Saturday, January 24, 2009

Welcome to the Big City...

Well, I was officially inaugurated into the big city today with the experience of having my purse stolen.

Yes, folks, that's right. The entire gosh-darned purse and everything in it. Gone.

My friend Cassie and I were eating lunch and I had set my purse down on the floor by my foot. Now, I know we've been told not to do this, but the restaurant was practically empty and the small-town girl must have come out in me. At any rate, that's where it was. So Cassie and I were eating and this man came up to us to ask us about where the nearest metro station was. Apparently there was a second man behind me (though I never saw him and Cassie only caught a glimpse of him) who must have swiped my bag while we were talking to the first man. Neither of us saw it happen. There was a mother-daughter couple (from Madrid) who were seated near us. They saw both men and though they didn't see it happen either, they were fairly sure that was what happened. It did make me feel better to see that up until this happened, the daughter had had her purse on the floor too.

At any rate, as you can imagine I started freaking out. Here I am, 20 years old, and all I could think was, "I want my mommy, RIGHT NOW!" Luckily, Cassie was able to tell me what I needed to do. If it were not for her, I would probably still be standing there in the middle of the restaurant wondering what to do. Cassie was able to get me back to my apartment, where I was then able to find the number for my bank and call them to get my credit cards canceled. She also went with me to the police station to file a report. I told her that next time we are out - be it at a bar, restaurant, or the world's most expensive shoe store - that anything she wants is hers. I owe BIG TIME for helping me. I know this wasn't how either of us planned to spend our day.

At this point in time, I am still waiting for Visa to call me back so that we can set up a time for them to deliver my emergency replacement card. Chuck, our program director, is supposed to call me tonight to tell me what to do in regards to the ID and medical insurance cards that were issued to us through the program. When I get back to the states I will have to get a new driver's license. Momma went out this afternoon to get me a new camera (I guess Circuit City is closing and so everything is incredibly cheap) and she will mail that and a new flash drive, which was on my keyring, to me ASAP. Carmen is going to see what needs to be done as far as keys and new locks for the apartment go. As soon as I get my replacement credit card, I have to go out and buy a new purse and wallet and metro pass. Fortunately, I had left my passport and 50 euro in my desk drawer, so I still have my most important form of ID and a little bit of emergency cash.

In case you were wondering, this was not a fun experience. In fact, it sucked.

I, however, am back to breathing like a normal human being and my heart has stopped beating quite so rapidly, which tells me that the worst is over. Now it's all down to basic paperwork.

Also, I'm exhausted but cannot go take a siesta until Visa calls me back. Agh.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Work, Classes and Other Official Business

Alright, so I know that several of my blog-followers have been asking me about classes. Yes, I am indeed taking classes and not just sight-seeing, though the program allows plenty of traveling and sight-seeing time for us by having classes only Monday through Thursday, giving us three-day weekends almost every week (I say almost because we have class on one Friday to make up for classes we will miss when we go as a group to Barcelona for three days).

As far as what I'm taking, my schedule is as follows:
~Art in the Prado Museum: I have this class 2 days a week; every Monday morning we are in the classroom and almost every Tuesday afternoon we meet in the Prado museum so that we can actually see the things that we are learning about. This is somewhat of an art history course that will focus on Goya, Velazquez and El Greco, the three most important Spanish artists on display in the Prado (Picasso's famous "Guernica" is housed in the Reina Sofia, which is dedicated solely to contemporary art). I think I will do ok in this class (which shouldn't be a huge amount of work) so long as we stick to history and avoid a lot of actually artistic technique stuff. Aye.
~Spanish Culture and Civilization:This class also meets 2 days a week and is the class that will require the most work. We have two group projects, a midterm and final exam, two short papers, an oral presentation and we are required to go to at least one Spanish movie and *maybe* a theatre production as well, though I'm a little fuzzy on that one. The projects should be interesting - one is about a street in Madrid, the other is about a specific topic with ours (I got a good partner for both) being gastronomy and the Mediterranean diet - though they require us to go out and talk to random Spanish people. We'll see how that goes.
~Studies in Cultural History: This class meets one day a week and is basically a Spanish history class, focusing on the end of the 19th century through the end of the Spanish Civil War. We have 3 teachers: one who will teach the majority of the classes and does the history stuff, another who will do 2 classes on art and another who will do 3 classes on literature. We have 3 papers (one on each of the topics), but no tests and one of the papers can be in English while another is only 2 pages.
~Inventing Spain:This class meets 2 days a week and is taught by Chuck, the IWU professor leading our program (all IWU students here are required to take this course). We are basically talking about the formation of Spanish identity since the end of the Franco dictatorship. This class is pretty much as easy as they come - we are required to keep a journal, which I'm already doing, and at one point we have to do a short interview with a native Spaniard and write about it in our journal as well as read this novel-like textbook. Chuck isn't even sure if he is going to do any tests. Hallelujah. I should still learn quite a lot here, though.

