How to [barely] survive jet lag in Madrid

Tegan Hanlon is a student at the University of Pittsburgh and an ISA Featured Blogger. Tegan is currently studying abroad in Barcelona on a Fall 1 program.

Greetings Earthlings. It’s been nearly three weeks since shining seas, spacious skies and amber waves of grain. If you didn’t catch the “America the Beautiful” reference I won’t revoke your citizenship, but instead encourage you to flip back your calendars with me.

Wi-Fi (Spaniards pronounce it wee-fee) can be hard to snag in these parts, so I think it might be necessary to memory-lane style go back to the beginning of the journey for the 50-ish ISA students who touched-down in Madrid on Sept. 1 with a final destination of Barcelona.

Sept. 2, 2012: I came, I saw and I got sleepy in Madrid.

The past 48 hours have devoured me whole and spit me out in a European microcosm of tapas, siestas, 11 p.m. nights that turn into 6 a.m. mornings, architecture 100 times older than both my grandmas combined, a sleep schedule that sits about 10 steps left of anything borderline normal and a growing list of things to do, see, experience in the next four months.

Currently in Spain it is 4:03 a.m. and 63 degrees. In my hometown in Pennsylvania it’s 10:03 p.m. and 70 degrees. My roommate who I just met today, Julia, is laying in the twin bed next to me also attempting to get this game of foreign blogging underway. For all of you thinking, contemplating, losing sleep over my current location (mom, dad, grandma — p.s. the age comment was a complement — anyone?), I am still studying in Barcelona, but that comes later. First our group will stay in Madrid for three days and then spend a night in Toledo.

Let’s rewind for the sake of my mashed-potato brain to Friday at 4 p.m. EST. Location: Philadelphia. I wrote a love letter to America, hugged some family, perused the airport where the brothers were sort of loving, and spoke my first lick of Spanish since 2009.

Ok, so I’m in line to get my passport stamped (fast-forward, I lost my passport for approximately 36 minutes today. It was a good way to ring in the trip). Here I am, standing, minding my own business — I imagine if I could whistle I’d be whistling to pass time and enliven the crowd of documentation holders. A nice lady came up to me and said some stuff. The stuff registered as ay hola si ti namola etc., etc. aka I did not understand anything. I froze, things passed through my mind along the lines of “I’m going to a country where I hardly know the language and haven’t studied it since senior year… of high school. I am now a senior in college.” I smiled, I nodded, I pulled some sheepish giggling and alas uttered “Ah lo siento no hablo mucho Español.

The woman and I communicated with a few hand motions, I felt like a language failure, a bit nervous, and that was that.

Later, we boarded. I sat smack dab in the middle of the airplane, ate some snacks, played with the high-class touchscreen television, neighborly chatted and presto chango we landed in Spain at 8 a.m. (Note: this means 2 a.m. Allentown, PA time. Sleep was not had by all). Undamaged luggage was grabbed, “holas” were handed out like advertisement flyers and fellow students studying abroad were located.

Saturday and Sunday night the 50+ ISA-ers stayed at Hotel NH Nacional in Madrid. It was quite beautiful, and the most centrally located house of beds a little American girl could ever ask for. My roommate, Julia, and I couldn’t figure out how to work the hotel lights for approx. 24 hours. We hit switches, we flipped other switches and then we did it all again and again and again. We can’t just like ask the front desk to like help us with the lights, right? We did not. Eventually (ta-da) we figured out (really an informed human told us) you have to put your room key in a slot near the door to activate electricity. In an act of “let there be light,” non-in-the-dark activities were finally had. Conservation of utilities is quite common here, the toilet’s contain less water and lights in public restaurants and restrooms are often motion-activated.

Our first day, Saturday Sept. 1, consisted of lugging luggage, chatting with students, getting the safety talk, participating in the first of many siestas, eating tapas and sangria sipping in a Madrid city square where cobblestone trumped all and monster, castle-like buildings stood erect around the outdoor seating.

After 48 hours taken up by five hours of sleep, it was time to rise and lackluster-ly shine for Sunday. Time change is hard, and the trip still feels like a dream. It hasn’t quite hit me yet that this isn’t a quick vacation or that my parents won’t call tomorrow to ask what I’m doing at my typical school at the University of Pittsburgh.

While I continue to not only understand my bearings, but also process the drastic change of scenery — tours continued on the trip.

Our ISA directors took our group on a walking tour of Madrid where we saw historical buildings including the Plaza Mayor and the Royal Palace. The morning/afternoon tour culminated in a trip to Museo Nacional del Prado with a first-hand look at Francisco Goya’s The Black Paintings among many, many other works of art. Goya’s paintings were hands-down my favorite. He painted the series between 1819 and 1823. The haunting works are believed to have stemmed from both his insanity and fear.

Jet-lag eventually got the best of a group of us on the trip. To avoid inanity, a deranged sleep and nap schedule continued after the museum tour. Hopefully my mental clock aligns with the real clock soon.

– T

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