The last few weekends of being back on Australian soil have meant being able to sit down at the family table and read the Sydney Morning Herald over a lazy breakfast. My schedule usually goes something like; skim the Good Weekend whilst eating my muesli, pick out my favourite parts of the Spectrum enjoying a tea at the same time then settle down to navigate the travel section in the comfort of an armchair. Long mornings like this are one of the best things about being home.
The Traveller weekend edition has introduced a new section ‘One day 3 ways’ where it introduces a city and gives you options on how to spend your time and money there; categorising the options into ‘Penny Pinch’ ‘Easy Does It’ and ‘Splash Out’. Which is fine, except that this weekend’s city is Madrid and their day spent penny pinching has still cost them $141. Now if that is one day out of even a two week trip, that trip has cost you roughly $2000 and that is without any flights. Now obviously the SMH knows their readers and perhaps this shows how the average Australian likes to travel, with a modicum of comfort and desire to see everything at once, and you know what, fair play to them.
However, I know (because I am one of them and travel with many others) that there are many other Australians out there. Ones who are overseas for the long haul and are trying to pace their pennies or those who are only away for two weeks but still want to be sensible with their savings. And for these people $2000 in 2 weeks is not ‘penny pinching’.
I spent 3 weeks in Spain this August/September including 3 nights in Madrid and I kept my budget to about $1000 for this 3 weeks (not including my flights). This divides into roughly $50 a day including my accommodation and buses between cities in Spain. I wish to share how I would go about experiencing Madrid on a budget as strict as my own.
First of all – Hostels! I have only ever had great experiences in hostels. I stayed with a chain called Equity Point Hostels whilst I was in Barcelona, Madrid and Girona and each of them was different but good. In Madrid 3 nights in a 4 bed mixed share room with Ensuite was €35. It was very central (a few meters up from the Puerta del Sol, a major square in the city) They provided breakfast of cereal, toast, fruit and beverages which is all you need but if you are like me and love to make breakfast an experience to set up the rest of the day, there is a café/bar across the road where you can sit at a high stool at the counter next to the old guy doing his crossword and have your rich latte and light custard filled croissant whilst watching the café staff chatter in Spanish to their regular customers coming in for their espresso shot before work. This meal and experience will only cost you €3!
The best thing you can do whilst travelling to new places and especially if you are by yourself, is take a local walking tour. Hostels usually advertise them and many are free (which means they will ask for a tip at the end). In Madrid I went on the Sandemans free tour, after meeting up in Placa Mayor which is walking distance from the hostel we were taken on a 3 hour walking tour of the city. The guide was the best I have ever had, energetic, fun, knowledgeable and don’t worry, she did give us breaks in this tour to get a drink or sit down whilst she stood and talked. After the tour she was happy to give recommendations for what to do next and I was happy to tip her, of course this amount is up to your discretion.
Lunch time! Now it all really depends on what you are travelling for here, for me, the food is important but the friend I was travelling with was not too worried, as long as his stomach was filled! Thus, one day found us in a beautiful plant filled café with water misting from the ceilings in order to reprieve us from the dry dry heat of Madrid (The street was Calle Carmen, lots of restaurants along here). We ordered a variety of Tapas including things like foie gras with caramelised apples, spinach and ricotta quiche and even tapas sized steaks. With drinks this meal would have cost us about €15 each. The next day we went to Marc’s choice of restaurant, 100 Montaditos! This funny little fast food joint sells montaditios (little sandwiches) for €1 each. A bottle of beer (which I am assured was actually alright tasting) was also €1 and my glass of cold sangria was €1.50. Here lunch was possible for as little as €3.50. (It is worth noting that there are many of this chain scattered around Spain and even others that go by a different name but the same cheap prices). A must for some time during your trip is a baguette filled with Jamon Iberico. This rich and gamey prosciutto is a Spanish staple (as our guide said, when a Spaniard moves to another country, there are two things he misses. His mother and Jamon.) Pick one up for only €4 and you will probably be happy to make it a staple of every day.
After lunch I would recommend a stroll in the Parque del Retiro. A subway ticket will cost €1.50 for a ride or you could walk. This park is just astounding. From clipped hedges and manicured flowerbeds that led me to believe I was in a scene from Alice in Wonderland to gravel paths winding through tall trees that dappled the sunlight yellow through their autumn foliage. There is a huge lake covered with paddle boats carrying laughing couples. Around its edges are buskers performing everything from magic to break-dancing to jazz saxophone and even a children’s puppet show was set up with a rug in front and tens of adoring little fans watching. Just walking the edge of this lake provided us with endless entertainment. The rest of the park is huge and I didn’t make it all the way around because there was somewhere I needed to be for sunset.
Walking from the park to the Egyptian temple was a fair hike so you had better be prepared, however you might not even notice the ground you have covered if you keep your eyes up and on the changing scenery. From the area near the park that has leafy boulevards, fountains instead of roundabouts, and large white buildings suggesting palaces at every intersection; up to the Gran Via where you could be forgiven for thinking that you were in a strange mix of Broadway in Sydney and Piccadilly in London. It was a theatre district that could be anywhere in the world. Large television screens covered buildings, every few meters it seemed was a theatre with its doors wide open and the community on the pavements were homeless or tourists or dressed to the nines for a night out. It was a bustle of movement and music spilling from shop fronts. The mood changed again once we got to Plaza de Espana. Couples were canoodling on benches and children were kicking soccer balls on fenced off grass. This small plaza leads to the park holding the Temple of Debod. This is the only Egyptian temple outside of Egypt. It was built in 200 BC and was moved to Madrid in the 70’s as a thank you for helping to save other temples in Egypt. It is positioned on the edge of the sort of plateau that Madrid sits on and faces the setting sun. Come at the right time of the evening and the lookout will be milling with tourists, but not so many that you have to push your way through to get a good seat to watch from. The pollution in the sky gives off beautiful oranges and reds and the sun swelled to a huge size as I watched it dip below the edge of the horizon. On your walk up here, duck into a deli and buy some cheeses, meats, olives and breads and picnic as you watch it go down.
After that moment of stillness it is time to dive back into the city. Promoters everywhere will offer you flyers to clubs but be aware that they don’t kick off until about midnight in this city. If you haven’t been yet, duck into 100 montaditos now for a bucket of 5 beers for only €3 and be surprised by the way that this fast food joint turns into a pub of sorts for students in the evenings. Loud music and laughing staff make for a fun if simple atmosphere.
Come midnight you will have decided which of your club promoters was offering you the best deal and a quick meander through the streets will find you at some pumping club where your strip of paper will get you free entry and 2 shots for the price of one (or something similar). Dance with locals and tourists into the night in the city that doesn’t care if it has work in the morning, this night is here now and it needs celebrating!
Whole day = €40 or $58