My arrival in Europe was marked by nothing but confusion. After landing on a remote runway we were shuttled on a bus (which happened to be a Mercedes, go figure) to our terminal. After the group had met up we made our way to a long security line. After a few minutes Dr. Baker realized we needed to go through a passport check two stories above where we were standing. We made our way through the line and through another security checkpoint with little delay. A group of seven of us got separated from the rest of the group but we didn’t worry because we already had our boarding pass. After we went through a maze of stairs and walkways we arrived at our gate A11. After looking around, we realized A11 wasn’t our departure gate anymore and actually we needed to go to a completely different concourse to catch our connection to Madrid. After retracing our steps for a few minutes we found our gate with an hour to spare. While it was somewhat stressful, I enjoyed being lost because it gave our group something to joke about as we frantically searched for the rest of the group.
Some of us were ready to kick off the festivities and we looked for the closest place to get a beer. Not too far from the loading gate was a small bar where about seven of us had a beer and we talked about where we had traveled before and where we wanted to visit and our expectations for the semester. I had a bartender snap a picture to remember my first beer in Germany. Everyone on the trip has been so nice. I feel like we all find comfort in knowing that everyone is going through a similar situation in leaving their comfort zone and I feel like we kind of understand each other more so than we would if we had met in Athens.
Our flight to Madrid left about twenty minutes after it was scheduled. Besides that, I have been so impressed with Lufthansa. Their service is spectacular and way out performs U.S. based airlines. For example, a flight attendant accidentally spilled a drink on a passenger. She quickly and frantically worked to alleviate the problem then promptly gave the passenger a ticket voucher for a flight on Lufthansa. While I’m not sure of the procedures for a spill on a U.S. owned airline, Lufthansa definitely has a passenger first mentality that eases everyone’s attitude on the flight. We were served Goulash for lunch; it hit the spot. On my flight I sat next to a nice middle-aged man from Milwaukee who is flying to Madrid for a week and half to work on a project with his company. He slept almost the whole time and that is about all I could get out of him. I decided the next language I am going to learn after Spanish is German. One of the flight attendants asked me what I wanted to German and I wanted nothing more than to reply to her. Being in Frankfurt and around the language made me really interested in it.
I slept for a little bit of the flight, and woke up just in time to see the beautiful snow covered mountains that line the city. After landing we went to baggage claim and everyone luckily got all of their baggage in one piece. After that we headed to what I thought was customs but actually it was the exit out. We were all pretty surprised that we didn’t even have our passport checked. We waited about thirty minutes for a charter bus that we took to the Hotel Tryp Gran Via. It took us about twenty minutes to get there. I was amazed at how well the driver could maneuver the bus in such a crowded city as Madrid.
After we checked in, Joe (my roommate for the semester) and Ryan decided instead of waiting for the old, out-dated elevator that only held two people, we would take the stairs to the third floor. Bad idea; forty three pounds never felt so heavy climbing up the stairs to room 317. We opened the room and it was a good-sized room with three twin beds. On the walls is a movie poster for Alvin and the Chipmunks 2. Our bathroom also has chipmunks painted on the walls which we all found pretty funny.
After getting all of our stuff situated, the three of us took to the streets to find a local ATM. I felt almost like I was in a movie. The sidewalks were packed and Spanish conversation could be heard everywhere. It was a very cool experience. After I went to the ATM we made our way back to the hotel, I showered and hung out until dinner at 8:00.
We met at the hotel lobby for dinner; it was good. It was buffet style with a lot of different options. I had some very good Tilapia and a spicy spaghetti mix that was also delicious. After dinner, Itor, our residential advisor, gave a quick speech on our itinerary for the next day. After that we all met and kind of talked about what we wanted to do for the rest of the night. Kristen, Taylor, Joe, Ryan and I all decided we wanted to drink a little in the room before we headed out just to avoid paying too much for drinks while we were at the bars.
We heard about a store called Corte Ingles that sold alcohol and was close so we walked over. The store was huge. It was a department store with about five stories of merchandise complete with a supermarket in the basement. Since we had no mini-fridge, we settled on some red wine. The best part of the trip to Corte Ingles was all of us using our Spanish to find a wine opener. An employee sent us up to the fourth floor and after a little looking we were successful.
We all went back to our room and we talked about just about everything. We discussed music (which I have resolved to listen to more of), books (which I have resolved to read more of), even spray on tans (which I haven’t resolved to get more of). At about 12:30 we decided to go try and meet up with other UGA people but ended up wandering around the streets looking for where they were. After about 15 minutes of searching, we gave up and decided we would find a different bar to go to. I love Madrid because not only is it beautiful during the day but at night it takes on a completely different appearance. Businesses have tons of neon signs that light up the white buildings. The side alleys are all paved in stone, which is really cool too. It is absolutely awesome.
I don’t know the name of the bar we went to because all it had was a light up Amstel Cerveza sign out front. After scoping it out we decided we would wander in. Once we got in we ordered some beer from the bar and went upstairs to a table where we continued talking. After a couple more drinks, we settled our tab and headed back toward the hotel. Taylor, Ryan and Kristen headed up to bed but Joe and I stayed outside talking to a club promoter from Georgia, the country. At this point I had the confidence to talk in complete Spanish and really enjoyed it. We met Diego, Ashley, and Caroline at the entrance of the Hotel by pure chance. They were headed to bed but we all decided to stay out for a little while longer.
Diego is the man when it comes to his Spanish speaking abilities. Both of his parents are Dominican so he is already very proficient. Club promoters kept coming up to Diego and us trying to get us to come in to their bar. Diego would always negotiate our terms for us going to their club. He would say that we were Americans and had tons of money but we wanted the girls to drink for free and us to pay no cover. It worked with two people. We didn’t pay a cent for a cover charge or for drinks the rest of the night. It was funny though because most of the music they played is popular rap in the United States. We all got especially excited when they played the Black Eyed Peas “I Got a Feeling.” At about 4:00 we started back to the hotel and I called it a night. I hope that this is only a preview of how awesome these three months are going to be. What a day and night.
Side note: I have tons of pictures that I want to post but can’t because I have a weak Internet connection from a store across the street that provides free wireless. They will be up as soon as I get to Valencia though.