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.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Happy Weekend

Ben and I had a wonderful weekend.
Friday night we had a dinner party, it was nice having people in my home, eating my food, and laughing at each other's stories.
Saturday, We went hiking for about four hours during the day in Casa de Campo. I went shopping with a friend. And, we went to a birthday party, where we ate delicious food, laughed in someone else's house, and spoke in Spanish.
Today, Ben and I went out to lunch for a delicious Menu del Dia in Opera, went shopping (for sweaters), and cooked way too much lentil soup (I accidently made more than 6 quarts...). We took some over to a friend of ours, and spoke Spanish again, and Ben got to eat some amazing cake.
We have a good life!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Casa de Campo

Cities are loud! The noise is often overwhelming, and after an extended period, I start to feel agitated by the never ending hustle of the city.
Luckily for me, Madrid has wonderful parks. Ben and I try to go to a park at least once a week, and today we finally made it to the biggest park, Casa de Campo. The park is over six square miles and is a great place to spend a day hiking.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Set Schedule

I finally have my schedule set, no more job interviews!
I am working 29 hours a week, which is quite a lot for an English teacher here, considering that those hours do not include planning time, or travel. I think I've done really well in planing my schedules, I never have to travel more than 3 times in a day, including getting to and from my apartment. In total I will be spending six hours a week in transit.
Financially this is fantastic, Ben and I could live off my paycheck alone, anything he makes will just be fun money. I'm glad I could take the pressure off Ben. He is applying for grad school, and I want to make sure he has enough time, money, and energy to do everything he needs.
I feel incredibly relieved that I don't need to look for more work. Now, my free time is mine to do what I want. Ben is hoping to work about 20 hours a week, and so far has 13 of those hours, the game is rigged against him though, he doesn't speak enough Spanish to work in the really small companies, he is a man (students can specify what gender they would prefer the teacher to be), and he doesn't have as many years of experience with children as I do (thanks mom and dad!). I'm not worried, places are still hiring, I just want him to stop feeling guilty.

Monday, October 7, 2013


If you had a time machine, would you rather go forward in time, or backward? After two months in time, my definitive answer is forward. I know I would not be able to stomach the odors of the past.

Madrid is smelly, the trash is smelly, the streets are smelly, the people are smelly, I expected this before I came, but I was not prepared for the reality.
The trash in Madrid is no smellier than most countries, the problem is it is more exposed than other countries. There are no back allies in Madrid, only courtyards, and exposed streets. Restaurant trash is taken out daily, which means the trash bins are left out on the street over night. In the evenings the wonderful aromas of Spanish cuisine out compete the scent of trash, but during the day, the smell of trash is inescapable.
If your out and about at night, where can you find a bathroom? According to the locals, anywhere out of sight of the cops. If you are walking about Madrid between 4:00-10:00 in the morning, the smell of urine is inescapable. If you look closely at the highly graffitied walls, you'll notice streaks of urine interspersed. I could be wrong, but I'm fairly certain Madrid's only attempt at removing graffiti is by the locals pissing on it.
I spent most of the last year in a country of people with no body odor. Japan is remarkably odor free, and so Spain is a shock to the system. Not every Spaniard smells bad, but it's not just people who don't have access to showers that are an issue here. Businessmen, high fashion women, and all sorts of professionals smell as bad as the drunken drifter passed out on the metro. In America, this would be considered unprofessional, and would make it more difficult to socialize, but here no-one seems to bat an eye. One of my classes of teenagers smells so bad it makes my eyes water, and my stomach churn when I am stuck in a class with them with no windows.
Worse than body odor are the people with halitosis. Luckily this isn't as common as body odor, but this smell actually makes me gag. I would say about one person out of every hundred has halitosis. The Spanish diet is the perfect cocktail for bad breath, lots of breads, lots of meat, and coffee. Bad breath is much more common here, but on some people it is overwhelming. People with persistent halitosis not only have bad breath, their clothes become saturated with the smell of stale halitosis.

Spain is my limit, I could not handle worse smells (and sometimes I can't even handle it here). I am certain that it smelled much worse in the past, before toothpaste, before deodorant, before daily showers were the norm, before daily trash pickup, or before plumbing.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Reina Sofia

Ben and I went to the free hours for the Reina Sofia Museum of Art today. It features modern art, and has pieces by both Dali and Picasso. I'm quite hit or miss when it comes to modern art, I enjoy cubism (but not much of Picasso), Van Gough (though not his super morbid stuff), some Abstractism, Supremitism (especially from Russia), and a few painters here and there outside of those genres, but for the most part, I find modern art tedious.

The exhibits of Reina Sofia were not tedious, they were upsetting. I felt like I was trapped in a horror movie, and felt nervous and agitated most of the time I was there. I'm not sure why modern art films feature static, shaky cameras, and unfocused lenses so often, it's not creative, it's poor quality. The obnoxious noises of "modern art" were inescapable throughout the museum.

