Upsides and Downsides: My first few days in Madrid

We all know Murphy’s Law. It dictates that when you most need things to go well, they do the exact opposite. Which was pretty much what happened to me upon my arrival in my new home for the next 9 months. Not to be terribly dramatic, but everything you don’t want to happen when you arrive in a foreign country happened to me in Madrid (okay I didn’t get abducted, but this is not Taken and pretty much everyone has more street smarts that that girl soo…).

I’ll get to what happened soon enough, but first, let’s back up a bit to the airport.

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There’s me. Life packed in two bags, ready to go. I put this picture here not because it’s a good photo (it’s not) or because I look good (I don’t). I am sharing this photo with you for a reason that will soon become clear. Let’s just take it in: note the hiking boots, worn to save space in luggage, jeans to both stay warm on freezing flight as well as be as comfortable as possible for 7+ hours in a metal tube, glasses for sleeping – you get the point. Not dressed to impress here.

Head on down to wait for flight, start chatting with fellow auxiliar (name for people in my program – means assistant), start thinking, this won’t be so scary after all! I was feeling good and excited about this, and the words of my favorite hobbit kept repeating themselves in my head:
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Sadly, soon I would be as dismayed as Bilbo when he realizes he has forgotten his handkerchief. How I wish that analogy wasn’t so startling ironic.

Downside: Air Europa Lost My Luggage

Yes, that’s right. I arrive at my destination, already overwhelmed that I’m actually here and this is happening and ahhh need to find an apartment soon but first where I’m staying – basically, overloaded – and then I have to shuffle over to the line of disgruntled travelers whose luggage was also AWOL. I would find out later that my bag had never in fact made it out of New York, but at the time I was worried that it was lost forever in the underbelly of the airport world, lurking in a dark corner never to be seen again.

Not to mention that due to the loss of said suitcase, I was stuck wearing the hiking boots and jeans that I had cleverly worn to save room and be comfy. Those jeans are not meant to be worn outside in public, especially in a city as well dressed as Madrid, and lets not even talk about the hiking boots! Walking down the street, I imagined every Spanish lady giving me the most judgmental look in the world, all the while wishing I could post a sign on myself saying “MY LUGGAGE WAS LOST OKAY!” Of course it was probably my imagination, but it it is pretty hot here so wearing jeans and hiking boots was already making me grumpy.

Upside:  Luggage Delivered to New Apartment 

Since Air Europa took a few days to locate my bag, and then another day to actually get it to me (it needed to catch the new flight from JFK to Madrid), by that time I had settled on a place and they delivered it right to my door! Actually, my lost luggage was a blessing in disguise because I didn’t have to lug that thing across Madrid multiple times! If there wasn’t that stress that it was lost forever and I would have to say goodbye to my favorite boots, I would highly recommend getting your luggage lost!

Gigi and suitcase for size, also cats are cute

Gigi and suitcase for size, also cats are cute

Downside: Unreachable Couchsurfing Host 

After I had arranged to stay with a girl who I met on Couchsurfing.com (amazing website, will probably post more about why later), as I thought it would be a good way to meet people in my new city and also save money on hostel costs.  I was counting on using my phone + wifi to use whatsapp in order to get in touch with her at the airport. She already said she would meet me at the bus stop but the luggage fiasco took an hour and I was afraid she would be gone, assuming I was a no show. Alas, non functioning airport wifi, and no answer when I used a payphone.

Get to the bus stop where she said she would meet me, only to find it painfully deserted. Mini panic attack when I imagine myself wandering around, trying to find a hostel, no idea where I am – poorly planned in that I did not have her address. Attempted payphone call numero dos, but no success. Trudge back to stop when I see salvation in the form of a small woman with a puppy – my host!

Upside: First Spanish Friend!

After I finally found her, my host was incredibly nice, helpful and generous. I think I can safely say I met my first Spanish friend! Though she speaks English well, so I will have to make sure not to lapse back into it – I’m here to speak Spanish, not English! Also as a random aside, she did Erasmus (European study abroad) in Graz, which is the city in Austria that my Oma is from! So I think we are meant to be friends.

Downside: Failed Apartment Hunting 

Apartment hunting is something that obsesses New Yorkers, who are perpetually in search of the perfect apartment in reality does not exist. I feel like I always know someone who is moving or looking for a place! The process is like a right of passage: once you have survived apartment hunting in New York, if you’ve managed to snag a nice place, then you’re in. So I already have a huge aversion to apartment hunting (I mean who likes it anyway, no matter where you’re from?), and I was terrified to start the process in a different language. I saw my first apartment the first day I got there, and a couple the next day. They were in varying degrees of quality, but all shared a singular, undesirable trait: they all had 5+ rooms in them, meaning I’d have at least 5 other roommates. Hell no. While that may not bother some people, I like my home space to be comfortable and at least reasonably quiet to come home to; my room is my sanctuary. So after seeing a few places like this, I was discouraged; I wanted to find some Spanish roommates to live with, make friends with, and be comfortable. Was that too much to ask?

