Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tengo un piso!

After spending Monday in Sonseca, I knew my next task was to find an apartment ("un piso"). I will be honest, this was an overwhelming task, and I was not looking forward to it.

Tuesday morning I had my coffee and went for a walk to clear my head, and to remind myself of the life I am living, before I ended up a ball of stress. The beautiful streets of Toledo did the trick, and I came back feeling a bit refreshed, though still wary of the task at hand.

I walked into my room and found a new roommate, an American, from my program, with whom I had connected on Facebook this summer! The timing! We spent the afternoon together, walking through the city a bit, and went that evening to look at a shared piso in a neighborhood about 15 minutes by bus from the old city center. Though the rent is cheap in that neighborhood, I didn't feel it was where I am meant to be.

Wednesday morning came around, and the lovely hostel owner, Paco (he runs this place with the help of his wife and son) asked if we would like to look at the place he had to show (his friend from Madrid owns a few pisos, and he had one open). I had looked at this apartment on Monday morning, and fell in love with it. So Jessica and I agreed to take a look.

She, too, fell in love. It is in a beautiful, old building near the art school, and just minutes from the main plaza. It is a small, 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom apartment. It has been freshly painted, has new appliances, and it completely furnished.

There are two catches: the price, and living together (this is not what it sounds like). It is more expensive because it is in the middle of the Casco (historic neighborhood) and it is so new and clean. More than we wanted to pay, but possibly worth the extra money. Jessica and I both had interest in living with Spaniards, to improve our language skills. Obviously, we are both American, and there is not room for a third roommate.

These were the cons we were weighing against the pros. While we were thinking (and planning on looking at one other place, though we both loved this one), Paco found us to say that the owner was in the hostel that moment, and might lower the price. In the end, he only dropped it 20 euros. But, we'll take what we can get, I suppose.

After much deliberation, hemming and hawing, we decided to take the apartment. We might have to do some private tutoring to help offset the costs, but we think we will love it enough that it is worth it. And, we talked about ways to improve our language skills and decided that once we are settled we will set rules about only using Spanish, etc.

We are going to sign the contract and get the keys at 5:30 tomorrow! Yaaaay. It is such a relief. And though I know there are a few downsides, I honestly believe that the way it all worked out, this piso is meant to be our home for the next few months.

I thanked Paco for all the help he's given, and he said he was happy to do so, though he doesn't go to such lengths for everyone. He said he saw something in me and he wanted to help. I can't say enough how wonderful this family is!

Here are a few pictures of the exterior. Oh, did I mention that the apartment is in an old summer PALACE?!? I'm not sure how I forgot that. Once I heard that detail, I decided those bragging rights are worth the price tag! I'll just have to spend a bit more attention on my budget....I know this is another rambling post. Thanks for hanging in here with me this week.

Un abrazo.

I promise to post pictures of the inside as soon as I can!

Lunes en Sonseca

Hello! I know this is four days late, but better late than never, right? Still, I apologize. It has been quite a busy week and have a lot to fill in, but I will start with Monday, my afternoon in Sonseca.

Sonseca is a pueblo 15 miles south of Toledo, of about 10,000 people. My school (San Juan Evangelista) is located there. I had been communicating for a few weeks with the director of the bilingual program, Maria Jose, who is essentially my mentor in the school. She asked me to come on Monday to see the school and have lunch. I told her I would catch the 12:15 bus from Toledo. And the adventure begins...

I stopped by a mobile phone store to try to fix my cell phone from Salamanca (no luck). I checked my watch when I left, and it read 11:45, plenty of time to walk to the bus station and get the bus.

I start my trek, which has an easy beginning, down escalators which take you essentially outside of the old city. I did not really know where I was going, but I had a general direction. I found myself wandering through winding streets, a bit confusing, but I just kept heading downhill. At this point, I looked at my phone to check the time, and it read 12:07. What?!!?!? So, I took off at a sprint (wearing sandals on cobblestone streets). I then remembered that my watch recently began to slow down. It wouldn't stop, but every couple of weeks it just slows a few hours. Perfect timing, right?

Actually, my huffing and puffing paid off, as I literally ran to the ticket counter at 12:14. The man told me to run downstairs, all the way to the back, because it was the last bus (of course). But, he called down and told the driver to wait for me. Sweating buckets (it is still summer here, more on the beautiful weather later), I collapsed into an empty seat, and just to be sure, asked the lady behind me if that was the bus going to Sonseca. It was.

Thirty minutes later, we pull into an older, sleepy looking town. Maria Jose asked me to call her from the bus station, which I did. About ten minutes later she picked me up and we drove to the school.

Maria Jose is wonderful. Very kind, soft spoken, and gentle. She gave me a gift of the local pastry, a take on the region's specialty: mazapan. We arrived to the school as the children were leaving (the school day lasts 9:00-1:00 in September and May, and 9:00-2:00 the rest of the months). I stepped into a class of 4th graders before they left and introduced myself (in English), but when asked if they understood me, their sheepish grins told the truth.

I met every teacher in the building, and found most, if not all, to be very warm and welcoming. They all praised my Spanish skills (!) which is very encouraging. The school is actually divided between two buildings, with the preschool-2nd grades in one, and 2nd-6th grades in another. I will spend most of my time with the older students, and one day a week with the younger.

After the grand tour of both campuses, Maria Jose and I went to a local restaurant and met four other teachers for lunch. It was my first real meal since I had arrived, which was extremely nice. The lunch was just lovely, getting to know the teachers a bit and just listening to some school "gossip."

