The Spanish Experience – Madrid

We left Toledo on the morning of Tuesday August 16th to go to the Spanish capital, Madrid. The drive was about an hour and the bus dropped us off in the Southern part of the city: Calle de Anoeta at Instituto Theodoros Angeles.

We were greeted by enthusiastic Lebanese who, at first, made it seem as if the location actually had beds and separate showers. Needless to say, I was very disappointed when they took us to a gym, already filled up with a huge group of Lebanese from Jounieh, but with enough space for us to put our stuff. The ultimate shock? The place only had one electrical outlet to recharge our cameras and phones. And no extensions were allowed.

We left our bags in the gym and went to take the subway to the city center. For many, including me, it was our first subway ride – ever.

The subway station had a glass cube entrance. Pretty cool. We went down electric stairs and we were lucky enough to find the subway train we were supposed to take immediately on the first level. Villaverde Bajo-Cruce. Remember the name. Subway line 3 to Plaza del Sol, Madrid’s center. The subway was exactly as I had expected it to be, based on the many movies and TV shows I had watched. Not too big and, lucky for us, it wasn’t too crowded as well.

There, we were given about thirty minutes after lunch to go and shop. I personally had no intention to buy anything so I just ventured into shops that looked familiar, the first of which was Springfield. There, I was hit with such low prices that my non-shopping-loving-self fell in love. Four shirts and some cool shoes for 39 euros, I say that’s a bargain. If I were to buy the same stuff in Lebanon, my total would have been multiplied easily by five.

From Sol, we kept walking in Madrid’s center to where the World Youth Day opening Mass was supposed to be held. It was too crowded and also too hot. So before attending Mass, outside, and get sunburnt, we decided to visit a interesting-looking Cathedral nearby. Needless to say, the moment we got out and sat in the shadow cast by the Cathedral, no one of us wanted to move. I literally made the Springfield bag, with my newly purchased clothes in it, a pillow and slept throughout Mass and was woken up by some clumsy German girl who mistook my feet for the ground some two hours later.

Soon after the Mass we were supposed to attend but slept through, we went to have dinner. Our mistake? Not going too far away from Madrid’s center when over one million people visited the same restaurants we wanted to eat at. What did we end up eating? Some horrible kebab, which even hunger barely got down my throat. When? Three hours after Mass was over, at 12:30 AM.

Then, running like maniacs, we caught the last subway back to the region we were supposed to sleep in. We got out of the subway station and started walking. The area wasn’t familiar to me. After all, I have a pretty good photographic memory and, despite barely walking through the region a few hours ago, I had a pretty decent mental image of the region. And this was not it. I tried communicating this to the group but they refused to listen. It wasn’t until we reached a Mosque that the group decided to split into smaller groups in order to find Calle de Anoeta. What did I do? I sought my iPhone’s help. And what a blessing it was. Soon enough, the other groups figured I was on the right track and joined me. This was my iPhone’s way of telling everyone who kept telling me I was too obsessed with it to suck it.

Day two in Madrid was much more fun. Our group split in two: one that went to an amusement park and my group which went to sightsee. I figured I’d rather go to an amusement park in a country known for them and sightsee in Madrid, since I might not get the chance to do so. We went and saw Cathedrals, Museums, had lunch in Madrid’s center, visited Parks, saw the Royal Palace…

Day three, however, was so similar to day 2 that I figured I made the wrong decision the day prior. We became one group again and those who went to the amusement park were taken to see the same landmarks we had seen the day before, with the addition of a few extra places. At one of those extra places, there was a queue line to see a golden edifice in some Church. And naturally, some of the Lebanese started to cut through the line. I was furious but couldn’t say anything. A few minutes later, a Brazilian tells me that: “You, Lebanese, are an impolite people” because my “friends” had apparently cut him in. And he was right. The sad thing is? the same people that cut the line were telling me yesterday how great life was in Spain because of all the rules. If you like rules, why don’t you apply them if they exist, right?

