Saturday, October 29, 2011

Happy Halloween!!

To pick up where I left off on my last post, I began tutoring the music teacher’s oldest daughter, Maria who is 10 years old. The music teacher, Sergio made an incredible offer to me in exchange for the English lessons. Each Friday, we would leave the school together, go to his house, have lunch with his family and then after lunch I would teach Maria. At the end of the lesson, I get 20 euros. Not bad at all. His family is amazing. He has two beyond adorable daughters and an extremely nice wife. Tutoring this year is going to be awesome. What amazed me was that Maria really wants to learn English, it isn’t only something her parents are forcing on her. Maria’s level is low, but she understands most of what I am saying. After the lesson finished, Sergio’s wife showed me where the bus was to get back into Logroño. While waiting at the bus stop, a friend of theirs came over to talk to them and when they introduced me, the friend was relieved to hear I was a native English speaker because apparently many friends have been looking for someone to tutor their children. I gave my number to her and one friend has already expressed interest. Yay for making some money!! J

Now, onto this week’s main theme: Halloween!! As a kid in the United States, Halloween is an amazingly fun tradition to celebrate. In Spain, Halloween is slowly becoming more popular each year. My function in these schools is not only to serve as a Secondary English teacher, but I also introduce American culture to students who have never seen or heard about things we take for granted on a daily basis because we consider them to be second nature. For example: picking out costumes on Halloween. My contribution this week to “Las Cuatro Villas” was celebrating Halloween. Shout out to my Mother who bought Halloween headbands at Target to give to my Spanish students. They were absolutely ENTHRALLED by them. I mentioned at the beginning of each class that I had a surprise for the students and of course they looked forward to it the entire time. With the younger children I added drama by pulling out each headband very slowly and then when they saw each one they would scream (in Spanish), “Me! Me! Can I wear that one?!?!” It was a huge hit in every school.  In my Agoncillo Art class, I was able to prepare a “lesson”, for that day. At the beginning of class, the pictures they drew for me last week were given to me. They were so adorable! I now have over 20 drawings that I have to figure out what to do with, but it was so sweet. Then, I decided that my contribution to Art class was to make cutout pumpkins. The Art teacher made photocopies of a basic pumpkin shape and the kids colored it in, cut out eyes, a nose and a mouth. To really spice up the work of art, we cut out transparent colored paper to paste on the back of the pumpkin, that way when they taped them to the window, the light would shine through and give it that glowing look. They turned out great!

The next day in Ribafrecha, (the school that will prove to be challenging), we watched Halloween movies all day. Juana originally wanted to play “The Corpse Bride”, a Tim Burton film and ten minutes into it, the kids hated it. She played it in English and they couldn’t follow the film. She turned to me and asked if I knew any good films. I told her my favorite Halloween film of all time, “Hocus Pocus”. She asked me to find it, and play it. Fortunately, the full version was on Youtube! Although it was in English, watching the film is easier because you can see everything the characters are doing clearly while they are speaking. When the first class watched, they were completely silent. Juana looked at me in disbelief saying, “I’ve never seen them this silent”. I had to smile a bit at that one. Me-1, Ribafrecha-0. I watched the first 45 minutes of “Hocus Pocus” four times that day. Juana told me to write down the information because she loved the movie. The movie “Hocus Pocus” never fails.

Yesterday proved ESPECIALLY interesting, it was my first day going to San Roman, the fourth school! This school literally only has seven students. It is tucked away in a small, picturesque town in the mountains. I went with Javier, the teacher of every subject minus P.E. to the school by car from Logroño. It was about 45 minutes away and the road was full of twists and turns. Cows would randomly be in the road, and as we continued, the road would gradually get narrower. San Roman’s roads are all cobblestone. The village is beautiful and next time I go, which will be next month, I will take pictures.

This school has a family atmosphere. The students are like brothers and sisters with one another. In this school there are: two Romanian students (cousins), a Peruvian student, a Columbian student and three Spanish students. One of the Romanian boys was celebrating his birthday and when I arrived he had a bag of Lindt chocolate to give to Javier, the school administrator, the P.E. teacher and me! I’ve never understood Spanish birthdays, people give YOU things on their birthday. It was a great way to start my time there. However, they did not need the headbands as each child had a very convincing Halloween costume! The Romanian boys were vampires and one had even made a coffin from a cardboard box, the four girls were witches and the youngest child came with a spider painted on his cheek. We spoke to each other in English and I was astounded that their English levels were so high! Javier played a math game with them and I played too. It took me very little time to realize that when Javier would say, “dos más dos” it meant “two plus two”. It was a rapid speed round and we had to add two to the previous number the last student guessed. That was in Spanish not English and I think the kids were surprised I could do math in Spanish. As long as it stays that basic, I think I can handle it in another language.

