During Christmas break, I had the extraordinary pleasure and privilege to go to Spain for a week. More specifically, visit the Madrid area for a week. Spain had always been on my list of places to visit and I was convinced that I would one day see the beautiful and exotic country. One day, I thought, in the future. Even when Spain won the FIFA World Cup, I told myself, you will go there one day. I had never thought that I would be able to go there more quickly than I had originally anticipated. At the same time, Spain is a not a country you visit by yourself. It is a destination that you discover with your closest friends, your spouse, your lover...whomever, but it should be with someone. Fortunately for me, it just so happened to be my best friend. While spending a semester abroad near Spain, we had discussed that it would be absolutely amazing if we were able to see each other in Spain (she lives in Spain, I live in America; we have a long-distance friendship). Excessive talking, constant dreaming, but that's it: we could only talk about it. However, realizing that all this talking would soon turn into a reality, we shifted gears from having to be patient until December and planning to do as much as we can in the time that we have. Fast forward end of December and I would spend a week in Spain with my best friend.

Landing in Madrid-Bajaras Airport, everything became visceral--I was actually in Spain. Hearing Spanish, all the signs in Spanish, and seeing my best friend for the first time in 5 months. It suddenly dawned on me that this is actually happening. That night, we had a belated Christmas dinner with two other individuals that she knew during her time in Spain. A cold meats platter, chicken, stuffed mushrooms...I inhaled every moment and all the food. The next day, we visited Alcala de Henares, a city 20 km outside of Madrid, also the place that she lives and coincidently has the largest Romanian population in Spain. Which means, delicious meats and cheeses. Exploring the lovely and under appreciated beauty of Alcala, we walked the streets, admiring the cobblestone alleyways (which are cleaned every morning). Touring one end of the city to the other, we had arrived to the town's square (Centro) that was all decked out in holiday glamour. The lights were all lit and hung, the large Christmas tree was decorated, and everyone was outside skating under the gloriously decorated skating rink. Alcala's centro is beautiful in an obvious sense: vivid colors, grand architecture, and lucid history. And yet, there is a tantalizing beauty, in a sense that there are passerby's that neglect to envelop the beauty of Alcala. Taking in the surroundings is like lying in the ocean on a warm summer's day: it's an experience belittled if constrained by simple words. By eating a chocolate churro, making bargains at the market, and taking in the local culture is merely part of the adventure. 

The next day is when my energy vamped up, my excitement grew, and I was ready to leave the flat and take the train from Alcala to Madrid. That's right: I get to explore Madrid. When we exited the train, we switched transportation and took the metro. I really wasn't quite sure what to expect, but the sheer amount of people is certainly something I did not expect. There was people everywhere and for a couple of seconds, I was overwhelmed by the population of tourists desiring to explore the grand and illuminated capital. Puerto Del Sol, the centro of Madrid, is where we got off from the metro and there was an overwhelming sense of awe instilled in myself. People, decoration, beautiful architecture, and this urgency filled the air. My romanticized view of Europe quickly evaporated as we inaugurated our exploration of Madrid. We first explored Plaza Major, a massive market with all kinds of things: meats, toys, hats, candy, and a myriad of entertainment. It was quite a perplexing and fascinating scene since you are unsure at which to look first. Making our rounds to all the souvenir shops, we progressed on Calle Mayor, a long strip with old buildings with all forms of shops--tapas, souvenirs, ice cream shops, etc. We stopped at Plaza de la Villa to take a couple of photos and justified selfies. Plaza de la Villa is an old building situated in the middle of Calle Mayor, reminiscent of 18th century Spain. It was a painfully vivid reminder that Spain has centuries of history and the adjacent shops are only recent, a mere baby in comparison to the century-old buildings towering the horizon. Continuing on the path, we arrived at Catedral de Santa Maria de la Almudena, a basilica in Madrid constructed in 1993 that resembles the Neo-Gothic architecture that would give anyone reason to believe that it was built 4 centuries before. Directly across the Catedral is Palacio Real, the residence of the Spanish Royal Family. Taking countless photos (entirely on my part), we slowed our pace and simply continued walking throughout Madrid, eventually making our way to Templo de Debod, the Egyptian Temple. Then, slightly west to the temple is a park that overlooks part of the city. Fortunately, our timing was impeccable as we managed to catch the sunset. The warm hues of orange, yellow, and smokey pinks touched the roofs of the buildings and the sun glowed with a hazy orange, one that kisses the skin. Taking a well-deserved break and admiring the lovely sunset, we walked back to Calle Major. With the sun down and nightfall dawning, the lights came on and the city was light up with its holiday lights. Plaza Mayor was bright with its white, bubble-like light fixtures that delighted even the child at heart. Meanwhile, Sol was swarmed with people as its Christmas tree was light up and Centro shined with its various decorations: garlands on buildings, wreaths, and holiday lights hanging in the streets. It was delightful.

