Last month I was lucky enough to be able to travel back to Madrid, the city I have spent the last year living in, for a final few weeks to say goodbye and pack up my flat. I was forced to leave quickly in March after Madrid announced its impending lockdown, so had to leave behind my friends and my flat. I felt I had unfinished business with this new city I had fallen in love with. The past 8 months I had spent there for my year abroad were some of the best of my life, filled with new experiences, friends and amazing food, so it was no surprise that as soon as Spain opened their borders and the UK ended the traveller’s quarantine I jumped on the first flight out to Madrid.
My plan for this two week trip was to try and tick as many things off my Madrid bucket list as possible- this mainly consisted of restaurants and shops that I had walked past all year and vowed to venture into when I had time, only that time was cut short. I therefore had a whirlwind few weeks ahead of me, not to mention taking into account the impact of Covid-19 on Madrid’s cultural and culinary scene. I wanted to be as conscious and careful as possible during my trip, whilst also making the most of this incredible city that was beginning to emerge from its lockdown slumber.
Something I didn’t take into account however, was how I would feel returning to the city I had called home all year after a break of nearly 5 months. Upon my return, my flat remained eerily untouched and as if I’d never left. The only difference was the temperature, which had risen a good 15 degrees to reach the low 40s- luckily all our fans were where we left them! Walking through the streets I had come to know so well felt strange and as if I was reliving old memories. Being there without my friends and the normal buzz of Madrileñan’s going about their day was strange and unsettling.
I underestimated how overwhelmed I would feel returning to Madrid after spending a whole term at home in lockdown, as although I had seen some friends at home in a socially distant setting, returning to a city which had eased their lockdown and was returning to normal life felt strange and somewhat anxiety inducing! I avoided taking the metro, wore my face mask at all times, and stuck to eating outdoors where possible, making the most of many of Madrid’s reopened bars and restaurants. Most only took reservations and as many spots in Madrid boast a terrace or outdoor seating in the plazas, I felt much safer dining out and was still able to keep some distance from the throngs of tourists- I clearly wasn’t the only person keen to visit Spain’s capital again!
I spent the week ticking off everything on my bucket list: trying the best churros in Madrid at Chocolatería San Gines, finally visiting the Thyssen- Bornemisza museum, soaking up the sunshine at Bellas Artes, one of my favourite sunset spots in the city, and ending my trip by visiting the number 1 spot on my bucket list; Nina Pasta Bar. Located in La Latina, I had passed their rustic Italian exterior nearly every weekend while wandering around El Rastro Market, so it only felt fitting that I spent my last night in Madrid paying Nina Pasta a visit. Safe to say it did not disappoint! The dish of my dreams, Pappardelle with mushrooms and a truffle cream sauce topped with a poached egg, lived up to and exceeded my expectations, and I secretly thanked myself for waiting all year to taste this exquisite dish. It felt the perfect way to end what turned out to be a rather hectic two weeks, and allowed me to reflect on why I felt so overwhelmed and strange being back in my home away from home.
On my flight back it dawned on me that maybe I had already come to terms with my year abroad ending early and mentally closed that chapter of my life whilst in lockdown, so it felt strange returning to Madrid and essentially picking up my life where I had left it at the start of March. Although I felt so lucky and grateful to be able to return to Madrid for a final goodbye, I felt like a different version of myself than I had been 5 months before, and I was already looking forward to the next stage of my year; spending my summer in my family home in Holland and preparing to return to university in the UK after a year of studying abroad.
One lesson I have learnt during this period at home is that I love my alone time- living in lockdown has forced me to become comfortable in my own company and appreciate how nice it is to spend some time recharging and reflecting on my day. I found that when I returned to Madrid I wasn’t used to the jam packed days full of socialising and sightseeing that I used to plan, and instead cherished some time alone at the end of each day to reflect and plan my next steps. If my farewell trip to Madrid taught me anything, it was that through lockdown I learnt to truly embrace the Spanish culture of living a slow paced life, and I hope I take this mindset with me wherever I go next.