When I woke up on the first of December and realized that the last three months in Madrid had skated by so quickly, I began to both panic and celebrate. Panic—I’m leaving behind some of the most charming and intelligent young ladies I have ever taken care of, I’m moving away from a city I am just beginning to really get the hang of, and no more patatas bravas (my favorite tapas dish)??? Celebrate—I am going home for the holidays, moving forward from what I would consider a fairly anxious time in my life, and GOING HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS!!
Since returning from Italy last month, I have laid pretty low—I already visited the touristy attractions, I’ve eaten all the traditional foods, watched flamenco dancing, went clubbing…all the interesting stuff to report back about. Honestly, I’ve spent the last month hanging out with the family I work for, reading in parks, Christmas shopping, and wandering around taking pictures. I can say, though: Puerta del Sol at Christmas time is magic. There is a HUGE, hollow-metal-frame Christmas tree completely made of lights that you can WALK THROUGH (A PHOTOGENIC DREAM), there is a teeny tiny Christmas market inside of Plaza Mayor, Christmas music abound, the works.
So, instead of opting out of a blog or writing boring content (like the curious case of my disappearing wallet), I decided to interview two of the three girls that I have been taking care of. They are 10 (Julia) and 14 (Monica), go to an English school in the city, are excellent English speakers, and are wonderful young women.
- Favorite movie?
Julia: Inside Out!!!
Monica: Ohhhhh, The Notebook. The book too.
- Favorite song?
Both: Lay Me Down by Sam Smith. (laughs together)
- Where do you want to visit someday?
Julia: Where do you live?! (I say California) Then California. I want to visit California.
Monica: Hollywood, New York City, Argentina… No I don’t, why did I say Argentina?! Just the first two. (laughs)
- Why do you like being a kid/teenager?
Julia: I can do a lot of things and don’t have to buy anything! And the Christmas presents… can’t forget those.
Monica: I DON’T like being a teenager! I don’t. It’s complicated. (more laughter)
- One thing you want to learn how to do?
Julia: Sew better!! Like make my own clothes.
Monica: I would love to learn how to dance. Like funky. Like the girls in that new Justin Beiber video…
- What makes a good friend?
Julia: Telling you the truth, being with you, and helping you with problems. Definitely.
Monica: I think you have to trust her. That’s really important. You have to have fun with her. She has to be there always! Even if you get a good mark on an exam, and when you cry too.
- Use only one word to describe yourself right now.
Monica: Special. I think everyone’s special in their own way, including me. And you!
- Describe how you see Spain.
Julia: Pretty, too! And dirty… But mostly pretty.
Monica: Oh I love Spain. It’s my country! Yeah we’ve got problems, but I just love it. I love Madrid.
- What’s one thing that’s special about Spain you want everyone to know?
Julia: Paella. It’s delicious.
Monica: I don’t know how you celebrate Christmas in the states but I love Christmas here, EVERYONE comes to Sol and stay there until midnight just counting down and celebrating and having a great time around the huge Christmas tree.
There were more questions but these were my favorite. None of them bore particularly prolific responses, but I think that’s the coolest part about it. I don’t know what I wanted to learn when I turned on the camera and started asking them questions, but that felt just as fun as setting out for a specific answer or message. These girls live a half a world apart from most of my readers, but most likely responded in the same cute, quip and innocent way that any of the 10 and 14 year olds you know would. They study for exams and worry about boys and love chocolate and Pringles. These girls are a lot like the kids I worked with in Taiwan, or the ones I lived with in Senegal, or the girls and boys I talked to in Malaysia. Pure hearted, fun to talk to, and loving the fact they got a moment to sit and talk and have the attention fully on them. In light of all the terror that has broken out all around the world, it’s really important that we take a moment to remember that we are the common thread. A mountain or an ocean can separate us, but all children will sing Frozen songs at the drop of a hat if you let them.
I am posting this on a Thursday. I left Madrid on Monday, and went on a secret mission. I’ll blog about that in a day or two! Hope everyone is doing great!
