14 January 2013

Must Sees in Madrid: Areia

I guess while I have my blogging buzz back I'll continue with the list of my MUST SEES in Madriz.

One of my favorite bars in all of the capital is Areia; located in the heart of Chueca (Boy's Town), this bar is not just for the same-sex oriented.  Address: Calle Hortaleza 92
In my opinion, this bar is the perfect spot for after-work cocktails and schmoozing  or an ideal way to start off the weekend before hitting the clubs.  I've never been here during the day but I hear that they serve up some yummy lunch time goodies. 

The bar was renovated some years back to take on  sexy, Middle-Eastern jewel-toned, sofa lounger, incense filled love nest.  I would recommend coming here early in the evening to take advantage of the ambiance and excellent drink menu.  Now this place is catching on to more than just the locals so come mid-night, you have to squeeze through the single men and dolled up females showing off their latest mating calls.  (I say this in all seriousness as I was once one of those females).

This is also a great romantic date night as special elevated, private bed-rooms can be reserved for you and a special someone or a few close friends.  Anyway, take a look at the photos I found from other enthusiasts (because for some crazy reason I can't find any of my own) and judge for yourself. 

11 January 2013

My Epic Return

I know you've all been on the edge of your seats waiting to hear updates on my last post back in September... and I am finally ready to write it!

So as you know, I was having a bit of a mental block on what I was doing with myself those past few months.  I have a great job. Amazing friends and family. New apartment.  New life, in some ways.... I just had a few unanswered questions that I needed to ask myself and work out the answers.

And I can say that I have found those answers....

The main and most important question:
Do I regret moving back to Chicago
(or maybe better said: Do I regret leaving Spain)?

I got on a plane destination Madrid on October 17th.  The entire trip was spent fidgeting in my seat, trying unsuccessfully to nap and daydreaming of the adventures to that await while dreading the decisions I might have to make.

I knew my first few hours were going to be a whirlwind....

I was stopping in Madrid for a total of 4 hours to drop of my suitcases as my friend Melissa's work and get back on a plane to Barcelona for Michelle's wedding extravaganza.  In that time, I lost my new leather jacket, spent an hour trying to buy a cheap phone (because the worker didn't know how to issue one to a non-citizen), missed my train so paid a taxi 40 euros to bring me to Barajas Airport, somehow found the lost leather jacket and argued with security for not letting me bring my duty free items on the plane. 

Now I was starting to remember the inefficiency of the Spanish system :)

But I made it to Barcelona and spent an amazing weekend celebrating the union of one of my very best friends to her amazing now-husband and acting as her Maid of Honor.  (Which will be a blog in itself).

Days later I made my way back to Madrid to start the real reunion.  I had to get my wits about me as many things have changed in the capital this past year or so... including the public transport system, tourist passes, on-going strikes/ protests and comings of old friends/ colleagues. Not to mention transitioning back into the Castellano accent.

I had a tight itinerary pretty well mapped out in the weeks preceding my departure.  My days were filled with touristy things like trips to my favorite museos and parks, luncheons with friends and ex-clients and relaxing ME-time which mostly meant shopping.  However, once 6 in the 'afternoon' rolled around, I was running from restaurant to bar to house dinners to parties.  By the end, I needed a vacation from my vacation!

I spent my nights cozied up with my dear friend Melissa and her demon-spawn of a cat.  (I joke, I joke....kinda!)  She gave me a spare key to her apartment and was able to come and go as I pleased.  Thank you Mely for being an amazing hostess that week!

Of course, I made the trek to Toledo and spent the afternoon in all the old places.  Reliving some of the moments that truly changed my life.  I visited my university, ate lunch at my favorite restaurant, stocked up on some souvenirs and finished it off with a 'clara con limon' at my favorite bar.  All in all an amazing and necessary trip. Never underestimate the power of nostalgia!

I'll share some of my highlights as well:

My friend Steph, who moved back to the States the year before I did and now lives in Wisconsin, was also visiting because of the wedding.  So we planned a dual reunion outing with her friends and old mutual colleagues at a local bar.  It was like neither of us had left.  We caught up on the small things (though most everything is already on facebook that anyone would need to know) and told stories of past shenanigans and fun times.  We shared raciones of tortillas de patata, salchichas, queso de cabra and lots LOTS of beer.  It was nothing crazy; just a group of adults, mostly ex-pats remembering different days.  It was a highlight because it showed me that even after being away a year, I could still fit in and connect to that important part of my life.

I came to tears twice on this trip... once was watching Michelle get married.  The other was the night I had dinner with my favorite little student, Ali and her family. 
I spoke of them in previous blogs.  I never liked teaching children... but a class had come up a few blocks from where I was living and it fit perfectly into my schedule; so I figured, why not? She was a little less than 3 when started classes.  Her baby sister was a few months old.  We went to the park, played flash cards and drew with crayons.  It was tough but I enjoyed every minute of it.   When I left Spain, saying goodbye to her was one of the hardest things I had to do.  I remember distinctly that she was being distant during our last goodbye.  Typically she held onto my leg as I walked out the door.  Her father Damian said, "I don't think she realizes this is the last time she'll see you for a long while."  To which Raquel, his wife and Ali's mother replied, "No.  I think she understands very well and that's why she doesn't want to say anything."  I cried the entire walk home that night.
So when they agreed to see me and invited me over for dinner, I had my reservations.  Would Ali even remember me? How would I feel seeing her again after more than a year?  As Raquel buzzed me into their complex and I climbed the stairs to their apartment, I heard what sounded like cattle and a cat going crazy.  Then I made out voices and realized that it was Ali jumping up and down and heard Damian, her father, laughing and saying, "Yes Ali... Brittany is coming! Brittany is coming!"  As soon as I knocked on the door I heard loud shrieks and even more laughter and was greeted by the biggest smiles I could have imagined! We spent the next 2 hours playing and cooking dinner.  I got caught up with Damian and Raquel who had become good friends over the past 2 and a half years.  I asked if they found a new teacher to replace me.  They said they tried 2 others but no one that really connected with Ali like I had.  And I gawked at how big Ali and her then baby sister Alba had gotten over that year.  It was an incredible night.  Leaving once again was very difficult and I she,d a few tears saying goodbye but happier tears when Ali said to me, "I see you soon, Bri-nee!"
I knew at that moment that I would see her again and she would remember me because I did have an impact on her life. 

I could go on for paragraphs and paragraphs about all the things I got to do.... but the point of this blog was to answer that question that had been plaguing my subconscious for months. 

Do I regret leaving Spain?

My answer is No.  I love Spain and the life I led with every ounce of my soul.  I made memories and experienced things that people can only dream of.  And that's because I lived a dream.  It was my life, but I knew that I would come back to the States one day.  Do I wish I had more time there... yes. There are things that I miss every day about my old life but there are things here in Chicago that I wouldn't trade for anything.  Going back helped me remember the small things that I disliked about life abroad and the reasons why I missed home so much.  This trip helped me realize that spending a few days there would be sufficient to get my fix.

But in the end, probably the most remarkable thing about this whole journey and the feeling that I was dreadind to discover was that I was happy to be going back to the States.  Getting on the plane, I didn't feel extreme sadness for leaving Madrid and my old life; I was looking forward to getting back home and telling everyone about the amazing vacation I had.  And that is how I discovered my place on this earth.  My life is in Chicago and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.


21 September 2012

Despicable Me....

So after a year of silence… I’m back! This comes on the eve of a momentous occasion for me. My first return to Spain. I tried desperately to visit after the New Year but a change in jobs and a new apartment made it impossible. With the upcoming nuptials of my dear friend, Michelle in mid-October and my presence necessary as her Maid of Honor, I have no excuse but to escape back into dreamland.

I would be lying to say that I’ve been anxious for my departure: counting down the months and now the weeks, soon to be the days then the hours. To my surprise I’ve actually been hesitant in thinking about my travel plans. Not that I’m not excited for the new Mr & Mrs. But because of the inevitable question I will have to ask myself…. Do I regret moving back to Chicago?

This questions has been undeniably plaguing my subconscious and a times bursting out of my drunken conscious for months. I moved back in August of 2011 for 3 weddings in which I was a bridesmaid. Do I regret that decision? Absolutely not! I couldn’t imagine missing any of those celebrations of 3 of my very close friends.

However, I have allowed myself to accept the fact that I don’t believe I had enough time in Spain. That my daily European, guiri adventures have been put on hold forever in exchange for the ever engrossing American life-style. Spain has become a distant dream that at times I find difficult to remember. I’ve met up with friends, Spanish and American, over the course of the year; yet, I still feel disconnected when talking about our old stomping grounds. Does this happen to everyone over time? Do memories become less detailed and lose their thrill? Or is it my brain actively not allowing myself to remember those feelings and sensations for fear that it would make me realize something… that maybe I wasn’t just an American living in Madrid. Maybe, I was a woman simply born in America but living her life where she was meant to be….

I’m clearly having a lot of mixed emotions right now. It’s taken me almost a year to finally put the ideas running rapid in my mind down onto paper (well, the symbolic paper of life if computers didn’t exist).
This trip could be a game changer for me… it undoubtedly will. And that’s what I fear. I’ve always known what I wanted. I knew I wanted go to college. I knew that when I graduated I wanted to go abroad. I knew that I wanted to return to Chicago to reconnect with my friends and family this past year. Yet, here I am completely uncertain of what I will want in a month’s time. I have an amazing life here in Chicago. I couldn’t be happier with my current job (unless they paid me more; then I could be happier). I love having my family so close that I can see them anytime I want and being there for birthdays and graduations and random movie dates. I adore being able to call friends without having to organize a time a week in advance. But is all that enough? I feel like there’s something missing. Is it Spain?

Check back in a month….

20 February 2012

Weddings.... Weddings Galore....

I've decided to keep up on blogging about my past experiences in Spain.  I'm really behind on a lot of trips I'd taken in the past year.  Things have been a bit crazy on my side with a new job, rekindling old friendships and WEDDINGS!

One of the biggest reasons I returned to Chicago after more than 2 years living in Madrid was because of.... Matrimony! Yes, 3 of my best friends in the world all decided to get married in a 3 month time span..... and all 3 asked me to be a bridesmaid.  I knew that I couldn't afford to travel back and forth from Europe but I also knew that I couldn't imagine missing any of these weddings.  Therefore, I decided that it would be a good time to leave my fantasy life of jet-setting, ESL moonlighting and Spanish sunsets behind. 

So what's a better way to honor that decision and these momentous occasions than blogging about them....

BFF Carrie and her hubby, Dustin

College Roommate and her hubby, Tom

BFF Leslie and her hubby, Ron

Three absolutely amazing weddings for 3 of my favorite people in this world!  Thank you so much for allowing me to take par in your special days, ladies!

06 December 2011

Dusseldorf, Germany

Though I only spent a few hours in this fantastic city, it left quite an impression on me.  I arrived here only for a layover on my way to Berlin with my amazing friend, Danny.  First thing I want to mention is their absolutely stunning airport. I actually spent another few hours months later as I was returning to the States on another layover.  This airport is not something to be missed!

About the city itself I'm afraid I can only tell you about the Old Town.  Danny and I took a 15 minute taxi ride to the main street in Old Town and we could already tell that Germany was going to be a wild time.  Here's some photos just to give you an idea.....

02 December 2011

Spanish Withdrawl.... Part 1

I have been back in the States for 5 months... 5 MONTHS! Ay Dios Mio...

So I've compiled a list of some things that I'm just dying to have again in my life....
Of course, most of things I could get back here in the States but it's still not the same...

Case #1- Cañas/ Claras

So these are nothing special... small glass of beer (una caña) / beer & soda mixture (una clara) but it comes with the cultural significance behind them.  I enjoyed nothing more than running across the street to a local bar and sitting on a terraza (terrace) having a quick drink and big bowl of aceitunas (olives) between classes or after a long day of work or just spending a relaxing Sunday with friends. 

Yeah, back here in Chicago I meet up with friends at a local sports bar for the Sox or Bears games or just a few pregaming beers before hitting the clubs.  However, its still not the same.  We're all about chugging the beers down before running out, not just enjoying the moment.... but alas we are Americans.

Case #2 Late Nights

Ugh, I'm not trying to have an alcohol, partying theme here but that is one of the things Spain does best....

In Spain, if you're home before 4 am it's because you're sick, have an early morning class (for ESL teachers) or.... actually those are the only 2 I can really think of.  In Spain, typical time for getting back to the house during the weekend was when the sun was rising in the cab ride home. 

Now I feel like I have to start partying during dinner just to get my fix.  Becuase at 1 o'clock you know that last call is coming and you have to start sobering up for the drive home.  However, I must admit that these feelings come from being back in the suburbs.  Im sure city life in Chicago would be a little more my speed but still nothing in comparison to el estilo español!

Case #3 Public Transport

Again this probably comes from being a suburbanite and having to take your car EVERYWHERE but I do truly miss Madrid's public transport.  It's clean, efficient and quick.... nothing comparel to the El of Chicago that would take 500 million gallons of bleach to rid each station of it urine smell. Plus I really enjoyed those long rides... I have had some amazing conversations with complete strangers on the 'Metro' about life, culture, politics, history.... something that isn't as easy to find here in Chicago but I must admit.... I think Chicagoans (or Mid-Westerns in general) are a lot more open in this aspect than some other regions of the States.


