Help From a Stranger in Madrid, Spain

Help From a Stranger in Madrid, Spain

Help From a Stranger in Madrid, Spain
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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.


ChocolateriaThe 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 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


  1. It’s really great that there are still folks out there in the world that will take a step back and help you out. A lot of the time you meet these sort of people when you least expect it, just as in the situation described here.

    I really enjoyed this but realize that you can’t expect this sort of thing to happen all the time. I think a good moral from this is to still be prepared whenever visiting somewhere foreign but also realize there is a chance someone will help you out if needed!

    Great post guys!
    A Brit and A Southerner recently posted…Lombard Street – The Crookedest Street or Not?My Profile

    • Agreed! I think it is all about being smart while traveling but leaving yourself open to meeting strangers who genuinely want to help you. So many people simply love to show off their country and taking them up on the offer can completely change a travel experience!

  2. Yep, you definitely can’t expect people to go out of the way Marta did but I have been surprised at the number of people who are willing to help if you ask nicely. I think that when we travel we might forget this either because we want to be self-reliant or simply because we don’t want to bother anyone. For me the above was just a reminder to go ahead and don’t be shy when it comes to reaching out to the locals :)

    • Such a great story Chis, amazing the people you can meet out on the world and the amazing things they will show you!

  3. Nice one! There’s probably a “Marta” in almost every corner of the world and it only depends if you bump into her by a fluke… :)
    Btw, apart from the stories I quite like the look and feel of your site! So always happy travels, wonderful encounters and take care!!
    Oliver recently posted…Corollaries ~ Lubomyr MelnykMy Profile

  4. This post is brilliant. I’ve met some really friendly locals around the world. It must have been such a fantastic experience having a guide doing it for the love of their city and sharing meals and conversations like friends. Very positive. I wish more people were like Marta!

  5. The kindness of strangers is really astounding. I’ve been so amazed by the generosity that couchsurfers have showed us in Asia and Europe, and blog friends who met us for the first time when we travelled to the US last year.
    NZ Muse recently posted…Drafting up a 2014 budgetMy Profile

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