A city in the rain is as romantic as you make it. You can walk arm in arm with a loved one through the glistening cobblestones, finding cozy nooks in cafes and whispering into mugs of tea, or you can be chilled, damp and groan that you can’t properly take pictures without getting your camera wet and you wanted to see that lovely park, but what’s the point now.
What about when you’re alone?
One unfortunate thing that I tend to do right before a trip is I completely glamorize solo travel. I get so hyped for the adventure, the people I’m destined to meet and the wondrous places I will see and lavish around in, it is as if my brain compartmentalizes and all at once forgets that sometimes solo travel is just aimless and uncertain. I arrived in Madrid at the Los Amigos hostel to find that everyone there spoke mostly only Spanish (which I do not) and seemed to be traveling in pairs. Suddenly the awkwardness of traveling alone flooded back to me and I thought to myself “What in the world? Why am I still doing this?”
That first night I had my one and only social engagement of the weekend, which was to have dinner with my lovely friend and dance coworker, Natalia. She has been killin’ it in the Madrid dance scene ever since leaving Tangier after we did a performance together, so it was amazing to catch up with her over decadent tapas (think brie + caramelized onions). She had an early morning, so I wandered back to the hostel on my own afterward. I watched groups of friends spilling out of bars, buzzing with lispy Spanish and tipsy laugher, wishing a little bit that I had a group of friends to share the brisk night with. However, my love of any city in the early morning tends to outweigh my inkling to check out the nightlife, so I went to bed early.
I awoke at 7 to dark skies and heavy rain. I hate to admit this, but I instantly wished I had a companion there to walk arm and arm in the rain with me. Sucking it up, I put on some red lipstick and marched myself out onto the soaked, deserted 8am streets. I found the coziest, homiest café possible called Matilda, nestled myself in a corner table with some pan contomate, a cappuccino and Mary Oliver’s Poetry Handbook while some calming Mozart played quietly from the owner’s laptop.
In between reading, I typed little notes and quotes into my log of phone reminders and scrolled through some old notes as well. I paused when I found this quote that I had copied a month or so ago:
She could be herself, by herself. And that was what now she often felt the need of- to think; well not even to think. To be silent, to be alone. All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others… It was thus that she felt herself; and this self having shed its attachments was free for the strangest adventures. When life sank down for a moment, the range of experience seemed limitless.
-To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
Oh. That was what I needed to read in that quiet morning moment. I was instantly reminded that while solo travel may not be glamorous, it can be softly luminous, as we open ourselves up to simple and various experiences that we can only see without the distraction of another person’s needs. We can people watch for hours, blending in with the wallpaper. We can take ourselves on strolls at our own pace and stop to look at things without asking another to slow down. This introverted and yet open mode of travel was what I set out to do for the rest of the day. No need to glitter or expand- I could just be there.
I walked until my feet hurt, went into any and every shop that drew my attention (mostly bookstores, plus I could have gone way too crazy at Muy Mucho, the home-goods store). I sat in cafes with all of that local organic “hipster” food, as my husband calls it, just because that is what I tend to miss the most when in Tangier. I got a fabulous sandwich at the cute & whimsical Martina Cocina and avocado toast with macadamia nuts at Café Federal, which is, by the way, where you absolutely need to go if you also love local organic hipster food.
I did spend two hours in the company of others during a dance partnering/contact workshop I signed up for a while ago at the beautiful Estudio Tom Danza, led by Alejandra Illmeer, which was my excuse for going to Madrid in the first place. While it was wonderful (and gave me some good dancer bruises to bring home per usual), it was, in the end, only a piece of the whole weekend experience.
After dancing for two hours straight, I was in dire need of churros, obviously. I headed over to one of the more infamous churro places in Madrid, Chocolaterías Valor that has been serving churros + chocolate since 1881.
Being single in this moment, I was sat at the bar. Why is there a stigma against women eating alone? Is it just in my head? Of course there are some places that you can eat by yourself and easily blend in as if you were a painting of a sailboat on the wall, but being the only soul on the bar stools in a crowded churro restaurant, surrounded by tourist families and loud-talking Spanish couples, the several sidelong glances of pity that you get from a waitress can be ego-shrinking. In general, I try to just own it and thwart any looks of pity with a hair flip and my I’m too cool anyway stare. Which is a work in progress to say the least. I determinedly put on that face and ate my entire plate of churros, licking chocolate off my fingers and enjoying every greasy bite.
This too-short weekend getaway marked my 4th or 5th time to Madrid, but each experience of the city has been different, to say the least. Making frequent trips to one place can end up marking time in an interesting way. Each trip has highlighted where I’m at and what I need in that particular moment of life. This past weekend all I needed was some solitary reflection, cafés for the creativity + the food, some dance for the soul, and to take myself out on romantic walks through a rainy city.
Go wander alone, lovelies