The beginning

I’m writing this post from “my” bed in Ronda, Spain, with wet hair, a full coffee pot for tomorrow morning, and my window open to a courtyard where someone is mysteriously walking around outside and making noise.

This is the first chance that I’ve actually gotten to blog about my experience traveling to Spain, and the day-and-a-half of living I’ve done here in my new city. Although I feel really inclined to jump into talking about how I’m feeling RIGHT NOW, everyone knows that a story needs a little bit of exposition first. And besides, I took lots of pictures!

The night before I left was the first time I started to feel even a smidgen of nervousness about my trip. Honestly, I had felt nothing but excitement and impatience before that point, but when I was struggling to pack my carry-on bag and suitcase, I became tense and suddenly kind of overwhelmed thinking about what I was about to do. I decided to just try to be as calm as possible, but the morning before my parents and I left my house and during the drive to the airport, my stomach was still in anxious knots.

Labor Day traffic on the way to Philadelphia was not kind to us, and though we planned to arrive 3 hours early for my flight, we actually got there about 2 hours prior. This worked in my favor, though, because by the time I got there and went to get my boarding pass, the girl at the ticket kiosk told me that “Sorry, coach is full, so we had to bump you up to business class.” As though that needed an apology!

So I flew first class on British Airways. This was my first time EVER flying first class, and it was also the longest flight that I had ever been on (7 hours). So after my friend Tim (follow his travel blog!) and I had some wine, cheese and olives at an airport restaurant, I boarded a plane to find out that I was going to be about as comfortable as possible on a plane.

Yes. Check out that leg room. My seat also had a TV with a media remote, so I did crossword puzzles and stuff when we were taking off and being served dinner (I just didn’t feel like watching a movie…

So, then dinner was served. I know the joke is always “So what’s the deal with airline food?” But this was actually really awesome. I wasn’t super hungry, but the food was complementary and I wasn’t about to miss finding out what dinner is like in first class. My meal included: a salad with grilled artichoke, blanched asparagus, and tomato petals with sherry truffle vinaigrette; Parmesan and rosemary-crusted fillet of beef with fingerling potatoes, white asparagus and Chianti sauce; and for dessert, some sort of custard and Varda chocolates.

I wanted to just sleep for the whole flight, but with dinner and playing with the amenities, it was a while before I finally got the chance to settle down. Our flight left at 6:20 pm and was due in London around 6:20 am. It sounds like a 12-hour flight, but since we flew across 5 time zones, it was actually only a 7 hour flight.

So, I tried to sleep. I was worried about not being able to get comfortable on the plane, but in first class, the seat FOLDS DOWN INTO A BED.

Look at all those seat positions!

Anyway, so eventually I lay down and tried to sleep, but unfortunately… I caught a cold or a sinus infection or something from sleeping with the window open before I left. So I was having difficulty breathing, and the sinus pressure was awful, and my throat kept getting dry and tickly. Eventually I took some ibuprofen and was able to sleep, but not for too long.

We landed in London Heathrow the next morning (though, to my body, it was 1 am). It took quite a while to get unloaded from the plane and through security again, so I didn’t get to take pictures at the airport or really explore, which sucked because that airport is HUGE.

We boarded a plane to Madrid, which was the worst flight of the three, though it was only 2.5 hours. I came from British Airways first class to Iberia coach… and I felt like I had no room in the plane! It didn’t help that by this time, I was so tired and starting to feel really GROSS from not showering for almost a day.

Our stop at the Madrid airport wasn’t very long either, but the place was huge, and I had to snap a few photos.

So then we boarded our final one-hour flight, to Málaga. During these two flights, the language barrier began to start making itself evident, since many of the passengers didn’t speak English. I wanted to practice my Spanish a little, but I was so tired that I mostly tried to sleep and took some pictures of Spain out the window.

By the time we got to Málaga, I was exhausted, gross, and just happy that the airline hadn’t lost our bags. We managed to get a taxi, and headed to the bus station. We were told to buy tickets from Los Amarillos, but the booth was closed for about an hour, so we waited around on benches until it opened.

The bus station was pretty shady. Tim told me that’s how bus stations normally are (he’s a city slicker from Philly; I’m from a town with fewer than 5000 people in it).

The defining moment of shady came when a man who (I’m assuming) was homeless came up to us holding a bottle of wine he was drinking from and a cigarette, and starting saying something to us. He was obviously saying something derogatory and possibly threatening to Tim, but we couldn’t understand what he was saying. Tim just did his best to ignore the guy while I glared at him–I’m just glad nothing more came of it after that, but it shook me up quite a bit.

We finally boarded our bus to go to Ronda, and there was an issue with my ticket. The bus driver tried to tell me about it, but he was speaking Spanish very fast and I didn’t understand him. I was still able to ride the bus, but that encounter left me feeling even more unsure of myself. I thought I knew Spanish better than that!

