Is this really over?

It’s sad to think that our time in Spain is already over! It’s currently 4 a.m. and I just finished packing for tomorrow. The weefee is out, which is not surprising at all. Our last three weeks have been a little rough with the spotty wifi, but we managed to power through with our reporting and writing regardless. In the meantime I’m writing this last post from Madrid on my notebook and will type it out when I get back to Boston.

Our last night in Madrid was really fun, It was bittersweet to realize that we won’t be spending any more time as a group tomorrow after we say bye at Logan. We’ve spent every minute of the last 5 weeks together and it’s definitely going to feel a little bit empty once we go our own way. Many of us started as strangers and now we’ve all become great friends and a part of this wonderful journalism family. We were all different in our own little way but we grew a lot as a team, and I’m truly going to miss it.

We sure had our ups and downs, moments when we were stressed, tired and frustrated but these were always out-shined by all the fun we had. There were definitely more positives than negatives and I think what made us stronger as a team was going through all of it together, and being able to understand and relate to what we were all experiencing, cheering for one another’s successes and helping each other when one of us struggled. This was especially true for us girls at the Batcave, I don’t think we could’ve done it without each others’ support through it all. From staying up late working on our stories, laughing our heads off at whatever shenanigans we were up to, to starting a collection of dirty pots and pans (then having to deal with cleaning it up) and fighting bats fearing we would catch a deathly disease, I can honestly say I really couldn’t have done it without the girls from the Batcave. In the end the good memories will outlive the less positive ones.

I took this photo at a cafe at the Sants train station in Barcelona right before we got on the train to Madrid.  The words translate to: “The most beautiful moment of a trip is the memory of it.”

This might be a little cheesy, but it’s so true! I’ve been thinking a lot about the many great memories I made on this trip and it’s actually making me tear up a little. I’ll always look back on this trip and remember the amazing places I got to go with such an amazing group of people. I’m still amazed at how much we got accomplished during our time in Spain despite the many obstacles we each faced. I’m so glad I decided to come on the most challenging trip I’ve ever been on to do the two things I love doing the most: travel and journalism. I’m seriously not ready to say goodbye to this amazing experience. I could go on and on about how much I’m going to miss this team and being in Spain, but I should probably get more than three hours of sleep before getting on our flight tomorrow morning.

Hasta luego, España. It’s been real. I hope to come back really soon!



Today was one of the most relaxing Sundays I’ve had in a while. I didn’t really do much other than sleep in and stay at the apartment (working on my paper, of course) for most of the day. It’s usually physically impossible for me to do that.  I need to get out of the house at least for a little walk so I don’t go crazy. But today, staying in was exactly what I needed. I think these last 5 weeks of reporting, exploring Spain and not sleeping much have finally caught up to me and I just needed a day to stay in.

Part of me kept thinking of all the places I told myself I needed to go to before leaving Madrid, but at the same time not getting up from the couch seemed like a better idea. I also wanted to get my paper out of the way so that I can have tomorrow all to myself, but we’ll see how that goes. I’m just glad that now I have another excuse to come back to Madrid soon. 

Dinner tonight was even better than staying in all day. Maddie, Maria, Alex and I went to Mercado San Miguel for dinner and it was a lot of fun.  We stuffed ourselves with the most delicious food in Madrid and had a really great time together. To start, I wanted to be a little adventurous so I ordered some sort of seafood thing served on a seashell…it might have been scallops in some sort of sauce, but I’m still not sure. It looked pretty, with the seashell and all, so I picked it out without knowing what it was. Asking the busy man serving 10 people at once from the other side of the counter just seemed like a lot of work, so I didn’t. The important thing is that it was delicious.

The ambiance at the market was so different from when we went on our first day in Madrid. At night it’s packed with people and it’s just a fun place to be and try new food. I was so full by the end of it, but I couldn’t leave without getting froyo with mango, my absolute favorite. I wish I had come to San Miguel more than twice during our time in Madrid, but I guess it’s yet another reason to come back.

“Makers” in Madrid: bringing innovation through collaborative DIY

NU Journalism Abroad · Spain 2015

Story by Monica Vallejo

MADRID–Like any Tuesday evening, people start trickling into the workshop located in the Arganzuela district, minutes away from the center of Madrid. Javier Porres, a retired engineer, has been working most of the afternoon printing parts for his latest project. He is building himself a new 3-D printer.

