Last fall, I was invited to Spain to take part in a workshop put on by my friend Monique Melton and her Shine Brighter Together series of trips for women of color. After several debates with myself, 7-months postpartum and with a nursing baby, I kissed my family goodbye and hopped on a plane across the world alone to spend a week with a group of women I had never met and had no previous relationship or experience with. Big risk right? I wasn't sure how things would turn out but had a stirring to follow through and I am so thankful that I did.
Of all the places in Europe to visit, Spain was a bit off my radar until I took an Ancestry DNA test. When I got the results, I made a personal promise to myself that one day I would visit every single country that came up in my chart, so the invitation to Spain was an exciting one because it allowed me the opportunity to check off the first of many of my countries on my life. If nothing else, I had that to look forward to for a reason to follow through, but even without the bucket list attraction of visiting the country, I had the most amazing time because Monique is an amazing host and an even more incredible teacher.
The trip to Spain taught me so much about myself and areas in my life where I have perpetuated lies and centered other people's ideologies and opinions and how that has impacted the way I see myself and even how I walk through and exist in the world.
Monique is a speaker, coach and author around anti-racism and has dedicated herself to educating and teaching others about identifying and undoing racism in their own hearts and lives, but one thing that I didn't realize or even anticipate was the power of gathering as women of color and talking about and centering ourselves. Taking the time to intentionally think through the way that racism and white supremacy has infiltrated our own personal lives and undoing some of what has been deeply rooted wasn't anything I would have thought mattered or seen as important before this trip. And if I am being honest, I was a little apprehensive to attend because I didn't feel it was "for me," but what I took away and the tools I received was for me in more ways then I could have ever imagined.
Monique's approach to this trip was really incredible. She invited talented black and brown creatives and business women to come connect and talk about and unpack different ideas, situations and feelings around issues of race, particularly issues that affect and impact us our lives on a daily and she chose a place like Madrid, because she felt it would be important to have these conversations in a location that was safe and where black and brown women are honored and respected and not an anomaly.
We would wake up, journal, do a focus question and head out of the day. We would return during siesta (yes, that's a real thing) take naps or have another group discussion and head out for the evening. The end of the day always ended with really profound discussions and a lot of heavy laughter. Every part of every day was optional and you could participate as much or as little as you wanted and needed and I really appreciated the non-pressed approach to this learning experience. If you ever get the the opportunity to learn from Monique, as a women or a BIPOC, you should absolutely sign up.
My time in Madrid really opened my eyes to so much of the work I need to do in myself and how to take up space more boldly and confidently in the world, and for that, I will always be grateful and the cherry on top was getting to spend so much time with the talent, wisdom and courage of the women in the above picture. It was a special treat. Thank you so much Shannon, Nina, Chrissy, Marla, Elizabeth and Monique.
You can check out each of the cool things that these women are doing by clicking their names, because they are world changers and making an incredible impact in their respective parts of the world.
What my time in Madrid (also) taught me:
is how powerful fellowship with women is, even those you don't know well and how women can always find commonality even in the simple things. There is so much that brings us together.
how powerful solo travel is and how I need more of it in my life. There is a renewing and a refreshing that happens when one is on a journey on alone (even if only for part of it) and there's a confidence and self-reflection and respect that comes out of and is built from the experience.
how much I love food, gathering around food and how ritualistic it is. There are so many beautiful things that happen around meals and I want to have more of those experiences in my life.
Now for those of you who are here for the Madrid tips and tricks - let's get to it. I cannot take credit for any bit of the itinerary. Monique and Elizabeth planned our days out, booked our dinners and from day to day, and as a group we would decide where we were going, but below is a good collection of places we went, visited and dined at and a few tips for surviving your first trip to one of my NEW favorite walkable cities in Europe.
Exploring Madrid by Foot
If I could leave you with a bit of advice for visiting Madrid it would be in the collection below. I felt so incredibly safe in Madrid. People are so friendly, so helpful and kind. Many people speak English so I rarely experienced a language barrier, but tried my best to speak Spanish as often and as best as I could and my Spanish at best is minimal. When traveling in any country you should learn basic words like "hello" "goodbye" "thank you" "please" and all of the words surrounding your basic needs: drinking, eating, bathroom and wifi. LOL
Madrid is also very walkable. The entire 5 days I was there, we took the bus one time and only uber'd late at night when we were tired and had on our nice shoes. It is built in a circle so all of the roads seem to lead back to one another and it's almost impossible to get loss once you get a sense of that grid and the lay out of the city. A few tips below:
Instead of staying at a hotel, check into an Airbnb. Monique booked the most stunning lodging for us and we loved staying there. Choosing a lodging option like that can often times be far more costly because you can prepare your own meals and it puts you with the locals where you can experience life in the city as one who lives there. I loved our Airbnb because it was a very quick 10-15 minute walk to anywhere in the city and it made getting around as a group, or even alone very easy.
Bring cash and have cash on hand for food, for the bus and for any street vendors and/or boutiques. Most places we visited accepted debit/credit cards but when you are traveling with a group of 3 or more, especially abroad, the culture seems to be that cash is the better option.
Shop for the cutest tennis shoes that you can find because you are going to be walking everywhere. We logged 20,000 steps plus almost daily. My favorite shoes that I wear when I travel abroad are by Josef Siebel. They are so comfortable and can be dressed up to wear with dresses or paired down with shorts and jeans and I have worn them in so many walking cities and my feet never get tired or blister.
