I officially began my 10 month journey in Spain about six seeks ago. If you don’t already know, I’m teaching English in Spain through the Auxiliares de Conversación Program. I’ll be stationed in the city of Madrid until June 30th (or longer if I decide to renew my teaching contract for another year or so). It can definitely be really intimidating moving abroad, especially to a land where you barely speak the language! (For tips on improving your Spanish, check out my post here).
I landed in Madrid, Spain on September 14th after nearly 24 hours of travel from Montana, USA. Luckily for me, I had everything figured out before I arrived. I used a service called Pack to Spain, where I paid someone to find me a piso, set me up with a cell phone SIM, take care of my abono (transportation card), and get me a bank account. His package services have changed a bit (finding everyone a piso took longer than he thought, apparently, haha), but for me it was perfect! I found out my school would be in Villanueva de la Cañada, a smaller village northwest of Madrid central. I discovered the easiest place for me to live in that situation would be in the Argüelles/Moncloa area, as I would be leaving from the Moncloa bus station every morning. I wanted that to be within walking distance, if possible.
So, I Skyped with Alejandro, founder of Pack to Spain, and we communicated about a month or so before I was set to leave for Spain. I gave him my list of piso/roommate preferences and we he found me the perfect little apartment! I met my future (now current) roommate via Skype and we talked and got along really well. I decided to pull the trigger with Alejandro and agreed to live in the piso with my roommate, Amy. I put down a €50 deposit and paid the rest to him in cash upon my arrival. That really made me feel good, because surely it couldn’t be a scam for such a small deposit!
When I arrived in Spain, Alejandro and Amy (and a few friends) picked me up at the Madrid airport! There was a bit of chaos because my backpack disappeared (have you already read my Visa Nightmare story?), so we were at the airport filling out claims for it for longer than would have been preferable… I was in a bit of a state because my nice camera and Nintendo DS (don’t judge me) and all of my makeup were inside my backpack! The backpack itself was also pretty nice! Luckily they found and delivered it to me two days later. Phew. (Gotta remind myself that everything works out in the end…)
The view from my 5th (really 7th) floor apartment bedroom:
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And now, I’m in Spain! Settled, more or less.
Awkward solo pose picture inserted here… haha I never know what to do with my arms!!
What Have I Been Up To Since Arriving…
Well, honestly not a heck of a lot. It took me a few days to adjust to the time difference. Then, of course, there’s all the paperwork (fellow expats know what I’m talking about). Basically, if you’re going to live in a foreign country for more than a few months, there is a lot of work that goes with that. I already got my temporary student visa, but upon arriving I had to apply for my TIE (basically a green card to live in Spain). Then I had to get a document stating I wasn’t a sexual offender in the country of Spain… Yeah, for the whole two weeks I was there. Silly, but it’s a record the school needs to have on file because of a new Spanish law for working with children. Luckily, I had it easier than most since all of my bank, phone, and transportation paperwork was done for me (thanks, Alejandro!). I did have to also get some paperwork done for my apartment, but not too much. You get here and you realize that Spain is not the United States. My landlord didn’t even care if I was on the contract, as long as my roommate Amy was. No pasa nada.
That being said, I have enjoyed a few small things in the city of Madrid! I’ll be happy to share some of my experiences with you.
The Madrid Zoo
So turns out there are two zoos in Madrid… We went to the one that also had the aquarium. This was one of the first things I did with my roommate, her friend, and boyfriend. Since we live in the Argüelles/Moncloa district and usually walk most places, I wanted to see what was around. Turns out, there’s a lot. We decided to hop on the gondola/cable cars and got an amazing view of the city. It was beautiful and if you’re in Madrid, you should check it out. You can see the Plaza de España, Templo de Debod (an actual Egyptian temple that was given to Spain by Egypt in 1968), and the whole city skyline from the cable cars. There was a slight discount (I think we saved like €4) for booking both the zoo and the cable car ride together.
The zoo itself was also quite fun! We saw panda bears, red pandas, rhinos, deer, gorillas (and an adorable baby gorilla), bears, and my personal favorite, the dolphin!
The bears were adorable:
And obviously I loved the dolphins:
Those were a couple of my favorite videos from the day. Fair word of warning for those that decide to check out the zoo: the food there is so overpriced! We should have figured as much, but still, we didn’t pack anything. We ended up getting a burger and fries and a soda at a little stand because the only restaurant had nothing less than €20… We also did a toooon of walking that day. We walked to the zoo after the cable cars and it was more of a trek than we initially thought. Don’t do this if you have bad knees, it’s really cold out, or you have children with you! Unless of course you enjoy torturing yourself, then by all means, go ahead… I think by the end of the day, we walked just over 8 miles (13 km). At least we burned off that burger and fries! Overall it was a fun day, but I probably won’t be heading back anytime soon.
Alcalá de Henares: Medieval Festival
Alcalá de Henares is a town 22 miles (35 km) northeast of Madrid. It’s also located in the same region of Madrid. The city has over 200,000 people in it, so it’s by no means small. Getting there was actually pretty straightforward. Because my school is in the same transportation zone as Alcalá (B3 if you’re wondering), I just used my abono card. Without an abono, you would just need to buy a ticket for the cercanías (more like an above ground train thing) from the Atocha station. I am slowly but surely figuring my way around this public transportation thing!
So upon arriving, we went to the festival in the city center. It was pretty cute! Honestly, we didn’t do a whole heck of a lot once we arrived there. We walked around, bought food, walked around some more, took pictures, and got more food… (haha) There were quite a few things to see and if you’re into hand crafted (albeit overpriced) goods, then you’d have a marvelous time. Still, it was nice to get out of the center of Madrid and explore Spain a bit!
Me and my roommate Amy at the festival!
Our ridiculous pile of meat for lunch
Look guys, I’m making friends! The festival group 🙂
Overall, it was nice just to enjoy the company of my friends. We all had fun hanging out, drinking, eating, and talking together. There were also photo ops on a fake iron throne (the nerd in me was pretty tempted to dish out the €5, but the poor teacher in me resisted), with birds (owls, falcons, and a vulture), and costumes to mess around with. Children could take advantage of the man powered fair rides and donkey rides as well! And everybody can take advantage of the delicious crepes you can get there!
Exploring Madrid, the City
The actual city of Madrid has no shortage of things to do and see. I’ve haven’t even made a dent with the things that I’ve gone and seen! I still have many months and weekends left to explore the city, however. In the short time I have been here, I’ve managed to explore a little bit. I’ve really enjoyed it too! I’m definitely taking advantage of walking around, something I certainly didn’t do much of in the United States. I have seen beautiful sunsets, adorable European architecture, eaten delicious food, and tons more in the city of Madrid.
Take advantage of these incredible views at Plaza de España during sunset!
Tostada con tomate and café con leche… My favorite simple Spanish breakfast!
The Royal Palace of Madrid at sunset… Absolutely beautiful. You can also pay for tours of this place.
There’s just something about the European streets that has me swooning! Love this view!
No trip to Madrid would be complete without visiting one of the huge markets! This one is in Sol, the city center. One of the most popular dishes in Spain is jamón, or ham. They sell the legs just like this, everywhere you go. A mark of a fine Spanish restaurant is a ham leg rack, or so I’ve been told…
Overall, Spain has been a huge blast. I’m continuing to work on improving my Spanish and improve myself as a teacher. There will be a lot more posts in the future about what my job actually entails, but at least now you have a small glimpse into what my life has been like since moving to Spain. Honestly, I’m really enjoying it so far! I’ve made a nice group of friends who have been so welcoming in showing me around the city. I think this is going to be an exceptionally fine year.