Welcome to Madrid, where tapas are ridiculously, fantastically cheap and somehow pork finds its way into almost every dish. Where strange nooks and famous plazas are around every corner and at times it’s cheaper to order sangria than water. Where the people are friendlier than you might expect for a big city and the metro is surprisingly navigable (albeit after a few mishaps).
So, where to start chronicling? My time here has been filled with a vast amount of experiences- most good, a few iffy, and all formative. However, there are three that stand out as strong first impressions. In a way, I think these anecdotes represent my experience with the city as a whole, thus far. They also are the start of a few new mottos I hope to carry with me for the rest of my time here.
Vamos a leer…
Feeling an air of unmistakable pride, my roommate, Maria, and I headed out to meet some new barrio (neighborhood) friends at the infamous restaurant and bar, El Tigre. We’d been hearing about El Tigre for days now. Supposedly, it was crowded with locals and filled with free tapas. Maria and I were eager to try it and even more excited to be meeting a group of new people.
We’d been in Madrid for all of a week, so, of course, we knew where we were going. We confidently ventured through twisted alley after alley, marveling over how many other places we couldn't wait to try. Filled with the intoxicating thrill of walking through Madrid, we even dared to close Google maps.
We spotted El Tigre on the left of a cobblestone side street and casually went to enter… except the door didn’t open. Huh. That was weird. Maybe I was getting my tirar (pull) and empujar (push) mixed up, again. Hm. Still wasn’t opening. Feeling a little foolish, Maria and I glanced around. Perhaps, it was just our imagination, but there appeared to be several amused Madrileños watching us.
A few vaguely awkward moments passed until we spotted a sign next to the door. After slowly muddling our way through a scribbled Spanish note, we determined that there was another “El Tigre,” somewhere down the road. Significantly less confidently than at the outset, we set off again.
*15 minutes later*
After walking up and down the same street for the third time, past the same confused looking hosts, bartenders and patrons, it’s extremely safe to say there was no dignity left. Out of options – we admitted defeat and asked for directions. (Side note: if Google maps let’s you down- stop and ask for help. If you ask the right person it is by far the most efficient way to find a place.) Eventually, we made our way into the restaurant/bar, a little bedraggled, a little late, but mostly relieved we’d finally found the increasingly mystical “El Tigre.”
Alas, it was STILL the wrong Tigre. Somehow, we’d managed to go to a different one than the people we were meeting. However, all was not lost. We thoroughly enjoyed the inexpensive drinks that came with unlimited tapas. We also randomly ran into some other IES Abroad students. It ended up being a fantastic evening.
Moral of the story: Even a wrong turn is a right one (and things can almost always be bought for cheaper than you would expect).
Plaza de Mayor
You know the postcards you see of Madrid? The ones with the beautiful red brick buildings expanding around a huge plaza filled with restaurants and vendors- this is Plaza de Mayor. Maybe you know it, maybe you don’t – if not, Google it right now. It’s gorgeous. It’s also one of the most famous locations within Madrid.
What I didn’t realize is that the Plaza de Mayor is just the tip of the iceberg. I went on an enlightening (and I don't use that word lightly) tour of the area and was shocked to discover there are 3 plazas within 10 minutes walking distance, each just as unique, gorgeous and filled with things to do as the last. I could genuinely spend my entire day wandering that immediate area and still find more to do.
Por ejemplo, one time I happened across the Plaza de Mayor at night and was shocked to see that the usual red bricks were lit up with a multitude of neon colors. There must’ve been an event earlier, and the light show was slowly getting shut down. There were reds, greens, and purples, all intricately lined up with the tiny details of the Plaza buildings. With the moon hanging just over the edge of the square and an uncharacteristic silence, it was unparalleled and gorgeous.
Moral of the story: There is always something new to see. Always.
First Day of Classes
What was I thinking??? It had been a year since I’ve taken Spanish. Ay dios mios. Something was going to have to change, whether it was my lack of fluency or my GPA. Somewhat dejected after the day, I returned to my homestay for lunch. I hadn’t journaled for a while, so with an air of detachment I picked up my pen and started writing while I waited.
In an effort to start the improvement process, I decided to write in Spanish. Lone behold, a page of my thoughts were outlined before I knew it. Carefully, I flipped back to my journal entry from the airplane headed over– it was about a quarter as long, far less detailed, and it had taken me twice as long to write.
Huh. It would seem I had already drastically improved. Maybe I’ll start understanding more of my professors’ lectures sooner than I thought…
Moral of the story: Oftentimes, you can be far better of than you think you are. After all, even the lowest of entry-level baselines is simply an excellent starting point.