I love food. There is no doubt about this statement. If there is food in front of me I will eat it, it's a curse.

Today I will be learning how to cook some of the delicious meals Irene has made for me and I am beyond excited. I already have my notepad and pen ready and the cooking extravaganza does not even begin until 6:00 this evening. 
I am not a good cook, I take after my mother that way who can make the staples: chicken, goulash, pastas, potatoes, etc. but she can make a mean stuffed manicotti and chili. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. 

This semester I have been spoiled. Irene is one of the best cooks I have ever met and I have certainly not starved or dwindled away in the last five months. Her homemade soups and authentic Spanish dishes she learned to cook from her mother have left me stuffed each evening and I dread the day I leave and have to cook for myself. I'm going to forever miss her wicked croquetas and carrot soup. However, I am excited to go back and devour a Chipotle burrito and eat two bowls of my mothers chili after shoveling the snow that is accumulating in Minneapolis.  This is going to be such a bitter sweet goodbye. No pun intended. 
 
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My beloved jar of peanut butter. You served me well.
I love peanut butter. I don't care if the peanut butter is organic, processed with preservatives, crunchy or creamy if it's peanut butter in any shape or form, I will eat it. 

If you have a peanut allergy, this post is not for you and I advise you not to read on, because I will be talking about my love for the delicious, peanut-y paste.  

This weekend I finished my jar of peanut butter that I brought with me in August. The jar of Market Pantry Creamy Peanut Butter, "creamy fresh roasted peanut taste" as it says on the label, was purchased at Target and opened in the beginning of August and lasted three months. That is a long time folks. Almost everyday I would come home, take a cracker or two and spread a little bit on top as a treat to myself. It was not the highlight of my days, but it was pretty darn close. 

I'm not sure where my love for peanut butter began but I think it stems from the late night snacks my dad and I used to have when my mother worked the night shift at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center as a nurse and I was in kindergarten. The four saltine crackers with a light coat of peanut butter were stacked one on top of another to make a saltine-peanut butter sandwich. The tower of crackers and peanut butter made a thick paste that called for a glass of water after two bites, but let me say it was delicious, and probably didn't help my waste line one bit. 

What many consider to be strange is my strong dislike for jelly to accompany the peanut butter. I never understood how people could mix the two together and make a PB&J, hold the jelly and you have a deal. In fact, all through high school I lived off of peanut butter sandwiches. Everyday for lunch that is what I had: a PB&J sandwich, hold the jelly, a banana or another fruit, and water. So scrumdiddlyumptious. If you cut the bananas up and put them on the sandwich it was ten times better. 

In Spain, there is no peanut butter. I have looked and cannot find it. I asked Irene, my señora, as well as Dani, my intercambio, and they had no idea what I was talking about until I explained it in grave detail and even then they thought it was a strange thing to put on bread. Irene said, "Este es un condimento muy extraño," (This is a very strange condiment) and Dani just stared at me and said I was weird. I guess both responses are correct. 

It is strange to think about all the things you miss, especially the little things. Here the group misses ketchup, you don't get it a lot and when you do it is a single packet like you would receive at a fast-food drive thru. The same goes with mustard. We also miss free water at restaurants. Madrileños say they have the best water in the country because it comes from the mountains, so why don't they give it to us instead of bottled water?  Ice cubes are also missed by the majority of us. They are just nice to snack on. Oh, and hamburgers. Red meat is not very common to eat here; chicken, fish, croquetas are all the norm but red meat is expensive. 

In summary, if you wanted peanut butter, ketchup or mustard you should bring it to Europe. Emily, one of the girls in the program, had her mother bring ketchup for us, we are forever indebted to her. A friend of mine is sending me peanut butter in a care package, bless her soul, and as for the free water, ice cubes and red meat - that all will have to wait until December 22, 2012 when we step back on American soil. 

Lastly, for you peanut butter lovers and for pure amusement, check out this amazing song about peanut butter that I found on this underground website called YouTube
 
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Map of Madrid's Metro. Click the image to take you to the online map.
We all know the drill when it comes to transportation that isn't reliable: arrive ten minutes before the bus in case it is early and don't be surprised if you have to wait ten minutes after the bus is scheduled to come. That is the case for Milwaukee, and sometimes Minneapolis, but here In Madrid, Spain I have never waited more than eight minutes for a metro or bus and when I do it is because I  am running late. 

