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5 Ways To Make Friends When Traveling

“You know people everywhere!”

“You have an insane network of people.”

“I go to Spain, I come home with one friend.  You go to Spain, you come back with 150 friends.”

I can’t count how many times I’ve been told any one of these when travel comes up in conversation with friends.  Whether it be during brainstorming on where to visit next or recommending a city, I seem to have the innate (and subconscious) power of offering up relationships I’ve kindled across the globe.  “I have a friend we can stay with,” or “Let me call my friend in __(insert random city here)__ for you…it’s only a 20 minute train ride from where you’re heading, and I know she’d love to meet up for a coffee.”


carlos diaz

In the Basque Country with Linda (from Germany), my BFF I made while traveling in Portugal.


Since every time I take the Myers Briggs personality test I end up right on the border of introvert and extrovert, I’m always surprised that someone thinks I have such a large network of contacts.  When I travel, I prefer to travel solo.  Solo travel is where I found me.  Perhaps it’s where I honed my extrovert skills, too.  I’ve got friends in over 50 countries, and I feel welcome to visit any of them at any time.

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Te dejo Madrid, a tu boca de anís

Color. Contrast.
Stalwart classicism of a city defaced
by modern ideas and notions of revolution.

Madrid was just a six hour bus ride south of my home in Oviedo.
On every finde I felt its dynamic spirit coercing me to come visit.
Finally, at the end of March [2012], Annie and I meandered to the ALSA platform and hopped the next bus to Madrid.

The route was familiar, and I had it memorized by that point, as Madrid is the central mecca through which all routes pass.
Every twist through little Spanish villages, stopping to pick up frequent riders,
the gorgeous green mountainscape of the Asturian principality that welcomes you in or bids you farwell as you cross the border into stark plains of León, where the rain really does mainly stay.

We boarded with our weekend bags and an e-mail to a host from CouchSurfing, content to wander and experience Madrid as it would have us.

“A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent on arriving.” 

– Lao Tzu

We wandered the streets of Madrid, exploring every little alley way.  I love the strong, looming buildings, dotted with eccentric life below.

Here are a few of our discoveries:

The Mercado de San Miguel

Great for a go at a round – or five – of tapas!  We made a few rounds just to be sure all the food was up to par and met code requirements of deliciousness.

Street Life

Spain in general has some crazy findings on the streets, but Madrid takes the cake.  Barcelona has a lot of weirdness because it’s meant to be colorful, but Madrid is just in its natural state with layers and layers of oddities.

Of course, I wouldn’t acclimate to the culture as well if I didn’t participate in the strike with the lot of them.


When in Madrid…


Annie was desperately looking forward to a bullfight as part of her Spain bucket list, and what better place than at the Plaza del Toros in Madrid?

The drizzle outside had a different idea.  We waited for about twenty minutes for the matador to come out in the ring, but nothing.  And then the Spaniards got passionate about their bullfight.

passionate bullfight

Don’t mess with the bullfight.

After another 15-20 minutes, an announcement came over the loudspeaker that the match was cancelled – and it had stopped raining.  Angry booing ensued and seat cushions (5€ a piece, mind you) flew overhead into the ring, until the place emptied out.


Well, that went well.

…y Luego…

The rain didn’t let up much, so we popped in to get some tea at Gran Vía and did a little reading on the city while we tried to dry off and warm up.

write it out

Write it out

And what would a cold afternoon in Madrid be without some churros y chocolate?

churros y chocolate

You complete me.

CouchSurfing and the Music Scene

Our CouchSurfing host, Jay, was an incredible musician.  He and his band, Youthness, had a gig the first night that Annie and I went to support.  Jay has an incredible voice and is a ball of fire in a sweet little package.


Jay is a great artist

That night on the metro, we sang Phil Collins, “In the Air Tonight”.  He sang lead and Annie and I sang back up for kicks.  We accumulated a little immediate audience.  Every time I hear that song, I think of zooming through the Madrid underground.  Likewise, every time I think of Madrid, that song pops in my head, and I think of the good vibes at Quintana Nation (Jay’s place).

The next night, Jay took us to Café Berlin jazz club in the centro, where some of his musician friends were doing a tribute to a late Argentina jazz and blues musician. We wound upstairs and were welcome into a salon packed with some of the most talented people in Madrid.  Once again, it was a great experience.

café berlin

Café Berlin

And later that evening, we walked across the centro to BarCo, where more of his friends were playing some amazing jazz.  Annie and I had a crush on the lead singer from Portugual.  She had such presence!  I also had a crush on the Argentine trombonist.  It was a night from another realm.  I was sweating, intermingled with rhythmic bodies that felt the soul of the beats.  There was a lot of laughing, singing, swiveling, and dancing.


Fresh air after a long night of jazz and dancing!

We were pretty spent by the end of the night.


