Tag Archives: Spain

How to End a Series

We interrupt this four-month hiatus to bring you a post that has little to do with travel and everything to do with adventure.

Growing up, I had a very hard time separating fact from fiction. Whilst sitting less than two feet away from the TV screen on a Friday night watching Boy Meets World, I would wonder if the cast members were as bored as I was during commercial breaks, waiting for their show to come back on so that they could finish the episode and go home. With all of my worldly experience, I’ve since gathered that this is not the way television shows are made but I still have difficulty distinguishing what’s real from what’s not.

Source, NBC Parks & Rec Tumblr

The series finale of Parks & Recreation was last night.

I became addicted to the show as recently as a year ago when living abroad and running out of things to do while living in a town of only 15,000. I’d tried starting the show several times before but couldn’t get past Leslie Knope’s cringe-worthy, unabashed enthusiasm.

But this time, something clicked. Maybe it was my piso’s lack of insulation and Pawnee’s burning passion for Paunch Burger and Lil’ Sebastian were what would keep me warm. Maybe it was my desire for a taste of something so characteristically American. Whatever it was, I fell in love.

Parks & Recreation has taught me a whole slew of things. It taught me that you can be earnest and enthusiastic and still be realistic (though, admittedly, Leslie Knope’s idea of what was realistic often differed from normal views). It taught me the meaning of feminism. It taught me that the world needs more humans like Leslie Knope, who are passionate and unapologetic and would do anything for her friends.

As if it hadn’t done enough, Parks & Rec taught me one more thing last night. It taught me what it looks like to move on gracefully.

When April looks to Leslie for the advice and the courage to take a chance on everything (the new job, having a kid)? I die. Source, NBC Parks & Rec Tumblr

I had a great year after college. I lived in Spain! I traveled around Europe! I made some of the best friends I never could’ve dreamed of!

And now, I’m two years out of college and I’m having a not-as-great year. I moved out to California. I came back. I tried to find a job. I went back to nannying to pay my bills and I’m still trying to figure out what to do with my life. I keep thinking that, the further away I get from Spain, the less I’ll miss it and the easier it will be to move forward.

The opposite is true. The further I get from my time in Spain, the more pressure I feel to figure things out, the more I want to recreate the happiness that came so easily living on the Costa del Sol.

To me, the ending of Parks & Rec is as poignant and harsh as the ending to my time in Spain. How did they all not fall into a dark hole of depression where all they did was eat Chipotle for every meal and gain twenty pounds? That’s what I did! Isn’t that the only logical response to (what seemed to be) the happiest time of your life ending?

But wait! Happier times lie ahead for one and for all! April and Andy have a kid! Ron becomes a park manager! Leslie runs for governor!

If I was part of the Pawnee Parks & Rec department under Leslie Knope, I would be convinced that nothing would ever be as good as working with her. Her wisdom, her passion, her stubbornness and her shenanigans could never be matched at any job, dream or otherwise, that I would move on to find.

But life goes on. Shows–and teaching contracts, along with temporary residencies–end. And new adventures begin.

So thank you, Parks & Rec, for once again teaching me that moving on is never easy, but there are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind. Or maybe that was C.S. Lewis? Either way, the sentiment (and the adventures that await) are the same.

What was something that you learned from Parks & Rec?

Thanks for the memories! Source, NBC Parks & Rec Tumblr

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Reverse Culture Shock

The Things No One Tells You

In the weeks before you prepare to depart your recently adopted homeland, your Facebook newsfeed and your group Whatsapp and your inbox will be flooded with articles and blog posts and op ed pieces about coming home. You’ll become a pseudo-expert and fervent disciple in Reverse Culture Shock.

But, for all of articles I read and the friend-of-a-friend experiences I heard recounted, there are a few things that I’ve realized in the last few months that no one amount of studying up on Reverse Culture Shock prepared me for.

1. It’s surprisingly easy. One minute you’re meeting friends for tapas in an alley behind your piso and the next you’re driving the streets of your hometown having flashbacks to high school and it’s almost as if you’ve never left. I was just there, you think as you pass the restaurant where you had your farewell dinner, conveniently forgetting the last year of your life. Sure, you miss Spain, but do you know what else you miss? First crushes and your mom’s tuna noodle casserole and your childhood bedroom. Spain seems like just one more thing that’s gone the way of high school relationships and deceased grandparents: there will always be a hole and an ache for the things you left in the past but, with time and new memories, it gets smaller.

2. The panic. You’re lulled into a false sense of security for the first few weeks. This is so easy! you think triumphantly. I should come home from foreign countries more often! And then the panic sets in. Is this it? Is it all over? This big, significant thing that you spent the last ten months living and will impact the person you are for years to come is now just one more memory out of many, like losing your two front teeth at that roller rink or your first heartbreak. What if you forget the language and the lessons and the person you became? What was the point of any of it if you can’t point to at least one thing and say, “And that’s what I learned in Spain.”?

3. Happiness is slippery and evasive and rare. This is the biggest shock that I was not prepared for. In Spain, happiness came easy. It fell in my lap like sunshine, it blew in on the breeze with my curtains through the open window, it was mixed into my tinto de verano and its the stuff that they cure hams with.

