Spring Break – ft. Madrid, Brussels, Prague, and Berlin!

Make yourself comfortable because this one is going to be quite long. Classes had been increasing in intensity between midterms and spring break, so by the time Thursday afternoon arrived, I was more than ready for some time off. Due to our recent travels, we hadn’t had a night out in Madrid for quite a while, so Nola, my cousin Madison, and I prepared ourselves to go to one of the most exclusive clubs in Madrid. Since it was also St. Patrick’s Day we of course had to start the evening at an Irish Pub. We were having fun but decided to head to the club early since it was a huge party night. Normally the streets of Madrid come to life in the evening, especially from Thursday to Saturday, but this night was on a completely different level! Even the metro was crammed full of boisterous youths drunkenly carrying on and breaking the law in various ways. We finally got to the club, at an obscenely early time, to be greeted by a hoard of people waiting outside. It didn’t take us too long in line to realize we weren’t going to get anywhere, so we decided to cut our losses and head to Kapital, which is that club with seven floors. We rushed there to learn that it was rented out for a private party, and if you weren’t on the list the entrance fee was 50 euros! We had recently been discussing returning to the club we used to frequent when we first got there for auld lang syne, so we decided to just head there. There wasn’t a line, and before long we were back on the familiar dance floor. It was so strange because I remember being so enamored by it in the beginning, but now it just seemed so small. Anyway, we still had a great time.

The night progressed and I was getting more and more caught up in the music, until a man on stage began to ask for volunteers. I didn’t even know what was going on until Nola thrust my hand into the air. He called me up, and we both thought it would be some sort of drinking competition. I made it on stage with six or seven other girls, and they had us line up to introduce ourselves. He then made the announcement to the crowd that the dance competition would begin. Although Nola and I weren’t near to each other, I’m pretty sure we had the same reaction when he said that. So here’s the thing, when I reach a certain level of intoxication and combine that with loud music, I have a very unique, yet distinguished style of movement. I’m told the best part about it is that my moves are always accompanied by a huge grin and what has been described as a look of “childlike glee”. If you’ve ever witnessed it you know exactly what I’m talking about, and if not maybe I’ll show you the next time we drink together. Anyway, by that point I had gone too far, so I thought “here goes nothing” and strutted to center stage and gave it everything I had. Nola admitted later that she was worried the room might go completely silent, but people actually began to cheer! I honestly think I blocked all of that out anyway, but the next thing I knew, the moderator began asking people to leave the stage and I was left standing with two others. The three of us then danced simultaneously. I honestly hadn’t been paying much attention to anything else because I was losing myself to dance, but I did happen to look over at them at one point and notice that they were both hardcore twerking with very serious expressions on their faces. Meanwhile, I was cracking myself up with my one of a kind movements. Eventually the judge called us forward one by one to give our final display and he judged our place by the crowd’s reaction. By this point Maddie and Nola were using the new friends from Portugal we met to try and rally the crowd, so that probably helped, but I couldn’t believe people were really cheering for me! I was even more surprised when the judge finally yelled “Victoria!” and thrust a bottle of champagne into my arms.

The rest of the night was a bit of blur, but I was pretty much a celebrity. When I would walk through the crowd random people would yell “la campeona!” (the champion) and high five me. I eventually managed to open the bottle of champagne, and I’m a bit of socialist, so it got passed around to quite a few people. That probably wasn’t the smartest idea because, you know, communicable diseases and whatnot, but it’s been over a week and I’m fine…though I may have infected them all with a sore throat. Oh well. Everything went well the rest of the night, and as soon as I woke up the next morning I started laughing and couldn’t stop for at least two days. Again, if you haven’t seen me in action you can’t grasp the gravity of this situation, but I actually won a dance competition! I mean that was something that I had sort of just accepted would never happen in life, yet here I was!

I took of Friday to revel in my glory, but I managed to get other things done too. Nola and I went to lunch at our favorite Thai restaurant, then I once again took the long trek out to that police station in the middle of nowhere to pick up my residency card. I was extremely relieved when they had it there waiting for me because stuff always seems to go wrong at that place. Anyway, it only took about four months after losing it, but I finally have my replacement card!

I finished everything by around midnight, but could not fall asleep for the life of me! I guess I was too excited about everything. Finally around 5am I abandoned all hope and started getting ready to leave as I had to catch the first metro at 6. Since Bomi had spent the last two days traveling, I figured she probably wouldn’t have slept much anyway, so at least we were on the same level.

Bomi had booked her ticket to come visit me last September, and I remember it feeling like the day would never come, yet here it was. It was so great to see her and pretty surreal having her in Madrid. From the airport we went straight to the hostel to drop off our stuff, then ate breakfast and spent some time taking in the sights of Madrid. We met Nola for lunch at one of our favorite restaurants, then checked into the hostel and settled in for a much needed nap.  We spent the rest of the afternoon showing Bomi the best of what Madrid had to offer and it was fun to see everything from a fresh perspective again. We took her to another one of our favorite places for dinner, then went back to the hostel to check out the pub crawl they offered. It was even cooler to do such a touristy thing in our city because we got to mingle with foreigners from other places and we experienced some new places around the city. Shenanigans ensued.

We woke up Sunday morning safe and sound in our hostel, but before too long Bomi revealed that her bag had been stolen. In it she had all the euros she had just withdrawn, her phone, and, of course, her passport! I figure that everyone who comes to Europe has to have at least one mugging story, so now she has hers. I hardly even broke a sweat because I was all too familiar with the protocol in these situations. I mean it was a shame about her stuff, but the passport was our main priority as our flight to Brussels was scheduled for that afternoon. We found the nearest police station, and I escorted her there to file a report. We arrived to the waiting room around 1pm and it was packed with other people filing reports from whatever they had lost over the course of Saturday night. We sat there for almost two hours and literally only one person had been called in, so we started to get nervous because our flight time was fast approaching. I went to one of the officers guarding the door and explained our situation; she was extremely nice about the whole thing and ultimately told us we would be better off heading to the airport, talking to a representative of the airline, and filing a report there. With that, we stopped back by the hostel to collect napping Nola and made our way to Barajas.

When we got to the airport, we were shocked to see the enormous line at the visa check counter for RyanAir; Nola went ahead and took a place, while Bomi and I went to find a representative. I explained the situation, and he told us she would indeed need a temporary passport, which she would have to get from the Korean Embassy. We reluctantly decided that Bomi and I would miss our flight to Brussels then book another one the following day. On our way to find the office to make a report, we passed Nola in line as she was showing her boarding pass to a representative walking through the line. We walked up to her just in time to hear him say that our flight had been cancelled. We were shocked. Apparently there was an air traffic control strike in France, so nobody could fly over it at all that day. The line was for people waiting to get a new flight and a hotel voucher. Now most people were pretty upset at the situation, but Bomi and I were overjoyed – we wouldn’t have been able to fly anyway, but at least now we would be reimbursed! Things were looking up as we went to the police counter and were immediately taken back to file the report. I got to be the translator once again, and I was really starting to enjoy it.

