Like a heart circulating blood, people come from every corner of town to flow through their plaza mayor. A Spanish plaza mayor is the major life line of any city or pueblo. If you want to take the vitals of your new destination head straight to the plaza mayor.
While architectural design can reflect both the king who started its construction, and the one who finally finished it 120 years later, what is constant is the role plazas play in Spanish society. It is the heart that connects all the veins. The old, the young. The resident, and the visitor. The lonesome traveler and familial group. Everyone finds themselves there, at one time or another.
For me every exploration in Spain begins at the plaza mayor. Hiding behind shades and anonymity, I peep the town as it is, when nobody’s watching in plain sight. How peaceful it is to share a history and space with everyone who lives in your town. I try to melt into the scene, imagine what it would be like to know just one little thing about every person present at that moment. A city born girl like myself my closest relation is the 2 mile stretch of downtown Chicago. Cold steel buildings reach for the sky driving wedges, disconnecting one part of the city from another. Its no surprise our world are small. North side, south side, this neighborhood, my block, my building, and finally my home. Lacking any sense of connection to the past or present, I hardly give my fellow Chicagoans a glance much less thought. Here in Spain traditions are held more closely and familiar bonds extend father away from the central family unit. Old people having a chat? Plaza Mayor. Impromptu after school football match (without proper goal)? Plaza mayor. Lovely couple out for drinks while their children recklessly play somewhere, safe? Plaza Mayor. For a cafe con leche….pues tu sabes. The Plaza mayor!
I try to avoid too much self reflection at the end of the year, but a little bit always seems to creep in. Recent visits from friends and many discussions about what it means to be older. Specifically 32, childless, unmarried, and at the moment not so goal driven. No home, no car, and just enough income to make the few ends I do have, meet. When I talk to friends with plans, roots, and better halves to abuse they seem to possess a greater sense of purpose, admittedly in my weaker times, that I crave. You always want what you don’t have. What do you want to do with your life? When the question was put to me about 5 years ago, I would have answered traveling the world, living in another country. So how have I fared? Am I living the life I wanted? I sat down and looked at where I’ve been in the last year. This has been my year:
January 2015 Barcelona and Tarragona Solo
Just off a traveling high from the holidays, I finally found the courage to start solo traveling again. This was my first solo trip since arriving in Spain and my first trip to Barcelona.
The Catalan capital took my heart away with its big boulevards and astonishing architecture. Three days was not enough. I vowed to return.
February 2015 Valencia and Denía Solo
Spain is broken up into communidades which are like states. There a total of 15 communidades on the Iberian peninsula and I decided to make it my goal to visit them all. So Valencia was the natural next destination on my list. It is most known for paella, beaches, and expats. I spent a night here and headed straight for a small beach town named Denía.
After losing my grandmother in January, I needed to get away. Most of the times I use travel to distance myself from tough times. I hopped on the bike and let the sea nourish me.
March /April 2015 Asturias: Ribadesella, Nueva Llanes, and Llanes Half Time Solo
Spent the time walking trails through tiny mountainous villages of Asturias. Did some biking and relaxing. The most beautiful communidad of Spain, hands down, when its not raining.
May 2015 Nothing…did I need to?
June 2015 Amsterdam, Edam
This was the most anticipated trip for me this year. Life abroad can get lonely and there is nothing like reconnecting with those that know and love you most. This trip was right on time! Holland is one country that I can return to and love every second of. Best of all I got explore it with my best friend and that was priceless.
July 2015 Working at a camp recharging the money source.
August 2015 Freedom and movements. I moved to Leon!
September 2015 Chicago, Colorado, Wisconsin, Indiana, Kentucky, Dublin, Ireland
I finally made it home. Chilled out with my people and took in the beautiful USA.
October 2015 Asturias
November 2015 Asturias
December 2015 Bilbao (Pais Vasco), Barcelona, Madrid, Amsterdam, Utrecht Solo and with Good Company
Right now I’m traveling more than I ever have. This has been my year. I didn’t realize I was already where I wanted to be. This little self reflection has jilted me out of “there’s something wrong with my life” pattern of thinking. My life is just what I asked for. Its funny how you can get just what you asked for, and still not be happy or thankful. Well I’m thankful to be doing what I said I wanted to do, even though its got me broke and with little to show besides fumbling proficiency of a foreign language and tons of experiences.
La Latina can feel like a maze of twisty turny streets lined with terraces, offering up those infamous Spanish tapas. While no one can dispute La Latina’s bumping night life, it is also one of the most historic barrios of madrid. Contained within the original city walls established by the muslims, La Latina is often ignored, but worth a walk through one of Madrid’s oldest barrios.
Located behind the muslim wall, La Latina is within the original city limits established by the muslims in the 9th century. The Royal Palace and the Aqueduct of Segovia border the barrio on the west. In its center is Plaza Cebada, a centuries old market that provided wholesale good since the 16th century. Now it serves as the barrio mercado, as well as a community space where with a couple of cañas in hand you can hang out with friends or enjoy a normally free performance. El Rastro is a must see if you are in Madrid on a Sunday afternoon. The whole barrio turns into a street side flea market where you can find anything from cheap tourist stuff to kitchen knives, jewelry, or second hand clothing. Plaza de Paja is littered with a wide range of delicious restaurants serving up everything from typical Spanish fare to vegan deliciousness. All of which can be enjoyed on the terrace like a true madridleño. Finally hit up both calles Cava baja and Cava Alta, for even more tapas and shops. No matter where you go you will be surrounded by, what I believe to be the most beautiful architecture Madrid has to offer.
My tour starts randomly just east of San Francisco el Grande Basilica on calle de Bailen, then up calle Cava Alta to plaza de Puerta Cerrada. Finally, I hike it up calle de cuchilleros entering Plaza Mayor through my favorite gate, finishing up in Sol.
If social media has done anything for me, it has made my life look way better than yours. The only problem is I know this to not be true. In between the depressing photos of me absolutely enjoying my new life in Spain, are the times when my life is less than glorious and downright miserable. Obviously I am not sharing these little gems, they are left for my repressed memory banks. Here are some ways my life is no better than yours.
1. I am embarrassed on the regular. Every time I form my mouth to speak a word in Spanish. I am met with a confused look, as if the person to whom I am speaking already knows that everything coming out of my mouth is gibberish.
2. I teach English to children (enough said).
3. I am most always broke. Yup. Broke. But what about all those pictures of me all over the globe? Well, my answer to that is, I live in Europe. I can hop on a 5 euro bus from Madrid to some of the coolest places I’ve ever seen. For a 50 euro flight I could be in Italy, Paris, or bloody England for that matter. With deals like this, destinations that once seemed impossible to reach are now in my grasp.
4. Loneliness is real. It just is. Yes I am surrounded by people, but they ain’t my people (Chitown Stand UP!). I am constantly surrounded by people who don’t truly love me yet. And I yearn for my loved ones, wishing they could be where I am.
5. I really don’t have a fifth one, but I think the reason my life looks so much better than yours is because despite the above downsides, I am doing exactly what I want to do with myself at this moment. Maybe you’ve thought of doing something, but have talked yourself out of it, as we all have. You’ve convinced yourself you’re too old, too busy, too attached to that shitty job you hate, or just not good enough. This is where my life IS truly better than yours. I’ve told myself the same things, but what I did instead was not listen to it and believed that I can be fulfilled in this life, and you can too.