Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wednesday nights with the Sanchez family: tutoring, in numbers

2.05: euro the bus costs each way (which the family reimburses)
5: kids I tutor
8: kids in the family, total
18: euro I make per hour
19: roundabouts on the bus ride there
30: minutes I spend with each child
40: approximate number of minutes the bus ride takes, one way
41: speed bumps* we go over in the bus, one way
625: bus number I take to get to their house

*Every crosswalk over in that area is raised, hence they create an extra long speed bump. The bus is constantly breaking right before them, bounces over, and accelerates once again. My body does not enjoy this, especially on the way home at the end of the night.

It takes me around an hour and a half to get there, and the same amount to get back home. This is because I live on the other side of the city (9-10 metro stops) from the bus station. But I read/study on the metro/bus, and the family is so great that it's worth it.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Back in the states I shop at a lot of used clothes stores. Unfortunately, those are not common here.

A fellow WIPper, though, told me about a secondhand store called Humana. I looked it up the other day and found there are a couple in Madrid. Friday afternoon, Izzy and I ventured to an Humana two metro stops away from our neighborhood. That day just happened to be 4 euros day; everything in the store was 4 euros. Everything.

I left with two items - a pair of shorts and a long-sleeved thin hoodie, while Izzy found five gems. It was just like your basic Goodwill, though smaller? And a bit less organized. Clothes were not organized by size in the least bit.

Then yesterday, while lounging around in Retiro Park with friends, somebody mentioned that there's an Humana in their neighborhood, and that they had seen '3 euros' signs that day. So that evening after leaving Retiro, we headed towards the Humana in Ríos Rosas. Sure enough, everything was 3 euros! Left with three finds that night, including a pair of pants.

Nice to know I'll be able to hunt through these stores throughout the rest of the year.

Monday, October 19, 2009

"for the price of a cup of tea" *

I have had 5 cups of tea in the past 24 hours (sore throat).  In my apartment, I fill a glass with water, microwave it for a minute and a half, then throw in a tea bag and bring it to my room.

When Zuzana and Gregorio make tea, they fill a pot with water (normal pot, not a tea pot), heat it up on the stove, then add two or three tea bags to the pot.  And can then fill/refill multiple glasses with tea from the pot.

I feel like this seemingly insignificant difference is representative of the larger cultural differences between Spain and the US.  Things aren't rushed here.  Heck, practically the whole city shuts down from 2-5 every afternoon so that families can return home to leisurely eat lunch together.  When eating at a restaurant, you'll need to ask for the bill when you want to leave.  They're not going to bring it over when it looks like you're done, subtly hinting it's time to leave; rather, you can stay and chat as long as you'd like.  

Sure, people will have places to go, but overall there's a more relaxed feeling here - despite the size of this city.    

Just as family is more important than the individual in Spain, the group is also more important when it comes to education.  It is very common for university students to lend notes to each other to copy.  Sometimes friends will split up days/weeks of class, and each take turns attending and taking notes, then sharing them.  Thus, schools are less competitive here as compared to in the US.  Students just want to pass, and will help their classmates pass as well.  Less competition = less stress.

Perhaps I was looking too deeply into the tea situation.  Regardless, I feel as though I've picked up on a few more differences that aren't necessarily above the surface (in terms of the 'culture as an iceberg' metaphor).  If interested, I just did a quick search and found this article (Spanish Cultural Commentary) to be a nice, quick read, touching on some things that I did not.

* Belle and Sebastian, of course

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


We didn't have class on Monday, giving us another long weekend. Up until Friday afternoon in phonetics class, I had planned on hanging round Madrid, getting some homework done, and such.

Between phonetics class and literature, Izzy and Mike had swayed me to come to Alicante with them (and about 6 others) for the weekend. Their bus left at 6pm that evening. We had class until 2.30pm. Thus, immediately after class, Iz walked with me to the metro, which we took to the bus station nearest our apartments. This bus station was busy and crowded with many people and plenty of luggage. I waited in line for at least ten minutes, as a never ending list of what-ifs bombarded my consciousness. What if the bus is full? What if the bus on the way back is full? What if the hostel is all booked? Etc. etc.