While here, I have the opportunity to teach English to Spanish children (they say children, though the age range can be quite wide). I started doing this this evening; I am teaching for a family with 3 kids: Fernando, 18, Mónica, 14 this Wednesday, and Marta, 11 this Friday. Fernando is getting ready to go to university to study to become an industrial engineer and is in the midst of preparing for what are pretty much the Spanish equivalent of the ACT or SAT, so I will not be working with him until those are over in another month or so. For now I go on Mondays at 6pm for an hour and a half - 45 minutes each with Mónica and Marta. When I start working with Fernando I will work with him for an hour on top of that. I get paid 12 euro an hour (you can figure out the exchange rate), so I´ll be taking home a minimum of 18 euro a week, which is pretty darn good considering pretty much all I have to do is talk to them in English. I think that next week the mother, also Mónica, is going to give me a list of objectives that she would like me to try to meet with each girl. The mother is very nice and the girls are extremely sweet; Mónica and I spent her time talking about everything in Spain and Madrid that she says I absolutely have to do. She has already told me that I have to go shopping with her. Marta´s English level is a fair amount lower so it is a little harder to get her to speak in only English. She has this collection of printed Kleenex (apparently these are big here? She has all sorts of them, from ones with cartoon characters printed on them to ones for specific holidays) and she gave me some of them at the end of the time today. I certainly didn´t expect to be putting Kleenex in my Spain scrapbook, but it was super sweet.

SO! Now no one can say that they don´t know about the more official aspects of my life here in Spain...=)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

I'm in love.

Today was the day that I became enamored with this city. I hadn't really gotten a chance to do much exploring of the city outside of my own neighborhood up to this point, so I decided to explore some of the Puerta del Sol and the Plaza Mayor today. These are two of the most important places in the city as they are pretty much smack dab in the middle and are surrounded by shops and restaurants.

Upon arriving by metro in the Puerta del Sol, I decided I was hungry and needed some lunch with which to start my adventure. After ambling down the street a ways, I ended up in the Plaza Mayor where I found a little restaurant called Museo del Jamón - literally, the Ham Museum. I ended up getting a combo platter with fried eggs (they eat a lot of eggs here and their usually fried/over easy. My favorite), some of the best ham I've ever had (it was a dried, cured ham I believe), french fries (great for sopping up the egg yolk), a little salad and these AMAZING croquettes - probably my favorite thing I've eaten here so far. I sat at the bar (always cheaper), so I got all of this for 5.40 euro.

After filling my tummy I went for a stroll around the Plaza Mayor. Never in my life have I seen so many restaurants. It's incredible. There were a ton of people out, and many of them were taking pictures, so I didn't feel so stupidly touristy taking pictures myself. There was quite a variety of street-performers and those people who stand there on a platform dressed up as something creepy all day long. I took pictures of them but refused to come within 20 feet of them because, of course, they scared the crap out of me. There was one dude who was covered in plastic fruit. I wanted to take his picture, but just as I was getting ready to he waved at me, which freaked me out so I ran away.

I spent quite a while just wandering up and down several of the streets. There are so many stores that it is somewhat overwhelming, but I figure I have several months to explore more thoroughly, not to mention several days with Momma and Daddy in April. I had to resist the temptation of stopping at one of the several ice cream places along the way, since ice cream seemed rather silly when it is still cool enough to be wearing a winter coat (though it has warmed up considerably and is far warmer than it is in the states). I feel that will be a necessary stop next time, though.

I bought my first Spanish newspaper today, so I should be finished reading it by the time I get home in May. Just kidding - it will probably only take me a week =). We have to have newspaper clippings for one of my classes and another teacher strongly suggests reading the paper, so I'm trying to be a good student. I'm hoping they'll have something interesting in the culture section that I can check out.

I believe it may just be time for a siesta! Imagine that...

Friday, January 16, 2009

El Escorial y el Valle de los Caidos

Today we all took an field trip (or excursion, as they call them) to a couple of rather historic places just outside of Madrid. We started our day at el Monasterio de San Lorenzo del Escorial (or just el Escorial). This absolutely enormous (truly) building was built by King Philip II after we won his first big battle as king. In order to remember this great victory and to offer thanks to God, he had this part basilica, part monastery, part college, part library, part palace, part royal tomb built. This place was incredibly massive and probably the coldest building I have ever been in - it would be quite possible to get lost in there and still be trying to find your way out several days later and nearly all of the rooms were several degrees colder than it was outside (which I endured by telling myself that it was still warmer than it was back home =)). Continuing...