This isn’t rose-colored glasses talking; there certainly were frustrating times and hard times and dull times and times when I missed home. But, as a whole, my life was happier there. What makes happiness so easy when you’re not at home? Is it the climate? Is it the lack of responsibilities or reality? Whatever it is, I took it for granted and I want it back.

Maybe these are lessons that you already knew. Maybe they were lessons that already knew, but this is the fourth thing that no one ever tells you about: you have to relearn them, and so much more, when you come home. How did happiness work before? In Spain, it just happened, but now: do I make it? Is it given to me? Do I take it? Where does it come from? This panic that reminds me I was made for greater thing, that I lived greater things, and now my life is a duller sliver of what it was: how do I get past it? This is more than deep breaths and positive visualization. This false sense of comfort lulls me to sleep and I have to fight tooth and nail to work harder and dream bigger than my high school self would’ve been content with.

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Life from Here On Out

Y’know how people always say that it’s better to “have loved and lost than to never have loved at all”? Well, I’d like to call bullshit. Sometimes I think it would’ve been much better if I’d never experienced Montana or lived in Spain so that I wouldn’t have to feel this heartache that hits me in the gut so hard that I have to stop and catch my breath.

This is the fifth thing that they never told me about coming home: nothing is ever the same. Sure, it feels like home and looks like home and it smells like home, but it’s different. Or, rather, it’s not different: you are. And you can sleep in your old bed and hang out with your old friends, but it’s not the old you that’s doing these things. If home is where your heart is, this can never be your whole-hearted home again–just like Spain never felt like a complete fit–because pieces of your heart are missing: you’ve carelessly left slivers of yourself in Gardner, MT and Huercal-Overa, and College Station and Washington D.C. and wherever else you’ve been that you’ve lived.

But, what’s done is done. I’ve loved and I’ve lost and I’m back in the States. I don’t know where I’m going next or what I’m doing but I do know that my heart isn’t here in the Bay Area.

Or, maybe, once I leave, I’ll find that I was wrong. Maybe the Bay Area was just my rebound home and for that, San Francisco, I apologize: you didn’t get the best of me.

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What I learned from Standing Still

Nothing.

After spending a month in Texas, I was given/offered/handed the opportunity to go to California for a while. It was a sweet deal–free rent, paying job, indefinite amount of time–that fell together so quickly that I thought it was Meant To Be, with capital letters.

And then I spent two months out here. I applied for countless jobs was offered zero interviews. I made all of five friends. California was not the American Dream I’d been led to believe.

So, two months later I say the words out loud, “I haven’t been happy for a while.” This acknowledgment brings me a surprising amount of peace but still something holds me back from cutting the ties completely and going somewhere else.

I feel like I’ve failed. I came all the way out here and what do I have to show for it? I thought California would be the Land of Opportunities and instead I’ve found the Land of Waiting. I’ve had some nice times with some nice people, some good stories to tell, but nothing that’s made me stop and say “Damn.” Maybe this is a consequence of a post-Spain life. Happiness is hard and breathtaking moments are just as rare.

But after a talk with Kristen, who feels similarly about the Bay Area and is preparing to cut her own ties with the Golden State and give Colorado a try, I have to admit, I’ve had a good summer. And maybe that’s all I get.

What I learned from standing still out in California is nothing. But maybe that’s okay. Maybe I’ve had enough personal growth and life-changing lessons for several years to come. Maybe I was supposed to just come out here and have some fun and drink too much whiskey and never ride a cable car and get on a first name basis with the receptionist at my dentist’s office and wear some Superbowl rings and accept that not everything ends with a life lesson.

 

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Jefferson Memorial

It’s been over two months since Italy, a month since Iceland, and almost a year since I sat in this exact same room, in this exact same bed, in this exact same house, puzzling over how to make sense of new beginnings.

After school ended back in May, I walked out of Cura Valera for the last time and straight to the bus station. My principal Laura, the same one who’d picked me up from the bus station nine months earlier, was the same one who dropped me off. Once I got to Almeria I took my last taxi to 26 Paseo de Almeria and let myself in with the key under the mat. That’s when it hit me: this is it. No more Ex-Pat Thanksgiving, no more rounds of King’s Cup, no more tapas at Bambalina or Coke & Hope Floats (or was it Hope & Coke Floats?) on Sunday nights. I had twelve hours to say goodbye so I put my luggage down, pushed aside my early-onset homesickness, and forged out into the night. And at 9 AM the next morning, after two rounds of discotecas and a sunrise skinny dip in the Mediterranean, I boarded my last ALSA bus and began the journey home.

Fast forward three flights, two countries, four time zones, and one week later and I’m back on American soil. After a long metro ride with someone I can only assume was my future self (my future self told me I’m going to marry a Navy man and have three boys) I scarfed down some REAL AMERICAN PIZZA WITH RANCH AND A DR. PEPPER and crashed mega-hard (I say things like mega-hard now that I’m back in the US). In the morning, because I’m still in traveler-mode, I get up at 8, lace up my Chacos and hit the streets.

