Today is Ben and my last day in Madrid. We've said goodbye to all the wonderful friends we've made here, abandoned our apartment, and shoved everything we want to keep into four suitcases.
I feel a little defeated, Ben and my plan was to stay here for the better part of a year, but we didn't last six months. I know that my friends and family back home are just excited to see me, and I won't face any judgement, but my pride is a little damaged.
I thought this would be an appropriate time to give a pro's and con's list of what Ben and I did and didn't like about Madrid.
I am highly allergic to dairy, which is usually more of an annoyance than a problem, but here in Spain it seriously affects my health. Restaurants are really difficult for me to eat at, servers have no idea what is in the food they serve, and are apathetic to any suffering it may cause. About one out of every four meals I order at a Spanish restaurant comes out with some sort of obvious dairy included in the dish (cheese, yogurt, cream...), and foods like bread, and sausage usually contain whey but servers will look at me like I'm a crazy person if I ask them to please leave them out, or check the ingredients list. My allergy makes it almost impossible for me to eat at restaurants, which takes away most of the joy of living in Spain. (Please note, I had much less trouble at upscale restaurants).
Unlike in Japan, where it was difficult to eat poorly, in Spain it is difficult to eat well. The hours grocery stores are open, are very difficult if you do not work normal working hours. Fresh foods spoil quickly, and the range of produce is limited. This makes living in Spain with a dairy allergy very expensive, and very difficult.
2. The Job
Ben and I enjoyed our jobs in Japan more days that not. We thought that working here in Madrid would be similar, just with Spanish students. Everything but the title, English Teacher, is different about the job. The hours are terrible, the wages are low, and the students are very disrespectful.
I had 25 teaching hours a week (less than what I was teaching in Japan) but I had to make a unique plan for each of those classes, so for every hour I taught, I had a minimum of 15 minutes of planning I needed to do, which brings my week up to 31 hours a week. My classes only took place in the pre-work hours, siesta hours, and after work hours, which left unpaid gaps in my day too short to go home, or do anything fun (like tour the city, or go to a park) but too long to not get bored. I was generally out of the house, and away from Ben from 9:00-9:00 Monday through Thursday, and 9-5 on Friday. The work is hard, tiring, and tedious.
3. Dog eat dog.
Ben and I fell into too many F.O.B. situations. Our landlord charged us more than the woman living in a room twice the size of ours.The apartment became very unsafe, our doorknob stopped working from the inside of the door, and so if the door shut while we were in the room there was nothing we could do to get out. We lost all power to our bedroom, if we tried to turn the power on there would be a pop and than a sizzling sound, and then the smell of something burning. The last straw was when our landlord tried to put in a gas heater in our apartment, it needed to be vented out a window or whole in the wall, but he vented it back into the house. We called some friends and asked if they could take some of our bags, and were out of our apartment in less than a couple of hours. Luckily it was the night before we were headed to Paris so we just took what we had to the Airport, and slept on the floor until our flight arrived.
Two of the places agreed in the interview to pay 18 euros an hour, but when it came to the first paycheck, they paid me 12. I fought for the rest of my money, but neither of them would give me more than 15 an hour in the end, I would not have taken either of those jobs for that pay (they were very far away, and 15 and hour is low compared to what you can get private teaching).
Ben and I were frequently asked to break laws here. I do not want to break laws in a foreign country, if anything were to impede my ability to travel, it would be devastating to me.
Ben and I had a wonderful base of friends, both Spanish and foreign. It is really easy to make friends here, Spaniards are sociable, and always willing to expand their group of friends. Any night we went out, we could meet people, have an interesting evening, and exchange numbers/emails at the end of the evening. We were never lonely here, and will miss the social ease that we experienced here. Even when we first arrived, and Ben spoke no Spanish, he had no trouble finding Spaniards to shoot the shit with.
2. Architecture (art)
I love the architecture here, thought was put into it, and there is a continuity throughout the city that makes it feel like it has its own spirit. It is so easy to walk through history here. You can see paintings, architecture, gardens, for free if you plan your day well. Ben and I loved it when we had time off, and could just walk about the city, taking in all the details.
It's sunny almost everyday here. Even on a cold day, you can enjoy the sun. So far, winter hasn't been bad, not all that cold. Summer, though hot, wasn't miserable, if you had air conditioning in your apartment, it would be a perfect place.
Ben and I are excited for the next chapter of our lives. We have some hard work ahead of us, but if all goes well, we'll have much to be proud about.
(P.S. There will be more posts about France, Granada, Galicia, and all the other places we have visited in the last month coming soon.)