Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Te Dejo Madrid.

I leave you Madrid.
As I pack my entire life in suitcases, I have been thinking about everything that I have experienced and learned this past year. When I arrived in Madrid I was a completely different person. I did not speak Spanish and I had never truly lived on my own. The places I visited, things I saw, and people I met have all taught me something different and made an impression on my life that will never be forgotten.

Here are the 3 most important lessons I learned this year:

1. Try new things.
Living in a different country, you are faced with new things every day. The language, the culture, the people, and most importantly, the food are all new and different. From the beginning I made a point to try everything at least once. Talking to random people at the bus stop in Spanish, eating dinner at midnight, staying out all night every night of the week, and trying ALL Spanish food. I ate everything from pigs ears, snails, anchovies, and something that was described to me as, "its tastes like breathing in fresh sea air" aka tastes like salt water.
Trying all these new things pushed me out of my comfort zone and taught me loads about myself and what I can truly accomplish.

2. Doing it on my own.
This was the first time in my life that I was truly living on my own. I had people who helped me with a lot of things, to whom I am very grateful, but most things I did on my own. I rented my first apartment, had my first real job, traveled around Europe, and lived everyday life in a different language and culture. I learned how to make it all work and most importantly how to survive. There were times where I didn't know anybody and was extremely homesick yet somehow figured out how to get over it and make myself happy. Doing things on your own may seem scary at first, but somehow you just have to make it work, and trust me, the reward is definitely worth it.

3. Cockroaches are not the end of the world.
The last couple of weeks in my apartment, we have had a bit of a cockroach infestation. The first time the cockroaches started crawling out of my cereal box, I freaked. But this isn't really about the cockroaches, its about just letting it go and taking a deep breath. I have always been a bit of an uptight person, and a year here in Spain has really helped me chill out. I realize that most things are not really a big deal, and getting worked up is a waste of time and energy. Everything will work out fine, just let it go.

That box of roach cereal - still haven't touched it since the "incident". Not exactly sure what to do with it...

So there you have it, the 3 most important lessons I have learned from this year, so far.
Now, as I head to the airport with my friend, I think about all the amazing experiences and people I have met this year that I will never forget.

Thank you to everyone who helped make this year the best year of my life!
Now I say goodbye to Madrid, knowing that I will be back someday.

un beso

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Ah! Only 2 weeks left!!!

Time is flying by.
I am already down to my last 2 weeks here in Madrid. That is crazy. I have been keeping busy, as usual, and having a blast.
First I was in Paris with my parents who were there for the end of the Tour de France. And since I love bike racing, and they love me, I went to meet them. We had 1 day of being tourists in Paris, and 1 day of Tour watching. The first day, we rode all around the city on bikes. Of course we had a blast, and only got caught in one rain storm! The highlight was defiantly cutting across who knows how many lanes of traffic to the Arc de Triomphe...very exhilarating. That was of course until the friendly police office told us bikes were not allowed in the center...so began the mad dash back. Overall the bikes were great fun. Although Paris was really cold. When I say really cold, that means it was comfortable for most, but since I am used to Madrid (35C is normal) - it was cold. The first time I was in Paris was in January. (now that was really cold). It was fun, but I defiantly liked it more the second time around - July is a lot better than January.

The next day was Tour time. It was great! the energy in the city, and all the people there made it a lot of fun. Of course, there was some working stuff that had to be done, but it wouldn't be a bike race for me without that part. 

Overall, Paris was a great time. It was really good to see my parents - and much easier to say, "bye, see you in 3 weeks"! I headed back to Madrid, this time with Dad in tow to show him where I have been living. We did all the normal touristy stuff, and I showed him the area of the city I live in, and all my favorite places. I have been telling my parents since about May that its hot here, but they obviously didn't believe me. I think now my Dad believes me. Dang, it was hot.

After Dad left, I had to go to Barcelona to work.  We drove to Barcelona, which is about a 6 hour drive. For me, as an American, a 6 hour drive is not really that far. But for Europeans, especially Spaniards, that is a HUGE road-trip. Needless to say, the 6 hour drive quickly turned into about an 8 hour trip because of all the stopping. If I were to take a 6 hour trip, I would probably stop once for a bathroom break and to get gas. We stopped 4 times! It was ridiculous. Anyways, we finally arrived, and worked a lot over the weekend. It was hard work. I have been to a lot of bike shows in my life - but had no idea what all went into one. Now I know - its hard work.