This is my sixth time in DC.  It strikes me with particular poignancy (or maybe this is just the jet lag) that my time in DC has come full circle. Once, six or seven years ago, I left home for the first time to spend nearly a month in DC. My first week was spent hiding in a basement, terrified of my own shadow, let alone those cast by some of the buildings. And then one day the Downeys took me to these botanical gardens in Virginia with a greenhouse full of lily pads bigger than my entire body. And just like that, I fell in love with adventuring and I fell in love with DC.

One day, I walked the monuments, from the capitol all the way down to Lincoln. I sat on the edge of the Lincoln Memorial and listened to kids recite “I Have a Dream” in childish unison and felt my feet hanging dozens of feet above the ground but felt surprisingly rooted in the magnitude of history and my place in it. And then, with one last monument to visit, I took a right instead of a left and landed up in Foggy Bottom and GWU rather than the tidal basin and the Jefferson Memorial. Each time I’ve come back, I’ve tried to squeeze it into my schedule and failed each time.

So, three more trips, six years, and so many countries, I’ve finally made it to the Jefferson Memorial. And I’ve been walking all morning trying to make sense of things and this is what I’ve got: some things take years to get to. Forgiveness, acceptance, understanding, a surprisingly illusive monument.

jefferon

Some things take years to get to. At the Jefferson Memorial (FINALLY!).

When my dad was twenty, he and a buddy took a road trip out to California. Ever since I turned 18, I have been begging and planning and dreaming of the day when I would finally make what, to me, amounted to my coming-of-age pilgrimage to the Golden State. And tomorrow that pilgrimage begins; some things just take years to get to.

But I’ve come of age. I moved to Spain and I spent a week in Iceland and I finally saw the damn Jefferson Memorial (in real life, not just stills from Scandal). Why am I going? What am I going to do? How long am I going to be gone? All questions I’m looking forward to learning the answers to. I didn’t go looking for this adventure, I just kind of stumbled upon it by accident.

Back in May, I was sitting on a beach in Cabo de Gata with some friends on one of our last weekends together before our bus back to Almeria and I had to fight to keep from screaming, “BUT WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?” I didn’t expect the answer to be Texas. I also didn’t expect the answer to be California. I don’t think that the answer is France (for now).

So by Saturday I’ll be the newest resident of San Francisco where I’ll be somewhat of a nanny, sort of a housekeeper, maybe an employee of a software company. I didn’t say anything sooner because I didn’t want to jinx it; not even 48 hours before I received the offer to move to California, I had just finished accepting an offer from the College Station Parks & Rec department to teach swimming lessons. My month back in Texas hasn’t gone slowly and now, without even planning for it, I’m leaving again.

Back in Spain, I wondered what would happen to The Accidental Adventurer. Not surprisingly, she’s accidentally stumbled upon another adventure. Tomorrow, I move to California.

home

Home is wherever I’m with you. At Houston Intercontinental Airport. 

Once when I was in college, on a school night, I drove down to Austin for a concert. At the concert, I stood so close to the speakers that the bass moved through me, shaking down my collar bones and shimmying up my spine until I couldn’t tell where my heartbeat ended and the music began. This past month, I’ve been driving all over Texas, from Shiner to Fort Worth and all around the hill country. And everywhere I go, I get the same breathless, lost-my-heartbeat feeling. And then I see it: my heartbeat, in the hills and the trees and the sunsets and the highways and the rivers and the weddings and the reunions and the families and the friends. How am I supposed to leave this? How am I supposed to leave the place that makes my heart beat?

I don’t have the answer to that one either. I just know that coming home wasn’t as hard as I expected. I just know that today I picked up my Heart of Texas charm from James Avery, freshly polished for new adventures. I just know that tomorrow a new adventure begins and I’m just as prepared for it as I was almost one year ago, when I sat in this same spot preparing to go to Spain.

It’s been a hell of a year, hasn’t it?

 

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The Last Month

If you’ve noticed a lack of silence around The Accidental Adventurer, that would be because I’m trying to break some non-existent record (that only exists in my head, like many of my travel games, apparently) by traveling for the last 9 weekends straight (in backwards-chronological order: Almeria, Cabo de Gata, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome, Lake Como, Almeria, Granada). The blog posts have been piling up and I still haven’t even finished my damn post about the trip to the (grand)motherland (aka Holland) that occurred back in February and has been hiding in my drafts folder for the last few months.

So, in an effort to procrastinate even more, I thought I’d pull together a list of things that, with only a month left to go, I’m just now realizing.

1. I’m a competitive traveler.

This was brought to my attention whilst abroad in Italy, specifically Rome. I like to think of myself a student of crowd dynamics: it’s all about reading the bodies, seeing a break in the crowd, and going for it. When I get into a metro station or historical monument, I don’t dilly-dally. It’s a get-in, get-out mentality and I’m blazing a path that all others in my party must scurry to keep up with (sorry Christina and Collin). In my mind, I’m racing (against myself? Who else is playing this game, Madelyne?) to make it through the crowded situation as quickly and as smoothly as possible. Another explanation besides OIC (Obsessive Internal Competitiveness; don’t look it up, I just coined it), could be the fact that I’ve got a bubble and I like to keep it intact. Fun fact: having a bubble is how I avoided getting pickpocketed on a metro in Rome (um, why are you standing so close to me? Oh, it’s because your hand’s in my purse? That makes sense.)

