Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Life as we knew it.

Well, my parents are gone, I'm half way through my first week back at school, and the sun has come back out in Andalucía (but only until Friday!!).

I had a great time with my parents while they were here, but we were moving moving moving the whole time!  It was exhausting!  In the 12 days they were here, we went to Madrid, Sevilla, Guadix, Granada, Ronda, Gibraltar, Córdoba and they took a day trip to Nerja while I was at school on Monday.  Phew.  We saw the famous Semana Santa Easter processions in Sevilla, Granada and even in little Guadix.  All of them were surprisingly different, but I enjoyed everything more because of that.

I think I should mention the Nazarenos de Semana Santa (also often referred to as Penitentes) for a second.  In case you're not sure what I'm talking about, refer to this picture:

The Nazarenos de Sevilla.

Seeing these processions as an American, you can't help but feel....unsettled about the costumes.  When I took this picture was the first time that I had seen them myself, so I was quick to realize that I'm in Spain and these people are marching to represent a church.  Plus the longer you watch the procession, you see them carrying golden/bejeweled crosses, statues of Jesus and Mary, and a lot of them are even handing out candy to kids watching them walk by, lol.  So the feel of the whole event is significantly different than if you were to turn the corner in NYC and see the above picture.  This costume has been used for hundreds of years here in Spain, and should be more well known than its American counterparts.  I’m doing my part to spread the word.

Here are some more pictures I took of the processions.  These are in my old neighborhood of Triana, just across the river from Sevilla.  They actually turned off the lights of the famous Puente de Triana (Puente Isabel II) so that the procession would be more evocative.  I think it worked.

I’ll get some more of my parents’ pictures up in a little while.  I forgot to download them before they left, but I’ll get them somehow.

The procession crossing the Puente de Triana (you can only really see the candles they're holding).

In the crowd.

Cathedral in the background.

Possibly one of the best pictures I've ever taken.

Jesus, the Meditation.

 That's all for now!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Half time.

The parentals and I have been to Madrid, Sevilla, Guadix and now we're planted in Granada.  It's been quite a whirlwind.

Me and mom in Madrid.

Brittany and me: Tour guides in Madrid.

So far Sevilla's been the favorite.  I have to agree.  Madrid was great and exciting, but it didn't seem so Spanish.  When you're in really have no doubts about which country you're in.

Shannon, Dad, Mom, Jojo, Elise, Dana, me, Reed and Sarah at Los Coloniales.  Super delish.
Out at Plaza del Salvador with the parentals.
Padres at the Alcázar.

We’re having a blast though.  Today is going to be the day to catch up on sleep, not spend hours upon hours touring things, maybe do a little shopping.

It’s been really interesting visiting with my parents this time.  I’ve known my parents my whole life and I’ve always gotten along really well with them.  I think that partially has to do with having been an only child.  When it’s just you and your parents in the house, you don’t really have a choice a lot of the time, haha.

When you’re not living with someone, or you stop seeing them all the time, you forget little things about their mannerisms, or their little sayings, or what have you.

So, not only have I been noticing little things my parents do, but I’ve been noticing that I do the exact same things.  All the time.  Here in Spain.  Thousands of miles away.  Without my parents being around.  Lol.

It’s been encouraging too, though.  I’ve never thought I look very much like either my dad or my mom, so having this corroboration that I’m not, in fact, adopted, has been great, haha.

Which parent (if any) do you think I resemble most? 

At the Alhambra.
(I promise I'm not really this tan.  I think that my parents' camera's white balance was a little off.  I look orange.)

Here are some more pics from our time so far in Granada:

So that's where I get that look from....
Visiting the Alhambra.
I have tons of pictures of monuments and stuff...but I think photos with people are more important.  If (God forbid) all my pictures got deleted, I could always find great pictures of the Alhambra, Alcázar or Palacio Real on Google.  But not the ones of me and my family.

Hope everyone is enjoying their Easter weeks!

Un beso desde España

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Deep Breath.

Here we go again.

I am so far behind in all of my journal writing, blog posting, friend skyping, etc etc.