“I didn’t know how to make any of these things before, but people here are always willing to help you when you’re stuck,” said Porres, who joined Makespace last November. The collaboration surrounding him was evident as people gathered around tables to work and share their expertise with others at the workshop.

People work and collaborate on different projects in an open workspace at Makespace. Photo by Joe Thomas People work and collaborate on different projects in an open workspace at Makespace.
Photo by Joe Thomas

Since its foundation in April 2013, Makespace has welcomed “makers” from all backgrounds who share the same passion for creating things with their own hands. From high school students…

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Tapa Tuesday

Tonight was a lot of fun as the girls from the Bat Cave went out for tapas along with Chloe, Freda, Carlene and Arturo.

I was supposed to meet them at 8 p.m. at Sol, but I had to join a little later because I had an interview beforehand that ran a little bit over. We went to three different places and stuffed ourselves with some of the best tapas I’ve had in Spain so far.

I wasn’t feeling too adventurous, so I went for a safe choice of  “crab” meat and shrimp tapa and some jamon con queso. Of course these were topped off with large piles of potato chips and olives. I don’t have much experience in photographing my food, so these pictures definitely don’t do the tapas justice. 

The theme of the last place we stopped at was very appropriately, journalism related. The ceiling was decorated with pages of newspapers and you could see the theme all over.  

We wanted to stay for a little longer, but a few of us still had to go home to work on our articles so we decided to head back shortly after the third tapa stop.

It was raining when we stepped outside, but I think it added a little bit of excitement to our walk. We even burst out singing some “Coming Clean” by Hilary Duff and the “Silky Bagel” song down the street while we laughed our way to the metro stop. Overall, it was a fun bonding experience…now, on to do some work!

I think this summarized my Spain experience in one night. It’s been equal parts great food, fun times and hard work. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Mush brain reflections

My body feels awake from all the caffeine I’ve had today, but my brain is exhausted. I spent most of today translating interviews, both for my classmates and myself. And although translating doesn’t require much physical activity, I’m drained. My brain got progressively jumbled as the day went on and by the end of it, it couldn’t decide which language to speak in. I kept forgetting how to structure sentences properly or say anything that made any sense, really.

Today, after our check-in with Carlene and catching up on some emails, I went out with Clara, one of the photographers of the group to help her translate for her photo essay on dogs. Our new school is really close to Retiro, so we decided to go there and interview some people about their pets. It was fun to get out of the classroom for a bit, pet dogs and hear funny dog stories, it really made me miss my dog. It was great to get people to open up and share their favorite anecdotes about their fury friends. Most of them were hilarious and a few others surprisingly moving.

After we got back to school, I mostly worked on translating interviews for my own story. For one of my most recent interviews, I talked with three people who spoke over each other a lot and it was hard to keep track of who was saying what in my notes, so I decided to record it.(Sorry Carlene!) I hadn’t had a chance to go over it yet to make sure I didn’t get my quotes mixed up until today, which took most of the afternoon.

I had just enough time to run home and grab some dinner before heading over to a cafe where I was meeting with Morgan to translate a phone interview. That one was a bit of a challenge because we put the guy on speaker mode in the middle of the cafe, which made it hard to understand parts of what he was saying. The setting was not the best, but we made it work and despite having to ask him to repeat himself multiple times, I would consider it a successful interview.

Although I’m mentally exhausted from translating all day, I genuinely enjoyed doing it. Translating is probably one of the things that I love doing the most, largely because it brings back great memories. Some of the best summers of my life, I’ve spent as a translator for groups of American volunteers at Medical Missions Ministry. MMM is a Christian organization led by Guatemalan doctors that brings medical care to some of the poorest areas of the country where medical care is not easily accessible. I love translating for MMM so much, mostly because of the breathtaking places I’ve been to hidden up in the Guatemalan mountains and the wonderful people I’ve had the chance to talk to, all of which I would’ve never gotten the opportunity to do otherwise. I love  being able to bridge the communication barrier and to help create a connection between people through language. There is just something very rewarding about it.

