Twitter / StephAntoinette

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

You know that saying..."You don't know what you have until it's gone" or "Distance makes the heart grow fonder"? Well as cliche and corny as they may sound I believe these to be very true analogies. Not that anything is "gone", but being away from home is making me miss things that I took for granted. Let's get something straight...I don't take a lot for granted...but there are little things here and there that you don't really pay attention to when you really should.

When I planned this trip I was looking forward to some revelation...some awakening. I had the typical idea that this trip will "change me" and "I will find myself". Well, I'm sorry to say that I haven't exactly "found myself" nor have I changed really...but looking back at these past two weeks or so, I have learned a lot. I am not upset at not finding myself, I realize this is something that takes time and well may also never fully happen. Very little of us are fully aware of ourselves, of our potential, of our strengths and our weaknesses. But being in Madrid has truly shown me how lucky I am to be who I am. Rebellious teenagers often dream of a trip like this, to leave their parents and be "free". But, I am the complete opposite. How I would love to have my family here with me. A day has not passed that I have not spoken to my mother. Call us crazy or whatever you'd like to call us, but our family's relationship is truly amazing to me. I sit here during my downtime and think of everything my family has gone through, and I realize that there is nothing that could ever break us. I am extremely proud and filled with happiness when I come to think of the family this world has given me. I truly do not know where I would be with out them. Don't get me wrong, I'm having a great time...Madrid is so beautiful, but on the other hand I'm counting the days until I see my parents and my sister again. This trip has illuminated even more how much they mean to me.

So to my family who is reading this...thank you for being you...and also to all our friends who have loved us through it all...thank you as well!


Sunday, June 28, 2009

The last time I wrote I had been pick-pocketed...well I've learned my lesson and now I clench my purse at all times! To try to get my mind off things, my two friends, both named Maria, took me out thursday night. We went to Goya which was really beautiful We had an amazing italian dinner...gnocchi mushroom cream sauce and white truffle oil! DELICIOUS! After dinner we went to an exhibition a new Japanese designer was holding. It was really amazing. They had hired acrobats to scale a building and preform on the side of this giant building. We sat there for a while admiring it all, and then we decided to walk around the city. The city is really beautiful at night, everything changes, but the best part is that its always filled with people. After passing several landmarks, including the Bernabeu Stadium where Real Madrid plays, we decided to get some gelato. I must admit that gelato has become my weakness here in Madrid. Every time I go out I must buy a gelato. My excursions would not be complete without a coconut gelato. I can not even begin to describe what I feel when I have this treat! The best has been in this hole in the wall type place near Plaza Mayor. This gelato genius chose to leave little pieces of coconut in his gelato. AMAZING.

After our 3 hour ice cream chat I returned home and went right to bed. On friday I was a major bum. I gave the girls their classes and then three little cousins showed up at the house. They would be staying for the know what this meant...2 bathrooms for 8 people!

The cousins were nice...glued to the tv the whole weekend. Friday night I decided to stay in my room and watch movies. I really can't handle the chaos that comes with a house full of children. I'm definitely going to need a nanny.

Saturday morning I decided to go out into the city. I have written a list of places I must go before I leave and one of those was Gay Chueca. Chueca is the first openly gay barrio in Madrid. Its really nice actually, there are a lot of really great stores. All have wonderful multicolored pride flags hanging from their windows. Its a very trendy area. I spent the day there, and of course had a coconut gelato for lunch! When I got tired I returned home to take a nap. After my nap I walked down to La Vaguada, the mall right down the street. I tried to shop but it was impossible! The markdown season is occurring right now, so the ladies are vicious. mercy. Its like a clothes war in there. I love the clothes but honestly I'd rather wait until I get home and shop in peace!

Today is Sunday...and the cousins are going home.
This morning I woke up with an extremely sore back...I miss my bed!!! I decided to visit El Templo de Debod. An Egyptian temple given to Spanish Archaeologists as a gift from Nasser. The temple was shipped in pieces and then put back together in Madrid. It was really interesting. Once arriving at this temple...which took a while by metro...I snapped some pictures and quickly got distracted by a far more interesting spectacle. Three dogs had jumped in a nearby fountain and were playing around. I really miss my dog. Lets just say I took more pictures of these dogs than I did of the temple!