The very next day, we took the train and metro once again to Madrid, but having a much looser schedule. Since we were exhausted from our intense day of walking through Madrid the day before, our fatigue transferred, making our pace a little slower. We started the day by taking the metro to La Latina, the quarter of the city that hosts a massive flea market open only on Sundays. The market is filled with unique, one-of-a-kind finds such as knit sweaters, knit cowl scarves, sequin skirts that resembles traditional Spanish boleros (all of which that I purchased). There were also local photographers selling prints of their photographs, leather goods, jackets, parkas, albums, vinyls, t-shirts, and a lot of knitted accessories. It was pandaemonium, since there was as many people as there was in Sol the night before. It appeared that everyone is on the hunt of a unique find or simply a good deal. Knitted sweaters for 15 euros is a bargain, especially when the quality is unmatched and the style is very similar to something you'd find at H&M or Sfera. Taking the metro again back to Sol for a quick lunch break, we explored Plaza Callao whilst enjoying a Starbucks drink in the heart of Madrid. (It is tradition to have a Starbucks in whatever city we are in.) The last item on the list was to see Edificio Metropolis. I have pinned many photos of Metropolis, but to go the very building was something I have been looking forward to ever since I found out I was going to Madrid. Paying the entrance fee to terrace that took us to the roof adjacent to Metropolis, we overlooked the other part of the city. Again, with the sun setting, it was a scene unable to conjure with words. This is where my writing fails me: I simply cannot begin to describe how I felt at the top of that roof, overlooking Madrid, looking at Edificio Metropolis...It cannot be summed up in words. It is one thing to see the building at sunset, with the purple, red, and pink hues cloaking the city. But once nightfall came and the lights came on...It was magical. With the whole city light up, everything was illuminated, and it was an experience I carry with me. The moment itself was not grandeur; but it is one of those moments in life that I will recall vividly that is profound. My best friend and I just kept scanning the city with an immense sense of awe and magnificence on our lips. We kept saying, "Wow, it's so beautiful" over and over again, and perhaps that seems trite, but there was really nothing else we could say. It really is so beautiful. I would visit the place countless times, with my best friend, with other comrades, with my boyfriend, with everyone I hold dear to me. If there is one moment that I will treasure from my trip, it would certainly be being on that roof, overlooking the city, a hazy blur of lights wherever your looked.

The next morning, after 2 full days of exploring Madrid, we were entirely tired. Our feet ached, we were sore, and we were tired. Taking a day off, we simply stayed in my friend's flat and watched films, ate whatever we wished, and chatted. With New Years Eve the next day, we had our list of festivities. Shopping for groceries at the local Carrefour, we spent the rest of the afternoon getting ready for a classical concert at Teatro Salon Cervantes, Alcala's theatre with a New Years Eve party afterward at my friend's peer's flat. Spending the night and early morning laughing, having fun, and making lasting memories, we explored Alcala at night. With no one in sight, we rang in the New Year with each other, accompanied by a Spanish tradition of eating 12 grapes, signifying 12 months of fruit (both literally and figuratively). New Years Day was my last full day in Spain and we spent it savouring the sights and unspoken beauty of Alcala, as well as eating tapas. I couldn't leave Spain without having tapas. Having a rich experience of Spain, I had a heavy heart regarding my departure since I was not ready to leave. I had to bid Spain adios, but I didn't think it would pass by so quickly, with so much happening, and experiencing so much.

Saying goodbye to the people I just met was incredibly difficult seeing as they made part of my trip. Travelling is not merely the sights I saw or what I purchased as a token of my trip. It is rather the experiences I made and had while being abroad. This certainly illuminated and brought to remembrance many things I want from life, and while being in a foreign country, it was truly fulfilling. This was my first time in Spain, but it is certainly not the last. I will come back and each time, I will see things through a fresh perspective, a new way of thinking, a different way of seeing the world.