A most interesting fact-that-sounds-made-up-but-isn't about El Escorial is that the floor plan is in the shape of a grid, or grill, because King Philip was a major wierdo and had this obsession with martyr's and his favorite martyr, San Lorenzo, was cooked to death on a grill. True story. Also, there was a huge, shiny room (why won´t they let me take any pictures of the shiny things??) where the kings from Philip up to today are buried. The queens that produced a future king are also buried there. The odd thing was that the coffins were noticeably shorter than the average person (even for several hundred years ago), which was puzzling until we were told that the bodies are left out to dry for several years before they are put into these coffins. Lovely mental image associated with that one.

After lunch at a place claiming to have the best tapas (we didn't have any, although they did have really good sandwiches) and using the world's sketchiest bathroom at the bus station a couple of hours later, we were off to the Valle de los Caidos - Valley of the Fallen. This is a huge (there's no way I can describe to you how big this place was) basilica built into the mountains by Franco as a monument to those that died during the Spanish Civil War. At this point, however, Franco was in power (as he remained until his death in 1975), so this was really only a monument for his supporters. Usually churches and cathedrals evoke a sense of awe and majesty, yet seeing Jesus depicted in this building that Franco basically built as a monument to his own power was almost sacrilegious, especially given that both Franco and one of his biggest supporters are buried there. Basically, this place was totally creepy and we were quite glad to leave, though the view just outside was quite beautiful (once again, completely out of place with the building behind it).

I'm hoping to spend the weekend checking out the city a bit, since at this point I haven't really had a chance to wander much outside of my neighborhood. I feel a trip to El Rastro, this huge flea market held every Sunday morning, may be in order.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

La Vida Cotidiana - Daily Life in Madrid

So now that I've been here about a week, I've begun to notice a few things about daily life here that you in the states may find interesting.

1. Everything here is miniature-sized. The streets are narrower, the cars are smaller, the apartments are smaller...everything. My first real personal experience with this was in getting on the elevator in the apartment building (we live on the 6th floor) the first night. To use the elevator, you push a button that says "Ocupado" (busy), which will blink until the elevator arrives and then stays lit. You then have to open this door, which swings out toward you, and then a pair of small doors that open into the elevator. The elevator itself is approximately a 3-foot square, so these doors opening in cause quite an issue when you are trying to get more than one person into this box (although one morning we fit 3 of us along with my carry-on suitcase. It was quite the tight squeeze.) I have put a picture in here, though I doubt that you can get the full effect of how small this thing really is.

2. They really don't like bare feet. While in Toledo, we stayed at the Fundación building there - they had dorm-like suites, so mine was myself and another girl, each with our own room and a shared bathroom. One night Jenna forgot her keys in her room while she was showering, and since the doors locked behind you automatically, she was stuck in her towel. I offered to go downstairs and find someone to let her into her room, only I had just taken a shower myself and, without thinking about it, went out in my bare feet. This would not have been a big deal back home, but one of the directors made sure to lecture me about it. Jenna was glad I´d gone down to get someone because, as she pointed out, if they freaked out about my bare feet they would have lost their minds over her just being in her towel...

3. Living with a 14-year-old boy is most interesting. Having never really been around a boy of that age, I´m learning quite a bit. Just now, for example, he came into my room, plopped down on the bed and started talking to me (this happens frequently). Tonight the topic, among other things, was guns. Carmen was in her room on the phone, so he told me to follow him and showed me the BB gun that he bought but hides from his mother because she wouldn´t like it. She came out of her room while he was showing me so I had to pull a diversion tactic while he hid it again. I´m actually probably learning the most Spanish from him because he not only talks about completely random things with me (like BB guns) but also because he talks much faster than Carmen does (at least to me), so I have to pay much more attention. He´s a good kid though and we´re getting along quite well, though it´s interesting to hear his opinion on certain topics. The picture I´ve included is of the snowman he made when they got their huge snow (of 4 inches).

