When you host everyone under the sun

April 5, 2016

in Academic Year 2015-2016, Caroline Stevens, Europe, Spain

Life in Madrid has continued as normal, with the exception of the amount of visitors I’ve hosted for the past five weekends. This might give a clue to why I haven’t posted for a while: I hosted friends for two weekends in a row starting in the beginning of March, then went on the Great Spring Break Family Tour of 2k16 for ten days (more on that later), and am now hosting another friend. Perks of having friends who are also studying abroad: you get a taste of home in the form of a person, you get to proudly show off your city and language skills, and you get to rediscover why you love your city through exploring it with guests.

Friend #1 really got the best deal out of everyone: my most concentrated effort to show Madrid in its best light, and hereby my biggest effort to teach what I know about the history of Spain and Madrid, which is surprisingly a lot. Turns out when every single class you take is about Spanish history or culture, you learn a few things. So that weekend could be considered the Perfect Visit: the Plaza de España and Templo de Debod at dusk, a flamenco show in a spirited bar, and a huge walking tour of the city that included my speculations on the artwork in the Prado and the Reina Sofia. Thank god the two best museums in Madrid are free to students, because I’ve gone to them both at least six times each at this point. The walking tour included Retiro and the Palacio de Cristal, the Puerta de Alcalá and Cibeles, the Paseo del Prado, some wandering near Anton Martín and a typical Spanish lunch at a restaurant where they recite the menú del día instead of giving you a written menu (a unique translation challenge for me), a walk down Gran Vía and around the Chueca/Malasaña neighborhoods, thrift shopping, and ya terminamos. Ultimately a fantastic weekend on all accounts.

Hard to beat that first weekend, but Friend #2 and I still had an excellent time, and she had more time here as well, which meant not everything had to be rushed. At this point I was realizing that the lack of attention I was paying to readings and other homework was catching up to me, so while she went to the Prado, I went to the library in Retiro to try to get a few hours of work in. We saw similar sights to the weekend before with more exploring of neighborhoods thrown in. We found what turned out to be an excellent tapas restaurant for lunch near the Paseo del Prado, and I now recommend to everyone else who visits. It’s called Casa González and the olives taste like they were plucked from a tree just outside the restaurant before being served to you, which is to say, they are divine.

A beautiful smoked tuna toast from Casa González. God bless.

A beautiful smoked tuna toast from Casa González. God bless.

At this point I was tired of hosting people, but genuinely happy to see people I care about and happy also to help them see the best side of Madrid. But gird your loins, because the following weekend began the Great Spring Break Family Tour of 2k16. If you’ve ever gone seven months without seeing your family in a time of drastic personal growth and transformation, you’ll know how weird it is to see them again. Weird as in great and emotional and wonderful, but weird. I picked them up at the airport at 7 am and we took a taxi back to my tiny apartment, where they napped for a few hours, exhausted after an overnight flight. I had somehow gotten sick with a head cold the day the arrived, so that was a great addition to the weekend. Not only that, but for the first time in the seven months I’ve lived here, it rained for four days in a row. Madrid, the desert city with the normally clear sky and beating sun, rained for a solid four days. I told my family they might have brought back luck to Spain.

My wonderful family in the Plaza Mayor of Madrid during a rare moment without rain.

My wonderful family in the Plaza Mayor of Madrid during a rare moment without rain.

After showing the city to my family and actually eating at nice restaurants for once (what a concept!) we rented a car to drive south. The restaurant thing was great, although it made me realize how infrequently I eat out in Madrid because I’m usually saving money to travel, so it was nice to discover some places I like here. Anyway, the road trip south: you know how the midwest is just hours and hours of driving through cornfields? Driving to Andalucía is like that, but with olive trees. The lack of roadside advertising here is also really noticeable after driving in the U.S. and seeing signs for Grandpa Joe’s Apple Orchard or Amish Furniture or whatever every few miles. Once we got to Granada, we met the man who was running our B&B, who insisted that my dad back our rental car down an alley to a parking spot. “Only 10 meters,” he said, “It will be easy.” It was not ten meters, nor was it easy. The rental car ended up scratched in a disastrous parking attempt. The B&B was great, though. Located just between the Alhambra and the city center, with a phenomenal view of the city.

Because it was Semana Santa (Holy Week), there were dozens of catholic processions going on. They would start in the afternoon and continue late into the night, serious parades full of large candles and crosses and extravagant floats and, most disturbing to my American eyes, hooded figures bearing an uncomfortable resemblance to a certain white supremacist group in the United States. Some marchers in the processions went barefoot on the cold pavement, bearing huge wooden crosses. I was really thrilled to see such a huge part of Spanish culture, even when some of the processions got kind of intense.

An ornate float from a procession in Madrid. We stumbled across this procession on our way home from dinner one night, and it was surprisingly small and calm.

An ornate float from a procession in Madrid. We stumbled across this procession on our way home from dinner one night, and it was surprisingly small and calm.

Granada was basically perfect: noticeable North African influence from the moorish rule of Spain, delicious restaurants, casual street musicians playing by the river, the omnipresent and amazing Alhambra (bonus: the grounds of the Alhambra are full of stray cats). After thoroughly enjoying the city we drove a few hours to Carmona, a town we were staying in right outside of Sevilla. We correctly assumed that Sevilla would be more than we could handle, procession wise, but seeing the city for a day was a great time, and Carmona boasted it’s own charm within its Roman-style wall and cobblestone streets between crisp white buildings. It was nice to be in a quieter town right on the andalucian countryside, no pressure pushing us to spend our time a certain way. Another beautiful aspect to traveling with my family: they generally like to take more time in each place, so I never felt rushed to get everything in, like when I travel to other places with friends or by myself. Still, I wouldn’t exactly call my break relaxing; it was so wonderful to spend time with my family and show them where I live and why I love it, but spending so much time with three other people when you’re used to your independence is exhausting. My translation skills were also put to the test.

I couldn't get enough of the detailing inside the Alhambra, like this window.

I couldn’t get enough of the detailing inside the Alhambra, like this window.

The park and Plaza de España were definitely my favorite parts of Sevilla.

The park and Plaza de España were definitely my favorite parts of Sevilla.

Okay Carmona, I see you.

Okay Carmona, I see you.

This little town had a lot of unexpected beauty.

This little town had a lot of unexpected beauty.

So here I am, my fifth weekend in a row of hosting others in this city I love so much. The friend visiting me now is the last scheduled visit of the year, and of course it’s wonderful to see another person from home. We went to Cercedilla the other day to go hiking, which was a welcome foray into nature and also happened to be the first time I’ve seen snow in an entire year (my Midwestern roots feel so far away…). Hosting gives me an excuse to put down homework and wholeheartedly give my time and energy to experiencing Madrid, to finding new restaurants, to spending time seeing shows or wandering parks. This is time that I forget to give myself in the midst of the semester, and showing Madrid to friends and family has given me another opportunity to reflect on my comfort zone here and how I can keep leaving it to see the city in different ways. My advice for any overwhelmed hosts out there: don’t feel bad taking a little time for yourself if it helps you to be calmer and more put together. Take time to see new things with visitors, like the Real Madrid game I saw with my family that I otherwise wouldn’t have seen. And importantly, feel good about where you are and how you show it to others. Even when the car ends up scratched and you’re running on no sleep, these are memorable times with beautiful people that have also been changing and growing in uncountable ways in the time you haven’t seen them. No one and nothing is static; use time with familiar faces to rediscover each other.

Aunt Amy April 7, 2016 at 6:07 pm

So interesting to hear about what you are up to. Did I mention that I’m visiting next weekend?

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