I think an update on here is far overdue.
So this was the first Christmas holiday I have ever spent away from my family. As sad as that may have been, this Christmas was completely different than any other. Instead of going home like many of the other Americans living abroad (at least I assume many of them went home, I don’t actually know any Americans living here in Madrid, and according to the awkward gazes I get every time some one asked me when I would be returning to my country for X-mas and I told them I wasn’t, it seemed like I had just told them that Santa Clause isn’t real for the first time). But this year, although it was spent an ocean and a continent away from my family, it’s definitely been a Christmas holiday season I’ll never forget.
Rachel arrived here a little over two weeks ago and my buddy Chris Kelley followed suite that same day. The week before Christmas, I impatiently finished up my jobs (and even canceled my last few private lessons because I was just too excited to hang out with Chris and Rachel that I couldn’t bare the idea of going to teach English to some 7-year olds instead of explore Madrid with my friends). At my schools, we celebrated Christmas in the traditional Spanish style, complete with religious plays, skits, and songs. All the homes I visited in Spain, at least all the homes of the children I give private lessons to, had Belénes, or Nativity scenes all set up. Apparently this is a very typical thing to do; I was especially shocked (and uncomfortable) seeing the World’s largest Belén (I’m clearly exaggerating its size here, but it was massive) in the lobby of one of my public schools. It’s strange that Catholicism is still pushed in all schools in Spain, even though I have only met one actual Catholic here…
Anyway, I wrapped up my job and got to finally spend time with Chris and Rachel. We spent two short days here in Madrid, showing Rachel around (since after all, Chris and I really are the best tour guides around).
Chris and Rachel got along well too. Chris kept calling Rachel, “Scout,” the entire time because somehow they discovered that Rachel’s favorite book is To Kill a Mockingbird, and I guess it’s her mother’s favorite as well. Apparently, Debra (Rachel’s mother) nearly named Rachel, Scout, but was afraid she’d get made fun of. (In case you didn’t know, Scout is the name of the main character).
But Rachel and I soon thereafter departed to go see Barcelona for four days.
Anyway, since living here and absolutely loving Madrid, I have found myself joining in on this ridiculous rivalry between Madrid and Barcelona, and I’m not just talking about football. Obviously Real Madrid and Barca have an enormous football rivalry, but there is also this schism between the two cities: Some love Barcelona, and others Madrid. Clearly, I’m a huge fan of Madrid.
I have been to Barcelona before, two years ago. But since then, I’ve been somewhat brainwashed, or rather, programmed to love and support Madrid full-heartedly, almost as if I was born here. But the second we stepped off the train from the airport and we were right there in the middle of the city of Barcelona, my heart paused for a second, my breath froze, and all of my memories of Barcelona came straight back to me; and I thought: Wow, Barcelona is absolutely stunning!
And it’s really true. The city is incredibly gorgeous, and it’s much different than Madrid. It’s got wide open streets, crystalline blue skies, architecture that is incomparable, especially the works by Antonio Gaudi, whom Rachel had never heard of before, but by the end of the trip, she went into every bookstore we passed to see if they sold books on his works. And by being there in Barcelona, even in that first instant of seeing that city, I knew I loved it, I had just forgotten it since I have been so wrapped up with Madrid. So I will honestly and openly forfeit: Barcelona is an amazing city and I’d recommend it to anyone.
Upon arrival, after I caught my breath, we checked into our hostel, which was quite an awkward experience…..
I have become so accustomed to speaking to people in Spanish when dealing with things around town that when the kid sitting behind the desks says to me, “Hey….What’s up?” I froze. I didn’t know what to say, and I’m not entirely sure why. I was just so taken aback by hearing perfect English spoken by a Spaniard, because believe me, in Madrid, NOBODY speaks English. It’s quite remarkable actually how little English is spoken here, but it’s perfect for someone like me who is trying to learn Spanish because I don’t have to deal with trying to order food and then having the waiter’s immediately break off into English because they know it (which happened to us everywhere in Barcelona, but it never happens in Madrid). Barcelona is much more touristy and literally everyone speaks English. I was so impressed because Madrid, the capital of Spain, really lags behind with English comprehension. I mean, granted, Barcelona is the number one tourist destination in Spain (justly so), but it still shocked me how everyone around town spoke flawless English.
Recommendation to any people wanting to learn Spanish or wanting to study abroad to Spain to learn Spanish: DON’T CHOOSE BARCELONA. I recommend absolutely full-heartedly that you go to Barcelona, it’s undeniably wonderful, but it’s nearly impossible to learn Spanish for three reasons: There are tons of tourists, everyone speaks English, and the local language isn’t Spanish, it’s Catalan. So all the signs are what I consider written in “Spanish spelled incorrectly,” but in reality, it’s a completely different language, it’s a fusion of French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
Anyway, after I awkwardly finally snapped out of my “OMG this guy speaks English” trance, we checked our things (it was still too early to actually go to our room) and we went for a walk *photos soon to follow.
