Archive | September, 2012

Poco a poco

29 Sep

This is hard for me, accepting everything a little bit at a time. I am the typical American….I want it NOW! I want to be able to speak fluently NOW! I want to be able to understand everything people are saying to me and around me, NOW! I want to know where I am going and not worry about getting lost, NOW! I wantto be able to express myself and my thoughts in castellano, NOW! Mom always told us kids ¨Patience is a virtue,¨ and she is right. I have the patience of Job about now.

I am sitting here watching  an American movie on Spanish TV, and beginning to understand it without relying totally on the action behind it. (And also not laughing hysterically at the dubbing with lips moving out of sync with words!) It is comforting to realize that my Spanish understanding really IS beginning to get better, and after only three weeks here. I watched a cool quiz game show earlier today, a jeopardy-type show, with pre-teens competing against each other to answer trivia questions. I am proud to say, though the level of question certainly was not as high as Jeopardy, I was able to answer two-thirds of the questions without any help! Several would have been impossible for me because they were Spanish pop culture questions, and I am not yet familiar with the pop culture themes.

I am feeling much better about being here because even just last week, I was beginning to think that my castellano was never going to improve, that my listening skills were horrid, and that I had made a big mistake thinking that I would be able to improve at all – I am too old and set in my ways. Last night I went out by myself to go salsa dancing and met some very nice people. Even got a teléfono so we can talk more over un café some day soon. People were impressed with my castellano and that I could speak so well. (I think they are surprised that a gringa from the Estado Unidos knows a second language!)  I am still very shy and listen more than I speak and continue to nod a lot in agreement when I don´t fully understand. But the sentido (the general idea) I am getting more every day. Gracias a Dios!

Using GoogleMaps and the app for the Bilbobus is a real treat as well. Between the two, I am learning my way around the city and navigating pretty well. Some day I may even be able to walk around without looking at my phone every three seconds. I am still afraid of going off the beaten path, for fear of not finding the metro or bus stop again, but I am sure that once I have my sense of direction back (where North and South are) I will feel more comfortable. I did explore a little in Casco Viejo (Old Bilbao) the other night and found some great shopping –anything from cheap chino stores to high-end shopping. I am thinking I must be developing a shoe fetish because I was only able to bring about four pairs of shoes with me, and now, all I want to do is buy shoes! When I pass a shoe store, I am smitten and glued to  the window!

Poco a poco, little by little. A good way to live.





I Took a Ride…

27 Sep

On the metro today. And actually thought I might cheat the system. Not on purpose I tell you. It was all an accident. Too bad you can’t sightsee while you are underground!

You see, I went to a new part of town to get my Spanish Social Security Number because I have a second job at an Academy that requires me to get one. Easiest darn process ever! Didn’t even ask me for blood or anything! Anyways, on my way home, I wasn’t paying attention and got on the metro train going away from my house instead of towards my house. As soon as I realized this, I got off the subway, walked across the platform and got on the correct subway train heading the other way, without canceling my ticket. I didn’t think it would be big deal.

UNTIL…I got off the subway at my regularly scheduled stop and tried to cancel my ticket. Lo and behold, the machine said “Error, Will Robinson, Error!” in both castellano and euskera. I was stunned and didn’t know what to do, until it dawned on me what I had done – I “cheated” the system. I didn’t cancel my ticket at the other end before re-boarding the metro.

So I had to re-board the metro, take it seven stops down the line AGAIN (at least one stop past my original destination) and cancel my ticket and then board the metro a fourth time going in the correct direction so I could finally make it home. Trust me, I thought about jumping those canceladores (turnstiles) but I had almost ten dollars worth of travel on that ticket that I didn’t want to lose!

It was well worth it in the end, as a gentleman pulled out his guitar and sang a beautiful Spanish ballad through three metro stops on the way back.


21 Sep

Proud. That’s me today. Three days in a row that I didn’t get lost going to several different places all across a city of almost 400.000. Using the metro, the bus and walking. May not seem like much to some of you bigger cityfolk, but for me, who came here from little ol’ Shelbyville, where it takes to ten minutes to drive from one side of town to the other and there are no rotundas (roundabouts) and certainly no metro with two lines nor bus stops that have six different bus routes stop there, it is a really big deal!