Yes, yes I know we have olive oil here in the States but its not the staple that it is in Spain.  I got so accustomed to cooking everything with it that I do have cravings.  I still cook some things with it but Ive fallen back into my American ways to cooking with butter or just cooking food that dont need anything in general.  Mmm getting another craving... so thats all I have to say about this. hahaha

Case #5 Fruterias

About a block from my last house and every house in Madrid and all big cities are fruterias (fruit shops) filled with anything you could want.  But what I love, above their easy access, is their relatively low price in comparison to the Mid-Wests prices.  I could walk out with 2 bags overflowing with fresh fruits and veggies for over a week for like $15.  Low prices mean that people eat healthier and in general feel better.  Definitely something that Im missing these days!

Well of course there's dozens and dozens of other things I could add to this list but these are just a few gripes that I have with my current location.  I miss Spain everyday and if I could bring just 5 things to Chicago from España... it would be these....

30 August 2011

Adios.... Better Yet: HASTA LUEGO Madrid!

I'm sitting here on my sofa at 'home' in the southern suburbs of Chicago.  I've been contemplating daily to start this blog because I knew it would truly mean that my time in Spain has come to an end.  I guess Ive been on vacation mode for the past month... God, I cant believe I left Madrid over a month ago. 

Well this blog will be about my last few weeks in Spain.  I dont have it in me quite yet to talk about how I currently feel about leaving.  Yep, I'm definitely in DENIAL!

I was even in denial before I left.  So as the weeks and the days were winding down, I decided not to say any goodbyes.  I told everyone we would simply say the overly used phrase 'See ya later!' I finished out the month of June at American Language Academy.  I had a falling out with my boss a few weeks before so I decided to finish my contract and take private classes for my last few weeks.  It worked out well.  Some classes I've had all year long and I picked up a few more little by little over the last few months. 

By the end of June, I was teaching my 25 hours a week with ALA and another 15-20 hours a week in privates.  Needless to say, I was able to put away a nice little nest egg for myself after I'd gotten home to Chicago.  For the past year I've been almost solely working for Tecnicas Reunidas, a prominent engineering company, through ALA.  I started at 8 or 9 am and working straight until 3 or 4.  After that, I was free to do what I wanted which was usually private classes. 

As for my privates, I continued some of the usual like Patri and MaAngeles.  I also started a pharmaceutical company called Incimed which was one of my favorite classes.  The my friend and colleague, Michelle started her own company called Talkbox English.  So I got a few more privates from her.  One of my favorites was a 2 year named Alicia.  I decided I wanted to take on a class with a younger child.  It was quite a struggle at first but after about 6 weeks, Ali and I became attached at the hip. I got along fantastically with her young family and her baby sister Alba.  Leaving her that last day was probably one of the hardest parts of leaving Spain.  Then I took on an entire group of friends, not at the same time.  I started with one young professional, Ana who gave my number to her other friends: Lourdes, Jaime, Maria and Fernando (who worked for Tecnicas)  So we became this giant circle of of English- learning friends.  Actually, Jaime hired me to help him pass the TOEFL and GRE exams so he could begin his Masters at Illinois Insititute of Technology.  He passed all his exams and I recently helped him move to Chicago! Its like having a piece of Madrid here in Chicago with me.

I spent my last weekends trying to stay as normal as possible.  A lot of my best friends left Madrid the end of June to take thier vacations.  That was rough, not getting more time to say goodbye.  But I did well of keeping it together.  I just wanted things to be normal. So we went to our favorite resturants and drank and partied at our typical bars. 

I knew however that I wanted a fun Farewell Party.  Thinking about sites, I decided that I wanted to rent out the basement of a bar so I could bring snacks and we could play drinking games.  The previous St. Pattys we went to this Irish pub in the center.  I realized it'd be the perfect place to have my 'DESPIDIDA'.  So I contacted the owner and reserved the night for my party. The day of the party, my roommate Nikki, friend Tisha and I got to the bar early to decorate it in 'El Estilo Americano'.  I spent the rest of the day getting snacks together then headed out.  It was a fantastic turnout of old friends, new friends, colleagues and students.  We drank and danced and even played Flip Cup which is a new favorite to a lot of my Spanish students. After the bar closed some of us headed out to a club to finish out the night.  Overall, I couldnt have asked for a better Goodbye Party!

Last few days in Madrid were spent finishing classes, packing and spending time with friends and favorite places. I made sure to go to Toledo one last time just to reminisce about everything that I had discovered and experienced over the last 2 1/2 years.