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Okay, so it's been a semana. Whut.

Hi there! I've been in Spain for a week, and haven't updated here. (Sorry!) To be fair, I have been writing things up on my laptop since I moved into my landlady's house, and it doesn't have a wifi connection here. Before that, I was running around looking at apartments, so nyah. Let me break down what I've done so far for you, bypassing the overly detailed account I've been writing on that other machine.

Day 1
Landed in Spain. Whoopee! Wasn't able to immediately crash at the hostel like I was hoping to, because none of the rooms were open until after the cleaning service went through after 1:30. In the end, this probably helped me acclimate better to the time change, but it didn't stop me from grumbling. If any of you ever get the chance to visit Madrid, I absolutely recommend the hostel I stayed at. International Youth Hostel La Posada, Calle de las Huertas 21, is an amazing place to meet people, even in a city where it's very easy to meet people. I met some people on my way in through the door, who helped me carry all my luggage in. I must have been a pitiable sight. Imagine this if you will: a 5'3" 110 lb woman wandering narrow streets with two large suitcases, a messenger bag slug over her shoulders, and a purse. My luggage weighs more than I do. In my defense, I AM here for 8 months (to teach, so add the weight of those supplies in), and cannot afford to buy a new wardrobe in euros. Anyway, so I met some people in the lobby and hung out with them in the kitchen later that night. Before that, I went out and got my Spanish phone in order so that I could start calling people and get the housing search fully underway. I called up the landlady of one of the apartments I was really favoring, and she wanted to know if I was available to see the apartment then. As in a half hour. Surprise! So I took the metro over to Batan and she picked me up at the station. In her car. Now, anytime a stranger wants to take you somewhere in a car, any American automatically has alarm bells ringing. I did. But I ignored those, thinking that because of the low speed limits, I could jump and roll if I had to. Oh, how Kristen begins life in a foreign country. She breaks all those common sense rules. Elena did not, for the record, try to kidnap me or mug me. It was all very legit, and I really liked the apartment. My room is pretty small, but it's a very good price for an apartment that has two balconies and two bathrooms. Also, the people that live there, at least the Brazilian girl that I met, and the German girl who is moving out, are awesome. I wound up settling on this apartment later, and although I haven't moved in yet (the German girl is there until Sept 30, and the landlady offered to put me up at her place until then), I have a very good feeling about it. Went back to the hostel to eat for the first time that day, and discovered that the kitchen is the absolute best place to meet people. I met Anibal the Argentinian, Mihn from Seattle, Benedict from Germany, two Slovenian girls, a girl from Paraguay, and a bunch of other people later when they got kicked out of the kitchen at 11:30 and moved the party upstairs. They crammed around twenty people into one of the rooms, and they almost, almost convinced me to go out drinking after three hours of sleep on a transatlantic flight and naught but a sandwich to eat. Almost. Damn their charisma. I probably would have if I didn't have two other appointments to see apartments the following day.
Day 2
Saw my second apartment at 1:00. The landlady who was showing it to me was incredibly nice, and walked me through the center afterwards. I've actually put off calling her back (I don't think it's required, but it seems more polite) because I feel bad telling her I'm not going to rent it. The apartment was pretty nice, but it was farther from the train station I need to get to in the mornings, and I wasn't sure when I was going to be able to meet the two guys that live there. The one guy is on sick leave in Salamanca right now, and the other one works all the time. One of my preferences for housing was to at least have another girl in the apartment, so when I found out the two guys that lived there were in their thirties, I kind of nixed the option. Too weird for me, even if they did turn out to be perfectly nice, non-pervy people.
I saw the third apartment that afternoon, and it was pretty sparse. The room I would rent would be tiny, practically taken up by a bed and a tiny dresser, and although the apartment was very close to the train station I have to get to, I also didn't know when I would be able to meet the girls living there. I felt a little pressured for time because 1. the longer I stayed in the hostel, the more expensive it would be, and 2. there was another person looking at the first, nice apartment. I had already narrowed down my apartment search in the week and half before my trip, and had a handful of places that were worth considering seriously. So, in my madness of breaking the rules of common sense, I called Elena up on Sunday and said I'd take the room in Batan. So, two days in Spain and I settled my housing. How's that for efficiency?
Saturday night I met more people in the kitchen and went out with them. The original plan was to go to a bar, but when we went out in the streets of Huertas, we found there was no need, because everyone was streaming onto the streets and partying there. We simply packed the booze that was being stored at the hostel with us and had a grand old time watching everyone dancing around, and seeing street magicians and live latin music concerts. This was all happening at 1am, mind you. Great fun! This city is awesome!
Day 3
Settled my move with Elena, and unfortunately missed my meeting time for the famous Madrid flea market (El Rastro) with the Dutch girl I met the previous night because all the fucking people in my room were packing from 3am to 9am in the morning and I got no sleep. I was only 15 minutes late! Anyway, I went back to sleep for a few hours, and then went to a ham place with Mihn to go eat Spanish food. Ham is not all it's cracked up to be, even supposedly good, Spanish ham. I've been a vegetarian for the past 4 years, but decided I would try whatever food came my way while I'm traveling so that I can try new things, and try foods that are unique to the culture I'm observing. Ham is about as fatty and salty as I remember it being. I think I preferred the cheese and the croissant, haha. However, the croissant sandwich and a beer only cost me two euro. It's easy to eat on the cheap in Madrid! All you have to do is walk up to the bar for tapas or raciones, and you can swing amazing deals on food. I tried to go to the Reina Sofia modern art museum, but their schedule was different from the one printed in my guide book, and it was already closed when I got there. I spent some time wandering around the side streets (again with the rule breaking! What is wrong with me? Although, I have found a lot of cool things by not being afraid to take the backroads.), and this is where I found the coke junkie snorting up, for those interested parties. The Prado art museum (full of the old masters) is also free on Sundays, so I walked over there and did a quick tour of it. Usually I like art museums, but I feel like they've all been ruined for me ever since the British National Gallery (or whatever it's called), the National Gallery (yeah, USA!), and the Louvre. The Prado is supposedly one of the finest collections of art in the world, but I just wasn't really feeling it. It is definitely worth checking out Goya's Pinturas Negras or 'black paintings' from his later period, though. They're very neat, and a great glimpse of that transition from early 19th century realistic art (correct me on this, Sara, I'm art ignorant) to more modern styles that developed in the early 20th century. I went back to the hostel kitchen, where I found out Anibal was a freaking expert at keeping track of who was coming and going from the hostel, and therefore, what food no longer had an owner. All the unlabeled food gets tossed every Monday, so this was all to prevent waste, of course. We started cooking some leftover stuff up and eating cheese when this guy from Manhattan wandered in with paella supplies, and cooked up an amazing dish. I was very impressed.
Day 4
I met Elena at the Batan station again, looking hilarious with all my luggage, I'm sure (we barely fit it all into her car), and she drove me up to her house in Majadahonda, a town about 20 min north of Madrid. Her house is AMAZING. It's huge! I'm staying in what was her son's room when he was living here, and it has it's own bathroom, which is practically unheard of. She also has a pool, a garage, a basketball court, and apple and quince trees out back. I have never seen a real, live quince before, only after they've been ground up into a paste for toast. She thought it was really funny that I was amazed by quince fruit. She's been amazing so far, and has taken me around a lot to the surrounding towns and told me what's special about them. Her daughter stops by every now and then, and she's extremely nice too. They've been very patient about helping me figure out the damn buses in this town. I have to be careful not to get used to this luxury, because my real room is about the size of the bathroom that I'm using now. Apparently Elena's story is that after 40 years of marriage, her husband divorced her last year, and she got the house, along with the expensive taxes on it. I think she's still in transition. Who wouldn't be? There are also lots of animals wandering about around here, two cats and two laborador retrievers. I'm so happy that they're here, actually! I love animals, and I wasn't expecting to get to play with the kind of dogs I love so much here (i.e., big, friendly, and stupid). She took me into the center to buy groceries, and kind of taught me what was up with the produce section. You're not actually allowed to touch the fruit in certain parts of the produce section (weird!), and they have disposible sanitary gloves provided for picking up the produce in the other sections. I don't know if this is a swine flu thing or not, but I think it's stupid as hell. If you don't wash your produce before you eat it, then you eat it at your own risk. Seriously.
Day 5
I took the bus and the train into Madrid and wandered all over the western half of the city, just touristing around. I went into the royal palace (very impressive), and passed through Plaza Mayor, Plaza Oriente, Puerta del Sol, Campo del Moro, las Austrias, Plaza España, and other Madrid landmarks. I didn't take the metro at all (because I'm way cheap), so my feet were certainly beat by the time I made it back to the commuter rail. I have loads of pictures, but I can't upload them until my laptop gets internet connection. Elena has a desktop that I've been using at her house.
