Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mujeres, Taxistas, and Discotecas

Anyone who has searched the market for the perfect house or apartment to rent knows the anxiety and stress that accompany it.  Now, imagine doing this in a foreign country.  In a foreign city where directions are difficult and you are not quite an expert in the language, nonetheless.

Welcome to my last 72 hours.  This past weekend was spent searching for an apartment in Pamplona.  An apartment to call home for the next six months.  As part of the ISEP Exchange program that I am in, I can only live with a host family until Feb. 5.  So it was time to start home hunting!  Another girl from back home and I decided to live together and were on the quest for roommates.  This did not go so well at first.  At first we had multiple people via email agreeing to live with us.  However, when the other foreign exchange students arrived this was not the case.  They have to find apartments and living arrangements within 4 days of arriving to Pamplona.  My friend and I have 4 weeks.  So due to the time differences, they all found housing arrangements together.

Kirsten (my friend from back home) and I got a list of available rooms and began our search.  This started the first problem.  We spent an entire afternoon circling our favorites, calling the landlords to set up times to see the apartments, and marking them off on the map.  When we were looking at the information on the apartments, there was a section that said what gender they were looking for:  men, women, or indifferent.  When I was looking through, I started crossing off all the apartments with m's.  Thinking they only wanted male roommates.  About 30 minutes later Kirsten informed me about how idiotic I am.  M stands for mujer, which is woman in Spanish.  Ooops.  Who would have guessed that one?  We also had a tough time deciding the difference between electric, central, and gas ciudad heating.  There was also the obstacle of figuring out how many open rooms the apartment had.  The sheet would say two or three, but when we called there was only one open.  (They do not rent out whole apartments.  Rather, it is by open rooms.)  After a while, google earth became too much of a distraction, and poor Kirsten was left calling landlords.

Finding the apartments in Pamplona was a whole other story.  We are still learning to navigate the roads and figuring out the streets and where everything is located.  We found all of the apartments, just with a little difficulty.  There was one instance that we both decided we had FOREIGNER stamped across our foreheads.  After looking for one apartment for about 30 minutes, we were really frustrated.  We were also late by 10 minutes.  So, we decided to take a taxi to the apartment.  When we got in and gave him the address he looked at us very funny and pointed to the street one over and told us it was right there.  The apartment was right around the corner.  He was very nice and even told us how far down the street to go; however, we both felt very stupid.

After 6 apartment viewings and countless phone calls, we finally found a place to call home.  We are even signing the lease later this week.  And we found roommates!  Kirsten has been in contact with two other students from Mexico who will be studying abroad in Pamplona.  They arrive this week and I cannot WAIT to meet them!  The apartment has four bedrooms, but one bedroom can be for 2 people.   Essentially it's a 5 person apartment, but the landlord said it could be for 4 people for the same price.  Right now there will be 4 of us, but it could turn into 5.  The location is perfect!  It is right between the university and the old part of town where all the shops and nightlife are.  It's about a fifteen minute walk both way.  I could not be any happier that we found a new home and are both pleased with it!  I am just dreading the goodbye with my host mom.  I know it will be a very tearful event.  I have become so attached to her and her generous hospitality.

This Saturday also marked the first night of my Pamplona nightlife experience.  One of my friends from back home got me in touch with a student from Pamplona whom he met while studying abroad in Estonia.  Itziar messaged me right away and invited Kirsten and I to go out with her, two of her other friends from Pamplona, and her cousin from San Sabastian.  We went to several discotecas and bars in the old part of town.  It was so much fun!  Although it will definitely take some time getting used to the nightlife hours here in Spain!  I am used to coming home at 2 am from the bars, not just going out and getting started for the night!  But then again, I am also used to eating dinner at 6 pm, not 10 pm.

Today marked two weeks since I first arrived in Pamplona.  It has been quite the adjustment period.  But I have not regreted one moment of it at all!  This weekend we are already making plans to visit Barcelona or San Sabastian.  I can only hope it will provide as much fun as this weekend in Pamplona did!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Week One Complete!

Well it's been quite the adventure already.  In just one short week I have already experienced more than I ever imagined possible.  Here's a run down of my week in Pamplona, Spain.

My adventure started off with a real bang!  When I was getting my seat arrangements for my flight from Atlanta to Madrid, I asked if any upgrades were available.  (Kudos to my mom for the tip!)  They told me they were not designating seats yet and that I would be called up when it was my turn.  Well, I was never called up, so about 10 minutes before boarding I returned to the desk.  I asked again about upgrades. The woman at the desk told me none were available and simply handed me my seating arrangement.  I was confused when I looked at my ticket when I was boarding the plane.  I was actually in first class!  I had to ask the flight attendant twice if I was in the right seat.  To my astonishment I was!  I was given champagne while the other passengers boarded, a four course meal (while other passengers only received chicken breast or plain pasta marinara), and wine!  It was quite luxurous treatment, and it really helped to kickstart my European adventure!

I arrived at the Madrid airport around 9 am on January 9th.  Keep in mind that this was 2 am for me in my regular time.  I had to my luggage and get to the bus that was supposed to take me to Pamplona.  I had 45 minutes to do so, and came very close to missing it.  I ran around the airport looking for the right terminal and the right bus.  I walked around outside for well over 45 minutes trying to figure out where my bus stops.  (There's no bus station at the airport really.  Just parking spots for the buses.)   I was completely overwhelmed.  I couldn't understand the Spanish being spoken to me due to how fast it was spoken and the accent that I was not quite used to.  Those who did speak English to me, had no idea where the bus would go.  I was completely freaking out that I would miss my bus!  Luckily, an airport maintenance worker who spoke no English motioned to me and helped me find my stop.

My host mom is a wonderful women.  She is in her 60's and has four children.  One of her sons actually lives here at the house with her.  Neither of them speak English, but I could not have asked for a better home for my first month in Spain.  They are both extremely patient with my choppy Spanish, and sympathetic when I was homesick the first few days.  I have never felt anything but comfortable here.

There is currently only one other foreign exchange student here.  Ironically, she is from the same university back home.  It has been so nice having someone from back home here.  We are currently in two classes, a Spanish grammar class and a Culture of Spain class.  These classes will end in about 3 weeks.  My classes are mostly review at this point; however,  I feel that my Spanish has improved immensly in such a short amount of time already.

On Saturday, my friend and I traveled to Olite.  This is a small town about 20 minutes away from Pamplona.  The bus ticket was only 3 euros, and probably one of the best purchases I have ever made.  We spent our time in Olite touring a castle.  It was breathtaking.  There are no words to describe the sight from the tops of the towers or the incredible beauty of the castle itself.  The photographs I took do not even come close to capturing the real experience.  This short little trip just made me even more excited for the travels ahead of me.

When I walked through the security in Omaha and tearfully said goodbye to my family, I knew that I was about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime.  However, I was just not fully aware of what exactly I was getting myself into.  I know that I have only been here in Pamplona for 9 days, but in just these short 9 days I have already learned so much.  I am estatic to see what the next 6 months have in store for me!