Six months removed from my trip to Spain this summer, it is interesting to look back on it and see the things that really stand out in my memory. Honestly, my strongest memory is a visceral, physical recollection of the heat. It did not simmer in Madrid, did not swelter, it pounded. It was inescapable, even inside, where air conditioning was infrequently found. The heat created a different way of living, wherein people primarily preferred to travel the city in the early mornings and early evenings, as the sun lowered beneath the tallest towers and cast long shadows over Calle Gran Vía and Puerta del Sol. In the hottest parts of the day, it was best to be found in a rare café or restaurant with A/C, or in Parque de El Retiro, where the trees and the pond created an artificial haven of cool moisture.
That’s probably why a lot of my other memories involve ducking in and out of book stores on the side streets Puerta del Sol, reading under the trees in Plaza de España, and practicing my Spanish with the owners of the café in my apartment building – frequently to order a frozen coffee and a slice of pound cake. Other days found me doing homework at the local Taco Bell, which boasted not only air conditioning, but free wifi and free refills (I had a loyalty card by the end of the trip, given to me by the lunchtime cashier, who also helped me practice my Spanish), or hanging out at the TGI Friday’s on the Calle Gran Vía, which surpassed Taco Bell with the addition of jumbo-screen showings of the Eurocopa soccer tournament.
The very first day that I decided to throw discomfort to the winds and head out to see the city on my own, I journeyed the short distance to the Parque de Oeste. I revisited the Templo de Debod, a landmark I had seen with a group a few days before, but pressed onward to a goal I had heard rumours of but not managed to see: the Rosaleda de Madrid. I arrived there with plenty of time to spare before closing, and spied a café (with pizza!) nearby to visit after.
The Rosaleda is a sprawling rose garden in the heart of Parque de Oeste, home to hundreds, maybe thousands of species of rose. Some of them are descended from breeder’s lines a hundred years old or more. Roses can be found there in every colour and size, vine and bush, hung from trellises and crawling up trees. I hate to be cliché, but it was magical. I wandered in the garden for hours, taking pictures of every variety that I could, sometimes trying for silly and artsy shots just because. Before the garden closed at sunset, I sat down to call my mom and some friends, then set off to find that café I noticed when I arrived. I ate and read from my book, tried (and failed) to make idle chit chat with my waiter (a very brusque man who didn’t care for my attempts at Spanish), and walked back home before full dark. It was a good day.
And that’s the moral here, if there is one: finding the courage and the will to step out of your comfort zone – to cross the world in a plane by yourself, to explore the capital city of a foreign country by yourself, or just to make a new friend or visit a new place – often brings great rewards. Sometimes you learn something grand and overwhelming about yourself that will stand out six months later. Sometimes you just grow a little, and turn a bad day into a very good memory. Sometimes you just have to let things go – fears or expectations or difficult people – and follow where the world takes you. There are a lot of beautiful things out there.
Isabella Sanchez is a student at the University of Kentucky who won the ISA Diversity Scholarship. She studied abroad in Spain in the summer 2016 term.