Thursday, September 30, 2010

Efficiency at its finest.

Not to brag, but this may have been the most productive week of my life.

Actually...I'm going to brag a little.

Let me lay out the timetable of this past week for you:

Saturday, Sept. 25th

Wake up exhausted from a thorough final night out in Sevilla with all the friends I had made during the past month. 

Finish packing and catch a taxi to get me to the train station less than 10 minutes before it leaves (phew).

Try fruitlessly to sleep on the interminable train ride.

Get to the yet-unknown city of Granada, check into the hotel, and immediately begin hitting the pavement looking for a piso (apartment).

After walking half-aimlessly around the city, I have around 7 or 8 different numbers written down in my notebook of potential apartments.  I take them all back to the hotel room and begin making calls and setting up appointments for the following day.



Sunday, Sept. 26th

Wake up and get breakfast.

Make a few more calls before heading out to my first appointment.

Visit first apartment.

Liked it.

Kill some time.

Visit second apartment (after getting quite confused and having to be picked up by the landlady on the street in her car and driven to the apartment because I couldn’t understand a single damn word she said on the phone.  Aren’t first impressions great?).

Liked it, as well.

Have no more luck reaching people on the phone to make appointments so I return to the hotel to keep searching online.

Get back and keep searching/calling, but to no avail.

Join up with some of the others in the hotel who are also searching for pisos and start hearing horror stories about crappy apartments and creepy roommates.

Am joined in the hotel room by the rest of the group and continue to hear stories about how many apartments are already taken and how discouraged they feel.

Start to freak out a little bit and become convinced that everyone in Granada is suddenly considering moving into both of the apartments I saw today as well, thus making it a rather bleak situation.

Do some acute soul searching and realize how lucky I am to have seen two apartments that I really like.  And, rather than risk losing one of the two apartments, I went ahead and made the decision to take apartment #2.

Call landlady.

Claim apartment.

Do a little dance.

Go out to dinner with friends.

Monday, September 27th

Visit the apartment again, give the security deposit, get keys in my pocket and head back to the hotel.

Visit some other potential apartments with friends who haven’t found apartments yet.

Move the first wave of my stuff into my new room.

Discover that my keys don’t work.

Unpack and put away stuff for a few hours.  Talk with awesome roommates.

Head back into town to meet up with others.

Monday afternoon and Tuesday are kind of a blurr.

Wednesday was a national strike in Spain, as well as a few other countries in Europe.  I should probably be more informed about why these things happen, but I was too busy being annoyed by all the closed shops and by the people marching in the streets and disturbing traffic.  One interesting result of the strike is that, while walking around town shopping for sheets, towels, and random other stuff, we heard two people yelling at each other on the street.  I don’t things would have really escalated beyond yelling, and I couldn’t really understand what they were yelling about, but they kept saying one word over and over: fachas, fachas, fachas.

I whipped out my dictionary and looked it up.  We weren’t very surprised to discover that “facha” means “facist.”  I exchanged withering looks with the two friends I was with, then walked into ZARA and bought some fine home furnishings.

This morning I went with a group of people to begin the process of extending our visas to be able to stay in Spain until the end of our contracts.  We got to the office an hour and a half before it opened, and we ended up being about 6
th or 5th in line.  Which, considering how long the line was behind us by the time the office opened, was excellent.  We were all finished around 10:30 or 11 am.  After hearing horror stories about people spending 6 hours in the office in Sevilla, we were proud of our efforts.  Afterwards, I bought a Spanish/English Visual Dictionary, got inordinately excited about it (I’m super cool, I know), and then walked around the city getting information on city buses, government offices, and other important things.

Finally, after all this, I got back to my place, grabbed a quick bite, finished unpacking and making my bed and stuff, then called my school (finally) to find out what they expect of me (my first day of work is tomorrow, Oct. 1st).  Luckily…they don’t expect anything, lol.  I’m just going to meet the other teachers in the English department.

Currently, I’m sitting here, watching Austin Powers II with my French roommate, discussing (in Spanish) travel, movies, food, France/Spain/Europe, and all sorts of other things.

Things are going pretty well, I’d say.

Here are a few pics to help the imagination:

Living room/entertainment center.


Couches in living room.