Siestas are real in Madrid. Every day from 1p - 4:30pish everything shut down. Plan your days around your meals. Pay attention to how the locals eat. Large breakfast, light or no lunch and a long dinner. Some of our meals we sat for 4 hours or longer and that is normal in Madrid. Meal time is an experience in Madrid and often times multiple courses. Be sure to make your list of restaurants you want to check out and make your reservations far in advance. Restaurants book up fast every evening because everyone is out and enjoying life so you not only compete with other tourist, but locals as well.
The city doesn't seem to sleep. There is always something happening and people out and about. Madrid is a city where there is something and somewhere for everyone, so plan in advance and figure out what activities you want to shape your experience.
All of the food I ate in Madrid was good, except the Paella. Contrary to my own belief, Madrid isn't known for Paella and what you get there when you order from a lot of the restaurants taste a bit like Rice-a-Roni. Apparently good Paella comes in other Spanish cities, SO manage that expectation.
Where To Eat in Madrid
There are so many options for yummy places to eat in Madrid and Elizabeth knew them all. In a matter of 5 days she took us a food tour of the city that was unlike anything I have experienced and I still think about the unique experiences we had.
One of my favorite breakfasts all week was at Chocolat. It is where we tried churros and chocolate for the first time and it was the sweetest place with the greatest ambience. I would 10/10 recommend that you make it a part of your Madrid experience and order one of everything off of the menu. The food was so tasty. Coffee so good it doesn't need sugar (like most of Europe) and the pastries were so incredibly tasty.
Other amazing breakfast spots to check out in Madrid?
Head to Casa Dani for their tortillas. You will not be disappointed and if it's during brunch, try the lentils. Obviously, Chocolat for their yummy churros and chocolate. The Pum Pum Cafe was so good that we went twice. My personal favorite was their banana bread. It was the best banana bread I have ever had in my life (ask for butter on the side) an although I didn't get to eat at the following two places, my travel mates did and loved them: Olivia te Cuida and Plenti.
There are so many special places to experience lunch in Madrid...
Take a lunch break at Casa Macareno, Spanish Farm or La Casa del Abuelo, but my personal favorite, of which we frequented numerous times, was Mercado San Miguel. One click of the link and you will know why. Every possible Spanish tapas experience you could want, can happen at Mercado San Miguel and its heavenly. So many options, and all of it so tasty. Heading to the market for lunch, grabbing food and making a picnic is an experience anyone can enjoy in Madrid.
There are a couple pics above of our time in the market. Make time to explore Mercado San Miguel and you will not regret it. Be sure to taste the olives, the sangria, the empanadas and the jamon.
Dinner in Madrid is an experience...
Expect to take time and go on an empty stomach. Dinner isn't just a meal in Madrid, its a ritual. Dinner is where socializing takes place, people catch up and families get together to connect. Be sure to make a reservation early in the day or even several days in advance because MANY of the restaurants book up every day, because they are so small and every one eats out. What I loved about Madrid, a several course meal wasn't much more than $40 and it was an incredible presentation.
When in Madrid be sure to check out Tandem. My first evening in Madrid (I got in a day later than everyone else) we ate at Tandem and we were there for so long, probably 6 hours, we closed it down. They waited until we were finished before they closed and never once did they interrupt us , except to pour more wine. It was almost 1a when they finally closed their doors, but I am sure they would have happily stayed open longer if we weren't ready to go. That is the culture of Madrid, accommodating, warm and exceptional service and never in a rush. They enjoy their food and their people.
Botín was one of my favorite dining experiences, not only because the food was phenomenal BUT also because it happens to be the oldest restaurant in the world. Casa Botín, was founded in 1725, and is known for being one of the places that serve's up Madrid’s best traditional cuisine. Forbes magazine named the restaurant third place in the list of the world’s top 10 classic restaurants, for their suckling pig and lamb roasted in the Castilian style.
Can you imagine the bragging rights for dining at the first restaurant in the whole global world? I did it.
Be sure to make your reservation.
What is Madrid Best Known For? Things to See & Do.
As a creative and photographer, I was endlessly inspired by the winding streets, the colors, the beautiful boulevards, the presentation of every meal we received. Everything felt photo worthy and it was really challenging putting this blog together and not wanting to include every single picture I took. I was constantly stopping and wanting to remember everything I saw.
Below a fun list of sites to get you started on planning your days around Madrid:
( fun for shopping)
Le Opera de Madrid
Royal Palace of Madrid
experience sunset at Temple of Debod
One of the highlights of Madrid for me was going to a flamenco show. We did the Cardamomo company's show and it was a true cultural experience. What these men and women can do with their bodies is extraordinary and the music and story were so beautiful.
All around Madrid you will find carousels. Some are so big that they are even stacked as two story. They are intricately painted and so gorgeous. Be sure to experience one.
If you are a family planning a trip to Madrid, be sure to check out this kid friendly itinerary by Spanish Sabores.
One of my favorite parts of being in Spain was Zara. I love shopping at Zara and being able to be in the country where the store was created was magical! The clothes were so much chic than what I have seen in the U.S. and I loved being able to bring some home. If you want to shop be sure to head the Zara on Paseo de la Castellana (in the financial district) there you will find the largest Zara store in the world.
A very special thank you to the two ladies below for a really special first trip to Madrid. I learned so much, made so many memories, ate to my hearts content and will always hold a special place in my heart for Espana.
I hope this blog helps you as you prepare your own adventure to Madrid and that I have made it just a little easier for you to find your way, the way Monique and Liz did for me.
With strength, courage and wisdom,