, short

The view from the chair lift.

The slope was so short, by the time I really got going, it was over. It’s like being crazy thirsty and getting exactly three drops of water on your tongue. The slope was shorter than the shortest bunny slope on a real mountain. A few S turns and done. Did I mention it was short?

OK, I’ll stop complaining, overall, it was really fun and I only fell a few times, but that’s because I was trying to go really fast.

On the left side of the hill, there was a mini-park with jumps, but I was way too intimidated for that, plus I didn’t want to injure myself (remember my fractured knuckle?!).

I saw a few beginners get on those jumps and awkwardly fall. People on the lifts would laugh and clap.

Confidence booster

The view from the top.

I recently watched an episode of “Modern Family” where Mitchell challenged a bunch of Lily’s first-grade classmates to a game of handball, and annihilated them. He pranced around after each victory, dancing around the court with his chest puffed out. (In case you don’t watch “Modern Family,” Mitchell is Lily’s father.)

This is kind of how I felt while boarding on the indoor slope. Besides a group of hardcore expert boarders who spent the day flying in the air at the mini-park, most everyone else were beginners. The majority slowly slid down the hill, falling leaf style, giving it their all to avoid catching that dreaded edge.

For the first time, I was one of the better boarders! For once, I wasn’t the last one trying to catch up to everyone else. For once, I wasn’t the one tumbling like a clumsy goof as I exited from the chair lifts.

I fully enjoyed the moment and felt good about how much I had improved over the last few seasons. Until the pulley…

My first time on a pulley

Eventually, after hour three, the crowd dwindled down, and the facility shut down the ski lift and instead, opened the ski pulley. I had never even seen one of these before, much less grab one to get up a hill.

The pulley had a curve and a small disc at the end of it. As I examined it, I knew the curvature of the pole and small disc meant I had to do something with it… but no time for brain power here. It was cold and I needed to get up the hill.

Because the crowds had cleared out, there was no one I could watch as an example to follow.

I grabbed the pole and said a prayer while I held on for dear life. I fell, I got up, I fell, I got up, I fell.

I could not get my board to straighten out and kept catching an edge.

Finally, some skiers came over and I watched them get on.

Ah-ha! I learned you need to put the pole in between your legs so that the small circle is right on your bottom — like a tiny seat, but you also have to balance carefully because only your front leg is strapped into the board.

I tried going up one more time, and finally got the hang of it by the time I got to the top.

When I got to the top, I let go of the pulley a bit late and the pole went flying with a hard thwack against the wall.

This is what the rest of the mall looked like, right outside Xanadu.

By this time however, I was losing steam, and decided it was time to get off the board and walk around the mall. I grabbed something to eat and drank a cafe con leche at Starbucks and walked around for a bit before heading back to the train station for Madrid.

Museum time

Prado National Museum of Madrid

I walked past the Prado National Museum, which is one of the most recommended things to see in Madrid from TripAdvisor. The morning I went, it was so cold and the line was so long, I decided to postpone it to later in the week, especially since it’s free after 6pm.

Royal Palace of Madrid

I never did make it back, but instead I checked out the Royal Palace of Madrid and the Reina Museum of Art. I admit, I wasn’t crazy about it. It was okay, but some of the art was a bit too eccentric for my taste.

View from Reina Art Museum’s 4th floor.

I loved the Royal Palace, but only had an hour and a half to look around because I had to jump on a call for work, so I was a bit rushed.

Also, I waited for 45 minutes in the freezing rain to get into Royal Palace, thinking it would be free after 4pm, but found out it’s only free to other Europeans, and not for U.S. passport holders. It cost 10 euros.

The inside entrance of the palace, right before they tell you to stop taking photos.

The palace was breathtaking. It was built in the 1700s and each room was an intricate work of art, with its own theme, and a grand ceiling painting of some kind, and even had porcelain wall decor.

You’re not allowed to take photos while you’re in the rooms, but I had never seen anything like it before in my life.

I couldn’t fathom that these huge, intricately decorated rooms with elaborate wallpaper and giant sparkling hanging chandeliers were actually once lived in.

My favorite room was one that was Oriental-inspired. No, it’s not because I’m impartial to Asian stuff. I just genuinely liked it. The walls were covered with Chinese drawings, separated by bamboo borders.

I read on the wall that the designer was inspired by Oriental shiz at the time. After all, it was the 1700s… Oriental people were probably thought of as an exotic, unattainable mystery.

Discovering Primark

The inside of Primak near Gran via.

Primark is my new favorite place. It’s like Old Navy meets Target and Uniqlo (with the sparkle of Las Vegas!) but with dollar store prices. The store in Madrid’s shopping area is huge, it’s four stories and headspinningly awesome. They had everything from shirts for 2 euros to snacks.

Eat your heart out Sports Basement, here comes Decathlon

Carrera de San Jeronimo, another shopping street.

This is another store I fell in love with. It’s like the IKEA of sporting goods stores.

Unlike REI or Sports Basement back in the U.S., prices in Decathlon are dirt cheap because items are generic, or whatever the store brand is. They had everything from bikes to snowboarding gear.

I picked up a few snowboarding scarves, the kind that you can pull up over your nose for those blistery windy days on the mountain.

They have locations all over Madrid and each time I passed one, I almost always wandered inside. In my defense, it was always raining outside, so…

Besides shopping, what else?

I admit, I didn’t do much in Madrid. I had a really busy week at work and ended up sightseeing during the day and then working from 5:30pm-ish to midnight. I’d work in the mornings too.

I wasn’t sure which cafes had WiFi, so I went to my trusty Starbucks (you need to log in with your Facebook account) and worked from there.

One of my many days spent inside a Starbucks, working.

The whole Starbucks experience was so pleasant. Nothing like back at home.

Their Starbucks was always empty in the mornings, so I always found a prime seat, with an outlet. And get this, the Starbucks workers come by to your table and ask if you need anything else to eat or drink. They’ll bring it to you and clean up your trash!

Spanish carbs

Walking past these things on a daily basis took some getting used to. Stopping and staring became a regular thing for me.
Chok, in Barcelona

My daily carb intake was out of control because it’s such a normal part of life there. You drink your cappuccino and orange juice in the morning with your croissant.

Passing by a bakery or one of those chocolate churro places was soooo tempting, and it didn’t help that there’s a pasteleria on every corner!

How do Spanish people stay so thin, I don’t understand.

Trains

On my way to Xanadu.

Unlike Barthelona, I decided against doing a hop on hop off bus. Maybe it was the rain, maybe I was all bussed out, but I mostly took the subway everywhere.

The subway is clean and really easy. I liked the fact that each station has a very clear line map of which stations come next, so you’re never left guessing which direction you’re supposed to take.

Of course I wasn’t paying attention inside the cars, so I didn’t know you had to push a button or pull the door lever to open the train doors. I just stood there like a dope and missed one of my stops while waiting for the doors to open.

The view from my Airbnb, which had a terrace. The rain was super relaxing.

The trains and buses are tap on, tap off, which was super convenient. The red half circle stands for a different train all together, called Renfe, which is outside their transportation card. I had to take this train when I went to Snow Zone and I paid 3.50 euros for a roundtrip ticket.

The bus back to the airport was my favorite. You just tap on with your card and the bus literally drops you off in the same area as cars, at the airport. So easy.

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