Prior to my departure on Wednesday, I thought my biggest travel trouble would be navigating the Madrid metro and traveling by train to Ciudad Real. But fortunately after the mess I was in Wednesday in England (see previous post), traveling in Spain on Thursday was a piece of cake. The only time I thought I had to use my terrible Spanish after a 2.5 year hiatus was to pay for my train ticket and when there was some confusion on the time of train departure the clerk started clarifying in English without my verbal prompting (although I suppose my confused look and use of my hands to tell the time was a bit of a prompt). On the train the woman next to me began complaining about something to me, or at least I think she was complaining, and I just smiled and nodded my head hoping I was being polite. When I reached Ciudad Real, my friend Cami met me and we headed to her apartment where she lives with two native Spanish speakers. It was funny staying with them because almost every conversation was bilingual as Cami spoke to them in English and they responded in Spanish (although Cami said they usually speak just Spanish but since I was there she spoke English). I also enjoyed listening to them make plans for the evening because it reminded me of Spanish class when the teacher would play a conversation several times until we understood it. Cami took me right into town to do a little site seeing. Cami claimed there wasn’t much to see in Ciudad Real but we both agreed that the city was full of beauty in its greenery, fountains, courtyards, architecture, etc. As we wandered through the city we couldn’t help but do a little shopping too. This little excursion ending tragically when I fell deeply in love with a pair of dark purple suede boots that were out of stock in my size. I tried to keep my chin up as we continued our trek though. We went into a little cafe where I attempted to order a Coke but lacking confidence in Spanish I spoke too quietly and Cami ended up doing all the talking. I expected to just receive a plastic bottle of Coke with a cap so we could just keep walking around but instead we received open glass bottles of Coke and a glass to pour them in. We sat down and the waiter brought over 2 pieces of bread with a sausage on each. This was my first tapas encounter. In Spain, generally anywhere you order a drink (Beer, Coke, Sangria, etc.) you will receive a little snack on the side called a “tapa”. I had heard of tapas before but thought they were simply Spanish appetizers. Cami and I headed back to her apartment, got ready for a night on the town, and headed out with the biggest group of English speakers Cami could assemble for me.
Our first stop was of course a tapas bar! This place was nothing like the way you would picture a bar in the U.S. or even England. It reminded me more of the kebab shops that are scattered across Europe or to relate it to something in America I would think its most like a Subway (the sandwich shop not the mode of transportation). Imagine a well-lit Subway where when you go up to the counter you replace buying a sandwich with a round of drinks and instead of being asked which veggies you want with it you get to choose which tapa you want. The first round of drinks came with the group’s choice of hot ham and cheese sandwiches, a very basic treat. The place was packed and Cami explained that this was a typical starting point for most Spanish nights out. After a few more rounds of drinks and tapas, we headed to a bar that seemed more familiar with a pool table and darts. Here we met up with more of Cami’s English-speaking friends, most of whom are English teachers originating from different parts of Europe. I had a Calimocho (Red Wine, Coke, and blackberry syrup) which came highly recommended and everyone played a few rounds of pool before the crew moved on to another bar. As the night went on we hit up a few more hot spots around Ciudad Real where I learned that there is rarely toilet paper in the bathrooms and that Cami is practically a celebrity in Ciudad Real because she is tall, blonde, and is a native English speaker which is not the norm in those parts. After exhausting the night life of Ciudad Real we decided to call it a night/morning, stopped to grab some Chuches (gummy candy), tried one of every flavor that looked appetizing, and made the trek back to Cami’s apartment for a good nights/mornings rest.
The next day we got up and did another lap of sight seeing in Ciudad Real. Just being outside in the city was amazing because the weather was tropical compared to November in the Midwest and England. I’d say it felt more like early September to me. Unfortunately, we must have been enjoying our afternoon stroll too much because by the time we got back and found a cab to bring us to the train station we were too late to get on our train to Madrid. It was just my luck. Another train came an hour later and we hopped on but not without having to buy our tickets once again. When we arrived in Madrid, we navigated our way to Cami’s friend Laura’s apartment. Laura is also from North Dakota and teaching English in Spain. We got our barrings for a few minutes and then headed out to a tapas bar. This tapas bar was different from the tapas bar in Ciudad Real as it was more of a bar like atmosphere and the coolest part was if you ordered just one drink you could eat all the tapas you wanted from a buffet. Most of the tapas here were just slices of bread with different toppings such as mustard and ham or coleslaw but occasionally they would bring out cocktail hot dogs or our personal favorite deep fried green peppers. As we enjoyed our drinks and massive amounts of tapas, a group of men came over to chat with us. Initially, I assumed they were just hitting on us but as we began to talk I realized that they were genuinely friendly and more importantly trying to practice their English. After we were sufficiently stuffed with tapas and exhausted ourselves of conversation with our new friends, we headed out to see the city of Madrid at night with a few of Laura’s friends. We wandered around to the Mercado de San Miguel, the Plaza Major, and a popular area to go to clubs and bar. Cami, Laura, and I were very tired and had a busy day the next day so we headed back to Laura’s for a good nights rest.