Also, day three was when we had direct contact with the anti-World Youth Day protests taking place in Madrid. While walking to Domino’s Pizza to have dinner, we were met with three people dressed in black, wrapped up in chains, with a black and white picture of the Pope and reciting some weird sentences. On our way back, some people started to throw bricks on World Youth Day participants and on cars.

The day wasn’t all too bad, though. I was hugged by an Italian girl in the streets of Madrid and she gave me her country’s flag and signed it. Luisa, where are you?

The following day, we went to visit our French friends in the northern part of the city. And once again, the northern part of a city is much tidier than the southern part we were staying in. I’m beginning to think it’s a common characteristic that applies everywhere. Our friend’s school was located on a street that made my nerdy self really happy: Calle de Ramon Y Cajal 1. For those who don’t know, Ramon Y Cajal is a very important Nobel-prize winning Neuroscientist. And once again, my iPhone came to the rescue and got us there. That’s a second “suck it” to those who thought I was wasting my time being connected. Soon after meeting our French friends, we took the train for the first time. And it was very similar to the subway, except bigger and more comfortable. Also, you kind of appreciate being able to see the scenery as you travel.

As day four drew to a close, we began preparing to the two most tiring days of our whole trip: the last two days of World Youth Day. Location: the airport of Cuatro Vientos. And if you’re interested enough, tomorrow’s post will be about those two days.

In the meantime, here are some pictures I have left from Madrid. Lost almost all of the pictures that were on my phone:

The awkward moment when this makes perfect sense šŸ˜€

Pictures from France – Lyon

Long overdue, but I just got back home and can now upload some of the many, many beautiful pictures I have of the gorgeous France.

Let’s start off with pictures with the first part of my French experience: Lyon.

My First Airplane Ride

As I made it clear earlier, yours truly had never been on a airplane. Yes, I know itĀ“s hard to believe for many of you but I was an airplane virgin up until very recently.Ā  Last week to be exact.

I packed my oversized bag, put it in the bus that took us to Beirut International Airport (which in my head will forever be its true name). We got searched a little by General Security and then we went on board.
My first airline was Turkish Airline. And my first impression was: this is much smaller than I expected. The plane was quite compact.
IĀ“m not sure if it was the airbus make but the thing was definitely much, much less impressive than I thought it would be inside.

And so I sat on an aisle seat. Yeah, not the best seat but thatĀ“s my luck. Next to me sat a non-Lebanese looking woman who basically remained silent throughout the whole flight.

Then it was time to take off. And the Lebanese guy sitting next to that woman started to Cross himself frantically. I followed suit. Not as frantically but I did Cross myself. After all, it never hurts, no?
And the plane started to lift off. The feeling was weird. It was like your stomach was rising inside your abdomen and then my ears started ringing. I felt naucious but I wasnĀ“t afraid. It was more like excitement. But I really wanted that window seat and so I kept looking out at the window, trying to see the Beirut skyline as it faded. IĀ“m half sure the woman thought I was staring or attempting to flirt. But no, she was quite older.

For the remainder of the flight, and even though I hadnĀ“t slept the night before, I just couldnĀ“t fall asleep, no matter how hard I tried. I looked around and the people I was traveling with were all snoring. Then breakfast was served. Not very impressive but you canĀ“t go wrong with butter and jam and bread. The service was quite hospitable and warm, though.

And soon enough, it was time to land. After all, my layover in Istanbul cut the flight short. And if I ever felt nausea in my whole life, that was it. To say that my ears rang during lift off, I have to say my head was pounding as the plane descended. More like, my ears were beating and ringing like an 808 drum. But the plane landed… and then my group thought I got lost in Istanbul.

But thatĀ“s another story…

To Joseph

I said bye to you a few days ago – blame it on the French people for my early farewell.