I found myself in an uncomfortable place during the bus ride. Suddenly, I felt really helpless. It struck me how far away I am now from everything that I’ve ever known. The encounter with the man in the bus station made me worry about what kind of rough situations I could find myself in while abroad, and the talk with the bus driver made me feel like an idiot who can’t understand any Spanish. I was also just dead tired from all the travel, and wanted nothing more but to REST.

I comforted myself by taking pictures of the ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS countryside we drove through.

As you can see, everything is ridiculously gorgeous. Eventually we reached Ronda, where we expected to be greeted by our landlords. My landlord, Pepi, was already there, but Tim’s landlord Andres was running late. Pepi and I waited with him. She is an older woman, probably in her 50s or 60s, and she speaks only Spanish… no English. Andres showed up soon after, and he took Tim to his apartment while I left with Pepi.

I tried to talk to her in broken Spanish while we drove to the house. It seemed that it was easier for me to say something and have her understand than it was for me to understand her–she talks so fast!

She showed me the apartment… and although at first I thought it was adorable (probably just because I was so glad to see a bed), it quickly sunk in that this was NOT the kind of place that I’d been hoping to stay at.

Originally, I had been assigned an apartment, and pictures were sent to me of it. I was very happy with that first arrangement, but unfortunately, something changed and I was placed here without knowing what it looked like.

This is a house, not an apartment building. With many rooms. Pepi lives downstairs, but some of her rooms are up here, too. There are also 3 other men who live here whom I’ve caught glimpses of and spoken to briefly, but I have no idea who they are. My “apartment” consists of a kitchen at the top of the main staircase (right next to a room that I’ve seen one of the men in?) with a laundry area near it, a “living room” that is too close to everyone else and is pretty small, and a hallway that leads back to a bathroom and my roommate’s and I’s rooms.

The walls are very thin here, and my room looks out over a courtyard in the center of the building. I feel like I hear everyone moving and talking in this house, and it’s weird to me. I feel like this isn’t an apartment, and I’m afraid I don’t really have the kind of privacy that I expected.

I know that all sounds very negative. Those thoughts weren’t my initial assessment, but they’re the things I’ve come to realize over the past day.

My first reaction was “Oh, this is cute!” which turned into “Okay, I can work with this…” which led to “Come on, really?”

I felt really tired and wanted to sleep, but Pepi told me that the market was closing at 9, and that it would be closed for Sunday, so I should go buy food.

I soon found how frustrating it is to not be able to communicate normally. I wanted to find out how Tim was making out and meet up with him, but without a phone I just had to get online and HOPE he got on at the same time. Once I got in touch with him, I tried walking to his apartment, as I had done on Google Maps. I got a little lost, which scared me… I knew what direction I needed to go, but it took me a long time to get to the right street (they’re not well-labeled here). I got to the building that I thought was Tim’s and realized I didn’t know his apartment number.

So then I stood there. And stood there. And walked across the street, looking very shady, I’m sure. And then I got scared that we would miss the store closing, so I tried in vain to call my boyfriend, Jimmy (on my global phone) and see if he could get online and talk to Tim. This didn’t work out either, and feeling very lost and frustrated, I walked back to my apartment. By the time I got back there, the stores were about to close, so I sat in my room and tried not to cry. Nothing really seemed to be going how I thought it would be.

Luckily, Pepi showed me a few groceries she had bought for me–it was very nice of her, although even that gesture made me nervous. Was I supposed to pay her? Was she planning on treating me like a host mother? So many questions, so much confusion!

I was very upset and even–surprisingly–homesick by this point. Luckily, I got in touch with Tim. It turns out Andres had been showing him things in the apartment, showing him the school, and driving him to the grocery store. Andres also DOES NOT LIVE in Tim’s apartment, and Tim told me that he was very, very pleased with his place. Lucky him!

We met for a late dinner… and I think my stress was ridiculously obvious. I felt like I was going to cry or throw up at any minute because I was so anxious about everything. Tim had a good solution: drink. It worked. We had sangria with dinner, and then went to a much-lauded bar called Huskies, which is run by an ex-pat from Connecticut.

We played darts there, and got to know the bartender, Jose, and the owner, Carlos. Both men were very kind, and spoke English to us. We asked them a lot about the area, and they even poured some free shots for us, as a sort of “nice to meet you” gesture. At some point during the night, Tim and I went to get some tapas, and Carlos was so nice that he even let us leave and come back without paying our bill before we left.

At the end of the night, I finally went to see Tim’s apartment, and he’s right–it is awesome. I was pretty jealous. I managed to find my way back to my house, let myself in quietly, and get up to my room. I felt GOOD.