We finished lunch right around 4:00, and got to the bus stop in time to see the 4:00 bus leave. Maria Jose kindly offered to drive me back to Toledo. She needed to return something to the shopping mall on the outskirts of town, anyway.

After walking through the mall and browsing a few stores, we left, deciding to have a cup of "cafe con leche" before. She took me to the Parador de Toledo. Paradores are common in Spain; they are old, historic buildings, usually on the outside of a city, which affords incredible, post-card like views. They have been turned into luxury hotels, and have a restaurant/cafe on the terrace, with the beautiful vista. The Parador de Toledo is no exception. We wound up the mountain, and enjoyed conversation and coffee (although we agreed something cold was more fitting considering the weather).

The proof:

I realized only as I was typing this post, that I didn't take a picture without me in it. Darn! I guess I will have to find another beautiful vista!

Maria Jose drove me close to my hostel and we said goodbye. It was such a wonderful first afternoon. I felt so welcome and comfortable there.

Sorry for the rambling!

Un abrazo.

Monday, September 26, 2011

I made it!

Hello! I apologize for the delay, but here I am, in Toledo! Whew. It is hard to believe. The trip was uneventful and as pleasant as an 8 hour flight + 6 hour time change can be! (Although, first class did look mighty comfortable!). I didn't sleep too much on the plane, so I was definitely worn out before I even left the airport.

However, I can gladly report that there were no tears of pure fear in the airport this time. (This is quite different from my arrival last year, haha). I think I only had a few tears of frustration when I couldn't reach my family. But I was more concerned that they were worrying unnecessarily about me.

After asking for help, I found a bus to the Madrid train station, a train to Toledo (only 30 minutes!), and a bus that took me close to my hostel. However, the last half mile or so seemed to be the most difficult.

I got off the bus near la Plaza de Zocodover (the main plaza in the city). The bus stop was at the beginning of a hill, so I decided (for no particular reason except to avoid climbing said hill) to walk the opposite direction to the plaza. There, after studying the map and street signs, I realized that my hostel was a the top of the darn hill, after all:

I know, I know, it doesn't seem that daunting. I will argue that it was bigger than it appears, and longer than you can see. Especially when you factor in my backpack on my shoulders (I probably stuffed 30 pounds in there!), and this (about 65-70 pounds):

(Just say you feel sorry for me and I will stop whining).

It took a while, stopping occasionally so my arms wouldn't break off (Dramatic? Maybe.), but I made it to the top! And who did I see but an old friend I made on my first visit to Toledo! Also, sorry for the green blur, it's due to the cover I had on my phone.

Ha. But don't worry, I do know him:

(This picture is from 2010; we are old friends!).

Anyway, it is a comfort to know God has a sense of humor. And, as further confirmation of his HILARIOUS sense of humor, I followed the directions to the hostel, and found this:

My hostel is at the bottom. A man standing nearby laughed and said: "If that's where you're going, and those are your bags, you have it bad." I forced out a laugh and trudged down. (In his defense, he did offer to help. In my fatigue and confusion, I declined before I realized I did). But, I made it to the hostel! However, I was early for check-in (when am I ever early?!), and my room was being cleaned. The nice owners told me to enjoy a walk about town, and to leave my bags there. So I walked in search of an internet shop so I could send an email. Being Sunday, it took awhile to find one open, but I finally did.

I returned about 45 minutes later to an inviting bed, and settled in for a long "descansa" (rest). I awoke (3 hours later) feeling slightly refreshed and very hungry. I asked directions for a good tapas place and had a bite to eat before wandering to the cathedral for mass at 6:30. I then went back to the hostel and just relaxed for a bit before bed.

(The cathedral)

The owners of the hostel are lovely people, which is a great comfort right now. Today, I went to Sonseca (the pueblo where I will be teaching) and spent the afternoon there. I will write about that in another post.

It is still hard to believe I am here. Tomorrow I will begin the search for a place to live. Although, that task sounds so daunting that the hostel is seeming better and better....just kidding (sort of).

I am happy to be here, though I already miss everyone from home!

Un abrazo.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Almost there

(This is a picture of Toledo I took in January, 2010).

Just two more short days before I arrive in Spain! It is hard to believe the time has come, and hard to believe I am going back.

Rereading my last post in 2010, the closing "chapter" of my studies abroad, it is clear that as I wrote that note, I had little, if any, intention of returning to Spain to live.

But it is funny the way life works, sometimes drawing us places we least expect. And that is usually where we discover the greatest adventures, in the unexpected.

I am anxious and sad to leave: these emotions I recognize (less than fondly) from the months leading up to my semester abroad. Thankfully, I am not stricken with the same overwhelming fear I had the last time. I am excited! I am more proficient with the language. I am familiar with the airport. I know what to do when I'm sick. I won't be listening to class lectures in Spanish! I experienced many of the "unknowns."

However, I am aware that this is a completely new adventure: a new routine, new people, new challenges, new rewards. And if there is anything I learned from my last trip abroad, it is that the most challenging things in life are generally the most rewarding.

I hope you enjoy following my adventures. Perhaps "adventure" is a big word to use. I can't promise anything particularly interesting or exciting, but I can promise lots of pictures!

And, I want to say a quick note of thanks to all those who encouraged me to do this. It isn't easy to say goodbye, and I appreciate all the love and support I have received.

Un abrazo muy fuerte.