Today marks the 90th day since I came to Spain. This is significant because 90 days is the threshold on which American citizens need a visa to live in Spain. It seems like I’ve been here a pretty long time and yet, if I flew home after my classes on Thursday, I wouldn’t have needed a visa. Before this experience, I had been to Europe twice as a tourist. I must say that even with my frequent travel, it is a very different experience living here for a few months than it is coming as a tourist for not even two weeks. It really amazes me how much of a home Madrid has become. This past Wednesday, I met my friend Katie for lunch at Los Rotos, a local hole in the wall with pretty cheap and very good food and sangria. We discovered it accidentally during orientation and have been returning ever since. There’s not a single word of English anywhere on the menu. On my way there, I ran into another friend (Emma) and asked if she wanted to join us for lunch. We walked in and the staff waved at us (they’ve begun to recognize us at this point) and found two other friends already sitting at a table. By the end of our lunch, we had ten people there with tables pushed together. I think it’s sort of cool that I’ve been here long enough to become a regular at a restaurant. Impromptu and casual group lunches like this at a local restaurant is something that I will definitely miss next semester. The food at Lafayette is pretty good, but normally lunch time at Lafayette is sort of a scramble to eat before your next class. One thing that I do miss about Lafayette is getting to eat dinner with friends. My host mother is a wonderful cook, and my roommates are all nice, but I miss being able to eat dinner with whomever I like.
My Spanish visa is recognized by all 26 countries in the Schengen Area. There is no border control at the internal borders in the Schengen Area. My passport was checked when I arrived in Spain and when I left for and returned from Morocco. For all my other travel, no one has so much as glanced at my passport. I am, as a traveler originating from outside of the European Union, supposed to carry my passport as my form of photo ID, but no one would know if I didn’t.
There are quite a few advantages to being a legal resident in Europe as opposed to being a tourist. The first is that I’m allowed to eat at McDonalds. Normally, any American traveling to Europe would not be allowed to eat at any fast food chain without being the laughing stock of their friends. It’s almost a sin since here you’re surrounded by so much good food that you don’t have access to at home. However, when you’re living in Spain for nearly five months, it’s okay to take a break from Spanish food once and a while and enjoy a one euro hamburger. The fast food chains are very different here when compared to their American counterparts. McDonalds has a full bakery and Burger King delivers. The restaurants themselves are much nicer (and cleaner feeling). Spanish people actually treat them as if they’re real restaurants. When you walk into one, it is not uncommon to see families enjoying a special night out with their kids, or fully grown adults celebrating a birthday. America really needs to step up their fast food game.
The other advantage is that because I’m a legal resident and not a tourist, I’m allowed to be annoyed with tourists (because I’m not one myself). They’re slow, don’t know where they’re going, and they buy overpriced food from tourist-trap restaurants that isn’t nearly as good as the food from the actual Spanish restaurants. You don’t have to venture far from touristy sights and plazas to find cheaper and more authentic food. As a general rule, if there’s no Spanish on the menu, you should probably leave. If the name of the restaurant is in English rather than Spanish, run, don’t walk away. Also, don’t be fooled by restaurants that say they offer an “American Breakfast.” They try, and it’s kind of cute, but they all miss the mark by a large margin.
Yesterday, Lafayette took us on a day trip to the Tablas de Daimiel National park. I love how much green space Madrid has. There are parks everywhere and they are beautifully maintained. You can however always tell that you are in a city. There is no escape from the car horns (European drivers love their horns) and sirens. In Tablas de Daimiel, the only sounds were the birds and the park extended farther than you could see. It was a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.