I'm two weeks out. Two weeks before I head back home to Toronto.
And that's become strange to think about. Wonderful, yes, because I get to see friends and family and do fun things in Toronto and Waterloo that I truly enjoy. It'll be so great. Beside the weather turning back to bitter nasty winter/spring (it's consistently 15 degrees here now and I'm loving how balmy it is). But it will also be strange.
Because lo and behold, living in Madrid has become normal life. Because after my four day trip to the UK, when I arrived back on Monday night at around 11pm, hopped in a taxi, and rolled up to my front door, I immediately thought, home.
I guess that's what a month and half somewhere can finally do. It makes things familiar. We were out for drinks and little snacks at a place called 100 Montaditos (cheapest, best place), and my friend was saying he was cutting his stay short because he was done with Madrid. Eventually we came to realize that Madrid was kind of just normal now. It wasn't that it was bad, it was just like being at home. And he wanted to travel and whatnot and see things before heading back to university, which was understandable. But it made me realize, Madrid has become normal, it has become life.
So that's pretty cool, but that'll make it an adjustment getting back to being at home in Toronto. Because for now this is home. But I'm glad I got to this point, nevertheless.
1. 2 Days and Night in Salamanca
Salamanca was a great of example of how you can pack a lot of fun and adventure into half a weekend. Since there was a fun event put on by the Intern Group where we went to salsa on the Friday night, a bunch of us decided to take a trip to Salamanca (about 2 hours away by bus) on the Saturday instead of the Friday. After spending time in Málaga and feeling done after about a day anyways, I figured this was a good thing. And it worked out nicely! We got to see a lot of the beautiful sights, enjoy a crazy night on the town, and explore a bit more the day after before we bussed home.
The bus was leaving at 9 (or 10? I can't remember) in the morning, and the bus station was a fifty minute metro ride away. I was so ready though, I got there about half an hour early. Unfortunately, my compadre Alix - who had bought the tickets for us - took some other route that ended up with her missing the bus. Which was super unfortunate. As we rolled out, I resigned myself to the fact that I must drink the coffee I had bought for her. So I did. Mind you I had already had a coffee beforehand. As a result, this mans had to pee super badly. Now even though this bus was super, crazy nice (wifi and movies), all I could think about was the need for a lavatory ASAP. Thankfully, in the throes of my despair I noticed a passenger get up and disappear down some bus stairs that I thought only exited the bus. Then I noticed they came back! So lo and behold, there was even a restroom on this bus. What a blessed bus. So after some Jurassic World and marvelling at the sight of snow in Spain as we sped through the mountains, I arrived in Salamanca.
I met up with some other intern homies (and eventually Alix, who thankfully caught a bus that left half an hour later), and we explored. Led by a friendly local named Germano, we saw the old Roman bridge (pictured above) and walked by the river. Then we retired to our hostel and basically just chilled. We were tired. But it was nice to relax and hang out and chat. Afterwards we headed out for dinner. When the waiters saw that there was around eight of us, they ushered us from the crowded upstairs into a private basement room, which was pretty funny, because it was almost like they were hiding us from the rest of the world. The food was pretty spot on too, and after that we headed to Germano's place for some drinks. Then we headed out on the town. It was a bit crazy. I'm not a club kind of guy, so it was a bit of an adventure. But we all ended up home safely, even after a bit of scare involving an aggressive homeless man. Or maybe he wasn't homeless, maybe he was just high. Who knows. Nonetheless, that kind of thing bonds a group of people, so at around 4:30 AM, we retired for the evening, happy and safe, but tired. If you want to hear more about that story, ask me in person sometime :)
The next day we were able to get around and see the old university buildings of Salamanca (some of the oldest in the world), which rank among the most stunning I have ever seen. We also spent some time at a cafe in Plaza Mayor, where a statue of the author of Don Quixote - Miguel de Cervantes - sits chilling like a villain. I unfortunately failed to get a picture, but I promise you, he's there, pondering the madness of a windmill obsessed man. After that, we mostly parted ways, and we headed home, where I had a lovely conversation with Alix that provided the inspiration for my last blogpost. All in all, it was an action packed half weekend, and it was super, super fun. And all the fun was really result of being able to do it with some very lovely, cool, adventurous people from all around the world. This intern thing is great.
