Tag Archives: accidental adventurer

How to Adventure in an Accidental Manner

I chose the name Accidental Adventurer for the blog shortly after my college graduation, when the inevitable stream of questions started up.

“So what now?”

“I’m headed to camp to work as a horse wrangler for the summer and in the fall I move to Spain.”

“Have you ever worked with horses before?”

“No.”

“Do you speak Spanish?”

“No.”

The next question is easy to guess: how did you get from where you are to where you’re going? And the answer: purely by accident.

portlandmorn

The upside to always traveling (besides the fact that you’re always traveling) is that you make friends everywhere. So when I needed a place to stay in Portland for the night, I hit up a friend from Spain who’s from the area who texted her friend who let me crash on their living room floor and wake up to this view.

As a kid, I always knew I wanted to travel, I just figured it’d be a little more planned out: I thought I’d spend months saving and counting down days and then I’d go for maybe a weekend and then come home to my normal life.

I never planned on moving to Spain (as evidenced by the fact that I promptly forgot all of my high school Spanish before I’d even finished with the class). Before I’d landed up in Spain, I’d been in the process of applying for the Peace Corps, planning to be placed in some African country where I could put my years of college French to practice. And then, seemingly by accident and with no planning at all, I was headed to Spain.

A year later, I came back, torn between wanting things to be normal and not knowing what that even looked like. After a month in Texas, for lack of anything better to do, I moved out to California. And four months later, for lack of anywhere better to go, I’m moving back to Texas.

San Francisco says goodbye with a beautiful sunrise over the bay.

San Francisco says goodbye with a beautiful sunrise over the bay.

“But what are you going to do when you get back?”

Hell if I know. But, like the time that my aunt and I went through the usual post-grad script and I explained my plans and she asked me the follow-up questions and then snorted and said, “So how are you going to do this?” (this being ride horses and speak Spanish), and I said, “I don’t know, I’ll figure it out I guess,” I guess I’m just gonna figure out what happens next.

I never planned these adventures, not the way I imagined as a kid when I thought I would have more than a few months or weeks to process my spur-of-the-moment decision (“I want to go to Montana.” “I’m moving to Spain.” “I’d like to be a horse wrangler.” “I need to quit my job.”) but they happened and, despite the outcome, good or bad, I’ve got to figure it out.

theroadnorth

The road north.

One of the good things that has come out of my sudden decision to depart from California was my equally sudden and equally emphatic decision to spend a week in the north before I relocate to the South. Moments are I realized, “I have to quit my job,” I realized, “I’m going to go to Seattle.”

So here I am, on the floor of my college friend Caraline’s room, day 1 of a week long adventure that is entirely accidental. And in a week, a drive back to Texas. And then a week after that, a move to Dallas. And then a week later or maybe two or maybe ten, another plan and another adventure.

hwy5

See you in Seattle!

If you’d like to follow along with the adventure in progress, be sure to check out the old Insta, lapetitemadelyne, or any of my other forms of social media, links to which can be found on the Contact page.

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How to Settle

I’m not good at dating. I’m impatient and I’m bad at bullshit. If I had things my way, I’d skip straight past infatuation and dive right into the staying-home-in-sweatpants stage of the relationship. I want to settle.

The key word is want. I want to settle, but I’m just not sure I’m made for it.

I’m on the road again and it makes me feel like myself for the first time in months. Traveling is my drug and I never want to give it up.

#drinkingourwaytoDenver begins at Sierra Nevada Brewery

#drinkingourwaytoDenver begins at Sierra Nevada Brewery

I’d like to formally apologize for the seeming rootlessness of my life as documented via Instagram and Facebook. I do have a job and a home (of sorts) and sometimes responsibilities. It’s just that sometimes those responsibilities involve forsaking all other responsibilities in the name of travel.

On Thursday last, I and a boy band from Colorado took the world’s smallest commercial airplane from San Francisco to Chico, CA where Kristen collected me from Chico’s one-room airport and we headed straight for the Sierra Nevada Brewery to brainstorm possible road trip hashtags. #DrinkingourwaytoDenver was born over a brewery tour and the fact that we both enjoy a nice adult beverage (or two or three or five) at the end of a day.

On Friday, after ignoring several alarms and one shattered rear window later (Papa Dufour’s, not our’s), we hit the road. Some highlights of the long drive through NorCal, Nevada, and a portion of Utah include history lessons (Louisiana was purchased from France and the Alamo is a must-see in San Antonio), chats about nipples, and some very enthusiastic singing of the ‘America the Beautiful’ at the sight of some purple mountains majesty.

Nevada

Those are some real, live purple mountains majesty. Ignore the fact that this picture seems to be taken out the driver’s side window while moving at high speeds.

By Friday night, we were in Park City, UT at Kristen’s uncle’s house. On a whim, I texted a friend from Montana who I knew spent winters in Utah working for Deer Valley. In a surprise turn of events, even though it was out of season, she was living there and we met Saturday morning for breakfast.

Later, as Kris drove me to the airport in Denver, I reflected on how grateful I was to have friends who travel. It’d been two years since I’d last seen Mel but it was like I’d only left Montana the day before (which sometimes it still feels like). In high school or college, you have friends based on proximity–class, extracurriculars, history–but as you get older and get to choose who you keep in your life and who you lose touch with, you realize that distance is irrelevant. If it’s meant to last, it’ll last. So seeing Mel, who from her tattoos to her kick ass, take-no-prisoners, suffer-no-fools attitude, inspired me all summer, after two years with all of my new tattoos and kick ass, take-no-prisoners, suffer-no-fools attitude I’ve been slowly and surely developing felt like coming full circle.

aspens in Utah

Hiking on a mountain in Utah. “Are these aspens?” “I don’t know but I still have reception; why don’t we look it up?” Conclusion: these are, in fact, aspens. 

If you didn’t know, I’m casually afraid of heights. I quantify my fear with ‘casually’ because it’s not something that gets brought up within the first five minutes (or sometimes the first five years) within meeting me. It’s something that I myself often forget, right up until I’m standing at the top of a turf-covered hill in shorts and sawed-off skis with my PE teacher holding a fire hose shouting, “Just go already!” And then I think, “Oh, right, I HATE heights.”

