Friday, July 18, 2008

Getting around Madrid

Madrid's a great walking city, if you've got the time. In fact, sometimes it's faster to walk somewhere than to take a bus or taxi. My students used to think I was crazy because I'd often walk 45 minutes to get to class -- until I explained that taking the metro or bus would have saved me only 10 minutes. For that difference, I'd rather get some exercise and avoid having to push up against sweaty and smelly strangers on the bus or train.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again -- one of the absolute worst things about teaching English in Madrid is all of the travel. Thankfully, the Madrid metro has grown tremendously in the past few years. Considering that Madrid is once again a candidate city for the Olympics, it seems likely that the Madrid metro will continue to expand. This is especially good news for teachers and others who have to run around the city all day.

The only downside to the Madrid subway, in my opinion, is the heat and smell in the summer (the smell being B.O.... yuck). Oh, and the many stoppages. If you take the metro just a few times a day, you may not notice. But if you take it 5-10 times per day, you start to notice just how often the trains stop in tunnels or arrive late. Still, every subway system has its problems, and I think the Madrid metro is one of the better subways I've used.

The buses, on the other hand, can be a total nightmare. I prefer taking buses over the metro, since you can see a bit of the city, and they often tend to be cooler in the deadly Madrid summers. But they are just so unreliable -- yes, yes, not the driver's problem, since there's tons of traffic -- but still annoying! Today I waited 15 minutes for a bus -- that I was only on for 10 minutes! The bus was supposed to come every 4 minutes. As it turns out, I had plenty of time on my hands... but my flatmate, who had to take the same bus later on to get to a class, couldn't take the risk of being late to class. So although the bus ride to his class is only about 30 minutes, he had to leave one hour before the class to account for all possible problems with the ride.

Bringing me one reason I'm glad I don't do the running-around-Madrid-teaching-English thing anymore: It's bad enough I had to spend 4 to 5 hours each day on actual transportation, but on top of that, I often spent an additional 1 to 2 hours waiting around for buses or trains, or wasting time in cafes when the buses/trains actually came on time and got me to my destination with no problems -- causing me to arrive 20-30 minutes early.

For the first year or two, I didn't mind. I was learning Spanish, and the travel and waiting around time gave me a chance to study Spanish, look up vocabularly, and trudge my way through Spanish newspapers. But that got old after a while. Which is why I decided to start walking to classes -- at least then I had control over whether I was late or not.

I highly recommend walking around the city -- whether you're here for a visit or planning to stay. I can't think of a better way to get to know Madrid... and with the money you save on transportation costs and a gym membership, you can treat yourself to some good nights out each month.

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