Madrid Disposables

Disposables are trendy, sure, but it’s also just nice to have physical photos you can paste in an album (not the Facebook kind). Here are some disposable cam shots of Madrid from January to March 2011

A view from the street of some classic Madrid apartments

I found these goons at The Feast of Fools in Plaza Mayor, one of the Madrid Carnival events in March

Metro moment with my friends from France

The view from my bedroom balcony. Madrid gets balconies right. Balconies for errybody!

Angela is my good friend from New Paltz. She is in a separate program from me and goes to school in lovely Alcala de Henares. (Taken in my bedroom)

Party Morgan. Me dolled up at a party

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Subjective Advice: Ways To Live Abroad

This is a real-life, unrehearsed, unscripted, [awkward] tour of my homestay apartment. Enjoy.

Homestay Tour

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Prospective study abroad students: a big question is what’s the best choice of living arrangement. Stay with a native family? Hunt down your own flat upon arrival?
Umbrella suggestion: it depends on what you want out of your abroad experience. For example, my choice of homestay (in which I was paired with Senora Pilar Gonzaléz Chao and my NYC roommate, Denisa) was motivated by my aspirations to be integrated into the culture.
However, after living with in a homestay for a few months I’ve detected some highs and lows I hadn’t considered before.
Here is a break down of experience of friends living in apartments, homestay families, and student residences in Madrid in the form of- you guessed it- a pros and cons list.

HOMESTAY FAMILY
Pro
– “True cultural experience.”
– Gain little wisdom nuggets from a native you wouldn’t get anywhere else:
historical facts, recipes, best places to eat or get a haircut.
–> 68 year old Snra. Chao told me where the free museums are, how to roll croquetas, where every festival in Spain is, and that the reason she didn’t learn to drive until her 20’s was because she refused to take the homemaking course mandatory with getting a license under Franco. Our dinnertime talks were one of the most meaningful aspects of my homestay experience.

Con
– Full board meal plan = No control over diet. If you’re a selective eater (dieting, vegan, picky), don’t get full board. Be prepared to eat as they people do. Madrileños: small breakfast, large lunch at 2-4 PM, tapas, dinner 10 PM.
– Language barrier (if you have one).
– No friends over. This came as a huge bummer to me because I prefer socializing by throwing pot lucks, having friends over for drinks or movies.
– Not recommended if you need your space.
– You have to eat within acertain time period

Depends
– You can’t be shy about specifying your wants. And prepare yourself for miscommunication. A health conscious peer of mine requested her senora add more vegetables to her carb/fried meals; croquetas and calamari became batter-fried cauliflower and peppers
– You can’t cook for yourself. Cooking is a hobby and creative outlet for me, so it was annoying to be forbidden from even frying an egg. Adding to the bother is when I’m scrutinized or fussed over when I’m just trying to spread jam on bread.
– Yes, you can still maintain a nocturnal social life; they know you are young, funky, and like to go out. You don’t have a curfew. BUT you do need to respect the family you are living with, such as being quiet as you can when you do

APARTMENT/PISO
– If you’ve already spent college living in an off campus apartment, why not try pressing the borders of your comfort zone and do something different? (ie, homestay family?)
– tend to live with other exchange people/ may be from other countries, but they are rarely Spaniards
– you control your own meals: you control your own diet, you miss out on cultural food because you cook what you’re used to

RESIDENCE
– The ones I’ve heard of come with a dining hall and your meal plan is mandatory since you don’t have a kitchen. If you’re a picky eater (or vegan, vegetarian) you may not want someone else deciding what you’re going to eat everyday. The girl I know lives on French fries.
– It’s dorm life. With a roommate.
– Probably procure a gym membership with your residence
– May have to eat within a certain time period; not whenever

*Advice based only from me + a handful of other people, from 1 semester in Madrid, Spain. Take it with grains of salt.

