Saturday, June 30, 2012

Going away party / gay pride Madrid

After amazing french toast burgers at Chris's on Friday night, we headed to our friend Andy's goodbye party (he returns to Germany in a week).

His apartment is in Chueca, Madrid's gay district, which was perfect because this weekend is the annual LGBT pride festival in Madrid. Going to Madrid's gay pride parade in 2010 was so fun, I knew being in Chueca would be a great atmosphere on Friday night.

The going away party got changed last minute from Andy's apartment to a botellón in a small plaza right outside his front door.  A block away were live bands and huge crowds, but our botellón was mostly just Andy's friends.

During his time here, Andy has played frisbee with both of the teams in Madrid (Quijotes & Dulcineas and Diskatus), so there were lots of people from both teams in attendance.

Quijotes & Dulcineas

It was also one of my last nights out with Hannah for a while, as early Sunday morning she flies to Spain's island of Mallorca where she'll be teaching sailing in an English camp all month.

I didn't stay out too late (home by 3.30), as I had to be up by a decent hour on Saturday for the Photo Scavenger Hunt that Mary and I had put together for our friends.

Breakfast burger?

On Friday afternoon our friend Chris had some of us over to make this special hamburger that he's been talking about for weeks (I'm not sure if the burger has a certain name or not...).  The bun of the hamburger is actually french toast.  And the burger meat has caramelized onion and two pieces of bacon broken up inside of it.

Hannah made the french toast, Chris cooked the burgers, and I was the set of clean hands, doing whatever they told me to do.

Hermann ate the first finished burger.  Those things were delicious, but very very filling (and probably not so good for the health). Mmmmm yum.

You're supposed to eat them with syrup, but since he's relatively new to Spain, Chris didn't know that this country doesn't have syrup.  I just put ketchup on mine.    

Have you ever eaten a burger with french toast as the bun?  What's your favorite burger?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Interview with Chad: An American's first impressions of Spain

[It's now been two weeks since Chad's last day in Madrid, and four weeks since his arrival to Spain.  At the end of his trip, I asked Chad some questions about his first impressions of Spain.  After living here for nearly two years total, I've become very accustomed to everyday life and have forgotten some of the little details that once struck me as different.  In this interview Chad offers a fresh perspective (which reminded me of my first weeks in Madrid back in 2009).]

Rebe: What did you expect before you came to Spain?  Chad:  I really wasn't sure what to expect because I had never gone on a trip where I didn't stay at a hotel/resort or have a tour guide.  I guess if I have to come up with something it would be that I thought more people would know how to speak English. That was pretty surprising. 

Yeah, there have actually been a couple of studies/news articles in the past few years saying that Spain has the lowest level of English in Europe, so they know it.  What was the best food you ate during your stay? This is tough, there was a lot of good food. I really like the chicken from the Chinese restaurant but that is kind of cheating since it's Chinese.  I liked the meal Rebe and I made at the hostel with chicken, pasta, tomatoes, olive oil, and spices.  I think my favorite would have to be either the gazpacho or the paella.

Mmm, paella's pretty delicious.  And what was your least favorite Spanish food? Least favorite is easy: tortilla stuffed with tuna. 

What?!  Tortilla española is wonderful!   (And just for the record, we never had - nor have I seen - "tortilla stuffed with tuna". Chad just doesn't like eggs or tuna,  so that would be his worst combo.)  Alright, next question: what was your favorite drink?  For favorite drink, I enjoyed the night we drank red wine but I think, even though it just tasted like water, being from Wisconsin, I have to go with the Mahou beer.

Interesting choice; there's nothing special about the taste of Mahou beer.  Too bad you didn't come a week earlier, you could have gone to the Madrid beer festival with me.  Oh well.  Moving away from food/drink, what was your favorite site in Madrid?   My favorite site in Madrid would probably be the Real Madrid stadium or the Palace/Cathedral area.

Well then I'm glad you took that tour of the stadium on one of your "solo adventure" days.  I went to a Real Madrid game when I was a student here, but I never even knew the stadium gave tours.  Now looking at the whole two weeks, not just your time in Madrid, what was your favorite thing that we did? The whole trip was amazing but I like the beach so the weekend in Alicante was my favorite.  Staying at the hostel was a new experience and relaxing in the sun was a nice break.

Yeah, it was a "nice break" from your vacation... haha.  No, but I enjoyed the beach too.  I especially liked climbing up and down that mountain on Sunday, despite the heat and not knowing how to reach the castle.  Ok, what surprised you the most about Spain or Madrid? Like I mentioned earlier, the biggest surprise was how few people knew English.

