The Madrid Metro System is one of the most efficient and cleanest in Europe, and while taxis around this fairly compacted city are cheap, at one Euro per ride, and two from the airport, riding the subway is a no-brainer. Lines are numbered and Metro stations are easy to negotiate for those that don’t speak the language, just follow the colour-coded lines along the walls to take you wherever you need to go. When buying tickets the touchscreen machines are easy to use and have multiple language selections. If you don’t speak competent spanish and hate touchscreen technology it’s best to buy tickets in the mornings, when the clerks are slightly less weary of your linguistic skills.
Unlike other systems, directions of the platforms and trains are indicated by the final stop at the extreme ends of the lines, so don’t check whether you are headed north, but where the train will end up. Make sure you keep your personal belongings closely guarded during the busier times as pickpockets are fairly common, and the Metro staff, while sympathetic, are helpless when faced with an absent purse. There is no ticket checking upon leaving your desired destination, but fares are sometimes checked, so don’t make the mistake of throwing away your ticket the minute you pass through the barriers of your originating station. Spanish subway beggars are of a higher calibre in Madrid, or at least think they are, and spend any time on certain lines and you will come to recognize the more celebrated ones.
Watch out for the man on the North/South dark blue line who walks through carriages looking bedraggled, not asking for money. Should some charitable commuter offer him their spare change, you’re in for a treat. The man will hold out his hand, show no eye contact or gratitude, before slinking off to the next carriage to perform a similar ceremony of thanklessness. You will rarely see more than one beggar on a service, but should you see a conflict between two competitors for your spare change, let me know, they are some of the most entertaining I have seen anywhere in the world.
The Metro runs from around six in the morning to late at night and covers the entire city, you’re never far from a subway stop in Madrid and the logo of the blue rectangle in the red diamond is recognizable everywhere. It’s a vital part of the Madrid experience.
- Carlos Galvin