Madrid, Week 1: Figuring It All Out

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Be still, my heart…

I’m writing my first weekly update on life here in Madrid, Spain from the most adorable vintage coffee shop the world has ever seen. I’m in a quirky, upbeat little neighborhood that I found on my own, about a 12 minute metro ride from my apartment. I asked for the Wifi password (in Spanish), got confused and expressed my confusion (in Spanish), and had a good laugh about it with the barista (I’ve learned that laughter is universal, so I’m laughing at myself a lot lately!)

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“Lolina”, my new favorite hangout and one of the few cafes I’ve found with free wifi!

I’m sitting at a green vinyl barstool, sipping on a cappuccino that’s richer than rich and sprinkled with fresh cacao powder. Right out the window, motorcycles occasionally zip through the tiny alleyway, and a glance up gives me a picturesque view of those iconic, balconied apartments. 

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My current view. Very European 😉

I am somewhere I have never been before. I am the only person with blonde hair (aside from my roommate) that I have seen today. I can not understand a word that is being spoken around me, but it sounds like music. And here, in the throngs of the unfamiliar, I feel like I’m home. 

This is the happiest that I have ever been. Let me show you why. 

 

January 6-7

We FLEW

One doesn’t just “fly to Madrid”. Nope. It’s a long, tiring endeavor, involving three flight changes, two foreign airports, a lost bag, and staying up well over 36 hours to try to avoid jet lag that you’re just going to get anyway.

But oh, was it fun

I got to fly out of St. Louis with two of my friends (who are also my roommates– meet Rachel and Andrea!). We made our way to Atlanta before catching our long, 7+ hour flight to Amsterdam. In line, I met the sweetest elderly woman from Belgium named Paul, who gave me some travel tips and had the coolest accent. Yay for new friends!

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I’ve never been on a flight like this before. We used KLM airlines, and the plane had two aisles, personal TVs, and dinner included! The goal was to sleep on the plane, but I did not sleep on the plane. It was dark when we arrived in Amsterdam, and out the plane window, I caught a glimpse of the city lights from the sky. I think that’s when the reality of this set in. Oh my GOD, I’m actually in EUROPE right now!! But there wasn’t much time for processing. We had to get through the Amsterdam airport and passport control and find our flight to Spain. 

This is about when I realized how different things were going to be. The toilets in the Amsterdam airport flushed with a SCREEN. Everything was bigger, nicer, and more fragrant (lots of perfume shops and coffee!). I had my first European snack (an apple cider donut and latte) before flying two more hours to Madrid. 

It was sun-up when we got there, and Andrea and I were each missing a bag. I whipped out my mediocre Spanish for the first time and was told the bag would be delivered to our apartment that night. Inconvenient, sure, but easy enough! 

We then hailed the taxi to the apartment to meet our host mom! Reading Spanish addresses is different, but we managed, and Tania Vendramini is the sweetest, funniest, and sassiest human I have ever met! She greeted us excitedly with two kisses on each cheek (already teaching us how to be Spanish gals!) and showed us upstairs.

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A low quality picture of my roommates and I with my host mom, Tania!

The apartment is way nicer than I expected– spacious, six bedrooms, in a safe and pretty upscale area. I share a room and bathroom with Rachel. Tania does our cooking (breakfast and dinner every day), cleaning, and laundry. She’s an incredible cook and while she doesn’t speak an ounce of English, she is so in tune to us already. Example: one night, my friend and I were walking across the street to the McDonald’s to get fries (yes, Spanish McDonald’s changed my life, and I will tell more on this later). I told her I was going to get “papas fritas”, and so, so excited, she informed me that she makes the BEST papas fritas and would make them the next day. The verdict? She was correct. And I’m already wondering how I’ll live without Tania’s cooking in 5 months. Dinner highlights include: tortilla espanola, paella con verduras, the best garlic bread to ever enter my mouth, and so many fried eggs!

Day one was a whirlwind that I don’t remember much of. Tania kept saying “VAMOS CHICAS!” and then…we would…vamos. We went to the supermarket, had dinner, half-learned how to use a key in Spain (yes, it’s different), and finally went to bed. I have never been more tired in my life. 

 

January 8

Orientation

The much awaited sleep didn’t last long. We had orientation today! Yay for school!

