Traveling in Spain from Madrid: Toledo, Segovia, Granada and Other Small Towns

Toledo: This place is wonderful! It is a cute, quaint city of Spain. I recommend going in the late afternoon 3-5 p.m. as you can see the sun begin to come down, and then also get a bit of the night skyline. Both views are spectacular. Here, you can walk up the hills and see the structures that look like ancient ruins and castles. There are museums, but I was just interested in the view of Madrid from the top of the hill, and the outside of the cathedral which illuminated so beautifully in the evening around 8 p.m. It is about a 1 hour ride by bus from a train stop/bus station called Plaza Eliptica. You can use your monthly metro card to get here, so it’s a win-win! This can totally be a day trip (3-6 hours with traveling, eating, snapping pics, and visiting the other touristic sites within). I did this trip in January, and really enjoyed it as it gave me an insight into what else Spain has to offer my very 1st couple of weeks here.

Segovia: This place is known for its famous aqueduct and Disney-Inspired logo–the castle! The aqueduct is a sight to see as its so large in stature with so many arches. The castle is also beautiful and I got to go inside, which was awesome. I had never been inside a castle before, so I was living some of my childhood, princess dreams. I did this trip through a student organization many universities in Europe are partnered with called, ERASMUS. I paid 20 euros to get to and from this city within the southern community of Madrid on a private bus for students, and to get a tour of the place with free-time included. I would suggest however, getting there on your own by Renfe (public train using your monthly metro card) because then you can walk around, eat, and head back home at your own pace. It will probably take an hour and a half by train. I went in February when it was raining a lot, so I suggest going when it gets warmer. This is also a day trip! You may need 3-5 hours depending on if you decide to shop and eat here as well.

Granada: This place is known by all of Spain because it has the famous fortress and castle here called the Alhambra. I took the ALSA bus there and it cost about 30 euros roundtrip from Madrid. It is about 4.5 hours away and so compared to a Trailways bus, it’s a great price! I visited this fortress, and saw it from the outside at a place called “Mirador de San Nicolas.” It was an insane view. The left part of the view had mountains. The middle had the most visited site of Spain, the castle, Alhambra. And the right side had the rest of the city. Getting to the city center from the main bus station where the ALSA bus left us was great because the main buses to the city center were right in the front (as well as taxis if need be). My friend and I also visited the Bañuelo, an arabic bath, and the Casa de Oro (House of the Gold Oven) with arches, pools, and spectacular ceilings.  Granada, which is in Andalusia Spain, has Arabic influence, as it is in the south of Spain very much near Morocco. You can take a ferry from this part of Spain to Morocco (that’s exactly what I did to get there with a travel agency for students and young adults called City Life Madrid). Granada was quite special and very much reminded me of the roads and colorfulness of Morocco. I stood here for 1.5 days, so this can be a weekend trip. I recommend buying tickets to get inside the Alhambra in advance. Thousands of people visit this site everyday, so tickets are often sold out.

Other Towns By Renfe (Outdoor Train/Cercanias Line):  I recommend checking out the towns of El Escorial, Aranjuez, and Guadarrama by taking the outdoor train (Cercanias line). You can use your monthly metro card here, too! So no need to pay any extra to get to these cool towns.

El Escorial has a wonderful monastery that is gorgeous. It took my friend and I about 1.5 hours to get through the inside of this majestic place filled with dungeons and a royal library.  It only cost 5 euros. So worth it!

Aranjuez has a beautiful palace on the outside and inside. Insane glass windows and royalty all around. It only cost 4 euros. Again, so worth it!

Guadarrama is great for hiking! It gives you a little bit of New Paltz in Madrid, and is so gorgeous. The view is amazing, and unreal as usually you don’t expect to see snow in Madrid, but it was so awesome. It reminded me why I love New Paltz so much!

Once you get to the bus station, there are maps, signs, and info desks to ask about which way is the best way to get to the touristic places. Follow those signs, and maps, and you will get to those touristic places within 5-10 minutes from the Renfe Station (Cercanias line).

