Spain! – The First Few Days

Remember that time I went to Spain? And I promised I’d tell you all about it? Well… 8 months later, here I am!

I went to Spain last October to make my Spanish better. I sort of made my Spanish better, but mostly I learned how to travel alone in a foreign country.

Here’s the thing the first lesson I learned about traveling by yourself: if you miss your bus, there is no one to tell you what to do. The plan was to catch a connecting flight out of JFK to Madrid, arrive with three hours of down time before the bus left. This is what happened: outrageous rain storms in New York caused me to get rerouted to Atlanta, where I sat around for, get this, exactly three hours. I got to Madrid and missed my bus by ten minutes. At that point I was exhausted, I had gotten sick on the plane and hadn’t slept much, I just sat in the middle of the airport and cried. I’m sure that if I had been in the US, I would have been arrested. After a couple well-meaning people attempted to help me only to have me blabber at them in something that resembled Spanish, I pulled myself together and purchased a train ticket. Then went to the train station, with all my stuff, and sat in the train station for five hours. I left my home town at 10 in the morning. I arrived in Granada at 10 PM the next day. It was… intense, I think is the right word for it.

The second thing I learned about traveling by yourself: people will love to tell you that you are too 1) young 2) female 3) young and female to be traveling alone. I met this Syrian couple on their honeymoon. The husband told me multiple times that I needed a chaperon and that I was brave (possibly the word he really wanted to say was stupid). When we arrived in Granada, he decided to get my (very heavy) suitcase down from the overhead. I warned him about its heaviness and his response was a withering look and my new favorite catchphrase, “Honey, that is why we have the muscles!” He then proceeded to carry my suitcase over his head and onto the train platform. It made missing my bus and taking the train entirely worth it.

That night I slept well and woke up feeling much less exhausted and actually fairly acclimated to the time change. I also learned how very lucky I was. The day after I arrived in Spain was the day of the national strike. No cabs, buses, trains, or restaurants were open that day, except for a few. I would have been stuck in Madrid, even if I hadn’t missed my bus, if I had left only one day later.

Fortunately all I had planned for the day was meeting my host family. So I walked around Granada for a while and watched the marches. It was very peaceful, since it was a nationally planned strike. The economy right now in Spain is not good, which is true in many parts of the world, including here, but things are much worse in Spain. The protests have gotten much bigger than this strike. The national strike seemed like it was mostly older people, at least in Granada. Now the protests are filled with young people who can’t get jobs. It was an interesting thing to witness.

After watching the strike, I went to the university where I would be taking classes to meet my home stay family. So this was a little odd. Before I left, they never told me who my family would be. This is because when I arrived, they scrolled through a list and called a random person.  They told her, “We have an American for you!” and I went on my way to her apartment. She didn’t know I was coming until 30 minutes before I showed up! It was weird. But she is retired and her only job is to take care of foreign students. It was also weird that she didn’t let me do anything for her. She did my laundry, made my bed, made me 3 meals a day. I realize that I was paying her to do these things (well, I paid the school and the school paid her), but I never really got used to it. María also had her 4 year old granddaughter living with her, named Lucía. Lucía and I watched a lot of Bob Esponja and Dora la Exploradora.

I spent the next day or so just exploring the city before school started. Our schedule was delayed by a couple days because of the strike, so I had some extra exploring time. One of my favorite places to go in Granada were the Moroccan shops. You would turn a corner and suddenly be in a completely different world. The alleys were draped with scarves to keep out the heat (it’s still very warm in Granada in early October) and everything is vibrant and colorful. The alleys smell like incense and you hear a lot more English and Arabic. Even though each stall sells basically the same kitschy stuff, some of my favorite souvenirs from Granada are from these Moroccan sections.

Granada is famous for its blue and white pottery, like the tiles in the middle picture. They also have this poem printed everywhere and on everything:

“Dale limosna mujer,
que no hay en la vida nada
como la pena de ser
ciego en Granada.” – Francisco Asís de Icaza

Give him alms, woman,
for in this life there is nothing
like the pain of being
blind in Granada.

My other favorite observation on that first day: the streets are lined with orange and lime trees! This was amazing. You can’t eat them because they are not edible. They’re too small and bitter, but when they trim the trees the whole city smells like citrus. I took the longest walk ever that day. It was nice, because the rest of the time Granada smells like diesel fuel.

And on that note, I think that’s enough for now!