I have been living in Madrid for over a month now and have yet to blog about…anything, really! Like how I ended up here, what I am doing here, and all the cool stuff that I have done and seen. Here goes!
I decided that I wanted to be an au pair less than a month before I knew I was moving to Europe. One of my friends turned me on to aupairworld.com and I decided to make a profile during my off time on a Monday night at camp. I woke up the next morning with a lot of messages from potential au pair families, one of which I really liked the looks of. We exchanged emails and a Skype interview date was set up for Thursday night. The interview went amazing, and I was offered the job on the spot. It all happened so quickly it seemed too good to be true. But it wasn’t. It is even more amazing now that I am living here and working with them. I work as an English aid au pair. My job is spend a few hours each day with the three daughters in the family and talk, play, and hang out in English. It really doesn’t even feel like a job. In my spare time during the week, I get to explore Madrid and surrounding areas, and on weekends I can venture out even further into the country.
Puerta del Sol: This is where you have to start when you first visit this city. It is the absolute center, literally—in the Plaza there is a plaque on the ground that marks kilmetre 0. This area is always full of life, and a bunch of the city’s must-see sites are within walking distance.
Plaza Mayor: This is the first thing that I saw when I first started exploring Madrid, and that is because it is so close to Puerta del Sol. It is beautiful (though the first time I saw it, one of the sides was under construction). You can visit one of the several restaurants inside the plaza, or just sit on a bench and enjoy the view.
Mercado de San Miguel: This very popular market is within walking distance from Puerta del Sol and the Plaza Mayor. When I say very popular, I mean very popular. Among tourists, mostly. It has a very cool set up that plenty of gourmet grocery stores have tried to mimic in the States: a host of several different kiosks with a range of great stuff from fresh produce to fresh meat to coffee to wine to cheese. When I went there, every square inch of the place was being inhabited by a human body. My final verdict: cool in theory, overrated in reality. There is a market very close to the Tribunal metro stop called Mercado de San Delfonso that is very, very similar but MUCH less crowded. You can get a seat inside without elbowing an old guy because he’s looking at the same table.
Royal Palace: I actually stumbled upon this for the first time without knowing what it was. I was in search of the Almudena Cathedral, which is right next to the palace. They are both beautiful. They are right next to the Plaza de Oriente, which was adorable. That’s the best word I can use to describe it. A stroll through that area will really give you a feel for Madrid.
Templo de Debod: This is probably my favorite attraction in Madrid. It has such a cool backstory! It is an ancient Egyptian temple! The Egyptian government (paired with UNESCO) realized that they needed to move the temple from its original location in the 1960’s due to a breaking dam, and decided to GIFT the entire temple to the Spanish government. They brought the entire temple over stone by stone and reassembled it in Madrid near-ish to the Royal Palace. How cool is that?! It’s free to visit (though impossible to take a photo of without getting a hundred tourists in the shot), and has a park attached to it that locals and foreigners frequent. The view of the city from this area is spectacular. I loved the whole experience!
Gran Via: One of the most notable and popular streets in Madrid. It’s here that you can do all of your shopping, if that is what you’re into. I only really liked it because it connects to the Chueca area of Madrid.
Chueca: The gayborhood of Madrid! Not only are the bars and restaurants colorful and alive on the weekends, this is also a fun neighborhood to pop in and out of cute little local shops. Very gay. Very hipster. I loved it. There are a lot of Senegalese shopkeepers in this area for some reason. I made a lot of friends the day I walked around speaking Wolof to them. I love this neighborhood. It is a must for anyone visiting.
Paseo del Prado: This street is REALLY pretty. It is a two way separated by what is basically a long, narrow park. It is spectacular. And to the east of this street, you can find the building where the stock market operates (snooze, I know, but the building is beautiful), Museo del Prado, and the Botanical Gardens.
