Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Istanbul and Madrid

One of the best things about Belgrade is how easy and convenient it is to go to other places.  I have been really lucky to have already taken two trips since January 1st.  So basically, 2012 is getting off to a GREAT start!  First, I went to Istanbul with Phil and my parents.  There, we met up with our BFFs (Best friends forever) Jamie and Shannon, who we hadn't seen since we left DC.  Mind you, Shan and I ate lunch together EVERY SINGLE DAY for over a year, and Jamie and I have been joined at the hip since the first day at TFA Institute in 2003; so to say I missed them terribly is an understatement.  Istanbul was great. We had awesome weather, great food, saw crazy beautiful sights and had a blast together like old times.  I definitely recommend it as a family/joint venture destination because it has stuff for everyone.  The shopaholics can go crazy at the Grand Bazaar, there's history, nature, relaxation (the baths!) and just of tons of things to see and do.  My parents were loving on all the mosques and old forts and just walking around the city.  We did the Biosphorus cruise that takes you between the European and Asian sides of Istanbul, saw a dance show, and rode the typical Double-Decker bus, which was freezing, but definitely worth it.

This is a pic of the Blue Mosque at night, I could have stared at it forever.

So after coming back from Istanbul, I went to Madrid.  Now this was a pretty big deal because it was the first trip I have ever taken that was utterly, 100% alone.  I wasn't visiting friends or meeting anyone there or going with a tour.  It was just me, my carry-on, and endless possibilities.  Now, in my fantasies, I would just have gone to the airport with no plans and picked a flight in that moment.  But since I AM over 30 and a bit less laid back than I wish I was, I did buy my tickets and book my hostel a week before going.  Doing this did save me a lot of money and probably prevented any sort of eyebrow raising at the airport.  I am not even sure if you can actually show up and buy an international ticket on the spot. Maybe next time.

Regardless, I LOVED Madrid. I really liked Istanbul, but have no desire to live there; I enjoyed being a tourist and doing touristy stuff; whereas  in Madrid I was trying to go native.  I had some insider tips from two friends that went to grad school there, and I took advantage of those, and of what felt so liberating-but we always take for granted--speaking the language.  It was so nice to be able to read everything, to see the street names and understand not only the alphabet, but the words and meaning, to be able to ask directions, find them on a map and read street signs.  I was so happy to go to restaurants and be able to read the entire menu without having to ask for help.  To sit next to people on the metro and to overhear their conversations, to eavesdrop on kids on field trips and all those little things that give context to what the daily lives of the people who live there are like.

Travelling alone definitely had some perks and some not so great things.  First of all, my pictures are B-O-R-I-N-G.  I didn't have anyone to joke around with or take silly pictures of.  I don't even have any pics of myself; I have no proof that I was actually there!  BUT, you do get to go at your own pace, see what you want to see and move on.  Given that I am a bit on the eccentric side, and not exactly a slow poke, I basically saw everything on the first day.  I must have walked like 12 hours straight. I was so tired and my feet hurt like crazy, but I was in love with the city.  NOT the touristy stuff (El Prado--too religious for my taste), Plaza Mayor (eh, seen better in other cities, not green enough), but loving the way of life and the personality of the Spaniards.  People yelling and cussing out of their cars, teenagers with their hair half long, half shaved off, people drinking and having fun at lunchtime.  I became obsessed with this market, Mercado San Miguel, that my friend recommended and went back two more times, for little tapas--stuffed olives, chorizo & cheese squewers, sangria by the glass. I loved the big park, Parque del Retiro, and the little streets downtown and the metro.  It felt a bit like NYC, where you can find a treasure behind any corner, where you can't judge by the facades, and where things are always happening.  I spent 4 days in Madrid, including a day trip to Toledo, which was cool, but again, one of those touristy places you should only go to once.  I did meet some girls at the hostel and ended up going to, of all places, an Irish Pub.  I guess that's what happens when you pay 14 Euro a night for your dorm bed.  But I love the spirit and experience of the hostels, not knowing who you might meet, listening to others' travels and adventures.  My roommate who took me to the pub was actually living there while she found an apartment in the city.  On my last night, she cooked me some risotto and told me about growing up in Ireland.  You don't really get that at a nice hotel.  Plus, the money I saved on lodging, I spent on this...

Meson del Champinon--super yummy stuffed mushrooms with Manchego and Chorizo



Dancingintherain said...

you'll have to go again with your mother.

Anonymous said...

So jealous!! I have always wanted to go to Spain, especially Madrid. How about we go back there this summer? I also love love love Islamic architecture and are so jealous that you saw the Blue Mosque. I hope your paperwork never gets filed for your job and you can continue to just travel and post pictures...