El albergue

El albergue

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A little staycation

Sometimes, living in a big city and commuting about an hour to and from school and several private tutoring jobs feels a tad bit overwhelming. There are so many days that I feel like I hardly have time to sleep, let alone just sit, relax, and breathe deeply. However, the nice thing about being in a big city when you feel exhausted and in serious need of a little bit of rejuvenation is that there is almost always either someplace or something that you can go to and just enjoy. You can almost always find the means of an excellent “staycation.”

In fact, the past two weeks have held some lovely staycation moments for me and my friends.

First, an afternoon alone at a café, just sitting in warm sunshine and feeling the quiet joy of the day around me.
Then, a lunch/tea with friends, dressing up for spring, stuffing ourselves with delicious food, and being completely silly.
Arts and crafts time with two close girl friends, sorting shells we picked up at the beach and making our first forays into the world of necklace-making.
Fireworks!!! Basking in 20 glorious minutes of perfectly coordinated music and firework spectaculare, impossibly large grins on our faces.
An afternoon of tapas in La Latina, savoring the wonderful array of cuisine on the lovely La Musa terraza.
A tapas fair with a couple friends, wandering around the sports arena specially decked out with stalls from bars and cafés around Madrid, filling our stomachs with yummy things and then eating just as much again with our eyes as other grazers wander by.
A special dinner at home with roommates, everyone contributing a dish to create a delectable in-home moment.
More fireworks! (Both part of the week-long celebration of Madrid’s patron saint)
Roommate date night with Kels, just us, some salad, some fresh pizza, a little bit of TV, and a whole lot of good conversation.
A movie at home, relaxing and quiet.
Getting a haircut in the acquaintance of a friend’s apartment, chatting amicably, scissors snipping layers and the hands of a magician crafting something beautiful.
A lesson from a friend in making Spanish tortilla, talking, chopping, frying, talking, frying, talking, laughing, eating, and talking even more.
And of course, a nice mid-afternoon Sunday nap to make the weekend complete.

Mmmm... now I want some more of this staycation stuff!

Friday, May 10, 2013

A weekend escape

So often, what we need is a weekend to get away from work and normal life. Especially when we’ve been feeling overworked and under rested for the past month. And ooboyhowdy was that ever how I was feeling last week. Of course, I was not the only one to be feeling this way, so five of us took advantage of Spain’s Constitution Day holiday to hop in a car and head on down south.

After a relaxed morning and a long day of driving on Thursday, we finally found ourselves in the province of Cádiz, in the little beach town of Chiclana just in time to catch a marvelously pink sunset on the wide beach down the street from our lodging. A quiet stroll along the water looking out into the darkening horizon, and we soon became convinced of the beauty of Playa Barrosa. Plus, we found so many perfect, big shells that it just made the little kid in us happy.

Friday morning, a lovely leisurely breakfast, then we were off to explore beaches nearby. We didn’t go that far away, but we were practically screaming the whole way because of how many stunning wildflowers covered the lush fields and stuck themselves in among the brushy forests along the road. At one point, I kind of felt like I was in Switzerland or something like that because of all the green, rolling hills, the flowers, the windmills (modern ones, actually), and the low mountains in the distance (I know, I know, Switzerland would have the towering Alps).  

And the beach we ended up spending the afternoon at? It was wonderful! A quiet little place tucked away in the rocks – sunny, breezy, with perfect sand. A few hours there, and we headed to the city of Cádiz for an evening stroll along the sea wall and through the old town, followed by an absolutely amazing dinner at a great little place hiding in a small plaza.

Cadiz in the evening

Waiting for dessert... it was worth it!

We woke the next morning, sad that we were leaving after so little time and wishing we had a couple weeks to relax in the little paradise we’d found. But we had more ahead of us in Málaga, so it wasn’t all that sad. Along the way between cities, we had a few more adventures too…

First, we stopped in a miniscule village because more than one of us had to pee, and after running around in joyful abandon and exclaiming over the lovely views, we ended up having a fifteen minute conversation with a local grandma chatting with us through her window about her rose gardens and scattered family. 

And a lovely rose garden it was.

Then we stopped over in Tarifa, attempting a picnic lunch on the southern-most point of Europe. The wind was too strong and the sand too fine though, so to avoid consuming more sand than necessary, we cut the picnic to the most basic possible. Aside from the low-flying grit, it was a beautiful area, a small point with the Mediterranean on the left and the Atlantic on the right, with a long stretch of beautiful beach just begging for a walk.

