A New Level of Hell

A good part of the second week of my homestay was spent waking up every morning extremely anxious and frustrated. About what you might ask? Oh, just the most painful apartment hunting experience ever that made finding housing in Columbia look like a cakewalk. Here’s what makes it so painful. Your options for finding housing here are these: 1) By chance, know someone who has an empty space in his/her apartment. 2) Call every single “For Rent” sign you see on buildings in the neighborhoods you like, hope someone answers, hope it’s still available, and hope someone knows a bit of English. 3) Spend hours upon hours on apartment search websites such as Idealista, Piso Compartido, or Easy Piso, bookmark a ton of them, naively email the owners and soon realize that email is a pretty unreliable means of communication here, send them a Whatsapp message selling yourself as a roommate, see that they saw your message but don’t want to respond, get desperate enough to call people, then schedule an apartment showing if you’re lucky. 4) Pay an agency anywhere from 100-500 euros to help you find an apartment.

So, as I knew no one here, option 1 was out. Option 2 was extremely daunting to me though I did try it several times. Option 4 was a worst case scenario sort of plan. Thus, option 3 was my best bet as painstaking as it was. Leigh and I spent a good 4 or 5 days desperately and neurotically searching for apartments (here they are called “pisos”). As our schools are in different areas, we knew we would likely not be able to live together. It took me quite a while to figure out all the neighborhoods of Madrid, the vibe of each one, and where I actually needed to live so that my commute wouldn’t be a nuisance. And I basically had no one to help me figure out where I should live let alone how I would even get to my school. Utilizing my deductive thinking abilities, I eventually found two reasonable options so that I could still live in the city (living in my town was an absolute no, considering how small and disconnected it is from the liveliness of Madrid). I could either live in the Atocha area or near a neighborhood called Chamberí (here is a brief guide to neighborhoods in Madrid though it’s really something you have to be here to completely understand). Both had metro and train stations nearby that I would need to get on for work. Proud of myself for finally narrowing it down, I doubled my efforts. I saw several pisos I was relatively unimpressed with. But the more I saw, the more desperate I became. In the back of my mind though, I kept telling myself not to compromise too much.

Each day in class, it seemed like more and more people had found the perfect piso, one with a cute balcony, great roommates, and in exactly the place they wanted. Let’s just say that I was losing hope quickly. Finally, I saw an apartment in a neighborhood I was happy with, near the metro stop I would need to ride, that was recently renovated, and had one roommate, a Spanish student studying for her master’s named Carmen. I met with her, looked around the apartment, and was pretty pleased. Unfortunately, she couldn’t tell me right away if I could move in as she was interviewing other people over the next couple of days. So I went back to my Señora’s apartment hopeful but still a bit concerned. I knew nothing was guaranteed, so I continued the search. Luckily, Carmen texted me back relatively quickly and asked if I still wanted to move in. I was absolutely thrilled to finally end my grueling search and have a place to live! I immediately responded and instantly felt 100x better now that I could finally focus on enjoying my time here.

The morning of my last day of my homestay, I packed up all my things (somehow I miraculously got it all to fit back in my suitcase without the assistance of my mom, which is something I should probably be capable of at age 22…) and was both excited and nervous to finally move into my own place. Leigh and I said goodbye, wishing each other luck, and were off in taxis to our new pisos. I knew my biggest struggle would be to get a nearly 60 pound suitcase up 70 steps (yes I counted the other day). Luckily, Carmen took pity on me and helped me carry it up.

I made a trip to IKEA (pronounced ee-KEA here) to buy some things I lacked. While the apartment is basically furnished, I needed hangers, bedding, towels, a small trash can, etc. I have only been to IKEA once before, actually a couple of months ago in Oakland. It was about the same but even more confusing as things were now only in Swedish and Spanish. Also, bed sizes are different here, so I spent a good 10 minutes with a bad internet connection trying to figure out what a double bed converted to in centimeters. Of course, my friend and I stopped to eat at the cafe. The food was fairly similar though gazpacho and a giant roast chicken were some differences, and I definitely should have opted for the cheesecake instead of chocolate cake. Getting two bags worth of stuff back was the biggest struggle. Luckily, the metro runs all the way to IKEA, but it’s a good 45 minutes to my apartment and carrying bulky bags up several flights of stairs was painful and probably hilarious (pathetic?) looking to others.

So here it is! My new apartment. It’s feeling like home more and more each day, and I’m really enjoying living with less things. A good lesson for anyone to learn. Carmen and I both keep busy during the day, her with her master’s courses and work, and me with teaching 4 days a week. We see each other in the evenings, usually eat dinner around the same time (9 or 10 o’clock which is normal here), watch Spanish TV together, have some English lessons several times a week, and she’s basically my go-to resource whenever I’m confused about some phrase or custom. I certainly made a harder choice living with just one roommate and one that isn’t fluent in English, but one of the main reasons I came here was to improve my Spanish, so what better way to do that than live with a Spaniard?! Being the same age is a big plus too. We’re both past the “crazy” college years and working towards a more professional lifestyle. That’s not to say that we aren’t goofy at times…

The kitchen. First thing to the left you see when you walk in.