Good thing you got to practice Spanish with my roommates!  What was your favorite or most-heard Spanish phrase/word?  Bien!  I could answer any question your roommates asked me with that one word.

Yup, that's a good word to know.   Other than the language now, what differences between the United States and Spain stuck out to you the most? How many people smoked cigarettes, no screens in windows, though I think that is fairly common outside of the US, washing machines in the kitchen and how little grass there is in Spain (and the grass that was there you weren't allowed to walk on).

Yeah I miss ample grass and being able to walk through it barefoot in the summer.  Would you recommend that others travel to Spain?  I definitely would recommend for people to visit Spain, though I think to get the most out of the trip it's best to have someone that knows something about Spain and can speak some Spanish. Having you there made life a lot easier because you knew about the different places to do day trips and how to get there.

Oh the benefits of having friends that live abroad and speak the local language!  How easy was it to get around not speaking Spanish (for example on your "solo adventures" some of the mornings while I was working)?  The metro was very easy to use as long as you could find your destination on the map. But like I mentioned above, it wouldn't be as easy to do the day trips without speaking some Spanish and having some kind of idea which bus terminal to go to for each city.

[Well there you have it folks.  Is there anything else you'd like to ask Chad?]

Monday, June 25, 2012

Lightening the Keys

All year I've had a heavy set of keys:  Two keys for Gregorio's apartment.  Two keys for my apartment.  Three keys for my Tues/Weds school.  A key for my Mon/Thurs school.  They add up.

I went to my Mon/Thurs school this morning (at noon) instead of at my normal afternoon time because I had lunch plans with people from my Tues/Weds school.

I had talked with the Mon/Thurs English teacher on Friday morning, and she said it was okay if I came at noon on Monday.  Later on Friday evening I realized I had two missed calls from this teacher around noon on Friday.  But by the time I saw the missed calls that evening she no longer would have been at school so I didn't call back.

She wasn't in her office when I arrived at noon today, because I guess on Mondays she only works afternoons (which is why she must have called me back on Friday, when she realized this).  She had given the consejería woman something I needed to sign, so I signed it then went to the library to upload all my files I've made this year to Dropbox (to easily give them to the teacher).

By 12.30 I was handing in my key and saying goodbye to the two consejería ladies.  It was strange not to say goodbye to the English teacher, but I thought she wouldn't be in until three or three thirty, her normal afternoon arrival time.  Later when she replied to the email I had sent her with the dropbox link, she said that she missed me by 5 minutes this morning. Oops...

From there I went to my Tues/Weds school to meet up with the morning English teacher, the other auxiliar, and some students from one of our classes.  We drove to Rivas and ate at a Chinese buffet for lunch.  The sobremesa lasted until 7pm, so it was a long (but normally Spanish) lunch.  During this chatting after lunch the teacher asked both Kay (the other auxiliar) and I for our keys.  I gladly handed over the three keys I'd had on my chain all year, excited that this meant I didn't have to work on Tuesday or Wednesday of this week as I had feared.

At the end of this week I'm moving back to Gregorio's apartment before my July travels begin.  So I'll soon be turning in my apartment keys here as well.

As to whether the keychain will get heavier or lighter this fall, only time will tell.

Sunday Picnic: Manzanares el Real

On Sunday afternoon Hannah and Gregorio finally met each other!  The three of us had a picnic lunch out in Manzanares el Real, which lies 50 km from Madrid.  The highest recorded temperature in Madrid yesterday was 100 degrees, so summer is upon us!  We tried to find as much shade as we could at the picnic site, but there's really no escaping the sun in Madrid.

Nearby is a resevoir, El Embalse de Santillanawhich made for some nice views.

After lunch and coffee we walked over to the castle (El Castillo de los Mendoza) to have a closer look.  Unfortunately the castle was closed, just as Cervantes's house had been the other day in Alcalá de Henares.  The castle had closed at 5pm.

But we at least got to walk around the castle grounds and enter past the first wall surrounding the castle.

Gregorio let Hannah drive on the way home, which she absolutely loved.