The public transportation is clean, efficient and fast. There are 13 metro lines with over 213 stations, more than 170 bus lines with stops less than a block apart from one another, and the InterBus and 10 Cercanias lines take you from the city center to the suburbs and other communities within the Community of Madrid.  The most commonly used if living in Madrid however are the Metro and the EMT buses

The Metro: 
The Metro is extremely easy to use. The lines are identified by both number and color, so knowing Spanish is not even necessary and if you miss one the odds of one coming in the next three minutes are high. The Metro trains run from 6:00 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. and the frequency of the trains depends on the line, time of day and day of the week. On average the trains come every two to three minutes and every five minutes during rush hours: 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., it is not recommended to travel during rush hour, unless you want to feel like a sardine in a can. At night and on the weekends the metros run every 10 to 15 minutes. It's all very convenient and when in doubt hop on the main line called the greysix, or circular, which continuously goes in a circle around the city center. All lines, at one point or another, connect directly with this route and if they don't they connect to one that does. Also, if you are directionally challenged, don't worry. There is a new application Madrid Metro iPhone application that calculates the easiest route to your destination for you, it even estimates the time. A personal treasure of mine.

The EMT buses: 
Buses come all the time in Madrid. The stops are equipped with electric signs that countdown the minutes for the next four approaching buses. All EMT buses are air-conditioned as well, which is a great thing in the hot Spanish summers. They are fast, frequent and if one is completely full you won't wait more than five to ten minutes for the next bus. The most common buses in Madrid are the C1 and C2, the Circular, just as the frequent Metro line is Circular. The route runs in a wide circle around the city, stopping at major Metro stations such as Atocha, Plaza de España, Moncola, Retiro, Argüelles and more. During the night the day buses do not run, but there are 24 Búhos (owls) that run from 11:45 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. every 15 to 30 minutes and are numbered N1-N24. They all begin from Plaza de Cibeles (metro stop is Banco de España)  and go to the suburbs and within the city, while Metro Búho, weekend night buses, leave from the bus stops closest to the 11 central metro lines. They are L1-L11. For all night buses the times vary though you should never wait for more than 15 to 30 minutes. 

Safety:
If you are worried about your safety, don't be. If you are conscious of your surroundings you will be just fine in the Metro and on the EMT buses. At each Metro station there are also guards and plenty of security cameras to ensure that you are safe. 

Demonstrations:
Spain is in an economic crisis and one way people in Spain are showing their opinion of the matter and actions made by the government is through strikes. The unions representing Madrid's public transportation companies have followed suit and have both planned and spontaneous demonstrations. In the past two months I have experienced delayed and packed bus rides and hot and uncomfortable Metro rides during the times of 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. and from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.. On the days of the strikes the Madrid Metro operates at 50 percent of the usual services, and though the EMT buses only strike for two hours on the designated days, you never know what time of day it is going to occur. 

The cost:
I use the metro and bus more than three times a day and wouldn't have it any other way. If I had to pay for each individual use I would mind but Madrid makes it cost-effective with an Abono. An Abono is a transportation card you renew every thirty days and it is valid for all modes of public transportation except the InterBus and Cercanias, but you rarely, if ever, take these. The cost is 52,20 euros for adults (ages 23 and up), €33,50 for 22 and younger and €11,80 for the tercera edad, or senior citizens. If you break down any of those prices and take the metro twice a day that is less than a single euro round trip, the price of single trip is 1,50 to 2 euros. I think you have a bargain on your hands with the Abono.
 
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Doble AA sign in Chueca.
I write as I should be packing for Lisbon, Portugal but I can't help but think about all the little things that matter while you study abroad. You would be surprised by what triggers memories and what makes you miss the people you left behind. Here are a few things that I have seen that remind me of home. 

While walking around in Chueca,  a neighborhood in the center of Madrid, I found a sign that said Doble AA, or Double AA in English. At my internship this summer with Tap Milwaukee a co-worker and I were AA as her name began with the letter A as well, but I also would be called Double AA alone since my first and last name both begin with an A. It's strange how one sign can bring back great memories, make you smile and also make you realize how much you miss the people you worked with. 

