Monday, September 29, 2008

Lesson #2 on Living in Spain

Be prepared to wait in lines. This morning, Tonya and I went to the police department to apply for an NIE (Número de Identificación para Extranjeros, an identification number for foreigners living in Spain).

I´d gone to the police station in La Judería last Friday afternoon to ask for information, and they told me I needed to go to the Figueroa police station. We barely made it there before they closed (at 2:00 in the afternoon! The siesta is a live and well in Córdoba). They had no more appointments that late, but it was worthwhile; I got information about the documents that were needed, as well as a copy of the form to be filled out. Therefore, we were able to come back completely prepared on Monday.

According to the advice I´d received on Friday, we showed up before 7:00 Monday morning. We´d been told that they would give out numbers at that time, and then see people in the order of their numbers. We arrived at 6:45 to find a crowd of Romanian and Moroccan nationals already waiting there. It was quite interesting to join this rough-looking group in front of a police station in an unknown neighborhood in the dark of the early morning, but we were all friends quickly enough. At 7:00...nothing. 7:15....nothing. 7:30....there was a little excitement when a policeman stepped out of the building, but he was just coming out for a smoke. Around 8:00, they finally came out and began dividing the people into groups according to nationality. We were given numbers and told to come back at 9:00, when they would begin to call us in. We found a little coffee shop to get out of the chilly breeze while we waited.

At 9:00....nothing. 9:15....they began to let Spanish nationals in. 10:00....they began to let in foreigners from other EU (European Union) countries. Around 10:45, they finally let us inside the building, into a waiting room that actually had chairs. This was a big improvement! Then came more waiting. About 11:30, we finally got to speak to someone about our NIE. She took all of our paperwork, asked a few questions, and then told us we had to pay 10€ each (as expected). When I asked if she could change a 50€ bill, she said, "I´m not the bank!" I´d thought that was rather rude, but it turned out she was being very literal. We had to leave the police station and go down the street to a bank, which took our payment and stamped our forms. When we returned to the police station, we waited some more. Finally, we went in and did the final paperwork. At 12:30, after 5 1/2 well-spent hours, we were done. All we have to do now is wait five weeks for the identification cards to arrive.


Sunday, September 28, 2008

Lesson #1 on Living In Spain

Personal contacts, personal contacts, personal contacts. As we´re already learning, things are done differently in Spain than they are in the USA. First contacts are best made in person; if you talk to somebody you don´t know for the first time by telephone, you might not get anywhere at all. Sometimes they just don´t even answer the phone. Answering machines are completely unknown.

We´re moving into a hostal today, as I´d mentioned. I had tried to call a couple of days ago to get a place there, but was told that they were full up for the weekend (which is completely true). On Friday, however, we walked over there personally and met with Fernando, the owner. We all had a very pleasant chat (in Spanish; he doesn´t speak any English), and he offered us the room with washing machine and kitchen and all starting on Sunday.

Things got even better. Yesterday we met with Lola and Eduardo, friends of a friend of ours (thanks Rachel!!). They live in San Basilio, very near the hostal, and are good friends of Fernando. While walking over to their house, we stopped by the hostal. Demetrio, Fernando´s son, offered us a glass of wine and we all chatted some more. Now we´ve progressed from making a personal contact ourselves to being friends. I feel as if we´re being welcomed into a big family. Fernando may be able to help us on finding a permanent piso as well; Tonya and I are both thinking that it would be very nice to live in San Basilio.

Lola and Eduardo took us into their house for a lovely afternoon of eating, chatting, eating, touring the house, eating, practicing English with their daughter Elena, eating, talking about Eduardo´s hiking group, and eating. Oh, and there was lots of food to eat. Lola is a wonderful cook, and Tonya joined her in the kitchen for her first lesson on Spanish cuisine.

Things are progressing well! Sorry we´re not posting pictures yet, but we´re dealing with hotel Internet connections. Soon, I hope.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Exploring Córdoba!

The adventure continues. We have arrived in Córdoba. Housing has been catch-as-catch-can for the moment. We´re in a hotel on a central plaza downtown, but they only had a room available for two nights. The people at the school (Instituto Gran Capitán) have been very helpful, and came up with some options of another place to stay so that we wouldn´t be out on the street. Then our original hotel had a cancellation, so we can stay here a few nights more. On Sunday, we´ll be moving into a hostal which is like a small apartment, with kitchen and washing machine (and air conditioning!!....thank you Rick Steves!). That´s still not a permanent solution, but it will be perfect as we continue the search for nuestro propio piso (our own apartment). We´re meeting with a rental broker this morning, and meeting a Cordoban friend of a friend tomorrow (thanks Rachel!), and of course my new colleagues at Gran Capitán are being a big help. Hopefully it won´t take us long.

Meanwhile we are exploring the narrow twisting streets of this beatiful old city, getting lost regularly and having a great time. It reminds me very much of my time in Guanajuato Mexico, almost as if Guanajuato was built by homesick Spanish conquistadores. The big attraction is La Mezquita, an ancient mosque from the days when Córdoba was the capital of the Muslim Al-Andalus. We´ve only seen it from the outside so far, because we´ve been so busy dealing with the logistics of making a new home. Near La Mezquita is the ancient Roman bridge across the Rio Guadalquivir. Right now we don´t have a good way to post pictures, but we´ll do so as soon as possible.

