As 2014 approaches, I realize that I’ve now spent 3 and a half months exactly living in Madrid, adjusting to the expat lifestyle and a whole world of newness. The Madrid natives say these winter months are hands down the roughest to get through in Madrid, but there’s plenty to look forward to in the coming months, spring, and summer! As I have just about 7 months left in my Madrid teaching position, I thought it’d be appropriate to list 7 of the things I’m most looking forward to in 2014.
Ahh, Barcelona, the capital of Catalunya, the home of one of the greatest fútbol teams in the world, and one of the cities in Spain where you’ll have the hardest time trying to speak Spanish. There’s so much to do in Barça, I doubt the city could be covered thoroughly even if you devoted a whole week strictly to sightseeing. Parc Güell, La Sagrada Familia, the Gaudi houses, Las Ramblas, the beaches, the random pieces of modern art that pop up all over the city, the view from on top of Barça, the craziest bars you can imagine and discos right on the waterfront — the list goes on and on. Barcelona is definitely one of my very favorite cities I’ve visited, and I couldn’t be more excited to visit it again in January with some good amigos.
2. Semana Santa
“Holy Week” in Spanish, Semana Santa is the entire week just before Easter. If you want Spanish culture, this is the time to come see it. This unsurprisingly is also the worst time of the year if you dislike hordes of tourists infiltrating the cities, especially in Southern Spain, but that didn’t stop me from seeing some of the coolest bits of culture I’d seen my last time abroad.
You’ve got religous processions, floats featuring items such as a Jesus Christ made of pure gold and worth millions of euros, and the greatest passions and pride Spaniards will display. It’s something that can’t be accurately described, but must be experienced. I’m especially stoked because my brother will be taking time off from work to visit me and travel through Spain during Semana Santa this year!
Alrite, I’d be amiss if I didn’t admit that going to Ibiza was one of the first things that came to my mind after learning that I’d be spending a year in Madrid. IT IS HANDS DOWN THE PARTY CAPITAL OF THE WORLD. What more needs to be said? I’m looking forward to Spanish beaches, the best DJs in the world, and disco clubs that I can’t even imagine the craziness inside. I’ve not yet visited Ibiza, and although €50 covers to get into a disco are not ideal nor routinely agreed to by me, I can’t wait to see what this island has in store.
This one is a bit of a cheat, as Portugal is a separate country from Spain, but it’s still one of the places I am most looking forward to exploring in 2014. Situated to the west of Spain, Portugal offers beautiful beaches, incredible architecture, and a culture similar to yet unique from the one in Spain. Portuguese cuisine offers a wealth of fresh grilled seafood, which would be a welcome departure from the Spanish just-throw-everything-and-anything-into-the-fryer mantra I’m used to. Three Portuguese cities — Lisboa, Porto, and Portugal — were at the top of my must-visit list at the beginning of the schoolyear. They say it never really gets too cold in Portugal, and that gets me ready to get my beach on.
5. World Cup
If you aren’t a World Cup fan, I don’t even know what to say to you. I might suggest you up the patriotism a bit. The World Cup, to me, is the biggest sports event in the entire world. Occurring only once every 4 years, it pits the 32 best national soccer teams in the world against each other in a tourney that is more than anything else about national pride. I was lucky enough to be living in Firenze, Italy, during the 2010 World Cup, and although Gli Azzurri played historically poorly that year, the fervor around every match was insane.
I’ll never forget every detail about where I was when I saw Landon Donovan score the goal that propelled the USMNT into the round of 16 in 2010. This year’s World Cup will take place in Brazil — fútbol central — for the first time in 50 years, so it should be especially emotional. School ends June 30 and the World Cup ends July 13, and with Spain definitely in the cards to make a return trip to the championship match, I am undoubtedly sticking around to see the craziness that ensues in the Spanish capital.
6. Fallas in Valencia
Another beach and another festival make the list. Fallas is a festival technically celebrating Saint Joseph in the Spanish beach city of Valencia. Every year, it is a giant week-long party held in the streets of the city. You’ll see thousands of people partying, in costume, listening to live street bands, looking at the giant dolls (“nunots”) constructed for Fallas, and in general having a good time. The climax of the event is the burning of giant torches (“falles”) on the final day of the festival. I visited Valencia at the very tail end of October, and even that late in the year it was one of the most enjoyable beaches I’ve been to. Plus, the city is the home of paella.
7. Sevilla and Firenze
These two cities are particularly special to me, as they were the two cities in which I studied abroad during college. I haven’t been back to either city since, so I’m pumped to see my “homes away from home” again so soon! Sevilla will always be my favorite Spanish city: It is the most typical Andalucían town you can get, offering tapas, a beautiful rio, and the slowed-down culture typical of the south. Firenze features the best of the best as far as Italian Renaiassance art goes, and what is in my opinion the hands-down best food in the world.
8. Warmer weather
I had to sneak in an eighth spot! So you may have caught on already by my frequent mention of beaches and warmth, but this Madrid winter is really getting to me. It’s only a slight bit colder here than at home in SC, but you spend nearly all of the time walking outside here, so it feels so much colder. I’ve never worn so many layers and scarves and warm knick-knacks! Last year’s weather reports and the madrileños say it may not warm up again in Madrid until May, but I’m ready to have back the Spanish sun!