Another game I like to play when traveling is called Get Me the Heck Out of This Security Line Without Any Hangups. Hangups include: forgetting to take off belts, being told you can go through with your shoes on but then going through with your shoes on and setting off the detector and having to go back through and take off your shoes, forgetting to wear a tight enough shirt so that the security guards can visibly see that you’re not hiding anything under your shirt and therefore can refrain from doing the awkward credit-card-swipe-between-your-boobs thing.

2. My couch is more comfortable than my bed. 

Figured this one out when my friend since forever, Luke, came to visit and I “selflessly” gave up my bed for the few days that we spent in Huercal. Score one for manners!

We're pretty much an old married couple.

We’re pretty much an old married couple.

3. My TV does speak English!

Also a realization from the Visit of Luke. Whilst trying to find the Bayern-Real Madrid match on the telly, I got distracted, as I do every time I turn on my television here in Spain (a thing that’s only happened a handful of times since I moved in), with trying to switch the language to English. And this time it worked! So Luke and I chowed down on burrito bowls and watched terrible celebrity news about the richest babies and a really bad Charlize Theron movie and I fell asleep on my mega-comfortable couch and it was all so American I could’ve cried.

4. Spain doesn’t scare me anymore.

I was walking to school sometime in early May when it hit me.

I remember the first day I arrived here. Saying I was cautiously optimistic would’ve been a stretch; I was convinced that this was going to be the biggest mistake of my life to date and I would have to just grit my teeth and suffer through the next 8 months. I had a survival strategy: drown myself in Friends episodes, write copious amounts, and travel to Almeria to see my friends on the weekends every chance I got. And that’s actually pretty much how it went down. But, also, it became my home.

When I first arrived, everything was a Big Deal. Going to the supermarket for the first time left me soaked in sweat, for the first month I had to force myself to make my daily visit to the bank to try and sort out my bank account yet again, and every so often I’d reward myself with a walk to the British goods store and a Dr. Pepper: I’d run these errands then I’d scamper home and stay there until it was time to work.

And now, it’s not. I know people, I know places, I know words in Spanish necessary for communicating. Spain doesn’t scare me anymore. It’s going home that’s got me terrified.

boat jump

Things that don’t scare me: Spain. Things that do scare me: a two foot drop and a three foot gap between my toes and this boat. In Barcelona.

5. I’m good at simple.

I figured this one out a little over a month ago, when I was packing for Italy. One week spent on trains, planes, and automobiles starting in Milan and working our way down to Rome, and I’d crammed all of my necessities into a smaller-than-necessary backpacking backpack. Much credit is due to H&M’s pañuelo-sized tank tops, but more credit is due to my winter break training when I made it through 2 weeks and 2 major holidays in 2 different countries with a slightly-bigger-than-said-smaller-than-necessary-backpacking-backpack-but-still-impressively-restrained suitcase. One pair of pants, no jacket, and too many skirts meant I was often ill equipped for the springtime weather but not throwing out my back with a child-sized backpack that also doubles an effective weapon and shield (ahem, Laurel) (broma, Laurel, I actually really want to make the Purple Beast my own).

But this has spilled over into other areas of my life. I can sleep on almost any surface you give me, I can stay up at a disco until 5 and I can wake up at 7 to catch a train, I can survive a weekend in Barcelona with a pair of shorts, two skirts, and a tank top (not that I did, I’m just trying to prove a point).

And it’s freeing (not just because I’m confidently striding ten feet ahead while Laurel is crushed under the weight of the Purple Beast). Less money spent on clothes and extravagances like a bed (because I really should’ve just been sleeping on my couch the whole summer) mean more money spent on the important things, like plane tickets and beer and books.

backpack

Simplicity personified

6. This is the end. 

With one week to go, I’m finally starting to realize what this all means. Hint: it means that I’m leaving in a week.

As in, no more Spain. As in, no more weekend trips to Almeria. As in, no more puentes in Barcelona. As in, no more cheap RyanAir flights to Dublin. As in, no more binge shopping at H&M.

When we were hiking in Italy, Christina (or was it Laurel), asked the other two of us what we were going to say when we got back to the States and people asked about our time abroad. I had a dialogue ready in my head.

Well-Meaning Person: So, Madelyne, what’s changed since you’ve been back?

Madelyne: [Gaze off into the sunset dramatically. Whisper:] Everything.

Well-Meaning Person: [naively chuckles] What’s that supposed to-

Madelyne: EVERYTHING.

It has. It has changed everything. It’s changed the way I talk, the way I think, the way I cook, the way I dress, the way I look, the way I walk, the way I feel. Everything.

