Paris, Je t’aime: Part 1

I know what you all are thinking:  HOLY CRAP SHE’S ACTUALLY UPDATING!

Yes, yes I am.  And I really am sorry that it has taken me so damn long.  It’s been an interesting last month and a half…

Yeah I suck at this.

Ok, so here’s the deal…I went to Paris last weekend.  I’m pretty sure you can tell that by the title.  If I were to do this in one entry, it would be one really, really, really long entry.  So I will be breaking it up into parts!

Shall we begin?

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away…just kidding.

It is about 795 miles from Madrid to Paris.  According to Google maps, about 13 hours driving time (less if you’re my mom).  That’s about the drive from St. Louis to Harrisburg, PA.

Since we all know I am not allowed to drive, that leaves flying or the train.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the train is a viable option in Europe!  So, of course, I thought ‘heck yes I’m gonna take the train.  I’m in Europe’.

Lovely way to think.

I’ve never gone by train in the states because, well, it’s 99.9% of the time not the best, cheapest or fastest option.  What I’m trying to say is, I had no flippin clue how the train works.  I mean, I know how the train works.  You know what I mean.

The options here are either a chair or some kind of sleeper car.  The train would leave Madrid around 6.15 at night and get into Paris at about 9 AM.  I figured if this is overnight, a bed might be the best option so I can get a good night of sleep for a full day in Paris.

I found out that the chair was about €11 cheaper.  Not much, but money I could spend somewhere else.  And I realized that the sleep is totally worth the €11.

So I went to the train station the Monday before I left to get my ticket.  I had tried online the night before but it wasn’t working.  So I go to find out, the reason it wasn’t working was because all the sleeper cars were sold out.  Yay me.

All week I was trying to come up with a plan to sleep on this darn train if I was going to be sitting in a chair.  I figured I would never be able to sleep for 8 hours straight, so I would break it up.  Did I mention that the train ride was 15 hours?  Yeah, I forgot that part.  So, a few hours sleep, then go walk around.  Repeat til one arrives at final destination.

Ahahahahaha.  Fail.

oh hey train! you and I are about to be buddies for the next 15 hours

Thursday night comes around and we start boarding the train.  And it’s not like some organized thing.  They just say get on the train and you go to your assigned car and find your seat or compartment and chill til it’s time to go.

I had in my mind that these would be kinda large comfy chairs since we were about to spend the entire night parked in it.  Oh, I was wrong.  They were seriously the most uncomfortable chairs ever.  I mean they were fine for sitting in, but not for sitting for 15 hours.  Or sleeping.

After the first 20 minutes or so, one of the attendants came around and asked for everyone’s ticket and passport.  I figured he just wanted to see that we actually had our passport.  Nope.  He took it.  Let the worrying begin.  I asked and he said we would get them back before we got to Paris.  Ok…but what are you doing with them in the meantime??????

Apparently, the desire to never part with your passport is held strongest by Americans and Israelis.  I learned that from a couple on the train.

Another thing that I had no idea about was that when we crossed the border, we had to change….I guess it was the engine car.  There is one type designated for the Spanish railway system and another type designated for the French railway system.  And I didn’t know this until the new car went crashing into the front car…my car.  They basically had to slam it onto the other cars to hook it up.

I think I got somewhere around 3 hours of sleep that night.  Could have been worse.  But it definitely could have been better.

Oh, one last thing about actually riding on a train….you know how much it sucks to pee on an airplane?  It’s about 10 times worse on a train.

I would totally travel by train again.  It was an awesome experience, but I would make sure I was in a sleeper car.

this is the french car…the one that had to be changed once we hit the border

That first car with windows? yup…that’s my seat.

We arrived in Paris about 9.15 on a slightly dark and dreary Friday morning.

I actually ended up taking a shower AT the train station.  Yeah.  There’s a little shower place at the train station.  It was kinda neat.  Yeah, I had to pay, but I wasn’t going to be able to get into the hostel room until after 3 and I didn’t want to be dirty walking around Paris.

So from the train station, I took the metro to my hostel and checked in.  I decided that it would be a good time to go to the Louvre since it was going to be awhile before I could actually get in to my room.

I shall leave the Louvre for the next post because that is already going to be a long one.  I promise, it will not take a month for me to post.


El Greco, Velazquez and Goya. Oh my!

Madrid is filled with museums.  Art, history, architecture, food.  Whatever.

And yes, theres a ham museum.  Except it’s a restaurant too.  They just call it ‘Museo de jamon’.  Don’t laugh.  I’m totally serious.