It's not my fault!  The weather here in Andalucía has been amazing.  Every day has been up into the 70's.  It's been almost nonstop sun all day, every day.  The birds are singing (obnoxious), the people are laughing (also obnoxious), and I've been trying to get out of doors and soak up every bit of it that I can before the Spanish government says I have to leave.  What a sad day that will be.

I can't really complain, though.  My past five weekends have consisted of, in reverse order:

  • Weekend trip to the beach.
  • Day trip to the beach and a full night of clubbing at Granada's finest establishments.
  • Full day hike and, subsequently, a lazy day at the beach.
  • Paris and Amsterdam.
  • Weekend in the Canary Islands.

Sheesh.  I didn't even realize this myself until I tried to think of why I haven't been updating like I should.  The Canaries, Amsterdam and Paris feel like months and months ago.  No wonder I have less than 80€ to last me until my next paycheck, hahaha

...but seriously.  Yikes.

I'm at a crossroads of sorts right now, both emotionally and regarding my schedule here.

I've officially decided that it's going to be really rough going back to the States.  For those of you who I haven't told yet, I wasn't accepted to Georgetown in the fall.  I knew it was kind of a long shot, and I only applied to one school.  That part was intentional though.  There just weren't any other schools that really appealed to me.  My plan upon returning is to try and find some job that will boost my candidacy as a grad student, work for a while, and then reapply.  Linguistics is really the only field of study that I feel strongly interested in.  It sucks to have so much uncertainty as I return home.  I've decided I shouldn't come back to Europe though.  It would be too easy.  I've been doing "too easy" for too long.

In terms of my schedule, today is my last day of work before the Easter vacation (La Semana Santa).  The reality is that we only have a week off school, but I have the nagging suspicion that the time is going to whiz by far too quickly afterwards.  When thought of in terms of available weekends, there are only three left where I don't have something planned, or am working on planning something.  It's absurd.

But there's a lot of good happening as well.  I'm taking the bus up to Madrid tonight with Brittany to get our parents who are visiting for the week.  It's funny how it worked out: Our parents are flying out of different cities, but arriving at the same time, on the same day, and (this part is on purpose) staying in the same hotel in Madrid.  It's going to be quite the whirlwind tour of Spain for me and my family.  We're doing two days in Madrid, two days in Sevilla, then coming to Granada to set up our home base.  From Granada we'll be taking day trips to Guadix, Gibraltar, Nerja, Córdoba and possibly Tarifa (tbd).

Another good is that I don't have to work for a week!  If I have to correct someone from saying, "I lived in London during 2 months," I might actually lose my mind.

Another good is that I got my camera back today!  I mentioned this a few posts ago, but I forgot to wrap up the rest of the story.

In quick summary, when I got to Sevilla from Paris, I went to the Corte Inglés where I bought the camera and they were able to find the receipt from the transaction and printed me a copy.  I took it to Granada with me and they contacted Canon, set up a courrier pick up, and two days later my camera was on its way to Madrid to get checked out.  I got it back today and it works just like it's brand new!  It was perfect timing.  If I didn't get it back today, I wouldn't have it for at least another week and a half.  Thank God.

So that explains why there aren't any pictures from my most recent doings and happenings on this post.  Well, any of MY pictures.  I've pilfered some from a friend or two.

Me and Dana on my host mom's roof, checking out the cathedral in Sevilla.
At the top of the Sierra de Huétor.  Those are the Sierra Nevadas off in the distance.
Delicious fajita dinner on the roof at sunset.
On Avenida Castilla in La Antilla, Huelva.  From left to right: Me, Joey, Dana and Amy.

So there's a taste!  I promise I'll have more pictures now that I have a functioning camera.

Have a Happy Easter : )   I'll try to post at least once before the holiday is over....we'll see...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What doesn't kill you, final installment.

Needless to say this is not what I was expecting.  I protested slightly, to the effect of, “but I didn’t have a choice, I did all I could, I have two kids to feed.”  You know, the usual stuff.  But alas it seemed destined to be.

I reluctantly gave him my credit card and he left to go do his thing.

