Mad Cool, Madrid’s most famous music festival

In July this year I went to Mad Cool, a huge music festival that takes place in Madrid every summer. It was my first proper music festival; I’ve been to one before in Slovenia, but it was rather small. In this post I focus on Mad Cool 2018 itself, as well as music festivals in general. Even though I have only been to two, I believe they generally have the basic features in common. My question is: are they worth the money? In the end I’ll also briefly describe some cool spots I managed to visit in Madrid!

Mad Cool Space 2018

Common characteristics

What you can probably expect from any music festival is for it to last for a couple of days up to a week. Normally several bands perform every day, some of them at the same time as there are several stages. Festivals also tend to be very crowded, at least this one was. The price will generally be higher than what a ticket for an ordinary concert normally costs, which is completely understandable. It also depends on the country and city where it takes place, and, of course, on who’s playing. Some festivals offer camping as well; Mad Cool didn’t.

Fab colours

Mad Cool itself

Okay, so let’s talk money first: Mad Cool costs something between one and two hundred euros, depending on when you buy the tickets; I paid about 160 if I remember correctly. We bought them when Mad Cool had already announced lots of major bands, and that normally plays a big role in the price. The event took place in Valdebebas, which is to the northeast of the city centre. It was all covered in fake grass and could hold up to 80,000 people. There were 7 different stages and numerous bars and food stalls. The event even hosted a couple of fashion shows and offered shops, a Ferris wheel, the GOT throne on which you could take pics, and various other activities that kept you entertained in case you showed up too early.

Something to bear in mind: if you only have the tickets and you haven’t been sent the bracelet, make sure to get to Mad Cool Space early the first day. The first bands start playing at 6; the concerts usually end at around 4.30 in the morning, so it’s quite intense. I’d recommend taking it easy during the day (which we didn’t do, and we felt the consequences). The security won’t allow you to bring liquid or food inside, and if you have an empty plastic bottle, they will take the cap. There were water fountains inside, but only in one place, and you can imagine how long it took to get there.

Day 1

Day 1 (I apologise for the poor quality of this one and the following two pics).

As you can see, the line-up was crazy. I didn’t even know a third of all the bands and I was still able to see more than four that I loved every night! It started great: with Fleet Foxes, followed by Tame Impala and then by Kasabian. I probably enjoyed Tame Impala the most, as I know them better than the other two. And then there was Pearl Jam who had a longer concert than all the others, and it was scheduled quite late as well. They were great, but I remember how tired I was after a day of sightseeing at 35 degrees Celsius. It was also a nightmare to get back to the hostel that night. We didn’t know the tube was working, so we looked for buses and it took about three years until we finally got to sleep.

Day 2

Day 2

At the Drive-In were the first band we saw the second day, and I didn’t know them well before; a friend recommended them. They were great, though! Then we listened to Snow Patrol for a while, even though I only knew two songs. Jack White was incredible, especially when he was playing old White Stripes songs. That day was also the first time I saw the Arctic Monkeys, and I wish I had been more rested for that. It was great anyway, as were Franz Ferdinand after that. I must admit, though, that I was sitting on the floor falling asleep, as hard as I wished I had the energy to dance to Do You Want to. Pathetic, I know.

Day 3

Day 3

To my disappointment, Rufus T. Firefly played at the same time as the Queens of the Stone Age. I’ve seen Queens before, but I love them, plus I was there with a guy who’s seen Rufus T. Firefly and is a huge fan of Queens, so missing any part of their concert wasn’t an option. The place was too huge and crowded to see both; we’d just lose time walking around and would miss half of both concerts. So, Queens it was, with classic Homme trying to convince people to take over the VIP place. They were fab as usual and got us in the right mood for Depeche Mode and then for Nine Inch Nails. After that we were completely dead, but we waited for JET anyway, just to hear Are You Gonna Be My Girl.

