Hey all! It's been shamefully two months since my last writing.(or for some of you this is the first time you are getting my writings) This one is really long to make up for it.... Sorry, I've been wanting to write, but have been caught up in the whirlwind of thoughts and email communications and nerves that I've been experiencing because I've been deciding to leave Madrid.
See, around the end of November, and middle of December I began to feel very stuck, unsatisfied and unhealthy with my life here - i didn't like the way my jobs, my apartment, the city, my schedule was making me feel: stuck, very lonely, and like a bad person for resenting what I had, but not being able to help it. And, there was this tiny voice inside of me that kept saying - "this place isn't right for you! You don't want to be here!" Which was a bit nerve-wracking since I had spent the last 4 months making Madrid into my home, and I don't know anything else. Where else could I go? How else could I support myself except by teaching English?
With these thoughts swirling around my head, I left for Alicante for Christmas, and then Belgium for new years.
Alicante was fun. It's a small city located on the south west coast of Spain. I spent Christmas weekend there with my roommate and her family. Her parents and brother only speak English, so that made for a fun challenge. I swear, just in these three days of lots of Spanish, my Spanish and my confidence with the language improved a lot. The last day I was there, Lara had already left so it was just me and her spanish speaking parents. After lunch, they explained to me for an hour about the different agriculture products in Spain and the regions - and I understood everything! Definitely a learning benchmark =) Other highlights from my Spanish Christmas: homemaid authentic paella cooked by Lara's mom; getting to wake up and go for runs on the beach (how I missed the water!!!); a traditional marisco (seafood) christmas dinner of steamed crabs, lobster, and shrimp; speaking to Lara in English at the Christmas dinner about people present at the dinner table because no one else could understand us (I'd always wondered what it was like to be the two people who were speaking the language no one else understood. Now I've done it! And yes, those people are probably talking about you); Lara's mom teaching me how to cook a Spanish Omlette (Spain loves their potatoes and oil); learning (again in spanish) how to open walnets using two fingers from one hand, and the fist of the other. All in all, it was a lovely relaxing, food, culture, and Spanish filled weekend =)
I got back to my apartment in Madrid from Alicante at 2:30am(plane delay)... then went back to the airport at 2pm the next day with my friend Christine to fly to Belgium for the week.
Belgium was also a fantastic experience. We did couch surfers, meaning instead of staying and paying for hostels, we arranged ahead of time to stay at the homes of strangers-soon to be friends. I know this may sound sketchy, but it really isn't so bad. The couchsurfing website is really well run. You have a profile that has all the information you would basically put on your facebook page, you can verify your location and identity, couchsurfing keeps track of all communication sent on the website, and hosts/surfers can put review of each other online after they have stayed/hosted there. It's hard not to at least see if you can trust someone who's picture you can see, favorite quotes you can read, location is verified, and has 25 reviews of satisfied couch surfers who have stayed with him/her before. We stayed with 4 different hosts in Belgium All of them were lovely, and made our stay in Belgium better. I would couch surf again in a second.
Our first hosts were a couple living in Ghent. The guy was Belgian (from Ghent) and the girl was from Indonesia. They had met through couch surfing when the guy was traveling around Asia for a year. They were sooo nice! They picked us up from the train station, gave us a map of brugges to explore, took us out for delicious Belgian beers and fries (we took them out to dinner the next night). We had our own room with separate beds. It was the best first couchsurfing experience we could have asked for. We stayed there three evenings in general.
During the day, Christie and I explored Brugges and Brussels. Brugges has to be one of the most picturesque European little cities in Europe. It's very beautiful. It has lots of canals, and architecture that reminded me of San Francisco townhouses - except older and made out of stone. I've never seen SO MANY chocolate shops in one town in my life - there was literally one every three shops. Mmmm delicious. We went on a brewery tour, which was cool, but a bit difficult to understand, and FREEZING, but came with a complimentary beer afterwards (yum). We ate mussels and french fries for lunch - it came in a bucket and is the traditional food of Belgium (double yum), We walked around the Brugges christmas market with cups of steaming Gludeken in hand (mulled wine - love at first sip. Especially for Christy), and we went to the best little pub I have ever been too. It was soo adorable and cozy, and had about 300 belgian beers to choose from. All were between 2.50-4.50 euros (well priced I think) and would come with a plate of good cubes cheese when you ordered them. The place was so full, that we ended up having to share a table for four - not that we minded. We sat with a couple from Argentina who were studying abroad in Padua Italy. I love Europe and it's multi-culturalness =)
Brussels, which we explored the next day, was also lovely. We only stayed around the center of the city. Apparently the rest of it isn't too much to look at. But the architecture!!! So beautiful. Brussels had a HUGE christmas market that was blocks full of small wooden stands selling their wares, and foods, and such. Many booths full of huge cheese blocks, other booths full of sausages of sizes and colors, others with really good jams, others with incense - there was a lot! And you never knew if they were going to speak dutch or french at you. Normally they started with French, and ended up speaking English (again - I LOVE Europe and it's multi-culturalness). We didn't buy much at the market, but it was so much fun to look at everything (cups of hot wine in hand of course... have i mentioned i also love Europe's lax alcohol attitude?)
After the market, we wandered a bit and ended up at the famous mankenpis (sp wrong) statue - a statue/fountain of a little belgian boy peeing into the fountain's pool. It's only about 2.5 feet high, surrounded by tourists, and very funny. Just across from that was the pub we wanted to go too - called the puppetry pub of all things! It was covered in marionettes (sort of creepily so), and statue replicas of the makenpis dressed up in different costumes from around the world and eras. So funny. Again this pub had hundreds of beers to chose from. All strong, all delicious. mmmm. After beers, we split some famous fries to share, and went back to our hosts.
