I just got home from spending my winter break in Madrid, Spain with my boyfriend. One of my favorite things to do was bundle up in a sweater, boots, a scarf, and my thickest coat and walk the one mile to my favorite bench next to the lake at el Parque del Retiro. Sometimes I would sit and journal. On a busy weekend afternoon I would people watch. And sometimes I would just slowly stroll around the park. On the weekdays, the park was vacant except for a few retired people and some young kids who were too young for school wandering through. On one particular weekday when gray clouds threatened a downpour at any moment, the park was close to empty. And out on the lake, there was a sole couple taking advantage of a break in the rain and testing their fate on one gloomy day.
Crossing the border from France to Spain was like arriving home – and it basically was! Because I’ve been living in Madrid, Spain and using Spanish as my primary language since September, I now consider Spain my second home.
I definitely wouldn’t consider myself bilingual at this point, but my Spanish is sufficient . This mediocre knowledge of the language was the reason my Contiki tour manager nominated me to teach the rest of the group some basic Spanish vocabulary. However hello, goodbye, please, and thank you only gets one so far so I spent our 48 hours in Madrid working as a translator.
As a wannabe local, I acted not only as a translator but a tour guide as well. I showed off La Sagrada Familia and Gaudi’s other architectural masterpieces, the gothic quarter, La Rambla, the 1992 Olympic stadium, and of course all the good shopping. At one point we stopped in a little tapas bar where I ordered plates upon plates of tapas for my friends to taste. It was an exhausting day, one that warranted a traditional siesta. Man, had I missed my daily siesta!
I may have fallen asleep as a Barcelona expert, but I woke up as a tourist like everyone else, ready to take in new sites and experience new things. The group got all dressed up and we were off to a Flamenco show and what a show it was. The live guitar playing with fingers the speed of light, deep raspy singing, and traditionally dramatic flamenco dancing made for a great start to a long evening.
Part 2 of the evening was the bars and clubs. It was a very, very long night of drinking and dancing. Actually, the night never ended. We stayed out until 5am, grabbed a cab back to the hotel, took a hot shower, packed my suitcase, ate breakfast, and hopped on the coach where I passed out before I even found out who occupied the seat next to me.
Next Stop: The French Riviera
Have you had a moment in your life when you feel like your breath and any ability to speak has been sucked out of your chest? You refuse to blink because if you close your eyes for even the slightest moment, the beauty before you might have just been a dream. That’s how I felt when I walked into Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo, the 3rd oldest cathedral in the world and located in the historic town of Toledo.
There was a guided tour I was supposed to be listening to, but the world tuned out as I walked around like someone who had just been let out of a windowless room for the first time in their life. I wandered so slowly that I might as well have been standing still. But mesmerized by the architecture and intricate detail of every square inch of the place, my motor skills seemed to have vanished. The only thing left functional were my eyes which tried to absorb every detail but failed miserably. It didn’t matter how long I stared at my surroundings, new details kept on coming to light and another wave of awe washed over me.
It eventually occurred to me that I should be using the camera I barely still had gripped in my right hand. I knew it’d be impossible to capture the true magnificence of what lay before me, but I also knew that I needed to have a little souvenir to take home or else this experience would slowly slide into the back of my subconscious, never to be fished out again. And with that sudden realization, I started snapping away.
The Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo wasn’t the only sight to see in Toledo, but after such a striking first impression, the rest of the town seemed almost ordinary. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that the rest of the architecture, streets, and places of worship captivated so little of my interest. I am living in Madrid, Spain. This is one of the most beautiful places in the world and I was in such sever aftershock that I wasn’t able to appreciate that simply walking down the street here provides breathtaking views. Luckily I had the sense to put my camera to good use. These photos allow me to relive each step and appreciate every brick in the beautiful town of Toledo (including the original stones from a Roman road!).
I have now been in Spain for seven days and I feel somewhat acclimated to my new life. I’ve already experienced my first legal alcoholic beverage, my first extremely embarrassing moment, my first night out on the town, and my first foreign affair.
Wow! What a difference from flying within the United States. While the seats are still uncomfortably close together, at least everyone receives a surprisingly high quality pillow and blanket. After a little nap, I was woken up for dinner and the food was delicious! I have never enjoyed airplane food in my life… another first! It may also have to do with the fact that it came with a glass of wine. When the “sommelier” asked me if I wanted a glass of wine with dinner, I looked at him like he was crazy. He must have thought I was the crazy one for thinking that I wasn’t old enough to drink. Once it dawned on me that I was free of the states and it’s 21 year old drinking age, the nice flight attendant gave my entire row a wine tasting. So it was on the plane only hours after departing from LAX that I was in love with Europe… and I hadn’t even stepped foot there yet!
Full from the delicious food and happily sipping on my first legal alcoholic beverage, I decided to see how ridiculously overpriced the movies were. Guess what? It was free. I know, I still can’t quite believe it myself. As I browsed the selection I decided to pass on Taken, the movie about a girl abroad getting kidnapped and sold into sex slavery. I instead decided on The Five Year Engagement and put any fears about being in a foreign country alone behind me. I barely had finished the movie and closed my eyes when I was woken up during the breakfast service. It had only been a few hours since dinner! But with the time change, I forced myself to eat an omelet, fruit, and yogurt in order to adjust to my new schedule.