There’s really no good way to end this post because there’s really no good way to end this year. I’m gonna shoot for going out with grace and dignity but will DEFINITELY fall short of the way. In the mean time, I leave you with this picture of a Spanish sunset and the promise of tears.

Sunsets in Almeria

Sunsets in Almeria

 

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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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Carnaval 2014

Before we begin, let’s go over a few things:

1. This is a more or less accurate description of everything that happened (that I can remember) from that weekend. 

2. While reading, you should listen to ten straight minutes of the saxophone bit from “Talk Dirty to Me.” It helps you to a) get into the mindset of carnaval weekend and b) imagine what it sounded like on Saturday night when we had our kazoos. 

Now that we’ve got that out of way, may I present cArNaVaL wEeKeNd!!!!!!!!1!!!

Thursday, 6 March: 11 PM

After 48 hours in Huercal-Overa, I’ve taught 7 classes, washed all my clothes, re-packed my suitcase, paid my bills, and I’m off again. I’m hoping that somewhere in the next 24 hours I can find a beret to complete my carnaval outfit.

I arrive in Almeria around 11 PM, around the same time as Laurel. Since I only had 48 hours, I didn’t have the foresight to go to the grocery to buy snacks and food for dinner and the train trip tomorrow. Laurel, on the other hand, always travels with food; one time she showed up in Almeria with a whole chicken. I eat a pastry, Laurel eats a salad and a carton of strawberries she dropped in the street. We compare costumes with the girls and head for bed.

girlwithtoast

My costume: girl with toast and moustache.

Friday, 7 March: 8 AM

The train for Cadiz leaves at 9 PM and around 8:15 we make our leisurely way down to the station. There we meet Colin and print out our tickets. Laurel tries to purchase her ticket but the train is full. We leave her behind.

This is something that can only happen with a certain group of friends. There’s no muss, no fuss, no drama. We ask if she has a plan (take the later train), Macy passes off a key to the apartment, and we wish her luck. If I was traveling Europe with anyone else, this would be a Major Incident that we’re abandoning our friend in another city but this is Laurel, so we wave goodbye and part ways.

Friday, 7 March: 9:42 AM

I have a migraine. When I say migraine, I don’t mean that I have a really bad headache. I mean that the edges of my vision start to go blurry, then I have searing pain, then I throw up. On a well-lit, 7 hour train, this is a nightmare.

I engineer a head wrap, borrowing a sweater of Kristen’s to wrap across my eyes and tie tightly behind my head, creating a blindfold and applying pressure on my temples. I pop a few Ibuprofen and attempt to sleep through it.

Only later do I realize that the old couple across from me probably doesn’t realize that I have a migraine considering I look like a hungover vagabond. Not yet, señora, not yet.

Friday, 7 March: 14:19 PM

After a transfer in Dos Hermanas, it’s time for train 2. My migraine is more or less gone. As I board the train, Popeye lounges by the open door, smoking a cigarette. I am officially en route to carnaval.

Friday, 7 March: 16:10 PM

Popeye should’ve tipped me off but it doesn’t take long to realize that I’m on the Bro Train. There’s a whole pack of them sitting in front of me, shouting and singing and talking in Spanish. They keep looking back at me but I’m more or less absorbed in watching Justified on the guy’s iPad next to me, who’s passed out with his English subtitles on.

I fall asleep and when I wake up, the train is empty and it’s just me and the bros. “Donde vas? Donde vas?” I tell them Cadiz. They get very excited and we take many pictures together (I’m still waking up) before the train stops and we, sadly, must part ways.

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I never got to see any of those pictures from the Bro Train so I thought I’d share the time that we busted out the Photobooth.

Friday, 7 March: 18:30 PM

No sign of a beret. We’ve checked into our AirBNB and stocked up on supplies, i.e. Aquarius (Spain’s Gatorade), cookies, and Pringles.

Friday, 7 March: 10:45 PM

After tapas and pre-gaming at our AirBNB apartment, Laurel arrives and manages to pull together a fairly convincing sushi costume. We take some prom-esque pictures on the stairs, pack a few beers for the road, then hit the streets.

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The girls’ costume picture. Featured, from top to bottom: “French toast”, sushi, dos fresas, and a pirate.

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The guys’ costume picture. “How do I stand?”

Friday, 7 March: 11:30 PM

There is no game plan. We head in the general direction that the crowd seems to be moving but don’t make it more than a block before we’re stopped by chirigotas (barbershop quartets meets parade floats) and the crowd listening to them. So instead we follow a pack of Dragon Ball Z characters in the opposite direction.

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You can’t make this stuff up. Spain wins for best costumes.

Most often when you go out in Spain, the horario is: tapas at 10, bars by 11:30, discotecas at 3, bed by 6. But for carnaval, you put on your costume first thing when you wake up (maybe you never took it off) and you do your shopping at the market, your besitos on street corners, your jugando a la pelota en la plaza, all while dressed as Piccolo from Dragon Ball Z. By the time we made it out, the party had been going for some time.