The good stuff

I was able to hear bands I dreamt of hearing for ages, the atmosphere was great, and Madrid was a lovely city to sightsee in between the gigs. The line-up for Mad Cool was honestly the best one I’ve ever seen (when talking about modern festivals,  obviously, not Woodstock, Live Aid etc.). It was one of the best “holidays” I’ve ever had, and whenever I think of it, I smile. It was just the combination of travelling after an exam period, of seeing all these incredible bands, of spending time with the boyfriend after more than a month of staring at him through a screen. I also had a lovely time wandering around Madrid with a friend who was there doing her Erasmus practice at the time.

The bad stuff

The sightseeing did take its toll. We felt exhausted because of all the walking in the heat, followed by hours of standing and dancing. My back always started aching after a few hours into the concerts, and I know I would have probably enjoyed the bands even more had I slept properly and walked less during the day. But these things were my own fault.

The prices, though, were shamelessly high. The food was quite expensive (even though I must admit the vegan options didn’t look too bad). I didn’t buy anything as we smuggled some biscuits from Lidl inside. The most ridiculously expensive thing were naturally the drinks. The beer and the tinto de verano (which is basically just red wine and soda) came in huge plastic glasses which had the line-up printed on them. It looks cool and I still have one, but the drink wasn’t worth 9 euros anyway.

9 euros

Was it worth it?

For me: absolutely. BUT – the line-up played a huge role in that, even though I think I’d enjoy the same line-up just as much if it were somewhere in Croatia or in Poland, at a festival that would be a lot less fancy and for half the price. The thing about this festival that I didn’t expect was how, well, posh it was. The fashion shows, the expensive drinks, the fake grass … I didn’t hate it or anything,  it was cool in a way, and most of the visitors were like any people you’d see at any festival (that wouldn’t be strictly punk or metal). The British girls with glitter on their faces were the only exception; they fitted in perfectly.

What about Madrid?

I visited Madrid twice, but I still don’t feel like I can write a proper blog post about it. The first time was when I was in high school and I don’t remember much, and this time there just wasn’t enough time. I’ll just list some interesting stuff that we’ve seen.

Circulo de Bellas Artes (rooftop)
  • Museo del Prado: Free to enter if you’re under 25. My boyfriend’s into art and he loved it. I felt okay in there for an hour, and then I wanted to leave; I’m not a museum person, though, so that doesn’t say much.
  • Círculo de Bellas Artes (rooftop): absolutely amazing views of Madrid and a fancy rooftop bar. They also hold exhibitions in the building.
  • Parque del Buen Retiro: a huge beautiful park with a big lake where you can rent boats. It reminded me of London, just that it was sunny and hot.
  • Templo de Debod: an ancient Egyptian temple that looks totally random in such a typically European city. It’s beautiful, though, and I remember it the most from the first time I visited Madrid.
  • Lavapiés: a barrio (neighbourhood) with many international residents and therefore interesting shops and restaurants; there are many Indian ones.
  • Malasaña: another cool barrio with lots of shops and rock bars.
sightseeing during Mad Cool: Parque del Buen Retiro
Parque del Buen Retiro

That’s all we’ve managed to see in the four days we spent there, when we weren’t at the festival. As for (vegan) food, I’d recommend Ecocentro: they have a shop and a restaurant. Part of the restaurant is a buffet with cheap tasty vegetarian and vegan food.

sightseeing during Mad Cool festival: Circulo de Bellas Artes (rooftop)
Circulo de Bellas Artes (rooftop)

My recommendations

If you only like a band or two that’s playing at a festival, I think you’d enjoy them more if you just waited for them to go on tour. They usually play a bit longer if its their own concert, and you’re usually less tired and more concentrated because you only came to see them. If you like many or just want to experience a music festival, then absolutely go for it. I think it’s also great if the festival’s in a cool place that you can see during the day. It did make me tired, but more importantly it made me happy. I’d totally go again: to Madrid as well as to Mad Cool.

Thanks so much for reading! In case you’re interested in other Spain-related stuff, or better said cities, I have a post on Valencia, as well as one on Barcelona.

