Last weekend, those of us who are not in tourism, retail, or the habit of buying gold were bestowed with our longest long-weekend of the season. Three glorious weekdays stretched before me, combined with my already powerful three-day weekend. I took advantage of the situation by purchasing a 22-euro flight to Santiago de Compostela, a major pilgrimage site in Northern Spain. I was traveling alone, and made plans to meet up with a few friends who would also be in Galicia. The stars were aligning* until I called to confirm my hostel room.
“How will you be arriving?” sounded slightly medieval. Should I make like a pilgrim and answer “on foot,” “on bicycle” or “with camera crew in tow”? I settled for the truth. “By plane.” The voice on the other end sucked in a long gust of air. “The news? It’s all over the TV. There are strikes, have you not heard?”
No, I had not heard. I don’t have a TV. Nor internet. “Oh…well, I’d like to cancel my reservation, then.” I didn’t have much hope; indeed, my flight (and many, many others) were cancelled during the two-day strike.
Stranded! Stranded in one of my favorite cities. Now I had time to get to know more Madrid, to plan lessons, to cross off items from the depths of the to-do list.
My puente had two major impediments: crummy weather and infuriating tourists. Drizzly rain combined with massive hordes of gleeful kids and grumpy ‘rents was enough to make me rethink my time on the streets. Yes, I was foolish enough to attempt to enter the Thyssen, one of the city’s art gems. When I saw the line of tourists radiating from the museum, I was suddenly reminded of a time I roared at my parents, “The lengths you go to avoid people!” Though the original context has been lost, I am certain it was said in regards to something tourist-related. And, you can be certain that I promptly did the best I could to avoid crowds myself.
Idea number two: obtain library card. This had been on my mind ever since I received my NIE, so it was about time I got my act together. Umbrella in hand, I skipped my way to the nearest municipal library. When I reached the building I assumed was the library, the whole block appeared to be under construction. I asked a man in a hard-hat if I could get in. “It’s the next door, but they’re closing in 15 minutes,” he warned me. I rush to the next entrance. 12 minutes. My purse goes through a scanner, and I have to explain the motives for my visit. 10 minutes. I walk through another door and ask where I can get a library card. 9 minutes. A cheerful face takes down my information and laminates a shiny blue card. 4 minutes. I hurriedly grab two books—a travel guide and a collection of short stories—and bring them to the counter. 1 minute. Success!
When the weather was at its worst, I stayed inside curled up on the couch. I had my stack of books, my knitting, and a million ideas buzzing in my head. I also cooked up a storm, making soups and a tortilla that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to share with amigos.
I did not avoid people completely. In fact, I was able to visit two different days with Bea, who came through the capital en route to Valencia. We hung out with Patri as well as two other friends of theirs, Álvaro and David. The gang taught me more Spanish expressions, and I invited them to my (new!) piso.
Alvaro, Patri and Bea on Gran Via
My new place has many, many pros, but one con is the lack of internet. It should be installed in 7-to-14 days, which in soon in Spanish terms. Because of this, the puente also saw me cozying up to internet cafes close to my new abode. There were visits to Café Comercial, La Paca, El Kierkot, Xanacuk, Tipos Infames, and even a Starbucks.
So there you have my long weekend. I went to the movies. I got my coffee-and-wifi fix. I learned new words. I went walking. In a certain sense, I was a pilgrim.
*Much to my chagrin, some of my co-teachers got a kick out of my misfortune. “You have to walk to Santiago, not fly,” they cackled.