Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Tarjeta Saga Continues


What is the first thing you want to do on a Monday morning? If your first response isn’t to go to the Aluche Police station to collect your identity card, then you’re priorities are all wrong.

Yesterday I set off on what I was hoping would be a quick end to getting my identity card. That was serious wishful thinking. When I first arrived to the police station the line to get in was already half way around the block. Although slightly peeved that there was such a long line, I thought no worries you just have to hand a piece of paper over and then receive your card. How long can that take?

Worst words to ever think. After about an hour of waiting outside the building I was able to get into the gated section, only to find that the long snaking line around the perimeter was only for those picking up their cards. Again, I figured since this was a simple procedure there was no way that it could take a long time. And once again I was wrong.

We waited in line for about thirty minutes without moving until a little man came out to tell us that the computer system had been down for an hour and that they could not give out cards. He said they were working on fixing the glitch and would keep the office open until 6 (their usual hours) and try to give out as many cards as possible. I thought about leaving and coming back the next day, but I was already there and quite frankly did not want to waste another day waiting in all of those lines. Furthermore, upon this information over half of the people in front of me left, which made it more likely that I would get helped.

The police then ushered us into a side room. It is important to note during all of this we are corralled outside and this side room is a tent with walls lined with benches. We huddled on these benches hoping to leave successful.  We waited for another 35-45 minutes without anyone being served. Then the same little man came out and said that they could process members of the community cards and student cards. Hallelujah! I got up and started to make my way to the front. So did everyone else. Most of the people in line had specifically asked for Monday off from work to pick up their legal documents. They could not just come back the next day, it was Monday or no card. And not having a card in the country is rather precarious so you can imagine their desperation and frustration to get their cards. Since my card was for students I was served rather quickly and wallah I got my identity card.

Technically, there are two problems with my card, the first being that I am moving tomorrow and therefore the address will be invalid 48 hours after picking it up. Secondly, my program is for two years and not one so I have to ask for a renewal in June. Since I was already at the police station and there was no line to meet with the information people I walked upstairs to ask a few more questions to make sure that I do the next steps properly. I finally have a firm grasp of the next steps to take and am happy that for the time being I am officially legal!


6 of UAM’s master students (Miriam is taking our photo and Ana and Carlos could not join until later)

Last night we celebrated the end of our semester, technically it was the last day that we could turn in any of our last projects. (Thankfully I finished earlier) We all met in Bilbao, a metro stop near the Malasana neighborhood. One of my classmates, Eduardo, is a resident of this barrio and from what I can tell has been for much of his life. He took us to a local bar that was opened by the bartender’s grandfather. The walls depict the many changes Madrid has encountered over the years and the sign is still original. From there we went to another local bar called La Giralda. Since it is the only place in the city you can find palo cortado, we obviously had to have some. Palo cortado is a wine from Andalucía and here is a link to a NY times article about such wines []. I enjoyed it’s strong caramelized flavor opposed to traditional red wines. There was a bull’s head mounted on the wall that Eduardo said he saw killed back in the sixties. We became friends with our bartender and Eduardo convinced him to give the each of the girls, me and Miriam, a traditional palo cortado glass.

Now that we were all full of tapas and drinks we headed over to dinner at Casa de Tortilla. It seems to be a hot spot amongst students and groups of friends because you pay a flat rate for the meal and they bring out endless traditional tapas. I could not begin to say which was my favorite, but if I had to pick it would be the fried green pimientos (it’s my favorite tapa regardless of the restaurant because they are like playing russian roulette. Generally they are mild, but every so often you bite in and it’s super spicy) We finished the night with a quick night cap at another local bar and played games of connect four and chess.

It has been a stressful couple of weeks for all of us and so it was nice to get together and blow off steam. In other great new we were just told this morning that we have an extra week break and that the second semester does not begin until Feb 11th – more time to catch up on sleep and get over this little cold.

Masters’ Dinner

Stefan flies the coop


Peter Pan tells us “Never say goodbye because goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting”. However, I do not think I fully agree with this statement. Tonight Stefan, my partner in crime, boards a plane to go back to Rotterdam. He is physically leaving Madrid, but that doesn’t mean he will be forgotten by any means. If you have read any of the previous posts then you know what an important role he has played these past few months. 

We celebrated his last couple of days here in good fashion. We made one last cake, an Arschlochkuchen (technically a nutella marble cake) and hung out in our spacious kitchen. Last night we threw a piso party and today we visited the park, Retiro before having one last trip to Día for a frozen pizza. So many things that are insignificant; yet, have been such an integral part of our last four months. I am sure he is more than ready to leave our dilapidated flat (I know that I am), but I know that we will all miss his presence in Madrid. I especially will miss having someone to go on my “crazy” adventures with me. Thank you Stefan for a great start to my stay in Madrid and welcome back to Rotterdam!! 