IMPRESSIONS OF BARCELONA

I expected two things from Barcelona: for it to be beautiful and crammed with tourists. My mum, who I went with, kept sending me pictures of gorgeous mosaics that we absolutely had to see, while a friend told me to enjoy »the amusement park«. Both my expectations turned out to be facts: Barcelona is a truly beautiful city that is definitely worth visiting, but the number of visitors has a big impact on it. So here are my impressions of Barcelona!

Park Güell

Things that I loved

  • Gaudi’s work. I haven’t seen all of it, not by far, but I did visit Park Güell which is full of his mosaics, including the house he lived in. I’ve also been to Casa Milà (which costs 20 if you’re a student and 25 if you’re not), and I’ve seen Casa Batllo, Sagrada Familia and some other buildings from the outside (because they stole my mum’s wallet while I’m not rich enough). I would really recommend visiting Casa Milà because the roof is the weirdest, but also one of the best things I’ve ever seen. Park Güel is great too, and the cliché wall, where everyone takes the classic picture of Barcelona, is truly worth visiting; just remember to buy the tickets in advance online. It’s something worth seeing, despite the fact that they’re renovating it, which means more than half of the terrace is closed, and that there are lots of people, all trying to get an Instagram-worthy photo.
  • Barri Gotic. The Gothic Quarter is my favourite quarter in Barcelona. It’s full of narrow streets, cool architecture and diverse bars and restaurants, not to mention the shops that sell basically everything, from clothes to expensive artsy souvenirs. It’s also where the Barcelona Cathedral is situated, and while they only made it »gothic« in the 19th century, it truly is an impressive building.
  • Plaza Real. It’s just a square with a fountain, lots of palm trees, yellow walls and many bars, restaurants and clubs, but it’s very pretty. I walked through it several times because it was on the way from my hostel to the Gothic Quarter, right next to La Rambla.
  • Plaza España and Font Màgica. Plaza España is huge and it features a shopping centre, to the roof of which you can get for one euro (there’s a lift). I suppose there are other ways, but that’s the one we chose for some reason. The roof offers great views of the Palacio Nacional and of other parts of the city, and it’s also full of restaurants. The Magic Fountain is a 5-minute walk away and they do a lights and music show every evening. It’s free and it’s something worth seeing despite the huge crowd that gathers there to watch. They play diverse music and do weird but amazing things with the water. I’m actually surprised they haven’t started charging for it yet (nice one, Barcelona).
  • The many vegan options. There are lots of vegan restaurants, but I haven’t been to any, I only tried places that had vegan options. I’ve been to Chök The Chocolate Kitchen and Cookies Demasie. The first one has lots of chocolatey vegan treats on offer (I had the most amazing cupcake) and the second one makes vegan cinnamon buns; they only had one kind plus some cookies when I came, though. We also ate in Abirradero, right next to our hostel, and they had a vegan burger on the menu, but I opted for the quinoa salad instead.
Casa Milà (La Pedrera)

Things that I liked

  • The beach (Playa de la Barceloneta). Barcelona has more beaches to the north of Barceloneta, but I haven’t been to those. Barceloneta is a classic: very long, very wide, with many bars and restaurants nearby. The downside of the beach are the guys and girls who walk by all the time, trying to get you to buy drinks, towels or get a massage. It’s hard to fall asleep or read when someone’s screaming »Cerveza!« at you all the time.
  • La Rambla. The famous street that connects the port and Plaza de Cataluña. It’s cool if you fancy taking a walk down a big street that’s surrounded by beautiful houses, is full of bars, restaurants and mini-shops, as well as of people (almost exclusively tourists). I wouldn’t call it ugly or the walk through it unpleasant, but I really don’t see what’s so interesting about it.
  • La Sagrada Familia. Once again, I only saw it from the outside. The way in which the building is done, how diverse it is, the details that it has and just how huge it is, make it amazing and worth seeing. The fact is, though, that there are huge lines and groups of people all around it, and that it’s under construction. They have been building it for about a century, they’re still not done, and they probably won’t be for another decade or so.
  • Mercado de la Boqueria. It’s big and it offers a big range of different food products, but it’s also very very crowded and everything’s expensive. They sell a lot of chocolate, but even the dark versions contain milk, so sad times for vegans and lactose intolerant people.
  • Park Monjuic. A hill with a castle and with amazing views of the city. Totally worth the hike which took us about half an hour with all the stopping for pictures.
Playa de la Barceloneta

