Make Madrid Mine

Madrid didn’t do it for me. Not the first time. Millions and millions of Madrileños can’t be wrong. But it didn’t make my heart sing. Not at first.

Maybe we missed the magic of Madrid. The first time.

Let’s rewind. For a minute. Two years ago. Having moved my family around the world to Copenhagen, Denmark. We took a flight leaving Portland, OR to Vancouver, Canada on to Frankfurt, Germany then finally landing in Copenhagen. Capital of Denmark. That alone was exhausting. We picked up a tiny (at the time) rental car and dropped seven HUGE overstuffed overweight bags at my husband’s office. What a great first impression that was. And then, after only two days in damp, dark Denmark, we took our very first European family trip.

Why? Why did you do that? Well. We had a few weeks before my husband’s job contract was to start and the children had open spots in their new school. We had to move out of our house in Oregon because we’d already rented it to incoming Aussies. What better way to spend those gap weeks than traveling. Immediately. I know it sounds intense. (As it turns out – it was.) But this was part of the reason we took the job in Denmark to begin with. All those amazing travel opportunities.

We decided on Spain. For a week. We planned to split the week between Barcelona and Madrid. That Renfe express train between the two cities is amazeballs. You should try it. It was November. It was definitely not peak season to visit Spain. Perfect timing we decided. The weather was pleasant. Not too hot. Not too cold. Definitely warmer and brighter and lighter than the dark, near December we encountered upon landing in Denmark.

Fall in Retiro Park, Madrid SPAIN

This was Spain. This was my first visit to Spain. My husband’s first trip to Spain. My childrens’ first visit to Spain. This is why I chose it. Why we chose it. I wanted our first familial foray into European exploits to be a FIRST for us all. Perhaps in retrospect, a wee bit of familiarity might have been preferable. Make our transition easier. Maybe.

Madrid is amazing. But Madrid is a metropolis. The third largest capital in Europe behind London and Berlin. Madrid is HUGE. And crowded and bustling and busy and loud and large. We were overwhelmed. Overstimulated. Exhausted. And because of this, I will admit, we were underwhelmed with the Spanish capital. Lo ciento España. I’m sorry Madrid.

Madrid is a METROPOLIS. It is mega huge.

We had a perfectly situated Airbnb apartment near Puerta del Sol. The epicenter of Madrid. Of Spain, really. This is kilometer zero. All mileage in Spain is calculated from this point. There is where first impressions are made. Ours ? A wary sense of outsider-ness. I don’t know how to explain it any other way.

It was different from Barcelona’s colorful, whimsical, mosaic’d and mercado’d  beach vibe. Madrid hit us like a Flamenco dancer – fast and loud – clapping and stomping to a beat we couldn’t hear. We couldn’t understand.

Maybe it was the somewhat intimidating costumed characters strolling around the plaza at Puerta del Sol looking for a little pocket change in exchange for a photo op from passing tourists. Chubby spider men busting the seams of their suits; slightly tarnished Mickey and Minnie Mouses taking breaks with their “head” under their arms. But the most disturbing and definitely creepiest – was the red headed giant butcher knife wielding Chucky looming atop the fountain mid plaza. THIS is what my daughter, then 8, remembers most about Madrid. Did you see him? He was creepy.

I have to jog her memory (and mine) about the delicious chocolate con churros at world famous Chocolatería San Ginés. OH YEAH! Those were good! Can we get those again? Maybe. We’ll see. And how about that stroll through Retiro Park, listening to the live music at that outdoor cafe while boats paddled in the nearby lake? Oh yeah! That was good too. Is THAT where we had the milkshake? Yes. Yes it was.

And how about renting bikes and riding along the canals down to Casa de Campo (a gorgeous green space/park five times the size of New York’s Central Park?) Remember we found the ropes course and climbing structure? That was MADRID? Yes. Yes it was. OH. That was cool! A little stressful I will admit as parents letting our 8 year old ride an adult sized bike in a not as bike-friendly town as our new home Copenhagen, but she did it. In spite of the hills!

And how about that kilo of bacon we bought at the Museo del Jamon? HAHAHAHA! Group chuckle inducing memory jog. Having just moved to Europe and not yet used to metric weight system, I ordered one kilo of bacon. It seemed reasonable at the time. There are five us and three are growing children. As we watched him slice and slice and slice….and SLICE. And. SLICE. And keep slicing. We soon realized we’d made a critical error. OH. Kilos. Got it. (For those of you – who like me – didn’t get the conversion immediately – one kilo of bacon is exactly 2.2 pounds of bacon.) Yep. I cooked that bacon for an hour. Couldn’t take raw bacon home to Denmark you know. I will admit – although I couldn’t shake that animal fat smell for days – it was delicious.


So many fun memories when we sit and think about it. So why then the ho-hum response when we look back at Madrid on our list of places visited? Timing. Bad timing. Unfortunately I think our collective familial state of shock that we had actually packed up all our earthly goods, sold off half, put some on a ship and stored the rest in my mother’s attic and shlepped ourselves AROUND THE WORLD – before even establishing ourselves in our new home just MIGHT have had a little to do with it.

When my husband had an opportunity to travel back to Madrid for work, at first I wasn’t interested. Too many other places to see. Don’t need a repeat. But I am SO GLAD I did. Two years later. This September. I will be happy to show you how I made Madrid mine. More intimate. More accessible. More approachable.

How do you make a huge city feel less intimidating? More like yours? I’ve got ways. Now. I’ve had to learn. Ways we have made it work in the past two years. I’m happy to share. I’d like to hear yours. Madrid is mine part II to follow. Stay tuned. Memories help – a place looks better in retrospect sometimes. Look at all those things we did. We are grateful. That matters. It helps make a place like Madrid ours.

Cheers from Copenhagen, xoxo Erin


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Sharing with Faraway Files Travel Blog Community – a link up hosted by Katy at Untold Morsels, Clare at Suitcases and Sandcastles and me – Oregon Girl Around the World. Click the badge to add your own post or come over and read where to travel next! Cheers, Erin


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43 thoughts on “Make Madrid Mine

  1. Brings back memories of when we moved to San Francisco. We were only there two days before we flew to San Diego. My husband had to go for work and I thought it would make more sense to go with him and bring our two girls rather then stay in our new, unfurnished and small SF apartment. “Let’s go to sunny San Diego.” There was no sun! It rained the entire time, the jet lag from our 16 hr Singapore flight was bad. I need to go back to San Diego and make it mine 🙂

    1. EXACTLY! And you should! There are SO MANY amazing things to do with kids in San Diego! It is a beautiful town. And so different than San Francisco! Love that you get it – thanks for the comment! Cheers from Copenhagen! Erin

  2. We’re thinking of heading to Madrid in march, so I’m looking forward to hearing about your second trip. I’ve felt simultaneously over stimulated and underwhelmed in several cities, Brussels at first was one of them.

  3. Clare Thomson

    Such a clever way to write about experiencing a big city, Erin – and so true. There can be so many reasons why we don’t click with a place and your reasons all make perfect sense. I’m so happy for you that you went back and made it your own the second time. Can’t wait to read exactly how you did it. #FarawayFiles

  4. I can totally relate to the approach you took when first arriving in Europe Erin and I too had a slightly disappointing first trip to Madrid. That time I had been abandoned by my girlfriends and traveling companions in Barcelona and only had a day to explore Madrid. A day when if the truth be told I was petrified of hanging out alone. Fast forward a decade and the next time I was in Madrid I partied it up on the streets on my own.. Spain had just won the World Cup. It was very exciting. Seems Madrid is there to provide watershed moments. Now get me back there for the jamon, tapas and the churros! Awesome post x

  5. I’m so glad you gave my favorite Spanish city a second chance! I lived in Madrid for a semester and a summer, and I adore it. I’ve gone back several times, and if it’s even possible, I’ve loved it more each time. I enjoyed your Instagram photos of your time there – looking forward to reading more about it here!

  6. Definitely worth a second attempt with Madrid. Appreciate your candour. It’s not overrun with tourists so perhaps not so tourist friendly if you’re not in the right frame of mind but I loved it. Do try again. I felt I was in real Spain.

  7. I think you find a neighbourhood! Arriving right in the city centre you find yourself surrounded by the other tourists zooming around the city at a hundred miles an hour. Find where the locals are, and slow down, you will soon find the heart of a city.

  8. A kilo of bacon! It is funny how sometimes you don’t get the vibe of a place, many years ago I flew in Istanbul at the start of a backpacking tour round the Black Sea coast of Turkey and loved it. On the way home I spent a couple more days in Istanbul and was overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the place and couldn’t wait to leave. Same city, same hotel just ten days later!