Leaving New York (and Why It Was For Madrid)

January 2011

Throughout the winter break, “I’m leaving for Spain January 23rd” was something I said all the time but didn’t know its meaning until two days after I unpacked in Madrid. I was excited to leave, of course I was excited, but fall and January swept past in a blur of To-Do lists and goodbyes without giving me pause to grasp, “I am going to live new country for half a year… I am going to live new country for half a year.”
Regardless, I suppose mental preparation can only yield so much until you finally leave! I did all kinds of other planning up until spring, such as choosing what country to study and how I wanted to live there. During class I would draw lists in my notebooks that looked like this:

PRAGUE _______________ MADRID
Pro – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Pro
* nice bridges – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – * I can speak some Spanish
* humanities program – – – – – – – – – – – * paella
* it’s got that gritty, sad-poet cool vibe

Con
* How long do I think I can live
on meat and potatoes?

My values might be questionable (and largely food-based), but they did help me discern what I wanted. A few Quito/Madrid, Monterrey/Madrid lists later, Madrid was my winner. Money and program availability factors aside, my guiding concern was finding the place I could make the most of; ie, finding a culture I thought I could immerse myself in rather than observe from a distance all semester. Speaking the language was going to be key (and I knew some Spanish) and if I could choose what sort of attitude I was going to come away with, I wanted a Madrileño one! To me, the Spanish capital epotimized a playful and relaxed mentality that I aspired to learn.

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And thus, January 23rd I was flying to Madrid! It was night as I took off from JFK and from my window seat I could see the length of Hometown Long Island outlined in street lamps, passing by below. Being a LI gal, it was a meaningful send-off, so I sketched a memory and said goodbye to every county.

Time Flies

I’ve gotten to the point where I’m so comfortable being here and so accustomed to my classes that the weeks are going by so fast. Monday comes and in the blink of an eye its Friday already and time to get ready for tapas and shows. I’ve gotten into a comfortable grove and somehow feel like I’ve been living here for years. Though I’m glad everything has been smooth sailing for the past couple of weeks, I don’t like that I’ve been getting into a routine because I’m not here for routine and normalcy! I want to keep the spontaneity and excitement alive and experience as many things as possible. It’s a balancing act between continuing to be a “tourist” and becoming an actual local. Most locals, my cousin for example, is never out sightseeing and tends to stick to a common group of friends, the same bars and clubs, the same roads, etc. etc. Little by little I’m finding that I too am losing a bit of my momentum and becoming slightly complacent. I’ll think one day, for example, I should go to the Prado or the Reina Sofia, because I still haven’t gone… ah, well I’m here for a year I have time. Or, I should go visit Toledo, it’s only a 30 minute train ride… ah, well I’m here for a year, I have time. I see that the international students that are only here for a semester are taking advantage of their time much better than I am. But sometimes the overwhelming amount of events and activities going on in Madrid can be, well… overwhelming!

I did do something last night though, that was both something every tourist should do and something that locals do as well: I went to see a futbol game!

It was so amazing! I love watching futbol (Sorry I refuse to call it soccer), but even for those who don’t it is definitely an experience worth having. I went with a group of friends for only 12 euro each to see Real Madrid (0ne of the best teams in the world!) versus Real Murcia. Real Madrid won 5-1, of course 😉 With players like Christiano Renaldo and Iker Casillas how could they possibly lose?

I sat in between my Spanish friend Luis and an older Spanish man, both of who were constantly shouting and chanting in cohesion with the thousands of Real Madrid fans in the stadium. It was such a rush to be in the midst of such a passionate atmosphere. Futbol is such an essential part of the Spanish culture.

My one regret of the night is that I brought my camera without my memory card, so I couldn’t take the close up shots of Renaldo and Casillas I had planned. I did however manage to take some pictures on my cellphone:

Not the best picture, but at least I have an excuse to go back and take more pictures!

More excitement in Madrid: The MTV Awards were hosted here this past Sunday so there were free outdoor concerts all weekend long! I went on Sunday night after eating with my family and caught Linkin Park at Puerta de Alcala. Katy Perry played before them, but unfortunately I missed her.

Here’s a video I took of Linkin Park playing In the End: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqKYUiKxpSM

Getting back to Getafe on the metro was an adventure with all those people!

The weekend before that was Halloween weekend, and much to my surprise, Spain actually celebrates Halloween! It has started to get popular here within the last ten years or so. On the Friday before, I saw a bunch of little kids all dressed up like witches and vampires and monsters on their way to school. I ended up spending Halloween night with my two cousins whom I never in a million years would have guessed I would be celebrating Halloween with. We went to a bar named “Any Trouble” near where they live. I went as a 1920s Charleston girl vampire, and my cousins went as a fallen angel and a crashed pilot (ironically he is studying now to be a pilot).