I expected carnaval in Cadiz to be something like Mardi Gras in New Orleans (or Halloween in a college town, considering the costumes). A family holiday, sure, but something completely different once night hits the streets of a city country that (from what I can tell) doesn’t seem to have much by way of open container laws. But there are no slutty pumpkins, or beads for boobs campaigns, only men dressed as Cruzcampo bottles rolling around in a six-pack.

So we take a left, then another right, then another left. There is no plan. I’m not entirely sure we are. We meet matadors (bankers from Madrid by day, matadors on the weekends) and bulls and baroque gentlemen and a hoard of Marvel superheroes wearing pink feather boas and Rachel and Joaquin’s creepy BlahBlah Car drivers, one of whom compliments me on my height (“You’re tall. I like it.”)

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The first time I’ve been bought a drink since being in Spain (it’s not a common practice here; everyone was duly impressed). Protip: make friends with bankers.

The party starts to die down around 1. There are still chirigotas out singing but, since we can only understand about three out of every ten words they sing, (and we keep getting shushed by the audience every time we speak) and Joaquin is cold in his guiri outfit (cargo shorts, bro tank, sandals with socks, sunglasses), we head home sometime around 1.

Saturday, 8 March: 10 AM

Christina Facebook messages me to know if I’ve found a beret yet. I reply in the negative.

Laurel, Kellie and I lounge about for a bit before getting dressed and heading for the open air market near our house.

Saturday, 8 March: Noon-thirty-ish

Open air market purchases: hot dog and dusty Sprite.

Saturday, 8 March: 1 PM

Kellie, Laurel, and I wander the confetti-filled streets of Cadiz and land up in the plaza by the cathedral, teeming with people. I pop into a quick pickup game and take a shot on goal, hitting the “crossbar” and hurrying away before my triumph can be contested by another shot. In the center of the plaza there’s a makeshift ring filled with torreros and men wearing inflatable bull costumes. Parents buy tickets (? We could never confirm this, otherwise I would’ve hopped into the ring as I so desperately desired) to have their children fake-gored on the steps of the Cadiz cathedral. They even have a fake, inflatable ambulance to pick up the children after they’ve been gored.

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Confetti-filled streets.

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Fake goring by fake bulls.

The important part of all of this is that, on this walk, I made one of the most important purchases of my time here in Europe: a commemorative kazoo.

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I can do a pretty snazzy rendition of Talk Dirty to Me on the kazoo that’ll take your breath away.

Saturday, 8 March: 3 PM

Eating a whole chicken while overlooking the Atlantic Ocean ain’t too shabby of a way to live life.

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Shoutout to Rachel for having the foresight to take plenty of daytime pictures too.

Saturday, 8 March: 7 PM

Christina DOESN’T bring my beret.

“But you never responded!”

“You messaged me at midnight on the first night of Carnaval and you left the next morning at 7 AM: you expected me to responded for 11 AM?”

Laurel and I decide that our respective food costumes were failures and commandeer the bedsheets from Airbnb apartment for toga time.

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Ingenuity, the hallmark of Americans abroad. 

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“You know that’s not actually how Greek women dressed, right? The only women who were togas like that were actually prostitutes.” Well, thanks Joaquin.

I am anxious to hit the streets earlier than we did last night, that way to have more party time. If this were a novel, this would be foreshadowing.

In my anxiety, I forget to eat dinner.

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Group photos before the one of the Best Nights Out. (Christina’s hand?)

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Kristen and I went for a swim.

Saturday, 8 March: 10 PM

When we head out for the night, we go in the opposite direction of the way we went the night before. I don’t know if this was fate or just planned. We head for the cathedral and as we step into the plaza, my jaw drops. It’s one giant botellón and the cathedral plaza is filled with people in costumes. We’re like kids at a carnival (GET IT?! BECAUSE WE ARE!) and we hop around and take pictures and carve a path for the cathedral steps where we’re meeting more people? (Hold on, folks. Details are about to get real fuzzy.) It doesn’t matter what’s going on because everyone is happy happy happy and I’m feeling fanDAMNtastic.

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So many people!

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“WE ARE THE KINGS OF CAMPUS.” (Pitch Perfect reference that I may or may not have shouted because I felt like the spirit of the sentiment really applied in that moment.)

Communicating becomes a whole lot easier. I like to start out with a few words I know, shouting in top-volume Spanish, then I kind of trail off as I remember I don’t actually speak very good Spanish, then I just pantomime the rest or run away.

There are a lot of pictures taken. To date, I feel like I’ve only seen a handful of the actual pictures that were taken. You will be treated to some here.

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The kazoo band. We serenaded everyone and their mother on Saturday.

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Um, people?

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I haven’t actually seen a picture where I’m facing the right way so I might be grinning at no one.

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Don’t know when this was taken but I do know it’s a darn good picture with some darn good people.

At some point, I remember standing on the steps of the cathedral with my pal, KayJo. Our group has more or less disintegrated by this point–Laurel and Christina went in search of kebabs, Kellie ran off with some friend from Alabama, I don’t know what happened to Joaquin, Collin, or Rachel the rest of that night–and KayJo and I have our arms around one another as we look out on hundreds of Spaniards, having a heart to heart about our good fortune.

