When I decided to go to Spain for a month from mid October to November, I thought I had figured it all out. I would go there, spend some time learning Spanish, soak in the culture, devour some tapas and have some fun along the way.
But as always the Universe had more in store for me.
I learnt that learning Spanish was harder than I thought. I was reminded how I could be a social butterfly at the language school and a solo traveler in a hostel. I made both calculated and spontaneous decisions; and felt happier with the latter.
In the span of one month, I walked hell of a lot. I got a crash course on how to read the map. I got lost many times and then found new and interesting places because of that. I learnt that sometimes the ability to communicate counts and other times you just have to listen with your heart to understand what someone is saying in an unfamiliar language.
I realised how often we tend to take things for granted when we are home or at a familiar place. Simple but important things like when to empujar (push) or tirar (pull) the door suddenly becomes an important question. You won’t believe what a huge achievement it is when you successfully ask a staff at the counter (in a bus station) in Sevilla if you could purchase a bus ticket from Madrid to Barcelona there. (Puedo comprar un billete de autobus de Madrid a Barcelona aqui?)
I was amazed about how friendly some Spaniards could be. In two cities, I took out my trusty map to help me decide my next course of action. In both cities, an elderly man came up to me asking me a question I didn’t understand. Assuming they were asking if I needed help, I told them in my limited Spanish that I wanted to go to go to La Mezquita (in Cordoba) and La Alhambra (Granada) and both times they explained to me how to get there. Did I understand everything they said? I did not. Did I get to my destination? Yes I certainly did.
During my Spanish classes I learnt that it was important to relax, not take things too seriously and just say what you want, regardless if it is wrong or right. That as much as it would be great to talk in perfect paragraphs, there was a sense of triumph when spoke my mind in Spanish, off the cuff. It was also at school when I was pleasantly surprised to find out that a few of my classmates had left their jobs before going to Spain - and formed bonds with my multinational Spanish learning team mates.
Living with a family – a mother and two sons was another interesting experience. The landlady Estrella Garcia was a kind woman who generously introduced me to typical Andalusian food and welcomed me into her three-bedroom home. Despite her not knowing any English, we managed to have numerous conversations about life and its surprises – once again with the help of my basic Spanish and two open hearts. And as for her teenage sons, they were just like normal teenagers everywhere – they loved playing football and video games.
Things were not all that fantastic in the land of Flamenco dancing and bull-fighters. In Madrid and Barcelona, I was reminded that no city is perfect, that there are good and not-so-good people out there.
I caught two people trying their luck to get a free gift out of my backpack in both popular cities. It was, I admit a bit of a shock after coming from the peaceful and safer Sevilla, located in south of Spain. It took me a while, but I learnt to look past the negative incidences and look at the bigger picture – the undeniable beauty and history of Madrid and Barcelona.
Did I mention that the tapas were culinary experience by itself? Whether with café con leche (coffee with milk, cerveza fria (cold beer) or a glass of vino blanco (white wine), every meal was delicious. One thing is for sure – I will never look at tapas the same way again.
Needless to say it was an experience of a lifetime and not one that I could easily forget. I am not sure when I will go back to Spain again but sure am thankful for being able to make my dream come true and doing it on my own. I look forward to continuing my love affair with the Spanish language and look forward to more cultural adventures in the future.
(More photos to come soon)