Later, we returned to the hostal and finally went to our room. I stayed in this hostel two years ago, and I remember it being good. I still think it’s good, other than the fact that you have to pay 2 euros for a blanket and another 2 for a towel and another 2 for your bedsheets, but other than that, it’s pretty legit with amazing views from the windows. Also, it’s location is unbeatable since it’s a block away from one of Gaudi’s most famous structures, and it’s just five minutes from La Rambla, which is a long street filled with street performers, venders, etc. It’s the heart of Barcelona basically. But anyway, once we got to our room, there was this awful putrid stench that flooded the entire room. It smelled like 12 sumo wrestlers had all spent the night there, stinking it up with their horrendous body odor. It really smelled like some sort of combination between Mustard gas and a lack of showering. I opened the window to let the rancid smell escape, but it didn’t work.
We met a Russian guy upon first entering. He was very friendly and spoke remarkable English (I had heard that Russians rarely speak English, so I was very impressed). He said he studied in Florida a few years back. Real nice guy he was. But once he walked out of the room, Rachel says to me: I don’t think the room is what stinks, I think it’s him.
I didn’t believe it and I told her to be nice, but moments after his departure from the room, the smell of a Hockey locker room left and was replaced by the smell of an untouched garden. Poor fellow, I thought. That guy really needed to take a shower and burn all his clothes.
Anyway, Rachel and I took a quick nap (I unfortunately booked a flight at 7:30 in the morning and we didn’t go to bed till like 4 the night before) and then we spent the next several days exploring the city, seeing Parc Guell, famously designed by Gaudi complete with incredible structures and an amazing view of the city, the National Palace at Montjuic, La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s most famous piece which is this illustrious church that has been under construction for more than 100 years and it is still surrounded by cranes and construction equipment, far from being finished, La Rambla, and on our last day, we made it to Barcelona’s beaches, which is the one thing that Madrid unfortunately lacks.
The first night we were in Barcelona was Christmas Eve. Rachel went out and discovered that almost every place was closed (no surprise there), but we found some lonely bars to drink at. We ended up meeting some very comical Welsh people in one of the bars. They clearly had had too much to drink.
As we were heading back to our hostel, we ended up running into some of our roommates from the hostel on the street and they were all going to Razzmatazz which is the biggest club in Spain for a Christmas morning celebration. And the entrance was free until 2:30 in the morning. So we all went there and when we arrived, it was completely empty, however the building itself was quite impressive: It had three floors and could host up to 8,000 people. Despite us being the only people there (which I knew we would be since it was only 2am and that’s considered early in Spain), we just waited and by 3:30am, the place was packed with people dancing at all corners.
Also, we took a day trip to a town 2 hours away called Figueres. It’s where Salvador Dali was born and raised and they have a museum dedicated to his works. So we went out there and it was incredible. If you are familiar at all with his works, you can just imagine how strange his museum must have been. It was a very peculiar place, but it was quite incredible. Unfortunately, the town of Figueres is really small and kind of ugly, but we made the trip just for the museum and it was definitely worth it. The Dali museum was something I really wanted to see the last time I was in Barcelona but we never got the chance to make it out there since it’s not theoretically in Barcelona. But this time, I finally made it.
Anyway, this sort of thing went on the entire trip: Rachel and I conquered the city by day, seeing everything there was to see, and then by night, we went bar hopping. On our last night, we made really good friends with these two kids from Alberta, Canada (they’ve got a real unique story too, apparently they met in a hottub (?) about two weeks before he, Regan, left to study abroad. He’s studying in Geneva learning French, and I guess they just hit it off really well because she flew out and was spending her Christmas break running around Europe with him) and we invited them to dinner with us. They sat there. clearly torn, about what they wanted to do. They told us that they were just going to stay in tonight, but I whispered to Rachel that I’d bet her 10 euros that if they came out, we’d get them really drunk. Sure enough, they came out, we all went and had a nice dinner together, and then we started barhopping. I won that bet ;)
We started out at a place called L’Ovella Negra (I think that’s how it’s spelled, it’s written in Catalan), but in Spanish it’s La Obeja Negra, which means The Black Sheep. I guess this place is somewhat legendary, and we found out why once we got there. The inside is somewhat like Casa Bonita, sort of a themed place, I don’t really know how to describe it, but it was really cool. We all shared a pitcher of beer and then left to go to the next place.
