Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Last day in Madrid

Today is Ben and my last day in Madrid. We've said goodbye to all the wonderful friends we've made here, abandoned our apartment, and shoved everything we want to keep into four suitcases.
I feel a little defeated, Ben and my plan was to stay here for the better part of a year, but we didn't last six months. I know that my friends and family back home are just excited to see me, and I won't face any judgement, but my pride is a little damaged.
I thought this would be an appropriate time to give a pro's and con's list of what Ben and I did and didn't like about Madrid.

1. Health
I am highly allergic to dairy, which is usually more of an annoyance than a problem, but here in Spain it seriously affects my health. Restaurants are really difficult for me to eat at, servers have no idea what is in the food they serve, and are apathetic to any suffering it may cause.  About one out of every four meals I order at a Spanish restaurant comes out with some sort of obvious dairy included in the dish (cheese, yogurt,  cream...), and foods like bread, and sausage usually contain whey but servers will look at me like I'm a crazy person if I ask them to please leave them out, or check the ingredients list. My allergy makes it almost impossible for me to eat at restaurants, which takes away most of the joy of living in Spain. (Please note, I had much less trouble at upscale restaurants).
Unlike in Japan, where it was difficult to eat poorly, in Spain it is difficult to eat well. The hours grocery stores are open, are very difficult if you do not work normal working hours. Fresh foods spoil quickly, and the range of produce is limited. This makes living in Spain with a dairy allergy very expensive, and very difficult.
2. The Job
Ben and I enjoyed our jobs in Japan more days that not. We thought that working here in Madrid would be similar, just with Spanish students. Everything but the title, English Teacher, is different about the job. The hours are terrible, the wages are low, and the students are very disrespectful.
I had 25 teaching hours a week (less than what I was teaching in Japan) but I had to make a unique plan for each of those classes, so for every hour I taught, I had a minimum of 15 minutes of planning I needed to do, which brings my week up to 31 hours a week. My classes only took place in the pre-work hours, siesta hours, and after work hours, which left unpaid gaps in my day too short to go home, or do anything fun (like tour the city, or go to a park) but too long to not get bored.  I was generally out of the house, and away from Ben from 9:00-9:00 Monday through Thursday, and 9-5 on Friday. The work is hard, tiring, and tedious.
3. Dog eat dog.
Ben and I fell into too many F.O.B. situations. Our landlord charged us more than the woman living in a room twice the size of ours.The apartment became very unsafe,  our doorknob stopped working from the inside of the door, and so if the door shut while we were in the room there was nothing we could do to get out. We lost all power to our bedroom, if we tried to turn the power on there would be a pop and than a sizzling sound, and then the smell of something burning. The last straw was when our landlord tried to put in a gas heater in our apartment, it needed to be vented out a window or whole in the wall, but he vented it back into the house.  We called some friends and asked if they could take some of our bags, and were out of our apartment in less than a couple of hours. Luckily it was the night before we were headed to Paris so we just took what we had to the Airport, and slept on the floor until our flight arrived.
Two of the places agreed in the interview to pay 18 euros an hour, but when it came to the first paycheck, they paid me 12. I fought for the rest of my money, but neither of them would give me more than 15 an hour in the end, I would not have taken either of those jobs for that pay (they were very far away, and 15 and hour is low compared to what you can get private teaching).
Ben and I were frequently asked to break laws here. I do not want to break laws in a foreign country, if anything were to impede my ability to travel, it would be devastating to me. 

1. Friends
Ben and I had a wonderful base of friends, both Spanish and foreign. It is really easy to make friends here, Spaniards are sociable, and always willing to expand their group of friends. Any night we went out, we could meet people, have an interesting evening, and exchange numbers/emails at the end of the evening. We were never lonely here, and will miss the social ease that we experienced here. Even when we first arrived, and Ben spoke no Spanish, he had no trouble finding Spaniards to shoot the shit with.
2. Architecture (art)
I love the architecture here, thought was put into it, and there is a continuity throughout the city that makes it feel like it has its own spirit. It is so easy to walk through history here. You can see paintings, architecture, gardens, for free if you plan your day well. Ben and I loved it when we had time off, and could just walk about the city, taking in all the details.
3. Weather
It's sunny almost everyday here. Even on a cold day, you can enjoy the sun. So far, winter hasn't been bad, not all that cold. Summer, though hot, wasn't miserable, if you had air conditioning in your apartment, it would be a perfect place.

Ben and I are excited for the next chapter of our lives. We have some hard work ahead of us, but if all goes well, we'll have much to be proud about.
(P.S. There will be more posts about France, Granada, Galicia, and all the other places we have visited in the last month coming soon.)

Monday, November 18, 2013

The trash strike is over!

For two weeks, the garbage collectors of Madrid have been on strike. If any group could effectively hold a city ransom, they are it. The city is disgusting, though not as bad as it was at it's worst.

I am so relieved that the strike is over. The mental battle, of weather I would rather hole up in my apartment, or tip toe around the mounds of trash is over.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Park Guell

My favorite place we visited in Barcelona was Park G├╝ell. Gaudi masterfully added his own touch to the mountain side in a way that makes you question what was designed by nature, and what by man. The love Gaudi must have had for Barcelona resonates through the park.
Here are my pictures of the park.