Other Local Places within Madrid: 

Check out the Light House of Moncloa (only 3 euros).

Check out Takos near Sol or Gran Via or Callao train stops (best tacos ever for 1 euro each).

Check out the Madrid Zoo and Aquarium (23.5 euros) but amazing experience! I got to feed flamingos, see a dolphin and bird show, and take selfies with bears and giraffes.

p.s. Me feeding flamingos at the zoo in Madrid!

 

Why I Travel Poem

to understand how others live

to realize that this world is so big, yet so small, and so universal

to learn how others communicate

to remember that other cultures and languages are not wrong, just different than my own

to speak a different language and become confident and comfortable with how it sounds on my tongue

to try new foods because food is part of culture

to meet new people who add to my life

to create friendships that may last a lifetime of memories

to make connections that are rare gems

to ask questions that foster an immense amount of growth

to solidify who I am with and a part from labels, and titles, and professions

to gain an appreciation for home

to grace another place and another people with my presence, my knowledge, my kindness

to see who still genuinely supports me from miles away

to test who still means a lot to me from miles away

to know what it is to be a part from all that is familiar

to challenge myself

to tell stories now, later, and forever

p.s. Disney’s inspired castle logo from Segovia, Spain. Wonderful town with an ancient history and aqueduct.

Academic Adjustment at UC3M Getafe Campus: Be Prepared to Ask Questions

Just like an interview, always have questions prepared about what you may venture in. I went to my orientation for UC3M for international students in the Hispanic Studies Program which meant most/all my classes would be in Spanish, and tailored to North American students to help enhance our Spanish language skills. That being said, this orientation was completely in Spanish, and tailored toward safety in Spain and advertising their facilities such as the gym, the library, etc. It would not have been helpful at all if I had not come prepared with questions. My first question was 1) How do we register for classes? Though their was a guide given online, I still wanted to clarify the process because the portal here was also new to me, as it should be for any incoming “first-year.” 2) Where exactly can I find x,y, and z buildings to take my placement exam for my Spanish level and pick up my ID/certificate to be here on campus? 3) Where exactly is the gym, the library, and the bookstore? After I received information about all of those things, I felt a bit more acquainted with how my days would look like at UC3M. There was not a carnival, or student movers, or people in bright blue and orange t-shirts asking if you needed help the way students are at New Paltz for freshman. New Paltz is so friendly, but do not expect the same customer service in Spain.

Moreover, I am taking 5 classes here at UC3M, which is about the same amount of courses and credits I usually take at New Paltz (14-17 credits depending on what’s available, what I need, etc.). Here, I have more group projects; 2/5 of my classes are based on group projects–my radio workshop course, as well as my Cultural Studies course. Also, 4/5 of my courses are in Spanish so that’s very different, and only 3/5 professors speak/know English with confidence. Check your syllabus often, and check Aula Global (portal similar to blackboard) often so you can keep track of when things are due. Most of my professors don’t send reminder emails about what is due and what isn’t. So pay attention to this, too. Overall, my classes are interesting. They are discussion-based, lecture-based, and group-work based–so a combo of everything. Professors come in on time or late (never early, seriously), and usually end early, too. They are usually in a rush to leave, so if you want to discuss something with them, catch them at the end of class or ask to meet with them another time. They always ask if we have questions, or to stop them if we don’t understand something, and I really appreciate that aspect of each course in the Hispanic Studies Program. In my only English class– radio workshop, a lot of the Spaniard students talk over the Professor, and that rarely ever happens at New Paltz without some sort of penalty or consequence. So just be mindful of that, too. I always sit in the front to avoid the chatter.

Other things to keep in mind: You have to the pay for the gym. It is not part of your tuition like at New Paltz. You also have to pay for printing in cash unless it is a significant amount to pay by card (3 or more euros I believe). So there is no printing quota here either. The bookstore here is so small compared to New Paltz (and New Paltz has way better stuff, I promise!). Regardless, budget, budget, budget. Using an excel sheet has been super helpful for me to keep track of my weekly expenses.

