The First Taste

June 23, 2004, Somewhere over France — More Delays! Had to wait for luggage removal before take-off, and now won’t even land in Madrid until 6:50. Have ISA meeting at hotel at 7:00, which I will miss — hopefully not completely…I’ve now been traveling for over 24 hours and will be at least 6 1/2 hrs later to Madrid than planned…Itinerary says we’re taking a bus tour of the city after the 7:00 mtg. but no time is specified. I really hope I don’t miss it.

I made the bus tour, but just barely. My flight from Minneapolis to Amsterdam had been delayed nearly 5 hours, leaving me plenty of layover time in the Amsterdam airport to scribble madly in my travel journal about everything that had happened in the past forty-eight hours. I’d said tearful goodbyes to my parents and fiance, gotten on a plane, and flown half-way around the world, where I’d remain for the next two months; I was smart enough to bring a change of clothes and some nail polish in my carry on — nothing feels more refreshing at the tail end of a 24+ hour journey than clean clothes and purple toenails; I’d gotten my first Euros out of an ATM and used them at the airport Burger King; and I’d had to figure out how I was going to get to the hotel once I landed Madrid, since all the delays meant I’d arrive in Madrid long after the last International Studies Abroad-sponsored airport shuttle had departed. Deep breaths. I could do this.

When I arrived in Madrid, I thankfully had little trouble finding a shuttle to take me to the hotel. I found the ISA group right away and had just enough time to toss my suitcase in my room and freshen up the tiniest bit before running back downstairs to hop on the bus. My adventure was officially beginning.

On the elevator ride back up to my room after the bus tour, I watched as other ISA students peeled off at their various floors and wondered whose belongings I’d seen during the 5 minutes I’d been in my room earlier. I didn’t have to wonder long. A very cute (I actually described her in my journal as being “cute as a button,” I kid you not) , petite girl with short, dark hair got off at the same floor as me, and we ended up walking to the same door.

“Guess we’re roommates.” I said with a shy smile. “I’m Audrey.”

She smiled back warmly. “Audrey? Hi, I’m Aubri. Want to go find some dinner?”

We ventured out of the hotel on foot in search of a cafe, both amazed at the amount of daylight remaining at almost 10:00 pm. As we puzzled over translating the menu — I ordered a safe ham sandwich, Aubri ordered something our dictionaries translated only as loin (it turned out to be pork) — we chatted and laughed and found out we had more similarities than our names. Neither of us had come directly from our homes. I’d come straight from San Diego, where I’d attended my brother’s first wedding; she’d come from Israel, where she’d been visiting her parents who were living abroad. We both had several years of Spanish classes under our belts, and we couldn’t wait to get to Barcelona and meet our host families. Aubri’s primary goal for the trip was to meet a guy with a scooter and ride around the city with him. We would spend a great deal of time in the weeks to come speculating and joking about Scooter Boy.

The next day we were up early for delicious hotel breakfast — churros, meats, cheeses, pastires — what I’d soon learn was the typical breakfast in Euro hotels. Then more bus tours, museums, incluing the Prado and the Mueso Reina Sofia, where I got to see in person some of the paintings I’d leared about in high school Spanish. I came face-to-face for the first time with Dali and Picasso paintings, including Guernica, one of my all-time favorite Picassos, and was introduced to the incredible work of El Bosco (a.k.a. Hieronymus Bosch). It was amazing, but exhausting.

After a full day of playing tourist, a group of us found a cab and went to a cafe across the plaza from the royal palace. It was a beautiful night, and I remeber that the restaurant was packed with well-dressed theatre-goers. As we perused the menu, Yeolanda suggested we share a pitcher of sangria. There, dining under the stars at that beautiful cafe, surrounded by beautiful strangers and lovely new friends, feeling simultaneously exhausted and exhilirated, I had my first taste of sangria. It was love at first sip.