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Defining Home: "Livable" vs "Visitable"

Monday, February 10, 2014

One of the things that I love the most about Madrid is how it reminds me of Seattle. Now before you think I’m certifiably insane, let me clarify that Madrid is the polar opposite of Seattle in many ways. This I can attest to every single day – both the good and the bad. What stands out to me the most is how both Seattle and Madrid are the perfect "livable" cities for me.

Both cities lack the typical sights and attractions that appeal to tourists and newcomers alike. They’re underrated. Sure, there are many notable sights worth seeing, like Pike Place Market and the Museo del Prado, but in no way do they compare to places like Rome or New York City. Truth be told, I would feel particularly overwhelmed – and most likely miserable – if I were to live in one of the aforementioned cities. They're beautiful places that I love visiting, but could I actually make a life there for the longterm? No way.

What Madrid and Seattle may lack in attractions that give certain places a “top-of-the-bucket-list” appeal, they make up for in community and character. I don’t feel insignificant in Seattle or Madrid. Both cities have welcoming vibes that invite you to create a home there. While they are technically big cities, neither actually feel that big. Madrid and Seattle have agreeable personalities, and I’ve been able to settle down in both places.

Although technically I am living in one of the largest cities in Europe, Madrid often feels like a small town to me.

When people come to visit me in Madrid, I want to warn them that it’s not like Paris, London or Barcelona, where you feel like you couldn’t fit in all of the sights even if you were there for two weeks. Much like Seattle, the main tourist attractions in Madrid can be seen in a day and a half, two days maximum. The real magic of Madrid lies in the unconventional tourist experiences, like people watching in Parque del Buen Retiro. Drinking tinto de verano in a sunny plaza. Taking several coffee breaks throughout the day to refuel in charming cafés. Wandering through quaint neighborhoods free of tourists, stopping to admire the architecture and observe the bustling streets. Stopping by the local market for a glass of wine and a tapa or two, even if it’s not lunchtime. This is the lifestyle of Spain, and it should be celebrated accordingly.

Naturally, drinking tinto de verano in the middle of the day is part of the ideal Madrid experience.

To the traveler who is constantly on the go, all of this could seem like a royal waste of time. I’ve encountered many travelers who are disappointed by Madrid because they compare it to Barcelona. What they don’t realize is that the drastically different energies of both places simply cannot be compared. If you were to visit Seattle right after visiting NYC with the same expectations for both cities, you would probably feel disappointed too.

Now, it would be unfair to generalize and proclaim that everyone is just like me. While living in New York City would seem like a nightmare to me, some of my very best friends live there and thrive off its energy. While I am in sync with Madrid, I have several good friends here who are eager to move to smaller towns in Spain next year. Four years ago I clashed with Cádiz and was miserable for five months, but here in Madrid I’ve lived in harmony for almost six months. Everybody vibes with different cities. Your compatibility with a place can profoundly affect your experience of living there.

When I first arrived in Madrid I came across this quote, and it’s taken me until now to fully internalize its relevance. Yet, now I feel as if it has accurately summed up my life in Madrid thus far:

“Porque Madrid, en realidad, no es nada especial. No tiene un gran río. Ni apenas rascacielos. Ni canales, ni lagos. Ni gloriosas ruinas. Ni mar. A Madrid le faltan muchas cosas. Pero tiene la gente por las calles. El rincón inesperado. La variedad. El contraste. La animación constante. Y sus costumbres. Vale la pena levantarse temprano – solo por una vez – para vivir un día la vida de Madrid.”

"Because Madrid, in reality, is nothing special. It doesn't have a great river. Nor does it have many skyscrapers. Or canals or lakes. Or glorious ruins. Or the sea. Madrid lacks a lot of things. But it has people in the streets. The unexpected street corners. The variety. The contrast. Constant liveliness. And it has its customs. It's worth getting up early - just once - to live the life of Madrid for one day."

Madrid may lack certain things, but it sure is beautiful.

What defines home for you? Are there certain cities that you clash with, or are extremely compatible with? How do you differentiate places that you like visiting versus places that you can see yourself living in?
10 comments on "Defining Home: "Livable" vs "Visitable""
  1. That is by far the best quote that could ever exist about Madrid! And as you know, I completely agree. xx

  2. I agree! I like that Madrid isn't the most touristy city. I was first living in Barcelona and it was just too international and too much for me. Madrid is much easier to live-in and a local rather than always viewed as a foreign visitor.

  3. So true!! and what's funny is so many people ask me what my favorite city is and I always respond with "to live in or visit" because I have different favorite cities for each! ps. that first pic of you is amazing!! so pretty!

  4. I agree, Madrid is super liveable and the best of it is what you mentioned above....a cafe con leche, a tinto de verano...some people watching. It´s simple, but it is fabulous it its own way.

    I also love the quote. Perfect!

  5. New follower here.... Just added some Spain bloggers to my feed. I recently came back to the States after my first trip to Spain. My boyfriend of 1 year was born and raised in Madrid, so we were there staying with his family. I fell in love with the city for the exact reason you described in this post. I honestly cannot wait to go back (again... and again... and again).

  6. This is amazing, well summed up - livable vs visitable . I feel much the same way about Auckland. Good place to live, not so much for visitors. You can see the CBD in a day or two but you've really got to get out into the surrounding areas to make the most of it!

  7. What you have to say about Madrid is exactly why I fell in love with it when I visited years ago. I loved that it didn't have a million touristy things that I just had to do, I liked wondering about the streets and discovering things on my own. It has such a great vibe! :)

  8. I stumbled across your blog via La Mia Vita, and I am so glad I did! I lived in Valencia, Spain for eight months during college, and I'm always dreaming about returning! And you've captured Madrid perfectly - it's a city that thrives on the appreciation of the beautiful and little things in life.

  9. This is so true! Livable vs Visitable is such a real thing. I loved Madrid for the exact same reasons you listed. That quote is spot on.