Hello, my beloved readers! I apologize profusely and indelibly for my lack of writing, activity on my blog, and posts. I proposed that I would be more active on my blog and it's February and it's my first post in 2014. Epic fail. The truth of the matter is, resolutions are always great at the beginning, but then when they start to lose their stigma, so does the determination to keep up with them. Alas, this brings me to February and my first post in 2014. And yet, I didn't want to immediately jump on writing what the new year can bring and everything I plan to accomplish because I wanted ample time to reflect on 2013. What I did, what I lost, what I gained, what I learned, what I appreciated. I wanted to reflect the previous year with an eminent respect so that I can begin 2014 on the right foot, with the right mindset, and with the right perspective. When looking back on the previous year, I can make adjustments, start over, or continue. Thus, falling off the grid socially can be therapeutic and remedial.

A constant message surrounding 2013 is the ubiquity of change. Change is everywhere; change occurs ceaselessly; and change occurs slowly yet rapidly. And I would be remiss without mentioning style. But before I delve in my world of style and fashion, let me start by saying that it is much deeper than that. Beginning in July, I began an intense workout regime and dietary restrictions to lose weight. Prior to this, I was solely motivated to lose weight on the account that I would look good, I would be slimmer, and appear more attractive. While all those are true, I wanted to lose weight because I wanted to look the best that I can, without vain ulterior motives. Since then, I have 12-13 lbs and I have dropped a dress size (and a half...technically...). My self-esteem and self-confidence has increased greatly, but to be honest, I'm not seeking validation from others, if I look good or if I'm slimmer. It's what I think about myself, and finally, I made peace with my body. A positive repercussion of my weight loss allowed me to discover new regions of fashion that I was otherwise inhibited since it wouldn't flatter my body shape or I simply couldn't pull it off. I found myself wearing prints, styles of skirts, and colors that I otherwise would not have worn. Brief pause. I want you to understand that my weight loss was not motivated by selfish desires or by vanity. It was the simple fact that my body can look better and I wanted to do that, for my body's sake. I finally could wear clothes that I've always wanted to wear and that's when it occurred to me that clothes are a mere representation of our mental, emotional, and social growth. A person who is growing mentally and emotionally will not wear the same clothes that she wore a year or even 2 years ago. Likewise, just as my style and personal fashion sense evolves, so does my mind and interpersonally. When a woman begins to change her style, it is a sign of intellectual maturity as well as interpersonal growth.

They say that travelling opens your eyes to the vast world and introduces you to the bigger picture. It comes to no surprise that I absolutely adore traveling. The changing of planes, the grabbing my suitcase, looking outside the window and realizing that I am in a new country, a new continent, a new place absolutely thrills me. Naturally, I do romanticize travelling a tad since it is often not quite as luxurious as I describe it, but the actual experience is something I thrive in. I was fortunate enough to spend my entire summer in Europe, an entire 3 months submerged in a culture unlike the one I am accustomed to. I ate the same foods, shopped at the same stores, walked the same paths, and spoke the same language (albeit with some hesitancy), and saw the same sights. However, when my summer was over and I returned to my once comfortable place, I immediately recognized that I was not the same person. The person that left North America and left Europe are two different people. Reconciling this fact proved difficult as I struggled to embrace my experience in Europe in America, since many of the social and cultural norms in Europe are foreign, alien, and even quietly dismissed. Thus, I found myself in an inner qualm: how do I continue my life without feeling the pangs of my experience? I couldn't separate the two--I was no longer the same person when I had left for Europe. Seeing the expectations of people who assumed that I would return the same with seeing beautiful scenery was not the case. I was truly transformed mentally, emotionally, and even culturally. This revelation reached its peak when I returned to Europe for a month in December. It was strange that I was longing for a place that is not immediately familiar yet bizarrely fitting. The way of life, the type of people, the style of communication...Learning lessons and priceless advice from the people that I've encountered. You cannot put a price on an adventure learned abroad. To this, I have one thing to say: Travel often. As much as you can. Whenever you can. Don't just travel and see things, take pictures, and return. Experience it. Traveling does indeed make life richer.