A Little Place in my Heart

¡Hola, once again! I’m back, writing from Alcalá de Henares, España (If you want to know more about this city, read my previous blog post!). It’s been two weeks and I am growing accustomed to the Spanish lifestyle—even the daily schedule! As promised, I will be talking to you about churros, siesta, foods, besos (kisses) and describe some more differences between Spain and the U.S. ¡Vamos!

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A monument at Parque de Retiros in Madrid, dedicated to Alfonso VII–circa 1901.

After two weeks, I’m really getting used to the whole Spanish culture and environment as well as its customs and foods. Spain is nestling a little place in my corazón <3, explaining this post’s title. 🙂

Since last week, I’ve been attending my classes as normal and I visited Madrid a few times. The first time I went with my friends, we visited the Parque de Retiros, which is a very beautiful park in the area. We also went into a few museums and just wandered around the city. 

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A fountain at the Parque de Retiros

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Palacio de Vidrio: Can I get married here, please?? ❤

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Me “pinching” the baby statue’s little “mejillas”.

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Statue that was a part of the Alfonso monument

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A beautiful place to run!

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Outside the Velazquez Modern Art Museum

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Me and the super tall monument!!

 

A trip to Madrid wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Puerta de Alcalá!!

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Located at the Plaza de Independencia, it was designated in 1778 by Carlos III, a king who looked strangely similar to George Washington and also lived in the same time period. 

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Carlos III made HUGE contributions to Spain as a country in regards to its identity. He was one pretty cool dude!

 

Also, although we didn’t have enough time to go in, we passed the famous Prado Museum, home to a plethora of famous artwork!

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Statue of Diego Velázquez in front, painter of “Las Meninas” which is housed in that building! I also got the Spanish flag at the top waving perfectly in the picture. ¡Qué suerte!

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An iglesia we passed while walking down the streets.

 

The second time, we went to “El Rasto”. This is a street market that takes place every Sunday between 9-3 in Madrid. You can find “de todo”, everything here! The best part? It’s all very cheap, and very Spanish! I got a couple souvenirs and I plan on going back to grab some items for my future classroom!

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Rainy day at el Rastro=less crowds! 🙂

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Street musicians at El Rastro

Plus, I got this really awesome, yet cliché T-shirt. I have no regrets. 

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Only 5 euro and I have a new sleep shirt/souvenir. Sweet. 

 

CHURROS (CON CHOCOLATE!)

Okay, so now is the time I share with you my love for churros. Not just churros though—churros CON CHOCOLATE. Just thinking about them makes me crave them! On their own, churros are very bland. You need to dip them into chocolate or even put some sugar on them for them to really be good. Otherwise, they are merely deep-fried dough sticks. 

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Gotta have the chocolate!

There are two kinds of churros you’ll see at shops—churros and porras. What’s the difference? Porras are just thicker—they are made of the same dough, with the same process of deep-frying. I will actually admit that I think I like porros more!

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On the left are porras and on the right are churros! Notice the chocolate in this picture is darker…that’s the traditional way to eat it. 

There are also two kinds of chocolate. First of all, the chocolate is ALWAYS hot. It has to be, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to tip them! The traditional chocolate is a little darker and that’s what you’ll get at most small establishments. At larger franchises, they offer milk chocolate, which is more “dulce” than the traditional. Still, the traditional is absolutely delicious! (Notice the difference in chocolate color between the first and second pictures. The first one is more “dulce”, the second more “tradicional”.

The average cost is anywhere from €2 in small towns to €3.50 in cities like Madrid. Churro restaurants are called “churrerías”, and there’s one that I really like down the road from me. I actually just found their website!

http://www.churreriacibeles.com/es/

Here it is!

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http://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/05/0d/90/5c/churreria-chocolateria.jpg

This is my own little churreria down the street! 🙂

 

Moral of the story: If you ever go to Spain, this is a MUST-try food.