We were in pretty high spirits as we joined Nola in the line and began our wait. Those spirits gradually declined with each hour we continued to stand there. I didn’t really mind so much, but there were definitely some people starting to get outraged. The most intense part was that line seemed to grow exponentially. At one point I went to the bathroom and found that the end now snaked around several layers, and there were probably at least close to a 1,000 people camped out! Around hour seven, one of the airline executives came to address the mob, and it was pure chaos as a huge crowd of people surrounded him to hear his explanation. Bomi kept saying that fights and fires were bound to start happening eventually, and I was starting to believe her! The man pretty much just said that there was nothing they could do and to only stay in line if you needed a hotel for that night. People were not pleased. The three of us tried to make the best of situation and started playing random childhood games as we waited. At one point we had a pretty intense Rock Paper Scissor tournament. Apparently people were watching us and getting quite the kick out of it. One of the elderly Spanish ladies behind us explained that in Spain a fist represented an egg instead of rock, which completely changed the dynamic of the game. An Italian man further down the line confirmed that in Italy a fist is indeed rock.
By hour nine, we were the next in line! We were a bit distracted examining each others passports, when all of the sudden the crowd seemed to erupt in yelling; the next thing I knew, the sweet old Spanish ladies were yelling that it was our turn and one of them actually shoved me forward. It turned out that two good-for-nothing yellow-bellied degenerates had the audacity to walk straight up to the counter and cut the line! Everyone immediately behind us exchanged loud heated words with the pair, as we just sort of stood in the middle of it. We finally got the counter to be greeted by an exhausted-looking worker that couldn’t have been older than 24. We did our best to explain our complicated situation to him. Here´s the thing, we had tickets to Brussels for Sunday, then we were supposed to fly from Brussels to Prague on Tuesday, and take a train from Prague to Berlin on Thursday. So if we didn’t make it to Brussels in time it would completely derail the whole itinerary. We would have been fine going straight to Prague, but the stupid cheap airline of course didn’t fly to Prague. Everything was booked pretty solid, so he said the best we could do would be to fly to Brussels on Wednesday morning, then get a new flight from Brussels to Prague Wednesday night. That would mean we would completely miss out on Brussels, and only get to spend like 12 hours in Prague. That’s not to mention all the money we would lose on our hostel deposits. He also said we could try flying standby to Brussels Monday afternoon, so we were banking on that.

We finally left the airport well after midnight to head to the hotel. We were pretty excited when we got there and learned it was four stars! I can still remember the feeling of approaching of the building; I was so looking forward to falling into bed so we could get up bright and early to head to the embassy. Well, we walked into the lobby only to be greeted by another line! By that point all we could do was laugh it off. We ended up waiting another full two hours before making it to the counter. On the bright side, we found a nearby Chinese restaurant that was open late and made deliveries, so that occupied some time. The food arrived when we were about four people back in line, but we soon realized that they hadn’t given any utensils for it! Even worse, it smelled kind of disgusting. We dragged it along with the rest of our stuff as we advanced in line. Pretty soon a girl that had just checked in came down laughing and saying that there were already people sleeping in the room they had been assigned. They ran around behind the counter and eventually gave them another key. When it was our turn in line, the German couple that had been in front of us came storming down with the exact same complaint but in much worse humor. I felt pretty bad for the people working, so I asserted that the three of us could just share a two person room instead of them trying to find two rooms to accommodate us. The man seemed appreciative, but Bomi and Nola were a bit annoyed that I had made the offer without consulting the group; apparently a room for two included one double bed.
We made it to the room and were relieved to find that no one was already sleeping there. Nola immediately went to the bathroom and called out, “Hey, I found a comb!” which confused me because I didn’t think she used combs. It turned out she meant to use it a rice utensil; it was actually super effective, and I’m pretty impressed that she saw it and immediately thought of it. Bomi and I tried using the sugar packets from the coffee machine as our scoops, but I got annoyed when the paper got soggy after a few bites, so I went all natural with my hands. It wasn’t the most dignified moment in my life, but we had literally spend over 13 hours waiting that day and I was just tired and hungry. Fortunately Nola finished first and let me use the comb after. As we suspected, it was probably the worst fried rice we had ever tasted. I was elected to sleep in the middle of the bed since I was the one who made the offer. There was enough room, but it was unbearably hot so I couldn’t fall asleep. Fortunately the room also had this wooden bench with some sort of pad on it, so I used my backpack as a pillow and one of the bathrobes as a blanket, and with that I was finally able to doze off.

After only a couple of hours, Bomi I got up and went downstairs for the free breakfast. For what it’s worth, it was a pretty nice hotel and we were greeted with one of the best spreads I’ve ever seen! We only had time to stuff ourselves to a certain extent before we set out for the embassy. We made it there just before it opened, and I let Bomi take over with the language. One of the things she needed for the passport was a new picture, so she had resolved to make it the worst picture she had ever taken and she succeeded; over the last three days we had not showered and probably slept a total of five hours, so we were looking rough. The picture is amazingly perfect though. It only took about two hours before we were leaving with a brand new temporary passport in hand! We joined Nola back at the hotel and finally enjoyed a much needed shower. It was actually one of the best showers I’ve ever taken; I should start staying in four star hotels more often. We eventually set out for the airport feeling very optimistic about flying standby. We were greeted with yet another long line and were quickly informed that all flights were once again cancelled. I spoke to a representative who “couldn’t say for sure” but speculated that no flights would make it to Brussels before Friday.

With that we resigned to our fate and bought obscenely expensive airport hamburgers. We decided to just book a flight to Prague with another airline. Now RyanAir said that they would mostly likely refund our cancelled flights, but we would still have to have to make up the difference between airlines of no less than 150 euros. On top of that, RyanAir couldn’t even guarantee when we would get the refund, so we had to dig deep and front the money out of pocket. We found a flight to Prague for Tuesday morning with only four seats left so we quickly booked it and never looked back. We went back to the hotel happy that there was hope of someday making it out of Madrid, only to find out that our room had been given away. They found us another one that actually had a third bed! That night we ordered pizza from the only place that would deliver to our location and it was disgusting; it of course didn’t come pre cut either, so we pretty much just had to tear it apart with our hands. We were consoled by another amazing breakfast in the morning though.
I can’t describe our euphoria when we actually made it to our gate and learned that our flight was still on track to take off. We had a short layover in Barcelona, and by three that afternoon, we had finally made it to the Czech Republic! Even as we took the public transport to find our hostel, we couldn’t help getting sucked into the absolute beauty of the city. It was truly amazing. We found our hostel and at reception, the first thing he asked us was if we wanted complementary tea, coffee, or water. The place was perfect! The staff were incredibly friendly, and our room was one of the coziest places I’ve ever seen in my life. On top of that, we were just glad we had made it to Prague and our trip could continue as planned.

Then we connected to the Wi-Fi. Our phones immediately started blowing up with a flurry of people desperately demanding to know if we were okay. We had no idea why until Nola googled Brussels. The airport and one of the metros had been bombed that morning, the morning we should have been flying to Prague. Now in retrospect, since our flight was the cheapest you could get, we would have actually been flying from an airport about an hour outside of the city, but we could have easily been on the metro. In any case, we would have been grounded indefinitely and I can’t even bear to think of the anguish our poor mothers would have experienced. But still, it was so surreal that we were supposed to have been there but relentless obstacles kept us from going. I was pretty shell shocked to say the least, so we took some time to decompress in the room and respond to all the messages.

On a brighter note, we were also in contact with my cousin Nick who had decided to take a jaunt around Europe after having achieved his Master’s degree the previous December. We had planned to meet up in Prague, so it felt reassuring to know we would be with him in a couple of hours. In the meantime, we decided to venture outside of the hostel and explore the surrounding area. We were right next to the Charles Bridge, and as soon as we began to cross it we were already enamored with the city. It was chilly and gloomy, and the sun was starting to set, but the setting was absolutely perfect. It’s hard to fully describe the beauty of the city that night, but just know that it was truly incredible. We found a small street market and tried some Mauled Wine and bratwurst, both of which were delicious. We basically just wandered around trying to take it all in until the sun was well past the horizon. We returned to the hostel, and Nick arrived before too long. We had planned to go to a highly recommended restaurant for dinner, but the wait was outrageous so we had to find somewhere else. We ended up at a pretty classy place and the food was good enough; the best dish by far was the duck that Bomi ordered. After dinner we wandered around downtown in search of a decent pub, which was harder to find than we had anticipated. We ended up in an Irish bar with live music; it wasn’t nearly as great as Dublin, but it was nice to relax, catch up, and let the rest of the group get to know each other.

