The Mole Diaries: Madrid (Volume 2)
by Dimitry B
Anna studies Spanish and Latin American Studies at the University of Manchester and has been living in Madrid since September, working as a receptionist in a language school. Here she passes on her top tips about what to pack, things to do when you arrive, choosing where to live, food, drink, travel, dealing with unwanted attention, and general survival in Madrid.
Preparing and packing for the moveChances are that if you're flying out like I did, you’ll have a relatively small luggage allowance – I brought 2 suitcases with me. Ideally fill these with clothes for all seasons as the weather in Madrid can be very temperamental (last week, mid-March, I cultivated an obscene set of tan lines. This week I’m in a coat and scarf) and obvious things like laptop and straighteners etc. but a lot of general necessities can wait. Bed sheets, plug adaptors and toiletries can all be bought here cheaply from supermarkets or chinos (little shops), so don’t worry about lugging all that stuff about before you arrive. Also make sure to get your EHIC before you leave as you never know what might happen.
Things to do once you arriveGet a Spanish SIM card – it’ll cost you a fortune to use your usual number and plus if all your mates have Spanish phones they won’t be keen on shelling out to contact you on an English number. Try to open a bank account – you’ll need to go to a police station and get residency documents before the banks will have anything to do with you really. Either that or open a Santander account in England before you come here then you can get all your information easily sent over to Santander here.
Choosing a flatThere are a number of websites where you can find a flat before you leave (idealista, easypiso, erasmusflat etc.) and many of you will want to have something sorted for your arrival rather than the daunting prospect of an indefinite period in a hostel.
If possible, try to find somewhere where you’ll be living with Spanish speakers, as this is the perfect way to practice with no other option. It can be only too easy to sink into a bubble of English speaking friends, but once you’ve ingratiated yourself with some Spanish chums then you’ll find they will be only too happy to speak a bit more slowly with you and explain things to you for a better understanding. As I work, I speak Spanish all day to my colleagues, but if you're studying you may find yourself surrounded by other Erasmus students whose common language (if not Spanish) will most likely be English, so make sure you provide yourself with bountiful opportunities to speak Spanish or you just won't get anywhere.
Flat prices can be expensive as it's the capital city, and fluctuate depending on location, size and amenities. I pay €360 per month for what can only be described as a glorified cupboard, but it’s in Antón Martín which is a 7-minute walk to the centre of Sol where I also work, so swings and roundabouts really. One of my flatmates pays €520 for a large double room with a small balcony and window (note: windows should not be taken for granted in this city) so if I ever feel claustrophobic I can scoot down the corridor and partake of her luxury. It’s only fair.
Food – round up of my top five restaurants1. Lateral - check the website to find your nearest one. Typical spanish dishes such as croquetas and pan al ajo mixed with some classier items at cheap prices. You can order as many or few dishes as you like, so whether you want a big meal or a lighter option this place is ideal.
2. Ginger - on Plaza del Ángel just up the road from Sol. Astonishingly low prices for the prime location, luxurious decor and gourmet menu. The meal was immaculately presented and delicious, the service polite and attentive and the bill for a bottle of nice wine, main course and dessert for three people came to €47. You can thank me later.
3. Lamucca has a rich and varied food menu at about €12 a pop, and some great cocktails to boot. I recommend the Wildberry Martini.
4. El Tigre – probably Madrid’s most famed tapas bar. Always heaving, it’s a particular favourite with the Spaniards. General practice is to order a drink and with it they bring plates of various tapas. The more expensive the drink the better quality food, eg. a beer or soft drink will get you pinchos of bread with ham, cheese or tomato, or maybe their exemplary patatas bravas. Upgrade to a mojito and you’ll get croquetas or albondigas etc.
5. Viva La Vida - a vegetarian option, which they have very few of in Madrid. This restaurant is particularly lovely though, and even if you’re not vegetarian - like me - the food is great.
Another thing to remember: don’t tip. Nobody ever does and no place would ever expect you to so don’t worry about looking rude if you don’t.
DrinksMadrid is obviously famous for its nightlife, and as well as the many clubs a standard night out will usually involve bar hopping. Best places are generally around the Malasaña/Tribunal/Chueca area, where a wander down any of the winding little streets will give you an overload of options, or buzzing La Latina. Quick round up of my top recommendations – Areia, C/Hortaleza, Demodé, C/Ballesta, Imperfecto, Plaza de Matute, and multiple places on Cava Baja in La Latina or C/Espiritu Santo in Tribunal.
TravelUnder 23s can get an Abono for the Metro at just €30 per month. This can be useful in the cold winter months or if you’re just quite lazy, however if you don’t use the Metro that often then you can buy ten journeys for the princely sum of €9.30. One journey costs €1.50 and that will get you as far across Zone A as you care to go – the cheapest fare in any capital city. Another option that many people often forget is that especially on a nice day it can just be easier and sometimes quicker to just walk around.
How to deal with unwanted attentionA lot of guys here don’t see anything wrong with openly staring, hissing, making comments and generally getting in your personal space, and if you don’t do anything about it they will just continue. The best way to deal with this is to learn some choice phrases (en tu marcha and dejame paz are two of my particular favourites) and don’t be afraid to tell people to leave you alone. At home if someone was bothering you you’d tell them to jog on, so there’s no reason to behave any differently here.
So there you have it, a little beginners guide to exploring the city. Hopefully these rough guidelines will help start you off to creating your own favourite Madrid that you will come to love!