When I went to Spain in 2007, one of the museums we went to was the Prado Museum.  We weren’t there very long so we only got to see a small portion of a MASSIVE museum.

One of the perks of being a college student is that a lot of museums over here will let you in for free if you have an ID.  The other cool thing about museums here is that quite a few have ‘free hours’.  I think the Prado is like 6pm to 8pm on weekdays and Sundays.  It’s pretty cool because if you want to keep going back, it can get pretty expensive.

So I went to the Prado!

I have to say…my absolute favorite museum.  There’s so much there.  I was there for over 4 hours.  And I know I missed a few rooms.

There’s everything from Roman sculptures all the way up to a few works from the late 1800’s.  And there’s work from Germany, Flanders, Italy, France, England and especially Spain.

I remember doing an art unit in my Spanish 3 class.  And it was really awesome.  We learned all about different painters and works.  But there is nothing like seeing those works in the museum.

When we studied Las meninas, it was a picture on the screen.  The painting is actually HUGE.  Like it’s ginormous.  It’s amazing.  I can’t even explain it to you.  You just have to be there.  Seriously.

I always wonder about the frames.  Who picks out those things???  One of the paintings is in a frame three times bigger than the painting itself.  Really?  Really?  And some are just plain ugly as all hell.

And there’s something totally awesome about walking into a room and seeing a painting and automatically knowing who the painter is.  It’s kinda like ‘heck yeah. i’m cool.  i know who did that.’

And they have one of the largest collections, if not the largest, of Goya’s work.  Currently, they have over 1,000 of his pieces.

That includes La maja desnuda and La maja vestida.  The two lovely ladies below.

Clothed Maja and Naked MajaOr maybe I should say lady.  It’s actually the same woman.  No one is exactly sure who she is.  Some say that it is the Duchess of Alba, Goya’s supposed lover.  The story goes that a man of the church asked Goya to paint these.  I have always heard it was a Bishop, but I don’t know much more than that.  When he was alone in the office, he has the Naked Maja up on the wall, but before someone entered he would switch them around so that whoever went to visit would see the Clothed Maja.

Scandal.  I know.

So here is what I consider to be the other goodie by Goya.

Carlos IV of Spain and His FamilyLa familia de Carlos IV.  It’s a painting of King Carlos IV and his family.  Ok?  Here comes the fun part.  Where is the king?  Hint: he’s the one in black.  Now, who is in the center of the painting?  If you were going to say the king, you’re wrong.  That would be the Queen, María Luisa.  Why is that a big deal?  Because the king is supposed to be in the middle.  This insinuates that it was the queen, not the king, that ran things.

King Carlos IV was also known as the Clock King.  Supposedly, all he did every day was going around the Royal Palace winding all the clocks.

The boy she is holding onto is her son.  The prince.  Now look at how he is dressed.  Anyone else look kinda like that?  Yup.  Right.  Go right.  The guy behind the king.  Dressed the same way as the prince.  A general in the Spanish Army.  So why are the prince and the general dressed the same?  Because they might be father and son.  Oh yeah.  That’s right.  There were rumors that the king was impotent and/or gay.  No one is sure.  That’s why he walked around the palace winding clocks.  So Goya gets to have his opinion in the painting.

Oh and he gives a nod to Velazquez.  That’s Goya in the back left corner.  It’s a nod to Las meninas.

So totally awesome.  And so many paintings have stories behind them.  I don’t have time to name the ones that I know.  Trust me on this one.

A trip to the Prado is more than worth the money.  End of story.  Just go.



Hands finally meet

Sorry I havent been able to write in a while.  I have a few entries that I need to do but I wanted to get this one up before I forgot!

I went to Aluche on Wednesday for my appointment for fingerprints.  Well it turns out there was something I didn’t do.  And the worst part is that the guy that gave me the appointment told me I didn’t have to worry about it.  It had to do with money…there’s a surprise.

To say I was pissed was an understatement.  Let’s just say it was not one of my best moments.

So the lady I talked with Wednesday told me to take care of it and come back.

Well, I got it taken care of and went back yesterday.  No problems.  And I finally figured out what the hell all of this is for.

This NIE that I have needed to get is basically what takes the place of my visa after that expires at the end of November.  If (not really an if) I go out of the country, it’s what I use to get back in.

So in 40 days, I go back and get my card!  Yay!  Finally taken care of!

Thought you all should know

Left Hand, Meet Right Hand

Sorry I haven’t been able to post.  I’ve been running around this last week like a chicken without a head.

If you were expecting this to be a pippy-cheery entry, I’m sorry, but you’re gonna be disappointed.

You’re probably wondering what the hell I’m talking about by the title.  Drum roll please…

My visa.