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A Madrileño wearing a U of M shirt.
Another instance was when I was with the group and saw a man wearing a University of Minnesota Twin Cities t-shirt and playing the violin. It reminded me not only of home and my family but also of my two years in high school where I took classes full-time at the U of M. I thought about all the fun times I had there and the friends I made but the man with his violin and Golden Gophers shirt also made me grateful for all the people I have waiting for me back home.

Thirdly, television shows. I won't lie, I like Gossip Girl, I like Glee and I love Covert Affairs, so when I am not in the same timezone as my friends who also watch the shows it becomes very difficult to share our thoughts let alone oh, ah, and gasp together. On the other hand, it's nice to have people with me here who also watch the shows so we can share our belated viewing experiences together.

Last, but certainly not least, you get excited when you see you have an email from your family and friends back home saying they are thinking about you and miss you. When they also expand upon the course of events from the week, or the night before, the email is even better. There is nothing better than waking up to an email or text from someone you miss back home, it's a great way to get motivated to start the day.






 
I don't particularly enjoy feeling dumb, but when I do it feels like I'm having an awakening. 

You're probably really confused right now so I shall explain. 

In Hungary, you speak Hungarian. Duh, I know. In France you speak French, in Spain, you speak Spanish, out of the three languages two share an alphabet and are rooted in Latin. Can you guess which two? Hungarian is certainly not one of the two, so it made communicating in Hungarian difficult and unlike anything I have experience before. 

We used hand gestures, my cheat sheet, the words we learned from our tour guide and a map. We definitely were those three American's who stopped abruptly at corners and looked up at the street signs with squished faces that blatantly showed our confusion. 

Feeling helpless and a little tonta (dumb) was a good thing though because it made me realize how lucky I am to know English and Spanish, two dominant languages. I also realized how self-absorbed the United States can be when it comes to speaking English and having things catered to us. It's nice to know that no matter where I go English will be underneath the native languages word, but it's not nice at the same time because you aren't challenged or forced to speak a different language. While on this trip I realized just how grateful I am for knowing two different languages. When I heard Spanish in France, I was comforted. Same for when I was in Budapest. In fact, when I came back to Madrid and all I heard was Spanish, I felt myself give a sigh of relief because I was home. Home, in a place where I still have trouble communicating but know that me being self-conscious and feeling a little slow is a good thing because it means I care. 

So, the next time you're in a foreign country where you don't speak the language remember how thankful you are for knowing one in which a large population of the world is beginning to learn when they start grade school.  And once you realize you are thankful, take a step out of your comfort zone and try speaking their language. You never know how far you may get, that's what I do everyday here in Madrid. I guess I'm challenging you, world. 
 
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Photo credit: Ryanair
We're college students who are studying abroad in Europe. By the time we come home our bank accounts will be crying themselves to sleep and we will be scraping the bottom of an empty well to pay for books. Naturally, with our desire to travel and determination to prevent this scenario from becoming reality we only saw one solution: book flights with Ryanair. Whoops. 

Ryanair, an Irish airline that operates throughout Europe, sells low-cost tickets that can't be beat by other airlines such as Easyjet, Air France and Iberia. However, lately the airline has seen some scrutiny after having several malfunctions including oxygen masks that failed to eject, loss of cabin pressure, failing to fill the plane's fuel tank efficiently and emergency landings over small technical malfunctions that the company refuses to expand upon. 

All in all, I think we made a great choice... 

I can't say that I am entirely surprised by how many issues Ryanair has had, but in all honesty, what airline doesn't have problems? We may not hear about issues other company's have because there is nothing that makes one extremely unique. What sets Ryanair apart from the others is its price and the probability of people who, like me, want to travel and not pay an arm and a leg. 

This isn't to say that I am not upset with the airline, I mean I would like to survive the three flights I have booked for this week, but there is nothing you can really do at this point except hope the company has increased its security like the news reports. I'm naturally an optimist if you couldn't tell. 

For those who are planning on studying abroad, don't be afraid of traveling on Ryanair and if you don't want to fly there are alternatives such as train or bus. 

Eight hours until flight one of three on Ryanair this week. Cross your fingers for a safe flight, but more for a fun time in Paris, France and Budapest, Hungary.