I am enjoying this process, getting to know this city, poco a poco, little by little. As I was walking to the metro stop on Wednesday, I even met someone I knew–one of the teachers from my new school! We chatted for a minute and kissed each other on both cheeks as we said good-bye. Such a warm and welcoming place Spain is.

As many may already know, I took a huge risk coming here. I was offered a job as a Visiting Teacher and was going to be paid an adequate salary but, due to the economic conditions in Spain, the Ministerio de Educación de España canceled the program and offered us select few an alternate route to fulfill our dreams. It pays one-third the Visiting Teacher´s salary (which is more in tune with the regular Spaniard´s salary) and we work fewer hours. Needless to say, with a daughter in college, I need to supplement my income. I advertised to teach private English classes and have had good luck so far. A private academy contacted me, and I was hired to teach two nights a week for two and a half hours. That makes traveling all over the city unnecessary for those two nights!

I had my first private lesson in a home last night and was stunned at what is expected of these students in a high school English class! He was reading Catcher in the Rye! Discussing theme, style, and motif. Of course, why should I be surprised? This student has been studying English since he was eight! Eight years of a second language and our students are just beginning to study one.

So yes, I am proud. A job at an Academy. A few jobs lined up tutoring in homes. Not getting lost three days in a row. I am gonna make it here.

Getting from here to there

18 Sep

I made it to my NIE (Número de Identificación Extranjera) appointment last week without getting lost! First time since I have been in-country that I haven´t at least wondered ¨Am I where I am supposed to be?¨ Or wandered at least a kilometer or two extra because I wasn’t sure where I was going.

Like the day before the NIE appointment. Thank goodness for the trusty GPS on my phone. I forgot my map at home (not that it would have done me much good anyway. For almost ten dollars it is lacking serious detail.) I was on my way to meet someone. I consulted the map and even GoogleMaps before I left the house. I took the metro to what I thought was the correct stop and went up the escalators to the brilliant sky above. I asked at an heladeria if the street I was looking for was nearby and she assured me it was, but she couldn’t exactly pinpoint where, so I just meandered through all the crisscrossing pedestrain areas, looking at all the street signs written in a language I did not recognize. Then I asked a couple people, and they said they knew of no such street in this part of town. Trusty GPS, here I come! Only 1.6 km (approximately 1 mile) to my destination by car. How did my GPS know to convert to meters and kilometers? It’s an American phone. Amazing. So here I go walking, listening to the trusty GPS talk to me, butchering the names of these streets in Spanish and Euskera (Basque) like crazy. I laughed as I listened, and then laughed harder as I imagined what people must have thought of me, a crazy lady laughing to herself with her phone to her ear and then looking at it as though it bit her. I arrived thirty minutes later, thanks to the GPS. And learned I got off one metro stop too early.

While walking all these extra miles, I occasionally pick up some debris from ground. It is a rare occasion I must say and I was quite surprised when I read the warnings on a cigarette pack one day. “Smoking kills.” The other side read: “Smoking shortens one’s life.” The day that would happen in the US! People smoke the same here as in the US, although part of my rental contract is that any guests I have who smoke, they will smoke on the balconies!

But I digress. Walking around here is quite a treat. I have been to a few big cities in the US (Seattle, DC, Chicago) and there are many, many pedestrians in each of those cities. But you had better watch where you are going there and follow the “Walk/Don’t Walk” signs pretty strictly, less you get run over. Not to mention that the streets, for the most part (except in DC) run parallel and perpendicular to each other. Not so here in Spain! If I were to find a parallell set of streets, I might just faint! It seems as though all the street run in circles, angles and trapezoids to each other and any other figure you can imagine that is NOT a square or rectangle! Roundabouts (or rotondas, as they say in Spanish) are abundant, and I think I have figured out why — to slow people down for all the pedestrians. There are pedestrians crossways with stoplights in the middle of a stretch of road, at every corner, at every rotonda, everywhere you look. The amazing thing is, that even without a signal for the pedestrians to cross, the cars and buses STOP when they see a person APPROACH the pedestrian crosswalk. I am flabberghasted by this concept. Such manners. Such politeness. No revving the engine to beat the pedestrian, no gunning it to make it to the stop sign before the people walking do. They actually wait and allow the pedestrians to cross! What a concept! Perhaps we could learn from this. A rotunda to slow people down. They sure do add beauty to the cityscape!


