On my travels through Spain I went on recently, I of course, also needed to visit the capital. I´ve heard so much about the city before – a lot of my friends didn´t like the city at all, told me it was boring and not much to see. So, I went there with not many expectations and was surprised and surprised again. Madrid was a wonderful experience and not only because of the city. It was because of my way of travelling, especially the way of accommodation I chose. Couch surfing. I´ve mentioned how much I like couch surfing before, but for those of you who aren´t familiar with the concept I will present it really quickly.
Couch surfing is a website that enables you to stay in a city with local – completely for free. Sounds too good to be true? It´s even better! This way of travelling focuses on the cultural exchange, about learning from each other. The beauty is that it´s not about money at all. It´s about getting to know someone from a different background, experiencing another culture while sharing yours.
I always loved this way of travelling as you can get to know another person very closely in a very short time. While having a good time walking around the city or later at home if they are busy during the day. It´s for free, and it leaves you back even richer than you where before. That´s why I always use this means of travels whenever I can. Especially if I´m travelling alone it´s a great experience, because you can share even more and focus on the other person than if you would travel with a friend.
Arrival in Madrid
So, using couch surfing as my means of accommodation this time as well is how I ended up with two incredibly nice guys in Madrid, one from Peru, one from Ecuador. They welcomed me with open arms, I felt comfortable with the two of them right away. As it was quite late already one even picked me up from the train station to let me drop my luggage and then they took me out with them to a Bachata Erasmus event right away. A lovely welcome. As I love dancing I really enjoyed this first experience in the city. The event was really nice, a very international vibe and good music. First impression – I already really liked Madrid even though I hadn´t seen much from the city so far. Well, I´d seen the city centre we were walking through the city centre at night, which gave me a brief impression of the city as well.
Experiencing the city
The next day I could finally see Madrid during the day. On a warm, sunny day I went on to discover the city by myself as my host was busy during the day. I went on to see Plaza Espana of Madrid with a nice garden behind it. Then I went on just walking around the city like I usually do, absorbing everything around me, taking in everything I can see, smell and hear. Experiencing all the new sounds and smells around me. As the city is big, there was definitely a lot to see and to process.
I went on to walk around the city for a while, just looking at the “normal” part of the city. This part of a city is always so interesting to me. I love to see how people live their everyday lives in a foreign city, where they live, what their buildings look like and how many green areas and parcs I can spot. After walking around for a little bit, I decided to walk towards a church which was conveniently near a vegan restaurant I wanted to check out as well. Vegan cuisine in different cities is always another attraction for me. I could probably also just go on a food tour as I simply love healthy and delicious food.
After taking a look into the menu of the restaurant I decided to save this place for later and went on to see the Palacio Real of Madrid which is the official residence of the royal family in Spain. It is a huge, impressive building. If I would have had more time I would have entered to see the inside, but as gigantic queue was already lining up there, I decided to just walk into the cathedral next to it and let the palace left to discover for another time. The cathedral was comparatively small, and there was a mess going on inside. So, I listened to a Spanish mess for a bit, out of curiosity.
Plaza Mayor and Puesta del Sol
Then I went on again into the city centre to see the Plaza Mayor, the main square in the city centre which was being renovated at the time and therefor didn´t even look that pretty. After taking a look at the Plaza (or at what I could see from it) it was already getting darker. My host had promised we would meet up at the Templo de Debod, which is an old Egyptian temple, to see the sunset. At the same time, I had a great over the whole city. That´s another great thing about couch surfing – you are staying with people who live in the city, so they know which places you should definitely go to! Who knows if I had even visited this place otherwise.
The place didn´t disappoint me, I arrived a bit late, but I could still see the last glances of sunrays on the horizon while the sky was turning from orange to pink to dark blue and almost back. The darker it got the more the city was lightning up and I couldn´t get enough of taking pictures and appreciating the beauty of Madrid at night.
Dancing in Madrid
Then, my host already arrived, we took some more pictures and we went out to eat in the vegan restaurant I already knew for earlier this day. I got a burger and fries and was happy like a little kid about my delicious choices – and finally being able to sit after being on my feet the whole day.
Afterwards, we went on to a bar to dance bachata again. As my host was a dancing teacher, he could teach me how to dance a little bit better again. That´s the beauty of couch surfing! You can learn so much from another person while sharing what you do best. I, for my part, finally discovered my love of dancing again – it´s easy to lose it if you don´t practise. This bar was very nice, soon full with people dancing. That´s the kind of nightlife I enjoyed! On our way back however, I was I bit unlucky. As we needed money for the bus I wanted to get some cash at an ATM nearby. This ATM, however, decided to swallow my card and hold it hostage. First, I panicked a bit as this was literally my only money. But soon I calmed down. It was already very late and I would not be able to change the situation now.
Last day in the city
So, I waited until the next morning. Then I went to the bank right away to look for the card. Luckily, it still was there, my fear of it being stolen was soon overcome. I was relieved, I don´t know what I would have done without any kind of money. Then, I met my host in the city and he went on to show me the Gran Via of Madrid – the biggest shopping street I was already on as my card got swallowed there.
Then we went to see the Puerta de Alcala right at the Plaza de Independencia – the place of independence like the name already suggests. This arc is situated right at the entrance of the Retiro parc – a big green oasis in the centre of Madrid.
I instantly loved it. The first thing I saw when I entered was a little river you could even rent a boat on to paddle around. The parc was wonderful green, I was surrounded by so many trees and ponds and instantly felt happy. We went through the parc a little bit, to discover another pond and the Crystal Palace of Madrid which was built in the 19th century by a Venezuelan architect.
Afterwards it was already about time to go home and buy some ingredients for the vegan pizza to cook for the guys. Which is a little tradition of mine – cooking for my hosts as a gesture of appreciation that they let me into their home and spent so much time with me. As they didn´t have an oven we improvised and made a delicious pizza in a pan. It was already my last day in Madrid! I couldn´t believe time had passed that quickly. In the evening practised to dance a bit more and watched puss in boots in Spanish in the evening. A very nice stay was slowly coming to an end.
Why I love couch surfing
I didn´t stay in the city for a very long time, but I still feel like I experienced the general vibe of the city. I saw the most famous sights and spend a wonderful time with nice hosts. An experience you simply just have using couch surfing. Another reason I also really liked this city was that I felt like people would be more tempted to speak Spanish with me even though I don´t speak it perfectly. With my hosts as well as with people in the streets.
Especially my hosts made me feel comfortable enough to talk in Spanish. I still made a lot of mistakes, invented some new words and so on but we had great fun with me mixing up words. In the end, it´s always possible to communicate, even though if you are not sure if you have mastered a language just yet. This experience of communicating in the local language is also something you find staying in a couch surfing place rather than in a hostel where most people talk English, or an Airbnb or a hotel.
What makes this experience possible is that you don´t pay for you. That changes a lot if you don´t just see it as a free accommodation. You go there with different expectations, anticipations and hopes. You start thinking about what you could offer to the people hosting you to compensate their generosity. I´m always surprised of how much people actually offer you. Not only a home, but also their company, share their skills with you and you share yours.
It´s a beautiful concept and every single experience on couch surfing has enriched my life, my experience, has taught me something new. I always enjoyed it a lot and I will continue to write about it as I feel like it truly is the best way to travel. Just try it out for yourself! Especially if you are travelling alone you will be amazed by the people you´ll get to know.