This weekend was very special, as I was able to visit my Spanish sister, Belén and stay with her family! Belén visited the United States as an exchange student with my next-door neighbors (practically our second family) for three summers. We were so thankful for our time with Belén; it was fun to show her what we love about Minnesota and welcome into our Minnesota family!
But five years later, it was Belén’s turn to show me her home— Madrid, Spain. Although it had been five years since we have seen each other, everything felt natural. It was such a joy and gift to be back together.
Even though it was a short trip, I was able to see so much of Madrid. After my flight landed at noon, we hit the ground running! Belén highlighted the main ‘tourist’ attractions and the hidden gems. I saw places such as Plaza Mayor, Royal Palace of Madrid, Puerto del Sol, El Retiro Park, Temple of Debod, and Plazza España to name a few. I was intrigued by the rich history in the architecture. Every street I turned on was painted different colors, speckled with shops and restaurants, making each new road as interesting as the last.
Within two hours of being in Spain, I was eating a Madrid specialty, bocadillo de calamares, fried squid on a baguette. I was hesitant at first, but I really enjoyed it! Belén was certain that the restaurant she brought me to had the best bocadillo de calamares around, and they gave you the most squid for the cheapest price.
I was surprised to see how many trees lined the streets! Belén’s father mentioned that Madrid is dedicated to planting trees in the city center and incorporating them into the industrial landscape. It was refreshing to breathe the crisp air as we walked through the city. There is also a garden in the middle of the city which used it be the private garden of the king where he would hunt. This park is 350 acres filled with trees and plants of all shapes and sizes. I felt like I could escape the bustle of the city and get lost in nature. It was incredible!
After we toured more than half the city, we met Belén’s friends for dinner to celebrate her birthday the following day. Her friends were excited to meet the ‘American friend’ she had shared so much about! Sitting at dinner with them, I realized I underestimated my Spanglish ability. It seemed like they were all having a really great time and laughing with each other! I could feel the positive energy amongst them, but I couldn’t really understand anything they were saying. I was attempting to pick out a few words that I recognized from Spanish class, but they spoke so much faster than any online virtual Spanish assignments. Belén would occasionally translate the conversation, which was extremely helpful to follow along. It was the first time I had felt like a minority, and it was slightly overwhelming to be involved in a conversation being surrounded by a language you can’t understand. Although I felt socially isolated, I really enjoyed just being present and listening. As our day came to a close, I looked down at my watch and realized it was 4 a.m and I had racked up a total of 42,000 steps that day! My legs were screaming a little, but my heart was happy to be back with my Spanish sister.
Belén was excited to share Spanish cuisine with me, and I told her I would try anything and everything. You could see a light twinkle in her eyes, and I got a little nervous for what I had just signed myself up for.
But, I loved every dish! I tried fried squid sandwiches, spanish omelet, morcilla appetizer (French bread topped with a rice patty mixed Spanish blood sausage, a quail egg and a roasted red pepper), paella, variety of meat cuts and churros and porras dipped in chocolate.
Belén’s mother and father were impressed about my curiosity to try everything, and appreciated my constant rave of their meals. Each bite more delicious than the last, I verbally exclaimed my satisfaction. (Anyone that knows me, knows I am a very expressive eater.)
Many of my favorite moments from Madrid revolved around food. Not just because I LOVE food and cooking,but because I experienced the central idea that the culture of food unites us. I love engaging in conversations together around a table, sharing stories of past and present. It was my first-time meeting Belén’s parents, but I feel like we could talk for hours on end. All of the sights of Madrid were fascinating to see, but I will forever cherish the time spent sharing meals with Belén and her family.
The culture of dining was drastically different than in the States. Belén explained they eat breakfast whenever they get up, then a midday snack, lunch around 3 or 3:30, mid-evening snack and finally dinner around 9 or 10. Typically, if someone goes out for lunch they order tapas(like an appetizer, but they can be in various forms); they buy a drink (coke or beer) and get little appetizer with it). The longer you stay and drink the more tapas you get. It isn’t a full meal, but you can eat as many tapas as you want. I tried mini sandwiches, little sausages, paella, and potatoes in garlic aioli. Surprisingly, by dinner time I wasn’t starving! The actual time spent eating was different too. There is much more time dedicated to enjoying the meals together, and not focusing on rushing onto the next activity. Everything felt more relaxed so one could enjoy the food and the company.
I am so thankful for this opportunity to travel to Madrid and have an inside scoop on the city! But I’m even more grateful for the hospitality of Belén and her parents for welcoming me into their home and adopting me as their own.
I’m so thankful for my Spanish familia!
P.s. When we were eating churros for breakfast, Belén turned to me and said, “This is what a proper churro is! Not the fraud covered in sugar that Costco sells.” In the "real" churros, the crunchy flakey crust mixes with the creamy richness of the chocolate, there is no need to cover it in sugar! DELICIOUS!