The last time I was in Madrid, in January 2020, I got what was almost certainly an early case of COVID-19, and it was maybe the third worst thing to happen on the trip. Calamitous is a good word to summarize. It was still Madrid; everything still had the chime and flavor of my favorite place on earth, but it felt vaguely like the start of a major shift in the world and in my life (I had no idea how prescient this was...I thought I had bronchitis or the flu).
It was always going to feel like a big deal to come back, but what happened in between visits made it even more special. My 2020, like just about everyone else living on earth, was...fraught. Early this year, I realized a window where career progress, personal life, mental health needs, and some financial dumb luck aligned to give me the chance and desire for an extended sabbatical.
Now I return to Spain while both of us are in a different season, about four months into this experiment, having vowed that it was all a failure if I didn't visit Madrid. I'm vaccinated, taking all due and required precautions, still weary of the extended pandemic but informed by over a year of science and research.
Arriving at Terminal 4 at Madrid-Barajas is starting to feel like greeting a favorite old friend -- it doesn't hurt that it's one of the most architecturally interesting terminals in the world, thank you Richard Rogers -- and with this visit feeling especially redemptive, it made for a very special reunion.
Right before the COVID screening line, I realized I'm used to grabbing a SIM card when I arrive, and forgot to turn on international data, meaning my phone was basically just an MP3 player.
But I also realized that I knew how to get to my temporary home in Malasaña without any apps.
It took a few minutes for that to wash over me: finally, The Rock has come back to Madrid, and for the first time, I knew my way around the airport, knew how to grab a Multi card from the machine, transfer at Nuevos Ministerios and walk a couple of blocks from Plaza España to get where I was going.
So I do arrive in a new era, a complicated one for me and for Madrid, but backed by experience I wouldn't trade for absolutely anything in the world. Here are shots across the city.