Guillotined! I’m not sure if vampires die if you cut off their heads…..

Anyway, here are some random pictures I took while walking around the city:

These were taken on Calle de las Huertas. This street has a lot of nice bars and place to get tapas. It was pretty dead when I went because it was a Monday around 8pm, but I saw a Vegetarian Buffet and a Karoeke bar and Jazz Bar I think I’m going to go back to see. Calle de las Huertas was really nice too because phrases from famous Spanish authors were printed on the actual street.

This week and next week is the Jazz Festival in Madrid and I am very very excited!!!!

Unfortunately, last night when I was at the futbal game I missed Christian Scott and Kenny Garrett playing at Teatro Fernán Gómez, but I did get a ticket to see Esperanza Spalding on Wednesday of next week. I can’t wait!!!

Hasta luego,

Sandy

Favorite Things

1) Spanish Food

Last weekend my cousin took me out to get the best churros in town. I don’t remember the name of the cafe, but it was on Calle Alcala and there was a line of people waiting to get in. That’s how you know it’s good! I was most, definitely, not disappointed. We had one order of churros, which are basically fried dough sticks, and one porra which is a larger version of a churro, and we each had a cup of melted chocolate to dip the churros in. DELICIOUS!

Another favorite: Tapas!  It’s very typical for Spaniards to go out around 10pm and go tapa bar hopping. You go from bar to bar, order a beer, and you will get a small plate of food, usually jam or olives, or you can order something from the tapa menu like morzilla (blood sausage), tortilla española (a potato omelette kind of), boquerones en vinagre (tiny little fish that look like anchovies that are soaked in vinegar, and much much more…

The other night, my roommate and I went to Sol which is the very center of Madrid and had tapas at the Museo de Jamon (Ham Museum). Spanish people LOVE their ham! Here’s some chorizo:

And short video of the inside of el Museo de Jamon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TNvYQTdrENo

I’ve been trying to eat really weird foods too because Spain has some pretty interesting food and I like trying new things. The other day I topped my “weirdest food I’ve ever eaten” list with pig ears. That’s right. They tasted pretty good but the texture was pretty disgusting. I wish I would have taken a picture but I forgot my camera! My goal is to eat as much weird food as I can find, so I’ll get a picture next time!

2) The Night Life

After going out on the weekends to several places, I think I have finally found my favorite hang out. If you are tired of the usual club music, this is the place to go! The Blues Bar: La Coquette. It is right near Sol, two blocks down from one of the most popular clubs in Madrid, Joy. All the international students in Madrid flock to Joy every weekend. After going one night, I was pretty much sick of it. I am much more into blues, jazz, and rock, than club music.

Here is the Plaza de Sol, where every one usually meets by the Tio Pepe sign at night to go out.

And here is a video I took of the blue band that played at La Coquette when I went this past Thursday. They were amazing!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CimanGzPDCE

This is me enjoying the music.

Apparently there is a huge blues and jazz scene in Madrid which I plan to take full advantage of. This Thursday I’m going back to La Coquette to see another blues band, and sometime this week I plan on going to a famous jazz bar called Cafe Central.

I’ll definitely have to find some flamenco bars too! I think flamenco is the jazz of Spain, at least in terms of difficulty and skill involved and the passion of the artists.

3) Blue skies

I’ve been warned that Spain isn’t always sunny as people seem to assume and that it isn’t always warm. It has started to get a little colder, but midday when the sun is brightest it is still very warm and even at nights sometimes it still feels like summer.

When I was a little kid I swore that the sky in Spain is bluer than the sky anywhere else. Now that I’m back, I still swear upon it. These are some pictures I took on the walk to school. The sky is so blue!

