Now that I am back home, studying abroad in Madrid, Spain truly feels like something out of a movie, out of a beautiful dream, out of a moving story. It’s a wild and wonderful part of my memory.
I have stories about me almost getting locked in the metro post closing time, and feeding pink flamingos at the Madrid zoo, and watching a bull fight– history unfold right in front of me as the youngest ‘Matador’ on Easter Sunday got the ears of the bull as a sign of honor, a job well-done.
It was and is unreal to say that Madrid, Spain (in Europe!) was my home.
I was expecting questions about my experience being abroad. I was expecting my family and friends to want to hear stories. I was expecting them to want to know more about my life there, about the people I met, the places I’ve been to, the best moments, the worst moments, the funniest moments, the foods I’ve eaten, the things I’ve seen that I can’t get enough of, the things that ticked me off, the things that I miss about there, the things that I have missed about here. I was expecting and wanting their curiosity.
I’m patiently waiting.
Though I cannot be too disappointed, I practically told them everything after it happened, as I was excited to tell my stories over FaceTime and Facebook posts.
Being back home is actually: a lot of chores. Dentist and doctor visits. Seeing family, friends. Dates. Getting accustomed to doing things with my family again, with their new jobs and changes of their own. Finding access to all my American TV shows, etc. It isn’t as slow-paced as I wanted it to be; but it is a good change of pace being able to just do things at home or near home, without feeling the need to explore the city, spend money, or plan something. There’s a certain kind of peace in just being home-bound.
I miss the metro in Madrid and the button I had to press to get in. I miss the cauliflower and Lipton soups I had before the main entree for dinner. I miss the Spanish language all around me in speech, music, and store signs. I already know and feel that I’m losing pronunciation, or forgetting how to conjugate certain verbs, or hesitating prior to speaking. I miss writing daily in a notebook in all stream of consciousness. I miss the confidence I had in being abroad. Being: sure of myself, of my Spanish, of my decisions– because I had no one else to count on but myself.
I’m glad that I’m back for Pepsi cans at bodegas, though the design on the can is different than when I last left. I’m glad I get to see my mom in her uniform as a 911 Operator. I’m glad I got the chance to see my little brother graduate 5th grade. I’m glad I got to check out the new white truck my dad recently bought. I’m glad I got to see my sister work her make-up magic on a prom client.
A different, or new-world view? Of course. I learned that there’s a beauty in being able to communicate in two different languages, learn an immense amount of vocabulary, and adapt to vocabulary and conversations dependent on people and places. Not everyone in the world is sympathetic about what Trump and his administration is doing to our country. Many people are amazed that I’m from America, from an island called Puerto Rico, from NYC, and even from the Bronx. Some people will enjoy your company. A few won’t. And a good friend in Madrid told me something I’ll never forget. It’s a conscious effort to remember that people here grow up super differently than you did.
So with that, I vowed to listen better, to judge way less, to make a conscious effort to understand, and let go, because America is different than Spain. For better or for worse, and I chose to live somewhere different to learn about myself, this place, my home, and the world.
It was a conscious effort on my part to live the way Spaniards did to some extent, and my experience was much more memorable for it.
Instead of comparing Spain to America, I was immersing myself in Spain.
I was appreciating America.
And I was grateful to and for both places I could call home.
In hindsight, I actually felt sad. I dreamed about the day I’d go home, back to New York to see my family and friends. I thought I’d be so excited. But I also made new friends and a new family for myself in Madrid. So saying goodbye during my last week to all my favorite places with all my favorite people in the place we passed time together seemed and still seems oddly strange.
Now I know what my international friends at SUNY New Paltz go through, what Yuka and Holly went through—having to make a life for themselves somewhere, and then having to pack up and go back to their true home, too— all in what feels like a blink of an eye. I felt like I was letting a piece of me stay behind in Madrid. I felt like I was leaving a part of me go, too. The people make the place.
But Madrid in itself made Madrid my place.