The museum was hard to navigate, We couldn't find the exhibits we wanted to see, and got lost in dark rooms with flickering lights. There were many small rooms separated by huge empty spaces. The museum felt like a factory. I'm glad I didn't pay for the museum, it was an interesting two hours of my life, but not worth a cent.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Job Interview in Spanish

It's hard to tell how quickly you are learning a language, while immersed in it. Sometimes it feels like you are a sponge absorbing knowledge at an alarming rate. Other times, it feels like there is no possible way you could be learning less.
When I first got to Spain, I had no idea how to order food, what I was looking at on the menus, and could barely communicate on even a basic level.
Today, I aced a job interview in Spanish! I didn't use a word of English, the interviewer didn't speak any English. The interview was for a position as an English teacher, so they are very used to people who speak Spanish as a second language, but I negotiated a contract, talked about my experience in Japan, and even made a joke.
I love learning Spanish, compared to Japanese, it is incredibly easy. The grammar makes sense, the writing system makes sense, and there are many cognates between English and Spanish.
I am nowhere near fluent in Spanish. But, I am coming up on conversational, at the moment, I am able to hold a basic conversation with anyone with some patience... and that feels good!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


For the most part, I am recovered from my run in with the train, all I have now is a greenish tint that runs up and down my shin, and a blue bruise around my knee. It no longer hurts to walk, the only problems now are random charley horses in my foot, and intense pain pain if bump my shin into anything. The first couple of days I could barely walk. I spent those days napping, watching TV (until our internet went out), and being spoiled with chocolate and tea by Ben.
The adrenaline messed with me as much as the injury did. I felt nauseous all the day after I got hurt, and have been having awful nightmares. I haven't seen much of Spain these last few days. There's a special kind of home sickness when your injured or sick, it more than just missing home. When I was sick as a kid, I got the day off of going to school, I had no worries, my dad made me soup, and I got to watch TV all day. I didn't have to worry about anything, and I got doted on more than I could even handle. Now I still have to go to work, reply to emails, reassure my family that I am alive and healing...
I will be a full fledged grownup again... tomorrow.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Don't Run for the Trains

Today was a rough day. I had a lot of errands to run in every corner of the city. Nothing went the way I had planned either. I needed to go make photocopies at work for my classes on Tuesday, but the office was closed when I got there. I had a job interview, and even though they liked me, they weren't hiring non-E.U. citizens. I forgot my water bottle, and was really dehydrated. In total I had spent four hours of my day commuting, and accomplished nothing.
I was in Nuevos Minesterios at the end of my last task of the day, which is just one train stop away from Sol (one of the stations near my apartment). It's only a 3 minute train ride, but the train comes every 10 minutes, so when I saw that the train was in the station while I was still on the escalator, I ran for it. My cheapo shoes had no grip, it was difficult to gain any momentum, I was less than a meter from the door, when BAM the doors slammed shut. The traction of my shoes didn't work any better when trying to stop, and I slid smack into the train, and my leg fell down into the crack between the train and the platform. I tried to get my leg out, knowing that the train would pull away at any moment, but I was stuck. A man grabbed me around my torso, and yanked me, freeing my leg from its trap. A buzzer sounded, and the train doors flew open again. Security officers were running towards me, and the people on the car I had just slammed into were screaming. All I could register were the hands of the man who had helped me around my waist, they were now steadying me so I could stand on my own.
The man who had just helped me, gently put his hand on my back, and guided me onto the train, the man sitting in the seat closest to the door, stood up letting me take a seat. The train felt deafeningly silent. I didn't know which man had helped me, I had forgotten to look at his face, all I had seen were his hands. I said thank you, to everyone around me, I hope the person who helped me knew I meant him as well. When I got to Sol, I exited the train, and headed back to my apartment, I was very dazed, and the walk home felt surreal.
My roommate saw me as I walked in the door, and asked what had happened. I hadn't looked at my leg yet, so I hadn't noticed that two yellow bruises had formed, and a trail of blood was forming down my shin. She's a nurse, so before I could reply, she ran to her room and got the necessary things to clean the scrapes. I was still staring at my leg when she came back, and as I tried to explain what had just happened, I started to cry. My Spanish was useless in my emotional state, and she doesn't speak any English, but she hugged me and patted me on the back. She cleaned my cuts, and gave me a bag of frozen peas to put on my swollen ankle, and I waited for Ben to come home. I sat there not sure what to do all alone in my kitchen staring at my feet, wondering how on earth I still had both shoes...

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

WhatsApp vs. Line

With smartphones, minutes are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Texting has become a more popular method of communication, and in countries with unlimited data plans (almost everywhere except the U.S.), paying for a texting option has given way to Apps like WhatsApp, and Line.
Both WhatsApp and Line are brilliant ways to text, using only data. So... Which is better?

Allows you to text other users using only data
Allows you to text international numbers registered by users
Free Calls or video Chat (like skype) to other service members
Where is is predominantly used?
First year free
$0.99 per year after the first
Free… Always!
(there are stickers and games you can buy in app, but they are completely optional, and there is no pushy advertising)
Allows you to send videos, and Photos
Available on iOS and Droid?

With the point of either app being to allow you to text any other user... both are perfect, they do exactly that, and work better than my regular system because they work using my phones internet, rather than my phones service ability (if I have service, I have internet, but sometimes I have internet but no service).
With WhatsApp, the first year is free, but every year after that is $0.99, and there is no calling service. It is the prefered method of communication here in Spain, so you will need to download it if you have a smart phone. It is a fair price for the quailty of the app, and I not had any issues yet with it.


With Line, it is always free, you can call other users. This App was widely used in Japan, and is the more popular texting system in Asia. The icing on the cake is the sticker feature, which I love. Most of Ben and my texts are exclusively stickers, they are a  cute/creepy/amusing... way to communicate with other users.
Bottom line, in Spain you will have to use WhatsApp, in Japan you will have to use Line. I prefer Line because it is always free, and way cuter, but when it comes to functionality, they are both perfect.