My first night in Madrid found me alone at a bar across the street from my hotel drinking white wine. I loved going to bars alone; it was absolutely prime for people watching. I sat reading the paper, and laughed at the amount of time the U.S. came up and how we were portrayed (sort of like a giant island of Donald Trumps).
I guess Madrid was playing a soccer game, because a man outside was dressed like a chicken, and he and his group of rowdy companions ordered beer after beer after beer after beer. I had no other explanation for this behavior. I would have to learn that soccer was to Spanish men as football was to the boys back home.
“Doh-bless cervezas por fuh-vahr,” a voice next to me at the bar struggled in broken Spanish. I smiled, not at her lack of lingual prowess but at her obviously strong accent of something else behind it.
“Where are you from?” I turned, asking in English.
“We’re from Ireland,” she smiled back, “we’re here in Spain and we’re going to be teacher assistants.”
That explained the other accent.
After three glasses of wine and a sample of each complimentary tapa (because your alcohol comes with free food in Spain, U.S. take notes), I found myself satisfied, thoroughly exhausted, and asleep promptly by 10pm.
We had a good group. There was no awkward getting-to-know-you phase. Everyone clicked pretty well. Personalities were strewn across the board from the shy and timid to the “beer at 10am” types, but the chemistry between what had previously been 15 strangers was eminent.
Our first day was breakfast down the street (where I was blessed with Spanish tortilla and orange juice, my new addiction), a rest, and then we met up to take a walking tour of some of Madrid’s more prominent features. We had to be awake and ready to get on the bus to Toledo at 9am the next day, so we all planned to go out, but to take it easy.
These things did not happen.
We started with a hotel room pregame and a game of Kings Cup played with what might arguably be the worst wine I’ve ever tasted. But, in Spain’s defense, it was three-dollar wine from the corner store. However, not in Spain’s defense, it was ten times worse than any box of Franzia I’ve ever tasted.
We meandered down the street looking for a bar that seemed interesting enough to enter. We were beckoned into a nearly empty bar with promises of free beer. Not being a beer drinker, I ordered a tequila shot to join the ranks of my peers. Now I’m not sure if they took this as a challenge, or if what happened next would’ve happened anyways, but suddenly free beer turned to rounds of shots and everyone was much, much drunker than they intended.
We came to Spain knowing full well binge drinking was not the Spanish culture. However, coming from the U.S. where a shot costs more than my life is worth, being able to get three servings of alcohol (beer, wine, shot, etc) for under $7 had everyone pretty excited.
We ended up in a Plaza—the name escapes me now—and a voice beckoned from the shadows.
“Hello! You like to dance?”
We exchanged glances, and whether it was the booze or the first night confidence, we followed this random man into a nightclub, tickets for a free sangria in hand. We danced around to the same playlist I used to hear at my middle school dances, buying more drinks, making more noise. And then, grace of God that she is, Sloan Cinelli came out of damn nowhere.
At 1am, someone wisely reminded us of our waking hour, and we headed home.
There is something to be said for an American college students’ ability to fully function through debilitating hangovers. Not speaking personally, in this case. I woke up feeling mediocre. But I would like to take a moment to appreciate my peers who puke and rally on a regular basis—you are warriors of your own liver-killing kind.
We boarded the bus to Toledo at 10am. An hour later, the view from the window was breathtaking. Toledo was the kind of beautiful that almost made you emotional. I don’t know how to describe it, and pictures would never do it justice. It just was.
We walked all day. I wrote as often as I could. Pen to paper, every thought that came into my head, like it might kill me to be anything less than honest. Sometimes, it felt that was the only way I could be.
We went to two churches, and I was haunted by something different in each one: in the first, the cathedral, a gigantic painting of Saint Christopher. In the second, a statue of Vírgen de Guadalupe who seemed like she could see right through me. In the cathedral, I had wandered off from the group, enchanted by some tombs. I found myself alone, but not panicked. I wandered around the cathedral alone, without the drone of the tour guide in my ears, making up my own stories. It was an eerie calm…a calm I felt guilty feeling, because I had walked away from the Church a long time ago. I saw a nun, and considered asking her to pray for me.
I don’t think it would help.
I couldn’t sleep anymore. I had gotten three hours the night before, and maybe a forty-minute nap. I was learning to run on fumes and, while impressive for someone who used to barely function on nine hours, I knew I was destroying my body.
That night, we had a dinner of tapas with our professor, Dr. Hiltpold. I tortured the boy next to me with stupid questions, and the one on my other side probably with my mere presence. It didn’t matter to me, I merely enjoyed the game of it all.
We found ourselves in an empty karaoke bar. We had all be under the impression we would only be staying there briefly to get drinks But, several songs later (including, but not limited to: Don’t Stop Believin’, Drops of Jupiter, and Smack That), we had one of the most fun nights I’d had in a while.
At 3am, I realized exactly why most people hate Americans. Eight of us walked over a mile to a 24-hour McDonald’s. Drunken slurs of broken Spanish asking for McNuggets, euros dropped on the floor, and the sheer madness of drunchies tortured everyone around us, except for one laughing woman who seemed to enjoy it as much as we did.