m to m to the countryside

November 4th, 2016

I got into Madrid late on Wednesday, after a lovely day in Marseille spent wandering. I got to the airport fine, (the Frenchman at the bus station gave me a youth ticket to the airport even though I did say I was older than 25!) and the Ryan air procedure was not as easy as other airlines, but not as bad as I remember it being years ago. The guy even made an exception for me and wrote out my boarding pass, because I’m so used to them printing them out that I didn’t have it already, and then the guy with the luggage was adorable and asking me about English translations, and the lady let me on with my toiletry ziplock that they hand out even though mine wouldn’t zip shut.

The hostel I stayed at was really good, huge, and the staff were all super nice. I think that’s the most important thing about a hostel. I made my bed noisily at 1am and passed out, had a Spanish breakfast of toast and churros in the morning, and went on a walking tour, that ended up being almost private because it was just me and an Australian guy, who seemed young, and kinda dumb, but sweet enough, and our guide was super nice and I wished I could’ve tipped him more, because it was a good tour. I learned a bit about the history of Madrid, I stepped on the 0km point which means I’ll be back in Madrid someday, and I learned about the oldest restaurant in the world where Hemingway used to eat.

I ran off to the lunch hosted by the English teaching program and was a little late because the metro in Madrid is pretty confusing ! But made it and sat next to an adorable American flight attendant named Max and we got along swimmingly, and an Australian couple started telling us about their 8 months abroad thus far and they were very cute. After the flamenco, I spoke with Paula and Perry, an American couple I had seen at the airport in marseille, and they were so nice, Paula from Minnesota and I found her lovely. They’ve been traveling since March and we shared a few stories. Apparently everyone is quitting their job to travel.

I went off to the big art museum, the Prado, to catch the free times between 6-8 and rushed through the old stuff, the Diego valesquez, the Goyas, and the Rubens, and they were all amazing. It’s incredible how much European history was tied together a few centuries ago. And I just love the idea of royals being patrons of the arts, and I couldn’t help but think about how my uncle could have been sponsored like that, he was just as talented as these amazing artists.

I got back to the hostel and called a friend and chilled out before being invited down for some sangria, and played some drinking games with a Norwegian, who had quit his job and was traveling, a Portuguese guy from LA, an Argentinian guy who had some fun game ideas, and the Venezuelan girl who worked at the hostel. It was a good time, but I went to bed not long after so I could get up to get to the program in the morning.

I was excited to see how the Spanish would differ from the Germans and to do this program again, since I enjoyed it so much in Germany, too. Its unfortunate I don’t have more time in Madrid but I think this program is such a great cultural exchange, and I’m so keen on meeting true spaniards and hearing about Spain, and I think this is a great way to do that. I was confused getting to the meeting point, again – the Madrid mentro is huge and pretty confusing, but eventually found it and was paired up with a Spaniard immediately and started conversing about this and that. His name was Gerardo and he was lovely, not really needing English for work but wanting to improve his English anyway and had some free time. He commented soon after we started talking that it was interesting I was traveling alone, that it was definitely good to travel anyway, but that it was different going solo, this experience, and I agreed. We talked a bit about our travels and he talked about South America and where I should and shouldn’t go, and how useful Spanish is around the world. He hasn’t been to Chicago, but visited Boston because his son is going to school there. And how he was married once and that was enough, for him. He was great and we had good conversation on the bus. Pretty immediately I noticed how different the Spanish are from the Germans, a lot more touchy, not in a bad way, but just not uncomfortable about physical contact, whereas Germans are more conscious about personal space. Gerrado arranged to switch partners with who we were sitting near to on the bus, so after our break I started chatting with a young Spanish girl from Malaga, that Paula had been chatting with. We talked very easily and it was really fun, and again I was questioned about what I have learned and what I think I will do next and I told her I had got the idea that I wanted to go into counseling and she said oh, like a coach? And I think that’s what it must translate to because she compared her experience with a coach that had come to her company with what I was talking about – perspective about anxiety about the future and how we can be so worried about a certain point ahead of us, if our life is like a line, but then about looking back and realizing that it was all fine, and what was there to be worried about? And I said pretty much exactly, that’s exactly what I want to help others with, because I know through my own anxieties that I have been so worried about a particular thing, only to think back and then ask why? Why was I so worried? And that I want to help people enjoy each moment, in the present, and not to worry so much about the future. And she spoke about her mother and how she is so worried about retiring and what she will do, and we talked about how she should volunteer, and basically change her perspective from being worried to being excited about a new opportunity, and how helping others helps ourselves. And she told me about Spain and the different regions and how there are actually so many different languages, not just accents, around Spain, like Catalonia, and how she prefers Madrid to Barcelona because they are a bit more open in Madrid. And how in Malaga and in the south they are a bit more open too, and she relates it to the sunshine, but in the north of Spain there is better gastronomy, (probably because it’s colder, she thinks) and San Sebastián is probably the most beautiful city in Spain, and that region also has wanted to be independent (like Catalonia).

We got to the resort, 4 hours from Madrid, in the countryside among the mountains, and had lunch, and the Anglos at the table were from Australia and Canada, and the Spainards were Eduardo and Esther (a popular name in Spain, at least in the 70s) and they were both dealing with digitalization and globalization in their companies. Leanne, from Australia, was doing a bit of a belated gap year, having raised her kids and using her brother in London as home base after exploring Canada and now exploring Europe and staying through Christmas. She was really lovely and easy going. Martia, a Canadian traveling for a month with her husband, had done the program before and was very Canadian. Which I think has come to mean, at least in older generations, straightforwardly nice but pretty opinionated, also. But she was cute. Eduardo was sweet and left to check into his room and I ate his dessert.

I like that in Spain that they just put two bottles of wine on the table, red and white, and you just drink as much as you want.

I was super excited to hear that when they called out room assignments, I was sharing my villa with Margara, who I had sat with on the bus. Life is so funny. She was super excited to call me roommate and we had fun exploring our lovely villa together before resting – siesta – before our next meeting.

We had a fun ice breaker session with our MC Allan, who announced that it was his 89th program, having started doing these programs 6 years earlier and recently had become a Spanish national, he was so in love with Spain. He really did a great job at introducing the program and although it was my second time around, I was even more inspired and excited. One of the first things he wanted to communicate and wanted us to understand was how we are all the same, despite our different appearances, we are all the same, and any kind of racism and prejudices would not be tolerated. Which of course resonated with me and I found very touching. And he spoke to the English speakers about how we are really effecting these Spaniards lives in a dramatic way and should not take it lightly. He was truly motivational and I am really excited to have him lead us this week. Not that my previous MC was not, because she was, adorably so, but Allan was in a bit more straight up and in your face kind of way that makes you scared and excited.

Allan really likes to emphasize the point that we are all the same, as I mentioned, and it’s so funny to me that this is what I’ve been discovering so much. I thought that Ireland was unique in their differing opinions about the Irish around different parts of the country, but then found it was the same in Germany, with Berlin being very different than Cologne, those being very different than Bavaria, etc, and then to find in Spain that the Spanish have different ideas about the Spanish in different regions, also. My discussion with Gerrado the next morning, I spoke about how important the matriarch of my family is to me, while explaining my tattoos, and he was surprised by this because overall, patriarchal societies are the majority, but in the region of Spain where he is from on the northwest coast, the matriarch is also very important, (because the men are sailors and often die at sea), and to find a girl from Chicago who feels similarly about the importance of the matriarch, that delighted him. We are all the same!

We had a lovely first dinner and I had great convos with Maribela about her life coaching in Grenada and her visiting Chicago soon, and I hope we meet up. And the way she talked about life coaching made me want to get into it all the more. Also, we talked a lot about tattoos 😉

At dinner, our table talked about politics a lot, and our Irish participant spoke about how expensive America is, and I couldn’t argue with her. It really is, when it comes to tax and tip, it’s a lot more than going out in Europe costs.

We had delicious empanadas and I’m super stoked about this week in food, plus everything else that this week will entail. I’m so glad I decided to do this program once more before going home, and it makes me want to figure out how to be an MC myself and lead a group of people through such a lovely culturally immersive experience.