Saturday, March 26, 2016

Laughing around London

The story in which I have border security issues, leave behind crucial items (again), manage to navigate public transportation without any mishaps - then get lost while using Google Maps, and go to Hogwarts, and also get mistaken for being in a couple with my cousin.

It began when I realised that I only had one more 'long' weekend before two more of my classes would begin. Onto Skyscanner (note - if you use it, always use it in 'Incognito' mode so it doesn't save your searches and hike prices next time you look), and of the many places that were appealing to visit, I decided it would be a good idea to get a taste of London before the hoards of tourists arrived later on in summer.

I semi-planned semi improvised my trip, but managed to squeeze in a lot for the limited amount of time I was there. Not only that, but it was absolutely wonderful so see some friends from home again. Ali and his family were my hosts for the weekend, and I couldn't have asked for more incredible hospitality in London. I owe them a huge thank you for making my stay so comfortable and easy - so thank you Ali + co!

Here's how it went, anyway.

Typically, early mornings are not really my thing. So I slept in, then quickly finished off packing, power walked to the train station then arrived at the airport. Moment of panic at border security when they questioned what I had packed in a glass jar (a humble salad, not about to detonate any bombs with a tomato). I was allowed to keep it so didn't have to buy lunch.

Arrived at London in the afternoon and drove around the City of London. Many sights were seen - including the London Eye, Westminster, Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London and the London Bridge. It was like a free personalised tour; the best kind of tour. Harrods was the next stop, and it was a good look into what our futures will be like when we are millionaires - expensive handbags, a jewellery section that had a name like 'exquisite jewellery' or something really fancy to warn plebs like me that I probably wouldn't even be able to afford the case the bracelet or whatever came in, no matter what employment I get when I graduate. There was also designer furniture; the whole floor was laid out like dozens of lounges in different styles, Egyptian, 'Formal', 'Classic' etc. The toy department was also wicked and the people who worked there got to demonstrate many of the toys, so hovercrafts were flying around, train sets chugging, nail art demonstrations etc.
Harrods from the outside

Post Harrods, we explored the Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum - two sites which I had earmarked that I absolutely had to go to, and now must return to when I go back to London. You may have noticed I've changed the name of my blog (still am not arty enough to come up with nice graphics for the header/formatting etc but also low key don't really care) to Slightly Lost Kiwi. I found this guy in the museum, he's a little bit lost as well.

Another Slightly Lost Kiwi
Friday night was topped off by exploring the nightlife around Shoreditch (kiwi are nocturnal birds after all). I am a big fan of going to cute bars/pubs and trying cocktails or craft beers, something I don't really do that often in Madrid because they're harder to come across, but the selection in London was plentiful. The bars we saw and went into were so cool! Definitely wouldn't be out of place in Wellington. We decided on a place which had plants hanging upside down from the ceiling, and seemed to specialise in coffee cocktails. Ali's cousin joined, and thanks to her knowledge of the area, I got to try something I'd been missing out on - a decent sour beer. I was a very content kiwi. I nearly forgot - we walked further across down to go to Duck and Waffle, a bar in a skyscraper. We took the lift (up literally a million floors), sat down, took photos of the view, looked at the menu, then made a subtle escape after deciding it was actually quite late.

I got to go to Hogwarts.

Before the tour began, and to my absolute luck and lack of planning (by arriving 45 minutes earlier), I got a chance to see the start of the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace. For the rest of the day, I also had the nursery rhyme stuck in my head.

This cop told me off for taking a photo? Now he's in the photo.
Thousands of tourists were there, and I had a quiet chuckle to myself about the chance that I just happened to be there at the right place at the right time, sooooo unplanned. So free spirited I am.

The real treat though, was getting on a double decker bus, driving one and a half hours out of London, and arriving at the Warner Brothers studio to see my friend Dumbledore.

If you're a Harry Potter fan, please see it while you're in London. It was well worth the more than $100 NZD to pay (probably the most you'll ever see me drop on a tour) - I knew I would regret not seeing it if I went to London. It didn't disappoint. It was a huge studio space filled with sets, props and information about the production of the movies. Here are a few pictures, but I won't ruin it for anyone who's going to visit themselves because it was really, really cool.

About to enter the Great Hall
Gryffindor common room
As mentioned earlier, I had a few friends in London who I planned to catch up with. With the help of Facebook's group chat function, we managed to coordinate a time and place to meet and catch up for dinner. It was really good to catch up and see how our lives had developed since seeing each other last - and also get some insider tips on living in London/Europe and hear the real side of things - like how hard it is to rent in London and how expensive things are.


The day began with a foggy walk around Kennington House. I was amazed at the large amount of space in the city compared to Madrid! So nice to see joggers on the tracks, actual trees and foliage (you have no idea how I miss nature in Madrid).

I met my cousin at the Tower of London. I had a bigger bag (which I like to put my camera bag in when I'm not using it because then I don't look like an absolute tourist) but it took longer to search. Matthew already went through security, and the guard said he could carry on entering - then noticed me and said 'aah are we waiting for the other half'. Awkward when you're cousins...
View from inside the Tower
 As part of the entry, you get a one hour long tour/historical overview by a Beefeater. I'm sceptical of tours, but this dude was great. Look at that cheeky smile.

Our excellent tour guide

Not only was it interesting, but he kept my attention and made everyone laugh with some (sometimes inappropriate for children) jokes.

We explored a lot on our own after that. The Crown Jewels was a must. They're kept in a museum like part of the many buildings of the tower, and because they're such a drawcard, the layout very cleverly keeps the people flowing through. Sometimes literally, when you get on a conveyer belt thing to go past them. They were impressive though, and a good look at the very ceremonial aspect of the monarchy.

Post Tower of London, I took a tube to Camden and met with another friend from uni, Sam, who showed me around the markets and led me back to the London Eye which I'd been wanting to photograph. We took a cheeky peek inside the afamed Cereal Killer Café and he patiently waited while I tried to get a photo of some double decker busses because #london.

One of my favourite things about visiting London was being in a place that had inspired so many of the books I read growing up. It's a city with so much to offer.

The Big Ben
Busker on Southbank

I will definitely have to come back - two days in a city where I could have spent two weeks is not long enough, but it was a perfect taster of the city and what to expect. I nearly thought I'd be turned back at the border because I didn't know the address of where I was staying, only the suburb, and the lady at customs scolded me... 'next time you need to know the full address, madam'. Terrifying, because I think anyone who speaks in a British accent is telling me off!

That's all for now. Happy Easter, everyone!

Monday, March 14, 2016

So what's it like to be an exchange student in Madrid?

Most of my posts this far have been about fun and exciting things. There's a reason for that - on an actual day-to-day basis, I live a humble life as a university student who wants to pass her papers and move on to the next step (and who spends hours wondering what that step will be).

The weeks
I'll do a more detailed post on university later on, but in general, university here is good. I take 3 papers in Spanish (actual law papers, not papers to study Spanish) and 3 in English, 2 of which will start this week.

I scheduled my timetable so that my earliest class begins at 12.30pm - perfect for all the going-out I'd been told that exchange students did (more on that later, too). However, in order to do this and have Fridays off for part of the semester, it means that my uni day finishes at 9pm twice a week, 7:15pm once a week and 5.30pm once a week. It's definitely not as bad as it sounds - I realised that unlike with morning classes, it's easier to stay focussed if you're not forcing yourself awake in the morning, I'm still with peers around my age (not proper adults as I'd been warned) and if I do choose to go out, I can still get the recommended 8 hours of sleep per night.

Classes have 3 hours of contact time per week (similar to Vic) but it's split into one 1.5 hour 'magistral' (lecture) and a 1.5 hour 'práctica' (tutorial/assessment class). The prácticas I find quite stressful - some involve doing a group assignment which we then submit at the end of the class, getting rigorously questioned by the teacher or they are basically another lecture. Some are more fun - my favourite teacher reminds me of the Dean from Community and he's quirky, nice, funny and enthusiastic, I am literally smiling all the way through the class. Moreover, he has an excellent taste in music and begins every class with a song on YouTube.