But there are things that you cannot say to someone’s face – especially if the person who’s supposed to say them is someone like me.

Dear Joseph,

You’re going away for a year. You’re probably getting ready to leave to the airport now and you won’t get to read this until later. But it’s fine. I’m sure mom is crying now – or at least getting her tear-ducts ready for the upcoming waves. But it’s ok. You know why, because even though you might be seeing her cry and it will hurt you deep inside to let her go, you have to.

You’ve quoted this a while back on your Facebook profile. And I’ll say it again. “Moving on with the rest of your life starts with goodbye…”

Remember this sentence in your darkest days in Portland, when the only thing you want to do is come back and be with your Lebanese family again. Remember it when someone bullies you at school. Remember it when the only thing you want to do during one of Oregon’s many rainy days is to crawl up in bed and sleep…

You’re one of the strongest people I know. And you’re also one of the best people I know. And that’s not just because you are my brother. You were chosen to become a foreign exchange student because they saw in you an honorable and polite and decent Lebanese student who can give the best image possible about his country to people who don’t even know his country exists.

So be strong like you always are. Watch out for your sharp tongue. It will get you in trouble with people who might get you wrong or not be as used to your bursts as we are here.

Remember you have a family that loves you and who will always be there for you.

And even though you’re driving me mad with playing “Rolling In The Deep” in the next room as I’m typing this, let me tell you a secret. I will really, really miss you. It’s going to be hard to get used to you not being here, but you’ll only be a minute away, right?

So for now, I’ll leave you and wish you a safe flight and a happy time. Have fun. Enjoy the United States till you can’t hold your joy anymore, till your lungs feel like a balloon about to burst and till your muscles ache from laughter… for it is that happiness that you deserves.

P.S: I still got to go on an airplane before you.


Off to France and Spain

I’ve never traveled before. Ever. Unless you count that brief two day trip I took to Damascus last December and the one before to Northern Syria in July.

Well, if you do, let me tell you this: if you don’t go to your destination in an plane, then you haven’t really “traveled.” At least that’s how I understand it to be.

But I digress.

In a few hours, I will be taking my very first airplane ride to Southern France where I will spend four days before heading out to Spain for a thirteen day excursion.

I’m definitely excited. But also quite anxious. It could be that I haven’t packed yet. I just look at the suitcase and decide there’s still time.

My stay in Spain will involve three cities: Toledo, Madrid and Sevilla. No Barcelona for me, sadly. But I guess there’s a time for everything. And with a Schengen on my passport, it’ll be easier to go there some other time.

While in Spain, I will be participating in the international Catholic Youth Day, formally known as JMJ: Journee Mondiale de la Jeunesse, which will be an opportunity for me to meet the pope – although I have low hopes about actually “meeting” him unless you consider spotting someone in a sea of a million people “meeting.”

While I’m definitely not the most religious of people, I think this will serve as an opportunity for me to meet lots of new people. Let me tell you a secret though, my group is going to miss out on most of the religion sessions and we’ll be going touring the cities we’re in. Awesome, right?

France should be great as well. I’m not doing the cliche France trip of going to Paris and staying there for the whole vacation, which I honestly would have loved to do – there’s just something about Paris, right? My French stay will give me an opportunity to practice my dying French skills. Yes, AUB, I blame you.

A woman in my travel group is of Argentinian origins and she was giving us Spanish lessons the other day in order to get around in Spain. Apparently the people who speak something other than Spanish are rare over there. Who would’ve thought? Needless to say, only one sentence got stuck in my head. And no, it’s not good morning or good evening.

“No habla espagnol, habla inglese?” will be my motto for the upcoming two weeks. I’m sure you can deduce what it means quite easily.

As for now, I’ll leave you and hope you come to read the posts that I’ve written and scheduled to be posted. There will be a book reviews, a short story split in seven parts, among other things… And if I get the chance to tell you how my French and Spanish adventures are going, well, why not, I guess.