Sunday, May 30, 2010

Making It In Madrid

The last entry is unfinished, I suppose, but I felt I needed a new one (despite not having the last one posted yet) to really talk about things. I thought I felt overwhelmed in the London airport looking at all those people and feeling really lame about all my shit, but only 24 hours later, I’m already thinking back at it fondly as cute to feel so overwhelmed by that.
After the ridiculous layover, where I got no sleep at all, I went to check my bag at 4:30 in the morning, went through security and bought a terrible sandwich from starbucks in the airport. I probably could have gotten a hotel for the amount it cost me to not starve in the airport. Sigh.
More waiting, and this time my laptop was dead from the overnight usage, and I don’t have a UK adapter because I was only supposed to be on my own in the UK for a couple hours on two separate occasions, so it seemed unnecessary.
Rather than a BA flight, I was now on Iberia. Next time I say “no, I don’t need an exit row,” I need a swift kick to remember that just because BA planes are decently roomy does not mean that all of them are. I spent the next 2 hours and change feeling like I was going to die from a bloodclot or something because I couldn’t actually sit without my legs turned sideways and still shoved hard against the seatback in front of me. There were also lots of shouting children, though thankfully I only heard them intermittently when I paused my ipod.
Finally I got to Madrid and felt like I was in the wrong place about 17 times because I really have no idea what I’m doing. I was one of the first people to get to the baggage claim, and my bag was literally the first one to come off. How random is that?
Then I had to sort out the metro situation. I knew what station I was looking for, and I know that the airport is kind of out of the city and only 1 line goes to it. It took a lot of staring at the board, sweating, looking at the little subway map, sweating more, fiddling with the ticket machine and having it reject my credit cards, sweating a lot, asking for help, going all the way back upstairs for an atm, then finally buying tickets. The train was ok, but it did take me quite a while. I had to transfer twice to different lines, with all my heavy shit, sweating like I was dying, covered in plane/airport grime. I can’t remember the last time I felt quite so gross.
When I mercifully reached the station I wanted, I had to drag my suitcase up about 100 stairs. This station, for some reason, had no escalator or lift, even though almost all the other places I transferred at did have them. On street level, I was turned around and confused, but after wandering around a bit, found the sign for my hostal. I pressed the intercom button for the door and heard nothing, nothing, nothing, then a voice goes “Yes?” sounding almost bitchy, and I said I have a reservation, and he says, “yes, i opened the door for you. (pause) The door is open.” I pushed and pulled and it finally moved and I felt exceedingly dumb. Up a floor, another locked door and I feel like a frustrated monkey trying to get in, before I’m greeted by a man who was already waiting for me and everything.
He proceeded to be the nicest, most helpful person I think I’ve ever met. He gave me a city map and drew on all the important things, explained a bunch of areas of the city, talked to me about Canadians and how he finds the Canadian accent is easiest to learn from when learning English (his was very good).
Eventually I got a room, and washed a bunch of essentials in the shower before I showered myself. It was glorious, that shower. Not just because it’s a decently nice shower. I probably would have been happy with a dribble of water out of a hose by then, but it is a nice shower.
It was around after 2 by then, a full 24 hours since we left Vienna, and I still hadn’t slept more than 10 minutes, but hunger was definitely battling with sleep, so I walked down to Atocha street and wandered, finding a little cafe place to eat. The waitress didn’t smile once, and I think I’m totally letting that make me feel bad. I tried a little bit of Spanish, like “agua,” “gracias” and even “la cuenta?” for the bill (all with big, nervous tourist smiles that usual make people smile back).
Then more wandering towards the Museo de la Reina Sofia, supposedly free on weekends, but turns out it closes at 2:30 on Sundays, so I was way too late. I took a different way home, around the opposite side of the building and managed, despite staring at my map every 12 steps, to get lost for a while. But thankfully I have a semi-reliable internal compass during the daylight hours, so I had some faith if I kept walking in the right direction, I should be okay. Eventually, I was right.
After a stop at a grocery store, for cold drinks, I came back here, already sweaty again (apparently it was supposed to be 31 here today?), and slept for a little while, maybe an hour or so.
When I woke up, I was hit with the strongest wave of homesickness and disorientation I think I’ve ever felt. I have no internet here, and don’t know anyone in a city where I don’t speak the language. I know that I should be proud of myself for doing something that is probably scary even to the most outgoing people I know, but mostly I was just hit with an overwhelming need to give up and go home where I don’t feel stupid all the time. It’s certainly made me rethink my moving to Europe thoughts because it would only be worse if I didn’t have a relatively limited time frame on it all.
It’s funny because I really did spend the first two weeks not missing home much at all. I was busy and had friends, and their dramas to deal with on top of being in a new city. Vienna is also more English than most cities in non-English countries (though given what I’ve heard so far, if I’m honest, there’s plenty here in Madrid too), and the food was pretty comfortably western. And I always felt pressured to go out and experience the city there because my friends were going out and I tagged along rather than sit in the hostel, but here, I remembered that I only have myself to do that now, so if I don’t push myself, I could spend a bunch of time in nice, but generic hostel rooms, and not experience Spain or Italy at all. It’s hard to know how to balance it, because there is a point at which I have to do what’s comfortable, and pushing myself to do crazy things is almost as likely to lead to me remembering this trip badly as not pushing myself, if that makes sense.
What I mean is that I don’t want to feel like I’ve wasted time, but I also don’t want to feel like I’ve pushed myself to do so much that I miss the point, and I’m not sure where that line is. I just need to keep reminding myself that only I get to decide that anyway, so pressuring myself is stupid. And to breathe. Breathing is good.
I think my attachment to the internet is unhealthy too. I’m feeling so isolated largely because I can’t reach out through email or facebook or even posting a blog. It’s a security blanket, because half the time, I don’t even talk to people on there. Anyway, my guidebook says this plaza is a free wifi hotspot, so I’m going to head there soon, and I guess if you’re reading this on the weekend, that means I found it and it worked. Yes, I did just say my attachment is unhealthy, now I’m going to go get my fix. Admitting a problem and doing something about it aren’t the same step. Plus, I think I’ll take what comfort I can get right now.
Anyway, It’s 7pm here, so perhaps I will head out and see what I can see tonight. I still feel the panic at the edges, threatening me, but sitting here thinking about it really isn’t helping any.

“Non, Je ne regrette rien” – Edith Piaf (both the title and the quote. It means I regret nothing.)



  1. Right at this point in time I kind of like your addiction to the internet since it is all I have of you. But keep breathing and pushing yourself since you may not go back there again for a long time and you don't want to look back and say I can't believe that I didn't . . . What is that old saying about strangers are just friends I haven't met yet. Just look at all the friends around you!! It is so easy sitting here in my safe spot at the kitchen table telling you to get out there, I know. But be braver than me and for goodness sakes don't break your wrists!!

  2. You're okay. You're more than capable of this. Don't let the pressure of a new thing get in the way of the experience. You can do this.

  3. I'm glad that you're thinking about the line between pushing yourself to hard and not pushing yourself at all to get out there. You'll do fine, I'm sure you'll strike whatever the right balance is for you. Besides which, you have an internal compass during the daylight hours (something that I definitely don't have), and you make friends easily so I'm sure everything will work out. There's no way that you'll sit around in generic hostel rooms not getting experience of these places. That's just not you. I mean, you were walking through the city your first day on no sleep trying to get into a museum even. Give yourself a break and some sleep and things will look up.

    With love,

    from one of those friends that's desperately jealous of you for taking a few months to travel in Europe.