Yeah, that’s right.  My visa.  And you’re probably scratching your head thinking what the hell does that have to do with left and right hands.

I’ll start from the very beginning because you really need to know everything.

For those that have never been out of the US, if you are going to Spain for a vacation, you don’t need a visa thanks to the schengen visa.  Basically, you can be in the country for a total of 90 days out of a 6 month period without a visa whether its for vacation or for a business trip.  When I went to Spain in 2007, I didn’t have a visa because I would only be in the country for a month.  I was in the clear.  The stamps in my passport were all I needed.

For those of us that plan on being in the country for more than 90 days, we need to obtain a visa.  It doesn’t matter why.  School.  Work.  Retirement.  Whatever.

No matter what, you have to make an appointment with the Spanish Consulate that controls your region.  For me, I ended up having to make a trip to Chicago.  Not really a big deal, but I feel bad for the people that aren’t so close.

For students, there are two different visas.  There’s one visa for students that plan on being in Spain for less than 180 days.  Basically one semester.  And there’s a different visa for students going for over 180 days.  Probably a full year.  That’s me.  I needed the same paperwork that the others needed but I also needed a doctors note and state or federal background check.  I guess they wanted to make sure I wasn’t some crazy killer with  a terrible disease.  Because people who go for only one semester totally couldn’t be crazy killers with terrible diseases….

Whatever.  Not a big deal.

So on the Chicago Consulate’s website, it says:

PLEASE NOTE THAT STUDENTS arriving in Spain for study or research purposes (+ 180
DAYS) will be granted a Visa valid for 90 days with multiple entries. Once in Spain the student MUST register with the “Oficina de Extranjeros” of the “Subdelegación del Gobierno” in order to obtain the necessary STUDENT ID within ONE MONTH of their arrival.

Exact quote.  But that’s all that it says.  And that’s exactly what I got.  A 90 day, multiple entry visa.

So obviously, this is something I have to take care of.  Last Tuesday I went online to try and figure out exactly where the heck I’m going.  It turns out, there are nine Oficinas de Extranjeros’ in Madrid.  Well crap.  I did some more digging and I find out that each one deals with different things.  My thought process was ‘Hey.  I should go to the office that deals with students’.  Not illogical.  Right?

So Wednesday morning, I head to the Oficina de Extranjeros in Canillejas thinking I’m gonna get this done and I’ll be set for the year.

Hahahaha.  Oh God, I wish.

I get there and eventually get to the front of the line where there’s a lady sitting behind a desk.  I tell her what was written on the sheet from the Consulate and she looks at me , asks if I have a NIE.  NIE is a id number that the Spanish give to foreigners.  It stands for ‘Numero de identidad de extranjeros’.  Foreigner’s ID number.

No.  I knew I could register at the consulate, but I thought I didn’t need it.  No one said it was needed.  And it was one less thing I had to pay for.

Well she looked at my visa, looked at me and said ‘Sorry, but the visa is only for 90 days.  After that, you’ll have to leave’.  I told her no.  That’s not what the Consulate said and that I had to register.  Again ‘Sorry.  You’re only here for 90 days’.

I just about wanted to punch her in the face.  I did NOT work my ass off to be in this country for only 90 days.

I walked out so angry and upset.  What the hell was I supposed to do?  Why the hell did the Consulate say to go them if they had no idea what was going on? (hence the left hand doesn’t know what the right one is doing)

By the time Lucia came home from work, there was probably steam coming out of my ears.  Half of me wanted to punch the wall, the other half wanted to cry.  She called one of her friends from South America to see what they had done.

One long phone call and lots of internet searching later, we found out that, yes, I do need a NIE.  Also, I have to register with the city as a resident.

A NIE requires a whole bunch if paperwork as well as a whole bunch of photocopies.  I think the photocopy guy across the street is my new best friend.

But I got the paperwork together and went to yet another Oficina de Extranjeros.  As soon as I walked in the door, the lady got out of her seat and in the back.  Are you serious?  I have stuff I need to do and you are leaving?

She was back in about 15 minutes.  Ok.  I take it back lady.  I’m sorry.  So we all get back in line.  And at this point, there’s like 30 people in line.  I was only number 5.  But of course, the lady in front of me practically was bitching out the lady behind the desk.  Finally she said ‘Lady shut up and listen to me’.  Great.  She was not in a good mood.

I’m next and I explain to her the situation and she tells me I have to go to yet another place and get fingerprints taken.  Crap.  Well by that time I wasn’t going to make it.  Part of me considered hiking it to the US Embassy to see if they at least knew what the hell I’m supposed to be doing.

