Euro Venture 2011 Pt. II Spain “Try Not to Be an Idiot Foreigner Next Time”

This is a continuation of the story here. It’s been interesting how many details I’ve remembered while writing these posts. Hopefully having them here will be a good way for me to remember the little bits.


After my morning journey to the hostal and jet lag beginning to kick in I found myself completely exhausted. I showered and napped for a while until I couldn’t ignore my stomach and my hunger. I roused myself to make myself Madrid-presentable. Both adapters shot sparks around the room when I tried to plug anything into them. After that, they both seemed to be completely worthless. That’s the last time I buy from that Amazon seller. 


While out wandering the streets, I found myself at a chain called “Casa del Jamón“, or “Mundo del Jamón“, or something like that. The serrano and melon hit the spot, but the waiter raised an eyebrow when I ordered vino tinto AND cafe together. 

“Urr…” It seemed he was looking for a polite way to tell me I was an idiot foreigner. “Just to let you know… Most people prefer to drink their cafe after the meal. It is best that way.”

“Oh, yes, I understand. It’s just I have terrible jet lag right now and I’m afraid I will fall asleep if I do not drink it sooner.”

“I see. Really, it is best after the meal. Are you certain?” 


In the end, I drank my wine and coffee at the same time. 

Don’t worry. I won’t do that again. 

Jamón hanging from the ceilings! I think I like this country.



After I found some replacement chargers for my camera and iPod I headed back to the hostal to wait for my Penpal to arrive. I was nervous. What if this person I’ve known for years is crazy? What if she is totally different from what I imagined? Will we kill each other? Eventually, I heard an Australian accent drifting from the reception area. I shyly opened the door and went out to greet her. 


It was wonderful to finally meet her. I think we were both a little shy around each other at first while we both tried to figure the other out. She told me stories about her weeks of travel before meeting me in Spain. I told her about how I arrived at the hostal. We both shared our excitement about the upcoming program. We are quite different from each other. She seemed straight-to-the-point and bold whereas I believe I tend to be more shy and keep my feelings inside. 


We explored the area around our hostal that night. The streets were absolutely full of people. I remember wondering whether this was a very popular part of the city, but later I realized that people seem to take to the streets everywhere! 


We found some interesting things like giant balls where you were supposed to write your dreams on a sheet of paper and then drop it into a slot in the ball. We also found the Desigual store. Sometimes I wish I could pull off wearing all of their crazy creations…


A nice sentiment, no?






Our first dinner together was entertaining. My friend doesn’t really speak or understand Spanish so I found myself doing the ordering and translating even though my Spanish abilities were pretty horrible. In the end, we ordered and ate about six different delicious offerings of tapas. 



The next morning, we visited the Palacio Real. I wish I could illustrate how beautiful the interior is, but we were not allowed to take any photos. All I have are photos of the outside. 




In the afternoon, we travelled to Casa Patas for our program orientation. The “Anglos” enjoyed a flamenco show, paella, and the company of the people they would be spending most of their next eight days and nights with. The newcomers and program veterans all spoke excitedly about what was to come. The next morning we would all file onto a bus for a four-hour trip to La Alberca. 

Euro Venture 2011 Pt. I Spain “Just Getting There is Half the Struggle”

The next several posts will outline some of the highlights and hilarity of my first trip to Europe. 



As I briefly mentioned HERE, I signed up to teach English for a week on a resort in beautiful La Alberca through a program named PUEBLO INGLES. When I applied I linked the program site to a few of my friends and asked if anyone wanted to join me. After all, adventures on foreign continents are more fun with others. Right?? I was delighted to see my Penpal from Australia accepted my travel challenge. Now, I have known my Penpal since I was 11 years old, but never met her in person at this point. We began to plan our vacation while about 10,360 miles apart. The plan was for her to travel several weeks through the United Kingdom until a couple of days before the Pueblo Ingles program when we would both fly to Madrid. There, we would finally meet. Everyone I mentioned this plan to was in disbelief or made comments about  it sounding like a movie. Maybe one day.


The morning of my first transatlantic flight, I was still frantically trying to figure out what I could fit in my luggage. Apparently, I tried to pack more clothes than I could squash into my suitcase. We were pressed for time so I ended up throwing items onto my bed until I could close it. We had a two-hour drive ahead of us to the airport. My mom bid me a tearful farewell at Dulles Airport and I was on my way. Thankfully, Aer Lingus flies directly from Washington, D.C. to Madrid. My flight landed at 7:30am (Spain time) in the morning. I was meeting my Penpal in the hostal around 3pm so I knew I had plenty of time to myself. I decided to take the metro from the airport, in the east, to the hostal near the Opera station, in the west. I found out quickly there are no escalators in Madrid’s metro so be warned if you plan on lugging two bags and a suitcase from one end of the city to the other (like I did). Instead of escalators, there are stairs! Lots of stairs. 


Lesson One:  You have to work your legs to get around the Madrid Metro system.


By the time I emerged from the station I was tired, warm, and sweating, but I will never forget that moment. 


I am not sure why I expected my first glimpse of a street in Madrid to be anything like streets back in Maryland cities with their asphalt and tall, modern buildings. I was absolutely blown away with what I saw. Low buildings, scrolled metal for the windows and balconies, and terracotta roofs? I really hope no one saw me smiling like a crazy person. 


Next, I had to find my hostal. I knew the name of the street I needed, but not the direction or how to get to that street. The streets jutted out in different directions and I couldn’t find street names for half of them. Many seemed more like alleys than streets. I was able to practice my broken Spanish to get some directions. Thankfully, after that, I was able to maneuver my way to the correct street. At least I thought it was the correct street, but still did not see my hostal. I approached the only human on that section of the street at that hour other than me. He seemed to be a backpacker (i.e. wore a large backpack and sunglasses). 


“Excuse me. Do you know where Hostal Gala is?”


He pointed up.


Okay, well, that was a bit embarrassing. The only sign was on the top story of the building right behind me. I hurried inside hoping to find an elevator of some kind. I was greeted with beautiful stairs. I started to drag my two bags plus suitcase up those stairs. About halfway a woman,who was descending the stairs, came back up to me. 


“Tuyo?” She pointed to a dark lump on the stairwell behind us. It looked like a piece of cloth.


“Oh! No…. No, pero gracias.” 


She continued her way downstairs. I set my things down and stepped over to the lump for a better look. That’s my shirt! I peered further down near the entrance and spotted another cloth wad on the ground which turned out to be another shirt. After grabbing both I rushed back to my suitcase and tilted it so I could view underneath. It was split open! I saw shirts, socks, and a pants leg poking out from the bottom. WHAT exactly did I drop all over the airport, metro, and neighborhood!???


Lesson Two: Invest in luggage straps. 


By the time I reached the receptionist I was tired, sweaty and smelled so, and felt numb to the world. It was almost 9am by this point, but the room wouldn’t be ready until 3pm. I launched into babbling a bit about my luggage and that I was just going to sit and wait in the lobby area. I’m not sure what the receptionist thought of me, but I’m sure she has seen some crazy spectacles before. I bought myself a Coke from a machine and pulled out my iPod to check my email. Should I assess the damage and tally my missing belongings? No. I forced myself not to look. I just sat, and sipped, and waited. 


Luckily, my room was finished early so I was able to take a shower and rest before my Penpal arrived. It was a very clean and cute room. It even had a little balcony.

Have you ever been to a country or place which turned out to be completely different from what you expected? Do you ave any travel horror stories?