And so it begins...

Me voy de Estados Unidos el 30 de diciembre y llegué a Madrid el 31 de diciembre. Y tengo buenas noticias: ¡Mi español ha mejorado desde la última vez que estuve aquí! (Espero que escribí correcta esa oración.)

Homesickness...I felt the most homesick before I even got on the plane, saying goodbye to my family the night before and the morning of my flight. It was really hard to leave those hugs. I was up at 3:30am to go to the airport, and for a moment I wanted to just stay there warm and safe in bed at my sister's house. But one of my favorite quotes (from John Shedd) says "Ships in harbor are safe, but that's not what ships are built for." So I got out of bed.

Packing...it didn't all fit so I got to practice the essence of minimalism: "do I really need this?" Got everything down to one 45-pound checked bag, one 21-pound rolling bag (carry-on), and one 23-pound backpack (personal item), plus the clothes I was wearing and two warm coats that I carried one inside the other.

Travel hack...one checked bag with my ticket? Free. A second checked bag? ONE-HUNDRED EXTRA DOLLARS. Sooo...once I got through security I asked at the gate counter if they could check the second bag through to my destination and they did. For free. Which meant I didn't have to deal with my rolly-bag during my layover in Dallas. Definitely a trick I recommend (just make sure the contents of your bag can make it through security).

Jetlag...My friend Annelise suggested I try not to sleep on the first flight so that I would have an easier time sleeping on the flight to Madrid, which would help me beat the jetlag. This was great advice. So when I got on the flight from San Diego to Dallas, I immediately fell asleep so hard that although I assume they did drink service at some point during the flight, I have no way to verify that.

Movies...Ode to Joy with Martin Freeman, and the delightful English film Yesterday (not a musical, which it was listed as, but it does have a lot of great music performed by the star). Shazam! also had me laughing.

Somewhere in the air over who-knows-where I felt a calmness come to me, like being perfectly at home. It was better than the excitement, because it was like my deepest insides were telling me I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

The morning I arrived I met my friend Nicole at her apartment to drop off my stuff, then while she worked I took a walk, shopped for some food, and napped more than I intended. Due to jet lag on both our parts we had a quiet New Year's Eve at her place, but still observed the Spanish tradition of cava (a sparkling Spanish wine) and eating twelve grapes on the strokes of midnight. This is supposed to bring good luck in the next twelve months and was much more difficult than I expected! Uncontrollable laughter doesn't help.

Some of the many Christmas lights over Madrid this time of year.
That night I slept almost twelve hours, and I have spent the last few days exploring, having appointments to start the process of getting my local identification card, loving speaking Spanish, moving into my apartment (dealing with the strange smell in my room), shopping for food and a few things I needed for the bedroom and kitchen, and cooking some food.

Some favorite new and previously visited places include: Café Plántate, Celicioso, el Parque de El Retiro, el Templo de Debod, the flower stalls in Plaza Tirso de Molina (where I bought myself un pequeñito cactus), and just walking around, especially in Lavapiés and La Latina.

The biggest item of "culture shock" I have come across is getting used to a different selection of grocery items. I knew this would be different, but I've realized that my routine of grocery shopping and cooking (especially while living at home with my family for the last six months) gives me a lot of comfort. So not being able to immediately find what I needed shook me up more than I expected. It doesn't help that with my whole-food plant-based vegan diet, and trying to do as much organic as possible, I'm somewhat particular in what I am looking for. So I spent a day walking all over in search of ingredients for some planned recipes, and after feeling really frustrated by not being able to find a lot of them, I went into another market very close to my apartment and felt deep gratitude when I was able to find almost everything the other places had been missing. And then I went to an herbolario and found the rest. Sometimes the little things mean a lot.

I feel like I have so much to tell everyone about every day, and then I get on a videochat with my family and I can't think of all of the things I wanted to tell them. My mom suggested that maybe that was because many of the things are the small delights of discovering this new place, but because they are smaller, in-the-moment things, they are hard to put into words. I think she is right. Things like the way the light hits the building across from my window at different times of day. The particular slope down and then up of a perpendicular street as I glance to my left while walking. The kindness of strangers in interactions with me and my not-perfect Spanish. The couples swing dancing in the Templete del Retiro as I passed (a band stand in the park). I am overjoyed and overwhelmed with gratitude that I get to be here doing all of this.

Also, it has now been a year since I went through my first surgeries, and in my follow up just before moving I got another all clear from my surgeon. So there is joy and gratitude in that too.

I'm not sure how soon the next post will come. I start my TEFL certification tomorrow, and I expect to be very busy. But I'll keep posting photos on instagram (turns out a few black and white photos has turned into a theme) and I'll be back on here soon! ¡Un abrazo!

P.S. I discovered that if you type alexandrafreeman.com into the URL bar without including the initial www. it won't work. I’m working on fixing that, but just FYI in case this happens to you and/or I don’t get a fix figured out. 

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