Real Jardin Botanico (Botanical Gardens): This was so cute. With a student discount it was (I think?) 3 euro for an all-day pass. The whole garden is pretty huge, and separated into several different small gardens that are either populated by flowers or vegetables or herbs or trees from all over the world. There was literally no one else in the entire place that was my age. Everyone was over the age of 75 and strolling through those gardens without a care in the world. I am pretty used to that, though. Most of the things I like to do and see while traveling are the same things that old people like to do and see. Go figure!
Retiro Park: I would call this a tiny, Spanish Central Park. It is beautiful. Like, absolutely amazing. There are geese and flowers and accordion players and fountains and anything else you could want from a park. It’s a must. Sitting in this park at an outdoor café with a smoothie and a book in the fall. How much nicer can a day get?
Plaza de Cibeles: I was instructed by my host mother that this plaza was the most beautiful plaza in all of Madrid. Which is saying a lot, because there are hundreds of them in this city alone. So I was intrigued. And it lived up to expectations, undoubtedly. Cibeles fountain in right in the middle of the plaza, which has a Greek goddess and a chariot and lions and a bunch of other powerful imagery kind of stuff. I thought it was cool to learn that that fountain actually used to be in a different spot in Madrid, and was used as an actual source of water until the 19th century! The plaza itself has a bunch of beautiful buildings, including my personal favorite, Madrid’s City Hall. The first time I saw this building, the “Refugees Welcome” sign hanging from the top of the building took me by surprised. It was in that moment, looking at that beautiful building, I knew I would adore Spain.
El Rastro: The city’s largest market! It is a weekly pop-up market near the Puerta de Toledo metro stop. It happens every Sunday from 9 to 3 and has quite the set-up. It is a huge flea market with everything from antiques to books to really cool clothes to pots and pans. And a million people—every week. I loved it. I bought nothing (because I have no room to expand my list of possessions whilst a nomad), but I still had a great time walking around and watching everyone else haggle and laugh and roam.
“Tras Julia”, on one side of the building for Escuela Superior de Canto: This is probably my favorite thing that I have found while discovering the city. It is a life-size statue of a woman found in the Malasana district of Madrid. She is a myth, a legend. She is said to represent a woman from the eighteenth century that cross-dressed in order to get into the university (because back then, only men were allowed to attend). How cool is that? And how cool is it that that feat is commemorated in a statue? I’ll answer for you. It is SUPER cool.
Outside of Madrid:
Monasterio del Escorial: An hour’s train ride out of Marid, the town of Escorial is adorable. I only spent a few hours here, but I think that was enough to get a feel for the town. The Monasterio itself was very cool. You can pay to walk around inside of the building and get a tour for just a few euro more! If you are into that sort of thing, I say it is worth it. There is a tomb room where all of the past kings’ bodies are preserved (not that you can see the bodies, but seeing the room is cool!). The architecture of the building itself is very cool, and there is park just off of the grounds that is silent and smelled like autumn. It was a very interesting and pretty day trip!!
Toledo: This is my most recent trip as of posting this blog. Toledo is a very well-known, STUNNING town outside of Madrid. About 70km outside, to be exact. I visited the town on what was probably one of the last sunny, decently warm days of the year here in Spain. I just knew when I woke up that I needed to cease the fact it wasn’t freezing. Toledo is great. It’s small and surrounded by a river. I took the train for 10 euro and got there in a half hour. My host family had told me that it was the perfect place to just wander around and take pictures, so I did just that. The whole town in a UNESCO Heritage Site; it is one of the only places in Spain where Christian, Muslim and Jewish cultures co-existed peacefully. It was really cool to walk through the town and see a plaque on the ground reading “Jewish Quarter,” and looking up to see a synagogue, and then walking a few more minutes and ending up at the cathedral. All of the streets of the town are narrow and winding—it felt like a really beautiful, stressless maze. There’s also a zipline you can do across the river for like 5 euro! SO FUN. When you initially get off the train, you are about a 15 minute walk from the city in one direction, and a 15 minute walk from the vista point in the other direction. I think the vista point was my favorite part. You could see the whole town—the cathedral, the synagogue, the monastery, the town hall, EVERYTHING—and it was spectacular to watch the sun set from this vantage point. Great day trip. Amazing day trip.
