Unintentional Hipster

I just like wearing women's jeans, not eating animal products and writing shit nobody cares about. It was an accident, I swear

What I learned in Madrid

On Monday evening just passed, me and one of my friends from home hopped on a plane from London to Madrid to go and meet other friends from home, who we had(for the most part) not seen in months. Five nights and, by a rough calculation, seventeen hours of sleep later, I was back in sunny ole’ London! (Sarcasm aside, the weather this week is actually amaaazing[for London standards…twenty-seven degrees whoop!)

It’s the sort of place you go to and come home from rethinking-why on Earth have I been living my life this way?

Madrid was the first time in my life I’ve ever been to a place where the dominant language spoken was not English. Although I had briefly holidayed in Fiji when I was younger with the family, Madrid was my first real experience of being in a place that wasn’t strictly under an American/British influence. And really, although I know Madrid doesn’t stand up to other places in the world like India or Brazil, it was the first time that I had ever actually been anywhere so influenced by poverty. And it wasn’t a rampant or sweeping poverty but just hundreds upon hundreds of beggars and buskers lining the street.

In the main plaza, the Puerto de Sol, every day from around eight in the morning until the wee hours of the morning, there would be a group of ten buskers dressed head to toe in thick Sesame Street and Disney outfits. This is how these people made a living-they hung out in the square in these huge costumes all day and had tourists and kids take photos with them in exchange for some loose change. On my last morning, I sat in the plaza, eating breakfast and just soaking in a bit more of the beauty of the city before I left. I was there for about an hour and not a single one of these buskers had any success.
It was around 11am at this point. And, at a rough estimate, I’d say it was thirty-three degrees. Easily that hot.

And I know that almost nobody at home I know would ever, EVER even dream of doing a job like that without any certainty of payment. And these guys were doing it day in, day out, every single night and day I was there, they were there.

Then on the train to the airport, a guy who would have been no older than my brother hops on with an accordion and a little set of speakers and tears into some Ray Charles,ย Hit the Road Jack. He took a full blasted solo in the middle of it and holy shit, this guy was like Chick Corea on a keytar except he was playing the accordion. And he probably had no job-this was how he made a living. He would’ve made about 4 or 5 euros on that train trip. If anybody even remotely as talented as him was busking on Pitt St Mall, they’d have pulled in hundreds of dollars. It was strange to see, I suppose. I could never imagine putting myself out there like that.
Then again, I guess that’s why I’m not Spanish.

Money aside, there was the most amazing energy! (Except duringย siesta when everybody slept) Yet the whole place was so calm and relaxed. Energetic, bustling but without stress. And everybody so cheerful and in each others faces, but not in at all of a bad way. When people would come up to you and talk to you, they would be fully in your face but terribly polite about the whole ordeal.

Walking through the streets and parks, listening to the language with the superb backdrop that is the architecture of Madrid, it felt like I was in some sort of musical…or dream. Everything and everyone was just bouncy and charming and ahh!

These locals wondering the streets seemed to be living life in a way that almost nobody I’ve ever met has before: for the sake of living it. I saw it, I soaked it in and I questioned why I hadn’t been following suit.

So now, I’m trying to. A genuine, conceited effort.

I’ve spent so much time in my life fucking about and it’s cause I feel like I don’t know what the meaning of my life is yet, what the fuck am I meant to be doing with myself? Where am I meant to be doing it? Who am I meant to be doing it with? And I’ve spent so much time over so many years trying to figure this out and on that sleepy Saturday morning just before I hopped a train to the airport, it sort of hit me.
“Hey bro, you’ve been doing this shit all wrong.” None of that junk really matters that much. Gotta stop being such a self-entwined little bitch and just enjoy myself. Do things with my life of course-but stop worrying too much over the who, the what and the where and more on the how.

So I’ma try.

Next blog will probably be about how that’s all going. Truly ravishing stuff huh?

Peace out, have a good week everybody!


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71 thoughts on “What I learned in Madrid

  1. Great to have your views on Madrid. Thanks for sharing them with us!

    I am shocked by the mention of “hundreds upon hundreds of beggars and buskers lining the street.” Surely, homelessness is a problem in every big metropolitan area. In Madrid, the number of homeless people is nowhere near what you see in London at all.

    Buskers and homeless people are not a good indicator to judge the poverty of any country. There are people on the streets from various nationalities too.