What: Castillo de los Mendoza (The Mendoza's Castle)
Where: Castillo s/n, Manzanares el Real
How to Arrive: We obviously drove, but you can take bus 724 from Plaza de Castillas (schedule here).
Hours: Closed on Mondays; T-F ticket booth open from 10.00 - 16.00, closes at 17.00
The website says it closes at 19.00 on Saturday and Sunday, but this was obviously not the case this weekend (closed at 5)
Price: Normal admission - 3 euros;  Older than 60/Younger than 14 - 1.50 euros;  Younger than five - free

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Bavarian Sausage and German Beer Fest

On Saturday my German friend Max hosted a Bavarian Sausage and Beer Fest during the day.

He served us Brezels (pretzels), German beer, and two different types of German sausage.  The name of the first type escapes me now, though I'm sure Max will soon remind me.  (Update: He says it's called wiener).  They are pictured in the top left picture of the collage. 

The second type of sausage, which we were prohibited from eating with ketchup, was Weisswurst (White sausage).  Max taught us two possible ways to eat the sausage.

One way was cutting the sausage in half lengthwise, as seen in top-right photo of the collage.  You then turn each half from the middle out, removing the skin as you're turning each of the sausage halves.

The other way involved using two holes that are in the skin at both ends of each sausage.  You suck the sausage out of each opening, using your teeth to push it out.  We had some good laughs trying it this way, but one must immerse themselves in the culture, no?

It was a great afternoon of good food and company, plus I enjoyed learning more about German food and festivals.  I'm so happy to have friends that will plan this type of event on a regular Saturday afternoon; thanks for cooking, sharing, and teaching us Max!  


That evening we went to another teammate's apartment to watch the Spain vs. France game.  This teammate lived on the fourth floor of an apartment with a terrace roof.  During half time we all went up to check out the great views.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

An afternoon in Alcalá de Henares

On Wednesday, after a failed attempt at talking to the woman in charge of the auxiliares program to see if it would still be possible to renew, Gregorio called.  He wondered if I wanted to visit the university in Alcalá de Henares today that we'd talked about checking out some afternoon.  This university has a Master's program I discovered the other week that caught my eye.

The Master is Aprendizaje y Enseñanza del Español como Lengua Extranjera (Learning and Teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language) through the "Teach and Learn" program at Instituto Franklin.  The positive is that everyone who gets in has a full tuition scholarship.  (A free Master's degree!  Impossible for me in the states...)  Also, you work as an English language assistant in Madrid (what I do now) for either 18 or 26 hours a week.  This teaching time counts as credits towards the Master, and you also get paid for doing so (though significantly less than I currently make, but still not a bad deal).

The downside to me realizing this program existed only a few weeks ago is that the deadline to apply was in January or February.  So Gregorio and I had talked about going one of these days to see if it was possible to apply late and to learn more about the program.  Although I wasn't really in the mood on Wednesday, I figured since I had the whole day free I might as well check it off of my to-do list.  And who knows, maybe I'd end up eliminating another option by the end of the day.

Gregorio picked me up on his motorcycle around 3pm and we were off to Alcalá de Henares, which lies about 25 minutes east of Madrid.

The woman in charge of the Spanish as a Foreign Language Master was really nice and gave me lots of information.  She said the program was currently full for the fall, but if I wanted to apply now I could try for a spot on the waiting list.  Or I could apply in January for the 2013-14 school year.

It was nearly 5pm by the time we left the university (we'd had to wait for a while when we got there), and neither Gregorio nor I had eaten lunch yet.  We walked to a nearby place and each got a plato combinado, since it was too late to order the menú del día.

No more braces for Gregorio!
After eating,  Gregorio wanted to visit Cervantes's house that sat nearby (Cervantes was born in Alcalá de Henares).  I remember the house had been closed the only other time I'd come to Alcalá de Henares back in 2010, so I was excited to finally see it.

But the house was closed again when we tried to visit on Wednesday.  So to anyone visiting Alcalá de Henares: If you want to visit Cervantes's house, go before 17.30 because that's when it closes!

Right in front of Cervantes's house is a bench with seated statues of Sancho and Don Quijote.  Since the house was closed, Gregorio and I took some obligatory photos with the writer's famous characters:

Then we walked to a nearby café for some post-lunch coffee/tea called Cafe Renacimiento

The café is situated inside of an old church, which gives it a great atmosphere.  The music was very calming as well.

We originally went so that Gregorio could have a coffee, but when they told us cocktails were 2 x 1 that afternoon we each ordered a cocktail instead (normally 6 euros each).

When we were ready to pay and leave, the woman told Gregorio that it was 2x1 per person.  Es decir, we had to pay for both of the cocktails we'd each had, and now we could each get a free one.

I was ready to go and didn't think I could fit another drink in me, but you can't turn down a free cocktail.  So we each ordered another and stayed a bit longer.

