That changed when I went to college and found that I had a great need for community and struggled to find it. But meeting people has never really been something that I love to do. It's something that I've learned that I need to do. When going into a new situation, I've learned to approach meeting new people as a sort of survival mechanism. I imagine that if Bear Grylls ever did a show about social survival, he'd say to "find a friend" with the same speediness that he'd recommend finding water or shelter on his regular TV spot.
I say all this because, even though I'm going to post some pictures from Madrid, this city was all about the people that we met. It's never natural or easy for me to make new friends, and it wasn't in Madrid, but, as is the truth about so many things, what doesn't come easily often brings the most value. I loved Madrid because I loved experiencing it with the people we met there. Madrid was a place where we truly lived for a moment, because living requires community, and that was something that quite literally stumbled into us for a few days in the capital of Spain.
It started the first evening we arrived. Chandler and Nicole had front-row tickets to a One Direction concert (in this regard, they were more traveling like they were thirteen than thirty...;) ), so Robin and I took a walk through the beautiful Parque Buen Retiro. We watched the sunset and I particularly enjoyed taking in all of the vibrant life being lived around me. Paris had its own chilly enchantment, but Madrid was such a contrast- with its hot, dry weather and people dressed in colorful clothing (Parisiennes wear black), walking dogs and jogging and playing soccer in the park. But when we got back to our hostel, that's when the community experience we had in Madrid really started. Robin and I were tucked in our bunks by 10:30- which is late to us on a school night, but is an embarrassingly early hour to be in bed in Madrid. And sure enough, some of our hostel roomies were quick to tell us just this.
Let me insert here just a little caveat about hostel life. Fact 1: I am too old for it. ;) Fact 2: People in hostels are too laid back to care about Fact 1. I am being a little tongue in cheek about Fact 1, but not much. Some hostels actually do implement a 35 year old age limit. I'd say that mostly what you'll find for company in a hostel somewhere in Western Europe is a mix that is 3 parts twenty-somethings like Chandler and Nicole, out to see the world for the first time, and 1 part "last hurrahs"like me and Robin, people with time flexibility (quite a few of us teachers), a casual sense of adventure, and maybe just a hint of Peter Pan complex. Oh, and I must add, that out of this 4-part mixture, about 75% of the above are Australians. So I know that it might seem strange to some to think that my married, thirty-one year old self spent night after night in mixed-gender dorms for three weeks. But, I always did like Peter Pan- that guy was on to something. And, to be honest, the whole thing was a whole lot tamer and cleaner than I thought it would be. Caveat complete. Back to Madrid.
On our first night at UHostel Madrid, we met two guys from Seattle, more on the Peter Pan side than the see-it-for-the-first-timers, and 19-year-old Naeman Gotz, who has the strangest accent that I've ever heard and more stories than people three times his age. With German parents, a childhood spent in Switzerland, the States, and Australia and months of solo travel already under his belt, Naeman is more like a character in a John Green novel than someone we actually met and spent three days with in Madrid.
The next character we met the following morning, while taking the free walking tour. Amongst our group of sojourners was a fellow who stood out. While most of the rest of us had a pep in our step- new city, new energy- this guy towered above us at 6' 5"but lumbered in such a way that Robin and I couldn't keep our curiosity to ourselves. We inquired about his how his night had been and he proceeded to tell us, through sleepy eyes and a goofy grin that "Madrid took him." At that moment, we didn't know that we'd become friends with this fellow, too, and would learn all about his family, their farm in Perth, Australia, his girlfriend back home and his three pet kangaroos- Skippy, Felix and Qantas. Here are some photos taken on our first walk through Madrid, while we talked to our new Australian friend and took in the colorful life around us.
|As mentioned, I loved the colors of Madrid. Even these earth-toned buildings.|
|After the tour, Robin and I headed to the train station to buy our tickets for Barcelona. Part of the train station is a beautiful greenhouse.|
|A chapel near the Prado.|
|Dahlias always make me think of my mom|
|This tree is called "Los Pantalones" because it looks like a man's pant legs sticking out from the earth. He is buried in the ground with just his legs sticking out- do you see it?|
|Tall cactus in desertscape.|
|A madrono tree, like the one in the statue- only this one is banzai sized.|
|This banzai had been trained with wire to create this twisted trunk.|
The next night, we wanted to get out and enjoy the Parque Buen Retiro one more time before heading to Barcelona the next morning. So we gathered a large group from the hostel- our Aussie friends, some Argentinians, an Israeli soldier with Spanish roots named Fabian, and a Norwegian teacher who lives in Copenhagen and speaks five languages and we all marched to the park, grocery bags in tow. We stayed there for hours, long after the sun set, talking about travel and life and drop bears. ;)
|Our eclectic little Madrid community.|
|I took a few photos as we made our way back to the hostel from the park.|
|This one came out blurry, but I kind of like it that way.|
|Madrid is lit up beautifully at night.|