(Note, for consistency this maintains the same titles, but this post is largely about leaving Orce and spending a few days in Madrid before returning to Canada. All of the sketches are from Madrid, done in a small moleskin, all less than 10 minute sketches due to it being chilly outside.)
David & Simon returned home on the same bus that brought me to Orce. I picked them up at 8pm and they were tired, and found it a little strange (“We’ve picked up a lot of people like this, but never been on the other end.”) I had dinner waiting for them when we get home, and we chat for a few hours, comparing our respective journeys, before everyone needs to head to bed. The following day they drive me to Baza, where I catch a bus to Granada. It is sad to go, but we have developed a good relationship and I feel like I could come and house sit here again. I’m exhausted on the bus and stare blankly at the beautiful (now snow covered) mountains. In Granada I have decided to take the train to Madrid which means getting from the bus station to the train station. I ask the info person and she says “take a bus, it’s very far” but it seems to be 30 minutes walk according to Google. I have about 3 hours until the train.
I walk through Granada, mostly down main streets, I’m not going to detour as I do have my suitcase behind me and it’s taking a beating on the not so smooth sidewalks. I arrive at the train station and figure out the connection. After I bought the ticket a few days ago, I realized it was actually a bus the first hour of the journey, apparently because the tracks from Granada are under repair. This was disappointing as it means for an extra transfer and I really wanted the comfort of the train. I said to David I should have just got a bus, but it turns out the train was a good purchase. It allowed me to walk through Granada some, and was still a few hours shorter. It also gave me a look at some new landscapes, wheras the bus would have been the same as the way down. I get on the “train bus” and it’s quite luxurious, I walk to the back and there is a 4 seat section missing where there is a wheelchair door and (maybe) that section is for wheelchairs? I desperately want to sit in the seats with endless legroom (I hate buses) but I politely sit next to them, waiting to see what will happen. This was a bad choice. A family with kids comes to the back “Shit” I think “they’re going to take it.” No, they take the row of 5 at the very back. Then a conductor comes to the back, counting people, and returns again because he missed one of the kids in the back. At this point I should have asked him if it was ok to sit there. Big mistake. A minute later, three teenage girls come on, and promptly take the two seats, plus one immediately behind me. They are not even tall enough to be bothered by normal seats. I am livid, and they spend the entire ride no doubt cackling at me, clearly uncomfortable. This was by far the angriest I have been this entire trip. Also, the children in the back screamed much of the journey (which was picturesque). We transfer to the train, smoothly, and my assigned seat is thankfully nowhere near these people.
I take my place beside a middle aged Spanish lady, say hello and that I don’t speak much Spanish and we settle into the journey. A very comfortable train going at about 210 km/h. I’m exhausted and happy to just sit there, but eventually she starts talking to me. She has no English, a little French, so the conversation is mostly her talking in Spanish, slowly, and me responding in basic Spanish, or some sign-English. My phone is low on battery and I haven’t found the plug, so I hesitate to use it to translate. She tells me she studied art in Granada, and was a painter. I tell her I studied art in Canada, and show her my business card. She asks about my last name “White… is Blanco?” - “Si” - She tells me *her* last name is Blanco! We are amazed and laugh at this. She tells me her daughter is studying to be a lawyer in London. We struggle on this word for a while (I recognize the word, but can’t associate it, and eventually use my phone). We talk about the weather in Canada and Spain and I try to explain what I’ve been doing here, which confuses people even when I explain in English. It’s a pleasant journey, I just wish I wasn’t so tired. We arrive in Madrid around 7pm and I text my AirBnB host, and avoid her advice of talking the metro to the apartment. The walk is about 40 minutes and beautiful. It’s nice out, well above 10, and there are thousands of people on the streets. It’s the opposite of where I’ve been the past month and it’s nice to be back in the city.
I arrive at the AirBnb and wait a little for her son to arrive, he texts me (using whatsapp, where you can see pictures of people) and his whatsapp picture shows him shirtless, in very good shape, at the beach with his son. Thankfully I recognize him with his shirt on, and he shows me the apartment, which is small, but suits my needs for a few days. It’s in Chueca, which is very central. When I told David & Simon this they said “Oh, the gay district!” I said I didn’t know that, the listing just read “hip” and they laughed. Chueca is fantastic, there are hundreds of people on every street in every direction at every hour of the day, it seems. It’s quite diverse, with tons of cafes, bars, shopping, and people of all types everywhere. That evening I wander from Chueca to Lavapies, another hip neighbourhood about twenty minutes away, and eat some food and have a few drinks at a few different bars. It’s so warm at 10pm I’m able to sketch quickly outside.
The following day I go on a long walk around the city, passing down the Gran Via, which is a main artery and huge shopping district. Again, it’s hard to get across just how many people are around, but it essentially feels like you’re in the middle of a large protest at all times, but with people going in different directions. The shops don’t interest me too much, they are shiny and new and you will find every major brand in the world with a storefront it seems. The day is a bit grey and chilly but I try to sketch a bit.
Friday is sunny and nice and I decide to head to an area called La Latina which takes me through the centre of the city, and is a good long walk. I have decided to travel light in Madrid and only use my pocket sketchbook. This makes sense as it’s quite chilly and I need to draw fast and keep moving so the small book helps with that. I make a number of sketches on the walk, and often choose a street if there is more sun on it. Part of the reason there are so many people is because Madrid has that ideal density level of buildings between 5-8 stories. There are no 2 story buildings in central madrid, nor are there many taller than 8. However, this does mean that the sun is blocked a lot of the time, especially in winter months. I assume it’s fine in the summer when it’s 40 out, but in the winter it’s a struggle to find sun, even if you know it’s out.
Saturday I wander around my neighbourhood, and after getting some sense of the rest of the cental city, I really appreciate it more. Aside from Lavapies, it is my favourite area. That evening I go and meet my friend Puri who I went to grad school with, who was born & raised in Madrid. It’s been about twelve years, but she looks the same (which she was pleased to hear) and said the same about me ("...but somehow taller?" “Well, I didn’t wear boots then”) We reminisce a little and talk about grad school friends who we have seen or been in touch with. She is not exactly happy with Spain, the economy, the politics. It’s been very hard on young people and she feels it first hand.
We cover a number of topics, from what we’ve been doing ourselves, to politics in Spain and Canada, and of course, Trump and the insanity that is the United States. We bar hop, getting tapas and eventually a proper dinner. She is almost vegetarian (very hard to do in Spain) but happy to have a single garlic chicken wing (delicious). The bars are all noisy, it’s Saturday night, and every time one gets too noisy we pay up and move to one that seems quieter. It’s nice to catch up with someone after so many years and be able to talk about big things and be open about our own place in life. She is very curious about the house sitting and says she might look into it, but also says 30 cats sounds like a bit of a nightmare scenario. Eventually she has to go as she has to catch a train to the outskirts, where she leaves (cheaper) - it’s raining, so I take a metro home as well.
Sunday, my last day here is raining. I wander around my area a bit, have some coffee and write and buy croissants. I do some work, and pack and get organized for a very early flight on Monday.
The travel day goes as smooth as can be, with flights on time and the trans-Atlantic one two seats to myself. We land in Toronto a sunny day, and a few hours later land in Ottawa to snow.