4. I love this country, if only for the amount of carbs they consume. It´s rare here not to have bread with a meal, and you know I´m all about that!! There´s this great bakery just down the street from the apartment where I buy bread for my lunch sandwiches every couple of days. Ohhh that is my new favorite place. Also, they eat a LOT of oranges. I had eaten more oranges just in my first 3 days here than I´d probably had during the rest of my life combined. We´re all getting used to smelling like oranges all the time, which is far preferable to smelling like smoke, which is generally the alternative. Carmen does smoke, but only a few times a day at most and she shuts herself up either in her room or the bathroom to do so. The problem with that being, however, that once she leaves that room smells like smoke for a good half an hour at least. I´m getting used to it though and I know that it could be worse. Apparently something like half of the doctors here smoke, which we find weird but they find completely normal.

5. They don´t seem to make shoes for people with big feet. I discovered upon arriving here that if I really wanted to fit in I needed a pair of black boots (which broke my heart, you know), only I had the worst time finding some to fit my big feet! I ended up finding a pair at this really fantastic leather store that is on the way to my metro stop. Also, the sale season here literally lasts from the beginning of January until the middle of March. How lucky was I to arrive now?

Friday we are all taking a field trip to El Escorial (this castle-y thing, I think - perhaps I should read that information they gave us about it) and El Valle de los Caidos - The Valley of the Fallen. This is a monument that Franco had built for those that died during the Spanish civil war, only because Franco built it it really only contains names of people he wanted it to contain. Highly controversial.

Also, I just booked tickets to go with a group of girls to Paris the 12-14 of February, making sure to actually leave on Valentine´s Day so as not to depress ourselves too much...

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Toledo and Stephie´s First Excursion in the Big City

So after arriving in Madrid on Wednesday night, we packed our bags and headed to Toledo, about an hour bus ride south of Madrid, early the next morning for a 3-day orientation.

Carmen and Elihu went with me on the metro to the Fundación, where we were all meeting. I was incredibly relieved to have them with me - I´ve barely ridden a school bus, much less navigated a subway system. At one point there were more people on the one metro car than in all of Metamora. That just about gave me a heart attack...

The moment we arrived in Toledo I knew I loved it - it was like something out of a storybook, with cobblestone streets that all go up or downhill (the women there must have great legs) and plenty of beautiful stone buildings and gorgeous views. And it was completely lacking the immense hustle and bustle of Madrid that had completely freaked me out two hours earlier! ¡Qué perfecto!

That afternoon we visited the cathedral in Toledo. Though it is not the biggest cathedral in Spain, it is apparently the most important. It was beautiful, though they didn´t allow pictures. Lots of pretty shiny things and freezing cold marble. And dead bishops under the floor, with their hats (or whatever they are called) hanging from the ceiling above them. Most interesting.

That night a small group of us went out in search of a somewhat tranquil bar to sit down and get some tapas, perhaps have a drink, and succeeded mostly (ok, entirely) in getting ourselves lost for an hour. This probably had something to do with the fact that we asked for a suggestion of where to go at the reception desk of the Fundación building in Toledo and the nice man proceeded to give us directions along the lines of, ¨Take this street out here, it´ll go down a little, turn to the left, that street will go down a little, turn right, that street will go up, it should be to the left but I can´t remember the name.¨ Most helpful since every single street goes up, down, or a combo of the two. We did eventually find our way back, however, much to my relief.

The next day, Friday, we spent the afternoon taking tours of several buildings. We started at the Sephardic Museum, originally a synagogue. Toledo is known for have three main cultures (Jewish, Christian, and Islamic) and for having been a place where at one time these three cultures lived together peacefully, so this museum and synagogue was an important place for us to visit. We then made our way to a small church were El Greco´s ¨El Entierro del Conde de Orgaz¨ (The Burial of the Count of Orgaz), one of his most important paintings, is housed. Then we trekked over to the Monastery of San Juan of the Kings. This place was built by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella with the intent that they be buried there when they died. As such, much of the carving inside of the building is dedicated to them - including the royal family crest and F´s (for Ferdinand) and Y´s (for Isabella) all over the place. Ironically enough, however, they didn´t end up getting buried there at all. Guess that´s what happens when you build a church in your own honor...

Meanwhile, in Madrid, it was snowing more than it has in something like 30 years - they ended up with at least four inches of snow and everything was closed down, causing us to wonder if we would be able to get back today. We did, luckily, and I was able to successfully take the metro back to my house, by myself, without any problems! (This was after much studying of the maps of both the city and the metro). I needed to pick up a few things - shampoo, notebooks for my classes, etc. - so Carmen told me to go to El Corte Inglés, which is basically like a big chain of about a million types of stores. There is one just a few blocks from the apartment and you can get almost everything there. The salesladies were extremely nice and very helpful to this ignorant American (my new favorite method of approaching natives is to start everything with ¨Por favor¨). I was even able to pick up a watch so I would finally know what time it was! Amazing! I was rather dismayed, however, to discover that contact solution, though a rather large bottle, was going to cost me 16 euro (over $20). What could I do - I need to see!

