Anna & Matt of Hostelgeeks may be two of the nicest people ever. Not only have they created loads of free travel resources, they are generous with their personal travel recommendations and hostel discount codes, and they answer all of their messages and emails personally. For once you feel like you are interacting with real people, not just a disembodied brand (you know what I’m talking about!)
Scroll down the Hostelgeeks homepage and you’ll find 5-star hostel reviews, city guides, travel stories, and helpful blog posts. I used their Geeky Travel Guides in every place I traveled this summer, and in Bologna I stayed at the 5-star hostel We_Bologna. Recently they featured this hostel in Granada and it looked so cool that I wanted to go to Granada just to stay there (as if I need any more reasons to go to Granada).
Matt was kind enough to send me their e-book “The Greatest Hostels of Europe” (thank you!!) and just looking through it gave me major wanderlust – the hostels are so beautiful that all of a sudden, you’re dreaming of a weekend in a new city, just so you can stay in a hostel with a rooftop pool or sleeping pods instead of bunk beds. At first, I didn’t see how much the e-book could really add to their site, since there is already so much information there. But oh, how wrong I was.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Other parts were quiet and hidden under a green canopy of trees.
I stopped by the lauded crystal palace, but it was closed for the installation of what looked like colorful silk tents and pillows.
When it threatened to rain, no one seemed bothered. And they were right. The drops stopped a minute later.
I envisioned sunny picnics in the green corners of the park, long strolls through its winding paths.
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.
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.
I stopped by the Mercado San Miguel, but it was so crowded, it was a nightmare just to walk through.
Onward, I stopped by the Palacio Real and the Catedral de La Almudena (although I didn’t know what it was called).
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.
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)
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€).
I’ve mentioned it before – I haven’t traveled all that much since moving to Europe. I like to travel, I like to explore, I love travel blogs, but I don’t count stamps in my passport and rack up countries so that I can brag about my travel “number.” I guess what I mean is that I don’t travel for the sake of travel. Sometimes I feel restless (and then I go to Barcelona), but I also like to stay home and cuddle with the comfort of routine. I need both – otherwise, I would be too exhausted and unsettled to enjoy my travels at all.