Tuesday, September 6, 2011

¡Hola, Madrid!

I'll spare you the grisly details, but I woke up on Monday morning--the morning of our departure from Santiago--feeling deathly ill. Nine days of eating Galician food had finally caught up to my American stomach. I really can't think of a worse combination than illness and airplanes, but I grinned grimaced and bore lugging three suitcases through Santiago's airport, paying an ungodly amount of money for my checked bags (damn this horrible euro-->dollar exchange rate!), and boarding an incredibly tiny Iberia plane. You know a plane is small when I, at not even 5'4", complain of not having enough leg room. The flight left half an hour late, but thankfully I was able to sleep for almost the entire flight, and I felt slightly less queasy upon landing...but that might be because the nausea was replaced by extreme nerves. In the airport I said goodbye to the people I'd been living with all week, and even though I knew I'd see them the next morning and probably every day for the next four months, it was bittersweet. I found the taxi stand, slid into the backseat of a cab, and was off to meet my host mother, Vicki. All I had was an address and her name. I really can't think of a more awkward situation than showing up at a stranger's house, 100+ lbs of luggage in hand, looking greenish and sleep-deprived, and saying "Hi! I'm going to live with you for the next four months! Please like me!"

The awkwardness only got worse when I arrived at my apartment building and realized I had no idea how to "call up" to the apartment to be buzzed in. They make it look sooo easy on Seinfeld, but it's actually really confusing. Do you hold the button to talk, like a walkie talkie? Or is it connected once you press it, like a phone? (Turns out it's the latter, but I just kept jabbing and stammering until I heard the door click.)  Vicki, my host mom, met me downstairs, and we somehow managed to fit both of us and all my suitcases in the tiny elevator. She lives on the seventh floor (which is technically the eighth, because the first floor is counted as zero). It's the top floor, something I found extremely exciting, as I've lived in single-story houses all my life. The apartment is small but homey and cozy, filled with souvenirs from Vicki's travels. She showed me to my room, which is small but has two big windows, and is connected to my own private bathroom! This'll be the first time in my life I haven't had to share a bathroom with smelly boys. The toilet seat will always be down, and there will never be stubble in the sink. Seriously, this might be my favorite thing about the country so far...but anyway, my jaw absolutely dropped when Vicki took me out to la terraza (the terrace), which stretches the length of the apartment. Half of it is in the sun, and Vicki grows judiasverdes (green beans), pimientos verdes (green bell peppers), and tomates (tomatoes...that was a real hard one to guess, huh?) The other half is covered and has a couch, a table, and chairs. That's where Vicki and I eat dinner every night, and breakfast when it's not too chilly. But the best part of all this is the VIEW! If you stand in just the right place on my back porch at home, you can kind of see the mountains (but you mostly see a huge, ugly, white engineering building.) But here in my Madrid apartment, THIS is my view...

The clouds are INSANE here.
I'm obsessed with it. Vicki laughs at me because every time I go out there, I immediately walk over to the railing and just look at the view. A night shot will be coming shortly...

Tuesday morning was our first day going to la uni (short for Universidad Carlos III de Madrid). It's a loooooong commute. In high school, I'd complain about the 15 min drive; at Vassar, I complain about a 10 minute walk. But my commute here takes almost exactly 60 min. I leave my apartment, walk a block to the metro station (and I'm lucky it's only a block), then take linea 1 to Atocha-Renfe station (yes, the one that got bombed in 2003), where I catch el cercanías (the commuter train). I take el cercanías to the Las Margaritas stop in the suburb of Getafe, and then walk about half a mile to the UC3M campus. Thankfully, I have an abono, a pre-paid pass that allows me unlimited rides on all public transportation in Madrid. Also thankfully, the metro system here is insanely wonderful! The slogan is "Madrid Metro: uno de los mejores metros en el mundo. Usálo." (The Mardid Metro is one of the best in the world. Use it.) It's clean, usually not foul-smelling, totally devoid of homeless people, and it's almost impossible to board the wrong train or get lost because all lines run through at least one major transfer station. The signage is excellent, and every line runs in both directions (you just have to make sure you get on the right side of the track). Everything about it is completely unlike the NYC Metro, which never ceases to leave me stressed and broke after accidentally boarding an express train to Queens at 10:30 pm...but let's not talk about that.

