Project Gaylord

Chronicles of a year in Spain without a plan.

Madrid: The Early Days (Mike)

Note:  This should have been posted a long time ago, but it summarizes our experiences during our very first 2-3 weeks in Spain.  Enjoy!

– – –

We finally escaped the cold and rain of Belgium and landed on a sunny day in Madrid. Jimmy picked us up and immediately drove us to a bar/restaurant just a few blocks from his house.

The super-friendly waiter brought out three ice-cold cañas (small beers) and fresh boquerones (sardines cured in salt and vinegar). Sitting out in the sun for the first time in two weeks, we felt like we were finally home. This is what we moved here for. We could barely contain our excitement as we drank it all in (figuratively and literally). The boquerones were followed by a garbanzo bean stew and chorizo. Nothing beats Spanish food.

After our lunch, Jimmy walked us around his local market and introduced us to all the food vendors: butcher, fish guy, baker, etc all have their own delicious looking stalls set up. He’s been coming here for decades and knows them all by name and vice-a-versa.

After that we headed to the family house which was to be our homebase for the next two weeks. We had Laura’s Grandpa’s old room and it felt great to get our stuff actually unpacked in the closet after 3 weeks of non-stop traveling. We’re on the bottom floor of the 3 story house, next to the beautifully re-done kitchen, on the same level as the back porch. Upstairs is the dining room and den and then the family bedrooms are on the third floor.

We had excited hellos and hugs with Maria Jose, Sarah, and Little Jimmy. The kids were in the middle of finals, so they were studying day and night during most of our visit except for when we could pry them away to play dominion. We quickly learned that school in Spain is much more intense than in the US, with the kids having to memorize huge amounts of data and regurgitate it word for word on the exams. We felt a little guilty heading out on a different leisurely hike each day while the family went about their very busy lives. Maria Jose works in an office 5 days a weeks and then comes home and helps the kids with their studies. Throw in maintaining the house and cooking daily hot lunches, and you can imagine that this is one busy lady! Jimmy also has his hands full. He and his business partner, Wayne, are working 12-hour days (or more) growing their English-teaching and translation business. From modest beginnings of 30 or so students, they now have over 350. Very impressive – and very hard work. We got most of our visiting time in during meals (every dinner was delicious, from garlic hake to gazpacho, chorizo, fresh bread every night, stir fry chicken – we’ve been eating like kings). Most meals ended up with a discussion of Spanish grammar as Laura and I have so many questions about our new mother tongue and the differences between Spanish and English. We’ve also leaned about the Spanish Monarchy, Formula 1 racing, how Spanish futbol (soccer) leagues are organized, and what it was like living with Grandpa for so many years (hint: never a dull moment).


We loved having the chance to hang out with the family in such an intimate setting and they, of course, are so generous and hospitable. Although I think Maria Jose got a little nervous when Laura told her the story about how I once cleaned our toilet at home with the hand towel – and then hung it back up (…whoops) and how I once used Jeanine’s toothbrush when I forgot my own (…whoops again). I’m hoping that with the bar set so low, MJ was pleasantly surprised with my performance as a guest.

Our first few days involved just walking out in a different direction and getting our bearings in our new city. It’s a beautiful place, and I think both of us feel totally justified in having chosen Madrid as the home of Project Gaylord. There’s just so much to see and do here.


The first day we walked way down to the center of town, which is about a 40 minute walk. Madrid is incredibly clean and until you get to the very center, it’s hard to tell that the country is having such a rough economic time. We walked down to Retiro Park, which is simply gorgeous, and helped ourselves to a tuna bocadillo by the large central lake. We then had a full lunch outside on a terrace in the Salamanca neighborhood. In talking to the people sitting next to us, we learned it is a rich person neighborhood (“pijo”is the word for stuck-up old money people and that word was thrown around a lot) and several famous people live around here. Again, just sitting outside in the sun with a caña and perfectly cooked fish made us giddy.

A few nights later, in order to make some local friends, we took the metro out to the city center to attend an Intercambio, which is basically just a bar night for people looking to practice their language skills with similarly minded folks. However, when we showed up, the bar was basically empty except for a group of older people at a table for five. With flashbacks to the cruise (aka the Floating Retirement Home) dancing through our heads, we sheepishly asked if they were here for the Intercambio. “No” was the response. Turns out at least two bars in Madrid have the same name, and we were in the wrong spot. After a few minutes of directions, the bartender very nicely had us off and running to his competitor’s bar (yet another example of how friendly Europeans are in general).


The real Intercambio was packed with people and we quickly befriended two Madrileños who are learning English. Karlos is a an actor originally from Northern Spain and has worked doing the dubbing on foreign movies. Ruth is also from the North and now works in Madrid as a music teacher. Both of them spoke English while we worked on our Spanish and we exchanged information and agreed to hang out again. It was a relief to learn that meeting people will be a piece of cake in Madrid – they have these Intercambios almost every night and it’s a fabulous way to meet locals who are looking for some English amigos.


A night out with our new friends: Karlos and Fatima

We actually met Karlos the following morning to tour the Sorrolla museum. The museum is the old and huge home of Juaquin Sorrolla who was a very successful impressionist painter and artist in Madrid during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. He loved the beach, ocean and his family and most of his works feature some combination of those subjects. He is known for his experimentation with light and natural settings and with using unique horizon lines that create perspectives that had not really been used before. It was a gorgeous setting and gave a sense of what it was like to live the dream as an artist who is successful in his own time both commercially and artistically (in stark contrast to Van Gogh, who sold only 1 or 2 paintings during his lifetime). As we looked at paintings of the rugged and moody Northern Coast, we made plans with Karlos to take a weekend trip there sometime soon to explore his home.

Little Jimmy and Sarah have blown us away with their English and they’re both almost fluent, which is amazing. We’ve still managed to have some hilarious language mishaps. One night, for example, we were sitting around and looking at pictures of the kids’ recent adventures (Sarah’s class trip to Portugal and Jimmy’s school dance) and Jimmy was saying he hated one picture of himself. “What’s wrong with it?” we asked him. “My face is covered with nipples!” he shouted with consternation. He meant pimples. These are the great mistakes that help you remember certain foreign words for the rest of your life.


Our awesome cousins: Jimmy and Sarah! Que guapos!


The now famous school of Marie Jose


La familia without the kids


Churros con chocolate in Barrio Salamanca (close to where we live now)


A drink with Laura’s Aunt Suzie


Game night at our friends’ house. Miriam and Cristian.


Finding out what happens when you add Mentos to Diet Coke (explosion). All in the name of science!


Favorite sandwich shop at El Rastro flea market


Celebrating Marie Jose’s birthday.


Welcome lunch with Nancy


The Lake at Retiro Park


Jimmy and Marie Jose


El Espejo – a cool Art Nouveaux terrace


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One thought on “Madrid: The Early Days (Mike)

  1. Beautiful story complemented with great smiles


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