Like I said, I really enjoyed the mood of the café and would recommend stopping by for a coffee if you're in Alcalá de Henares.  (But if they tell you cocktails are 2x1, know that it's per person!)

What: Cafe Renacimiento
Address: c/ Azucena 2, Alcalá de Henares
Note: This summer (2012) they're closed on Mondays.  So check to make sure they're open before you make the short trip out to Alcalá de Henares!

Last Class with Pablo

Pablo is one of my current private students that I also taught when I was a student here from 2009-10.  When we said our goodbyes in 2010, I had no idea I would be teaching him again fall of 2011.

"Last class" with Pablo in 2010

It was really great  a) to see him again this fall, and  b) to be able to continue giving him classes this year.  The family is wonderful, and this year his younger brother Sergio would sometimes join us for parts of his classes.

Although our normal day for class has been Tuesday this year, today (Friday) I had my final class with Pablo in 2012.  

He gave me a picture of us that his mom had taken on his birthday, in a frame that Pablo had made and decorated.  His mom also got me a cute little summer purse.

Last Class with Pablo in 2012
Like last time, I don't know when I'll see Pablo again, but I'm grateful I was able to spend another year working with this great kid!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Testing my patience in Spain

I've ranted blogged before about the inefficiency of many of Spain's public offices, and have stated multiple times that patience is vital when living here in Spain.

I've also probably mentioned that service at a bank, for example, depends on which branch of that bank you're in and who's working that day.  If one BBVA bank tells you no, walk to the next BBVA and they could very well say yes.  If a pharmacy won't sell you a certain medicine without a prescription, keep visiting pharmacies until someone gives you what you're looking for.  You get the idea.

The below was just posted today on the auxiliares' facebook group.  Case in point.

Now I've got another frustrating experience to add to my case.  Yesterday morning I went to the Consejería de Educación at Gran Vía, 20. The plan was to go to the fourth floor and talk with Irene, the woman in charge of the auxiliares program.  I wanted to give her my renewal documents and see if there was any way I could still renew my position for next year - even though the deadline for renewing was in March.

I suppose I should interrupt my story here and explain why I was trying to renew.  Firstly, I didn't renew back in March because I didn't want to renew in March.  For at least the last month or so (probably more), I've been going back and forth between various options for the fall.  One day I'll be certain I want to stay in Madrid, then the next day I'm just as certain that I want to go back to Madison for a while.  Other possibilities have included getting a Master's degree here in Madrid, HelpXing around Europe until I run out of money, being an au pair either in Spain or France, getting a job elsewhere in the states, etc. etc.  I haven't written about any of these ideas because I change my mind so often.  Nothing is set in stone, so why worry anyone while I'm still so undecided?

Anyway, I've been getting overwhelmed with all of my options, and a friend recently suggested the obvious: Instead of just deciding, try to eliminate as many options as you can.  I thought I should go to the auxiliares office to see if they would even consider letting me renew my position for another year.  And if not, no harm done -- I'd have just eliminated an option, which is actually progress in my eyes.  When one of the English teachers at my Tues/Weds school this week also suggested I go to Gran Vía, 20 to attempt to renew, I made up my mind that I'd actually go.

Why was I a bit scared to go to this office?  I don't like getting yelled at.  It's not a secret.  I've had friends tell me that the friendliness / customer service in the office is not the greatest.  Also, I should have renewed back in March had I wanted to.  It's nearing the end of June and they program has already sent out school assignments to next year's auxiliares.  Why wouldn't they be harsh with me?  I was expecting the worst.

Since my Tues/Weds had somehow got me to agree to coming in on Friday morning instead of Wednesday this week, I had yesterday completely free.  So I printed out the paperwork needed to renew and metro'd down to Gran Vía.  On the way I realize that I had accidentally left my phone at home that morning.  No big deal, I just won't know the exact time.  I reach number 20 and see the bright yellow gobierno de España sign for the Ministry of Education, Culture, and something else.  I walk in the front door, and there's a woman security guard, a metal detector and a conveyor belt to put your stuff through.  The woman security guard asked what I was looking for.

I told her I needed to go to the fourth floor to talk to the auxiliares de conversación staff.  Then she asked why, did I have some documents to give them?  Well yes, that too, but I needed to talk with them.  She told me I was at the wrong entrance, that I needed to leave the building, go to the corner, and take the next two rights to go in the back entrance.  I was skeptical, since all year I've seen auxiliares repeatedly write on the facebook group wall, "Go talk to Irene at Gran Vía 20, fourth floor".  So I double checked, "And from the other entrance I can go to the fourth floor?" Yes.

