Madrid First Impressions & My December Trip

I’m sorry it’s been so long since I posted. With my month off between Seville and Madrid, I traveled through Germany and Eastern Europe, spending 3 days or less in every city. A quick list of the cities I visited: Hamburg, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Salzburg, Munich, Nuremberg, Frankfurt. Of all those that I saw, my favorite had to be Berlin and Budapest.

Both Berlin and Budapest were incredible modern metropolitan cities, while simultaneously cities with immense history. From WWI and WWII as well as a colorful history with the USSR, they seemed to have been involved in everything! However, where Berlin and Budapest differed was in the feel of the city today. Berlin felt very modern and was priced accordingly. The spirit of communism has been entirely replaced with capitalism, transforming it into a global business and technological center. Budapest, on the other hand, felt as if it was fresh out of the USSR. While certainly a capitalist economy today, bleak stone buildings lined the streets and things generally felt more drab. I celebrated NYE there with my family, and while it was magnificent to see thousands of fireworks launched on both sides of the Danube by every Tom, Dick, and Harry, it did add to the lawless feeling of the city. It felt like a city that was very recently oppressed, and people are just beginning to really enjoy their freedoms. But, like always, English is everywhere! I hadn’t a lick of trouble in any of the nine cities/four countries speaking English! Although, surprisingly, I did pick up a bit of German in my two weeks in Germany and Vienna. It took a few days in Spain to mentally switch from Danke (Thanks in German) to Gracias (Thanks in Spanish).

A quick list of some of the other highlights I saw and recommend in each city:

Hamburg – Miniatur Wunderland – the largest model train set in the world. Way cooler than it sounds!

Berlin – General walking tour of Nazi/Third Reich sights; The One Show – kind of like Cirque Du Soleil, but with costumes designed by the famous French Designer, Jean Paul Gaultier; Eating in The TV Tower

Prague – National Technical Museum; Tour of the Jewish Quarter

Vienna – Museum of Natural History Vienna – Massive and the largest collection of meteors in the world – must do; Hospital in the Rock Museum

Budapest – Cruise on the river Danube; St. Stephen’s Basilica

Salzburg – Sound of Music Tour

Munich – Hitler and the Third Reich Munich Walking Tour; The Englischer Garten; BMW Museum; Deutsches Museum (world’s largest museum of science/tech); Visit the Bavarian Castles, especially Neuschwanstein Castle (The inspiration for Cinderella’s castle in Disney and where Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was filmed) – Make sure to go see the bridge

Nuremberg – Courtroom 600 (where the Nazi trials happened & international criminal law was created)

But now, I’m back! Back to Spain, back to reality. Seeing magical castles, grand churches, and massive museums, while eating delicious food and hanging out with friends and family every day just isn’t reality! It felt good to get back somewhere where I could speak the language and could settle in. Although my first impression of Madrid consisted of the airline, IBERIA, losing my luggage and offering next to no help in getting it back. Believe me when I say, there’s nothing quite like American customer service. I eventually got it back, two days and a return trip to the airport later. So all is well. Thankfully, I got very lucky with my host family here! Two parents, Kika and Jose and three young (well-behaved) kids; Pepe, 4; Belen, 8; and Carmen, 11. My room is much larger than in Seville and even complete with a big desk like mine in Houston! I couldn’t be happier!

Madrid is a very different city from Seville in many ways. Seville is to Boston what Madrid is to NYC. While technically a major city, Seville is walkable/bikeable and very compact. In three months, I feel as if I saw the whole place. Madrid on the other hand, being the capital of Spain, is a sprawling urban metropolis. Complete with a very efficient (although not 24 hour) metro, bus, and train system. After only a week, I think I prefer Madrid! Another interesting point, Seville is a city with excellent food… as long as we’re talking about Spanish food. I once went hunting for sushi, and after paying an arm and a leg at three different places, I was thoroughly disappointed. In my week here, I’ve had incredible and reasonably priced sushi twice! And I’ve been told it’s one of the best types of food here. I’ve also had Italian and a surprisingly good vegan meal. I also considered going for burgers and was not disappointed to find hundreds of well-regarded options on Tripadvisor. I also had no trouble finding a top-rated gym less than one minute from my front door, and was pleasantly surprised when I learned Amazon can deliver many of their items here in 2 hours or less! I also couldn’t be happier to have stores that are open 24/7 and a sushi joint in my same building that closes at midnight. You get the point. Big city. I look forward to exploring it.

My language school and program are very different in Madrid as well. In Seville, I was with a group of 14 other gap year students and we had all our activities together and they were all mandatory. My language school was also a very large operation with probably close to 150 students at any given time. Here in Madrid, I’ve only got four others in the gap year program, but I’ve also got about 60 undergrads here doing the same thing. We are offered activities much more regularly, however, they’re all optional. The language school here is much smaller and more personal as well, with likely half the enrollment. I really like the smaller feel of it. I think I’m going to learn a lot here. It’s also pretty cool that two of the others on my gap program, Elizabeth and Lauren were here last semester and so they know all the best places to go!

Overall, I’m sad to be done with my vacation and to leave the familiarity of Seville, but I’m very happy to be in Madrid! I can’t wait to explore it and perfect my Spanish, and I think it’s going to be a very good next three months!

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