Things that I didn’t like

  • How expensive the entry fees to most museums and other attractions are. Also, they charge you one euro for using the stupid toilet on the train station Barcelona Sants and in the shopping centre Maremagnum, which is next to the Aquarium (in the port).
  • The already mentioned people who want to sell something to you constantly, plus the ones who want to convince you to eat in their restaurant.
  • The pickpockets. They stole my mum’s wallet before we even got to the hostel, which is nothing unusual for a big touristy city, and she definitely should have been more careful, but it still sucks.
  • The crowds of tourists. I’m a hypocrite for saying that because I was one of them, but it still didn’t make me like it. It was interesting to hear so many languages and see people from so many different cultures and parts of the world, though!
Plaza de Cataluña

Stuff I’d recommend

  • Using public transport. It’s well organized and the buses are punctual; the city is also well connected by the metro. We bought a ticket for ten rides and used nine of them in four days (this ticket allows you to use buses and the tube).
  • Staying at Hostal Abrevadero. It cost us 200 euros for three nights for both of us, but we had our own room and our own bathroom. It was very clean, renovated, the staff was super nice and helpful, the room was pretty, and the location was great (near the port and the Gothic Quarter, with bus and metro stations a two-minute walk away). I’m still not entirely sure why it’s called a hostel, it’s not a typical one as it doesn’t even have rooms for many people.
  • Taking a Free Walking Tour with Craft Tours. We walked from Plaza Cataluña, through the Gothic Quarter and finished on Plaza Real. The guide gave us a brief history of the city, touched upon recent political events and told us many interesting things and funny stories about the buildings we saw during our walk. Also, you can pay as much as you think the tour was worth.
  • Eating in Calle Blai which is full of tapas bars where you can eat pinchos: small sandwich bites, a different kind of tapas. I’d recommend tapas in general as they are usually the cheaper, but still tasty option, and also a way in which you can try more things (you share them with the people you’re eating with).
Sagrada Familia

Conclusions

I hope you enjoyed my impressions of Barcelona, even though I only spent four days there and am not done with it at all. Despite our short stay, we still managed to see all that we had planned. This means that it was quite intense and each evening I went to bed with my head full of new pretty images. This special city surely has a lot left to see, and I fully intend on visiting it again. It did, however, feel good to be back to the smaller and more peaceful Valencia.

LONDON

My relationship with London

I don’t know where my obsession with London came from (I suppose it had something to do with Harry Potter, Love Actually and the British accent); I just know I liked it more each time I travelled there. At some point I decided that I’d like to spend some time living there in the future, and I had this thought in my mind until the day I applied for Erasmus. The strange thing is, though, that I’m generally someone who likes summer and the sea; Thames is quite a lousy substitute, and while it doesn’t usually rain heavily in London, the weather changes quickly and it’s often cloudy and wet. And then there’s the fact that London is enormous and crowded; it can take ages to get somewhere and walking around the centre at weekends can be a nightmare. Also, it’s ridiculously expensive.

Views from Parliament Hill, Hampstead Heath

And yet, none of these things made me dislike it. I spent nine months there having a laugh and enjoying every minute of it, loving every part of the city; even the dodgy Cricklewood where I lived sort of grew on me. Of course, there were times when the slow traffic made me nervous, when the amount of people in Primark made me leave everything and walk out, or when I was shocked by the price of a glass of mediocre wine in some random club (8 pounds). But all that was nothing compared to the times when I walked London’s streets, lied in a park on a sunny day, or visited one of the markets. I was happy to be there all the time; I liked travelling by tube, going to Co-op and sometimes I even liked the rain. I wasn’t scared of moving there all alone and I was next to depressed when I had to go home. But there’s a good reason for all that: I was an exchange student.

