The Metro & Movistar Phone

written on August 30, 2011

Boy, I did not realize how expensive a trip like this would be. I kept thinking I’d spend as much as I do living at school [as I’m fed most meals and have my housing]—how wrong I was. Already all all the little extra costs I hadn’t thought of or planned on have started to add up, making this a far more expensive semester than on campus.

But it is great is that I don’t have to pay to do laundry, and I don’t have to worry about the hours of a dining hall for breakfast and dinner. My pay-as-you-go phone from Movistar [a carrier here, spelled like movie star without the e, but pronounced MOH-vee-star] is pretty expensive but still the most cost-efficient option.


I refill it with 10 Euros roughly every two weeks at the local supermarket (yes, I literally walk up to the register where you buy food, give them my number, and choose how much I want to put on!). At least I don’t use it for calling much, which is pricier than texting, even if it’s local.

Movistar also has automated machines on the street where you can put more money on your phone (called “recargar,” or essentially refilling, in Spanish) smaller amounts using coins. It can also be done at some ATMs, tobacco shops called “estancas” which are like little drug stores, but conveniently I live on a relatively main road, so there are two supermarkets within a block of me.

Got my metro/bus pass and my experience with both has been great. The system is actually very easy, clean, prompt, and there’s a lot of room on the cars to sit or stand. So far, I haven’t been on a really crowded train but that will probably be coming when I ride at a more peak time. There are signs telling you exactly how long until the next train comes, and I haven’t had to wait more than a couple minutes.

The metro is more straightforward than the NYC subway, which I’m comfortable with but have entered going in the wrong direction a couple of times and gotten a little lost. The maps available at stations are easy to read with a quick glance, the system here is so well set-up and the signs so clearly labelled and displayed, it’s dummy-proof—it’d be hard to get lost if you tried because all the lines have several connections and there are so many stops nothing in the city is too far away from a Metro stop.

It is not too far even to walk past two or three metro stops. I read on Wikipedia that Madrid has the 6th-largest underground public rail transportation system in the world, even though population-wise, at around seven million, Madrid is something like the 50th most populous city in the world! This is extensive transport system relative to population size is great because, with almost 300 stops in one city, there’s enough room for everyone and a stop for wherever you may be.

There’s already been a lot of expansion of the Metro in recent decades, adding stations and more lines, and there’s plans to extend the lines futher in coming years!


Palabra Española del Día:

el cartel = “poster” or “sign”


Finding my Bearings and the Spectacle of El Corte Inglés

Written on August 30, 2011

Today I walked with my señora (housemother) to this huge mega-mall / department store / outlet called El Corte Inglés. I’ve heard people compare it to a Spanish Macy’s, but I’ve never seen anything quite like this in the U.S. It’s a complex of several buildings, is probably at least ten stories high I only went to the fourth floor but, unlike the metro, the store was not very clearly labelled with sections and floors).

All of these stores are huge and contain virtually anything you could desire for your home or business (there’s even food and markets). I went to the flagship one which has the most space, but they’re all like mega-malls, and there’s around six just in Madrid alone! I was mind-boggled at how a city like Madrid could fit in six of these huge stores in one city.

But, like the metro, there’s never one too far away from where you are. Think of Manhattan having six Targets, six Macy’s, six Saks, six Lord & Taylor, and six Costco stores and how ridiculous that would be, and you’ll get the idea of how baffled I was at the seeming excess, for a store that’s already essentially a mall. I found out the company owning the stores is based here in Madrid but they have locations around Spain (like in Barcelona) and in Portugal.

A plaza leading to one of the innumerable entrances to this ginormous mega-department store.

It was pretty crazy…it’s literally the one-stop shop for everything you could ever need or imagine. There’s like smaller version of outlets and major brand/department stores all in one big room crammed next to each other on various floors. I walked through clothing, make-up, electronics, books, home improvement, homeward stores, cafes, etc to pick up a water bottle, dictionary, and look at sunglasses.

It’s so huge I was in there for a couple hours figuring out where stuff was and almost all of my time was spent walking from one side of the complex to the other because nothing I needed was close to each other.

Most of the stores and brands are pretty upscale though and you probably won’t shop here if you’re not at least comfortably middle-class. For example, Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Brookstone, Polo, Armani, and Jimmy Choo, all had little sections on the first floor in the midst of pricey perfumes, make-up, sunglasses, and watches.


Prada outlet in El Corte Inglés

Not all the brands were quite that expensive but most do cater to the wealthier consumer, as Madrid is a city I’m slowly finding out is like Manhattan in that the cost of living is very high, higher than in the rest of Spain.

Accordingly, many residents of the city are well-off individuals. This really sunk in when walking for 5 or 10 minutes from my apartment, we passed neighborhoods where my señora said most of the apartments go for 2 or 3 million Euros (you can do the math to convert, but it’s a lot of dough any way you slice it). You can also see the material wealth in how well many people dress to go out shopping or for lunch in the middle of a weekday.

My señora walked with me there, taking about twenty minutes walking a little slower than usual for me lol, through residential neighborhoods and the Plaza de la Repúbblica Argentina (which has sculptures of jumping dolphins!) on a sunny cloudless summer day after I got up at 11 am. She pointed out where some things are and accompanied me to try to get a new battery for my watch [which is actually fine, but the little crown fell off and they told me I have to come back in two days to get it fixed].

department storefront

Street entrance to the flagship El Corte-Ingles store. "Rebajas" means sales (they ended the next day) and the green pennant in the bottom right is the store logo.

A view of one floor in Corte Inglés. Desigual is a popular fashionable clothing chain here

Then we split up, as she said she’d be a while and had a bunch of things to buy in various places while I only had a few. But, as I took a while to wander outside, knew where nothing was and had to keep asking, and made sure I was going the right way, she beat me back home.

