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  • Writer's pictureNatasha Cara

Life lessons #3 Estoy sola vs. Soy sola: embracing loneliness in Madrid part 2

Updated: Jul 5, 2019

Saturday boldness

On the Saturday I was actually a little exhausted from all of the socialising that I’d done the day before. I didn’t have a set plan for the day but I knew that I wanted to see El Museo de America. One of the main reasons why I chose Spanish at university was due to my interest in Latin America. Ever since my granddad told me that his mother was from Cuba, my interest in the Hispanic Caribbean had sky rocketed and I was fuelled on a quest to discover more about my heritage. I took the metro to the museum and spent the afternoon wandering the exhibitions- diving into the story of the Americas, pre-colonial up until the present- I have to say that that guy really messed up A LOT of countries- there’s no love lost for him. I recommend visiting the museum to anyone who is interested in sociology, history and anthropology. Many of the statistsics were harrowing yet I believe that it’s important to learn about our history – particularly in today’s political climate. I say ‘our’ history because it affects each and every one of us. One thing that I’ve noticed is that history is cyclical and we as humans tend to repeat things- regardless of the repercussions that have come about in the past. Breaking down the ‘us’ and ‘them’ dichotomy is more important now than ever before- it was scary to look at racial politics in the 16th and 17th century, which appeared eerily similar to the world we live in now- particularly in a Trump and Brexit era.

I stayed in the Moncloa neighbourhood and found an independent coffee shop for lunch (support small/ local businesses guys). Later that afternoon I ended up in Park Retiro. It is honestly one of the most beautiful parks that I’ve ever seen. It was full of people but at the same time I didn’t seem ‘too much’. It was nice to see couples holding hands, walking their dogs and children playing. I’ve found that now that I’m single again I tend to be quite scornful and cynical of couples- that day I didn’t feel that way - it was actually really refreshing to see young and old people, couples and families spending time together. I saw the Palacio Cristal and mooched around the grounds - beginning to write this blogpost on my phone. For some reason I had reached a point of clarity, a natural pause where I just wanted to sit, pause and write.

That evening I decided that I was going to do something completely out of the ordinary for me. I signed up for the hostel bar crawl- alone of course. My friend Paige had recommended it to me and I figured that it would be a great way to meet new people. I was constantly surprising myself at how bold I was on this trip. The guys at the hostel told me that it would be cheaper if I signed up for dinner that evening too. So there I was, I went downstairs for dinner- most people were in groups together. I sat down next to a guy who seemed quite approachable. I asked him ‘Hey is this seat taken’, he replied ‘Oh actually it is’- I thought ‘Wow Tash, how embarrassing’. As I started to sheepishly look for somewhere else to sit he retorted with a sly smile ‘Nah I’m just messing with you’. What a dick. He actually seemed to be a really funny guy- I found out that he was originally from New Zealand but was in Madrid for the weekend, visiting his girlfriend who worked at the hostel. His job was freelance and Internet-based so he could work from anywhere in the world. He’d been living in Brazil for a few months working in a hostel too. He was one of the most down to earth people I’ve ever met- granted he was sarcastic AF but nonetheless he made me laugh. That night I got chatting to a lot of people- a guy from Miami who was backpacking through Spain, some Italian guys who were on a lads weekend and two girls from South Africa.

It began to get later and later and I grew more and more anxious about the bar crawl- it had dawned on me that the majority of people were here in groups of friends. I was one of the few people again who was alone. Nonetheless after a couple of beers and some shots in a few bars I made friends with a lovely group of girls from the States who were in Madrid for a quick weekend trip as they were studying in Italy. We got on really well and I ended up spending the majority of the night with them. It was so nice to get to know them and we all bonded over the fact that we were all going through a breakup. It was nice to talk about it with people who understood exactly what you were going through but also didn’t know you too personally to judge the situation from a biased perspective.

Not so slow Sundays

I woke up quite late the next day- successfully managing to make it back to the hostel with the girls- who had an early morning flight the next day! After a brief lie in I decided to have breakfast at a local café and head to the El Rastro street market. I highly recommend that you go and see it if you’re ever visiting Madrid- it has everything you could ever think of- creepy dolls, cassettes, costume jewellery, underwear- quirky Christmas gifts- everything. It’s on every Sunday and I was so tempted to buy every piece of jewellery I saw. Sunday was pretty much a day of walking for me- I wandered around the street markets, went to El Prado and Museo de Reina Sofia. I definitely prefer modern art and I loved the Reina Sofia- it had interactive exhibitions, videos and abstract art- it was so quirky each piece of work was different yet eye catching in its own way. The Prado however, wasn’t my favourite museum. There were a few pieces which I really liked but at the same time I was less interested ad visited it to kind of check off a box.