Hasta luego,

Sandy

Holiday weekend

I’m not sure exactly what national holiday it is, but I do know the most important thing: 4 day weekend! Coincidentally, in the US right now it’s Columbus Day weekend. I’m not sure if that’s also what we’re celebrating here, but it would make sense since King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel of Spain paid for Columbus’ voyage…

A lot of international students on campus decided to take advantage of the four day weekend to travel around Europe. I was thinking about going to Paris because the flights out of Madrid are super cheap (around 40 euro round trip), but I figured I would stay and see more of Madrid. The only problem has been that this weekend has been pretty dreary. It’s been cold and rainy since Saturday morning 🙁 so I haven’t really ventured out much. I did however take the opportunity to visit some family. I spent Saturday with my one cousin Naomi. She took me to a really nice Japanese restaurant near Grand Via. The sushi and different dishes were presented on colorful little dishes that looked like UFOs and delivered to our table on a conveyor belt. It was really cool to see and the food was delicious! Afterwards I went to her apartment and we watched a scary movie.  Yesterday I saw my other cousin, Carolina, and had lunch at her house with my grandpa, aunt, and uncle. Later we went to a nice restaurant nearby to have some tea and coffee.

Today I was planning on going to central Madrid again to either go shopping or go to a museum but the museums are all closed on Mondays and it was sooo cold today I didn’t want to leave the house. I really need to go clothes shopping because most of the things I brought with me are meant for warmer weather.

I realize I haven’t written for about two weeks so I’m going to do a quick recap….

On September 29th there was a general strike all over Spain and in various parts of Europe. The strike was most felt in Spain in Barcelona (where police cars were put on fire) and Madrid. I didn’t get to see much of the action, except for on TV, because most of the metros and trains were down so I couldn’t go to the city center to see the protest, and I had class…  From what I heard the protesters were also active in Getafe. They were ambushing stores that decided to stay open during the strike and putting stickers on their windows and spray painting walls. I wish I could have taken pictures but maybe it would have been a little dangerous.

I did take pictures of the posters that were put up all over Madrid.

So what were Spaniards striking against?

Well, most of you know that Spain is in a major economic crisis right now. They are in a similar state Greece is in although the cause of the crisis in each country is somewhat different. The strike was primarily against the austerity measures the government has implemented in order to get the country out of the recession. These measures include freezing pensions and increasing the retirement age to 62.

I can’t say I can completely relate to most Spaniards because workers in the United States retire at age 65 (or did it increase?), and we usually get only 2 weeks of vacation (most Spaniards get 4 weeks), our unemployment benefits are worse compared to here in terms of length and dollar amount, and we still don’t have universal healthcare, although we’ve made some progress… so I don’t know what Spaniards are really complaining about, but I really haven’t been in their shoes long enough to understand. Being an economics major, I see it logical to cut some of the social welfare costs if a country is facing incredible debt.

On the weekend of Oct 2-3 I went with a group of international students to Salamanca! The trip was organized by a club called ESN which is a group for Erasmus (European exchange) students, but they let non European exchange students join as well. Although the trip was pretty short, I had a really good time! We arrived Saturday at 1pm, check into our hostel rooms ( I was in a room with 9 other people!), and then we had lunch in town. At 4pm we met in Plaza Mayor and had a 2 hour tour around the old part of the city. Then that night we had a fiesta in Plaza Mayor which included visiting 3 different clubs. It was a blast! I met so many new people from France, Germany, Croatia, the Netherlands, and even some people from the US that I hadn’t met yet. It’s funny how I’m making friends with other international students and not really any Spaniards. I guess it’s easier to make friends with people who are in the same boat, but my goal is still to make a couple of really good Spanish friends because I need to start speaking in Spanish! All the international students speak English, so it’s way too easy for me.

Here are some of the best pictures from Salamanca (oldest university town in Spain) :

The week after my trip to Salamanca was pretty rough. I had two tests, one in Econometrics, the other in Game Theory, and a really hard problem set due for Markets and Environment, which involved differential calculus (something I have never done!). I think I did well on the two quizzes from last week but I’m worried about future tests because the math requirements here are pretty intense! Here is an example of one of the problems I have to figure out for my test in two weeks, and I have NO IDEA what it even says even though I go to class every day.

Just some advice to those of you thinking about studying economics here: Make sure you have a strong foundation in calculus, including differential calculus (which in New Paltz is after Calc 1 2 and 3), and some upper level statistics.

Wish me luck,

Sandy

Retiro, Rastro, and very little rest

I wish I had time to write a blog entry more than once a week because so much happens in one week that it’s hard to recap everything….