Extra curricular activities or clubs are not necessarily a norm here in Spain or Europe. Neither is having a job on top of studies. Most students bring food from home or go home for lunch. They are commuters (as I am, too), and their responsibility is to study. They don’t have debt as the government pays for much of their education as do merit scholarships. There is no such thing as a sports scholarship. Therefore, their reason for being in the university is different as well. American students go to the university to grow and become independent at a much faster rate than Spaniard students do. It’s all part of the cultural difference in education.

In addition, all  the trips are student-run and are mainly based around parties by Erasmus student organizations. Get on their Facebook page to see what events are interesting to you. I would recommend seeking other sites like travel organizations such as: Smart Insiders or City Life Madrid for other cultural outings. 

Overall, most professors are laid back, but still expect you to do the readings, do the homework, participate, be on time, and hand work in by deadline. Do as they say, not as they do, always!

p.s. The featured photo is me on the first day of classes on campus. I fit perfectly in that tiny tree! Beautiful campus. I can’t wait until spring so I can enjoy the quad and surrounding area more.

Cultural Adjustment: Food, Customs, Dress, Social Interactions and More

Madrid, Spain is so ancient, yet so modern with its cathedrals intertwined with shops, cafes, and metro stops at every corner. Everyone’s cultural adjustment will be different based on where you grew up. When I first got here, I had a unique experience in that my fiancé’s great cousin was already living in Madrid from the Dominican Republic. So she introduced me around Madrid the first couple of weekends, which was so kind of her. She treated me as if I were her niece, and am very grateful for her welcoming me to Spain in that way. That being said, my cultural adjustment started off pretty smoothly. I was fitting right in with moving around from place to place like a local, and speaking Spanish as best as I could with my Puerto Rican heritage and knowledge of the language academically for 6 years.

It began getting difficult when there were certain things my host mom did that I was thrown aback by. For example, one night my roommate and I asked our host mom if she could save dinner for us in a container (we offered to buy the containers and wash the dishes), since that night my family friend had taken us out and we’d get home late (post 9 p.m.) or rather, after dinner. She was not happy. Although we tried talking with her about finding resolutions, she would not budge on saving food for us. But she did agree to make dinner that was microwaveable up to 12 a.m. on Saturdays, since she figured we would come home late on those days.

Going forward, every other day but Saturday dinner is at 9 p.m. sharp. That obligation was definitely not something I was used to. Also, who doesn’t ever have left overs? Sometimes that’s the best part of a home-cooked meal. You get to have it twice! Since that day, I’ve done my best to keep a conscience effort that every culture is different, and that my host mom comes from a very different place than I do. I have to do my best to understand and respect her norms because I live under her roof.

That being said, never be afraid to have a conversation about something that bothers you. It’s up to you to fend for yourself in any situation you are in, especially when it comes to your living conditions. Here is the place you want to be the most comfortable. It starts with being honest, trying to come from a place of understanding and concern, and working your way towards a better study abroad experience.

My host mom cooks a variety of savory meals. Some of my favorites are pumpkin soup, cauliflower soup, lasagna, French fries with sunny side-up eggs, and breaded chicken. My favorite desert she offers us is sliced strawberries with sugar. Her coffee for breakfast is also perfect to start the morning. Apart from those meals, toast with jam or Nutella is very popular here. A place called “Montaditos” has super good, cheap (in price) tapas. I always get mini sandwiches with Ali oli sauce, and it’s delicious. Get two and you’ll be filled. It always come with potato chips, and I pay 2 euros in total. Bread in Madrid is always good. Side note: if you like your food hot make sure you can ask them to toast your croissants with chocolate, any toast, sandwiches, etc. because most times they will give you room temperature sandwiches or bread.

In terms of clothing, fashion is IN here. Men and women wear skinny jeans on a daily basis. Both men and women wear peacoat jackets. Everyone here wears scarves. That’s a must! It is actually very windy and brisk in Madrid. It has snowed 4x since I have been here in January (2018)– a very rare occurrence. Fur coats are are also very much in style for women, especially older women. Embroidered jean jackets, and jean pants are also very popular here. Many people dress up here. I’ve never seen any locals wear sweat pants,  joggers, or pajamas outside.

