After almost three years of living in Madrid, I still get heart sparkles wandering through the streets of Spain's capital. Despite the ups and downs of expat life, Spanish culture has effectively seduced, indulged and transformed me.
From the captivating lifestyle to the ability to travel extensively through Europe, Spain has spoiled me in countless ways. My years in Madrid have undoubtedly been the best of my life, and quite frankly, I'm worried that none of my future endeavors will ever compare.
But my time here must unfortunately come to an end, and in just four months I will be tossed back into the cruel reality of adulthood in the USA. Spain's enviable way of life has ruined me for good, and I'm not quite sure how I'll be able to readjust to American mediocrity (and expensive wine).
So, what's so special about life in Madrid? Take a peek at what I'm making a conscious effort to savor these next few months:
1. Tapas, tapas, tapas
Heaven is a gooey slice of Spanish tortilla
The best way to satisfy an indecisive palate is by sharing a variety of small plates and sampling bites of all the different treats. The ultimate solution for culinary commitment-phobes, tapas solve the problem of having to commit to just one dish. They're also known for being delightfully cheap, or in some cases, even free.
Although Granada is best known for its heaping plates of complimentary appetizers, there are also a few bars in Madrid that generously dole out free tapas when you order a drink. Even if you aren't served a legitimate tapa, you'll at least be given a small dish of olives or potato chips to snack on.
To score free food in the center of Madrid, check out La Petisqueira, La Blanca Paloma and El Respiro. Otherwise, head outside the center to more residential neighborhoods. In the neighborhood that I work in, Carabanchel Alto, all of the bars spoil me with overflowing plates of free huevos rotos, cocido or tortilla when I order a glass of wine to cope with the stress of teaching preschool.
2. Phenomenal wine for unbelievably low prices
It's always wine o'clock somewhere in Spain
Every time I visit the USA, I die a little inside every time I have to pay $14 for a glass of Chardonnay. I know it's my own damn fault that
The going rate for a glass of wine in Madrid is anywhere between 1.50-2.50€, while a particularly high quality glass can cost you 3.50€ (at the most). Not only are the prices delightfully low, but the selection of native Spanish wines is positively delicious. Rioja, Ribera, Toro, Somontano, Albariño... I'll take a glass (or five) of each, por favor.
Looking for great wine in Madrid? Check out De Vinos, Vinoteca Vides, Stop Madrid or Casa Gerardo (Almacén de Vinos) for carefully curated selections of decently priced wine.
3. Unparalleled nightlife
It took me two years to learn how to keep up with Spaniards after dark. In Madrid, the locals start heading to the bars or pre-gaming at home around midnight, and finally roll up to the club around 3 am. After dancing the night away, they slowly make their way home once the discotecas close between 6 and 7 am.
During my first two years as an expat in Madrid, I could only handle this exhausting ritual once every two months. Even when I did make it out until 6, I could hardly function the next week. But now that I'm on Year Three and feel casi madrileña, if I don't do this at least once a week, I feel like I'm doing something wrong. It's not a successful weekend in Madrid unless I dance 'til sunrise and sleep past 1 pm the next day.
Considering that bars back home close before 2 am, I don't know how I'm going to adjust to the pathetic lack of nightlife in Seattle. Clubbing isn't exactly popular in my hipster hometown, so who knows how I'm going to get my groove on after hours. I'm not trying to fly to Vegas every time I want a proper fiesta.
4. Efficient public transportation
Madrid has surely spoiled me with a remarkably efficient public transportation system. While I adore the ability to walk everywhere in Madrid, I can also get to any given destination by metro, bus or train. The system here is well-connected, affordable and relatively idiot-proof.
Given that Spain isn't exactly known for its efficiency, I appreciate their flawless transportation system even more. As someone who harbors an irrational fear of driving, this is the main thing I wish I could bring back to the USA with me.
5. The Spanish dining experience
Federal Café: great restaurant, terrible service. Just the way I like it.
Six years ago when I studied abroad in Cádiz, I positively abhorred the meal schedule, the slow service, and the aloof waiters whose attention you could never seem to grab. And what was that sobremesa business all about? Sitting around the table, just talking for hours after a meal? Who's got time for that?
But after almost three years in Madrid, gone are the days of wanting to eat dinner at 6 o'clock, pining for free refills of ice water and appreciating quality customer service. Now, I live for the late night dinners and the delightfully slow meals. Bringing the check with the food is an unforgivable offense, and I find myself unreasonably put off when friends aren't in the mood to sobremesa.
After getting accustomed to Spain's slow service, I feel irrationally annoyed by American customer service norms. I don't want to be bothered or checked in on, especially when it means that I'm therefore obligated to tip 20%. Please take my order, then leave me alone and let me eat in peace!
The Spanish dining experience is not only more pleasant because I can enjoy my meal without being bothered or rushed out to have my table turned, but also because the food here is decidedly sublime. In Spanish cuisine, less is more. The traditional gastronomy focuses on fresh, high quality ingredients, rendering it all the more savory in its simplicity.
Hungry yet? Here's a list of my favorite places to eat in Madrid.
6. A slower pace of life
The makings of a good morning
Perhaps the most refreshing thing about the Spanish lifestyle is its relaxed pace and no pasa nada attitude. Spaniards work to live, not live to work. They're not becoming workaholics or multi-tasking themselves to death. Instead, they're focusing on enjoying life. The people of Spain take joy in life's simple pleasures: savoring a caña in the sunshine with friends, engaging in long conversations after meals, and making family their number one priority.
Though most madrileños don't actually nap during the post-lunch siesta hours, I secretly relish when some of the shops close and life temporarily slows down. On the weekends when the city is dead until 11 am, I savor my leisurely morning ritual of grabbing a café con leche at Toma Café, feasting upon some homemade pan con tomate, and slowly getting ready until it's time to grab a vermouth and a bite to eat with friends.
7. The lower cost of living
My rent in Madrid is on the higher side, mostly because I chose to live in a recently remodeled apartment in a rather trendy neighborhood. (I also picked a bedroom with two balconies and an unbelievably picturesque view.) But while I consider my rent to be pricier than the norm, in reality, it's still insanely cheap. In fact, it's half the price of an apartment in Seattle. That's right, a full 50% cheaper than rent in the USA. (And that's not even taking into consideration the utilities and cleaning services that are included in my rent here!)
Not only is housing reasonably priced, but groceries are also remarkably cheap. On average, I only spend 30-40€ on weekly groceries (not including my specialty gluten-free goods that are usually more expensive). I score the best deals at local fruterías, which are neighborhood grocers that only sell fresh fruits and vegetables.
8. Being fully immersed in an extraordinary culture
Spain exemplifies beauty unlike any other country I've visited. Between the friendly locals, vibrant customs and seductive language, the Spanish culture is decidedly electric. Vivacious, dynamic and unpretentious, Spaniards truly know how to live. Whether it's at the dinner table or on the streets, their love for life is positively contagious.
Being surrounded by such an effervescent culture has made me appreciate life in a new way. Whether it be savoring a steaming cortado at my favorite neighborhood bar before work, taking a short siesta in the sunshine on my lunch break, or eavesdropping on the musical inflections of a Spanish conversation (and relishing the fact that I can understand most of it), life in Spain has taught me to find joy in the relatively mundane.
It will surely break my heart to part ways with a culture that constantly excites me and brings me to life. Though I will try to find ways to bring the Spanish lifestyle back to the USA with me, right now I have to soak up as much magic as I can during my last few months here.
Have you ever lived abroad?
How did it "ruin" you for life?