Last Sunday I visited the Retiro park in Madrid for the second time, but this time I took some pictures! It is a humongous park, comparable to Central Park in New York City. I left Getafe around 5pm and arrived at the Atocha train station close to 6, then waisted some time walking around lost as usual, but I ended up running into this huge outdoor book sale. Most of the books were in Spanish, but I also found A Farewell to Arms by Hemingway so I was surprised.

When I finally reached the Retiro I walked around this man-made lake where people were rowing boats. Around the lake there were a lot of street performers. I took some video of this one band covering a Bob Marley song. They were pretty good. I also spotted Minnie Mouse and Barney walking around. It was pretty funny.

I ended up finding a place to sit underneath a tree and I did some homework and wrote a letter back to the U.S. For only 78 euro cents you can send a letter to the US and it takes less than a week! It’s great.

On Monday I started my first week of classes without Spanish, and for the most part my week went pretty well. I start most of my classes at 9 or 10:45 in the morning and get out either by 12:15 or 2 and then have the rest of the day to nap, or be productive….

On Monday I got a pet fish, Norton! He’s adorable. He’s a telescope eyed goldfish and has these HUGE eyes and tiny little body. Although he has such big eyes, their positioning makes it hard for him to see straight ahead of him so I have to direct him with my finger in order for him to find his food. He’s really dumb but very cute.

On Tuesday, I started my documentary film class and I LOVE IT!!!! It is so much work but it’s a lot of fun. For this one week I had to watch 3 full length documentaries just to catch up on the past two weeks, and I had to write a paper on what we had learned the weeks I had missed, and I still have to analyze a short documentary for this coming Tuesday.

On top of all the individual work, I am working with my group to produce our own documentary. Our topic is the aftermath of dictatorship in Spain; how Franco has affected people’s lives and how Spaniards deal with such a negative past. The crazy thing is that when we all went to meet in Sol (central Madrid) to discuss our project, we landed right in the middle of an anti Franco protest. Members from la Asociacion para la Recuperacion de la Memoria Historica (directly translated: Association for the recuperation of historical memory) were there with posters of family members that had been killed during Franco’s reign and we’re protesting against the reopening of the monument to Franco at Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen), where Franco is buried. We met a lot of great people that were very eager to be interviewed for the documentary. We even met Emilio Silva, the author of the book “Las fosas de Franco” (The mass graves of Franco) which I’m reading right now. Everything seems to be fitting right into place with this documentary project and I’m really excited!

As for my economics classes, I’m more worried. They all seemed reasonable until Friday when my econometrics professor went over the first problem set and I was completely lost! And of course I was the only person lost in the class because they had all learned all these formulas in their previous classes. Even though I’ve taken econometrics before in New Paltz I had no idea what was going on so I’m pretty disillusioned right now. I have a quiz on Friday and I’m probably going to have to stay in my room studying all week in order to pass. Not fun.

What was fun was Friday night. Me and the girls from New Paltz along with an Italian girl and a girl from Denmark that we both met at UC3M went to our first Spanish concert, with Spanish music. Believe me its actually rare to go out at night in Madrid and hear Spanish music. It’s insane how many times a day I hear Lady Gaga. My neighbor sings “Alejandro” every day, and unfortunately for me the walls are paper thin. Spain needs to start embracing Spanish music more because the band we saw on Friday, El Sombrero del Abuelo, was really good! They were a mix of flamenco with funk and rock. I might go see them again in a month when they return to Madrid. In the meantime, Getafe is having a music festival this weekend so Madeline and I might go for a day and check out the Spanish artists.

Today I went to Madrid’s famous Rastro, this huge outdoor flee market, but I really wasn’t too impressed. I was expecting more antiques and hand made items but most of the stands all offered the same kinds of clothing, bracelets, etc. There were some interesting stands. For example, one was selling these strange gas mask/ military mask things… and there were a couple of stands that had some authentic Spanish comics… most of which were adult comics lol. Other than that I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary or anything that caught my eye. The highlight of my trip there was the food, of course 🙂 All the little restaurants around there were serving “tostas” which are open-faced sandwiches on baggette bread. They are delicious!

Anyway, here are some pictures of el Retiro, el Rastro,  some pictures of a night in Sol, some of the protest in Sol. I tried to upload video of some street performers and the protest in Sol but unfortunately the files were too big.

Hasta luego,

Sandy