Friday, September 28, 2012

Madrid: Week 1 Recap

It was a week full of apartment hunting, walking around the city, language exchanges, seeing museums, meeting new people, and a bullfight. You can read all about my apartment search here. As for the rest of it, here's a recap.

Upon arrival at my hostel, I promptly departed on a walking tour that leaves from my hostel every day. It was a good way to see and learn a little about a few of the sites in Madrid, such as the tens of thousands of bullet holes from the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) that have scarred many of the city's monuments, something one wouldn't normally notice since they've been repaired but remain discolored spots on statues and buildings.

I went to my favorite museum, El Prado, home to some of my favorite artists, like Hieronymous BoschPieter Bruegel the Elder, and Francisco Goya.

El Prado is right next to Parque del Retiro, which I walked around after spending two hours in the museum (which is free every day from 6-8pm). Parque del Retiro is a beautiful park. It's where everyone goes to run and relax. There is a little lake where you can rent rowboats, there are statues, a couple of buildings that house temporary art exhibits, and a lot of people having a nice time. I went to the Palacio de Velázquez, named after the man who designed it in 1887. It had an exhibit of Nacho Criado's art, a pioneer of experimental Spanish art. His most impressive pieces takes the form of installations made of glass, iron, and other materials.

Palacio de Cristal, close to Palacio de Velázquez, is a very impressive building, also designed by Ricardo Velázquez Bosco. It is one of the most beautiful constructions of iron and crystal in Spain.

Afterward, I went to my first language exchange (intercambio), which took place at a cafe. The objective is easy— meet people and speak your native language and then practice the language you want to learn with native speakers. I met some very nice Spaniards and learned a lot in the few hours I was there. The next night I went to another language exchange, which was also fun, and everyone was very nice. I plan on frequenting these intercambios.

On Saturday night, I met up with a fellow English Language and Culture Assistant (Auxiliar de conversación), her Spanish friends, and my future British roommate. A good time was had by all, and I learned that in Madrid, 2:30am is not considered late. In fact, I was the first to go home by several hours. I also think I heard more Spanish conversation that night than I had the previous eight years.

Sunday morning is home to El Rastro outdoor market, one of the biggest markets in Europe. It is enormous. El Rastro literally means "blood trail," and got its name from the stockyard that was formerly in its location. Everything is sold there, from clothes to leather goods, CDs, vinyl, musical instruments, electronics, jewlery, keys, etc. I walked around for an hour and a half or so and bought an electric razor for 5 euro (much needed after a week without shaving due to the inability to find a voltage converter in this city). I started seeing everyone with the same plates of food, and asked someone where they bought it. They pointed across the street to a long line sprawling out of a small restaurant called El Capricho Extremeño. I figured I'd give it a try and I wasn't disappointed. A got a Spanish tortilla sandwich and a cured ham sandwich for less than 5 euro, and couldn't even finish them. 

Sunday night I decided to go to see a bullfight. I'm writing a separate blog post for that, both because it is warranted and because I don't want to subject anyone to reading about it who does not desire to do so. Check it out if you want to see a few pictures and read about my experience. And that concludes my first week in Madrid! 

Madrid: Piso Hunting

It's been a busy first week here in Madrid. I've been staying in a hostel while searching for apartments (pisos) in which to live. At first, the search was overwhelming. It's hard enough to find a place to live, but to do it in a foreign country, in a foreign language? Forget about it. But one thing is for sure, there's no quicker way to learn apartment vocabulary. The places to live in Madrid are endless, so before any real progress was to be made, I had to narrow my search. I looked for places near the city center that were close to a transportation system I needed to get to my school in Alcorcón, which is 13km west of Madrid.

Turns out, no one responds to email requests to see an apartment. So, I had to get a phone sooner than I thought. My first big success was procuring un móvil prepago, a prepaid cell phone with no contract that I add money to whenever I run out. After a nervous conversation at a cell phone store, I came away with my very own Spanish phone number. Six cents a minute for calls, nine cents for texts, no cents for incoming calls and texts.

I could now call the numbers on the apartment websites to make an appointment, a much more efficient method of piso searching. If only I could understand the people on the other end of the line. It was very difficult at first, but I understood enough to make appointments to see places. I saw a really nice room in the center of the city, but the catch was I would live with a jubilada (retired woman) and her 30 year old daughter. With icons everywhere, two chirping birds, and a small dog, I decided against it. Plus, she was unbelievably difficult to understand.

On my fourth day of searching, I made four appointments. The last place I saw was the best, and right across from the train station I need to get to my school. When I arrived at the building, I realized I didn't have the apartment number, only the floor. So while I waited downstairs, ringing bells to various apartments, I saw a guy reading a book in Spanish at the cafe next door. He looked at me and I thought he might live there so I went to ask him. We started conversing in Spanish, and eventually he asked where I was from. I told him, and then in English he said, "Oh, I'm from England myself." So much for Spanish conversation. Turned out he was there to see the same apartment, and we decided to go up at the same time, obviously with some internal reservations since there was only one room available. Much to our surprise, when we got up there, the woman told us that there were in fact two rooms available. The place was pretty big, though the rooms small, and it had two bathrooms, a good sized kitchen, a salón (living room), and an incredible terrace. The terrace, on the 7th floor, overlooks the city. The brit and I were both liking the place, and talked with the lady for awhile. We would be living with her (mid 40s) and another Spanish woman. We ended up saying we would talk about it together and call her later that night.

We talked for a couple of hours in the Retiro park, which is next to the apartment. It's sort of like New York City's Central Park, in that it gives one a much needed respite from the bustle of the city without having to leave Madrid. When he called the woman to tell her we wanted the place (he speaks much better Spanish than I do), she said she had just had some family news and would have to call us in the morning. Bring on the doubt and the nerves. We spent another couple of hours talking in the city, trying not to worry too much about the situation.

In the morning (Saturday), despite our worry, she texted us, saying if we wanted the place it was ours, and we could meet again on Monday. Excitement! I move in on Monday, October 1st. And that is the story of my successful hunting trip.