Right now I am relaxing at home getting ready to plan out my week. Tonight we are going to a concert in a nearby park...we'll see how that goes.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I don't have a lot to write tonight, since my plans changed this evening...I would originally be writing about El Museo del Prado, however my wallet got stolen this afternoon. Due to this interruption in my day, I could not make it to the museum. I really do not wish to go through this again, I tore up my entire room in hopes of finding my wallet. As it turns out I have been a victim to a very common crime here in Madrid, and other big cities...yes I was pick-pocketed by a professional I suppose. I really hate myself for it, but at this point what's done is done. My host family took me to the police station, a very scary place, and I filed a report. They really do treat you better once you pull out that handy dandy American Passport. In some countries I would change my identity, but here in Madrid they want to be as American as possible. Everywhere I go there are little girls sporting t-shirts with American sayings, which I'm almost positive they do not even understand. People everywhere would die to learn english, and it has shown me how lucky I am to be bilingual. Everywhere I go I see American tourists struggling to ask a question, and I simply walk up to them and lend a helping hand. I am extremely fortunate that my parents made it their job to make sure I never stopped speaking spanish after our move to the United States.

Back in the States a friend told me that the Madrileños might not like my spanish accent since it differs from their Castellano...on the contrary they are in love with it! They wish they could speak my spanish instead of theirs! Actually its really funny, I'm beginning to feel as though my english is getting worse. When I write emails I've noticed the simple mistakes I've been making since my mind is getting a little confused with the languages. I'm also speaking english with a spanish accent to the little girls! Even now as I write this blog, the english in my head has an accent! I'm trying to read my english books that I brought with me every night!

This whole getting my wallet stolen thing has really ruined my day. But thankfully I keep my passport in my house, and I brought an extra credit card for this very reason. So tomorrow if I head out I have decided to duct tape my money to myself. And if anyone even takes a glance at me I will immediately walk away from wherever I am. You really never think its actually going to happen to you until it does. I wonder where that wallet is now? Sad. Well sorry this blog wasn't quite as thrilling as the past, but I'm sure I'll have a good story soon.


Monday, June 22, 2009

I find myself unable to sleep here at night. I'm not sure if it's the heat or the noise outside, or perhaps the fact that the time is so different here than Charlotte. I have had several restless nights that lead to very long siestas during the day. Thankfully I found my stash of Tylenol PM and intend to use it wisely during my stay...I don't think they sell any Tylenol products here.

Well the night of the pueblo party with the big Jamon, we got home late and had made plans to get up early on sunday. Sunday mornings there is a giant open market called El Rastro. You can find anything and everything there. From clothes to jewelry to antiques, even old random trinkets. So we woke up early to beat the crowds and headed for El Rastro. (we did not beat the crowds!) it was packed! Hundreds of people crowded in the streets trying to find their treasure. I purchased a big silver ring with a turquoise rock... 2 euros! We walked around for almost an hour and a half and we began to get tired from the sun. We decided we had had enough of El Rastro and went over to Gran Via for Tapas. We ended up in this famous tapas place, a hole in the wall, but a place that has been around since the 1800's. We ate a little snack and then headed on home.

After a much needed siesta we had lunch, a mixed rice salad. Its a good idea, rice with a ton of vegetables and tuna...and don't forget the olive oil!!!! I'm glad I did not eat a lot for lunch, because my evening plans would have been ruined if I would have gone with a full stomach...

Well, according to my Father, you can not leave Madrid with out going to a bull fight...Una corrida de toros. My mother begged me not to go, but I figured what the hell I'll give it a shot. My host father is obsessed with bullfights so we both went on Sunday night.

