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  • Writer's pictureNatasha Cara

Life lessons #3 Estoy sola vs. Soy sola: embracing loneliness in Madrid part 1

Updated: Jul 5, 2019

**Disclaimer- this blopost was first composed in Retiro Park in Madrid. I sat on a park bench, exhausted from all of the walking and exploring of the day. I felt an urge to just write. I sat there for over an hour until the sunset. It felt raw and authentic- I didn’t want to change any parts of the entry as it felt so organic and normal at the time and now three months later I can say that my headspace is completely different.**

“Initial thoughts from being in Madrid: I like it-it’s very big but in terms of a map it seems quite small. I even like how the street names are in Spanish, it sounds obvious but it’s the little things like that. On my journey here everything seemed so much more continental-signs in English, French and Spanish at the station (I didn’t realise how fed up I was of Valenciano. The tour was amazing-super informative. Irish Alex #neverforget1561. I lovvvvve flamenco! Park Retiro- people picnicking in the cold, groups of lads playing football and people on sailing boats. I imagine its like central park but more intimate- full of people and not too overwhelming.”

Preface: 1st December 2018

I turned 21 years old last week. It's supposed to be a huge milestone but I genuinely wasn’t too bothered. I wanted to spend time and surround myself with people who love me and support me. So I took a flight home to Manchester and spent a lovely four days with my nearest and dearest. I couldn't help thinking though 'What does it mean to be 21?' Everyone kept on telling me that I'm not a little girl anymore, although in stature in still quite small. But I'm terms of mind-set, attitude and maturity things had definitely changed. I noticed that I hadn't changed overnight- I didn't go to bed on the 22nd November as one Tash and wake up a completely different person. I've been evolving over the past couple of months. I've had certain discoveries in myself, realised the type of person I was, acknowledged how I perceived me and how others perceived me too. This year I went through a break up. That was one of the hardest things to happen to me. It was expected but that still didn't mean it hurt any less. For the first few months I plunged myself into year abroad planning and ensuring that I had the best time in Paris. I was so busy working and living life in the fast lane I neglected my own mental health, my own feelings. I kind of shut them down and lulled myself into the security that I was over it, I'd gone through it and made it to the other side. I quickly found that this was not the case when I moved to Spain. Being in unfamiliar territory, a language which I was still getting to grips with and not having a network of friends and family around me eventually made me crack. I had some of the worst low points in my life. I felt lethargic, anxious and more importantly lonely.

Loneliness is interesting as it's a sensation unique to the individual. Everyone will or has experience(d) loneliness in their lifetime. The strangest thing about it is that you can be physically be surrounded by people, communicating but still feel lonely. Over the past few months I have discovered the difference between loneliness and being alone. 'Estoy sola' in Spanish can both mean 'I am alone' or I am lonely. I used to believe that they were both negative things however I'm quickly learning that being alone isn't always a bad thing.

The week after my 21st birthday I wanted to test myself. To monitor my period of growth I planned a solo weekend trip to Madrid. It took a lot of balls to book the tickets and after extensive discussions with- well everyone- and a multitude of pros vs. cons lists I decided 'why not?'. I figured that even if it turned out badly I would still have something funny to look back on. The only person stopping me from booking the tickets was me. I'm definitely my own saboteur and often the little voice on my head pops the balance and prevents me from doing things.

Nonetheless I booked a four day stay to Madrid. Alone.

Present day: 28th January 2018

The night before I couldn’t really sleep- mainly because I knew that I had to be up at 6am the next day to make my train. I was thinking to myself ‘What the hell are you doing Tash?’. I had made plans to meet up with another girl from uni on the Saturday but apart from that I didn’t know anyone in Madrid. I would be staying in a hostel for the first time alone- I wanted to stay in my bed and not go. Nonetheless I quickly remembered how much money I’d sunk into this trip- I couldn’t back out now. Friday- Monday I could definitely do this.

