Gone with el viento

You’re always on my mind. That was the name of the 20 minute play that I saw in the basement of a lively tapas bar. There were 6 or 7 other people watching in the tiny, stone room of a basement as three madrileños acted out a scene in a record store. Microteatro, they call it.

Afterwards, some friends and I visited a wine bar and acquainted ourselves with Róbert, the 20 something wine connoisseur bartender. At 12 AM on a Wednesday night, we were the only ones left, sipping organic wine on the second floor amongst thousands of bottles of Rioja and Ribera, practicing Spanish.

This weekend I visited my Dad in Shrewsbury, England. My uncle, Niel, and my cousin, Danny, spent Friday night with us, making pizza and playing Zug um Zug, a German board game. On Saturday, my dad showed me his hometown in Halkyn, Wales and around the ancient Roman city of Chester.

The cuz Danny, daddio, me, and our homemade pizza!

On Tuesday night, Marisol and I decided to make arroz con leche (rice pudding) with the Thermomix — a magical kitchen appliance coming soon to the US thanks to the team at ROI Up! We set the timer to 40 minutes and wandered out of the kitchen to watch a “how to make a carrot cake with Thermomix” video. “How easy!” we boasted. We returned to the kitchen to find a sloshy, mushy concoction of milk and rice. Not even Cloe would eat it. It didn’t take us long to discover that I had misplaced the butterfly whisk in the blade. Alas, we had a good laugh and resolved to try again soon.

Thursday I saw a magic show in a small bar in Lavapies, terrified the whole time that the magician would call on me to assist with one of his tricks. “Guapo” he asked the audience to chant about him, followed by a shrill chuckle. He was a quirky one.

Danielle Barney visited this weekend! Amy and I showed her all around town until my walk sported a slight limp. We went to a cave bar that night where we broke a hanging sign and met some ‘nosy’ friends from Texas, Germany, Portugal. On Saturday we shopped at Zara (when with Dani…) and ate mandarines and muffins in the Parque del Retiro. We all ate “pollo Pile” and lentils for lunch with my host mom and Chloe.

Dani visits Madrid!!

On Thursday night, my pals and I set out on a mission: tapas and a VIP art show. Jacobo had met this artist, Papu, sporting a shock of white hair, who invited us to a private showing of his art, in all of it’s roundness and blunt phallicness. We gave “dos besos” and talked and drank copas and copas of wine.

Papu’s art show (see the shock of white hair?)

Admiring and laughing about the art all the while. We called ourselves the “buenas leches”. In Spain, people say “mala leche,” which translates to bad milk, when someone makes a mistake or is in a bad mood or for a multitude of reasons, all summing up to negativity. Well, we decided to be the buenas leches. By the end of the night, after singing “Lo mejor de mi vida eres tu” a cappella style in front of a chino, we concluded that we had officially peaked as individuals in society.

Our new “gatos” friends

The next morning we flocked to Toledo, renowned as the city that forged the swords in The Lord Of the Rings. We drank summer wine, ate marzipan, toured churches, gazed at El Greco, and scaled a mountain.

Scaling mountains and starting trends in Toledo

The next morning. That’s how I should start every paragraph..

We were on a bus, the sun rising on our backs, as we drove to the famous wine region of Ribera del Duero. Where the wine is rich and full and costs 6 euro a bottle. We visited Lerma afterwards, a medieval town with a population of 2,000 amidst endless stretches of brown and green.

Wine tasting
The sole inhabitants of Lerma

We wandered down hilly, cobbled streets between age-stained houses and ate morcilla (blood sausage) in the local watering hole.

That night my friend had a small gathering at a house that he was sitting for in the Alcobendas neighborhood of Madrid where every house has a gate and a security guard. Apparently David Beckham used to have a house there as well. We rode a Vespa, made pasta, sang the American anthem and “Hey Jude,” played mini gulf, lit a fire, and drank Crianza that I had bought at the vineyard that day. When we ambled out of bed the next morning we made scrambled eggs and bacon and lounged by the pool for hours and hours.

Lounging in Alcobendas

The next Saturday I went to Salamanca — the Spanish “college town”. We met Lucia’s mom who graduated from the University of Salamanca and her old friend from the town, and they gave us an official tour — starting with the old city hall and the garden where Calisto and Melibea first met in La Celestina and ending with the old church, spotting a hidden frog in the engravings, allowing us to graduate on time.

On Wednesday my host mom invited three of my friends over for a small dinner party. We sat in the dining room for the first time, the coffee table’s surface invisible beneath plates of empanadas, jamón iberico, tortillas, and bread. Spanish hits playing softly in the background, gradually increasing in volume as the wine diminished.

I think I’ve done a poor job conveying time thus far in my posts. Everything here happens very quickly, so I’m still trying to keep up. I find time to write when I’m traveling — on my morning or afternoon commute to work, on a cramped seat on Ryanair, a bus through the south of Italy (right now). But, just so you know, all of the above occurred throughout mid-February and early March.

