Ashley in Madrid

Ashley is a junior majoring in Spanish and psychology in Dedman College and an SMU Distinguished Scholar. During 2011-12 she is participating in SMU-in-Spain. She is eager to improve her Spanish, to get to know other students in the program and to explore Madrid and the rest of Europe.

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Coldplay, Ireland and the longest day

There have been a couple of days recently where I’ve felt really good about my Spanish: I’ve been able to communicate what I want to without major difficulties. Of course, my frustrations with the language, which are daily, still outweigh my successes. But I’m making progress, slowly but surely. And I am absolutely falling in love with Spanish!

Last week I received an excellent package from my family, full of my favorite snacks, and pictures, and sweet notes. It was probably the best package ever. They also sent me my tennis shoes so I’ve gotten to go on a couple of runs in Madrid! The weather has been basically continuously cold and rainy this week. I tried to buy rainboots last week but I couldn’t find any big enough to fit me. I literally don’t think that they make shoes in this country that are my size.

On Wednesday of last week I went to a Coldplay concert at the Plaza de los Toros, where the bullfights take place. It was the best concert I have ever been to. Here’s my video from the concert. It’s basically awful because my camera apparently can’t handle loud music, and I was dancing all over the place, but it has some good moments in it.

Before the concert, Carmen told me that people had spent the night outside of the Plaza de Toros the night before, so when we arrived at the venue half an hour before doors opened and got into the longest line ever for general admission, I was pretty nervous. I figured that we were going to be so far in the back and not be able to see anything.

When we finally got in and general admission was hardly crowded at all, we were ecstatic. So we ended up with really great spots and enjoyed the amazing concert. Upon entry, they gave everyone a bracelet which lighted up and flashed colors during the first song, so seeing the entire venue flashing was an awesome sight. There were fireworks, and we were showered with paper butterflies, and Chris Martin speaking Spanish was pretty cute.

St. Stephen's Green

The day after the concert, I gave a presentation in one of my classes and then headed to Dublin, Ireland on Friday morning with two friends! Usually we end up sprinting through airports, but this time we got to the Madrid airport with too much time to spare. Maybe we’ll eventually get it right. Upon arrival in Dublin, our immediate impression was that everyone there was just so nice.

We continued to notice this throughout the weekend as random passers-by would jump in to offer directions when they overheard us talking about where we were trying to go. The people there were one of my favorite things about Dublin. We also noticed that Ireland looked really familiar, like home. At least out by the airport, their highways wouldn’t have looked out of place in Austin, and their gas stations looked just like ours do in the U.S. (they’re different in Spain).

Being in Ireland was obviously different from being in Spain. It was nice to be somewhere where people spoke English, but I actually found myself missing Spanish! At one point, I bumped into someone and I was about to say “perdón” but then I realized that I wasn’t in Spain so I got really confused and couldn’t think of anything to say. I had been worried that their accents would be unintelligible but thankfully this was not the case. Some were stronger than others, but in general I had no trouble understanding anyone.

Regi and I almost got ourselves run over on our way to the hostel when we looked the wrong way before crossing the street, forgetting that they drive on the opposite side of the road than what we’re used to. This was a source of confusion for the rest of the weekend, but thankfully at most intersections it’s painted on the ground “Look Left” or “Look Right,” so I guess we’re not the only ones who need a little help.

On the first day we explored Grafton Street, a shopping area, and St. Stephen’s Green, which was a beautiful park. The next day we took a free walking tour of Dublin for almost four hours that was really great. We got to learn lots of history and see all the important sites, like Dublin Castle, the River Liffey, and the Temple Bar area. We also experienced some genuine Irish weather: overcast and a bit rainy. That night we learned that Halloween is popular in Dublin and enjoyed seeing lots of crazy costumes.

First-class train ride

At 5:40 a.m. the next day, the longest day of my life started. For overly complicated reasons, which I will not get into, we did not fly home from Dublin, but rather from London. We spent the day in Liverpool, which was really quite nice. We toured around the city on a “Hop on, Hop off” tour bus throughout the day and enjoyed going to Albert Dock and various Beatles landmarks, as well as learning lots of history about the city while on our bus. The only annoying thing about Liverpool was having to use pounds instead of euros. The exchange rate against the dollar is terrible, and there appears to be no rhyme or reason to their coins. You have to seriously examine them to find where it says how much each is worth, and the sizes are random.

OK so back to why this was the longest day of my life. We woke up at 5:40 a.m. on October 30. Over the course of the next 18 hours we:

Took a bus to the Dublin airport, flew to Liverpool, took a bus into Liverpool, took a train out of Liverpool, switched to another train into London, took a night bus in London, switched to another night bus, took a shuttle to Gatwick airport, flew to Madrid, took the Metro home, and finally arrived home at noon on October 31.

We did not:

Sleep.

It. Was. Terrible. We didn’t have school on Monday or Tuesday so I basically did nothing but sleep for two days.

A bonus was that we, for some reason, had first-class tickets on the two trains, which basically meant nothing except that it was less crowded, so we enjoyed that.

This was a really cool weekend because I got to experience Halloween in three different countries (Ireland, England, and Spain), and I really liked both of the cities we visited.

Because of the festivos on Monday and Tuesday, we enjoyed a two-day-long school week this week, so that was obviously great. Yesterday our group went to the building for Spain’s congress, el Congreso de los Diputados, and the modern art museum the Reina Sofía, where we saw Picasso’s Guernica, among others. I like modern art, so I really enjoyed it. This weekend three of my friends from SMU who are studying in other parts of Europe are coming to Madrid, and I am so excited to spend time with them!

The highlight of my day today has been that our heat got turned on!! Yesterday when I wrote this, I was sitting in my bedroom wearing my peacoat and FREEZING. It’s getting to be below 50 degrees now, and the low for tonight is 38! As a native Texan, this is cold for me.

Next weekend my friends and I are off to London, which I am looking forward to, and then the week after that our program is taking a trip to País Vasco, in northern Spain, and I am SO excited. Apparently the food there is unreal and we’re going to some of the prettiest places in Spain.

As I’m writing this, it’s half-time of the Homecoming football game. It’s weird to be so many thousands of miles away instead of in Ford Stadium cheering for the Mustangs with all my friends. This weekend I’m definitely missing all the Homecoming festivities, Boulevarding and, of course, the game. As always, I’m so happy to be here, but I love SMU and am missing it a lot. Go Stangs!!

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