The rest of the flight was easy enough. My layover in London was relatively short. And I arrived safe and sound in Madrid, Spain.
Embarrassing Moment #1
Well it’s official: Spain now knows I’m a complete klutz and can barely stay upright on my own two feet. I thought my skill and ability to consistently embarrassing myself might be a United States thing, but it’s unfortunately a universal talent.
I was trying to get into my own apartment building on my second night here. I thought my key was broken. I tried turning it all the way to the right, all the way to the left, pulling the door, pushing the door, and every combination of those possible. When someone came down and was trying to get out of the building and saw me struggling, I thought yes, some handsome Spanish man to my rescue! If only it had been that simple. It took a whole team of people to diagnose the problem and undo the damage I had done. Apparently in my struggle to open the door I had twisted the key too many times to the left, dead bolting the door shut. Who new European doors had such a feature?
As soon as the 6 or so men finally opened the door, I thanked them before quickly retreating to my room. I can guarantee my face was bright red. Luckily I haven’t run into any of them since, but I’m sure the time will come.
The Madrid Police Force: My New Favorite Men In Uniform
I’m convinced being extremely attractive is a requirement for joining the Madrid police force. I have yet to come across an officer who isn’t worthy of being featured in a calendar. Calendar? Yes, calendar… the ones of sexy men in uniform that are sold to help raise money for their stations.
I hope Madrid does this because that could quite possibly be the best souvenir ever. But just in case I don’t have any fan posters or calendars to take home with me, I am spending as much time with these men as possible. I use having no idea where I am to my advantage. Whenever I am lost (which is multiple times a day every day), I ask a sexy officer where to go. He points me in the right direction and explains to make a left on this street and right on that street. I have usually have no idea what he said (that either has to do with the fact that I’m distracted by his beauty or the fact that he’s speaking Spanish a thousand miles an hour), but I smile and nod and head in the general direction he pointed. Within a few minutes I’m lost again and I go in search of another sexy man in uniform.
Since when do I go in search of cops? Another first.
The City That Truly Never Sleeps
When people say that NYC is the city that never sleeps, they have clearly never been to Madrid. The metro closes from 1:30am-6am every night. Most would think they need to get home by 1:30, but in Madrid that’s just an excuse to party until at least 6am! When you hop on the metro tired with sore feet and the beginning stages of a hangover at a little after 6am, you are sitting next to someone in a suit off to work for the day. There are always people out and about, at all hours of the day of night.
But with all the partying, catching up on sleep is a necessity. Good thing the city practically shuts down everyday from 2pm-4pm for a siesta. Siesta = nap time = my favorite part of the day. Even during this traditional time to relax, many people continue to go about their day.
My First Foreign Affair
When my San Diego group went out to celebrate a member’s 21st birthday, we went all out. We dressed up nice an fancy, took tons of pictures, and made a big deal out of her finally being legal to drink in the states. But she wasn’t the only one who received a present that night.
Mine came in the form of a sexy foreign man. He wasn’t Spanish, but he was an attractive Italian man and a great dancer. We spent most of the night on the dance floor, and when we took a break and talked it was a combination of English, Spanish, and Italian. Fortunately I wasn’t expecting a deep, intellectual conversation from him. A few dances and kiss goodnight was more than enough.
Week one down, 10 months to go. This is going to be one crazy adventure!
Sometimes this world seems so small, like when you run into someone you met on the other side of the country in your local grocery store. But even if you don’t have the opportunity to travel to the other side of the country (or the other side of the world), photographs and stories of others’ adventures can make you feel like the world is at your fingertips – like it’s possible to reach into the photograph or jump into the story.
However, sometimes a photograph or story isn’t quite enough. I want to be behind the camera or in the picture or writing the story. Take this undersea resort in Fiji – the photographs are incredible, but there is no replacement for your back melting into the bed, curling up in the luxurious blankets, and gazing at endless sea life. This is a pretty spectacular vacation I would never turn down, but it didn’t quite make my Top 3 Travel Destinations list.
My Top 3 Travel Destinations:
#1: Spain The culture in Spain is so rich – famous for running with the bulls, speaking a language of love, and so much more. It is the county I have chosen to study and emphasize in for my International Business degree, so in 2013 I will be studying abroad. For 4 months I will have the opportunity to absorb every bit of the sights, food, and culture this spectacular country has to offer.
#2: Greece If the history doesn’t draw you in, then Greece’s beauty will do the trick. During my 6th grade study of Greece which included participating in our own Greek Olympics (homemade togas and all), I fell in love. It also helped when The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants movie was partially filmed there. I too wanted to go to Greece, ride a donkey to my villa, and be part of a romantic love story set in a beautiful and historic country. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is no longer my favorite movie, but my desire to visit this place of magic has yet to fade.
#3: Egypt The fact that some of my ancestors are Egyptian is only one reason I can’t wait to explore this country. A field trip to a museum dedicated to Egypt’s history (which included mummies) sparked my interest during elementary school. And when I learned more about the unsolved mystery of how the pyramids were made in middle school, Egypt made the list of Top 3 Travel Destinations.