Travel Log: Real Jardin Botanico Madrid

Dahlia; (C) 2011 Laura Riggs, all rights reserved

In September 2011, I traveled to Madrid on a one way ticket, alone, with a backpack of clothes, a small laptop, and some toiletries…no phone, no itinerary.  I had a rough “plan”, however…I had sketched a path along the Mediterranean coast, then maybe head north, and at some point, I would go home.  I had lost a child who was not my own, been laid off, ended a relationship, sold my home, and was in the throws of a deep depression.  Basically, my life blew up and I decided it would best for my soul, if I went out and wandered the world for a while.

It had been more than a decade since I’d last visited Europe, nor had I ever been to Spain, so I really had no idea what to expect.  Initially, I (like every other American) mistakenly believed I would “know” how to navigate the city because it would be similar to my own, and that everyone would speak English.  After three failed attempts to get to the city centre from the airport by train, I finally made it to my hotel  Then, I panicked — this was only day one of my adventure in a city where I couldn’t read the street signs, nor the understand the logic as to how the streets were laid out, and I didn’t speak Spanish well enough to ask for help, or get directions.

When Don Miguel Ruiz laid out the criteria for navigating the life through four agreements, he wasn’t kidding about the third – Don’t Make Assumptions.  I realized that nothing would be as I assumed, so I either needed to get my ass back on a plane and go home, or adapt.  I had to remember why I had even decided to come on the trip to start with – my life was a mess, and I needed to believe in myself again.

Most of my time in Madrid was a blur, but I remember sitting in the Real Jardin Botanico, having a full blown panic attack, when I looked up and noticed this dahlia staring back at me.  There was so much beauty I was missing, because I had shackled myself to my past.  I had to trust myself to navigate through the challenge, to let go of the assumption that things would be similar to home.  Bigger still, I had to let go of the assumption that I was not worthy of joy.  It took three more months of wandering before I found acceptance, but this place was where I began to understand that my fear/my assumptions, were full of shit.

At times of stress, I find myself slipping back into this space.  It’s hard work to stay on the other upside of depression, and a continual commitment to keep seeking joyful moments, while also being firm with my boundaries and the need for self-care.  I slip for a few months, and fall into the pattern of criticizing every single flaw, every mistake, every thing I did to miss out on being happy. It’s like crawling out of the hole all over again, although the distance gets smaller each time, as I become more aware of my patterns and relying on meditation to bring me back to the present moment.

Today, I was reminded of this poem by Ariana Reines:

“Come to me whole: with your flaws, your scars and everything you consider imperfect.  Then let me show you what I see.  I see galaxies in your eyes and fire in your hair.  I see journeys in your palms and adventure waiting in your smile.  I see what you cannot: you are absolutely, maddeningly, irrevocably perfect.”

The more you can be at peace with your flaws and imperfections, the more compassionate you are towards others.  If you look closely enough, the dahlia pictured above isn’t perfect, but that isn’t what I see when I look at the photo.  I see the vibrant pinks and I remember the way it smelled, and I remember it drawing me back to the moment and out of my panic.  Imperfections and all, it’s one of my favorite pictures I took while I was in Madrid.


Adios Madrid!

Really excited to report I actually woke up at a decent hour today – 11am. The first order of business was Desayunos!  Oh how I love the Spaniard’s idea of breakfast – a chocolate croissant and a café latte loaded with sugar, wheeee!  I got everything loaded up and checked out of the hostal at Noon, then journeyed to the Botanic Gardens and the Museo Thyssen before I had to be at the train station later.

I will spare you the 60 something pictures I took of the Gardens, but I know that some of you are total gardening geeks like me and will appreciate this kind of shite.  If so, please visit my photos page to check out the gorgeous array of botanicals they have been gardening this year.

The Thyssen also had an impressive display of more modern and abstract art – which was a breath of fresh air from all of the God striking down vengeance upon thee art at the Prado (but I still loved it all just the same).  As I was hunting down somewhere for lunch, I stopped to take some pics of how people who live in the city (with no yards) have garage sales.  They just sack all their worthless crap up into sheets, haul down to the sidewalk, and open it up for display in hopes someone will buy their one lonely tennis shoe and other random things they are trying to pawn off onto some pour tourist (aka sucker).


I ended up at an Italian café (in Spain) and sat next to a group of people at lunch who were discussing in half Spanish, half English why they don’t drink anymore, it makes them too slow and it is expensive – valid points, I will agree.  And yet, one of the men proceeded to then discuss for the next hour how to properly prepare THC brownies, cookies, etc.  He also mentioned how a vaporizer works and that he is buying one next week for 400 euros.  Me thinks someone may have a wee bit of a habit?  At 400 euros, I would argue that drinking might be cheaper dude.


Ah to be young (because I am truly a cranky old man disguised in a 30-something body), I just sighed, and headed back to the hostal to grab a few more moments of pink underwear and tight t-shirts before making my way to the train station.


Portugal, here I come! For more Madrid pics, click here.

Feelin Fiiiinnne!