Sagrada Familia

Friday, November 8, 2013

Sagrada Familia - Barcelona

The Sagrada Familia, is a magnificent church, designed by Gaudi. It is not yet complete, and has been in progress for over one hundred years. I hope that I live long enough to see it complete, but even in it's current state, it is a must see if you go to Barcelona.
Most churches and cathedrals have an inherent stuffy feeling to them. Gaudi, has built a church that looks as though it was built by the heavens and earth. The exterior looks organic, as though a forest had decided against random chaos, and all teamed together to make something magnificent.
The interior is bright and cheerful, the high ceilings, and the superb use of stained glass give the interior a ethereal, heavenly feel. Instead of created images with the stained glass, he has themed the windows by color, this creates stunning swatches of color within the church.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


Ben and I are with his family in Barcelona this weekend. This city is beautiful, I wish we had a bit more time here, but am very grateful that we get this amazing three day weekend to meander it's streets.
Here are some of our random city scape pictures.

Our hotel here!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Ben's Birthday!

So Ben's birthday is next weekend (hint hint) but we decided to celebrate it this weekend with our friends! We had an incredible time, and my dear Ben was spoiled rotten.
We started the weekend out with the Madrid vs. Barca, match on Saturday, where Ben was treated to plenty of delicious whiskey at an Irish pub, here in Madrid. Whiskey puts Ben in a happy place, so he was more than content to continue the night, with tapas, at an Argentinian restaurant near home. The steak there was the best we have had here in Madrid, and the staff was friendly, which made it a perfect restaurant.  Ben then got dessert, which is very rare for him, because I usually forget about the existence of dishes that come after a meal, since they usually contain dairy... luckily our friend had his back, and treated him to tiramisu at a chocolateria.
Today, we went to Parque de Atracciones, an amusement park here in Madrid. The consensus was that the ride called the Tarantula, was the most fun. It was a roller coaster, with seats that rotated (horizontally) independently of the turns and bends of the rest of the ride.
After the park today we went to our favorite sushi/ramen restaurant here in Madrid, Oishii. We ate plenty of Japanese food, and got nostalgic about the country we miss dearly. After sushi, we went Vips, to get Ben another dessert. He had pancakes with three different types of syups.
Happy birthday babe!


Friday, October 18, 2013

On the metro...

Plenty of seats open on the metro. Friday afternoon is basically the weekend, some people had half days, others won’t be off for another hour or so. My feet are tired. Wednesday I taught for twelve hours without a break. Yesterday I taught ten. It’s not ideal, but I’m in demand. That’s why I took those difficult days… I’m in demand. Doctors, engineers, scientists, asked for me by name, because I can teach them English, I can say the words and understand what part of speech their word derived from Greek or Latin is. After 5 hours of teaching English, it is nearly impossible use the language correctly any more. “Can you explain me the meaning?” I’m pretty sure that’s wrong… but I can’t for the life of me remember why, or how to correct them. I’m by metro to home. I correct this phrase half a dozen times a day, but it’s all I can think as I sit in my oddly warm plastic seat.
A man hops on the train at the last second. Damn, he has an accordion. I pause my audiobook, and roll my eyes.  Musicians seem to prefer line five, plenty of tourists use it to get to and from the city center, and tourists are much more generous. The accordionist looks around the car, only five of us. He leans against the door of the moving train, exhausted. I smile to myself, and hit play on my audiobook. The accordionist exits the car no doubt to go pester another car out of their money.
I text my friends, we were supposed to go out tonight, but Ben is sick and I want to cook him some chicken soup. Luckily someone else already suggested we change the plan, so I get out of it guilt free.
The train rumbles to a stop again. Only one man slinks on to the train, closing the train door behind him. Despite most of the seats being empty, he sits next to me, tucking his belongings next to him on the floor of the train. I glance at him, uncomfortable with his choice of seats. He looks scared. I scan him and his belongings, deciding whether or not I want to change my seat. He’s the accordionist. I look out the window of the train, trying to figure out what he’s hiding from, and see a neon colored security officer scanning the cars of the train.
The whistle blows, the doors latch. The officer and the accordionist lock eyes. The officer puts his hands on his hips, pointedly stares at the musician as we slide away. The accordionist stares back at the officer, his face frozen in distress. The officer falls out of view of, as the train slips into the dark tunnels of the metro. The accordionist looks around the train, taking in the surroundings he failed to register in his moment of flight. He locks eyes with me, and I burst into laughter, uncontrollable, stich in my side laughter. The expression on his face goes from fear, to confusion, to glee, and he joins me. The other passengers on the train stare at us out of the corners of their eyes, hoping we’re not contagious.
The doors open at the next station, a flood of people cram their way onto the train. The accordionist gathers up his belongings, and prepares for his performance. He turns to face me, winks, and begins to play. He is wonderful, the adrenaline, or the outburst have enlivened him, and he plays his tunes cheerfully to a bewildered crowd.
I wipe the tears of laughter from my eyes, and pick up my belongings. The train pulls into my station, and I smile as I walk the short distance home.