The kitchen. First thing to the left you see when you walk in.

It's a pretty tiny space, but so far it's worked. There's a dishwasher, but we never use it. The washing machine is just out of sight. I've watched enough House Hunters International to know that washing machines are normally in the kitchen, but it's still weird.

It’s a pretty tiny space, but so far it’s worked. There’s a dishwasher, but we never use it. The washing machine is just out of sight. I’ve watched enough House Hunters International to know that washing machines are normally in the kitchen, but it’s still weird.

This is our storage/laundry room. Most places don't have dryers so we hang clothes to dry here. Also have a closet of cleaning supplies and other miscellaneous stuff.

This is our storage/laundry room. Most places don’t have dryers so we hang clothes to dry here. Also have a closet of cleaning supplies and other miscellaneous stuff.

Our living room. The futon folds out into a fairly comfortable bed. Carmen and I spend a lot of time here watching Spanish TV together.

Our living room. The futon folds out into a fairly comfortable bed. Carmen and I spend a lot of time here watching Spanish TV together.

Here's our small dining room. We don't eat here a lot, but it's nice to have the space.

Here’s our small dining room. We don’t eat here a lot, but it’s nice to have the space.

An example of my English lessons with Carmen. One day we went over telling time since it's a bit different in English. I'm guessing by the end of the year the place will be covered in sticky notes.

An example of my English lessons with Carmen. One day we went over telling time since it’s a bit different in English. I’m guessing by the end of the year the place will be covered in sticky notes.

Not much of a view on this side. View from outside the dining room window.

Not much of a view on this side. View from outside the dining room window.

It's a bit cuter to the right. My building is nothing to brag about. Sometimes I wish I had a balcony, but at least I can admire this from across the street.

It’s a bit cuter to the right. My building is nothing to brag about. Sometimes I wish I had a balcony, but at least I can admire this from across the street.

Finally, my bedroom! Yay for having a big bed again after having spent four years of college in a twin bed. I have a desk and bedside table. There's a window near the desk, but it looks out to the inside of the building where others hang their laundry on lines.

Finally, my bedroom! Yay for having a big bed again after having spent four years of college in a twin bed. I have a desk and bedside table. There’s a window near the desk, but it looks out to the inside of the building where others hang their laundry on lines.

This closet is great. More storage than I've had in awhile. And for once, it's not completely full of clothes.

This closet is great. More storage than I’ve had in awhile. And for once, it’s not completely full of clothes.

P.S. I finally started teaching and will have a post soon about my first couple of days. Hopefully with some pictures too!

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10 thoughts on “A New Level of Hell

  1. Dad says:

    Very nice. So what size would you say the bed is comparable to in our standard terms, double?

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  2. Lynelle Troyke says:

    Your new place looks quite cozy. With a native as a roommate, your Spanish will no doubt improve markedly! Sounds as if she’s up for a challenge as well. Do you plan on doing some cooking once you feel more settled? (I’m sure everyone would love those chocolate espresso cookies. 😉 )

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    • Lauren says:

      I’ve started doing some cooking, but I’m a lot more limited here with a smaller kitchen, no car, and unfamiliarity with the food. Baking is the toughest. Took me forever to find simple ground cinnamon and baking powder the other day! Also, we don’t even have measuring cups or teaspoons here, so I’m slowly accumulating my baking supplies.

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  3. Papa Joe says:

    Thanks for the update. It sounds like you might be approaching some sort of settling in and hopefully you will have some interesting experiences during your teaching days. All of us await your blog updates. Is the Spanish you learned at Missou much different than what you encounter in Madrid?

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    • Lauren says:

      For the most part the Spanish is the same. I’m able to construct basic ideas and have natives understand me. The difference is mostly realizing they use one verb over another or have a more colloquial way of saying things. I probably learned more writing Spanish than conversational Spanish in college so I’m slowly picking up on all the phrases.

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  4. Tu mamá says:

    Thanks for the apartment tour! Looks like a great place to come home to after a long day. Love the view out the dining room window, pretty yellow and red buildings. I like your home “classroom”! How was week 2 of teaching at your school?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Aunt Donna says:

    “Nice to meet your new place”. It looks nice. Hope your teaching goes well. Enjoying your blog updates. Adios Señorita

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Cindy Himmelberg says:

    Hey Lauren! Good to see your new Piso! It looks really cute, and now that we have an IKEA here in Overland Park, I can really recognize your furniture from there. I love they living room and especially your view out those windows! Glad you’re getting familiar with your area. Carmen sounds great too!

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