I loved my 4 month-and -3-week routine. I loved the Spanish. I loved my Host Mom’s dinner and conversations. I loved the strolls to the city center with friends. I loved planning something every weekend even just to see a new neighborhood, or town, or check out something that locals and tourists alike always love like: the Spanish market on Sundays called “El Rastro,” or American brunch at this place called “Roll” in Malasaña, or one of the best views of Madrid on the 9th floor of the mall called “ El Cortes Ingles” in Gran Vía, or just meeting at 10 p.m. on Thursday nights to have my favorite drink called Tinto de Verano at 100 Montaditos for 1.5 euros to talk sugar honey iced tea and start the weekend.
So of course, saying bye to each friend who had a flight somewhere new or somewhere called home was sad. Or saying bye to the student teachers that would stay, or the family friends that would continue to live their lives in Madrid, because it is where they live, it is their life, was sad.
You’re heading onto the next chapter of your life, back to the place you’ve always called home, without all the people and places and experiences that made Madrid your new home. But you are bringing back to your home, your original home, the memories, the stories, the changes in you.
Saying bye to the host mom you’ve grown to love stung a little that week before you left, and still does even now. Triple hugs the day before you left and the day you did leave didn’t help keep the tears away.
Saying bye to your family friend, your “cousin,” Shakira, and her daughter Cindy at their family bar and right before they got on their bus home, was so hard. As many times as you told yourself you would try your best not to tear in front of them, in front of a crowd, the tears rolled down anyways.
And just like the beginning of your trip, every time you thought about saying goodbye to your family at the airport in JFK before leaving to Spain, you cried. And now, every time you think about having said bye to people you don’t know you’ll see again, stings a lot, too.
Every time you think about all your goodbyes in Madrid, it hurts. And so these goodbyes are constantly on your mind—in the uber ride to the airport in Madrid, in the airport in Madrid and Lisbon, on your flight home to New York on a Tap Portugal flight, and a little bit at any moment you think too hard about it.
And thinking about reuniting with your family also feels emotional. You tell yourself not to cry here either. But your body is tired and hungry and jet-lagged and anxious and happy, and your mind is sleepy and thinking and everywhere. So try not to worry too much about it. It’s okay. This reunion had a long-time coming. Just remember you are bringing back to your home, your original home, the memories, the stories, the changes in you. And you can do your best to hold onto all of that for dear life. Forever.
-Teary-eyed part II
You became my home for 4 months and 3 weeks. From being like NYC minus all the skyscrapers, to seeing cathedrals on every corner, to hearing Castellano 24/7, to living on Calle de Padilla, you became Madrid, sweet Madrid. All these elements combined were signs from God that you’d be okay.
Okay you were when you got lost going to school 3 times before classes actually started. Okay you were when you were told you had to take an extra course in Spanish to be a part of the Hispanic Studies Program. Okay you were after orientation didn’t give you any information you needed to know on where and how your classes would function. Okay you were when your Host Mom, Asún, yelled at both you and your roommate for being late to dinner. Once. Okay you were when you got the worse grade ever on an exam for a language you’ve been studying 6+ years. Okay you were when you visited the doctor 3x all for different reasons with a bonus of an emergency visit post your trip to Morocco, Africa.
And you learned that being okay with not being okay was and always will be part of being alone and feeling lonely in another country with no family or any of your closest friends. And that taking a nap was/is healthy. That eating sour candy at night before bed and after dinner at 9:15 p.m. is your happy place. And watching That 70’s Show and Full House before bed to make you go to bed on a high note was your way of identifying with your closest friends and dearest family from 2 different parts of the world-The United States and Australia.
And you constantly reminded yourself that your Host Mom’s 3-course dinner, your dad’s 12:00p.m. call on lunch break, your sister’s Snap Chat messages, your Mom’s FaceTime calls, your brother stealing your sister’s phone to text you, your Great Grandma’s random dial-ins, your Grandma’s voice messages, your best friend’s weekly messages, your roommate texting you from a room away to see if you’ve gotten out of bed yet, What’s app calls going in and out with your family from Florida and Virgina, and your fiancées stunning photos from Melbourne, all made what you have had in Spain, beautiful and unique and wild and wonderful and nostalgic all at the same time.