The rest of March consisted of airports, trains, taxis, hostels, old friends, and new friends. On March 12, Amy and I went to Dublin, our plane full of study abroaders fulfilling an item on their bucket list: spending St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland. Reunited with my friends from school (shoutout to Danielle & Talia), I spent the weekend roaming the Temple Bar district, drinking copious amounts of Guinness, and pretending to be from Galway. And touring the LinkedIn office in Dublin (shoutout to Ciaran!).

Temple Bar with the gals

The next week, we took another Ryanair flight to Porto, Portugal. Worldwide exporter of Port wine. We stayed in Martha’s Airbnb penthouse overlooking a square where a man and the soft tunes of his saxophone drifted up to wake us each morning. Porto’s streets wound up and down hills, leading to enchanting 13th century castles, train stations decorated with ceramic blue walls, and a bridge designed by Gustav Eiffel.

Porto

As we meandered, we noticed that every other building we passed was abandoned — weeds sprouting from the cracked wood of the doors and windows, the discolored paint that once adorned the homes with liveliness now moaning with poverty and desperation. We danced salsa and ate egg-creme filled pastries (pastel de nata) for breakfast and repeated “obrigada” all day. We ate bacalhau and franceshina and cow stomach and sardines. On our way back from dinner, we stopped along the river to admire an older man playing fado (traditional Portuguese music) to a handful of empty tables. We stayed for two songs and gave him a hearty round of applause and an "obrigada" - thank you in Portuguese.

We went back out that night to a street full of libating youngins. After a few drinks at the bar, we notice the same guitar player from the restaurant. We tell him how great he was and talk about life in Portugal and why there are so many abandoned buildings — all in Spanish. Then, he offers to take us to another bar where we can play guitar (we had a few artists of our own in the group, s/o to Holden & Fritz). So, along we go. He stops outside of the bar to roll a cigarette which he shares with us before we enter. He walks right up to the bartender and returns to our table with a guitar, followed shortly after by the bartender with five beers on the house. He starts strumming, and then singing, and pretty soon we’re all clapping and drumming with him, along with everyone else in the bar. We play a few American songs, he plays el fado, traditional Portuguese music, and so the night proceeds.

Our fado friend

Until he stands and introduces “Maria Fiore”. Still standing, he sings and fiercely strums, and then he starts spinning the guitar and flipping it around and doing all sorts of tricks. Everyone was cheering and laughing and singing along.

We felt famous by association. And we had officially peaked again.

The next day we were on a train to Lisbon, the coast of Porto gliding by and behind us. We drop our bags and set out to find a restaurant. We’re guided to a brightly lit local dive with octopus and steak tantalizing us as it sizzled on the grill. A group of three friends sitting at the table next to us begin to explain a traditional, and now illegal, Portuguese drink (the equivalent of our moonshine). We try theirs, order our own, then join tables with — David and Natalia, psychologists, and Popo, a chef. Natalia and Popo run a health food restaurant together called Green, they’ve been friends for ages, they tell us.

David, Natalia, Popo, and us

We bar hop with them in Bairro Alto, getting traditional shots at a lesbian bar and then heading to a 90s disco. Somewhere along the way we find a grate blowing air and we dance along it as other street wanderers join. We bid our dear friends goodnight at 6 AM and conclude that we have actually peaked for the final time. We can only be allowed so many, you know.

The next day, we head to Sintra, land of Disney castles and scenery reminiscent of the Beauty and the Beast. We meander along its enchanting streets exchanging all the unfunny jokes we could recall. Oh, and I ran into two BU kids from my Stats and CORE class last year in the Dominos waiting for our train back to Lisbon.

Sintra
Paisaje shot over Sintra

That night we ate dinner at a prompt 12 PM and then met up with Martha, our Airbnb host from Porto, at a hip indie bar with a bare white wall decorated only with Robert Frost’s famous lines in gold: “and miles to go before I sleep / and miles to go before I sleep”. We bought Martha white sangria for her hospitality and met her Scottish husband, a fellow American guest of Porto, and her indie film friend.

We wound up at a bar where we had to whisper because of Lisbon’s alcohol law — the bartender kept “oy”ing us. We were transported back to the prohibition era.

We ate at pastelaria de belém for breakfast the next day. 10 of them between three of us. We also met Americans later that day who went to Brown and were traveling to Porto after Lisbon. They were staying in an Airbnb — Martha’s. Again, el mundo pequeño.

One last goodbye to Portugal and then we were on another train — An overnight train, and upright seats, with the lights flickering on and off as people boarded and left. I went to work straight from the train station when we arrived in Madrid.

Never will I take an overnight train again.

In front of the original Golden Gate bridge
Goodbye, Lisbon
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