So as Kristen and I get on the ski lift to take us to the top of the mountain for our hike on Saturday, I mention, oh so casually, “By the way, I hate heights.”

What this really means is that she has to start talking me through the whole getting-off-the-lift process five minutes before we arrive because it bears repeating (“What do you mean I just stand up? What if I can’t? What do you mean I just walk off? What if I don’t? What if it knocks me over? What if I stand up too soon? What if I die?”) and it takes some convincing to get me to let go of the bar so that we can raise it in preparation for our descent.

And Kristen, the sweetheart, doesn’t even tell me to shut up (as I totally would’ve if I was in her situation) when, as she tries to convince me that the ski lift will slow down for me to step off the ski lift without having to jump and roll, as one would exit a moving vehicle, the ski lift fails to slow down and I start to, with a slowly increasing volume insist, “It’s not slowing down, Kristen, it’s not going to slow down. Kristen, it’s not slowing down. Oh God, Kristen, look, it isn’t slowing down. It isn’t going to slow down.”

Spoiler alert: it does slow down, we get off, the ski lift operator keeps from laughing until we’ve safely exited the platform, and then Kristen and I hike back down the mountain.

Utah, Ualright

Utah, Ualright. (See what I did there?!)

Over breakfast, Mel casually mentions that she has an extra room in her house for rent and she’d love to recommend me for a job at the resort where she works in the winters. Her offer sticks in my mind all through our hike, all along the drive through the rest of Utah and into Denver, on my flight to Texas, as I’m sitting here in my hometown’s public library writing this blog post.

And why shouldn’t I give up five months of my life to live in Utah and figure out how to function in snow? I stayed home from another year teaching abroad to give this whole “settling down” thing a try and, so far, it’s limped along with mixed reviews.

But–as when I wrapped up a summer in Montana, as when I contemplated a nannying gig in Italy or seven months teaching in France–I have to wonder where does it stop? If I keep saying yes to five months here and a summer there and another seven months somewhere new, at what point do I say no? Because when it’s Montana, Utah, France, Hawaii, why would I want to say no?

cloud shadows

“Do you ever think about cloud shadows and just how dang neat they are?” -an actual question asked by an actual person, i.e. me, quoted verbatim

I think, maybe like dating, I’m just not built for settling down. Some people are doctors and some are lawyers and some live in houses and some live out of their parents’ guest bedrooms in the middle months between seasonal jobs.

Maybe I’m asking for now, maybe I’m asking for future reference, but how do people do it? How do they settle? How do they silence that voice inside of them telling them that the next adventure is over that mountain, waiting in line with the taxis at a new airport, at the bottom of just one more beer at the next bar in an unexplored city’s downtown?

Because society needs travelers just as much as they need doctors and lawyers. Okay, maybe not just as much, but still, they’re pretty important. You need people to explore and to ask questions and to push boundaries and to boldly go where no human has gone before.

So maybe this is my part in the universe? Maybe this aversion to standing still is my lot in life and my cosmic purpose and all that jazz. Or maybe I’ll settle down tomorrow. Everything is uncertain but any and all suggestions and advice would be fully appreciated, from travelers and settlers alike.

beer in Denver

Cheers to the end of the road!

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Ex-Pat Games

In honor of my flight to Italy being cancelled THREE DAYS before I was supposed to leave, while I’m scrambling to find some travel alternatives, I thought I’d enlighten you on some games that us young ex-pats like to play whilst abroad.

How Can I Get There for Very Cheap Game

Objectives: Get there for very cheap.

Rules: Pay little to no money.

Directions: Employ every method you have in your arsenal: Skyscanner.com, Hostels.com, Alsa, BlahBlahCar, basic human interaction. Fly Ryanair. Buy a suitcase that fits their stringent luggage requirements, then load that baby down and take it everywhere. Speak the language when necessary, play the mute card when necessary.

Be flexible. The cheapest flights are usually the ones that no one wants, i.e. early in the morning, or too late to make sense. Prepare for 4 AM check-ins.

And, if your flight gets cancelled three days before you’re supposed to leave for a week in Italy and the only other available flight means that you have to leave TOMORROW, book it.

Guess What Nationality I Am Game

Objective: Guess my nationality. (I’m like the Lily’s dad from HIMYM of board game titles)

Rules: Don’t ask, just assume.

Directions: Identify the person as non-Spaniard, guess every nationality that doesn’t make sense and then some. I have been identified as French, German, some kind of Scandinavian, British, and Australian multiple times, but never American. Have you heard my accent?

Sunday Night Dinner Game, Or, Alternatively, The Saturday Night Mercadona Game

Objective: Feed yourself on Sunday.

Rules: Everything is closed on Sunday.

Directions: Depending on your plans for the weekend affects how you play this game. If you stay in your hometown, then choose the Saturday night version. If you’ve spent the weekend away and are only returning on Sunday night, please select the Sunday night version.

SATURDAY NIGHT VERSION: Lounge about your room/apartment/village until the last possible minute. Realize that the grocery closes in 30 minutes. Grab your shopping bag and wallet, make a dash to the Dia/Mercadona/Lidl/Carrefour of your choice. Have absolutely no plan so that, when you arrive at the store, you buy things like spicy mustard and chicken seasoning, but nothing that makes sense like cheese and water and bread. Wait for Sunday, wonder what you’ve done and why you have nothing to eat.

SUNDAY NIGHT VERSION: Return to your home, collapse in your bed and lay there with your computer propped on your boobs watching SNL until hunger prompts you from your nest. Realize that you have nothing edible or easily prepared. Create a masterpiece that would make your drunk, college-self proud. Recent hits include:

-egg, beef, pepper, onion, rice, or, as I later realized, essentially a breakfast taco

-marinera, greek yogurt, and mayonnaise for pasta sauce (created by Laurel Hess)

-toast and ali-oli

Meet the American Game

Objectives: Introduce an American to all of your friends and family

Rules: Must be Spanish.

