El Maratón de Madrid: April 22, 2012

This Sunday I ran my first marathon!! It was amazing and amazingly difficult. At the end I was so proud of what I was able to do with my body though I must say the last 8 km took a lot of mental and physical power. I want everyone to run a marathon so they can understand how much perseverance it takes… of course it’s the cheesy conclusion to an experience such as this one… but now I truly think I can accomplish almost anything I put my mind to. I have to give a shout out to Robert because he helped me train every weekend, made me breakfast before the marathon and stayed with me on bicycle for the second half of the race while getting these awesome pictures. I am so happy he was there to support me because otherwise I would’ve been going it aloneeeee.  You realize how much easier it is to get through difficult situations when you have someone there for you mentally. It’s important to continually have people like this to support you in your decisions, comfort you in your failures and celebrate with you your successes. It was great to see all the people who ran from all walks of life… African, Canadian, American, Spanish, blind, handicapped, women, men, old, young, cancer survivors… truly an awesome sport because anybody can practice. There is no limit of height, weight, physical ability or economic status. Can’t wait to do it again (although I am going to take a break)! Next week I plan on cycling the “anillo verde” of Madrid that is a cycling ring all the way around Madrid totaling 68 km. Updates to come. 🙂

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New Challenges

This week has been a week filled with new adventures and challenges. New classes, a birthday celebration and my pending marathon ahead.

On Tuesday I began two new classes with a husband and wife, back-to-back. As I traveled to the class my nerves were tested when the bus driver directed me to the wrong stop and I ended up in the middle of nowhere on the outskirts of Madrid, however, after a few calls to my coordinator I was back on track. Upon arrival to the class I discovered three things: 1. the couple lives in a beautiful mansion (very rare in Spain, especially Madrid), 2. the woman speaks ZERO English, and 3. the man is blind. Now all these factors combined I was feeling more nervous for these 3 hours than any I’ve had in Madrid so far. I’ve never even spoken to a blind person let alone taught them English for 2 hours and the lowest level of English I’ve taught is a level 3. Due to my mishap with the bus I arrived about 45 minutes late so I only had a moment to speak to the woman and our entire conversation was in Spanish. Here is how part of it transpired:

Me: Hi, how are you? (very slowly)

Her: Perdona, pero no lo se nada en Ingles. (Excuse me but I don’t know any English)

I was a little surprised by this situation because all my students can at least greet me and have a simple conversation but maybe she was more nervous than anything. We then had a 5 minute conversation in Spanish about what she wants out of the class. Now, considering it was early and I wasn’t fully prepared to speak Spanish we had a pretty successful conversation. I was proud… maybe this class will be just as much Spanish practice for me as it is English practice for her.

Afterwards I began the class with the blind man. The moment he walked in the room he began speaking and said “can you help me? where are you?” It turns out this man has only been blind for about 5 years due to some sort of health problem so I think it’s not something that is intuitive for him. We spoke about everything! His travels, his children, his job, San Francisco, New York, and much more. I think it will be difficult to train my brain to speaking with this man; at one point in the conversation we were speaking about traveling somewhere and I said “Oh it is a beautiful place isn’t it?” and immediately felt a pang of guilt afterwards. I can imagine that it would be difficult to speak about something being beautiful after you’ve lost your vision. I’m really excited to have this experience and get to know this man because it seems like he’s had an amazing life.

I love my job because I get to meet incredible people. Today I am going to pick up my marathon packet and number and my student, Inma, is picking me up and driving me because she is running the 10K. We’ve become extremely close because I have class with her everyday in the morning from 8am-9am. It’s really a pleasure having an adult mentor that is there for me since I have few acquaintances in Spain. I hope that we can continue our friendship after our classes end. Here is picture of me and Inma in Puerta del Sol when I went out to tapas and drinks with her and her husband:

Image

This brings me to the marathon. Tomorrow is the big day that I’ve spent every weekend preparing for. There are few things I need to do to prepare like create a marathon music playlist, buy vaseline to rub on my feet to avoid blisters, get a sports drink and some breakfast food, go pick up my number at Casa De Campo, and of course eat lots of spaghetti at the marathon sponsored pasta party! So excited to complete this huge goal. I think crossing the finish line is going to be a very proud moment for me… let’s just hope i make it there!!!

