University of Wisconsin–Madison

Familiar Departure

I unlock the sturdy wooden door and enter my piso. My roommates greet me with a series of sarcastic Spanish insults that I quickly return. After fumbling for the small key that opens my room, I open the door and set my things down on my bed. I move into the kitchen where my roommates are and heat up some water for a cup of té rojo. The kitchen is pequeña and the close quarters facilitate conversation. We discuss our plans for Christmas break, which has just begun. The Spaniards will be going home to see their families while my Finnish roommate will head to Finland to do the same. I leave for Barcelona in a few hours.

Barcelona is a unique place for me. It is the first Spanish city I ever saw, and I remember the few days I spent there as exceptional and precious. I will never forget my first glimpse of it from the plane as we arrived from the sea. I was with my father and grandfather, and as we approached, the bright-colored buildings seemed to form the most beautiful combination with the sea, as the water rolled onto the sand where hundreds of people lay. It seemed like a different world, unlike anything I had ever seen.

My water is ready and I pour it into the mug as it steams gently. Upon adding the teabag, a dark red permeates slowly through the cup. I set the mug down in my room and evaluate the scene in front of me. My 50-liter backpack sits three-quarters full on my floor while clothes are strewn over my bed, chair, and desk. My t-shirts are still damp from being left outside to dry in the rain for a night. I select the driest ones and add them to my bag.

It seems like just yesterday I was doing the same thing, hundreds of miles west, at my parent’s house in Madison. It has been over four months since I packed this backpack for the first time, just hours before I boarded my flight to Rome in August. That time I was packing for two and a half weeks on the move and a year in Spain. There seems to be a lot more room this time around as I am about to start my two and a half week trip beginning in Barcelona. I shove my winter coat in and am surprised that it fits comfortably. The Kelty backpack has served me well thus far.

I return to the kitchen. Íñigo, one of the Spaniards, is about to leave. We hug and say our goodbyes for the next three weeks. Spanish goodbyes take time and five minutes later he departs with “Nos vemos, hasta luego”. I talk with Jaakko, my Finnish roommate some more while I grab myself a snack. With the break coming, I have run dry on food and thus a few cookies have to suffice for now. I finish my tea and my snack before taking one last look around my room, trying to assure myself that I haven’t forgotten anything. To ease my nerves, I tell myself that as long as I have my passport and wallet I should be able to survive. As the final step I tie my running shoes around a strap and fasten a knot. The bag is heavy but the waist strap eases some of the tension on my shoulders.

I grab my keys and lock the door to my room. Jaakko exits his room and we say goodbye. Although he speaks English fluently, we have spoken Spanish everyday for the past four months and the rare occasion that we hear each other speak English with a friend it sounds odd.

“¡Pásalo bien!” He says, wishing me a good break.

“Igualmente,” I respond, as I leave with, “¡Hasta luego!”

I step onto Altamirano and walk up the hill to the metro. The weather is beautiful today. The sun shines and makes the fifty-degree day comfortable without a jacket. I catch the metro and set my bag on the ground. It is packed today as I head towards Sol, the most crowded and touristy area of the city, in order to change lines on my way to Atocha. I get off the metro and follow the signs to the station.

I know I have arrived as I spot the familiar indoor trees in the center and the modern platforms. Three years ago, again with my father and grandfather, I rode the AVE (the Spanish high-speed train), from Barcelona to Madrid. Today I will be making the opposite journey on the same train. I find the television monitor displaying the platforms and find the train to Barcelona has been suprimido. Confused, I continue to stare at the screen, wondering why it has taken so long for the platform to be listed. Soon enough, I remember the suprimido means deleted and realize the train will not be running. Instead, I have been switched to a slightly slower train leaving half and hour later. After plenty of adventures with transportation in both Spain and Italy, I am rather unsurprised and surprisingly not frustrated. I sit down, relax, and eat the sandwich I have just bought.

At last my train is announced. Still rather ambiguous, I am thankful that my Spanish has improved to the point where I can understand what the screens say, as well as what is being announced. I imagine the chaos that this would have created three years ago and smile to myself. I finally board the AVE and place my backpack on the luggage rack, just bringing my book and computer case with me to the seat. The chairs are comfortable and roomy. The AVE is a luxury train. It hits speeds of 300 km/hour and cuts what is usually an eight-hour ride in bus to Barcelona, down to two and half hours.

The train departs. It begins slowly and glides out of the station, building up speed. Within minutes we have flown through the Madrid suburbs and are cruising through the country. The landscape is gorgeous. Rolling hills cover the hundreds of meters of land between the snow-covered mountains looming in the background. I plug my iPod in and doze off.