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Monday, September 19, 2011

The day I learnt to keep my mouth shut – whilst cycling.

So, a little update for everyone. My life in Palafrugell has been quite pleasant so far; as I don’t start work for another week or so I’ve been settling in, going to the beach, discovering my local cafes and the surrounding area. I was taken out to lunch by an English couple for Chinese which was lovely and have been playing guitar with some of the people in the nearby bar. I even cooked Turkish meatballs for the customers one day – they went down well.

Today’s story however, is about how I cycled for 6.5 km from a little village called Pals to Palafrugell. Pals is an antique town with a modern side to it too as well as a vast open beach where people go to wind surf and fly their kites. There’s a beautiful shop in the antique area called L’era d'en Saulot that my coordinator at the school runs. The shop sells local produce ranging from cheese, wine and honey as well as promoting local artists and writers.

It is here where I acquired a bike. Very kindly I have been lent a bike for a year so I can cycle around town and to the surrounding areas. (There are a very extensive bike routes all around this area that pass through fields/forests etc.)

So, I was dropped off at Pals, very kindly by one of the teachers of the school and decided I would have a little adventure on the way back and cycle through the fields back to my home town. I have photos to share with you when I have access to the internet. The ride was very pleasant and I have definitely missed feeling the wind on my face as I bike through fields and forests. I did learn a few lessons though.

Lesson no. 1 – Do not open your mouth at any time. Keep it shut. Seriously. Flies and other winged insects will find a way to aim at your mouth and enter. You will temporarily feel the sensation of chocking as you try hard to steer the bike in the direction you want. Preferably straight.

Lesson no. 2 – Do not cycle through sand. It’s impossible.

Lesson no. 3 – Whilst biking do not creep up on the people in front of you and say “PERDON” to catch their attention so you can ask for directions. Install a working bell on your bike.

These are my first lessons that I had somewhat forgotten as I haven’t been properly biking for two years because of living in London.

So, for other words of wisdom of lessons learnt from biking, keep your eye on this blog.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

III - The day I discovered the sharpness of my kitchen knife

I awake bright and early to meet my coordinator at the school. I am excited and nervous at the prospect of meeting all the teachers. I manage to get lost on the way but still make it on time. (I don’t know HOW exactly I manage to get lost as the map shows a straight line.)

Let’s just rewind for one little second. When I wake up in the morning, being used to English weather, when I open the window at 08:30 it appears chilli. I wear a long sleeved dress/jumper and quickly realise within 15 minutes of walking towards the school I have made a horrific mistake. The sun suddenly comes up in all its glory and mocks me. It says “foreigner!” I laugh and explain to the teachers later about why I have chosen this particular outfit. They tell me it’s normal and most people make this mistake when they first arrive. Rookie error.

The teachers are incredibly friendly, the school is beautiful and the director of the school welcomes me. I am told that I will be teaching 10-11 year olds and I am pretty happy with everything. I go for coffee with the teachers and we chat about different ways to order coffee.

I will skip forward to after I have registered being a resident of Palafrugell (which was rather annoying as I waited in line to be seen and realised I not only needed a letter from the school and my passport but also my house contract. Point is – now I officially live here!)

I go to Espada – It’s a shop which sells everything necessary for homes. I hear its quite expensive so I only buy some more essentials that I need for that evening, such as a mixing bowl, a drainer, a chopping board and a knife. Ah, the knife.

So I spend at least 15 minutes in the knife aisle thinking about which knife I should buy. AT LEAST 15 minutes. This is an important decision – do I want a kitchen knife set? Or do I want to buy one for now and perhaps add onto it later? And if I do buy now, do I buy a steak knife or an all purpose knife? Do I spend the extra 10€ on a Chef’s knife? No, I don’t. But I do update from 3€ to 6€. This looks like a good knife. Small, but good.

And indeed it is, in fact it’s a bloody amazing knife. On my way home walking home from the shop, I have all my newly purchased belongings in one of those cardboard bags that you usually are given in places like B&Q. For one second I push the bag to my back and use my left arm to balance the items before bringing it back to the front. While I attempt to do this though I suddenly feel a very sharp feeling in my left thumb. I look at it and, yes, it is bleeding. I look at the bag and see that the knife (which was wrapped in plastic wrapping!) has cut through the wrapping, the bag and has decided to aim straight for the thumb. I’m laughing, and also a little scared, as I am not sure how deep it has cut.