Directions: If you’re the American, you don’t really do much. Besitos, smile, basic Spanish greetings. Answer the same questions over and over. This is actually usually a really fun, if exhausting game. People are so nice and, usually, considerate enough to speak slow enough for you to follow. Sometimes, they tell the same story over and over, and if they’re 83 year old Spanish grandpas named Pablo and the story is, “En ingles, me llamo Peter,” well, then, it’s just downright adorable.

Street-Crossing Game

Objectives: Cross a street without a crosswalk sign.

Rules: Don’t die?

Directions: Prepare yourself. Bounce on the balls of your feet. Look left, look right, even if it’s a one-way street. Be confident, swagger if possible. Move so slowly that it appears you’re about to be hit by that car that just stepped on the gas to hit you, let it graze your leg, leap the last few inches to the other side, triumphant. It’s a rite of passage and you’re not really Spanish until you recklessly cross a street.

This game is, obviously, played in other countries to varying degrees. Check your local listings for appropriate rules and directions.

backpack

My sidekick for the next week, apparently starting tomorrow.

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“Not all who wander are lost…”

On my very first day in Huercal, my home for the next nine months, I got lost. I was trying to find the school where I would be teaching so that I could meet the principal. I followed the directions given to me by Google maps using the address sent to me by my new principal and I landed up maybe 20 minutes from where I was supposed to be: Huercal-Overa, the pueblo so tiny that Google Maps doesn’t even bother getting it right. It turns out that the street that I was on, Guillermo Reina, is actually 2 different streets. Let me repeat that: there are 2 different 35 Calle Guillermo Reinas in my town. I happened to stumble upon the one that was someone’s private residence.

So I decamped to the cafe across the street where I bought a croissant coated in sugar for 40 centimos and bummed off their wifi to try and communicate with my future employer. I waited for about an hour and finished The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, started and finished the short story Eve in Hollywood by Amor Towles, and began another, Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple. I bought a pizza baguette and gave up on hearing back from my principal (later, I found out that she came into the cafe only ten minutes after I had left. I was sitting underneath her apartment and she received my e-mail and stopped to pick me up on her way from lunch. The shop attendants informed her that, yes, there had been a blonde American waiting for some time but that, unfortunately, Laura had just missed me).

I strolled down the imposter Guillermo Reina and found a British goods shop where, miracle of miracles, they spoke English and sold Dr. Pepper. I kind of lurked by the pastry case just marveling in my good luck and letting the accents wash over me. I bought a bottle of water and a Dr. Pepper to go with my pizza, paid for my purchases, and left again.

Unknowingly, I found my way to the real Calle Guillermo Reina, passed the school that was, by now, baffled about how they lost one American girl in a town that only has 18,000 people (less than half of the total number of students at my alma mater and I still ran into a surprising number of familiar faces within the space of a day), and found a park. Or a zoo. After 4 months, I’m still unclear which it is. Locals just call it the park with the animals but it also involves pens and recently open a bar and I think they might be trying to add a water feature.

I found a park bench in the sun (I’m practically a lizard) and, in the space of a few hours, finished Where’d You Go Bernadette?devoured my pizza and sipped my blissful way through a Dr. Pepper that, after Shiner Bock, is the drink of my people. I still had a lot of problems: I had nowhere to live, I didn’t speak the language, all of the friends I had made over the last 3 weeks had scattered to the far reaches of Andalucia, and I had just finished an amazing novel and had nothing to read next. But, sitting there, lost in a foreign country, I realized that I could see myself living there (which was good because I really didn’t have much of a choice).

Four months later, I go to that park as often as I can. I’ve written odes to that park and the peacocks that sneak up behind me, investigate what I’m writing, then shuffle along, leaving me with an increased heart rate and a sense of blessing for my unconventional editors.

DAY2park

Is it a zoo? Is it a park? Is it a bar? The answer is yes to all of these things!

I’m not saying that I’m not lost. In fact, most of the time, I am. That probably defeats the purpose of the quote and the prompt but I embrace my lost-ness for the accidental adventure that it is. My favorite thing to do in a new city is set out with a vague idea of where I’m going and then get lost along the way. Some of my best finds, my best stories, my best memories, have come from this method. No good or interesting story started with, “So I had the whole thing planned out and then nothing went wrong.”

Is it still considered being lost if you willing lead yourself astray? Looking back, I don’t think that I was lost. Sure, I had no clue what street, what park, what place I was in, but I think I was where I was supposed to be. When I’m feeling lost, I walk back to the park and sit in the sunshine and drink a Dr. Pepper and remind myself of the time that I knew that it was all going to be okay.

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2014

When I was a kid, my parents would take us to my grandparents house after mass on Sundays. My grandmother would supply the cake, then us kids would settle down in the kids room at the back of the house. My grandparents had a handful of movies that we watched with religious fervor: Mrs. DoubtfireLand Before Time 12, and 4Who Framed Roger Rabbit; and The Sound of Music .

Lest you get ahead of yourself, like my friend Kellie when I was retelling this story to her the other day, this is not about my lifelong love affair with The Sound of Music. This is about my sister’s lifelong love affair with The Sound of Music and my subsequent lifelong anti-love affair with The Sound of Music.

My older, tyrant of a sister (additional notes: my sister is not actually a tyrant. I actually love her quite a bit but, when we were younger, I did not always like her. On the plus side, nobody can get things done quite like Katie. On the negative side, nobody can get things done quite like Katie so, watch out.) loved The Sound of Music. As in, would fake illness just to be sent home from school just to watch The Sound of Music on my grandmother’s couch. In my remembering of this story, every Sunday (but in reality was more like four times out of the total of Sundays we spent at my grandparents’ house) she would commandeer the tiny shared television set to watch The Sound of Music. On principal, I refused to stay in the room. Consequently, I have never seen The Sound of Music.

This scandalizes my Sound of Music-loving friends and family (ironically enough, I seem to be acquainted with a large number of people who have an emotional investment in favor of this film). I’m not entirely ignorant; I’m aware of the essentials: Von Trapp family, Sister Julie Andrews sings in mountains, something about curtains? Everyone who hears this story then resolves to be the one who finally gets me to watch The Sound of Music and yet, somehow, it hasn’t happened. Why do you think that is, you suppose?

