Madrid & Hong Kong: Day 29-31
When contrasted to the rich quietude of Ronda, Madrid certainly offered an exercise in endurance.
Upon arrival in the mid-afternoon, we threw our bags down in our room and immediately hit the streets. People and cars swept by us in quantities we had forgotten could cram roads, let alone even exist. Something else that came in generous quantities was good food, of which we had plenty at the Mercado de San Miguel: it was only after great servings of paella, fruit juices, tapas, empanadas and cakes that we emerged from the glass shelter of heaven and walked into the dusty heat of un día madrileño.
From then on, we engaged in the budget travellers’ favourite pastime: meandering. We meandered around the Plaza Mayor and its adjacent streets, the Puerta del Sol and various other buildings surrounded by lush greenery and intense sunlight. At one point, we were so dazed we completely misinterpreted Google Maps and walked a little too far away from civilisation… a situation we soon rectified with the decision to check out the Prado museum when it was time for free entry.
None other than yours truly won the game we played to pass the time, which was essentially a bet to see who could guess when we’d finally be inside the museum (it helped that I’d been to the Prado three times prior to this trip, and yes, a good two-thirds of that experience was por gratis). After at least forty minutes’ of waiting we were finally inside the air-conditioned, pristinely maintained chambers of one of the most famous museums in the world, where we spent yet another hour ‘meandering’ — albeit in a more cultured sense, as we admired works of art and particularly ogled over how great intricacies can be made from stone.
Dinner was a simple supermarket affair back home, where we finally had access to a kitchen. It was a little saddening to know that it was Nicole’s last night in Spain, and consequently, with us. We spent the rest of the evening lounging around the apartment, sharing stories, laughing over anecdotes, teasing Joseph’s fussiness over who got to sit on his sofa bed and engaging in other miscellaneous things before finally hitting the pillow at two in the morning.
The following day began with the anticipated farewell. It was a simple early-morning affair, after which Joseph slept like a rock in the typical Spanish fashion whilst the early bird between us (guess who) tried to figure out how on earth we’d get around without Nicole’s godsend 3G on her Spanish data plan.
Having said that, neither of us was particularly anxious to see a lot in Madrid. By our 30th day we’d already had a whole barrage of experiences that had left us a little worn around the edges, so it made sense to take things slow and enjoy the fullness of our last day in Europe.
Which is what we did. In the morning we visited El Rastro, the famous Sunday flea market (which I visited in 2014) and ate some churros at the famous Chocolatería de San Gines (1000% recommended). Somehow we made it with a limp-looking map and the audacity to stop several passer-bys as they made their weekend commutes to some Spanish Sunday hangouts. For lunch we had a small picnic in the Buen Retiro Park, where we sat on a bench alongside a cat, a dog, and John Mayer’s voice and ate our store bought salads and fruits.
As the afternoon stretched on, we decided it’d be a good time for air conditioning and art. First, we checked out the Palacio de Cristal, an extension of the Reina Sofia museum that was featuring an exhibit on the 1960s/70s gentrification of St. Louis, Missouri. Second, we entered another free exhibition in the Palacio de Velázquez, a modern pop-art exhibit featuring various canvases filled with block colors and multilingual phrases.
Last, we walked to the actual Reina Sofia museum, where I finally got to see the Guernica with my own eyes. Having had a teacher at summer school who told me she cried upon seeing the Guernica for the first time, I felt shivers go down my arms as I gazed, along with a roomful of others, upon Picasso’s work. What I particularly admired about the experience was the curation of the entire exhibit, what with its central theme of civil war-ridden Spain: postcards and letters, paintings and sculptures, sketches and posters all offered a glimpse into a period of time humanity cannot forget. It is in moments such as these that one realises how wonderful, how poignant, art can be.
And like that, the day — as well as our European voyage — came to a quiet close. We spent the rest of the evening pretty much sprawled on our beds back in the apartment, legs sore, heads fuzzy with exhaustion and hearts filled with the simultaneous relief and sentimentality that comes when one is about to return home.
And home? How did it feel about me?
It was dreary when we landed, but perfect. Once again I found myself a solitary traveller, inhabiting a space that felt so different from what I’d grown accustomed to throughout the past 31 days. Not only was I alone, but I was also in an environment where I didn’t have to be constantly on the lookout; an environment where I could rest and think, in peace.
31 days and 11 posts later, here I am: slightly jet-lagged, full of Korean food and a whole lot more mature than I was one month ago. I’ll spare the corniness of post-travel reveries (o distant lands, how you’ve changed me so…) but what I’ll say is this: I’m glad I’ve done what I’ve done, when I’ve done it and where.
By putting myself in an entirely foreign environment without my usual safety nets, it’s safe to say that I’ve learnt how to better comport myself in situations both stressful and bizarre. It’s fitting that I’ve learnt how to become the person I am post-trip — more conscious of others, more alert, possibly more selfless —just before I embark on the terrifyingly daunting adventure otherwise known as College. And of course, it’s amazing that I was able to undergo all these changes in two countries whose languages I love and enjoy learning; although by the end of the trip I was experiencing an acute sense of linguistic burnout (uhh… ¿cómo hablar español?), I’m glad I had the chance to speak to people in the language of their hearts, not their heads, and learn so much about their culture, food, social habits, idioms, etc in the interim.
Of course there are so many more things I could say, so many personal changes I could comment on, but the blog perhaps isn’t the best place for it (and besides, jet-lag is currently gluing my eyes shut). One day, however, if ever you and I enter a conversation on the wonderful and crazy things that have made our lives what they are, I’ll tell you about the journey I attempted to chronicle fully, only to realise there are so many things that cannot be contained in a set number of pixels and internet space. 🙂
But hey, I tried anyways — with eloquence and a wee bit of wit, I hope. I got through eleven such chronicles, before reaching this end: the end of my summer between the me of the past and the me of the future.
Let’s just call it the long, long summer of 2016.