This July, I was blessed and excited to have the opportunity to go back to Spain - the first time in almost eight years since we moved back home! The occasion was the wedding of a friend and former roommate, and the timing happened to work out just right.
I traveled alone, which for the long flights was nothing new for me, but the week spent traveling around Spain mostly by myself was, and it made for lots of selfie's as I passed by some of my favorite places.
I spent the first two days in Madrid, walking the city all day long, just enjoying walking by all the places we used to live, work, eat, hang out, and shop. Everything was so familiar, which was a really great feeling, yet at the same time the memories are now a ways back in my mind, so it was a very odd sensation. I found myself just smiling as I wandered the neighborhoods we used to spend time in.
First stop: Jimmy's old apartment, and our church, which was still right across the street.
Next, I went three blocks south, to one of our favorite restaurants, Tanino (a wine and pizza bar), which was on the same block at my old apartment where I lived with Noelia (the bride-to-be). We still try to recreate our meals from there, which we call 'Tanino Nights', with yummy homemade pizza. This day though, I sat outside to enjoy the weather, and had an amazing bowl of Spanish Gazpacho. We have yet to have a Gazpacho in the United States that even comes close to resembling those they make in Spain, so it was a delicious and refreshing treat.
The plaza near the travel agency where we used to work.
This is the main post office in Madrid, and since the day that Cat and I first came up out of the mouth of the Metro to find it by accident, has always been one of my favorite buildings.
For those familiar with Madrid, you've probably seen the Tio Pepe sign (a brand of Spanish Sherry) that is iconic in the city center, the Puerta del Sol. I, along with many displeased Spaniards, was very surprised to see that it had been moved atop a different building from where it had been since 1936. El Oso y el Madroño statue, another iconic landmark and meeting spot, had also been moved to a different location in the Puerta del Sol. Strange to see these things in different locations.
After living nearly four years in Spain, I tried to think of anything I hadn't done while living there that I could do during this trip. The only thing I came up with was visiting the Palacio Real (Royal Palace). I had been outside of it on several occasions, but had never entered to tour the inside. It was beautiful, and interesting to read the history of what each of the rooms was used for. And on top of it, entrance was free that day!
One of my first roommates in Spain, from back when I was studying abroad and living in a flat (apartment) with about 8 other people, was Cristina. I stayed with her and her husband and baby girl, and even though I only had the evenings with her after she got off work, it was so fun to see each other and just catch up on life.
Traditional spanish food for dinner on night one... jamón, tortilla española, crunchy breadsticks, croquetas, and more jamón. Mmmmmm...
The next day we met for lunch at a restaurant where Cristina, Cat, and I, and later Jimmy, Cristina and I used to eat called Lateral.
On day three, I took a train up to the city of León, about three hours north of Madrid. (I love traveling by train, its comfortable and relaxing to not be in a cramped car). Noelia is Spanish, and she is from León, and her fiancé, Nico, is from an area near Bordeaux in France. Noelia and I lived together for close to three years during the time I was working in Madrid.
Noelia and her father picked me up at the train station, and after meeting Nico, I got to spend the rest of the day with them running wedding errands around town. It was so great to hang out with them and be a part of the last-minute wedding prep.
Lunches and dinners with Noelia's family... parents, sister, nieces and nephews, grandmother, and me - all in Spanish, and all so Spanish, which made my heart happy to be back in a place I love.
Here's a rundown of the evening (pay close attention to the times...):
6pm: The wedding ceremony was at a small church near Noelia's parents' house in the center of León. The ceremony was done in both French and Spanish, and afterward we threw rice! I don't think I've ever been to wedding where they do that, since it no longer happens in the U.S.! What a mess though... Rice in the bride's hair, rice powder on the groom's black suit...
Pictures with friends and family after the ceremony
8:30pm: Two large busses pick up all the wedding guests to transport us to the venue for the reception, which is on the outskirts of town.
8:45-10:00ish: Cocktail hour in an enclosed patio with amazing gastronomical treats, all of which had beautiful presentation...And of course plenty of jamón for everyone.
Informal pictures during the cocktail hour...
These girls were so much fun to hang out with at the wedding!
