A Travellerspoint blog

Madrid VS Montreal – My Observations & Experiences

This past September I went to Spain where after partaking in a language program in La Alberca in the Salamanca area (see my previous blog) I then spent a few days in Madrid and enjoyed myself tremendously. Beside the fact that Madrid is beautiful and has exquisite architecture with wrought iron balconies I found that there were a lot of similarities to Montreal where I was born and raised and still live today. This is an observation on my part so it may not be completely accurate but this is what I discovered in my own way.

To begin with they are both fairly large cities with about the same population. Madrid has roughly 4 million residents and Montreal has about 3 million residents. They both have city centers with suburbs on the outskirts where families reside.

Another similarity is the transportation systems that both cities have called the Metro. In both cases there are stops all over the city and it is clean and easy to navigate with portable colorful maps which are also posted inside the metro cars. One small difference is the one in Madrid has a lot more lines than the one In Montreal with only four lines but you can purchase a single ticket, 10 tickets, or a monthly pass and charges vary according to zones. There are also buses and trains that run throughout the two cities and into the outskirts.

I have found that both Madrid and Montreal are relatively safe to walk around in at all times but there are areas in each of them that are better to stay away from late at night. Also there are pickpockets which are a common theme in larger cities but if you keep your wits about you and use common sense, especially as a tourist, they generally don’t bother you. Just do not stick out in the crowd and keep your purse securely closed else you will attract these types of people.

Both Madrid and Montreal offer lots to do due to their larger sizes and more urban lifestyles. There are plenty of restaurants to eat at in the various barrios or districts to please all palates and there is plenty of night life including theatre, movies, pubs, and dance clubs as well as museums. You can also take bus tours and walking tours of both cities and of course there are the sites to see and behold. What I liked is that the museums offer free times in the early evenings so that one can enjoy the splendor of exquisite artwork from either prehistoric or modern times.

One of my highlights was walking around Retiro Park which I thoroughly enjoyed because there was a lot to see and photograph there. There were several fountains and monuments of famous figures and also a waterway where those who wish can rent rowboats. There is also Crystal Palace where people can hold all types of events and it is right on a picturesque pond with ducks. I enjoyed walking through the various pathways leading around the park and even saw an art exhibition being displayed in one of the buildings. There are plenty of facilities if you wish to have a snack and also restrooms. There was also an area where some huge event was being held. I went to the doorway but the looks I got from the well dressed participants told me I’d better not enter. I did walk around the garden area which was a sight to behold and saw a peacock which I photographed even though its feathers were not spread out. A few minutes later somebody walking with a baby stroller showed me the exit out of there. Guess I was not supposed to be there in the first place but how was I to know not being able to speak much Spanish.

Retiro Park reminded me of Westmount Park in Montreal because of many similarities. Although Westmount Park is about one tenth the size of Retiro Park it also has a pond with ducks, various buildings, and different pathways. Crystal Palace reminded me of the green house in our park because both are transparent and bring in lots of light and sunshine. In Westmount Park you can sit on a bench and relax along the water and even take in a Sunday afternoon concert or Shakespeare in The Park theater performances in the summertime.

What I also loved about Madrid was that you could eat inexpensively if you know where to go. Many options include San Miguel market where although it can be crowded and a bit on the touristy side you have a wide variety of choices of delicious tapas galore and you can purchase either one or a plate of several to share with your buddies. You can also buy drinks including wine and sangria to wash down your tapas. What I enjoyed most of all is the bars where you order any drink you want and you get a nice plate of tapas for free with it. At the bar down the street from my hostel I got some nice tapas including a potato pie and scrambled eggs with mushrooms and each time it cost me no more than 2 Euros! Talk about eating on the cheap!

