Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Little Jaunt in Madrid

It’s been FOREVER since I have blogged, and I have been nagged by at least three people. At least. I suppose when three people tell you to blog, you have to do it. Some sort of law of nature. Also, I spent the weekend in Madrid, and now I actually have something to blog about.

We had a five day weekend this weekend due to Armistice Day (Veterans’ Day, to us). I have three friends in Spain right now (two teaching English in a similar program, and one studying abroad for the quarter), and there’s nothing better than free accommodation when traveling, so I looked to trains and flights to Madrid, Malaga, and Cadiz. Madrid won out, with tickets for a grand total of 0 dollars. That’s right. My flight to Spain was actually free. Unfortunately, I had to pay taxes and fees, and had to pay to check a bag, so the flight in all cost about 40 euros. So Karen and I hopped on the Frog Bus (cheap transport between Perpignan and the Girona airport…also, a slur on the French. I think.) on Saturday, and then on a flight to Madrid. Crossing the border into Spain was absolutely bizarre. We barely even slowed down when nearing the un-manned border control booths. Compared to the border crossing in Blaine (the only one that I have ever experienced), between the US and Canada—two countries, who, I might add, have a fairly amicable relationship—the switch between French land and Spanish land was a cake walk. No one even looked at my passport! The down side to the free border crossings within the European Union is that my poor passport still lacks visa stamps. And I’ve been to 3 foreign countries. Damn.

Adam, a friend from Western’s honors program, met us at the Madrid airport at around 10 on Saturday night. He is teaching English to elementary school students, and seems to be suffering the same frustrations with the education system and the foreign bureaucracy that I am. This is a comfort, because it means that it isn’t a problem with France, per se, but a problem with moving to a foreign country and being legally employed therein. He is really enjoying Madrid, however, and I can honestly see why after visiting him! The city is amazing. It’s also gynormous. The population is around 3 million, with 7 million in the metropolitan area. But it didn’t feel overbearing or terrible, like Los Angeles for example. This is partly due to the fact that it has a great subway system, and partly due to the fact that Adam lives right in the center, really close to everything. Our first night in Madrid, we went out to a few bars. I didn’t like it too much, because people are still allowed to smoke inside bars and restaurants in Spain. I think my hair still smells. The Spanish schedule is so far from anything I have ever experienced before. For starters, everyone knows about their siesta. I didn’t partake while I was there, but I think that if I lived in Spain I would have to. Siesta is usually around 3, I think. And then people don’t eat dinner until around 9 or 10. On the weekends, the young people don’t go out until around 1 or 2 in the morning, and don’t get home until 6. As neither Karen nor I were used to this bizarre schedule, we didn’t quite follow it exactly. We left at around midnight, and got home at around 4am. Which was still awful. One good thing about Saturday night was the delicious and oh-so-cheap falafel place that Adam took us to before going to a bar. Amazing! Actually, the food in general was just really really good. We also had kebabs on Sunday for lunch. In Europe, this does not mean pieces of meat and veggies on a stick, but like real kebabs, Turkish-style, I guess. It’s like a delicious sandwich-type thing. Hard to explain. But really good.

After waking up way to early on Sunday for how late we stayed out, Adam took us around Madrid and showed us some of the main sites. Mostly we just walked around the city and looked at cool buildings and plazas, and marveled at the architecture. They don’t make buildings that beautiful anymore. It’s too bad. Our guide also took us to the Central Park equivalent of Madrid—a gorgeous place that made me feel like I wasn’t in the center of a GIANT city, and also made me feel like autumn has finally arrived in Southern Europe. It’s about two months late, but I will take what I can get.