My New Home: Tranquila at Last

15 Sep

View from my bedroom

I finally found my new home for a year. And it feels good! I am like a kid in a candy store…I woke up this morning with a huge smile on my face, grinning ear to ear. You would have thought I won the lottery! You see, finding a room like this one for the price and area, is a bargain. I have two German roommates through the first week of October and after that, the whole piso is mine alone, with no increase in rent! Two bathrooms, everything recently renovated, two balconies, views of the mountains!


My landlady is sweet as pie, and very helpful, explaining how to manipulate the bus system and using the cards for the metro and the bus. Awesome. She has maps of Bilbao here and explained where the supermercado was. (It’s about a 3 minute walk from my house.) It’s going to be an uphill walk home from work, but hey, sexy legs are “in,” aren’t they? My school is a ten minute walk from here and so is the metro (subway) to go into the centro. Bien comunicado. (Well situated.)

I look forward to exploring all the different streets and geting to know my neighborhhod and can finally sit back and be Tranquila, as everyone here seems to advise when I get a little anxious and apologize!


13 Sep

Frustration. And a couple of tears. But only a couple. Thus far I have made it with just one that made it to my chin and the rest have stayed wallowed in my eyes. But if you have had the same past couple of days that I have had, you may have just broken down and sobbed!

It helps being able to mostly speak and understand the language. It also helps that some of my Hispanic friends in the States hooked me up with friends here in Pais Vasco before I arrived so I am not totally alone on this journey. Without their help, I am not sure what I would have done.

It all started about three days ago when the cash that I had brought me with starting running low. Before leaving the States, I told my bank on three different occasions that I was moving to Spain and that I would need to use my debit card internationally. Pues, si. I went to a cajero to withdraw money and, lo and behold, I was not permitted to do so. So I went to a different bank and tried again, thinking it was just that bank, and again, not permitted. I tried to use my debit card to charge something and was not allowed to do that either. Oh my – was I in some serious trouble! I had twenty euros cash to my name! They don’t use credit cards around here – everything is cash! Even to buy a bus ticket at the bus terminal. So much for the Visa motto – everywhere you want to be!

I had to figure out something and fast. I needed to talk to someone at the bank, but how? Ah ha! Call my mom on Skype and have her call the bank while she and I spoke on Skype. But with the difference of six hours, bankers hours, and my mom always being outside in her gardens, ufff, what were the chances of all this coming together? I stayed on Facebook for a couple hours and messaged everyone I saw on there. I even e-mailed my ex-husband to call my mom. I finally got a hold of my sister-in-law on Facebook, and she was able to contact Mom. Mom came to the rescue. Through some fancy dealing with Skype and speaker phone, we resolved the problem with the bank. They did have a block on my account for overseas transactions but released it. Problem number one resolved.

Thus begins saga number two. I went to Bilbao yesterday. It is an hour trip one-way from San Sebastian where I am staying right now. A one way bus ticket costs 10,40 euros (because I still haven’t figured out how to buy the cheaper luralldebus card so I can ride for 6,04 euros one way.) I was going to go on Monday and had bought my ticket, but looked at what I thought was the horario (schedule) for the Luralldebus and saw that I wouldn’t get to Bilbao until 1230 or 1 pm, which was late in the day for Spain. Everything closes by 2pm for what I was wanting to do so it would have been a waste of time. So I took my ticket and went home, thinking I could just use the same ticket on Tuesday.

But NO! When I got to the bus on Tuesday morning, the ticket was for 10 AM and I was trying to board the 9 AM bus. This was not meant to be. The bus driver had already torn my 10,40 euro ticket so I could not get a refund — $13 wasted. I had to go buy another 10,40 euro ticket for the 9 AM bus and in a hurry (thankfully there was no cola!) I also discovered that on Monday, when I looked at the bus schedule, it was for a different bus company! Roger had been right — the company I had bought a ticket from did have buses that left every thirty minutes for Bilbao and all I would have had to do was wait just a few more minutes. Duh! Qué será, será.

