I'm going to tell you a somewhat depressing story. But alas, hold out for the end because there is indeed a happy ending.
I imagine what occurred to me, has also occurred to many expats, travelers or loners who find themselves dumped into the holiday season without a family to call their own in their adopted land. Getting your bearings - creating those friend circles - can be difficult those first few months once you've made the choice to move, work, study, or travel abroad, and there is probably nothing more nerve-wracking or awkward than trying to invite yourself to someone else's holiday party or vacation house, even though you know you'll be essentially - or what may feel like - the only person left in your city come the week all the children are let out for winter vacation.
I myself, know this feeling all too well. I arrived to Spain in 2009 to work as an English teacher just days before Thanksgiving, so it was quite evident to me that I'd spend that glorified Thursday in a bus somewhere arriving to my new destination. A few quick weeks following that, and barely two weeks into my job, and we were off for a long winter break; I had made few networks, my new roommates were going back to their respective countries (France and the UK), leaving me - an American 9,000 miles from her last home - a bit SOL. This was by no means pre-Internet, but I dare to say pre-Meetup Spain, and certainly for a smaller metropolitan area like Valencia a insurmountable obstacle in my social calendar. There was a lot to see, I took long walks through the city, admiring the meticulously placed lights hanging from old gas lamps, observed the holy belén (nativity scene) in the immaculately reverent cathedral, drowned myself in hot cafes con leche - one of my first fluent sentences in the language "dame un café con leche por favor" - and meandered through covered markets offering their abundance of marzipan, chorizo, polverones (a Spanish variation of shortbread treats) and castañas (chestnuts). Although, that came to a more or less abrupt stop when the streets emptied, the families retreated to their living rooms, and even it seems the trash collectors stopped working, as well as signs on storefronts begun to surface of "cerrada por vacaciones."
Rather than dancing sugar plum fairies circling my thoughts, I had flashes of 'The Christmas Story' and a Chinese Christmas, a lacquered roasted duck- if I was lucky - but certainly dumplings of some sort.
And I wasn't far from the truth. On Christmas day I just had to get out, I had to remove myself from watching movies, patiently watching Skype away messages, and the idea of cooking for one.
So I ended up at a Chinese bar/cafeteria a few blocks from my apartment. It occurred to me to go to an Irish pub (aren't they always open?), but the fear of facing identical faces of another generation stereotypically nursing their holiday wounds with alcohol, disturbed me. The streets were desolate, not even a florescent open sign lit the restaurant, but it was clear it was the only commercial shop on the street not observing the holiday. I suppose I found refuge in the idea that they were also immigrants, that neither of us spoke the language correctly, fluidly, and that for a short period I'd commingle with my species - without words - on a day that eerily reminded me that I had chosen this path of solitude, that I better get used to being by my lonesome and that Heinekens taste the same everywhere. There were dumplings, however.
The story ends there, it wasn't dramatic, OK maybe I shed a few tears onslaught by my experience during the romantic comedy I watched later that evening, but I soon found colleagues, friends, a companion and never spent another holiday in Spain alone. But I know that sensation and wish to implore that all of those "loners" this holiday season, seek communal spaces, light-hearted open gatherings.
In Madrid, Spain's capital, there almost isn't a more idyllic setting than La Bicicleta Cafe, which besides from serving amazing coffee from my favorite Barcelona coffee shop Cafes El Magnifico, exudes collaboration, community and the future.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays,
When the sun hits Madrid just right.
Inside the communal working space and bike friendly coffee shop, La Bicicleta in Malasaña
One of the best lattes (café con leche) in Madrid. If you'd like something a smidgen stronger, go for the cortado.
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Open 10am-1am most days
10-2:30am Fridays and Saturdays