The night and the day of the trip went by smoothly. My mom drove me to the Budapest airport, I boarded my plane in the blink of an eye, and before I even realized something big and important was happening, I was getting off the plane in Madrid. It all seemed to me as the most normal thing in the world – I wasn’t feeling nervous or too excited, but rather hollow after previous days of a tiring emotional roller-coaster. As I was getting out after picking up my luggage, I saw Eduardo’s mischievous grin waiting for me at the exit door.
Edu is one of my two Erasmus friends who live in Madrid. I haven’t seen him in almost seven months, and the sudden appearance of a familiar Erasmus face immediately sparks in me the realization that I am traveling somewhere new again. He takes the biggest and the heaviest suitcase from my luggage and leads me through the huge Madrid airport. As we walk into the metro with all my over-packed stuff, I imagine myself trying to force my way through the thick crowd on my own, and I can see myself failing terribly. I feel more grateful with each second for having someone there with me. Without the help, I would’ve gotten lost in the metro without a single shadow of a doubt.
More Tapas, Please!
After what seems to me like forever, we finally get out of the metro and step into the streets of Madrid, somewhere near my hostel in Calle San Bernardo. I look up into the buildings that surround me and what little I can see of the city already appeals to me. In the hostel I take a shower and rest for a while, so that I would be ready for an evening of cañas and tapas.
Around seven in the evening Edu takes me to El Respiro, one of the best local tapas bars. If you are traveling through Madrid, visiting this place is a must! We order two cañas each, and the tapas we get along with them are delicious, varied, more than sufficient, and free of charge. First we get a plate full of sausages and potatoes, along with two pieces of tortilla de patatas, a bunch of bread with jamón serrano, chorizo, and some cheese. Second tapa is also excellent – we get four meatballs in a delicious sauce with some more bread, but this time it’s a different kind. And all of that for just a little more than six euros! Whoever thought of this idea of serving free tapas with drinks should get a Nobel Prize! And the rest of the world should definitely embrace and implement the idea.
With our bellies pleasantly full, we take a walk around central Madrid. It is colder that I had expected, and the rain is drizzling, but I am not bothered by it. We talk from time to time, but I am mostly dazzled by the shiny lights and architecture of this wonderful city that I didn’t expect to like as much as I do. The streets remain historic for the most part, with buildings dating from the 16th or 17th century, but also with some amazing pieces from the 20th century. As we are rambling from one street to another, Edu mentions the names of some places – Puerta del Sol, Palacio de Oriente, Plaza de España, Edificio Metrópolis, Gran Vía – just to name a few. I imagine myself living there, being one of the people who are comfortably familiar with the streets, strolling towards the next tapas bar to meet my friends. The idea unexpectedly appeals to me and makes my heart feel much warmer than my skin under the soft raindrops of the nocturnal Spanish sky. Eventually we get cold, and head to +kCopas, a local low cost bar, for more drinks. Here you can get a shot or Jägermeister or rum for a price of only two euros, which is cheap within the standards of Madrid. It is always good to have local people show you their city – they know where to go to get the good stuff with acceptable or even low prices.
The next day I sleep until late, and then I meet up with Edu and Rodrigo, another very dear Erasmus friend of mine, one of my musketeers. I can’t decide whether Madrid was more beautiful the previous night, wearing its nocturnal lover’s cloak, or now under the warm and friendly sunlight of the day. Rodras takes us to a small and seemingly humble bar La Selva for lunch, and we are all pleasantly surprised at the amount, taste and the decoration of the food. To quote Rodras: “The biggest double-dish menu for ten euros in Madrid, and fucking good quality!” We all have hungry eyes, so we split those six huge meals between the three of us, because everything looks so delicious and we just cannot help ourselves but taste it all!
Te Dejo, Madrid… But Just for Now!
After an hour of overeating, talking and laughing with my boys, I am reluctant to get out of La Selva, get into the metro again, and find my BlaBlaCar to Jerez. One day and night in Madrid are not nearly enough. As the car drives me further away from the center of the city, I look longingly through the window at the sunlit buildings of the Spanish capital, deciding to return soon and explore it properly.
The driver and the passengers in the car are more than pleasant. They speak to me in English, and a little bit in Spanish. I still feel uncomfortable with my half-forgotten Spanish language skills, but I try to speak it anyways. They all offer to exchange their contacts with me and show me around Jerez at some point, and encourage me to call them for coffee or drinks. I haven’t even arrived to my final destination yet, and I am already making new acquaintances! Things are looking good so far.
It’s a six hour long drive from Madrid to Jerez. I lean my head against the window of our shared car, and I can already feel the warmth of the winter’s southern sun seeping into my flesh. I slowly and irrevocably become fully aware of where I am and where I am going for the moment, and I can feel the goose bumps tickling my skin as I realize – I really did it! I am in Spain. More than a year ago, this idea started to develop as a weak, but tangible shape in my mind, and now, just as I said I would, I will be living here for a minimum of six months. Only one year ago, I hadn’t had the slightest clue of how and where exactly I was going to go, but I knew that I was going somewhere new. All I really needed to do was take that first step, and everything else took care of itself.
The clouds assume the color of cotton candy as the sun is slowly setting in the west. In my head I sing a quiet lullaby tune, I close my eyes and dream of all the new experiences waiting for me to catch them behind the horizon.