What to see and eat in Madrid on a (really) small budget

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Like the beginning of many adventures, everything was planned last minute. My flight was scheduled to leave on December 31st from Paris at 8:30 pm to arrive in Madrid at around 10:30 pm.  I was supposed to make it to the city center by midnight so I wouldn’t celebrate New Years alone in the airport.

Arriving in Madrid was a risky endeavor. Once the plane landed, I tried my best to see if I could board the metro, later finding out it was closed because of the New Years celebrations. My only chance to arrive on time was to take an uber and run as fast as I could to La Puerta del Sol. Finding an uber was also very hard, since the price was a whopping 50 euros, I was sure to spend New Years in a parking lot. After 10 minutes, the price dropped to 25 euros, I hopped into the backseat and left to try to get to the city centre as soon as I could. 

I didn’t arrive in time, I received the New Year with a bunch of people that I didn’t know who were facetiming, kissing or getting drunk together. However, I knew that I had started the year in the best way possible, traveling to a new city full of expectations and excitement.

I was nervous about this trip, and although I had a great time,  I only had around 100 euros to spend for the five days I was there. I didn’t know if I was going to finish the week eating ramen noodles and drinking tap water for all my meals (or at least the spanish version of that, which is probably a lot more delicious). I managed, and because of that I am here to help you navigate this amazing city without going broke.

Where I ate:

El Museo del Jamon (the Museum of the Ham in english)

What can I say? This majestic and delicious place is the reason why I was able to eat Spanish food at a very cheap price. This place is heaven for the broke traveler, and also for those who don’t mind eating breakfast standing up in a chaotic environment. You can get small ham and cheese sandwiches for less than an euro, and a full breakfast with eggs, bacon, bread, orange juice and coffee for 5 euros. For lunch, I decided to go for the meal of the day which was paella as entree, turkey breast as the main meal, dessert AND sangria for only 8 euros. 

Do not expect much for customer service, the waiters often do not care and can give you a snarky attitude, but try not to take it personally and enjoy your meal. I honestly cannot recommend this place enough, it’s delicious and possibly my favorite place in all of Madrid. I ate breakfast, lunch and dinner there (not everyday) and I miss it everyday. If you’re looking for a place that fits your small budget, this is it.

El Mercado de San Miguel

This market is always packed, very touristy and dynamic. It has something for everyone, from gourmet hams to cheeses to fresh fruits and vegetables. Unlike other markets around the city, this one isn’t to buy goods but rather to go with your friends to enjoy a beer and try different tapas. I personally didn’t try any of the tapas here but everything looked fresh and delicious. It was a little pricy for my budget but I would include it on the list to try for my next trip. 

Churros and hot chocolate

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If you are looking for a sweet treat, don’t forget to try to the hot chocolate with churros. It’s a regular churro in oval shape with a hot chocolate that is a lot creamier, thicker and sweeter than what I am used to eating. The hot chocolate can be used as a dipping sauce for the churros. I ordered them in a restaurant really close to the Mercado de San Miguel (which can be seen in the picture). You can find restaurants selling churros and hot chocolate all over the city, which makes it perfect for that moment of relaxation after a whole day of walking.

Takos

As a lover of tacos, I was excited to find this place, where I could indulge in one of my favorite dishes. I am constantly having tacos withdraws in Miami, so being able to eat the (closest) tacos I found to the ones I would find in Mexico City was a dream. I had been looking especially for tacos al pastor, they are very hard to find outside of Mexico. 

Let me tell you about this place, you have to wait in line for around 30 minutes and are only allowed to order once. You can choose from pastor, cochinita, suadero, nopal (a cactus), chorizo with cheese or mushrooms and cheese. Here is the best part, not only are the tacos delicious but you also pay just 1 euro per taco. You can accompany them with a michelada,which is a combination of beer, clamato (tomato) juice, lime and salt, and you are done and ready! 

What I visited:

Parque del Retiro
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This beautiful park belonged to the Spanish monarchy until the late 19th century, when it became a public park. This is one of Madrid’s main attractions, with its beautiful sculptures and monuments, galleries, beautiful lakes and it’s minutes away from the city center.

The park was born in 1630, made for king Philip IV court’s recreational use. Throughout the different reins, the park saw a lot of changes, and it was the home of several operas and other eventsWhatsApp Image 2018-05-20 at 1.43.55 PM depending on the king or queen. Countless statutes, fountains and monuments fill the park and tell you a little bit about different important figures of Spanish history.

What I found most beautiful was the Palacio de Cristal. Built in 1887, it was originally used to house plants from the Philippines, however now is just used for art exhibits. I couldn’t enter it since there weren’t any exhibits going on at the time but it was still beautiful to look at it from the outside. 

