Madrid is the first city I allowed myself to treat as my own. Perhaps it was the 5 night stay, or perhaps it was the immense amounts of alcohol I consumed, but it was my first time roaming a city and not being overly concerned about how I might make it back to my hotel. Of course, that led to some stupid decision making on my behalf… but more on that in a minute.
En route from Seville, we made a stop at the Mosque of Cordoba, which had all these rounded arches, striped yellow and red. It was very intriguing, though I admit a teenager can only see so many churches and mosques and castles before they all begin to blend together… we quickly broke it up when we arrived in the bustling city center of Madrid.
The first night in Madrid was so relaxing. The girls and I decided to walk down from our hotel to the little riverbank at the bottom of the street. I can still picture our hotel and the neighbourhood we were in so perfectly – there were prostitutes outside the hotel in front of the convenience store we would frequent after our nights in the bar. In the front, we were a short walk away from an H&M, where I bought awful, cheap gold jewelry I would regret in days, when it turned that awful greenish colour. A few blocks further we would turn left, by a statue of a bear pawing a tree, near a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream parlour. A quick google search tells me this is Puerta del Sol. A few blocks more and we’d be at the bars – Dubliners and O’Connells.
Dinner was paella (pye-AYE-ah), a Spanish specialty. Mine consisted of rice, peppers, sausage and chicken, but can also include various seafood and vegetables. Be warned – the seafood still have their eyes. It was NOT like Canada!
The following morning was our day trip to Toledo, where we saw – you guessed it – a cathedral and a mosque! Toledo is the original city capital of Spain and we definitely got that ancient city vibe. Highlight? The sword shop, of course!
After a night at Dubliner’s drinking cosmopolitans and tequila shots (a first for Paige and I), we went to Palace Real – the most beautiful castle I think I’ve ever visited to this day. 1200 rooms, baroque style architecture… it was breathtaking.
During our time in Madrid, we also visited Museum Prado and a tapas restaurant. We did a day trip to Segovia, a windy city with another lovely palace. I toured the Real Madrid soccer stadium with the teacher chaperones while my friends slept and shopped – the first inkling of a realization that I didn’t always have to do what my friends wanted, and that travel should be about seeing the things that I wanted to see.
We visited El Escorial, a monastery and cathedral with a large, fascinating underground network of tunnels and rooms. These circular rooms house the tombs of several kings and queens of Spain. It was extremely eerie – I evidently have a bit of a guard up regarding coffins, but then, who wouldn’t?
That final night at Dubliners is one for the books.
A legend, now… let’s just say a night of 2for1 led to meeting 33 year old Mark, a blonde guy named Mitch, Spanish girls who gave us our first cigarettes… then, while I waited for Paige outside around 3am, I was whisked away by 3 Scottish men, who were actually really sweet and offered to walk me to my hotel (sorry, Dad, I wasn’t thinking clearly!), and I let them, and one of them convinced me that he was Prince Harry.
Eventually, we found Paige, who was with Mitch, and the three of us got lost in the city trying to find out hotel. It sounds, now, like a standard night out in Vancouver… but whenever somebody asks what the best night of my life was, I can’t help but think back to this one. The first time I really experienced freedom – where I wasn’t obliged to anyone or anything, and I could just be.