Between arriving home from the Alps and jetting off to Madrid, I had just enough time to do some laundry, get some school work done, and sleep one night in my own bed. Around 6pm on February 20th, I headed to the airport, and by 9pm I arrived in Spain for my first visit.
A friend of my advisor very graciously opened her home to me, and I spent the week living with her and her 4 year old daughter. In Madrid though, the kids were not on vacation (like in France), so while Olivia was at school and Monica was at work, I found ways to occupy myself. And in Madrid, that can easily be done.
I arrived Monday night, and on the way home from the airport, I got a little mini tour of Madrid as we drove through the center of the city. But being tired and worn out from traveling, it wasn’t until the next day that I really got to explore and become familiar with the city.
Let’s get one thing straight, I don’t speak any Spanish, so these past five days were like when I first arrived in France; like starting from ground zero again. The only things that saved me:
1) The people in Madrid were extremely kind and friendly.
2) English is taught in the schools, so even if it was only a little bit, communication was still possible.
3) Many words between French and Spanish are quite similar, so surprisingly, I was able to understand some things. (for example: door = porte = porta). Someone would say something to me in Spanish and strangely, I could usually get the gist of what they were saying (but I couldn’t respond back).
So with a map, a guide book, and the hospitality of the people, finding my way around was rather simple. And luckily, the weather all week was gorgeous, sunny and mild - perfect for walking.
The first day, I slept in rather late, but I left the apartment by 11am, with the intentions to explore the west side of Madrid. I walked all day, starting at an ancient church, then viewing the Royal Palace, and wandering around the gardens surrounding the palace. By 3pm, my stomach reminded me that I needed to eat, and I found a little café where I had a typical mixed paella with seafood and rice. (Even though Madrid is in the center of Spain, it’s the capital, so fresh seafood is really popular and brought in from the coast.)
With a lot of daylight left, I explored the old city, which has become my favorite part of Madrid. The buildings are gorgeous. In the old city there is one of the last few remaining traditional markets where inside there are different vendors. Inside you’ll find typical things of Madrid, such as ham or tartlets with caviar. Also, I tried the famous chocolate and churros that first day (yum).
Throughout the week I found myself in museums like the Reina Sofia or the el Prado, looking at art. Next to these museums is a giant park where among the trees, bridges, and multiple paths you’ll stumble upon the Crystal Palace. Inside this glass palace, there’s a blue structure, and at midday, with the sun hitting this structure (if you are inside) it resembles the night sky with thousands of little stars. It was beautiful!
The best day though, I have to say, was Friday, as I got to see my friend Emma. Emma is another American who is also from North Penn but living in Madrid for the year thanks to the IFC (International Friendship Committee). Like I said before though, the Spanish students still had school, so Friday, my alarm clock went off at 7am so I could also attend Spanish classes with Emma and experience the difference between French and Spanish schools.
The school looks like a church, and within, there is a church where the students attend a mass every Wednesday. Classes are pretty similar to that in France, where there are about 30 kids in a class and you stay with the same class all day. The biggest difference (besides it’s all in Spanish) is they pray before classes (similar to how Americans sing the national anthem). Spain has a large Catholic population, and walking around the city, you witness the religious influence in the architecture and sculptures.
After class, Emma and I headed to a café and were able to catch up on the past six months. She told me about how school and things with her family (Spanish and American) were going, and the trips she’s been on. One of the things I found really interesting was how she spent Christmas. Christmas isn’t celebrated like it is in the United States, where Santa comes and everyone has a big celebration. In Spain, the big celebration is on the 6th of January, when the three wise men came to visit baby Jesus. There’s a big parade in the streets, and the next morning is when the kids receive their presents.
Another little interesting fact about Spain is the siesta. It really is true; it’s common for them to take a siesta. It doesn’t surprise me though, as everyone stays up really late. I thought the French ate late, but in Spain, on an average night (no company or anything) it’s common to eat dinner around 9:30 or later.
In the end, as much as I loved Madrid, it’s nice to be back home in Toulouse (especially among a language I can speak again). This vacation passed so fast, and I’m not really sure I’m ready to go back to school work. This week I have le bac blanc which is comparable to the practice SAT. Wish me luck!