This is my theory: while knowing what I want has always been kind of a hazy area, I have always known what I don’t. I don’t want to watch The Sound of Music. I don’t want to be told what to do. I don’t want to live a life without choices. I don’t want to settle. I don’t want to waste these opportunities I’ve been given: the opportunity to travel, the opportunity to be have a family who loves and supports me no matter where I am, the opportunity to be in Dublin for Christmas and Paris for New Year’s and Spain for the year, the opportunity to know what I don’t want, the opportunity to be ME.

The next year is kind of scary. I’ll return to the States and I’ll have to figure out the next step. In between now and then, I’ve got to figure out where I want to travel. I’ve got to figure out how I’m going to pay for this travel. I’ve got some writing to finish and some books to read.

This is not a New Year’s Eve post, though it might seem like one given the timing, but, surprisingly, it isn’t. I don’t care if you read this on December 31st or January 1st or Labor Day. This is a post about knowing what you want and what you don’t and not knowing anything and knowing that the not-knowing is okay too. Find one thing you know and cling to it–I know what I don’t want–and keep that as your truth and live your life.

I know that I don’t want to ever live a life that feels untrue to myself. I know that I want to be a happy. These are my guiding principles. Everything else that comes after this falls naturally into line: family, faith, adventures, writing, boys, stories, good hair, horses, water, Chacos, pizza, Tumblr, language, words.

traveller's tree

This is a tree for me.

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Thankfulness

You’ve never experienced being thankful until you’re in a foreign country, you haven’t seen your family in three months, and someone shows up with a can of cranberries.

Once you sit down and it’s time for a round of “This year I’m thankful for…” someone always covers the basics in the first minute: family, food, friends, shelter, a job, etc, etc. The words are mostly true; at some point in the past year, I’m sure I’ve been thankful for my family, but usually, it’s just another thing I take for granted. Each year, I say the things I know I will get in trouble with my mother if I don’t. But this year my mother wasn’t there to judge and I still don’t think I’ve ever been half this thankful. You don’t really know thankfulness until you leave all that you love and all that is familiar and you start over in a foreign country with a foreign language and, after resigning yourself to the fact that this will be the first Thanksgiving in 22 years that you won’t have cranberries, someone shows up with a can of cranberries.

These are the things I’m thankful for.

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#expatthanksgiving
(Not featured: #expatwasted)

This program, These People, This City

I love Almeria. It’s not the prettiest or the biggest or the oldest of the grandest of cities along the Mediterranean coast but it has kind people who’ve opened their apartments to me so many times. It’s simple and it’s home.

Chris said it first at dinner but it rings so true for all of us: I’m so grateful I took the chance and applied for this program and said yes and moved to Spain and had these adventures.

Dev’n sent me this on Sunday afternoon, reminding me of a talk we had two days after I arrived in Spain:

Hey! Remember when you told me how nervous you were about coming late and us already having developed friendships. I saw some great photos this weekend that showcased how awesome you are as a person- people don’t need a long time, your greatness shines through from the beginning and we’re smart enough not to miss out. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

How did I get so lucky with these people? What started out as a family of necessity–people to travel with so you wouldn’t be completely alone during the holidays–turned into an actual family. On Sunday, after leftovers and brunch, it hit me that I would never have become friends with half of these people if we hadn’t all made the simultaneous choice to use this program in this country at this time. The people in this program, we’ve become an unlikely family of sorts, bound together by necessity, citizenship, and a shared language. I wouldn’t have met any of these people if I’d stayed in the States, let alone become as close as I am with most of them. That makes me really anxious about what happens when we all return to real life, but it also makes me extra thankful that we at least got these 10 months together.

hanging out being thankful

Hangin’ out, bein’ thankful

Traditions: Drinking Games, & Discotecas

Traditions, the kind you bring–the recipes, the being thankful, the twenty minute heated arguments (topic notwithstanding though I have to say that’s the first time I’ve ever born witness to that impassioned of a debate over rhyming), lazy Saturdays–and the kind you make–telephone pictionary and King’s Cup, Sunday morning brunch, not having the need for a kid’s table (what do you mean I sit with the adults? What do you mean we’re the adults?). Wherever I am next year, I’m not sure how it’s going to compare to rounds of drinking games, telephone pictionary, and a (seemingly) endless supply of alcohol (seemingly until, suddenly, it’s Sunday morning and everyone’s ready to cry uncle).

family_Fotor

Cranberries

And Americans who are resourceful enough to find them and pay extra.

yum

Leftover from #expatthanksgiving

Sundays

Brunch on Sunday in yesterday’s clothes and last night’s hangovers, spending the afternoon playing rounds of Telephone Pictionary, then walking down to the beach, stopping to play on swing sets, sending people off to the bus station, ending with an impromptu kabob dinner in the sand watching the sun set.

brunch

The Brunch Club

Goodbyes

Whenever I go to the bus station, I remind myself not to but always land up staring at the couples and families saying goodbye. It’s that interaction, so simple and sweet, that I’ve been away from for so long that I can’t help but gawk. So when it comes to say our goodbyes for the weekend, I insist on walking to the bus station. I insist on seeing them off at their gate. I insist on hugs and get a giddy thrill at the exchange of “See you in Dublin!”s. I insist on waiting until they’re on the bus and waving until they leave. Yeah, goodbyes suck, but isn’t it kind of neat that you have someone who means enough to you that saying goodbye isn’t easy?

beach

See you in Dublin!

All these things and a few extra:

swing sets, sour cream, H&M, first impressions, Saved by the Bell on Netflix, ALSA buses, 24-hr LSD, and, most importantly, boats that are metaphors of life (I didn’t understand the metaphor, much like life, and maybe that’s the metaphor?).

rocks

I’m pretty gosh darn thankful for this view.

OH! And being a legal temporary resident of Spain! DEF thankful for that.

NIE

NIE!

