March 1, 2016

Time (and) Travel

Considering it’s the place where dreams come true, topping my last Leap Day, spent in Walt Disney World with my mom, sister, and aunt, would be difficult.  Four years later, though, I am in Madrid, far from them all, having as much fun as a kid in the most magical place on Earth.  I know that the Leap Day didn’t actually give me another day in Europe, though it did give me another 24 hours in 2016, which I can always appreciate.  It is not often that we get the gift of time.  Being abroad, I’ve found that I miss my family and friends more than I thought I would, constantly wishing that they could be with me to see and experience my adventures.  I am conflicted, though, as the days pass, bringing me closer to a reunion, but also closer to the end of my European adventure.

To add to my struggle with time, an extra day in February meant one day further from the first of March, when McDonald’s Shamrock Shakes enter the rotation of sweet treat options, satisfying year-long cravings with their limited-time presence.  After scouring the Golden Arches of the city for any sign of a green drink celebrating San Patricio, I had to accept that though I was geographically closer to Ireland, I was far from my plastic, to-go cup of gold.  Missing out on a small joy of home, I had the poor luck of an American abroad.

Continuing with my clashing love and hate for the milestone of the month of March, I am thrilled that the weather seems to have taken note of the calendar change.  Finally, 55-degree days are manageable with the Spanish sun warming the streets.  With memories of my recent Madrid sunset viewing and motivation to explore, I visited a second place on my list of locations to watch the day end.  Both locals and guidebooks recommended the views from the rooftop of Círculo de Bellas Artes, a non-profit cultural center located in the heart of Madrid.  Without time for further exploration on the day of my visit, I paid the 4€ (only 3€ with my International Student ID Card) and traveled up to the bar with the “best views of the city.”



As far as views of Madrid go, this nearly 360° rooftop provided clear sights from the city center to the mountains miles away.  If you’re looking to get the most for your money, relaxing at a hip hangout with fun music, comfortable seating, and disregard for time, then the top-floor, outdoor lounge of Bellas Artes is for you.  For the sunset, though, the experience at El Corte Inglés was indisputably better because of obstructions at Círculo de Bellas Artes.  Unfortunately, construction cranes towered into the sky at the exact point of the sunset. The view, without the cranes, would have been worth the money spent to access the rooftop, and the statues on top of a nearby government building added a special Spanish flair to the experience, but I am annoyed that I paid to watch a subpar sunset.



Travel Tips

  • Find out if an International Student ID Card is worth it for you!  I paid 7€ for a card that provides discounts in establishments and on services in both the United States and abroad.  Though this is my first time using the card, I hope that I can at least get my money’s worth and break even.


Destination Locations


This week, exploration in Madrid leads to exploration of more of Europe!  Check back soon to see where I visited this weekend.


Paz, Amor, Madrid


February 4, 2016

Tutoring Troubles

Trying to make the most of my time in Spain, I applied for a tutoring job through my study abroad program where I would teach a child English for one hour each week at their home.  I chose to work with a four-year-old girl, thinking that tutoring would be more like play time.  I had nannied a three-year-old boy over the summer, so I felt familiar with the behaviors of the age group.  Though I arrived with a lesson plan that included role playing and silly songs, nothing could have prepared me for the challenge I chose.

With a general English language knowledge level of a four-year-old native speaker, nothing I had organized reached my student’s abilities or captured her attention.  Because she was at home in her own room with her mother just feet away, she did not want to focus on what I brought, and instead threw a fit to do her activity of choice.  I tried to adjust the day’s lesson to what she wanted to do, but I felt helpless wasting time speaking to her in English through her tears and protests in Spanish.

With the first session more of a learning experience for me than for her, I will be changing my “fun” instructional songs and verbal games to keep my student engaged.  I am open to any entertaining teaching ideas!  Though Week 1 could have gone better, it was not a waste.  My first tutoring paycheck is going towards a new straightener, because Spanish electricity finally got the best of my American appliance.



On the quest for a straightener (which I ended up purchasing at El Corte Inglés, of course), I wandered into Primark, a fast-fashion clothing store that had been brought to my attention from incessant praise from my peers and the often overwhelming number of customer bags spotted on the metro.  The hype was not without backing.  Similar to Forever 21, the key to Primark is knowing that you’re buying low-quality items for high-popularity status.  Trends were in abundance and prices were cheap.  Though I am saving most of my funds for travel, Primark is perfect for wallet-friendly retail therapy.



My roommates and I passed Sienna and its outdoor seating area to and from the metro, daily.  For how inconspicuous the exterior appears, we were surprised at the amount of people frequenting the restaurant.  After some observation, we concluded that it had to be the pizza.  Spain is no Italy, but the Spaniards have high food standards that Domino’s Pizza just doesn’t achieve.  With faith in the locals’ pizza judgement, we made a dinner date for Sienna and were not disappointed.  Though personal pizza preferences vary, everyone loved the thin crust and diverse topping options offered.  Sienna is now our go-to pizza place in Spain.  Next visit’s dish to try?  Dessert pizza.

And speaking of dessert, my roommates and I also noticed that Sienna owns the currently under construction ice cream shop just steps away from our apartment.  When warm weather comes and Heladeria Sienna opens its doors, pizza and ice cream will be a dangerous combination.


Destination Locations


Paz, Amor, Madrid


January 14, 2016

Sunset Surprise

The best moments are unexpected.  As my roommates and I approached the nine-story structure, we did not have high expectations.  El Corte Inglés promised it all: beauty, technology, books, appliances, apparel, food, and a view.  Nonetheless, we decided hours before that a quick trip to the department store for a snack and the sunset would just be something free to do.

We were wrong.

The Centro Gran Vía’s El Corte Inglés is a trip in itself.  Each of the nine floors is dedicated to a department that carries nearly every item in the category.  You could spend an entire day scouring the shelves to quell boredom, furnish a home, give a makeover, or cook an elaborate meal for 20.  The main attraction, however, is the ninth floor.

The Gourmet Experience is free to enter to get fantastic, sky-high views of Madrid.  While the store offers countless prepared and made-to-order food options, you can skip the snacks and  go directly to the outdoor viewing area.  The protective glass around the perimeter of the deck provides viewers with a labeled skyline outline to identify buildings, cathedrals, and towers.  Attention was drawn away from the glass guide when the sun began to set.

The views alone made me look at Madrid in a new way.  Though you can observe antiquity in the streets, there is an assured knowledge of the age of the city from above.  Scanning rooftops and hillsides that haven’t been altered in hundreds of years made me feel like I was sharing the views of many before me, like men in fortress look-outs or church bell towers.  The sunset delivered an extra awe, as it always does on a horizontal scene.

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After admiring the sunset, my roommates and I wandered through the aisles of “gourmet” food options.  We came across the “Taste of America” section, the only place we have found peanut butter so far.  You cannot have peanut butter without Fluff, and I’m sure in some American household you cannot have peanut butter and Fluff without PopTarts, but we left the snacks from the States aside and opted for fresh café fare instead.  The visit was not over without catching a humorous English/American touch in the corner.



Travel Tips

  • Do the free stuff.  It’s free.  If it’s bad, you didn’t pay for it.  If it’s good, you got your time’s worth.  If you have the time, give everything a try.
  • Pinterest!  I found the sunset suggestion on Pinterest from Condé Nast Traveler‘s pinned article “10 Best Free Things to Do in Madrid.”  Pinterest is great for travel planning, documenting, and viewing.  Check out the “Connect With Me” section of the sidebar to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.


Destination Locations


Paz, Amor, Madrid