Turn it off
Selena Ponio | Monday, October 30, 2017
Frustrated with Google Maps and my inability to follow its directions, I turned my phone off.
I surrendered to the labyrinthine streets of Madrid, allowing them to swallow me up completely as I looked around for a cafe to eat breakfast at.
Finally spotting an empty table at one outdoor cafe, I took a seat, repeatedly saying “lo siento” to an elderly man who came five seconds after me. I tried to convince myself that giving your seat to older people only applied to bus or train seats, and not a rare seat at an outdoor cafe on a Saturday morning in Spain.
Over fall break, I did some research in Madrid and tackled my first solo trip. I was excited to navigate my own schedule, unrestricted from another person’s preferences. I had total freedom for when I wanted to do work, visit museums or choose a restaurant. I came in thinking I would be totally alone on the trip, but I wasn’t.
Sitting down at this busy outdoor cafe with a table for four all to myself, a woman asked me if she could sit with me for a cup of coffee. I said yes and she sat down, pulled out a cigarette and ordered a coffee. We proceeded to have a three-hour long conversation in Spanish about how she immigrated from Romania, worked at the Madrid Atocha train station, but wanted to leave the city and its economic pressures and trade it for the peaceful countryside.
Later that day I met Bruna, a 26-year-old woman from Brazil who worked marketing for Heineken and who was one of the most independent and open-minded women I had ever met. We spent an entire day together, eating in the market, walking around Parque Retiro and exploring various neighborhoods in Madrid.
Bruna and I then met Francisco, who was a graduate student studying international relations at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, at a restaurant. He knew the best places to go at night and took Bruna and I around with his friends. At one point, our group consisted of people from Italy, Brazil, Germany and the United States.
A solo trip left me feeling anything but lonely and introduced me not only to new people, but cultures that I had never been exposed to before. It left me promising myself that the next time I was in a new place, I’d turn Google Maps off more often.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.