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First Impressions of Madrid and Malasaña

by Camille Evans
First Impressions of Madrid and Malasaña | AIFS Study Abroad | AIFS in Madrid, Spain

I’ve been studying abroad in Madrid for a week or so and I’m already in love.

Having already studied in Barcelona, I felt that Madrid was the next level for me. Sure enough it’s large, varied, lively, bustling, historic, mysterious and colorful.

Thanks to AIFS, I was placed in a lovely apartment with a wonderful host mom and two roommates with whom I’ve started to explore the city. I’m located in an extremely central location between Chamberí and Malasaña, only a 10-minute walk from the university! The cultural exchange with my host mother is always entertaining; she often expresses her excitement about us students getting to know her city and culture.

One thing I definitely have to get used to but has been rather pleasant so far is that Spaniards are really nice and welcoming! I feel like since I’ve traveled solo and especially as a woman, I find I need to put on a serious face, even a frown, to keep away from unwanted attention. But madrileños (people from Madrid) are kind, they smile to each passerby in the street, the doorman always says “buenos días” on my way out of the apartment, and everyone uses the informal “tu.” I’ve never felt safer in sure a big city, especially since I live in the center on one of the more popular streets where life goes on 24/7. 

Another thing I’ve noticed is that Spaniards have a thing about going barefoot, as in it is absolutely unacceptable! My host mom always scolds me for wearing socks around the house, so a pair of fluffy slippers in on my shopping list!

After class I’ve taken the habit of walking around in the Malasaña neighborhood to eat lunch, grab coffee and write postcards to friends. When I travel my favorite hobbies include hopping from cute coffee shops to cute coffee shop. So far, I’ve been to HanSo and Toma Café, both tucked away in the winding streets of Malasaña. By wandering around, you may come across colorful street art, interesting sculptures, and lots of people walking their dogs. However, what really caught my attention is the architecture. The apartment buildings form the 19th century are colorful, ornate, and welcoming. The hues of reds, yellows and even purples make the neighborhoods a delight to explore.

Upon closer inspection I was intrigued by something I spotted above the entrance to the majority of these buildings. Above the door was marked “Asegurada de Incendios.” After some quick research, I learned that Madrid had an unfortunate incendiary history. Many old houses were consumed by fires and this led to an initiative in 1822 to insure certain properties so that in the event of a fire the owners were protected. These buildings were then labeled “asegurada de incendios” meaning they were covered properties in case of destruction by fire. These labels also increased the property value of those homes. Now they remind us of the fiery history Madrid endured, and how property damage was taken very seriously.

These are the types of details that catch my eye as I wander the streets of Madrid. I can never stop looking up at the tall apartments, the statues, the fountains, the ornate hotels of Gran Vía. And I cannot let something go once it has caught my attention, even if it is as mundane as fire insurance plaques! As my semester with AIFS continues I hope to be intrigued by many more little hidden gems and secrets people usually don’t notice. Leave it to my curiosity to get me lost in wonder and diving into forgotten history! Hasta luego!

This post was contributed by Camille Evans, a student from the University of Vermont who is spending her spring semester studying abroad with AIFS in Madrid, Spain.

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