Yo hablo espanol mas que antes!!!
I am not sure this will be the longest blog entry yet. Mostly because it will reflect my week in Madrid. Hopefully, I can convince Nicola to write something for the blog as well about her week of the Camino de Santiago.
We arrived in Madrid on the 3rd of October. If you remember from the last entry, we came from London and visiting Jenny and family. The whole purpose of coming to Madrid was because Moire (Nicola’s mom) was coming to walk the Camino de Santiago. She began it last year but wasn’t able to finish it because her brother passed away quite unexpectedly. She was quite determined to finish it this year. Probably about a month before, I suggested to Nicola that she take a week to walk with her mom. When else will she have this opportunity to spend that kind of quality time with her mom… in October anyway. When Nic suggested it to Moire, Moire was so excited she could barely sleep for a couple of nights. The question for me then became what to do while they walked the Camino.
Moire arrived on the 4th and so did Jenny. It was a great opportunity for Jenny to spend some time with Moi as well. We stayed at the Hotel Convencion on Calle O’Donnell in Madrid. We booked two rooms, one for me and Nic and one for Moi and Jenny. Friday was kind of a write off as Moire did not get in until late afternoon and was very tired from about 24 hours of flights. That said, we still went out for dinner and began the visit.
On Saturday, we decided to take the Madrid City Tour, hop on hop off city bus. We bought a two day ticket as it was only 4€ more than a one day. We used the bus to scope out what we wanted to do for the day. For most meals we ate the menu del dia. Usually about 9 or 10 €, it includes two courses plus a small dessert and a beer. I would not say it is cheap but not terribly expensive. However, at about 8pm we wanted some tapas. You cannot come to Spain and not have some tapas. Before tapas, we wandered from Puerto del Sol to Plaza Mayor. Puerto del Sol made us a little nervous because of the sheer number of police on hand. It seems there is quite regularly protests in Madrid and usually in the Puerto del Sol area. They are not really dangerous, more peaceful expression of unhappiness about the state of the economy in Spain. It is not good these days.
In Puerto del Sol and in Plaza Mayor there are lots of street performers. Some of them as simple as an adult pretending to be a baby in a baby carriage or seemingly floating air. Others are more involved performances like skipping demonstrations or street magic performances. It is nice just to roam around and take in the atmosphere amongst the Madrilenas enjoying their weekend. We eventually found an authentic little tapas bar. You knew it had to be good because people spilled onto the street of this little place. There were no tourists, only locals… I think. Tapas is a type of food that is kind of like small appetizers. It might be some cheese, ham, or something like cheese and olives on a small slice of bread. Typically, one eats it while standing around drinking a beer. We got a table though and ordered a bunch of different ones to try it all. Quite a cultural experience for sure. After an hour or so, we took the hop on hop off bus as far as we could before it ended. We still had about a 20 minute walk though to get back to our place.
On Sunday, lots of the streets were shut down for some kind of bike race. Not exactly a competitive race, more the kind where people collect donations for something… I think anyway. So, we wandered through Parque del Retiro. Right in the middle of Madrid is a gorgeous park. Every day, and moreso on weekends, Madrilenas flock to the park to enjoy the outdoors. Some people just stroll around, others run, bike, rollerblade, etc. Some people go to an area of the park to work out in the outdoors. There is outdoor weightlifting, etc. There is a small pond or lake in the park as well and some people rent row boats while others sit around in cafes watching the activity.
We planned to get on the hop on hop off again. Nic did not have her ticket though so I just went back to the hotel and she took mine. They did the second half of the tour. Nic and Moi went off to buy a train ticket though. I went back to pack as I was moving out on Sunday. That is right, I was leaving a day before Nic.
When Nic decided to meet her mom, I had to decide what to do. For a while I thought about going to an all inclusive resort somewhere. Then I thought about just hanging out in Madrid. For a while I considered a few days in Madrid and a few days in Lisbon. However, I settled on a week of Spanish classes in Madrid. I signed up with AIL Madrid after researching several options. I signed up for 20 hours of group classes and 5 hours of private classes. I also signed up for a home stay with a Spanish family. So, I moved in with my adopted family on Sunday evening. My host family was Nicolas and Celia Cabrera and their two children.
Throughout the week, I had breakfast and dinner with my host family. They helped me with my Spanish and I helped them with English… a little anyway. Nicolas prepared my breakfast everyday and cooked me a typical Spanish meal for dinner everyday. As the week went on I was progressively more able to speak Spanish with them. They were extremely friendly, welcoming and helpful. I feel honoured to have had the opportunity to share their home with them for a week.
In my classes at AIL, I learned that they had not put me in the lowest class available. I am not sure why. Perhaps it was an oversight or perhaps it was because I was taking private classes as well. In the end though, I think it was better that I was challenged as I was. If I was in the lower level I feel like I might have been bored. As it happens, I forced myself to study and practice more. By the end of the week, I feel like I was able to have conversations in Spanish… albeit in the present tense only!!!
I met some nice people in my classes and in other classes. The one that I got along with best was Jonathon Pitts. Jonathon is from Florida and started the same day as me and in the same class. We ended up having lunch together most days and hanging out together a lot. This was good because we both were able to practice our Spanish together. I must admit that to a Spanish person who might have overheard us probably would have laughed at our conversations. Nevertheless, hanging out with Jonathon made my week much more enjoyable. Thanks Jon.
My classes were fun. My teacher, Leticia, was very entertaining and had lots of energy. She truly made me feel like I wanted to do better. My private teacher, Eduardo, was also very good. We practiced grammar and vocabulary. What worked for me the best I think was the conversation. My private classes with Edu actually helped to make me more brave to try to speak Spanish. We talked about basketball, football, geography, and more. After my last class, it was like a light went on for me and I began trying to speak more. I feel like if I had another month or so to take classes I would truly make great strides towards fluency.