The next day we explored Ghent - which is very beautiful again, and it definitely the city I would choose to live in if I lived in Belgium. It was pretty similar to Brugges, but bigger. We walked around for hours. And then laid by the canal for about thirty minutes, tired, but enjoying the ambiance. Some tourists took pictures of us. We had our big winter coats on, laying on the side of the canal. Not something you see much i guess. Later that day, we took the train to Leuven - a less known city in Belgium and met our second host: a 23 year old Spanish dude from Segovia studying Education in Leuven named Jose. Jose was very nice, very hospitibal, but sort of shy. Most of the time we spent in Leuven, he stayed in doors, and we just wandered the city by ourselves. There isn't too much to say about Leuven. It's a pleasant city, smaller than Ghent, not as picturesque as the others we'd been to, but still very pleasant to wander. I'd try to engage him in conversation (english and spanish, and it would end after a couple of sentences.) We spent New Years with him though. It was very international. We went out for Italian food (weirdly enough - i had a lot of italian food in belgium. I haven't had it once in my months in Spain, but had it 4 times in Belgium). The dinner company was from China, India, El Salvador, Spain, Belgium, and America. This is also who we brought in the new year with two, standing in a crowded Belgian Square. Afterwards, we danced the night away at a Belgian gay discotech (why not?!). It was definitely my most international New Years by far. Though i sort of missed the Hawaiian house parties of yesteryears.
Christy went home, and I alone went to my next host - a couple again. This time in Mechelen. The girl was from East Germany (the wall had come down when she was one. She was currently studying to be an interpreter. Very interesting profession) and the guy was from Belgium(his family had owned a bakery outside of Brussels for most of his life growing up, he has three brothers.. interesting stories! But.. I'm going to keep this writing to my story because it's already long enough). This couple was So nice! The first night I showed up to them making me dinner- spegetti with sauce cooked by Fred's mom - really good! Then they drove me to Brussels that evening so I could see the atomium (which is an atom sculpture like the size of the eiffel tower! I had no idea how tall it would be!) And then we went to a not much to look at, but totally local pub - Fred's favorite where he knows everyone by name. Naturally I loved it. The next morning we had a huge breakfast spread of bread and different types of jams (they have a honey jam and a jam that tastes like gingerbread in Belgium). i also made them Egg-in-the-hole's, which they had never had before and really liked. It was really cold those days, so I didn't really leave their apartment much - just caught up on emails, watched their adorable cats, slept, watched movies, ate. It was a nice change after spending the last five days wandering outside all day. One movie we watched was called Good morning Lenin - about a boy and his mom and their relationship during the fall of the Berlin wall. We watched it in German with English subtitles - What great company to watch that sort of movie. They kept commenting about what was accurate, what wasn't, etc.
My last night in Belgium I spent in Antwerp at the apartment of this Italian guy named Luca in his company and his roommates. Oh they were so funny - had me laughing the whole time. Luca was very italian. He loves old Italian movies, would say romantic Italian things like, "let's go together and watch the stars," and he cooked me Italian food (more italian but by an Italian!) He was nice enough to walk around and show me the city even though he's seen it all before and showed hundreds of surfers he's hosted the city before. Antwerp is very picturesque, but again, kind of similar to the others. There is this one street that totally looks like castles. And apparently it has quite the art scene. I'm still trying to figure out if Luca (who is from Naples) is involved in the Mob or not. He and his roommate kept joking about it, and I have a sneaking suspicion they might be a bit based on truth. Anyway, very funny time, very memorable and nice once again.
couchsurfing, I think, is awesome.
I went back to Madrid the next day, and had about 5 days off before I had to start classes again. What my travels had taught me, in addition to being fun, was that yes - I want a change. I want to travel more. I don't want to be stuck in Madrid. Not to mention my largest most lucrative job is ending at the end of February, so I'd need to find more work, and I tried, but no one is really hiring. So, I wasn't really sure what I was going to do, but I was certain I needed change, and I started researching my options - wwoofing (working on Organic farms,) which led me to another site called HelpXchange which has thousands of posts of people looking for help on farms, hostels, au pairing, house maintenance, animal caretaking - everything in exchange for room and board. So that's what i've decided to do! I'm going to travel around Spain first working at different places for a few weeks to a few months at a time, earning money where I can, but not spending much because my room and board will be taken care of =) I have about 2000 euros to do this on, and I'll figure it out as I go along. My first place i'm staying sounds lovely - here is the link.www.lacasadelviento.com I am going the beginning of March, and staying until probably sometime in April. Then I'll figure out what to do next. I really want to live with an all spanish speaking family for a couple of months, so I'm looking and contacting hosts for that sort of opportunity as welll. i'm also looking into options to help out at and stay free at a hostel over the summer, probably in Greece or Italy.
I've been much happier since I've made this decision to leave Madrid. I'm so excited to meet new people, learn some gardening skills, be outdoors again, see other parts of Spain and Europe! 6i know I'm doing the right thing. Madrid is a lovely place, and maybe I'll come back and teach again in the fall. I have no idea right now. But if I do, I'm going to get an apartment closer to the center, and find jobs that are more block hours and conversational. That would make a big difference I think in comparison to the place I'm living and places I'm working now. Well... we shall see what the future will bring. Wish me luck! Cus I'm nervous, excited, and needing it.
love you and talk to you soon!