I’m sorry to write you my next post so long after the first one. My plan was to write one to two posts a week and this first week two rather than only one. Sadly it’s due to me falling ill – but don’t worry! I’m feeling much better now, slowly but surely I’m back on track. Just so you know there’s a happy ending coming up, but first I’ll tell you my week’s story somewhat chronologically.
Wandering in Madrid & Drawing at a Museum
The first days I spend wandering the streets tirelessly; working on forming my own inner map of the city. Motivated to not depend on maps neither on Google or the tourist ones the hostels give you. When I have time I always prefer to get acquainted with the city this way the first few days.
The city came across vibrant. Every street corner, every street and every square had some activity and aesthetic detail about it – like graffiti or a sculpture or something. The city felt alive because I sensed people lived their everyday life there and cared about the spaces around them. It made me experience a very homely atmosphere everywhere.
One of the days I randomly came across a museum that turned out to the Museum of the History of Madrid. I walked in, found out it was free and naturally did a tour. With notebook in hand, I did some fast sketches after details in paintings that caught my eye.
One painting in particular struck a chord with me. It was a scene at a train station in Madrid around 1900 and all the way to the right, almost hidden in the bottom corner, was a conductor of sorts. I sketched this, later I also attempted a watercolor painting, which I’ve never done much and find very difficult. One of my projects on this creativity travel is to get better at it.
Another specific image that inspired me was one face in a crowd. It was in a painting about a duke dying. The face was from a man positioned quite unfortunately in the back, and so he was leaning in quite strongly to have a peak at the corpse. Not only that, he was also wearing a peculiar hat that had a sort of square disc on top. Something about his cheeky attitude and weird hat made me draw him three times. The first in pencil, the others with brush pens.
Lastly I for some reason felt strongly connected to a certain figure walking through rainy weather in another painting, so I also did both a pencil sketch and later a version with color brush pens.
Other than just wandering about, drawing and falling in love with all the small streets and their tiny balconies spotted with plants, I had a testing project going.
First I should let you know that I’m a collector of things that inspire me. This mainly entails art books and magazines, but also clothes, shoes, bags, jewelry. Honestly anything special in any category can catch my eye.
So now you might understand how the fact that I’m travelling with an already full red backpack puts me in an especially trying position. This is why I embrace it as a fitting challenge!
A challenge that hits me right where I find it most difficult and therefore a point with great potential for improvement. In past travels I’ve always filled the suitcase up until the absolute limit with items I deemed inspirational. This time, my longest travel ever, it won’t be possible at all.
The testing project then, was to go shopping for only very practical objects – and the tiniest versions of those possible. On the list was among other things:
- a computer mouse (since my touch pad wasn’t fully functional)
- a pen for my diary (since I only brought expensive color brush pens)
- a towel (which I forgot)
Even though the challenge was truly taxing, I started out strong, going to several shops but only buying one tiny computer mouse in a Fnac store, a pen in a Chinese stuff shop and a high tech tiny towel in an outdoors store.
The Street Marked
The hardest part was when I came across a street marked; one of my greatest weaknesses. Among all the things that inspire me, and there are many, second hand and vintage items to which I can attribute different narratives are the ones that inspire me the most – and this marked had it all.
It stretched downhill along a broad street called Calle de Embajadores with tall trees along it. The stalls seemed endless and due to the brilliantly sunny weather everything seemed to shine more.
The culmination of all temptation was when I found a rack of real furs, and they were all only 10 euros each! Another weakness of mine is good bargains. Almost as by magnetism I was drawn to one regal looking coat. It seemed my size, had several pretty nuances of brown and felt exquisitely soft. The owner of the rack, and elderly gentleman with a mustache and kind eyes came forth with another temping fur in hand, similar in style to the first one.
I found out he understood French and explained to him, while still examining both furs tenderly, that although I did love the furs, my next planned trip was to somewhere more south (I’ll reveal where later) so it probably wasn’t a good time to buy a fur coat.
To my surprise the salesman seemed chocked, agreed it was way too warm for a fur there and immediately stopped trying to sell me anything. I’ve never seen a salesman just stop trying so fast. It really made it clear without a shadow of a doubt, that I should not buy a 10 euro fur.
All things considered I think I handled myself quite well – I only bought two very thin art catalogues. One on Miró and another on Kandinsky. They slide quite effortlessly down between the laptop and the back of my trusted bag.
Of cause this means there’s no more room to slide magazines down there now. I hope to survive my challenge to myself regarding this one bag deal as long as possible.
At the same time I must admit I’m starting to consider the opportunity to buy a small suitcase and pay to bring it along – but I’m not caving in just yet!
