29 Dec Ryan Zieman’s Madrid
Travel Blogger Ryan Zieman Shares Some Insider Secrets on Madrid
Ryan is a Chicago native and an aspiring Madrileño who loves the hustle and bustle of big city living. After graduating university with a degree in business and Spanish, he moved 4,000+ miles to Madrid, Spain. In the urban jungle Ryan seeks peace and relaxation, discovering serenity in everything from a quaint neighbourhood cafe to weekend escapes. When Ryan isn’t travel blogging for Urban Serenity at ryanzieman.com, he is teaching business English at top multinational firms and learning to master the siesta.
Ryan, how long have you lived in Madrid?
I’ve called Madrid home for about a year now. Following my graduation from college, I moved to Madrid in August 2013 to teach for one academic year. Little did I know that I would be back to teach for a second year the following fall. After enjoying this past summer in my sweet home Chicago, I’m back for more Spanish adventures.
Tell us one thing most people don’t know about the city…
Although I knew living in Spain would be the nearest I’d ever been to Egypt, who knew that there is a fully reconstructed Egyptian temple just a short walk from the Royal Palace. The temple of Debod was donated to Spain in 1968 and rests in one of my favorite parks, Parque del Oeste. It’s perched on a hillside making it a popular site from where to view the sunset over Casa de Campo, Madrid’s largest green space just west of the city.
What do you to do to relax in Madrid?
I’ve never been much of an athlete, but I love to find activities where I can get moving. Soon after arriving to Madrid, one of my work colleagues and (soon to be) best friends persuaded me to start running with her. Madrid has numerous parks, athletic centers, and trails, especially along the river, to satisfy any runner’s craving. Running is a time for me to clear my mind, de-stress, and enjoy the gorgeous city. And it goes without saying that followed by a leisurely caña (small beer), this makes for a great start or end to my day.
Where is the best place to get away from the crowds?
Head north of Puerta del Sol (city center) to the Malasaña neighborhood. Although you will encounter crowds on the weekends, these are mostly a diverse mix of local Madrileños. Malasaña is one of my favorite neighborhoods and home to the Spanish hipster (pronounced ‘eepster’). Enjoy a fresh strawberry infused gin tonic (gin tonics are all the rage), browse some trendy boutiques, or people watch from a café window.
Are there any bars or restaurants you can recommend for long lingering lunches or just people watching?
Speaking of people watching, one of my favorite spots is from the big windows of La Bicicleta. Like many bars in Madrid it doubles as a chill workspace by day and then transforms into a hoppin’ bar at night. Honestly, you can enjoy a long lingering lunch, dinner, or café cone leche anywhere in the city. No one will ever bring you the check before your request or ask you to leave, unless you are at a very busy restaurant with a short dinner reservation. A few more of my favorite cafes are Cafetería HD (Moncloa) and La Ciudad Invisible (Opera).
Can you recommend any free things to do?
Most of Madrid’s museums including the Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo Reina Sofia, and others offer free entrance on certain days and times. Although free tapas are hard to come by in Madrid, El Tigre is a popular bar where you can order a large drink for a few euros and then receive complimentary plates of tapas. This place is really popular with the university crowd and it’s elbow-to-elbow standing room only on the weekends. Throughout Madrid there are always markets to browse, parks to explore, and architecturally stunning neighborhoods to wander, all para gratis!
Any must visit shopping recommendations (clothes, food, whatever…)
Although it’s an international Spanish chain, going to a Zara in Spain is worth the savings as products are much less expensive than its sister stores abroad. You can’t leave Madrid without sampling the famous jamón iberico (cured ham) and queso manchego. Wash it down with a glass of tinto de verano (red wine with soda water and lemon) or a glass of red wine (you can’t go wrong with a Rioja). Avoid the over priced shot-sized bottles of “sangria” and expensive mosaic bull statues that you’ll see in every souvenir shop.
What’s your favourite season there and why?
Spring or fall is probably my favorite season because the winters are cold and rainy while the summers are blistering hot. In fact most people escape the heat for the entire month of August for cooler coastal destinations. The past autumnal seasons I’ve experienced were unusually warm and pleasant making me feel like I got a second summer! Spring comes pretty early according to my Midwestern standards and regardless of the temperature, there is typically the characteristic deep blue, sunny sky.
What city would you most like to visit?
Do I really have to choose just one? Well, at the moment there are many European cities on my list, but I’ve been itching to go a little further west. Lately I’ve been wanderlusting about Cappadocia, which I dream of exploring from high up in a hot air balloon. For a more urban experience in Turkey, Istanbul will definitely be a major part of this trek.
Any practical advice for people visiting Madrid?
Madrid is very safe like most European cities; however, beware of the expert pickpockets. It might seem obvious, but never set your phone on the table of a restaurant or café as there are some sneaky methods of snatching these up (I almost stupidly fell victim twice). Aside from bringing along your common street smarts and best practices for big cities, the summer months can be very hot and the city in August is especially hot and empty as I mentioned before. Don’t be afraid to take the metro, which is very clean, modern, and efficient, to visit neighborhoods and sights that are not walking distance from the center. For example, the Plaza del Toros is not walking distance from the center and is an architectural marvel worth seeing, regardless of your feelings about bull fighting.
Follow Ryan Zieman at www.ryanzieman.com