After a surprisingly low number of apartment viewings, I found a place that I can picture myself in for the year. The apartment (piso) is an older building above a huge roundabout in the Cuatro Caminos neighborhood, bustling with tenants of all ages and surrounded by stores and restaurants. It’s right off the metro line and several bus stops, and not far from campus. My room is laughably small but with two gorgeous windows that look into the courtyard, and I’ve been itching to decorate it ever since I signed the contract. It’s a five bedroom, two bathroom place, and my adorable grandmotherly landlord (dueña) assured me that the other rooms would be inhabited by Spanish girls, all of them students. My only concern is how the five of us will manage to cook on a two-burner stovetop, but we’ll figure it out. I’m sensing that I’ll be eating out a lot this year.
With piso-hunting done, my next focus is classes, which started this Monday. I’m taking classes in both Reunidas, with just American students, and the Complutense, which is with Spanish students and is presumably more challenging. My Complutense classes have yet to start; one is starting this coming Monday, and the other doesn’t start until October. The biggest adjustment I’ve had to make so far class-wise is the relaxed non-syllabus style of the classes here. You know how in most American college classes, you get a precise list of readings on the syllabus that tells you exactly when you need to read things? Not here! Do you need instruction and organization in your scholastic life in order to succeed? Good luck! Apparently you’re just supposed to ask the professors what the most useful books on the reading list are, and then do your own research as a supplement to what you learn in class. So we’ll see how well I do with that method.
As for my actual classes, I’m taking Madrid: Culture and Society, Social Changes in Spain, Contemporary Spanish Philosophy (all for Reunidas), Spanish History: The 19th Century, and Women as Subjects and Objects of Literature (for the Complutense). So far the class that has piqued my interest most has been my philosophy class. The only philosophy class I’ve taken is Logic, and that was a minor disaster, but I have higher hopes for this one. The professors speak so fast that if I zone out for a minute, I’ve completely lost track of where we are in the lecture, so sleep and coffee are going to be necessities.
The dorm that we’re staying at is about a 20 minute walk from our class building, so we’ve compromised by taking the F bus, which drops of right in front of our classes (UW students: think the 80 except less crowded and less frequent). Being as infrequent as it is, however, made a couple of us antsy to find another way to get to class. The 132 bus picks up at the same stop, and a couple of us swore that we saw it drop off somewhere near the class buildings. Doesn’t it get you two thirds of the way there? This was our first mistake. Four students from my program (Griffin, Macayla, Nick, and Madison) and I got on the 132, which subsequently took us to the middle of an unfamiliar neighborhood. Eventually, we got off, not intending to keep riding into the Boonies of Madrid. At this point we still have about 15 minutes before class starts. They’ve stressed to us multiple times that punctuality is key in the classes here, so we’re working up a sweat trying to figure out our route to class. We find the nearest Metro stop, because while the bus system is weird and confusing, the Metro is intuitive and wonderful. We find out we’re one transfer, three stops, and a ten minute walk away from where we need to be. After much running, speedwalking, and sweaty Metro-riding, we ended up around fifteen minutes late to class — luckily, my class happens to start about fifteen minutes late every day. The lesson learned: don’t take bus routes you’re not familiar with.
The start of classes hasn’t put an end to my exploring of the city. I’ve visited the Reina Sofia museum, el Parque del Retiro, a charmingly bohemian café/bar called el Imperfecto, the San Miguel market, and countless delicious pastry shops. The Reina Sofia had a lovely selection of surrealist paintings and, of course, Picasso’s Guernica, which was breathtaking. They were playing Un Chien Andalou in one of the galleries, one of the few art films that I know and like. El Parque del Retiro, or Retiro Park, was a park the size of a town, complete with multiple cafés, a library, a cultural center, and a small lake. Also, it’s the Center of Ornate Statues and Fountains; they sure love their statues here. Popular statue choices include dudes on horses and regal-looking women being pulled by lions in chariots. It certainly brightens the landscape. El Imperfecto, which apparently has free jazz shows on Sunday nights, was completely plastered in posters and trinkets; it’s definitely a place I would take visitors. Finally, el mercado de San Miguel was a beautiful amalgamation of fancy tapas: cones of calamari, a mozzarella bar, fresh pressed juices, pastries, and, of course, jamón. Food is definitely going to be where I put most of my money this year.