It’s my third day and here I am running down the street with a big bag full of items to the pharmacy by my house (they did say on the first day that if I needed anything I could go back – I had bought cold tablets). I run in and I am sent straight to the back where a nurse helps me out. I’m laughing and explaining what has happened. The nurse laughs too. I thank them and excitedly head back home ready to use my knife for the first – sorry – second time. =)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

My Catalan Adventures II - The day I learnt 5 new words I repeated constantly

Since my days are completely packed with new things happening constantly I have decided that I will try and pick the most momentous events unless the whole day is worth sharing.

The day I learnt five new words I repeated constantly.

a) Sabanas - Sheets
b) Almohada - Pillow
c) Toalla - Towel
d) Borrato – Cheap
e) Cerrado - Closed


From these words I’m sure you have gathered my mission was to find a) b) and c) for a d) price. However, most the places I looked were e). That’s right, closed. So not only do most shops not even open on Mondays in Palafrugell, but those that do decide to open are of course shut for siesta which is between 1.30pm and 5pm. I remember the time being 4pm so I head to the square where I have my lunch and check out the one and only cheap duvet/sheet shop in town – it’s closed.

I hear the big shopping markets are open so I head to ESCLAT where I first learn how to say pillow my miming a square and saying “dormir” – “to sleep”. Nada. Then LIDL (Yes, there is a Lidl in this town!). Again, Nada. (or one measly pillow covered in stains) No, muchas gracias.

I decide to leave Carrefour for another day, it’s on the other end of town. Unsuccessful I return home and on my way decide to stop a stranger and ask if there are any other shops I can try. I am desperate to not use my jumper as a pillow tonight.He mentions the shop in the square. I tell him it’s closed. He tells me it opens at 5pm. I say it’s Monday. He says it opens for tourists.

I walk to the square after thanking him and indeed – it is open. I sigh and wish I could kick myself in the head.

I head in and there it is sheets, duvets, towels and for d) cheap. I thank the lady who truly helps me out and head straight home to my bed.

After 4 hours of walking around I now have beautiful black and red sheets. =)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

My Catalan Adventures I - The day I accidentaly broke into someone's home

My arrival day was quite eventful. I am now copying what I have written in my diary onto my computer for your enjoyment. Excuse the very long first post but it could not be shorter. =)

09:00 – I get up, finish packing my bags, make myself a cappuccino, eat a slice of bread and kiss everyone goodbye. This is always hard. Everyone hates goodbyes so I try and make it quick say “see you soon” and head off out the flat. I try not to cry but I always do.

10:30 – I get in the cab that will be taking me to London City Airport. I have never flown from City Airport before so am excited at the prospect of it only taking 30 minutes for me to reach it. My flight is at 1.15pm. The cab driver is from Ethiopia but he was born in Sudan. He tells me he loves Spain after he asks about my destination and I tell him I want to go to Addis Ababa one day. The most of the journey is silent. I’m reflecting on how the next year is going to be.

11:00 – We arrive at the airport. I check in via the self check-in machines so all I need to do is ‘bag drop’, drop my bag, right? Wrong. Everyone who has checked in before hand is made to queue with those who haven’t checked in. There is a very long queue. I think ‘fudge this’ and go off to find a solution for my rumbling stomach. I find a prĂȘt a manger; buy myself a club sandwich and a cuppa tea. Satisfied, I get up and rush to the toilets whilst trying to balance the newly bought mandarin between my luggage. [Side note 1 – I have one hiking bag, one backpack (very heavy backpack), a guitar, a small bag for my important items and a plastic bag containing The economist, Time, New Scientist and Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time)

11:30 – I leave the toilet, there is still a massive queue so I decided I have to join it. So I queue, I pick up my copy of “Wharf” newspaper and drool over the photo of the winner of the astronomy photography competition and further complain with the couple behind me about the whole situation of having to queue when we had checked in before hand. I am told by a random stranger he is going to Portugal, I smile and kindly ignore.

11:45 - Finally it’s my turn and I stroll up to the desk, hand my ticket over and am told I must drop my bag in Zone A. (!?) I go to Zone A, drop my bag and head towards security.

12:00 – After passing through security, which was quite eventless other than having to take my shoes off and being frisked by a way-too-keen police officer I go to Waterstones and purchase the magazines I mentioned earlier. Bit of light reading for the journey. I find a seat in the lounge, eat my mandarin and commence reading.

12.50 – Roughly an hour later I am asked to board, so I walk down the long corridor to gate 10. (Side note 2 – London city Airport is quite small. If I hadn’t queued for an hour I would have nicer things to say about it – such as mentioning the comfort of the leather lounge chairs)

13:00 – We pass through the gate to find ourselves in a relatively small stuffy room. I am lucky enough to find a seat. An old Spanish couple kick up a fuss with the somewhat unhelpful airport staff about why we were asked to wait in this small stuffy room when in fact we were sat comfortably in the lounge. I offer my chair up, proudly they refuse. After 15 mins or so we are allowed to board the plane. I make my way to the front stairs and get settled into 5B next to a lovely Scottish lady who lives in Melbourne.

