Category Archives: Travel

Avila Mismaps

¡Hola a Todos!

According to some source I can’t remember, Avila is a medieval walled city that stands about 1,100 metres above sea level. Inside the walls is a city of monasteries, churches, convents, squares, and plazas.

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Moorish prisoners constructed the wall, at Alfonso VI’s orders and after he conquered the city. The wall, almost 1 1/2 miles long, is still in good condition. Fourteen meters high and 3 meters thick, these walls have 9 entrance gates and 90 towers.


On a cold, sunny February day, I took a train from Chamartin to Avila, a city northwest of Madrid. Once there, I walked around, eventually coming across the tourist office and the famous wall. I approached one of the entrances and climbed the stairs. At the first level, I found several small and narrow passageways, each with approximately 8 stairs leading to a more elevated place for a better view of the city. I was very careful because the steps were narrow and I had fallen down a flight of steps in 1995 at my apartment building in Chicago: I was walking down the steps at 8 a.m., on my way to the gym, and tripped over the cuffs of my blue-jean overalls. I fell face forward down the carpeted steps onto my chest and sustained back pain and a rug burn atop my right wrist, which I can admire to this day. I immediately raced to the gym so that I would be around someone, anyone, in case I passed out from whatever falling down the stairs does to a person…For this reason, I am “old lady careful” either ascending or descending stairs, always clutching the rails. When I see stairs, I not only think of this episode but also of my father, who would always run up the stairs, two at a time, even at 79 years old – and fell one time, as at the time we didn’t know he had a brain tumor.

10171236_10205459746794289_4058497180429153871_n10978535_10205459747874316_1964887529254261957_nNormally, I’m pretty good with maps and had gotten a map from the tourist office, but once inside the wall, I kept getting  very confused about where I was, with all the winding streets. I like to think I’m smarter than all of this or that I’m just having a bad map day or that it all really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things or that I can find my way out of this maze with or without a map, but sometimes I’m not a good guide for myself.

At times, the problem is that I’m not wearing my reading glasses and the print is exceptionally small so I can’t actually see the street names


Other times, I don’t feel like looking at a map, and having had to figure out so many things since I’ve been in Spain, I just want to walk around and enjoy the city. And then there are instances I don’t have a clue about what’s going on or what I’m doing. But I’m sure these illegible maps are for foreign tourists, who wind up staying in whatever Spanish city much longer than necessary (and buying more souvenirs) because they can’t figure out how to return to the train or bus station: “Might as well get that I LOVE AVILA tee shirt since I’m going to be here the rest of my life anyway, trying to figure out how to scale the wall.” Despite the street-map traffic in my head, I was able to visit a couple of museums there for free, visit a few churches, take about 1,000 pictures of the wall, and see a lot.

In related news, I had visited Chicago in March of 1996, never having been there, except on college choir tour in the suburbs, where the snow was knee-high, and I was using one of those cartoon-like maps with the Amazon River drawn around the Rain Forest Cafe. I like to think that this drawing was so distracting or enjoyable that I failed to notice I had been holding the city map with Lake Michigan at the north instead of the east. I was frustrated because I couldn’t figure out how the lake could possibly be located at my right since it was way at the top of my ma983854_10205459743434205_6681850869402220022_np.

I guess if I had asked someone for directions at the beginning of my trip, I would have gotten oriented much faster.

However, if you ever visit Spain, you’ll notice that the roads in various cities wind this way and that. For an especially confusing time, visit Toledo. If using a map is way too much trouble, as it was in Toledo, I sometimes tuck the map into my purse and try to, map-less, enjoy the shops and scenes, but then I end up having no idea where I am and pass the same shops and scenes about 40 times and start dwelling on how I can’t believe I can’t figure out something so simple and then start fretting over how I haven’t read up on Spanish history and don’t even know what I’m looking at anyway. Then I wonder how an intelligent woman could be this incompetent, meanwhile hoping no one is following me. What is truly remarkable is that tourists in Chicago and even in Spain come up to me to ask me for directions or other information. I must look as if I have some vague idea about what’s going on.