We started out bright an early the next day. Right across the street from our hostel was a small restaurant that sold pizza and all sorts of sausages, which were quite delicious. We went downtown to the main square where they were currently hosting an Easter Market. There were booths selling all sorts of crafts, along with great food and other types of Easter themed things. We registered for a free walking tour, which taught us so much about the rich history of the city. I learned a lot about the ineffective implementation of communism that had ruled the country for many years, but has thankfully been reformed. I hate to sound redundant, but it really was one of the most enchanting places I have every visited. I wish we could have stayed there for so much longer! Although all of it was pretty great, I think my favorite part had to be the Astrological Clock, which seems to be one of the most ingenious feats of science. It was quite a wonder to see in person! After the tour it was time for Nick’s most anticipated activity: Absinthe. I hadn’t really known much about this particular drink, but from what he had told me I was actually a bit nervous. The tour guide laughed when we asked him for a recommendation and gave us some really helpful information. So I didn’t really know what to expect when we walked into the small saloon, but the bartenders were very nice and helpful. We decided on a traditional Czech type, and learned soon after we ordered that it actually came from a bottle with a beetle in it! It was fascinating to watch them prepare the drinks, which were literally flaming. We all got a small glass, but it was recommended to sip it as opposed to shooting it. It was still quite warm and pretty interesting. You definitely feel the burn the whole way down, but it lessened after a while.

After all of the walking we found some food, then went to the hostel to take a rest for a bit. On this night were wise enough to go the restaurant super early, so we finally got a table. Nick decided he wanted to try an appetizer called beer cheese. The waiter had warned us that it was quite potent when we ordered, but we went for it anyway; it literally smelled like dirty feet and was extremely pungent, but Nick and I actually enjoyed the taste of it – as long as we breathed out of our mouths! Once we had eaten our fill, we hurried back downtown just in time to catch the free ghost tour of the city. Some of the stories were more interesting than others, but the best part of the tour was that we got to walk around some of the back allies and much less popular areas. Towards the end it started raining though, which really put a damper on things and we were somewhat relieved when it ended. Once again, we had to run back to the square where we met the representative for, you guessed it, a pub crawl! This crawl was a little different than the others, but it was a really good time. We went to three or four bars and two clubs. It goes without saying that shenanigans ensued, but we all had a lot of fun and really bonded as a group.

It would have been nice to sleep a bit later the next morning, but we had to check out of the hostel on time and it was our last day there anyway, so we got up relatively early. We took our time to explore more of old town and made the climb up to the castle and royal palace. Once again, everything was picturesque and just so perfect. I’ve always heard great things about Prague, but none of it compares to the actual environment. I guess it was cool because it’s older than many cities, as it had never been destroyed by a war. Anyway, it was all just such a great experience. We eventually made our way back to the square and took some time to shop in the Easter Market. There were so many great things at such a reasonable price, I wish I had room for everything! We finally set off on our trek to the train station, which was bit further than we had anticipated but it was pleasant.

The station was chaotic and confusing, and we ended up sprinting to our platform unnecessarily, but the important thing is that we made it. I expected the interior to be sort like any other train I had ridden, but this one actually had compartments! In reality they weren’t that great because it’s hard to stretch your legs with someone sitting right across from you, but it was also sort of cozy. Somewhere near the German boarder a lot of people got off, so we ended up our very own compartment. By now it was completely dark, so we were able to stretch out and enjoy some very refreshing sleep.

We arrived in Berlin around 10 or 11 that night, so we didn’t take too much notice of our surroundings. Nick was staying at different place this time so we parted ways when we made it to our hostel, which looked really nice from the outside but was interesting on the inside. I mean it was clean and everything, it was just so bare and plain. We later learned that it basically represented communist style architecture: large, clinically clean, and almost intimidating. My favorite part was the small room near the common area that housed a pool table and computers; right above the door there was a small black and white sign that simply read “Fun Area.” It wasn’t so bad though. Interestingly, Nick’s hostel was only a few blocks away, but we later learned that we would have been on opposite sides of the wall.

We wouldn’t have much time to spend in the city so we really had to take advantage of every moment. So Nick knew this girl, who I think was a friend of friend of his that he had met once like five years ago, but she invited us to brunch so we went. Of course, we had quite a bit of trouble finding the bus and ended up walking way more than what was necessary, but what else is new. We finally met her at a nice-looking restaurant and were greeted with a Smorgasbord of meats, cheeses, fruits, and bread. It was all extremely delicious. Perhaps the best part though was the opportunity to get to know a local and compare perspectives on global politics and whatnot. We had a very interesting conversation about our countries elections, and the direction that public opinion seems to be moving towards in each place. She was very nice, and she even taught us a few German words!

By the end of the meal we were stuffed, so we meandered for a bit. Before long we thanked her for her company and bid farewell. With that, the four of us set out for downtown where we took advantage of yet another free walking tour. Berlin definitely wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing of cities, I mean it has been completely rebuilt more than once in the not so distant past, but there was an almost overwhelming amount of history behind its walls. Though much of it was quite somber in nature, it was somewhat surreal to be physically standing in a place where so many things had happened. I feel like I could have spent several weeks in the city and still not see everything it had to offer. Of course it rained throughout almost the whole tour, but again it seemed sort of fitting.

We were all pretty worn out by the end of the day, so we decided to take it easy that evening. We got dinner at an excellent Vietnamese restaurant, then went back and hung out at the bar in our hostel for a while. Nick and Nola hadn’t planned to leave until Sunday, but unfortunately Bomi and I had to return to Spain on Saturday. Fortunately we made it through everything without any problems and by the afternoon we were once again wandering the streets of Madrid. We enjoyed a good meal and went to see any major sights we had previously missed. We decided to go for a drink at Pool and Beer, which was quite crowded. Bomi realized just how often we go there when several patrons greeted me by name and the bartender asked how I had enjoyed Germany. Her flight was for very early the next morning, so we went back to the hostel before long to try getting some sleep. I accompanied her to the airport in the morning and stayed until she got to security. It was bittersweet seeing her go; I was grateful that she had come to share quite an interesting adventure, but it felt like she was leaving too soon!

I stuck around the airport for a while waiting for the first metro to begin at 6, then I made my way back to the apartment. Beatrice had the door chained, so I decided to wait a while to see if she would wake up soon. I basically just ambled around the neighborhood watching the sun rise. I was tired, but it was a relevantly nice morning and it was enjoyable. I’d have enough by 8 though, so I finally rang the bell to wake her up. It was good to be back in my room, not to mention I was long overdue for a shower! I called home and talked to my family for a bit, but mostly I did nothing. Nish and I went to lunch when she came home and we both recounted the highlights of our weeks. It was an interesting Easter, and I once again enjoyed the sweet relief of the elevator!

I wasn’t quite ready to return to the reality of school, but I felt quite content with the whole experience. It had been stressful, joyful, and overall just a long, strange trip, but it was one of a kind and I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by great company.

Barcelona!

After Dublin I went right back to the chaos of  grad school that has become my life. It wasn’t all bad though, on Friday I was able to attend the Annual Graduate Symposium, which was really awesome. I’ve always loved conferences, and I would be super disappointed  if I brought my suit jacket all the way to Spain and never even took it out of the dry cleaning bag, so needless to say I was pumped. I don’t yet have anything to present, but I enjoyed listening to my classmates (of which there are two) and seeing students from other nearby universities. Overall it was an interesting day and I learned quite a bit.

