I discovered last year that I love travelling alone.  Not to be anti-social, but I find it gives me the chance to really gather my thoughts, and (with the inherent lack of mobile data while abroad) force myself to be “off the grid”.  Previously, travel, to me, was a thing you did with family, some friends, or a partner.  I had to rip myself from the security I had in having someone else with me to help navigate a new place.  Instead, I took up a habit of just getting something booked and seeing what happens when I get there.

Now I’m hooked; there’s no better way for me to really see a new place.

Church in a Vespa mirror, MadridI wander until I get lost, and marvel at little delights, such as the texture of the streets and sidewalks, the unique style of signposts and street lamps, and (more often than I care to admit) stop to stare at old, neglected yet beautiful doors.  Curving streets and hidden alleyways intrigue me, and invariably, I follow these down just to see where I might end up.  I meander through parks to admire the subtle or abrupt differences in flora and fauna to other places I’ve been (Rome was my favourite for that; imagine my delight when I realised there were oranges growing in the street!).  I try to immerse myself in the life there, stopping at cafés to relax and take in the bustling city around me.

As I wander around, a blur of thoughts runs through my head: What would it be like to live here? Would I like it?  Is this the sort of thing I’d get up to on a lazy Sunday once settled into the city?  Would I, one day, be happy to settle here, and to raise kids here?  Will I ever return to this city, this street, this corner?

When I’m in a new city, I don’t try too hard to capture anything in photos.  Does it do it justice to take pictures of all of these things? No, never.  To start, I’m not a brilliant photographer.  I also usually carry around just a low-spec camera phone which, in the past, has provided pretty pitiful results.  So instead of having my head stuck in a map or behind a camera like a typical tourist, I try to vividly remember each moment for myself; to commit to memory the sounds, the smells, the tiny details of each place.

Just hours before this particular trip to Madrid, I picked up the HTC Desire HD I’d been so pining for. Armed with an 8MP camera and a whole slew of in-built photography filters, I set about snapping a few shots to see what I could get out of it.

However, no photographer in the world could capture this moment, right now… sitting in a plaza in Madrid (whose name I’ll probably forget); feeling the warmth of the sun on my leg and my cheek; the contrast of the cool hard surface of the limestone step I’m sitting on; the rattling of tourists poring over guide maps and trying to get the perfect vacation group shot; the buzz of local children, while speaking a foreign language, so familiar and jubilant; the scent of the shrub on which I’m resting my bag; the Spanish guitarist; the clink of coins dropping in his hat, not as often as deserved; the gentle rush of the fountain… Could a picture do this all justice? I think not.  Here’s a shot, an attempt, nonetheless:

Plaza de Oriente, Madrid

Wouldn’t you rather have been here instead?