This was a 2 part program - the first week was in the traditional city of Madrid where I stayed with a Spanish hostess in La Latina neighborhood. The morning after I arrived, I set off on foot with minimal instructions to find the El Rastro flea market - a Sunday event and long rambling outdoor marketplace that stretches through streets, alleys and neighborhoods. I was thrilled to find artisans selling their own wares (no "made in China") as well as the typical newer product and convenience items. There was an antiques section as well down by the park.
I was 59 years old and my roommate and classmate Helen was 81! She was no ordinary 81 - a retired neurologist, she spoke classic Latin, Greek and also Italian as well as her native French. She and I navigated the little streets to the train, then across town and the one block walk from the station to the school in the northern section of the city. Classes were fun - we were in a beginners class, but no English allowed! No "spanglish" either I might add! Our instructor, Abel Rey, had a fantastic dry sense of humor and everyone in our class, ages late teens to...81.....enjoyed our time there.
In that class, Helen made a comment that all should take to heart. When Abel asked her what she had done for vacation the prior year, she answered "climbed a mountain". He was astonished. "But isn't that dangerous?" he asked (in Spanish, translating here). To which she answered: "Better to die on a mountain than on a sofa!"
Our evenings were spent sometimes with the class and activities coordinator Mario, and other nights on our own or with our hostess Merche. We explored Plaza Mayor, a flamenco bar, some of the corner bars, and of course the shops between Puerto del Sol and Callao! The parks are wonderful as well - with gardens and lake (Jardin de Buon Retiree), the park with the Egyptian monument, and the lesser known event at Plaza del Cortes (the government offices center) where a large mechanical clock performs at 6 pm to the delight of all in the area!
Somewhere during that week, I made the breakthrough that I came for - I stopped translating and started speaking Spanish. No word-for-word construction anymore, just a flow of vocabulary to express what I wanted to say in the language. Vocabulary may have been simple, but that simple change made all the difference in moving forward in my studies.
As I headed to the airport for to go to my 2nd EF week in Malaga, the first light of dawn, the madrugada, was on the horizon. And young people were still milling around the nightclubs. Madrid is an all night city!
Malaga is a wonderful seaside town - though I will say that the program is more populated with those in their late teens and has a different dynamic. Classes were a little larger, but the staff ever helpful and the beaches and port a delight. My other half flew in for the week and we dined in the port in the evenings, watching the Spanish Navy, the large boats, the cruise ships, and the city lights as they flickered on - from the promenade to the Alcazaba road that led up the hill to Castel Gibralfaro.