A little silly

My first experience in Madrid was incredible thanks to Jay.  CouchSurfing really is the way to go to see a new side of a city!  It’s akin to running parallel to all the other tourists, but actually traveling, and seeing a world that is right below their noses that they will never experience because the places aren’t on a map.  If you head to Madrid, I definitely recommend checking out the broad music scene.


We saved the masters for last.  Two trips to the Prado museum and one trip to the Reina Sofia crowned our time in Madrid.  Standing before so many masterpieces I’ve only seen in textbooks was like meeting a phantom face-to-face.  I loved the vibrant Spanish flag waving atop the Prado against the blue sky.  The Spanish deserve to be proud of the centuries of art prodigies that they boast.

Madrid is a city to be visited over and over again, and you will never see the same thing twice.  I visited a handful of times and would visit a dozen more.  It has an unspoken elegance, a pride in its history, and a claim to all things progressive and modern.



I woke up this morning at 5:45 to the ethereal refrains of Enya’s “Deora Ar Mo Chroi“, the sounding of the last alarm of four that I set to drag myself out of bed to meet with my personal trainer on Tuesday mornings.  Still dark…Daylight Savings had mercy on me.

I opened my small window and was pelted with a barricade of cold air that had been tapping at my window all night, waiting quietly to come in.  I heard the wind twining through the late autumnal branches of the trees that have been begging to bud.


This is the stuff I love.  Upstairs, as the minutes went on, it was clear that the turbid clouds were suffocating the daylight.  I sat on the corner of the couch happily dipping my spoon into my bowl full of nostalgia and Co Co Wheats (60% DV of iron and 100% DV folate…who knew I was getting so many crucial vitamins and minerals as a five year old?).  As my roommates passed through the living room and I giddily soaked in the moody weather with fiery eyes, debating if I would choose to sit on my porch zipped up in my sleeping bag with a mug of Pero in hand, I rhetorically asked why I am so weird and love these kinds of days.  One responded.

“Because it’s moody…just like a woman.”


This taken yesterday with similar morning weather, I submit that it is uncanny how much the sky looks like the inner core of my soul…sharp and soft, a bit of a whirlwind blur, black and white, crooked and straight, dying and alive…a complete contradiction on most days.

Like a woman.

My mind somehow arrived in Neuilly-sur-Seine, a neighborhood in northwest Paris, about five miles from the city center.  It’s a completely off-track story on how my friend Annie and I ended up in this neighborhood, but let’s just say that I now know the following facts about this part of Paris:

  • The American Hospital of Paris is home to a crazy-eyed colorful-humored seemingly-drunken Scottish doctor who speaks French with a beautiful accent.  I was a fan.
  • I was able to enjoy the fact the nudity is not taboo in French culture.
  • Language barriers are irrelevant: being pushed around in a wheelchair by a dread-headed African male nurse is fun for all!
  • French streets, avenues, and boulevards may share the same name but be on completely opposite sides of the neighborhood.
  • This is one of the most gorgeous neighborhoods I’ve ever seen.  Tourists that get stuck in central Paris are missing out on the real heart of the people and city.
  • Deviating from plans that you already don’t have really makes for a great experience.



After the visit to the hospital, we stayed at a small hotel not too far from the hospital.  By the time we left, evening was falling and the sky was gray and misty much like it was this morning.  We were greeted by a super cute and chatty bilingual desk clerk who recommended a great pizzeria up the street.  First, we went to our room which had a great view of Paris.  We spied on people on their balconies and looked out onto the city rolling on for miles before us.  Also, the room was a real room with a queen bed European style (two beds pushed together), and a private bathroom…unlike the hostels we had been so used to for months (minus Galicia…Galicia was great).  We put down our bags and took a deep breath, grateful that I thought I had blood clots just waiting to rush to my brain.

Neuilly Hotel



We spent the evening taking the metro into Paris to one of the only 24-hour pharmacies, which happened to be near my favorite Paris landmark, l’Arc de Triomphe.  I picked up my super extra strength Tylenol with Codeine and we metroed back to Neuilly, meeting a handful of boys on their way to a party…a quiet Ben Savage look-alike trying to tame his hipster  friend clad in the skinniest jeans you can imagine and his talkative buzzed Jewish friend.  We walked up the narrow alleyways to the pizzeria in the quiet neighborhood, where we laughed and relaxed as the young Italian boys flirted shamelessly with us.  They even made our pizzas heart-shaped.

Heart pizza

It’s amore.


Afterwards, we went back to the hotel, sponging in the cool Parisian night of Neuilly-sur-Seine, drunk on happiness.

Crawling into bed at 1am, we made mint tea and ate complimentary biscuit cookies while watching an Italian opera on television until we drifted to sleep around 2:30am, the dim distant city lights hardly breaking through the translucent curtains.  At 5am, we were rudely awaken by our alarm clock, urging us to catch our taxi (so graciously called by the front desk clerk) to the shuttle stop, where we stuffed in a cozy van full of passengers busing out to Beauvais airport in the French countryside.  The blush sunrise turned the dewy fields to gold as we passed them by.

