Back in Switzerland now, via brief sojourns in Madrid and Barcelona, constituting my first time in Spain. I could talk about mouth-watering tapas (food tourism: the best kind of tourism), flea markets and Rubens paintings in Madrid, or mountain climbing, more mouth-watering food and Gaudi architecture in Barcelona, but you can read about that anywhere; Wikipedia’s back up. What made my trip really memorable were things like spontaneous (disastrous) hair-dying in Madrid and skipping Catalan exams (not me) in Barcelona, and above all the hospitality that was shown to me by my friends and their friends.
Travelling is wonderful and exciting, but it can also be stressful and scary. I personally have no sense of direction (awkward when trying to find my way round a new place), recognition problems (awkward when trying to find my way back to an old place) and only speak English, French (arguably) and a smattering of mandarin. That’s why having a friend who already knows the place you are visiting and can speak the language is invaluable.
This brief whirl in Spain was fun but relaxing, thanks to my two marvellous friends who live in either city. Doing some quality catch-up whilst sightseeing is a great way to kill two birds with one stone; I even met up with another friend who happened to be in Barcelona at the same time; three birds!
But what surprised me most was the warmth and generosity shown to me by the housemates of both friends. Not to mention patience (I’m thinking of a dire case of irreversible and inexplicable towel-staining and bathroom occupation during aforementioned disastrous hair-dying session in Madrid). These essential strangers cooked for me, took an interest and generally made me feel at home. It might not sound like a huge deal but I personally have a horror of imposing and am hyper-aware of my conduct in other people’s homes, so it means a lot to be made to feel genuinely welcome and allowed to relax.
My only regret is that I forgot to bring back some manchego cheese. Darn! No matter, I have brought back with me warm memories shared with gracious people, and that stays with one for much longer than a block of cheese could. No matter how delicious the cheese…