Tag Archives: living

Avila, Spain

7 Apr
Avila-City Walls

Avila-City Walls

Avila-City Walls

Avila-City Walls

Avila has roots to fifth century BC. No wonder we were astounded by the amazing antiquity of the city and enraptured by its beauty and simplicity. It has a long and storied history of Romans, Visigoths and others who have come and gone from its earliest origins, but in the late 11th century the current wall that stands was constructed to protect the city. It is the largest fully illuminated monument in the world; you are able to walk almost half of the wall, but many parts are inaccessible, as buildings and structures are an integral part of the fortress structure, such as the Cathedral of Avila.

Avila-View from the city wall

Avila-View from the city wall

Avila-View from the city wall

Avila-View from the city wall

Avila-Cathedral from the City Wall

Avila-Cathedral from the City Wall

Tammy and I paid the extra three euro for the audio guide while we walked along the wall. I don’t remember much from the audio guide except that Teresa of Avila felt she had an “untamed spirit” and the nuns at the convent would help her to calm it. Maybe they could tame my hair, too, because…well, let’s just say I was not having a good hair day!

Avila-Bad hair day, you say?

Avila-Bad hair day, you say?

But the views, and the thoughts rambling through my head. I cannot believe that I walked where Teresa of Avila had once walked and worshiped.

Avila-Santa Teresa

Avila-Santa Teresa

Avila - Sculpture

Avila – Sculpture

Avila-Cathedral, view of the gardens

Avila-Cathedral, view of the gardens

Avila-Cathedral

Avila-Cathedral

Avila-Cathedral

Avila-Cathedral

Avila-Cathedral

Avila-Cathedral

Avila-Cathedral

Avila-Cathedral

The Cathedral was marvelous as well. Its construction began in 1107 and ended in 1350. It has the most beautiful red and white granite stones for the ceilings in walls in parts of the building and in other parts, the walls and ceiling are pure white. Such an amazing and stark contrast. Because it was Holy Week, the pasos (the large wooden ‘stages’ with the stations of the cross and other scenes from the last hours of Christ’s life depicted in sculpture) were on display in the Cathedral as well. Unfortunately, due to the weather, Tammy and I never got to see any of them during an actual procession through the streets during Holy Week; each time we prepared for a procession, the rain began and the procession was cancelled.

Avila-Los Pasos de Semana Santa

Avila-Los Pasos de Semana Santa

Avila-los pasos de la Semana Santa

Avila-los pasos de la Semana Santa

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Traveling through Spain in a Rented Car

7 Apr
After 2000 km, She was a little tired!

After 2000 km, She was a little tired!

Three thousand one hundred seven kilometers (3107 km = 1864 miles) later, I am home. For 13 days, I rented a car in Spain and visited 12 different cities. I made it back to Bilbao in one piece despite the occasional horn-honking when I happened to get in the wrong lane in a rotonda or not progressing through the light fast enough when it turned green at an intersection. These Spaniards do like to honk their horns!

Yes, I put some miles on that car with my friend Tammy from Kentucky who visited nine of those thirteen days. I must say she was the most excellent navigator with the GPS on my phone. There were only a few occasions when I missed a turn or took a wrong one, but never did I go the wrong way on a one-way street or have an accident.

Mountains in Spain

Mountains in Spain

Tammy and I rented a small car for our trip because it was only the two of us. It was small, alright! Small engine with no pick-up-n-go. The first leg of our trip involved driving through many a mountain. I know very well how to drive a manual car, (drove one for three years in Germany), but this car was a real treat climbing mountains. Not knowing how the car would handle at first I didn´t downshift while going up the incline of the mountain. I stayed in fifth gear. Our speed decreased from 120 kph to 50 kph within seconds. I think we could have run faster! Then, I decided to downshift while climbing the mountains. This helped some, but in order to maintain a healthy speed (80-90 kph) I had to downshift to third gear. Who said we were in a hurry?!?

But let me tell you something. If you simply enter the name of a town into your GPS, it will take you straight to the city-center. And I mean directly in the city-center! When Tammy and I arrived to León, Castilla-León, we arrived to a huge rotonda and the GPS told us to take the first street off of the rotonda. But wait! There was a barrier there, yet a traffic signal. What was this? I missed it the first time around the rotonda and the second time I told Tammy I am NOT going there. She insisted, saying GPS says to go there. Against my better judgment, I waited at the traffic signal, and lo and behold, the barrier lowered into the ground like an elevator, and we could pass. BUT…we had crossed into the pedestrian zone! Sure cars could go there, but it should only be cars of residents and those doing legitimate business (like making deliveries). As we slowly crept up the hill, the pedestrians parted ways, just as the Red Sea did for Moses, I expect. I was panicked though, because I did not see ANY cars anywhere!

