Tomorrow will mark two weeks since I left the U.S. to start my new adventure here in Spain. I’ll be spending the 2015-16 school year working with the North American Language and Culture Assistants program, teaching English at a high school in Andalucia, the southernmost region of the country. Here’s how Spanish life has been treating me so far.
Day 1- Madrid: Bright Lights, Big City
I’ve accepted the fact that my sleeping habits on long-haul flights are similar to those of Buddy the Elf in general.
After deplaning (I like that word) in Spain’s capital city, I was ready to hit the town right away despite the nonexistent amount of sleep I got on the way over. First, though, I needed to get a working SIM card so I could use my phone here in Spain, so it was off to the Vodafone shop in Puerta del Sol. I paid 15€ to get a Spanish cell number and a pay-as-you-go plan (I can still use my same iPhone from the States, which is nice) and was out of the store in 10 minutes.
The downpour that had welcomed my dad and me to Spain cleared out by midafternoon and for the most part, we were able to explore Madrid under sunny, late-summer skies. We saw quite a bit in one afternoon, from the Royal Palace to Plaza Mayor and all the usual tourist places.
Days 2-5 – Almería and Granada (part 1 of 2): “What do you mean it was sold out a month ago?”
We woke up in Madrid to a very-dark-for-7 a.m. sky and headed to the airport for the last leg of the trip down to Almería, the province on the southeastern coast of Spain where I’ll be living and working. Almería city is right on the beach and offers all the beauty and benefits of a coastal town without a huge influx of tourists (then again, it’s off-season, so I may be eating my words come June).
If you want to get an amazing view of the city and a toning workout all at the same time, hike up the steps of the Alcazaba fortress overlooking the city and the Mediterranean. Just like in the Appalachian town where I went to college, in this part of Spain you can seemingly walk to your destination and back, going uphill both ways.
Almería’s location is perfect due to the mountains-to-beach ratio. They’re both right there, so there’s something for everyone. Want to take a hike through the hills? Want to dip your feet into the Mediterranean? Want to do both on the same day? Almería is the place for you.
One day, my dad and I took a bus two hours west of Almería to visit Granada, home of the Alhambra (which you might have seen pictures of but didn’t know what it was called). In the past, it was used as a Moorish palace and fortress. Today, it’s the biggest tourist attraction in Spain. Not exactly the kind of place where you can just show up and get tickets for that same day, as we learned the hard way. Because tickets to the Alhambra palaces usually sell out about a month in advance, the only options are to show up at the ticket office at 7 a.m. to get any extra/unclaimed tickets for the day, or show up in the afternoon and see if maybe you can get tickets to the fortress and the Generalife gardens. Luckily, the latter worked out well for us. The whole place is unbelievable and indescribable, from the beautifully intricate gardens to the postcard-perfect views of the city from the top of the fortress.
Days 6-8 – Albox: So this is where real life starts
As much fun as I was having in Spain, living out of a suitcase and being essentially homeless was getting old. I made my way up to Albox, a smaller town in the northern part of Almería province which is close to the school where I’ll be teaching. I met with the bilingual program director at my school, who I had been in touch with throughout the summer and who was a complete and total rock star when it came to helping me find an apartment. I had been looking on Idealista and set up a few visits in advance – she accompanied me on those visits to make sure I didn’t get ripped off and to help vouch for me (it looked a little more legit when she was there to say “yes, Lindsey will be working with me this school year” as opposed to my little American self walking in off the street with some suitcases).
I eventually found a place that wasn’t even on my original itinerary. We saw a “for rent” sign in the window, called the number, and 5 minutes later the landlord’s coming up with the keys to show us the place. It’s a 3-bedroom, 2-bath (all to myself!) and I’ve been really happy with it so far.
I spent the next few days in Albox getting situated in the new place, buying food, and setting up a bank account. I’m also in the process of getting Internet set up, and that’s the story of how I’ve already used 3/4 of my monthly data in less than two weeks.
Days 9 & 10 – Costa de Almería: Vamos a la playa
Because the first leg of my dad’s return trip to the U.S. left at the asscrack of dawn on day 11, we decided it would be easiest to get a hotel closer to the airport for the last few nights that he was here. The closest hotel to the airport was within walking distance of the beach, which just about sums it up.
Days 11 & 12 – Granada (part 2 of 2): Livin’ la vida Lorca
After saying goodbye to my dad at the airport in Almería, it suddenly hit me that I’m really here, living in a foreign country on my own. It wasn’t necessarily a scary feeling – just very, very humbling.
I had decided to take another trip to Granada to meet up with some fellow English teachers there. It was a little bit of a last minute trip, but just for the hell of it I decided to see if there were any available tickets for the Alhambra palaces over the weekend. (There weren’t.)
My first stop was the Capilla Real, or the Royal Chapel of Granada. Along with being an insanely beautiful church, it’s also where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella are buried. Sound familiar? In 1492, they were the ones who financed Columbus’s journey to sail the ocean blue. Pictures weren’t allowed inside, but that almost makes it a lot cooler to remember, in a way.
Next stop was the Huerta de San Vicente/Casa-Museo Federico García Lorca, the home of my favorite writer in the Spanish language who happens to be from Granada. Huerta de San Vicente was the ~official~ name of the house, which was the summer home of the García Lorca family starting in the 1920s. FGL himself spent a lot of time there, including the last month of his life before his arrest and execution in August 1936.
So we go through the house, and it was absolutely incredible to be in the house of the writer whose work inspired my love for Spanish. We walked up some super narrow stairs to the second floor (how did homeboy and his family not fall every time they went up to their rooms?) and did that part of the tour, and the guide says we are free to take a few minutes to look around the upstairs before we head back down to finish. So I wander into FGL’s room when nobody else is there. It has been preserved as much as possible, down to the light switch on the wall (still the exact same one he used). I stood in there by myself for a few minutes, shed a few literal tears, and composed myself again before rejoining the group.
That night, I saw firsthand how the granadinos know how to throw a party that reverberated throughout the entire city. By the time we made it back to the house, I was exhausted, happy, and ready to flip into bed with the copy of Yerma that my hosts had conveniently left in my guest room.
The next day, I enjoyed a huge, fantastic homemade lunch with my new friends before heading back to Albox. Everyone contributed something to the meal and I couldn’t imagine a better way to end my weekend in Granada.
Day 13 – Albox: Snap back to reality
Spaniards eat a much healthier diet than Americans, thanks in part to the fact that many chemicals and preservatives that we estadounidenses eat all the time are banned in Europe. This is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it is an effortless way to eat healthy, and a curse because food goes stale much faster.
When I got back from Granada last night, I was welcomed with the pleasure of throwing away 3/4 of the small amount of food I’d accumulated so far. Almost everything had gone bad in the few days I’d been away from Albox. The jamón was turning gray, the loaf of bread was hard as a rock, the strawberries had grown a fresh coat of mold. Luckily, I was nowhere close to being hungry after the huge lunch I’d had that afternoon. This morning, I had a few handfuls of almonds and some Greek yogurt (the only things that escaped the trash last night) and headed straight to Mercadona. Important finds: guacamole, Parmesan cheese, and Spain’s answer to Red Berries Special K (cereal is mostly for kids here, but I didn’t care. It was just about the only box that didn’t have cartoon characters on it).
I’ve been having a great time exploring this little corner of Andalucia so far, but I can’t wait to start my teaching job later this week. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take several months to write another blog.