We ate cake for the boy’s birthday, played games for recess and Javier asked me what I did with the other schools that week and I told him about the Art class and movie time at Ribafrecha and he said he wanted to incorporate that at the end of the day. This time we cut out bats and glued on colorful eyes. The last half hour of the day was the fifth time I had seen the beginning of Hocus Pocus in the last two days. Good thing it’s my favorite!!

So far, my time at the schools has been fantastic. I have realized I really like helping teach English with the older students. The oldest I have worked with are 14 years old. The age of a freshman in High School in the US. So maybe I overlooked teaching High School Spanish too quickly…I don’t know…there is still a long time until the end of the school year.

Finally, good news is that we have Internet in the apartment!! Bad news is that it isn’t wi-fi yet. It is a temporary modem and the connection is not very strong. We need to have Catalina come over to let the technician turn on the telephone line. Monday and Tuesday are Holidays here in Spain so I guess wi-fi will have to wait for a couple days.

More to come soon!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The First Day of School

I have officially entered the real world, but before I describe it…I need to back up a bit. After returning from Mallorca, my goal was to become better acquainted with my new city: Logroño. Since moving into this apartment, we have not had Internet; instead we go to a café across the street. They offer wif-fi gratis (free) and my roommates and I have frequented the café around twice a day everyday. The proprietors are beginning to know us and also have some of our orders memorized. I like to throw them off…sometimes I will get a café con leche and other days I will eat their croquetas. I’m afraid this will be the case for a while because we tried to get Internet installed but it required a technician to drill holes in the wall and feed a wire all the way towards our living room. Our contract with Catalina says we can’t make any changes like that to the apartment. So…we are continuing our search for Internet.

The upside of having American roommates who are also Auxiliares is that we are so compatible with each other it is almost frightening. I feel like I have known these girls for months instead of weeks. The downside is that we do not get to practice our Spanish as often as we would like. My roommates take a Spanish class in the city and on Mondays we all go to an Intercambio where native Spanish speakers come to learn English and we go to learn Spanish. Half of the time we speak in Spanish and then we switch to English. It is a free and easy way to learn BOTH languages. Speaking with natives is more helpful and at the same time more difficult than reading it out of a grammar book. After our last Intercambio, we went to a bar with some of our new Spanish friends to continue the conversation. We met up with a couple of them the next day at a café to continue practicing. So far it has been good. It is very helpful to have an outlet where you can only speak Spanish.

Last Saturday, the 15th, David, the English teacher I will be working with sent me a message saying he would be in the city and wanted to meet up for a café con leche to discuss how the school works, my new schedule etc. etc. I will be working with four schools that are all considerably small. So small that the teachers themselves rotate between schools! He told me that the kids knew I was coming and they were all excited. I got very excited too, it sounds like my situation is ideal. David then told me that he was in the city because he was going to be joining a protest that was happening that evening against the Economic Crisis. Just like the States, Spain is having a difficult time controlling their economy…in fact they are worse off. I have really noticed how the Crisis affects the citizens…when I pass by people almost always their conversations are about unemployment, and the bad economy.

In fact, something happened to me the other day at the Supermarket that everyone at the Intercambio thought was extremely strange. When they were searching for the cause of the problem, one suggested it was probably the stress of the crisis that created a scene in the Supermarket. Two of my roommates and I were picking out groceries and Melissa and Jessie were already checking out and I had to get one more thing. A female employee of the market was arguing with a male customer. He had apparently bumped into her pretty hard and did not say, “Excuse me” or “sorry” or anything…he kept on walking as if he hadn’t bumped into her at all. She was offended and said that was a lack of respect for a person. He then became offended because he felt an employee should not be talking to a customer in such a manner. He told the employee he wished to speak to the MALE manager (he made that distinction), however at the time…there was only a female manager. When she came over, the customer wouldn’t listen to her. The customer was being extremely disrespectful to both workers and the manager then told him to leave the store. The customer began shouting profanities at the workers and the female employee began to cry. Another female employee walked over to comfort her co-worker and as she passed, the man grabbed the rubber gloves she was holding and slapped her with them. The female manager than pushed the employees behind her and screamed at him to get out of the store immediately or she would call the police. He kept screaming and she told a worker to call the police. All of the sudden, the man lost it. He ran to the produce and grabbed oranges and pears and started throwing them at the workers. He threw them really hard and hit two workers…AND ME. He hit me with an orange because he was going crazy. It only hit my shoulder, but wow. I had never seen anything like this in my life. Two male shoppers ran over and held the man until the police came to escort him out of the store. It really shook up the store…the produce section was in disarray and the workers were crying or fuming. Possible explanations I have come up with: drunk, stoned or absolutely insane. One woman at the Intercambio said this incident is not normal at all in Spain, but perhaps the stress of the Crisis is taking its toll on that man.

Finally, YESTERDAY was my first day of school. I was so excited to finally be starting work. I met up with one of the teachers at 8:20am and we drove to Arrubál, the first small town I was working in. She spoke English and wanted to practice with me. We were there early and we drank tea and talked. David then arrived and we went to our first class. There were only around 12 students in this class. However, it was very strange because this class is divided into two. It is a combination of ages from 7 to 12. The ten, eleven and twelve year olds practice more English with David and he deals with that half first while the other half does homework waiting for David to address them. The students introduced themselves to me in English, told me where they lived and what they liked to do. I then in turn introduced myself and told them where I lived and shocker – they have never heard of New Hampshire. David decided to use Google earth to show them New Hampshire. He told me to tell him my town and we used the street view setting on Google earth and they saw my street! With the second half of the class, we spoke about our favorite types of foods. When that class was finished, David and I went to speak to the three, four and five year olds. They are so adorable. We sang songs: “The Wheels on the Bus”, and “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” and other songs I had never heard of before. We practiced the ABC’s and counting to 20.

After that class was finished, it was time to rotate to another school. David and I drove to Agoncillo, the “larger” town. We had classes with the same age groups so we did the same exact thing. The classes were a tad bit larger, but maybe by 4 or 5 students. These kids were the ones that were expecting me so when I walked in the room some of them whispered “Es Estephanie!! Está aqui!!” In Spain they cannot say “Stephanie”…they ALWAYS say “E-Stephanie” (David included). The final class of the day was with older students (10,11,12) and it was not an English class, but rather an art class with a different teacher. They were finishing up a project and their teacher said that for the remainder of the class they were assigned to draw me something that they thought I might never have seen before in Spain.  Each one came up to me and asked “Stephanie, have you seen a castle before? Have you seen the beach before?” Yes, of course I have seen these things, but if I said yes to all they would run out of ideas. So, I told them I had never seen a Spanish castle before etc. The day ended and I was so happy because I was so lucky. The teachers were so friendly, in between class we had a small break and I drank coffee with the teachers in the teachers lounge and talked with them about everything.

Each class has a troublemaker…the David would warn me about which student was the troublemaker of the class. There was one student who annoys David a lot and as we walked in he said to me, “Welcome to Hell”. This student was definitely a troublemaker. He literally does not listen to anything David says and does not follow directions.

Today, I went to Ribafrecha and the experience was totally different. I think this school will be more challenging. I do not work with David on Thursdays and at this school it is literally a zoo. The kids are running around, screaming and talking over the teacher. The English teacher Juana continues as if it is not happening. She explained to me the teachers are afraid to discipline the children in fear the parents will be upset. There was no set lesson plan and when I worked with the music teacher at the end of the day, with the younger children, he had no idea what I was supposed to do. So I tried teaching the kids songs we sang as children in the states: Itsy Bitsy Spider, Old McDonald had a Farm, and The Wheels on the Bus. Tomorrow, I am going to start tutoring the music teacher’s daughter!! STAY TUNED. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Big Return to Mallorca

Spoiler alert: This blog post is sappy, long and kind of cheesy…but honestly did anyone expect otherwise?? So I apologize in advance for that. The day before returning to Mallorca, Melissa and I took advantage of our day off and roamed Logroño to become better acquainted with the city and we had a great time! We saw the University, the Bullring (which leaves much to be desired) and the beautiful bridges that cross the Río Ebro. I definitely realized how lucky I was to live in such a gorgeous area.

However, I was so excited to visit Mallorca it was hard to take it all in. The journey to Mallorca was long. It began with a 4-hour bus ride to Madrid, a half an hour journey on the Metro to the airport and then a one-hour flight to Mallorca. As I was boarding the plane, one of my favorite professors from Mallorca called me to firm up the time we were meeting that evening to charlar (chat) a bit and catch up. When I was on the plane, I was antsy the entire time…I knew we were getting so close and I had my face pressed up against the window trying to see the coast. FINALLY…I saw it. I was so happy. When we landed, I wanted to get off the plane as quickly as possible. Everything already seemed familiar as I walked towards the city bus. I brought my old bus card just to see if it still worked…JUST IN CASE. To my happy surprise, IT DID!!! As the bus made its way towards Palma, I saw the traditional Mallorcan windmills and I already got the feeling, “I’m Home”. I still knew exactly where to get off the bus, it was as if nothing had changed. When I finally got to Xisca’s house, I could not contain my excitement!! She buzzed me up and when I finally reached the apartment, I was overwhelmed with joy to see Xisca and Lucas. Charlotte, the current Holy Cross student living with them was also there and we had spoken in the past, so it was great to see her as well. After much chitchat, we all took a siesta. Already, I had plans for that evening. First: café con leche with Juan Miguel, my former professor and then I was going to show the current Holy Cross the section of the city called La Lonja where all of the bars are. They had still not seen it and needed to be introduced to a new area for the weekends.

Meeting up with Juan Miguel was awesome; it was fantastic to see him. We spoke of everything. To all my former Palmaniacs: he wanted to know about each one of you and how you were all doing. We chatted for about an hour and a half and he said next time I came to Mallorca we would have to repeat the café con leche reunion. What was one of the best things about returning to Palma was my madre mallorquina’s food. HEAVEN. The entire trip she made all of my old favorite dishes: Frito Mallorquin, Paella, Ensalada de Garbanzos, Canalones etc. I need to learn how to make at least one of these dishes. Then, Charlotte and I took off to meet up with the other Holy Cross students. A few were sick and could not come out. When we were walking towards La Lonja we got caught in a freak rainstorm and we were unprepared…however, we kept going. I was shocked at how absolutely nothing had changed about Palma. It was exactly as I had left it. Same bartenders at each bar, same atmosphere…with the exception of Belle Epoque; this bar usually has an Erasmus student night where there are major discounts on drinks. I asked the bartenders when that night would be and they said it would not start for another three weeks. The bar was absolutely dead, so I bought a round of chupitos (shots) for the Holy Cross students…the bartender lowered the price for us, which was awesome! We went to some of our old favorite bars: Agua Bar, Corner Bar, Belle Epoque etc. It was amazing to see it all again. At Corner Bar, I was hoping to see if Penny, one of our favorite bartenders from New Zealand would be there; unfortunately she was not working that night. I told the Holy Cross students they had to come back and meet her. Overall, despite the rain, we had an amazing night.

Saturday was devoted to Eva’s wedding the primary purpose of my trip. When I arrived at her house, my jaw dropped…she looked incredibly beautiful. One of her close friends told me that her mother had made the dress. Wow. I drove to the church that was outside the city with her friend and we both talked about how we would probably cry when Eva entered the church. The church was very quaint and picturesque. What I was unaware of was that David, the groom and his family originally come from Andalucía, a southern region in Spain. The wedding incorporated his Andalucian roots with a Flamenco chorus that sang in between readings. A Mallorquin girl sitting next to me explained how all Mallorcans think this is very strange and don’t like it because it is “too much”. I liked it a lot, it added some flavor to the ceremony. Directly after the ceremony, we all waited outside the church with rice, and rose petals to throw at the newly married couple. See video below.
Yes, I did just meet these people that night

We had to wait an hour before going to the reception, so I became fast friends with her coworkers and we went to go get a glass of wine at a nearby bar while we waited. When we finally were allowed into the reception, it looked magical. It literally looked like a castle. The evening began with mini appetizers and chatting on the patio outside the venue and when it was time to go the main outdoor seating area to officially begin the reception, I felt nervous because now I had to awkwardly shift to a new group and hope to become fast friends with them as well. I was the solo Americana friend, which all of the Mallorcans found fascinating. At my table, fortunately enough, they all turned out to be very nice. One married couple was particularly chatty and wanted to know my opinion on American politics (they had no clue who they were talking to…please, what do I know??), another couple wanted to know how Americans view Spaniards (do we think they are the same as Mexicans etc.) …So dinner conversation was not boring. It was a delicious four-course meal. There were also four glasses per person: one for red wine, one for white wine, one for champagne and one for water. (Thanks Eva and David!!) We spent hours just eating and dancing the night away. My feet were killing me afterwards. The couple that wanted to discuss politics with me offered to drive me back to Palma, which was very nice of them. The night was absolutely spectacular… very memorable. The newlyweds are now in Australia celebrating their honeymoon. Congratulations Eva and David!!

My trip in Mallorca still was not over. I decided to spend my Sunday doing what I used to do almost every Sunday two years ago: I walked all around the city and took pictures (Yes, I know I already have the same pictures from two years ago…but I still felt compelled to take them again). It is quieter because everything is closed and therefore more enjoyable to take in the sights. It was on this day I knew I had made the right decision to work in a different site in Spain. Although it was amazing and surreal to walk around Palma again, my mind was constantly tricked into thinking that it was still two years ago. I don’t think that has ever happened to me before. I had to remind myself it wasn’t two years ago. So, although it was amazing, it was incredibly sad at the same time. Especially on Sunday, because usually after tiring from the long walks I would almost always call Monica to ask her to get café con leche with me. There was a moment when I almost reached for the phone to make that phone call. That was overwhelmingly depressing when I realized she and all of the other Holy Cross students I studied with were not there. It was so deceiving, because nothing had changed at all in Palma, but at the same time it was not the same place I had left behind.

On Monday, I decided I wanted to say hello to Jaume, our program director and Baroque Literature professor. However, I decided to surprise him. I decided to sit in on his Baroque class with the current Holy Cross students to see if he would notice. At first, he looked really confused, because I think he thought it was me but that his eyes were playing tricks on him, so he continued to talk while trying to figure it out. A couple of minutes later he realized it was me and came over to my desk and gave me a hug and the traditional double-beso greeting. It was hilarious to watch him try and figure it out. I sat in his class for forty minutes and randomly took notes even though I didn’t need to which actually helped Kathleen, a Holy Cross student who missed a few things. Aidan, I thought of you while I was taking notes because I realized later it would have been better if I had written Disney song lyrics instead haha. Jaume gave the class a 20-minute break and we spoke outside the class and he wanted to know about how all my former classmates were doing. After chatting with him for 20 minutes, I wandered around the University. That feeling I had on Sunday came back while I was meandering throughout the campus, especially in the cafeteria. After a class, the Holy Cross students and I would usually convene in the cafeteria and all get café con leche while Alyssa and I would inhale Meriendas (bags of Quelita crackers with chocolate). It was also weird because my bus and metro cards still worked and I took the bus back into the city like I would everyday.

I had the rewarding experience on Monday to see Maria, the girl I used to tutor and her family. She and I took about a 90-minute walk through the park, and got ice cream. We used to do the same thing in the spring when the weather was nice. I was convinced it was still two years ago AGAIN. So deceiving. After our walk we went back to her apartment and chatted with her parents. They were so sweet; they told me that if I ever needed a place to stay I had a room there.  They are some of the nicest people I had met in Mallorca. Biel, Maria’s father made a joke after saying, “or if you ever want to come around and eat Quelitas with us, our door is always open for that as well!!” He was referring to the time her parents and I went to Maria’s gymnastics competition that ended up being 6 hours long and there was no food anywhere nearby and all we did was eat Quelitas (Spanish crackers). It was fantastic to see them.

I spent the evening with Xisca, Lucas and Charlotte; we went to Valldemossa (MY ABSOLUTE FAVORITE LITTLE PUEBLO) for dinner. Arriving in Valldemossa, even at night, was surreal. It was just as gorgeous as I had remembered. I wish I had gone during the day. My camera was completely useless in Valldemossa, it could not take night pictures much to my frustration. I was able to finish Monday visiting Alanna, a Holy Cross graduate who is working in Palma the same way I am working in Logroño. We got drinks and chatted about how amazing Palma is.

Finally, Tuesday was my last day in Mallorca and I spent it at the beach!! One of our old favorites: Ses Illetes. Like the rest of my trip, being at the beach was incredible and almost an out of body experience. Again, nothing had changed and my mind was tricked into believing it was two years ago. HOWEVER...I got a little tan, which was nice haha. That evening I went out with some of the Holy Cross students. We went on a ruta, a route from bar to bar. It is apparently huge now, that didn’t exist or we were ignorant to its existence two years ago. An old Mallorcan man harassed Erin and me, which is a totally normal occurrence in Palma. We finished the night in one of MY favorite spots. BAR CRISTAL. The sangria there is so strong. We got a jarra for the table and ended up a little tipsy. The same waiter works there, and I got a good laugh out of that. It was the perfect way to end my time in Mallorca.

I spent the next day on the long journey back to Logroño and it gave me time to digest this trip. I spent most of the time going back and forth between two emotions while I was in Palma. The first was absolute bliss and disbelief that I was back; I was so happy. The second was sadness because when I realized it was no longer two years ago, I knew the island could never be the same as it was. It is absolutely essential to have the other Holy Cross, Vanderbilt and Erasmus students I studied with there with me for me to feel like Palma was the same. At times I wondered to myself how it was possible that year had ended…it had gone by so quickly and then I would find myself wishing for time to rewind itself so the eight of us could start it all over again. I had gotten my fix of Mallorca for a while and was relieved that I had chosen a site not in Mallorca. I got back to Logroño very content with my decision and my roommates and I went out to get pizza for dinner. All was right again. J  

The Holy Cross Group 2009-2010 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Move-in Day

Yesterday was possibly the most exhausting day I have ever spent in Spain. There was so much to do and so little time to do it. Our hotel reservation finally came to its end and it was time to head to our new apartment!! The night before, our landlady, Catalina, allowed us all to drop off one suitcase at the apartment that way we wouldn’t be lugging around two suitcases first thing in the morning. It was the first time my new roommates Shana, Jessie and Melissa had seen the apartment. I went to check it out first and I decided this was definitely our place. They trusted my judgment thank goodness! When they first walked into the apartment their jaws dropped as mine did the first time I walked in! It is huge!! Yesterday morning we left the hotel by 8am to drop off our remaining luggage and it was a RELIEF knowing that this would be the last time in 8 months that we would have to carry all of these heavy suitcases at once.

We had to start the day really early because we had SOOOOOO much to do. Shana was working that day so the three of us went together to get all of our stuff finished. First: we needed breakfast, or we’d pass out. I had my favorite pastry, Napolitano con chocolate (it’s like a croissant with chocolate inside) and a café con leche. Second: we had to get our documents in order to prepare to get our NIE’s (Número de Identidad Extranjero – our national identity number in Spain). We made multiple photocopies and held up a line outside the photocopy office. Oooopsss. Then Jessie and Melissa needed passport photos; luckily I kept mine from when I applied for the same document two years ago in Palma. Then we walked to the National Police Station and were told by people waiting outside that if we didn’t have an appointment we would have to wait outside with them. We didn’t have an appointment, we were unaware we needed one!! One woman said that you can reserve an appointment but it would be two months later. The people waiting outside would have to hope someone in the Police Station would be freed up so they could start processing the documents, but people with appointments have priority. One woman had been waiting for three hours. We realized we would be in for a long day. However, Jessie called another Auxiliar that works in the same town and she told us we were in the wrong area. Fortunately, where we needed to be was a street over, but farther down the road.

We went into the station, took a number and waited for 20 minutes. Piece of cake!! It took no time at all for them to process the documents and we have to pick up our TIE’s (Tarjeta de Identidad Extranjero – ID Card) in a month. Now that we had our NIE’s, we were able to open a bank account! We went to Santander and the woman was so nice to the three of us. She explained that we could open the bank account with our passport because they need the TIE instead of the NIE. It was a long process to open all three, but the woman was great about explaining everything to us in detail. About 45 minutes later we were officially customers of Santander bank! Great!! Now we can get paid!!

It was a bit past 2pm and we had been on our feet since 8am!! We had walked all over Logroño to get things in order and we needed lunch!!!! So we stopped at a café and we got tapas with calimocho. I have noticed that there are many more tapas places in Logroño than there were in Palma. They are everywhere, and we have actually had trouble finding a legitimate restaurant…so the search continues for that! The food was so needed.

We had a mandatory meeting with the La Rioja coordinators to discuss the health insurance they provide us. So, we walked to our apartment and waited for Shana to come back from school so we could walk to the meeting together. Jessie received a text from her asking her what our address was again. Jessie texted her back and then tried calling her but it went straight to voicemail. We figured she probably got held up at school…we waited as long as we could and then hoped she would meet us at the meeting. After a long walk, we got to the meeting and filled out forms and that was it! But…Shana wasn’t there. We were beginning to worry a bit. We asked if anyone had seen her, but no one had. We walked back to the center of town and kept trying her cell phone, no answer. We had planned to get sheets for our beds at the apartment, but we needed to find Shana first. We went back to the apartment to see if she was there. She wasn’t. So, we went to buy sheets etc. and take out money for our deposit and first month’s rent for Catalina. I think my bank account hates me now. I spent too much (but mandatory) money yesterday: hotel bill, sheets, food, and money for the landlady. OUCH. I can’t wait to start getting paid that way my American account won’t hate me too much. We are a little worried; they told us at the meeting our paychecks may come in November until every auxiliar in the program has processed their NIE’s. As soon as everyone does THEN we can get paid so I’m hoping everyone GETS THAT DONE. The system is kind of messed up that way. Oh well. This is Spain, when did anyone confuse this country for an organized one?  Never.

FINALLY. We got back to the apartment and Shana was there!! The poor thing had been lost all day. Locals tried helping her, but some weren’t altogether helpful. We were so relieved to see she was safe; it was a rough day for her. Our day was still NOT FINISHED. We needed to meet with Catalina at the apartment at 9pm and we still hadn’t eaten dinner. We had less than an hour to eat dinner and we needed something REALLY quick – so (shamefully) we walked to Burger King to eat really fast. Then we rushed back to the apartment and Catalina was waiting outside. Phew, just in time. We went upstairs, signed our contract, gave her the deposit and rent, and had her show us how the appliances work. Then it was official. We are the current residents at this apartment. However, that day we had worked SO hard and it was difficult to be thrilled when we were all exhausted and dead on our feet. Literally, my feet are killing me still. We walked for about 12 hours yesterday.

We started setting up our rooms and are beginning to get settled. We still don’t have Internet and so for now, I’m back in the Internet café stage. We asked for Catalina’s help installing internet, and she will help us but the internet companies need to be paid with a Spanish bank account….and we haven’t been paid yet. So our apartment may not have Internet for over a month unless, we decided to transfer some money from our American accounts into our Spanish ones. So we’ll see…for now, the Internet café will do! The pictures below are of our new apartment!! (Not shown: my roommates’ rooms and other bathroom – if you can believe it there is more)It needs a little more decoration, but for now…ENJOY!
 My room!

hallway to bathrom

one of the bathrooms

our living room!

hallway towards kitchen

 our kitchen table

the kitchen

entrance to the piso

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Apartment From Heaven

I wanted to write a quick update because I don't know how soon my new apartment will have internet. MY NEW ROOMMATES AND I MADE OUT LIKE BANDITS WITH THIS APARTMENT. I am still reeling!! It is HUGE, we all have our own rooms, we have a balcony, and an amazing view. Our landlady is probably the nicest person ever. Our apartment looks expensive and modern and we still think it is too good to be true! We move in tomorrow and we aren't sure when the internet will be installed. Catalina, our landlady told us that she would take care of it all and that it wasn't included in the rent it has to be paid directly to the internet company. As soon as I have internet up and running I will post pictures of the new place. Try not to be too jealous!! ;) All those that want my new address send me a message and I will get back to you ASAP. Hasta luego!!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

El Principio

I have officially been in Spain for four days and it has been an absolute whirlwind!! Things have been absolutely chaotic thus far, but despite the chaos I am already over the moon to be in SPAIN! I'll preface this by saying this post will be long...but, let me rewind and go back to the very beginning....last Wednesday I went to the Boston Airport with my parents and met up with a fellow Auxiliar from Boston: Melissa. Coincidentally, she and I were on the same flight!! We had been in communication with two other Auxiliares that were arriving in Madrid around the same time and the four of us planned to meet up at the "Illy Cafe" in Terminal 4. After a bumpy 7 hour flight without sleep, Melissa and I struggled to find the cafe. I mean it...we REALLY struggled. I pulled out my rusty Spanish to ask directions and the woman told us to go up the stairs and go to the left. So we did and there were a chain of cafes but we couldn't find the one we were looking for. Thirty-five LONG minutes later we found it tucked away in a corner of the airport. Our arms were killing us from lugging around two heavy suitcases EACH and we were thrilled to finally sit down. We were the first of the four there and I was more than happy to have my first real cup of café con leche since my departure two years ago. The remaining two auxiliares: Jessie and Zeina arrived and Melissa and I were relieved we were not the only ones that were bringing two large suitcases!! With difficulty, the four of us found a bus to take us to the hotel (PAID FOR BY THE MINISTRY OF EDUCATION -- Thanks!!) for our orientation. All we wanted to do was pass out. We went to a cafe and grabbed some early tapas and café con leche. I was excited because upon arrival to Madrid I made plans to visit my good friend Juan Carlos and his girlfriend Teresa that evening. After a nap, I set off to walk down to meet the two of them in the Puerta del Sol, one of the larger plazas in Madrid. It was a 40 minute walk and after walking through a huge protest through the streets I finally found them....20 minutes later than the planned meet-up time (whoops). I had a phenomenal time with them and we got tapas, cañas (the "house" beer at Spanish bars), and MY ABSOLUTE FAVORITE sangria. I was jet-lagged and attempting to speak Spanish at the same time, and it was obvious I was rusty. The restaurant we went to for sangria, had by far some of the best sangria I've ever tasted in my life -- that's saying something. Overall, it was a fantastic way to begin my year in Spain. It was great to hang out with Juan Carlos and Teresa!! 

After being guided to the metro by Teresa and Juan Carlos, I returned to the hotel room thinking, "I'm definitely going to be able to sleep now." Not exactly. Due to the jet-lag, I DID NOT FALL ASLEEP AT ALL. Zeina and I spent the entire night talking since neither of us could sleep. We had orientation the next morning we went and listened to people go on and on about how this is a great program, congratulations for having the courage to do this....etc. etc. I agree with all of it, but I was sorely lacking on sleep and could barely focus. After orientation was finished, I followed it up with a 4.5 hour nap. I think that is the most sleep I've gotten since being in Spain. The La Rioja coordinators made sure we knew our priorities, basically our first week in La Rioja we are expected to go to the Police Station to get a National Identity Number for foreigners. I did that in Palma, but not by myself so we'll see how that will unravel. 

The next morning, we were leaving for LA RIOJA! We were all so excited. I made great new friends at orientation: Melissa, Jessie and Shana and we all planned on getting to the bus station early to get to Logroño as soon as possible. We thought the airport was chaotic...we were wrong, the airport fiasco was just drawn out chaos, the trip to the bus station was intense chaos in a short period of time. We needed two cabs to go about 5 blocks because we had too many suitcases....and once we finally arrived at the bus station, Shana realized one of her suitcases was still in the cab but the cab driver left. We didn't know what to do! I found another cab driver to ask him to page the woman we were with and he said there are so many cab companies he would not be able to track down the correct cab. Shana thought for a bit maybe someone had just stolen it quickly....we had no way of recovering it. She decided there was nothing we could do and we didn't want to miss our bus. As we began to walk towards the station, the cab driver realized the suitcase was in the car and drove back!! Shana was so relieved, we were all really worried about her suitcase. However, the ordeal wasn't done. There was no working escalator to get to the ticket counter in the bus station and there was no way I was going to risk walking down the stairs with two heavy suitcases, because the likelihood of me falling down the stairs was quite high. I waited patiently for an elevator while the others braved the staircase. When we finally arrived at the ticket counter apparently they only had 3 seats left and there were four of us. Oh crap. The bus was leaving so soon that we needed to make a snap decision. Melissa and I went on the earlier bus and Shana and Jessie took the bus that left two hours later. The bus ride was long, but when we finally got there we felt a little uneasy....the bus station looked very rundown from the backside where the bus was entering and we were worried that if the bus station was rundown...would that mean the whole town looks rundown? We got in a taxi to search for our hotel...we noticed during the cab ride the city was very picturesque and halted our irrational fears. After getting out of the cab, I was flabbergasted at how beautiful my surroundings were. I felt SO lucky to be here. The hotel we are staying at is so beautiful!! We have two reserved rooms for the 4 of us, Melissa and I have a phenomenal view from our window. 

Melissa's coordinator from the school she'll be working with offered to show us un piso (apartment) that her friend was renting out. What the two of us thought would be an hour tops turned into over three hours. Celia was very friendly and she brought Melissa and I to a cafe to meet some of her friends. They bought us café con leche and spoke with us in Spanish. The four of them combined are the older, Spanish equivalent to the sassy friends on the TV show Sex & the City. They were absolutely hilarious, and we felt comfortable around them quickly. Then after café con leche, we went to ANOTHER café to meet up with more friends! On the way, there was a traveling band from Sevilla who apparently randomly break out into song. Celia pushed Melissa and I towards them and insisted they had to sing to us. We begged them not to...but they still did. According to the two guys below, Melissa and I are their future wives. We were forced to dance and I couldn't take it seriously hahaha!! 

We sat at the second cafe for over an hour and then Celia, Celia's friend Olga, Melissa and I went to look at the was nice, in a nice section of town and her friend would rent it to us for a reasonable price, but Celia's friend sews for a living and she has workshops in that apartment and so she'd be constantly going in and out...we decided that wouldn't be the best for the entire year. However, they generously offered to let us use it while we searched for our own apartment. If nothing happens by Tuesday....that will be where I am temporarily living. Melissa and I more or less received a tour of Logroño in three hours. We quickly saw that Logroño is definitely not large. 

We met back up with Shana and Jessie and they decided to go to the Mercadona to buy some groceries for dinner. Dinner is a relative term since all we ate were pieces of chorizo (more or less a type of Spanish salami), brie cheese and bread. The last time we had eaten was at the hotel in Madrid at 7:30 that to us at the time it seemed like a delicacy and we inhaled it all! Later we decided to hit the town and see the night scene of Logroño...we went to a bar and asked for sangria. Shockingly, this place did not have any but recommended their calimocho. I had totally forgotten about that drink!! To many, this will sound disgusting...but calimocho is a mixture of red wine and coca-cola. It is AMAZING. Don't knock it before you try it. So we got calimocho and chin-chin'd to our new experience in La Rioja. We ended up staying out until 5am bopping around from bar to bar and finished in a small discoteca. We had a blast!! We finished the night with Kebabs. So delicious. 

Today was all about laziness and piso hunting. We slept in for the most part...our floor's air conditioning broke and actually started heating the room. Melissa and I were miserable. I went down to the reception in my pajamas at 8am to beg them to fix it. As far as pisos went...we had all done our share of searching for pisos online and all four of us had one goal. To live with Spanish students. However, it is SLIM pickings. I have heard back from some people saying they had already filled the spot, or I found out there would be three boys living there...and the four of us girls were competing to find the best spot. We decided to eliminate the competition, because we want to feel comfortable in our apartment and don't want to settle for the first thing we can find and end up being unhappy, and we want to be able to trust our roommates. We decided we are all going to live together instead!! To compensate for the lack of Spanish students we will all be picking up a Spanish class to take together at the Language School in Logroño. We have decided that everyday for two hours we will only speak in Spanish to each other in our apartment. Overall, I think we're happier doing this than scrambling for something we will eventually hate. Tomorrow is promising because we have an appointment with a woman named Catalina to look at a piso!!! WISH US LUCK!!!!!!!!!! Sorry for the length of this post, I'm going to update even MORE so they won't be as long. Enjoy some photos of my new home and my new friends below :) 

P.S. JUST FOUND OUT FIVE MINUTES AGO THAT MY ENGLISH TEACHER DOESN'T WANT ME TO START WORK UNTIL THE 19TH! He insists he wants my first day of work to be with him instead of the other English teachers in the other three schools I'm working at and I'm going to assume he has more I wanted to start sooner, I will take this opportunity to get to know the city of Logroño and the region of La Rioja, and definitely revisit Mallorca for more than a short short weekend! WE'LL SEE...oh the possibilities!!