Mercado San Miguel Collage
So I’m transforming The Piebrary into a travel blog for this post. My college travel blog put me in the habit of writing frequently, it was an exercise that solidified experiences in my brain and helped me parse my myriad of post-adventure feelings. Plus I miss getting to the opportunity to publicly reflect on travel, or anything other than pie, really.
Madrid Day One Collage
For some reason I’ve always been a bit tentative to travel wholly alone. I’m not sure why, there’s a challenging strategical element to traveling that really tickles my intellectual fancy. But when you’re with someone else it is easy to defer rather than relying on your own wits and since I pride myself on my wit to an almost Icarian degree, solo travel seemed like something I should try.
Madrid Day Two Collage
So when the opportunity arose to see Spain after a business trip to Frankfurt, I leapt at it. Madrid for three days, Barcelona for one and a half. I ate churros and chocolate until I thought I’d be sick, saw all three big museums in Madrid (The Thyssen-Bornemisza, The Reina Sofia, and The Prado), tried Hemingway’s favorite suckling pig at the oldest restaurant in the world, and went to the Arab baths where I had my first ever massage and bobbed around drinking mint tea from a tea fountain. Plus, I met up with my friend Eliana and her family for a flamenco show, so I wasn’t alone the whole time! Although train travel and chilly weather made my first half a day in Barcelona a bit grumpy, the second day was absolutely perfect and the city probably one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. I saw Gaudi’s Casa Batllo and the Sagrada Familia, wandered the gothic quarter watching sunlight fill verdurous cobbled streets, and walked along the beach at sunset.
Hemingway Collage; favorite food, hotel, museum, and cocktail bar.
There were times I was very happy to be alone. I didn’t have to argue with anyone about what we were doing or when, I could change my schedule on a whim to accommodate an hour’s worth of outdoor tea drinking and indulge in the ear scratching of passing puppies. After a while I didn’t even mind dining alone, I just brought a book. I knew, logically, that very soon I would be back in New York surrounded by noise and friends and would wish for the peace, solitude, and watery sunlight of a European cafe…
Barcelona Day One Collage
In the weeks leading up to my departure, whenever I worried that I would seem pathetic traveling alone, my friends said, “you’ll meet people in bars or whatever!” For some reason this is consistently untrue for me. As much as I enjoyed seeing a chunk of Europe when I studied abroad, I spent a lot of time coming to grips with a debilitating loneliness. Nowadays I’m lucky to work in an industry (publishing) where everyone happily and easily talks about their work (books). But there is still a sensuality and a charm to meeting people in the wild that I fear eludes me.
Barcelona Day 2 Collage
The physical, accessible presence of someone familiar in an unfamiliar place can be such a comforting point of reference. You don’t have to speak at breakfast or see the same sights, you don’t need to rely on that person, but it’s nice to touch base and dissect your day over dinner and a beer. When I enter a crowded space with a friend – a bar, a museum, even a city street – I get the sense that we are orbiting one another. I can wander off and know that some invisible tether to this person provides me security. Traveling alone forces you to orient around yourself rather than another person. It’s difficult and disorienting, but I also feel centered, stronger, and more confident in the wake of my trip. Hopefully this will make me a more secure and reliable touch point for others going forward, yeah?
Gaudi Collage; The Sagrada Familia and Casa Batllo
I don’t regret the distribution of my week: three days was just enough time to see all I wanted to in Madrid at a reasonable pace and (as evidenced by the fact that I started writing this as 3:30 am EST) I’m definitely going to need the weekend to recoup a bit. But, that said, I can’t wait to go back and linger in Barcelona. It is the perfect mix of sunshine, palm trees, history, art, and food. There are overgrown churches with pigeons roosting in nooks in the crumbling brick, hauntingly elegant gothic streets pocked with delicious smells and cool stores (found a jacket by glancing and a meal by sniffing), and of course the bustling market life of a port city. Combine all of this with the Mediterranean and some truly spectacular sunrises and sunsets and it’s not hard to imagine you’re in a fantasy. Like, a literal fantasy with dragons and shit. It’s easy to see how so many of Gaudi’s imaginative oceanic and naturalistic designs got their form here.
Panorama of the Sagrada Familia
The moral of the story is this: I have zero regrets, I always try and make a point of that. My time alone, while not always preferable, was immeasurably insightful. But I’m already super excited about my next trip to Barcelona. It will be for a whole week, it will be when the weather is warmer for a magical sangria-fueled urban beach vacation, and I’m definitely going to need company.
Barcelonetta Sunset, view west and east