Ok.  I said thank you and made my way around the block to the back entrance, but thinking the whole time that this had to be wrong.  At the back entrance I saw the same yellow sign, but it was obviously a different address (aka not Gran Vía, 20).  The first thing I see when I walk in are two security guards with their backs to me, talking with a woman sitting at the front desk.  There was another conveyor belt to scan bags and a metal detector to walk through, so I waited until the woman saw me, then nudged the security guards to let me through.

I made it through security just fine, then I scanned around for some stairs.  I walked in to the right and there was a huge waiting room with people seated in the middle and desks along the wall.  There must have been a place somewhere to pull a number, because there were screens on the wall showing which desk to go to when your number was finally up.  Many of the desks were empty.

I didn't see any stairs, so I went back the way I'd come in because it had looked like if I would have gone straight past the front desk lady, those might have been stairs back there.  When I went back to take a look, the woman asked me what I was looking for.  I said the stairs, but right as I said so I saw elevators.  "Oh, I found the elevators," I said.  "No, you can't just go up! Who are you here to see?" the woman asked me.  "I need to talk with someone from the staff of the auxiliares de conversación program.  They're on the fourth floor of Gran Vía 20, but the security guard over there told me to come here."

"No, I need a name," front desk lady said.  "Irene..." shoot, I didn't know her last name.  The woman in charge of auxiliares!  There's only one.  "Go to information and find out, and then come back here," she said.  Ok, information.  I saw an information arrow pointing in the direction of that big waiting room, so I walked back in and looked around.  I was looking for a single information desk.  Then I started to realize that this whole room was "information," and I'd need to pick a number and wait.

And then I saw a row of computers along one wall.  I walked over and logged into my email account to find out this Irene's last name.  I found it, wrote it down on a piece of paper, and wrote down the only other name I've ever seen on an email from the program.

(Another side-story here: Yes, the auxiliares program lacks organization.  The other thing I don't like about it is that communication with the people in charge of the program is all virtual.  I think we may have seen Irene once at the first orientation, but I have no idea what she looks like, or a good way to contact her.  Every now and then we receive an email from the program, but most are sent to us by a generic "" email, and they're signed "PROGRAMA DE AUXILIARES DE CONVERSACIÓN," followed by two lovely lines in red: "POR FAVOR NO RESPONDA A ESTA MENSAJE.  PLEASE, DO NOT ANSWER THIS EMAIL."  Alright, if we can't respond to this email, to whom do we ask questions?  Which is why people are constantly flooding the facebook group with program questions.)

Anyway, so I find the two names of the people in charge of the program and write them down.  I return to the front desk lady and hand her Irene's name.  She types it in her computer and makes a face.  Who is this? (It's a weird last name).  "Here, tell me how to say this," she says, as she hands the slip of paper to one of her security guard pals who is now involved in my issue.  He tries to pronunce it, but it's a really weird name.  Meanwhile I'm thinking why does she have to pronunce it, can't she just type it in and search?

Then I tell her, "Or you can look up the other name too," as I show the security guy that there's another name on the other side of my piece of paper.  This name is a lot more Spanish.  So she types in that name and the computer doesn't come up with anything, so she asks me, "Who gave you these names?  You got these names in information?"

Unable to lie I just explain, "Oh, I saw the computers in the other room so I looked up the names on my email" (Because those were the people I needed to speak with.  And I found the names on my own quickly and efficiently.)  She rolls her eyes and cuts me off, "Just go to information.  Like I already told you to do."  Then she complains to her security guard pal, "Psh she doesn't even listen to me..."

So this front desk lady is peeved at me.  I'm peeved at her, and the other people I've already talked with because I'm fairly certain this is not where I'm supposed to be.  Everyone else who's gone has said Gran Vía 20, fourth floor.  Why was I having so much trouble getting there?

But I decided to humor the lady, so I grab a number and sit down to wait.  I know this is a ridiculous waste of time, so my frustration is peaking by now.  I wait and wait.  Finally my number is called.  I go to the numbered desk and start explaining myself from point zero:

I want to speak with this woman (show him Irene's full name) from the auxiliares de conversación program.  Her office is on the fourth floor of Gran Vía 20 (not this building).  When I tried to enter on the other side, the security guard sent me here.  And the front office lady sent me to information.  And here I am.

