Getting to Know Madrid

Olivia Young in Spain

On a sunny street in Ronda, Spain.

“¡Chicas! ¡Perdona! ¡CHICAAAAAAS!”

We turned, ready to fend off yet another “Compro Oro” guy or an especially aggressive club promoter. I discovered instead a flustered, apron-clad barista hurtling down the street in our general direction, screaming as loudly as she could.

Once she caught up to us, she explained that we’d committed an unforgivable offense: We’d left the café with our half-full (glass) water bottles and carried them into the street. (“Es que esto no se puede hacer! Lo siento chicas!”)

I told her we’d give them back, but we wanted to drink the water first. (I also gave her a little culture lesson about how, in the U.S., when you order anything at a restaurant it’s basically yours to keep. Just so she knew where the confusion came from.) She was surprisingly nice and waited patiently for us to chug the water. After a few more lo sientos, we returned the bottles and went our separate ways.

I’ve been in Spain for two weeks now, and, like the Great Bottle Misunderstanding of 2013, it all feels a bit surreal. The time has gone both extremely fast and incredibly slow; most days I’m so busy that I can’t process the fact that this is my life now. I have to consciously run through the facts to really feel the gravity of the changes I’m going through: I live here. I have an apartment. I have a metro pass. I have a Spanish cell phone. I even have Spanish shampoo and conditioner. (Okay, it’s Garnier, but the label is in Spanish.)

Tarjeta Transportes Abono Joven

My metro card, a.k.a. “Abono Jóven.” Since I’m under 23, I only pay 35 euros each month for unlimited rides on all transport.

I thought I’d feel a weird mix of excitement and crushing doubts — á la “Oh my God what am I doing with my life” — but I haven’t experienced either of those. I think it helps that Spanish has been coming back to me pretty easily and I can communicate really well. In the name of being realistic, though, I expect I’ll experience some major culture shock in the near future.

I’m so happy to be here, especially after all the planning and visa stress. But it doesn’t feel new. It feels normal, and that’s the strangest part. Even though two years have passed since I left Spain, I feel like I’ve slipped back into the same life I used to live. (That was corny and sentimental, and I promise I’ll stop now.)

A lot of things are different than my semester abroad, of course. I’m making a whole new group of friends. I’m definitely more independent. I’ll be starting work next week. I have to buy cleaning supplies and do laundry and figure out how to use the Spanish oven and washing machine. (And trust me, you think you’re pretty smart until you try to use a washing machine in another country.)

My only complaint is the crazy heat. It’s still about 90 degrees outside, even though it’s almost October. And we don’t have air conditioning. And I barely brought any summer clothes. It’s supposed to cool down to the mid-70s this weekend, gracias a Díos.

Plaza Puerta del Sol in Madrid

A shot of Sol, one of Madrid’s popular plazas.

It’s funny, though: As comfortable as I feel here, Madrid is significantly different than Alicante. I expected a lot of my existing Spanish culture knowledge to apply here, but I somehow forgot that Madrid is a huge city. It’s refreshing that many places stay open between 2 and 5 p.m. here, and I love that I can buy or eat almost anything that I want, including fresh milk and American groceries (although most foreign items come at a huge cost). Things here also run (more) on schedule, which is like heaven for my Type-A self.

In other news, I found a beautiful four-bed piso (apartment) in a neighborhood near Atocha, the main train station. We have a terrace and a huge kitchen, and we’re just a block from the metro stop, which means we’re really well connected with the city center. We could even walk there in 20 minutes if we wanted. I have three roommates: Katie is American, and we’ve been planning to live together since earlier this summer. Irene is Spanish, from Zaragoza, and Celine was born in Mozambique and grew up in France. They both speak multiple languages, including English and Spanish, so we speak a mix of both in the house.

Travels Untranslated Habitación en Madrid

My new room in Madrid.

My mom flew over with me and we spent the first few days apartment hunting — a stressful process which will be getting its own post sometime soon. Once I got settled in my piso, we headed down to Ronda for a couple days. Ronda is a gorgeous city in Andalucía, and it was built on a gorge for protection against any potential enemies. We also spent a day in Toledo, which is about 30 minutes from Madrid. We loved both places and had a wonderful trip and saw a lot of different things. It was sad (like shedding a few tears in the airport sad) to see her go on Sunday, but it was so nice to have her with me as I ran errands and started building my new life here.

I start classes next week and the weight of that is hitting me now. (Since, you know, I’ve never taught anything before.) I’ll be posting more regularly now that I’m settled, and I clearly have a lot of catching up to do! Hasta luego!

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5 thoughts on “Getting to Know Madrid

    • Thanks so much! The first week was a bit hectic (classroom discipline/expectations are different here) but the teachers and staff were all very welcoming.

      I’ll have to brush up on my British English, though, because that’s what they teach! It’s pretty funny coming from a writer’s/editor’s perspective. They say “Have you got a _________?” and “Yes I have/No I haven’t” instead of “Do you have a _________?”

  1. Olivia! Ah, this is really exciting, it brings me back to two summers ago when I lived in Torrejon de Ardoz with my family, and commuted to Madrid daily via the bus and metro to take courses at La Universidad Nebrija. Thanks for sharing this great stuff, it sounds like a blast! Seeing your metro pass made me remember mine, I still have it on my wall!

  2. Pingback: The Concise Spain Survival Guide | Travels Untranslated

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