Small town girl moves to Madrid and gets a reality check

Madrid airport luggage tag

Never having lived in a big city before, I was delighted when I learned that in September, I would be living in not just a big city, but Spain’s capital, Madrid.

Before I moved here, I had my expectations of what it would be like. Of course, I’d visited before — rode the Metro, ate a bocadillo de calamares, strolled around Retiro Park — but I was still thrown off by many things when I actually made the big move from Zamora.

The Madrid Metro

I was so excited to come to Madrid and ride the Metro. A car? Who needs a car when the Metro system is world-renowned, clean, inexpensive, and efficient? It gets me from point A to point B.

But it’s not as fun or tranquil as I once thought. I often ride in the mornings, right smack dab in the middle of rush hour, and — though I’ve never had this inclination before — I feel almost claustrophobic. I still ride the Metro and think it’s a great way to get around without a car, but I get it: a car would be nice.

Madrid is huge

You’re probably rolling your eyes, but I had no idea. Obviously, Madrid the city is already big. But Madrid isn’t just the city; it’s a province as well. I knew this, as comunidades have the same name as their capitals, but I’m just now realizing how many other towns there are outside the M-30.

Madrid is international

During my three years in Spain, I’ve lived in small towns like Zamora (population 193,383 in 2011), not bigger cities like Barcelona or Sevilla. Thus, my experience in Spain up to now has been a decidedly small-town one. In a place like Zamora, the people are, with few exceptions, Spanish de pura cepa. Of course, there are immigrants here and there, but even seeing another American was rare. But in Madrid, seeing another American is almost passé. Even the Spanish I hear on the streets is frequently more Latin American-style, which I learned in high school and college (and subsequently forgot) when I moved to Spain in 2008.

There aren’t just restaurants serving Spanish cuisine here; there are Indian, Thai, Mexican and even Senegalese, to name just a few. Madrid is just as Spanish as Zamora or Salamanca, but it’s also unquestionably multicultural.

Madrid is full of things to do

Having never lived in a place with more than 200,000 residents, I wasn’t used to the amount of activity I now see daily. There’s something for everyone. There’s always something going on, Sunday through Saturday, twenty-four hours a day.

I’ve tried some new restaurants and am excited to explore more of Madrid, whether that means exploring its numerous parks, eating delicious pinchos, or strolling along the Gran Vía. In a few months, the city will not likely seem so overwhelming. I expect Madrid to become home for me, just like Zamora.

What surprised you about Madrid when you first moved here? Tell us in the comments!

About Kaley Hendrickson

Kaley is the blogger behind Y Mucho Más, a blog about expatriate life in Spain after the honeymoon phase. She enjoys learning more about Spain, being active, and trying new things, especially if it involves food!


  1. Pierre-Alban Waters

    October 25, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    What surprised me when I arrived in Madrid ? That indeed you can learn the language in 6 months, get a job, and launch a company, even in the crisis.

    Great new site this Vaya Madrid, and good article Kaley – hope to see more :-)

    • Kaley

      October 26, 2012 at 2:14 pm

      Thanks, Pierre! I'm impressed that you learned the language in six months! How did you go about that?

  2. Pingback: On the Road to Salamanca « Kaley…& Más

  3. Anna Bitanga

    Anna Bitanga

    October 26, 2012 at 8:34 am

    My biggest surprise was the weather. I had no idea how cold it could get here in winter and how scorching hot it could be in summer! I guess I was one of these rubes who just thought Spain = sun. I blame the tourist office, naturally ;)

  4. Kim

    October 26, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    I think the sheer size of the city was also surprising to me. Also, the fact that I lived there for 6 months and left so many undiscovered streets and barrios behind. That city will always hold a piece of my heart…can't wait to return one day!

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