When I first arrived in Madrid I felt completely unsettled and out of my comfort zone. It was very frustrating to try and communicate when less than half of the people I spoke to understood me; even getting a cheap Spanish mobile phone number was an all-day task. But it's been a couple of weeks of surfing on friends couches, and spending way too many hours online trying to establish a life here.
The good news is: I finally found an apartment in Madrid! It took a week, a lot of text messages, phone calls, and emails; and days of scouring over Spanish room share and property websites.
You have to be aware of scammers in Spain, apparently it's wide spread. Lots of fake ads on the Internet for properties that seem too good to be true. You go and look at it, and the 'landlord' tells you they have 20 people who want the place, so you have to pay a deposit to secure it for yourself. I came across a couple of scams like these, but like everything when you travel, you just laught it off and move onto the next genuine thing. There will always be those people out to make a quick buck, use your head, and you can avoid getting ripped off (most times).
There are plenty of 'agents' offering to be the middle-man and find expat and student apartments because they cannot speak Spanish. At first, I thought this was extremely helpful, they could sort me out with a shared room for 3 months with no fuss, and I could move in immediately. Then I found out the cost. They were charging up to four times the cost of getting a room privately. Thanks, but no thanks.
I tried to use the power of the CouchSurfing community (groups), but most places were snapped up extremely quick, or weren't very central; a few of those were a little over-priced too. It seems all travellers want to share a house with other travellers, and why not? I know it would be a great communal/party atmosphere, and I've always loved being a host.
But, back to my place -- I found a place with a lovely Spanish family. It's very centrally located, near some of the nicer parts of Madrid (Salamanca: Diego de Leon). Only a few metro stops to the nightclubbing districts, downtown, and Retiro park.
The family are friendly, and don't speak much English, which is perfect for me, I want to learn Spanish as quickly as possible. The 'man of the house' is a Spanish (Opera) singer, his wife is a Ghost Writer, and the nephew is an aspiring Football star. The rent is reasonable, Internet and bills included. It's the perfect share house situation, my room is right near the kitchen and front door, I have my own keys so I come and go as I please.
Now that I have somewhere to unpack (and it feels so good to finally unpack), I'm looking at language schools, getting more involved with the Madrid lifestyle, and hopefully joining the local gym. I've even written ads for getting myself a cheap bicycle to get around on.
As much fun as travelling is, I think it's good to take a break. If you travel non-stop for an extended period of time, and you don't get burnt out, my hat goes off to you.