100 Montaditos became your low-cost drink spot. Tacos at Takos became your food spot. Starbucks 7-minutes away from your home became your study spot. HEMA became your buy-a-gift-here spot. Primark became your shop spot. Amourino became your gelato spot. Gran Vía became your favorite ‘dar un paseito’ spot. Usera became your go-to-your-friend’s-house spot. Buen Retiro became your favorite park spot.
Your favorite playlists included Billie Eilish’s ‘Ocean Eyes,’ Spanish Guitar and Flamenco to think, write, and study. Danny Ocean’s ‘Dembow’ and ‘Me Rehúso’: to jam out, iron, clean and do your budget sheet to. ‘Te Amo,’ by Piso 21 and ‘Modelo’ by Ozuna ft. Cardi B was for fun. And even a Puerto Rican playlist by Gran Combo came to play, reminding you of your Great Grandpa, Papá, and Puerto Rico.
You stepped into Spain’s territory with goals. You had hoped to make Spaniard friends. You had hoped to eat amazing Spanish meals. You had hoped to travel all of Europe, and all of Spain, and even make a trip to visit your special someone in Australia.
Instead, God gifted you with friends from Miami, Moldova, India, and back home. Your Host Mom blessed you with her version of white rice and lasañga and breaded-chicken because she knew those were your faves. You were lucky enough to travel to Morocco, Africa, experience a camel ride on the beach in Tangier, see The Caves of Hercules in person, hike in the Blue City, and share a Moroccan-style meal with locals. You were able to see a whole lot of Spain, including a cute, quaint town, Toledo, an aqueduct and castle in Segovia, the monastery in El Escorial, the palace of Aranjuez, mountain climbing in Cercedilla with the magic of snow, the university of Alcalá de Henares, the most visited site in Spain, the almighty Alhambra in Granada, scientific, white, and futuristic architecture in Valencia, and The Cheetah Girls’ home in the stunning Barcelona. You got a chance to fly into Paris experiencing the ghetto, and ending with The Eiffel Tower. And of course, you’ve had the privilege of living in the capital of Spain, now one of your favorite cities in the world, Madrid. And though you didn’t get to meet your special someone halfway across the world, you met part of his family, here: Shakira and her kids, who have been living in Madrid for years, who has made your experience, even more like home.
You will never forget your first time in front of the magically lit Royal Palace. Or your first introduction to your new favorite drink on your first full night in Spain— tinto de verano. Or your first time in Buen Retiro Park with the most beautiful guitar solo near the blue lake with a little blonde Spanish toddler dancing and applauding away. Or how you reacted to your first corrida de toros, or bullfight, after having had an older man, an ‘aficionado,’ a passionate fan, feed off your curiosity.
You will remember how much you wanted to improve your Spanish for you, to speak with your family, to talk with your friends. And you’ve never been more proud of your heritage as a Boricua. And so you’ve cherished your new identity as an international student de afuera (from outside). And every time you tell someone you’re from the Bronx, New York they think of Cardi B. And every time you tell someone you’re from Puerto Rico, they say: “just like JLO right?”
You finished your studies at the university in a town called Getafe. And though you didn’t fall in love with it the way you did with SUNY New Paltz, you cannot be more happy with the courses you’ve taken, the things you’ve learned, the work you’ve produced, the Spanish you’ve spoken, the professors you’ve met, and the friendships you’ve gained because of this place.
You’ve learned that studying abroad was for you. You’ve learned to not hold everyone up to your standards. You’ve learned that so many people are always on your mind, even though you may not have been a thought in theirs. You’ve learned that your life isn’t the only one that has been passing by. You’ve learned how to and when to be selfish. And when to be selfless.
You cannot believe this time has come to an end.
Madrid, Spain, you’ve been a dream. You’ve been a reality.
You’ve been everything at once: hurting, loving, healing, wilting, rising, and blooming —just like Rupi Kaur would say.
You recognize that you will never get this time back —the exact way it was offered to you in the first place. And that as much as you want to come back, and say you will come back, and urge to come back, and have the means to come back, you don’t actually know if you’ll ever be back. But you hope and pray to God to come back a couple of more times with the people you love.