    Madrid and the province (also called Madrid) have so much to offer. Have fun when you go back in September!

  2. samokan on said:

    Nice point of view but if you have the time and the courage, try to visit the third-world countries and you will see the real meaning of poverty ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. I have enjoyed your blog. I agree. I have been to Spain and am in love with the country. That is why I travel. To see other perspectives. Funny when I was 20 I lived in England. Chiswick in London to be exact right off the Turnham Green Station on the High Road. I learned for the first time that the news in the US was well so different. Different countries- different perspectives. Welcome to the world outside of your home. It is amazing…and as for Madrid I know what you mean.

  4. Alyssa on said:

    Madrid is one of those rare and beautiful place I’ve been to. Had live there for one year at my mother in law’s home and that was such an awesome experience. Thanks for sharing you’re own perspective of the city, by the way. ๐Ÿ˜€

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    • Ohh living there would be lovely! But I’m too attached to my homeland I’m afraid.

      And far too poor in the department of linguistic skills to survive a country that doesn’t speak English too haha :p

  5. I’ve spent a lot of time in Madrid and seen people begging on the streets, sure. But it’s nothing like real poverty. Homelessness and poverty and two very, very different things.

  6. Just thought I’d let you know; about the poverty thing… I know what you meant. I think people are taking it a bit too serious and getting technical lol.
    About what you said about living life & enjoying it, to me, where you live makes a big difference. I’m from Cape Town and apparently compared to Johannesburg, we are so laid back, they even call us lazy! I don’t see chasing money as living the life though, so they can call us lazy if they want to. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Ahh they’re just very passionate about the city! I know that even though the intentions may have been good, if people began dissing Sydney I’d start getting a little bit, “Hey, what you doin’ fool?!” Except probably with far less lingual flair then the other commenters :p
      As long as you’re happy, who cares what they think!

  7. Madrid is a beautiful place, isn’t it? Not to sure about the poverty part, but I guess in comparison to London I see what you mean. But I’m glad you enjoyed it. I wish everywhere enjoyed siesta as much as the crazy Madrilenos, the world would probably be a better place hahaha

  8. joigus on said:

    The info you provide is a bit too loose and too scant to form an opinion about Madrid based on what you say.
    It sounds a bit like: “There were a couple of street performers in Puerta del Sol, and they were not doing well at all. Conclusion: poverty in Madrid is just awful!”
    The truth is actually far uglier than what you point out (people living in slums, mind you); far more universal (New York, Johannesburg and so on and so on) and far more complex, with poor people being pushed farther and farther away from the city to the outskirts by the City Council, so as to present a nicer facade to the tourists. So what you saw is actually the cutest bit.
    You are not making a case, but then maybe you didn’t mean to.
    Please take this as just well-meaning pointers for someone who wants to be a critical writer, even if they just wanna become a hipster blog writer! ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Best luck!

    • Of course you’re just writing what your impression was but you should definitely try to travel a bit more if you can find the means; your world view will obviously expand. If you think Madrid is devoid of all UK/US influence try Turkey (where I’m living now, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss fully developed countries)!

      Poverty is rampant in every metropolitan area, some are just better at hiding it. Like the person above said, the poor/low income people are getting pushed further and further out of the city center via gentrification and urban renewal creating homelessness or unemployment. Living in NYC I see it firsthand, and I have seen poverty all over Europe from my six months living and traveling from Milan.

      If it’s something that interests you (which it may very well not be, but just a suggestion) you should read Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich http://www.amazon.com/Nickel-Dimed-Not-Getting-America/dp/0805063897

      Also, you should try for Barcelona next time, it’s a completely different vibe than Madrid (although I have a special place in my heart for both cities).


      • I might have a look into that book when I get home, trying to keep a tight budget right now! So tight, that I bought Wuthering Heights as a book cause I know it’ll take me forever to read and last near a lifetime haha (not to be disrespectful, it’s just very not my style)

        And I’m pushing through my travel plans much more strongly soon. Next week I’m in Portugal, then back in London quickly and then off to Turkey, Cyprus, France, Spain, Denmark, Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the tiniest bit of Italy (Lake Como, saving the rest for another time when I have more time) and if finances allow it, Poland and Hungary. Going to spend a lot more time in Spain, really try get a proper vibe for it cause I really loved it and I’d hate to get it wrong again, even though I doubt I’d ever actually get it right!

