A Colorful Beginning

Hola!  I am Sarah from Philadelphia!  Yes, like the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.  Yes, like the cheese.  Who would have thought that I would be ordering una tostada con queso Philadelphia??  One less word I have to learn!  Here is a retelling of my week so far:

Miercoles (Wednesday 5/9):  Well, the trip started out with a rocky beginning.  I flew with a Spanish airline and all the announcements were in Spanish.  That is when I started to learn the power of observation.  I feel like a child who learns by observing everything.  Were we buckling our seatbelt because turbulence was coming or putting our trays down for a meal?  I survived the plane ride and was then tasked with customs.  The Madrid- Bajas airport is quite large and I felt overwhelmed again when there was almost no English anywhere.  All the signs were in Spanish with small accompanying icons to pair with them. I accidentally got into the EU line and waited in the whole line just to get to the customs officer and for him to tell me I was in the incorrect line and send me out into no man’s land between the booths with the officers and the multitude of lines of people waiting to enter the country.  I was called by an airport employee and she asked me what happened, I proceeded to mumble something about the wrong line in Spanish while still a little befuddled by needing to speak a different language while in the situation.  I made it through eventually and to the baggage claim.  Then with my three bags, I fumbled my way to the taxi booth, which because it was 7am, was closed.  Just my luck!  I made it outside and gave the taxi driver my address and we were off.  I met my host family at my house and I was greeted with “dos besos” one on each cheek.  After talking with them for only 20 minutes, I was so tired that they showed me my room and I passed out for four hours!  Pulling an all-nighter on the plane was definitely not the greatest idea.  I had my first Spanish lunch at 1:30 pm which is an early lunch here.  I went straight to a small store called “Día” and bought some toiletries and a snack before crossing the street to my house.  After I came home and unpacked my things into my room and talked more with my host family.  We had dinner at around 9:00 pm and went to bed as I was still jet-lagged and would be for about the next week.

Jueves (Thursday 5/10):  Thursday was my full day of orientation activities with the two EUSA program directors, Nuria and Almendra.  Now would be a good time for me to mention that I am the only person in Spain from my school.  Alone.  Across the ocean.  With no friends, not a soul that I know.  Let me tell you, I had no idea how difficult that would be for me!  Thursday’s orientation meeting was totally in Spanish except for the health and safety portion, because they needed to know that I would understand every part of that talk.  I got my monthly metro pass in a place very similar to a DMV but without the long wait.  I learned how to take the metro, and I must say it is incredibly easy and accessible.  Even more so than the SEPTA in Philadelphia.  I have never had to wait for a metro for more than 5 minutes.  I spent the rest of the afternoon walking around my neighborhood and getting to know the streets and stores.

Viernes (Friday 5/11):  Friday, I slept in until 12:30 pm by accident.  I got up and had an orange for breakfast.  I went for another walk around my neighborhood.  Later, I practiced my route to my internship via metro.  It only took me 26 minutes. I walked around the area of my internship as well and saw that Retiro park was only seven minutes away!  I started to get hungry and realized that somehow it was already four in the afternoon. Big. Mistake.  A lot of restaurants had already closed as is common at this time because dinner is so much later.  I luckily found a coffee and tea shop that also served food and had a great chicken Caesar salad.  I then walked in Retiro Park for over three hours and saw peacocks and people watched a lot.  This day was when the loneliness started to sink in.  I spent all last summer hearing from a friend who went abroad about her and her “abroad friends” adventures they had together.  They had not known each other before, but after they returned back to school they were then granted this new friend group who they would probably not have interacted with them otherwise.  I will admit I am jealous of having adventure buddies, as I do not have any built-in and I do not have any opportunities to interact with students my age here in Madrid.  Around this day is when I found out that I apparently have a second cousin named Greg who lives in Madrid.  He is the son of my Grandma’s niece.  I have never met him, but my Grandpa gave my dad and me his email, so I was able to e-introduce myself and inform him of my predicament and, well, of my existence too! He was very helpful with welcoming advice, like how Madrid has the best tap water in the world, or at least they like to say so.  He offered to meet up with me on Sunday for some lunch and company.  I of course willingly accepted.  Again, I returned to the apartment for dinner and bedtime.