You have little things of everyday in your journal. And you have footage to put it all together and rewind. You will never forget what a privilege it was to have once call Madrid, home. And are looking forward to the day you can say “hola,” to Madrid de nuevo.
All the best,
p.s. Madrid, sweet Madrid, thank you, forever. You gave me a newfound love for all that is dear, all that there is to want to share, and all that there is to want to know. Hasta la vista, baby.
There are so many questions that have been going through my mind as I prepare to come home everyday for the past month. Saying goodbye to a place I’ve been in for 4 months and 3 weeks seems unreal. Coming back home somehow feels unreal, too. Did time really go by this fast? How? How does time work like that? Why is it always the invisible monarchy in our lives? And if time went by fast for my me, life flew by for my family and friends, too. It’s like I have to make a new life for myself again. Or rather, try to pick up from where I left off. But last I left off, it was winter in NY, and I had just celebrated my 21st birthday.
Now I’m thinking about what else to do in Madrid before I leave. I’m thinking about who to say goodbye to. I’m thinking about all the emails I want to send out as a thank you to my professors here who made university feel right. I’m thinking about what places I would like to see or what things I want to do again before leaving (including eating at TAKOS, getting drinks and sandwiches at 100 Montaditos, maybe going to Ojalá cafe once more to finally sit on the sand, and watching the sunset at Buen Retiro once more). Maybe even checking out Sol at night where the palace is to listen to that beautiful chelo again.
I’m wondering what exactly I will be doing this summer. When will I see my friends? What will my family think of me when I’m back? Will they tell me I’ve gained weight, look the same, or loss weight? What others questions will they ask me that they don’t already know? Will I be able to go out late and enjoy being an adult the way I’ve been doing abroad by myself for all the time without pushback from my parents? What will it be like to be with my fiancé again? When do we continue planning the wedding again?
And jet lag? What about that?
What else do I have to do when I’m back? Doctors’ appointment? Dentist? Spring Cleaning?
Will anyone from abroad reach out to me? Will they think to think of me? Will my family and friends think to think of me when I’m back home? Will anyone make an effort to keep me in their minds? Will I do the same?
Will I really be a senior after I take my last exam here? Am I ready to graduate next May around this time? Will I see my friends who graduated anytime soon? How will it be to see friends who were my friends abroad on campus? especially if we don’t really talk anymore and/or have grown apart even while abroad?
What does the future look like for me post graduation? Even back at New Paltz? Will I be able to join WNPC-TV again as a reporter? Will I find a job? Will people remember me and want me back? How will being a Student Activities Manager be once again, but this time, for a whole year?
And really, how do I say goodbye to my friends here? The ones that will be in different parts of the US and Europe when we all return to the normal part of our lives? What is normal now? What will be the normal, rather? How do I say goodbye to my Host Mom, the one I’ve grown to care for? What exactly do I write in her card to say goodbye? How do I not cry? What will it be like to say bye to family friends who are here? My 2nd family? How do I not cry, then?
The best part about studying in the UK is that everyone here speaks English. Upon coming, I didn’t have to worry about saying something wrong or misunderstanding a native because we speak the language. It was one of the reasons I made the decision to study in London rather than a non-English speaking country. I’m not gonna lie, life is a lot easier when everyone speaks your language anyway. Especially when you’re an awkward person like me who gets nervous when they misunderstand anything and doesn’t want to ask the person to repeat themselves 5 times until i hear them correctly. So, what was it like to travel from a different English speaking country to a non-English speaking country, you ask?
I recently went to Barcelona, Spain to celebrate the end of finals. Wow, did I deserve a celebration. Essays upon essays using a citation format you’ve never used before and trying to incorporate theories you weren’t here to learn so you teach them to yourself wasn’t so easy. Therefore, I believed the sunny Barcelona beach and beautiful city sights was in the cards. The only difficult part of this trip was the fact that I don’t speak nor understand a lick of Spanish. Sure, I know the basic “hello,” “thank you,” and “where’s the bathroom,” but aside from that Spanish might as well be gibberish. I took Italian throughout middle and high school, why didn’t I plan a trip to Italy instead?
