Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The trash is a lot greener on the other side

I feel that Europe is a lot “greener” than the United States. Almost all of the laundry is hung to dry. I am not sure if the is a conscious effort or just to save space since a lot of the places people live in the cities are apartments or flats. Either way its very Eco friendly! Also, lots of the lights in apartment buildings are on timers to not waste energy. I think this is a really good idea and it conserves energy and money. However, there is one slight problem with this in the bathrooms in my school. I swear one restroom has a light timer for about a minute and that’s it so that could be frustrating if you have to keep pressing it or it turns off while you washing you hands or something. Another way how it is more Eco friendly here is the public transportation. Madrid has a great metro, train, and bus system. I have also noticed the people here in Europe recycle a lot more than then United States.  All of the trash bins outside of my house are divided into glass, plastic and cartons, organic, and rest of residue.

Mi ropa en mi piso 
It bothers me that a lot of the places in the United States you have to pay for recycling while here it is not only encouraged I feel like it is socially forced. Obviously no one makes you but I feel if you don’t it is socially frowned upon. For example, the first week of class somewhat brought up something about not recycling and my teacher stop what she was doing and asked very seriously with a somewhat mean tone “what? You don’t recycle?” then she asked the rest of the class who doesn't recycle their trash. No one in the class responded but I bet that kid in our class started to recycle. Since I been here I have recycled or tried to when I can. It is a lot easier to when it’s so convenient. There are bin around school, the town, just about everywhere. Another aspect that I believe make Spain greener is the fact that they charge five cents every plastic bag you buy at the grocery store. Because of this I see the majority of people bringing their own bag to the market. I have not bought a reusable grocery bag yet, but when I do go to the store and buy a bag I just don’t throw them away I actually use them as my trash bags.      

A few travel tips

I have been out here in Europe since late August and I´ve been lucky enough to be able to do some traveling since I´ve been out here so I thought it would be a good idea to give a few traveling tips that I´ve learned. I thought this would be a good idea because the first thing I learned is that traveling in Europe is very different from the United States. Some of these tips I´ve learned from my friends, some just from experience, and a few I´ve just picked up along the way.

In Spain I have traveled to Toledo, Valencia, Segovia, Barcelona, and I went to Salamanca this weekend. In Europe I´ve been to Rome, Lisbon, London, Galway, Dublin, and a few other cities in Ireland. I also have tickets to Edinburgh and Amsterdam for the holidays. I have been to these places by bus, train, car, and airplane. Now when I travel it is a lot easier then when I first started so I’ll take that as I learned a few things.  This entry will just provide some general travel tips as well as a few specifics to some of the places I´ve been. I will also include some of my favorite places I´ve been and fun things to do. 

First little thing that I have noticed is that I don´t like when the menus are posted outside of a restaurant and are translated in five or six languages. This means that their target market is obviously tourist if it´s translated so many times. This might, but not always, indicate a lack of authenticity. I also don´t like when the menu is translated so many times because I like trying new foods, and sometimes not knowing what you’re going to get is just half the fun.  For example when I was in Lisbon, Portugal I had no clue what I was ordering half the time because I cannot read Portuguese.  I always had really good food for the most part.  However, one day my friend and I went for some seafood at a really small local shop next to the port and I guess I ordered grilled squid. I didn´t know it at the time but after we ordered the waiter went in the restaurant and came out a few minutes later and started cooking a whole fish and a whole squid on a small grill about six to ten feet away from the table.  The food was very fresh but I am just not a big fan of grilled squid since it is so chewy, but I was glad I tried it and now I know. 

Another thing that I have learned is that word of mouth is a very good thing when traveling. If someone recommends you something it is probably because they liked it themselves, if not you are probably talking to a promoter. Almost all of my favorite places to eat here in Madrid are places my friends or someone I know has recommended to me. One good example of this was a flamenco show I went to in a barrio in La Latina. I wanted to go see a flamenco show since it is a very cultural thing here in Spain. When my sister came to visit me we looked into and found a few places for the shows, but they were all very expensive and had some short of package deal you had to buy. Most of the prices we found were 40 euros to 80 euros.

 We ended up not going because of time and price but a few weeks later my friend invited me to a place that he heard about.  The place is called Artébar and it’s a very small bar and in the back they have an area for the flamenco dancing. We ended up seeing two shows since it was so cheap and so personal. It was only 10 euros for one entrance and 7 euros for the second. The performance was absolutely amazing. I was surprised the quality of music and dancing. To say the least, I was more than satisfied. Since that I have recommended it to two of my friends who have also gone and liked it as well. 

Like I said my favorite places to eat and go to here in Madrid have been recommended to me, so I will give a few recommendations to anyone coming over here.  Since the Spain is so well known for tapas I will start with those. 

