People are everywhere in Madrid. On any given day you see a new fashion statement, new person in your apartment building, and an unfamiliar face in your class. However, even in the densely populated city of 3.3 million you run into the same people who you live by or take the bus with when you are out and about in a different area of the city. 

It is refreshing to wake up and head out the door knowing you are going to have another day of first sightings. I am definitely going to miss people watching and always meeting someone new. Being an extrovert really pays off in the third largest city in the European Union. Though, as much as I love meeting new people in Madrid I look forward to meeting new people at Marquette. I haven't had a semester yet where I haven't made another lifelong friend and I can't wait until I am back at my home base meeting and greeting the new people at my work, in my classes, and my apartment building. It will be strange not having to give two besitos on the cheeks though, I love that custom here. Maybe I can bring it back to the good old 414 and it will catch on... 
 
Generally when I wake up in the morning my apartment complex and surrounding area are quiet as a mouse, the only sounds you hear are the swirling of a spoon in a coffee cup, a hairdryer going off a few apartments above and the creaky floorboards. Today was different. Helicopters, chants, and whistles overpowered the hairdryer and floorboards - I woke up in the middle of what will soon be history come the end of the day. 

Today marks the second general strike in Spain of the year incited by Cumbre Social (Social Summit) comprised of over 150 groups nationwide including trade unions (police, Guardia Civil and military) as well as the Confederación Sindical de Comisiones Obreras (CCOO), the Spanish Worker's Commission, and Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT), the General Union of Workers. The European Union attempted to coordinate all austerity protests across Europe for this Wednesday to voice the overwhelming sentiments that the governments are shafting their citizens. 

It is no secret that the European Union, and more specifically the southern EU countries such as Spain and Greece, are in an economic crisis. Spain has seen a substantial rise in unemployment rates, a recent increase in taxes that simultaneously coincided with a decrease in pensions and benefits all to lower the public debt. In Cataluña it is not only about the injustices against the new living standards and personal rights but also a way to take a stance against political figures in the farthest northeastern autonomy of the country where regional elections are to be held in less than two weeks on November 25. 

With almost 100 percent of workers in the energy, construction, automobile and shipbuilding industry heading the efforts and taking part of the nationwide halt there have been severe disruptions in travel. In a recent email from the Marquette University program director for Marquette en Madrid, it was stated that IberiaAir Nostrum and Vueling  have cancelled a combined 473 flights, while Air Europa cancelled 92 flights; and EasyJet has cancelled 26. The numbers are only to rise. 

Local transportation in Madrid, as well as in other cities in the country, are running on minimal service and citizens are being urged to pre-book taxis or rental cars and leave time on either side of your commute if you are embarking on an important journey. 

In addition to travel strikes, universities have also closed for the day as professors and faculty are protesting their drop in wages and lack of compensation with the rise in taxes. Dani, my intercambio, said he would not have come to school anyhow if it was mandated because with the general strikes he would have to leave at 6:00 a.m. to get to his 8:30 a.m. class, a trip that usually takes no more than 45 minutes. He also said he and other Madrileños avoid the metro because extremist are likely to act out. One method is putting glue on door handles to the metro and other transportation services, while riots and invasions in commercial city centers and malls is not uncommon. 

In Madrid alone there have been 32 arrests and 15 people treated for injuries, according to an Associated Press report, and are likely to rise as the day goes on with protests planned outside prominent buildings and plazas such as Puerta del Sol and Plaza de Atocha. Currently, the wait between metro rides is 20 minutes, which is not terrible, but because of the length in lines and number of people waiting to get on, the norm is to wait for three or four trains total until you can squeeze your way on. 

With Spain's unemployment standing around 24 percent of the workforce, or 5 million citizens, and the projected plan by the government to further cut spending in the coming year the country can expect several more of these strikes in the near future. For now I will have to cherish my mornings with the hairdryer, creaky floorboards and swirling of the coffee spoon and wear earplugs when the days for the general strikes arrive. 
 
It has come to an end. The political ads, the e-mails, the phone calls, the constant Facebook statuses and Tweets, they all are fading into the past and I am quite thankful for that; however, I am more thankful for the fact that our country has the right to cast their vote and participate in a democracy. 