The Symposium ended around 8, so afterwards I promptly returned home, ate dinner, and packed my bag because Nish and I had tickets for the night bus to Barcelona! Our bus left around 11pm and was scheduled to arrive around 6:30 the next morning; everyone said it was such a bad idea, but I actually got some semi-quality rest. We arrived to the city bright and early and managed to navigate to our hostel. Everything was super quite and still, which was pretty serene. We actually had trouble finding a place to eat because everything was still closed. We eventually wondered into a small, and quite overpriced cafe that was alright. Afterwards we just sort of ambled around for a bit and stumbled upon the Batllo house, which is one of Gaudi’s famous creations. The museum happened to just be opening, so we took a spot in line and started quite a curious tour. So I’m still not sure the intended purpose of the building in the first place, because it seemed obscenely large for a single dwelling, so maybe it was an apartment building. Anyway, the architecture was extremely unique and very colorful. We were able to visit some of the living areas and the patio, which were really cool. It was difficult to capture in the pictures, but this place really was a wonder.

After the museum we decided to make our way to the Segrada Familia, which is an enormous cathedral that is technically still being constructed. We didn’t go inside because there was a huge line and it was expensive, but it was quite the site from the outside. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a building with such a presence. I mean the Gothic architecture literally towered over us and everything around it. It was almost intimidating, but extremely fascinating. Once we had marveled sufficiently at the structure, we continued up to the Guell Park. We had to walk for probably almost 30 minutes straight up hill, and the view from the top was totally worth it. We meandered around the park for a bit and eventually came to the part that was also designed by Gaudi. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m sure you’ll recognize it when you see it. It was surreal to be standing at such a famous landmark, and to top it off the weather was warm, sunny, and generally incredible. We sat on one of the colorful benches and basked in the sun for quite a while – it was pretty perfect. When we felt we had absorbed enough vitamin D, we slowly made our way back down the hill, taking our time to stop in all the little shops along the way.

By the time we made it back to the hostel we were more than ready for some downtime. So while I had been walking through the cold rain of Dublin the previous weekend, I started to feel like I was getting a bit of a cold, but nothing too severe. By this point, however, the pain in the my throat was becoming unbearable. I actually started to get worried that it might be something more serious because my throat has never hurt so bad in my life! The rest didn’t really help it, so we found a good Mexican restaurant for dinner. Incidentally, we ran into a large group of students there from our university! The food was quite good. Afterwards we settled back in at the hostel, and I tried to drink as much tea as I could. We turned in a little early that night, but at one point I literally woke up and could not go back to sleep because it hurt so bad. I mean, I couldn’t even move my tongue without cringing!

It was feeling a bit better by the time we got up to check out the next morning though. There was a pretty cool cathedral around the corner from us, so we were excited to go to mass there. Nish knew the whole thing anyway, but I was eager to hear it Spanish. The only problem was that there was also some sort of marathon right in front of it, so we had to strategically dart through the runners to get across. It was pretty cool to attend a service in such an old and beautiful building. We had a nice lunch after then made our way to the beach. Although the sun was out today as well, it was a bit chillier but not bad overall. There were some children daring enough to splash in the waves, but when I went to dip my feet in I had no idea how they did it; it was freezing! I guess I’m just getting old. Probably the funniest thing was this little girl who was running around in her underwear; so there she was, standing in the water with no pants but with a thick coat zipped up all the way and with a hood on as well. There were a lot of people walking along the beach trying to sell stuff, and they kind of got annoying but they were harmless.

By now the sun was beginning to set, but we still had a few hours before our bus. I finally relented and went to a pharmacy for some sort of relief; they gave me this detestable spray, but it legitimately felt like I was spraying straight Novacaine in the back of my throat so that was nice. We then collected our bags from the hostel and found a Starbucks to take advantage of. I think we sat there for at least six hours, and I did my best to knock out as much of my poetry as I could. When they were about to close, we made our way back to the bus station. Oh so while we were waiting in the metro station, I was standing next to a vending machine and this guy came up right behind me to face the corner of the machine and the wall. I kind of did a half turn because he was literally right behind me, and it was no secret what he was doing! He was clearly ingesting some sort of substance via his naval passage, and was not shy about clearing them out once he emerged from his not so private hiding spot. I know Barcelona has a bit of a higher crime rate, but I can’t believe he was so blatant about it on a crowded platform! Anyway, I finished most of the rest of my essay at the bus station, and we boarded around 1 am. We arrived back in Madrid Monday morning around 8:30 or so ready for another week of class! Within a few days my sore throat completely went away by the way! It was the quickest, most severe one ever, but I guess the intensity was worth the duration.

Dublin!

Well after Portugal I had about five days to recover before Ireland, and by recover I mean work tirelessly analyzing poetry, translating my undergraduate thesis into Spanish, and giving a killer presentation on the novel El Sur. So yeah. We flew from Madrid Thursday evening and arrived in Dublin around 9ish I guess. It was actually somewhat warmer than I thought it would be, but Nola still wasn’t very tolerant of the low temperatures. We found the right bus from the airport to our hostel, and we learned that they drive on the left side of the road in Ireland too; I had no idea! Fun fact, Matt from Lisbon (who’s actually a Britt so obviously an expert) informed us that they started doing that back in the day when they rode horse and there was always a chance of a random duel; they therefor rode on the left side so that their right hand would be ready to yield a sword at a moment’s notice. Fascinating stuff.

Anyway, we had a bit of trouble navigating from the bus stop to our hostel, but we eventually made it. The hostel was nice enough I guess, but it was nothing compared to the one in Lisbon so it was almost disappointing. On a good note though, it turns out that Ireland also has Nando’s Chicken (that amazing chain restaurant we first discovered in London), and it was only about a 20 minute walk from the hostel, so that made up for it I guess. It was quite amazing, but afterwards we were wore out so we found a pub near our place and drowsily ordered our first Guinness! We had actually made a commitment a couple of weeks before that to abstain from Guinness until Dublin and it was so worth it. We retired a bit early that night, probably before midnight, which was also worth it. The whole hostel was pretty big, and we were staying in a 16 bed mixed dorm so that was interesting. Someone sleeping near to me, well I guess they ran out deodorant or something, so when you walked into the room there was a somewhat unpleasant greeting. It was fine while staying in the room though because it didn’t take long to get used to.

We woke up a bit early the next day to  enjoy some complementary tea and cereal at the hostel, but then we went back to sleep for a while. We bought our tickets to tour the Guinness storehouse, but by the time we ended up leaving it was already time for lunch. We went to a small, authentic-looking restaurant and ordered some famous food. Nola got fish and chips, and I got the beef stew with mashed potatoes. It was pretty good. After the meal we navigated the tram system to get to St. James Gate but had a bit of a hiccup. We decided to get off the train when we saw a huge Guinness sign because we figured that had to be it, but it turns out there are huge Guinness signs all over Dublin so it didn’t help. We were in the vicinity so we were able to walk there within the hour.

We learned so much about the process of beer making! I’ve done the brewery tour in St. Louis, but this one was much more interactive and apparently Guinness has quite an interesting history. For instance, when Samuel Guinness first bought the store house he signed the lease for something like 10,000 years! We also got to explore Guinness advertisement through the years and found a booth where it Photoshopped your picture into an ad. After that we taught how to taste Guinness like a pro. First you have to smell it and take in the aromas, then when you drink it you have to try to taste the hops, barely, and other two flavors individually on certain areas of your tongue. Once we could properly taste it, we learned the exact way to pour it which is quite an art. Mine wasn’t the best, but it still tasted good. We were able to enjoy them on the top floor of the storehouse which offered a 360 degree of the city and it was gorgeous.