    • Thanks for the advice man ๐Ÿ™‚ Yeah, I really didn’t spend enough time in enough different places of the city to develop a proper perspective of what life there was like. Also, I haven’t spent anywhere near enough time in any other parts of the world.
      I didn’t really mean to make a case and I was certainly not trying to convince anybody of anything. I’m still kinda uneducated about the whole etiquette of writing blogs like this, I didn’t really delve deeply into the issue (not being well enough informed about the whole thing) and I’ve never really seen poverty before. It was just the first and closest exponent to it I’d seen and it was very strange for me.

  9. LOL Come on, Brazil isn’t THAT bad – you just have to know where (and how and with whom!) to go here ๐Ÿ˜‰ What’s bad about Brazil isn’t the poverty – it’s the inequality. If the absurdly rich (and normally dishonest!) people would share with the absurdly poor, things would be pretty much as they are in Spain.

  10. I am shocked to learn that people in Madrid can be that poor. I’ve heard that in Naples they have people living in shacks in garbage dumps. I mean, these are supposed to be top European cities. You’d think that their economies are booming…have I been living under a rock? (Hm, could very well be.) ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. This is what I love about travelling – it shows you that life isn’t like it is in your hometown. It really opens your eyes to other people’s lives. It’s also really great that you realize that Spain is not impoverished by many other countries’ standards, but I appreciate that it can be shocking to see this without having experienced that before. Good for you for reflecting on it!

    • Thanks! Yeah I’ve done so little, so far I’ve just lived in London for a few months and been to Spain once. Got Portugal next week, then Turkey, France, a proper trip around Spain and hopefully some Swiss Alps and Eastern Bloc. I’ll feel much better after learning some more ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for reading!

  12. I understand that you are writing from a “learning process”- but Spain is a first world country and the word poverty does not apply there. It is a very good life in Spain. A few homeless people on the street doesn’t make a country improverished. There are gorgeous houses and flats all throughout Spain. They have some of the oldest and most beautiful buildings in the world.

    I do like your observation that the Spanish live their life to the fullest, and that they soak up and enjoy life. I lived in Barcelona for three years and that is one of my favorite things about the Spanish lifestyle.

    • I think I spent about a half hour standing outside the Bank of Spain just guffawing at it. Then I walked five minutes further down the road and just sat down by the side of the road. I was at a bit of a loss what to do with myself somewhere so pretty!

      I’ve obviously misinterpreted, but I’ve never travelled much so it’s all just a learning experience. I’ll be spending a full month in Spain in September so hopefully I appreciate Madrid in a more educated manner next time I’m there!

  13. Thanks for this picture of Madrid and for sharing the affect it had on you.

  14. I liked this. I am heading off to Mรกlaga, Spain this fall to finish my college degree. I have been across Mexico and Central America before, however, I have never been to Europe. With so much news coming in about Spain and it’s financial woes, I enjoyed reading your outsider’s take on it.

    • Thank you ๐Ÿ™‚ A lot of people have been saying that I’ve had it completely wrong but I’ll be back there in the fall to travel through more of it and hopefully learn more about it all.

      • In many places, people often have personal experiences and anecdotal stories that differ from what is typical. That said, that doesn’t make their personal experiences invalid.

  15. Spain is an economic crisis, that’s true. But I’ve lived in Madrid for two years and I can tell you with certainty there isn’t anymore poverty here than in other cities I’ve lived in. The “buskers” as you call them, or rather I call them “street performers…” You can easily find them in any major city. Paris, London, NYC… I mean, have you heard of the Naked Cowboy in New York City? I’m not sure he is still around, but I don’t think the guy was poor or homeless.

    The people who come onto the subway and ask for money/sell things/play music–I’ve seen that nearly everywhere I’ve traveled. It’s also hard to know whether these people are telling the truth–they could be, but some do lie about “being unemployed and having 3 children to feed.” I find that there are even more people who do this in Paris–which would make sense. Paris is a bigger city and has more immigrants. Therefore more people will be on the subway begging for money (it’s a sad reality but immigrants always have a harder time getting on their feet).

    Also siesta–many places in Spain still observe siesta. There are many stores in Madrid that close from 2-5 PM. However, nobody actually naps for 3 hours! It’s more of an extended lunch break. They go home to eat mostly–some may nap for a little bit but there really isn’t that much time. It’s called “siesta” but I don’t think many people actually sleep during it!

