Madrid for 25€

For some reason, I had it in my head that I wouldn’t need a place to stay for my overnight layover in Madrid. I had a foggy vision of heading out to see the city, and then coming back late to crash at the airport before my flight to Seville left early Monday morning.

When I came down with a sore throat a few days before the trip, I came to my senses. I am not a night owl and I need my sleep. I can’t function without it. (Read: I’m kind of a bitch if I don’t sleep enough.) No way was I going to rough it on a cold, hard, dirty airport floor for six hours.

La Vie En C Rose: Madrid Airport

But the Madrid metro doesn’t start running until 6am, and I worried about missing my flight. I looked into airport hotels (50 to 100 euros on Hotel Tonight) but that didn’t seem practical as I couldn’t find one accessible by public transport. The “hotel” in the airport cost over 100 euros – not the budget I had in mind for this crash visit.

So when I arrived, I went straight to the tourist information to get some help.

“I don’t know where I’m going to sleep tonight,” I said in what is left of my high school Spanish. The lovely agent advised me to stay at a hostel in the center and take an early bus to catch my flight.

“Actually, you can catch a train to the city instead of the metro or bus. It leaves in twelve minutes.”

A nice lady with lipstick on her teeth helped me get the right train ticket (2,60€, score!) and I was off to Madrid.

My first impression, even before exiting the train station, was how quiet, clean, and still Madrid was. No trash in the station or on the street. Few people out and about. It was warm and pink flowering trees were planted along the tranquil streets. I stopped into a building marked “Hostal Prim” next to the station. The owner offered me a discount off the regular price of 35 euros for a private room, which is a steal, but I knew I could stay for much cheaper at a dorm hostel, so I continued to the one the tourist agent had marked on the map for me.

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In the Chueca neighborhood, sunny terraces, trendy cafes, and fun boutiques abounded. Well, “abounded” borders on exaggeration as it was Sunday and many places were closed. But I was immediately charmed by the neighborhood and regretted that I wouldn’t be there long enough to have coffee in the blue restaurant below the hostel.

La Vie En C Rose Madrid

I stayed at Hostal Barbieri; there was wifi, a locker with a lock, a bed for the night, and it cost me all of 12 euros.

It was already 4:30pm, so I headed out to make the most of the few hours I had in Madrid. The sunniest ray of the day were gone, but it was still pleasant and warm. I went straight to Parc Retiro.

La Vie En C Rose Madrid

Parc Retiro was green and manicured and expansive. Parents strolled with their strollers, children rode bikes and scooters, and couples of all ages made out on the benches and in the grass.

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The main strip of the park was like Disneyland: crowded, with artists, musicians, human statues (you know, covered in metallic paint, except these guys were mid-conversation instead of pretending to be inanimate), vendors, and actual Disney characters.

La Vie En C Rose Madrid

La Vie En C Rose Madrid

Other parts were quiet and hidden under a green canopy of trees.

La Vie En C Rose Madrid

I stopped by the lauded crystal palace, but it was closed for the installation of what looked like colorful silk tents and pillows.

La Vie En C Rose Madrid

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When it threatened to rain, no one seemed bothered. And they were right. The drops stopped a minute later.

La Vie En C Rose Madrid
I envisioned sunny picnics in the green corners of the park, long strolls through its winding paths.

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I had only eaten clementines and half a package of bacon tuc crackers (have you had these crackers? They are my favorite) so I exited the park to continue my tour of Madrid and find food (an empanadilla, 1,55€). I walked west, zigzagging on slanted streets. I passed the botanical gardens and the Prado museum, surveilled by armed guards. I regret not heading further south to pass through the Lavapies neighborhood, but before long, I was at La Latina.

La Vie En C Rose Madrid

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The whole neighborhood was a party. Terraces overflowed, the lively streets babbled with music and chatter. I thought of stopping for tapas, but I felt awkward sitting down at a table for one in such a busy, social environment. So I kept walking, up Calle Cava Baja, and as I went further north, the crowd got older and the restaurants more touristy, with multi-language menus and photos of their food plastered outside.

Madrid La Vie En C Rose

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I stopped by the Mercado San Miguel, but it was so crowded, it was a nightmare just to walk through.

La Vie En C Rose Madrid

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Onward, I stopped by the Palacio Real and the Catedral de La Almudena (although I didn’t know what it was called).

La Vie En C Rose

La Vie En C Rose Madrid
Catedral de La Almudena
Palacio Real Madrid, La Vie En C Rose
Palacio Real

Plaza de Espana looked adjacent on the map, but somehow I passed it and ended up on the grassy hill of Templo de Debod. This, it turned out, was more impressive than the actual Plaza de Espana, which was a very large monument, many tourist stands, and teenagers making out on the grass.

La Vie En C Rose Madrid

Templo de Debod Madrid La Vie En C Rose
Templo de Debod
Plaza de España Madrid La Vie En C Rose
Plaza de España

I had been walking for several hours and my feet were starting to ache. I passed by a cervezaria I had read about near Noviciado (Pontepez), and sat down at the bar. It a relief to take a load off and have a glass of white. (7€ for a small dinner/large tapa and wine)

Pontepez Madrid La Vie En C Rose
Pontepez Cervezaria

From there, it was a short walk home. (Well, home for the night, anyway.)  The next day, I was up early to catch the RENFE train back to the airport (2,60€).

Madrid Airport La Vie En C Rose

And by 9am, I was in Seville.

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Paris cheap eats: International yummies for 10€ or less

My first year as an expat in France was spent in Paris as a struggling English teacher plagued with visa problems.

I didn’t eat out a lot.