Some people in Spain (at least on the metro), don’t say “sorry” if they bump you, or “thank you” if you hold the door. They don’t feel the need to, because their sense of personal space or privacy is not as sacred to them as it is to us as Americans. Don’t be offended, it is just their way of being, as we learned in my Cultural Studies course. Also, keep in mind that Spain uses military time. Spaniards start parties late (similar to New Platz, maybe?), and begin at 12:30 a.m. ish. Most importantly, the metro closes at 1:30 a.m. There is a physical gate the comes down, and an announcement that gives you 5 minutes to get out of the metro if you are still within the station. Be mindful, and careful, and always have an alternate way to get home. Night buses are always an option and you can use your public transportation card to get anywhere in Madrid by metro (the subway), bus, or train (the Renfe, an outside train to other provinces similar to the Metro North or New Jersey Transit).

Lastly, take it easy! All is new. There are good days, and bad days just like ANYWHERE you live or go to school. Remember you are a student traveling and living in another country on your own, but you’re still doing it! Take advantage of this time, and do your best to enjoy it all. Every part of it is a learning experience. Reflect often, and be thankful often. Keep in touch with family, friends, significant other(s), workers, advisors–people who mean a lot to you. Show them love, the way they have shown you love before and while on your journey. Send letters if that’s something you enjoy (ask for international stamps to the US, etc.). Breathe when the wifi gets spotty. It’s okay. It happens. And most of all, remind yourself you are studying abroad in Spain. You’re seeing and experiencing things many people don’t even get a chance to do in their lifetime. Being HERE is a beautiful thing, and something you’ll never experience exactly like this, again.

p.s. The featured image is a photo I took at Buen Retiro Park, a wonderful park similar to Central Park if you’ve ever visited New York City. Lovely lake, music, rose garden, and castle here in Buen Retiro. And, you can reach it by metro, of course!

Initial Reaction to My New Home: Madrid, Sweet Madrid

“It’s just like New York City! EXCEPT: There are no skyscrapers, metros are WAY cleaner, and EVERYTHING is in Spanish.”

That’s exactly what I say when anyone asks me what Madrid is like. So you can imagine how excited I was to get to Madrid, Spain when first landing, and how exhausted, of course! I was relieved as well to feel at home even though I was thousands miles away from home, too. But something about this city at a first glance, was so similar to Manhattan and little Spanish hubs in the uptown Bronx.

I loved how much of a busy city it appeared to be on the first day (and still is).The metro is efficient, tidy, safe, and reachable anywhere. The supermarket, the pharmacy, the post office, school–every sign, every person, every thing you use (even the internet) reads in Spanish. This is a perfect way to practice, comprehend, and gain confidence in the language you’ll be learning, living, and breathing daily. By the way–my home is actually on a street called, “Calle de Padilla” which is my last name. How great! “Muy genial!” as they would say here. When I entered the home, I was wondering, how do I open up this door. The keys here are so different (at least for my building), so that would definitely take some getting used to.

The Spanish is very different. Spaniards believe their Spanish is the correct way no matter your level, understanding, or fluency of Spanish. The way we are taught Spanish in the United States in an academic setting is very different than being raised in a Spanish/Latino home, just the way both those experiences of learning Spanish is very different from the way Spanish is taught to American students in Spain.

The Spanish language in Spain is called Castellano. For example, the word “computer” is “ordenador,” here. But in the States, we’d use the word, “computadora.” So learning Spanish here, is a mix of learning the culture and everyday language. It’s almost like learning code for Spanish, or another language. In this way, you adapt yourself to their way of speaking Spanish. What you know may not be wrong, but it just isn’t as common here. Do your best to use what you learn here in Spain, to apply to your everyday interactions at local places, and conversations with friends and professors. In this way, you’ll be picking up colloquial phrases in no time!