Zona Peatonal, Leon

Zona Peatonal, Leon

Then, to my surprise, I saw one and decided to follow it. Uh oh! He knew where he was going and disappeared as quickly as he appeared, leaving me stuck in an alleyway. I could not turn around nor go in reverse. I was afraid to go forward so I turned down the next alley to the left and…There was a café with tables and chairs set up! Now we were really stuck! I asked two women in Spanish how we could get out of this jam, and they assured me they thought I could pass between the wall of the building on the right and the tables/chairs of the café on the left. They chuckled and asked how we got into this mess in the first place. When I mentioned GPS, they gave the all-knowing nod. Just so you know, I got through the alley, with space on both sides of the car! When we arrived on the other side, it was a simple turn to the right and another turn to the right to find a parking space OUTSIDE of the pedestrian zone. Whew. That was nerve-racking to say the least.

El Escorial Later in the week, I was surprised again (why, I do not know–there should have bee no surprises by now on the GPS!) when I entered “El Escorial.” Call me stupid, but I didn’t know that the name of the town was “El Escorial” as well. I simply thought it was the name of the Monastery de San Lorenzo where all the kings and queens of the Bourbon and Hapsburg Dynasties are buried, among many other things. Anyway, I entered “El Escorial” into the GPS, expecting to end up at the monstrous building in the town of the same name. It was not so. I followed the directions on the GPS and had a picturesque meandering through the town and then…when the GPS said I arrived at my destination, I was facing the backside of a decrepit and crumbling building. A little disappointing, I should say! I found my way to the train station to ask where the tourist office was and they directed me to the top of the hill, next to the monastery. ‘Nuff said! Follow a road up a hill, and lo and behold, there it was, right in front of me!

Parking on the other hand was a little different. I found a parking garage with no problem and it happened to be a refreshing relief that for three hours it only cost three euros. (After the exorbitant prices I paid in Madrid, I breathed a huge sigh of relief!). The problem was, there were two entrances to the parking garage. I parked at the “inconvenient end.” You see, here in Spain, everything is automated at the parking garage. You need to carry your parking garage ticket with you and pay for your parking at a cajero (cash machine, usually near the pedestrian exits) before you leave. There are no “live” people to take your money as you leave the garage as is still so common in the US. But at this particular garage, I parked at the east end of the garage on the lower level. The cajero was on the west end (.2 km away) and on the upper level. The doors were not marked and half the lights on the upper level were burned out. It was quite a scary walk, not knowing where I was going to pay for my parking. Did I tell you it took me thirty minutes just to find the cajero?!

Parking in Madrid is ridiculously expensive. For one 24 hour period, it cost twenty-seven euro in one garage and in another, thirty-seven euro! And 24 hours starts after twelve hours, with no discount. So be prepared if driving into Madrid.

Castle on the mountainside

Castle on the mountainside

Overall, a most excellent experience. The paisaje of Spain is spectacular, just as it is in the US. Each region has its own particular beauty. Driving in Castilla-Leon and Castilla La Mancha and seeing ruins and skeletons of buildings from hundreds of years of ago, just amazes me. This was definitely the trip of a lifetime and worth every horn honked at me and every alley I turned down.

Some ruins

Some ruins

Banking in Spain

2 Nov

Money makes the world go around they say, and that is certainly no different in Spain. If I want to be paid by my primary job, I am required to have a bank account so the Basque government can directly deposit my paycheck. I was anxious to get this done when I first arrived so on advice of a colleague in another part of Spain, I went to La Caixa and began the long and arduous process of opening a bank account with my passport because I did not yet have my Spanish version of the Green Card (my NIE). Some ninety minutes and twenty pages of paper later, I emerged with my Spanish bank account, debit card ordered, and access to online banking. I had deposited fifty euros, with an understanding that there was a thirteen euro initial ingreso (charge) for opening the account with a passport.

Two weeks later, I picked up my debit card at the bank and had it activated. Imagine my surprise when I finally went to use it to withdraw twenty euros, I saw that I was thirteen euros en el rojo (yes, that’s right — in the red!) At first, I thought perhaps they banked differently in Spain. After all, they use periods where we use commas, and they use commas where we use periods. Perhaps they used red where we use black and black where we use red. It was possible, wasn’t it?! Not so when I went to the bank a couple days later to have the bank stamp my direct deposit form for my pay. Not only was I thirteen dollars in the hole, but they also wanted to charge me six more euros to fill out the direct deposit form! And when I asked where all the money had gone (sixty-three euro and some change), it was all fees! That is worse than overdraft charges in the US and I hadn’t even written a check. There was a twenty-three euro charge for a police check because I opened the account with my passport rather than a residency (NIE) card, a thirty-three euro charge for an annual fee for the debit card (that no one bothered to tell me about), and a six euro charge for a monthly service fee.

Needless to say, I closed that bank account. I now have my NIE (número de identificación de extranjeros) and went to a new bank where they didn´t charge me to fill out the direct deposit form. At my new bank, the process of opening the bank account with the NIE took about twenty minutes and there are no fees unless I have a month with no direct deposit. I can deal with that. I opened the account on Tuesday and went to the bank today and the gentleman who helped me called me by my first name already. I am quite satisfied having changed banks.

My mom always told me that patience is a virtue and she is right. Had I waited to open my bank account until I had my NIE, I could have saved sixty-three euros in expensive charges and ninety minutes of precious time.

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.

 

 

 

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