Erasmus life is like living in a bubble; it, sadly, isn’t real. Everything’s temporary and you’re aware of that, which is why you try to make the most out of it while you can. I had few classes and didn’t have to work, which meant that I didn’t have to commute to another part of the city every morning. I also didn’t struggle with loneliness; I had my Erasmus flatmates, and I basically forgot what it’s like to be alone; I don’t think I saw two films by myself in the entire year. And then I had the scholarship, I paid my rent in advance and whenever I was running out of money, my mum and my grandma would help me. I was free as a bird and I didn’t have any real worries.

London itself

The cons of living in London therefore didn’t affect me as much, but I did enjoy the good stuff, the things everyone loves. I’ll focus on these, and I’ll leave out the main tourist sites because I’m sure you already know everything there is to know about Buckingham Palace and Madame Tussauds. The best things about London are the mixture between old and new architecture, the many enormous parks, the amazing markets and the fact that there’s always something going on. There are so many events, concerts, clubs, pubs and restaurants that it’s hard to run out of things to do or places to go to.

Views from the top floor in Tate Modern

PARKS

It’s no secret that London is full of amazing parks, but it’s not all about Hyde Park and Regent’s Park, there are many other ones. I had Clitterhouse Playing Fields and Gladstone Park near to my residence, and I often ran there. The first one is basically just lots of grass and some benches, while the second one is more park-like. Neither of them is very special, though, while the ones listed below absolutely are:

Hampstead Heath: there’s a hill, a forest, small lakes (in which people actually swim during summer; I guess they’re just that desperate), an amazing old palace called Inverforth House (you can walk through a part of its garden), rich people’s houses and Parliament hill (a very cool viewpoint).

Golders Hill Park: basically, a zoo; you can see various kinds of birds and other animals, including squirrels, like in every London’s park.

Richmond Park: enormous, be prepared to walk a lot or rent a bike; you can see deer.

Holland Park: a big pretty park that includes a Japanese garden.

Battersea Park: next to Thames, it has an adventure park, and it’s right next to Battersea Power Station which was on the cover of Animals by Pink Floyd.

The usual ones which are definitely worth a visit too: Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Regent’s Park (you can walk to Primrose Hill from here, another amazing viewpoint), St. James’s Park, Victoria Park, Green Park, Greenwich Park, etc.

Richmond Park

CEMETERIES

It might sound bizarre, but I really like cemeteries. I prefer older ones with interesting tombstones. I think it also has something to do with the fact that cemeteries in England differ a lot from the ones in Slovenia; for one thing, there are a lot less candles and flowers and I find that reasonable. There are lots of them in London and I have only visited two:

Hampstead Cemetery: near Cricklewood. There’s a path that goes through it with a fence on both sides and people run, walk and cycle there. It’s beautiful, the tombstones are surrounded by trees and it has a creepy gothic vibe if you walk through it when it’s getting dark. It’s free of charge.

Highgate Cemetery: it’s divided into the West and the East Cemetery and I only visited the Eastern part. For the Western part you must book a guided tour (around 12 pounds). I only had to pay 4 pounds for the East Cemetery which is also where Karl Marx is buried. Douglas Adams is also among the people buried in the East Cemetery. The West Cemetery is supposed to have amazing architecture, and George Michael is buried there, but his grave isn’t visited during the tour.

Otherwise, London has the “Magnificent Seven”: seven big private cemeteries, all established in the 19th century because there wasn’t enough space in the existing ones. Highgate is one of them, alongside Kensal Green, Abney Park and Brompton, which are also supposed to be worth visiting.

Hampstead Cemetery (a very bad picture, but a good representation of its creepiness and of English weather)

MARKETS

Markets are among the things that make London such an amazing city to live in. They are just screaming London as they are crowded, you can buy/eat things from all over the world, they are loud and there’s music everywhere. Keep in mind to check the opening times online before visiting them: some are closed on Sundays (Borough Market) while some er only fully open on Sundays (Brick Lane). I’ve been to the following five markets several times and I really can’t decide which one I like best: Borough Market, Camden Market, Brick Lane, Portobello Road Market and Covent Garden. There are also other famous markets in London but I either haven’t been to them or have only been once and don’t really remember them, so I won’t write about them (Old Spitalfields Market, Greenwich Market, Broadway Market etc.).