One Crazy Week


I cannot believe it is actually Sunday. This week has gone by so slowly; yet, at the same time so quickly. I have had all of my big projects for the semester due, two main papers and a presentation. Add that to the hunt for the apartment, swim practices, and hanging out with my new friends and I can easily say that it has been my craziest week thus far. Normally I like to highlight each thing in and of itself, but given how this week has gone I feel it is best to go day by day. So here we go, Kate’s week at a glance:

Monday night after practice I went to visit my first flat, although I liked it, it was not the flat for me. Partially because they wanted someone who was older and also because the room was not what I really wanted. I have been turned down from a bunch of flats just because they already have occupants and was slightly worried that I wouldn’t get one and so I called saying that I would take the flat. In hindsight, I am glad it did not work out and I learned what types of questions to ask when I went to visit other flats. 

The most low key day of the week was Tuesday. Nothing too special happened other than two practices and I worked on perfecting my spanish in both of my papers that were due the following day. As study breaks I called different flats to try and get some more appointments for later in the week.  

Wednesday, oh Wednesday. Generally called the Hump Day, and I must say it was quite a hump for me to overcome. I had to turn in two the huge papers, which I had spent the last month or so perfecting. In many ways turning in a paper is extremely hard because you can obsess over every single word choice, but in the end it must actually be turned in (and later you always find something obviously wrong with it). I found that having the extra time to work on my papers, (Christmas Break), gave me enough time to reflect on the arguments that I made and start to see my own frenzied spanish errors. I was also fortunate to have a little army of correctors, friends of mine here in Spain, who helped me learn how to make my spanish sound a little more natural. I have no pretensions that I still sound like an american writing spanish, but little by little I will get better, especially with their help. 

I started Thursday bright and early with 6 am practice. After a quick nap I got ready and went to visit my first apartment of the day. The truth is that I fell in love with the room. It is spacious with a double bed, hard wood floors, one wall is only a built in closet and it has a window onto the street. I spent some time talking to one of the boys living there; he will be leaving before I get there, but it was good to get some honest opinions about the flat. We are looking for completely opposite things as evidenced by our conversation and I am looking forward to settling down in an apartment. The best part is the new neighborhood. It is not the center of town but it is a five minute walk from either pool and the retiro park. All around my apartment are little shops that sell fresh fruit, chicken, fish, and the like. For someone like me who loves to cook this is a dream come true. After finalizing the deposit, I quickly went home to get a bite to eat before heading to class to give my final presentation for my Methods Class. I was the second of three to present, and I believe that it went rather well. I had a lot of questions towards the end about the indigenous peoples’ ability to understand spanish symbols and was impressed by my own ability to draw upon my knowledge from Harvard to give coherent answers. After class finished, Ana, Carlos and I went out for chocolate at their favorite chocolate shop near Sol. The store is called Valor and it is chocolate made in Spain. I had the Aztec pot which is thick warmed chocolate with a little kick to it. Quite a delicious treat after giving a presentation and it was nice to hang out with my friends from my courses and hear about their different memories connected to this part of the city. 

Even if this was all that happened this week, it would have been one of the most active week’s that I have had thus far. However, we are not quite done. Friday I was invited to a concert given by Carlos’s cousin who is a pianist. I rushed to meet Ana, Carlos, and his family, after practice. I got the official introduction to his entire family, grandparents included. The concert was absolutely fantastic. He played Schumann’s sonnet to his lover Clara and many other romanticist pieces. From my seat I could not necessarily see his hands move across the keys, but I could see the reflections of the keys on the hood of the piano. Music is such a part of our lives, we hear it in stores while shopping, we play it while cooking or doing work, it consumes us in many ways. To watch someone who has studied each not to figure out the best way of presenting a composer’s works reminds me of the passion that music holds. 

This momentous week ended with a great Saturday morning practice. We had light core and group exercises before swimming and then got to our main work. I will not bore you with all of the sets, but the main set was a 400 all out and then 4 x 100 holding 5 seconds off your goal two hundred two times through. It was a grueling set, but I am very proud of how I attacked it and what I accomplished. I left the pool utterly exhausted, from swimming and from the long week. To finish off the day, Stefan has a couple of friends here from Rotterdam and so I got to hang out with all of them last night as the perfect end to my week. 

Now as it is Sunday, it is the day of cleaning and trying out some new recipe that I have found. This morning I worked on incorporating the questions from my talk and making the grammar better in my Methods paper, but in all I try to keep Sundays as relaxed as possible and always love having the free time to try out the more complicated recipes. It has been a hectic week, but I believe that all of these little accomplishments will help propel me towards a great spring. Here’s to the upcoming week and all the adventures it holds! 


The Three Magi Parade!