That’s the gist of what I’ve been doing in my spare time here! I’ve really slowed down my lifestyle to try and get my leg all healed up, but nothing can really stop me from exploring the place that I am in! Oops. I am taking it easy though, I promise. I hope you all are doing great! See you soon!
I’ve been all over the place for the last couple weeks, so I’ve tried to do day-to-day logging as best I can.
Monday, August 31, 2015: Hindsight is 20-20, right? We probably shouldn’t have gone to bed drunk at 2 in the morning knowing good and well we had to be at the airport this morning at 5. But oh well, that drag show in Kota Kinabalu gave me life! We slept the whole flight back to Taiwan and arrived before 10am even rolled around. It needed to be a laxed day. I got a pedicure and met 10 of the gems in my life for a belated birthday dinner for me. I tried cider ale for the first time without hating it. We had fancy cocktails and Ciaran, a very Irish Irishman, tried an Irish car bomb for the first time. It was a great day!
Tuesday, September 1, 2015: Ciaran, Theresa and I woke up late and eventually made our way to the train station. We took a three hour train down to the southern Taiwan city of Taitung with the intention of catching the next ferry out to either Green or Orchid island. Instead, we were greeted with ferry tickets with much higher prices than we had found online, and no tickets until tomorrow morning. We got on a bus to a tiny little town called Dulan and showed up at a hostel that we’d found on hostel world. This hostel is SO COOL. It is called the Wa Ga Li Gong Yoga studio—we slept on thin mattresses on the floor of said yoga studio—and the people that work here are awesome. Two doors down is a little restaurant with a retired man from India who has quite literally been everywhere and done everything running it. It’s run home style—only one dish served at each meal with vegetarian and non-vegetarian options—and has organic fresh pressed apple juice. Sometimes, like in the moment that we were eating this meal while the owner chatted with us about why San Francisco is his favorite “white world” city and how Ciaran may quite literally die from the heat in India, we will lock eyes and give each other the look. The look says “how did we get here? What are we doing?” and we chuckle and revel in the spontaneity of our choices and take another sip of Taiwanese organic apple juice. After dinner we were intent on walking to the beach. We followed the directions given to us exactly, and were very surprised when we finally got to the ocean and it was a rock beach instead of sand. We sat on huge rocks, spied on an old couple next to us who MacGyver’ed it with a small fire and food, and drank the smuggled, tiny flask of Fireball that Theresa had brought from the states. And then Ciaran was attacked by large rocks when he tried to dip in the ocean and we had to leave due to emotional scarring.
Wednesday, September 2, 2015: We hopped on a bus to the harbor nearby. The bus driver didn’t really understand where we were asking to go, and he ended up letting us off pretty far away. We flagged down a van and hitchhiked the rest of the way to the harbor! We were bound and determined to get to Green Island no matter what it took. When we finally got there, we haggled with several different scooter rental companies to no avail, and ended up just renting the 2 cheapest ones available. We circled the island, saw some truly breathtaking sites (even a temple in an underground cave!) and had dinner at a restaurant called Good Mr. Hot Dogs. Yes. We ended up at the island’s tourism center, stripped down to our bathing suits and got into the ocean right as the sun was setting. It was very majestic. After dinner we had the intentions of sneaking onto a camp site and sleeping there with nothing but our hammocks and a speaker, but then I got into a minor scooter accident and had to be whisked away to the island’s tiny hospital in the back of an ambulance. Before anyone freaks out, I’m fine! Really. And it is truly all thanks to the great people on Green Island, and ESPECIALLY thanks to Ciaran and Theresa. Baes for life. Thank you so much. So, so much.
Thursday, September 3, 2015: Though I am doing pretty well, it is very hard for me to walk. So I couldn’t do much else on the island today! But my great friends brought me food and carried my bags and held my hands and just rocked in general. We left Green Island this afternoon and ended up back at the hostel we stayed at a couple nights ago. I’ve spent the evening in the common area, French music playing quietly, just chilling. Granted, that’s really all I can do right now, this feels nice.