I was a little anxious about how easily I’d find my way home at first. But I remembered the general way we came, got oriented, and walked back the way I recognized; there was only like two turns and I had my big map with me to keep on track.

Surprisingly and annoyingly, the streets are not always labelled and most time I don’t see the sign so I just stop and ask someone where something is. I’m somewhat conversant in Spanish so this has not been too much of a problem, but usually they have to repeat what they say because it’s too fast!

All the people I’ve spoken to have been very nice and helpful. I always go right to talking in Spanish; only one person has told me I could speak in English. Gradually I’m learning where the street signs are placed—though I was surprised to discover small plaques on the side of building walls, high up, are actually the names of the streets (in addition to the innumerable plazas with fountains and/or monuments/statues)!

Though there’s a good amount of American culture here (movies, music, advertisements, products, etc.), it’s surprising how in a major metropolis of almost 7 million people (the city has a huge area, and tons of parks, trees, plazas!), how few people know English or are even conversant/proficient in it. If I hear someone speaking English once or twice in one day walking around, it’s a lot.

street signs on the corner of a block

Palabra Española del Día:

redactar = “to edit”, o “to write”


The First Day


, , , , ,

my view from the 9th-floor apartment terrace: evening sun behind Madrid skyscrapers

Written on Sunday, August 28, 2011:

Well, today was the first day of my homestead, I’ve just about finished unpacking and so far love everything. Azahar was a blast also and I’ll put the 1500ish pics I took during that 11-day trip through Andalusía soon.

It is a great feeling to get set-up my own space and unpack all my own stuff knowing that I won’t be moving for over another 3 months, instead of 2 days in a hotel, bus ride, then two days in another hotel.

And now, let’s practice my Spanish:

Me encanta mi señora! Se llama Pilar y vive en un apartamento bonito en la ciudad con una vista del horizonte; podemos ver la puesta de sol detrás de unos de los edificios más altos de la entera ciudad. El edificio sube nueve pisos y estamos al piso más alta!

Miré el sol baja a las nueve y era bonísima. ¡La vista y la brisa son maravillosas! Pilar me mostró la casa y nos sentamos para hablar sobre yo, lo que me gusta comer, y su familia. Ella no puede ser más tranquila y relajada y liberal todavía.

Ella era un médico geriátrica y tiene un hijo y dos hijas. Todos son adultos y viven en España. Tenemos mucho en común y yo sé que mi familia le gustaría ella—especialmente mi mamá, como ambos comparten un amor para la música clásica, leer libros, y el opera. Pilar ha viajado por muchos partes del mundo también!

Luego en la tarde, ella me tomó para dar un paseo por un parque bonito y muy pequeña muy a cerca del apartamiento; todo hay que hacer es caminar un bloque! Estamos en la ciudad, pero no a cerca del centro, y por eso el barrio es muy tranquilo. Hay muchos árboles en las calles residenciales cercano.

En el parque Pilar me decía sobre estudiantes ella ha tenido en los semestres pasados y sus experiencias y lo que era bien o no. Nos econtramos a los consejeros de su edificio por accidente y ellos charlaron sobre un problema con su baño en el apartamento. 

Pero el agua de grifo es limpísima, tan rico y perfecto que es mejor que a casa en los Estados Unidos para mí. Sabe a viene de una botella (pero no cuesta nada!).

Finalmente, regresamos al apartamento para relejarnos. Ella cocinó una cena sabrosa de tortillas patadas, jamón, pan, un queso buena que nunca he tenido, y un vaso pequeño de vino blanco [no me gustó mucho, pero es gratis!:)].

Ella no habla inglés pero puede comprenderme un poco y tiene paciente conmigo en repetir sus frases y hablando más despacio. Y su diccionario es una ayudante buena.

Literalmente, mi casa es su casa, ella dice, y por tres y medio meces, soy una parte de la familia. Durante la cena, vimos las noticias del mundo en la tele y ella habló de las actualidades.

Como el sol bajaba, abrió las ventanas y los estores para que la brisa y la luz del sol entren la sala. Tiene un pared de lo que todo es ventanas y con una puerta a la terraza.

Pero la ciudad entera es grande y metropolitano. Es muy, muy bonita del pequeño que yo he visto ya. Hay muchas fuentes lindas y grandes, y una mezcla de arquitectura vieja, grande, y bonita, con un regíón de edificios altas y modernos.

Yo estaba caminando en el autobús para diez minutos por una parte de la ciudad y pasamos por cinco museos de artes! Hay mucho cultura rica, más de palacios y catedrales.

And, let’s take it back to my native idioma:

As the evening sun bathed a golden glow down on the city, she beckoned me outside and we stood outside for a bit looking around and feeling the cool breeze.

Pilar pointed out the different parts of the city: where the museums district is, where Syracuse University’s academic building is, and the nearest bus and metro stops on the block are—and they couldn’t be closer. I love the location already!

Pilar is easygoing and extremely receptive to my preferences. She encourages me to speak up and is happy to answer my questions, in addition to being really interested in my personal wants and needs to make this a happy stay!

I feel comfortable around her already because she’s so down-to-earth, normal, and attentive. And the house has been pretty quiet most of the time which I also love! I’ve occasionally seen and heard some neighbors but everyone is cordial and no one has bothered me: they’ve even said good-bye in the elevator!

This was a perfect first day and so far I couldn’t have asked for a better adjustment—it was much less awkward than I thought it’d be!

Mañana, tengo la orientación a la escuela, y Pilar va a venir conmigo para mostrarme el metro. Esto es emocionante!

New Vocab Word of the Day:

probar = to try out (a bit like “to probe”)

[I learned this is what I should say when I want to try a new kind of food, not tratar]