On Saturday, Cami and I headed into the center of Madrid for a guided walking tour. We had a bit of time to spare beforehand though and we couldn’t help but do some shopping! I really love the shopping experience in Europe because malls are not the norm so as you wander from store to store you get to admire the beautiful city life outside. We met our walking tour in the Plaza Major and for an 1.5 hours (we only went on half the tour) we were shown around the city by a very informative guide. The tour we went through was called “Sandeman’s New Europe” and it was completely free with the exception of an optional tip for the tour guide. They operate in several different cities and I highly recommend them. Our guide showed us old criminal hideouts, the oldest restaurant in the world, tons of sites made famous by the Spanish inquisition, the oldest building in Madrid, Muslim wall ruins, the Madrid Cathedral and more. The tour guide pointed out all the pig legs hanging in the windows of shops (after my few days in Spain it had become pretty apparent to me that the Spanish absolutely love their pork products) and said that during the Spanish Inquisitions the easiest way to prove you were not practicing Muslim or Jewish religions was by blatantly displaying that pork was in your diet. Following the tour Cami and I headed back to Laura’s apartment where she cooked us a traditional Spanish meal of a very salty pork with yogurt sauce that had curdled into what looked like a cheese (I have since forgotten the name of this dish). We took our time getting ready to go out and didn’t head to a friend of Laura’s apartment until midnight. After doing a little convincing of Laura’s friends, we finally headed out on the town to an Irish bar near the center of Madrid. The place was packed and when we left at around 5 am it was still practically impossible to move!
The bad thing about starting our night so late is not getting into bed until just before sunrise and therefore sleeping most of the day away. By the time we woke up it was almost time for me to catch my plane back to England. We did one last lap of the neighborhood, said our goodbyes, and I headed to the airport where I got my blue Ryanair stamp and was allowed on my flight home.
Monday was the big day of my first Carnage experience. Carnage is a pub crawl that occurs in college towns all over the UK and I had heard about it from all of my British friends as a must-do event. The name Carnage comes from the idea that its destructive like a scene out of a deadly war battle and a lot of students try to live up to the name by drinking excessively. My friends Jane, Lars, Sophia, and I had planned on going to the event together with Sophia being the only veteran of the event. We paid 10 pounds each for a tshirt that got us in to several different clubs and were supposed to dress to the theme of “Emergency Services” which proved to be difficult since most firefighter, police officer, etc. outfits were sold out. We ended up opting to just bring whistles and I wore neon green shorts to represent an ambulance (ambulances here have bright reflective material on them). Sophia brought us to a house party before heading to the clubs where Jane and I realized we were very over dressed and did not fit the typical Carnage ensemble. Most of the girls had cut their tshirts so that they barely existed and were wearing very little beyond that. We promptly found a scissors and cut the necks on our tshirts but we still hardly fit in. When we finally got to the town center around 11 pm we decided to start at a club we were familiar with called Yates. After spending maybe a half hour at Yates we were told by an event organizer that the final club, Tru, would stop letting Carnage participants in for free after midnight so we had to hurry over there. After dancing for a while at Tru and enjoying the spectacle, we decided to head out. We didn’t catch the spirit of Carnage right away but overall we had a good night out and naturally enjoyed some cheesy chips on our bus ride home!
Things I am loving: Tapas, Seeing a good friend from home, Seeing first hand the culture differences just a 2 hour flight away, Staying out til just before the sun comes up, Christmas festivities starting in Brighton, ShoppingShoppingSHOPPING, Flying over Brighton and being able to recognize the pier, Finally seeing what Carnage is all about, Thinking about the snow that will hopefully be greeting me when I return to Minnesota,
Things I am not quite loving: All my clothes smelling of smoke still from Spain, Missing flights and trains and having to pay the price, Living in dorms is getting to be very boring and monotonous, Feeling like there is not enough time to do everything I wanna do and finish my course work, No Pandora makes it hard for me to find a good free Christmas music playlist,
I’m starting to realize my time abroad is slowly coming to an end. I have 3 weeks left of classes which also means I have 3 weeks to finish a bunch of assignments and enjoy my time here. Fortunately, the next 3 weekends consist of 2 field trips across England and 1 weekend in Brighton to finish up my schoolwork but still have a little fun. This weekends field trip is to the city of Bath and the historical marvel that is Stonehenge. It should be really fun because the field trip is put on by our program advisors and most of the USAC students are going.
Peace, Love, Tapas and English Travels.
Finally with Cami! and enjoying my first Tapa bar experience! (Photo copyrighted to Cami’s Camera)
In beautiful and SUNNY Ciudad real (Photo Credit to Cami)
The symbol for the city of Madrid!
A birds eye view of Carnage!