Who wouldn't want to walk along this?


Before we left, we ventured out onto the fine strip marking the end of the point of land and instantly wished we were wearing more than our simple beach outfits as the wind picked up force and whipped fine sand into our bare legs (and faces!).

Off again, we drove along the beautiful coast and finally made it into the city of Málaga. An evening meander through the city center, a light dinner, and we were toast. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that sleeping is a good thing when you’re out and about getting to know new places…

Sunday morning we were supposed to start heading back to Madrid, but soon a quiet walk down along a broad street filled with the beach town air turned into a pause in an art fair at the pier then a quick visit to the ancient Moorish fortress on the hill then a stroll through the agreeable little streets of the center. And by then we were hungry, so we stopped for a late lunch at a small bar/café, which turned out to be a great thing. Not only was the location nice and the food great, we got treated to a street performance of some local dance. Cool!

But then we had to get back to our lodgings to finish packing up and throw together some sandwiches for the road… and by the time we left the city, it was seven o’clock in the afternoon!

We were all pretty exhausted by this time, but it was a decent ride back, quiet for the most part except for one part in which three of us went crazy in the back seat from caffeine and lack of sleep. (we experienced the true definition of hysterical laughter) We had to quiet down though because one of the front-seaters was a little too tired to deal with us. It was a good thing we did though, because if we hadn’t, I don’t think we would have taken the time to look out at the stars at the exact moment a meteorite flew across the sky. We all screamed in admiration (when the event is intense and short-lived, the admiration must be as well, of course) and proclaimed it to be a wonderful finale to our weekend, the crowning jewel of all the things we were going to have to remember the next day when we were dragging back to work again.

The group. And yes, that is Africa you can see behind us!


What a beautiful day. Gorgeous. As I sit here on this little terraza, elevated above the noise of busy Calle Princessa and slightly shielded from it by the decorative wall rising behind my back, I savor the happy sunshine and the bit of breeze that breaths spring into my senses. In front of me waits a beautiful lunch – cold beet soup, a piece of whole grain toast, and a tall glass of fresh mint lemonade…

Do you ever stop to think about how many details our brains take in every millisecond of our lives? I mean, really, so much information is gathered by our eyes, ears, noses, skin, emotions, taste, and even just instinct every second of every day. And our brains process it all. They take all those tiny details and formulate them into cohesive thoughts and experiences. They decide which ones should be highlighted and important in our memory, which ones sort of merge into the overall picture, and which ones get completely forgotten, dropped in some box in the dusty back shelves of our brains.

And so many of those details are the ones that get forgotten. They seem non-important, a mere glance of perception aside from the bigger, more important things in life. For instance, why would you ever need to remember the way fingerprints are smudged on the window of the metro door, left there doubtless by countless commuters like yourself who were balancing against the glass as they waited for their stop to come? Why would you ever need to remember the peculiar constellations of old gum smashed into the sidewalk by countless pairs of feet? That’s unnecessary, right? Or what about the conversational ups and downs of your neighbors’ voices at the table across from you?

Yet those details are what fill out our lives. They give substance and shades to our experiences. Without us even realizing it, those little details that pass by unnoticed or uncared-for work together to help create the whole of our understanding of how we feel or how we remember any given moment. You could say, millions of tiny brush strokes all together are what make up the greatest paintings.

For example, right now, this moment on this terraza is going to rest in my mind as deeply relaxing, a moment of deep peace and happiness. Why? Well…

There’s the delicately bright pink of my soup, with the splash of green parsley droplets of white cream.
There’s the tender little chunks of beet swimming in creamy, slightly sweet broth alongside the occasional spark of fresh onion.
There’s the tiny spider timidly crawling across the wooden platter between my soup dish and the small plate now littered with the crumbs of my toast.
There are the two straws sticking expectantly up from my refreshing lemonade with its lightly bitter, sour taste.
There are the fresh spring flowers peaking out from behind my computer, where I pushed the charming centerpiece.
There’s the lilting chirp of birds in the tall trees overhead.
There’s the fluff from a flowering bush somewhere floating about in the breeze.
And there’s the general sense of being unable to adequately communicate the entirety of this thought, this place, this moment.