I wanted to go to this bar called the Big Bang Bar because we went there two years ago and I loved it. It took us a long time to find it, and after asking several people where it was, we finally found it and it was just as cool as I remembered it. Black walls, black and white movie being played up on the projector, and to my surprise, in the back, they had a live band playing all kinds of famous American Rock and Roll songs. We ordered some Barcelona-local beer and sang along with the people in the crowd watching the band perform. It was a riot to say the least.
Then we left there begrudgingly and we tried to find a place called Chupitos (which means Shots in Spanish) because they have over 200 different shots. It turned out, after wandering the streets for close to an hour, that it was closed, so we settled for a bar that was open right next door and we finished the night up there. To say the least, it was a really fun night and Rachel and I got to meet all kinds of other Canadians and a few Americans (whom we didn’t particularly like), but it was a terrific way to end our trip to Barcelona.
We sadly returned back to Madrid, but as always, despite my desires to stay and explore more of Barcelona, it was nice to get back home. We met back up with Chris and kind of laid-low since we were all so tired. But the next week proved to be fun, even though I got sick with god-knows what. We showed Rachel all over Madrid.
On New Years, we went to Alejandra’s place for dinner and to eat the traditional 12 grapes. Here in Spain (as well as in Mexico, I celebrated New Years in Mexico last year), they eat 12 grapes with the RING of the bell in Puerta del Sol, which is the center of Madrid. With eat ring, you are supposed to make a wish and eat a grape, one for each month of the year. But the spaces between the rings of the bell are too quick for you to chew down the grapes so by the end of it, you’ve got a mouth full of 12 grapes that you slowly try to eat down without choking. So we said our wishes and then headed out to our venue for that night.
Alejandra’s roommate, Levene, hosts a New Years party every year. We all had to pay 45 euros in advance, but it was well worth it. I was feeling kind of sick and not looking forward to it (actually I was really mad that I was sick because I wanted to enjoy the night), but fortunately, once I got there, heard the music, had a Coca Cola and got chatting with the people that were there, I forgot I was even sick. We danced all night, and met tons of great people. We also played this game, where, when you check in your coat they give you a name and you have to find your pair and you win a prize. I got the lucky name of being “Harry Potter,” which made me more than happy :D
I had to find Dumbledore. Dumbledore turned out to be some really cold girl from South Africa. We each won a Twix bar.
Eventually, we all stumbled home, exhausted from dancing all night.
After Rachel left this past Wednesday and Chris left for a trip to Brussels, Belgium, I went to El Escorial for 3 days with Alejandra to meet her mother and celebrate the Day of the Three Wise Men, or more commonly known as Día de los Reyes Magos, which is January 6. That’s the day all the children in Spain get their presents. Santa Clause doesn’t bring them gifts, the Three Wise Men do. So I got to spend it with Alejandra and her mother which was really low-key and nice. We played games and sat around eating and drinking Coca-Cola all day. I was glad to be able to just do nothing for a few days because after hosting Chris and Rachel, and Oh! I almost forgot, one of Chris’s friends was with us living here too, so it was kind of a mad house because my roommates also had people staying here so it was all just super overwhelming. But escaping Madrid and sitting in the mountains of El Escorial watching it rain for three days was the perfect therapy.
So now, Rachel is gone, and Chris left this morning. It’s the first day I’ve had to just myself since I can remember. It’s sad having every one gone, I miss having them all around, but it is good to be able to just sit here and recuperate and prepare me for work that comes tomorrow.
It’s been raining a lot here in Madrid. I like the rain, but I’m really looking forward to the arrival of Spring. It doesn’t really get that cold here, which is nice, but I’m ready for the warmth. I’ve never been in Spain for the Spring, only the Fall, so I’m excited to watch Madrid as it warms up and comes back to life from the long winter.
I’m really happy here, honest. My roommates are all incredible. We get along so well and we do everything together. We are really like one big family. We all take care of each other and I just love it. It’s so much fun here, everyday is a little different and just a little more exciting. I know none of you want to hear this, but you are going to have to drag me kicking and screaming to get me to come home.
There are a lot of things I miss aside from the obvious like friends and family. For example, I would gladly bomb a country for a Chipotle burrito right about now. I heard that London just got a Chipotle, so I think I’m going to have to make a trip there very soon ;)
As for the rest, I’m reading some great novels, and I’m writing a lot, and I’m really loving every moment here. My Spanish is getting really good, I’ve finally find a good rhythm with my speaking and my vocabulary is continuously getting larger and larger. I really feel a difference in my Spanish since when I first arrived. I’m much more comfortable and confident with it. I use it all the time too, which is great. Aside from when I’m teaching English, it’s Spanish all the time.
Anyway, I’ll leave you now.
Love and miss you all back home, Merry Christmas and Happy New Years,