The workload has certainly increased since the beginning, and more so with more papers starting now. Some only run from weeks 1-11, some weeks 5-15, you get the idea. I spend quite a bit of time reading/translating law guides from Spanish into English and trying to then understand what exactly they mean. It's getting a bit easier, but my Spanish speaking ability isn't catching up as I would have liked.

Typically, maybe once or twice a week, some of my friends will meet - at a bar or a park or a café, to catch up. This also involves me leaving 'early' at 11.30pm to catch the last train home, or otherwise I have to wait until 1am for the first bus and won't get into bed until 2am. Some exchange students are the opposite to me - they'll stay out until dawn or whatnot, but to be honest, aside from a few odd occasions, my preference is to go to bars and not clubs, especially as a lot of the time clubs charge an extortionate entry fee (sometimes up to $30 NZD).

The week also consists of fun and exciting things like going to the supermarket, going to the gym, doing washing (and inevitably dropping socks off the clothesline outside and down 3 stories), washing dishes, keeping up with group message chats on Whatsapp and Facebook, and trying to read a book.

The weekends
The free time I have here is something I am so grateful for! Although I generally try to do a few hours of uni work, I don't have to struggle to jam it in between working very odd hours like I did in NZ (in an enjoyable but pressured job). Instead of trying to find time in the weekend to do readings, assignments and study for tests, I can go out an enjoy the city and the region. I've done a lot of weekend trips for the short amount of time I've been in Spain, and they've all been great.

Last weekend a friend from uni (yes, just a friend, because it looks like a few have got the wrong idea!) visited from Denmark. We'd been studying law together for 5 years and decided that if we did exchanges together, we'd have to try and visit one another. This meant I got a chance to actually be a bit of a tour guide - show him the city, see new things myself, and of course, hunt out decent coffee.

Not happy with me taking a photo outside the oldest restaurant in the world
Not only that, but it's so nice to have someone around who you've known for a long time. So naturally we spent a lot of time ripping each other out, being sassy, sarcastic and brutally honest (apparently I'm stupid). When you know someone you can actually do that though! I also didn't feel like the only one in the city wearing a black puffer jacket for once. Honestly, if I ever see someone in a Kathmandu puff, I will be so excited. As good as it is, I hate wearing that jacket now, being literally my only outfit for the past two months.

We did a lot of failed dabbing around the city, looking like actual idiots in scenic places, like Templo de Debod and Retiro Park.

This is embarrassing

We also stumbled across a film crew making a music video for a hospital, and other cool stuff like that.

Saturday ended a cute picnic in Casa del Campo, another huge park with lots of cool dogs.

It was also the second Saturday that my friends and I decided to bypass eating at a restaurant, and opted for a home cooked meal. Some friends came to my apartment and we enjoyed (hopefully) my attempt at Mexican food with some delicious (and very cheap) Spanish red wine.

So often a weekend will involve doing fun stuff like that if I'm in Madrid. I now have a list of coffee places to visit, thanks to the Aussie barista at one of my now-favourite cafés, Toma Café. (A post about coffee in Spain is also in the works!) As my budget decreases and my workload increases, weekends will also involve more studying. I also still have to explore the many museums and art galleries Madrid has to offer!

Where I live
Instead of paying Wellington/Auckland prices and renting in the city centre, I opted to live close to the university and pay literally half the amount of rent. It's ridiculously easy to walk to campus - literally 2 minutes. My apartment is fairly small and basic, and I share with 2 other exchange students. But it's clean, new-ish and comfortable. We are lucky enough to having a living room and a sunny balcony room, and two bathrooms for 3 people. Admittedly, being a tough-skinned and skimpy Kiwi, I froze in January as I didn't want to buy a heater and the apartment didn't have heating, but living in Wellington teaches you survival skills like 'studying on campus to stay warm', 'going to the gym means you stay warm for a few hours' and 'going out to meet up with friends also means you stay warm if you go to a warm place'.

It is about a 10 minute walk from the train station and then a 20-25 minute train ride into town, on the Renfe and not the Metro. So it's not underground, and there's picturesque scenery like industrial power stations and endless red brick apartment buildings.

My suburb feels super safe and friendly. It's not nice looking, but it's filled with families, older people and small dogs. All the buildings also look the same - 5 story high red bricks - but that's fine. It's not like the charming city centre (so not what I imagined when I pictured living in Madrid) but for the price I'm paying it's perfect. Also, there are dozens of fruit markets, bread shops, dairies and a supermarket within walking distance. And the fruit is really really good (except for the apples).

What I miss
This is my seventh year living outside of home, and I'm lucky that this is the case. Instead of being wrought by homesickness like I was when I first moved away from home as a 16 year old for an exchange to Chile, I find I really want to share what I see here with so many people I know. Missing things is a good thing though. I won't call it homesickness, but rather appreciation.

- Friends. Seeing them at uni every day, going on coffee dates and brunch dates, attempting to study at the office at work, catching up for dinners and brunches. Special shout out to Reweti, who Rhys and I had a fantastic two hour Skype with last Sunday.

- Family. Not such a struggle as I don't see my fambam on a day to day basis in NZ, but the time difference makes it tricky to arrange Skypes. I also miss my Mum's muesli!

- NATURE. Honestly not something I was expecting to miss this much, but I crave it every day. I can't really describe properly how it feels. It's like I just want to transport myself back to Wellington to get a good burst of fresh air then come back. Back in NZ we are lucky to be surrounded by nature - bush, the sea, reserves and parks. And it's a different kind of nature than it is here. I feel like here it's more forced, but in NZ it just 'happens'. I miss going for runs in the Polhill Reserve, Te Ahumairangi Hill, Brooklyn Hill, Red Rocks... some of the amazing places literally within running distance of where I lived in Wellington (although a lot of those runs were also walks because of the steep hills).

- Justice Tipping. Not really, but in general, the intricacy of the common law system. Civil law has its perks, but common law is not quite as black and white as civil law. Reading endless cases can get boring, but you learn so much. Not just about law, but other important things too - how financial markets work, how mortgages work, and get intelligent remarks from judges and lawyers every now and then.

- Coffee. Europe has a different coffee culture and different coffee. But luckily I have found a few gems that don't use burnt sugar coated beans. And Rhys bought me Ozone coffee back from NZ so I am content for the time being

- Fresh milk. They have it here, but twice the price. So I do the budget thing and buy UHT.

Visit Toma Café if you're ever in Madrid and need a good coffee. Metro stop: Noviciado, red line

Other exchange students
Madrid is choca-block fill of exchange students studying at the university here. Erasmus students are the European ones on the Erasmus scholarship, and everyone else is an exchange student. Not only do I know those in my school, but also those who go to different schools, thanks to multi-university Erasmus Student Network events, chance meetings in Edinburgh and general 'friend-of-a-friend' situations. They're all great. Some older, some younger. In general, English is the common tongue we all speak but with some we try to speak Spanish and go to lots of language meet ups. It's also an incredible opportunity to learn about different cultures and bond over our common interests.

I think I'll leave it here for now. Please ask me anything you'd like to know about Madrid! There are literally pages more I could write, and will try to write.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

mishaps in madrid

Being in another country, one is prone to making mistakes - being me, alongside cultural misunderstandings and navigation difficulties, I also just do generally stupid things and sometimes bad things happen to me. Here are some of them:


Pool of errors
1. Went to swim in the university pool. Accustomed to NZ pool where people wear just about anything (from streetwear to bikinis etc), I thought I was reasonably prepared taking my pair of speedo togs with me. I got into the water, swam a lap before one of the ladies monitoring the pool came up to me and said I had to get out because I wasn't wearing a swimming cap. What?!?! Just to add to the embarrassment, I also didn't have jandals with me (which are also compulsory) or goggles (optional, but silly of me not to have them).
1.2 Part two, when I shamefully got out of the pool, I went to shower and change after just one lap. I already felt like everyone was judging me for not having jandals. I got to the showers and realised it was one big room full of naked ladies. I know it's a European thing, but I was not prepared at all. So I was the only one there who showered in my bathing suit. Then a lady walked in and thought I was showering before getting into the pool (which you have to do as well, but outside by the pool) and told me off, although I had shampoo and soap right next to me.