And despite the hangover that comes the next morning or the fact that I can’t remember what exactly we said, this is the best part of this weekend and of my time here in Spain. I live in Spain with some of the best friends imaginable and we’re drunk on the steps of a cathedral. It’s one of those things that I can’t fully explain because it’s a feeling more than a travel anecdote and it’s one of my most treasured memories from that weekend.

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Heart to hearts and friends in purple wigs (whose names you don’t remember) (or never knew?)

But such happiness was not to last. All that I remember after that was running through the streets (I don’t think we were actually running. I was wearing a very tightly wrapped toga so there wasn’t much leg movement to be had.) and coming across a couple in matching Miley Cyrus costumes and singing ‘Wrecking Ball’ for them with KayJo and Kristen. And then, by 1 AM, I’m down for the count.

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There’s a video, too.

Sunday, 9 March: 10 AM

It is now 10 AM and I would like to die. I have a delightful 12 hours of travel to look forward to (train to Malaga, metro to Malaga airport, plane to Amsterdam) and I got about 3 hours of sleep the night before. But like true champion travelers, I’m packed and ready to go and more or less respectably dressed by 10:30. I grab some churros and tostadas with friends before heading for my 11:30 train.

And what do you know, Popeye and all the bros from Friday are on the same train.

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A Sunday morning, post-carnaval gem.

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Cadiz, you’ve been swell!

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On Sunday I had a bus to myself

Day 17 is a photo post, with the prompt “Something I never would’ve seen at home.”

And the question is raised: what haven’t I seen that I never would’ve seen at home? Dublin, Paris, Lagos, Sevilla, Granada, Madrid, and Almeria to start. Cadiz, Venice, Rome, Amsterdam, Reykjavik, and London to follow. Mountains and the Mediterranean and cliffs and monuments and cultures. I’ve seen it in boots and Chacos and sneakers. I’ve carried the same maroon satchel that’s become an almost cartoon-like staple for my traveling wardrobe. I’ve traveled by trains and (too many) buses and planes and the occasional automobile.

It’s impossible to choose just one picture so I chose one taken on the last place that I ever expected to become my second-home: seen over the pages of a notebook, the aisle of an ALSA bus.

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The Empty Seat

Growing up, 203 Nottingham was a nest of chaos. I mean, it’s not that surprising. With five kids, ages ranging over a 12 year span, there was always something: soccer practice, Boy Scouts, PTA meetings, school projects, and then the usual scuffle and bustle of everyday life with seven people living in one house. To get my alone time I used to spend it reading books in closets and playing with Barbies in the sliver of space between my bed and my wall.

Sometimes I feel like I’m making up for a lifetime of alone time. A pueblo of 16,000 in a foreign country is a pretty good place to start.

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New graffiti find. Photo courtesy of Kristen DuFour.

I like traveling alone. It’s easy. When you’re in a state of anxiety because you missed your bus, there’s no one to calm down but yourself (and no one knows how to calm yourself down better than yourself; for me, it is a book and maybe a piece of candy). You can drown the world out with a pair of earbuds and the latest Beyonce, pretending that she is the soundtrack to the movie that is your life.

I spend a lot of time in Spain traveling alone. Not necessarily at the destination but usually on the journey there. I live about 2 hours away from the capital of my province and the hub of all things transportation. Before I can take a weekend trip anywhere, I first have to get to Almeria. Those 2 hours on the bus are my zen time, better than any yoga. I pull out my green notebook and my To Do list of writing (finish this chapter, plot out that storyline, brainstorm for this blog post, jot down some notes about that revelation), plug in a playlist and get to working. Two hours later I have a cramp in my hand and a peace in my soul that I couldn’t get if I was traveling with someone else.

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When you travel alone, there are a lot of artsy pics of cats and landscapes. Photo courtesy of Laurel Hess.

I’ve never loved Granada the way you’re supposed to love a city, like the way I love Madrid. What I do love about Granada are the trips that I’ve taken there: with my parents, with Belen, with friends. I do love that I’ve been here so many times there’s none of the usual pressure to run around and see every sight possible in 48 hours. I do love that I have my favorite places–Cuatro Gatos for carrot cake, Little Morocco for souvenirs, the road along the Darro for art, the Makuto for lodging–that I can single out and revisit.

do love sunsets over the Alhambra, I love taking it easy in a familiar place, I love finding new graffiti and trying on harem pants and giving in to the notion that purchasing said harem pants might be the greatest decision I will ever make in this city. I do love listening to the rain and snuggling up in “salas de chill-out” and triple bunk beds (I actually only love these in theory; middle bunks seem like a good idea but are actually the worst idea ever) and watching We’re the Millers and conversations on Sunday mornings in a room full of bunk beds that makes me feel like we’re a family at a ski lodge.

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Solid purchase. Photo credit Kristen DuFour.

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Too many possibilities to choose just one in the stereotypical, chill-out-room-at-hippie-backpacker-hostel photoshoot #noragrets. Photo courtesy of ME, via Kristen DuFour’s phone.