I have more updates to come but below is a video of the marathon route that I will run tomorrow.

Halloween

Spain has just begun to acquire the Americanized version of halloween. While they do celebrate, it is not as big as it is in the United States (unfortunately no trick-or-treating for the little ones) and is used mostly as a reason for the Spaniards to party more than they already do. 🙂 The other difference is that instead of dressing in funny/scary/clever costumes as we do in the US, they dress up only as dead versions of everything (i.e. dead priest, dead bride, dead sponge bob). It is horrifying! And they really go all out… you would think that the people you see on the streets just rose from the grave or were made over by a professional artist.

waiting for the metro

Las rubias!

On Halloween night we went to an American party at Amanda’s (a girl in my program) apartment! It was tons of fun because EVERYONE from my program showed up and it’s been awhile since we’ve all been in the same place. I enjoyed seeing everyone! The next plan was to head over to a 7-story disco called Kapital. Somehow we were all separated and I ending up roaming around bar-hopping with my friend Nathan and having intercambios with anyone and everyone. It was wonderful! Probably the most Spanish practice I’ve had in one night since I’ve been here. We met multiple groups of Spanish people and spent hours practicing with them.  I had a really amazing Halloween, I hope the rest of the holidays live up to this one.

Nathan with some of our new friends

favorite picture of the night! These Spanish guys dressed up as LMFAO, probably the only non-morbid costume I saw the whole night.

El Primero viaje a Málaga!

Seeing Laurie and Caroline in Madrid and Sevilla, respectively, at the beginning of my Spanish journey was such a treat but it was so hard to say goodbye. Caroline and I had an AMAZING week in Sevilla for the CIEE orientation complete with laughs and LONG walks which I will detail in another blog post soon (I promise!). It’s difficult to keep up with my time here. Similarly, I had an incredible time with Laurie when she came to visit me in Madrid before she embarked on her woofing adventure! I had fun with them but encountered difficult goodbyes when our time was up. We met up after months of not seeing each other as if nothing had changed, those are true friends.

Laurie and I in el Parque Retiro for a boat ride on the lake!

Caroline and I kicking off our European adventure in Sevilla

Even though all of us are in Spain (Laurie, Caroline, Jen and me) it’s difficult to see each other because we have to choose between an expensive AVE ride (high speed train–80€/120$) or a loooong bus ride (40€ and 6 hours) –the best of both evils really. Halloween weekend Jen, Jamie, Alvina and I made the long viaje to Malaga and had an INCREDIBLE laughter-filled weekend. We all took different buses to Malaga and arrived at different times but the moments that overlapped on our trips were perfect.

The bus I took left after work from Estacion Del Sur at Mendez Alvaro metro stop on the grey line. I went straight from work to the station without a ticket hoping I could board with my ticket in my phone. It’s been interesting trying to get everything done with my novice level of Spanish and it seems there’s always someone around to save the day with their bilingualism… with the exception of this journey. At first the bus driver wouldn’t let me on until he could look at his list and make sure I was on it so I was just standing off to the side in confusion over what the bus driver told me while everyone else boarded. Eventually I got on, phew, man was I sweating bullets for a few minutes. After I got in the bus the guy (about 20 years old) who was sitting next to me started saying things in Andalusian Spanish (MUCH harder to understand because they speak with a strong lisp and cut their words off) and I did what I do every time I’m in doubt of someone’s Spanish… I said “vale, si.”  It turns out that he was awesome, we spoke Spanish the entire way to Malaga and I even tried to teach him some English! It was probably the best intercambio I’ve had in Spain because it was 6 hours long and he was patient with me and repeated everything when I wasn’t sure. I think he could tell when I was completely clueless as to what he said. It’s SO much fun communicating in and learning a new language, it really motivates me to become fluent.