Bookshelf/cabinet and wardrobe.

Desk and window (with nice breeze and lots of light), also with chair I almost broke today.

Bed!  Picked out the red sheets to give it some pizzazz; I'm proud.

So all in all I'm very content at this time.  I'll get pictures of my roommates at some point and post them as well.  They're super cool.  I'm living with a very friendly/talkative French girl, Jennifer, and a Spanish guy named Julio, who, I can only assume, aspires to win the world record for speed talking.  It's a good thing that Jennifer has been here for a week longer than I have because, after Julio explains something to me about the apartment, I wait for him to leave and then have Jennifer re-explain it to me.  It's really working out quite well so far.  No catastrophes.  Yet.

One foible worth mentioning quickly happened as follows:

(Background info: Cell phones are much more expensive to use in Spain than in the US, so to avoid the cost of calling and talking to someone, or sending them a text message, they've developed a system called the "toque" (roughly translated as "ring," "knock," "poke," or "touch").  More specifically, you say "to give a ring/poke/touch" (dar un toque).  It's basically this: When you're leaving your apartment to meet up with someone, you call them, let it ring once, and then hang up.  It lets them know where you are and it doesn't cost either party anything.  Interesting, yes?)

ANYWAY, so as I mentioned earlier, my keys didn't work the first day I moved stuff into my room, so Julio was telling me that, if I had to come back, I could just give him a "toque" and he could come out and let me in.  I was excited because, for one brief, glorious moment, I understood exactly what he was saying.  Eager to display my understanding, I responded quickly: "Sí, sí, puedo tocarte..."

What I should have said was, "Sí, sí, puedo darte un toque."

The difference, though slight, is quite important.  You see, "tocar," from whence came the word "toque" means "to touch."  So, rather than say, "yes, yes, I'll give you a ring/poke/touch," what I actually said was, "yes, yes, I can touch you."

Julio, bless his heart, just looked at me, straight faced, and said, "Ok.  Sounds good..."  It wasn't even until a few minutes after I had left the apartment that I realized what I had said.  I laughed.  After all, such is life in a foreign country.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Before the Move.

I can't believe this is already my last day in Sevilla!  Five weeks goes by real fast when you're having a great time.

I feel like I've explored Sevilla quite a bit of the city, and feel really comfortable walking around here.

On to bigger and better things, however.

I've started looking for apartments in Granada, and have even gotten a few responses.  I'm lucky to have five days in a hotel that my program is paying for, but it's still going to be stressful.

If any of you know someone who's looking for a fun American roommate in Granada, please let me know!

This may be the last post for a while.  Sorry it wasn't awesome, haha.

¡Hasta luego, Sevilla!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Pretty Bird, Pretty Bird. (The Pretty Kitty Post.)

So, as I was walking around the other day from farmacía to farmacía trying to find this medicine the doctor prescribed for me, I just happened to find myself walking behind this girl with a bird on her head.

Apparently she was taking her bird for a walk.  I've never seen this before.

You may be asking yourself, "how did you get this picture, Peter?"

I may or may not have whipped my messenger bag around to my front, scrambled to get my camera out, ran ahead a few steps, held my camera out at arm's length, took the picture, and then quickly darted to the other side of the street to avoid raising suspicion.  They never suspected a thing.

I felt a little bad for the bird, however, because he kept having to climb back up her hair as he was losing his grip.  I hope he didn't fall off.

Also, this post goes out to one, Paula Nivala.  If you know her, then you know why.  I do not doubt, based on the close relationship that is clearly represented here between girl and bird, that this bird's name is Bob.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

To Go to the Doctor.

I'm not one to complain.

Actually, that's not true at all.  I love a good whining session.  Though, it's not really the fact that I really feel very upset about a situation.  Mostly, I think, it's because it's just something to talk about.  I don't mean to sound needy or upset or irritable.  For example, if I'm super duper hungry, I'll say it over and over.  But that doesn't mean that I have to eat THAT second.  If we're walking along together and you don't like the first few restaurants we come across, it's not a problem to continue on our way until we find something agreeable.

There is a limit, however.  And there is a point at which I'll say, "Ok.  Enough.  Let's eat here."