Also, because we were in Barcelona, where they speak Catalan which is not the same as Castellano Spanish, I could not understand anyone. I was like, "ok look, I know that you think because we are in "your" neighborhood, we should speak your language, but I am still working on Castellano, so give me a break. And anyways, you all also speak Castellano, so lets just make this a lot easier - and all speak that." Geez. It was...interesting.

That was what my weekend was filled with, and now I get to do it all over again here in Madrid! Bike show - round 2 - starts tomorrow. Yippee!

Last night I had dinner with Sooyoung and Susan. Sooyoung and I wanted to take Susan (program director) out for a thank you dinner. Without Susan, things would have been about 10,000X more difficult here. It was also Sooyoungs last dinner as she is leaving tomorrow, and wanted paella one last time. Oh paella, how I will miss you.

So as things are starting to wind down for me, I am feeling pretty anxious. I am excited to go home and see everyone, yet at the same time I don't want to leave Madrid...that is my dilemma.
Hopefully in the next 12 days I will figure out what I want, and get my mind wrapped around going back home, and packing. Oh jeez...packing.

Ciao! xxx

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hola :)

I am sorry - I suck at keeping up this whole blogging thing. I just get so preoccupied, that I forget. Good thing my Dad is here to send me constant messages about how much my blog is failing - thanks Dad.

So I have been having a bit of a hard time here lately, mainly because I don’t really know anyone in the city. Its hard, because making friends when you are in school is easy - but I have never lived alone in a city and not had classes to meet people in. I have always treasured my alone time, but alone time all the time...not so much. But I am making it work, and enjoying exploring parts of the city I have never been to and taking the time to do all the things in the city that I have wanted to do, but just never got around to.

So, the fun stuff I have been up to lately....

First it was Gay Pride in Madrid a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t get to go to any of the activities during the week, but I decided to go to the parade on the weekend. I didn’t have anyone to go with, so I went alone. I have never been to a Gay Pride celebration before, and I certainly did not know what I was getting myself into. It was a BLAST! The atmosphere was great, everyone was really friendly, mostly drunk, and the parade floats were definitely interesting. Here are some photos of what the night was like.

there was a lot of that goin on.

hellooo ;)

oh no.

After living in Spain since September, I FINALLY got to see a flamenco show. My program director, Sooyoung and I went, with a visiting professor from the states. We had drinks and tapas first, and then watched the show. It was a really interesting performance, because it was a mix between jazz and flamenco music. It was AMAZING!! Their feet move soooooo fast. This picture doesn't even do it justice, so you should do some youtubeing (after you finish reading this) and enjoy! 

It’s really HOT in Spain. I don’t know if anyone realizes this...but it’s hot. It hasn’t rained, or even been a little cloudy in like 1 month...that is a lot of sun. The sun is great...and coming from a place where we have about 5 months of winter, I love the sun. But it gets so hot that I can’t even be outside. And of course Madrid is in the exact center of the Iberian Peninsula...so there is no beach, or any form of natural water around. Therefore I have been on the hunt for a pool. Luckily one of my coworkers invited me over to her house to spend the weekend at her pool. We had a great day swimming and "taking sun" as they say here. That night we went out in Madrid with some of her friends, and another coworker. We had a great night out, and it was great to have people to go out with!

This past weekend Sooyoung and I decided that we wanted to go to the beach. Of course we didn’t actually start thinking about this until Thursday, and through a series of unfortunate events, we were unable to make it work. So I was pretty bummed about having to stay in Madrid - because my heart was set on the beach. With that said, we ended up having a blast here in Madrid. We went to see Harry Potter, in English of course, because Harry Potter does not speak Spanish. Harry Potter has been THE book/movie series of my life. The first book came out when I was 8 years old, and I have read all the books twice, and seen all the movies at least once. This was the last movie, and it was great, although a little bittersweet knowing its over. But I will always remember seeing both parts of the last movie while I was living in Spain. On Sunday we went to the Rastro street market, and had great success. Normally at the street market, I find lots of cool stuff, but never buy any of it. After the market we went down to the river that runs through Madrid (yes I know, I said there is no water in Madrid...but I meant water to swim in) and rented bikes. Both of us love riding bikes, and since we have been living abroad for the year, we have not had bikes to ride. We had the best time riding around the river, where the city has just finished a new park that has loads of bike paths along the rivers edge. There are playgrounds for children (no age limit - so we had a good time too!), and even water features for kids to play in. It turned out to be the best Sunday in Madrid ever, so in the end, I am glad we stayed here.


