It’s finally here! What I have been dreaming of since high school- a semester abroad in Spain. The country of bullfights, flamenco dancing, siestas, and tapas. I came here my Junior year of high school and I fell in love with the food, the feel of the city, and the eternal Spanish sunshine.
A lot has happened in the first few weeks here, and surprisingly, it didn’t take me long to get acclimated. I love this city. I love living in a city! I thought it would be overwhelming or scary, trying to ward off pickpockets and maneuvering through the metro system. But with the help of so many people like my program directors and friends in the program, I am quickly starting to dream of beginning not just a semester, but a life here in Spain.
I have never been one to be very lucky. But I am delighted to claim that I lucked into the BEST homestay in Madrid, hands down. I live in a posh apartment on Calle Mayor, a 5 minute walk to Puerta del Sol- the geographical center and heart of Madrid. Around the corner from my apartment is a palace, literally. El Palacio Real. Last week, on a quick run, I ran past El Palacio Real, Plaza de España, and accidentally ended up at an ancient Egyptian temple that was gifted and rebuilt in Madrid in the 1970s.
Besides the fantastic and central location in Madrid, I live with my host mom and dad, Mati and Javier, and a roommate who is also studying with API. The apartment is for the most part painted in a golden hue and there is art everywhere. Mati’s first husband was an artist and so the apartment is filled with his art, art from their cool artist friends, and memorable works that they have picked up from their travels around the world. In fact, I had brought her some little things from India as a gift. But she already had plenty of elephants, painted boxes, tapestries, and Rajasthani-style paintings. She even showed me the Kama Sutra paintings they have hanging in their bedroom haha…
I have the freedom to come and go as I please, and Mati is very easy going and relaxed. She has had students for over 8 years now so she’s seen it all. She was telling me some horror stories about students accidentally setting fire in her home, throwing parties when she was gone for the weekend, and others who wouldn’t really eat her cooking. But all the while, she did her best to protect the students and let them be, make mistakes, and live their lives. I was shocked- why didn’t she kick them out!? Why we did she continue to be so hospitable to people who seemed ungrateful and who took advantage of her? She said it was because she had two kids of her own, she knows how raising kids can be. And she told me that she used to be young once too, and the things she did were much, much more scandalous 🙂 I can believe it! Mati is so hip and cool. She makes amazing food- she talks about how cooking is an art, how it is poetry. I mean, talk about lucking into the right host family. For example, tonight we’re having homemade eggplant parmesan that she’s been working on for two days. It was delicious. I’ll have to write another post all together about Spanish food, but I will say that eating here at my host family’s is such a delight. The mediterranean diet and varied meals keep me on my toes and have been expanding my pallette. And I really do believe that eliminating all that processed food we have back home is what’s keeping me healthy and happy here! While Mati cooks, she plays loud Spanish music and sings along. It really is a happy, beautiful place I live in. In fact, Mati reminds me so much of my good friend Nikki from home. Her eclectic resume (including everything from modeling to physiotherapy), light and easygoing personality, and her taste in art all remind me of Nik. She is incredibly posh- one night I came and sat down for dinner and a friend of hers was over. She complimented me on my make-up (trust me, it was what it always looks like) and I asked her about how she and Mati met. Turns out, they met while they both had thriving modeling careers, and while Mati decided to settle down and get married, her friend became one of the premiere models for Balenciaga….. like. what. Even more, Mati and I can converse about everything from movie to politics to travel. She patiently slows down a bit and pushes me to improve my language skills. I have truly been blessed to have a host family that truly cares about and is mindful in easing my transition into Madrid.
Part of living in Spain means improving my language skills. But because I’m taking classes with international students, it leaves little time for me to practice Spanish in an informal setting, aside from with my host mom. So, for the past few weeks I’ve been going to intercambio. Intercambios happen all over the city, particularly in bars and cafes. Native Spanish speakers attend to practice their English while others from all over the world come to practice their Spanish. I’ve met people who vary not only in their age but also where they come from. For example, I had a lengthy conversation in Spanish with a Scottish women who I swear was Glenn Close’s doppleganger. Even though it was totally outside of my comfort zone, I have really appreciated having this unique and free opportunity to practice my Spanish. Even more, it’s so interesting to work with someone on improving their English. For example, I was talking to a woman in Spanish for a bit, and then she asked me to translate an idiom in Spanish into it’s equivalent in English. Of course, if translated directly, it would have made absolutely no sense. And so thinking backwards is a different sort language hurdle that has challenged me to improve.
