Summer abroad: my first week in Madrid

Erin Alexander/Staff

After an exhausting 15-hour journey from Miami, Florida to Madrid, Spain, I finally manage to make it to the center of the city to the student residence where I’ll be spending the next five weeks. It is roughly 4 p.m. on Calle San Bernardo, and the street is hot and empty. I arrive right in the middle of the famous Spanish siesta — the period late in the afternoon when most shops and businesses close to take a long lunch and escape the stifling temperatures, which regularly exceed 100 degrees during the summer. Still, I immediately notice that the streets are both beautiful and dignified, with an air of history and pride not to be doubted. During the orientation for my Berkeley Summer Abroad program, the “study” portion of which I will undoubtedly place greatest emphasis, I am lucky enough to make a small group of friends with whom I can explore the city.

On our first night out we decide to try a place where we can get a taste of Spanish nightlife and, of course, Spanish tapas. Many of the students staying in our residence recommend we try Sidrería El Tigre, a popular budget-friendly tapas bar for students and locals alike. It is a Monday, and we arrive around midnight (which is still considered fairly early to go out in most parts of Spain) to find the place packed with people. I manage to squeeze my way to the front of the bar and order a round of drinks for the group, four orders of Spain’s classic summer drink — tinto de verano — for only 6 euros each. Similar to sangria, and in my opinion a bit more simple and refreshing, it is a half-and-half mixture of red wine and most often a type of carbonated lemonade (sometimes referred to as gaseosa), served over ice.

The beauty of El Tigre is not in its quality or its ambience (the fluorescent lights are aggressively bright and it is standing room only) but its generous quantity of tapas, a plate of which accompanies each drink. Because we’ve ordered four drinks, we are served four different plates, a satisfying mix of croquetas de jamón (perfectly deep- fried cubes of creamy béchamel and bits of ham), patatas bravas (fried potatoes drizzled with a spicy tomato sauce) and slices of toasted white bread with an assortment of toppings like jamón Serrano and grilled chicken. While El Tigre certainly may not offer Madrid’s best selection of tapas, it is fun with friends and budget friendly.

For our first trek outside of Madrid’s city limits, we look to beat the heat at one of Madrid’s local rivers in the small town of Manzanares el Real, an hour’s journey on both the metro and a bus. A 30-minute hike up the Avenida de la Pedriza brings us to a small waterfall that flows into what is almost a natural swimming pool, where we decide to drop our things and jump in. A spot popular with locals, it allows us to swim and even practice our ever-improving Spanish language skills.

Hungry for lunch, we hike back into town and happen upon a 15th-century castle that seems as if it has been taken right off the set of Game of Thrones. For lunch, we go to La Charca Verde, meaning “the green pond” and named after one of the more popular swimming spots in the area. I convince my friend to share a dish of deliciously savory lamb sweetbreads with potatoes, so long as we also order the less adventurous (though equally tasty) potatoes with jamón and runny eggs fried in olive oil. Thoroughly exhausted and satisfied, we dazedly make our way back to the bus station and sleep almost the entire way home. Not too shabby for our first week in Madrid.


Contact Erin Alexander at [email protected].