A peacock in the gardens of Retiro Park


Sabado (Saturday 5/12):  Still on my delayed schedule, I slept in until around noon and decided I was going to practice a bit for my interview on Monday morning.  I practiced answering typical interview questions in Spanish, and then decided to reward myself with a trip to the shops in my neighborhood.  I bought a pair of high-waisted khaki pants that tie with a bow in front.  My first European piece of clothing from this trip!  I came back to the apartment to drop my new pants off and……I could not get in.  It was around 2:30 and I couldn’t get the door open no matter what I tried.  We have an extremely secure door in my flat and I should be thankful for that, but while hungry, thirsty, and stressed, I was blown away about the complexity of the lock.  I was sitting in the stairwell feeling defeated when I decided I should just go get lunch before the restaurants start closing, and I could solve two of my problems that way anyway.  Lunch is the biggest meal of the day in Spain and many restaurants will have something called a “Menu del día.”  This meal will include a beverage, a mini loaf of bread, a first plate, a second plate, and then either a dessert or a coffee/ tea.  It is massive but a fairly good price at around 10/12 euros.  As it is fairly big it takes at least an hour to eat and can take twice that time if you have good company for good conversation.  As I was locked out, I just took my time and enjoyed my food.  After lunch I was reinvigorated, and I was sure that this time, something would be different, and I could definitely figure out the door.  Well…that was not the case.  Flat door: 2 Sarah: 0  I sent messages to my host-mother and host-sister and I asked for assistance on how to open the door, even though I had done it once on my first day.  The doors here do not have door knobs.  If they do, which mine does, they are simply decorative and to help with the pulling and pushing, not to be turned.  Also, they are located in the dead center of the doors.  After another 15 minutes of fiddling with all the options and turning my key in circles every way possible, I sat defeated on the stairs.  I almost rang the neighbor’s doorbell for assistance but then I realized that they didn’t have the same intense lock that we have on ours.  I was taking “long blinks” (definitely mini naps) while sitting in the stairwell because it was too cold to sit outside.  Yes, this was also the day when I learned how important LAYERING IS!!!  Do not underestimate the power of layering clothing, especially while traveling and in new places.  So, there I was questioning everything hunched over with my arms pulled into the sleeves of my t-shirt so that my body warmth could also help to warm them too.  Looking back on the situation, I probably could have been a little less dramatic, but keep in mind, I haven’t even been here for a week, I had no idea when the mom was returning from work, no one was answering my messages, and to top it all off my phone was on 5%.  Luckily after about 30/40 minutes of my staircase situation, the elevator came to my floor, and the mother of my host-mom had arrived!!  She let me in and I ran to the bathroom and plugged my phone in immediately.  I did not leave the house for the rest of the night.  But, I did practice opening the door a countless amount of times.  I was not letting that “ruin” a day again.  Making a mistake one time is more than enough times for me!

Domingo (Sunday 5/13):  I woke up around 9:30 am to meet my cousin Greg at his metro stop (six stops on line one) at around 11:00 am.  We walked a lot and he took me to see the “Rastro” which is a giant flea market here in Madrid.  We went to Plaza Sol, Plaza Mayor, the Madrid river park, the “Naves Matadero” which is an old slaughterhouse that is now a home of art and creativity, Vicente Calderón Stadium which was home to the famous soccer team Atlético Madrid until 2017, the Puerta del Toledo, and through various streets.  We stopped for a drink around 12:30 which is common to do here.  It is like a morning snack since the lunch is later on.  The street tables were packed with people because it was the weekend, and everyone likes to be outside, relaxing, and taking their time.  We had lunch at a Greek Place at around 3:00 pm and it was delicious!  Our walking tour was very interspersed throughout the meal times.  I also learned that while euros are used in so many countries, all countries produce their own euros, so that’s why the coins can have different photos on them.  Greg said a lot of people collect them for this exact reason, and people even use the euros themselves as souvenirs!  I had a great day and we walked around 11 miles!! I got home and was exhausted, so I ate and told my host family about all I did.  They couldn’t believe how much I was able to see all in one day!  A very successful ending to my first week in Madrid!


If you couldn’t see my featured image, this is a selfie I took with a peacock at Retiro!