 

Speaking of churros, if I am going to eat them I am going to need some way to negate them. So, I joined a gym! They had an “oferta” going on, where three months cost €75, versus the €130 it would have been had I paid month-by-month. The best part about this membership was that all the classes are included and you can go to any one, whenever you please. I find myself observing carefully what other gym-goers do when the instructors give directions so I do the movements correctly. I am also learning a lot of new anatomical terms and ways to give directions about working out. It’s a workout and learning experience all in one! I have a schedule all worked out where I have incorporated yoga, pilates, spinning and kickboxing into my weekly workout schedule. My favorite is spinning, which is basically where you are riding a special kind of stationary bike with a myriad of other people and the instructor plays really upbeat music and leads you in different movements, ranging from sprint-cycling to stand-up cycling. Sometimes they turn the lights off and turn on a colorful disco ball thing (I don’t know what it’s called). I love this class because I always leave drenched in sweat and knowing I got a good workout!

There is also a half-marathon in Madrid in April that I’m considering training for—why not?!

 

SIESTA

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I wish that was my picture. As a side note, a lot of the older men look like that here. Same outfit, same hat, same can, same rounder build. 

Now let’s discuss siesta. Before arriving to Spain, I was told that siesta is an old myth and no one takes it anymore. I wanted to see for myself what this whole “siesta” thing was all about so now is the time where I dispel the myths.

First of all, in different regions of Spain siesta is more consistently taken. Madrid is not one of them—kind of. There are some stores that close, but since it is in such a commercial area most tend to stay open. In smaller cities like Alcalá where I reside, stores actually DO close down during siesta hours and people DO go home to eat their late “comida” with their family.

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Stores close between 2-4 and reopen for business after siesta is over. 

My host brothers who are still in school get out of class for the whole day around this time. My host mom and dad are both home and this is the time where we all eat lunch together. Hurray, a traditional siesta! Well, sort of.

Although I suppose some people could take a nap, most people do not since there is so much work to be done. I haven’t even had an actual nap yet after lunch. I usually work on some homework, check e-mails and occasionally watch Netflix. Oh, by the way…

                                                                        NO. NETFLIX. 

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                                                             OR PANDORA RADIO.

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This is the heartbreaking message I received when I logged onto my Pandora account.

Say what?! Yep, right after I’d actually paid for a subscription I learn that Netflix AND Pandora radio (another subscription I pay for) are prohibited in Spain. Well, just not supported yet. Even though I was using an American computer, my IP address changed so now the internet recognizes it as Spanish. Weird, right? My Google page even automatically changed.

However, I do have good news. There is a Google Chrome app that UNBLOCKS these sites by changing your IP address to whatever country you want. So, crisis averted. Hello, New Girl.

So where was I? Oh, right…siesta. Basically siesta is not a myth. It still exists, but unfortunately work is taking its place increasingly.

Moral of the story: If you ever go to Spain, try to stay in a smaller city or town, where old traditions still exist!

 

LA COMIDA 

Here’s everyone’s favorite part—food. Last week, I discussed the typical eating schedule of a Spaniard. If you are curious as to what that means, check out my previous post! It’s a lot different than the U.S.

Desayuno (Breakfast)

After talking to other students, I learned that the breakfast foods vary in Spain. The typical breakfast for me is tostada, (toast with butter/jelly), café, zumo (juice), and a little “magdalena” a muffin. Other people I’ve talked to said that they sometimes eat cereal for breakfast or for a treat, churros with chocolate and café. What they DON’T eat for breakfast: bacon, eggs, ham, bagels, sausage, pancakes, waffles, Pop-Tarts, oatmeal or French toast. El desayuno is very simple. 

However, one time I went to a restaurant for a late breakfast and ordered the special: toast and coffee. I was not expecting to get this!

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Yes, that is a tomato spread you see here! (I think I posted this picture in my last post, but it’s worth seeing again.) Coffee often comes to you in little glasses like that, too!