Last night I could not sleep because for the first time I was able to vote and see what impact it had. I followed Twitter, Facebook, the election webpages for CNN, National Public Radio (NPR), Huffington Post, the first ever special election website for Marquette University Student Media and I was becoming incredibly frazzled. Why? Because there were so many different tallies, numbers, percentages, nothing was in sync and all I wanted to know was which was most accurate regarding the Presidential race. 

At 2:30 a.m. my time, 7:30 p.m. Central time it was looking like this: 
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NPR shows electoral votes: Obama 65, Romney, 82
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CNN shows electoral votes: Obama, 64, Romney, 56.
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HuffPost shows electoral votes: Obama, 65, Romney 67.
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MSM shows electoral votes: Obama, 64, Romney, 56.
How did I know which one to trust? I didn't, it was too early to even think about trusting one over the other and all the predictions I was seeing made me anxious because it was too early to call and I just wanted to know. 

Being abroad in Madrid, Spain while the elections were happening, especially my first ever Presidential election I could vote in, was difficult because I didn't get a taste of the hands-on, in the moment excitement. I always pictured myself in the newsroom in the basement of Johnston Hall on Marquette's campus biting my finger nails and live-blogging, that obviously did not happen but the students who were able to did a great job keeping me informed on a state and national level. While I am a little melancholy over the fact that I wasn't in the States  I was also thankful I was not because all day I didn't hear a thing about it. No one talked about it in the streets, in class, at work, it was a relief. Yes, there were multiple newspaper articles about it and my señora was kind informative and told me Obama is the reason most of Europe still takes a liking to the United States, but that was the only point I really spoke about politics. Though, I did see enough "I voted" comments online and have seen enough Facebook statuses and Tweets to gain a sense of the tension that may be occurring on campus and across the country. I guess you can never really escape reality when you follow social media websites. 

When I awoke this morning I was not entirely sure I wanted to know the results, both on a national and state level. Minnesotans voted on two potential constitutional amendments. The first was to clearly state that a marriage is between a man and a women, the other was to implement the concept of a Voter ID. Regardless of whether I wanted to see the results or not I had to look, there was no questions about it. 

First I went to CNN.
Then I wanted a second confirmation and a more visual breakdown of all the states, especially to see who took Virginia, Ohio and Florida. I went to Huffington Post
After seeing both results match up with one another I wanted to see how my former and fellow colleagues at Marquette Student Media handled the reporting and see if their information matched up.  
It sure did and to go full circle I went and checked on NPR's election site. 
For the first time in the whole election process I was looking at the same numbers and the same outcome. It was nice to know I was being informed correctly, regardless of who won or lost. 

After seeing who won the positions on a national and state level I hurried on over to see how the proposed constitutional amendments turned out on CBS Minnesota. Minnesota voted against both amendments, last night when I went to bed it was neck and neck, too close to tell. 
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Fifty-one percent of Minnesotans voted against stating marriage is solely between a male and a female.
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Fifty-two percent of Minnesotans voted against the implementation of a Voter ID.
This morning I woke up seeing clear results and in fact, results that made history. Tammy Baldwin made history twice becoming the first openly gay politician, and the first Wisconsin woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate. Two states, Colorado and Washington also legalized the recreational use of marijuana. Also, an understated vote took place win Puerto Rico yesterday where nearly 80 percent of the population voted and 54 percent of the voters said they wanted to become the 51st state of the United States. The 2012 elections were not only about the Presidential race, something I feel many people forget. 
In my opinion, it doesn't matter who you vote for or what you voted for, if our opinions are the same that makes a conversation over politics that much easier, if not that is OK with me since I don't enjoy talking about politics anyhow. To each their own. The only request I make is that if you chose not to exercise your right to vote and are going to rejoice or complain about the results being released I think you may need to reevaluate whether you should be since you didn't put your vote to use.  If you want change you have to make it happen. 

Today I watched President Barack Obama's acceptance speech, regardless if it would have been him or Romney, hearing these words made me feel as if my voice can be heard and that there is hope. Especially for Puerto Rico, I would like to go there without the hassle of a passport. 

"Whether I have earned your vote or not, I have listened to you. I have learned from you, and you have made me a better president. With your stories and your struggles I return to the White House more determined and more inspired than ever for the work there is to do that lays ahead. " - Barack Obama, Nov. 7, 2012.
 