Day 6
Went to Villalba to check out the buses that I will need to take to get to the school where I'm teaching. I asked this one woman about the buses in general, and she told me they weren't very reliable, but that I should ask around. She wound up being pretty cool, and gave me her phone number in case I needed anything while I was Villalba. She just moved there a few months ago, and I laughed and said I'd only been there an hour. When she found out I was from the US, she told me about all the places she traveled. Very nice lady. Anyways, I walked up to my school to test the timing, and I will be getting there right around 9:00, instead of the 8:50 that the bilingual coordinator prefers. It's 15 minutes by bus, but I could be waiting for the bus for any period of time. Therefore, I have opted for the 25 min walk up the hill. I better have amazing legs and a butt of steel by the end of this. Surely the director knows the buses are unreliable and will cut me some slack. I can't get there any earlier than the train! Too bad I couldn't be placed in one of the schools in the center of the town so the walk would be more manageable. When I got back, I locked myself out of the house. Yeah! Elena got there about an hour after I did it though, so lucky me. She drove me over to another town, Boadilla, and gave me a guided tour of the 17th century buildings there. There's actually a gorgeous royal palace there leftover from the previous centuries, but it's too expensive to keep in enough repair to allow tours, unfortunately. The gardens out back are barren, but it's kind of neat to see the outlines of the walls still around what must have been amazing once. Very mysterious remnants of what I like to think of as fallen opulence. Boadilla also has two very old churches in it, one with Romanesque arches. I'm not sure if they're actually leftover from the Romans (this is where that language barrier kicks in), but they definitely carry some years. There are also remains of frescoes on the walls. The church was splendid in its heyday, I'm sure, but it's a little barren now.
Day 7
Elena's daughter is also named Elena. I tagged along as Elena the mother helped Elena the daughter pick up her car from the repair shop, and got some Spanish conversation in. Later Elena (the mother) took me around Majadahonda to show me the center, and to tell me about the festivals that will be going on soon. I got a cheap scarf. Um, then I cooked something. Not a very busy day.
Day 8 Friday
Today I went back into Madrid with the idea of covering part of the eastern side of the city (Atocha, El Retiro, La Reina Sofia, shops in Chueca and Salamanca). This did not happen, because I ran into this guy outside the metro station that could tell I was American and wanted to know what I was up to. I was a little embarrassed that he could tell (on Tuesday, people were asking me for directions again), but he said he had a lot of American friends in California and Florida, so I took it as a sign of his expertise of American mannerisms. His name was Christian, which I thought was funny, as our names are almost the same, and he took me around El Retiro (an amazing park in Madrid), and to a little bar he knew that had really nice staff. I'm getting used to meeting random people on the street all the time that are like, 'Hey! I've just met you! Let's be friends!' but I feel a little more cautious about it with random men I don't know. I put it out there pretty immediately that I already have a boyfriend, so hopefully that should cut down on any funny business. He was very nice, but I'm still uncomfortable with how touchy feely Spaniards are (there's a totally different concept of personal space here. People are always wanting to hug and kiss you once they know your name. Men, women, anyone.). He was no exception. He wants to meet up again at the Reina Sofia on Sunday (it's free), but I haven't decided if I want to go with him. Still it's nice to know that it's that easy to meet people here. It was a serious challenge with the Catalans in Barcelona! Anyway, that's where I am right now. I move into the apartment on the 30th, and start teaching on the 1st (and begin that dash up the hill).

Toodles! Questions? Comments? Gift requests? And email me your address if you want a postcard at revengeofthepinatas@yahoo.com.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 2nd, 2009 02:56 am (UTC)
Helen had the same problem with French men. She alllllllmost punched a man in the face because he fell in front of her and used that as an excuse to grope her. She yelled at him at the very least.

But I am quite enjoying reading about your trip! I can't wait for the pictures!

I'm really amazed how you can meet random strangers and immediately go out with them. Also, your landlady sounds too amazing.
Oct. 2nd, 2009 08:07 am (UTC)
I wound up not meeting him for the Reina Sofia, because after thinking about it, he was definitely using the "Oh, but I'm Spanish" thing to be unnecessarily touchy-feely. Mostly it was just an arms around the shoulder thing, but I did tell him that was weird for me, and didn't really knock it off. Strike.

But today I'm hopefully meeting up with one of my hostel buddies, as well as one of the auxiliars I met yesterday at my school. I can do better than random people on the street.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


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