Help From a Stranger in Madrid, Spain
Part of the Sunday Traveler (#SundayTraveler) series!
Part of the Sunday Traveler (#SundayTraveler) series!.
It was 7:30 AM in Madrid, my friend Roy and I had just left a dance club when we boarded a bus that we hoped would take us to the Complutense, the largest public university in Madrid. We realized we were lost as well as dazed and confused from a combination of jet-lag and having spent the entire night dancing and chatting it up with friendly strangers. Just as we were about to get off the bus to find our way back to our hostel, a fellow student walked into the bus with a sense of purpose that immediately told us that she knew this city better than we could ever hope for. After debating in English for a bit about asking her for help, Marta turned around and with a lovely Spanish accent asked us: “Where are you guys going and how can I help?”, as luck would have it she was heading to the university and thus begun one of my most memorable couple of vacation days.
“You guys were completely lost and I wanted to make sure that when you go back to your country you have a good memory of my city… “
After a couple of bus transfers, we finally arrived at the Complutense where the morning was spent meeting other students, most of them understandably curious as to why we would voluntarily head to a university during our vacation. Unfortunately, the professor in the class we attended did not share that same curiosity as she proceeded to throw us out of the class for not being registered students. After being thrown out, Marta decided to skip out on her last 2 classes to take us on a tour of Madrid that included Retiro Park, Puerta Mayor, La Latina neighborhood, her favorite tapas bars, paella dinner at her favorite restaurant and churros con chocolate as a nightcap at the famous Chocolateria San Gines.
The second day was equally busy as she took us on a museum tour after it was decided that we could not leave her city without taking in all the art found in Madrid’s world class museums: El Prado and Thyseen-Bornemisza Museum. This museum tour was the appetizer to what ended being the main course: a dinner with a few of her friends at a local restaurant. We spent the next few hours discussing perceived and actual differences in political, professional and cultural views. It was an impromptu cultural exchange of the innocent kind, those that happen when you approach travel without any expectations and open yourself up to any experiences that might come your way.
To this day it surprises me that we kept up with her considering the fatigue we felt throughout those couple of days but we did not want to waste the opportunity of having Marta give us a free and private guided tour of her city. At the end of the second evening, I remember asking her: “What drove you to such generosity? I mean how many people would actually take 2 days out of their busy schedule to show two, disheveled college guys, the city that you so obviously love?” To this she responded: “Well, you guys were completely lost and I wanted to make sure that when you go back to your country you have a good memory of my city… plus you seem like good people.” We ended up saying goodbye with a bit of sadness as we did not know when our paths would cross again…
I returned to Madrid last year with my wife and walking through some of the same streets I had passed by 15 years earlier made me both nostalgic and grateful for the lesson that Marta taught me so long ago: When in doubt, just ask the locals. If done respectfully, chances are that that at the very least they will provide you with direction on what to do and if you are lucky, you might just end up with a story you continue re-telling 15 years later!
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Cris Sierra is an avid traveler who has lived and traveled to 4 and 40+ countries respectively. He is a firm believer that travel is enhanced when you allow yourself to not only get lost in the destination but to interact with the locals. With that in mind he co-founded tripniks.com to help fellow travelers get free personalized tips from local experts. Cris really enjoys talking about travel so if you have questions or just want to chat about travel in general feel free to drop him a line at email@example.com