This is also true with my pain threshold.  You see, for the past week or so, I've been experiencing a lot of pain in my throat whenever I swallow, or talk too vigorously.  It's been weird though.  It's definitely not a sore throat: I have no fever, no soreness in the rest of my body, and I haven't had any other symptoms of being sick.  It was almost like there was something underneath my tongue that was hurting me.

I told my host mom.  I don't know if I've said this before, but my host mom is a message therapist by trade, and believes wholly in holistic/natural medicine.  The first thing she said to me was, "that means that you have something stressful in your life, or that you have something that you need to talk about.  Something weighing you down."  Ok, Carmen.  Whatever you say.

But bless her heart if she didn't make me some ginger tea, give me some extract of echinacea drops, and then sit down with me at the table and discuss everything that was happening in my vida.  "Are you stressed with your classes?  Are you nervous about moving to Granada?  How are you getting along with the other students?  When's the last time you talked to your parents?"  She was very concerned.  It was very nice.

So I talked to my parents later that day, told them what was going on, took some advil, drank lots of ginger tea and water, and within a day or two, things felt all better.

When Friday rolled around, however, things started up again.  Except this time it was the right side of my throat/mouth/tongue.  I decided to just wait it out for a few days and see what's going on.  This isn't usually too bad of an idea, except for when things just get worse after a few days.  This was the situation in which I found myself yesterday.  The night before I couldn't really sleep super well because whenever I had to swallow, I would wake up in pain.  Eating food hurt.  Drinking hurt.  It wasn't fun.

Finally, I decided that action had to be taken.  I went to the pharmacy but all they had was Ibuprofen, which I had taken already, and it didn't make any difference.

So, I finally decided to try out going to the doctor.  As long as I've lived in foreign countries, I've never been sick enough to go to the doctor.  Thank goodness for that, too: I don't even like going to the doctor in my home country!

I was very hesitant to go to the doctor.  Spanish isn't even my second language.  However, after a few phone calls with my program, and finding that I could actually understand about 90% of what they were saying to me over the phone, I got renewed confidence, and I headed out on the adventure.

When I finally got to the office, a good 20 minutes later, I stood in front of the door trying to figure out how to get in.  It was just a normal apartment building, with a sign outside that said, "medical farmlww."

As I was standing there, I got another call from the lady at the program telling me that the office doesn't open until 9:30.  It was 9:15. To kill some time I stood on the street, like a creeper, listening to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and trying to blend into the surrounding Spanish culture.

I eventually got into the doctor’s office and got checked out.  Everyone in the office was very nice, and very patient with me and with my Spanish.  It was great.  There’s nothing worse than trying to talk to someone who acts like they don’t have the time for you.  In the end, the doctor told me that I have “llagas.”  My Spanish, such as it is, has not prepared me for the wide world of medical maladies.  I asked her what a “llaga” is, and she went into her office and brought back a dictionary open to the word “llaga.”  Apparently I have a little sore in the back of my throat that’s making my life miserable.  So she gave me some prescriptions to get filled for various things.

At this point, I’ve been writing this post for about four days, so I’ve been taking the medicine and have been following all the advice that she gave me.  I feel about 150% better.  And, I just woke up from a super siesta.  So I’m ready.  I’m ready to go running, I’m ready to go out with my friends, but most importantly, I’m ready to go to Portugal!

Say whaaaaaat!

Yes, I’m going to Lagos in Portugal this weekend with a bunch of people from my program.  We’re going cliff diving, shore cruising, beach sitting, pool swimming, and all sorts of stuff.

I’ve bought a new camera for the occasion:

So, that'll be fun.  You'll see the results.

Ok, that's it for now.

¡Hasta pronto!

Sunday, September 12, 2010


This may be the worst thing that's happened to me in all my abroad travelings.  This includes the time I was deported from Africa, as well as the time I walked into a train station in France trying to get to Paris, only to find the last one pulling out of the station for the night.

I was going out with some friends the other night.  Naturally, I took my cell phone, keys, camera, some cash, my ID and a credit card (just in case).  We were walking the Alameda de Hercules, a very popular neighborhood for bars, clubs, restaurants, and hanging out.  We went to the first bar, had a drink or two, then moved on to another bar so that we could all sit down.