It is best to go to restaurants which are off the main strips and which are recommended by other travelers watching their budgets and to stay away from the restaurants on the Plaza Mayor. The prices rise the closer you sit at the front of the restaurant and even more so if you eat out on the terraces. However, on the informative walking tour I took almost after I had just landed in Barajas Airport we stopped off at a delicatessen like place to use the restrooms and have a sandwich and we were told to go straight to the back and not sit at the tables but instead to stand and eat at the counter or sit on the nearby stools so that the prices would be much lower.

While there are similarities there are some differences as well. In Madrid meal times tend to be later than in Montreal. In Madrid meal times are breakfast at 9 am, lunch at 2 pm, and dinner at 10 pm before retiring to bed for the evening. In Montreal breakfast is generally at 7 am, lunch is at noon time or one pm, and dinner is generally at 6 pm leaving the rest of the evening for doing activities or relaxing at home before bedtime.

Another difference is that in Madrid pretty much everything is geared towards Spanish culture for obvious reasons but Montreal encompasses various cultures, particularly French, with its European flair. In Madrid, Spaniards tend to eat paella and tapas in restaurants but in Montreal, you can find every kind and any kind of restaurant that one’s heart desires. Another amazing thing about Madrid is that they claim to be host to the oldest restaurant in the world! It even made it into the Guinness Book of World Records! Quite the feat! (See my pictures below as proof).

In Montreal you get frowned upon if you walk into a restaurant just to use their facilities and then leave immediately without purchasing anything. I occasionally will sneak into a MacDonald’s or Wendy’s or other quick place to use their washroom and I have generally gotten away with it. In Madrid I was able to go into pretty much any restaurant and use their restrooms, particularly the pubs, and they did not mind at all.

There are also differences in the climates of each city. This is because Madrid is further south than Montreal is so the temperatures tend to be milder there. Also Montreal has severe winters with plenty of snow whereas the winters are milder in Madrid with little or no snow.

I basically only stayed 6 days in Madrid with two day trips to Toledo and Segovia included so I am sure that there is plenty that I did not see but again I am talking from my observations. I found Madrid to be beautiful and a great city for walking around and enjoying each area. What saddened me though is that the unemployment rate in all of Spain is about 27% and that there are many Spaniards who have still not found jobs after 2 years of searching. A tough situation for Spaniards to be in, however, they appear to be enjoying life all the same.

I would like to hear from any of you who have been to both Madrid and Montreal whether or not you agree with me or if you have had other observations of these two wonderful cities.

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Puerta Del Sol - the center of Madrid

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Palazio Royale - The Royal Palace

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Retiro Park - one of the exquisite monuments along the water

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Retiro Park - Scenic view of Crystal Palace right on a pond

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Plaza Mayor - The main square of Madrid

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The oldest restaurant in Madrid and the certificate to prove it

Posted by traveller 08:34 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

My experience as a volunteer at Diverbo in Spain

This past September I spent a week at La Alberca, a small village in the Salamanca region of Spain, as a volunteer helping Spanish students to improve their English speaking skills. It was an experience of a lifetime for me as I met so many wonderful people and it felt so good to be able to help others.

I attended a program called Diverbo – Pueblo Ingles that specializes in week long sessions in different locations in Spain, Germany, and Ireland. It is composed of a number of English speaking volunteers from Canada, The United States, the UK, Australia and New Zealand and also a number of Spanish speaking students mostly from Spain but from other countries as well. Some of the volunteers have already participated in this program including one who has done it over 60 times! Goes to show you how much people love to help others and how great a program it is.

This program is run by the Program Director and by the Master of Ceremonies. They work together to ensure that each day is filled with a variety of activities that enable the students to work with the volunteers on their English speaking skills. As a volunteer I would check the daily schedule to see what I would be doing and which student I would be working with for each particular activity. I was dependent on the schedules as if they were made of gold!

The days were pretty hectic as the activities started immediately after breakfast at 10 am and ended by 9 pm with an hour and quarter siesta in between. We had a variety of activities which ran the gamut from one to one interactions to two by two discussions to group exercises and conference calls.

