One year ago, I said goodbye to the tiny farming village of Fregenal de la Sierra, my first home in Spain. Needless to say, reflecting on this past year in the bustling capital of Madrid is a much, much different story.
I remember saying goodbye to “my pueblo” like it was yesterday: tears, abrazos, goodbye parties in el campo, and RECKLESS amounts of jamón.
The good life.
Saying goodbye, or should I say hasta luego, to Madrid was different to say the least.
Now, don’t get me wrong! My year in Madrid was an amazing one. I made lifelong friends from all over the world, discovered some AMAZING hidden gems throughout the city, and even established my own tapas tour business!
Success? I think so!
However, I can’t help but to reflect on the difference between my “goodbyes”.
In Madrid, I said goodbye to the waiters of my favorite tapas bars. The friendly, charismatic crew at Baco y Beto, my go-to neighborhood tapas bar and “kitchen away from my kitchen,” who became some of my closest friends (shout out to Roberto!). And of course, the big, loud, jolly, mustached- Asturian men at Casa Parrondo, who would routinely greet me with a big hug and bigger hunk of Asturian cheese.
In Fregenal, I said goodbye to the families who took me in as their own. The families who invited me to their houses my first week in the pueblo, without knowing a single thing about me, nor being able to communicate with me given my NON-EXISTENT level of Spanish (needless to say, I learned fast). The families who force fed me legs upon legs of jamón ’cause “it’s good for me”; who took me to the doctor when I was sick (…probably from too much jamón).
In Madrid, I said goodbye to a place. I said goodbye to my street, my favorite coffee shop, and the metro stop I frequented every day.
In Fregenal, I said goodbye to a culture. I said goodbye to a way of life, where people take things slow and enjoy every day as it comes. Where people take a mid-day break from any and every obligation they might have, to eat a huge “comida” with friends and family. (Long live the siesta!!)
In Madrid, I said goodbye to my international friends in English.
In Fregenal, I said adios to my pueblo friends in Spanish.
Looking back at my two extraordinarily different experiences in Spain, both unique and special in their own way, it made me realize…
My experience in Madrid, while a new, exciting adventure everyday, was a surface one. If you wanna really puncture a culture and immerse yourself in the roots of a country, ya’ gotta ditch the cities.
In Madrid, I got to know a bustling, international, cosmopolitan European metropolis.
In Fregenal, I got to know a language, a culture, and a community of huge-hearted people.
I never thought I’d say this, but looks like this city girl has turned into a full-on country bumpkin’…
So, for all you people looking to move abroad. Here’s some food for thought…
If you are looking for an abroad experience full of non-stop fun, fiestas and English-speaking international friendships, pick a city! Any city. (Well, not any...) If you are looking to truly immerse yourself in a new culture, take the first bus out from the international airport and find your magical lil’ village (preferably, where the jamón flows like water). The heart of a country and the soul of culture reside in those tiny towns you have to squint to see on a map.
They’re easy to miss, but impossible to forget.
As for my next year? Drum roll please…
Take GINORMOUS Madrid + tiny Fregenal and divide by two. Find the average mean. What’ya got? A mid-size, magical city, that just so happens to be my favorite city in all of Spain…
Well, the math might be a little off. But you guys get what I’m going for… My next Spainventure? A year in hippie-vibin’, flamenco-dancin’, tea-drinkin, tapa-eatin’ Granada!!! I can only imagine what this year’s Spainxperience has in store for me. Adios Madrid, holaaaaa Granada!!!