We went on our hostel’s pub crawl that night and it was quite a good time. The second bar we went to was more of a restaurant, and it featured live music. There was a guitarist and violinist who played a mixture of traditional Irish songs and variations of pop music. They were amazing, and we had such a great time listening and occasionally singing along. We ended up meeting two really nice girls from Switzerland and talked to them forever. The last stop was this unique sort of club in that the first floor was kind of just like a regular bar, but the second floor was a legitimate club. It wasn’t until later that we realized how massive this place was, but there were also several lounges and a huge smoking area too.

We had to get up a little early the next morning to check out, so we took the time to enjoy a full Irish breakfast. Nola got the blood sausage and black pudding, which were alright I guess, but I ordered pancakes – they even came with maple syrup!! I got a side of beans and cheese, which to me tasted like tomato soup with baked beans in it and it was amazing. Once we were sufficiently stuffed, we bought tickets for a city bus tour so we got to learn about the history of all the sights while being sheltered from the rain. I didn’t realize this, but apparently there was a huge uprising for government control in 1916, and there are therefore bullet holes still on many of the monuments. Also, the archives building got blown up at one point, so its now much harder for people to track down a large portion of their Irish ancestry. I think one of the coolest things we got to see was the Famine Memorial, but it was quite sad. It depicts a few starving people on their way to what were called Coffin Ships (I think) because they would set out to sea to escape the famine, but the majority ended up dying along the way. It was somber standing among the statues, because it was hard to imagine the magnitude of how many people would have flooded the streets in the those days. We also learned that at one time there was a separate part of the city for those with leprosy, and they were sometimes marched through the streets or something.  Anyway, in those days they were commonly referred to as the Walking Dead! Also the mother of little Bram Stoker used to tell him stories about them, which inspired the idea of Dracula. Incidentally, the name come from two Irish words, “droch” and “ola”, which translate to bad blood! On top of all that we got to see were James Joyce lived! Oh and one more thing, in the middle of the city is the “spire” which is a monument to the sun, and its basically this really tall pole looking thing. Apparently if you stand at the base and look straight up it you can see the top moving on windy days. The guide warned us not to do try it though if we were prone to vertigo, and we understood why when we did it; its hard to describe but it was pretty disorientating.

Part of the deal with the pub crawl was that we got to do it again for free as long as we kept our wrist bands, so we gave it another go. At the first bar we met a group of grad students from the US, I don’t remember exactly where, who were out celebrating the one girl’s big achievement. I’m actually not sure what it was, but it must have been really great to warrant a trip to Europe. We went back to the bar with the musicians, and they were even better the second time around! Maybe it was because it was a Saturday night, but the crowd was much rowdier and there was quite a bit of dancing. The rest of the night was even more fun than the night before, and we met so many great people! Our flight was at 6 am, so we had to last until at least four, but by 1 or so I was fading fast. I decided to step out and look for a convenient store where I could buy some sort of energy supplement. Now I understand that’s unhealthy, and its typically not something I do very often, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I tried to ask the pub crawl guide for the nearest store and also asked if they sold 5 Hour Energy in Ireland. Instead of answering my question he went on a rant about how unhealthy that stuff is, and even went as far as to say I would be better off going back into the club and finding Ecstasy. I ended up with a Coca Cola.

By the time we left the final club things were starting to wind down anyway, so at least we didn’t really miss out. We caught our shuttle and I felt surprisingly awake all through the airport. That didn’t stop me from sleeping on the plane though, and once again, I enjoyed a much needed nap as soon as I returned to Madrid.

Lisbon!

So I know it’s been a while since my last post, but because my weekend study time has been dramatically reduced, my weekdays have been pretty monopolized. I don’t regret it though. Lisbon was probably one of the coolest cities I’ve ever been to; I had no idea what to expect going into it, but it was such an all-around amazing experience!

For whatever reason, we had “winter break”, I suppose to celebrate the end of midterms, so we had Thursday and Friday off. With that, Nola and I booked a flight for early Thursday morning. All went well and we arrived without issue (the flight was only 45 minutes after all). We found the right bus, arrived in the city center, and were able to navigate to our hostel effectively. The only issue we faced was the HUGE hill leading up to it; not only was it incredibly steep but the archaic cobblestones made it quite a frightening endeavor. We weren’t supposed to check into our hostel until 2 that afternoon, but we went straight there around 10 just to drop off our luggage. We were a bit unsure of the hostel because it had a somewhat vulgar name, but it had great reviews and was very reasonably priced. Our apprehension grew as we turned onto a sketchy looking side street and found an unassuming door. Someone was standing nearby and immediately let us into the reception area which opened to a cozy sort of common room. One of the staff quickly assured us that our luggage would be safe and even offered us some of the pancakes he was making for breakfast! After that he gave us a city map and outlined routes to some popular attractions. It seemed like the hostel would be cool after all, so that was a relief.

After chowing down on some flapjacks (though of course they didn’t have maple syrup), we set out into the streets of Lisbon. On our way down the hill we came upon a very elderly sort of lady with a cane. She was trying to say something to us in Portuguese, but neither of us could understand. We eventually discerned she was asking for an arm, so I held mine out to her and proceeded very slowly down the slope with Nola on her other side trying to keep her steady. I have no idea why she was on the hill by herself in the first place, but I guess it’s a good thing we were there. When we finally made it to the bottom, she kept trying to tell us something else, but again, we had no idea. It turned out she wanted help to the bus stop a couple streets over. It was actually kind of scary because this lady walked slower than anyone I’ve ever seen (understandably so), but she had no qualms about jay walking, and I’m pretty sure we almost got hit by like three buses. She made it to hers just in time so we left feeling accomplished. Afterwards, we wandered down to what I suppose was the main plaza and meandered to the sea. The weather was surprisingly warm and sunny, and the whole city was absolutely gorgeous. Everything was just so picturesque. We spent some time relaxing by the bay, absorbing some vitamin D and listening to a man play guitar; it was a such a serene and beautiful moment that I sort of wish I could have lived in it forever. I was eventually motivated to move along, however, by the prospect of food and wine. We walked along the main street and found a decent restaurant. As I’m sure you can imagine, Lisbon is famous for their seafood, which I detest, but I ordered what turned out to be a very satisfactory pizza. We were surprised at how expensive the wine seemed until the waiter brought our order and it turned out we had actually gotten a bottle. I can’t turn down a good deal, but we definitely hadn’t planned to split at bottle of red with lunch; it was fun though. The party seated next to us were some middle-aged people from the US, so we had a great time getting to know them.

By the time we finished, we were cleared to check into the hostel so we made the long journey back for a much needed nap. As we stood at reception, we started to get more of a feel for our lodgings. First all, I’m not sure who ran the place, but all the workers seemed to be in their mid-twenties; one person was from Canada and literally all the rest were from Australia. It was really great because they got to hang out and fit in with the guests, yet handled everything professionally. Anyway, the name of the hostel was G-Spot, and once we got there we realized the entire place was sex themed. I picked up a small bell from the counter to examine it and it read “ring for sex”, I got a kick out of it, but the young man checking us in saw me and very seriously said, “Be careful with that.” Things only got more thematic as we were lead to our rooms, which all had some sort of suggestive name. I won’t get too graphic, but for example ours was called Tea Bag. The inside was very nice though, plain but nice. This one was a 10 person mixed dorm, but there was no one in there at the time. As soon as we were assigned our bunks, we settled in and feel asleep soon after.

