University of Wisconsin–Madison

Arrival and Other Adventures From the First Days in Madrid

I wake up and reach for my phone. It’s nowhere to be found, and I’m forced to roll out of bed to check the time. Its 11:30, and I’m about to begin my first Sunday in Madrid…

The past few days have been amazing. I flew into Madrid from Paris on the 28th, the night before my program began, and stayed in a Hostel about 10 minutes from the center of town. Since I had visited Madrid before right before I went to college, I used to first night to revisit some of the sights I had seen before. I made stops at two of the most popular tourist areas, Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor, before going to bed early to wake up for a busy next day…

On Sunday’s the dormitory, my home until I find an apartment, doesn’t serve food. I get dressed and walk east towards Via Reina Victoria, one of the main streets near the university. It’s a little late for breakfast, and since most of the students won’t arrive at the University for a few weeks, things are a little quiet. I grab a croissant at a Pasteleria and sit down at a shady bench in the boulevard between the streets. To my left, two older Spanish women converse peacefully as they examine a map. I relax for a few minutes and think about the past few days…

I wake up early to be sure I have time to walk from my hostel to the Colegio Mayor, the name of the dorm we are meeting at before orientation today. The walk is pleasant. The famous Madrid heat is not yet at full force and I walk in the shade when I can. I get close to the university and become a bit disoriented. I stop and ask for directions, assuming the Colegio Mayor must be well known. Apparently, there’s more than one. Oops. I attempt to use Google Maps, but the Internet is taking its time, so I continue walking in the general direction of the University. Eventually, with a little help from technology, I see some people that stick out. I walk into the building and am welcomed energetically by the four women who coordinate the program. I get settled in my room and head back down to do some more exploring…

Still hungry, I get up from the bench and continue my walk down Reina Victoria. I find an alimentacion, similar to a small grocery store, where I buy some chips and a sandwich. I head back to eat and realize that, somehow, I’m still exhausted. The schedule in Madrid is different. Dinner begins after 9:00, and can last for hours. Afterwards, kids usually go out, but not until around midnight. Needless to say, I haven’t yet adjusted. I decide a nap couldn’t hurt and doze off for a while…

The first few days are packed with exploring and orientations. We learn about how best to approach our housing search and the main cultural differences to be aware of. In Spain it is considered weird to stretch in public as well as odd to walk and eat at the same time. Also, if you have the sniffles in class, you better bring klenex or else you’ll get dirty looks from your classmates. However, it’s easy to find a few people shamelessly picking their nose on the metro. The truth is, Spain is different. Life moves at a different pace here, and people have different priorities. They don’t seem to take themselves as seriously, and they spend hours eating tapas and drinking wine, while they sit at a restaurant and watch futbol with their friends or family. The students stay out past 6:00 in the morning on weekends at the discotecas and then have a ciesta to recover the next day. The people are proud. They speak bluntly without meaning to be offensive. In fact, they feel they are doing you a favor by telling you those pants look funny, or that your Spanish is terrible. It’s a country rich with culture and history, and one of the most exciting and interesting places in the world…

I wake up from my nap and meet some friends from the program to go shopping. Since I was traveling, I brought only a backpack to Spain, and my limited wardrobe is beginning to get smelly. We speak almost entirely in Spanish to each other. We are all here with the same goal; to be fluent by the time we go home next summer. Its not easy, and at times we struggle to find the right word and form sentences. But we help each out and feel ourselves improving, even over the course of just a few days. We take the metro towards the center and get out to walk. Its midday and the sun is glaring. The shade is cooler and the dry air makes the temperature almost pleasant. We make our way towards Gran Via, the most famous street in Madrid, stopping every so often to admire the city. After a few hours, we take the metro back to grab some money before dinner.

We decide to walk down through some of the neighborhoods with our prospective apartments on our way to dinner. The area is beautiful, with tree-lined boulevards and old buildings. Madrid has a certain character that is hard to describe, but this area exemplifies it. It’s far enough from the tourist area to be almost exclusively locals, and close enough to still be buzzing with activity at night. We sit down outside for some tapas and relax. We spend awhile deciphering the Spanish menu and are seated for about an hour. Meals are not rushed and the waiters won’t bring the bill unless you ask for it. When we finish eating, we begin walking back towards the Colegio. On our way, we see a futbol game between Barcelona and Valencia. We order some drinks and sit down to watch. The game picks up seemingly right as we sit down. Messi strikes twice over the course of few minutes, and we hear a Spanish man yell “Otro! Otro!” after the second. Others let out words of disappointment, upset that Real Madrid’s rival is ahead. The game ends and we head home. The walking has tired me out and I am happily greeted by my bed. Tomorrow, the week begins again, and class will start. We will have a three-week course to prepare us for the Spanish university. Exhausted, I decide to get some rest for what lies ahead.

 

 

1 thought on “Arrival and Other Adventures From the First Days in Madrid”

  1. BEST. BLOG. EVER. i read this stuff religiously, anyone and everyone should read this stuff. This sounds like an AWESOME trip. I will come see you there in this magical land that you call Madrid.

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