(Postscript: this isn’t Neuilly-sur-Seine, but the gorgeous sunset on the street by our hostel not far from the Louvre, and the view I had when I opened our hostel window on our first morning in Paris…and to think I almost didn’t take the trip.)

Parisian Sunset

Parisian Sunset


Peek-a-boo, Parisian Blue

Peek-a-boo, Parisian Blue




Comentarios Literarios Hispanoamericanos del Siglo XIX.

Sounds sexy, right?

If you don’t speak Spanish, pretend like you’re in a Taco Bell commercial, then say it again.

This class is a contradiction, like all of my experiences in Spain thus far.

The roughest class I have this semester.  Interesting, but let’s be honest: I have no idea what the Helsinki Finland is going on.  Our professor mentioned that on the final we won’t have any reading samples from what we read in class, but we will have to identify the author of readings that we did not discuss in class.  Makes sense, right?

The teacher is a beautiful Spanish woman – thin, great boobs, gorgeous mop of morning-after curls, trendy, a smooth voice and an incredible passion for her field of interest.

In this classroom we have a hearty mix of students.  There are but a couple of us that are not Spanish.  And then you have your popular Spanish girls, your awkward wannabe popular Spanish girls, your token hipster, a middle-aged non-traditional student, a couple loners, and one single male student.

This post is dedicated to him.


About a month ago, we were reading the 1839 piece “El Matador” by the Argentine author Esteban Echeverría.  I remember that day in class vividly because it was the day my innocent American hormones went AWOL and became intoxicated by the literary sangria of Spanish culture.  It was not only the first day of the semester the professor asked for class participation due to a losing battle with laryngitis, but it was the day she called on Rodrigo.

Rodrigo…Rodrigo.  Each time that name rolls around the hollow of my mouth, I trade in cotton pajamas for black lace lingerie.

Rodrigo sits in the front row every day donning his coke bottle glasses and clad in sweaters, khakis and loafers.  He nervously bounces his legs under the table as he holds a bottle of medicated lotion he frequently applies to his flaking, red, patchy, burned skin.  He’s always the first and only to interject a commentary in class.  Clearly, he spends his free time pouring over these obras with his lit major friends; everyone knows who they are because the small handful of them hang around in the hallway between classes, sitting in archaic window sills next to the classroom and chatting quietly about what I – as the daydreamy foreign student – imagine to be planning sessions for poetry reading and wine nights at a local underground bar.

They’ve got this vibe of coolness.  Geek chic.

But oh, Rodrigo.  I was on to him.  His savage afro of sandy brown curls hinted to his secret.

On that day – that day when I became a real woman – I knew why this boy’s mother named him Rodrigo.

Profesora Gil asked Rodrigo if he would read.

This sweet dork-of-a-guy pushed his glasses up high onto the bridge of his nose, stood up and walked right to the projector screen where he planted his nose so he could see the already enormous letters.

And then he began to read.


…what was this feeling?!?!

I lost all control over my ability to focus.

I squirmed uncomfortably in my chair.

I felt the words rip open my chest and plunge their primal hands into the core of my soul, the factory where raw emotion and carnal desire is manufactured.


I was confused.  Here I was staring at the Spanish equivalent of Steve Urkel, but having a lustful affair on my own personal cover of a Harlequin romance novel.

Rodrigo became the author with a quill by candlelight, glancing over at the love of his life wrapped in a sea of white linen, quietly resting on the bed.  Rodrigo read like a debonaire, deliciously exotic Spaniard whispering sweet nothings into my ear.  Rodrigo was Brendan Fraser taming horses in George of the Jungle, except in this version Rodrigo was taming wild lines of poetry.  (If you are unfamiliar with this scene in George of the Jungle, you must watch it…it’s a hot, comedic, melodramatic moment.)  This nerdy kid beneath the plastic frames swallowing his face transformed into the most sensual guy I’ve come across in Spain.  His voice read each word with the longing and sensuality of an unfulfilled love, holding and caressing each one individually as if each line was his lover.

Please hold while I sit very unladylike and let a draft lower my body temperature just a little before continuing.

There are no words in English or Spanish that will do justice to the beauty that Rodrigo conveyed.  His voice trumped all prejudice the world may throw at him.  Beautiful.  Tender.  Tranquilizing.

Now when I’m wandering the second floor on campus, I’m secretly hoping to catch a glimpse of him.  And when I do, I’m twittered, even if just from the mountain of respect I have for his knowledge and passion of written word, and his amazing ability to read even the most confusing texts so beautifully and deliver their meaning with such devotion.  And sensuality.  Let us not forget that little gem.


Way to go, Rodrigo.
Ten points to Gryffindor.