Thanks to Vogue and gay men everywhere, I didn’t wake up until 1pm today! It was so much fun to see people out last night dressed up to impress. I feel like a complete obvious American, as I don’t smoke and everyone here smokes. I keep thinking they will pick up on the fact that I am not from here, since I have no desire to smoke, yet they keep speaking to me in Spanish. When I tell them “no comprendo” they just speak louder (I guess everyone can be a “stupid American” at times). So far, I have only had one person come close to guessing my nationality and he thought I English. Otherwise, all of those hours working as an illegal alien are paying off! I have faked my way through most of our conversations, but I am almost certain to be found out soon!

After stumbling out to grab some lunch (I did pass on this place, however – just can’t quite envision how the two together could possibly be good),

I then ventured to the Museo de Prado and spent most of the day perusing the most amazing collection of art from all over the world. They had a special exhibit by over 30 different Renaissance painters featuring the art that emerged from Rome during the 17th century. Damn art….I had a moment in the museum when I stood completely in awe of the beauty and was so overwhelmed with gratitude for this little adventure I have taken myself on that I cried. Right. In. The. Middle. Of. The. Museum. It was a stunning moment for those of you who truly know me, I must admit.

I do stop to wonder, though, how can one place be so beautiful and so disgusting at the same time? You see as I was heading back to the hostal, I turned the corner and here was this giant poster advertising a gay sex club staring me down in the middle of the street.  I will warn you NOW to avert your eyes if you are of a sensitive nature!

Not shy about loving you long time in Madrid are they? Of course, the hookers aren’t shy about love you long time either. In fact, I must pause here to give those hos some major props – they actually dress up for work – what a concept. I think if you are working in the world’s oldest profession, then you – like every other business person – should dress professionally. Fortunately, the Madrid hos agree.

Then again, maybe it is just the culture here, though, because even the frogs like to get it on in the middle of the street. I have to say that they didn’t mention any of this in any of the tourist brochures being passed out in the Plaza del Sol yesterday.

Of course, I should have got some sort of clue when I stopped to look at what was posted on the building outside my hostal……

Buenos Dias a Madrid!

Jesus Lord in Heaven, after a long ass plane ride and taking the wrong subway line going in the wrong direction (TWICE), I finally made it to my hostel.  I did not figure out the Metro lines for about a half an hour and the only reason I had a clue is because the subway line ended and people scurried like rates off the train to get on a different one.  I stayed on and the train started heading back in the opposite direction.  Of course, I panicked and got off at the next stop – checked the subway map, remembered the stations I had already passed, then found the station I needed was just two stops from where I had originally changed lines…going the other way….sigh….I got back on the Metro, again heading in the WRONG direction.  Again, the line ended and the train switched directions to head back the opposite way.  THAT taught me a thing or two about speaking Spanish – I now thoroughly understand the difference between Calle, Puerta and Paseo……Oooooookaaaaay then.

So, now here I am heading in the correct direction and I got off the Metro and the station I needed to in the first place, switched lines (but checked the map this time before I did….see?  I CAN be taught!).  Finally, I arrived at the Gran Via station, upon which I exited the subway into the bustling streets of downtown Madrid.  As I reached the top of the stairs, the beautiful English Colonial mixed with Spanish influenced Architecture came into view, and I realized I had no effing clue as to which direction I needed to head in order to get to my hostel.  Thus, I did what any proper American would have at that point; I turned to the right and walked down the street, thinking that someone would look familiar.  Now, WHY would I think that, you wonder, when I have never been to Madrid???  I have no idea, but it sounded good, and I am notorious for just winging it, so I walked for approximately 10 minutes until I concluded that my idea really wasn’t so good after all.  Considering I had no clue what direction I was actually walking, nor had I seen a street sign yet, I turned around and went back towards the subway station, in hopes of finding a map (what a concept, huh?)  Thank goodness because just as I changed direction, I looked up on the side of a building and saw a street sign – my street sign – the street sign for the hostel!  Yippee!  I crossed over Gran Via and headed along Calle de Hortaleza to find the entrance to the hostel.

After I checked in and rested for a bit, I went to get some lunch – don’t really know what I had since I didn’t understand the menu and it came out unrecognizable, but it was good.  After lunch, I toured some of the city and saw some beautiful government looking buildings, a church, slept in a really pretty park (don’t worry lots of other people were doing the same thing), got ripped off by the bank making a currency exchange, and shopped for a new back pack.  The new one I had purchased for the trip made it outside of the airport before it broke on the subway. Awesome.   The handle ripped and the strap broke – guess I still packed too much shit for Europe – how is that possible, I only brought a week’s worth of clothes?!  I haven’t made a decision on a bag yet, but came back to the hostel to shower, since it was pretty warm today (insert I STANK!, here).  Anyhoo – there isn’t one person who speaks English, so far, but I just know that finding a new pack willbe fun!

Now I am just trying to decide where to go for dinner.  It is Vogue’s fashion night out tonight, and since I am in the gay district (holla!) things are hopping already here with excitement.