Hello, Madrid – But Already Preparing for the Next Adventure

I had but one day on the Iberian Peninsula before heading off on my next adventure. I had things to do, people to see, issues to resolve, and a bag to pack. On the list: See family, see Madrid, meet with volcanologist friends, and unlock iPad. Not necessarily in that order.

First, I needed to sleep in a bit. My host mother had invited me along to see my sister in the morning, leaving around 7:30am, and fortunately my host mother understands that 7:30am is not everyone’s thing, especially after a day of travel. I slept in enough that I missed catching a ride to Madrid with my host father, and instead had breakfast and went out to catch the bus. Oddly, I misremembered where to catch the bus, yet following instructions went to the right place, caught the right bus, got off at the right place, and made it on and off the metro in the right places on the first tries, too. I’m pretty well versed in getting around by bus and metro, but somehow this time things seemed to go wrong often enough that I’m rejoicing in the successes.

Here ends the lackadaisical days of Finnish cabinning. (I don’t know why spellcheck keeps telling me that’s not a word.) My vision for Spain was to do more of what I very happily settled into doing last year.

Dreamy last year interlude:

Picture this: It’s February, the off-season, and I’m traveling with my friend Nancy for a week, mostly in northern Spain. We drink coffee at least twice a day and sangria at least once a day, and walk around without an agenda save moving to new pre-booked locations every couple nights and having a vague idea of a few key things we wanted to see. The one thing we schedule online doesn’t actually go through, so we end up having to enter as walk-ups anyway. Then, Nancy leaves and I stay on in the Madrid area for another week. I’m gripped with the shoulds. I definitely get traveling anxiety, based on my natural tendencies toward indecision and fear of missing out. I know I need to DO something. Go back to the coast! See something new! Take advantage of the time! Be interesting! So I go on a day trip to Toledo. I walk around all day from one thing to the next trying to hit everything on the tourist passport I buy upon arriving to gain entry to most of the main churches, temples, and museums, trying to figure out what I should be doing and seeing and feeling and being and learning and at the end of it all I haven’t stopped for a coffee, let alone a sangria. I haven’t even stopped for lunch. So. Fail. And I know it. I take the train back to Madrid, arriving around 6pm. Before rushing off to anything else, I make myself sit and have a coffee in the train station. The barista is unfriendly and the cafe generic in that train-station way, but it completely turns my mood around. When I am done, without rushing, I get up, gather my things and my self back together, and walk to the Prado. It’s free the last two hours of the day. I spent a fantastic hour and a half visiting my favorite pieces in it’s halls–Las Meninas by Velázquez, Goya’s The Dog and Neptune Eating His Sons–being joyfully anonymous with the crowd. Afterwards, I take myself to a very nice dinner. And have a sangria. And then, relaxed and happy, I bus home.

The rest of the week, I stay in Madrid. Instead of going off somewhere, I spend precious time with my host family and wander the city on my own and met up with wonderful friends old and new. And I absolutely love it.

End last-year interlude. Lesson: Less is more.

This time, I had ten days in Spain. A pretty long stint. I felt with that long of a stint I could probably go somewhere else and have time to explore Madrid without either feeling too rushed. Or, spend the whole time in Madrid and feel good about that, too. I could put on a black turtleneck and frequent the cafes for coffee and vermouth, with my iPad, and be a writer. (For the record, I hate wearing turtlenecks.) (Also, my iPad was still not working.) But there was also something else tugging at me.

I had gotten a volcano bug last year. A friend from work e-introduced me to a wonderful Madrid-based scientist studying volcanoes and she and I made plans to meet for coffee, but then she said her group was interested in learning more about UNAVCO and could I give a presentation, and as a sucker I said yes and in the process fell in love with her team. They expressed an interest in improving communication about volcanic hazards in the Canary Islands. Sounds right up my alley, I said. (Volcanoes, communication, island, sign me up.) The more they talked about it, the more interested and excited I became, and it’s been in the back of my mind since then. So, this year, I got back in touch, and they were my main destination on Monday. We had coffee, had lunch, and talked up a storm.

A walk through Retiro at lunchtime, past this beautiful gentleman.

They gave me advice on where to stay and what to eat. I wrote it all down. I’d already booked my ticket, from Finland.

Mainly, I was going to be a tourist. I wanted to be on vacation. But I also like an excuse (like, for example, seeing the northern lights), and somewhat of a purpose, when I travel. So, I’d be a tourist with a little bit of a purpose. With a bit of a mission, if you will. The mission was to learn about the island as a volcano, and its people as people living on a volcano who had been through an eruption in 2011. Before the eruption began the earthquakes were centered under the island and there was some uncertainty about where the eruption would occur, and thus who would be affected. When the eruption began, underwater and offshore, many were relieved–including the scientists.

I had no idea what a special place I was headed for. Every place is special, granted, and any place with a volcano is inherently interesting in that it offers a window to the mysterious, the violent, the forces of creation and destruction. Really, volcanoes are just cool. I guess really what I mean, is that I knew very little about El Hierro before going. And I learned a ton.

Check this beauty out. Erupted underwater, cooled and expanded on the way to the surface, scooped up and into a boat. The rocks floating on the surface of the ocean were still steaming. Still steaming! Even after rising through that water! And yes, I said rocks floating on the surface of the ocean, which sounds funny, because rocks, but also because air bubbles.

Since I know you must be very concerned about the iPad debacle, I’ll close it out for you. My volcanologist friend very, very kindly spent… one hour? two hours? … with me after lunch, online and on the phone with Apple support (in Spanish), trying to figure the thing out. The bottom line was that I was going to lose anything on the devise that hadn’t been backed up to the cloud. The bottom line was I didn’t really have a choice and there was nothing different staff would do if I went to talk to them in person. So we reset it (with a few glitches, of course, including that the passcode sent to my phone didn’t arrive probably because it was an international plan, yadda yadda), I thanked everyone profusely, and I left with a piece of technology that actually functioned. Even if it didn’t have everything on it that it did before. Lucky that I hadn’t had time to create much on it, I guess. As it turned out, I did have an iCloud back-up, and was able to restore everything. Everything, that is, except that brilliant, life-changing children’s book about whales. The one thing that I’d remembered having made…

That afternoon, I took the metro to my host brother’s house north of Madrid. It was easy. It worked. I called him as I exited the station and could see him waving from the top of his building. It was right there, kitty-corner from the station. So easy. (Thanks Mom for encouraging me to get the international plan.)

I adore him, his partner, their daughter. What joy. What energy! It’s good to see family. To snuggle with a toddler. To watch a little person express themselves so strongly. Personality, man. It starts early.

It was also good to get back home, pack, and get some sleep. Tomorrow, off to a new volcanic place.

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