We woke up a few hours later ready for dinner. After some brief research we found a seemingly authentic place and tried for that. We didn’t get lost exactly, but we didn’t make it directly there either. When we finally did, we were borderline ravenous, but after skimming the menu we learned the cheapest dish was about €30, so we quickly decided to take our business elsewhere. We found another place that was alright, but the waiter was quite friendly. We went back to the hostel to join the pub crawl around 10 (obscenely early for us Madrelenas). By the now the common room was quite lively and filled with rowdy twenty-somethings from all over the world. The staff weren’t shy about participating in the shenanigans too, but they managed to remain in control of the situation. Once everyone had their wristbands, we headed out in one big mob to climb some more stairs to the first pub. It was a nice enough place I guess and we got a free shot (which was pretty much just juice). A lad nearby was kind enough to buy a round though, so Nola and I soon made the acquaintance of Simon and Matt, two young men from England that had met in the hostel earlier that day. They were both really nice and entertaining to talk to, but I couldn’t get over Matt’s sense of humor; I guess it was classically British, but everything from his diction to his timing had us in stitches. Simon was funny too, but he was a tad more of the intellectual type, which I also appreciated.

We were eventually corralled to another place, where we could enjoy a whole hour of unlimited beer or sangria. We had some more fun here and familiarized ourselves with some other people from the hostel. By the time we made it to the third bar, everything was so packed that it took us forever to be served, but we still had some fun. The fourth place was a “club”, but it sorely paled in comparison to anything I’ve seen in Madrid. It was a good time though. There was one young man there that started off ok, but quickly began to creep me out, so I went to find Nola and Matt and we promptly decided to leave. Luckily, we also happened to find Simon standing outside. Since we had gone to four places, we had absolutely no idea where we were, but Simon swore he did. I’m not saying I didn’t believe him, but we left the club at around 3:30 and didn’t make it to the hostel until about 5. It wasn’t all his fault though because for whatever reason we stopped to talked to a young local couple for quite a long time. It turned out the girl would be visiting Madrid in a couple weeks, so we exchanged information and promised to be in touch. We all shared some good laughs on the jaunt back, so, even though it had begun to rain, we weren’t too upset with Simon for taking us what was apparently the very long way home. I fell into my bunk that night feeling quite satisfied with our first day in Lisbon.

We woke up bright and early the next morning so as not to miss the pancake breakfast. We sat at tables among other zombie-looking people and passed around the Nutella and jam. We ran into Matt and all decided to go the big aquarium later that day. We retired back to our bunks and enjoyed a little bit more sleep before getting cleaned up. As we were walking back down to the lobby, I happened to see Simon through one of the open doors to a dorm and invited him along. We formulated a plan, but at that point it was time for lunch, so we first made our way to a café that Simon had to been to earlier in his trip. It was good food, and we enjoyed each other’s company. Afterwards we paid to ride on some huge elevator (a violation of lent I know, but they didn’t have stairs) to a lookout point. The city was even more amazing from above! We then made our way to the tram stop downtown and settled in for about a 45 minute ride to the aquarium. It was somewhat small compared to the one I went to in Gatlinburg last summer, but it had some very unique looking creatures. One of which was this Sunfish thing that was one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen! We also got tickets to the temporary exhibit which was the largest Japanese garden in the world. It was basically this square room and there were aquariums built into the walls filled with what were apparently Japanese plants and fish. They were playing calming music, so we sat in there for a good while peacefully contemplating the nature of life. Overall we had a really great experience exploring the wanders of the ocean together.

We made it back to the hostel and took a quick power nap before the festivities of the evening began. Once a month, they host a feast that includes unlimited sangria and a trivia night. By the time we got downstairs it was kind of full, so we found ourselves seated next to entirely new people. One of them was from London, but the other two, Dominic and Johann, were from Germany. The food was just ok, but there was plenty of it, so I guess that helped. We were then split into teams for the trivia night. Ours ended up being me, Nola, the two Germans, and one dude from northern Portugal, which was completely unfair because all the other teams had 7-10 people. We did do some trivia, but there were also drinking games thrown in. One was like a relay flip cup race, which my team won. Then they started passing out straws and it all came together when they provided each team with a vat of sangria and said the first team to finished would win. Not only did we have less people than everyone else, but Nola hates sangria so was hardly even a participant. Regardless, Dominic, who was already somewhat intoxicated, stood assuredly and said, “Don’t worry, we’re German, we got this.” He wasn’t kidding; we actually managed to win that challenge too! At the end they collected our written answers and scored them privately, so I have no idea how we did on that part, but for whatever reason we didn’t win. Once the winner was announced, we all set out once again for the pub crawl.

The first place was the same and Dominic generously bought us a round. I took a German class when I was eight and had learned some phrases last summer, so I successfully impressed them with my vocabulary. I even sang a song I remembered learning from the class and Johann commented that it was clearly Bavarian, which means my pronunciation was clear(ish)! It’s not often that I get use the German I learned, so it was pretty fun. The second place we went to was different, and we caught back up with Matt. We did have a great time, but we didn’t make it past that pub and returned to the hostel early. Well, when we left, we again had no idea where we were, but fortunately our wristbands had the address of the hostel (specifically for that reason), so we asked a random person on the street and he led us right to it. We got in around three or so, but there was…an incident in our room, so I happily sat on the couch in the common room watching It’s Always Sunny while it was taken care of. We later learned that some of the girls in our room were actually from Madrid, not far from where Nola and I live! I still regret not exchanging information, but oh well.

We managed to wake up Saturday morning before it was time to check out. You see, for whatever reason we had thought our flight out was Sunday morning around 5, so we didn’t see the need to pay for another night in the hostel when we’d have to leave for the airport around 3 anyway. Well, it turns out our flight was actually past 7, but that was alright. Since we missed the pancake breakfast that morning, we ventured downtown and tried a Chinese buffet; it was just alright. After that, we made our way to the castle on the hill. We trekked up the mountain and had to backtrack a few time, but we eventually found some foreigners to follow to the entrance. Once again, the birds-eye view of Lisbon was breathtaking! It’s hard to describe, and of course pictures won’t do it justice, but trust me, it was amazing. We had fun exploring the castle, which I’m pretty sure would not meet many safety standards, and we managed not to fall off any ledges

Our next stop was a neighborhood outside of the city that’s notorious for their egg tarts. I know that sounds disgusting, but they were actually quite delicious. We explored an old cathedral, but didn’t really do much else on that side of town and eventually caught the bus back. We had a meal, then just sort of ambled aimlessly around the city for a while. We eventually set out to find a neighborhood that’s famous for Fado music, which is a style of traditional singing and guitar. After getting lost in a very residential area near the castle, we found a cozy little establishment to settle in. It was an interesting environment, and we quickly got to know the party next to us. There were two middle aged men and their parents, who were all from Denmark but were somewhat familiar with parts of the US. They were interesting to talk to as we devoured our wine and cabbage soup. The music was also intriguing. If I focused really hard I could understand some of the Portuguese lyrics, but I was zoning in and out so I never really got the full meaning of a song. When the music started the lights would dim and the small room would fall silent, then several singers would rotate and sing for a few minutes each. The music would last for increments of about 45 minutes, then 45 would be spent serving food, eating, and talking.

Everything was going swimmingly until I made one of the worst mistakes of my life. One thing you should know about me is that after taking Biopsych a couple of years ago I diagnosed myself with a mild form of prosapagnosia, or face blindness; that is, I sometimes have trouble recognizing faces (Brad Pitt suffers from a mild of form of it too, so maybe we’ll meet in a support group someday). Anyway, once the music had ceased, I got up to go to the bathroom and when I came back I had the perfect opportunity to remind my waiter about the glass of water I had requested some time ago. Now nobody around here really spoke much Spanish, it was mostly French and Portuguese, but I had been doing alright speaking with them in one language and them responding in another. So I walk up to her and politely ask her if I could please have a glass of water. She seemed very confused, so I clearly repeated “glass of water” in Spanish. It just didn’t seem to be registering with her, which confused me because she had been understanding my Spanish the whole night. I happened to see a glass of water on a nearby counter, so I pointed to it and again said, “Agua.” Now she fully understood and in French she informed me that the waitress was on the other side of the room. She was nice about it and actually called the waitress over and requested some water for me. I returned to my seat shamefaced and told Nola that I had asked someone for water who wasn’t the waitress. After I pointed out the poor victim of my inattention Nola burst into laughter; apparently the woman had been one of the last singers to perform before the break and she had been walking around selling her CD. Now in my defense, she had been wearing a very distinctive shawl while singing that she later discarded so…that justifies it, right? I just feel so bad for this poor women who had been singing her heart out only to be mistook for one of the wait staff not ten minutes later. We left soon after.