During the one on one interchanges the students were given phrasal verbs, which are two word phrases consisting of verbs with an adverb or preposition, and idioms to learn. I would always ask them first to tell me their interpretations then I would either correct them or give them additional explanations. If they were not familiar with any of them I would then explain to them what they signified and how they could be used in various contexts. Some interesting meanings and contexts came out of these learning modes as many of them dealt with dating which amused the Spaniards to no end.

The two by two discussions included groups of two volunteers and two students and we were given a list of topics that we could discuss amongst ourselves. This made for a lot of fascinating discussions and everyone always had the option of expressing their views if they felt so inclined. The group activities enabled Spaniards and Anglos to work together to use their imaginations for presentations, skits, a scavenger hunt as well as learning to Salsa dance. I also participated in conference calls where I acted as a leader and communicated with the students through speaker phone and also as an observer where I took notes and then offered praise and constructive criticism to each student so that they would improve their telephone skills to use in real life interactions.

Before dinner we would be treated to theatre presentations by both volunteers and students who would have a couple of hours beforehand to prepare a skit and then perform it. There were some pretty hilarious skits that were done by all including some really raunchy ones. It was all in good fun. In my skit I was a fickle minded director of a movie about a wedding taking place where I was continually changing the theme of the wedding until it made sense to me. It was quite remarkable in that everyone played their characters with exaggerated expressions and it made for some great laughs from the audience if I may say so myself. By the time it was over the poor groom and minister had been killed by the pregnant bystander several times during each take.

After dinner there would be evening activities which would start at 10:30 pm for those who were able to stay awake long enough. There were two game nights one of which was Taboo. It was quite comical because you had to describe the word in question to your teammates without saying certain words but that proved difficult because we were timed which caused us even more stress. Our teammates had to guess the word we were describing and believe me there were plenty of interesting guesses. You had to be there. Another night we had a pub quiz where we had to answer 50 questions in various categories. I was on the team called Maida’s Maniacs and we won by a large margin shared by everyone on our team. Woohoo!

Another night we had a little party where we drank Queimada which is a strong alcohol cooked with herbs, coffee, and whatever else is desired. Three women dressed as witches where they read both English and Spanish poems and chants which were pretty funny. These women were quite the scary witches and I think a few of the volunteers and Spaniards may have been spooked. We then all got a taste of the drink and boy oh boy was it strong! We then all performed songs from the countries where we hailed from and each country came up with great songs including the lively Spaniards who all moved and danced to their tune. An interesting experience one will never forget.

The big highlight of the week was a party which was given to us to celebrate our getting halfway through the week. There were plenty of musical tastes for everyone and we all danced the night away and had a blast. Lots of photos were taken and the party went well into the night.

On one day we walked to the village of La Alberca and the Master of Ceremonies gave us a mini tour and showed us the main sites. We then had some free time to walk around and shop and I was able to pick up a few souvenirs for myself and family. We had a beautiful group picture taken in front of a fountain which was put together and distributed to everyone afterwards. We were treated to a nice surprise where we ended up at a Bodega where we had wine, cheese, and ham which the area is known for. We saw the actual pig that was used and we had the option of trying our hand at cutting the meat. For lunch we had suckling pig which is a delicacy of that area and was quite tasty. Though normally I do not eat pig I decided to try it since it was considered as their main fare. Unfortunately that morning I had woken up with diarrhea and an upset stomach but still engaged in tasting a bit of everything. Guess it’s all a part of travelling and not eating what one is used to but is so worth it in the end.

On our last night we had a wonderful dinner in the village and we were treated to a musical performance by one of our most talented volunteers who sings and gives voice lessons to aspiring students. On the last morning we were divided into groups and each group had to choose a song and write words to it about our experiences of the week. Everyone did a great job and each song and lyrics were humorous and very creative. We had a closing ceremony that was quite emotional where both volunteers and students alike received certificates and had the option of saying a few words to everyone. We then had lunch and said our tearful and sad goodbyes to each other. We all kissed and hugged with promises to keep in touch and with hopes of seeing each other in the future.