Luckily, this funcionario was actually nice and treated me like a real person.  He asked if I needed to see the Consejería of Education or the Ministerio of Education.  I have no idea what the difference is between these two entities, but all of my paperwork says "Consejería de Educación," so I told him that.  He said the building we were in was for the Ministry of Education, not the Consejería.

He googled Irene's name and showed me what came up.  (Um yeah, I already know she works for the auxiliares program).  He was trying to find her office.  I told him it's on the fourth floor in Gran Vía 20! Arg.  I don't remember what he said after he googled her name, but I said I would try at Gran Vía 20 again.

So I leave, not saying anything to front desk lady when I pass on my way out.  I'm still mad at her.

By now I figure that Irene and whoever else works up in the office will probably be at lunch.  But I walk back to Gran Vía 20.  The woman security guard is no longer standing in the doorway, so I walk in.  A man security guard asks me what I'm looking for.  I hold out my piece of paper with Irene's full name and say I need to speak with her.  She's up on the fourth floor.

The guy says, "I know, I remember."  And then I recognize him as the front desk lady's security guard pal from the other entrance around the block.

"She doesn't work here," he tells me.  "No?!" I ask, not believing him at all.  "No," he says, shaking his head, looking at me like I'm an idiot.  "Maybe she's on Paseo del Prado street, number 28," he tells me.   "Really, Pasdo del Prado?" I ask again.  "Yeah, try there."

Uggg.  He was not going to let me in.  In hindsight, I probably should have tried to convince him again I was right or something, but by that point I'd had enough.  I was sick of going on some wild goose chase through Madrid's public governmental offices.  What a nightmare.  I couldn't believe that so many other auxiliares had come here and gone up to talk with Irene, yet after an hour I hadn't even made it through security of Gran Vía 20.  I'd wasted enough time.  So I said ok, left the front door, and headed straight to the metro to come home.

Hannah and Gregorio both offered to go back with me today, but I'm done with that office.  I'm taking it as an omen (I just finished reading The Alchemist, so omens are on my mind); I'm not supposed to renew auxiliares for another year.  And so I continue eliminating options...

Madrid Metro cutting service Monday - Thursday

I just saw this news article when I got home, saying that Madrid's metro (which just raised all of its prices at the end of April) will be closing earlier from Monday - Thursday.  Instead of the last train leaving at 1:30am, it will now leave at midnight.

The article says they're making the change to try and lower the public company's 800 million euro deficit, but cutting the service so soon after raising the prices will surely meet lots of criticism.

El País's article can be found here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Chad's last night in Madrid

[Exactly one week ago today was Chad's last night in Madrid.  Here's what we did that afternoon and evening.]

While I was at work, Chad spent the morning of his last day taking a tour of the Bernabéu Stadium and visiting the Puerta de Europa towers (where he witnessed a Bankia protest).

When he came back I had just returned from my Tues/Weds school and started making lunch.  Chad caught me on camera in the process.

The plan for the afternoon was first to go see The Hunger Games, then buy something for Chad's dad for Father's Day, and finally to meet up with some of my friends at 100 Montaditos for beer and montaditos (little sandwiches).

Why did we go see a movie if you can do that in the states?  Two years ago Chad gave me the first Hunger Games book for Christmas (yeah, I read them back before it was cool).  I devoured it, then got the other two books in the trilogy from the library.  Later he borrowed the first book from me and read it.  We were both excited for the movie to come out this spring, but he was so busy with school and steel bridge that he never saw it in Madison.  And the night that some of my frisbee friends went to see it here in Madrid, I had had a private lesson to teach.

Image taken from

Since we both still hadn't seen it, we added the item to our Madrid to-do list but hadn't added it to the itinerary on any specific day.  During his first week here, Chad and I looked up movie times at a theater in Madrid that plays movies in their original format (aka in English without dubbing!)  The website said that the movie played at 4.10 every afternoon.  We'd be gone in Alicante over the weekend, and then had Monday and Tuesday afternoon plans already.  That left Wednesday, his last day.

On Wednesdays I normally have class until 4.30, so we didn't think it would work.  Then over the weekend while we were in Alicante, my Wednesday afternoon teacher emailed and said I didn't have to come in that week (since it was the last class before their exam and only a few students would be there to review, plus she knew I had a visitor in town).  Perfect!

So after eating we headed downtown to Cine Ideal in Sol (after stopping at a chino for some snacks to carry in) to buy tickets.  We got there a little before 3.30 - early - but I had wanted to get there early and have the tickets in hand, then walk around if there was extra time to kill.