After 6-7 hours on a bus I arrived in Malaga and met up with Jen, Meghan and Caroline! On Saturday we spent the day walking through Malaga and relaxing on la playa. Wow it was beautiful though, I must say, it felt a LOT like California only add topless girls, Spanish speakers, and tight speedos. We drank Sangria and tinto de verano on the beach with a delicious lunch of bread, brie cheese, and fruit–our new fave.

playing on the beach

At one point a crazy, drugged-out homeless man  started harassing girls on the beach and a Spanish guy approached him and told him to leave. He proceeded to get angry and attack the crowds with a spike covered belt. I’ve never seen anything like it, he was swinging it around in the air and running towards people until one brave soul actually handcuffed him with his own belt. It was crazy and we immediately called the police. We also met some other interesting people on the beach including a Swedish guy who worked at a hostel and a Danish guy who said he was a ghost writer and was living in Malaga for awhile.

After hours on the beach we climbed hill (hill? no really big mountain) to a lookout point where we enjoyed a beautiful sunset. This can’t be put into words… here are some pics that include a view of the bullfighting ring (circular arena) and the city.

Sunday we traveled by bus to a town called Nerja. The beaches here were incredible the water was translucent and you could see all the way to the bottom even when it was around 30 feet deep. We first enjoyed breakfast at a cafe that had a terrace overlooking the ocean, mmm it was so yummy. Jamie had shrimp that were delicious. They still had eyeballs!… I’m really becoming adventurous with my food choices.

The rest of the day was spent doing absolutely nothing on the beach. It was glorious! I think we were all in need of a weekend of relaxation after spending the last couple months adjusting to Madrid. Not to mention it was great to escape the dreadful cold weather in Madrid for sunshine in Malaga. Here are some photos from Nerja:

La Corrida–Novillada con picadores

I’m warning you ahead of time that this post will be graphic  because la corrida (the bullfight) was an extremely impacting experience for me. The bullfight that we attended titled “novillada con picadores” was a novice bullfight where the toreros (bullfighters) fight young bulls (ages 3-5). Sad I know. Unfortunately we didn’t find out this piece of information until we were purchasing our tickets.

Alvina Jen and I in the Plaza de Toreros

poster for the bullfight we attended--October 16th in the bottom left

Plaza de Toros

In professional fights, the bulls are killed instantly by the toreros because they are more practiced in bullfighting. At our bullfight the toreros do a whole song and dance with the bull and there are three parts to it.

1) a man comes out on a horse and hits the bull once in the neck with a sword. For me this was the worst part because the horses get attacked. During one of the fights the horse was getting attacked and actually laid on the ground and stopped moving. We were extremely concerned at this point thinking the horse was injured but I later found out from one of my students that the horses are trained to do this as a way to avoid getting killed by the bull. Before they began training horses to do this many horses were killed in the fights 😦 It was common for more horses to get killed than bulls.

2) men with nunchuck looking tools stick them into the bulls back.

3) the main torero comes out, dances with the bull, and gets it once in the neck with another sword (sometimes it takes them more than one try). Before he kills the bull it is tradition to put his hat on the ground to “bless” the bulls life. I included a video below that shows this part of the fight. Lastly, the dead bull is taken out of the arena by horses.

The whole process is quite torturous. It really is a big tease and even when the bull actually stood a chance against the men, they would hide behind these barriers and trick the bulls. I found it very sad and actually shed tears in the first few fights we saw but sucked it up because I knew it was a cultural experience. Honestly, after talking to my students about my experience I can understand their point-of-view and how bullfighting is deeply rooted in their culture. One piece of good news–they actually eat the bulls after the fight. The meat of these bulls is highly prized because they are raised organically without any hormones.

Fiesta Nacional de Espana (October 12th)

Well people don’t lie when they say Spaniards love their holidays. On October 12th we were blessed with a bank holiday called Fiesta Nacional de Espana that celebrates the discovery of America by Cristobal Colon as well as Spanish culture. The roommates and I made the bold but amazing decision to wake up at the crack of dawn (after a long night out) and go to the parade in Plaza de Colon near our apartment. We walked from our apartment at Manuel Becerra to the Plaza and it was a beautiful walk! All the Spanish families were out having breakfast and coffee on the terraces before the parade.

Plaza de Colon

The parade was one-of-a-kind. You would never see a parade like this in the United States and expect it to captivate people. There were 2 main sections and between the two sections was an unexpected “intermission” in which we waited  in boredom and blistering heat. I swear, had it been the United States everyone would’ve become indignant that the parade was delayed and been on their merry way. However, in Spain you don’t question things.