Back to Tuesday. Tuesday was to be a full day: Meet the teachers at my school (I had no appointment but I wanted to at least introduce myself to them), get my appointment for my NIE (Número de Identificación Extranjera), open a bank account, and get a telephone. Pues, si. When I went to the bank, they told me they would charge me 6 euros each month with only my passport but with my NIE, it would be free. So I decided to wait and go get my NIE. By the time I reached the Comisaría de Policía Nacional, they were closed, by 5 minutes, and wouldn´t allow me to even make an appointment. And, of course, you have to make the appointment in person. Which is all well and good, because I later found out that I need to have my permanent address in order to apply for the NIE.

Mi amigo that accompanied me Tuesday helped me navigate the city. Thankfully, with his help and guidance, I was able to find everything I needed to find and he helped me relax when my frustration level was high. He was also quite helpful in translating at the bank and asking the right questions when I couldn´t think to ask them. The whole time I thought I should open my bank account and secure a phone in Bilbao and Iacob assured me that I could do it all in San Sebastian, because there would be branches in both cities. So we parted company, knowing the only things I accomplished that day were meeting the teachers at my new colegio and enjoying spending some time with Iacob, the faithful friend.

Day Three. NIE and  Telephone. So, Iacob assured me that I could apply for my NIE in San Sebastián, because there is a Comisaría de Policía Nacional here as well. So I woke up early this morning to go (I wanted to be able to get my cita for the same day). I arrived at 930, right on time (Spanish time, that is) and got my number. I only waited a few minutes before being called to the desk and the lady who helped me was so very kind. Once she entered my passport number in the computer she told me that she couldn´t help me, that I had to go to Bilbao for my NIE. She also told me that I had to have a permanent domicilio (residence) before applying. AY! Dios Mío. Although I was unable to secure the NIE, I did obtain valuable information. And at little cost because the police station is only three blocks from Roger´s piso.

Next challenge: telephone. So I brought an unlocked Smartphone with me (thanks, brother!) All I need is a SIM card and a plan. Should be easy enough. I talked with a store, decided on a plan and she asked for my passport and the always necessary — you guessed it — NIE. Can´t have a contract without an NIE. I thought I was doomed because how can I look for a place to live without a phone? And how can I get an NIE without a place to live? And how can I get a bank account without an NIE? You see, a vicious circle. Catch-22.

Yes, Roger has a phone, but phones work differently here than in the States. When you place a call, it costs 15 centavos to start the call and 8 centavos for each minute that you talk. It costs nothing to receive a call. So, no I am not going to run up Roger´s phone bill. But the clerk at the Vodaphone store came up with a solution for me. I don´t need an NIE for a pre-paid card. So I opted for that — it will suffice for the moment. It feels good to be somewhat connected again. I am still trying to figure out how to use all the apps for free texting-calling internationally, but I am sure we will figure it out.

So tomorrow, for day four, Thursday, I am off to Bilbao for the first steps I need for the NIE: search for a place to live and make the appointment for the NIE. Wish me luck!


11 Sep

Coming to a new city is quite an undertaking, I must say. Especially when it is a European city, with all the roundabouts, one way streets, the names of the streets changing every few blocks, and here, in Basque country, the names of the streets being written in Spanish on one block and on the next being written in Basque! No wonder I have been lost more than once these past few days! No worries, though, once I find my way to the beach, or start walking the river, I always find my way back home. It is an easy city to navigate (Doností-San Sebastián, that is.) That is where I am staying with my host, Roger for the time being while I look for a place in Bilbao, the capital of Vizcaya.

It is not hard to get lost. Why? because there are also so many other things to distract me. (I know, hard to believe!) The gorgeous fountains, the beautiful trees and plants crowding the sidewalks, the cafés and bars sprinkling the sidewalks with the gente relaxing and enjoying their glass of wine or cup of coffee. I am also distracted by the names of everything. One would think I were in a foreign country or something! Seriously, I did expect a learning curve coming here, but so many things are written in Basque or Basque and Spanish that I find myself translating in three languages. It is certainly taking a little more time for me to ´fit in,´that is for sure.

On the other hand, my Spanish is improving by leaps and bounds every day. My castellano accent is returning and I am not feeling as much of a hick from Kentucky as I did when I first arrived. I am understanding much more than I did than that first day (Ay – I barely remember anything Roger said and understood even less!) I am getting the hang of using Vale to say OK instead of saying Bien. I am beginning to fit in. And when I don´t need a plano (map) to get me out of a tight spot on my way home, I will know I am where I am supposed to be!

%d bloggers like this: