Wednesday, March 5, 2014: My first thought upon disembarking the plane in Madrid was: “Okay brain, scrounge up the little amount of Spanish you once knew and help me not look like an asshole.” The first person I ended up speaking to was a woman at the counter for the car service I had booked, and that was in English. The second person I spoke to was my driver, who upon loading my pack into the trunk asked me “Bien?” and I replied in Italian, saying “Buono”. WTF.
Although I managed to navigate Madrid’s airport, find my ride, and make it to my hostel by myself, I was still struggling with the language. My ex-husband is originally from Nicaragua, so for the eight years we were together I somehow learned how to follow a Spanish conversation and reply in faltering Spanglish. I’d like to think I once knew more than the typical “Dos cervesas, por favor”, but whatever I had accumulated over all those years had become rusty, if not non-existent, in the two years that have passed since my ex and I separated.
Trying to muster the courage to use the local tongue, I was somewhat relieved when I could resort back to English once I checked into the hostel. I was only going to be in Madrid for the night, so I chose a hostel that was close to the one thing I would be visiting while in the capital — Cerveceria Alemana, an old haunt of my man Ernest Hemingway.
I had found out about this century-old beer hall about a week before I was due to leave Toronto. I was originally going to catch a bus right from the airport in Madrid and hightail it to Leon that same day, but after reading about the bar I knew I had to pay my respects to “Don Ernesto” and have a beer in his honour.
So I checked-in, dumped my pack, tried to make myself look like I didn’t just get off an international flight (and there’s a strong emphasis on the word “try”), and walked the streets of Madrid in search of a good glass of beer and some tapas.
Finding the bar wasn’t hard at all, and because I have the tendency of using the streets view option on Google Maps, I was actually able to find my way by recognizing landmarks I had seen before I even left home (there’s a nifty trick for your next trip).
Reading up on the bar I had learned that Hemingway would only ever sit in the same spot — a table in the very front with a window view. Upon entering, my eyes quickly went to the one table that fit the description and almost as if Ernest was looking out for me, the table was empty. I nearly ran-walked to grab my seat.
I ordered a drink and a slice of Spanish tortilla, and nibbled on some olives while I sat there and embraced the moment. Sipping my beer while saying a silent “cheers” to my favourite author, I looked up and noticed a framed picture of him on the wall behind me. Yup, I definitely found the right table.
I called the waiter over, tried to relay to him how I was here because Hemingway used to come here, all the while pointing to the framed photo behind me. I then asked him if he could take a photo of me, and without my asking he took down the frame so Papa and I could have a photo together:
I was very tired from my overnight flight but I decided to embrace the happy buzz the cervesa gave me and used it to fuel a little jaunt around the neighbourhood. I didn’t venture too far, mind you, because I didn’t have a map.
Once I got back to my room I met the girl in the bunk below me, and within a few minutes she had talked me into joining her and a group of others from the hostel at a soccer match that night. I’ve always wanted to go to an European football game, so I immediately said “yes”. I had trepidations seeing how I had to catch a train to Leon in the morning and the game didn’t start until ten at night, but I made myself go anyways.
We got to the stadium pretty early, and I honestly didn’t even know what teams were playing until I saw a vendor outside the stadium selling scarves that said “Spain vs. Italy”. I somehow made it to a match between two high-profile national teams!! Bucket List!!!
I am ashamed to say I only made it to halftime. I was so tired I was falling asleep in my seat, despite the rowdiness surrounding me. I had two options: leave then and try to find my way back without a map, or stay with the group even though they were going out after the match to drink and dance. I opted to leave (but I’m still kicking myself for it).
Don’t ask me how because I still don’t know how I managed to do it, but I found my way back to the hostel without a map, using the subway system, at nearly midnight, solely relying on what I remembered from the journey to the stadium. I impressed myself that night. I was in a foreign city, barely spoke a lick of Spanish, and on my first night there I was forced to navigate my way through unknown streets and I didn’t get lost. I was going to be okay on this first solo-international trip of mine.
I fell asleep that night nearly as soon as my head hit the pillow, but was woken up when my bunkmate stumbled in at 4:30am. The smell of booze emanating off her body was so strong that it even managed to waft its way up to my top bunk. Forcing myself to fall asleep with my head and sensitive nostrils hidden under the sheets, my last thought to myself that night was “I’m too old for this shit.” The impending doom of my upcoming 30th birthday was greatly highlighted by that booze cloud.