Thankfully, many people there spoke English. My friend (who also did not know any Spanish) and I really lucked out, however I did ask my good friend who is a Spanish major back at New Paltz how to say some key phrases. Shoutout to the lovely Erin, your phrases did indeed come in handy. For example, she told me “puedo ayudarme” means “can you help me,” which I hoped I wouldn’t really need to use unless I was asking for directions. My friend ended up fainting on the metro and that phrase helped me in that tricky situation. I probably wasn’t saying it correctly, considering I had no idea how to handle the situation, but strangers came to help before I even really started to get the words out. Spanish people are very nice and helpful.
Anyway, it was very different going to a country where English is not the first language. I’ve only ever visited English speaking countries, so this was a very cultural trip for me aside from being the most relaxed I was all semester. I didn’t feel as isolated as I thought I would since there were so many people who spoke English, but I almost wish that wasn’t the case so I could try to challenge and immerse myself more. As they say, what better way to learn a language that be surrounded by those who speak it, right?
Spanish Grammar Course: I recommend this class for anyone willing to improve their Spanish. This is a good introduction to the Spanish you will hear around you everyday. People in Spain speak Castellano. The Spanish is much different than the one you hear in the United States. So this will teach you new vocabulary. Here, you will be able to confidently talk with the locals, and understand Spanish grammar and conversation much better than before. A lot of what I learned here, I heard my host mom and family friends say. So it was super useful. I got to hear things I learned in the class, used outside of the classroom. And I too, got to practice using the same things I learned myself. It is a tough class, but I think it’s worth it if you want to challenge yourself and come back home with a better grasp of a new language. Why not?
Cultural Studies: I enjoyed this class a lot because I learned so much about the very things I was experiencing. For example, I learned about the Spanish flag, about the Franco era, the significance of bull-fighting and football/soccer, etc. Learning about these very things helped me find more meaning living in Spain. I was able to understand Spanish culture with some background, some knowledge. My favorite topics were learning about Spanish women and debunking some of the stereotypes, learning about bullfighting and what it truly means for people for and against it, as well as everything involved with the Franco Era including his plead for football at the time. It is a tough class because of the heavy readings, and writing assignments that make up the bulk of class discussion, but you learn so much. This Professor has also been asked to teach this course in English next fall, so this summer, she will be working on finding material to teach it in the native language of her American students. So, think about it.
Theory and Practice of Short Story Course: I loved this class so much. I was able to read short stories by different Spanish authors and discuss literature all in Spanish. The Professor was so passionate about what he was teaching and that was the best part. His introduction to the course was great, and he followed through the entire time. We were also able to produce small writing exercises emulating some of the techniques and concepts we learned in class. We then used some of these exercises to create a short story. This pushed me to think about literature in a different language, and talk about literature in Spanish. 100 percent recommend if you love reading, writing, and talking about both.
You might feel like finals will never end. This always happens. Every finals week. So, do not fret! Keep these things in mind:
- Breathe (Always!)
- Drink Water (Please!)
- Take breaks (20 min. Netflix shows,/A phone call/ A walk)
- Have snacks (Fruit, Bars, and Candy for energy)
- Find a good study area with wifi that’s not at home (Starbucks with tables outside for fresh air and warmth)
- Bring a buddy who motivates you to do work just as much as you motivate them (My roommate)
At UC3M, finals week is over the course of an entire month in May. In my case, since I am in the Hispanic Studies Program, my Spanish courses had exams during the week of May 14-May 18.
I had 2 sit-down exams. I had a Spanish grammar exam that was 9 pages. It included all fill-in-the blank on colloquial phrases and situational dialogues we’ve learned, subjunctive mood, preterite tense vs. imperfect tenses, haber + participle verbs, vocabulary, etc. My other exam was for Cultural Studies and it included 5 essay questions on Spanish movies, art, clothing, the flag, and the meaning of the slogan “Spain is Different” from the Franco era.
My other classes had papers due. I wrote a short story in Spanish for my literature course, and wrote an article on bull-fighting for my History class. I spent 1 week studying for both exams 2-3 hours a day. I also began my written assignments 1-2 months in advance to hand them in prior to study week, in order to just focus on exams, which I highly recommend. Most of my exams are 55-60 percent of my final grade here at UC3M. I have a feeling that’s a European way of education. So definitely study, go to tutoring, and practice, practice practice.