 

Plaza Mayor

people gathering near plaza
Photo by Mati Angulo on Pexels.com

This very famous square is full of many shops, street performers and merchants selling everything from balloons and flowers. Although this plaza is a major attraction and a place to visit, I don’t think it was my favorite. However, I was pleased at how much it looked like many other big plazas you might find in latin america.

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Puerta del Sol (Gate of the Sun)

This famous square holds all kinds of entertainment for every kind of tourists. There you can find your favorite animated characters, mariachis and touristy stores. I passed this square around three or four times a day to go to the hostel, and also got lost several times because of its many entrances.

The square is also known for its famous clock where the traditional eating of the twelve grapes at the beginning of the New Year is held. 

Gran Via

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This street holds many big stores like Primark, Zara, H&M, and it is usually of people going out to shop. Its majestic buildings will make you feel in awe, with its many rooftops and statues. Among the majestic buildings lies the Metropolis, photographed many times in postcards, it was inaugurated in 1911 and currently home to an insurance company.

Its origins lie in the 19th century, when it was build to connect the city center to the rest of the Madrid. The streets have had many difWhatsApp Image 2018-05-20 at 1.43.33 PMferent names over the years, changing most frequently in the years before the Civil War. The definite name was given in 1981, finally receiving the name that explained its original (and current) purpose.

Although I wasn’t able to visit the whole city during the time I was there, I was able to walk a big part of it. I would recommend to stay in the city centre, everything is close by and you won’t need to spend any money on trains or the metro. There are a lot of hostels and cheap and nice hotels to stay in to enjoy the city to the fullest.

Something I realized is that Madrid is a city that I could see myself living in. I loved how relaxed down to earth every bar seemed, compared to other places like Paris. It was also nice to understand a little more about the history behind my own origins and culture, where my traditions as a Venezuelan had come from. I truly appreciated this trip, I hope to be able to go back to Spain to explore and to appreciate other cities that I am dying to see.

Food:

El Museo del Jamón 

Carrera San Jeronimo 6- Beside Puerta del Sol, 28014 Madrid, Spain

https://museodeljamon.es/en/

$-$$- I recommend it for breakfast and lunch- Breakfast runs until 11 am and lunch starts at 12 pm

Mercado de San Miguel 

http://www.mercadodesanmiguel.es/en/ 

 

Takos

Calle de la Abada, 2, 28013 Madrid, Spain

Trip Advisor review

Accommodations:

International Youth Hostel La Posada de las Huertas

http://www.posadadehuertas.com/en/ 

13 euros a night

 

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Strasbourg: Where France and Germany collide

For a few days during my Christmas vacation I decided to do a small stop in Strasbourg, France, It was a spontaneous and fun adventure! On a cold and rainy Christmas eve, I packed a bag, stopped overthinking whether this was a good idea and bought two train tickets to Strasbourg!

The next day, after a good christmas dinner, I overslept and lost it. Waking up disoriented and disappointed, I had to buy new tickets for the one departing some hours later.

After a hectic but exciting morning, I arrived in Strasbourg very eager to see what this city had to offer. Although everything was closed (except a few stores and restaurants in the city center), I was ready and eager to start my trip! Here is a list of the few places that I visited and that I think are worth visiting in the city:

Cathedral of Notre Dame de Strasbourg

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Strasbourg Cathedral dominates the skyline of the heart of the city. It was the tallest building in the world for around 227 years, and today is the sixth tallest church in the world. The exterior is composed of a gorgeous rose color that comes from sandstone from the Vosges (a mountainous region in eastern France near the border with Germany). This cathedral was also the site of the first Christmas tree ever documented in 1539. It also has an astronomical clock inside, which holds a real display of the position of the Sun and the moon as well as the solar and lunar eclipses.

Described by Victor Hugo as “a gigantic and delicate marvel,” this is probably the most breathtaking place in the whole city. I was in awe with the rose colors in the cathedral and how majestic and grand it is. I will even say that it looks better than its more famous and older gothic counterpart, Notre Dame de Paris. After taking two tours of the cathedral, I was amazed of how many stories are kept in just the sculptures we always see but never take a moment to appreciate.

Like most cathedrals, the entrance is free and you can walk up the spire and see the view of the whole city. If you only have one day to visit the city, I would recommend to give this cathedral a visit, it will not disappoint!