After a long day of walking, we went back to Adam’s flat and watched “Euro-trip”, a fitting movie for my European adventure. If only trips to Europe really were like that…After the movie, we went to a hookah and Arabic tea café with Adam’s French roommate Jon and his American girlfriend Anna. It was a lot of fun, even though the tea was poor quality and so were the hookahs. But the ambience of the place was great, and the company was even greater. We rotated between speaking English, French, and Spanish throughout the night. Jon speaks four languages fluently (Spanish, English, French, and Portuguese—I could not get over how good his English was. He followed slang and regular speech pace amazingly. I want to be like that with French!) It was really international. Haha! On a side-note, Jon complimented me on my French, telling me that I spoke with hardly any accent at all (except, apparently, when I tried to say ‘putain’, a French exclamation similar to ‘fuck’ in English…That word, I did not get right.) I was flattered, although I still want to know how people in Perpignan know I am American after I say “bonjour”.

The next day, Adam had to head back to school to teach, so Karen and I went out into Madrid alone, armed with the subway map, the map of Madrid, and Karen’s excellent Spanish skills (I would not have survived without her.) We planned to go to the Prado museum, which boasts one of the finest art collections in the world (up there with the Louvre, I guess, although not quite…) and also has a temporary Rembrandt exhibit through January. We were both really excited to see the museum, but we got there and it was closed. Closed on Mondays. I was (and still am) incredibly disappointed, but it gives me an excuse to go back to Madrid someday (get ready, Kili!). Karen and I had planned to spend around 3 hours in the museum, and then do some shopping, but with the museum closed we had five or six hours of shopping ahead of us. It seemed daunting at first, but the shops in Madrid are great, and so very cheap. Another reason to go back to Madrid. We also found this awesome market that is in Madrid everyday until Christmas, where there were at least twenty vendors selling scarves, jewelry, woodwork, hookahs, and a huge variety of other goods. I believe part of the proceeds benefit some charity or fair-trade organization or something, but the signage was all in Spanish, so I could not read it. I was feeling a little guilty about money, so I didn’t end up buying too much for myself (about a tenth as much as I wanted to buy for myself), but I did find a load of stuff for Christmas/birthday presents. I managed to check three or four people off my list for the year! We were shattered after spending the day shopping, and having little sleep for the whole weekend, so we watched “The Departed” and hit the hay.

The next day, we left Adam’s apartment at 9:20, said good-bye before heading to different subway stations, and spent the day traveling until we made it back home at around 7:30. Ugh. Needless to say, I am exhausted. But the weekend was amazing, and I am in love with Madrid. It really is a beautiful city. It also marks the first time that I have gone to a place where I did not speak the language, which is a really disconcerting experience. It’s funny, because I was really self-conscious and apologetic about not speaking Spanish—I felt bad about it. But it’s not reciprocal for me—I don’t demand that visitors to the US speak English (though they most often do), but for me, I feel like I should know at least some of the country’s language. I was so flustered when people would rattle Spanish off at me that I forgot the few essential words and phrases I do know. I think that before I go to a country where they speak another language, I might get one of those dorky tourism phrase books. Just to make myself feel a little better. I am really glad that Karen was with me, but hopefully next time I will be able to order my “Café con leche, por favor” all by myself.

Here’s a little list for you:

Things I did for the first time/learned/noticed in Madrid:
• I rode on a subway. A bunch.
• I was one of the ten blond people in Madrid.
• Old Spanish people are short. Really short. Something to do with malnutrition during Franco’s regime, most likely.
• During Franco’s regime, people weren’t allowed to touch in public—including holding hands, hugging, or kissing.
• This sort of explains why loads of Spanish people just make out in public.

Tomorrow, I am going to check my mail to see if I have received my care package and my modem. Hopefully I will have internet by tomorrow afternoon, but if not I’m gonna have to open up a can of broken-French woop-ass on the Neuf call-center employee. It’s almost two months to the day since I made my initial request for service. And whether or not I get internet, I just might be able to celebrate (or comfort) myself with some peanut butter toast.


BEQN said...

Many things - I oh so love kebabs! I'm sorry about your internet although I can't say that I'm too surprised (ugh, stupid french), I'm jealous about Madrid and sad that I never made it to Spain, although totally will one day.

I had your boyfriend over for brunch and miss you!

Chelsea said...

I'm so excited for my present! And sad that it appears I cannot coerce any of the boys into seeing HSM with me. I almost had Matt the other day...

Oh, and I miss you. Obviously. Because I can't say that enough!