It´s almost as if we´re having to re-learn everything about day-to-day life. Some things are similar, but many are quite different. Entering a supermarket is a new adventure; everything is in metric, of course, and many of the names for things is unfamiliar. (Vocabulary for food items seems to be very specialized and very local.) Another interesting example dealing with the metric system: we got some detergent to hand-wash clothes in our room. The detergent was supposed to use 100ml per 5l of water. Whaaa.....?? Doing mental conversions: 100ml is one-tenth of a liter. One liter is about a fourth of a gallon. Eyeballing the sink, it looked to hold a little over a gallon, so we figured that it was close enough to five liters. One liter is about a quart, or four cups. Therefore, 100ml is about .4 cups. Therefore, we needed just under a half cup of detergent. Voila! We´ll be dealing with these sorts of things a lot, I have a feeling.

More to come!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Teaser Picutres

More pictures will follow, but here are the first couple we've been able to upload with our limited Internet access. An unusual view of the Venus de Milo, and the Chateau Chambord.

Notes on Driving in France

Driving in France is different than driving in America. Or, maybe I should say, navigating is different. I’m accustomed to going by the map; we take Highway X to Highway Y, exit at Offramp Z, turn left on Alpha Street, turn right on Beta Street, and go to 123 Beta Street. Here, it just doesn’t work like that. The streets can go in any direction, and they change names without warning. I’d initially tried to drive according to my American instincts, and it was driving me nuts.

The way you navigate in France is by signs. You figure out what is the next major town or landmark in roughly the direction you want to go, and follow the signs on the street. As you approach that intermediate destination, you look for the signs which route you to the next destination. It reminds me of packet routing through the Internet. It sounds crazy, but it works. The signs will route you through all of the twisty-turny streets, along the one-way streets, and keep you going in the right direction. If you make a wrong turn, you either double back to the last sign, or you drive ahead until you see another sign.
I’m not sure if this method would work quite so well in a large city, but it’s been very effective here in the countryside. We’ve been having a marvellous time, and haven’t had (much) trouble finding what we need to find. It’s rather liberating; I have the confidence now that we could take off driving wherever we want across France.

GPS is just a crutch. We don’t need no stinking navigation system!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Amsterdam, Paris, and beyond

Scott and I are having a wonderful time enjoying the French Chateaus and countryside. Many thanks to Gerard and Diane for suggesting that we rent a car. Driving is just not an issue. The French drivers are polite and courteous and I have only been honked at a couple of times… Language is another matter. But, as I am having enough of a problem learning to speak Spanish, I have been allowing Scott to do most of the taking. It is comforting though when most people tell me they speak a little English, to find that their command of the English language is less than my knowledge of German or Spanish.
Anyway, Amsterdam is a truly lovely city, filled with picturesque bridges and lots of English speaking people. We spent the day just walking the city, trying to keep ourselves awake. After much discussion, we finally decided to take the walk through the Red Light district late in the afternoon. I am not sure what the hype was all about. The street was mostly Pot and Hash dens. The aroma walking down the street was much akin to walking down a dorm hall. (I certainly do not miss that!) We only saw a couple of prostitutes and they were pretty tame. We actually passed more prostitutes outside of the district earlier that day – although Scott was oblivious to all but the last one. We went to find a restaurant for dinner and we stopped in front of the restaurant’s supposed address to check the map. Well… clueless us, we happened to stop in front of, shall we say… one lady’s establishment – and she began to strut her stuff. Scott was looking at the map, but in her direction, but not noticing the show. She apparently took this to mean that he was interested and began to turn to come outside until I caught her with nothing short of a glare as I suggested that Scott and I move along. I can only describe this woman’s look toward Scott as predatory.
Paris was wonderful! We are doing a lot of walking. First to Notre Dame, then across the Seine and up Champ Elyse to the Arc du Triumph. We lunched on the lawn beneath the Eifel Tower, and then took in the Rodin museum before returning to our temporary home in Montparnasse. The next day was devoted to museums, the Louvre and the Orsay. Wow! Scott even managed to capture a couple of unusual photos, which we will post soon. That evening we ventured out to do reconnaissance at the Gare de Montparnasse to figure out where to get the car the next day, and then took the train back into the center of Paris to see the Eifel Tower in lights… Simply magnificent! No one ever told me that it sparkles in the dark.
Pictures to follow soon …

Thursday, September 4, 2008

So how much stuff do you really need?

We're coming down to the wire on our travel, and it's amazing how many details you have to deal with. Magazine subscriptions, utilities, bill payments, goes on and on. Sometimes it makes me envy the young college students who can go off on this sort of adventure without all the strings that tie them to an established household, but Mom and Dad still have the household waiting for them when they return!

The big question is in the title: how much stuff do you really need? Since shipping expenses to Spain are prohibitively expensive ($350 for 50 pounds....ouch!), we'd like to limit ourselves to what we can bring in our suitcases. Spain is a Western European country, and I'm sure we'll be able to buy everything we need for much less than it would take to ship it. The question then becomes: what is so important to you that you're willing to carry it through a succession of airports and train stations, but so unique and personal that you can't buy it elsewhere? I'm finding it a liberating experience to realize how few of our multitudinous "things" meet that criteria. We have to carry enough to take us through the first two weeks of travel (clothes, toiletries, laptop, travel guides, something to read on the plane). Beyond that....well, I have few poetry books that I enjoy reading again and again. And I have some materials that will be helpful for my English teaching.

See, the self-examination and personal growth is beginning before we even leave!