(Sister, friend, sister, me, cousin, and childhood friend)
Around 10pm: We were invited into the main hall to be seated for dinner, which lasted until almost 1:00 am! The menu was huge... A shrimp salad with ceviche on the side, Monkfish with baby squid, a green apple and cider sorbet to cleanse our palette (see picture below), and Lechazo (Jimmy's all-time fav) which is super tender slow cooked baby lamb dish with potatoes, peppers and salad, and then a cake with turrón ice cream. Wow. And seconds were offered of everything!
Noelia's cousin, and Noelia's niece Valentina, who was very excited to take a picture with us. Such a sweetheart.
Around 1am after everyone finished eating, the dancing began. It was so much fun to see the Spanish/French fusion throughout their wedding, with Spanish, French, and a bit of English being spoken around the room, people giving toasts in both Spanish and French, and then the music, which was a mix of both Spanish and French songs so there was something for everyone. I wish I could figure out how to get the videos off of the phone I used while in Spain, because there was a great one of a large table of Noelia's parents and family friends, all in their fifties and sixties, singing old folk songs from that region of Spain. No one was shy, no one minded, and those who knew it joined in the fun. Later during the dancing time there were some friends and family who sang songs in French to the bride and groom, and also a lot of dancing in a big circle with our arms around each other and kicking our feet. It was so much fun, and I just went along with whatever dancing was happening, whether I knew how to do it or not (usually not). And somehow, amazingly, I made it until the end (almost three hours of dancing) with my stiletto's still on!
Don't look at the picture of Jimmy and I below, but instead notice the time and date. The wedding began on August 31st at 6pm, and I captured a screen shot of when we were loading back into the busses to return to our hotels. Believe it or not (I hardly could), the kids, ages 3 to 10, lasted until about 3am!!! Only in Spain!
I wish I had more pictures to share from the wedding and the time before and after that I spent with the family in León that conveyed the experience, but it was one of those times when it was just enjoying it in the moment, and just having fun with new people. The families were super welcoming, very inclusive of me in everything that was going on, and they went out of their way to invite me to meals, and make sure I was enjoying myself at the wedding since I didn't know many people. The day after the wedding I was also invited to have lunch with the bride and groom and all of his family that was in town for the wedding. Only one of them spoke English, and none of them knew Spanish, so the conversation was all in French, with the exception of Nico speaking Spanish with me from time to time to include me. It was nevertheless a cool experience just to sit and listen to everyone speaking French, trying as I could to understand, but picking up almost nothing!
On Saturday I afternoon I took the train back to Madrid. I didn't have anything planned for my last night, so I did some more wandering around the tourist center of town without an agenda. On my flight over I was sitting next to an Argentine girl who has been to Madrid a handful of times in the past five years, and she was telling me about the mercados, or markets, that have begun to pop up around the city. Posh, modern, and with amazing food.
This one was called Mercado de San Miguel, and it is located right off of the Plaza Mayor in a building that has been vacant and closed as long as I have known, at least as far back as 2001 when I was studying abroad. Click here for better pictures, as the ones I took with my phone don't do the place justice: http://www.mercadodesanmiguel.es/.
In recent years, it has been reopened as a market with a number of individual food vendors, each specializing in something different. You go from vendor to vendor choosing the food you want, and either stand and eat it there, or find a table in the center of the market to sit and relax. It was a bit awkward hanging out there by myself since it was such a group setting, but I tried to just enjoy the moment and take in all the surroundings and people watch.
Below left are little paper cones filled with all sorts of dried sausages, and on the right, huge glasses of chilled Gazpacho soup.
Part of my dinner... Gazpacho, a bocadillo (baguette with thin slices of dried salami), and a caña as they refer to small glasses of beer.
I stuffed myself silly, stopped to buy a few souvenirs for the boys, and then headed to pay a surprise visit to our friends Frank and Luke, who own a bar called Public House. Frank is from NY, and Luke from New Zealand. They didn't know I was in Spain, and it was fun to catch up and let them talk with Jimmy via WhatsApp.
P.S. A huge thank you to Jimmy for letting me go back to Spain, and without him. I know how badly he wants to return, and I hope that we can both travel back there together, soon....