My last exam is for Radio Workshop. We have not had an exam for this theoretical part of the course (powerpoint/lecture) this entire time. (I only had 2 exams for Grammar prior to the final exam). But, this professor did give a review of what will be on the exam potentially. This exam isn’t until May 30th because it is part of the undergraduate bachelor’s degree program.
Therefore, it feels like my exams are once again, never-ending. But the bright side is, I can pace my studying, and still enjoy my last weeks in Madrid.
Hope this is helpful for you all!
p.s. 2/5 of my classes (Radio Workshop and Cultural Studies) had 2 parts to the final exam. 1 week was a presentation/ project due. A couple of weeks later, we also had an exam. Keep that in mind! They both count.
It’s already April. Around this time, studying abroad gets even harder because it’s the home-stretch. End-of-the-year projects are creeping up. The end of classes is in about a month. Home is not too far away either. All is in sight.
So this month should be about getting on top of school work, working little by little on rounding out those projects, and making sure you’re giving time for yourself, and to see the rest of Spain.
Here’s what I’ve been doing to keep afloat before returning to the U.S.: Waking up with a good amount of sleep. Checking in on my planner to see what to tackle first. After 1-2 assignments, taking a break to write in my journal, or write a letter home, watch a short episode of my favorite TV series, or call home. Then, with a light snack and drink of water, I get back on my grind. After another assignment or two, I take a walk outside to get a late lunch and some fresh air.
Apart from academics in my mind, knowing that I am going home soon makes me keeping thinking about home more. But keep in mind that you will never get this experience back the way you experienced it now. So, enjoy it, relish in the good, the bad, and always reflect upon it. Be aware that a lot might have changed back home and at the university. For example, my friends might be moving off campus, and my brother and sister will be a year older than when I last saw them. You miss out on stuff, but you gain some stuff, too. That’s okay!
Around this time, I would also say to check in on your grades. University in Madrid, Spain isn’t the same as university at New Paltz. Not all my grades are online, and not all my projects are turned in back to me in the time I’d like it to be, or that I’m used to. So, check in if you are curious.
Also, hang out with people you don’t want to forget while being abroad. Friendships here can be pretty special. Hold onto those people, and create new memories. I’ve been really grateful for the relationship I have with my roommate here, and she’s leaving a couple of weeks sooner than me. So in an effort to see a bit more of Spain together, and cross things off our list, we are planning a trip to Valencia for our 5-day break in late April. Super stoked.
Last but not least, hang in there! Projects will get completed. Essays will be turned in. Exams will be over soon. It’s only a matter of time. And then, home sweet home.
I am ready to see my brother and sister, hear my grandma’s voice, eat home-cooked food from my Puerto Rican culture. I am ready to hear my Dad’s life-lesson talks, and my mom’s advice. I am ready for summer back in New York. I can’t wait to see my friends. Almost everyone has celebrated their”21st” and I cannot wait to celebrate life with them, too.
I am also really excited for my last summer before my last year of college. I can’t believe how my time at New Paltz is almost coming to an end as an undergrad. And yet, I am still here in Madrid, Spain, trying to live my best life, while thinking about how my life at New Paltz will be, too.
I am glad I chose Madrid to speak Spanish, learn about history, and get out of my comfort zone. But as of now, I am ready to come home. I just need to visit Barcelona and Paris (if I can), to feel completely gratified by my stay here. Even so, it’s been a good run.
I believe I have so much love and support from home while being abroad, so I feel really good about coming home. And will try my best not to talk about Spain, too much. I don’t want to overload them with my reverse culture shock. Plus, one day, I want to show them where I’ve been if I can.
I also know I need to enjoy Madrid, sweet Madrid, while I can.
So here’s to about 2 months to going home! Wow!