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A List of Lists

Reasons Why I Love Lists

1. They’re just great, they really are. They need little to no prelude. Everyone knows what a list is, what happens when you make a list. The title explains it what may need to be explained so you skip lines of introductory bullshit and dive right in.

2. The titles can be as long or as ridiculous as you want. There is a freedom in titling something that far too few people take advantage of. Here are some great examples of when people have taken full advantage of titles.

title

“Tagram or The Storm or The Word of the Monkey or High Jumps or No One’s Eyes or Life of Another” or Indecisive or The Title is Better Than the Art

 

Fotor1123191917

I call it, ‘Madelyne Travels Places and People Stand Behind Her with Cameras.’

3. Lists can be as brief or long-winded as you prefer. And, if you’re clueless on how to end an idea, you can always

4. Quit while you’re ahead and start over with a new number.

5. Going grocery shopping? Make a list! Procrastinating to the max? Make a list! Don’t know where to start or what to write about? Make a list! A list for every reason, for every seasons. Lists for all!

Things I Should Be Doing Instead of Writing This Post

1. Studying French.

2. Doing crunches.

3. Skyping with my family (Ma, we said 8 my time! It’s currently 9:30!)

4. Socializing with the world outside of the sporadically-heated living room.

5. Figuring out how to pay my credit card bill/working on getting my bank account unfrozen.

6. Buying a plane ticket home from Paris before I actually go to Paris and become stuck with no way home.

7. Not much else because this post has been long overdue so I should stop updating my Facebook status and just finish the damn thing.

Things I Have Been Doing Instead of Writing This Post

1. Writing. Lots and lots of writing. Writing in notebooks, writing e-mails and letters and postcards, writing on job applications, writing notes to my roommates, writing on Tumblr, writing Tweets, writing Facebook messages to friends near and dear to my heart who, much to my surprise, did not suddenly forget me as soon as I left the country. At the beginning of the year I set two resolutions for myself: become a runner and finish a novel. The first wasn’t a failure but it wasn’t really a success either. I was a runner for a short while, I still run on occasion. I’m powering through the second resolution as fast as my little fingers can take me before December 31st. (I will inevitably fail; I’ve spent more time traveling and Instagramming and riding horses and being distracted by general living than I have working towards either of these resolutions.)

2. Reading, widely and voraciously per usual. I’m growing a collection of books I am impervious to purchasing when I find them in English: An American by Henry James, 2 new Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s, a book of essays by David Foster Wallace that I spent 7 happy hours annotating on the bus home from Madrid. On the Kindle, I’ve recently finished Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (um, WOW), and have on deck The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (happy belated MAt!) as well as The Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China by Jung Chang (a surprisingly compelling work of non-fiction, which is normally not my cup of tea). Mom found two Barnes & Noble giftcards that some of my girls from camp sent me and three brand new books (Someone Else’s Love Story, Joshilyn Jackson; The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt; The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway) are on their way to me via my parents’ suitcase.  

3. Figuring out how I can be warmer. This includes thinking of something new every five minutes that my parents can bring whenever they visit in two weeks (Tresemme hair products, fuzzy socks, blue sweatpants I was forced to leave behind when my bag weighed too much at the airport). This also includes pushing my limits of how many layers I can stand to have on my body at one time (I’m notorious for eschewing pants; I am currently wearing two pairs and my soul dies a little bit with each layer). Last night, for example, I wore to bed: 1 long-sleeved shirt; 1 Cowboy’s vs Crohn’s sweatshirt, hood up; 1 pair of yoga pants over 1 pair of leggings; four pairs of socks with said yoga pants tucked inside sock layer number 4; 1 pair of gloves. Spanish insulation is no joke because there is no insulation there to even joke about. We do have a heater but I like to call it The Gas Box of Death because it involves an open flame and reeks of gasoline. There’s a heater in the living room but, if you run it for too long, you can blow a fuse and the entire apartment loses electricity (oops).

4. Compiling a musical playlist called ‘Sweater Weather.’ (This is obviously the most important of all my endeavors.)

Things I Will Be Doing Instead of Writing More Posts

1. Thanksgiving! Not real Thanksgiving, but an amended, ex-pat version in Almeria on Friday night with lots of American friends from Sevilla. I’m bringing mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes and I’m only just now realizing how much pressure that is considering the only thing I’m certain I can buy at the grocery store are potatoes and yams and what else goes in those dishes?

2. Parents! My parents are coming in 12 days! They’ll be here for 10 days. We’re spending the first weekend in Granada, the second weekend in Madrid, and I’m sure I’ll be a sulky baby by the end of the trip because I won’t want them to leave and we all know how great I am at expressing my feelings.

3. Dublin! Did I mention I’m spending Christmas in Dublin? I’ll be entirely unreachable for two weeks because I’ll be doing things like finding an Irish husband, drooling over the Trinity College library, spending too much time in pubs trying to find an Irish husband, and crying because it’s so cold and my poor, thin Southern blood can’t take it. Oh! And visiting with friends from the summer like Sam and (maybe) Dean and Hannah Mae!

4. Paris! Did I mention I’m spending New Year’s in Paris? Did I mention that Midnight in Paris is only one of my most favorite movies of all time? Did I mention that I’m obsessed with ex-pat writers of the 20s? Did I mention that we found a great apartment to rent on the Right Bank? Did I mention that I’m just writing more questions because I can’t find enough words to truly express how excited I am and every time I start to think about it I kind of scream a little and my brain stops thinking and doing the words making thing and I kind of just incoherent and processing becomes difficult? Did I mention that I will live in this apartment in the third arrondissement for seven days and pretend like it’s seven years and eat too many baguettes and read The Sun Also Rises (you didn’t think I ordered it from B&N for its literary value did you?)? Did I mention I haven’t bought my plane ticket back to Spain because I haven’t gotten around to it yet but I joke it’s because maybe I’ll never leave but it’s also kind of not a joke?

Things

1. Art

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It’s like the Where’s Waldo of paintings except, instead of looking for Waldo, you’re looking for any shape that makes sense. Also, if my posture looks contrived in any way, it’s because I’m falling over; I tripped over my own feet.