Their customs here are different, too. As soon as I arrived, I gave my host mom a kiss on both the left and right cheek. A handshake may seem offensive, and very “American.” Also, they eat bread with EVERY meal. My first meal was pumpkin soup with bread. Then, another platter of broccoli and chicken. Then my desert was a fruit. And I am always served water for dinner. Fruit for dessert is also common here, and so that was something I noticed right away as well. Side note: I am very fortunate my host mom cooks with flavor. She serves good portions. And if there is extra, she always offers my roommate and I more. Thank the heavens!

p.s. The featured image is a mini market similar to New Paltz’s “Groovy Blueberry” on Water Street. It’s about 20 minutes walking-distance from my home!

Preparing For Your Trip to Madrid: Pack Things You Don’t Want to Forget

As I prepared to pack for my study abroad experience, I thought of all the things I did not want to forget. Of course, my backpack with all my essentials were a must. That meant, my wallet (cash, credit cards, bank cards, health insurance cards, multiple forms of ID), my passport, my coin purse, my boarding pass, my canteen full of water, my travel journal, planner, flashdrive , any medications (pills, and bottles with prescriptions that go in accordance with TSA rules), portable charger, wire, and pens.

After packing my essentials in my backpack, I packed 3 suitcases: 1 carry-on, 1 medium-sized luggage, and 1-large luggage. The carry-on luggage had all my shoes for different weather conditions. Rain boots are a must. 2 walking sneakers are good to switch out. Flip flops are a good option for indoors, or when it is time to head to the beach, or shower in a place you don’t want your feet to touch the ground. Don’t forget a pair of flats, (for ladies), and pair of boots that you can dress up or down for the winter or spring. My medium luggage contained 1 pair of bedsheets and toiletries, and a beach towel, as well as outdoor jackets (a peacoat, a raincoat, and a leather jacket for all types of weather. My largest luggage contained 2 sweaters, an umbrella (most people forget this one), and all the tops, bottoms, pjs, and underclothes I knew I would regret if I did’n’t bring.

Don’t forget a neck pillow, and keep that outside your luggage so you can remember to bring it with you on the plane. Perhaps bring a fleece blanket. This fit in my medium-luggage and it was something from home I am grateful I brought. The heat in Spain turns off some time in the night into the following morning. So, an extra blanket is great for home and mini trips elsewhere.

Know this: You may pack more than once. You may repack more than three times. But don’t give up! Create a list of what you have. Create a list of what you need to bring. Create a list of what you want to bring. Create a list of what you need to buy. Keep track of it all. And last but not least, breathe. You are going abroad! Ask for help and support from family and friends if need be, and enjoy the ride.

p.s. The featured image is a cathedral within a town called Toledo, Spain. Small, beautiful town. Perfect for a day trip.

 

 

 

Still Adjusting

Almost a month has passed by since I have returned from my study abroad trip and I am still struggling to come to terms with the fact that it is over. There are the nights where I don’t think about it at all and it’s almost like I was never there, but there are also those nights where I find myself staying up at night, reliving my experiences and wishing that I could be back. Finding the right balance between being appreciative of these amazing memories while at the same time not letting this nostalgia overcome me with sadness, has proven quite difficult.

They say that many people discover themselves when they study abroad. I believe they say this because it is the first time for many young adults in which the only person they have to worry about is… themselves. In Madrid, it wasn’t about stress, worry, and drama, but rather it was instead feelings of excitement, adventure, and freedom. There was something special about being so far removed from your life and all of the baggage that comes with it. As much as I miss the traveling, friends, culture, etc., it is this freedom that I miss the most.

Now back in New Paltz, with the semester well underway, the stress and responsibilities have come back with a vengeance. It has turned into an intense juggling act between catching up with everything I missed, keeping up with my 16-credit course load, and trying to find a summer internship for after I unofficially graduate in May. This, in addition to the absurd amount of snow since I have returned, has me dreaming about Spain more often than not.

 

Back to “The States”

The range of emotions experienced in the past couple weeks have been stressful, but also taught me a lot about who I am and what I want. My last week in Madrid was both emotional and exciting; I was sad to say goodbye to a city that I now view as a home away from home, but I was also happy to return to the city that raised me (NYC) and the small town that I also consider my home away from home (New Paltz).