I end up at the university.  They have people all the time with this problem so I’m sure they can help.  And they do.  I came back so much more relaxed.

So, Monday, I went back to the office I was at Thursday because I had seen something about mailing fingerprints and the lady didn’t say anything about it.  Same lady.  So much nicer.  Not that she was horrible the first time, but she hadn’t just dealt with a screaming Ecuadorian.

She made a few calls and sent me to the same place she told me to go.  She explained that I actually needed an appointment and that’s where I had to go.  Well, the metro stop is Aluche.  If you feel like going back to the metro map and looking, feel free.  I was at Estrecho.  I went way out into what felt like the middle of nowhere.

September 19th.  That’s my appointment date.  What this has to do with the NIE, I’m not totally sure.  But it’s one step closer.

And yesterday, I had my meeting and I am officially a resident of the city of Madrid.  What that has to do with my visa, I’m not sure.

I’m gettin’ there.  No, it’s not easy, but I can deal.

Introducción al Metro de Madrid

When traveling throughout the city of Madrid, there are a few different options.

Lots of people drive in the city.  That requires, for a foreigner, having an international driver’s license, actually having a car, paying for gas and finding a parking space.  Good luck with that.

There’s a taxi, which, of course, is not a terrible option.  It can get seriously expensive though if you take a taxi EVERYWHERE.  For me to go from the airport to my apartment was about 25 Euros, which was about what I was expecting.  And the taxis here are all clean and nice.  Someone mentioned something about everyone having to get a new car.

You could walk everywhere…this city is huge. Have fun with that.

There is a bus system that is so complicated that I’m not even sure I could explain it right now.

And then, we have the Metro!  I love the metro!

Metro Map

Schematic layout of the metro system

As you can see, its freakin huge!  It’s actually one of the longest systems in the world.  It’s rivaled by Seoul and Beijing.  Officially, there are 231 stations and over 282 km of track.  That’s just over 175 miles.  It’s big.  I’ve only been on a very, very, very small portion of it.

I already love it.  It’s fast.  Believe it or not, it’s simple.  It’s clean.  And it’s fairly cheap.  Getting up to the street can be a little confusing, especially ath the stations where multiple lines cross.  Sol, Cuatro Caminos, Nuevos Ministerios and Avenida de America are some of the busiest stations because not only do they have three or more lines crossing, but there are the bus stations and the RENFE intersecting here as well.

RENFE is the train system.  Simple version of RENFE:  There is local RENFE that also goes throughout the city and a little further out than the Metro.  And there’s also RENFE that goes between the cities.  It takes about 3 hours to get from Sevilla to Madrid by train.

Back to metro.  When I went down to Puerta del Sol yesterday, there was a guy singing and playing guitar on the train.  At every station, her would get off and get into a different car and keep going.  One weird thing is that the trains run backwards.  And I don’t literally mean backwards.  Although the trains go both ways, so maybe at one point they are running backwards.  When you are standing on the platform, the train always comes from the right and goes left.  I cannot figure out why and it is the one thing that confuses the crap out of me!  Anything that talks about it says that its like that for historical reasons.  If the London Tube runs the same way, maybe its something to do with the Brits.

Who the heck knows anymore?!?

More to be posted as I learn more!  Ciao all.

El supermercado

Let me start off by saying, I’ve always loved going to the grocery store.  It’s always fun to just look around and think of dishes you can make.

By my apartment, there are two small grocery stores.  They are great if you need to pick up a loaf of bread, some more yogurt or even some olive oil, but if you need to do some serious shopping, it’s not where you want to go.

After work on Monday, Lucia and I met to go to her favorite supermarket.  It’s four metro stations away.  I brought this green cart that sits outside on our terrace with to carry groceries.  Let me say, at first i thought I looked kinda silly, but after doing a good amount of shopping, there was no way I would have been able to carry all that through the metro without a problem.

So we ended up winding through some little tiny streets until we were at Mercadona.  The grocery store.  That’s the other thing about Spain; to find all the good places, you have to go up and down EVERY little street.

The store is actually in the basement.  So you go down a flight of step and there you are.  You know how the grocery stores in America always are crowded an hour or so before dinner?  Same thing in Spain.  By the time we got there, it was about 6.45PM.  So it was the rush before dinner.  Remember that in Spain dinner is around 9ish.

And let me say, it was seriously crowded.  There are little lockers at the front of the store where you can lock up the carts.  In the supermarkets in the US, your options are a cart or a basket.  It was pretty much the same.  Cart or basket.  Instead of the short handles though there’s a long handle so it rolls on the floor behind you.  It’s kinda funny watching all these people trying to navigate each other with their little baskets trailing behind them.

