• Alexandra Wendt

Madrid


Those who have been following me for a while know that last year I did quite a bit of solo-traveling, documenting my adventures on here and on my Instagram (@awendtwriting). After classes ended and my last thesis assignment was turned in before the first, polished draft at the end of July, I had to get out of Florence for a while. I had to detach myself, for a few days, from what I can only describe as a stress-filled, stifled, pressured environment. In the hopes that when I returned, I would be sufficiently detoxed and could restart anew.

The nuances and contradictory emotions I've been experiencing in graduate school is a topic for another, much later post.

Image credit: Alexandra Wendt

I've wanted to go to Spain, particularly Madrid, since study abroad back in 2016. I was already hoping to take an end-of-semester trip here, but then I found out that one of the panel paintings I'm writing on for my thesis is in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum here, so that was a fortuitous discovery.

Here are my favorite parts of Madrid:

~ Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum--And not just because it has one of the works I'm researching. The museum has an incredible collection, and it's much calmer and less crowded than the Prado.

Giovanni di Paolo, Saint Catherine Before the Pope in Avignon, 1460-63. Image credit: Alexandra Wendt

~ El Retiro Park--I'm pretty sure this is my favorite part of the city. I spent all morning there one day, wandering around and reading. This park is MASSIVE. You could explore it for hours, I think. And parts of it look straight out of Lord of the Rings. It's beautifully cultivated, peaceful, and even has a small manmade "lake" (more like pond) where you can take a boat out on the water.

Image credit: Alexandra Wendt

~ Calle de las Huertas--So Madrid was a lot--a lot--bigger than I expected. I felt a little overwhelmed at first, unsure of where to go, what to do. This street was nearby where I was staying, and it was exactly what I was looking for. Very cool, very pedestrian-friendly, local (seemingly), and tons of restaurants where people pop in and out to get tapas during the evening. I highly recommend a stroll down this street, and Casa Alberto was my favorite place to eat.

Image credit: Alexandra Wendt

Madrid is very interesting and definitely not short on sites and places to explore. My only discomfort came from how huge it is (3 million people, and about 3 million in the surrounding towns), and the fact that this was the first country I visited outside of Italy where I felt a little lost as a foreigner.

I've visited four countries on my own now (not including Italy, though I did move here all on my own, twice). Austria and Germany: all German-speaking people think I'm one of them, they spoke English pretty well, and the cultural rules weren't too difficult to navigate. Scotland: native English speakers, of course, and a fairly similar culture to the U.S.

But Spain was the first time I truly felt uncomfortable, aside from when I first came to Italy for study abroad. They do not speak English there, from my experience. Less so than Italy. All I have is high school Spanish-induced trauma, so I was helpless conversing in their native language.

And, like Italy, they have a vibrant cuisine and "dining rules," such as when to eat. This was the part of the culture I found most difficult to navigate. The Spanish eat even later than the Italians (!!!) and, while I love the concept of tapas for a group of friends, for a solo diner it makes eating out a little frustrating. The idea is to get many plates and share. But there's typically only one food item to a plate--such as "spicy potatoes"--so if you're a solo diner and you want more than just potatoes for dinner you of course would want two plates. But two is far too much for a single person. For this, I would have preferred to have been traveling with other people.

On the other side, I found the Spanish to be incredibly friendly. Everyone was so nice, and it warmed my Midwestern heart. And the food, while perhaps a little confusing to this American newbie in Spain, was delicious. So rich and flavorful. I definitely enjoyed my experience, and would like to go back some day, perhaps to Barcelona.

The parts that brought me some discomfort only served to enrich my cultural experience, broaden my horizons, and also remind me how far I've come in Italy--a place where I now understand the "food rules" and culture (at least in Tuscany) like the second home it's become. After being around Spanish, a language I have absolutely no working knowledge of, I also realized how much better my Italian is. I've come so far since that study abroad student; I can read decently and understand conversations and, while speaking is still a struggle sometimes, I am overall competent.

Until the next adventure...

~Alex

#madrid #spain #travel #personallife

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