A bullfight consists of 3 toreros (bullfighters) and 6 bulls. Each torero gets to fight 2 bulls. We arrived at this massive plaza that holds 22,000 people. It was beautiful, an old structure where I could only imagine the people that had sat there before me many years ago. It was all very beautiful until the blood. First everyone comes out in their beautiful attire and you get to see everyone who will be involved in the bullfight of the evening. Then the toro comes out...pobre bestia (poor beast). I know a lot of people do not feel what I feel towards animals, but this bullfight was very strong for me. The first time the man on the horse stabbed the toro and the blood came rushing out I had tears in my eyes. I just imagined how innocent that animal was, no idea what lied ahead of him. He's paraded around this giant sand circle, stabbed numerous times, forced to run around nervously, and then killed...for money and entertainment?? I understand it is tradition, I understand that it is an art, that these bullfighters have studied this for many years and perfected every move, but it is not for me. I watched 6 bulls die on sunday, but I can at least say that I have seen a bullfight, and no I will never see one again. Pobre toritos. After the bullfight we walked over to a couple of bars were people always go to talk about the fight. It was not a good fight at all. The bulls were very slow, not how they should be. There have been many strikes in Madrid, the Madrileños say that the Plaza de los Toros was cheap this year and did not buy any good bulls. By the looks of last nights bulls, I have to agree.

We arrived home and had dinner...some vegetable I don't remember the name of, but it was very good. Then trying to avoid a restless night I relied on my tylenol pm to help me sleep.

This morning I woke up around 10am and headed to El Retiro with Maria. El Retiro is a giant park in the city center. Lined with trees and various grassy areas. We found the perfect spot in the shade and read some english books. Later we ate bocadillos with tortilla and jamon. They were very good! After El Retiro I fought with Lufthansa to change my plane ticket...I still have not solved this problem!

Today was a lazy day, just spending time with the girls and taking them to British school in the afternoon. I'm looking forward to what tomorrow may bring.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

I could get used to this…

Last I wrote I had visited the shops at Serrano. At that moment I had no idea what my Madrid experience would really be like. On Friday I woke up around 1pm (remember I had late night tapas the night before). I was really excited because my friend Maria, who had studied abroad at my high school about 5 years ago, invited me over for her birthday. I gathered all my things and Maria came to pick me up. It was so amazing to see her here in Madrid…five years ago we would have never imagined this. We arrived at her beautiful flat and began preparing food for her birthday dinner… oh yea, Maria has air conditioning!!!!! It was wonderful! We prepared sandwiches and salad, pâté and an array of cheeses, chips, cheesecake…sangria! Then we got dressed before her friends arrived. The reason why I have added this detail is because I would like to say that I actually put on a pair of jeans! Yes, believe it or not I wore jeans in this heat! Her friends arrived one by one and in all there were twelve of them; we had an amazing time. The people here are so warm and inviting, I felt like we had been friends forever. These are people I wish I could bring back to the States with me, because I have yet to find such an amazing group of friends. We had dinner, sangria, dessert, and then we just sat around and laughed. Around 1am we started cleaning up to get ready to go out on the town.

WOW…is all I can say about Madrid night life. You drive around the city at 2am and there are crowds of people everywhere. Its amazing! We drove to a place called El Hipodromo. During the day it is a place where they hold horse races, it is huge. At night it becomes an open air nightclub. I have yet to know the capacity at this place, but when I walked in there must have been around 4000 people. It was amazing, I could not believe it. It was a sea of people dancing and having an amazing time. They played house music all night and had really cool lighting. I loved that it was out in the open. It gave it a completely different feel. It was all grass with wooden dance floors and couches to lounge on all around. The people were so beautiful, every single one with their own style. The bar areas were crowded, they do not serve drinks like they do in the US. For example I had a rum and coke and they hand you a glass with as much rum as you wish and then give you a small coke bottle so you can put as much or as little coke as you want. After dancing the night away, Hipodromo closed around 4am. We stood outside with the giant crowd and met people and just had an amazing time. We got back to Maria’s around 6am and went right to sleep. 6AM!!! I could not believe it, her mother was waking up when we were getting home!

Maria and I slept until 2pm the next day, we were exhausted. After having a light lunch Maria brought me back to my side of town. I arrived and did some English homework with the girls. Then I got dressed and we left around 8pm to go to El Ecorial. It was about a 30 minute ride that almost made me car sick. We went up a mountain and arrived in this beautiful little town. The Ecorial is an old palace. No one lives in it now, but it is truly amazing. The gardens, the architecture, the windows, the cobblestone roads!!! I loved it. We walked around the town and had some wine and then we headed to Antonia’s brother’s village for a party.