Tania walked us (very quickly, with lots of jaywalking) to campus, about twenty minutes away from our apartment. It’s a very nice walk, actually! We pass the Arco de la Victoria and an outdoor churro stand on the way, so in case I forget where I’m living, I have a few very distinct reminders (hahaha).

SLU Madrid is small (only three buildings), but gorgeous. Beyond gorgeous. The architecture of the buildings is traditional and stunning. They have rooftop terraces with views of the mountains and surrounding city, and tons and tons of outdoor seating. Even when it’s “cold” in Madrid, it’s sunny, so it’s not really cold. 

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Padre Rubio Hall, where I have most of my classes.

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Look close and you can see the snow-capped mountains! The view from the rooftop terrace of Padre Rubio Hall.

My roommates and I (there are seven of us) decided to take an “aventura” at night. We went to the Arco de la Victoria and snapped some pics before going in search of churros. We didn’t find churros, but we did find wine, and I had my first legal drink! Then we found a restaurant called 100 Montaditos with sangrias for 1,5 euro. Incredible. Life changing. Wow. 

Fun fact: alcohol is cheaper than water here. 

Fun fact number two: Taco Bell and McDonald’s serve alcohol!!

 

JANUARY 9

First Day of School

I did some smart, intentional things when planning my school schedule (if I do say so myself). I only took Tuesday/Thursday classes, so I have Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to travel and explore! This means I’m in the campus area from 9:30 a.m. to about 6:15 p.m., but time flies and I can walk around and find new places with my friends when I have my breaks (or just sit and write on the roof).

I also tried to choose classes that would enrich my experience here in Madrid, and that were unique to the Spain campus. I’m taking a theology class centered on Jerusalem, which is interesting, but probably won’t be my favorite–other than that, all of my classes involve off-campus learning!

I have photojournalism with a celebrity portrait photographer who works for magazines here. She is SO COOL and I can already tell I’m going to learn so much. There is an insane amount to take pictures of here and I am excited to capture it all in a new, unique medium! Next week, we start going off-campus to take pictures (we’re going to a local park on Tuesday!)


Next is art history. I’m kind of an art nerd, if you didn’t know, so this makes my heart do flips! We get to go to the Prado and the Museo Reina Sofia for the class with free guided tours, so we actually get to see every piece of art that we learn about. How cool is it that I’m taking an art class in one of the world’s most esteemed art cities?! It is SO COOL!

Finally, I have oceanography. In this class, we take a weekend trip to the coastal town of Murcia to go scuba diving! To say I’m pumped would be an understatement. 

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Our cafeteria serves chocolate croissants the size of my face. Catch me having one with lunch every class day!

After class, we found this precious cafe called Salon de Fleurs. It looks like a garden on the inside and smells like heaven!

This night, I went out to some bars with some friends. We had a few more cheap sangrias and then found a board game bar where we ordered fancy cocktails and played Spanish Clue!

 

January 10

Exploring my City

I met some friends from my Micah learning community for tacos in one part of town, then hailed a taxi to Gran Via (the Madrid equivalent of “Magnificent Mile” or “Times Square”), where my roommates were shopping. I visited Primark for the first time. It’s kind of like a Spanish Target, but, like, six stories. We didn’t have much time today to look around as my roomies had metro appointments, but I can’t wait to go back and explore this area more!

I also took the metro for the first time this day. It was good to figure out the system with people. It’s confusing at first (lots of different lines, colors, stops, stations), but once you get the hang of it, it’s simple! Everyone takes public transport here, and the system is very efficient and modernized. The stations are always clean and I feel very safe taking the train alone (sorry, family, but it’s true!) 

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Pretty much every street here looks like this.

 

January 11

Monasterio de Piedra

I took my first mini-trip today! My university is putting on bus trips the next two weekends so that we can see different parts of Spain, so naturally, I signed up for all of them. 

Today’s trip was to Monasterio de Piedra, an 800 year old monastery and nature park in the Spanish mountains. I was in constant awe. Here are some pictures to illustrate why:

 

The drive was just as cool! We meandered through the countryside, by lakes and deserts, and through tiny cities built into the sides of the cliffs. It was very different from the modern, hustle-bustle of Madrid. 