Top Three Tapas  (all very different in style, food, and price)

El Tigre- This is a small chain with three locations in a very close walking distance to Gran Vía. If you go to one and it is closed there will most likely be someone outside with directions to the other ones. If they are all closed you are very early- remember the Spanish eat very late.  This place is always packed full of locals. If you try to go on Wednesday through Saturday just plan on standing up-most people do it anyway. At El Tigre they are the most tapas I have ever seen given to eat person.  You order a beer or wine for five euros and they give you mountain of food, and once that is finished they give you some more!  I sometimes question on how they make profit since they give out so much food. When my family visited we had to tell them to stop bringing us food. We were just sitting there and someone would come around and drop off more food. 

Orio- This is another very good tapas bar. There are two of these that I know of: one in Madrid and one in Barcelona. This bar works a little different from most tapa bars but these are some of the best tapas I have had. Unlike El Tigre you get a large variety of tapas and you get to choose them yourself. There is a bar that has lots of plates each with different types of gourmet tapas. You sit down order a drink and then they bring you a plate, and how you pay at the end is by the amount of toothpicks you have accumulated from the tapas. Each are 1.95 euros so if you are hungry and not paying attention you can spend a lot of money, but I assure you it is very worth it! 

The third tapas place I would highly recommend is not a bar or a restaurant but a bunch of small shops inside a market called Marcado de San Miguel. This place has just about everything you can think of: wine bar, cheese bar, deserts of all kinds, tapas, fresh vegetables and fruits, seafood, coffee products, meats, and much more. This is a definite must see if you come to Madrid! You can grab a table with some friends or family and just go around to each place and try a little bit of everything. This place is a little more expensive because they sell everything individually but you can also find some good deals and try some deliciously fresh food.

  One important thing to know about this place is to save your receipt while you are there! If you don´t have this they will charge you to use the bathroom! I had to use the bathroom but she made me pay even though I had a drink in my hand that was clearly from the market. I asked her if I got my receipt from upstairs if I could get my money back. She said that was fine but I came down a few minutes later after I had paid her to use the bathroom but she claimed she didn´t remember me so after a few minutes of arguing I just left because I figured she needed more than I did but I was still frustrated she charged me then forgot about me all of a sudden.  

First trip, first lesson

The first place that I traveled to was Valencia and this is where I learned my first lesson. We took a train down there on a Thursday evening for only 38€ to go there. However, to come back it was 50€ because it was on a Sunday and we needed to go home in order to go to school the next day. A lot of the tickets you buy for train and bus are very sensitive to day of the week because, obviously, more people travel on the weekend. This was not the first lesson I learned though, we took a bus back for even cheaper, 30€, but we knew about this ahead of time. Even though it was a four hour ride instead of an hour thirty it was worth saving the 20€. However, information like this can be found easily on the computer. What I learned happed shortly after we arrived and got to the hostel.

Two of my German friends, one friend from Switzerland, and I arrived at about 10 at night with no plans for the hostel, but this isn´t a big problem most of the time. We went to one and I was full and they sent us somewhere else which was full too. We finally found a hostel with some vacancy and we start to check in. The guy at the front desk ask for our passports and all of my friends pull theirs out, and I knew I didn´t have mine and my heart just dropped. I thought since we weren’t flying that I didn’t need my passport but that wasn´t the case. I start talking with the guy at the desk and pleading to let me sleep there for the night. I gave him my student ID, my buss pass, my ESN card, but he wouldn´t take any of it. He was so stubborn and so serious that if I didn´t have a passport I couldn´t have a room at any hostel. He even suggested I take the train to Madrid.

At this point I thought that I was going to be sleeping on the beach. That sounded like a fine plan to me but that’s even more expensive then the train to Madrid due to the 600€ fine. I mean I should have known to take it because last time I was in hostels in Central America they needed it there too. Also I heard it is illegal in Europe to be traveling around without proper identification. Thankfully, the lady receptionist was trying to be somewhat understanding. I was trying to do anything I could to stay there. I offered to let them hold on to my credit card until I checked out or pay an extra deposit but it wasn´t working. She told me that maybe if I had a photocopy of my passport that might work. I knew I photocopied a few before I left the states for safety but I knew those were in my room in Madrid. I told her I didn´t have that either but I started looking in my bag just in case because the other option was to take the train home at this point.

I totally forgot that when I was in Madrid the very first week I was staying at a cheap hotel before I got my apartment. I also needed a photocopy of my passport to get my apartment but I gave that to my landlord.  However, when I got my photocopy the very nice receptionist asked me how many copies I wanted.  I said just one because I only need to give it my landlord, but she insisted on making me three. Thank God, because in Valencia to my surprise I pulled out a photocopy I didn’t even know I had.  I had a huge mix of emotions of surprised, happy, and embarrassed because of making my friends wait who totally know you always need a proper form of identification. I gave it to the man the desk and he switched from talking Spanish the whole time to English to say something I will never forget.