This was truly an experience to say the least. Her brother lives in a small town on the outskirts of Madrid. It is your typical town where everyone knows each other and is in every one else’s business. The town had a barbecue with a band and typical dances. The whole family got together and we walked to the party and had an amazing time. The best part was that they were selling raffle tickets to win a leg of pig, and Antonia’s brother won! This was the highlight of everyone’s evening. My how they love their ham. They were running around celebrating and carrying this giant leg around…I wish I had a video camera. Then they passed it around to see the quality of the ham. I think Madrileños could survive with just ham their entire lives. They are in love with it! Ham and olive oil. Olive oil is used in everything, at Maria’s house they even had olive oil soap!! Its really late here, around 2am, and tomorrow we are going to El Rastro. Its an open air market in the city center that only opens on Sundays. I must go now.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

I'm extremely tired, but figured a short blog couldn't hurt. It's 1:30Am and I got in around 30 minutes ago. Today was a little slow, I woke up and was so hot I took around 3 showers. Thats really the best advice I've been given...SHOWER. Then I lounged around and walked to La Vaguada, the mall thats about 3 blocks from home. I almost died walking 3 blocks!!! I went to the post office and the grocery store...not anything exciting. I got home and decided to follow my Lonely Planet guide book and go to Calle de Serrano. Serrano is like 5th Ave. It has all the amazing stores like Gucci, Prada, Versace, Chanel etc. I was really only looking for Manolo Blahnik...I've never been in one so I was pretty excited when I saw it in my guide book. Well, to make a long story short, my guidebook led me on a wild goose chase. I probably walked about 30 or so blocks up and down the same street and never found Manolo Blahnik! I was really disappointed!

Serrano was really nice but there's a lot of construction...and well yes in case you were wondering, the construction workers in Madrid are the same as the Charlotte ones. Every time I walked by, "Hola guapa! Mi reina adonde vas tan rapido?" its called calls I guess. My host family got a kick out of it when I told them. I loved walking down Serrano because of the people I saw. All of them were dressed perfectly...immaculate!

Speaking of in the hell do Madrileños wear jeans in this heat? I swear I was the only girl in a dress today. Everyone wears jeans and sweaters!!!! I can't even leave my room without sweating in a light dress! Maybe they are cold blooded...its crazy!

Another incident I had this morning is rather funny....well first of all I don't think Madrid has been introduced to window know like the kinds we have back home? I have seen some crazy bugs flying around this house. As a matter of fact theres a spider hanging out above my head right now. Today I jumped out of the shower because there was a bug...! I can only imagine how my sister would react!

Tonight was definitely a fun and exciting evening. I got home from Serrano and Sara and Maria got home from the British School. We had dinner and then about 20 minutes later we met some of their parents friends for drinks and tapas. AMAZING! People crowd the streets in rows of tiny little cafe tables. I drank the drink of the summer tinto wine with sort of like a sprite kind of cola. Very refreshing, but it really gets to your head. My host mom took the girls to bed around 11:30pm and my host dad and I sat there drinking and eating incredible tapas with these two other friends. We left at 1am and the place was still full! The chef came out because he knows my family since they are regulars from el Barrio...he was very nice.

My host dad is really nice but seems a little shy. We've had our fair share of awkward moments. You know when its totally silent and you're trying sooo freaking hard to find a topic of conversation to end the silence?! Its really awkward but hes super nice. Well I'm off to bed. Tomorrow I am going out with some friends...they said I needed a good nights sleep because we probably will not get home until 6AM!


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Well here I am again...its funny actually when you post a blog you find yourself living your life in blog...if that makes sense. Everywhere I went today I imagined what it would look like written in my blog. Weird huh? Last night I went on a bus ride with my host Mother, she showed me where the girls will be taking english classes. The city is really beautiful, so much architecture. Everyone here always seems so lovely and happy. The old ladies walk around in groups all over town, always dressed to impress; and have enormous smiles on their faces. They meet for coffee or lunch, then board the metro or bus and kiss each other good bye, until tomorrow. I'm sure they have known each other for years, and feel like sisters. I don't see this as much in the States. I think we worry too much and we work too hard, we waste precious moments with friends in order to just make that extra dollar. For what? I wish more people would simply slow down and stop caring about their financial situations all the time. People live longer in Europe, there are statistics to prove it, my guess is that they have less worries. They learn to live life to the fullest, with the bare minimum.