We stopped for “breakfast” and “lunch” (the Spaniards eat at weird times) on the way there at these funny little rest-stop cafeterias. The whole thing reminded me of Radiator Springs from Cars (haha!) I got (of course) a tortilla espanola both times. It’s one of my few vegetarian options in this country because everything has ham, but I could eat it every day. It’s basically quiche with potatoes and onions. I haven’t snagged a picture of one of my own yet, so here’s one from the internet.: 

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JANUARY 12 TOLEDO

I didn’t think it could get much cooler than Monasterio de Piedra. Then I went to Toledo. And I realized that this whole thing is about to get much, much cooler. And I will be saying “this is the best day of my life!!” literally every single day for the next five months. 

Toledo is what you probably picture when you think of Spain. It’s old, rich in history, set up on a cliff along a meandering river and absolutely dripping in gothic architecture. The streets look like something from a movie.

We learned about the wars that took place in Toledo over religion; here, Jews were basically forced out for centuries as Muslims and Christians fought for total control of Spain. The influence of all three religions is heavy and apparent, though, and has mingled to create an interesting culture that is hard to explain– you just have to GO

We tried mazapan here, a traditional dessert for which Toledo is famous around Christmastime. It tasted like my mom’s homemade sugar cookie frosting!

Also saw a protest. Something about the government that we didn’t really understand, but it was cool!

January 13

Tourist in my own city

My gals and I had the best Madrid morning! We had chocolate and churros at the famous Chocolateria San Gines before walking over to the Palacio Real. This is the biggest royal palace in all of Europe (bigger than Versailles or Buckingham!) and was such a sight to see! I got yelled at for snagging pictures inside (oops, “lo siento senora!”), but it was worth it because I literally could not pick my jaw off of the floor the whole time. I truly have no desire to go into the White House after being in Europe. I mean, there’s a WHOLE ROOM made of PORCELAIN. The CEILING is etched in SOLID GOLD. America, time to step up your interior design game. 

I did my first “big girl thing” next. Basically the day after I got here, I got pretty sick (part of the reason I haven’t yet partaken in Madrid’s crazy nightlife scene). I made an appointment with an English speaking doctor, took the metro there on my own, and figured sh*t out. 

“Figured sh*t out” meaning I spoke about insurance in Spanish (hahaha). 

I found out I have an upper respiratory infection, got my prescription from the pharmacist across the street, and made my way back. The whole appointment and getting my prescription took literally twelve minutes. Yes. I saw the doctor. I was diagnosed. And I got my medicine in TWELVE MINUTES. At home, I would wait all day because the doctor would be behind, and then would have to call in my meds and wait to drive to pick them up. I very much enjoy Spain. 

On the metro home, this guy was playing flute and singing! I thought it was the coolest thing. Thank you, guy, for making my day!

There are lots of street musicians here and they are all so talented!

Another observation: there are a lot of American songs being played by these street musicians, in coffee shops, etcetera. It seems bars and clubs are really the only places that play Spanish music!

 

January 14

Lost (Not Really…Okay Kind Of)

I finally got my resident metro card this morning! More Spanish communication at what’s basically the DMV made for an interesting morning, but now, I can go wherever I want, whenever I want, for only 20 euro a month!

I had class all day today, but decided to use my break to look for a computer adaptor. Plugs are different here and I couldn’t get my computer cord to work with the adaptor I brought. I ended up walking well over a mile and a half and wandering the 8 story “El Corte Ingles” (in which NOTHING is in “ingles”–lies) before giving up and trying to take the metros and buses back to campus. I was confused and tired and adaptor-less, but was able to make it back in time for my next class and to laugh about the whole thing. At least I got to see a new neighborhood and I learned how to work the buses!

And we got an adaptor at a store closer to our apartment, and then stopped for cheese fries at Taco Bell, so overall, it ended up being a good day. 

My roomies and I bought a VPN so we could watch the Bachelor and we had fun with that little piece of home last night 🙂 

 

And that’s my first week in Spain! Thanks for reading and traveling along. I’ll be posting weekly updates like this to my blog as well as (eventually) YouTube videos of my travels, so stay tuned!

 

P.S.– Here’s a picture of the pastry case (PASTRY CASE!!) in the TWO STORY MCDONALD’S.

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Author lifebylexi

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