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.