By Lauren Linzer
Groups of jovial young Spaniards refill their clear plastic cups with more Coke and rum as they laugh and banter. A passionate couple is lost in one another’s eyes, sharing adoring stares and kisses on the nearby metal benches. An attractive solo commuter taps her foot to the mysterious tunes transporting her through her headphones. Tourists with their day packs and cameras around their necks are analyzing the metro map as their eyes wander over the lively crowd.
This is the typical scene deep underground as scores of patrons are collecting on the metro platforms, piling into the final running trains of the night. For me, I have become more observant to the scene than I once was as I sit with my mountain of luggage, returning to the city I once called home for a short visit. Gradually, I find myself becoming increasingly nostalgic as I recall memories of exciting nights out that all started right here, full days of teaching when my only peaceful moment was the easy commute, and the countless memories that began and ended in this below ground pipeline.
The integrated network of high speed underground trains is arguably one of the best subway systems in the world and among the fastest growing. Successfully connecting every barrio (neighborhood) in the city with 13 lines that span almost 300 kilometers, there are few addresses in the city that are more than a short stroll from one of the clearly marked entrances. The number and color coding for each line is uniform and clear, making it remarkably easy to use. The prices, while they have risen by a few cents, are still incredibly cheap.
Trains are virtually never late, lines are rarely closed, and every platform is equipped with clear LCD timers to countdown the arrival of the next train. My only pet peeve with the system is the 1:30- 6:00 a.m. time frame when the metro is closed. While it may seem that the 1:30 a.m. deadline would mark a curfew appropriately timed to close out the evening, to Spaniards the final train marks the perfect starting point to hit the town on any given weekend.
Aside from the underground, there are several other excellent and affordable options that cruise the streets around the clock. The local taxis are all white, tagged with a signature red stripe down the side and never far away. I can’t recall a time when I’ve needed one and couldn’t find one boasting the green vacancy light. The fare is reasonable priced and, much like for restaurant service in Spain, tipping is not necessary; maybe just some spare change. Local buses thoroughly connect the city as well, with several running on a 24 hour basis, providing yet another option to get around town.
As fabulous as Madrid is, there comes a time when the bustling streets and city noises leave one craving a quiet escape. The sentiment is shared by Madrilenians as they frequently take advantage of the many high speed trains, AVE, (departing from Atocha and Chamartín Stations) and various bus companies that run regularly all over the country. Whether it’s a daily commute to one of the nearby pueblos, a weekend getaway to another Spanish destination, or a journey to another European country, trains and buses depart from the various edges of the city to send travelers on their way. For those more adventurous escapes that require wandering off the beaten path, car rental companies are everywhere and for a serious bargain.
For this expat, hailing from a place where cars are freedom-mobiles, moving anywhere and becoming carless seemed daunting. But Madrid introduced me to the beauty of public transit. This intelligent and comprehensive transportation network creates the heartbeat for this great Spanish city. Transport may not be a sexy draw for a desired destination, but it is an integral part of each and every experience; and in my biased opinion, Madrid does it the best.
Lauren Linzer, from Raleigh, North Carolina, gave up the day to day grind of corporate sales to embrace life in Spain as an English teacher and travel writer in Madrid and the Canary Islands. Read more about her experiences at: http://www.linzersadventure.com/p/my-story.html