On my way back to the apartment I was incredibly elated to discover a Sephora store right next to my metro stop! ¡Qué buena suerte! My excitement was quickly dissolved, however, when I immediately realized that I had lost my only map of Madrid! ¡Qué mala suerte! I remembered having it at the watch counter in the store, however, so I hightailed it back there and, praise be to the Jesus, there it was! ¡Qué buena suerte!

Classes start on Monday and tomorrow is a free day. Perhaps some exploring of the city is in order. We shall see.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas (Metamora) anymore...

And indeed I'm not in Metamora anymore. I'm certainly not in the states anymore, though it appears that certain things are common worldwide (more on that in a moment).

I left home on Tuesday around noon, got to O'hare around 4:30 pm and our flight boarded (on time, shockingly) at 9:00-ish pm. There was some ice on the plane and some snow on the runways, however, so we were delayed slightly actually getting in the air. This would not have been an issue except that we were scheduled to fly into London Heathrow with barely enough time to spare to catch our connecting flight to Madrid. This delay on the runway meant that we were going to miss that plane - luckily, someone was with-it enough to ask about it and the airline rebooked us for a flight that left at 2:25 pm - which gave us plenty of time to get through security and what-not after landing at noon. Very handy.

Funny security anecdote: Apparently my friend Geoff had packed a ceramic tile from his hometown of Detroit for his señora - he just happened to pack it in his carry on with all of his computer cables, so it came up on the screen as this big mass with a bunch of wires circling it. Needless to say, they searched his bag pretty thoroughly. Apparently getting searched by security is not infrequent for him (he flies quite a bit) - perhaps he appears sketchy? Anyway, he made sure to switch the tile to his other carry-on bag for London security and made it through fine.

So after arriving in Madrid around 5:45 pm, we made our way to the baggage claim where (praise be to the Jesus!) I was able to get both of my suitcases. We then found Chuck, our director of the program (and what a wonderful face to see after such a long day!), and climbed aboard a bus to head to the Fundación, the school were we will be taking classes, to meet our señoras. I am living with a woman named Carmen, who is (I would guess) in her late 30's/early 40's, though I'm terrible with guessing ages. She came to pick me up with the person I assumed to be her boyfriend, Elihu. He is from and lives in Mexico, so that relationship is still rather vague to me. Carmen has a 14-year-old son, Alex, who appeared for about 5 seconds and then disappeared again. They also have a cat, Sol ("Sun"), who is super sweet and the only thing I've taken a picture of so far.

So after unpacking my things and then repacking a bag to take with me for our orientation in Toledo (we leave tomorrow morning and come back Saturday morning), Carmen made a simple but delicious dinner (the dinners here are more the size of our lunch, with lunch being their big meal of the day) of omlette and a creamy soup made from zucchini, potatoes and onions. She fed us a traditional Spanish dessert that is popular around Christmas-time that was much like an almond fudge (delicious! Though I can't remember what she called it) and oranges. She's a great cook so I don't think we have to worry about me not eating well while I'm here...

Also, the taxi drivers here are as insane as they are in the states. Some things never change, no matter where you go...

I'm exhausted. I can't tell you the last time I got a full-night's's to hoping for tonight! Toledo in the morning!

¡Abrazos y besos de Madrid! (Hugs and kisses from Madrid!)

Monday, January 5, 2009

Tomorrow, tomorrow...

Yep, that's right. My flight leaves at 9:45 pm tomorrow night. I'm not sure how that snuck up on me, but here it is. I should sleep well on the plane, though, considering that I haven't been sleeping well at night (I wake up in the middle of the night panicking, thinking of things I seem to have forgotten to do) and have been running around like a chicken with my head chopped off packing (even after packing both of my bags the meaning of the phrase "pack light" continues to elude me).

At any rate, I recieved the info about my homestay today, which I considered to be a good thing since I'll be meeting my señora in about a day and a half. It appears that my home will be just a short metro ride from the school or a 25 minute walk, though Google could not guarantee that the route they suggested actually contained any sidewalks so that could be fairly treacherous. I will post my address at the end of this - I'd love letters or other mail full of love from home! I promise you'll recieve a postcard in return!

I'll be living at:
Blasco de Garay 19, 6º B
28015 Madrid, Spain

Goal for the evening: Actually sleep. We'll see.