A spanish grocery store really isn’t that different from an american grocery store.  Except it is.  There are a lot of the same things, but it’s all REAL FOOD.  Yeah sure, there is a cookie aisle, but that’s because a lot people eat cookies for breakfast.  And they aren’t chocolate chip cookies.  It’s more like a sweet cracker than anything else.

But you want fresh bread?  They have it.  About 15 different types.  That doesn’t include the regular loaves of bread that are on the shelf.  Meat?  They have it.  What kind do you want?  There’s always a guy slicing ham straight off the bone, but holy moly, it is expensive.  There is no deli counter.  At least at the market that I was at.  But there’s every kind of meat, every kind of cheese already ready to go.

You like seafood?  Oh, you are in for a treat.  There were four different kinds of shrimp.  Some were the size of my hand.  There were about seven or eight different kinds of fish.  There was octopus and squid and clams and mussels.  People here love their fish.  And there are people behind the counter taking orders and preparing the fish however you like.  Cutting off heads, cutting fins, taking off the scales, filleting.  Seriously.  What ever you want.  It was kind of amazing.

And when you go to get your fruits and veggies, be careful.  At another supermarket, you aren’t even allowed to touch them!  There’s an attendant whose job it is to pick your fruits and veggies.  At Mercadona, you just have to wear a glove when you grab your things.  Not too terrible.  In fact, it seems like a pretty good idea.  I always wash my stuff before I eat it but you never know who touched that apple before you!

And don’t even think about looking for the frozen dinner section.  Doesn’t exist.  In any supermarket.  The only frozen dinner is the one you make and put in the freezer yourself.

Surprisingly, going to the grocery store was surprisingly cheap.  It cost me 22 Euros and change for what I bought.  And I bought a good amount of stuff.

We put everything in the green cart and we were on our way!

I’d say I was pretty sucessful for my first real trip to the supermarket!

Una noche en Chueca

On Saturday, a friend of my roommate, Lucia, was having a birthday dinner.  I was invited, so it was my first official night out in Madrid.

Things I learned that night:

  1. The metro system, while absolutely enourmous, is actually very easy to use and very very clean.
  2. In Spain, if you are the newbie in the group, it doesn’t really matter.  People accept you without question.
  3. Spaniards drink. A lot.  But no one ever gets wasted.  Their tolerance seems to be through the roof.
  4. When you’re at dinner and someone else has something else that looks good, just ask for a taste.
  5. It’s true, the clubs don’t really get started til after 1AM.
  6. Yes, some people party up until 6 or 7AM.

Lucia and I took the metro from our apartment down to the center of the city in an are called Chueca.  It’s also the gay district.  We were early and met up with one of her friends, Tony.  We each had a beer in the plaza until everyone else got there.  I don’t normally drink beer, but I’m in Spain.  I figured what the hell!!  Apparently in the summer the big thing is beer with lemon.  So that’s what we all had.

Dinner was on the roof of the local market.  They had giant pieces of plexiglass that opened and closed for breeze during the summer.  It was a beautiful space.  And for those that don’t know, dinner in Spain is usually somewhere between 9PM and 11PM.  I think by the time we sat down, it was 9PM.

There was about 15 of us at one long table.  Between all of us, I think we drank either 6 or 7 bottles of wine.  I didn’t even know where to start on the menu!  There were so many options and just about everything seemed like a good idea.  I ended up having Rigatoni with ham and mushrooms.  Lucia had some kind of salad.  People had anything from steak to seafood to just about anything really.

Everyone was asking questions.  What’s the US like?  Where is St. Louis?  What is St. Louis known for food-wise?  I answered Ted Drews, Toasted Ravioli and Anheuser-Busch.  Now they all think I drink nothing but Bud.

After dinner, we went out for, guess what, more drinks!  It was probably around midnight at this point.  So we walked to this little bar that was hidden off some street.  I was totally lost at this point.  I’m not sure I could get back there if I tried.

So it was lots of drinking and lots of talking.  It got so crowded there that I couldnt hear anything anyone was saying.  We were there til almost 2AM.

Our last stop for the night was out dancing.  And that, of course, included more drinking.  I knew I was done.  Anymore and I probably would have fallen flat on my face.  We danced til 3.30AM.  At that point, Lucia and I took a cab home.  The metro closes at 1AM.  I know a few others left, but the majority of the group just kept partying.

I got home and collapsed in bed.  But I had so much fun.  My face hurt from smiling so much.

I think I’m gonna like it here