This morning I woke up and set out to explore Madrid. I walked down to the Metro (Barrio del Pilar) and rode until I got to Sol. It was like a whole different world. My Barrio is so calm, Sol was crazy and beautiful. The Plaza Mayor is the top destination in this area, where I was headed. It took me a while to get there, I got completely lost. The thing with Madrid is that the streets run into smaller side streets, so you don't know where to turn. So I must have walked up and down the same street 10 times looking for the Plaza. I was sure I would see it, I thought it would be right there in front of me somewhere. But I ventured into these side streets and finally realized this was the way to my destination. Plaza Mayor is something you can not miss. IT IS HUGE!!! A big giant cobblestone open air square. Where they used to hold bullfights and other festivals. Now it is filled with people and cafés. It was amazing. I walked around 3 times reading every menu trying to find the best place for a light lunch. I found a cute little place and bought a bocadillo (small baguette with cheese inside) and a Coke. I never ever drink soda, but for some reason I've already consumed three cans since I got here. Its really refreshing in this heat!

After my light lunch I walked for a while. I love all the little shops, I ran into TopShop, a boutique owned by Kate Moss. It was really neat, the clothes were great and pretty cheap. Today was extremely hot. Everyone was sweating...well everyone sweats period. I don't think I would like to have a boyfriend here, its too hot to hold hands! Everyone walks around fanning themselves with whatever they have...paper, subway tickets, money...anything that works as a fan! I decided to head home around 3:30 pm, but I ran into some trouble at the Metro. They had closed my line home due to an accident, we still have not heard what happened. There were fire fighters and medics everywhere. I had to take several different metros in order to finally reach mine. Linea nueve, Barrio del Pilar. I got home safe and took a short nap before taking the girls to British School.

Public transportation is incredible here. Extremely clean. I'm thinking of moving into the Metro because its nice and air conditioned (haha). We took the bus to the British School, it must have been rush hour or perhaps people were returning to work after was packed! I dropped the girls off and went to Museo Sorolla. Sorolla was a painter, and they turned his house into a museum. It was incredible. When you first walk through the gates there is this incredible garden. You would not even know that the busy Madrid streets are right outside. I toured the house which was so amazing, its crazy to stand inside a home built in the 1800's. The walls were all marble, and his paintings were beautiful. Giant canvases painted with oils. He loved painting his family, especially at the beach. He was a painter of light, and love. After touring the house I sat in the garden and read a little, it was only 7pm and the girls get out of school at 8:30. After reading and almost falling asleep I walked out to the street and found a perfectly located bench and just people watched for a long time. Its one of my favorite things to do here. One thing I have noticed are the shoes. Madrid has amazing shoes. No one wears flip flops, always nice leather sandals or high heels. I now always look down at peoples' shoes!

This blog is getting really long, so I just have one more thing to cover. People keep staring at me!!!!! In the metro I would sit for a while and then look up and everyone would quickly look away. So I got home and asked my host family why I was such an attraction. Well apparently everyone has brown eyes here. They say my eyes are incredible, and they even can't seem to stop looking! So I guess thats it? My eyes! The men here are very polite, I thought I would run into trouble. They are nice and call me Guapa...but they don't whistle or act like some men I have seen in other places. Well I just had dinner...they seem to have seafood with everything!! Spinach with shrimp, rice with tuna, potatoes with fish...!!!


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Its almost 7pm here and I just took my first venture around. I walked three blocks from my Piso (flat) to a shopping center that has about 350 stores...yep...right up the street! Last night I slept well, I actually didn't feel hot at all. But this morning the heat woke me up! I woke up and met Maribell, the girls' nanny. Shes a very strict Madrileña...shoving food in my face telling me I must eat...haha! I lounged around and took 2 showers (it helps with the heat) and went back to sleep. I guess I'm still not used to the time here. When I woke up the girls were home from school. Sara (the youngest) has a bug bite on her leg...why am I telling you this? Well...

I think Europe is way smarter than the US with their healthcare. They believe in preventative medicine. Sara went to the doctor (for free) got prescriptions (for free) and now knows that her bite will not get worse. In America we would "watch" the bite for several days and pray that it got better because we did not want to pay that ridiculous amount of money to see a doctor and then to have to get a please bite get better!!! I believe that we all deserve free healthcare...I've seen people writing offensive sayings about Obama with his ideas of healthcare. Well screw you if you feel this way. Its truly ridiculous. We wouldn't have so many sick people if they knew the second they started feeling bad they could easily get medical attention...