Amazingly, both bus tickets I needed were available. After taking the metro back to my apartment, I had just over an hour to book a hostel room and pack, before I met Iz outside at 5 to head to the south bus station. Went to the website for the hostel, tried to book 3 nights, but it said Friday night was full. Quickly booked Saturday and Sunday night, in case they filled up, then decided to call. Again, amazingly, I was able to add myself to Izzy's reservation of 5, making 6 in our room, and delete the online reservation I had made minutes earlier. Packed, bought a baguette for the bus ride, and we were off! There were a decent amount of students our age and younger on the bus, whom were talkative and friendly. Just over an hour into the bus ride, one of these guys shouted up to the bus driver and asked if we could stop. The bus driver asked why, and the guy said because he had to pee. The bus driver laughed and said that he had to go too, but he had to keep driving. Maybe 45 minutes later, as we were passing through a town, the same guy again told the bus driver that he had to stop. So the bus driver slightly pulled over right in front of some building. The guy ran off the bus to relieve himself in front of the building, within clear view of the bus (though by thi s time it was fairly dark out) and the bus driver shouted at him "Ay ay ay... hay mujeres!" (There are women on this bus!) Then my friend Mike ran off the bus to go, followed by at least 5 other guys, each about 10 seconds apart. It was pretty entertaining though, because the bus driver was a tad bit bothered, and would say something after each guy left, which all the rest of us passengers were laughing at. Then he honked the horn and told them to hurry up -- it was a very brief stop.

We met a Spaniard on the bus, Jose, who exchanged numbers with Mike before we parted the bus station. We got to Alicante around midnight (6 hr bus ride) and took a taxi to our hostel. The man checking us in said there wasn't a room for us. Asad explained to him that Izzy had made a reservation for six beds. Kim (WIPer) and her friend Hillary (non-WIPer) had reserved a 2-person room in the same hotel, and had checked in just fine. It seemed like the man was mixing these reservations together or something... Asad explained to him again that two people got a private room together, and had their key, and the six of us had a reservation in an 8 person dorm room. The guy kept telling us to stay calm "tranquilos, tranquilos". We were calm, just making sure he understood that we had a reservation. He said he'd go call the girl w ho had taken down the reservation. So we waited in the lobby for about 15 more minutes, hoping we'd have a place to stay that night. The man returned and said he'd figured out what had happened, and that yes, we did indeed have a room for the 6 of us.

After dropping off our stuff, five of us walked down to one of the beaches, and the other three went to explore the "downtown" area and find something to eat.
W e returned to our room around 2-3ish to crash.

We spent all day Saturday at the beach, and it was wonderful!
Saturday also included two trips to a supermercado, since all grocery stores are closed on Sundays, and they'd be closed again on Monday for the holiday. Hence, we all ate a lot of bread that weekend. Here's what Izzy and I ate Saturday night for dinner (bread and hummus):After dinner, while hanging out outside of the hostel, we met four Swedish students that were staying at our hostel for the weekend too (and are living in Madrid for the year). Jose (from the bus) and one of his friends joined all of us at the hostel, then we headed out for the night.

Sunday after waking up, with books and bread in hand, we headed straight to the beach again. Jose and his friend Bruno hung out with us at the beach that day, too. That evening, we took a shuttle to downtown Alicante (our hostel must have actually been in San Juan, right next to the beaches). Asad won 60 euro at the casino on the coast; he's the only one who wanted to pay the 3 euro entry fee.
The rest of us sat on the shore, listening to this great folk band from the UK, Uncle Meat and the Highway Children. At first sight - well, you can look for yourself and make your own assumptions.. but their music was so relaxing; many will say listening to this band was a definite highlight of the weekend.Reluctant to leave, we finally dragged ourselves from the music to eat some dinner. We ate at a Chinese restaurant with cheap prices. We finished dinner at 11.45pm, but weren't even phased; it felt completely normal to be eating dinner at that time. After dinner, part of the group met up with the four Swedes/Jose/Bruno, while others just walked around downtown.

Monday was a sad day, as nobody wanted to leave the gorgeous weather nor the beach. Izzy and I went out to the hostel's pool for an hour before we had to start packing. (Did I mention this place was only 10 euro / night?? Excellent price - and we were only blocks away from the beaches)
Then we all took the tram to downtown Alicante, got a quick lunch at Subway (haven't seen these in Madrid... Alicante is quite touristy, which explains many of their dining options), and walked to the bus station. Highlight of the bus ride home would be that a member of the band (guy in the bottom right of the picture) was on our bus! He told us they're coming to Madrid on December 3. We're all going.

This was by far the best weekend I've had in Spain thus far. It was relaxing, the sun was wonderful, met some Swedish friends, and I got even closer to the friends I traveled there with. And as usual, there are some more pictures up on my shutterfly site.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Incoming: An income!