In a very angry tone, after he gave me my room key, he said “I wipe my ass with this” while he was holding up my photocopied passport. I replied “I don´t care what you do with it as long as I have a place to stay this weekend”. I was very glad that I was able to stay and didn´t waste a trip. To this day I still carry that photocopy of my passport in my back pack, as well as my actual passport too. Long story short: even if you aren’t flying always have you passport. It is now the first thing I pack. It may seem like a bit of a pain or burden to carry around but it´s very useful. You can also apply for passport cards, you still need you book one but they are a lot easier to carry around.


When I used to think of airports I would always relate it to dealing with the stresses of travelling: going through security, waiting in lines when you want to be running, the fear of being late, how strict security is, and in general everyone in a bad mood. Maybe that was just my idea before in the states but out here only the first couple of times this happened. When I was going to Portugal I was the first person to be the “mom” of the group. I kept on telling my friends we are going to be late let´s leave now, we need to get on the metro, we need to do this and that etc. I´ve learned though, that airports are not the same in Europe.

I have flown to five places in Europe so about twelve times in the airport due to layovers. The first thing I noticed is the airport security is not that strict at all compared to the United States. I´ve also seen that the lines are a lot shorter and faster as well, maybe it is because of this. With the exception of every airport excluding London-Heathrow, I´ve felt like they aren’t as strict in a few ways. The first is the general screening both bag and body.

 Although a lot of the same rules apply as the United States I don´t feel like they are as heavily forced. For example you aren´t allowed to bring lighters on a plane but I have every single trip I´ve been on and have got stopped once. When I was going to Portugal I thought they were going to throw it away but my friend reassured me that it isn´t that big of a deal. Turns out he was right: I´ve never had one confiscated. I´m not trying to tell you it is ok to break the law, I´m just saying it´s really easy to. The first time I did it I was actually completely oblivious to the fact that I had one and was surprised I got through. That is also what happened last weekend when I flew to Barcelona. I got to the hostel and took out my dob-kit to brush my teeth and saw that I brought not only one but two pairs of scissors with me. Whoops! It was a total accident but I also got them back to Madrid with no problems either.  

  The 100ml or 3oz in a plastic bag is also not as strictly forced. I have only been to one other airport besides Heathrow that made you take the bag out of your carry on. Also last weekend in Barcelona I bought a little pack of six shots to bring to some friends back home and I totally forgot about security and the law about liquids, let alone alcohol in your bag. I also got those back to Madrid. Once again, I´m not trying to advocate any of this I´m just comparing how different it is to what I was used to. I pretty sure these crimes are punishable by hangings in the United States though.

Last Sunday night in Barcelona, I was denied entry into a casino because I didn´t have a proper ID even though I had three cards with my age on it-it wasn´t official enough to get in. That didn´t bother me to much at all because I don´t like to gamble. The next day we went to the airport and my friend couldn´t find his passport. They ended up letting him in anyways with just showing a credit card. I know it´s a very big difference comparing an airport to a casino but I was still surprised that he was allowed to go on a plane.  

Another thing that I have learned is that you don´t need to rush as much. One time when me and my friends were late to our plane I was freaking out thinking that we were going to miss the flight, but even though the plane was boarding they still had time to wait in line and get some food. At the time I couldn´t believe that they were doing this. I think that now that I have traveled a little more I too have become more relaxed. There have been times where I´ve showed up to the airport only twenty minutes before my flight. This is cutting it pretty close and I don´t recommend it, but sometimes you don´t need as much time before the flight as they advise. HOWEVER, (this is capital for a big reason) if you are flying Ryanair get there early! This airline is seat yourself and if you arrive late you are not going to like your seat.

Ryanair is a decent airline but you should be careful when getting you tickets. If you don´t print your ticket beforehand you are forced to pay a 60€ fine. My friend told me that last year alone they made something like 38million euros from this and that’s how they can make their flights so cheap. I tried finding some valid facts to back this up but unfortunately I found none after reading article after article. Also when flying Ryanair it is important to look carefully at what airport you are going to. For example I had a cheap flight to London, but it was actually London-Stansted. This is actually about forty-five minutes away from the center and can cost 25€ to get there.

If you bag isn´t too big, you have your ticket, and are on time to the airport Ryanair is not that bad. My favorite airlines so far Alitalia, it was a little more expensive but it had free wine, comfortable flight, and TV to brush up on some Italian before getting to Rome. My favorite place to buy tickets online is definitely It is very easy to use as well as a list of cheapest flights to most expensive.