And somehow over the past week and a half we had established a routine amidst the fluctuation. Almost silently we could load and unload our belongings; the backpacks once unknown to us had now become familiar, bent, and molded to our travels.
After getting settled, we decided to find food. And not from a restaurant, but rather from the corner grocery. As we walked the short distance, Jeff wondered out loud if we were shorting ourselves on the Spanish experience because we weren’t exploring the city for tapas and authentic barrios. At first I shrugged, answering “probably,” but then I paused. This was a Spanish experience.
Few tourists search the grocery aisles for actual meal items to cook at home. Most visitors don’t circle the store multiple times looking for eggs that never appear, or try to distinguish one mystery box from another, or bag their own groceries. We shouldn’t second guess allowing ourselves another type of travel experience outside of restaurants and menus – besides, cooking for ourselves was one of the reasons we chose Airbnbs with kitchens. Extra bonus if it saved us upwards of €50 and we learned how inexpensive the Spanish grocery was!
We returned to Luis’ apartment with our bounty; a humble hoard that could easily stretch for two solid meals and multiple snacks and treats over the course of the next few days.
After filling our bellies with dinner, we left the apartment to expand our search of the city and to take in the look of the streets with people in them. We followed the echoes of small, cramped mom-and-pop restaurants as they bounced their way through the rounding and narrow streets.
We visited parks, listened to street musicians, and walked past the Catedral de la Almudena and Palacio Real, which we had plans to enter the next day. In such a modern city, its stately artifacts looked slightly out of place, like bejeweled and priceless antiques on an Ikea shelf.
– – – – –
The next morning was Sunday, which meant a stop at the Rastro Market. We’d read about this open-air market and knew most people believed it to be a kitschy tourist trap and pickpocket’s dream. Yet we made a quick pass by, just to say we’d seen it. Besides, it was literally a stones throw from La Latina, which was our home-base subway stop.
After a quick peek at the Market, we continued to Plaza Major. The sun was out and the brick-bordered courtyard was surprisingly busy. We joined the thin half circle of people who were watching a police band that was assembled in the center of the square. As we stood, their notes lifted and wafted through the square, holding onto the same current as the bubble blowers’ and flow of smokers’ plumes.
We walked around the inside perimeter of the Plaza, admiring the coin and stamp collections as the old and middle-aged men haggled and chatted with one another, and soon we found the tourist information center where we picked up a map.
Next we were off to Puerta De Sol. It didn’t look nearly as majestic and impressive as I’d anticipated from my readings and research before we left Seattle, but I took a picture or two for posterity’s sake. We took a stroll up one of the main calles that was packed with expensive clothing shops, and as we wandered I noted how Madrid was much more commercial than the dusty part of Granada where we’d been, and definitely much more so than Nerja with its sleepy beaches and napping cats. To me it felt like Madrid bustled while Granada relaxed and Nerja dosed.
From the shopping district we went to find a local CrossFit gym that I’d discovered in my gym-scoping back in August. We had no luck at finding the one that was supposedly in Granada about half a mile from our Airbnb, and at this point in our trip I was nearly a week out of my workout routine and was constantly telling Jeff how much I needed to do some sort of fitness that didn’t involve walking or stairs. Luckily the one in Madrid was exactly where its website said it would be, so we planned on returning the next day when it was open. I was excited to finally get my fitness fix.
Because we finished our To Do list so early, it allowed us extra time to relax and siesta before venturing out later in the day. I decided to sit out on the narrow balcony and write in my little leather notebook. I ended up writing ten pages.
“This writing muscle is just like any other. I need to give it attention and time in order to strengthen and build it. Before, I let it loosen and fall out of shape – only I didn’t realize I had. Rather I had my mind on other things, which were much less important, I’m sad to say. But I’m back here now and stronger. I thought writing was the “old me” – something I did as a kid… Now I know that writing is a part of me, recharges me, fills me. And this is a crucial piece of knowledge. It’s something that no one can take from me and it’s something I can give to myself. It is my gift to me.”