We walked in and I quickly scanned the movie times up on the screen.  Los juegos del hambre.......15.30.  Hunger Games at 3.30?!  I checked my phone for the time.  It was 15.24.  I started walking towards the ticket window to quickly buy them, but then I saw a sign that said you must pay in cash.  I, of course, had planned to use my debit card.

I turned around and ran out of the theater, telling Chad we had to find an ATM (caja) asap.  I ran down the street, not seeing any banks in sight, then peeked around the corner. BBVA - yes.  I took out cash.  Ran back to the theater.  Quickly bought tickets, skipped going to the bathroom, and we sat down in the theater.  The previews had started.  All of the previews were in Spanish which was fine for me, but then I started worrying I might have screwed up and the movie would be in Spanish for some reason.  After all, I was in a huge rush when I bought the tickets.

Then my mind started wandering... what would we do if it was in Spanish.  Leave and not watch any of it?  Try to get a refund?  Is there any way she would give me a refund? Doubtful.  I had seen a movie in this theater two years ago with an intercambio group.  The movie had been in English with Spanish subtitles, but I couldn't remember what language the previews were in.  Now I was really nervous.

And then the movie started.

It begins with text (in English), and Spanish subtitles.  More text.

Finally somebody speaks.  It's in English.  Phew.  I let out a sigh of relief and sit back in my seat. I take our snacks out of my purse, relax and enjoy.

Image taken from

The movie was good, but the book is much better.  Has anyone seen the movie who hasn't read the book?  What did you think?

After the movie we walked around in search of a Father's Day gift for Chad's dad.  We looked and looked and looked.  We went to lots of souvenir shops and some regular Spanish clothing shops too, but he couldn't find anything that worked out.

As our meeting time for 100 Montaditos approached, we gave up the search and walked to the Spanish chain tapas bar that Chad had first visited in Alicante.  We went on Wednesday because Wednesdays are euromania -- everything is a euro: all of the montaditos, and even jarras of beer!  Jarras at 100 Montaditos are normally 2 euros, and the little sandwiches (montaditos) range from 1 - 2 euros.

When Chad and I got back to my barrio (neighborhood) we stopped at a local bar (that I've always wanted to go to, but have never had friends out at my side of town because it's far from the center) for one last caña.  He did some final packing back at my apartment, and we went to bed pretty late (I went to bed at 2:30am), then he woke up at 4 and I woke up at 4:40am to meet the taxi that I had called to come at 5am.

I was a half-asleep zombie when I sent Chad off to the airport in his taxi.  He later told me the flight home went fine; no delays or missing luggage like on the way here.  It was sure a fun-filled two weeks; we did lots!

[Coming next: Interview with Chad: An American's First Impressions of Spain]

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Chad's last day in Madrid

[Chad's last day in Madrid was last Wednesday, almost a week ago.  Here's his write-up of how he spent the morning.]

Guest Blogger: Chad

For my final day in Madrid I again went on an adventure by myself in the morning.  Despite playing soccer growing up, I rarely follow the professional level.  Still, I wanted to see the Real Madrid stadium.  Getting there was easy with the metro and when I got there workers were standing around watching over several huge screens outside the stadium that must have been set up for the Spain vs. Italy game a couple of days ago.  Even watching the game on the screens, I bet that environment for a soccer game would be way better than any sports bar in the states.

I decided to do the stadium tour which includes a panoramic view from the upper deck, a trip through the trophy room, a walk around the field, sitting in the bench area, the presidential suite, locker room and press room.

The views of the stadium provided for some great pictures.

Two things that stood out to me were the seats on the bench which were like Audi racing seats, and how basic the locker room was.

Bench seats

I have heard big name baseball players in the MLB sometimes have three or four big box lockers side by side for themselves, so I was expecting something incredible for the best soccer program in the world.  Instead it was just a small square room with a hook and a bench for each player. 

Real Madrid locker room

By the time I finished the tour, I did not have much time left before I needed to head back for the lunch that Rebe was making.  I was only a few blocks from the two angled bank towers that you can see from all over Madrid and I wanted to see them up close for a picture before I left so I made my way up there, then caught the Metro home.

Rebe here -- just wanted to add that the signature leaning towers in Madrid that Chad mentioned above are the Puerta de Europa towers owned by Bankia and Realia.  Bankia is the Spanish bank that got a 19 billion euro bailout from the government last month.  So it wasn't surprising when Chad told me there was a big protest going on outside of the buildings when he visited them.  He said traffic was backed up because the protesters had filled the streets.