  9. aandj8804

    Great post. I can see how the timing of this trip would be stressful. But at least you have fond memories of bacon. 🙂 And churros. *sigh* Food is always a great memory. (Oh – and biking. Exercise? Psh!) #FarawayFiles

  10. I remember Spiderman with a paunch too! And a sad Mickey Mouse who had wandered over to Retiro Park. I quite enjoyed Madrid but I think that was because of our choice of hotel – the Urban, a design hotel which was so fab and sexy, I remained in a good mood for the rest of the weekend! 😉

    1. With 5 in our family and three being kids – I don’t usually seek out sleek and sexy these days! Some day once again maybe! We saw a Dora the explorer this past visit – a little disheveled and with boobs. Very odd. Thanks for linking with #FarawayFiles – cheers from Copenhagen – Erin

  11. love this post! I liked Madrid when I visited it for New Year’s years ago:). But I have the same feeling for Brussels, for instance:) our circumstances at the moment of a trip can impact hugely how we feel about a certain place:) cheers from sunny Croatia

  12. This is the opposite of me. As much as I love traveling and seeing new places, I also need some time to unwind and get acquainted with my surroundings. #farawayfiles

  13. Danny

    I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who just didn’t vibe with Madrid right away. I was there almost three years ago in February, and the weather was absolutely terrible: cold, gray, and even snowy! I will admit, though, I took an amazing day trip to Segovia. But overall, Madrid just didn’t do it for me.

  14. I think this is the sort of thing I do – you never know until you try if it’ll be an adventure or a bit overwhelming (or a bit of both). I’m always glad I took the opportunity though! One day hopefully I’ll get to Madrid too… #farawayfiles

  15. We haven’t been to Madrid yet because of how big it is. We weren’t a fan of London and so assumed we wouldn’t like Madrid either. But, in retrospect it is all about how you look at it. I love how your perspective adjusted a bit and in a new light you enjoyed it. Maybe just maybe we’ll love London one day. Maybe we just need to give it another shot. ☺️ #farawayfiles

  16. I can imagine your feeling underwhelmed with your first visit to Madrid, right after such a huge move across continents to Denmark. The churros and bike rides looks like they did compensate somewhat, though you were not in an emotional or mental space to yet appreciate better what the city offered. Looking forward to reading about how you made Madrid your 🙂

    1. Exactly what we were feeling Ahila! Yes – the second go round I was definitely in a better space to appreciate! Cheers and thanks for all of your positive engagement with #FarawayFiles – you are a great community member! Happy Friday, Erin

      1. Thank you, Erin. I enjoy being part of the #FarawayFiles community, sharing travel stories. My weekend has been pretty good as it was Deepawali yesterday. Hope you are enjoying the Halloween weekend!

  17. I’ve not been to Madrid actually, probably because it’s a City and big Cities don’t appeal to me. That’s not to say I don’t visit them because I do, but I have to be ready for it and seek something specific … that’s how I made London my friend! I used to hate London because I used to try and do too much when I visited, then I realised, stop! Wait! You don’t have to do it all now, you actually can pick a couple of things that mean something and visit another time! And THAT was my secret of turning a big City into a place I could visit … and enjoy! Looking forward to part 2 and how you made Madrid your own 🙂

  18. This is such an interesting and insightful post. There was obviously a lot going on for you but sometimes you just don’t click with a city. I loved Paris the first time I visited and the second visit I struggled every second. I did cool things that I look back on and think “Oh that’s right, that was awesome” but generally I didn’t find it a happy experience. Weird how that happens sometimes.

  19. Isn’t it funny how emotional attachment to a city can change after each visit? Paris I loved for the first time, then it lost its shine thereafter; Berlin I was indifferent to for a few days, then it grew immensely on me; Brussels and Dublin I still don’t “get”, but hopefully this will change sometime.

    But Madrid? Madrid I loved from the start. I loved the buzz, I loved the tapas, I loved the public spaces, I loved the unfeasibly late eating hours; I’d love to go back. Great post! #FarawayFiles

  20. You’ve painted a great first impression of Madrid! I’ve never been, as it always seemed to get overlooked when I plan European adventures… but this does look like a fantastic cultural experience for kids. I would probably get very fat too! I’m so glad you went back in September and had another chance to explore the city.

  21. Museo del Jamon! Such a classic – and that story forever classic!! Too funny. What was that big department store called in Puerto del Sol nearby? I remember going food shopping there as well. Really enjoyed reading this, Erin, and appreciate your honesty. So many factors can affect how you feel about a place upon first traveling, and that makes complete sense as to why Madrid was overwhelming for you guys..timing can be everything. Looking forward to reading part 2 on one of my favorite cities! #farawayfiles

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