Military vehicles in front of Barclays

During the first part, intense military vehicles crossed the plaza; meanwhile, nationalist Spanish music played over loudspeakers–it felt like we were going to war. All types of combat vehicles drove through with giant cannons and snipers on top and a backdrop of skyscrapers. Then military jets and helicopters flew over the plaza. Towards the end, the planes released red and yellow smoke into the sky, it was awesome! 

Red and yellow in the sky, I was more excited than the Spanish kiddos!!

Next we sat through the lengthy intermission and eventually they brought out hundreds and hundreds of troops from every division of the Spanish military. It was tedious but really great to see how many parts their are to their military as well as the differences in size between the different sectors.

Afterwards the roomies and I enjoyed a DELICIOUS meal at Cien Montaditos (a Spanish restaurant chain that is cheap, delicious, and has 100 different types of small sanwiches called montaditos) because it was Euro Wednesday–obviously the best day of the week. Montaditos really found a way to make hump day truly magical. I got the barbeque chicken montadito, tinto de verano and french fries for 2.30€. Que delicioso!  It was a great day with my friends and we got to see the raw side of Spanish culture. I loved that despite the fact that Spain’s economy and national mood isn’t doing well, the people were able to rally for the holiday and celebrate all things Spanish!

Segovia

Sunday was jam-packed with an amazing day trip to Segovia ! It was an easy, 13€ bus ride.  The day was kicked off to a wonderful start when Alvina almost didn’t make the bus–they wouldn’t let her on because her ticket was for 10am instead of 9am even though there were open spaces. There are so many random rules in Spain that people just accept. So many things I’m like “if this was America people would be screaming out of entitlement by now.” They’re just so laid back here. The bus ride was eventful, it consisted of all 5 of us passed out against the windows and each other. Good times… you know you’re in Spain when you can’t wake up early to save your life (except it wasn’t exactly saving our life unless you consider the plethora of iglesias we visited). There are really three main tourist attractions to see: the cathedral (and plaza mayor), the aqueduct, and the alcazar (castle).

The main Cathedral (picture below) towered over Plaza Mayor. The inside was beautiful! It was pretty amusing because instead of letting you light the prayer candles at the shrines you could put money in a little slot and one of the electric candles would turn on–well at least admission was free because it was Sunday!

Catedral de Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion y San Frutos

inside the cathedral

pipe organs

The 2000 year old Roman Aqueduct was straight insanity. They apparently made it without mortar–the whole day i was worried it would fall on me. The aqueduct spans a total distance of 15km, pretty amazing. I can’t imagine getting my water out of this thing though, sounds dirty and cholera ridden. You tell me how you can build this without mortar:

aerial view

The final thing we saw was the alcazar which is the castle that was part inspiration for the castle at Disneyland in Anaheim and a home to Ferdinand and Isabella at the time that Columbus discovered the Americas! First (true to American style) we stuffed our faces outside the castle with fresh veggies, pasta salad, bread w/oil and vinegar, and cheese. It was delicious and our backdrop was straight from a fairy tale… I guess I also had good company! 🙂

The castle was filled with medieval artifacts and fun knights which we made close friends with by the time we left. My favorite part was the watchtower and the wall that made a large arch around the perimeter of the town and castle. Something about the alcazar made us all act crazy–we were so hyped out and so happy to be there which made for amusing photos.

I look like a giant next to this little guy

oh you know just hopping in King Ferdinand's chest of drawers

no big deal

the canon was powerful

grand finale

pondering the medieval architecture

The day concluded with an insane bus ride home. Jen and I sat together and we were both drowsy the entire way and surrounded by yelling children, sobbing women and a lady that was playing musical chairs the whole 2 hours–I felt like I was dreaming but wouldn’t have changed anything about it. The last leg of the trip on the metro was filled with a stimulating discussion on the use of real-life emoticons. We decided that we’re going to start implementing certain emoticons (i.e. :p and <() into our daily speech. Overall it was a beautiful, laughter-filled day and I’m happy that I spent it with my roomies and Jamie.

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