That evening I was totally exhausted from all of the walking and I decided to stay at the hostel to wind down and spend time in my dorm. I chatted in French and Spanish getting to know my room mates- it was super interesting finding out where they were from and what brought them to Madrid. It was getting quite late and I was getting really hungry. Now, during my whole trip I had eaten the majority of my meals with company- pizza lunch with the girls from the tour, the ladies on the tapas tour and dinner at the hostel. I don’t mind going out for breakfast on my own but going for a meal is a task in itself. I’m always quite self-conscious eating out alone. I do worry that people will think I’m a bit of a loser eating on my own and that I don’t have any friends who want to join me. It's definitely more a mind over matter situation because a lot of the time we over analyse and assume that were are the centre of someone else attention when actually we’re on the periphery and they couldn’t care less. I went on Yelp and browsed through the best-rated vegan restaurants nearby. There was a burger place called VivaBurger which was a 10 minute walk from the hostel and I decided at 10pm, why not go? I packed a book and ventured out.

Dinnertime in Spain and dinnertime in England are completely different. Before moving to Valencia the thought of eating a meal at 10pm would be unprecedented for me. Eating customs are one of the things I just simply can’t adjust to here in Spain. In England I eat three main meals a day: breakfast (usually) lunch and dinner and maybe have a snack at some point in the afternoon. Since I moved here I’ve found that Spanish people work on their own time- its very common to have a small breakfast before work, an ‘almuerzo’ at 11am- maybe a coffee and pastry or tostada and juice. Lunch is a huge affair- normally consisting of a large menu del día, which is 3 courses itself- that’s taken around 2pm/3pmish. Dinnertime is around 9pm and that’s considered quite early!

So eating at 10pm in Madrid is relatively normally- the restaurants that I walked past were busy and bustling with customers. When I reached the restaurant it was actually pretty quiet. Now for me, that was more daunting than a busy restaurant. I felt that all eyes were on me as I walked in and that the waiters were paying extra attention to me because I was alone. Nonetheless I tried to ignore my ever-growing anxiety and I took out my book and ordered a vegan cheeseburger and fries in Spanish. I felt the weight of the few other customers’ eyes on me and I felt a little uncomfortable on my own. But I began to ‘fake it until you make it’ and pretended that it didn’t bother me that I was alone. As the evening drew to a close I began to feel more and more comfortable on my own- Sunday was the first day that I had spent without any interaction with anyone else- I was alone but I wasn’t lonely- I had my book, my friends and family at the end of a phone and I could strike up a conversation with anyone if I really wanted to. It was nice to follow an itinerary that I set, without having to compromise or make any changes. It was a testament to myself that I didn’t get bored of my own company that day. I went to bed full of delicious but surprisingly filling vegan food and ready for my final day in Madrid.

Monday- go with the flow and wandering

My final day in Madrid was actually quite a strange day- I initially was going to take a train to Toledo but after waking up a little later than anticipated as well as weighing up all of my options I decided that there were still things that I wanted to see in the capital. Now a lot of the things that I wanted to see were shut because it was a Monday- but I walked around different neighbourhoods- perusing food markets and vintage clothing shops. I even went to a bar called El Tigre which served the largest portions of tapas I’d ever seen in my life in my life- bearing in mind most of it was meat that I didn’t touch, I was still flattered by how much I got with my €2 beer! I walked all the way to the National library of Spain and saw an exhibition on Leonardo Da Vinci’s anatomical works. I bought some postcards but the icing on the cake for me was visiting the oldest chocolate shop in Madrid. San Gines boast an excellent celebrity clientele such as singers actresses and models such as Naomi Campbell. Although it was somewhat claustrophobic the hot chocolate and churros are to DIE for, I managed to strike up a conversation with an old lady and her daughter who were visiting from the Basque Country- they asked if I was travelling and where I was from. I was surprised to hear that the daughter’s husband used to work in Manchester. They say that the difference between you and a stranger is six degrees of separation and now I believe that to be true!

As I headed to the train station, I felt a sense of pride and achievement. I’d spent four days alone in a capital city that I had never visited before. I had no friends or family there but I managed to survive on my own- completely in Spanish! At first I thought that the trip could be somewhat isolating and lonely, but it turns out that people are a lot nicer and often friendlier than you think. I realised that I was a sociable person; yes I do enjoy my own company and alone time but that trip allowed my to strike a balance between it all. It rekindled a fire within me and now I can’t wait for another solo trip- somewhere international next time but nonetheless I’m sure it will be just as good if not better. The memories and people that I met over the four days will stay with me for a long time- I’m glad I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and followed through on my Say Yes! philosophy.

"We are what we do in order to change what we are"

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