 

Almuerzo/La Comida (Lunch)

As discussed in the last post, lunch is the largest meal of the day. Here are some things I’ve had in my house:

 

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Sopa de lentejas (Lentil soup)

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Lomo

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Paella

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Fritos de jamón y queso

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Pescado frito

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Croquetas. ❤

I was actually surprised at how much food here is fried. My host mom fries up something at least once a day. But it is not deep-fried or cooked with unhealthier oils like vegetable or corn. The fried-stuff she makes is usually hand-breaded and cooked in olive oil. Olive oil is full of the LDL-lowering, HDL-raising fats (mono and polyunsaturated). In other words, it’s much better for you!

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Olive oil is HUGE here, because Spain is the world’s leading producer of olives—even more so than Greece! 

 

Cena (Dinner)

These are some things I’ve had for dinner:

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Tortilla!! My favorite!

In Spain, tortilla DOES NOT mean the flour/corn thing you use to make tacos and burritos. It means an egg/potato cake that you see above!

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Cocido

 

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And even a McPollo! (Even Americans know what this means!) This was the highlight of my day. Haha

 

Overall though, dinner is very similar to lunch in terms of options. 

When we eat our meals, we eat them like courses. At home in America, we put everything in front of us at once and pick at each item as we please. At restaurants in America we usually opt for a meal that is separated into courses. In Spain, even home meals are more like course-style ones. We eat soup first sometimes, especially since it is winter. Then we eat the main course. Afterward, we have postre (dessert). Dessert is ALWAYS “yogur” or “fruta”. My host mom always asks me after every meal, “Erika, fruta o yogur”? The desserts are even healthier here. I recall at home having some Oreos, a piece of cake or some kind of pastry as my “postre”. The options here are yogurt or fruit—for me anyway. Pastries like the ones I just mentioned are reserved for a special treat or when celebrating something. 

On a couple occasions, I got to have some Natilla for dessert. No, NOT Nutella! Natilla is a custard-like dessert, and basically the same thing as pudding. It’s very rico!

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This is what it looks like inside:

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My host mom noted that I liked salad so she’s been making me one almost night with my dinner. It usually has queso fresco, maiz (corn), tomate and some sort of seafood. The dressing is usually balsamic (¡mi favorito!).

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This is queso fresco, a mild white cheese. 

 

All right, I’ll admit it. I caved. I bought some peanut butter at the Taste of America store in Madrid. But not just any peanut butter—JIF. 

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I paid so much for it, I am even too ashamed to disclose the price!

At the Taste of America store, there were so many American foods that I never realized Spain doesn’t  have here—Mountain Dew, Arizona Iced Tea, Betty Crocker mixes, chocolate chip cookies, bagels, pancake mix, Reese’s Cups, peanut butter, etc. There were some cereals that only we have too, like Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Lucky Charms. ONE box of Lucky Charms cost €9.00—which is equal to about $15.00. Would you pay that much for a box of Lucky Charms?! I mean, I know they’re magically delicious and all, but come on. You know why the store charges so much? Because they CAN. 

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Inside the store.

 

The way people eat is different than the U.S. as well. Carrying your food with you, eating in the car, in class or at work are a no-no here. People eat at a table during the normal eating hours and never have anything on the run. As an American, I am so used to seeing people carrying around their Starbucks, Tim Horton’s or brought-from-home coffees on the streets. Here, I haven’t seen it at all. In fact, I would feel strange carrying a coffee travel mug with me, as I would be the only one!

There are very few places that allow people to have their food or drinks “para llevar” to go. The only reason for that is because of outside country influence.

When people say that everything is bigger in America, they are not exaggerating. We are so supersized in everything that coming here is a shock! The cars, streets, food and drink portions and homes are all smaller here. Being a passionate coffee lover, I am used to getting a medium or large coffee when I order. Here, there is one size for coffee—small. No free refills either. I feel like I drink it all in one sip! In my defense, it is also because I don’t want it to get cold! When you get a soda from a vending machine, it’s going to come in a smaller size. The truth is, we don’t need these crazy large sized foods and drinks all the time. 

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A little coffee I got. 

As a result, the people here are smaller, thinner, healthier. Don’t get me wrong, there are heavy people here. However, I’ve noticed that even the heavier people look healthier and that is because everyone walks so much here. If you want to get somewhere, you usually walk. It’s just how it is. 