It should be mentioned at this point that my train car consisted of myself, a handful of adults, and then a million French high schoolers who were just coming back from a trip to Amsterdam.  Most of them passed out as soon as the train started moving, but a lot of them happily perked up when all of this drama started going down.

So anyway, the guy left, I miserably resumed reading my book, and then he eventually came back with a 133€ ticket (fine) and, after I signed everything, told me that he felt sorry (indifferent) that this had happened. 

Being as I couldn’t actually do anything about it at the time, I just sat there pissed off and tried to decide what my next move would be.  I figured I could go to the “Customer Service” office in the train station and talk to someone.  So once we finally arrive in Paris, I walk into the station and look around but there are only ticket windows.  Something tells me that’s not going to be helpful.  Plus there’s a big line.  No thanks.

I go to the glass “SNCF Information” cube in the center of the station.  I explain to the guy (twice) what happened, and after he finally starts listening to what I’m saying, he raises his eyebrows and says, “Yikes, that sounds awful.”

No shit, Sherlock.

He thinks for a bit and then pulls out this complaint form and gives it to me.  I look at the and it has all these fields to fill out, plus a big blank section where I have to write out my life’s story in French to explain to the SNCF why I deserve to get any money from them.  Based on the fact that I don’t currently live in France, plus based on the fact that I have lived in France before and am quite familiar with how much effort goes into actually getting what would be called “service” in the States…I figured I had a better chance of getting mauled by a bear on the streets of Paris than getting any kind of refund from the SNCF.

I asked if there was anything else he could do, to which he replied no.  Then the thought occurred to me to ask if there was an SNCF boutique nearby.  It was already pushing 6 o’clock though, so I wasn’t sure if one was going to be open, but I could put it on the To-Do List for the next day.

As luck would have it, there was a boutique (I keep saying “boutique” because that’s what it is in French…I guess in English we’d just say “store”?) right next to where Paula lives (the friend I stayed with in Paris), so I was able to walk to the store on my way to Paula’s with no problem.

I get there and sit down to talk to the lady behind the desk and explain what happened (twice).  She looks at me, then turns to her colleague and says, “We can just refund him his ticket, right?”  Her colleague replies, “Yeah, just give so-and-so a call.”  So they make a phone call and happily give me €€!

So after filling out just a bit of paperwork, the lady writes down what happened for me, then makes copies of a bunch of stuff, and says she’ll send it all out in the morning!

I left the store with Paris in front of me, my problems behind me, and the rain above (and on) me.  All in all, I’d count it an expensive win.

The next evening and day were filled with many meanderings and mini-adventures through the beautiful, twisty streets of Paris.  I was asked if all this effort was worth visiting Paris for less than 48 hours.  I replied, “yes” without hesitation.  I’ll always go back to Paris whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Happy to have finally arrived.
Getting our Prescriptions filled.
Amorino candies.
Sushi lunch.
Café hour(s).
View from the café.

Many a good metro ride with Paula.
Morning caffeine boost.
End of the journey.  Back in Sevilla.

And that's it for now!  Thanks for sticking through all these posts until the end.  I hope the story was worth it, lol.

Friday, April 1, 2011

What doesn't kill you, part 3.

After going back and forth with Train Station Guy a few times, trying to find out if there were any other options at my disposal, I left in a huff and went back to the hostel to get online and see if I could change the method of retrieval of the ticket.  Well, after 15 minutes of searching the (unhelpful) French site, I finally came across a page that said, “method of retrieval cannot be changed.”  So that was great.

My only option at that point, it appeared, was to just buy another ticket.  That wasn’t going to happen.  I was already pissed off at the SNCF because the price of my ticket jumped up 30€ during a two hour window when I was going to buy it the first time, so I was already paying an outrageous price for a three hour train ride.

I found out about not being able to change the ticket just as I was supposed to be meeting one of the guys I met at the hostel for drinks.  It was his 25th birthday, so I put my worries to the side for the time being and we went and had some delicious Dutch and Belgian and Irish beers.  It was a lot of fun.  Jason, a Brit, had been living in Africa for the past two years working with this bicycle distribution NGO.  He was just back for two weeks to put together a portfolio and apply for a graduate program at Eindhoven.  So, he wasn’t there to party hearty.  That being said, it was his birthday, plus it was St. Patrick’s Day, so we had to do something.