Friday, September 4, 2015: We woke up very very early, spent most of the day traveling back to Taipei, and then Theresa and I parted ways. I relaxed most of the day after going to the hospital for a final check to make sure nothing was broken or dislocated or torn. Ciaran came back to Taipei and then left Taiwan that night. The queen of my LIFE, Doreen, delivered dinner to me in the hostel I was staying in, went and bought me more medicine so that I wouldn’t run out before even leaving Asia, and booked a trip to Europe this winter!!! It’s people like this that fill my life with such gratitude. Absolute queen.
Saturday, September 5, 2015: Saturday was all traveling. Literally all travel. The silver lining to being on crutches and walking like a strolling snail is that I get a wheelchair and special treatment in airports. Upon booking these flights, I anticipated the biggest inconvenience I was going to face was the possibility I was going to be sucked into a worm hole—I flew Malaysia Airlines. But lo and behold, sitting in an overbooked transcontinental flight for 13 hours with a swollen leg and contused chest is what I got. By hour 8 I was really hoping for that wormhole. But I made it! And every single person along the way—every flight attendant, airport staff member, random person who offered to carry my bags, shuttle driver, everyone!—made my trip as smooth as it could have possibly gone. And I didn’t have to wait in a single line.
Sunday, September 6, 2015: I arrived in Paris at 6am local time. It is SIGNIFICANTLY colder than Asia. I arrived in shorts and a tank top. I could see my breath as I waited for my shuttle. What a change! The hostel I am staying at is pretty much the only part of Paris I have seen yet, but it is great! St. Christopher’s Gare Du Nord Hostel. It’s huge and full of life and drink discount coupons and fast wifi. Welcome to Europe, right? I miss Taiwan. But I am happy to be here! I spent most of the day around the hostel, found a great Kebaberie and cheese and baguettes. What more could I need? This stopover is not going to consist of much, because I am slightly immobile and need rest. But I did go to see the Eiffel Tower tonight! Last year, my mom and I were unable to see it light up, so that was my goal for this time around. We got a bottle of wine and sat shivering as the clock struck midnight and the Tower sparkled.
Monday, September 7, 2015: Again, did not do much of anything today. But, I did get Chipotle to-go (surprise! I do miss something from America) for dinner, and went to the Louvre Pyramid to picnic. Upon arrival I realized I did not have a spoon and fashioned one from the aluminum lid of my takeaway container. It is in this moment I realized I will never have enough class to live in Paris. C’est la vie.
Tuesday, September 8, 2015: We checked out of the hostel late, and I took a bus to Beauvais—a town right outside of Paris where one of the airports is. My lovely, lovely mother helped me book a hotel in the area so that getting to my 9am flight the next morning would not be too much of a hassle. Hotel Balladins was affordable and totally accommodating!! They switched me to a ground-floor room and explained where everything was in the area. I took a (long) leisurely stroll to the grocery store and bought myself dinner and breakfast. I came back to my room and passed out. I don’t think it was even 8pm? Grandpa Harlee was really feeling it.
Wednesday, September 9, 2015 – Saturday September 12, 2015: I made it to Spain! YAY. My new host father picked me up from the airport and drove me to the house that I will now be living in. I’ve spent the last couple days really letting myself adjust to the time zone and catching up on all the sleep I’ve been lacking in the last few weeks. I have finished more than one book, started Game of Thrones, and had better wifi than anywhere else I have been since leaving America! I have left the house a couple times—I went and explored the little town that I live in a bit—but mostly I have been preparing for my job to start on Monday.
So I’m going to end this clusterf*ck of a blog here, because I am going into Madrid for the first time this afternoon and I want to have a separate blog about this big, beautiful city. I am doing great! This job is going to be so fun and getting to know a city that I never really expected to live in is going to be very cool. I hope you all are doing great too. Talk soon!