We all got a drink, moved a few tables together, pulled up the chairs, and sat down.  I decided to take a few pictures, so I reached into my pockets to find my camera.  I pulled it out.  Turned it on.  And that's when it happened.

My LCD screen on my camera had cracked.

Yes, that is a tear you see slowly falling down my cheek.  (Just kidding.)

But it is very sad all the same.  So I'm not sure quite what to do.  I'm going to Lagos in Portugal this coming weekend, and I'm not going to miss the opportunity to take a few hundred pictures!

It's true that my camera is still fully capable of taking pictures.  In fact, I went to visit some ruins near Sevilla today, and took a couple dozen pictures.  The thing I realized very quickly, however, upon review of the photos on my computer, is that I can't change any settings on my camera as I take pictures. All the pictures I took today were all taken under the setting used for lightbulbs while inside.  So the white balance is messed up.  Not only that, but I can't change the flash, aperture, shutter speed, white balance, or any of the other awesome features my camera has.  I'm not quite sure what to do right now to be perfectly honest.  Everything is much more expensive here in Europe.  So if I were to get a camera here, the same camera would probably cost around $50-$60 more here as it would back home.  Ugh, decisions decisions decisions.

That's the life update over here for now.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Communication.

Things continue to go well here in Sevilla.  The weather has finally given us some relief.  The high for the past few days has been between 85º and 95º.  And combined with the fact that I’ve been siesta-ing during the hottest part of the day, it’s been quite nice.

That still hasn’t kept me from working up a prodigious sweat whenever I walk somewhere.  I swear, if I even think about being outside in the sun, I can feel my forehead start to glisten.  I complain, but it’s not nearly as bad as when it was 110º, claro.  Aside from the whole “teaching English” thing, my primary job has been drinking an absurd amount of water every day.

There are many benefits, however, to living somewhere really hot, dry and sunny.  At night, the weather is beautiful and you don’t have to worry about being rained on if you’re sitting outside.  Also, when you wash your clothes and hang then up to dry, you can go and take them down later the same day and they’re perfectly dry.  It’s almost miraculous.  At first I didn’t understand where our clothes were being hung up, because I never saw them in the apartment.  I found out only a bit too late one day.

Carmen, my host mother, was talking to me the other day and was talking to me about our clothes.  We have very little problem communicating anymore.  I don’t always get every word, but the gist more or less comes through.  This was not the case in this instance.  Our conversation went more or less like this:

Carmen: Hola, Peter.

Me: Hola, Carmen.  ¿How are you?

Carmen: I’m good.  I cmmwr to ask you if slkjflkj your lwkjelk in the alkjsdlkj or if I can sdlkjjl weqwe mrmw.  What do you want to do?

In this type of situation, you generally have three options: Sí, no, or repeat.

Me: I’m sorry, one more time, please?

Carmen: (Smiling) Wlmrlw.  Movour lskjqwz (subjunctive) cmogwu your clothes cwiipsxwen or smroo oic up wmmer vbngwm2?

At this point, your only real option is to say “sí” or “no” and hope that it strikes some distant correlation to the question.

Adding a little emotion to feign confidence, I shrugged, shook my head, and said, “No.”


It wasn’t really a big deal.  She just said, “No?  Ok then.”  And then left.  I sat staring at the empty doorway for a few seconds, trying to reflect over the half-conversation I just had.  Eventually I was able to recall the words, “do you want,” “show,” “up,” “clothes,” and, “dry.”  Which of course means, “Do you want me to show you where I hang up the clothes to dry after I wash them?”  Sorry to sound like such a douche, Carmen.

I later realized that, not only would it be a good idea to know where our clothes hang out, but the roof of the building is also a great place to get una buena vista of Sevilla.  Plus, it’s nice to be able to help out around the apartment.  A single, working mother has plenty of things to do besides cook my meals, wash dishes, and do laundry.  Obviamente.

That’s it.  Just something I wanted to share.

Here are some other pictures from Sevilla.  Loving it.

Bridge near my house at sunset. 

View of Triana (my neighborhood) and the bullfighting stadium from the Giralda (Cathedral). 

Rick Steves' Tour, clearly.

Katie and Amy K in the Barrio Santa Cruz (Judería).

Random Cathedral shots.