Saying goodbye to my friends that I made while abroad was the hardest part, but I know that I have the means and the communication to see them again one day, either visiting them or them visiting me. Other than my friends, what I think I enjoyed the most about living in Madrid was just the pure excitement of being so far away from everyone I knew, in a beautiful new city/country/continent, that was filled to the brim with adventures and new things to see. For me personally, the joy of having something to be excited about and look forward to is almost as good as the actual experience.

That being said, I was also looking forward to coming home; one of the best parts about NYC is leaving and then coming back Almost all of my friends in NYC had already left back to their respective universities, so I still haven’t seen most of them yet, but being home with my family for a couple of days was very relaxing. I immediately noticed the little differences between the U.S. and Europe, such as the brutal line at customs when arriving at JFK, which was much longer than any of the lines I had to wait in while I was abroad visiting other airports. Also the fact that I had to listen to commercials for the entire duration of the line, another little thing that wouldn’t happen in Europe. Despite this, being back in NYC made me realize just how big and grand it is (and how small Madrid is). I also thoroughly enjoyed making my parents get me all of the amazing food that I missed so dearly.

Coming back to New Paltz was a different story. I hadn’t been in New Paltz in around 8 months, but it still felt like I never left. My friends and professors gave me a warm welcome back and I definitely enjoyed sharing some of my incredible experiences with them. Missing syllabus week has me playing catch-up for the time being, but my teachers have been very understanding of the situation. I haven’t had much time to really sit down and reflect on the past 5 months of my life due to how hectic my schedule has been, but I know that once I am situated (I still don’t have a bed yet) and caught up with my classes, I will be able to put things in perspective.

 

Euro-Trip

After exploring four different countries in just twelve days, I can say without a doubt that traveling around Europe is an incredible experience, but also an expensive one. It isn’t the flights or the hostels that run up the bill, but rather it is the day-to-day expenses of attempting to see as much as possible when being a tourist in some of the most amazing cities in the entire world. The four stops I made on this trip were London, Paris, Dublin, and Berlin, with the latter two cities not being overwhelmingly pricey, but the first two cities making NYC seem cheap. However, expenses aside, each city presented a much different culture, atmosphere, and experience that I won’t soon forget.

Dublin: My first stop had a little bit of a different feel from the other cities I visited, mainly because I stayed with a good friend of mine from UC3M at his parents house, rather than a youth hostel. Exploring a new city with someone born and raised in the area and who knows the culture well allowed me to see the city more from a resident’s point of view rather than a tourist’s, which I personally think is better. The Irish are warm, welcoming, and love to have a good time (the Guinness is amazing).

London: The second stop on my trip had a much more touristy vibe to it and it’s hard not to in a city as grand as this. Similarly to NYC, it is so big and there is so much to see, but at times it almost felt like everything was just one giant rip off. Dealing with the conversion rate of the pound while also dealing with inflated prices is definitely a hard thing for a college student on a budget to handle. Other than the damage done to my wallet, London was definitely a city that I enjoyed and that I plan on returning to (I also find the slang there to be quite comical).

Berlin: The third stop on my trip seemed like one very long and very dark history lesson. Man, does this city have a lot of baggage to it when it comes to the 20th century. From WWI/WWII to the Berlin Wall, it was quite interesting to see how all of these events were linked and how bad humanity can be in desperate times. In addition to the history, the nightlife in Berlin is also second to none, I’ve never seen people party quite like the Germans do (even though it was freezing).

Paris: Similarly to my stay in Dublin, the final stop on my trip I was with a good friend of mine from New Paltz and crashed at his apartment… and similarly to London, this city didn’t treat my wallet too nicely either. I’d have to say that Paris is the most beautiful city I have ever been to thus far in my life and it was the closest to Spain in that the majority of people didn’t speak English, whereas in the other cities I visited, everybody spoke it perfectly. Going to the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre were unforgettable experiences and this is definitely a city that I would love to come back to in the not so distant future.

Now I am finally back home in Madrid, where I have a little over a week left to enjoy living in this amazing city before returning back to NYC!