I have to say that it was an experience which taught me a lot about myself and about others. Everyone had plenty of interesting and fascinating stories to tell and we became a really close family. I am looking forward to doing more of these programs since I enjoyed it so much. I would like to try the one in the Black Forest in Germany since it will be different and I will also try ones in other parts of Spain. During those times I am looking forward to hooking up with my new friends in Barcelona, Madrid, and Southern and Northern Spain.

If any of you readers are interested in finding out more about this wonderful program you can go to www.Diverbo.com to get information on becoming a volunteer or learning English as a student.

Here are some photos that I took during this amazing experience:

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Our wonderful group of volunteers and Spaniards

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My beautiful villa that I shared with Brigitte, my Barcelona friend

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A couple of pictures of the village of La Alberca

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Me standing at the fountain in the main plaza

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Singing with my Canadian friends at the Queimada

Posted by traveller 12:52 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

An Overview of Twelve Countries

sunny 28 °C

As I mentioned in my first blog I have taken some wonderful vacations to a total of twelve countries including Canada and the United States. This blog will provide more of an overview of these countries with a bit more detail to whet your taste buds so that you will want to keep reading about my experiences.

The first countries I visited were Canada where I was born and the United States. In Canada I have visited 8 Provinces and 1 Territory including Montreal, Quebec where I was born and raised. I have been to other parts of Quebec, and also Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, and all 4 Maritime Provinces. Last year I visited the southern tip of the Yukon Territory when I was on a family cruise in Alaska as part of a fabulous excursion.

In the United States I have visited or driven through 16 States and Washington, DC. Being in close proximity to the US border I have been through New York State and all of New England except for Rhode Island and Connecticut. To get to Washington, DC we had to drive through New Jersey, Delaware (it took a whole 8 minutes) and Maryland. We also dipped into Arlington, Virginia on a fascinating city tour of DC. When I was 12 years of age we went on a wonderful family trip to Florida and Disneyworld. I have also been to Chicago, Illinois where my aunt and uncle now reside for family events. As a result of my brother living in California I have visited there on several occasions for family events and for vacation travel, even going into Nevada on an unconventional van tour through Yosemite National Park. Last year we took a family cruise to Alaska where I also got to see Seattle, Washington before embarking on our cruise which was the experience of a lifetime.

For my first big trip overseas, as a college student, I took a 5 week summer tour in Israel with a friend which is the only country in Asia that I have visited thus far. It was through a Jewish Organization and we were taken all over the country. We visited Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Eilat and also various ruins and towns including the Galilee in the North and the Negev Desert in the South. It opened up a whole new world for me and made me feel at home amongst my fellow Jews.

A few summers later while still studying in university I spent two months living and working in London, England. Although some difficulties presented themselves it was an excellent experience which enabled me to grow and to expand my horizons. I took some side trips to various parts of England including Bath, Hampton Court, Windsor & Eton, Stratford, and Oxford. After the two months was over I visited other countries. I took a 4 day tour to Scotland and saw Edinburgh, the Trossacks, Loch Lomond, and also the Lake District. I then bought a Eurail train pass which enabled me to visit the continent for a couple of weeks. I travelled to France where I spent time in Paris alone, with friends, and with my brother in law’s parents and took a day trip to Versailles to visit the castle. I also visited Brussels, Belgium and Amsterdam, Holland where I had my carry on bag mistakenly taken by a tour group and never seen again.

For my 40th birthday I went to Italy and travelled solo through Rome, Florence, Siena, and Cinque Terre for about 10 days. I also got to see the tower of Pisa (for a whole 10 minutes) before meeting the tour group with whom I would embark on a 1 week tour in Tuscany. We were taken on many treks through mountain ranges and towns and also spent an afternoon in Lucca. I got around Italy by train although I had to schlep my suitcase up and down the stairs and made one of my connections with less than a minute to spare. The food was splendid and the gelato (Italian ice cream) was out of this world.