Nola never really stopped laughing about that one as we made our way back to the area of the hostel. The pub crawl had just started, so we went to some of the usual bars to try catching up to them. I don’t think we ever did, but we sure did meet a ton of other people. I think I had more conversations with random people that night than I have in the last six months combined, but it was a great time. Various shenanigans ensued, and we retrieved our luggage from the hostel and called a cab right around 4 am. By then we realized our flight was later though, so sitting in the airport for a couple of hours was an enormous struggle. I had trouble keeping my eyes open as we stood in line to board, and I think I fell asleep immediately after taking my seat. It’s only a 45 minute flight, but I was bewildered when I opened my eyes and people where lined up to deplane. I felt better after the nap, but Nola and promptly returned to our respective houses before 11am for a much needed part dos. Overall Lisbon was such an amazingly fantastic (mostly) unforgettable experience and the perfect start to our travels for the semester!

 

Mardi Gras

Well this year’s Fat Tuesday was a success! I of course began by brainstorming something good to do for lent. Nische and I talked about it, and later I discussed it with Nola; I think we all have some pretty great things. Nische has committed to reading the entire Old Testament by Easter, which averages to a chapter a day; she has to read it for her class anyway, but she would be finished a couple of weeks early. Nola decided to abstain from gluttonous eating after a night of drinking. I gave up two things: elevators and my snooze button. Science shows that going back to sleep after your alarm decreases your overall energy level, and stairs are always a great way to work in some cardio.
So Tuesday night Nola and I went Pool & Beer, had a great time discussing some of our travel plans, then afterwards she went to an excellent burrito bar nearby for quite an amazing midnight snack. It is a little expensive, but so delicious, and it was her Fat Tuesday! I was a little disappointed because this place is the one that sells cheap Budweiser, but the manager said I couldn’t get one to go because the bottle was not disposable; I did, however, discover that they also serve Hefeweizen, so I was content. When I got back to my apartment, I made sure to savor my ride in the elevator. Now I know I technically should have slept in on Tuesday, but I hadn’t thought of it yet, plus I had to get up early to finish some homework before class that morning. Alternatively, on Wednesday I didn’t have anything I really had to get done before my class at 5:30. Furthermore, I’ll have to get up extra early on Easter to go with Bomi to the airport, so it just made sense to push it back a day.
Anyway, it’s going pretty well so far. I got right out of bed this morning with relative ease, so hopefully that continues. The stairs on the other hand have been a bit more challenging. I’m all the way on the sixth floor, and I definitely break a sweat on the climb. I did it three time yesterday and twice today, and I can definitely feel it. By Easter I’m going to have legs and lungs of steel though, which I’m sure will come in handy while backpacking around Europe:)

Fat Tuesday was fun while it lasted, but unfortunately much of this weekend will be spent working hard, as next week I have my translation midterm and first poetry essay. I took a couple of pictures on my stroll in the park this afternoon because it was finally sunny again!

 

El trabajo, El juego, y El Carnival

Well this past week has been a hectic mixture of work and play. On Monday, I had my appointment at the police station to apply for my replacement residency card, and of course, nothing there can ever be easy. This time, I was much to blame for the complications though. So first of all, although I had been there before, on this day I was going there from somewhere different, and it didn’t turn out so well. I guess I took the wrong line because I was on the metro for over an hour, and as soon as I arrived at the station I knew I was in the wrong place. The road that the police station is on wasn’t too far away, so I figured I could find it then just follow it until I recognized my surroundings. This idea was easier thought than executed though. After asking about three people I finally found the right street, but then I ended up following it for at least an hour and a half to no avail. It eventually seemed to just sort of end, and I still had no idea where I was. I found a metro station and decided to cut my losses and make another appointment, because by now my time slot had long since passed. As I examined the metro map to find my way home however, I suddenly spotted the stop I knew I needed to get to for the police station. Why I couldn’t have done that in the first place, I don’t know. Anyway, I figured since I was already out, I might as well try it, so I rode for another half hour or so until I reached the familiar stop.

I arrived to the police station about two hours late, but it was pretty empty so they didn’t seem to mind in the slightest. I couldn’t believe my luck! That euphoria soon faded as the clerk went through all of my documents then informed me that I needed a police report. I smiled, politely looked through the documents she had discarded, and showed her the police report I had gotten over break. She read it, frowned, then asked me what it was and where I had done it. The report clearly said Highland, Illinois, but I guess I can’t blame her for not knowing where that is. Anyway, she went on to inform me that I needed a report in Spanish issued by the Spanish government. My spirits fell, but I was happy that I had made it there that day, as there was now going to be another whole step. Fortunately though, it turned out that I could get it done then and there, so she told me to go take care of it upstairs, then to come back down. I got excited that I would be able to complete it that day after all, but the report was an ordeal of its own. I found the office and explained my situation to the man behind the window. He gave me an appointment slip then told me to go across to the waiting room, ask who the last person in line to file a report is, then my time would be after that person. I guess I looked a little a confused, because he asked if I had understood him, but I just nodded and went to the waiting room.
Contrary to his instructions, I just found an empty chair and sat down; I figured I could eventually ascertain who the last person was through process of elimination anyway. The room was packed full of people, some of which had apparently been waiting there for almost two hours! It was clear who they were, because they all spoke to each other as if they had been long time friends. When someone would exit the office, they would let out a triumphant cheer, the people waiting would congratulate them, and then the whole room would chorus hasta luego as the person left. When a new person entered they would immediately ask who the last person in line was, so after a while I kind of felt weird for not doing that, but they all seemed to regard me kindly anyway. My wait did end up taking close to two hours, but I used that time to catch up on some course reading and organize my schedule, so it wasn’t that bad. When it was finally my turn, I was called back into the office, where a quite attractive young officer took my information, printed out the form, and sent me on my way in less than five minutes.

Back downstairs I had to wait in line for a while to get to another clerk and when I finally did, the young man announced that I also needed a photo copy of the police report, which I could do outside. I didn’t mean to because I know it wasn’t his fault, but I reflexively shot him and exasperated glare. When he saw I had made the report at that location though, he was able to pull it up and print it out himself. I made sure to articulate my gratitude as well as I could. Afterwards, he took my fingerprints then sent me on my way! When I had embarked on this adventure at 10:30 that morning, I never imagined that I would have trouble making it to my 5:30 class, but I ended up arriving about 15 minutes late. I spoke to my professor after afterwards though and he seemed to understand all too well how those things go; he said that ultimately the most important thing was that I had gotten everything sorted out.