Toledo: This place is wonderful! It is a cute, quaint city of Spain. I recommend going in the late afternoon 3-5 p.m. as you can see the sun begin to come down, and then also get a bit of the night skyline. Both views are spectacular. Here, you can walk up the hills and see the structures that look like ancient ruins and castles. There are museums, but I was just interested in the view of Madrid from the top of the hill, and the outside of the cathedral which illuminated so beautifully in the evening around 8 p.m. It is about a 1 hour ride by bus from a train stop/bus station called Plaza Eliptica. You can use your monthly metro card to get here, so it’s a win-win! This can totally be a day trip (3-6 hours with traveling, eating, snapping pics, and visiting the other touristic sites within). I did this trip in January, and really enjoyed it as it gave me an insight into what else Spain has to offer my very 1st couple of weeks here.
Segovia: This place is known for its famous aqueduct and Disney-Inspired logo–the castle! The aqueduct is a sight to see as its so large in stature with so many arches. The castle is also beautiful and I got to go inside, which was awesome. I had never been inside a castle before, so I was living some of my childhood, princess dreams. I did this trip through a student organization many universities in Europe are partnered with called, ERASMUS. I paid 20 euros to get to and from this city within the southern community of Madrid on a private bus for students, and to get a tour of the place with free-time included. I would suggest however, getting there on your own by Renfe (public train using your monthly metro card) because then you can walk around, eat, and head back home at your own pace. It will probably take an hour and a half by train. I went in February when it was raining a lot, so I suggest going when it gets warmer. This is also a day trip! You may need 3-5 hours depending on if you decide to shop and eat here as well.
Granada: This place is known by all of Spain because it has the famous fortress and castle here called the Alhambra. I took the ALSA bus there and it cost about 30 euros roundtrip from Madrid. It is about 4.5 hours away and so compared to a Trailways bus, it’s a great price! I visited this fortress, and saw it from the outside at a place called “Mirador de San Nicolas.” It was an insane view. The left part of the view had mountains. The middle had the most visited site of Spain, the castle, Alhambra. And the right side had the rest of the city. Getting to the city center from the main bus station where the ALSA bus left us was great because the main buses to the city center were right in the front (as well as taxis if need be). My friend and I also visited the Bañuelo, an arabic bath, and the Casa de Oro (House of the Gold Oven) with arches, pools, and spectacular ceilings. Granada, which is in Andalusia Spain, has Arabic influence, as it is in the south of Spain very much near Morocco. You can take a ferry from this part of Spain to Morocco (that’s exactly what I did to get there with a travel agency for students and young adults called City Life Madrid). Granada was quite special and very much reminded me of the roads and colorfulness of Morocco. I stood here for 1.5 days, so this can be a weekend trip. I recommend buying tickets to get inside the Alhambra in advance. Thousands of people visit this site everyday, so tickets are often sold out.
Other Towns By Renfe (Outdoor Train/Cercanias Line): I recommend checking out the towns of El Escorial, Aranjuez, and Guadarrama by taking the outdoor train (Cercanias line). You can use your monthly metro card here, too! So no need to pay any extra to get to these cool towns.
El Escorial has a wonderful monastery that is gorgeous. It took my friend and I about 1.5 hours to get through the inside of this majestic place filled with dungeons and a royal library. It only cost 5 euros. So worth it!
Aranjuez has a beautiful palace on the outside and inside. Insane glass windows and royalty all around. It only cost 4 euros. Again, so worth it!
Guadarrama is great for hiking! It gives you a little bit of New Paltz in Madrid, and is so gorgeous. The view is amazing, and unreal as usually you don’t expect to see snow in Madrid, but it was so awesome. It reminded me why I love New Paltz so much!
Once you get to the bus station, there are maps, signs, and info desks to ask about which way is the best way to get to the touristic places. Follow those signs, and maps, and you will get to those touristic places within 5-10 minutes from the Renfe Station (Cercanias line).
Other Local Places within Madrid:
Check out the Light House of Moncloa (only 3 euros).
Check out Takos near Sol or Gran Via or Callao train stops (best tacos ever for 1 euro each).
Check out the Madrid Zoo and Aquarium (23.5 euros) but amazing experience! I got to feed flamingos, see a dolphin and bird show, and take selfies with bears and giraffes.
p.s. Me feeding flamingos at the zoo in Madrid!