Streets upon streets filled with crowds of people, multiple languages and cultures, and colorful stalls selling different products, it is all you can ask for on a Sunday morning at el Rastro just south of the La Latina metro stop. 

El Rastro de Madrid, or more commonly known as el Rastro, is one of my favorite parts of Madrid. The open air flea market is held every Sunday during the year and offers everything you could possibly need, and that is not an exaggeration. The market is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., a solid six hours for you to find what you need. A winter coat for 10 euro that would normally cost 30 to 40 in a store, is easily found during this time of year, cute clothing for males and females can be found at bargain prices, especially if you look at the two euro liquidación piles. If you're looking for handmade jewelry and original artwork, then this is the place to go. Last but not least, if you want to get your hands on authentic Spanish music then look no farther than the several vendors who blare their favorite picks and allow you to sample them before purchasing. 

The first time I ever went to el Rastro was several years ago when I first came to Madrid. It was sensory overload with the number of people in the streets canned like sardines and the occasional vendors yelling their deal of the day at those who walked by. The prices were unbelievably cheap and the numerous souvenirs, house products, clothes, artwork and more were too much to choose from. I learned from that experience that you have to go in with a plan, and my plan for my trip last weekend was a warm coat or hat and a gift for my mother. 

We went to el Rastro at 12:00 in the afternoon, a good time to go if you want to be behind the tourist crowd that comes along around 11:00 a.m. and the bargainers between nine and ten. The group of four and myself walked up and down, strolling to see if what we were looking for popped out at us. Some of us purchased wool socks and tights, a jump drive and winter hats and headbands, others bought gifts for family members. I purchased a knit headband and a gift for my mother, though I can't say what I bought for her since she reads this blog more than everyone combined. Sorry, folks. 

While shopping and hunting down the best deals you can't help but just people watch. With all the different nationalities and languages being spoken it is hard to not whip your head back and forth in awe. I am 100 percent guilty of staring at people at el Rastro, I won't deny it. It's too fun not to do. 

The best thing about open air flea markets is that you can take your time moseying through the aisles and no one will care because they are doing the same thing. The same is true at el Rastro though I do believe that this market has something over others I have been to and I wasn't sure if my observation was correct until I did some more research. Here, the aisles are broken up into categories and each street has something different to offer but the one common thread between all the streets is the fact that local antique shops open their doors for the Sunday cliental to stop in and peruse if the stalls prove to be overwhelming. Now, the antique stores weren't the observation I was talking about it is the following streets that seem to have something special to offer.   

  • Calle Rodas: Where lots of people, mostly young, swap trading cards. The street is known for buying and selling magazines, stamps, and trading cards. Get your Yu-Gi-Oh! on here. 
  • Plaza de Cascorro: Get your fashionista on here. This is known for it's fun and unique clothing and accessories. 
  • Calle San Cayetano: has permanent stalls that sell hand crafted paintings, drawings and of course art supplies. Also known as "street of the painters" or "Calle de los Pintores." This is a LeRoy Anderson, Jr. type of aisle. 
  • Collectable and rare books, magazines and other reading material can be found at vendors around calle Rodascalle CarneroPlaza de General Vara del Rey, and calle Carlos Arniches. If you want to brush up on your old Castilian, be my guest. 

Having no rhyme or reason is difficult when you're shopping, but knowing these streets consistently offer the same items week after week is comforting. 


After spending time at el Rastro it is customary to go have a beer or sangria and enjoy tapas. There are multiple places that you can go, relax and talk about all your great deals. So, by the time five o'clock comes around on a Sunday after the market you should have no reason to not be all smiles. After all, you at least got to hear lively Spanish music and look at beautiful artwork for free.  
 
Don't worry guys, I didn't break up with you, Madrid just keeps me busy.

Things have been extremely chaotic here the last few days and I'm finally able to group my thoughts together in order to form cohesive, non-Spanglish sentences. I will be getting in the groove of blogging everyday and have a few coming later today after a few meeting with the U.S. Embassy and having our photos taken for Marquette. Oh, and after dinner. And maybe a nap... You can't not follow the siesta rule here.

To hold you off watch the T-Swift music video and think of me. The bears make me laugh, and the squirrel jumping in the back at 2:34 makes for a nice chuckle. I hope you giggle too.