Translating today reminded me a lot of those hot summers, when I would come home exhausted from simply talking to people all day, but ready to do it all over again the next day.

Here’s a little slideshow of photos of my MMM adventures a couple of years back.

**Insert bat pun here**

I was actually just about to post about something completely different, but it happened  right when I was about to hit publish and now I can’t not share this story with you all.

I was sitting on my bed working on my computer when all of a sudden I heard Ellyn yelling something from across the hall. After this morning’s incident, I kind of had a guess about what was going on, and I really didn’t want to be right.

This morning photo (3)on our way out, I saw the first one. It was a bat, definitely injured and had blood all over it.  Our theory is that it flew in through the window, hit the fan and landed right next to my computer on one of  tables, where it ultimately died. Gross. I can’t do blood or bats so I panicked a little bit when I grabbed my laptop and the thing started to flinch. Fernanda and I were the only ones awake at the time so we decided that our best option was to put a cup over it and leave a note before we headed out to the market. Now that I think about it, probably not the best idea we’ve had. (Sorry girls!) Props to Maria for cleaning it up — what a champ.

After asking Ellyn if she was OK, and getting a little more “Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God!” as a response, I jumped out of bed and ran over to her room to see what was going on. Maddie, Fernanda and I were the only ones in the apartment and we all had the same reaction.

Yup, bat numero dos of the day was flying all around her room. We quickly shut the door and decided to leave it in there until we could figure out a game plan.

I personally tried not to overly show concern when the second one made its appearance. Don’t get me wrong, after we talked about all the terrifying diseases bats can carry, I was worried that my computer might have a traces of bat number one’s blood on it. I just found the whole situation a little humorous and couldn’t help but make jokes about it. It was just funny how there are seven of us and one bat and we were all, or at least most of us, reasonably freaking out.

Shortly after we shut Ellyn’s door, the rest of the girls came back from dinner and we updated them on what was going on. Maria was the only one brave enough to face this little guy. After a few attempts to find it, we’re still not sure where it went. I think it’s still in the room somewhere since both the door and the window were shut, but Maria couldn’t find it anywhere in the room. Poor Ellyn is sleeping on the couch tonight and we’re all probably going to suffocate because we’re closing all of our doors and windows tonight.

Signing off from the Batcave, until our next bat-venture. (Hopefully not!)

Finding middle ground


 Being on this dialogue has been challenging in many ways. I think one of the things that makes it most difficult is being in a vibrant city that is new to me. 

At times, it’s been hard to manage the time I spend doing class work and the time I want to spend exploring Madrid. It seems that there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything.

No matter what I do, I can’t escape FOMO — the fear of missing out. When I have the time to sit down and work on my second article,  I am constantly thinking about all the places I want to go to on my free time. 

Then, when I actually have some down time to hang out, I get anxious thinking about all the work I could be doing, if only I had access to my laptop and some wifi.  

Since today was a holiday and we didn’t have class scheduled, I decided to try to do both things — get out if the apartment and enjoy Madrid while getting work done. 

Fernanda and I found a shady spot under a tree at Retiro park and sat down to work on our articles. I’m not gonna lie, it was still a little bit hard to focus — honestly, all I wanted to do was people watch while enjoying my ice cream. It was definitely nice to do work outdoors regardless of the many distractions at Retiro.

Good luck, or divine intervention?

Today was all about waiting and being patient. Not about the kind of patience you need when you are idle, waiting for something to happen but the kind of patience that keeps you going, knowing something good is coming. The only way I can describe our experience is that it felt like the cartoon below, except we didn’t turn around before finding what we were looking for — we found it. Three-feet-from-gold

Somehow, all the series of events leading up to it seemed to have been perfectly timed for us to land that impromptu interview. You might say we got very lucky for everything to happen exactly how it was supposed to happen, but I think it might have been divine intervention.

Let me explain.

So, I went out with Dylan, Adam and Joe this afternoon to help translate as they reported for the story they are working on. We took the metro from school and headed over the Chueca neighborhood at the center of Madrid, looking for Iglesia San Anton. According to Dylan’s map we had found the right place, but the guys had looked at some photos of the church and were pretty sure this wasn’t it. We walked around for a bit, trying to find it. We asked people for directions and consulted our maps a few times with no apparent luck. We were at the point where our efforts seemed pointless, but at the same time it felt like we were very close to it that we couldn’t give up just yet.