BICYCLE! BICYCLE! I want to ride my bicycle!!

Well there you have it - my life update. Next on the agenda: Paris to visit the rents, Barcelona bike show, and Madrid bike show...last weeks are coming up fast! YIKES! 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Malasaña - my new neighborhood

So as many of you know, I recently moved into a new apartment in the center of the city.  The neighborhood is called Malasaña, I have been here for 2 weeks now and I LOVE it. I found my own apartment, which I am very proud of because I found it, figured out all the moving-in details, and did it all in Spanish. I have two flat-mates, a young married couple, and they are really nice. Malasaña is in the center of the city, walking distance to everything, so its perfect. The neighborhood is funky and filled with all the coolest bars and vintage shopping. I work every day but at night is when the neighborhood really comes alive. When I get home from work, I usually go to the grocery store, or the fruit/veggie store (yes, here they are separate) to make something for dinner. I have really enjoyed cooking my own food, mostly because its my choice what I eat...and I don´t fry anything - yay for veggies! (finally)

This week my flatmate and I are going to start taking yoga classes. We have been looking around for studios and in our neighborhood there are tons! We plan on a trying a few different ones until we find one that we like. I am super excited for that! I have also been enjoying running in the city. My flat is also close to a really beautiful park so I like to run there in the evenings and weekends. This weekend on my morning run I ran into a HUGE protest...it was great because all the streets were closed and I could run right in the middle of the street. Of course, it was a little strange because everyone was walking in one directions, and then there was me - running in the opposite direction...as usual. :)

So without any further adue, as requested here are some photos of my TINY apartment and neighborhood!

maximum capacity: 1 person


Plaza dos de mayo

Stayed tuned for more semianual updates!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Yes I know, its been forever.  I have been really busy, first my sister was here, then I had finals, then I moved into my new apartment, and now I am working.  So I am not lying, I am busy.  So I will just give you all a brief update on what has happened to me in the past two months. :)

First, I went to Málaga (southern Spain) with a friend.  We had planned the trip along time ago, with nothing but the beach in mind. Of course, mother nature had other plans.  It was cloudy/coldish the entire time which was big bummer since the only thing we had planned on was going to the beach every day.  But we made the best of it and went to Fuengirola, another city close by, where my friend had some friends living.  We stayed with them for the weekend, and had a crazy weekend. 
at least we got some beach time!
Next Hanna came to visit, which was desperately needed since I miss her a lot.  We spend the first weekend in Lisbon, Portugal which was great!  Lukas, the German one, also came to Lisbon with us.  He is traveling around Europe, well more like from Berlin to the Black Sea (Romania) and decided to make a detour to Lisbon, which is not exactly in the right direction...but regardless we had a great time.  We wandered around the city, went to the beach, drank mojitos and met some really cool people at our hostel.  After a great weekend together, Hanna and I had to get on the train to Madrid, leaving Lukas in Lisbon, although he said that he was going to hitchhike to Madrid... Now this was an overnight train...which sounded great when we bought the tickets, Hanna said, "Oh fun!  It will be like we are on the Hogwarts Express!".  Let me tell you, that was no Hogwarts Express.  10 hours in a train seat sucks - with or without Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans.