 

BESOS (KISSES)

Pucker up! It’s time to discuss the long-known tradition of exchanging kisses upon seeing friends and family. This is not exclusively for Spain, either. This tradition is carried out in France and other Latin American countries.

To American, and even to other European cultures it may seem strange to kiss your friends and even sometimes your family as a means of greeting them. Even guys and girls kiss upon seeing each other again, but only if they are more familiar with each other. Before you freak out, let me tell you this: the kisses are not on the lips, first off. Even they know that would be weird. Actually, it’s not even on the cheeks. During the greeting, you end up kissing the air as your cheeks brush up against the other person. If done correctly, there is typically no lip to face contact at all. Okay, you can breathe now.

When I first met my host parents, that’s how the mother and sons greeted me. My friends here also bid farewell to each other with a friendly “air kiss” on the cheek. ¡No te preocupes, pruébalo!

I didn’t want to be a creeper, taking pictures of people kissing each other, so these are off Google. 

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In the above examples, there is no actual lip to face contact!

 

MÁS DIFERENCIAS

All right, here are some other little differences between the U.S. and Spain. I’ll be putting up a couple with every blog post.

Laundry

In Spain, as well as many other countries, don’t use dryers. Instead, they hand their laundry out to dry, which takes a much long time. Not to mention, your underwear are hanging out there for the world to see! What about rain? Laundry is hung either on a balcony (which a LOT of people have here!) that has a roof or there are makeshift tarp roofs over the laundry lines. Laundry softener isn’t used either, and I notice that my towels are a lot more course and stiff than what I am used to. 

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A tarp covering the clothesline.

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The view outside my family’s balcony, along with their pet conejo.

 

Keyboards

As a Spanish major, I often wonder how Spaniards type the “ñ” on their keyboards, as well as accents and upside down exclamation/question marks. The solution to my inquiry was obvious:

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Yep, they actually have keys for that. I should’ve known.

 

Tax

In America, I am used to calculating the final price of an object before I go up to the register, pulling out my phone and adding 8.0% for tax. Here, as well as in London tax is already included in the final price! So when I see something for €3 and something for €1.75, I go up to the register and pay exactly €4.75. Yeah, I’m paying the taxes but it’s already a part of the price. It’s SO much easier! Come on America, get with the program.

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As you can see, I’m charged tax, but the price sticker I saw was a nice even number, giving me a total of 8 euro even!

 

Tomorrow I will be in BARCELONA!!! A group of us are leaving tonight by bus and will be there early in the morning. We plan on staying in hostels while we are there, which I already know all about from my stay in London! (For my post on hostels, read my previous post, “All Aboard!”. I’m definitely looking forward to going there and seeing the AMAZING architecture inspired by Gaudí, Güell Park, La Sagrada Familia and so much more!

Hasta luego!

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TAPAS OF THE WEEK

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Brie and blueberries. If you haven’t tried this, you haven’t lived!!!!

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Fish and strong cheese on a baguette

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#5: This is how they spell bacon. 

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OH MY GOD, MY FOOD IS STARING AT ME!!!! 

 

3 thoughts on “A Little Place in my Heart

  1. I always love reading other people’s posts about Madrid – I did my gap year there in 2008 and absolutely fell in love with the city. Places you should definitely visit (continuing on your food trend) – San Gines for churros, La Trucha for tapas, Cien Montaditos for the best deals/sandwiches, and any small local place that will serve you pan con tomate y olio will be a delicious breakfast! Enjoy!

    1. Great, thank you for the suggestions! 🙂 I’ve stopped at a little place in my home city and got the pan con tomate y aceite–kind of by accident actually! I love toast and coffee and they had a deal where you could get the combo for only one euro. I got toast and I wasn’t expecting tomato on it AT ALL! Being a tomato over, I tried it and it was delicious! I’ll have to write down those other places as well–I love my churros! (I talked allllll about my everlasting love for them in a previous post :P)

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