Last week, I took night classes to get certified to teach English to little niños. I’m going to be assigned my tutor placement this week and can’t wait to report more on that!
Oxford nightlife will always hold a very dear place in my heart. But nothing can measure up to what is Madrid in the evening. The first night that I was in Madrid, myself and a bunch of other kids in the program decided that we would meet up at El Tigre. El Tigre is a hotspot with students because for 6 EU, you get a massive sangria/mojito/cerveza and hot, yummy, tapas to go with it. And by tapas, I mean they’re like party tapas- a plate that comes along with a drink can feed a family of hogs. So because I didn’t have data or a phone plan on my phone yet, I looked up El Tigre on Google Maps while I had wifi at my apartment and then headed out into the night in search of the bar. I show up, and while there are throngs of American students, I can’t find my American students. Did they leave without me?! But I’m only 20 minutes late?!! I ask a super busy waiter if he happened to see a group of American students just leave, and he gives me a look like- have you seen this place….. I’m about to pack up and head home when he tells me- oh you know that there are multiple El Tigres right?……………. So here it goes, my first night in Spain, and I’m already asking for directions in Spanish, alone, at night, for a chain of Spanish bars. I show up to the second El Tigre, and it’s like Groundhog Day. Same layout of the bar, lots of groups of yelling Americanos, but not my group. On the verge of tears and without a trusty map, just directions in Spanish, I wander around until I find the third El Tigre. And like Goldilocks says, third times a charm, and there were my beautiful friends with a table and tapas galore.
Since the El Tigre fiasco, I haven’t gotten too lost. We as a group have gotten much better at keeping track of each other and not getting too drunk so we don’t leave the bar alone or leave anyone else alone. Like I said, going out in Madrid is not like going out in Oxford. While bar hopping in Ox is accessible and fun, here it can be overwhelming and terrifying. But! There are so many other fun things that happen in a fun evening that you can easily forget about the occasional pickpocketing or sleazy dudes. Like on Wednesday and Thursday nights, a lot of clubs have serious deals to help draw crowds. Last Wednesday, we went to Gabana. While people say, club nightlife doesn’t get popping until about 2 or 3 in the morning in Madrid, we were thirsty and so we showed up right before Gabana opened its doors at midnight. From 12-1:15, we enjoyed free cover and an open bar. While you can’t double fist, I was served at least 6-8 drinks of sangria, wine, and beer. While this may sound semi-dangerous, I clearly made the most economical choice- after 1:15 AM, drinks start getting priced. And man, is it a two-part tariff in action #econ #nerd. If you go to the bar at 1:17 AM to get a drink, instead of getting a beer for free, you’ll have to shell out 14 EU. Yowza. A shot instead? 14 EU too. But needless to say, the club was bumping by about 1:30 and people were drunk enough to convince themselves that a 20 EU cocktail was worth it.
We also went to Kapital, one of Madrid’s largest clubs. While cover is typically 16 Euro, we paid 20 EU for cover and for bottle service which made us all feel tremendously cool. Finally felt like I was living out my hip hop music video dreams. It has 7 different floors, each with a completely different theme. The first floor is like Barstool Blackout- scantily clad dancers, techno music, a packed crowd, and blasts of fog and balloons and confetti. There’s a floor dedicated to hip hop (my jam), salsa and Spanish music, a cool bar/lounge area, and even a smoking room for when you’re feeling too pooped to dance. Needless to say, I didn’t think I got the whole Kapital experience and will be going back again soon. (On Thursday, when there’s free cover until 1:30 Ma&Pa!) Also- that evening, I told Mati at dinner that I was heading out to Kapital that night. She laughed and said, oh yeah it’s a crazy fun place. So many young people. And I’m thinking she’s talking figuratively. Nope. While she was a model, she attended the opening of Kapital with her other model and other famous friends… She told me that she was very lucky- while the majority of Spaniards were still suffering under Franco’s strong hold, she enjoyed a steady stream of income and being primped and pampered for cool events. I have no clue what she’s doing as a host mom; she clearly needs to pen a memoir about her life.
Of course, Madrid is a very large and cosmopolitan city and so it’s nightlife varies a lot. We’ve enjoyed going to typical Madrileño bars on weeknights to get a cheap drink and to socialize not only with our own group but to meet people from all over the world. In one night alone, I met people from Italy, Germany, Mexico, and the UK. Every evening is full of surprises, laughs, and memories that will last us a lifetime.
More to come- what is the food like here? Is the siesta a real thing? HOW WAS TURNING 21 IN SPAIN?! (preview- it was fabulous). Missing home and sending love from Spain!