Valencia in Words

This is a world of cathedrals and paella, of trade and opulence and beauty.

At midnight find a bonfire and salta por el fuego because here, everyone is your friend. We all reek of smoke and revelry and share in the secrets of late-night catharsis and the wishes cherished mid-leap. Mind your bag and mind your breath but don’t forget to dip your toes into the Mediterranean before you leave.

It’s all too much and we slump in our chairs, curl up by the flame by the beach, desperate to nap for at least a few hours out of the 48 we would spend there. We get lost on the Metro, add an Argentinean and an Italian to our group as we wander. What marvels people create in the name of religion. American Beauty, a thousand times over.

But it helps me remember… and I need to remember… Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it, like my heart’s going to cave in.

¡Vale, Valencia!

Gate of the Sun

When looking for housing this summer, I was advised to live as close to Puerta del Sol as possible. I am incredibly glad I followed this advice, because it’s the kind of place where anything can crop up, as evidenced by my brief walkthrough yesterday afternoon:

La Plaza del Sol, aka Km 0, the center and start point of Spain’s radial roads.

The beautiful fountain in the center of the Plaza

These policemen ended up being the precursor to a whole security team…

…that showed up later that night to guard a huge political protest

A flower-angel with her face painted pink

A very good string quartet closer to Callao that I hovered around – they ended up being from Spain! (I am so nostalgic for CYSO right now…)

A mariachi band outside the movie theater of Callao, where there seemed to be a major premiere with Spanish actors I had never seen before

Such serendipity!

This, however, was nothing compared to my experience when I returned later that night to meet up with Sebastian and Mary for dinner. The restaurant that specializes in grilled pig’s ears and lamb sweetbread ended up being closed, but as soon as we realized this a woman approached us.

“Would you like a free drink? We are having a promotion at our club, it is very good, you should come!”

Free sangria, a free shot, and coupons to return later to the club. Score! The venue was actually pretty nice for a place soliciting youngsters on the street, too.

We hadn’t walked ten feet away from Bia when a solicitor from another club approached and offered us the same thing. Another round of free drinks! This time at Commo all of us indulged in a free shot of sweet vodka that was surprisingly edible, then gleefully wandered back out onto the street in search of “real” sustenance.

Note: it is said here that the Spanish “have a problem” – they can’t say no. If you ask someone on the street for help, chances are that they will not only advise you, but physically lead you to your destination, and this has definitely been our experience. “If this is how they act when life is tough, just imagine how happy they are when things are going well,” -Sebastian. We asked someone where we could find good paella, and ended up choosing La Taberna de Moderno.

We’d have to wait 25 minutes for our paella, they warned, but it was worth it.

Our jarra de sangria helped to make the wait more bearable, as evidenced by Mary’s look of joy.

We also waited out the Paella by ordering an appetizer: bastones de queso brie y salsa de mango!

They were DELICIOUS, and we are now forever spoiled for American mozzarella sticks.

The paella was meant for two people to share, and was surprisingly large! The flavor in the rice was fantastic, and the dish abounded with shellfish, shrimp, chicken, mussels, and baby octopus.

nom.

After eating our fill and musing on the beauty of the Spanish lifestyle (we ate dinner around 9 or 10 pm, as is typical in Spain), the paella was topped off with gelato and we were approached yet again by a solicitor. We were young, foreign, and had the perfect gender ratio – probably their ideal clientele.

Another round of free drinks, this time at an Irish pub, and then it was off home again to be responsible and wake up on time for work tomorrow!

Such idyllic living. I love this city.

La Coreana Madrileña

For the first time in my life, I am having the experience of being very much in the minority. From the bubble of Naperville to MIT to even the Berkeley group in Peru, Asians always abounded!

Not so here, although I am hardly complaining. My experience with Europeans has been so pleasant and so friendly that it almost seems surreal. Last week I set a goal to talk to one stranger every day – a couple of encounters were what you’d expect, with the cordial hi-bye and nothing more, but there were a couple of exceptions:

  • Rebeca, the Spanish graduate student who I met in line for EasyJet flight 5480 who excited to see her boyfriend in London but dreading British weather.
  • Paolo, the Italian-born London antitrust lawyer who lived in Ireland for a year and generously explained the European economic crisis to me, while simultaneously cycling through all of his accents.
  • Syra, the oldest of three daughters visiting her sister in London, who offered to put me in contact with her younger sister at the Polytechnic Institute of Madrid once finals were over so I could meet more Spanish locals!

It’s amazing how drastically different it feels to live versus vacation in a country (though really, who are we kidding – I’m definitely indulging in both). Key factors include having a place to work, renting an apartment versus a hostel, and how you deal with food.

I’m employed this summer at a tiny biopharmacy company that’s hosted in a building with ~20 other bio-related companies on the Universidad Autónoma campus a little ways north of Madrid.

The commute is a lot more than I’m used to, but it stops by Puerta del Sol on the way back each day (which is highly convenient for errands and shopping), and I get to see some beautiful things on my 1.3 km walk to work from the train station each morning:

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I’ve realized since taking this picture that the many sculptures made of wire and wood are meant to represent various types of bugs…which makes it all rather less charming than it was initially, haha

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The building that I work at is quite beautiful – it’s clean and modern and made of glass, and right outside it there’s a grand expanse of water fountain that workers are constantly cleaning. :P

To wrap up – today I became aware of how much darker I am than I was…yesterday. This is probably a result of taking coffee breaks and eating lunch outside in the back, but at least my Vitamin D levels should be up and kicking now!

Backtrack!

After a fantastic weekend in Oxford, I am back in my workplace in Madrid. It’s been a scant week since I’ve arrived here, but returning to my apartment already had the comforting feeling of home. ¡Increíble!

There’s already so much to write about with my experiences in Spain, but I still haven’t even touched on the Medlife trip to Peru – the pictures have been obligatorily dumped on Facebook, but it’s so different with context, with a story.

Vale, from the beginning, and we shall see where this meandering road leads!

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