But we finally arrived in Madrid and made our way to my host families house to shower and sleep a bit (which turned into the entire day for Hanna...although that is no surprise for those of us who know her)  Unfortunately I had to go to classes because it was nearing the end of the semester.  Hanna spent a lot of time with my host family, which had to have been really funny to witness seeing as she doesn't speak any Spanish and they don't speak any English. I don't think my host mom understood that because every time I came home she was always telling me that she had tried to explain something to Hanna but she didn't understand...must have been the word choice, otherwise I am sure she would have got it. ;)  The week in Madrid was great.  We did all the touristy stuff and I was able to show her where my new apartment would be and explore the neighborhood a bit with her.  We had a great week together and I was very sad to see her go - although my year is quickly disappearing, and I will be back home with her before I know it.
My host mom had to teach Hanna and Lukas how to eat ;)
The week after Hanna left was crazy.  It was filled with homework, group projects, work meetings, and end of the year parties.  I was busy every day and barely had any time to even think about how it was my last week with my host family. The year flew by and as great as they were, I was ready to move out.  I moved to my new apartment on Saturday evening, which means that I started packing up my entire room, with stuff from the entire year, on Saturday morning.  Always the efficient packer. It took forever, and a lot of bags, but it all fit in the trunk and after a delicious barbecue lunch I was on my way.  My new apartment is in the hippie/vintage shops/funky cafe neighborhood of Madrid and I LOVE it!  It took awhile to unpack, which is really more like a work in progress, but its starting to feel like my own space.  My roommates are a young married couple, and they are really nice - so far so good!

On Monday I started working, which is a big change from the university, which was basically a year of vacation with some classes thrown in there. I am really liking it so far, although I don't really have any time to go and do anything - but that is what weekends are for I guess! 

Well that is all for now, stayed tuned for more updates! (although no promises on the frequency)
Cheers :)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Semana Santa

            I know - you are all shocked at the recent frequency of all these entries. I hope they are entertaining…and they may or may not have anything to do with the fact that I have been in Alicante for the week with just my host parents and rainy weather.  (I have a lot of time to write.)
            So yes its true, I am in Alicante and have been to the beach once, for about 2 hours. It’s been cold and rainy here…so much for spending Semana Santa at the beach. Not happy about this. We drove out here on Tuesday after Mom left. Of course there was tons of traffic, because naturally Wednesday was the final of the Copa del Rey (Real Madrid v. Barcelona) in Valencia – which is conveniently located north of Alicante and uses the same highway to get from Madrid to Valencia. Lovely start to the “relaxing beach vacation” we were going to have. The Spanish are also up in arms because the speed limit was recently lowered from 120kph to 110kph (that’s 68mph). According to my host dad, “Its murderously boring to drive this slow…” Imagine the joy I got to experience hearing about that the entire 5-hour drive.
            Semana Santa (Holy Week) is a big deal here. There is no Easter bunny and dying Easter eggs like back home, at least at my house. It’s very serious, and in my opinion everything seems pretty depressing. There are processionals every day of the week, leaving from different churches all around cities. They are “parades” with people in scary “costumes” (very KKK like), marching bands, and gigantic “floats” that take about 50 men to carry them. It was very, interesting. Take a look at the photos below from some of the processionals. 
If that doesn't say Happy Easter, then I don't know what does.
            This week has given me time and reason to do some of the things I love to do but always seem to find a reason in Madrid to go and do something else. Like reading - I have now started and finished one book, and am halfway through my second. I have also had time to organize my life…which was desperately needed. Although, and I didn’t want to admit it – living without Internet for a week is really hard. Not that I miss things like Facebook, but I feel so disconnected. Especially since Skype is my only real means of communication with everyone back home. There are also the things that I needed to get done, like online homework and apartment hunting, which are now just piling up for when I get home. Lucky me.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Mom Comes to Spain

            This past week my Mom came to visit!  We had a really great time together, although it went way to fast. Unfortunately Dad wasn’t able to come, he wants to wait until July so it will be nice and hot.
            Mom’s visit began with a few small roadblocks, but soon turned around and was great. We were staying in a really nice neighborhood of Madrid, close to the Park Retiro, which was great to walk around in the mornings. Luckily the weather was really nice in Madrid, a very nice change from April in Wisconsin. Most of our time was spent with me showing her my favorite parts of the city. The first night we went for tapas at Mercado de San Miguel, which is one of my favorite tapas “bars”. It has a great atmosphere, and because it’s a market there is a huge selection, allowing you to try a bit of everything – perfect for first timers. ;) 