15:00 – We still haven’t budged. The minute we had entered the plane it had started to rain and after refuelling, due to weight restrictions we are not allowed to fly. After 4 volunteers leave the plane to catch a later flight from Gatwick at 6pm (and £250 pounds richer due to compensation) and after their bags have been individually found from the heap of suitcases in the baggage hold we wait for another 30 minutes for permission from air traffic control before we can lift off. Meanwhile, the air conditioner is on full blast and I have literally pulled my hoodie over my face trying to avoid making my cold worst.

18:30 – I awake 5 minutes left to landing. The only thing I have eaten are a packet of korma crisps made especially for the flight. I have also shared a small bottle of red wine with my neighbour. Eager to leave we get up when we land and head quickly into the airport to baggage claim.

18:45 – I have my bags and am currently sharing a cab into Barcelona with the lady from Melbourne. I am late and need to be at the train station to Flaca. We decide sharing a cab will be a) cheaper and b) quicker. I nearly send the driver to Estats Nord (the bus station) but correct my mistake and send him to SANTS (the train station) instead. I get off at the station and he helps put my hiking bag on my back. I look like a camel.

19:15 – I am on the train to Flaca. Finally. I am still hungry and now quite tired. Some of my friends will know the term we use for this situation of hunger mixed with grumpiness. HANGER (hunger + angry). I am hangry. The journey is two hours long. (Side note 3 – There is no announcement on the train as to which station we are at so it gets increasingly difficult to figure out where the hell I am in the dark looking through the window of the train. I keep asking people “Donde Estamos?” “Where are we?” and finally manage to find my stop) A kind gentleman helps me with my guitar and I am greeted by my coordinator.

21:30 – I am in a car with my coordinator, her friend, her daughter and a dog. I am making my way to Palafrugell, my hometown for the next year and am told that a teacher from the school I will be teaching has prepared some food for me. My mum texts me “It’s getting realer by the minute”. I agree.

22:00 – I arrive at the teacher’s house that receives me kindly with her husband and two children. There is an omelette, manchego cheese and pan con tomate (bread with tomato sauce, olive oil and a little garlic sometimes). I could not be happier. I feel welcome.

22.20 – I am taken to my apartment by the husband of the teacher and their 8-year-old daughter. We are not only carrying my items but umbrellas too. It has started to rain heavily. I am told that “I have bought the rain from England”. I hope he’s not right!

22:25 – I walk up to the first floor of the apartment building and am let into my flat. I say that it was meant to be the flat next door but we have the set of keys, given to us by the estate agent for this flat. I don’t make a fuss, the flats are identical so I walk in happily, put my bags on the floor, say goodbye and sigh a sigh of relief. I start exploring. Everything is pristine. I am glad, they have cleaned the place up for me. I go into the bathroom and find a bathroom mat in the shower. Oh! A gift, I lay it on the floor and smile. I then make my way into the bedroom. There are sheets on the bed all made up. I think that’s very nice of them. I then open the drawer and to my surprise find some bras looking up at me.

Hang on a minute, says my brain, this doesn’t seem right. My parents call just at this minute. I explain the situation and I am convinced to call my estate agent. I hang up, call my estate agent and hear a long sigh. There has been a mistake. I hang up and slowly panic. What if the lady who lives here comes back right now as I am looking at her dressed in her cupboard?? I take all my things; turn off all the lights, and head to sit on the stairs of the apartment. I am waiting for the estate agent to call me back. I get up every 30 seconds to press the apartment lights on so I don’t sit in complete darkness. I am called back and told there is a key to my apartment under the mat of a flat upstairs. I don’t ask questions, go upstairs and indeed there is. The agent explains, the woman who lives upstairs used to live in my flat and has just put them there for me, as she hasn’t returned them to the office.

23:00 – I get into my own flat. My empty flat and sigh again. This is home. I brush my teeth and head straight to my empty bed. My jumper makes a fabulous pillows and I fall fast asleep.


Follow up – I get a visit the next day from my neighbour. She introduces herself and asks “Did you take a shower in my flat?” I’m surprised. “No, of course not. Nice to meet you too” Then I remember – the bathroom mat. I explain, we laugh and am told, “Well, if you ever need anything you’re more than welcome.” I give my thanks and we enter our own flats.