When I did splurge on something that wasn’t pasta, I wanted the yummiest possible food for the least possible cost.

Actually, I still want that. So now, whenever I’m in Paris, I hunt down the best cheap food I can find. These are some of my favorites so far.

Continue reading “Paris cheap eats: International yummies for 10€ or less”

Lyon metro secret: Paying it forward

I used to live in the Croix Rousse neighborhood in Lyon. It’s up on a hill, bordered by Lyon’s two rivers, the Rhône and the Saône. (It doesn’t look like they should rhyme, but they pretty much do.) Anyone who lives in Croix Rousse will tell you it’s the best neighborhood of Lyon – I’ve met longtime residents who didn’t refer to themselves at Lyonnais, but Croix Roussian.  It’s also known as the fourth arrondissement, but no one but the post office calls it that.

This one is the Saône, and the hill with all those little red roofs is la Croix Rousse.
This one is the Saône, and the hill with all those little red roofs is Croix Rousse.

Croix Rousse is like it’s own little village up on the hill over Lyon. It’s known for its silk-weaving history, les canuts. A lot of apartments in Croix Rousse have high ceilings and mezzanines because when all the silk weavers were weaving their silk up on the hill, they needed high ceilings. I’ve also heard that they are the reason behind Lyon’s famous traboules, which are essentially little tunnels through buildings. They ultimately became important during WWII, but the silk weavers just used them to stay out of the rain. Rain is bad for silk, apparently.

Croix Rousse

Anyway, Croix Rousse is cool for lots of reasons, and if you visit Lyon, you definitely need to hike up that hill (it’s really not that bad) and wander around. Or if you’re lazy, you could take the metro, and maybe you’ll benefit from this tip I’m about to share with you.

In Lyon, your metro ticket is valid for an hour. That means if you take the metro somewhere, go run an errand or what have you, and then want to get back on the metro less than an hour after you first validated the ticket, you can use the same ticket to board the metro the second time. (I don’t think it works this way in Paris, and that is disappointing.)

Since Lyon is not a huge city, it usually doesn’t take more than 20-30 minutes to get most places on public transport. In the Croix Rousse metro stop, people leave their still-useable tickets at the entrance when they leave the station. Then when the next person comes along, they can grab the ticket and use it to get on the metro. How’s that for collaborative consumption?

Ever since I discovered this, I always leave my metro ticket when I get off the train, unless I’m planning to go somewhere else in the next hour. You can leave a ticket or look for a ticket at any metro station – I just happen to frequent the Croix Rousse metro, and I haven’t noticed tickets up for grabs at other metro stops.

I’m a supporter of the sharing economy so I love this kind of stuff, but for me the best (okay, second best after the free metro tickets) is that this a little thing that people do for their community, just to be nice. There’s no immediate payoff – they’re paying it forward.

And as minor as it is, I like to do little things like this to pay it forward. It reminds me to be more generous and less stingy. We’ll start with used metro tickets and work up from there, okay?

Unravelling untravelling

You’d think that since I live abroad, I’d be a big traveler. I did move all the way to France from the US, didn’t I? And while I wouldn’t call myself nomadic, I seem to pick up and move every few months or so. I must be a great adventurer, right?!

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Well, I did meet a horse in London with nostrils bigger than my head.

Not so much. Moving to France was certainly an unexpected adventure, and I definitely don’t live a predictable or traditional life, but I’m not a European jet-setter. (That would be cool, though!)

Since moving to France, I’ve crossed European borders, like, twice:  a weekend in London (loved it!) and a couple outings in Switzerland (and the only reason I know I’m in Switzerland and not France is that everything is cleaner and more expensive.) I think I did more traveling in the summer of 2009 than I have since I moved!

It rained while I was in London. Are you shocked?
It rained while I was in London. Are you shocked?
Okay, I take back what I said about la Suisse. Switzerland is great.
Okay, I take back what I said about la Suisse. Switzerland is great.

Sad, huh? Well, I’ve been busy! Job hunting, teaching, moving, surviving getting screwed over by three different jobs, battling bureaucracy, eating croissants – I mean, I have lots going on. And to be honest with you, even though travel is awesome, it’s not the only thing. The internet these days is like, “Travel while you’re young! Leave your job! Live on the road! Have wild adventures! Jump out of airplanes!” the implication being that you will grow old bitter and filled with regret if you don’t. And I do think that it’s important to leave home and learn about new cultures, and it’s often easier to start a wild adventure the younger you are, and that if you want to travel, you should. But I don’t think it’s wrong to want other things too, and to prioritize them over travel if that’s your choice. (and PS I have zero desire to jump out of a plane.)

So that’s why I’ve been focused on establishing a life in France, repairing my savings account, and spending time with people I love (and eating croissants) instead of jetting off to Italy and Croatia.

But I’ve been feeling restless lately, and my carte jeune (youth card) discount for France’s SNCF trains is going to expire soon forever (the horror). And it’s summer, which is both the season I want to go off on adventures because the weather is beautiful and the days are longer and I want to drink margaritas, and at the same time the season I don’t want to travel because it’s high season and I’m thrifty and it’s too hot in the south of Spain. Conundrum.

So I’m compromising with some thrifty adventures: some time in the south of France (not the Côte d’Azur, although I’m a fan, but the Languedoc-Roussillon region, to Sète and Montpellier), a solo trip to Barcelona (first time!), and finishing up the summer with a month in Paris (Paris doesn’t sound thrifty, but it is when you do it my way.) And in case you were wondering, I’ll be back in England sooner than later. Can’t wait for English cider and scones and hearing people say “alumINium.”

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Can’t wait for more of this…
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…and this. YUM.

 

Anyone else craving a scone now?