2. Palacio de Cristal

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Fall leaves are a foreign concept to me.

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Self-proclaimed architecture nerd.

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Sweet mother of mercy, can I die here?

3. Belen

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Belen’s hobbies include practicing English, keeping it tight, and adopting wayward and lonely Americans. (All trips to Granada provided by The Kindness of Belen’s Heart)

4. River feet

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Barefoot in the Rio Darro in mid-November, there have been better life choices made.

5. Secret passageways

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Doin’ the secret cave dance, yah yah yah!

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The Manifesto

I wrote this nearly three years ago, pounded it on my keyboard in less than 10 minutes. It came so quickly because this is truly, intrinsically, passionately how I feel in my gut, in my heart, in my fingertips and earlobes and veins and teeth and eyelashes. It was and is and will always be (forever and ever amen) my personal manifesto. If you like this and want more writing like it, direct your attention to my other blog Stay Hungry Stay Foolish.

I want to write until my fingers break and my wrists erode with arthritis. And when they cut off my hands up to my forearms because they’ve been broken down by my writing, I want to write with my toes.

I want to write until I’m breathless, read until I’m blind, and dream until my mind decays with old age.

I want to tell stories, wild, marvelous stories, with heroes and adventure and loyalty and courage and love and heartbreak and beautiful things like horses and mountains and forests so deep that the light through the canopy of leaves is the single most amazing shade of green you’ve never seen.

I want my stories to read like New Orleans, so spicy and full of flavor it makes your eyes water and your nose run and your ears smoke and your cheeks flush and your eyebrows raise and your teeth chatter and your tongue tingle and your taste buds begging for more. All flash and color but mournful and sweet, like chocolate and kerosene, like violins and electric guitars.

I have hundred of stories inside me, sitting in a small cavity on the right side of my torso, between my lungs and my heart, positioned just so that every time I take a breath and my heart pumps more blood, I remember the purpose that God gave me: to tell stories.

I want to take these stories that I have sitting in a small cavity on the right side of my torso between my lungs and my heart and I want to unravel them. Every story is completely written but I just don’t know it yet. My task is to unravel the tangled mess and tell the story.

I want to write pages and pages of crinkled white notebook paper, stained with lines and loops and dots and markings in black ink to form words that will last much longer than my life.

But mostly I just want to have the courage to take these words that I’ve spent my whole life learning and loving and string them into the most powerful sentences, saying and meaning the things that no one else in the world has the courage or the strength to say or mean: I love you. We will fight. You are beautiful. Believe. Broken or beaten, it makes no difference. Stay. Have courage.

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Granada, the City of Stories

Once upon a time a bumblebee visited Granada. It wanted to see the Alhambra and flew into the window of a bus in hopes of making it all the way to the top but, after three stops, it realized it was on the wrong bus. After some frazzled consultation with some very flustered Americans and confirming his suspicions with the bus driver, the bumblebee found himself bound for the edge of Granada in the opposite direction.

The bumblebee, possessing of a fairly pleasant disposition and flexibility when it comes to traveling, enjoyed the accidental bus tour of Granada, revelling in such sights as Plaza de Toros and Hospital General Virgen de las Nieves. He tried to make friends with the lost Americans who had made the same mistake as him in their attempt to find Armilla and the feria de caballo but they weren’t big fans of flying insects. To pass the time, the bumblebee eavesdropped on the people that got on and off the bus.

Right from the outset, the bee knew what he wanted to do with his life. He’d barely been out of his pupa stage when he knew he wanted to see the world. He spent a brief year collecting pollen from the flowers outside the window of the head of the history department at Harvard and learning all he could about the ideological origins of the British Empire before he was scooped up on an opportunity to be researched in Europe. Lab life wasn’t all it was cracked up to be so, after a daring escape through an air vent, the bumblebee set out to further his love for history and travel.

The gist of what the bee learned was this: ideological origins were all well good and the flowers at Versailles were quite lovely, but what really made both travels and history were the people. When the bee traveled, whether to Istanbul or Granada, he liked to listen to what people had to say: about themselves, about the weather, about politics, about cooking, about art, about bees, about horse fairs and first trips to Granada and summer camp and teaching abroad and getting lost on buses.

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1. The Artist from Prague

Our hostel was in Albayzin, the oldest neighborhood in Granada and a maze of cobblestone streets. To find our way to Gran Via, Christina and I employed a full-proof method of navigation that basically boiled down to, Always Turn Right. There was an alleyway crowded with tourist shops trading in postcards, tapestries, lanterns, incense, and MC Hammer pants. Once you’d made it through Little Marrakesh but before Tavern del Beso, there was a miniature plaza with a fountain where artists gathered. We stopped to look at some prints spread on a blanket presided over by a woman with a pixie cut and an Anakin Skywalker dreadlock. We did the traditional Spanish, “Hola, ¿cómo estás?” because Christina is practically fluent and I think it’s very rude to speak English right off the bat when in another country. The woman interrupted us. “Please, do you speak English?” We replied in the affirmative.

The woman was an artist from Prague. She moved to Granada to start over and felt that she’d be able to make a better go of it in Granada. It was strange to meet someone whose situation was so similar to mine. Usually when I encounter non-native Spaniards who’ve relocated to Spain, they speak some level of Spanish. Sometimes I think I’m special because I made the decision to eschew adulthood and move to Spain but then I come along someone who has taken an even bigger risk than I could have ever imagined taking and I am humbled.

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2. The Argentinian Poet & The Irish Gatekeeper

In Granada, there is an Argentine poet who sets up at the foot of a bridge over the Darro. There’s also a chatty Irish gent playing something that looks like an oboe (but isn’t) acting as gatekeeper who’ll talk your ear off if given half the chance but it’s worth it for the free poems. The pseudo-oboist is a worldwide traveler: tell him where you’re from and he’ll give you a story about the night he got kicked out of Dick’s Last Resort in San Antonio that involved a Litmus test of sorts for establishing what sort of girl you are which he tried out on Christina (she passed because she’s from Denver; “No, no, maybe they do that sort of thing in Ohio but you’re a good girl from Denver, I can tell.”).