The blissfully peaceful metro station

Day 1 at UC3M consisted of lots of waiting, since like everything this program organizes, the day was poorly scheduled. We split up into groups to take language placement exams--one written, one multiple-choice, and one oral. Despite sleeping through most of the multiple-choice exam (getting back into school-mode is really rough for me, okay?!), I got placed into the second-highest language group, Avanzado Alta A--so I'm pretty happy about that! For lunch, the monitoras took us to this absolutely unreal sandwich shop. I wish I had pictures, but there are signs everywhere asking for no photos to be taken...what killjoys! But anyway, the interior of the shop is entirely covered in pieces of brightly colored construction paper reading "El de ____": "El de Olivia, El de Katie, El de Pedro," etc., meaning "Olivia's Sandwich, Katie's Sandwich, Pedro's Sandwich," etc. I ended up ordering "El de Nech," which was chicken, caramelized onions, avocado, and brie on pan integral (wheat bread). I almost fainted from happiness as I watched one of the two ladies who work there--angels in aprons, for sure--pick up a perfectly ripe avocado, slice it in half, pit it and peel it, then spread an entire halve onto the freshly toasted bread. The whole sandwich only cost €5, less than half of the €11 we're allotted daily for lunch. I have a feeling I'm gonna be going back to this place a LOT. And by a lot, I mean multiple times a day. (This is my inner Liz Lemon speaking...)

After we finished at UC3M, we did a brief spin around a couple of Madrid's barrios.

This is the symbol of Madrid...the statue is tiny and super anticlimactic, pushed all the way to one end of the Puerta del Sol
La Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor

The next day was pretty much the same: morning at UC3M, afternoon exploring.

One of the monitoras brought her future seeing eye dog to UC3M...so cute
Hey! I know that name!
The streets here are weird--they never meet at right-angles, which makes crossing streets highly dangerous, as cars making right turns can't see pedestrians...

Met my first Spanish pug today!
There's a restaurant chain here called Cien Montaditos (One Hundred Sandwiches...cue more Liz Lemon references) that has a special on Wednesdays called Euromanía: one bocadillo (small sandwich) for 1 and one jarra (mug) of soda/beer/wine for €1. Needless to say, I hit that place up for both lunch and dinner...because there's nothing I like better than a combination of money-saving and small hot sandwiches. If only that pug had been able to accompany me to the restaurant, I'd have been in heaven.

Thursday was a rest day--short day at the uni, then the afternoon spent in el Parque Retiro.

Amigas at Las Margaritas train station
Lake in Parque Retiro
Playing around with the tilt-shift effect on my new point-and-shoot
Friday consisted of even MORE tours of the city...

The sun here is gorgeous during the golden hour

Abbey Road?
That's the airforce HQ on the left
Templo Debod, an ancient temple gifted to Spain from Egypt. Prettttty rad.
Lake in Parque Rosales
My Andalusia/flamenco-inspired nails
After less than a week in Madrid, I was pretty smitten. I thought that living in a metropolis would be scary and stressful, but Madrid is no NYC. It's cleaner, prettier, and much more laid-back--a lot of stores here actually do close Sundays and daily for siesta hours, from 2 - 5 pm. Although I've been warned that robbery and pickpocketing is highly common in Madrid, mostly due to a small but vicious minority of Romanian gangsters, so far I've felt safe. I hope that if I continue to do as I've been doing--not going places alone at night, never ever leaving my bag unattended (I don't even leave it with friends at a restaurant when I go to use the restroom), only carrying cross-body, zippered purses, I'll be fine.

And, gracias a Dios, the food in Madrid makes my stomach much happier than the food in Santiago. Vicki is a good cook, no matter how much she denies it, and I've been having lots of fish, fresh veggies, and delicious bread and cheese. The fish here is always fresh--Vicki says that frozen fish a la America es una pena (is a shame)--and the bread, no matter how cheap, is absolutely delectable. 

Yummy food in my belly, Spanish sun on my shoulders (don't worry Mom, I always wear sunscreen), metro pass in hand, and adventures on the horizon...things here started fabulously and I foresee them only getting better.

1 comment:

  1. I told you the metro was amazing, huh?!
    I'm waiting for the night photo from your apartment :)