Wow! That week went by so fast. I really only experienced a very small portion of Odessa, Ukraine, but nonetheless it was a great experience. I’m glad I conquered my fear of flying and crossed an ocean to be here. Despite the weather, I will really miss the city, and can’t wait for the chance to return. To all the friends I’ve made this past week, thank you so much for showing me around your city. I must say that any and all preconceived notions I had of Ukraine were completely wrong. It was clean, safe, and the people were very happy and hospitable. Unfortunately, I must now head to Madrid… Just kidding, holy shit I’m heading to Madrid!
We got to the Odessa airport with so much time to spare. Which was great, because that gave me more time to dread about the upcoming flight. As we left the terminal and were shuttled to our plane, it became more and more clear to me that I wouldn’t feel safe until we made it to Kiev, due to the condition of our ride. Inside and out, the 737 looked like it was 40 years old, and hadn’t been washed once. The once white exterior was browning in more places than not, and the seats still had ashtrays in the armrests. The flight will forever be considered one of the most uncomfortable hours in my life. Kiev to Madrid was completely the opposite, however, as it was one of the newest planes I’ve ever been in. A smooth four hour flight later, and we’ve finally made it to Spain.
It was 2am when we arrived at our apartment, but the city had no signs of slowing down. In Madrid, everything is open until 7am on the weekends. Kam and I found a nice little “hole in the wall” place close to our apartment, which would become our defacto headquarters for planning each night’s activities while we were in town. As with most other places in Madrid, when you ordered a drink here, you were given a complimentary small plate of food. We soon learned that the best strategy to eating in Madrid, was to hop from place to place and just order a drink. Two other places we would visit frequently during our stay were the Museo del Jamon and Mercado de San Miguel. Every night actually.
I found a great coffee shop the next day called Bocono. I spent at least the better part of an hour brushing up on my Spanish so I could get my coffee without sounding like an idiot. When said my order in Spanish, “Yo quiero un latte, por favor.”, the barista answered “for here or to go?”.
Kam and I decided to save money on cab fare and navigate the metro to get back and forth to the conference. We found some difficulty at first, not with the navigation part, but with paying for a ticket process. The Spanish metro uses an automated system to purchase tickets. The first screen wasn’t a problem as it gave you the option to select English, after the first screen however, English was no longer an option. After hitting a bunch of buttons, and purchasing way more tickets than we needed to, we were on our way. The second time we rode it, we were given bad directions by a local friend, so it took us way further than we needed to, but I can honestly say getting lost in Madrid is something I didn’t mind doing.
Speaking of getting lost, the very last day that’s exactly what I did; purposefully. You could never see all of Madrid in only a week, and it was hard enough to see what of it I did, with all the time spent working, but the last day I just decided to start walking and not worry about where I ended up. I found myself in dense residential neighborhoods on the outskirts of town, found scenic parks with beautiful views, and stumbled upon the Royal Palace, which was the most beautiful structure I saw while in Europe. I found some typical local tapas spot, and really soaked it all in one last time.
That entire last day I still couldn’t wrap my tiny brain around where I was. An entire ocean I had crossed, and made it to an entirely different world. A place which I have only viewed through a television screen. Not to mention the whole crossing the ocean part. 100 years ago, the same trip that took me 9 hours would’ve taken anyone else 2 weeks, in good weather; 400 years ago the journey took 2 months; 700 years ago most people had no clue the land which I live even existed.
Its almost impossible for me to list all the reasons why I have fallen in love with Madrid within a single blog post. It was all that I was hoping for and then some. Fortunately, I have a job that allows me to travel to wherever I want in the world, without having to miss a day. So next year, I have every intention of spending at least a few weeks in Spain, and hopefully some more destinations throughout Europe as well. But first, Chicago, Las Vegas, and Florida are on the agenda. So until then, hasta luego!