a week in the life

As I settle into my social and professional lives here in Madrid, it would be all too easy to fall into a mundane routine.  Even though I’m living abroad, I still must buy food, cook it, do the dishes, do my laundry, send emails, go to the gym, pay my bills, and all of the other things you have to do.  Plus, this whole teaching thing is a lot more work than I was originally expecting, seeing as I plan lessons each week for six different age levels (of varying abilities), plus a conversation class with teachers at my school, plus two (for now) private lessons.  Designing 50-minute classes that are educational, entertaining and appropriate for students’ emotional and linguistic abilities is no simple task.  Anyway, the moral of the story is that the real world here in Spain, albeit a romantic Eurotrip at times, has many of the same components as the real world back at home. 

However, amidst all of the aforementioned business and chores, there are always sprinklings of the romantic-Eurotrip-ness that you probably imagine I’m living on the daily.  This week the Romantic-Eurotrip-Gods had a particularly heavy hand in sprinkling their fairy dust, loading it on more and more as the week progressed.  This is how it went down:

Despite the rain, I made my way to Madrid’s famous El Rastro, an outdoor flea market that opens every Sunday.  In addition to being famous for its numerous and extremely crafty pick-pocketers, it offers tent after tent of scarves, clothing, incense, jewelry, and every other item your heart could desire.  I made it out with a pair of earrings (1 euro), a scarf (2 euros) and all of the rest of my money and credit cards still inside my purse and on my person.  Since it was Sunday, also known as Euromania at 100 Montaditos, we stopped for some mini sandwiches and tinto de verano before returning home to plan the week’s lessons.

After work and the gym, I had my first intercambio (conversation exchange) with an aeronautical engineer from Sevilla.  Over large jarras of tinto de verano and a variety of tapas that came free with our drinks, we had a lovely half-in-English-half-in-Spanish conversation.

At the end of my workday, I walked home with Nuria, an economics teacher at my school who is part of my English conversation group for the teachers.  After she laid out a lovely spread of snacks, I began to give a private class to her 16-year-old son, Guillermo, who was extremely inquisitive and talkative.  Nuria had to go back to school for a meeting, so after talking for a while with Guillermo, he and I walked to pick up his sister, 10-year-old Ángela, from school.  Back at home, I had a lesson with Ángela for an hour or so.  Nuria then kindly drove me to a bar, still in Majadahonda, where I was leading my first conversation group for Club LTL, a company that offers English conversation groups for adults held in a real-life setting (a bar/restaurant) rather than a classroom.  There, I was put with the advanced group and spent 1.5 hours talking in English with three lovely mom-types.  At the end of the session, the coordinator offered to buy me another drink (in addition to the free ones I was given during the class), and I ended up staying two hours longer, having some wine and tapas with the students, other teachers and coordinators, this time switching into Spanish.  Although working in Majadahonda from 8:30 am to 10:30 pm was exhausting, it was probably the most pleasant that a 14-hour workday could have been.

I worked in the morning and had my second intercambio of the week in the afternoon, this time with a civil engineering student over coffee, complete with a hand-drawn map of Spain with all of the places I need to visit and a thorough explanation of the soccer leagues and teams in this country.  Later in the evening, just like on Sunday, 100 Montaditos’ Euromania was impossible to pass up, and I gave in.

The daytime part of my precious day off was pretty mundane, but in the evening I met two friends to see the comedy Amigos Hasta la Muerte (“Friends Until Death”), starring three well-known Spanish actors who have had many successful TV and movie roles.  Despite the speedy dialogue and multitude of puns, I understood almost all of it – an immediate victory for those few hours because it was hilarious and I wouldn’t want to have missed the jokes, and a long-term victory for my Spanish confidence.  After the show, we met the actors and took photos, and we finished off the night with sidra (a hard cider from Northern Spain), chorizo and Manchego (because why not eat when you can eat?).

