If I learned to eat carbs in Italy, and I learned to walk in Vienna & Budapest, then I learned to be silent in Madrid & Barcelona.
Traveling alone has such a lore about it; a mystic that ‘eat, pray, love’s at the soul of a traveler and makes them think, “I have to do that!“. There is this idea that if you can travel alone you will come out the other side a better & more complete person. In an odd way, I feel I’d have to travel by myself again to truly know. This was only my first go. Perhaps this first solo travel experience was more like the control group of an experiment; I’d have to try again and compare the results to my original journey and see if I really was a more ‘wholesome’ person. But, I kinda think I’d rather not.
I distinctly remember the feeling when my mom got in the cab from our Budapest hotel; I felt quite. Like a great silence had fallen over me. I was alone. I was mute. I felt separate from the other guests sitting in the lobby for they were with someone, talking or in silence, and I was not. It was odd, and peaceful, and slightly sad.
I went to dinner alone by myself for the first time in over a month, and to be honest for maybe the 3rd time in my life, and at first I was embarrassed. I felt uncomfortable asking for a “table for one”. I’ve dreaded the sound of those three words for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, with a single mom, I used to imagine her going to restaurants or movies alone, saying something like, “I’ll have a ticket for one.” or “Table for one please.” Movies had displayed this image of sad single people sitting by themselves over a plate of spaghetti while looking out on all the happy couples.I was so scared and sad for for my mom that the idea of singleness became unbearable. I developed a sort of phobia of doing things in public where I’d be required to pronounce my solo-ness. That first night at dinner, after I had been seated at my table for one, I thought how proud I was of her, “She had done this for a very long time.” I said to myself, “So brave!”….And yet I still felt scared & sad about the whole thing. As I sulked in my singleness my meal arrive and it was spectacular! Bread with oil, duck breast with sweet potato puree, and a glass of red wine, ‘Bull’s Blood’ as they called in in Budapest. As I dove into my food, silently, I looked around the restaurant and saw 3 couples and a large meeting of two families. I had an excellent view of the family meeting; each complete with a mother and father and several kids in there teens. They were enjoying their food and having lively conversations in Hungarian. As I ate & watched, relished and looked on all the people enjoying themselves I stopped feeling so gosh down sorry for myself! I loved every bite of my meal & I watched in awe as the world around me took place and I lived within it. Both outside of the multitude of connections going on around me and yet apart of them all at once. I wasn’t alone but I wasn’t lonely, not really. I no longer think about how brave my mothers is to go solo on lives many adventures, I think how normal she is and how nice the silence can be.
I spent over a week quietly traveling around Madrid and Barcelona. I wandered. I planned days based on my personal whims. I went on walking tours. I talked to the occasional tourist, hostel manager, tour guide but overall I walked, ate, and did everything is silence and on my own. Almost to the point that having a conversation felt foreign.
When no one is there to share things with, you end up sharing them with yourself. Consistently, in the process of sharing them with yourself you save some time and thus it seems you see and experience more. You see beauty everywhere. You see delight in a perfectly displayed doughtnut creation. You see the stool sitting at dusk, capturing the night light so wonderfully and think, “How did I get so lucky to see something so perfectly beautiful?“. You taste a churro and chocolate and totally understand the Spanish in a way you didn’t before. You glance down an empty street or pockmarked wall from World War 1 and are amazed that such things exist and that you had to luxury of experiencing them. You look down at your feet and see two horse prints and then suddenly another set of shoes from a little girl running up to say ‘Hello’. You see the street art as miraculous and not mischievous giving the city color & depth. The world opens up anew.
And the food! Oh my, the food. Mainly Tapas. The tapas! As a foodie, they are the most perfect meal. It’s like going to a restaurant and getting to order everything on the menu but only having a bite of each thing so you have room for ALL OF IT! Like come on! It’s a culture in Spain…the Tapas Culture. And they have perfected it. People wander and drink and nibble and wander and drink and nibble. Plus you get to throw your napkins on the floor! Tip: That is how you know the best tapas places in the city! They’re floor will be covered in napkins.
What I ended up discovering after my time in Spain alone was that, at the most basic level, I liked who I am and could continue to be around myself. I discovered that silence can be good. Silence can allow for more thought, more sight, and more food. I discovered that while I enjoyed every single moment I was alone in Spain I don’t know if I would do it again. I feel singular even now writing about it. I have no one to share the memory with and that to me if part of the travel…the ‘remember when scenarios’ when talking with a fell travel companion. There is something essential in the shared experience of travel that makes it so fucking addictive. And I miss having that looking back on my time in Spain.
But..you should still Go Here, eat tapas, drink wine, and walk. It is a delicious place to be.