"It might be time for you to go. It might be time to change, to shine out. LEAVE. You will not be alone. You have never been alone. Don't worry. Everything will still be here when you get back. It is you who will have changed." -Donald Miller "I had the urge to examine my life in another culture and move beyond what I knew." Francis Mayes
"The world cracks open to those willing to take a risk." -F. Mayes
From childhood I have been intrigued by the densely cultured European continent. From learning about Mozart in class, to gloating over international design catalogues awarding European designers, to watching Under the Tuscan Sun, I am perpetually gripped by a yearning to go to Europe. I studied in Italy for a summer and fell in love with traveling through Europe. I minored in Spanish in college so decided to make Spain my destination for attempting to actually live abroad (I am quickly learning that there is a big difference in living abroad and traveling on "trips" but more on that later). This year I was accepted to teach English in Spain in an elementary school with a program that is managed by the Spanish government. After being accepted, the program places you in a school. I was placed in Galicia, a region in the northwest corner of Spain. Many more blog posts specifically on my region/city to come--practicalities now. Thankfully, a good friend from college, Katie Norton, and I were placed about 45 minutes apart so we are able to live together which has made all the difference in the world. If you want to follow our adventures for the next 8 months, you've hit the jackpot.
The idea of sitting down to re-cap the last three weeks overwhelms me. So I won't try. I have to let go of the idea that I will be able to relay every detail of this time in Spain and be okay with moreso conveying the sense of this place and the larger themes of my time here. I never would have imagined that my first post would come after three solid weeks here but rather more immediately. However, I feel much pressure to put thought into these posts and haven't had much time for thoughts these days. But now I can breathe a little more as I have just moved into my new apartment.
In terms of getting to Spain, I will try to give you the staccato version: Found out our flight from Birmingham was delayed. Changed flight to an earlier one. Newly assigned flight is then delayed. Original flight leaves before the one we're now assigned that should have left earlier (=ironic, where's Alanys Morresett when you need her?). Arrive in Atlanta (even more ironic that we could have driven to Atlanta in the 5 hours we waited in Birmingham). We have obviously missed our connector flight to Madrid. Are re-assigned to a flight to Paris. We literally RUN through the airport in Atlanta making it so much at the last moment that they are fully boarded and make standby passengers get off to give us our seats. This plane is delayed on the tarmac so in Paris we miss our layover to Madrid. After a long wait in the beautifully modern feeling Charles de Gaulle airport we get a direct flight to Vigo, Spain. At that point I am absolutely delirious, having not slept in about 35-40 hours and all Spain means to me is a bed. We arrive late at night and, shocker!, no suitcases. We are fumbling through our immediate immersion into Spanish trying to tell the patient lady in the airport that our luggage isn't there. Then is was like Christmas, birthday, and the joy of spring all rolled together when two girls (Maro and Marta) come through the door and ask if we're Robin and Katie. Sigh of relief. They are the two sisters Pedro, a guy I met for like 4 hours in the states this past spring. He is working in Italy but sent his sweet brother (Pablo) to get us, but we weren't there with delayed planes, so his two gracious sisters came to our rescue. They took over the luggage claim and stayed in touch with the airport all week for us trying to locate our bags as Spanish is really a challenge on the phone! They took us to our hotel and then to an idyllic restaurant in the same plaza where we had an assortment of cheese and hams--welcome to Spain.
Our first day was spent getting a phone (none of you would be jealous of my 19 euro phone that functions like it's 1990). After many unsolicited questions to strangers we figured out how to take the bus to the station and catch one to Ponteareas and another town a little further to look for an apartment. Pablo called and said he was driving through Ponteareas on his way back to Vigo and would give us a ride. What a treat. He and Berta, his girlfriend are absolute delights. We had some coffee and great conversations. The coffee here is amazing. It's half milk, half espresso (I guess our lattes?, but way cheaper), and I'm addicted. We reunioned with some of the other language assistants that night in Vigo which is always fun when you have people all together from California to Wales.
That night as we went to bed we kept hearing what sounded like bombs going off. I ran downstairs to inquire as to whether or not we should be scared. The man assured me it was just the strikers getting started with chargers that just make noise but don't do any harm. Before leaving, we had been warned through an email that there would be a strike on the next day but we were more under the impression that it was a transportation strike. When we woke up and strolled from the hotel to find breakfast, EVERYTHING was closed. Turns out this was a "general strike." After fearing that I'd be fasting for the day, we found a hotel that had their grate half way open in front of the front door. We ducked our way in and asked if we could puuhhhlease eat there. They walked us to the back and said we could but all they had was croissants they were getting from the guest buffet. Good enough. No suitcases meant we had nothing to wear so we headed to the main street. Once again, nothing was open. But then, could it be?! Zara looked like it might be open. We asked if they were and they informed us that we could come in but that they would be closing the grate soon because they wanted to look closed when the strike manifestation marched by. Every girls dream: being trapped in Zara, only you and two friends, with the assurance that the airline company will cover your costs. Pablo told us that we'd be looking like hippis soon without our suitcases, so thankfully these purchases avoided that. We put our purchases in our purses and ditched the store bags because we figured it wasn't a good idea to have to cross through the strike manifestation with bags of newly purchased items. I'm not quite sure of the details of the strike, but I know it was a response to some newly passed labor laws that aren't in favor of employees. Need to do some research! When we got to our hotel, it so happened that the strike march ended at our hotel so from our top story room we were able to see everything.
The next few days were spent with my oh-so-generous, and immensely hospitable school director, Carmen and her family. They live in the mountains outside of Ponteareas and we spent four nights there while looking for an apartment, learning lots about Spain, and eating very well. Lucky for us she is a great chef! We got to try pulpo (octopus, Galicia's main dish), mussels, fish (rapante), regional wine, and other traditional dishes/desserts. We were so grateful for this time not in a hotel in a beautiful setting.
My director's house
We found an apartment in Ponteareas, but were only there a few nights as we quickly realized that it would be really hard to live there and get anywhere easily. There were not as many buses that passed through there as we thought, and the bus didn't even come for Katie on Friday so she missed school. At our orientation after three days in Ponteareas our teachers told us it would be way easier to live in Ourense and ride with teachers from there to our schools. We were grateful to be able to get out of our apartment contract and head to Ourense. It is a much bigger city with a beautiful "old town" center. We were in the hotel there several days and just moved into our apartment last Thursday. So after 19 days of living out of a suitcase and doing no laundry we finally have a place.