Some guest appearances always knock it out of the park. Think Steve Martin on SNL or Bill Murray crashing your wedding reception. And some guests, like those distant relatives at Thanksgiving dinner, are dreadful bores. Let’s hope this post, my first as a guest on Lauren’s blog, is a pleasurable read.
It’s nearly a miracle I made it to Madrid, our rendezvous point and the first of three legs in our 10-day adventure. Colombia’s national airline, Avianca, has been mired in a month-long strike, losing half of its pilots and forcing corporate to ground hundreds of flights per day. Thankfully, however, the Bogotá – Madrid route had been unaffected by the strike. That is, of course, until I showed up to the airport in Bogotá and was promptly bumped to the next day’s flight. The result: Lauren had a full 36 hours to explore Madrid on her own before my arrival. She’d already nommed on gluten free churros by the time I made it through customs on Saturday morning.
My first impression was that Madrid hadn’t changed a lick since I studied there in 2014. But truthfully and somewhat predictably, sharing a place and with someone adds a dimension to your memories. Three years isn’t much time, but already new cafes had replaced my old haunts. And my old haunts were, well, more old and…more haunty.
Despite being exhausted from the 10-hour transoceanic haul, we managed time to explore bits and pieces of the city before the night’s main event: an emotional reunion with Matoya, my host mother during my semester abroad, for a reprise of the many dinners we shared together as a family. Matoya is a firecracker at 70 years old. She’s as fiercely independent as I always remembered her. Quite fortunately, Matoya is hosting two of Lauren’s best friends, Gabby and Madeline, during their study abroad in Madrid. We dined for hours al estilo madrileño – Madrid style! – arriving home well after 1AM. We popped a celebratory bottle of champagne on the terrace before eventually drifting off to the hum of voices from the street below.
The Madrid weather – 80 and full sun – was a delightful middle ground between Copenhagen’s chilly gray-days and Colombia’s merciless, never-ending summer. My decompression chamber, as it were. We spent the next two days exclusively outdoors, ducking inside only when absolutely necessary. We ambled through the verdant (and massive) Retiro Park, perused the vaunted galleries of the Prado Museum and rowed boats with 500 of our closest friends. Well, I rowed while Lauren watched. To finish the days, we climbed to the top of the Fine Arts Center to enjoy drinks and the rosy streaks of Madrid’s famous fall sunsets.
The Madrid portion of the itinerary was never intended to be over-packed with activities. We walked the streets without purpose – except to find a fresh pair of kicks (a success for the both of us). Certainly, there were classic “Madrid things” we missed out on together – but that’s not the point, is it? If anything, we jumped into Spanish culture with earnest: sleeping in, long meals, siestas, and twilight strolls under the bright lights of Gran Vía. All while catching up from two months of long distance living.
Lauren planned the London leg of the trip, and we know what that means – activities! The London Eye, Wicked the Musical, Windsor Castle, Tate Modern, Bath, Stonehenge, Camden Market, Shower, the Eiffel Tower, and the canals of Venice. I lied about the last three – but if possible, Lauren would have found a way to squeeze them in. We stayed a stone’s throw from Trafalgar Square, putting the city within walking distance. My personal highlight was seeing Wicked for the first time. Though Lauren and I have drastically different passions – hers is musical theater, mine is Duke Basketball – being able to share these experiences with your partner is incredibly rewarding. Lauren most enjoyed Stonehenge. The autumnal glow across the Salisbury Plain made terrific lighting for her photo shoot.
We spent our final weekend here in Copenhagen, land of hygge and Legos, hanging plants and diphthongized vowels. I lucked out with unseasonably warm weather (it’s 60 and overcast). This has allowed us to explore leisurely without needing a periodic coffee to thaw the chill. Denmark is neat. I read a book about Copenhagen on the flight in. The brief overview provided a commentary about Danish culture from the insider’s perspective. In short: progressive, stylish, independent, simple and uncomplicated design. Bikes! And LOTS of candles. Three days here is sufficient to sniff out that Danes are very proud of what they’ve created. And they should be. There’s a reason that Bernie-bros hold Denmark in such high esteem.
That said, I wonder what I would find if I scratched the surface during a longer stay. Lauren and I have discussed at length what lays beneath the pretentious veneer. Normally, those pretenses turn me off. But people, though distant initially, have been very friendly and helpful. I immediately felt comfortable here. We met Mikey, the barman, ballet dancer, lawyer, and construction worker. If you’re confused by his background you’re in good company. Neither Sarah nor Lauren understood. The Danes, it seems, have re-captured the delights of the Renaissance man/woman lifestyle.
The two of us did something I said we’d never do: a private running tour. But you know, being active while touring Copenhagen was a rare two-birds-one-stone opportunity. We made quick work of the city’s most photographed spots and even ran past the Royal family as they strolled through the park. In under two hours, we ran over 10 kilometers and checked nearly everything off my list. We parlayed the running tour into a full day out and about, eventually logging 21 miles of walking, running, and dancing through the Danish capital. Copenhagen’s versatility makes it a lovely place to hunker down in a coffee shop or spend the entire day on your feet.
In a few short hours, I start the trip back to Girardot, Cundinamarca, Colombia. I’ll be leaving behind a lovely vacation and Lauren, who has steadfastly supported our relationship despite the 6000 miles of land and sea that separates us. We couldn’t be living in more different environs. Denmark’s GDP per capita is 10 times that of Colombia. It also boasts one of the world’s lowest levels of wealth inequality; Colombia, on the other hand, is ranked top 10 in the world. But a good guest knows when he’s overstayed his welcome. It’s time again to cheer Lauren on from the sidelines as she faces the second half of her semester abroad.
Thanks for a hell of a trip!