While at work, I went to the school secretary’s office to check in about my health insurance and first paycheck.  After quickly taking care of business, I got to chatting with Isabel, the secretary, and before I knew it, I was invited to have lunch at her house and meet her sons who are around my age.  At first it was a general open invitation, but about five seconds later, I was being told to meet her in her office at the end of the day.  When we got to her house, her middle son, Enrique, was home, and the two of them prepared a meal fit for the kings which included, among many other dishes, some beautiful mushrooms that Enrique had harvested himself in Guadalajara the day before.  Apparently said ‘shrooms are extremely expensive in the grocery store due to the brevity and fickleness of the harvesting season, so I was pretty lucky to be able to try them.  And damn were they good.  Both Enrique and Isabel were extremely generous, welcoming and hilarious.  Later, Enrique and I went out for drinks with his friends and he eventually dropped me off in Madrid in his car around 9 pm.  I capped of the night with more food, obviously, making my second trip to Tapapies (see previous post).  And if that wasn’t enough excitement for one day, I came home to find my front door locked with the deadbolt and had to wake up my 70ish-year-old roomie to open the door for me at 2:30 am.  She thought I was at home and asleep the whole time.  Alas.  Luckily she’s awesome and wasn’t bothered at all.

Aaaand that’s all she wrote, kids.  Like I said, they won’t all be like this.  But the romantic-Eurotrip-Gods were really looking out for me this week.


embracing (and consuming) spontaneity

That old adage about the journey being more important than the destination couldn’t have been truer the past few days.  When you’re starting from scratch in a new culture and a new country, it really seems like you have nothing to lose.

This past weekend, a friend and I were en route to the Lavapies neighborhood of Madrid, the old Jewish quarter (“old” as in pre-1492), which is now known for its bohemian vibe and large quantity of immigrants, many of whom have opened restaurants serving their homeland’s specialties.  For the second year in a row, the neighborhood is hosting Tapapies, an “annual multicultural tapas route.”  This means that for two weeks, more than 40 bars in the neighborhood offer one specialty tapa for 1 euro, which can be consumed with a beer for a total of 2 euro.  As we were wandering, semi-aimlessly, toward the area with the high concentration of participating bars, we peeked into the window of every restaurant we passed, being the food-obsessed people that we are.  There was one spot, La Musa de Espronceda, which was calling our names in a way that could not be passed up.  We later realized it was in fact part of the Tapapies festival, but its special tapa did not intrigue us.  What did intrigue us was the multitude of tapas strewn across the bar.  The sights and smells were undeniable.  See the photos below for the view from my seat at the bar (snapped sneakily from my iPhone so as not to give away my foreigner status).  My favorite was the goat cheese, pumpkin and caramelized onion atop toast.  I also enjoyed my first taste of rabo del toro, literally “bull’s tail” (because it was originally prepared from the tail of the bull that was killed in the bullfight), but now it’s a different cut of the beast, and here it was wrapped in some sort of pastry/empanada-like dough.

Of course, we later made our way to the rest of Tapapies and sampled a few, some delicious and one quite unappetizing.  While the low price and temporary nature of Tapapies makes me want to go back to taste more, it will be hard to be in that neighborhood without stopping at La Musa de Espronceda first and having a few bites.  It is officially my favorite tapas bar in Madrid…until I discover something even more amazing to take its place.


This past weekend was a puente (literal translation: bridge), also known as a long weekend due to a holiday falling on a Friday.  Because my day off from work is Thursday, my puente was extra long and I seized the opportunity to hop on a 6.5-hour bus ride southbound to Sevilla.  The city’s motto, derived from a 13th century legend, is no me ha dejado, or “it [Sevilla] has not left me.”  I think it’s safe to say that Sevilla, my first European love, will never leave me.  I spent four days strolling around the city center to all of my favorite spots and spending time catching up and eating (of course) with my wonderful friends and host family.  See below for a visual account of my weekend, or at least the parts I remembered to take pictures of.