I did a couple of things during the week as part of the social and cultural activities organized by the school. Part of the problem was that the activities were all in Spanish… very rapidly spoken Spanish. One evening I went to see a flamenco show. Flamenco is not actually a Spanish thing the way I understand it. It is more an Andalusian thing. I suppose it would be better to see a flamenco show in the south of Spain however that was not an option for me. It was definitely a unique kind of performance. The dancing is quite impressive because their feet move so fast. There is lots of clapping involved in the music. They clap in different ways to make different sounds. The singing is also rather different. I am not sure if I spoke better Spanish if it would make more sense. However, it did seem like almost yelling at times rather than singing. Overall the performance was okay… definitely an experience to see.
On Friday, we went to the Museo del Prado. This is an art museum in the centre of Madrid. Art is not my thing I must say. I am afraid I lack enough culture to truly appreciate paintings. No offence to those who do. The museum hosts large collections by Valazquez and El Greco (I think those are right). There are also pieces by artists including Raphael, Rubens, and other famous painters. Our guide from the school did not do a guided tour with us though. Museums are free after 6pm and on weekends. Once we were inside she just kind of left us on our own. She told us to use the internet on our phones to research some of the paintings and then each group would speak to one. That never happened. Maybe better for me as Jonathon, Raya (another student) and I just wandered around at our own pace. Might have been more frustrating to listen to a tour and only understand a little.
Saturday was a national holiday in Spain. October 12th commemorates the day that Columbus discovered America in 1492. Even though he really thought he was in India, I guess it is an important day to Spanish people around the world. The main road in the centre of Madrid was all shut down for a parade. The parade is only the military marching up the street. Jon and I were planning to go but then I was pleasantly surprised that Nicolas and Nicolas Jr. came with us. Nicolas was able to help us understand which military groups were which as they passed by. We tried to get to the Plaza de Neptune area where the King was but it was blocked off and we could not get to that area. Too bad, I wanted a photo of the King. However, in the end we found out that the King was sick and the Prince was there instead. There was a fly by from the Spanish equivalent of the Canadian Snowbirds. Maybe the most interesting thing to me was the most elite forces of the Spanish military. They march at 160 paces per minute… muy rapido.
After the parade, we went for a couple of cervezas at a place near Nicolas’ home. A bucket of 10 mini bottles of beer for 8€ of 8 bottles and one racion (in our case 9 chicken wings) for 8,80€. The parade and the cervezas after was a good opportunity for Jonathon to meet Nicolas. Earlier in the week, when I told Jonathon about how good I had it with the Cabreras, Jonathon arranged to stay with them starting Sunday. Jon will be with Nicolas and his family until mid December. A great opportunity for him to improve his Spanish and get a full social and cultural immersion in Spain.
Jonathon helped me to move into my hostal near Puerto del Sol later on Saturday. I had booked the room for Nic and me earlier in the week even though she would not arrive until Sunday. When Jon and I showed up at the hostal, the face on the lady was quite surprised. She asked if the room was for Jon and me. I laughed, Jon turned red, then I promptly informed her that “mi espousa va a venir manana”… “not that there is anything wrong with that.” Later on Saturday, Jon and I explored the central area. We were looking for a place that we might be able to watch a Major League Baseball playoff game. We never found one but we did stumble upon an area called La Latina that was absolutely hopping with Madrilenas enjoying their social life. We never stopped but it was tempting. We had a Mexican meal that not exactly what we expected. It was okay but we were still hungry after.
Nicola arrived at 2:30pm on Sunday on the bus. Before I went to meet her at the bus station, I hung out in Puerto del Sol and watched a street performer from Argentina do an escape act, stick spoons up his nose, and finally use an electric drill to drill in above his eyeball. Not exactly sure whether it went in his nose or in his eye. Sure it went in the nose. After Nic and I got back to the hostal, I introduced her to the lady at the hostal, who seemed happy to see that I actually had a wife… lol. Later that afternoon, Nic and I met up with Jon at Puerto del Sol and went to a restaurant called Euromania. On Sundays, the entire menu is 1€. A jar of beer is 1€ but so is a cana of beer. A jar is at least double the size of a cana. They serve something called montaditos which are small mini sandwiches with a variety of fillings. We tried several and had a couple of jars (jarras).
After Euromania, we wandered around, and again made our way to La Latina although it was not nearly as crazy as Saturday night. Again, we just passed through and did a big loop finally ending up back at Plaza Mayor. One of the things that my teacher, Leticia (in case she is reading this, pronounced Letithia), said that we absolutely had to try was a bocadillo de calamares. A bocadillo de calamares is like a sub bun with calamari in it. I like calamari and I like subs. However, and sorry Leticia, it had no sauce and so it seemed a bit dry to me. Maybe I missed the sauce somewhere but I am sure it would have been better with some type of seafood sauce. The calamari was good though.
Nicola and I are now on a plane to Genebre (Geneva) to visit with our friends Bernie and Minoo Sheehan. Bernie and Minoo used to live in Fort Smith where we became friends. They have not lived in Fort Smith for a few years now but have lived in Geneva for the last couple of years. I will now have to switch off my Spanish and turn my French back on. I am sure I will become confused with words quite a bit now. I can honestly say I would have liked more time in Spain. It is always good to want to come back somewhere and I believe I will be back. Hopefully, I will take more Spanish lessons in South America. There are some major differences between the dialects and vocabulary between Spain and South America (most notably the Spanish lisp in Spain). And Leticia, how come you never told me about the difference between the meanings of the verb Cojer between Spain and South America? Could have got me into some big trouble!!! JK.
Next I write will likely be from Rome. Hasta luego chicos. And, Happy Thanksgiving Canada!!!