Okay, so I’m being hard on myself. Actually, my sense of direction is pretty good and I’m normally quite competent with maps, and I especially have to give myself lots of credit for reading train maps in cities with which I’m unfamiliar, plus I lived outside of Tokyo for three years and read train signs in Hiragana. I used the train all the time in Madrid, understanding the system pretty well pretty quickly. So if I have lived in two foreign countries and could read the language and am still alive today, I guess my map situation isn’t so bad. And despite what I said, I think I can find almost anything. I don’t know why I need to reference this information, as I have driven many places without GPS, as well as found many places in foreign countries (think JAPAN), and everything turned out all right! However, I suppose there are always exceptions to the rule, and Toledo and Avila happen to be two of them, not to mention Sevilla, whose street names on the map were so small I could barely see them, plus I wasn’t wearing my reading glasses at the time.



I don’t have much more to say about Avila. I figure if you or I want to know the history, we can consult the Internet (Wikipedia, if we’re hard up), or you can just look at the pictures on this blog. They tell a better story than I do, plus I’ve already explored the area, gotten turned around many times, and wasted lots of time, all in an effort to save YOU a bunch of time, trouble, and agony. I hope you enjoy the pictures, and the good news is that to view them, you don’t even need a map.



International Girl in Spain

Hallie Belt, M.A. and B.A., English, 312.285.8429

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Home, Sweet Home…sickness

Calle Santiago


¡Hola a Todos!

Before I lay my homesickness on you, I will relate my goings-on these past several days.


On Wednesday and Thursday, I emailed my resume to several language academies, as I’m trying to get a part-time tutoring or teaching job. On Friday, my day off, I dressed for my interview and 316691_2290453142001_73728_ntook the Metro to Ruben Dario station. A Spanish girl with a British accent interviewed me and seemed hopeful about my prospects of working with the company. I was delighted to hear that I could find work in the area where I live and would be tutoring only one or two children (brother and sister, for example) in their home. I like tutoring, so that sat well with me.



After I came home and wrote in my blog, I prepared myself for a second interview at 4 p.m. I had called an American woman that morning at the International Institute, and she said that even though she had teachers for all her courses, she would meet with me, possibly for January classes. After the short interview, she showed me the downstairs library, which was filled with movies. I told her I would love to check out movies once I get my permanent resident card and a handy extra 10 euros, but since my wallet had been stolen, I couldn’t spend that money yet. In the meantime, I was hoping to go to the public library to check out movies and books for free. Anyway, this place was a nice alternative, as there was also a garden and an area for drinking coffee outside. Later, I went to the Prado Museum, which was free from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday nights, but the line was lengthy, so I went to the museum store located across the street, then to the Thyssen Museum, which was not free, and looked around the gift shop.



On Saturday morning, all I felt was lonely, forlorn, and isolated for a 317472_2334873412480_1081660831_n-2couple of




different reasons I won’t explain here. Hard as it and everything was, I decided to take my dad’s advice from 1983, when I moved to Austin and was feeling the same way: “Hal, go outside and do something. Go to the library, and stop thinking about yourself.” Sometimes it’s hard not to think about yourself during these times of crisis, but this advice has sometimes served me well over the years. I used my Metro pass, my legs, and my three-surgery feet for nonstop travel that day.


First, I went to the Instituto Cervantes (I attended that school in Chicago), an enormous building with a free exhibit on the cosmos, so I viewed that, not absorbing any of the information but just trying to get my mind off the loneliness. Then I went to another free museum and viewed more art. Later, I walked to the free Archaeological Museum and the National Public Library — more free art — and to the bullfight ring, walking around the outside of it. I strolled along Goya Street and hopped on the train to Debod Temple and — along with the many lovers, as well as brides and grooms being photographed in this lovely spot — viewed the setting sun. Yup. Just me, the brides and grooms, and the lovers. Try to imagine the fun I was having.


I walked over to Plaza Espana, viewed the statue of Cervantes, walked between booths of artisans selling their wares, and then decided to take the Metro back to my station, Opera, as my map was already torn at the creases, and not only did I have difficulty viewing the streets due to the darkness but also due to the fact that my eyes require reading glasses. My forlorn feeling hadn’t yet vanished, exactly, but these adventures helped my state of mind. I had walked so much on Saturday that by the time I got home, I was very hungry and tired, so I ate dinner and went to bed.


On Sunday, I was emailing my friend in the States and crying while I was typing to her. You can sometimes do everything practical to get your mind off yourself and improve your life, but if your emotions are there, they’re there, and unfortunately, mine were there to hang out for a while.11401563_10206422378739486_4780463268211809348_n

Again, I sought refuge in my dad’s advice, so after taking a shower, I ventured out, once again, to Reina Sofia, the place where I had viewed 10 minutes of a Hitchcock movie the previous Sunday, but I first allowed myself to shop along El Rastro, the flea market I had seen the previous Saturday. There was a huge crowd, and the market went on for what seemed like blocks…and probably was. There were booths of clothes, jewelry, purses, sunglasses, sweaters, art — you name it. I walked through La Latina neighborhood, then walked north on Atocha Ronda over to Reina Sofia, an enormous building. For this free day at the museum, there was a long line for the museum, but it was moving swiftly.


The museum contained a lot of Picasso, Miro, and Dali, some Goya, and several other works of art. Picasso’s Guernica was enormous, and couples were posing beside it. I always find that humorous: An artist has worked long and hard on a piece, and then two girls, one with her lips almost touching the other girl’s cheek, in a near kiss, were holding this pose for at least 10 seconds before their picture was snapped. This pose seemed so odd against Picasso’s Guernica.

ReinaI walked toward home, picking up a few items at the grocery store, wrote more in my blog, and emailed a few friends. Perhaps trying to cheer me up, my good friend Javier, who lives in San Sebastian (Spain), had sent me a downloaded poster of the Klimt film we had seen a year ago in Chicago at the Gene Siskel Theatre. (While Javier and I had been watching the movie, in English, I kept hoping he wouldn’t ask me to summarize the story, as I had had no idea what was going on. We have both found it rather amusing, ever since, to imitate John Malkovich’s seemingly indifferent responses throughout the movie.)


1916347_1265071548102_6528230_nAnother source of great amusement is Bob Dylan’s no-musical-range-every-song-sounds-the-same MTV Unplugged, which Javier and I had also viewed a year ago. We had to watch the entire concert, because we were both waiting for the band to play a different song from the first song, but they never did: They played the same song throughout the show: The songs just had different titles, I guess. And Bob Dylan sounded as if his voice could’ve used some WD40. Javier gets a kick out of imitating this: And for my next number, I’d like to sing… [and then he proceeds to imitate Dylan’s monotone, creaky voice. We are much more amused by our imitations of famous people than we are by their work. I’m sure that John Malkovich is better in other movies, and I even like Bob Dylan’s greatest hits double CD, which I gave to my stepmother for her birthday, so I’m not really against either, although I have to admit that John Malkovich isn’t my favorite actor.


11053557_10206423702412577_5646328091683124427_nMy forlorn feeling was diminishing somewhat on Sunday, plus I had something to look forward to: I was going to meet Ellen, a friend from orientation, at 7:30 p.m. for drinks and tapas. During our conversation, she told me she had worked for the Wall Street Journal for 10 years and had gotten her master’s degree in Spanish from Middlebury College, here in Madrid, so I was calculating that she was at least in her early 30s, which was some comfort to me, considering that most of the group at our orientation were in their twenties. She’s smart, seemingly self-confident, and has a good sense of humor — and it was nice to talk in English with an American, I have to admit.

1916347_1263731274596_3584768_nEllen and I went to a surprisingly cheap tapas bar she knew about and had a couple of glasses of red wine and tapas. We spent about 3 hours there and had a good time. We talked about going to a movie in English, with Spanish subtitles, not Spanish dubbing. She wants to refer to me a pharmacy student who needs help with her English, so I hope to have another tutee.

Feeling better today. I suppose it’s all in a day’s work being in Madrid. It’s another clear, sunny day here. We’ve had this weather almost every day for the nearly 3 weeks I’ve been here.









International Girl in Spain

Hallie Belt, M.A. and B.A., English, 312.285.8429

WRITER and YELPER: Resumes, LinkedIn Profiles, Cover Letters, References

BLOGGER: International Girl in Spain, My English Quarters, Dating Till It’s Over (under construction)

AUTHOR: The Search for Order: T.S. Eliot’s Use of Music and Musical Form

VOICEOVER: Hallie Belt’s Voiceover Demo