On another summer vacation I went to the Island of St Lucia where I spent a week at a Club Med resort. I participated in various activities and also went on a day trip around the Island. It is the only time that I have been to Club Med and despite the fact that it was mostly families with very few singles I still had a lot of fun. It was my first time travelling on my own so it was a great way to start off my solo travel experiences.

A few years ago I travelled solo through Mexico despite being warned about possible dangers faced by travelers. I spent a few days in Mexico City which is quite huge and expansive but has an excellent transit system. I saw different sites but could not fit everything I wanted into a few days due to its huge size. I was also careful to stay in the well travelled areas and not to stay out alone after 8 pm. I then flew to the Yucatan Peninsula and visited colonial cities including Merida and Valladolid and the beach town of Tulum. I went to various ruins including the touristy Chichen Itza but the highlight was when I took a tour of the beautiful Sian Ka’an Reserve although I got a severe burn on my back from the sun after omitting to put sunscreen on that spot.

Finally, two years ago in March I went to Costa Rica and stayed at an Ecological friendly lodge in the Osa Peninsula. It was my first time staying in the jungle so it was a new experience for me apart from other trips I have taken through cities and mountainous areas. I have also mainly travelled in the summertime so it was unusual for me to go in the winter. It was supposed to be a tour but I was the only one of my friends that ended up going so I had the two guides to myself. I was taken on walks and hikes through the jungle and through a river where there are gold miners working and living. Unfortunately returning home was not a fun experience as my connecting flight kept getting delayed and cancelled due to bad weather near Newark Airport but I made it home just the same.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this overview of my travels. Please stay tuned as I continue to blog and give you more details bit by bit of my various experiences. What would you like to hear about and where have you been? As always feel free to comment, ask questions, or talk about your own experiences.

Posted by traveller 13:17 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

My Love of Travel

Overview

I am a lover of travel. Up until now I have done a great deal of travelling but still have a yearning to do more. All my blogs will be about the various places I have visited during my lifetime. Today's blog will be an overview of all my travels and then from here on in each additional blog will be more detailed either by country or by city or town. You may comment however you wish or you may ask me questions or advice which I would be more than happy to answer. You can also make suggestions or talk about your experiences.

As this is my first blog here is an overview of where I have travelled. I have travelled to twelve countries including the United States and Canada where I am currently residing and where I have always lived. The other ten countries are Israel, England, Scotland, France, Belgium, Holland, St Lucia, Italy, Mexico, and Costa Rica. I have always enjoyed my travels and have learned and grown from each trip I have undertaken.

There have sometimes been unpleasant situations which occurred from catching colds to spraining my ankle or to missing a shuttle but I have always handled them as best I could once I calmed myself down. Travel can be exhausting at times but I always rest in a park and then continue on or I will go back to my lodgings for a break and then resume that same evening or the next day. The other difficulty I have with travelling is that flying is not my favourite thing. If the flight is easy and steady then I am okay but whenever there is turbulence I feel nauseous and uncomfortable. Though I am not crazy about flying I will do it just to get to my destination. It is so worth it in the end.

I have travelled in various ways. I went on family trips as a child and adolescent and then I went on a tour to Israel with a friend of mine and then I travelled alone either on tours or solo or a combination of both. Last year I travelled with my whole family on a cruise to Alaska to celebrate my father's 80th birthday.

There are still many places that I wish to go. I would love to visit Australia and New Zealand, more of Europe, and also South America and parts of Africa. I would also love to go to the South Pacific and to see more of the United States and Canada.

So let's hear from you. Hope you have enjoyed reading my blog and I look forward to telling you more.

Posted by traveller 09:29 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

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