2. The UK - London
After a weekend in Salamanca, I spent the week working and waiting for Thursday, when I got to leave for London. I was pretty pumped about this one. The UK has always been something that has lived in legend for me. The British lore and history, their pubs, their countryside, their class, their friggin beautiful accents, everything about them I learned to love from afar. Part of that was definitely stoked by watching Agatha Christie mysteries on TV in addition to other British crime shows since I was a young boy. Basically, I had fallen in love with the UK before even stepping foot on British soil. So I was already set up for success. The only problem with the whole thing was travelling whilst still battling a case of sinusitis, which then affected my ears upon landing in London, causing my right ear to plug up. This is a problem I've still got, no matter how hydrated I'm keeping myself. Cursed be the dry weather in Madrid! Anyways, besides that, I arrived without a hitch, boarded a crowded train from Gatwick, and arrived at my comfortable Airbnb close to the Tower Bridge, south of the Thames. My host was this lovely Italian lady named Antonella who graciously stayed up till 12:30 to welcome me in. I slept, and the next day, walked everywhere. I went to St. Paul's Cathedral, which I think now stands as the most impressive church I have ever had the pleasure of going in. It also provides some of the best views of London, even if it takes around 35 stories of stairs to get up there (all the cardio I need for the rest of this internship was done climbing those stairs let me tell you). After that, I walked through the financial district, checked out the surprisingly engrossing museum about the Bank of England, and ended up in Soho eating at a cheap noodle place that Antonella had recommended. After that, I walked a bit more, which was an adventure. Do you have any idea how many sex shops are in Soho? Far, far too many. No matter how quickly I walked I realized I was in a place where all the stores seemed to cater to the more carnal of human desire. I eventually escaped and headed home.
The next day I met up with my cousin Paul, his wife, Victoria (Or Vicks), and some of their relatives. That was a lovely time, and it was great to see relatives I hadn't seen for more than a decade. I missed seeing my oldest cousin Darren and his family as well as my aunt and uncle, but they were otherwise occupied in their respective homes across England. Just means I'll have to make a return trip :) After brunch Paul and Vicks showed me around the houses of Parliament (which was close to where Paul used to work, at the Supreme Court), and Big Ben. We also went to Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square, and we checked out the most prime of British general stores: Harrods and Fortnum and Mason. Harrods is the most famous, and honestly, it was just okay. It was very busy, very chaotic, and seemed to have become a mere tourist trap. Fortnum and Mason on the other hand, was the crème-de-la-crème. It was everything that I loved about the British ideal: classy, high quality products for ladies and gentlemen. It's probably my favourite store ever, and I will stand by that statement. After that we took a boat ride down the Thames, getting some nice views of the city lit by a gorgeous sunset. We ate some dinner at a pub and then we parted ways. It was lovely to see my relatives, and altogether too short. All the more reason for me to return! After we parted I went to check out a young adults event being put on by Hillsong London, in a warehouse not too far from my Airbnb, but almost impossible to get to by public transit. I got there late because of that, but it was still a cool experience being there nonetheless. Good teaching, good music, but definitely overwhelming. They emphasized the Groups that they had during the week where people could meet in small groups, which I think is vital to a church as big as Hillsong. You need a smaller crew to actually get to know other people and to grow together. Easy to get lost in a crowd. So as overwhelming as it was, it was cool to be in a room full of young Christians. After that I retired for the evening, pumped for my next adventure: Oxford.
3. The UK - Oxford
Man, I was bushed. It had been two days of walking everywhere, and I was ready for a slower pace of life. Cue Oxford. I barely caught my train after learning I couldn't use my London metro card to use the train by a brisk security officer, but I managed to get on right as the doors closed. Oxford, while still relatively busy, was nowhere near to the glorious chaos of London, which was nice. I barely missed the noon cutoff cheap English breakfast at one of the pubs in the town but was able to get the all-day brunch, which sadly had no fried tomato or black pudding but did include fries and of course the perfection that is British bacon. After that, I really just wanted to sit down, read the book I had bought in London, and also read my Bible. So I found a cafe, plunked myself down, and chilled for a bit. After rejuvenation from coffee and the Word I went out to walk around the colleges of Oxford. They were magnificent. Ancient, regal institutions of learning. There wasn't much going on as it was a Sunday, but it was still perfect. There was lots of green space to walk around in as well, which was a literal breath of fresh air. I walked a bit to check out the pub when C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien had often sat and talked (picture of it can be seen above). I was going to eat there but noticed the pub was now owned by a chain pub, and didn't look like anything special. More's the pity. So I tucked into another little restaurant for dinner and then scurried out in time to catch the evensong - a mostly choral service held on Sunday evenings, usually in Anglican churches - at Christ Church in one of Oxford's colleges. I was excited for this because it was a chance for me to see and experience the kind of service I had never been to before.
I was immediately struck by the strict structure of the program, as well as the grand structure we were worshipping in. It was the kind of place that inspired awe in the presence of God, something I think more contemporary churches can learn from. Very little attention I think is paid nowadays in church to the idea of being awed by God, and how much the environment we're in can influence that. It felt very much like we were giving honour to God in all that we did in that evensong. While I sensed the distance and cold formality that many complain of when talking about traditional churches like these, I could also see what was valuable, and see in the actions and the faces of the people around me that their faith was no less strong and valuable to God than mine.
It was great.
I hopped on the train home, and spent the next day walking around Hyde Park and the other posh neighbourhoods of London before I left. I can't wait to return.
Now, I'm just working again. Nothing to write home about. Trying to do as much as I can, but it's difficult when there's not a plethora of things to do and you work faster than the rate at which your coworkers can check your work and then give you more. But it's good. The people are good.
What can I say? Everything is familiar, the new norm. And I have two more weeks of normalcy. Better make the most of it!