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un sábado lleno

This particular Saturday started off like many others, both in Spain and in the States: a leisurely wake-up and a shower.  However, the normalcy stopped there.

The first magical event was the arrival of a lovely care package from the parentals, which consisted of my rainboots stuffed with a scarf, some toiletries, two jars of peanut butter (from Wegman’s, no less), a handful of Reese’s, and a Wally doll (which made me smile despite the disaster that was the 2012 Red Sox campaign).

After immediately preparing a delicious breakfast of toast with peanut butter, I met with two friends to go to a once-monthly farmers’ market held near Madrid’s Casa de Campo.  It was similar to farmers’ markets back home, with venders selling (and, more importantly, offering samples of) olive oils, pastries, breads, sausages and cheeses.  The kicker?  Here in Spain, delicious food is not worth consuming without delicious drink.  The solution?  Purchase a 1-euro wine glass at the door and enjoy unlimited wine tastings at the various bodegas stationed around the market.  I can’t think of a better mid-morning activity.

Our late afternoon activity was Madrid’s Teleférico, a cable car that runs from Parque del Oeste, near my apartment, to one of the city’s largest parks, Casa de Campo.  Not including the annoyingly perky recording that took on the personified roles of important landmarks that passed below us, it was a beautiful ride over lush greenery and with views of Madrid’s royal palace, Río Manzanares, and other key sights.

And of course, the night was capped off a trip to the classiest 100 Montaditos I’ve ever been to, complete with table/waiter service!

new beginnings

The week that was saw me move to a new apartment and start my job at Instituto Leonardo da Vinci.  It was hectic indeed, but I can now say that I’m settling into a rhythm about which I certainly cannot complain.

First things first: I’m renting a room in an apartment from a spunky grandmotherly type (though spunky in a different way than my very own spunky grandmother).  Charo, my apartment-mate and landlord, is an eccentric 60-or-70-something-year-old who loves telling me stories about her glory days living in Costa Rica with her French diplomat husband.  Even without hearing the tales of yesteryear, you can get a sense of her passion for the Central American country by taking a look around the house at all of the art she commissioned and purchased while she was there.  Although the other spare rooms have yet to be rented (and may not ever be), I am enjoying my beautiful and spacious bedroom, a small balcony, more storage spacing for clothing than clothing to fill it, and a bathroom to myself.  Not too shabby.

My job is amazing.  Sure, it has only been a week, but even 6 a.m. alarms don’t seem that bad (though they don’t seem that good either) when work is enjoyable.  Sorry to Lowe’s, Juniper, and my various other former employers, but this doesn’t compare.  Listening to my “honors” students in primero de la ESO (~7th grade) eloquently define “culture” in English; hearing American phenomena described in charmingly direct translations of Spanish (“peanut cream,” “Day of thanks,” and “rugby! No no! American football!”); getting through to at least some of my students that although I may talk about general American customs, the most important thing to remember is that the US is diverse; and even being told in Spanish by one of the more English-resistant students that I’m skinny (and is everyone in America skinny like me if we eat lunch at noon and dinner at 6:00 pm?) have been priceless.  And like I said, it has only been a week.

The school where I was placed is wonderful as well.  It is located in Majadahonda, a suburb of about 70,000 people, northwest of Madrid, accessible by bus in about a half hour from my neighborhood in the city.  My team in the English department has been very welcoming and caring, and the faculty overall seems great.  Next week I start an English conversation class with the teachers, which will give me the opportunity to get to know them better.  My placement at IES Leonardo da Vinci also gives me the distinct pleasure of working in one of the 15 institutos de inovación tecnológica in the entire community (province) of Madrid.  This means that about half of the classrooms are equipped with computers for each student that retract into the desk with the push of a button as well as Smart Boards at the front of the room.  It will be fun to utilize this technology with my students throughout the year.