Now that's some ham.
            The next day, unfortunately I had to go to class, leaving Mom to walk around the city a bit alone and attempt to go to the Reina Sofia museum. When I got back from class walked around the city more and went out for Mom’s first real Spanish Paella – and of course more sangria. 
She really liked these trees.
            We decided to take the tourist bus to see the rest of the city. It sounds cheesy but it’s actually really fun. You can get on and off as many times as you want, and get to see a lot of the city in a short amount of time. We saw my favorite streets, plazas, buildings, and parks in the city. It was great to be able to show my Mom where I have been living for the past 8 months, a big change from a city of 5,000 to 3 million.
            On our last day in Madrid, I took Mom to Villa to show her my university, and introduce her to my host family. I had class in the morning, and then we walked around the university and the city a bit before “the introduction/visit”. It was…interesting. Difficult for me, because I am the only person who can translate, and when they are all wanting me to tell someone else something…its gets really confusing. They definitely pulled out all the stops for making my Mom lunch - it was quite the ordeal. My host mom made a bit of all of my favorite Spanish foods, and they were not wearing PJ's!  After lunch I packed my things and we were off to Barcelona.
My host mom made Paella - yumm! 
            The next morning we took the train to Barcelona for an exciting weekend in one of my favorite cities in the world. Barcelona is one of those cities that you just have to see to realize its incredible beauty. I have never been to a city quite like it; beaches, mountains, and crazy architecture – very cool. It was great to get a chance to go back to Barcelona – it was the first trip I took back in September when I arrived here in Spain. Seeing things twice – and things I never got to see last time was really fun. When we arrived we made our way to our hotel and then set out for some quick sightseeing and lunch. We had tickets to the Sagrada Familia, Gaudí’s cathedral, which is by far the most amazing church I have ever been into. It literally takes your breath away when you enter. It is still under construction, and has been for the past 128 years, and was cool to see the changes since the last time I was there. We spent a good 2 hours in there, and then made our way back to the hotel, which what just 1 block away, to meet Chris who came in from London to spend the weekend with us!
that is one impressive church.
            When Chris arrived we decided that we would go again to the Sagrada Familia with her so that she could see it and not have to go alone. It was still impressive. That night we wanted to go for Paella. We had a recommendation for a restaurant on the beach with, “the best Paella in all of Cataluña” – it did not disappoint. After a walk along the beach with some ice cream, we were ready to head back to the hotel in preparation for the next day.
you gunna eat all that Chris?
            We spent the next day walking around the city, down the famous streets, shopping at street markets and shops, and visiting Park Güell. It was great weather, although cooler than Madrid…so not great beach weather. :/
            That night we attempted to go to the light show at the Magic Fountain. Apparently the show only goes until 9pm…we arrived at 9:10. Oh well, now we have something to go back for!  We also discovered the terrace at our hotel that night. We went up there and holy man!  The view was AMAZING!!!   The Sagrada Familia was literally right in front of us!  We decided it would be the perfect place for breakfast the next morning.
that view does not suck - the breakfast didn't either ;)
            To make good on our morning plan, I ran to the bakery to pick up some breakfast – and we took it to the rooftop terrace for some amazing morning views and coffee. After spending a couple hours on the rooftop we decided that we should probably get out and enjoy our last day in Barcelona. We decided to spend our last day at the beach and exploring the old fisherman’s wharf. We walked along the extremely windy beach, put our feet in the freezing cold water, and ate what else – but seafood!  It was good food, although we had what has to be the world’s rudest waiter. I was shocked at how we were treated by him – we almost skipped lunch and just left with our drinks.  Although I am glad we stayed because we tried black rice, which is NOT paella, as the waiter so kindly told us, but for those of us who are not Spanish – its basically paella dyed black with squid ink.  Very fishy – but fitting for our last night in Barcelona.  That evening Chris went back to London and left my mom and I for one last night together before we parted ways until August.
            I had a really good time with Mom and loved being able to show her around where I have been living and what I have been doing since September. (I think) She had a great time as well, but as my Dad says, “Is there anywhere in Europe she doesn’t like?”  I guess we will have to travel more to find out. ;) 
            Now it is Holy Week…doesn’t sound quite as fun as Spring Break does it?  I am off to Alicante with my host parents to spend the week in their “beach” house…and its supposed to rain the entire time. Oh boy. Wish me luck.