    • Naked cowboy? Ohhh dear I haven’t heard of that but it sounds like something I’m definitely going to end up seeing when I get across that side of the pond haha.

      Yeah I really understand that about siesta now-it was just that’s what all my friends in the hostel were doing. I think they just embraced it as a good excuse to avoid the afternoon heat and stay up later haha.

      With the buskers/beggars, I’ve just never experienced as much of it as I had in Madrid, but again, I’ve only ever been to two cities before where it hasn’t really been prevalent.
      Thanks for the insight ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. Sarah D. on said:

    Very honest post, I like it. Sounds like you’re on a great exploration. Go for it! If we stay curious and keep our eyes and ears open, as you do, it’s amazing what we can learn. Happy trails!

  17. Go you. Maybe you’d like this, to complement your new perspective on life and living: http://foldedcranes.com/2012/05/02/conscious-consumerism/ (the poster in the picture in particular!).

    It’s really cool to hear that you liked Madrid so much – I went there a few years ago but didn’t really warm to it (perhaps as I had just come from amazing times tripping through Barcelona and Valencia, and they were hard to be beaten). So it’s nice to hear about it through your insight and the time you enjoyed there! It’s so cool to experience new cultures – so many amazing sights, sounds, tastes to be experienced! Hope you keep enjoying – where do you plan to travel to next?!

    • Well, I saw my first Flamenco show in Madrid (first of all, never having been to any other parts of Spain and secondly having used to make a living as an acoustic guitarist) on my 21st birthday so I think that single night may have made me, quite discriminately, love Madrid more haha :p

      Ethical consumerism. Ahhh the dream!

  18. Einyel on said:

    Fredkinstein, I absolutely agree with APOML. I’m from Madrid and Iยดm totally shocked after reading your post ! I think you didn’t take time enough to know the city.

    First of all , itยดs totally false that “during “siesta” everyone slept” , I work from 8.30 to 18.30 with one hour to have a meal, so unfortunately I canยดt sleep “siesta” (as the majority of Spanish people).
    Secondly itยดs true that currently there is a high level of unemployment , but , by the moment, the buskers are usually inmigrants ( with or without residence permit ) with higher difficulties to find a better job (unfortunately).

    So, I recommend you to visit again the city, meet people from Madrid and learn more about us!

    • I’ll be back in September, I’ll make sure to take everything in differently! I feel terrible for misinterpreting so much, but I truly did love the city. It was so beautiful, I just got a few things wrong ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. There’s something very raw and very honest, and very innocent at the same time, about this post. You described Madrid almost to the T, especially the part about people living for the “now” and enjoying every moment of it. I’m curious to read more of your observations when you travel further on in other places in Europe or other continents.
    I can’t quite grasp the “poverty” aspect being that I’ve traveled to poverty-stricken countries and Madrid pales in comparison as far as poverty goes. But I can see from your standpoint about how not having a job or money drives people to hustle harder than the usual. As someone who lives in NYC, I see it here often as well.

    • Ahh I’ve never really been anywhere that poverty has been a major issue before, I think that’s the main issue I’ve had. Nothing is ever the best of something or worst of something, you just keep learning where everything stands in relation to everything else, I guess (if that makes sense?)
      Phwah. So much to learn. So many places to go!

  20. Thank you for sharing ,i like nice post

  21. Hello! I just got back from Madrid two days ago – it was my first time there as well. I found the city much like you described – very vibrant! It was interesting to me to watch all the people dressed in various costumes . And all the music on the subways – I loved that! I am from Texas, but just moved to Budapest, Hungary three weeks ago and also found it interesting that there are more people in Budapest who speak English (or at least a little) than in Madrid – no one spoke English in Madrid. That made it interesting – I wished I had brushed up on my Spanish before the trip. But learning Hungarian? Forget it – waaaay to difficult other than learning a few words.
    Have fun in your travels!

