Family Week – April 15, 2016

Arrival

From a short-notice additional week off, and a last minute change of plans, I found myself standing at the large, frosted glass doors of the airport’s arrivals.  I watched others receive their loved ones and smiled at their reunions, but I leaned against the railing impatiently, waiting to surprise my own visitors. Almost an hour after expected, it was finally my turn to overwhelm my weary travelers with hugs and happiness— my mom and aunt had arrived!

After spending three months with strangers (many whom I’ve come to adore), I was at once comforted with familiarity and love that only a family can provide.  I could not wait to begin this week in Europe that my mother, my two aunts, and I would always treasure.

Excited but exhausted, we agreed to rest the first day of their visit. Fortunately, this in itself was a pleasant experience at the Airbnb we stayed in for the week.  The apartment was centrally located, clean, spacious, and safe.  Aside from the poignant, grape-scented diffuser that made the room smell “purple,” we had no complaints.

 

Day 1

Madrid greeted my family with a rainy day unlike any that I had experienced here before.  It poured.  I had to adjust my plans to show them the city.  My aunt suggested that we take a Madrid City Tour bus to shield ourselves from the weather while still touring town.  The poor-quality headphones made the audio guide difficult to understand, but I did my best to make up for the guide by informing my family with the facts that I knew.  Between the two bus tour routes offered by Madrid City Tour, we were able to see the city’s highlights, and even visited areas of Madrid where I had never been before.

After drying off and regrouping at our Airbnb, we took a short walk to Cardamomo for a traditional Flamenco show. The only flamenco tablao in Madrid to have been reviewed by the New York Times, we decided that proximity and quality made Cardamomo a great choice.  With tickets for the 8 p.m. show, the four of us squeezed into a tight row for four, ordered included drinks, and prepared for the performance.

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Two guitarists and two vocalists, all male, took to the perimeter of the stage.  The musicians seemed to pluck at the guitar strings as they wished, producing coherent but disorderly staccato tunes.  I could also appreciate the talent of the singers, who had to almost yell for their raspy voices to be heard above the guitars. Though at times their vocals resembled those of Middle Eastern songs, I could feel antique, Spanish authenticity in their voices.  Soon after the musical opening, a first dancer appeared on stage.  His body was slim and his movements were graceful.  Relieving the first man, a second dancer took the floor.  With a muscular build and a long, curly, black ponytail, this dancer better fit the my idea of a fiery Flamenco dancer.  You could tell, though, that he was a younger dancer, less mature than the first man.  Finally, a woman performed, mesmerizing the crowd with powerful steps and spins in her traditional, Flamenco dress and scarves.

Without any knowledge of the various forms of Flamenco, I did not know what to expect from this show.  The dancers did not use props like flowers, fans, or castanets, as I had anticipated.  For this performance, it seemed as though the musicians had a better chemistry with the male dancers than they did with the female dancer.  It was more entertaining to watch the men on stage because of the strength in the connection between the performers.  Where there should have been a passionate admiration and appreciation for the woman, I did not feel these emotions conveyed by the men during the show.  Despite not knowing much about Flamenco, the show was the perfect evening activity for my aunts, mom, and me.

 

Day 2

Clear, blue skies and sunshine determined our day’s agenda.  We strolled around Retiro Park, one of my favorite places in Madrid, where I showed my family park highlights, such as the peacocks in Jardines de Cecilio Rodríguez, the Crystal Palace, which was in between exhibits, and the boat pond.

Where last night’s Flamenco show was light entertainment, tonight’s event would be less pleasant.  Interested in seeing, but not in support of, traditional Spanish bullfighting, my family and I went to watch this cultural event that has such a strong presence in Spanish history.

 

Destination Locations

 

Paz, Amor, Madrid

A.J.H.

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January 15, 2016

First Day of School

Classes have begun.  There is Spanish to be practiced and culture to be learned.  I will be taking four consecutive Spanish courses in one semester, equivalent to two years of Spanish at my American university, so I should be more comfortable with my lingual abilities in no time.

Running in El Retiro

Campus is only a short metro ride away from my apartment. Also near my building is the Parque de El Retiro.  What I call the Spanish Central Park, in terms of a natural and recreational presence in a metropolis, El Retiro is a runner’s paradise.  The park offers trails, inclines, declines, and most importantly, safety.  Everyone, though, seems to spend a part of their day weaving through the garden paths, lounging in the mild winter weather, and admiring the beautiful statues that surround the Retiro Park Lake.  Even in January, the heat of the sun is enough to sustain parkgoers.  Visitors be warned: El Retiro is a hot spot for couples, so if you’re longing to spend your days with a special someone, you may want to take a stroll with a group of friends.

America?

New night, new nightlife.  My friends and I left the high maintenance Madrid club scene and opted for casual night at the bars instead.  First impression thoughts of Sidrería El Tigre were that it both sounds and looks like a place you would never want to be.  The cheesiness of the giant print of a tiger head on the side of the building nearly turned me away before entry.  I knew, though, why we had come: free, endless tapas.  The inside of El Tigre proved to be much more inviting than its exterior.  Crowded with young people who appeared to be locals, the brightly lit wood and stone space was filled with chatter as cheerful waiters wove in between tables to deliver the main attraction.  The purchase of a drink grants you unlimited tapas to share with friends, a great deal for travelers on a budget.

My group continued our night at Dubliners, an Irish pub recommended by a fellow student who had studied abroad in the fall.  In Dubliners, and in its next door neighbor twin, O’Connell St., I was back in America.  With American music, American people, and American sports on TV, there was no sign of Spain.  Though I enjoyed my time at the pubs, I do not plan on being a regular.  Studying abroad is about stepping out of your comfort zone.  I will not gain from spending my time in a place that feels like home, nor do I want to miss out on all of the other unique and exciting nightlife options in Madrid.  Though I may return to watch the Super Bowl in a few weeks, I can check Dubliners and O’Connell St. off of my explore list.

 

Chocolate con Churros: A Madrid Tradition

The final destination of the night was the famous Chocolateria San Ginés.  Open 24 hours, the sweet shop offers chocolate in various forms, but is best known for its hot chocolate and churros, or chocolate con churros.  These sticks of fried dough are not my pastry of choice, but when dipped in the hot chocolate, which I have found can be served anywhere on a thickness scale from melted chocolate to pudding, they transform into warm bites of perfection.  In a city as large as Madrid, I am hesitant to visit anywhere twice, but I know I will be back at San Gines soon.  Yum!

Destination Locations

 

Paz, Amor, Madrid

A.J.H.