We decided to end 2015 with a bang, and ring in the new year with a bit of adventure and a lot of jamon. Jeff and I were lucky to make some great friends here in Utrecht, and a handful of them who are from Madrid, invited us to spend new years in their city. So, after a quiet Christmas in our Dutch city, we jetted off to Spain.
We spent five days in Madrid, mostly eating our way through the city. Some of my favorite moments were late afternoon post-tapas walks —- our heads buzzing with cervezas and red wine, and our bellies bursting with tortilla. Our friends didn’t let us stray into the tourist trap joints littered throughout the center, they brought us to some of the finest places in town, which are actually indicated by how much garbage is on the floor. That’s right — a good tapas place will have a long bar, florescent lights, and the floor will be covered in napkins and scraps from the afternoon’s snacks. We found ourselves in many places like these, but I have no pictures to prove it. I was way too indulged in my food to care to take more than a mental picture of such glorious establishments… and to be honest, I am fine with that. When I think of it I still get a wiff of the olive oil drenched pans clanking behind the bar, and I can hear the old men talking more words per minute than their own age. That’s all I need.
OK, to be fair, we did do a lot more than eat in Madrid. Our self proclaimed tour guides Clara and Marco’s did their best to show us every nook and cranny of the city that they could. We explored parts of town they hadn’t traveled to since they were teenagers, and saw the city through their eyes and memories. It’s not so often that you get to travel to a new place, and have such an intimate experience as that.
One of my favorite moments with Clara and Marcos was savored in our first hours in Madrid. We were lucky enough to happen upon this Christmas celebration in one of the old squares, and before we knew it we were absorbed into the crowd, and clapping alongside the group. I listened to my friends sing along to songs they hadn’t thought of in years, and watched the words come back to them with a beautiful ease.
We spent the rest of the day pushing through the Christmas crowds as we tried to sneak a peek at the city’s famous squares.
Honestly, the rest of Madrid is a blur of tapas, beer, museums, and getting lost in her grand streets and tilting alleys. That is, until it was we escaped into the nearby mountains for a day of hiking.
The car ride out of Madrid felt like a detox. My body was saturated with olive oil and noise, something my Dutch-adjusted body wasn’t used to. The cool and foggy air that started streaming through the cracked windows was refreshing, and the sight of mountains blanketed in fog made my heart skip a beat.
The Netherlands is just so damn flat. The only hills I bike over are the ones that make the arch of the canal bridges, and that’s not saying much. And it’s not like Connecticut is the most mountainous place, but the sight of some variation in the landscape almost felt like home, and at the very least a familiar.
When we got out of the car we could barely see 10 feet in front of us. So we weren’t sure what kind of views to expect at the summit. We hiked through the clouds, some points more dense than others, and eventually reached the top — far from disappointed, and the clouds below.
The day after our hike was more sight seeing and stuffing our faces. All the calories burned from walking and hiking, now fueling our gluttony even more. The next day was the peak of our culinary adventure though —New Year’s Eve.
I won’t go on too much here because I don’t have pictures to prove how much I ate, but a post about how to survive such a feast and celebration will be up soon. In short we ate for 3 hours straight, and partied until the sun rose and the bartender kicked us out, not before feeding us churros though (like we needed it).
By the time we got over our hangovers (two days later) it was time to head to Sevilla. It was bittersweet to say goodbye to our friends who were heading Boston for internships, but a new adventures awaited us all.
We hopped off the bus in a dark and danky carport a bit dazed and in need of coffee. As we stumbled outside we were blinded by bright blue skies, and embraced with 70 degree winds. Our sunnies were deployed, and we skipped to the Airbnb like a couple of school kids to drop off the bags.
It was the height of orange season, so the trees were plump and weighed down by their fruit. The sound of dropped oranges rolling on the cobblestone was just ambient noise to the passerbys. We followed the orange trail passed the cathedral, and towards the Alcazar. From the outside it just looks like a fort, but the long line of people indicated that whatever was inside was much greater.
The palace was packed, but I didn’t notice a single person around me. All I cared about was appreciating every detail I saw. The simple beauty of a white wall against the blue sky, with the maddening detail of hand carved tiles covering every wall was a another-worldly juxtaposition. I was captivated and inspired. I wanted to live amongst this beauty every day of my life.
When we caught our breath we headed off to the Maria Luisa park, and the Plaza de Espana. It’s easy to get lost in these places because they’re absolutely massive.
After wandering our way back towards the Airbnb we decided to recharge. I showered, then headed up to the rooftop of our incredible flat (best Airbnb experience to-date) to take in the views. The clouds started to descent on our perfectly sunny day, but it didn’t distract from the beauty around me.
Our lovely host left us some cava to enjoy, and we wanted to sip it on the roof but the rain eventually came. So, we snuggled up on the couch with our sparkling wine, a mound of jamon, and a deadly amount of cheese. Sure, there were plenty of beautiful restaurants to try, but we were exhausted and frankly looked like hell. So there we sat, in our little Sevillian flat watching the Spanish version of Cops until the cava finally knocked us out. This traveling thing was tiring us out.
When our final destination finally crept up on us we were a bit delirious. I felt like I was in a constant state of drunkenness (despite whether or not I’d been drinking), and that my blood had turned part olive oil. Another long bus ride awaited us as we headed to Granada, but the mountains and valleys of Andalucia can keep anyone occupied — or at least daydreaming.
I was excited to revisit Granada, but I knew Jeff was a bit more anxious. After you call a place home and don’t visit for so long, you not only wonder what changed and what hasn’t — but if you’ve changed so much that it’ll feel different. I felt the same when I visited Amsterdam for the first time. To bask in the memories is both therapeutic and maddening. You wonder if it’s all going to feel the same, or if nothing will, because the people who helped make that city yours are no longer there.
Jeff though, had something to hold on to. His host family still lives in the city center, wrangling kids from abroad and hungry grandchildren throughout the flat. At least he had them to go back to.
Our first day was spent feasting with his host family. Jeff, once nervous about his “deteriorating” Spanish, was gabbing about everything from life in the Netherlands to politics. The way his eyes lit up around them I knew he felt at home. I could understand just about everything being said thanks to my 10 plus years in Spanish classes, but said classes also failed to teach me how to properly and confidently carry a conversation. So there I sat — nodding, listening, and stuffing my face. It’s not often you get to eat an Abuelas meal, and I wasn’t going to let an ounce go to waste.
In the evening we wandered, but turned right in after our notoriously late Spanish dinner. The second day was our real adventure back through the city — we hiked up the Albaicin to soak in the views of the mountains and the Alhambra, and got lost in the hilly streets. We’ve been here and done this before, but it doesn’t get old. How could it, with views like these?
It’s funny how travel changes us in ways we don’t really expect it. I looked at this trip as an escape, a chance to just jet off and vacation — but I should have known better. Of course, I got so much more out of my ten days in Spain. I saw Madrid through my friends eyes, felt like a kid full of wonder in Sevilla, and watched Jeff come back home in Granada. I’ll forever taste things differently, and compare those sweeping views to the undetermined destinations that await me. Spain remains the most diverse, delicious, and stunning place I’ve yet to visit. I can’t wait to see what it has to show me next time around.