I woke up. I FELT TERRIBLE. I’d left the air conditioner on while I slept, and so my throat and nose felt WORSE. Suddenly, I had a new worry! “I’m sick. I need cold medicine. What happens if I get REALLY sick? Oh no, the stores are closed today! No cold medicine, then.” And then I was worrying more about my living situation, and more about adjusting, and I needed to find WATER, BADLY.

I got ready and walked to Tim’s apartment, which looked even BETTER in the daylight. His is very private, on a top floor of a building. It has two balconies, a spacious kitchen, big rooms, and nice decorations. Even better, Tim didn’t have any roommates at first. A German girl is apparently going to come in the next day or so to stay for three weeks, and another couple is coming today to stay for a month.

After Tim had to reassure me about my new batch of worries (like I’m seriously a lot of baggage as a friend right now… I don’t know how he’s putting up with me), we discussed MY apartment situation. Our director, Joaquin, made it sound as though we didn’t have to stay in our assigned apartment if we didn’t like it. I was really, really torn about trying to switch, but since Andres is so cool and Tim knows the apartment will be empty again in a month, he told me he’d talk to him about it.

After an awesome lunch of gazpacho and fresh fish at an outdoor cafe (which then set me off into worrying about spending too much money), we went back to my apartment to pay my rent. I was told my rent would be 250 euros, but when I gave that to Pepi, she told me that I owed her 25 more… my rent being 275 euros. This upset me more, considering I’m not altogether happy with my living situation (AND had just started to worry afresh about money). Also, I STILL have trouble understanding Pepi, since she talks so fast. She is a sweet lady, and I honestly feel bad that I don’t like the apartment because I don’t want to hurt her feelings.

Tim and I decided to walk around town and find our school, so I took lots of photos.

This is the front door to my apartment.

This is the view from my front door.

The view at the end of my street.

Me, trying desperately to hold my skirt down against the wind.

El Puente Nuevo! The most photographed part of Ronda.

These are the views from either side of the Puente Nuevo!
And, we found our school

That last photo is La Carrera de Espinel, the main shopping road. I went home feeling a little bit better, but when I got back to my house I ran into two of the men living here. One is much older, and I thought he might be Pepi’s husband (but there’s ANOTHER older man here too!) and a young man, around my age or a little older. Neither of them spoke English, and I have absolutely no idea what our conversation consisted of. It was pleasant, but I think they could tell I had no idea what they were saying. I introduced myself and was like “Estoy viviendo…” and promptly forgot how to say “upstairs” so I made some weak gesture at the staircase. They probably already knew that. And then I basically just told them I don’t speak a lot of Spanish (though I used to think I did).

After this, I went back to feeling SCARED and FRUSTRATED again. I came up to my room and spent a lot of time talking to my boyfriend online, trying to sort through my pictures, and looking up information about culture shock, which I am DEFINITELY experiencing.

My moods have been so volatile since I’ve been here. I’ll go out and do something cool in the city and really enjoy the place (it IS beautiful, the nightlife is great, and there are so many cool shops!), but then I keep having run-ins like this that make me feel like I’m never going to be able to understand the people around me or be understood while I’m here. My anxiety levels are through the roof when I start thinking like this, and I worry about little things that wouldn’t normally cause me an issue. It seems to be improving slightly. The downs don’t last as long and the ups are better than before, but I’m still very disoriented.

One great piece of news: Tim spoke to Andres, who said he would rent me one of the rooms in Tim’s apartment in October since I’ve already paid rent here for this month, and since he has boarders until then. It’s actually less expensive to stay in that apartment, even though it’s (in my opinion) better. Apparently, the first month’s rent is always higher (hence the 275 euros) because there’s no lease, so we can choose to move somewhere else if we wish.

Right now, I feel like I would like to move. But I don’t have to make any decisions anytime soon. I have nearly a month, so who knows? Maybe once I’m adjusted, I’ll like it here so much that I won’t want to move. But it’s very comforting to know that I at least have that option.

I felt better tonight. Tim and I went out for tapas and wine, and then got gelato. I had no bad run-ins with the language barrier while we were out (I mean, little misunderstandings and hand gestures, but nothing major). I took a shower when I got back, set up my coffee maker for the morning, and set the alarm on my phone. Tomorrow is the first day of classes!

I think things will be better when I know other students and have the guidance of the school faculty. But first, I have to wake up and MAKE IT to my placement exam on time. This blog took longer than I thought and it’s now 2 am here, so I’m going to wrap this up and go to sleep.

I’ll share more tomorrow!

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2 thoughts on “The beginning

  1. Hey, love your blog. Just wanted to say hang in there – what you’re doing is absolutely amazing, and it’s going to be way scary to start with. Don’t let it get you down, I can’t wait to read more of your adventures!

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