My, oh my! Life has been utterly satisfactory these past few days. I spent my last weekend in the glorious city of Madrid. For those who have never been, I suggest you GO! And for those who have, well, you are among the fortunate who have experienced the warm glories of Spain’s capital city.
We (LSE Itchy Feet travelers) arrived in Madrid Friday evening, settled into our hostel, and sat ourselves down in Plaza Jacinto Benavente for some long-awaited patatas bravas and gofres con chocolate. As we took in the Spanish air, the plaza was bombarded by a troupe of Brits dressed in neon-colored golfing attire for reasons I have still yet to understand (and probably never will). Certainly a peculiar experience!
The following morning, I went on an exploratory run through shabbier, but nonetheless intriguing parts of Madrid in search of the Manzanares river, which I unfortunately never found. I was looking forward to a long run, but didn’t manage because of Madrid’s altitude (670 metres)–significantly higher than that of New York (1 metre), Boston (5.8 metres), or London (14 metres).
Then began our three-hour walking tour of Madrid. We started at Plaza Mayor, made our way to El Mercado de San Miguel, to the Royal Palace (which puts Buckingham Palace to shame), and then walked up the Gran Via (the equivalent to New York City’s Broadway or London’s Strand) to Puerta del Sol. Our tour guide was a Bolivian expat who claimed he wanted to “die in Madrid.” I was deeply touched by this remark and it made me wonder whether there was a city that evoked this feeling of profound attachment. I have come to the conclusion that for me, there is not. My home is in my heart; I carry it with me wherever I go. It think that’s why I am easily able to adjust, adapt, and integrate into new environments and why I can feel a sense of closeness to my cherished human beings despite the large distances between us.
*Quick pause for 20th Century British Literature Class*
Following our walking tour it was time for a siesta, so back to the hostel we went. Then, we made our way to Spain’s national museum, El Museo Del Prado — possibly my favourite museum in the world, though that of course, is subject to change. Just prior to departing for Spain, my European history course discussed the Spanish Conquistadors and Charles V‘s Holy Roman Empire. What a treat it was to see paintings from these very periods in their Spanish home.
My new friends Bob and Sam and I made our way to El Parque de Retiro. The sun was just setting so there was an added effect of mysticism that enveloped us as we wandered through the park. We headed to La Latina, an area in Madrid known for its mouth-wateringly-delicious tapas. Bob, Sam and I enjoyed an array of tapas in one of the best (some even say the best) tapas bars in Madrid, Juana La Loca. We stood at the bar, drank wine, and merrily consumed our food. We then went to another tapas bar for calamari and croquetas, at which point we were full beyond belief and content to spend the rest of the night relaxing. We were fortunate enough to have José, a Spanish LSE alum, show us around La Latina that evening. Towards the end of the evening, the economic crisis in Spain was mentioned (quite typical of a LSE crowd, if you ask me) and José remarked that though there was a very high rate of unemployment, Spaniards continued to make enjoying life a priority. The proof was before us; I turned my head left and right – Spaniards were sitting back in their chairs, making conversation, drink in hand. “Economic crisis” for the time being no longer seemed like an appropriate term.
The following morning I attempted a second run with minimal success. I returned to El Parque de Retiro and discovered more of its secret treasures. After my run, we headed to El Rastro, an ENORMOUS flea market filled with treasures ranging from batteries, to antique chairs, to empanadas, scarves and piggy banks. Then we sped off to a cable car park, where we boarded the cable cars and indulged in jaw-dropping panoramic views of Madrid. Our journey in the cable car was brief because we were expected at flamenco class shortly afterwards.
I literally do not have the words (nor do I necessarily need them) to express the joy I felt in our 1.5 hr flamenco class. As a life-long dancer, I had done some flamenco before and had even seen a world-famous flamenco company perform at the Joyce Theatre in NYC, but this was an altogether different experience. It was sensual and sweaty, challenging, fierce, and moving. My task was to translate our teacher’s teachings to the rest of the class. With help from my friend Consuela, we did our best to convey her message. The studio was dimly lit and lacked a mirror; inhibitions were largely removed and intimacy was created. Though not everyone had dance experience, we still managed to transcend verbal communication and rely on our bodies for conversation. As we left the studio, the sun was beginning its evening descent kissing buildings and cobblestones along the way.
A few friends and I went out for paella on our last night in Madrid. We stopped for churros con chocolate on our way back to the hostel and then cozied up into bed before our 4:00 am wake-up to catch a flight back to London. The morning was brutal and Monday’s classes were a blur, but I returned to London a changed woman with new friends and a more comprehensive understanding of la vida.
Parque de Retiro
On a separate note:
1) I have signed up for the Edinburgh marathon on 25 May 2014! (Putting my long-distance running habits to good use, I suppose?)
2) I am leaving for Amsterdam tomorrow morning to reunite with my best friends from Columbia. I will dedicate a future post to this trip!
3) I am working as a LSE Widening Participation Mentor, and as a Debate Mate Mentor in a primary and secondary school!
That is all for now.
With love from London,