The next morning I woke up and went back to the train station first thing to see what the cheapest price I could find for a new ticket would be (130€).  Not an option.

I was trying to go through all these different options in my brain to see what I could possibly do.  I begrudgingly came to the conclusion that, as I am now an “adult,” I should just do the mature thing and exchange my ticket for a new one, rather than brazenly jumping on the train without a legit ticket.

My original ticket said that I could exchange it once and get a 50% refund, so I figured, all in all, it would still be cheaper to just buy a new gd ticket than get a fine on the train.

So that’s what I did.  As I was refunding my ticket, I was surprised to learn that I got refunded for 100% of the original ticket.  There was a brief period of 2 minutes where I actually thought fate was smiling on me.  Then I went to buy my new ticket.

I selected my desired date: same day.  Selected country of retrieval of the ticket: The Netherlands.  Selected origin and destination: Amsterdam Centraal, Paris Gare du Nord.  Selected the time of the ticket I wanted: 14:15.

The screen came up asking me to put in my credit card info, and then I was allowed to select my options of ticket retrieval.  When I bought my ticket the first time I had the options of printing the ticket at the train station, printing it at home, or going to an SNCF boutique and doing it.  I picked “print ticket at train station” because then I wouldn’t have to worry about carrying it around with me/forgetting it/getting it stolen/whatever.  It’s just simpler and it’s what I always do.  Wouldn’t you know that the only options it gave me this time were: retrieve ticket at station or retrieve ticket at French SNCF office.  Why can’t I print it off at home?!

I was discontent, to say the least.

By this time it was about 10:30 in the morning, so with my new ticket, I still had a few hours to explore the city.  I had made friends with a girl in the hostel who’s studying in Sevilla, so we hung out for a few hours, went to the flower market, did a Rick Steves walking tour (it was awesome), then I split off to catch my train…and quite probably be put in a French prison for not having abided by French railway regulations.

Some more pics from walking around the city.

Real Dutch Tulips.

Nieuwekerk (New Church) at Dam Square (Dam Square).

Anne Frank huis.  I was thinking about going...but my interest didn't outweigh the entrance fee.

More sights and bikes.

Entrance to the Amsterdam History Museum.

I get on the train and we leave Amsterdam.  We arrive to and leave the airport.  We arrive to and leave Brussels.  We arrive to and leave Anvers.  Next stop Paris.  No one had come buy to check the tickets.  I thought, “Wow, maybe this won’t be a problem.”  It was just as I started to get my hopes up that the two guys walked onto the train and said, “Tickets please.”  Blast.

I show him the email I had received in confirmation of having purchased a ticket.  It had my name, date, train number, car number, seat number, dossier number, transaction number, price of ticket, credit card info, SSN, NIE, pet’s name, favorite color and favorite ice cream flavor.  My feeble brain thought, “there’s no way they won’t accept this as a ticket.”

Ticket Checker Guy: “Ticket please.”

Me: “Here you go.”

He checked the reference number.  No dice.  Checked it again.  No dice.

Ticket Checker Guy: “I’ll try using your name.”

Checks the name.  No dice.  Then he looks at the ticket and says, “Oh, you didn’t print off the ticket like you should have.”

I launch into rapid fire French describing my sob story about how the evil SNCF wouldn’t let me do it and blah blah blah.  (I was extremely fortunate that my French came back.)

At first he got all defensive because he thought I was blaming him, but then when he actually started listening to what I was saying, his demeanor totally changed.

“Oohh, I see.  Yes.  Well, I can guarantee you’re not the only this has happened to.  We’ve been telling the SNCF to put a ticket machine in the Amsterdam station for years, but they refuse.  It’s so stupid.”

This was encouraging: Someone in charge understood my predicament and felt sorry for me.  My spirits were lifted to new heights!  I thought, “This is great! I made the mature, adult decision to buy a new ticket, did all I could, and this guy realizes this and is going to help me out!”

He then went on to say, “So, all I need is your credit card so I can write you out a fine.”