Hola España, Sangria, y Tapas!
Not going to lie I already miss the Spanish air, fresh cuisine, and lively city vibes. My skin has not seen the light of day in quite some time now, but I think the sun did me some good. After my extended weekend of exploring new cities, trying new foods, and testing out my Spanish, I feel revived for the second half of my semester!
I was very nervous to travel to a foreign speaking country. My 5+ years of Spanish were little rusty but quickly became more natural as I had to speak for both Eva and I. I have been to Mexico and the Dominican Republic where they speak Spanish but I never had to order things or make my way around on my own. I had to plan and book things I've never had too before but now I feel well versed in most things travel-related.
Finding our hostels seemed to be one of the trickiest details in the trip because street signs are barely marked and even the slightest curve in the road can have a completely different street name. When first arriving in Madrid we walked around for a good 2 hours before finding wifi and asking the ice cream worker where the apartment was. One of the hardest parts of being in Europe is that your phone is on airplane mode and does not have wifi; this means you must find free wifi at a restaurant or cafe to get to google maps. Eventually we found it and we ventured out to explore the streets and parks of Madrid. I immediately felt a sense of ease and comfort here and never once felt unsafe. There was a large park we explored with plenty of joggers, dog-walkers and couples having picnics. Spain especially has a large amount of PDA, which makes it a rather passionate, romantic place with the language of love of course.
We found a nice restaurant right on Calle de Alcalá where we enjoyed sangria on the street. Almost all restaurants have outside seating which we choose every time because it was so beautiful out and we could people- watch easily. Later we walked along the cobblestone alley ways peaking into bakery's and enjoying the sights and smells of the city. I tried my first palmera pastry which is like a flaky, crunchy doughnut with chocolate on top. Oh my goodness I wish we had these in America. I also wish it would be more socially acceptable to have a glass of wine with lunch, which is the norm here. For the evening the Spanish usually grab a drink with tapas (which is like a small appetizer that sometimes comes free with your drink!) around 7 and then finally have dinner at 10pm. We found a small restaurant off on a side street where we ordered our first tapas and vino. It is custom to "go out" at 2 am to the bars and then head to the discoteca to dance the night away; Eva and I were so exhausted from walking all day we did not get a chance to experience this in Madrid.
The following day we woke up and enjoyed our morning cappuccino and croissant, which I became a pro at ordering. We then went to the art museum, Reina Sofia. After having our classic afternoon sangria we walked to Puerta del Sol which is a historical large square in the middle of the city. It was quite touristy but it was excellent for people- watching and we found some nice shops with plenty of Spanish crafted goods.
For dinner we actually went back to our favorite restaurant and the young suave waiter recognized us from the night before. He brought us out the english menu and we ordered the same exact thing because it was just so dang good. Then we attempted to "explore the nightlife" even though it was so early no one was even in the bars. So we made our own "cocktail crawl" and tried something new wherever we went! I had an amazing mojito and then after moving to the next bar we ordered margaritas. It was completely empty but we had fun with it. We might have only made it to two bars (the margaritas were stronger than anticipated) so we said adios for the night.
On Friday we rode a 6 hour bus, because it was cheapest, to Seville to visit my roommate Paige who is studying there! Just as I was boarding the bus I realized that I had left my passport under the mattress at our apartment. I am never this stupid, and I actually was trying to be smart so it would not get stolen but no. After contacting the lady we arranged to meet up once I got back to Madrid to retrieve it. Once in Seville I noticed it felt a lot more urban and "Americanized" than Madrid. However after exploring more into the city I saw more historical and cultural buildings that reminded me again that I was in Spain. In Ireland I frequently forget I am in a different country than America, but in Spain you cannot help but sense the cultural diversity.
On our first full day in Seville, Paige who was our tour guide, showed us around the city and her favorite local spots. It was so cool to see her life there and how she had adjusted to the different culture and language. She took us around the Plaza de Espana which was so grand and ornate you would not expect to see it in the middle of the city. A large lush park was nearby which we enjoyed walking around with the tropical like flora and hot sun beating down. No one in Spain was wearing shorts or sandals which baffles me because it felt like summer to me!
For our very last night in Spain, Paige took us out to dinner for one last immersion of culture. The three of us shared seafood Paella, which is rice with vegetables and assorted seafood, and a plate of tapas, and sangria. We then went to a popular street called Alfalfa where all the young people go to drink and have a good time! The bars here are very different than in Ireland. The are very small but usually light and open, where in Ireland the pubs are like mazes, dark and cozy. We mingled a bit with a fun group of Spanish men. I was surprised how easily my spanish flowed and I was able to have a decent conversation. All I can say is, Spanish men are a lot more forward and open than Irish men, let alone American guys. After making it until 4am it was time to sleep before hopping on our 8 am bus back to Madrid.
In the morning, as chance would have it, we over slept our alarm and had 30 min to get the bus station on time. We ended up running along the side of the street waving our arms, looking like hooligans as we were trying to catch a cab or hitchhike our way there. Thank the good lord we flagged down a cab and made it in the nic of time before our long bus ride back to Madrid. Of course, back in Madrid we then had the adventure of finding my passport before our flight that evening. The lady we were staying with said she gave it to a friend who owns a vegan restaurant close to her apartment. Close my apartment my butt... I searched around for a while before retrieving my passport from kind strangers and we headed off for the last leg of our trip.
I love Ireland and I know it was definitely the right study program for me; yet there was some moments on my trip where I wished I had chosen differently. Spain was my second choice and I fell in love with it soon after arriving. The amazing food, eating and drinking vino on sidewalks, the warm temperatures, and the beautiful scenery (Spanish men of course). The funny thing was I fit right in and some even mistaked me for Spanish. In Ireland I don't really stick out but I definitely don't look Irish. Nevertheless that will not be my last time in Spain. I believe I was born to live in Spain, at least for some part of my life. It would not be hard living in Madrid knowing minimal Spanish, not because the locals know English, but everyone is so friendly and accommodating.
After navigating a foreign country in a different language, I feel I can trek almost anywhere and feel confident. I do not regret spending the money to come and explore Spain. I will be eating eggs and potatoes for a few weeks but the adventure was well worth it.
Adios por ahora,