Friday- excitement

I woke up the next day to find myself surprisingly excited to go on this journey- I managed to make it to the train station after a close call- who knew that buses didn’t run at 6am? After making a mad dash from my taxi I managed to (miraculously) make my train with 2 whole minutes to spare. I slept for the whole journey and was in Madrid two hours later. I didn’t really have any plans for that day- objective numéro uno was to find the hostel and check in- I also had booked onto a Sandeman’s free walking tour at 10am. Anyone who knows me well can vouch for the fact that I’m a mess when it comes to maps and navigation- however the moovit app didn’t fail me this time and I managed to get from one side of Madrid to other with ease. I loved the metro- which is so weird since usually they normally stink of pee and are overly crowded. Granted, I was caught in the commuters rush but it was comforting hearing the stops called out in Spanish- it really is the little things.

Friday was a bit of a whirlwind- I checked in and headed straight to the tour. It was honestly one of the best tours I’ve ever been on- our tour guide Alex was so charismatic and funny- his main line of comedy was taking the mick out of all of the Americans on our tour. He walked us through (literally) 400 years of Spanish history, from the Inquisition, the dictatorship- pretty much everything. This was when the first challenge of the day arose. There were a lot of people in the group but I was one of the few on my own. There were two girls- who seemed to be best friends- chatting away. The seemed quite friendly and approachable and I made it my mission to talk to them. As weird as it may seem I was determined to say something to them. I took me about halfway through the tour before I even managed to say ‘Hi, where are you guys from?’I felt an immense sense of pride- even just putting myself out there. My courage paid off as we got chatting and they invited me to head to the cathedral with them, see a Christmas show and then for a pizza lunch. In the course of the afternoon I learned that they were from the Czech Republic and were Erasmus students here for the weekend. I really appreciated that the girls took the time to get to know me and invited me to hang out with time- it was the small gestures which are really impressionable. I didn’t have a true plan for the Friday and I’m sure that I would have found things to do but I’m really glad that I plucked up the courage to talk to them.

Later that afternoon I went to the botanic gardens- I don’t know if its because my dad works in horticulture or whether its my love for cacti but botanic gardens are always comforting to me. I paid my €3 entry (with student discount) and wandered around, pawing over every plant and even wandering into an exhibition of needlework. I took my time and I stayed right until closing time. I debated whether to visit the Prado, as its located right next door but I’d booked onto a flamenco and tapas tour with Sandemans at 7pm so I didn’t want to rush.

That night was one that I’ll remember for a long time. I was slightly nervous about the tapas tour- there was a group of 7 of us- again I was the only person on their own. It didn’t phase me at first- what did throw me off was that the tour was completely in Spanish! I shouldn’t be surprised, I was in the capital and the other ladies were from Venezuela, Mexico and Chile. I was the odd one out- as well as being alone, my Spanish level could only take me so far. The tour guide sensed that I felt like a fish out of water and started to translate everything. I appreciated the effort but It made me feel like even more of an outsider- I just wanted to blend in- after all this was great aural practise- I really wanted to immerse myself but the ‘English girl’ label followed me around. Nonetheless the tour was super interesting and the food was amazing. The icing on the cake was the flamenco show- as someone who has danced their whole life I didn’t think I would be blown away by the show as much as a I was. It was in a small club, the stage covered most of the room and there was a live band. I love Spanish guitar but coupled with the vibrato of the singer’s voice made me fall in love with it even more. The costuming was superb- reds, pinks and black lace- the skirts swinging with ease each turn that they made. What resonated with me the most was the passion that they had- their facial expression told a story- they were fully in tune with the music, both rhythmically and emotionally. They made me feel whatever they wanted me to feel- I felt happiness sadness, distress and awe all within the space of 2 minutes- my mood changing with every move they made. If there is one thing I can recommend that you see in Madrid is the flamenco shows. I managed to make conversation with the ladies from the show they told me about their lives in Latin America, what they were doing in Madrid, their favourite sights to see- they really included me and I felt the imposing ‘English girl’ label start to fade. They appreciated that I tried to speak Spanish with them and that I was interested in their life stories.

I went to bed that night full; full of amazing Spanish food- we definitely got our value of money- and full of happiness and anticipation for what the rest of the trip had to offer.

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