My arrival in Madrid to start my Big European Adventure was met mainly with excitement. Having realised I wasn’t actually afraid of flying, I spent a brief period of time feeling actually quite relaxed about the whole trip. I enjoyed circling over the brown, parched landscape of Spain as we prepared to land in Madrid, and the snakes of fear in my tummy turned to butterflies of excitement.
We had a smooth landing, and I didn’t have to go through the anxiety of the Baggage Carousel because I packed hyper light so I could avoid the £35 fee for a bigger luggage. Also I HATE worrying about my bag getting lost so everything was better with less stuff. The airport was really, really long. I followed the signs for the metro, but I was still worried I’d gone the wrong way because it felt like I was walking back to Southampton. At the end of my trek was my first adventure: the metro system.
Challenge No. 1: which ticket to buy for the Madrid metro?!
I had read about the tourist travel cards you can get, which are valid for 1, 2, 3, 5 or 7 days, which seemed to offer the vest value for money and peace of mind for getting around. I though it would be easy seeing as I’d dome a bit of research, so I queued at a ticket machine (technology makes everything SO MUCH easier) and tried to nose at what everyone else was doing so I could copy. Of course, I wasn’t the only tourist there. The machines are multilingual, so it was all very straightforward, until I discovered there are two zones and I had no idea which zone I was staying in. I stood there for a minute feeling a bit panicked, with a queue forming behind me, before cancelling the transaction and consulting the handy map on the wall. Luckily I was staying in the cheaper zone, else it would have cost me an extra 13€ for the three day pass that I bought.
Challenge No. 2: where the bloody hell am I actually going and how do I get there?!
The lady I was staying with was actually incredibly helpful with this bit. She send me very clear directions to get to her flat on the Metro, so I didn’t find it hard at all. However, if I hadn’t had her help, Google would have been just as good. The public transport function on Google maps is amazing and I found it super accurate, which I suppose was mostly down to the fact that I was travelling in major cities. The Madrid metro is the same kind of system as the tube, as one might expect, and it’s just as straightforward. I get on very well with the tube in London, but it might be a bit more of a struggle for people who don’t quite think that way. The map is simple, the network isn’t quite as big as London. You just find where you are, find where you want to go, and see which colour line you need to get on and in which direction. The directions are labelled up as “towards [last stop]” so you just need to find what the last stop is to know which platform to go to. The signage is pretty comprehensive, and I never got lost. I also count the number of stops before my stop, but they do announce where you are at each stop so that’s more for my peace of mind. If there isn’t a direct route, then you just change somewhere along the line. Simple, hopefully. I tried to make it a bit easier for myself by marking all the places I wanted to go on the metro map while I had WiFi so I could plan the routes better. That actually worked really well and I managed to see everything I wanted to quite easily.
Challenge No. 3: where do I go now I’m off the nice straightforward metro?
This was the hardest part – trying to find the place once I’d reached my metro stop. Each station has several exits, so you need to be sure to use the right one if you’ve been given directions. They’re not all labelled in a way that made sense to me, but that could just be me being silly. Several times during my trip to Madrid I got off the metro and felt lost. I actually went the wrong way when I first tried to find my accommodation, but luckily realised in time. Google maps was my best friend. I had no internet because it’s hella expensive with EE (though it turns out that you can often get some roaming as part of your phone plan these days), but I found out you can download maps and use them offline. It won’t navigate you automatically, but you can use GPS to pinpoint where you are and work it out manually. I also got into the habit of screenshotting routes while I had WiFi, so I could look at the images if I couldn’t quite find my way. The offline maps take up quite a lot of space, so I downloaded one at a time, always deleting the previous city when I had the next city downloaded. I forgot one time and ended up panicking because I was lost. Didn’t make that mistake again.
All in all I found the Madrid metro system simple, clean, and convenient. Oddly the main thing I found challenging was the lack of the old British “don’t LOOK at ANYONE. Don’t you DARE make eye contact” kind of mentality. At first it creeped me out a bit because I’m not used to meeting people’s eyes on the underground, but once I got used to it I barely noticed it. Also you get buskers on actually on the trains, so you get music on your journey sometimes too!