December 2nd 2016– I arrived safely in Madrid. Despite a gruelling 40 hour flight and layover, jet lag and tiredness managed to set aside and I felt more energised than ever. The flight from Melbourne to Dubai (~14 hours) was rough. Not even a window seat and a spacious seat on the plane made the flight any more comfortable. The layover, 18 hours, in Dubai was not so glamorous either. I had booked my flight strategically to include a long layover with the intent to explore Dubai and see what the luxury life was all about. That didn’t happen. I spent my layover walking up and down the airport until I finally took the plunge and booked myself an in-airport hotel. As it is Dubai, it was pricey. I debated whether or not it was a good idea to set myself 350 euros behind just for one night of relaxation. But as it was harder and harder to kill time, I did it. Without regret, I spent the last 8 hours of my layover relaxing in my own room with all the hotel amenities and before I knew it, it was time to board my next flight to Madrid.
(In-airport hotel in Dubai)
Luckily from Dubai to Madrid (~7 hours), I had a smooth and comfortable journey. I navigated through the airport alone awaiting my flight to take off. I specifically requested a window seat, to admire the view from 30,000ft from above. I even had an empty seat next to me so comfort– as much comfort as an being on a flight can provide– was at an all time high. No complaints in that department. As I kept track of the flight duration throughout, once it announced that we were preparing for landing, I opened my windows to see a beautiful, rustic Madrid. I remember the exact feelings and thoughts I had– “I am in Madrid”. I repeated it several times in my head but I still couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that I was actually in Madrid. As all airports do, the English translations under each sign made the process of navigating around the airport easy. So, once I’ve finished getting through customs and immigration, a tall, dark, stern man awaited me holding a sign with my name on it– relief! He knew pocquito (little) English. I immediately felt an overwhelming wave of stress as I finally realised how difficult it will be to communicate with locals only knowing as much as ‘Hola’ and ‘Gracias’– Did you know, ‘gracias’ in Spain is pronounced ‘gra-thias’? If I had been smarter, I would have taken up a few Spanish classes to equip me with enough knowledge to get by the daily obstacles. But, being my first time overseas and alone, I relied on hand signals and google translate– the life saving app!
The most unusual aspects of Madrid upon my arrival was my immediate environment. The traditional ora to the architect was breathtaking. Being from central Melbourne, tall skyscrapers and modern buildings are the norm. The central business district conceptualises a modernistic 21st century city, with the likes of a busy Bourke St, the creativity of Fed Square to the Paris-end of Collins St with or the beautiful Yarra River that runs through Southbank– there is a reason why they say Melbourne is the most liveable city in the world. The contemporary designs with tall buildings overarching the burbs’, Melbourne depicts your present-day city. On the other hand, Madrid offered the most rich and rustic architect; you could sense a story behind every building and the stellar detail engraved within each neighbourhood. I resided in Goya, extremely central in the heart of Madrid. Neighboured by the likes of El Retiro, the Barclay centre and the bull fighting arena in Ventas, I had no complaints about my place of residence. Puerto del Sol (Madrid’s centre) was only a 10 minute commute by their advanced underground metro system– beats the Melbourne transportation system for sure.
(Nuevos Ministerios metro stop)
My driver handed me a folder with various brochures, maps, my welcome letter and house keys. He drove a fancy Mercedes-Benz vehicle with all windows tinted- he was even wearing a dazzling black suit. It is fair to say my airport pick-up service was quite the VIP treatment. As he pulled up to my apartment, I ran into my first problem. He had left me in front of my apartment and carried my –heavy– luggages out of his boot and drove off. I dragged my suitcases up the stairs trying to find my apartment number. It was a never-ending door-to-door search for which one was correct. After several attempts I finally found my apartment. I was a little taken back when I first entered as the apartment and in particular, my bedroom was extremely small and fairly aged. I expected it to be quite small and yet, it was still a shock when I saw exactly how small it was. Not bothered by it, I quickly unpacked my suitcase and laid out all my essential items on my bedside table and desk. I organised my room and made sure it felt home-like as I was going to call it home for the next 2 months.
(Calle de Goya)
Shortly after, I met my first housemate. He was an engineering intern in his mid 20s from America. Extremely polite and welcoming, he introduced himself and welcomed me into our home (he had been living there for a month already). Next, I met a fellow Aussie from Perth, WA who was my other housemate doing a chemistry internship. It was a rounded house dynamic with each of us encompassing very different qualities that worked well together. We often shared some quality chats in the living room and debated about world politics. At times, it was a house of polarising views but at the end of it, we all respected and appreciated the views of one another. My housemates were lovely and bright, and always made coming home a warm and enjoyable.
My work colleagues were also extremely welcoming. Despite a harsh language barrier, we all communicated well through google translate and hand gestures. My work place on Paseo de la Castellana was in the centre of the busy business district in Madrid. The street of Paseo de la Castellana that stretches towards Nuevos Ministerios is the business-financial hub of Madrid. Much like Melbourne, it was overarched with tall buildings and busy roads. It was a 45 minute commute from home, but nothing I wasn’t used to from being from the far northern burbs in Melbourne. All in all, settling into Madrid was easy and smooth, with plenty to see and many to share the experience with. It was difficult to learn the Spanish mannerisms and get used to the language barrier however, it was an experience that made Madrid so unique. I later met all the other interns and developed close friendships with them, to be covered in later posts.
(Foggy morning in Paseo de la Castellana, Plaza de Castilla)
Settling into any foreign country would be difficult, but with the help of my internship organisation and my warming housemates, I felt like I was at home already. The first week set the tone for my entire stay with many unforgettable and wild nights. It was for sure, an unforgettable experience.