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Orientation, Exploration, and a Discoteca

January 18, 2016

I’ve been in Madrid for just about a week now and, while I’ll openly admit I’ve been struggling to adjust fully to the schedule and lifestyle pace, I’ve been settling in nicely. My week started out with a night with all of the IES Abroad Madrid Spring 2016 students in a hotel near the Argüelles metro stop. On our arrival day, we had a number of meetings, including a meeting all about safety in which we saw some fascinating examples of different pickpocketing methods. Madrid is quite a safe city, but like most of Europe, is known for its pickpockets, so these examples were definitely helpful in showing us all kinds of distractions pickpockets use to trick you.

After our initial meetings and tours, we split into smaller groups to go buy Spanish SIM cards, tarjetas de SIM. While I might be able to order food in Spanish, my conversational abilities were definitely tested in trying to buy a SIM card! While phone plans in Europe may initially seem cheaper than their counterparts in the USA, the cheap, but all inclusive plans are all contracted plans. I also learned that while you can cancel a contracted plan at any time, unlike the standard two-year plans in the USA, you need to have a Spanish residency card to open a line in the first place. 
 

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A bunch of us in front of the Jardines Sabatini.

On the next day, we met our host families and were introduced to our neighborhoods. This semester, I’m living in a homestay with one other IES Abroad student with a host mother and father. They’ve been as sweet as can be so far and very focused on our assimilation, comfort, and safety. Every time we eat lunch, or la comida/el almuerzo, with them, they write out each food item on a little white board hanging in the kitchen so that we can learn what the dishes are called. We also know to text them if we’ll be back any later than 12:00 AM and that whoever is the last one back to the apartment at night must turn off the entryway light; that way, if we’re asleep when they wake up in the morning, they know we’re both back home safely.

 

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Walking through Parque del Oeste on my way to the IES Abroad Center.

My homestay is located in a very residential neighborhood of Madrid that’s about a 20-minute walk to the IES Abroad center, a 20-minute walk to the nearest metro stop (in the opposite direction), and a bit over an hour from UC3M, the engineering university everyone in my program will be enrolled in for the semester. I’m definitely adapting to a new lifestyle of walking anywhere from six to ten miles a day, a bit different from my home campus that might be a mile across total. We’re a bit out of the way from the center of the city, so on weekends, it might be a bit harder to go out for dinner, drinks, or parties with other IES Abroad students, but I’m really glad to have a quiet neighborhood where I know I can study and relax.

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Alexis, Morgan, and Evan in front of El Palacio Real de Madrid.

Even though I’ve spent a good amount of time catching up on sleep and getting settled in comfortably, I have gotten to explore the city a bit! I now know where all of the essential little shops around my apartment are, including the post office, pharmacies, and supermarket. I found a restaurant down the street from my apartment called Casa Mingo with absolutely delicious roast chicken, pollo asado, cider, sidra, and olives, or aceitunas. I’ve gotten chocolate con churros at Chocolatería San Gines, one of the most famous spots for churros in all of Madrid. I’ve spent some time browsing many of the stores in the downtown area around Plaza del Sol, as January is a huge month for sales, or rebajas, in Spain. I also went on a wonderful tour of the Palacio Real, an ornate and grandiose palace somewhat influenced by Versailles.

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El Mercado de San Miguel at night.

On Friday, both Madrid programs went to Segovia for the day to primarily visit two historical sites and get a feel for a smaller town in Spain. Segovia is home to one of the most famous Roman aqueduct monuments in Europe. The aqueduct is about 14 km long and made only out of stone.

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El Acueducto de Segovia.

Segovia is also home to the Alcázar de Segovia, a castle that was originally a fortress and then a royal palace before becoming famous as the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle!

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Amanda, Jess, and I in front of the Alcázar de Segovia.

Now a semester in Madrid wouldn’t be complete without at least one appearance at a discoteca. A whole crew of IES Abroad students decided to head out on Friday night to what might be the biggest discoteca in Madrid, Teatro Kapital, with seven floors of different music and activities throughout the club. This was definitely my first experience with Madrid nightlife and I got back to my homestay around 4:00 am on Saturday morning. I find it absolutely fascinating to think about the differences in scheduling between Spain and USA. Back at Bowdoin, a late night for me might end at 1:00 am. Here, my departure time of 3:40 am from Kapital (or Kapi, as my Spanish friend from Bowdoin calls it) was quite early! Here, it’s not abnormal for anyone out and about at night to be out dancing until 6:00 am or 7:00 am in the morning. That’s when I usually wake up when I’m up at Bowdoin!  

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