Madrid

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Madrid, como te extraño.

Have you ever taken a trip that changed your entire perspective of life and the world? That was this trip for me; a solo (and partially unplanned) voyage to a new city and country with a language I'm still becoming fluent in and a million and one experiences for me to explore. It's been several months since my trip came and went and I've dealt with a lot from work to life since then which has kept me from sharing this splendor of a trip. Even when the toughest of battles have come my way over the past few months, I still have the peace and sense of wonder that Madrid brought me to help carry me through the days.

Madrid isn't usually a city that wanderlusters speak of as often as Paris, Barcelona, or Amsterdam, but for that exact reason it sparked an interest in me to start my exploration of Spain here. It's a tad less touristy than it's major city counterpart in the north, which was perfect for someone like me who was traveling to practice her newfound language skills and eat her way through the city without having to be surrounded by Americans.

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My Digs

In my eyes, AirBnB is the only way to travel if your purpose of traveling is to live like a local instead of a tourist. For my trip to Spain, I rented a studio for myself which ended up being cheaper than a one bedroom hotel! In the neighborhood of La Latina (where I stayed), it's traditional for apartments to have elevated beds. It was a cool feature, but I opted to sleep on the couch since I had a hunch that I would slip down the ladder in my morning grogginess.

The penthouse space was nothing short of amazing from the views to the accommodations, and I was so surprised to see how many awesome AirBnBs there were in the area with such great locations and architecture for an affordable price I could barely come across for renting a room in an AirBnB in the US. If you're heading to Madrid, I highly recommend the neighborhood of La Latina to stay in because of its plethora of restaurant and bar options and accessibility to most major sites (Plaza Mayor, Puerto del Sol, Parque de El Retiro) and shopping districts (Gran Vía).

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Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor

The Sites

In my entire four day stay in Madrid, I only took the train una vez (once) and that was from the airport to my AirBnB. Throughout my stay, I walked everyone. Yes, that means no Uber or Lyft rides either. From my accommodations, everything was so easily accessible that there was no point in using anything but my own two feet to get from points A-Z which isn't much different than what I typically do in NYC.

I visited Plaza Mayor (an enclosed square with tons of restaurants), Puerto del Sol (another plaza just 5 minutes from Plaza Mayor), Gran Vía (one of the main shopping districts where I spent mad Euros), Palacio Real de Madrid, and Parque de El Retiro (which was the most beautiful and pleasant park I have ever been too).

Gran Vía

Gran Vía

Plaza de Cibeles

Plaza de Cibeles

Gran Vía

Gran Vía

Parque de El Retiro

Parque de El Retiro

Palacio de Cristal

Palacio de Cristal

La Rosaleda

La Rosaleda

Palacio Real de Madrid

Palacio Real de Madrid

Bocadilla de Calamares

Bocadilla de Calamares

Food

If there's three things that I noticed about Spanish cuisine, it's that their prices are much more affordable than NYC, the portions are not NYC comparable (apparently a dish I almost licked the plate for was to share with 2+ people...oops), and that these people love pork and seafood (which I wasn't mad at).

During most of my restaurant visits, I was far too hungry to take pictures (specifically my paella and the most glorious chilled poached egg on toast appetizer), but I did manage to snag a shot of my famous bocadilla de calamares (calamari sandwich), a fries, crab sauce, and egg dish, all the treats I wish I could have gobbled up at La Mallorquina (a bakery in Puerto del Sol that dates back to 1894!), and my churros con chocolate at San Gines (which I had twice in four days...). There wasn't a single thing that I ate in Madrid that wasn't spectacular. As a Caribbean girl, I'm big on flavor and there was no lack thereof in this town.

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Tips

Wrapping this post up, I'll leave you all with a few tips for your future travels to Madrid.

1) Learn some Spanish: Yes, many people speak English but don't expect them to for you. Learn the basics of getting around just as a non-English speaker would when visiting the US.

2) Roll your R's and RR's: If you do speak Spanish, don't half-ass it. I can't tell you how many snickering waiters I saw chuckling when someone tried to speak Spanish to them but were too afraid go all the way which just made them sound silly. I mean, they'll understand you but it's not how the language is spoken.

3) Come with a group: I am all for traveling alone and this was a great solo trip, but Madrid is definitely a city where people do everything in pairs or more. If you want to have to most fun, bring some people along.

4) Take a nap before you party: People in Madrid party until the sun comes up. They're hardcore.

5) Black people exist in Madrid: But mainly black men who are immigrants from African nations.

Martha's Vineyard

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Over July 4th weekend, I was maxin' and relaxin' in a black-owned home in the Vineyard where Adam Clayton Powell's house was just a few doors down.

It was a house filled with 4 black couples discussing everything from race to relationships under the roof of a home of a historic black family who once owned 4 homes in the Vineyard. I wonder how similar our conversations were to the ones they had. I hope they looked down on us enjoying their cottage and smiled.

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Den Haag // Amsterdam

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Allow me to preface this post by stating that unlike most things in my life, this trip was severely unplanned. Typically, I'm somewhat of a planner (a control freak, if you will) when it comes to vacations in new cities; I prefer to have my days and to-dos laid out well in advance of my arrival with room for spontaneity if need be. But this trip was planned in haste, not very long, and was different from any other trip because I went sola (solo/a = "alone" in Spanish). Also, half of this trip was for business (the Netherlands) and the other was for pleasure (Spain). Anyways, I digress. Let me know show you how I spent the first of my 6 day trip in Den Haag, Holland. 

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I spent two and a half days in Den Haag (The Hague), a coastal city in North Holland, mainly dropping some Euros on a new wardrobe in the shopping district, taking in the sites of people enjoying eating outdoors, wandering through the neighborhoods, and eating my body weight in gourmet chocolate. I had every intention to leave the city for Amsterdam everyday of my stay since I didn't know much about it until I became intrigued by the beauty of the city center via an infomercial that replayed all day on one of the local channels.

My first stop in the city center was the outdoor mall, The Passage, which gave Paris passageway shops a run for their money. Although I only purchased chocolate there, I went to other shops in the area and enjoyed the only warm and sunny day of my time in the Netherlands while perusing restaurant menus and avoiding being him by a bicyclist and/or trolley. The warm sunshine coupled with the busy restaurants full of locals enjoying a gorgeous Sunday afternoon made my stroll through Den Haag feel like the budding of Northern European spring. It was a great city to spend the weekend in, but I wouldn't recommend it for weekday exploration since the city center dies down quite a bit and shops close earlier in the day.

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Although it was an hour away by train, I couldn't travel all the way to Holland without taking in the sites in Amsterdam for at least one evening. The city is so uniquely beautiful with its canals, boat homes, and bustling touristy streets. I went on a Saturday evening and Amsterdam was nothing short of live; people were spilling out onto the streets from bars and "coffee shops", there were a ton of bachelorette parties around, and I stumbled upon the Red Light District (which is a total dude zone - I've never seen so many men in one neighborhood in my life) by accident.

Even though I was only there for one evening, the sun didn't set in the city until after 10PM(!) so it didn't feel late when I left to return to Den Haag around midnight and I got to take a decent walking tour of the city to hold me over until the next time I return.

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My explorations in Holland were between my business ventures so I didn't get to wander around as much as I would like, but my interest in returning has been peaked and I can't wait to come back (preferably in the summer) to finish up my site seeing and see what else this beautiful country has to offer.

In my next few blog posts, I'll share my trip to Madrid with you all and my travel tips for my ladies traveling solo dolo.

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