When you arrive at the Madrid airport, you may be surprised that it is not your typical airport. It is not easy to navigate and you will be confused when you have to take an underground subway-like train to collect your baggage. Nevertheless, the Madrid airport is beautiful and very modern.
The flight from Madrid to Houston is about 12 hours, however, it does not seem as long because you spend most of the time sleeping. During your flight you lose seven hours because Madrid is seven hours ahead of Houston.
So when it is nighttime in Madrid, it is afternoon in Houston. This change is not as drastic as one may think because even at 8 p.m. in Madrid, the sun is still shining. In fact, it does not even begin to look like nighttime until around 10 p.m. The sun’s late schedule in Madrid is perfect for the culture. Everything is pushed back.
A typical Madrileño’s daily schedule looks like this:
6:00-7:30 a.m. – Wake up, get ready for work, and eat breakfast
7:30 a.m. – Head to work [Most shops open at 8am] 8am-1 p.m. – Work
1-3:30 p.m. – Many shops close during the early afternoon and workers may go home and take a ciesta (nap) or go eat lunch
4:30-8 p.m. – Work [Most shops close at 8pm] 8:30 p.m./9 p.m. – Get home and cook dinner (the very vast majority of people in Madrid cook dinner instead of ordering out)
10 p.m. – Eat Dinner
11:30 p.m./12 a.m. – Go to sleep and wake up early for work the next day (As you can guess, many people in Madrid are sleep-deprived.)
Another thing about time in Madrid is that they always use military time. So in Madrid 8 p.m. is 20:00.
On the weekends, and weekdays for those who are able, at around 12 p.m. people in Madrid may go out with friends to a restaurant for tapas. Tapas are little snacks usually consumed with beer or wine or a mixed drink. A drink that is custom to Madrid and often requested for tapas is called ‘tinto de verano’. It is red wine mixed with lemon Fanta and a slice of lemon or orange. It is very refreshing and a good option for people who do not like wine although it is also enjoyed by those who do.
Madrid is a city that caters to tourism except in its language. Consequently, it is difficult to get to know the “real” Madrid. As a tourist, you may only see the tourist side. There are many tourist-traps mainly in the form of restaurants. Restaurant owners know that tourists are coming to Madrid looking for certain things like paella, a popular Spanish dish, for example. So many tourist-trap restaurants will advertise things like “pizza-pasta-paella.”
Many touristy parts of the city cater to the Madrid that they believe tourist want to see. It is hard to get away from that and to find out exactly what Madrid is all about. The best restaurants are those known only by Madrileños and are the ones that tourists will have a hard time finding on their own.
The truth is that Madrid is not as “cultural” as we would define it. Madrid is a city just like any other city, however, it does have a rich history. The food in Madrid is more European than Spanish. They eat sandwiches, hamburgers, and salads just like we do in America. I’ve never seen so many Burger Kings in such a short distance as I have seen in Madrid. If you come to Madrid with expectations of finding a crazy cultural Spanish experience, you may end up disappointed. It is better to come to Madrid without any preconceptions, willing to take the city for what it is.
Other things I have discovered about Madrid.
One thing that is definite about Madrid is that Spanish is the official language. I do not know how anyone could effectively navigate through or live in the city without speaking at least a little bit (but preferably more than that) of Spanish or having someone who does with them.
Another thing is that it is relatively easy to navigate the city with Google maps or some kind of GPS system. Navigating by old-fashioned paper map is significantly more challenging as the streets in Madrid are slanted many different ways and come together in frequent roundabouts. Also the streets are not labeled in a manner that is easily seen from all directions. However, the metro in Madrid is easy to navigate and it is comparatively clean and efficient. Madrid is an easy city to get to know once you learn the major streets and plazas. And it is a beautiful city with many parks and gardens.
Smoking is extremely prevalent in Madrid probably because the cost of cigarettes is cheap here. It seems like everyone does it.
America’s coffee tastes like water compared to Madrid’s. Coffee is something that many Madrileños have at the end of their meals without milk. I have never tasted the coffee without milk but even the coffee that I have had here with three times as much milk as coffee and two packs of sugar is strong although, after a few sips of getting used to it, it is quite good.
In Madrid scrambled eggs are eaten at every meal except for breakfast. I went to a nice restaurant and saw scrambled eggs, potatoes, and ham on the lunch menu. I have often seen it eaten for dinner too. Also, tortillas in Madrid are not like tortillas in America. It is more similar to an omelet with potatoes in it.
If you ever travel to Madrid, talk to the local Madrileños. Ask them where their favorite eateries and exhibits are. The tourist-Madrid is underwhelming, but the “real” Madrid is worth experiencing.