InterExchange Working Abroad Ambassador Sonia, Teach English, Spain
Hola de Espana!!!
I'm finally here!! and what an exciting and almost unreal day it was! When I finally sat on the plane from Chicago to Madrid, I basically started hyperventilating. The lady sitting next to me, who, after watching me fidget for a few hours, asked me if it was my first visit to Spain. It turns out she moved to Spain from America when she was 25 after visiting once and has been living there for more than 20 years! She loves it and she did a lot to help me calm down. Nevertheless, I landed in Spain with only 2 hours of sleep and super wired on two cups of Spanish (read: strong strong) coffee.
I walked off the plane and frantically tried to connect to the internet so that I could tell my host family that I had landed. I sent a text and a picture of me from Chicago telling them that I was wearing (a black coat and white hat) so they could recognize me. Of course, I should never put faith in airport internet and I couldn't catch a strong enough signal to iMessage them.
I started worrying a bit because our plane landed late and well, because I was alone in Espana. I went through immigration very quickly, retrieved my bags not so quickly, and walked out of the exit. A bunch of people were waiting with signs and I was hoping to spot my family. I didn't see it and I decided to move to the side so that I could figure out where a pay phone was.
"Sonia! Sonia!" I heard my name being called, whirled around, and there were Maria and Jose.
Super relieved but now nervous for a different reason, I approached them. After a very awkward greeting on my part (read: I forgot about the two kisses on each cheek thing), we sat down at a cafe and begin to talk. Jose speaks English relatively well and Maria does not speak, but understands English. However, I was still so nervous I was having a hard time talking. But little, by little, we starting communicating and they informed me that they wanted to take me around Madrid for a bit and and then out to breakfast (I pretended I hadn't just stuffed myself on the plane).
So then we headed out to their nice minivan stuffed all of my luggage (Jose commented, "Are you staying with us forever?"), and clambered into the car. Still making conversation, we headed straight into the heart of the city and parked near the museums. We started walking around and they explained all of the sights we were looking at. Madrid is a beautiful city. It has so much history and great architecture. I would write more about it but as I'm going to go there on one of these weekends, I will just save it for then.
We ended up having breakfast at a small restaurant called Cafe y Te which I recommend. Get their toast with jam and butter (Tostata con mermelada y mantequilla) and a rich cup of hot chocolate. The toast is about 3 slices american bread thick and the chocolate (which Spain is known for) is so yummy! It was a very nice "welcome to Spain" meal and we continued to chat about almost everything while eating. Jose spoke a lot of the economic conditions in Spain (not good, 20% unemployment, and about 50% for for those under 30) and politics which I wasn't expecting. But it went fine. I also didn't expect people in Spain to eat so fast, they were waiting for me for about 10 minutes. Also everything is eaten with fork and knife, which does not go well for clumsy me.
We walked around some more and then got back in our car. It is about 3 hours to Caceres ( pronounced Caferes) from Madrid. It was at this moment they told me that first we would be heading to Fabiola's parents place to eat with not only her parents, but also with one of her 2 sisters, her brother, and all of their family. It would also be the first time I would meet their kids Alessandro (11), Manuel (10) and Carla (3). It was at this moment I really wished I had washed my face and combed my hair before leaving the airport.
The 2 hour drive actually went by very quickly because we were talking the whole time! They made me speak to them in Spanish while they spoke to me in English. It was slow and funny but very effective in getting a lot of my Spanish to jump back in my head. Some of their pronunciations of English words are hilarious! Curry, Schwarzenegger, and "good stuff" are just a few.
Maria's parents lived in a small village (called pueblo in Castilian) near the river Garganta (which translates to throat). Insert mini panic attack for me when we first walked into the house. I was greeted by Maria's mother, father, sister, her husband,her brother, Alessandro, Manuel, Carla, Olga, Marta and George. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed. We sat down to lunch and, of course, the first topic of discussion was that I was actually vegetarian, which lead to lots of questions and an eventual discussion of Hinduism from me. When I finished, Fabiola's brother informed me he had a statue of Shiva which an Indian friend had given him. Small world! My meal consisted of a very yummy and spicy soup (vegetarian, but I don't know whats in it), bread and 3 different kinds of cheese, salad and a kiwi for dessert.)
Speaking with everyone was hard because I was so nervous but it was nice to meet everyone. After eating, abuela (grandmother) told me I should go on a walk with Olga, who was 14 and knew a little bit of English. We start walking and Olga informes me we are going to the river Garganta, which seemed harmless to me at the time. We chatted and walked and soon we were at the edge of a hill overlooking the river. It was very peaceful and calm and I thought that was it, when she basically started hiking off the path. Now don't get me wrong, I love hiking and double love exploring off track but here I was my first day in Spain, I didn't actually know where we were, and I was wearing fashionable boots which were very bad for hiking.
Of course I still ended up following her (slipping and sliding the whole time down) until we reached the water's edge. I thought it was now over when she began removing her shoes and socks. Oh boy. Let me make a long story of an already longer story shorter by telling you simply this: We walked across the river bouncing on unstable rocks carrying our stuff (including my iPhone), climbing up fallen trees, avoiding poison ivy and insect laden sand, past an abandoned flour mill), and finally reached a phenomenal view of the river. Let me just mention that when we did reach this part, I saw that there was another, safe, walking path that we could have used coming from the other side. Oh Olga, thanks for that adventure. I don't know why I followed her, but it ended up being worth it and quite memorable. There were two points where I was just too scared to jump across to the next rock (I swear there was no way to make it) and she basically yelled and encouraged me until I did! I'm not going to lie, I felt quite cool.
After sitting and enjoying the view for awhile, we headed back to the house. It was just in time as everyone had woken from their naps and were heading out. I got into Jose's BMW with Manuel. By this time I was completely exhausted and I drifted off occasionally. We reached Caceres in about an hour and pulled into their huge garage. Their house is amazing. It has 6 bedrooms, 4 upstairs, 2 downstairs, 3 bathrooms, a patio, a well sized kitchen and a combination dining and family room. It is decorated with red accent walls, art pieces and photos. I have a nice clean room downstairs with basically a bathroom to myself. Five seconds after I had just put my stuff down and started unpacking, Alessandro and Manuel ran in with the box of a new dresser from Ikea that the parents had bought for me. It was a great opportunity to get to know them so I asked if they wanted help, which they accepted. It was quite an interesting time because they loved the power drill and thought putting furniture together was very very fun.
Halfway through I pulled out their presents- a puzzle and the game "Trouble" for Alessandro and Manuel to share, and a monkey and playdough for Carla. I also had plastic eggs filled with Reeses for Easter. It could not have gone better, they loved them!! I was very happy. Actually, I also wish I brought more playdough because they loved that the most.
We ended up taking so long making it, too many distractions, that Jose ended up finishing it. I took a shower (finally) and we settled down to a light dinner of sandwiches (bocadilla) at 10pm (which is normal). Maria made me a very tasty one with zucchini, eggs, and amazing Spanish cheese. Very yummy. They're being so nice and accommodating about my dietary needs. I love this family already!
After that, it was finally finally finally time for bed. I passed out in about 0.2 seconds.
This concludes my first day in Spain. It was awesome.