Upside: Back Up Plan Comes Through

My back up plan if I couldn’t find a place I liked searching on my own was to stay with a teacher from one of my schools that was renting a room. While I could have kept searching, I was so tired of doing that and I couldn’t stay with my couchsurfing host anymore so I needed to find something asap. The teacher said I could stay with her until I found a place, even if I didn’t end up renting her room. In the end, I fell in love with her apartment (my own bathroom, marble floors throughout the place, and a balcony near the park, yes please!) and am now settled in to my new room! It is nice to be somewhere comfortable, and the good news is that she speaks only Spanish so I’ll get a lot of practice!

While the first couple days were difficult (and it continues to be difficult), I wanted to show that while there have been really discouraging times, things have always turned out okay, and I hope they continue to do so! (At least I wasn’t deported like a girl I met today!). I now have a place to stay, am not the only person I know in Madrid, and have a Spanish cell phone (that was also a disaster, but I didn’t want to rant about it here). Also sorry I do not have any good photos and this has been a block of text, I haven’t been focusing much on taking pictures since I got here. I’ll be exploring the city all weekend though, so stay tuned for photos soon!

Have you had any frustrating travel experiences? How did you manage them? Let me know in the comments below!

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14 thoughts on “Upsides and Downsides: My first few days in Madrid

  1. We are a traveling family so I can relate! Just had the logistical trip from hell to the UK with my elderly mother. My son recently had problems in Thailand with landlords wanting 3 months rent in advance from westerners. Keep traveling! 🙂

  2. @ Margaret — 3 months in advance ? wow–that even beats New York !

    @ Samantha — own bathroom AND balcony ??! I hope you get to stay there.

    -Harry

  3. Last time I was in Europe, about 3 years ago, I was going on a tour that started in Copenhagen and ended in Oslo. I was like you, super excited (and also kind of tipsy from the complementary bottles of wine SAS provides 🙂 ), but as soon as I went to get my baggage, it wasn’t there. So there I am, alone in Copenhagen, unsure of everything, and without luggage. I started freaking the fuck out thinking I was like being messed with or something. Anyway, after dealing with the most pathetic non-bilingual Dane, I found out that my luggage never left DC. So I called my mom and was like, ‘uh, I don’t have my luggage or anything but what’s on my back, and we leave for Berlin in 3 days..’. So after my mother called every place between Buffalo and DC, and being told numerous times that my luggage was sent out on “the next flight” (WHICH IT WASN’T), I had to borrow clothes from the men on my tour (they were very sympathetic and really kind about it; I felt like welfare). Now i’m just browsing around Copenhagen looking like a fool in elderly clothing (besides myself and this other girl, then next lowest age on that tour was like 65 lol). Blah, Blah, Blah, I wore the same clothing for like 3 days and finally received my baggage in Poznan, Poland about 8 days later. Thankfully Berlin had fabulous shops so I could look divaesque again, but I totally understand the panic, fear, and doubt with life when you can’t find bags.

    • Hahaha I laughed so hard reading that story! Especially ‘diaesque’, and the image of you in clothing meant for old men. Thanks for sharing! Though it must have been awful at the time. When you get to a new place you want to look and feel your best, and wearing plane clothes for multiple days is pretty much the opposite of that! I was lucky at least that I was staying in the same city, so it didn’t take as long to get my stuff!

  4. Im so glad everything worked out well in the end! Sounds incredibly frustrating but now that this part is over with you can concentrate on having this amazing experience and getting to know the language and the city!! Hopefully I will have my new phone soon so we can actually pseudo text and catch up!!!

  5. I’m so glad that things are starting to turn around for you, Sam!!! We must skype so I can see this magnificent apartment and hear about your Spanish cell crisis (which I experienced multiple times throughout the year too haha). Te echo de menos, guapa!!!

    Un abrazo,
    Pam 🙂

  6. you never know what might happen. last weekend before a simple trip to indiana i lost my wallet. off to indianapolis indiana with my passport i go. and a wad of cash supplied by big brother. had hotel reservation but must present id and credit card. oops! back now and getting card-life in order. enjoy everyday anywhere you are!
    ps: usa gone nuts. look for orange grove for sale. i need retirement options.

      • I was in Barcelona when W got re-elected. Shock was the prevailing reaction. One of my favorite reactions from a shopkeeper native to Brazil – he said ‘well these things happen’. Bilbao is within a train ride for you. I wanted to get there but too long a trip from Barcelona.

  7. remembered one: traveling back from alaska, all printed tickets back then, and the next ticket was ripped off with the previous flight ticket. go to next flight and only the stub portion is there. they want to charge me for the ticket, again, because I don’t have my physical ticket. I told them if someone else shows up with my ticket and ID showing the correct name I will wait to see that. if not then let me on that plane. i was let on the plane, with Al who had the exact same flights booked. etickets are the best!

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