January. New year, new beginnings, new opportunities to see the world. I started out the year in Belgium as I was finishing up my European Christmas trip and I returned to Madrid a bit exhausted and ready to spend some time in one place: home.
The first month of a new year comes with expectations. Everyone is already hitting the ground running with their New Year’s resolutions and I was too busy traveling to take the time to even think about mine. I needed to reflect on what I’ve accomplished these past few months living in Spain and reassess what I want to achieve before my school year here finishes. I wanted to explore Madrid and see more of Spain before jet-setting off to another country. Here’s what January looked like through my eyes:
Hanging at Home in Madrid
I love traveling, but it’s a nice feeling to be homeward bound after a trip. I especially can’t complain about coming home when I live in Madrid. Although I’ve lived here for almost five months now, I’m still working through a whole lineup of things I’d like to do and places I want to see.
Luckily, I tackled more than a few of those in January when a couple of friends visited! We took to the streets and set out on my version of a walking tour of Madrid. We hit many tourist spots including Madrid’s most coveted art museums: Museo Nacional del Prado and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. I had put off visiting these museums for months with my classic attitude toward Madrid’s tourist attractions: “well I live here so I can go whenever I want, what’s the rush?”, but I’m so glad I finally checked these out! I particularly enjoyed pretending I was an art buff and trying to interpret the modern art in the Reina Sofía.
We also visited my new favorite spot in the city, Palacio de Cristal in Parque del Buen Retiro and scarfed down some savory eats at Madreat, a local food festival.
In January I also made my return to salsa dancing! Although it would have been embarrassing, I wish I took photos of my night out at the salsa club with my girlfriends. The environment was so welcoming; just a bunch of people with no inhibitions who love to dance and have a good time. Whenever I go salsa dancing, I’m always a bit shy in the beginning as I’m standing nervously on the outskirts of the dance floor waiting for someone to offer me their hand. After the first or second dance, I’m having the time of my life! I can’t wait to go back and hone my skills and improve my rhythm! (Updates to come on this one!)
So I’ve been really getting into learning about coffee lately. I’m not talking about regular Folgers coffee, but the good stuff that you have to buy from niche cafés and grind yourself. On a Saturday morning, I attended a coffee cupping at Cafe Mokka & Té Exxum and learned about how to smell and taste coffee as well as the difference in flavors based on their country of origin and roasting techniques. It was really interesting and has enhanced my coffee drinking experience 100%. Now I really want to go to a coffee farm in South America and get up close and personal with some beans!
Another Madrid touristy thing I checked off my list was to ride the Teleférico cable car over Casa de Campo, a large park in Madrid, to see the view of the city from above. Since Casa de Campo mostly consists of long stretches of trees and trails, the ride wasn’t as magnificent as I hoped it would be. Nevertheless, it was my first visit to the park and it was fun to see the city from a different angle.
My weeks consist of work at my primary school, teaching private English lessons (both of these slightly outside of Madrid), meeting with Spaniards for intercambios (language exchanges), exercising, and attempting a social life. I hardly have time during the week and often the weekend to go out and do touristy things in Madrid. With the start of the new year, I realized that I need to make it more of a priority to reconnect with Madrid because before I know it, the school year will be finished and I’ll be gone. Just thinking about it makes my heart sink.
Road Tripping to Asturias
In January, I finally visited northern Spain for the first time. Renting a car and taking a road trip to Asturias was a blast, and a new way to travel for me. It was fun being able to stop at different pueblos along the way and explore parts of Spain that can’t be seen when traveling by bus or plane.
Oviedo was cold and rainy but very green and vividly beautiful. It didn’t feel like I was in Spain, but maybe the hills and moors of Ireland. The hills brought a sense of calm and serenity; I definitely think I needed it.
With its threatening skies along the coast of the Bay of Biscay, Gijón was just as rainy as Oviedo, but much more lively with its cafés and amazing restaurants. Mostly, I just loved being by the water; the salty ocean spray felt good on my skin and took me back to my island getaway in Croatia.
It feels like July will be here any day now and I’ll be leaving Spain. This makes planning for the future intimidating. I’m overwhelmed by the number of places I want to go in so little time when I count how many weekends I have left here, I’ve been hesitant to book my future travels because it all feels so final. I keep thinking that I only have a few months to see the rest of Europe even though I know that’s not actually true; there will be plenty of opportunities to visit in the future. It’s just that I don’t know when I’ll live in Europe again, so I want to pack in everything I can in the next few months. I’ve made it a goal to have trips to Budapest, Paris, and Porto planned out by the end of February.
The one trip I have planned is where I’ll be going for Semana Santa (the week of Easter in Spain): MOROCCO! I am beyond excited for this one. I can’t wait to see the Sahara desert, try the food, and meet the people. And it will be my first time in Africa! Can you feel the excitement radiating from me? Ahh!
As for my post-Spain plan? Well that’s a work in progress. I really want to go to South America again. Or back to Southeast Asia. There are so many choices, but most importantly I need to find a job wherever I’m going. To be continued…