Until the next time,


Fui a Marruecos.

I had the very rare opportunity to go to the beautiful land of Morocco last weekend.

It was quite the cultural experience.  We were in a tour with about 30 students from all over (Germany, France, USA, Argentina, Spain, etc., etc.) and we went to three cities: Tetuan, Tangiers, and Chefchaouen.

Our first stop, Tetuan, was quite the experience.  We started our trip off in the Medina of Tetuan.  "Medina" in Arabic means "city," but it's also used to refer to the oldest part of the city, which is generally where the markets are, and is the most twisty and historical part of the city.  It was very interesting to see how markets like that work in other countries, but it was also quite overwhelming.

You don't quite get the effect of the medina from the pictures.  Imagine the smell of raw meat and fish, all kinds of fruits and vegetables, the sound of meat being chopped up, chickens being killed and deplumed, people yelling at each other from opposite sides of the street, mangey cats dissecting fish heads, flies buzzing on all foodstuffs, and a mysterious liquid running down the middle of the street.

Lots of culture.  Culture in your face, in your ears, splashing on your feet, and in your nose and mouth.  All kinds of culture; it was intense.

We toured around the medina for a few hours and learned some history about the various neighborhoods.  It was very interesting.

We were also taken to a carpet co-op where they showed us all kinds of carpets and blankets and things all hand made, hand-dyed and really really cool.

After our time in Tetuan, we went to Tangiers, and walked very briefly through the Medina.  It wasn't great.  We got to the medina just as everything was closing for the night.  I think we got to walk around for about 15 minutes, not really worth the trip there, in my opinion.  Especially because the only thing you could buy was like...Moroccan clothes, jewelry, knock off dvds and other assorted nonsense.  Plus everyone gave you stinkface and/or stared at you and followed you as you walked down the street.  Let's just wasn't the ideal environment for shopping....or existing.

We went back to our mediocre hotel after our long day, ate a mediocre dinner, and then went to bed, after most people took cold showers, for lack of hot water.

The next day we got up super early and headed to Chefchaouen.  It's a few hours into the heart of the country, over a few mountain ranges.  The whole city is painted blue and white.  It was spectacular.

I would love to go back again some day.  Next time, hopefully, I can go to visit some friends who know the cities they live in.  Also, I won't have to walk around in a group of 30 white people.

That's it for now!

¡Hasta luego!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Muy rápido.

Just a quick hello.  Trying to get back into the swing of blogging semi-consistently.  I have lots of free time right now in my program, so I want to try and establish some sort of habit before I start teaching.

Right now I'm living with a host family, along with one other American, Jason, from my program.  It's kind of nice to have another student in the house because I have someone to go do stuff with while my family is otherwise occupied.

This is mi cama, please notice the beautifully decorated sheets.

This is the first year our host mom, Carmen, has had boys in her house.  She's been hosting students for 9 or 10 years, and it's always been girls until now.  Why the sudden change?  It may or may not have something to do with her 9 year old son, Carlo, who told her he's sick of having girls come into the house all the time.  It's worked out well for me and Jason though!  We have a super sweet apartment in a great location, and a little brother to play video games with in Spanish.  ¡Qué guay!

This is Jason:

In other news, I came very quickly to the conclusion that I should have spent more time planning my suitcases.  When I moved to France last year, I started packing a week before I left.  This time?  I started about a day and a half before.  So far I've discovered that I accidentally packed a pair of my mom's socks, did NOT pack a single sheet of blank notebook paper, and managed to squeeze in enough winter gear to survive the next ice age.  Sorry Spain...I'm praying for record breaking cold this winter.

I also only brought one pair of shorts, neglecting to heed the reports that Sevilla was experiencing 100º+ weather.  Not only that, but for the first week I was here, I couldn't find the shorts I packed, so I was forced to choose between wearing full-length pants and dying, or wearing my basketball shorts 24/7.  After a few days, I finally bit the bullet and bought some new shorts.  They're actually great: nice and light and not too expensive.  It only took me about 12 hours after I bought new shorts to find the ones I packed.  Obviously.

Yeah, so it's been a pretty interesting trip so far.  Aside from all the new cultural things I've been experiencing.  I'll update later about all that.

Oh, and here's our other roommate, Alex: