Exploring Toledo and Lucky Breaks

I convinced Helen that we could splurge a little bit on accomodations. After all, we´d stayed in several youth hostels and even a university dorm to circumvent the rising cost of tourism in Spain. What we got was a four star hotel in Toledo for 69 euro a night! It´s outside of the Casco Antiguo, but it´s INCREDIBLE. Gorgeous. Just like the city of Toledo.

Believed to have been founded by Hercules, the city has an ancient wall brimming with people, tourists, convents, narrow crooked streets and delicious marzipan stands. I was a good niña and had only one today! I was just so enchanted by the city´s sights and the lack of marked streets. Ali, if you studied here, well done! I even caved and let Helen talk me into taking one of those organized tours, led by a woman who studies the archaeological remains of the old city, so she was able to show us places where water basins and roman ruins were. We took it as night was falling, so seeing the city light up was priceless. Spain, even on the meseta, is a beautiful country full of beautiful people.

I realized on Wednesday night just how happy I was with my decision to move here. As it gets closer to the day when I´m starting my job, I´ve been thinking more about how things are going to change. I´ll be able to pop into a bar to just have a copa with friends or grab some gambas without committing to a full meal. I can walk everywhere. I´ll be speaking Spanish and have new friends who are native. It´s a wonderful feeling. As I walked home from a meeting with the Madrid Cafe Abroad team, I was so elated that I took off my headphones and just listened to the sounds on the streets – traffic, old ladies squawking with one another, amorous teens, live music from jazz cafes. I´m so lucky.

I smell like a European.

Yes, it’s true. I´ve braved hostel showers, leaky faucets and though it hasn’t been that hot, but I think it comes with the territory. Our days have been so packed, I haven’t much time to even get to a locutorio!!

Things here are fantastic. A brief recap of what we´ve done in the last 12 days…
GRANADA: capilla real. catedral. albacin. fantastic dinner.
SEVILLA: catedral, alcazar and giralda, plaza de toros de la real maestrezana. museo de baile del flamenco. plaza de espana. fútbol club sevilla match (INSANE I loved it…they won 4-1, too). met my amazing German roommate. dinners from pan y co to the fancy la juderia and la habanita.
GIBRALTAR: the rock. the barbary apes. old towne.
CORDOBA: la mezquita. casco antiguo. plaza las tenillas.
LISBOA: castello san jorge. bairro alto. cemetario dos prazeres. se. capilla san antoini. earthquake museum. fado. i also went out here with some canadians and had a crazzzzy time! lots of seafood. lots of getting lost and climbing hills. bullfight with spared bulls.
SINTRA: crazy bus rides. castello dos muoros. quinta la regalia. casta pena. GORGEOUS.
BARCELONA: festival de merce means parades, music and a wine festival. sagrada familia. parc guell. la pedrera. manzana de discordancia. colon. bosq en les facades. rugby tuorney. city histroy museum. montjuic. fundacion miro. national art museum. castello montjuic. parc de la cuitadella. musee picasso.

Now we’re in Madrid. Generally, I’ve eaten well, walked a lot and have been so happy to be here, save getting lost a lot! more later….

Three days, one marriage proposal

I’ve been in Spain for three days just about, so here´s the rundown of what´s gone on, by the numbers.

Hostels: 2
Mahous: 2
Marriage proposal: 1
lost ATM cards: 1 (not mine)
bus rides (regional): 4
bus rides (municipal): 3
taxi rides: countless
rain storms: 1
stray dogs/cats/homeless people: too many.

My apartment deal worked out and my roommate from Germany is wonderful and speaks English. Helen and I have had quite the time trying to figure things out, but generally we’re happy here, and I am so glad I’m going to be in Sevilla. It´s wonderful! We’re going to a soccer game tonight, then Cordoba tomorrow once we get Helen’s ATM card that was swallowed by an evil Bancaja machine. I’ll upload pictures as soon as possible. Mil besos.

Expatriate life never looked so good

It’s here. After months of anticipation, I will be getting on a plane traveling from Chicago to Madrid at 4:35 p.m. tomorrow. My bags weigh 37,5 and 39 lbs. My school knows I’ll be showing up to teach on October 3. My roommate is demanding that I surrender September’s rent when I leave my extra bag in Sevilla on Friday. My cell phone is unlocked and equipped for international calling. My insurance company, credit company and phone company know I’m leaving. I’d say I’m pretty prepared.
The only thing not done is the itinerary Helen and I will be using to travel around Iberia. Only our first night is planned. We’re staying at Hotel Las Nieves, a three star hotel in the center of Granada on Thursday night. It’s located in the Albazain, the old Jewish quarter, just a kilometer away from the Alhambra (though we’re saving this for the return trip). We found a friendly travel agent who’s been advising us and found a great rate on the room through booking.com. After that, we have no set plan and no reservations. It’s a little thrilling, especially for someone who has things planned to the hour. Take, for instance, my schedule for today. I need to be out of the house by 10 am. Hopefully, this characteristic will disappear. Once I get to Spain, one of the hardest adjustments for me to make may be the leisure at which Spaniards live their life. It’s the stay out late, wake up late, show up to work late, take a mid-afternoon nap after a heavy meal, stroll around town, eat dinner at 10 pm, party until 4 am lifestyle that may take some getting used to.
I’m officially becoming an expat tomorrow. I’ve gone through quite the range of emotions these past four months, from elation to panic to sadness and regret. Now I can’t shake my nervous excitement. I no longer feel upset that I’m missing things this year, like Hawkeye football or going downtown with friends. That won’t be any different when I come back in the summer or next summer or whenever I decide it’s time to move back. If I don’t do this now, it won’t happen. I am fortunate enough to have already made friends in Granada, score a travel writing gig and be living in one of the most beautiful and historic parts of Sevilla. Sure, I’ll miss the States when I’m being chased by hombres verdes and practically starving myself because I don’t like the food. But these moments make traveling exhilarating and worthwhile. When Catherine and I were stuck in the ghetto of Granada two years ago, I was crying, saying we’d never get out alive. Thirty minutes later, safely on the train, we couldn’t stop laughing about how the bus driver told us to watch our bags when we stepped off the bus. Probably not that safe, but I won’t forget how relieving it was to hop onto the train as soon as it was pulling out.
I have all of these romantic, rosy ideas of what life in Spain will be like. Taking a paseo every night in my best clothes and people watching, cheering on Real Betis on a Sunday afternoon at the stadium (I wonder if Spaniards tailgate…), enjoying tapas every night with my new, sophisticated Spanish friends, witnessing the somber Semana Santa celebration and then partying into the night during Feria de Abril. All of these things will happen, I’m sure, but I know it won’t be easy to live on 631E each month. It won’t be easy to go to Spain without my mom and my close friends to lean on. Teaching could be a nightmare. But when I woke up last Wednesday, and all of my nerves had evaporated. I know this is what I’m supposed to be doing with my life right now. Not a lot of people can say they’ve lived in one of the most traditional and beautiful cities in the world, living the life of an Andalusian. I’ve got flamenco and fútbol, chorizo and Calderon. And some good-looking chavales (hey, Spaniards make mullets look fashionable and sexy!)!
Tomorrow, Helen and I will have eight hours to plan the rest of our trip, and I will hopefully not be as nervous as I was when I was on the plane two years ago, not knowing what to expect of Spain. This time, I’m much more prepared to knock Spain dead.
I’ll do my best to update as often as possible about my adventures (and, because it’s me, mishaps). Once I set up a picture website, I’ll upload images, too. Cuidaros mucho!

Me Parece un Sueño

On Saturday, I flipped my Spain calendar from August to September and saw “SPAIN!!!!!!!!” written in really big letters. I thought I was going to pass out. This is really happening. And it’s happening in EIGHT DAYS.

I have purchased my new, lightweight suitcases to accommodate as much of my crap as possible. My clothes and teaching supplies are laid out in Margaret’s room so I can start to roll them, put them in plastic bags and pack ’em up. I’ve spent the summer researching everything from cell phones and post offices to tapas bars and package deals to Lagos. I’ve watched a million movies and read thousands of pages about living and working in Spain. My guidebook is already tattered and marked up, and I haven’t left the country with it yet. I’ve ordered traveller’s checks, in dollars AND euro, my health insurance provider and credit card companies know I’ll be abroad, and I’ve said goodbye to a lot of people already. Compared to last time, I’m much more prepared. Maybe it’s just the prospect of knowing I’ll be gone for four times longer than two summers ago that’s freaking me out. Maybe I’m nervous to teach.

But I have been to Spain before. I’m familiar with the people, the culture, the language. I think I’m just scared I won’t be able to make it over there and I’ll disappoint myself. I’ve never failed so miserably at something that I couldn’t handle the fallout. This could be the first time, and I won’t be able to call my mom for help (without having it cost her $2 a minute). It’s scary to be out in the real world alone, much less being in a foreign country where you don’t really know anyone.

So the plan for this week: Tie up all the loose ends. Finish researching cell phones and hostels. Call all the people who know ANYTHING about Spain. Maybe contact my school, if that’s important. Really psych myself up mentally.

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