Despite travelling to some absolutely breathtaking places, I have never found any difficulty in leaving them and moving onto the next but something about Madrid made it near-impossible to step on that plane home. I’ve spent an incredible six months living in the heart of this even more incredible city and I can’t wait to share my story with you.
Upon arrival to Spain’s capital, I had nowhere to live, no contacts whatsoever and to make the situation even more fantastic, I was extraordinarily jet lagged from New Zealand. I’ll have you know that it’s impossible to flat-hunt when you’re asleep at 3pm in the afternoon and you’re waking up at midnight… landlords don’t tend to agree to 1am house viewings. Luckily for me, a miracle occurred and I managed to find a gorgeous flat, right in the centre with 30 other amazing people from around the world that was kind of, sort of (not really) in my price budget. Mi Casa Inn! (that’s the name of it, I’m not just speaking dodgy Spanish). Looking back, I think it was fate that none of my other options worked out because my whole experience would have been totally different had I not stumbled across this flat. I’ve made friends for life and had more fun than I think words can describe!
Here’s a few snaps of the Mi Casa Inn family:
It also helps that I lived a stones throw away from Gran Via and Sol in the middle of two of the coolest neighbourhoods in Madrid; Chueca and Malasaña. If you’re familiar with Madrid then you’ll know how incredible it is to score that location as a student and if you’re not familiar with Madrid then just think about the most desirable location in your home city and imagine living there at just 21 years old! Not only that, but I had a huge double bedroom and an en-suite bathroom for the same price that I pay for a basic room back in Bath. I couldn’t believe my luck and I’m sure you’re already starting to understand why it was so hard for me to leave… I’m not sure I’ll ever live anywhere as central, modern and fun in my lifetime but at least I got to stay for a whole 6 months – better than nothing, right?
Funnily enough I spent my first 2 days in total hibernation. Not only because of severe jet lag but 30 is a huge number of people to live with and I was very intimidated by how close everyone seemed to be. So, I did what anyone would do… I sat in my room with a stash of peanut butter and water until I heard a knock on my door and two English voices shouting at me to let them in… The rest is history. Thank goodness they dragged me out of my dungeon and introduced me to my other flatmates otherwise I’m pretty sure I’d still be locked away eating peanut butter right now.
The late nights staying up until 6am chatting, the crazy pre-drinks and flat parties, the group cooking attempts, dancing around the living room, playing guitar while everyone sang at the top of their lungs, forcing each other to stay awake and finish essays and assignments, the list goes on… This flat very quickly became my home and, without sounding incredibly cliché, the people inside really did become my family. I will look back on my time on Calle Fuencarral with the happiest heart and I have no doubt that the memories will always remain as some of my favourites.
So, that’s where I lived. Now I should probably explain what I was doing in Madrid for 6 months… Just like in Russia, I decided to spend my semester in Spain as a student, this time at Complutense University as part of the Erasmus programme. I can’t say that I worked as hard as I perhaps should have and I didn’t pass all of my modules, but I did improve my language ability and I also learnt that I can handle learning Russian when it’s taught in Spanish. If that’s not a linguistic superpower then I’m not sure what is! The classes I took in Russia were specifically for people learning Russian but the classes I took in Spain were just for native Spanish speakers… probably why I found the work a teensy bit harder. I’m glad I had the experience to study at a Spanish university, though, because it only made me more appreciative for my education back in the UK. At Complutense the teachers have absolutely no relationship with the students, there’s no exam prep classes, they never reply to emails and there’s too many strikes to count. This isn’t an excuse as to why I didn’t get top marks (that’s actually just because I travelled too often and I didn’t revise enough) but it is a reminder that not every education system works in quite the same way and I know that I’ll be going back to Bath with a very open-mind and a lot more motivation to do well in my final year.
I also spent 2 weeks au-pairing to earn some money before jetting off to Portugal. Originally, I hadn’t intended to au-pair because it involves a lot of commitment and the pay is pretty awful but I somehow stumbled upon a very rare opportunity. I was able to live in my own flat (living with a family is lovely but I did my fair share of it in Russia!), I could work whatever hours that I wanted to and to top it all off, the pay was amazing. The work wasn’t hard in my opinion, but I do love kids. We spent days at the country club swimming and hanging by the lake, we played Cluedo and Heads Up until I physically couldn’t take it anymore, we went out for milkshakes and fro yo, we watched TV shows and discussed them and read books in the park, we sang songs and made dance routines – it hardly sounds like work, does it? But because I was speaking in English 24/7 and helping the children improve their grammar it somehow counted! I couldn’t believe that someone wanted to give me money for essentially just hanging out and having fun and I also couldn’t believe how much I watched the kids’ language skills improve in just 2 weeks… Long story short, it was super rewarding for everyone!
Now for my favourite part; the city itself. I can’t quite explain what it was about Madrid that captured my heart but I am convinced that it is MAGIC. The vibrant colours and lights on Gran Via, the hustle and bustle of tourists in Sol, the grandeur of the Royal Palace, the peace and quiet by the river, the endless green spaces in Casa de Campo, the classy, upperclass vibes of Salamanca, the quirky graffiti in Malasaña, the insane markets in La Latina, the varied architecture and a vast history and culture hiding in every corner… I fell head over heels in love.
Of course, the ‘Barcelona vs. Madrid’ debate exists and if I’m honest I will say that Barcelona has a lot more to see and do (and they have a beach, no-one can resist the beach!) so in that sense I can see why it’s more popular with holidaymakers but as a city to live in, I don’t think Madrid has any competition whatsoever. There’s so many secrets to discover that you couldn’t possibly cover in just a quick visit, the transport system is ridiculously efficient (you can get anywhere in the city or country with no hassle at all) and there’s every type of neighbourhood imaginable (upper class, lower class, family friendly, student oriented, quiet, loud, old, new, you name it… Madrid’s got it).
It’s such a carefree, relaxed city and that’s something that I clicked with instantly. In a way it’s a shame that Madrid is not as popular with tourists, but at the same time it’s nice to wander the main streets of a capital city and not feel completely claustrophobic. Please, though, if you’re visiting Spain then I urge you to make a stop in Madrid – I just want everyone to see it’s magic the way I do!
Luckily, I had a few visitors come and stay with me this semester, including my Mom, Aunt and best friends from uni, so I was able to share my amazing lifestyle with them. I tried my best to encapsulate the essence of Madrid into whatever time they had, but like I said, unless you live there for a lengthy period of time you can never really do it justice.
I think it’s safe to say that the Spanish lifestyle is something I could get used to. I’ll admit that it’s a little bit slow at times and things aren’t always as efficient as they could be there but for someone like me, who is always on a high energy burst and running around trying to do as much as possible as quickly as possible, it was actually good to be reminded to just stop and enjoy the simple things. I’m more laid back than I’ve been in a long time and not in a lazy way (I’m still trying to get a degree, travel the world and be a good person all at the same time) but just in a peaceful way. Oh, how I will miss the 2pm siestas and the 10pm tapas, the hours spent lying in the sunshine with good company, watching the world go by and not having a care in the world… To say I was living the dream would be an understatement. I will never, ever stop being thankful for my experiences and the lessons that I have learnt. It seems that every place I go these days contributes more and more to the person that I am, but I have a feeling that Madrid will always have that little bit of extra space in my heart. The space that other cities could never quite get their hands on.
It’s been an absolute fairytale and it hurts my heart to say goodbye…
I’ll never forget you, Madrid! ❤🇪🇸