A & Tartar
Soon came the day when I was to couch-surf with a couch-surfer host: A. He offered a bit of a different ‘couch’ though. The reason he was in Madrid that day was because of a work meeting, and he was kind enough to contact me and offer to share his room with separate beds with me.
At first I found this a bit strange, but after reading a ton of recommendations I decided to take him up on his offer. A was arriving late so he arranged for me to be able to check-in before him. Everything went great and I was so happy to have a room entirely for myself for the first time in days. There really is something else about being alone in a room, and knowing no one can potentially come in any minute – such as with dorm rooms at hostels.
I had a nice nap, wandered round some more and lastly had dinner at a nice looking restaurant called Navajo, that was quite pricy for Madrid, especially considering the portion size of the beef tartar I decided to try. This, I now believe, was to be my biggest mistake on my journey so far.
Well that night I felt extremely tired suddenly. Meanwhile A had written and explained that his flight was delayed, and that I should just go to sleep. So I did. First I was very cold, and had to grab a brown fuzzy blanket in a wooden cabinet to stay warm. Later I was sweating like an Olympic. I didn’t really know what to think of it, I thought maybe I was more nervous than I knew about meeting mysterious A for the first time. I didn’t consider the tartar dish at all at this point.
At around six the next morning I woke up and had to go to the toilet, and when I came out A gingerly said: ’Hello Cille!’, and then we embarked on an hour long talk, while we both relaxed comfortably in our beds. It turned out that A was a great movie lover, and so am I. We discussed our passion for them thoroughly.
Actually I used to study Film and Media in Copenhagen for five years, even finished a Master’s Degree in it, so I have paper to prove what a nerd I am. As we were talking the darkish light turned more dark blue and then bluer.
Yet all through the talks I never saw his face in daylight, only in scales of blue nuances. Also when we discussed the movies we both had a tendency to look up into the black top of the room, as if that was a cinema screen. As time passed I actually began to see flashes of different movie scenes fly about in the dim lit ceiling.
It was a nice conversation but I didn’t feel all well, and so I went back to sleep while A got ready for work. He was very considerate not to make much noise and when he left he just give me a light tap on the shoulder and whispered ‘Bye Cille’.
And that was my brief encounter with A. An interesting one, since it was almost surreal in the darkness of the room. Maybe I had already then caught a slight fever, but it was almost like when you as a child had an invisible friend, that you could talk to before you went to sleep, to fight for example the fear of being alone in a dark room. Or maybe that was just me.
Anyway the day started alright that way. I was allowed to sleep longer and leave the key with the receptionist. Sadly, as soon as I got up after a few hours more sleep, I got dizzy and ill.
The Sickness Takes Hold
I will spare you, dear readers, from the specific details from my commencing food poisoning, as I don’t think anybody deserves to go through what I did, nor imagine it. I’ll focus more on the emotional consequences it had on me.
That night I was so miserable in the new dorm room, as well as disorientated by the fever, that I found myself suddenly scared, for the first time in all my travels alone. Truth be told it’s also the first time I’ve ever been really sick while travelling.
But it hit me like a brick: I’m totally alone.
I managed to fall asleep, but woke and didn’t immediately remember where I was. Feeling more terrible than I can remember when I ever had, and then recalling I was in a new city I didn’t know, in a country I didn’t know, where I didn’t know the language – I sort of freaked out. Completely.
I worked myself up into such a fright, that I just started crying. Like a baby. I couldn’t help but to call K for comfort. He was so loving and kind, telling me everything would be alright, that I would be better, and just the sound of his voice soothed me enough for me to fall back to sleep.
Honestly I woke up later and again I got confused as to where I was and scared. When it dawned on me, I decided to call my mother, or mama, as I call her. Hearing her voice and reassuring words helped, and once again I could relax.
I’m so incredibly thankful for modern communication technology such as phones and the internet in general. Had I felt completely alone, it would have been much scarier.
Imagine if I had had to try and send a letter in my state – impossible. But to call someone up on the phone, that’s doable. This in other contexts can be tricky of course, for example when drunk, but that’s a whole different story.
Hospitals and KC5
The following days, via the miracle of communication technology, I kept both K and mama updated on my health, which sadly didn’t improve much. In fact it got much worse. I had hoped it was something I just needed to sleep through, drink lots of water and then it would improve. Instead it worsened to such an extend that I felt I had to seek help and go see a doctor.
Taxi to Uber & Hospital to Hospital
Once my mind was made up I struggled down to the Hostel reception and fell into a soft green velvet sofa. While trying not to dose off I called my insurance to ask what hospital to take a taxi to. The lady I ended up talking to send me a text with an address. Armored with this and with an iron will to make it all the way there I confidently swayed to the reception desk to ask them to call a taxi for me.