The poet is a one-man assembly line of production. After setting up his station, lighting his paper lanterns, opening his typewriter case for tips, he types up three or four poems, stamps them with his name, logo, and date, then folds them into triangles and adds them to the pile. Scoop one up, leave him a tip, then retire to a teteria for libations and poetry readings with a Moroccan flair.

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3. The Spanish Stable Owner & the German Trail Guide

On Sunday morning, we left the hostel in search of a bus to Dilar. In Dilar, we walked to the highest point in the city to find Hotel Zerbinetta and, behind the hotel, Los Alayos stables. After ascertaining that, out of the five of us, Michelle and I were the only ones with experience on horses (though my experience was limited exclusively to Western), Francisco helped us mount up on Arabians in English saddles giving instructions in broken English for “light hands and strong legs.”

Men in riding tights are one of the cutest sights that I never cease to enjoy; their nonexistent butts are so tiny and adorable. Our guide, by comparison, had thigh muscles that wouldn’t quit, a permatan and chapped lips from riding every day, and some braid/twist that made her flyway curls look magical: in short, I wanted nothing more than to be her. My position on Diamante and second in the string afforded me the opportunity to express my considerable Spanglish prowess and ask her all manner of horse-related things. The best part of the entire trip (besides the view and the getting to ride English for the first time and the Francisco complimenting my boots and the sun and the mountains and the olive trees and the basic perfection of the entire trip) was when she let me lead the trail for a bit so that she could ride with Christina in the back and when she attempted to teach me how to post. And, whenever I eventually master the lesson she so kindly attempted to teach me, I’ll remember the first time I ever almost-posted out of the saddle in an olive grove in the Sierra Nevadas.

When we returned to the stables, Francisco of the Abnormally Chipper Personality greeted us.  “Ah, the boots,” he cried upon hearing the news I was from Texas. He waxed long and nostalgic about his time in Fort Worth and San Antone and let me unbridle and unsaddle my horse. It broke my heart that we even had to leave.

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4. The Dutch Backpacker

Returning from excursions on Saturday to the hostel, we happened to bump into a girl checking in to the same dorm room as us. A quick exchange of the usual pleasantries led to the realization that her name was Sanna, she was coming from a few weeks spent in Sevilla taking Spanish classes at the same school we’d studied at, and we shared the same heritage. We welcomed her to the hostel life and exchanged stories of learning at CLIC and life in Sevilla and then I bombarded her with questions about the Netherlands.

My grandmother came from Holland but, besides the fact that her name was Sipriana Minnema (which, according to Sanna, is a very Friesian name) and she was from Joure and we call our aunts ‘tantas’, I know next to nothing about my heritage. Apparently, Friesland is the Basque country of the Netherlands; they’d much prefer it if they were their own country but they’re so tiny that their nation would be too irrelevant to even register as insignificant.

Sanna studied Political Science in school so we discussed government and policies and had a nice long chat about America and how it might not be the great nation that my fellow countrymen, never having left, believe it to be.

“I come from a very conservative family,” I explained. “In a very conservative state in a remarkably conservation country.”

“So, how’d you get to be like this, if you don’t mind me asking?” Sanna includes in her question a gesture to our surroundings: the hippest backpacker hostel in all of Spain where we’re eating a communal dinner of paella with alioli next to the bar/shack where the mismatched bartender from Bristol has just announced mojito happy hour by squeezing a rubber chicken.

“I just got lucky, I suppose.”

And later on, when we’re talking about drone wars and phone tapping and American foreign policy and I have to admit that I really am not that educated on all of that, she gets serious. “Well, you’re here now. American foreign policy is no longer this abstract thing, it’s part of your life here in Europe. Educate yourself.”

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5. The Sisters from Buenos Aires

On Sunday night before leaving the hostel, Christina and I decide to have one last drink sangria together. I’m completely out of money so she spots me the two euros, we are ladled two plastic cups full of fruits and alcohol and adjourn to the top of the tree house and that’s where we meet the two sisters from Buenos Aires.

The first has just returned from a visit to Morocco after a few months spent working for the hostel in exchange for room and board. She’s headed back to Argentina for a gig with a band there after she gives us further instruction on the differences between Spanish Spanish and Argentinian Spanish.

The second lives in Sevilla for a currently indefinite amount of time, enjoying being abroad. Her favorite place to visit was Edinburgh: “Everything is so old and classic, you close your eyes and you feel like a queen.” And she instructed us to find Cinque Terre, specifically a beach that, to access, you have to walk over a kilometre through a tunnel in the dark under a mountain. Once you reach the town, ask for the Portuguese man who won’t be there but runs a hostel of sorts that will put you up in a hammock on the beach and you’ll make up to the sound of waves and everything will seem sort of haphazard and unplanned and you don’t know how it’ll ever work out but you have faith and it always does.

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6. The Lost American

The first constellation I ever found on my own was Orion’s Belt. Before that, when I would stargaze and someone would say, “Oh wow, look at the Little Dipper tonight,” I’d pretend to know what they were talking about and then maybe, after twenty minutes of concentrated studying and five minutes of them holding their hand pointing in the same direction, I might finally pick out the stars that made the ubiquitous shape.

The first time I spotted the constellation, it was the week before I graduated high school lying on a friend’s driveway. It’s a Saturday night at a backpacker’s hostel in the oldest neighborhood of an old city and I’m not a high school senior anymore but finding that constellation all on my own makes me feel like nothing has changed.

I didn’t realize it when I was eighteen but things were changing and, as in most situations of change, that meant something was ending. At the moment, I was too excited about this long-awaited discovery to notice the shift, and in the years after, I was too upset about what I lost to realize what I had gained. But now, almost four and a half years later and lying on a hammock under a treehouse at the hippest place in the world and listening to a drunk friend ramble about feelings in the worst approximation of a whisper I’ve ever heard (I was more sympathetic at the time, I promise), I couldn’t stop staring at the same constellation and realizing how far I’ve come.