On a lighter note...I had a pleasant walk around. Everyone stares at me, they think I'm German. I've already been spoken to in German several So I saw several things today...first of all they have a lot of zapaterias (shoe stores) and I was peering in the window and noticed a strange thing. When you try on a shoe here they make you put on a plastic bag over your foot and then try the shoe on. Germ preventative I suppose...but very awkward. I will have to try on some shoes and take a picture so you believe me. The fashions in Madrid are craaazzyyy. Everyone is so colorful. I saw a Starbucks Coffee today...apparently they are very expensive and tres chic here! I took some pictures and I will post them very soon.

The craziest thing happened today...which makes me believe that some people come into your life for a reason. I was walking into El Corte Ingles...a famous department store...and guess who I saw?! I ran into the lady from the plane...she works there! It was truly amazing! We spoke for a while and she made me feel more comfortable here. She gave me her number and told me I could call her if I needed anything. How wonderful!

Last night we went out to eat at this little restaurant. I was not keeping track of time but we at at 11pm! They say Madrileños are known for living off little sleep. The girls went to bed when we got home and woke up around 7am. No thank you! Well my host mother is on her way home to show me the metro station! I'll post later...and try to upload pictures!

un beso

Monday, June 15, 2009

Here I am..Madrid, has been a hectic day. I arrived at Charlotte Douglas Airport at 3pm and left for Munich at 5:25pm...eight hours later I arrived in Munich dead tired. Waited 3 hours in the Munich airport and boarded a plane for Madrid. After 2 and a half more hours on another place I finally reached my destination.

I met some great people along the way. My first flight I met a guy about my age traveling to Prague. We bonded at the airport when we both noticed our mothers crying as we approached the gate. He was a really nice guy...but I never even asked his name. On the plane I sat with a mother and her two daughters...they were connecting to Warsaw to spend their summer with their grandmother. Everyone was super nice on the plane. I watched several movies...He's Just Not that into you..confessions of a shopaholic...bedtime stories...and also took a look at Lufthansa was really neat. I got extremely bored on the plane...especially when they turned off all the lights and I was not tired at all!
Munich was very interesting. The airport was amazing. They had 150 shops and everything looked so futuristic. However it was truly eye opening in the way that everyone was trying to talk to me in German. You realize how important languages are. After attempting to sleep at the terminal for my 3 hour layover I finally boarded the flight to Madrid. On there I met two really nice Madrileños and spoke the entire ride. Finally after a terrible landing...I got my bags and met with host dad.

I love my host family. They are wonderful people and are making me feel at home. Their daughters Maria and Sara are adorable and are already obsessed with me. The worst part about Madrid so far= HEAT. It is sooo hot here!! And nobody has air conditioning. I must have drank at least 6 bottles of water...and still feel a little faint!

I went to the supermarket they love their seafood and chorizo. The butcher shops are incredible. Not my type of food, but they are obsessed with it here. My host family (I shit you not) has a leg of ham, like a legit leg right off the pig, just sitting in their kitchen. I thought it was a piece of a tree or something when I first saw it.

Well its really late and I'm jet lagged, but I'll post soon.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Sunday June 14... 2:39 AM

Well here I am...sitting in my room packing the last few items that I "need" for Spain. Packing for an entire month is a lot harder than it may seem. Even more so when you have NO idea what you will be doing. Today I leave for Madrid...I will fly into Munich and then connect into Madrid 3 hours later. If I'm able to find an outlet (and figure out my converter) I'll try to post in Munich. I can not explain what I'm feeling right now, its like an excitement/anxious/nervous/crazy feeling. Call me crazy but I'm really going to miss Cohen. You realize that you can converse with family members and friends while abroad, but not dogs : (. He will be spoiled if I run into any pet stores in Madrid!

Well my plan is as follows...
I have been matched with a family in Madrid through a program called Interexchange. I will be living with them for a month and teaching them 15 hours of english every week. I'm super excited! They have two little girls, one is 12 and one is 10. They seem adorable and I know they will feel like my little sisters. So once I'm done with teaching I have free time to do anything and everything. I plan to explore every part of Madrid!