Around every corner, down every street, in every cafe, Madrid offers something charming, exotic, comforting or surprising. In my first week in Spain’s capital city, I’ve already had countless new experiences. USC Madrid’s scheduled activities and sessions provided all 20 students (17 girls, 3 guys) with a thorough, but not overwhelming, introduction to the city.
On the first day of our orientation week, Gloria drove Ashima and me to El Instituto Internacional en España, our school. So sweet, so motherly! The study center is a Spanish historical landmark. It was constructed in the late 19th century and was originally used as a school to educate the young Spanish women during a time when that was far from the norm. Today it is home to several American study abroad programs. (I’ll post a picture in a future post.)
From Monday to Sunday, we did and saw so much, yet we hardly made a dent in all that there is to do in Madrid. Here are some of the first week’s highlights:
- Evening Tour – we met our professors andprogram directors to go on an evening tour of Madrid. It was a chilly evening – drizzling with temperatures in the low 30s – but it was worth every cold-toed minute to see the cobblestone streets slick with rain, illuminated by street lamps. We saw the Palacio Real, Puerta del Sol, Plaza de España, Mercado San Miguel and more.
- Group Dinner on the Rooftop Restaurant of Mercado San Antón – our group was stunned when we arrived at this hipster-chic restaurant situated at top of Mercado San Antón. I felt muy de moda when I dined at the trendy table for 26 (!!). Our program staff ordered some aperitivos like salad and jamón ibérico for us to share. (Cultural Tip #4: everyone loves ham and jamón ibérico es lo más rico.) We selected our own entrées and dessert. USC picked up the tab on everything. Dinner. Dessert. Vino. If you ever come to Madrid (*hint hint Mom and Dad*), you have to try La Cocina de San Antón.
- Tour of Toledo – to end Week 1, we went to the medieval town of Toledo. Our professors accompanied us so we had our very own expert tour guides. It was a real treat to have Spaniards show us around and teach us so much about the city’s architecture, history and art history. We centered discussion around the notion of Toledo as “The City of Three Cultures”. For centuries, Christians, Jews and Arabs lived together and built churches next to synagogues next to mosques.
It is hard to distill one unforgettable week’s experiences into just a few bullet points. There were so many enjoyable moments during my first 168-ish hours in Madrid that I can’t pick just three. So I won’t. Here’s a one last rapid-fire list of just a few more memories:
- Exploring my barrio, walking through Retiro, leaving my apartment at 10:30 pm to meet friends at bars, getting just little bit lost while heading to said bars, stopping at a pastelería on the street to purchase whatever kind of pastry my heart desired that day, finding everything I could ever need and more at El Corte Inglés, and taking advantage of 1€ and 0.50€ bocadillos at 100 Montaditos
After a whirlwind week in one of Europe’s most vibrant cities, I think about how lucky I am to be here and be able to spend 16 more weeks here. While I miss my family and friends at home, I’m loving my time here and look forward to each new day’s adventures. I know I will only grow more comfortable as I fall into a routine of classes, studying, exploring and traveling.