And if I had known then at seventeen and three-quarters what I know now at twenty-two and a quarter, I wouldn’t have done anything differently. I would stay on the cool concrete of a humid May evening with a person who was about to leave my life not for good but for a good while and I would keep revealing in the success of finding my first constellation.

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How to Fall in Love with a City, Madrid Edition

Visit the City when it rains. Forget your umbrella. 

I grew up in a place where rain was a rare, blessed occurrence. We prayed for it in church, we worried over it at weddings, we danced when it came. I could wait months without seeing a thunderstorm and, consequently, raindrops hold some beguiling, mystical magic over me. I can spend hours walking avenidas and calles and days lurking in back alley bookshops and eating the best food in the most out-of-the-way restaurants but I won’t feel I’ve really visited, really seen and understood a city, until it rains.

Forget the umbrella. Don’t worry about wet hair or pneumonia. Give yourself over to the magic of the water, the way you did when you were a kid and your mom let you play in the rain. Have a traveler’s heart, unassuaged by worries about ruined papers or suede shoes.

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Madrid in the rain.

Find green. Take a deep breath. 

The backyard of my childhood home was a canopy of green. My first adventures were spent on a quilt in the grass, drowning myself in books and words. The first thing I ever grew was a sunflower in a cup. I watered it diligently and, when it finally started to grow, I panicked and wouldn’t stop staring at it wonder that I forgot to water it and it died. Once, when I was in college, I was feeling really lost and directionless and I put on some Norah Jones and danced around my dorm room and pretended I was a sunflower, that my feet were a seed from which tall stalks grew and my blonde hair was a crown of light and I was made of chlorophyll and sun and green and magic. There’s a quote on the wall at the National Botanical Gardens in Washington D.C. that made my lifelong obsession with green finally make sense: “Plants express our sense of who we are.”

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El Real Jardín Botánico

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Inside my soul there is a building and this is what the building looks like.

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El Real Jardín Botánico

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Parque del Retiro

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They call me the Tree Gangster.

Wake up early. You can sleep on the train home. 

Falling in love is easiest in the morning. Love presses your stomach back against your spine, it fills your belly easier than coffee or muffins. It’s easier than right after lunch, easier than over dinner, and hardly even possible once the sun goes down. The nighttime is for wanting something so bad that your stomach clenches and curls and aches so much that you can’t go to sleep. It’s the morning when you fall in love.

Maybe it’s the lighting. Jules Fischer couldn’t have composed it better. Honey gold and glowing, everything makes more sense when bathed in this sort of light. Maybe it’s the smells. I fell in love with Montana in the morning. The river smells more like a river in the morning. I’m all about the smell of a river and at no time does it smell better than in the morning. The morning smells like the river, like nostalgia, like summers and sunshine and happiness and love. Maybe it’s the newness. Love is such a light thing, it puts down roots in the tenderest of conditions. Nothing’s happened yet. Reality isn’t quite real. Love doesn’t need reality. It needs imagination and honey gold light and nostalgic river smells.

Everything is a distraction—your dreams from the night before, the list of things to be done, the morning traffic—and love sneaks in when you’re most susceptible. One second you’re looking for your exit, the next you’re in love.

Falling in love is easiest in the morning but, in a few hours, the morning is over and staying in love becomes much harder.

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On the hunt for churros con chocolate near Plaza Mayor.

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Hunt successful.

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Perfect timing for El Rastro.

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Emily’s Panaderia on Calle Leon

Buy art. 

This rule is courtesy of my pal, Kaylee Jo (Lessons in Bravery), and resident travel companion for the Madrid trip and others to come. And thank God for Kaylee’s rule because this is where the story about Alegria begins.

Off of the main street of El Rastro booths is Calle San Cayetano where the painters reside. Emily was really the only one of us who had money left so she led the charge and we landed on Alegria’s stand first. We talked to Alegria for probably 25 minutes. While she talked with us, several other customers came and looked at her paintings but she didn’t pay them half the attention she was giving us. She used me as a translator for another customer who didn’t speak any Spanish, told us to take pictures of her with her art, told us stories about her grandchildren and growing up in Spain. She gave us discounts for the paintings because we were students (she has grandchildren who are university students in Ireland who told her “Abuelo, the students have no money. You need to have cheap paintings for the students.”). She sells all of her own art every Sunday by herself even though she’s 89 years old. She lived through the Spanish Civil War and the communist Franco regime and took in people from Russia after they were displaced by the war. She paints from her memories of Toledo and Santander.

I wanted to cry when it was time to leave but she just gave us our besos and patted our arms. I’ve never understood anyone in Spain half as clearly as I understood her.

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Alegria signs and dates every print she sells.

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Alegria’s paintings of Toledo and Santader

Find your Roots.

Travel is all about finding new places, discovering new foods, making new memories. There is an almost pathological distaste for anything ordinary or familiar when you’re traveling. There is something in every city that reminds you of home: embrace those roots. If we try and hide from every McDonald’s and H&M or feel guilty about every Starbucks or Mexican food restaurant, we’re hiding and being ashamed of ourselves. You don’t magically become a different person when you travel. You learn things, you try new things, you grow, but you don’t lose those pieces of yourself that composed the original version of the person you were before you left the States. The same Madelyne that eats (too many) chicken nuggets and enchiladas in Texas is also the same Madelyne that decided to take a year to teach in Spanish. Granted, the chicken nuggets and enchiladas had nothing to do with that decision, but if I’m feeling homesick, I fully reserve the right to eat at a Mexican restaurant three days in a row if given the opportunity.

And when I find those roots when I travel, I remember them when I return home. Every time I eat chips and guacamole in Texas, I’ll remember the funky Rosa Negra on Calle Leon. And when I walk the streets of New Orleans’ French Quarter I’ll think of Madrid and wandering around on Friday night with Emily and Kaylee, trying to find El Botin and how the architecture reminded me of my favorite city back home in Louisiana. Because there is something in every city that reminds you of home you never really have to leave.

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El oso at Puerto del Sol

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Day 1, Parque del Retiro with Traveling Friends

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Palacio Real de Madrid

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