The German Quarter/District

I took a tour through both the French and German parts of the city, which helped me understand the double identity the city holds. In the Place de la Republique, there are three things that will catch your attention. The first one is the Palace of the Rhine, which was built after the Franco-Prussian War. This building has been a residence, a military hospital, and during WWII, the general headquarter of General Lecrerc. It truly represents the different identities that Strasbourg has had through the centuries.

What I found most surprising about the square was the war memorial that stands in its very center, which dates back to 1936. It features a woman holding her two sons; Alsace is represented by the woman and the combatting countries of France and Germany are represented by the sons. This monument represents the divided identity as well as the lives lost during the war. The saddest thing about the monument is that it was built after the first World War, without knowing that the same fate will repeat itself a few years later.  If you’re into European and WWII history, this square will give you a small perspective on just how real WWII was in this part of the world. 

Le Petit France

WhatsApp Image 2018-01-17 at 13.04.53 (1)Sadly, I was not able to enjoy this part of the city as much as I would have liked. When I booked the tickets and arrived in Strasbourg, I only knew I wanted to see the Christmas market without planning or thinking ahead of what I would do there.

This district is the most picturesque of old Strasbourg. The half-timbered houses date from the 16th and 17th century and fishermen, millers, and tanners once lived and worked in this part of the town. It looked like the place came out of a fairy tale and Pinocchio or Beauty will come out and start signing with me at any moment.   

Food!

Alsace is known as one of the best places to eat in France, or like many say, it contains the quantity of German cuisine and the quality of the French. So, if you’re like me and get excited over the quantity of food in your plate, Strasbourg is the place to go. Although I was traveling on a budget, I knew that I had to try one of their traditional dishes. My heart and my belly led me to Le Tire Bouchon. I was looking around for restaurants when I arrived and liked that it looked hidden. It did not disappoint. I tried the Choucroute, which is sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), combined with different types of sausages, as well as cuts of porks and potatoes. The formule option that I chose included the main dish and a dessert (which I devoured). Another famous dish from the region is called the Tarte flambée, which is composed of bread dough rolled out very thinly in the shape of a rectangle, with fromage blanc or crème fraiche, sliced onion and pork.

 

Strasbourg is the center of cultures, a place full of history and with a very special and interesting identity. This being a unique mixture of French and German culture that is sown into their culture, language, and architecture. In fact, many Alsatians feel that they are not in France but rather just in Alsace, and in the “middle” of very different and great cultures. Strasbourg is definitely worth visiting, especially for those who are in love with history and fairy tales.

Below you will find a list of the food I ate, where I stayed and the tours I took, as well as some additional pictures that I took during my trip. 

Food:

Le Tire Bouchon

5 Rue des Tailleurs de Pierre, 67000 Strasbourg

$$-$$$- Order the Choucroute since it’s their most asked for dish.

https://www.letirebouchon.fr/fr/

Accommodations:

Airbnb

Although Strasbourg is a small city and everything is at reach, I recommend staying in the city center to be able to move easily around the city.

Price: 40 euros a night

It was divided by two but it was around 40 euros a night.

Tours:

Happy Tours

http://happy-strasbourg.eu/

They have tours in English and French and that run every day in the morning and afternoon. I would recommend taking one of their tours because they are run by natives and they try to show you as well as give you an anecdote of the life in Strasbourg and the Alsatian identity. The tour is free, but you are expected to leave a tip (I left around 5 euros). It runs for about 2 hours and walks you through the cathedral, Gutenberd, Kleber square, Republique and the German quarter.

Here are some other pictures from my trip:

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The cathedral just before the sunset
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Beautiful christmas decorations

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Trying some of that hot wine

Thank you for reading! Let me know if you have visited Strasbourg and if you have what did you think of it.

Living in Paris

Moving to France has been quite an adventure; a dream of mine since I first came with my French class at the age of sixteen. Getting the news that I would be living in Paris was both exciting and stressful, not knowing exactly what decision to make. I have experienced moments where I have felt very lonely and moments where I feel like I am an outsider looking in. Soon I realized how alluring this city is, and even in moments of solitude I am amazed that I live in the city where my teenage daydreams took place.

My biggest fear moving here is that I will make my favorite city in the world mundane and normal. I am trying my best every day to find beauty and to constantly remind myself of how lucky I am. Yes, I am here only for seven months, and I keep the list of administrative tasks to complete in one hand but also pictures of places I want to visit and a sense that everything I am seeing is fleeting in the other.

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To finish this off, I took this picture around a month ago, it was a total surprise. I was going out of an exhibition in the Grand Palais, when I saw this sunset while crossing the bridge, in that exact moment the lights in the tower turned on. Maybe I should look for more moments like this, whether it’s in France, Miami or right in my house.