I have been in a kind of culture shock ever since I got to Spain. It feels really strange being back in Europe after a year in the Americas.
I have fallen into a bit of a depression. Well, depression is too strong a word for it really and it is more of a feeling of having failed somehow. I haven’t failed; I have just changed things around a bit to get them to work better for me. However my brain has become fixated and Spain just seems so damned familiar (although Madrid isn’t that familiar to me at all; I haven’t been here since the mid-noughties).
When I went back to the UK after years in Asia, the first thing I noticed was the queuing. I had forgotten how much British people enjoy a queue (actually, it’s not so much that we enjoy queuing, but more that we have this sense of fair-play and a fear that someone is going to get a better deal than us). I was constantly forgetting and heading straight to the front, only to hear a chorus of tuts coming at me from behind (this being England nobody actually said anything directly, of course).
This time what I noticed was the traffic; cars actually stop at red lights for you to cross the road (the often repeated mantra of South America is: green means go, red means go faster).
Also, there’s the fact that it’s still daylight at 9pm.
Madrid’s accommodation is surprisingly expensive in August; I did wonder what other idiots would visit a hot, sticky city like this in mid-summer. Turns out everywhere you go is full of British accents (the odd North American one too, but decidedly outnumbered by Brits). August is travel time for teachers, and I have met a good few British teachers this week.
My hostel was close to Lavapies. This is a colourful multicultural area, with lots of restaurants, bars and small shops. Whilst I was there they celebrated Dia San Lorenzo (10th August). Flags went up, there was a short procession, some food/beer tents, a stage and some older residents dancing.
There are a lot of art galleries in Madrid, but I wasn’t in an ‘arty’ mood this time. Sometimes I am and sometimes I’m not. The galleries are free for Europeans after 5pm (see, something else we’ve voted away), but the queues are horrendous and I really didn’t fancy standing in the hot sun for as long as it took (you can go earlier in the day, avoid the huge queues and pay, of course).
One thing I did want to do was to find my happy plaza. I had no idea what it was called, but I remembered it from my last trip. The last time I was here was 2005 and I was not in a great state of mind. Going through a bad breakup with a boyfriend and also worrying about money problems, I came hoping that a change of scene might give me the space to see everything with a bit more clarity.
And it did. I have vivid memories of sitting in the square in the late afternoon sun, Robbie Williams’ Tripping blaring out of the sound system, and I suddenly felt as if everything was right with the world; as if I were exactly where I was supposed to be at that moment in my life.
I walked back to my hotel full of smiles, feeling as if I had turned a corner in my life and everything would be different from now on. On the way back I got pick-pocketed; someone took my wallet containing around €200 out of my backpack. Such is life.
No encounters with pickpockets on this trip, luckily.