My poor little wanderlust blog has been so neglected! I think I’ve been so fixated on purging my misery and whining into my newest project, The Broke Bitch Blog—documenting all horror stories and observations from the job hunt—that I haven’t given much (needed) attention to the places and experiences that brought me to where I am now: broke, but rich in culture and nostalgia. But I’ve recently come across a cache of business cards, scratch paper, and other mementos from my travels that I’d like to share, especially now that I’m over conforming to Corporate America. If you’re passing through any of these places, I hope that you find yourself drawn to the same little nooks and crannies that I saw fit to treasure … in a DoubleGuard Ziploc gallon bag, apparently…
I am SO THANKFUL that I’m a hoarder! If there’s a place that I like—a shop, a restaurant, a café, etc.—I can’t help myself in taking a business card as a little keepsake. It’s just … what I do, and I’m glad that I do it! Otherwise, I would’ve spent hours on Google Earth trying to find this bar in Madrid where my friend and I spent a wild night trying to soak in the city.
My friend Carolina was teaching English in Logroño for the year, and I was in London at the time, failing miserably to join the workforce of an already cutthroat ‘big city’, in a distressed economic climate where I was the most expendable because I only had a migrant visa to stay there for up to two years after graduating. I’d just lost my apartment, my best friend there, and any and all hope of ‘making it’, which was made an all the more futile dream when my dad told me to pack my bags and come home, “because it’s obviously not working.” I was depressed, as one would be when they foolishly put all their eggs in one basket, hoping to will their dreams to fruition, so Carolina had the bright idea that I leave London, just for three days, and meet her in Madrid. I’d never been before, and although the drawback of not having accommodation in the city would’ve deterred anyone else, I saw it as an adventure that I desperately needed. And given the trouble that Carolina and I have gotten ourselves into in the past, an all-nighter in a completely foreign metropolis was kind of our bog-standard ‘normal’. So, I packed a small carryon, and off I went.
Carolina took a three-hour bus to the capital and met me at the Atocha train station (where the bus from the airport dropped me off). There, we swore in blood (not really) to commit ourselves to some eighteen hours of debauchery, acquainting ourselves with the city on foot, meandering through its streets and alleyways. Obviously, neither of us has seen the film Taken; otherwise, I’m sure we would’ve been (would be) more prudent tourists.
After we checked my bag into a locker at the station, we spent the afternoon taking in the sights. At nightfall, we needed a place to wander, so we closed our eyes, with one arm outstretched and an index finger pointed outwardly, and spun around. Whichever direction we’d landed was the direction we headed next. The chosen direction pointed uphill. Initially, I was beginning to grow concern as the street became darker and the scenery generally grew a bit shadier. But a beacon of light off the beaten path drew our gaze, and we let ourselves be pulled in like moths to a flame.
The bar was practically empty so early in the evening, so we hunkered down at the actual bar. The lone bartender was named Cinzia—Italian, obviously, who’d been in Madrid for some years now. To this day, I still envy Europeans and their liberal movement between countries. If they want to learn a language, they move. Simple as that. We spoke in Italian and Spanish, whichever suited us best at the time, about subjects that I hardly remember, and we fed off of one another’s good company (and Estrellas and tapas). I prize Carolina’s and my joint, single monetizable skill: conversation. We can talk about anything, and at one point, Cinzia just kept our beers topped up and our plates full for what I can only guess was the entertainment we provided. For most of the night, we were poured over those bar stools, talking with the locals, letting them buy us drinks, picking at the tapas like birds, and sharing our backgrounds. That’s why I thought to share this bar, even though my memory is so blurred of what we ate, drank, talked about: I just remember the modern design and typography, the bar, the people and Cinzia, and the good mood that set the tone for the rest of the evening.
My #1 travel tip: follow your nose and seek out places that offer friendly, welcoming environments where you can actually converse with the locals. A fair few of my friends and family travel places without ever speaking to anyone outside the service industry, and it’s a damn shame. You never know what role the person at the next bar stool over will play in your life, so might as well make that effort to find out (and you might just get a free beer out of it, too)! This remains my favorite bar in Madrid solely because of the good company. It helps not to feel alone when you travel someplace new.