Yes, I made it. I figured out the airport,1 the metro,2 and the door to my host mother’s apartment, and settled down in Madrid with all of my luggage and most of my wits about me. I’ve been here just over 24 hours3 (I think–who knows what happened when I crossed all those time zones) and I’ve only seen a fraction of a fraction of the city, but I thought it would be worth it to share my very first impressions of Madrid.4 So here are the things that stuck out to me the most in my first few hours here:
The most obvious difference between Spain and the United States (besides the difference in principle languages, of course) is probably the time difference. Madrid is 6 hours ahead of where I live, and this has altered my life in a number of ways. First and foremost, jet lag. When you travel west to east, you lose hours, and I have no idea where they go, but they took all of my energy with me.5 I’ve never been as tired as I was when I got off the plane and sat down to wait for my friend in the airport. I’ve never felt more connected to my body than I did during that wait. I literally couldn’t think of anything but sleeping, of my physical need to rest. I started getting a migraine and a bout of nausea, I was so tired. By the time I made it to my host mother’s house, it was probably around 7 a.m. back home (for reference, I left at 6 p.m. the day before6). In all, it was no longer than the (admittedly) many all-nighters I’ve pulled before, but I swear to god, something happened to those hours I lost. It felt like rather than losing time, I ended up staying awake for three times the length of my trip. However, there is a bright side: thanks to the time difference, I can write this at 11 p.m. in Madrid and published it for 5 p.m. in the States. Look who’s still punctual!
Yep, I’ve been here just over a day and I’ve already had enough coffee to merit writing about it. The coffee here only worsens the superiority complex I had back home. A cafe solo here is like an expresso shot back home, not like our standard cup of black coffee, or even an americano–and for better or for worse, I’ve embraced it. I’ll make exceptions for cortados, which are much less pretentious here (where I believe they originated) than they are at the coffee shops in the States that have just started adding them as an option. In a city with a reputation for going to bed in the small hours of the morning, I’m going to need my coffee habit more than ever.
People are more sparing with electricity in Spain than in the U.S. (because it’s more expensive), but I only know this because they told us during orientation. What has really stuck out to me in regards to electricity is the difference in plugs and outlets.7 I got an adapter before I left, so I knew EU plugs had two round prongs, instead of the two flat ones that we have in the U.S. But I wasn’t expecting the outlets to look how they do! They’re round and really large–they leave a lot of space around the holes for the prongs for the plug itself to rest. It look me a few embarrassing minutes of staring at one in the airport before I recognized it as a viable location for my iPhone charger. It’s a small change, but it’s one I didn’t expect.
The coordinators of my program told me to watch out for pick pockets on no less than three occasions before I even left the U.S.–and the first day of orientation here in Madrid was no exception. The representative of the U.S. Embassy who visited us today was full of warnings as well. The message they’ve been repeating is fairly straightforward, but definitely a shift from the U.S.: in Spain, you’re especially safe from bodily harm. It’s very difficult to own a gun in Spain–they’re all but eradicated from the general population. Instead, you’re much more at risk for robbery–mostly petty theft, like pick-pocketing, since it’s much more difficult to pull off a mugging than it is in the U.S. And according to everyone I’ve spoken to, pick-pocketing here is close to an art form, full of impressive slight-of-hand tricks that make it nearly impossible to notice, let alone prevent if you’re not careful. And I intend on being extremely careful, if that wasn’t obvious already–though as long as they don’t take my laptop, I’ll be sure to write about any thefts I experience.
Okay, I heard from a lot of people that the Metro in Spain is far better than any subway system in the States, but man, is it something to be experienced. It’s all very clean and bright8 and every single stop on the line I used today had immaculate green granite walls–every single one! Not just the ones for important tourist destinations9 or the newest ones,10 but every. single. one. What’s more, the doors don’t open automatically–you have to press a button in the door if you want to get on or off the train. My current hypothesis is that there’s a connection between this selective door-opening and the impressive timeliness of the Metro, but I haven’t figured out its mechanism yet. Updates to come.
1Including a tight connection (Read as: less than an hour between disembarking, making it through the suprisingly strict Heathrow security–RIP my face cream and eye contact solution–and getting on the next plane) that everyone predicted I’d miss.
2Thanks to my friend Sara who graciously left class early to meet me and show me the way–¡estoy muy agradecida por tu ayuda, Sara!
3I think–who knows what happened when I crossed all those time zones.
4Second- and third- first impressions to come.
5I’m still trying to figure out what exactly I lost–will I get those hours back when I return to the US? Am I techinically living 6 hours less than I would if I stayed in one place?
6And I foolishly had a coffee at around 5. I blame that, pared with my connecting flight’s refusal to turn off the lights during a flight leaving at 6:30 a.m. London time for my inability to sleep–and save myself a world of pain–during my trip.
7I know this is exceedingly obvious to anyone who’s been to Europe before, but it’s my first time here, so indulge me, okay?
8My closest comparison is the Tube in London, which I’ve only seen on TV–I’m not well traveled, okay?
9I’m looking at you, NYC.