Sometimes you pick your vacation spots, and sometimes they find you. That just happened for us, in the form of an invite from good friends who happened to be cat sitting in Spain in a two-bedroom apartment. They live in SF, and no, this isn't an international version of the Rover app or a remake of "The Holiday" but with dogs and cats. A friend of theirs who lives in Spain invited them to come stay for free in her apartment for a couple weeks while she was traveling, and it was great for both parties: free vacation + free petsitting, win-win! We were lucky enough to get invited along to hang and pet kitties too.
So Joe and I packed our bags a few weeks ago to take a flight to Madrid, where we stayed for about 24 hours before we moved onto our next destination! We didn't get to do too too much. Namely: Churros and chocolate.
My sweatshirt did not survive an encounter with this super thick dipping chocolate. We went to the historic Chocolateria San Gines in Madrid, as recommended by my friend Linda, and sat in the basement, which looked like a subterranean subway car.
Sorry for the dirty plate shot, but I had to share my wallet for this trip. I kept all my valuables in a ziplock bag for some reason, that's not sad at all. I've been obsessed with reading about Birkins lately (an impossible dream), and we'd joke that I would get the Birkin (how good is Chiara's orange one?) but continue using a ziploc bag as a wallet.
There's a whole story behind that lounge pass too - basically I took all the money we would've spent on hotels and splurged on getting an Amex Platinum card. Everyone in my life tried to talk me out of this card in favor of the Chase Sapphire, but I got weirdly fixated on it (much like the Birkin, but slightly more attainable). I realize now that adulthood is just a series of conversations about credit card rewards.
Of course, I tried to rationalize it by putting it in the context of this trip. We'd get Global Entry! And lounge access! I believe Joe was more excited before we left about #loungelife than our vacation. At Dulles, I sashayed into the Turkish Airline Lounge and proudly held up my Priority Pass. It was as if I held up a dirty sock.
"I'm sorry, ma'am, the lounge is full," the receptionist said as she waived in actual rich people. "It didn't work," I shrugged to Joe. "Let's go to Wendy's."
Once we got to Madrid, we took the metro to Gran Via to our hotel, which was the cheapest central hotel I could find the Amex travel site. What the Amex site neglected to mention is that there was zero signage for the hotel, not even a buzzer. We were at the right address, but it looked like an apartment building in a semi-abandoned alley. We had already dragged our suitcases all over Gran Via at that point, which was (as is our luck) blocked off for a marathon. Joe and I actually cut across the marathon course not once, not twice, but three times looking for our hotel, each time running across with our rolly bags in tour. What a scene.
So this situation after finally finding the hotel was not ideal. I looked up the name of the hotel on Trip Advisor and it said you were supposed to let them know you were coming 48 hours in advance. Also not ideal!
Luckily, the apartment door eventually opened and I sprinted to grab it and everything worked out. Except that the hotel was too small to store our luggage before we checked in. "I know a place that can help you," the hotel employee said, and she wrote down an address and the words "Look and be free."
"Look and be free," Joe said. "That's deep. That might be my next tattoo." Once we arrived at the address, it made a lot more sense.
Lock & Be Free! It was this oh-so-branded luggage locker place. Is this not the SoulCycle of luggage lockers? They were absolutely printing money, with a steady stream of suitcase-laden millennials like us lined up outside.
Now that we were free sans luggage, here's how we explored Madrid in the little time we had: we went to Mercado de San Miguel, which was an adorable food market but so crowded. We also took a spin through Mercado San Anton, which seemed more geared towards locals. We found a hipster coffee shop, Toma Cafe, so so hip. I promised that my jet-lag and red-eye-induced nap would just be a few hours but that was a lie.
Mainly, we visited Madrid's amazing art museums because I had to see "Guernica" at Museo Reina Sofia, just had to! And the Museo Nacional Del Prado is incredible, totally worth walking a mile around the marathon course to get inside. We just scratched the surface of Madrid, but it seemed like living there would be hard to beat.