Yesterday, after a required (and in my opinion, pointless) workshop titled Culture Shock: We're not in Kansas Anymore! (were we ever in Kansas to begin with??), I stopped by the WIP office to find out more about teaching english classes...

... and left with a family to tutor!  This family has 5 kids, ages 14, 13, 12, 10, and 9.  So every Wednesday I'll tutor them for 2.5 hours - 1/2 hour for each kid.  Amy, the WIP coordinator, only had great things to say about this family.  It will take quite a while to get to their house - 30 min metro followed by a 40 min bus ride... but Amy said the girl who tutored them last year would have done it for free, she liked them so much.  So next Wednesday will be my first time trying to find their place and meeting the family.

I will also be interviewing at a private school for a position as a teacher's assistant in english classes.  Need to make my resume this weekend.  If the interview goes well and I manage to get a job there, I'll be making a steady income which could almost cover my rent, I think.  And if the job doesn't happen, I'll try to pick up a few more families to tutor.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

botanical garden

Saturday we spent the afternoon in Retiro again... visiting our favorites: "the duck pond" and "the cat garden" before throwing some disc.

On Sunday, Mike, Iz, Asad, and I wanted to explore the Prado. As we should have guessed, so did the rest of Madrid... so rather than spending hours in line, we walked through the botanical gardens right next door:
Tequila plant

Mike, Izzy, me, Asad

Monday, October 5, 2009


On Friday, Izzy and I decided to visit Salamanca. We got to Madrid's bus station around 7.45am and bought tickets for the 8am bus. Almost three hours and some napping later, we had arrived.

After walking to Plaza Mayor, we found a little cafe where Izzy could get some coffee, and I a breakfast pastry. We then saw Catedral Nuevo (New Cathedral) and Catedral Viejo (Old Cathedral), which sit right next to each other. Construction for the New Cathedral actually began in 1513, and finished in 1733... not so new after all. During restoration work in 1992, an artist made a controversial addition near one of the entrances:
Since we had learned a lot of architectural terms in our art class during September's "Curso Intensivo", we were able to point out lots of gothic structures, which made the cathedral visits more engaging.

Around the corner from the cathedrals was the "museo art nouveau y art deco". I believe it was a 2 euro fee that got us inside, although we were not allowed to take pictures. There were about three rooms of dolls, from both France and Germany. Some were the creepy babies, others the haunting little girls with white faces. There was a joyas exhibit (jewelry), abanicos (fans), little scupltures (bronces y porcelanas), y caracteres (caricatures)... and probably a bunch of other exhibits I'm not remembering.

Around 2.30 we got lunch. Izzy got a meal with tortilla
ñola, gazpacho, and a salad, while I somehow restrained myself from the tortilla (something I've consumed a lot of in the past month) - and tried something different, their ravioli.

Tortilla española is made with potatoes, onions, and eggs. It's kind of like a really thick omelette - with potatoes. And it's delicious. I've had it in our school cafeteria a couple of times, made it with Izzy once, and yesterday made it myself:

After lunch we wandered to the other end of town, and laid in the grass at a park for a while. It was perfect weather - as a majority of the days have been. At some point, we managed to pick ourselves up and leave the relaxing, treasured grass, and headed back towards the center of the town.

On our way back to the bus stop, we saw Colegio Arzobispo Fonseca. This chapel and dorm were built between 1529-1534. With images of Madison's Witte or Selery in the back of our minds, it was hard to imagine being able to live in a dorm this historic and gorgeous, as current students at the University of Salamanca do. [Pictures are all up @]

And then getting home... quite a story.
We got to the bus station a few minutes before 5.30, but it was too late to catch that bus. So Iz bought a ticket for 6 o'clock. I follow, order the same.... but turns out there had only been one seat left on that bus, which Izzy had just bought. Sooo she exchanges hers and we both get a ticket for the 7pm bus. After blowing an hour and a half sitting on a bench, munching on chocolate napolitanas, we were back at the bus station.

Long story short, we missed the 7.00 bus. Our tickets were labeled "coche 1", so we waited by bus #1. Wrong move, apparently. While getting tickets for the 8:00 bus, (tickets which now said "coche 2") the man behind the window told us this bus would either be #8, 9, or 10. The labeling made no sense. So we went out to #8, 9, and 10. After reading signs from the bus windows and talking to a few drivers, we found out our bus was #6. Yeeah. So we got home. Eventually.

So that was Friday. Again, pictures are up at, as well as two movie clips: one from Catedral Viejo in Salamanca, and the other at Retiro Park in Madrid. Just scroll down past the other albums and you'll see 'em.