Now that I've found an apartment and started my job as an English teacher (more to come on that later!), it's finally starting to all sink in. I live in Madrid.
You guys. I live here. This ridiculously gorgeous city is my home now. I'm still having difficulty wrapping my mind around that fact, because at times it seems too good to be true.
If you know me at all or have followed this blog in the past, you probably know that three years ago I studied abroad in Cádiz for five months... and hated it. Okay, "hate" is an exaggeration, because in actuality Cádiz is a stunning city with gorgeous beaches, vivacious locals, picturesque Spanish architecture and hands down the prettiest sunsets I've ever seen in my life. I'm actually dying to go back for a visit. But that's the thing - for me, Cádiz was the ideal town to visit, not live in.
Cádiz was way too small for me; at times, I felt claustrophobic and suffocated. I couldn't understand a single word of el accento andaluz, also known as the world's most confusing Spanish accent. I rushed into studying abroad when I wasn't ready, and as the youngest person in my program, I cried every single day because I was so homesick. (Yes, I just confessed that to the entire world. No shame, folks.) My first host mom was an Franco-worshipping psychopath, and my second host family wasn't much better either. At this point in my life I had no idea that I had Celiac disease, so I was getting violently ill after every meal and had no energy to partake in the vibrant Spanish culture.
I had many romanticized and idealized notions about life in Spain. When reality fell short of my expectations, I felt disappointed and depressed. It was easier for me to project my dissatisfaction onto Cádiz as a whole than deal with it myself.
Coming to Madrid, I was prepared for the worst. I anticipated my first few weeks in Madrid to be filled with unshakable homesickness, frustration with a lack of gluten free food, an inability to understand the Spanish spoken here, loneliness and culture shock.
Thank God I was wrong. In fact, I could not have been more mistaken.
First of all, the Spanish spoken here is beautiful. As in, I can actually understand people. And when I respond in Spanish, they understand me. What a concept! The best part is when I tell them that I studied abroad in Cádiz and they respond, "How did you understand them there?! Even we can't understand them!" Yes. Instant validation.
As for the food, Madrid is surprisingly gluten free friendly. Everybody here knows what Celiac disease is, and it's awesome. Initially, I was shocked. Gluten free beer at normal bars? Gluten free burger buns at McDonalds? Custom made gluten free tapas? Yeah, okay. I can deal with this.
Madrid has a vibe that I naturally connect with. It's not too big, but it's not too small. There is always something to see, do or experience - but there are also plenty of opportunities to relax and just be. There are endless bars and restaurants to try, world class museums to visit, beautiful parks to stroll through, eccentric neighborhoods to explore, and friendly people to connect with - Spaniards and expats alike. Dare I say, it's everything I could want in a city. (Minus a beach. But let's not get too picky, shall we?)
Considering this is my third time living in a foreign country, I'm well aware that there is always a "honeymoon phase" of moving abroad, filled with euphoria and blind infatuation with one's new city. (I remember when I first arrived in Cádiz I boasted, "I'm never leaving! I want to stay here for the rest of my life! I'm like, totally a Spaniard!" Little did I know I'd be counting down the days until I could come home in triple digit numbers. "102 days to go, you guys!") This time around, I'm trying not to fall victim to that naive idealism, I'm just trying to take it in realistically and mindfully. As much as I love Madrid, I am fully capable of acknowledging its flaws and my own personal frustrations with certain aspects of the Spanish culture. (For instance, excessive PDA in metro stations. Why do some people find that necessary?? It smells bad, everyone is staring at you, and it's arguably the least romantic place in the world. Take it outside, amigos.)
This year will inevitably have its ups and downs, but it's becoming increasingly clear that Madrid is a good fit for me. I am really happy here. I'm talking about that natural, genuine happiness that you don't even have to think about or force upon yourself. It's just there.