First Impressions of Madrid
Trip Start Dec 29, 2008
27Trip End May 30, 2009
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I finally arrived in Madrid two nights ago and have been going non-stop since then. I was asleep for most of my flight from Frankfurt to Madrid, except for the last 15 minutes when I tried unsuccessfully to communicate with a Romanian woman who works in Germany. She spoke a little bit of German, a few words of English, and Romanian. It took a while, but I finally discerned that she was visiting a friend in the city for winter vacation and explained that I was studying at la Universidad Antonio de Nebrija (all in German by the way).
Once we landed I retrieved my bag only to exit without going through customs. Don't get me wrong, I hate customs, but given the whole visa fiasco I was a bit disappointed that nobody even cared that I could legally enter the country. The only passport check I went through was in Frankfurt and the guy barely looked at my passport, much less my visa.
My friend Antoine offered to meet me in the airport and help me get to my host family. He goes to l'Universite technologie de Troyes and was my conversational partner last year through the program that took me to Troyes, France over spring break (as some of you might remember). He has been in Madrid since January 2008 and knows the city intrinsically well. It turns out that we live about five minutes from each other and can theoretically take the same metro stop every day.
I got to the house at about 10:30 and met the host family in a strange way. Neither Antoine or I could figure out how to open the door when Rosa buzzed us in, so she had to come retrieve us. Upon seeing Antoine she got a little frantic thinking he was one of the other American students who had arrived a few days early. I explained (in Spanish) that he was a friend who just stopped by to help me bring in my luggage, so we all went upstairs. Once she found out Antoine was French, Rosa told him all about her relatives in France, to which he described his time in Madrid. Frankly I was amazed by how quickly the spoke, but I understood everything and can only hope that I get to that level. Rosa said we can take photos after she does her hair so that my American family has a good impression of my Spanish family.
Rosa is blond, about 5'5" and speaks very quickly, but doesn't it hold it against me that I don't. She introduced me to Jorge, my host father, who is a colonel in the Spanish Army. I initially thought he might be militaristic, but on the contrary he is extremely social, especially when discussing France. He speaks heavily accented French that I have a little trouble understanding. This morning I was having breakfast when he walked in to discuss my favorite parts of Paris. He seems to be enamored with the country and the people, so I think his head might explode if he ever meets Antoine.
The apartment is the size of an American home, complete with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, dining room, living room, kitchen, study, and a balcony. The decor is all very unique and the pictures on the wall makes it feel a bit like a history museum. Rose and Jorge have three kids, all of whom are grown and have already moved out. I met their very pregnant daughter yesterday and unexpectedly met their two sons on my way out of the building.
I slept until about one yesterday before meeting up with Antoine. He took me to the Palacio Real downtown where I met his friend Marion, her parents, brothers and their girlfriends, cousins, and an Iranian student named Payman. Marion's grandmother spoke only French and Payman spoke only English, so we spoke French all day and Marions' cousin, who brought Payman, translated when necessary. I have to say that Madrid with the French is hugely different than it would be with Americans, especially since I only spoke about 10 words of English all day, and only then to translate for Payman.
In the afternoon we saw the national cathedral, ate sandwichs avec jambon et fromage (translate it!), walked through the Plaza de Espana, had soda in an outdoor cafe (it was about 40 degrees), and went back to Antoine's apartment to celebrate. Here is where it gets interesting: Marion's father and I had a three hour conversation about politics, religion, and linguistics... in French. I'll admit that my French is far from perfect, but I spoke at exactly the same pace as him with only about five errors the entire time. I was amazed after about the first hour that I was still speaking, and faster than I have ever spoken before. We cut off the conversation to have dinner and celebrate Payman's birthday. I have to decribe the food: toast with tuna and pig liver patee, sliced reindeer meat is a berry sauce, potato chips, ham and cheese in puff pastries, wheat goldfish, ice cream cake, a very thin chocolate cake glazed with the same berry sauce, and champage of course. To say the food was exquisite would be the understatement of the century. The family insisted that I open the champagne bottle and after a few scares I uncorked it and served everyone. We celebrate Peyman's birthday after dinner.
At about 11:15 we rushed to the metro to catch the 1 line to the Puerta del Sol. Marion's family all got off at one stop, but Antoine and and I continued to the next stop. We could run and had a good shot of getting through the crowds to the center of the plaza, whereas Marion's parents and grandmother wanted to celebrate in a less crowded area. With about fifteen minutes before the celebration, Antoine and I ran through the streets to find an open route. When we finally got to the plaza, there were thousands and thousands of people partying within its walls. Antoine and I pushed our way close to the clock and got out our grapes. At the stoke of midnight everyone cheered, fireworks shot off, and the entire plaza started eating their twelve grapes. I wished everyone around me a "Feliz Ano Nuevo".
After the celebration, Antoine and I took the long route to find Marion and her family. Once we got there, we wished everyone a "Bonne Annee".
Marion's parents and grandmother went back to the apartment so that all of the students could find the party. We went to a couple of very packed bars (the Dubliner, Black and White, El Sitio), before ending up at El Tigre. The bar had stuffed game on the wall, octopus and other unprocessed meats in a deli-style serving line, and alcohol to accompany it all. I was really shocked when I saw it, but we all ordered drinks and they gave us a free appetizer to go along with it.
The potato wedges and toast with cheese was served with a spicy, tangy sauce that tasted somewhat familiar. It was about 2:45 when we left and after walking what must have been miles, we got home.
I wished some friends a Happy News Years and Skyped with my family before heading off to bed. I'm not sure what I will do today, but there seem to be nearly endless possibilities here.
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Where I stayed
La Casa de los Garcia Alcones