We kept looking. Joe considered this an “emergency” and turned on his data to look it up on Google once more. He found another address and we decided to check it out. We were honestly not very hopeful we would find it, but it was worth the try before officially giving up. Yet again, Google said we were at the right place but it was pretty clear we weren’t. At this point we were truly about to give up, but I had a hunch and decided to turn at the next corner and see if I could find something down the street.

And then it happened. We found the church!

Hold on, this isn’t the best part of the story…

So we went in, introduced ourselves to the director of the church and gave him our whole journalism student schpeel. The guy agreed to do a short interview since he didn’t want to be late to see the bullfighting match he was going to tonight. Had we shown up 5-10 minutes later, we would’ve most likely missed him.

He took us to a little back room where we sat down and talked. I won’t give away much about the interview because I don’t want to spoil the story, but the director talked a lot about Father Angel Garcia Rodriguez, the founder of the church’s parent organization, Mensajeros de la Paz. The room we were in had many pictures of him with many of the previous Popes, the current Pope and even the King and Queen of Spain. We also learned that his international work is recognized by the U.N. and has won several awards.

We knew it was kind of a long shot, but we asked him if we could set up an interview with Father Angel. The director explained that Father Angel is coincidentally in Madrid for the week, but that he is a very busy man and would probably only have time for a brief ten-minute interview tomorrow — maybe.

Next thing we know, the director makes a couple of calls and informs us that Father Angel is coinsidentally making a quick stop by the church. A couple minutes later, Father Angel walks in through the church doors and sits down with us for a brief interview — “Tres minutos,” he says. The guys ask a few questions, I translate, Joe shoots a few photos and BAM! We’re in journalism heaven.

There really is no other way to describe the satisfaction of nailing that interview after all the work it took us to get there — especially since we weren’t even expecting it to happen. Looking back on it, everything lined up perfectly for us to have that interview, as if it had been carefully planned all along.

El tesoro es el mapa

photo 1 (4)Today after lunch I felt the urge to go out on a walk. We’ve been here for almost a week and I was starting to feel like I’ve spent much of the time hanging out in the living room. I needed to get out of the apartment, so I decided to go out and explore.

I found this graffiti on a little street near the Reina Sofia museum. It translates to There is no map to the treasure, the treasure is the map. I’m not sure I’m interpreting it correctly, but I think it’s the Spanish version of “it’s about the journey, not the destination.”

It turns out this was true about my walk. I got an iced coffee to start, it was pretty necessary considering how hot today was. I was not even half-way done with it and it was already starting to get lukewarm because all the ice had already melted. I decided not to follow Google Maps completely.  I knew in which general direction to walk in but I  didn’t want to walk on the main streets just to see what I could discover. I found a little street market, went through some really nice parks and walked by a few cute shops. I ended my walk at the Reina Sofia Museum, where I met up with Fernanda. After looking at some pretty cool art, we decided to walk part of our way home through Parque del Retiro. I wish I didn’t live 30 minutes away from it so that I could hang out there all the time.

Fresh start

We’re in Madrid now! We arrived on Tuesday and from what I’ve experienced so far, I can already tell that this is going to be completely different from our time in Barcelona. It was hard to say bye to Barcelona, but after being in Madrid for a few days I’m really looking forward to falling in love with a new city all over again.

Yesterday we went to the Temple of Debod to watch the sunset. It was fun to hang out at the park with the group, people watch, take pictures and pet puppies. For a long time, sunsets have been my favorite time of the day. It’s such a great time to reflect on the day and think about the possibilities of tomorrow. I know this is cheesy, but it’s truly the reason why I love sunsets besides the magical colors and how unique each of them are.

Although we have already been in Madrid for a couple of days, I still had Barcelona very present on my mind. Watching the sunset and reflecting on all that has happened so far during the trip, made me realize that I won’t be able to make new memories here in Madrid without closing the Barcelona chapter and starting fresh. Barcelona was amazing, but it’s time to live in the now and enjoy the next couple of weeks in Madrid.