    • Oii my best friend is moving to Budapest for a few months at the end of the year-she’s been quite a few times and comes from, I believe, quite an Eastern European background so it’s not as hard for her (also she’s there all the time).
      I think maybe Madrid holds itself well enough in terms of tourism without needing to know too much English maybe? I wouldn’t have a clue.
      So beautiful to just listen to the people bustling about, everything they say sounded like a beautiful song haha โค

  22. Madridยดs energy is in your post. I really liked it, sounds exciting.

  23. Thanks for sharing! This seems like a very well-thought-out perspective of the city.


  24. I have been in Madrid for the past 3months. I witnessed some of the things you saw also. But what I realized here is that it is one of the beautiful and romantic places Iยดve been. Especially their parks and different attractiones. When I went to Plaza del Sol for the first time, I saw lots of people doing their own thing. Just choose disney characters, Captain Hook, Jack Sparrow, Jeepers Creepers and the like.. If you will have a picture with them, itยดs up to you if you will give some money or coins.. I surely, I gave because I just enjoyed the moment. I enjoyed and they too.

    • I can’t remember the name of the park, but it was about a five minute walk past one of the main palaces (not the one at the roundabout…I didn’t look up the names of these places I just walked a lot haha). I literally got lost in there for about five hours, I only left when I realized I had dinner plans in twenty minutes and was more than a half hour walk from the hostel :p
      It was unbelievably romantic. Wholeheartedly agree.

  25. I just got back from Madrid a few days ago… I am based in NYC, and God knows I love it, but Madrid is my happy place. There is just something about this city…a charm, a less-hyped up vibrance that no other place has… So happy you got to experience this magic. Start planning your next trip back! ๐Ÿ™‚

  26. Hi Toby, I don’t think that we will ever know what life is about so you are not alone. Looking forward to hearing how London is and enjoy! Life is too short not too. http://www.segmation.wordpress.com

  27. Sounds like an amazing adventure

  28. hey there , just stumbled across this and got curious – I also used to live in London and went to Madrid for a few days last year for the first time. I too noticed how friendly and easygoing the inhabitants seem to be – with the risk of generalizing, it’s enjoying life in the “now” as opposed to always hustling and bustling and trying to make things happen so that you will be happy (maybe) in the future, which is a bit the London way, I felt.
    The one thing that I wanted to point out though is that a lot of the buskers (especially like the musician with the accordion) are generally from Eastern-Europe. (I know, I’ve heard many talk to their companions). While I can’t say much about Spanish economy in general, Madrid is known as one of the better-off cities – and I’d be wary of seeing the buskers as an indicator of Spanish people poverty…

    • It wasn’t so much all of them, more just the guys in sesame street costumes in the blazing heat. I’m still a little bit ignorant to the world I suppose, I’ll be in Spain for much of september so I guess I’ll learn to understand the country just that little bit better than before ๐Ÿ™‚

  29. Hi! I leave for London tomorrow to catch the games. It will be my first time there maybe you can throw me some tips on what to see and where to drink? Also I head to Madrid right after London and will be there for a week. Can’t wait to be like soooo this is what Toby was talking about in his blog. Loved reading it!

    • Oh good day to be in London! Going to be 29c! So stoked, going to Brighton for the day. To drink and shop and see music it has to be Camden, my personal favourite thing in London is Green Park, it’s literally like walking through a film clip. Thanks for the comment ๐Ÿ™‚

  30. free penny press on said:

    Gotta live with abandon or it will zoom past so fast and you will wonder “why”..
    great post and think I’ll tag along for the ride to see where you go..:-)

  31. all the very best for life and congrats on fp

  32. Madrid “so influenced by poverty”? Sure the recession has hit them particularly bad, but it may not be fair to judge a nation’s poverty based on street urchins. Madrid is one of my favorite places, having spent a great deal of time there. I’ve never had anyone speaking to me, “fully in my face.” You do have a point about your observation regarding Spaniards living their lives for the sake of living. They work to live, not live to work. They enjoy their free time, eat late, stay up late, party late, take “siestas” (a time during which not everyone “naps,” but when urban centers slow to a crawl), eat well, and stroll the streets. Keep on traveling, my friend.

    • I understand that compared to other places in the world, it’s not so bad but I suppose I’m writing these travel blogs from a perspective that isn’t specifically ignorant but in a learning process. The only two places I’d ever been in my life before Madrid were London and Sydney and it was very different for me. I’ll probably retouch on this after having done some more travels. But I loved it-the music especially. Wow.
      Thanks for commenting ๐Ÿ™‚

    • “They work to live, not live to work. ”

      Good observation about Spaniards.

      About “siesta”, it is not something everybody takes. During the hotter months, is hellish wandering about, take the public transport, etc. That’s why many businesses close at lunch time.

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