It turned out all the taxis in Madrid were on strike that day.
I was at a loss for a moment, my iron will already somewhat rusty. Luckily a very nice French receptionist helps me download, install and call for an Uber. Only 8 minutes later he’s there and I jump in, mumbling about the hospital and sickness. He doesn’t seem to know much English but he still clearly understands.
As I arrive at the hospital I feel this sense of relief. Finally some help, no more lonely second guessing the cause of my illness, some expert is going to have a look and tell me what to do and hopefully give me some pills to make it all go away.
I arrive at a small flight of stairs and pause for a moment. How do I find the emergency ward?
A lady with a soft smile asks me something in Spanish. She’s wearing a t-shirt with some kind of logo and a badge; maybe she’s hired to help. I tell her I don’t speak Spanish – does she speak English? Luckily she does and she asks if I need help. ‘Yes’, I reply, ‘I need the emergency ward’. ‘Oh, go in and later right’, she explains. I thank her and continue up the stairs.
Straight in front of me is a big reception desk. I pull out my blue EU health insurance card and introduce myself to the receptionist as a Danish citizen. She has this slightly panicked look in her eyes. Although she clearly doesn’t speak English, she points at me quickly and then just as quickly at the spot I’m standing in, and manages to sternly say: ‘Stay!’. Although slightly puzzled I just nod and stay, while she, without taking her eyes of me, as if afraid I would run somewhere, grabs a phone from her desk and calls someone.
I was optimistically and irrationally wondering if the fact that I’m Danish gave me the right to some special help?
Later an even more serious looking lady in a suit comes towards me and greets me with: ‘This is a private hospital’.
I’m gobsmacked for a second. Then I reply: ’My insurance send me here…’. The stern lady just shakes her head. ’They often make that mistake’; she says with a sigh and looks to the receptionist who looks back in mutual understanding. After this exchange of sentiments the suit lady turns back towards me. ‘This is a private hospital’, she repeats, ’I can give you the address to a public one?’.
I’m at a loss for words. Why did my insurance send me here then?
‘Okay’, I almost whisper and off she goes, after an impressive turn almost like a spinning top for a split second. I follow in a lazy waltzing way behind her rocket speed. Beside her office is a narrow bench with a huge plastic flower in the middle. Just in time before she disappears into her office, I ask if I can sit on it, and she nods approvingly.
So I sit. Frustrated and exhausted almost to the point of tears I call my insurance. They apologize deeply for their mistake, but explain the fastest way to get help is probably to go to the other hospital. Because if the insurance lady had to give the private hospital a guarantee for payment, she would need to call an agent to the case and that takes a long time. She stressed how long quite profusely.
Since at this point, I just wanted help soon, and not to have to struggle with insurance and all such things at once feeling ill, I just decided to go to the other place.
The suit lady comes out and gives me a yellow post-it with the address for the other hospital. Then she leads me out to the reception and the top of the flight of stairs that first meet me there.
I turn to say goodbye, but she’s already turned like a top again. I fumble to get to the Uber app in my phone while I descend the stairs. As I come out the woman with the soft smile is still there to my left.
‘Did you get help?’, she asks kindly. I sit down on the last step, probably looking defeated, explaining that they rejected me because it’s a private hospital. ‘Now I need to go to another one’. ‘Ahh’, she understands instantly. While I struggle to get the app to order a new Uber, the kind woman with the logo T-shirt asks me where I’m from. ‘Denmark’, I reply somewhat distracted by my phone. She smiles at me even more than before.
Her daughter lives in Norway, she likes Scandinavia. Somehow her interest and kindness was exactly what I needed after feeling treaded like a mosquito or something equally annoying inside the hospital before. I thank her for the conversation as I see my new Uber arrive and shuffle towards it. Before I’m out of earshot she exclaims that she hopes I get better soon.
Soon I arrive at the next hospital. It’s gigantic. By way of asking and passing through a maze of people of all ages, who are either standing, in beds or in wheelchairs, I finally arrive at the emergency ward. The receptionist is wearing a bright pink lipstick, she luckily speaks English and accepts my EU health insurance card. I feel a tight knot release from my chest. Here I will get help.
She hands me a paper to fill out will all my personal information, but the letters are hard to see clearly and I have trouble remembering the answers completely. I do as best I can, until I explain I will need a toilet nearby due to stomach sickness. She nods, fast at work with filling out what seems to be a thousand documents. The printer just keeps spitting out new things. ‘Just a moment. I will give you a number, then you go in the waiting room – there is a toilet there’.