My name
2. Gracias a mis padres, my first name is Anita. Unfortunately, it's a hard name for Spanish people to grasp, because 'Anita' is the diminutive form of Ana (like a cute nickname). For Spanish people to call me that, it's like asking a stranger or a teacher straight off the cuff to call you, for example, if your name is Andrew, to call you 'sweetheart', or asking a teacher to call me Neetypops (not like going from Matthew to Matt - that's semi-ok). So my teachers call me Ana, my friends call me Ana, everyone thinks I'm weird when I say my name is actually Anita.

3. Rent is paid monthly, and what could be more simple than going to the bank and making a deposit into my landlord's account when it's due. Wrong. The first time, I waited 45 minutes in a line, missed a class, only to get to the front of the line and be told that I couldn't do it at that particular branch. So I went to my class, after that, went to another branch, only to be told that I could do it there, just not at this time because they have a timetable for cash deposits. What. It's a bank. Luckily I played the dumb gringo card and genuinely got a bit worried about not being able to pay my rent on time, so she let me do it.

4. At some supermarkets, it's like Pak'n'save, where you have to weight and price your veges before going to the checkout. I still haven't figured out which ones. Once I went to the checkout and held everyone up in line while the operator got another staff member to get a price for the one mandarin I was buying. Oops.
5. If you're getting fruit or veges, you have to wear plastic gloves! So weird. They provide them though. 


Finding my flat
1. I moved into my apartment on a Monday, my new flatmate and I taking turns to lug my suitcase with broken handles on the 10 minute walk (felt like an hour) from the train station to the apartment. I left again to get my adaptor from the hostel, forgot where I lived when I came back, because every street is the same.

2. In Portugal, we were using my phone with the app to navigate (which is an excellent app, works offline too). However it gets a bit slow to keep up with, especially when you're going 120km down a highway. So we kept missing the turnoffs, and I kept bluffing that we were going the right way to save the exasperation.

Getting the bus
3. If I go out at night and miss the last train at 23.50, there is always a bus that I can catch every hour. The only catch is, it's about a 20 minute walk from the city centre. I've caught it several times however, and it's fine, and the walk is fine too. Except when you think you're closer to the bus than you actually are; it's pouring with rain, so you don't rely too heavily on your phone, and you walk right past the bus stop. Made even worse when the friend you're with trips up and cracks the screen of her phone, which could have been avoided if you'd used the map better.

Not getting off the train
4. In Portugal, we got to the train stop we were supposed to be one, but two of us were too slow to get off the train. The doors shut, and we pressed our faces to the glass watching our friends get smaller and smaller in the distance. The whole train was also laughing. Easy resolution though - just get off at the next stop, cross the platform, and get on the train heading back in the same direction.

Getting on the wrong train
5. Going to the airport to get to Edinburgh a few weeks ago, I was waiting at the platform and got on the wrong train. Could have been avoided if the man I'd asked on the train had in fact said at first that it was the wrong train. Easy resolution though - just got off the train and waited for the airport train at the same platform.

'I'll be fine, I'll catch the bus'
6. Arriving in Edinburgh and having a screenshot of the bus timetable and the app ready to navigate me to the bus stop to get the bus to my friends' flat, I followed the map and got to the bus stop... but didn't realise the street I was supposed to turn left into was above me, and I had no way of getting up there. So I caught a taxi.

Generally silliness

1. The cheapest way for me to get cash is to transfer money from my bank account to one of my 'currency wallets' on my travel card, then withdraw cash from an ATM. Going to Edinburgh, instead of doing that, I changed Euros to Pounds at the airport (the most expensive of all places) instead of just getting pounds out from an ATM. So basically I paid two fees for conversion plus a hefty airport exchange rate.

Showing people my passport photo
2. Everyone laughs at me

Enrolling under the wrong name
3. I thought something was seriously wrong with my enrolment when I went to get my arrival certificate from the university (everything in alphabetical order, and hundreds of other exchange students doing the same thing) and it wasn't there! Later I discovered I had enrolled somehow with my surname as 'Sidney' (one of my middle names) not 'Jones', so on all the rolls here (yes, they take the roll) I am Anita Sidney. (That's also my insta name, anitasidney, so give me a cheeky follow).

More to come...