Borough Market: my first memory of London. It’s near London Bridge, it’s full of amazing food (they sell fresh ingredients and ready meals, but nothing except food and drinks) and you can eat sitting by the Thames because it’s so close. It’s a nice stop when taking a walk from Tower Bridge towards Tate Modern or vice versa. As already mentioned, make sure not to go there on a Sunday and try to go between Wednesday and Saturday because not all traders are there on the first two days of the week (you won’t be hungry though). My all-time favourite dish is a mix of veggies from the Ethiopian stall.

Camden Town is another old memory and simply a classic: full of tourists, music, graffiti, crazy shops and various food stalls with all the possible junk food you can imagine (you can find healthy stuff too though). Camden Market is open every day from ten to six. ​You can buy everything, from T-shirts, to hand-made jewellery and paintings.

Brick Lane is probably one of the best markets I’ve ever been to. There are always amazing street performers, there are various food halls and they sell a lot of art work. Perhaps because of the bagel shop, but I swear I sometimes felt as if I was in New York when walking through it. Brick Lane is officially only open on Sundays from 5 to 10. There are things you can do in the lane also on other days and there are some stalls, but I would definitely recommend going on a Sunday at about twelve or so (if you don’t mind the crowd).

Portobello Road Market: it’s in Nothing Hill where the film with the same name was filmed, and where you can see cute colourful houses and majestic white ones too. It’s where I ate the best falafel in my life (I can’t remember which stall it was but I’m sure I’d find it again). It’s open every day except Sunday, the hours differ slightly, and the best day is Saturday.

Covent Garden, a covered market that’s slightly posh. It’s adorable during the holidays and great to wander around when the weather sucks. Otherwise, I don’t think I ever bought anything there or ate in any of the restaurants (I’m not rich enough). Covent Garden is open every day.

Brick Lane and chocolate (the shop is called Dark Sugars)

FREE STUFF TO DO

PARKS: Needless to say, but anyway: all parks are free as far as I know. Sometimes there are also special events with not enter fee, for example Winter Wonderland which takes place around Christmas (so from sometime in November) and is in Hyde Park. It’s free to enter but you’re naturally going to have to pay for taking any rides or if you’re going to buy some junk food from the stalls. It’s worth just seeing it as it’s enormous and colourful. There are also various other events in parks, like concerts, and one thing you can always do on a sunny day is having a picnic.

MARKETS: You’ll probably be tempted and buy something but there’s no enter fee, and markets are fun to just look at as there’s so much art and so many street performers. Plus, the food is cheaper than in most restaurants.

WANDERING AROUND: If you like walking, you’ll enjoy losing yourself around London, finding a way from wherever you’re staying to the centre. For me the most interesting parts are Soho, Brixton and Camden Town (these also have many pubs and clubs and a very lively nightlife).

SKY GARDEN: If you book online in advance (you can do it three weeks before) it’s completely free and the views are amazing. If you’re too late to book it, you can still reserve a table and have a (costly) meal.

MUSEUMS: Most of the museums in London are free (minus the special exhibitions they are holding at the moment), among those: Natural History, British Museum, National Gallery, Science Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum etc. I would really recommend Tate Modern if you’re into art. I didn’t understand anything when I first visited it but the thing with contemporary art is that you got to read the description. When I went there for the second time I found it a lot more interesting, but the best thing for me is still the fact that you can get to the top floor for free and enjoy amazing views of the city.

Victoria Park

London is an amazing place to visit as a tourist, as it is a great destination for an exchange or for studying. It’s the best place for outgoing people because it really offers a lot of basically everything. It has been more than a year since I left it behind and I miss it daily. Luckily, I’m going there for a few days in November to catch up with some friends, and I’m really looking forward to visiting the same old spots. London just never gets old, I guess.