After a week of almost endless partying in Valencia, it was time to get back on the road again and so I found myself travelling to Madrid by train, slightly the worse for wear after The Cult's gig the night before, on a gloriously sunny afternoon.
Suddenly, I was alone again, after four and a half weeks surrounded by new friends in San Seb, a week with Brid and her extended Spanish family in Peniscola, and another week in Cian and Marie's Valencian pad.
Suddenly, too, life was an open book again. I didn't have a return ticket to Ireland, all I knew was that I had four nights booked in a Madrid hotel, and everything seemed uncertain. And I loved that feeling!
Some people tell me they could never travel alone. For me, of course, it's always great to spend time with friends or family or loved ones, but there is a great feeling of freedom associated with getting on a bus or a train on your own, without knowing what's at the other end of the journey.
There is no pressure to drink or to party, you can have the quietest night in or walk ten miles through unfamiliar city streets according to a whim. While specific projects have been really important to my gap year (four months in Koh Lanta, becoming a Divemaster; four and a half weeks in San Sebastian, learning Spanish; and still to come, my volunteer project in Nicaragua) I haven't minded my times on my own.
I don't think I could travel endlessly for 12 months, wich is why I've tried to put down temporary roots in Koh Lanta, San Sebastian, and, in September, Granada, but life on the road challenges me in a way that sitting at home in my home town never could.
What I'm saying, I guess, is that we are all different, and yet we can all suffer from loneliness from time to time. But I know I could feel just as alone in a crowded late night bar in Galway on a Saturday night as I did pounding the streets of Madrid, not knowing a soul.
Anyway, I made my way across Madrid to book into my superb hotel, Antigua Posada Del Pez. Located in a quiet side street in Malasana, just five minutes from the action of Gran Via, it was a gem, with a spacious room, unbelievably quiet, and free wi-fi.
Malasana is a funny area, with lovely (and cheap) ethnic restaurants, alcoholics gathered round a square and 'ladies of the night' on street corners, within just minutes of Puerto del Sol and the tourist heart of the city.
Having unloaded my huge rucksack, I took a stroll around town, only to come across a free concert on the terrace of Teatro Royal, featuring Placido Domingo, who had earlier featured in an operatic show inside.
Standing beside him was the Queen of Spain, Sofia, whose arrival was greeted with ecstasy by the gathered hordes. I might not be much of a fan of the royals in any country, must be the Irish rebel in me, but my darling niece Sofia is called after this particular monarch and I was kicking myself that I'd left my camera back in the hotel.
Later the same night, an all female group from a college of music in Portugal treated a large crowd to a thrilling, free concert on Calle Arenal. Suddenly no longer feeling in any way alone, I was heartened to strike up a conversation with two women in their 70s who were bopping to the music at 1 a.m. Madrid really is a late night place.
The next few days were spent exploring the heart of the city on foot. It's amazing how much you can cover in four or five hours.
I spent five hours in the Museo del Prado, the highlight of which was Goya's massive anti-war murals depicting scenes from the Spanish uprising (against the French) two centuries ago.
The following day, I was equally enthralled by the Reina Sofia Museum, featuring photos from the deprived streets of New York in the 1980s, Picasso's massive 'Guernica', and a host of surrealist paintings by Dali and company. Madrid truly is one of the great cities of the world.
It was 37 degrees each day during my visit, but I didn't find the heat too repressive. Perhaps I've become accustomed to it after five months in South East Asia.
I found Madrid to be a friendly, lively place; and nothing like the place I'd conjured up in my mind from years of listening to tales of Basque repression. O.k., I will never cheer for Real Madrid, Franco's team, but as is so often the case, the perceived 'enemy' didn't seem to be so bad once I got to know them!
Ayudante Profile #5: Concepcion
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