Okay. I stay put. Tripping because I’m more than eager to both visit a toilet and sit down. As soon as I get the little paper with my number: KC5, I thank her and practically run off.
The next roughly seven hours going forward I spend in and out of that waiting room. Some faces became familiar in the crowd across the hours. We all had to wait our turns and commute between the waiting room and different consultation rooms.
It struck me how most people were with somebody. An older couple was together with a younger man, that I noticed resembled them – a son maybe? A young blonde girl, very thin, was with an older couple that resembled her – her parents maybe?
This time I didn’t panic about being alone, although I must admit I cried. I started updating K and mama. Randomly an old friend B wrote to tell me to reserve a day for her birthday and asked how I was, and I then started updating her too, and this way I didn’t feel alone at all. Of cause I was also in the belly of a hospital, so if something happened I was close to help. Unlike the hostel.
The majority of the time in the hospital I spend staring longingly at the screen with the numbers on. Turning my head urgently every single time it made the ‘BEEAWEEP!’, sound that meant a new number had been called.
I was almost starting to think they forgot me, when they called my number for the first time. I was called to an open room with glass walls, where a nurse made a pre-examination of me and gave me a bracelet on. After that came more waiting, then a first visit with a doctor, who gave me an IV drop for hydration as well as took some blood samples.
In the IV drop room, I sat beside an elderly woman who was half asleep when I got there. By the time my drop was totally empty, hers was still just above half full. Guess I really needed that water. The next many hours I experienced, other than waiting, talking to another doctor who send me to an UV scan.
Much later the UV scan itself found place. There they told me my colon was swelled, but the doctor would explain. Then finally I got to see a doctor for the last time. She gave me a prescription for antibiotics and told me to drink lots of fluids and eat carefully – just rice, boiled potatoes, nothing to bother the stomach.
Finally! I had been told what to do and I was immensely relieved. Powered up by the promise of getting better, even though I didn’t feel much better yet, I decided to walk to a pharmacy nearby myself and buy the medicine and then continue to the metro nearby, take it to a stop near the hostel, buy lots of water and then walk to the hostel. It was a good plan, and I did manage to go through with it, but it was one of the hardest things I’ve done so far. Those 30 minutes almost felt longer than all the waiting in the hospital.
The Next Days & The Roof
Luckily, after another though night, I woke up at 12 O’clock and felt, for the first time in days – better!
I was over the moon, but careful. I didn’t feel well, I just didn’t feel close to croaking anytime soon. I felt well enough to take a shower and to attempt to figure out how to wash my sick-clothes. On the 6th floor of the hostel I saw on a map there was supposed to be washers.
So I wander up there, manage to get a wash going and to my great surprise and joy, the 6th floor also has a roof terrace.
As I walk out there slowly, I realize the sun is shining brilliantly! It’s like a summer day in Denmark! The view is breathtaking, a panorama of an ocean of rooftops with a clear blue sky above.
To my left I notice a lounge area with outdoor pillow seats and some plants. On the pillows I then notice, relaxing in the sun, the nice French receptionist that helped me with Uber and another nice receptionist I meet the first day I arrived, who just happens to be Danish.
I sit down with them and feel completely at ease. The kind Dane is playing great old classic rock songs, soul and Edith Piaf and I feel like suddenly being in heaven, after having eaten what must have been a tartar dish from hell.
I ended up spending hours on the roof just listening to music and drawing a little bit after a fashion magazine called Glamour (another weak spot of mine is fashion magazines), while enjoying talking to the two kind people beside me who were also relishing bathing in the sun.
It came to a point where I needed to go get my bikini – that’s how warm it was in the sun! Later I put on one of my old huge silk shirts and sunglasses and just kept enjoying the fact that I was at last able to lie there and not in the same bed in the same room, for hours on end. For the first time in a short week, I actually felt happy.
To sum up: I’ve been terribly sick with food poisoning.
Now I’m finally feeling slowly better. Not well enough to walk around the city, but enough to move around the hostel and to eat some mashed potatoes and plain rice – and let me tell you! That is practically dreamland compared to before.
I’m still slightly sad that I didn’t get too see so much of Madrid due to my sickness. I haven’t been to Prado or any of the big art museums yet. Now I only have one day left before my departure to my next destination, and I’m not sure I’ll be well enough to move very far at a time.
But at least now I know for sure – I need to go back to Madrid! What I did get to see while I was well, was wonderful!
Oh, and I guess I should finally reveal my next destination: Morocco! And the city of Tangier to be more specific.
Thank you for reading and I hope to write you all again before too long – and with happier experiences to share!