To see more pictures of the continuous protests outside of the Bankia tower, visit here and here.

Check back tomorrow to see how we spent Chad's last afternoon and night in Spain!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Mix up your daily routine

Today I wanted to stop at my library and post office before going to work, so I walked to both and then just decided to keep walking to my Mon/Thurs school despite the heat.  (That school is about 40 minutes walking from my apartment, but with all of the errands I was out walking in the heat for about an hour).

On the way home, I didn't feel like going underground to the metro but it was still really hot, so I took a bus back to my neighborhood.  My metro stop is right next to my apartment, but this bus stop is a block away.  So I had a mere block's walk to my apartment that I normally wouldn't have taken today.

On this short stroll I saw a couple piles of books on the sidewalk next to one of the trash bins outside.  Score!

Without hesitation, I immediately crouch down and start going through all of the books.  I love getting used books in the states, but free used Spanish books seemed even more wonderful to me.  This is what I ended up taking home with me:

I remembered studying and reading chapters of El Conde Lucanor in one of my Spanish literature classes, so I figured that'd be a good one to have.  I'm hoping to use some of the pages from the kids' books and magazine for craft projects.  (Remember how crafty I am now in 2012?  It all started with my DIY kindle case...)

I was also excited for this find:

It's a memoir about the education of various post-civil war generations of Spaniards in the Franco-led Catholic nation.  It looks like a good read, and will hopefully give me more insight into where Spain's education system was at during Franco's regime, and how it's changed since his death.

Takeaway message: Do something different from your daily routine today!  It can be as simple as taking a different route home.  Walk instead of drive/bus.  Or bus/drive instead of walk.  Call or email someone you haven't talked with recently.  Eat breakfast for dinner.  Get out some paints and do something messy.  Make a meal if you normally eat out.  You get the picture -- something that's not a part of your usual routine.

I took the bus home today when I normally take the metro, and I ended up with an armful of free books.  What did you do differently from your routine and what was the outcome?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Pizza in La Moraleja

On Friday afternoon Gregorio called to see if I wanted to have lunch with him and his mom; she was in the mood for pizza.  I hadn't eaten yet, said yes, and they came to pick me up.

They had been out and about driving around because Gregorio's floors were being done, so they couldn't be in the apartment until 10pm.

We went to a pizza place in La Moraleja -- an upper class pijo area in northern Madrid.

Gregorio ordered some chicken as a starter.  It was delicious:

Then we each ordered a pizza, and Gregorio told the waitress to make them all larges.  They were huge!  

In the states this wouldn't be a problem, but doggie bags don't exist in Spain.  Either you eat it, or it's thrown away...

Gregorio and his mom both finished their pizzas, and I nearly finished mine.

I was stuffed to the brim, but Gregorio and his mom got the usual post-lunch coffee, and then Gregorio ordered chocolate fondu for two.

After lunch we drove around the area for a bit to look at the houses, but I was disappointed because you couldn't see much.  All of the houses were surrounded by ugly fences and gates or tall bushes so that you couldn't see anything.

Friday, June 15, 2012


Since I finish teaching at 12:30 on Tuesdays, we went on another day trip this week (last week we went to Toledo on Tuesday).  This time we went to Aranjuez, a small town 48 kilometers south of Madrid (about a 30 minute Cercanías ride).

I didn't get home until around 1pm from my school.  Once we were ready to go, we took a bus to the Atocha station where we then took a Cercanías train (C-3) to Aranjuez.  Since we arrived there after 3pm, our first agenda item was to find lunch.

We found a menu of the day for 9.50 euros.  We both had arroz cubana as our first plate.  It's a typical dish with rice, tomato sauce, and a fried egg.  Ours came with bacon, too.  Chad had steak and potatoes for his second course and I had lasagna.  He tried flan for his dessert, and I had a cinnamon and sugar crepe.

From there we stopped at the town's tourist office for a map and suggestions.

We took the map and wandered around for the next couple of hours.  Aranjuez had such a different feel to it than Madrid, yet it was only a half hour away.  There were gorgeous gardens/parks (with peacocks!), streams, and architecture to keep our eyes busy:

I think we got back to Madrid around 9pm that night, but I was especially exhausted.  I had to finish some things for class the next day and get some blogging done too, so naturally I stayed up far too late (early?) working on that stuff.  I didn't realize until the following day that this had been Chad's penultimate full day in Madrid!