I took some time to decompress after class, and overall I felt very accomplished. Then after dinner I was reminded that I had agreed to help my roommate, Nische, with one of her assignments. So there’s this bar, Pool & Beer, that’s exactly half a block away from Nola and I, so we end up there a lot. It has a great atmosphere, everyone is really nice, and they serve some really great beers; they even have Franziskaner, my all-time favorite brew! Not to mention if we sit there long enough they usually end up giving us a free shot. Two nights a week they host a language exchange where native Spanish speakers can practice their English with native speakers and vice versa. Ever since we started going there, the bartender noticed us speaking English and had been encouraging us to come. So for her journalism class Nische was supposed to attend such an exchange and interview three people about the process of learning English. Nola and I agreed to accompany here because Nische had never been there and doesn’t speak any Spanish. We ordered a round, and by the time we were had almost finished nothing had gotten accomplished, so I took initiative. I walked up to a boy and girl seated nearby who looked to be about our age, and asked them for an interview. The girl said she knew some English, but would prefer to do it in Spanish so we proceeded as such. Nische would feed me questions, then after listening to the girl’s response I would relay it back to Nische. Of course I didn’t speak perfectly, but I got my point across and understood virtually everything the girl told me! It was super encouraging and I really enjoyed it! Over the course of the night I ended up interviewing two more people and it went so well! I’m a great roommate, I know.

The rest of week was mostly spent trying to stay on top of reading and making travel arrangements! Nola and I booked our flights to Rome and Dublin, and we have currently booked hostels in Lisbon, Dublin, Brussels, Prague, Berlin, and Rome! Now we just need one for Madrid before we leave for spring break and we need to book the trip to Southern Spain, but we definitely accomplished a lot. On Thursday we went out again and of course eventually ended up back at Pool & Beer. Then of course when the night was coming to a close, we had to walk down to our favorite pizza shop. I know I’ve said before that the pizza here isn’t that great, but this one place serves some of the most amazing four cheese pizza I’ve ever had. The best part is that they’re open 24 hours. Anyway, we were feeling quite content as Nola entered her apartment. I was about a block away from mine, but on my way I happened to pass two young men on the side walk. We initiated conversation, and it turned they had also just come from Pool & Beer and they both work at a nearby restaurant we frequent. One of them was from Peru, and I don’t remember where the other one was from but it was somewhere in South America. We talked for a very long time and argued about the similarities and differences between Castilian Spanish and American Spanish. Eventually they asked if I wanted to go to a bar a couple of blocks away and I agreed, but it turned out to be closed anyway. We sat outside talking for even longer, and it was like I was actually hanging out with friends! That might not seem so incredible, but it was entirely in Spanish and I was able to keep and participate effectively.

On Friday night Nola was desperate to try somewhere new, so we finally made it to the Cave Bar. Like it sounds, the whole interior of this place is made to look like a cave and it was actually really cool. We ordered their signature drink, which translates to “panther milk” and is partially served on tap from a stalactite. It was pretty overpriced and super disgusting, but at least we tried it I guess. I’m sure you can discern where we went afterwards, and we eventually ended at Nola’s apartment because her host family apparently goes out of town every weekend. We watched Pride and Prejudice because I had never seen and its one of her favorite movies. It was pretty good so I guess I’ll have to add it to my book bucket list.

Saturday was the festival for Carnival, which is basically the Spanish equivalent to Mardi Gras. It was a little different here than it is in Soulard, but somewhat similar too. Pretty much everyone dresses up in ridiculous costumes and parties in the streets. There was a parade at 6:00 and it was very interesting. I think anyone is free to enter, so there were some diverse groups that were all dressed in elaborate costume and mostly danced or did some other kind of trick. There were a couple floats, but not many. There were also groups from different countries that would wear their traditional clothing and dance to traditional music, so that was really cool. Madrid is not exactly notorious for its Carnival celebration, but it was a good time nonetheless. Anyway, with such an eventful week behind me and so many exciting things to come, I promised myself I would devote today to course work. I haven’t started yet, but the day is still relatively young so, you know, I will…

 

Bienvenidos Otra Vez

Well I officially made it back to Madrid, which was something that I had been little uncertain about. So I’m not exactly sure what happened, but somehow on my last night in Madrid before break I lost possession of my wallet. All I know is that when I woke up the next morning, late I might add, that I didn’t have it. It wouldn’t have been that big of deal because it was easy to cancel my cards and get a new license, but I also lost my Spanish residency card. As in, the card that I spent like six months working to get! For that reason I was a little worried that I would be stopped in Munich from boarding the flight to Madrid. I was told that as long I had a police report and my passport I should be good, but the people in Student Life didn’t seem all that confident. Anyway, the immigration people in Munich just stamped my passport without so much as even asking what I was doing there (they had been much more thorough in Frankfurt on the way to Chicago). Then in Madrid I literally walked off the plane and went straight to baggage claim! After that I considered just not bothering to get a new one, but alas my incessant wanderlust got the best of me; I couldn’t bear the thought of not going somewhere for fear of being detained at the border, though I do think deportation would be a valuable life experience. Anyway, I’ve been going through the process of getting all my documents in order, and my appointment to apply is tomorrow, which means I’ll have to go all the way back out to that police station in the middle of nowhere. I just hope all it goes off without a problem.

So far this semester has been going surprisingly well. I like my classes much more that I thought I would, but the workload is already somewhat intense. I feel like I’m learning a lot though, so I guess that’s the point. It turns out that analyzing poetry is more enjoyable than I remembered, and class has actually been pretty interesting. I had to read an entire novel last week for my literature class, and it was not good. Though I still have much to learn, I notice that my Spanish literacy skills are definitely improving. Hopefully the next book will be better, but this week of class will be spent watching the movie of the last book, so we’ll see when I actually get around to starting it. My translation class is pretty much how I expected, and I love it. Every week we have to translate about a page of text from a variety of sources. It seems like we are mostly doing fictional literature, and it’s pretty interesting. Last week we had to do the begging of Pride and Prejudice though and it was pretty tough. I’ve skimmed through the course packet and I’m especially excited to do the Goblet of Fire and The Catcher in the Rye! Anyway, the following class is then used to go over the article and discern the correct translation. Its ridiculously arduous, and most of the time we just debate about the true meaning of a certain word in context and which word in Spanish best expresses that idea. We literally spend the whole hour and a half going over like one paragraph, but it’s pretty fun.

To balance my sense of despair after reading through my syllabi, I’ve started to plan my next adventures for this semester. I’m especially excited for spring break. My friend Bomi is coming to visit from the US and we recently book our tickets to go to Brussels, Prague, and Berlin! Nola and I have also booked tickets to go to Lisbon at the end of February and on a three day tour around the major cities in the south of Spain mid-March. We are very close to getting a flight to Dublin in April, but we’re still figuring out the best dates. We’ve also talked about going to Florence, which I would love to do, but for whatever reason it’s super expensive, so we might go to Rome instead. We’ll see. It’s going to be the busiest semester, but I figure I might as well use my youth (and life savings) to the best of its ability while I still have it.

Being back in Madrid has been pretty cool too I guess. Nola moved host families, so now she literally lives right around the corner from me! We’ve enjoyed exploring new places around the neighborhood, and we’ve even already became regulars at a few. Having a roommate has also been pretty great. Her name is Nische and she’s originally from Poland, but her family moved to Chicago and she’s now a sophomore at SLU. She’s really nice and we’ve bonded pretty well. Fortunately she doesn’t seem to mind my constant singing/humming or random bursts of laughter, and she loves to sleep just as late as I do. It hasn’t been hard sharing the small space either; I actually forgot how much I like having a roommate. We even went out together last night. My cousin had been telling Nola and me about this popular club, so the four of us and a couple of people from school tried it out. It was all techno music, and very different from the other clubs we’ve gone to which mostly play pop and what not. Last night there was a DJ there from Germany, and she was pretty good. The crowd there was interesting to say the least, but we all had a good time. The best part was that it’s located in Sol (though we later learned that it consistently changes locations) so we got to go to that great churro place for breakfast. All and all things here are going very well, and I think this semester is going to be an absolutely amazing albeit exhausting experience.