stuff from the first week in Madrid + Bilbao

Madrid Travel Blog

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All of the following is from the first week in downtown Madrid, Spain and from our day excursions to some local cities.  Future entries will not be nearly as long... I hope!

9/10/2007
So tonight marks one week that we have been in our new town, Getxo, for a full week!  I’ve definitely gone from some serious “culture shock” to being more at home with the city everyday.  We are feeling pretty comfortable on the metro (subway) and bus systems to get us to and from school and the beach.  And really, what else do we need?  We have also figured out how to eat frozen pizzas and lot of pasta.  Everything here involved a lot of bread and many different deli type meats.  We ventured to try out “hamburgesas”, which are almost nothing like McDonald’s, but good in their own way.  There is also a cool little market called “Dia” that has become our playground, in a way.  Every time we go it seems we find a new dinner or snack that fits our needs.  That is, it is easy to make and cheap!

Classes started on Thursday and are off to a great start.  I’m taking a Spanish course that is four days a week but covers the equivalent of 8 units of credit, plus three business courses: Corporate Finance, Marketing and Global Economics.  We also found a few great beaches.  The water is similar to SB but the beaches seem a little warmer and just as sunny.  We’re trying to bring beach volleyball to ESPANA, but they just keep kicking around a ball ☺

The past four nights have been festive with the Getxo Folk Festival where some pretty unique and talented bands come to play for about two hours in front of what seems to be the entire town.  I’m talking around three thousand people show up to these and the entire center square is busy with people dining, walking, and enjoying the festivities.  I also found a pretty good ice cream spot!

We will have our first full week of classes this week and we will be planning out some of our trips.  Right now we’re set on Portugal in mid-October and hoping to meet up with some people on Europe Semester toward the end of November in Pairs.  Pretty cool stuff!

8/31/2007
We spent last night wandering around trying to find an inexpensive bar to have a drink at but were unsuccessful and instead decided to sit out on the Santa Ana Square and have a drink… at 11:45pm!  Things kept moving until about 12:30am and then we headed back to the hotel.

Our tour started with an hour-long bus ride to our destination of Toledo.  This city used to be the capital, but it was deemed too wonderful to be attacked in wars so the capital was moved to Madrid.  Toledo is built on a large hill surrounded by a river that acts as a natural moat.  We visited the amazing cathedral, a smaller church, and a synagogue with our tour guides and then had about three hours to explore the cities many shops, squares, and tiny roads.  The roads are shared by euro cars and pedestrians, but the width of the streets barely provides for the cars!  The biggest car we’ve seen is a BMW X5 (SUV) and a 5 series BMW or an Audi A4 looks like a 7 series or an A8 here because all of the other cars are so small.  We had lunch at a little place on the main square.  If there is one thing that is not so great about Spain, then it is the food.  Portions are small and without much flavor, not to mention that a cheap lunch is the equivalent of about $9-10 USD.  I’m going to hit up burger king tomorrow for lunch ☺

8/30/2007
Today was the first day of the touring, so we were up “early” for breakfast and left at 9am for a walking tour of three major parts of the city.  The first was the royal castle.  Spain still has a constitutional Monarchy, which is something similar to Britain, I think.  There is a royal family but also an elected set of representatives.  The castle was enormous and vast in size and richly decorated.  Every room had 20-25 foot ceilings with art painted on them.  The rooms were either of marble, velvet, porcelain, or some other rare stone that made us go “wooow”.

We then walked through the three major squares in the city, which have many restaurants on the ground floor with shops in between and then three to four levels of apartments above.  They are busy even during the early afternoon.

Then we went to the Prado Museum, which is the most famous museum in the city and has artists that art people think are special.  I recognized Picasso but nothing else and, with my typical love of art, was bored and ready to leave after about 10 minutes ☺ An hour later we left and set out to find lunch at 2pm.  We managed to get lost and then find our way again to a small restaurant in one of the Square’s named Santa Ana Square.  It wasn’t much but it had good, inexpensive sandwiches.  We tried the local drink known as “San Gria”, which is a mix of red wine, fruit juice, oranges and who knows what else.  Ask Scott for details.

Next was a late siesta.  And an extended one at that!  We took a mid-day break from about 3pm to now, or 7pm.  Not a bad way to break up the day!  We will have dinner tonight with the group, as we will every night in Madrid, around 8pm and then have the rest of the night to hang out.  Tonight we will probably head out around town for another few places, but get back at a decent hour for another day of touring tomorrow.

8/29/2007
After we picked up our bags and I exchanged my last US Dollars for Euros (better exchange rate in Madrid than LA), we headed out on our first excursion: the Metro. Deciding 2€ was better than about fifteen per person for a taxi, we took three different lines which popped us out at our hotel “Regina” by about 1pm.

We checked in and found there was no free wireless, nor was there any anywhere in the city.  We moved in our stuff to the rooms, which are triple rooms but roomy and have great views of the bustling street below us.  Then we walked around for about two hours throughout the city, looking like complete tourists.  Everything was busy even for an afternoon.  There are countless restaurants with outside seating where people have a beer with lunch or a late snack before an 8 or 9pm dinner.  After we had seen enough we came back to the room, took a nap, and waited until our 8pm meeting/ dinner.

Dinner was preceded by a short talk from the USAC instructors a.k.a. our tour guides for the week.  We received an informative packet of our travel schedule and some history of Madrid to enrich our tours the next few days.  Dinner was pasta, some keesh-type dish, salad and a really good coffee and vanilla desert.  After dinner we met with a guy that ended up renting me the phone I’m using through a company recommended by the program, which happens to be the cheapest option because I don’t have to buy the phone.  If you need my number again it is: 011 34 618 228 717.  Any incoming calls are good for me because it costs a lot for me to call home just for the connection fee, not to mention the minutes.  Skype will be best and I will plan on keeping my phone close by and loud between local time of 8-10pm every night, which is 11am-1pm back home.  If you can call during those times until we get to Bilbao, that would be great as any other time we are either eating or soon to be sleeping.

After getting the phone and making a few quick calls, we went out to check out the city at night.  We went w/ a couple new people from the program and found what seemed to be the smallest bar in all of Madrid.  We’re talking maybe 400 S.F. but it was fun and I had my first full beer for about four euros and I won’t be having another any time soon ☺

8/28/2007
Flight out to Spain from LAX departed on time at 10am and arrived in Newark, NJ at 6pm EST for a two-hour layover for our direct flight to Madrid.  Our second flight was about an hour late, but we still arrived in Madrid in just under seven hours, or at 10am local time.  So now it is 8/28.

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photo by: vulindlela