Usually I'm not up at 3am, but today my afternoon siesta turned out to be longer than I originally anticipated, hence why I'm currently wide awake. So, I figured that now is as good a time as any to blog about why I've loved living in Madrid this year. I'll admit, I was a bit skeptical coming into this year. My first two trips to Madrid were, well, just average. I don't know why, but the city didn't really captivate me at all. On my third trip to Madrid I started to like it, but coming to live here this year would be my fourth time in Madrid and I was hoping for the best. I have to say, Madrid has completely shattered all my expectations.
I've chosen 7 major reasons why Madrid has been such a great home away from home for me this year. Now, I just have to say that obviously being surrounded by a great group of friends is a major reason why I've had such an unforgettable year, so thank you friends! You know who you are :) But, this blog post will focus on just the city aspect of living. So without further ado, here are the reasons why I believe Madrid is a great place to live.
7. It's SAFE- Yes, Madrid is a very safe city. In fact, I feel safer walking alone here at night than I would in Minneapolis or another american city. Sometimes I feel like I only feel safe because I live in a lively area and there's always people around, so there aren't really opportunities to do anything shady. Plus, no one owns guns here. However, I looked up some quick facts on homicide rates and it turns out, it wasn't just a feeling, I really am safer here! Madrid only had 34 homicides last year out of its 6.5 million metro population giving it a rate of 0.52 per 100,000 people in 2013. Comparing that to an american city of similar size, Houston had a homicide rate of 10.0 per 100,000 people in 2012. The facts don't lie! The worst "crime" you're likely to be a victim of here is pick-pocketing, which (in my opinion) is totally preventable.
6. It's CLEAN- I've traveled to my fair share of big cities in Europe, South America and the U.S. and I must admit that many of them have that city smell. It usually smells like a mix of car exhaust, urine, and rotting garbage. I'm not just saying this, Madrid doesn't have that "smell". We got a little taste of what it would be like back in October during the garbage strike when Madrid wasn't cleaned for 14 days, but luckily now we're back to normal and the city smells normal. Plus, with the army of street cleaners that are constantly working in the center, you'll find significantly less litter here than in other cities. As a neat freak, this was a huge bonus for me.
5. MASS TRANSPORTATION is convenient and easy- Madrid is the most well connected city in Spain, bar none. It has three train systems in just the community of Madrid itself (metro, light rail and Cercanias suburban train), not to mention the hundreds of trains (including high speed ones) that leave every day to other destinations in Spain and Europe! Furthermore, during regular weekday hours you never have to wait more than a few minutes for the next metro train. If trains aren't for you, there's a massive web of electric city buses as well that run 24 hours a day. Finally, Madrid's newest contribution to transportation is a series of electric bike stands that are all over the center. Rental is merely 60 cents for every thirty minutes (or 15 euros for the annual pass). I think the city still has a ways to go with installing bike lanes before it can call itself a truly "bike friendly" city, but it's trying.
4. Parks on parks on PARKS- Unlike many big cities, you never have to walk far in Madrid to find a city park. Some are small but others are HUGE like Casa de Campo (former royal hunting grounds) or the famous Parque del Buen Retiro (Madrid's equivalent of central park). Not to mention the parks that line the Río Manzanares on the west side of Madrid. My point is that even in a big city like Madrid, you can get your fix of green and stretch your legs.
3. It's DIVERSE- It's no surprise that Madrid is a very diverse city like other capital cities, but I think it's one of the things that makes it great! It's true that you lose a bit of that "traditional Spanish" culture, but you gain so much more! Madrid has large populations of South American, Romanian, Moroccan, Bangladeshi, Indian and Chinese people. The best thing that these people bring with them is their FOOD! You can get tons of ethnic food all over Madrid, so you're never bored. But Madrid's diversity extends beyond ethnicity. It's also diverse with a large gay population. Gay people are widely accepted in Madrid and same-sex marriages were legalized way back in 2005! Madrid has the biggest pride celebration in the country, unfortunately it's a week after I leave in July. All in all, don't expect just to see one type of person walking around Madrid.
2. WALK-ABILITY- I know I just got done bragging about the public transport, but the truth is it's not even necessary most of the time. If you live in one of the neighborhoods of the "centro," you can walk pretty much anywhere in less than 30 minutes. My location is very central so for me I'm only 10 minutes from Sol, 10 from Plaza Mayor, 5 from Atocha Station, 12 from Retiro Park and 15 from Gran Via. Now, the neighborhood I worked in required the metro but once I am back in the centre and running errands, I rarely use the metro. I love walking for a million reasons but mainly because it's green, free, good exercise and of course better for soaking up the atmosphere.
1. The ATMOSPHERE- I don't know how it happens, but the city of Madrid manages to capture the buzzing city vibe and the relaxed Mediterranean culture all in one. It's incredible how these polar opposite attributes perfectly meld together into one harmonious atmosphere that is totally Madrileño. While there are always people going about there business and it's nearly impossible to ride past a metro stop without seeing someone in a hurry, Madrid is still able to maintain a relaxing atmosphere. People still manage to sit down at a cafe and drink their cafe con leche out of real coffee cups, not paper ones and although there is no siesta in Madrid, people still enjoy their 2 hour-long lunch breaks daily. Yes, Madrileños love to relax, but I promise you that it's not dull. Something is ALWAYS happening in Madrid, there is never a dull moment. It's difficult to explain, so I guess you'll just have to come see it for yourself one day :)
Now I've missed a lot of things, like how Madrid is full of rich, historical culture and it's an extremely affordable city, but I tried to hit the main aspects that stick out to me. Writing this post is making me feel a bit sentimental about leaving, but I can only say that it's been a total pleasure living here for the past 10 months and I look forward to the day I get back and visit! But I'm getting ahead of myself, I'm not done yet. 3 more days to enjoy this great city and everything it has to offer!