If you’re going to meet a city for the first time, do it in the rain. Take away the pretense that either of you are anything other than wet and miserable. Wash off the initial awkwardness, the tentative “are you the one?” feeling that every travel secretly harbors in their search for that place.
I already have my place, but I still like my first encounters with new cities to be has haphazard and rocky as possible. Adventure is best served wet with bad directions.
So as I meandered down Gran Via, the bustling main avenue of Madrid, trying to keep my hand-drawn maps from getting wet and wondering if my luggage was even a little waterproof, I thought to myself, It’s been too long since I’ve been lost in a city.*
*It should be noted that I got lost three times (wandered around for nearly an hour) last month, however, I don’t consider getting lost in Prague fun anymore. You reach a point when you can no longer pass off your own incompetence as “adventure.”
I’m in Spain for a week because it’s spring break at school and because I’ve become a master at finding cheap tickets (it’s like my superpower).
Armed with pages of google maps, a small suitcase, my camera and a computer that is literally falling apart (literally literally), I am wondering solo through Madrid.
A few things that I’m sure people are wondering:
By yourself, Mary? That can’t be safe.
I thought about this. When confronted with these kinds of questions, I consult my Dad. Dad, I said, what if I get mugged or killed or robbed in the airport? Know what he said?
“You probably will get robbed in the airport. So what?”
I love that man.
But really, I’m being careful. Madrid is one of Europe’s safest cities. And so far only two people have tried talking to me suspiciously – one of them turned out to be the bartender and the other was asking for directions.
By yourself, Mary? That can’t be fun.
For the record, I have been sitting in the hostel lounge for an hour watching my fourth football game this week (blue is playing yellow right now but I can’t tell who’s winning because the announcers are speaking in Spanish). But for every day that I’ve been in Madrid I have made an average of two new facebook friends. And none of them are from the same places.
I met students from Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Paraguay while eating Tapas on Saturday. They helped me with my Spanish.
On Sunday at church I met a whole posse of traveling Irish who helped me with my English.
I spent all of today trekking around with a Brazilian girl because we missed the same train and we are both here on our own. Her native language is Portuguese but she speaks enough English and Spanish that we made it through the entire day. (I’d like to take this moment to tell Mr. Crum, if he’s reading this, that my high school Spanish is coming back in floods. “You know more than you know you know, you just don’t know you know it” is my new life motto. Thank you).
By yourself, Mary? That can’t be easy.
No, it’s not very easy. But nothing I do is easy (other socially awkward people, can I get an “Amen?”). Life sort of terrifies me. My Dad is rolling his eyes right now because he doesn’t believe me but he doesn’t realize that getting on the bus in Prague dissolves me into fits of tears once every eight weeks. Walking past people on the street makes me cringe so intensely that sometimes I actually made audible squealing noises (I am more likely to say ‘hello’ to the dogs being walked than the person). Don’t even get me started on eating in front of people.
Traveling is no less challenging. But I love it. I love being pushed. I love being stretched. I love knowing where my boundaries are.
Some nights I’ve been able to walk into the tapas bar or the corner restaurant and say, “Hablo español un pequito. Que es bueno aqui?” And some nights I’ve curled up inside and told myself I’ll go in next time. But there’s never really a next time, is there?
You know what? If you’re not a little terrified once in a while, you’re missing out on growing opportunities. Don’t get stuck in a shell. Don’t get comfortable. Find your limits.
I’m not saying everyone has to travel to find their boundaries; this is just how I find mine.
By yourself Mary? . . . Why?
Why the heck not? I think we wait too often for the perfect circumstances. We’re waiting for the perfect person, the perfect place, the perfect time.
But perfect is no fun. Perfect isn’t an adventure, it’s a tightly organized disaster in the making.
If I’ve learned anything in coming to a country where I speak only four sentences of the language (and none of those are how to order food!), without companions and generally without a clue, it’s that wandering around lost is a beautiful thing. When you aren’t thinking about your next move, when you have time to yourself – solitude is extremely underappreciated in our society – when you have opportunity to reflect on what you really think about life, love and House of Cards, you can begin piecing together who you are.
Who are you when the only company in your drawing room is yourself? Are you a good conversationalist? Do you have interesting things to think? Are you comfortable in your own skin or is this an awkward date?
If you answer the latter, I highly recommend saving a few pennies, finding a city you haven’t been to before and meeting it – on your own – in the rain.