Today is the day when the Three Magi, Gaspar, Melchoir, and Balthasar, visited the Christ child in the manger. Following the light of the star they brought him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Following this tradition in Spain, their gifts are brought today. As one of my classmates well wrote “instead of papa noel (santa claus) tonight we dream of the gifts being brought to us by the kings”. In honor of this holiday there is a parade that runs through Madrid. My teammate Tibo and his girlfriend Morgane invited me to a party to watch the parade at his office. The Natixis building sits right on the plaza de Cibeles, which is the end of the parade and has a terrace overlooking the plaza on its 7th floor.  This meant we got a privileged view of the parade that included geese, sheep, camels and even two elephants. Here are some photos to bring to parade to life:


View of Cibeles walking from Sol


Town Hall and a telecommunications building, center stage for the end of the parade


Corner of Cibeles


View of the same building and stage from the Natixis terrace


View of the street for before the parade got started


The flag dancers!


El Corte Ingles Float


The Geese!


Spongebob and Dora Float! (They are both children’s favorites here)


Snow white float!




Star guiding the Magi


The first of the Kings to arrive!


Second King!


Last but not least! Now all the King’s have arrived!


Everyone taking to the streets and following behind the last King!


All such festivities would not be complete without food! We all shared some of the rosca, a round cake with candied fruits on top. Inside there is a small christ child and whomever gets it, story goes, has good luck for the year. On the first cut into the cake Morgane found the Christ Child, lucky lucky girl.

House Hunting: Spanish Style


At the end of this month I will be moving to a more permanent piso. Although I have loved making all of my international friends at the erasmus flat, I want to live with spaniards and closer to the pool, where coincidentally I spend most of my time. Due to slight variations in my contract I was not sure when I would move, the end of January or February, which allowed me to spend the last month lazily looking on but not actually doing anything to help me move. All changed when I got a response that I only have the flat until the end of January. (As a side note, this is actually much better for me and what I was hoping for since my semester ends halfway through the month and most of my roommates will have left by then, so it seems like the perfect time to start afresh). You can use websites such as idealista to look for a flat, but from what I have learned through friends is that you have a better shot of finding a place by physically walking on foot and seeing the signs in the building windows. With the afternoon off to recover I decided that today I would in earnest start the hunt for my new piso. 

This afternoon, I got off the metro at the stop that I normally take to get to the pool and started looking for little orange signs that say “se alquila”. I found five such signs in the general area that I want to live in. I also used this time to start scouting for general grocery stores and other such amenities in the area. Since there are major strikes on the metro today, meaning only 37% of the normal trains are running, I chose to walk home instead of being crammed into a small sweaty metro car. As a reward for my efforts along the way I found this great consignment shop and bought a beautiful leather coat for less than 20 euros. Quite a steal if you ask me! When I finally arrived home I started the arduous task of calling the different pisos. I have noticed that my spanish has improved over the last few months, but I still tend to rely on seeing the mouth to understand fully and so I was quite concerned about speaking and listening over the phone. Fortunately for me, my five phone calls went very well. I spoke to four individuals and will be seeing one flat next Thursday, the others were only to rent the full piso instead of individual rooms. I have a teammate who also lives in this area and so I am going to enlist his help to continue my search. But who knows maybe the flat I see on Thursday will be my new home! 

Welcome 2013


I am a little late with wishing everyone a prosperous and wonderful new years, but the sentiment has been here all along, even if not physically written. I had a surprisingly wonderful New Year’s Eve. Usually there is so much hype about it being the best night and it never lives up to our mental visions, but this year it exceeded mine. It might be due to the fact that at 7:30 pm I had no plans. I went out with Annetje and her two brothers who are visiting for the week and we went to a friend’s flat. There I met tons of students from across the world and we hung out eating delicious food from everyone’s country and sipping on cava (the bubbly from Dia and the like most definitely are not champagne). I did not bring anything since I missed the memo about bringing food before the grocery stores closed and since I had less than 30 minutes to get ready I would not have had time to make anything “american”. Instead I brought cava and grapes. Both absolutely necessary for the New Year in Spain. 

At a quarter to midnight despite the rain we headed towards Sol where the New Year is counted down and everyone eats the grapes (the grapes are a sign of good luck and prosperity for the New Year). The police were adamant that no bottles be brought into the plaza and so there were check points everywhere, which caused us to get separated in our process of getting to the center and I stayed behind Annetje and her brothers with three german friends. The crowd was so dense and everyone was pushing to get into the center, at times it felt like riding a wave on an ocean, so we chose to head to a spot more open. Honestly it was the best way to celebrate as we all ate our grapes with the bells and could drink our cava without fearing or worrying about who was crushing us from behind. Afterwards we headed back to the flat before going to a club near my home. I made many new friends, which is a great way to begin a New Year. Here’s to 2013 and all of our new beginnings and adventures!!