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If there is an Irish pub, you must go. Photo courtesy of Jenna Cranston.

In Washington D.C. in the main greenhouse of the National Botanical Gardens, there is planted a ravenala madagascariensis, or a traveller’s tree. Said to get it’s name from it’s storage of water and alignment of leaves from east-to-west giving travelers nourishment and bearing, there is an accompanying sign that says “Stand in front of a traveler’s tree and make a wish in good spirit and it will come true.”

And so, standing under the tree of my future, four months before I was getting ready to leave and practically catatonic with peace at being engulfed by so much green, I made my wish.

I wished for someone travel with. At the time, what I’m really thinking is, “Please let me walk out of here and bump into some gorgeous young senator who’s going to make it impossible for me to want to leave but will fund a fabulous 2 month tour of Europe as our honeymoon.” Or, given the shortage of eligible young senators that look like Corey Stoll, maybe more realistically, “Please let the empty seat on my flight back to Texas be inhabited by someone who is intelligent, single, travel-hungry, and gifted with a beard.”

Just three months shy of the anniversary of this wish, I realize that I already got it.

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The Traveller’s Tree

The question has come up recently, “Madelyne, what is the favorite place you’ve been so far?” My knee jerk reaction is to shout, “ICELAND!” but then I remind myself that I haven’t actually been there yet so it doesn’t count (ONLY 4 MORE MONTHS, THOUGH!). And then my second thought isn’t where but with who.

After 13 miles and 24 hours in Cabo de Gata, we were running to catch the bus back to Almeria (shouting “Americans, assemble!” in an attempt to leave no man behind but also an attempt to avoid being that man left behind). Not a crowded bus, we had our choices of seats and so the nine of us dominated the back five rows with our obnoxious English chattering and our overstuffed backpacks.

Listening to these friends I had never imagined making, I realized that this is my favorite place I’ve been so far: the in-between of Leaving and Being There with people that you know.

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Another important thing about traveling with friends: they can call you out on it when you say “I’m going to go take a nap” and then find you fifteen minutes later awake and snacking. Photo courtesy of Laurel Hess, that snitch.

It’s weird to say that we’re friends. We’re somewhere between and a combination of friends and colleagues and family and confidants and passport booty calls and therapists and the American embassy and a gang and not even close to being acquaintances. And when I wished for someone to travel with, I was thinking of someone that I could share my hopes and secrets and faults and weaknesses and strengths and wanderlust with and not a damn one of y’all has a beard.

But still. They are my traveller’s tree, my water and my bearings, and they’ve saved me countless times since I’ve been abroad with tea and travel tips and an American accent.

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Day 6 in the Expat Life

When I first moved to Spain, I hated it. Naturally.

I mean, what is  there to love? The gorgeous Spaniard men? How nice everyone is? The accents? Tapas? Thousands of years of culture? PLUS, I was in Sevilla. I mean, come on! Yuck! Twenty-four hours in and I was ready to go home.

My journal from my first night in my host madre’s piso went like this: “I hate it here. Spain is stupid. This is stupid. I want to go home. No, you don’t. You’re stupid. It’s new, you’d hate yourself if you went home now. You’re staying.”

I didn’t fall in love. Not at first, anyways. As with most good, worthwhile things, it was hard and it took time. And in 3 weeks when it came time to leave the city that I’d come to be fond of and the new friends I’d made in a foreign land, I was wrecked. It wasn’t fair! I hated my placement, I hated that I had to travel alone, I hated Spain all over again.

But I went anyways. Life lesson #583: Always go anyways. Even if it’s a complete and utter disaster, you went. And going even when it’s hard is ten times more of a triumph than going when it’s easy.

I arrived in Vera in the middle of feria. I paid a cab driver 5 euros to drive me, essentially, 100 yards. I had to shoulder my way through the party outside of my hotel with too much luggage and too blonde of hair. I was ready to burst into tears by the time I made it to reception and almost full-meltdown by the time I made it to my room and realized I’d left my adaptor for my MacBook back at my host home in Sevilla.

So I did what any self-respecting traveler would do: I put my Chacos on (or maybe I never took them off?) and I got lost. Nearly an hour later, sweaty and footsore and homesick and hungry, I was trying to lose myself back in the direction of my hotel when it hit me with standstill force: I can do anything.

But seriously. If I can survive 10 months in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language and do things like make friends and feed myself and earn money and become a semi-permanent resident and rent an apartment and basically be an adult, then I can do anything. Barriers cease to exist, fears are put into perspective, and I am reborn into a more confident, self-possessed, courageous version of myself. And yes, it is very overwhelming right now and I’m very sad and lonely, it’ll make a damn good story when I cozy up to the hottie with the beard at the end of the bar in the English-speaking country I will one day reside in again and regale him with tales of my cojones.

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One of my favorite side effects of life abroad: simplicity. Tiny Tim here meets Ryanair regulations and accompanied me on two weeks in Dublin AND Paris. For New Year’s. Tiny Tim comes complete with formal dress and semi-formal boots, good for one New Year’s Eve festivity.

 

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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.

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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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