Two weeks ago, I had dinner in Stamford with four friends, at a burger bar. We toasted our beers, ate quickly, and then one bought me dinner, as I was in a great hurry.
Two hours later (thank you, Bronx traffic), I arrived, made it through security, and hopped on a flight at JFK at 10:40pm. I opened my eyes at Madrid-Barajas airport at 11:30 local time, and I began what was to become one of the most eye-opening trips I’ve taken in a long time.
After six and a half days in a city where I knew no one, couldn’t understand the rapid, oddly-accented Spanish, and had no idea where I was going at first, I realized that it doesn’t matter where you are, or if you’re with people (though sometimes it’s better when you are), or if you speak a common language (though you can get by fairly easily in Spain). Home is truly where the heart is, and for that week, my heart was in Madrid.
My first experience with the overly laid-back attitude of the Spanish people was at JFK. My flight was due to board at 9:40pm and depart at 10:05, and yet I was still on the phone, chit-chatting at 10:00. I am pretty relaxed and easygoing, but don’t love being late, or scheduled things (like flights) being delayed – who knows what other plans depend on your exact arrival time? While normally I’d become anxious, I figured that wasn’t very Spanish of me, so I tried to remain calm. At 10:15, we finally started to assemble, and I was happy to finally be boarding. As luck would have it, the girl I sat next to was 22, sweet, and full of wide-eyed wonder. The purpose of my trip was to find answers, and sitting next to her and talking to her until we could move about helped me remember that this was not only an informational trip of self-discovery – it was also a vacation, and I should enjoy myself. At 10:40, we finally made it down the runway, and I was off to Europe.
My flight was uneventful – and empty. We all moved around and napped, sprawled out across four seats. Props to Air Europa, for the flight attendants pointing out open rows for us to sleep on. I also love that you can keep your devices on airplane mode now.
Upon arrival, I was able to find the shuttle that would take me to the Atocha train station, which is just a short walk to my apartment, found and booked with AirBnB. While on the shuttle, there was (weak) Wi-Fi, so I tried to get my navigation to work, but once I left the shuttle, it went haywire. It kept picking up random Wi-Fi, and because it kept rerouting me, I ended up wandering around the Lavapies area for about an hour upon arrival.
When I finally reached my destination, I found the front door(s) locked, and after another hour of wandering around the apartment building, a friendly neighbor took me to the San Fernando Market, just across the street, to use the free Wi-Fi and find my host’s phone number, who my neighbor promptly called for me, explaining the situation and acting as a translator. The Spanish people are nothing if not kind and helpful. I was a stranger, this guy was the only one I could find that spoke any English, and he dropped everything he was doing to help me. He called another stranger, took my bag up to the 6th floor, (even though he lives on the 3rd), and told me to please feel free to knock on his door if I needed anything else during the week.
While that was a bit stressful, I felt much better 30 minutes later. After meeting my host, dropping my things off, connecting to the Wi-Fi, and freshening up, I set out on an adventure. The GPS on my phone doesn’t require a cell signal, so I figured I’d be fine as long as I could read a map. Dressed in jeans, a tee, a sweater, and a scarf, and armed only with my phone, a portable charger, and some good old fashioned luck, I set out to explore my neighborhood….