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Window to Ruins in Sintra

Window to Ruins in Sintra

I’m not really sure how I should even start this to be honest. So I’m just letting my mind ramble. I hope you don’t mind.

Two years ago I came to Spain–to Oviedo, Asturias–to study Spain at the University of Oviedo. Many years before that I lived in Barcelona, Spain with my family. And now once again I am back in Spain. Once again in the north, and at the moment (quite brief because I move in 3 hours) in Oviedo. This time I’ve come back to teach English, and am one of 4000 some young people to do so through a grant given by the Spanish government (not just to Americans, but with around twelve different countries, I believe). Of course, as far as I know, I’m the only foreign teacher going to my little town in on the coast of Asturias, nearly on the border of Galicia.

I will be teaching at a Secundaria–which has students from 12 through 16 (although the Bachillerato might be taught there as well, which would mean students ages 12 through 18… or whenever the students pass all the exams to graduate). I still have no real idea what I will be teaching, but I’m sure I will find that out tonight, or tomorrow.

I’ve never been to my little town before, of a little over 9000 residents, so I can’t give you much information about the town. Other than that it is on a river, about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from the coast, and I believe it is a fishing town. But that could be proved wrong very shortly. I’ve heard it’s beautiful, and since it is on the coast of Asturias, I can’t imagine it wont be.

As for the living situation… I still have no apartment yet. Although, I just found out yesterday from my adviser at the school that there is a young teacher who is interested in renting an apartment with me, so as long as she is nice, and the apartment isn’t outrageously terrible or expensive, I’m pretty sure I’ll say yes. But only time will tell. I’ll be staying with my adviser and his family until I find a place, which is very nice of them.

I arrived in Spain on the morning of the 20th of September with a friend of mine who I met two years ago at the University of Oviedo. She also got a grant to teach English, and is living in Oviedo. We arrived midday in Oviedo, at her apartment, dropped off our stuff and groggily walked down to the center to get a coffee (or tea in my case), a tortilla española, and make ourselves stay awake. The day we arrived started the festival of San Mateo–the patron saint of Oviedo. There were fireworks that night, to which we had originally planned to go to and meet up with friends. But by 9pm, neither of us could keep our eyes open.

We had two more days in Oviedo, trying to adapt ourselves to the new time zone, and meet up with friends we hadn’t seen for a year or more. And then on Saturday morning we left for the bus station to catch a bus to the airport where we caught a plane that took us to Lisbon, Portugal. Getting to the bus station was a little bit of a hilarity–well, it’s funny now. At the time we both were sorta freaking out.

Neither of us had lots of cash on us, so we went to a nearby ATM to get money. The bus we needed was going to leave in 40 minutes, so we figured we had plenty of time to get cash and make our way to the bus. Of course, it never seems to be that easy. The ATM ate my card. Or we thought it did. I put the card in… and nothing happened. Nothing. At all. I pressed buttons. I tried to trigger the touch screen. I even called their so called 24hour emergency number. Which wasn’t working because it was 6am or so. We needed to get to the bus. We still hadn’t bought tickets yet. We had a plane to catch! WHERE WAS MY CARD!?

I sent my friend ahead of me, “get tickets, I’ll follow.” And then all of a sudden the ATM pulls up the screen that asks for my pin. Ah! It does work, it’s just really. friggen. slow. Okay. Good. The machine didn’t eat my card. So I quickly type in my pin and… it takes it’s sweet time. At this point, I’m not looking to get money out, I’m just hoping to get my card out. But of course, before you can cancel to get the card out, you have to put in your pin. My foot is tapping. I’m frantically looking at my watch. Coooommmme oooooooooon. Please, please. I need to go. At this point, I’ve got 15 minutes to get to the bus station… which is 20 minutes away. There! CANCEL! The card pops out. I stash it in my purse. And I r-u-n.

Sintra from Castelo dos Mouros

Sintra from Castelo dos Mouros

We both made it, got our tickets and got on the bus. After that there were no problems getting to Lisbon and Sintra, which is where we stayed the first two nights. Miraculously we got to Sintra just as a festival was starting. So we were able to partake in the festivities of their first ever light festival. Very cool light designs projected on different buildings and around parks in the town. A couple of the designers of the light projects also stayed at the hostel we stayed at (Nice Way Sintra Palace)… or they might just have worked the tech on them. But it was still cool. The first day my friend and I walked up the Castelo dos Mouros and then to the Palacio do Pena. Beautiful, beautiful views and amazing architecture (especially at the palace). The castle–mainly in ruins–had a long wall that surrounded it that was actually in very good condition and we could walk all the way around it. We nicknamed it the great wall of Sintra.

Azenhas do Mar

Azenhas do Mar

The next day we went to the coast, and spend the day walking from a small, beautiful coastal town Azenhas do Mar to a beach called Praia das Maçàs. And then a couple hours on the beach. My friend would have liked to stay longer… but my fair Cornish/Scandinavian skin could only last so long in the hot Portuguese sun. That night we had dinner with the hostel. The food was delicious and the company was great. The owner of the hostel (very young) and many of his friends were there, along with several people who were staying at there. After gorging ourselves on delicious food and red wine, we headed out on the town with the owner and his friends to see more of the light installations around the city. Lots of fun, and the company was great. Both my friend and I were thankful to have other people to talk to and not just each other. After awhile, you sorta run out of things to say.

The next day in the morning we went and walked around the gardens of the Quinta da Regaleira. There are underground tunnels, lots of beautiful flora and architecture and just… an amazing array of mystical-romantic what-have-you’s. We could have easily spend the whole day wandering around, seeing what there was to see. But we had to get to Lisbon. The owner of Nice Way, very nicely drove us to the train station and we were on our way back to the city.

We arrived around 4:15 or so, hiked up a very steep hill (there was a tram, but we were too cheap to even consider to use it) with our heavy backpacks and made our way to a vista point, where our hostel, El Independiente, was located. The hostel opened four weeks ago, and things were still slightly under-construction. But the staff was lovely and the rooms were great. The rooms had ceilings so high, that the hostel had three tiered bunk-beds made specifically for the rooms. From our window we had the same view as the vista point. Well, except for a few trees that blocked parts, but it was still beautiful to look out at.

At five, we went out on a free walking tour with a young man called Uwe (oo-ve) from Austria. His free walking tour is called See Lisbon Or Die, and it was one of the best walking tours I’ve ever had… that I remember at least. He took us not just to sites of tourism interest in the city, but also local hot spots that have a lot of the local culture. He told us great historical stories about the city–some maybe not so realistic, but you know how historical stories are passed down–and let us in on interesting tid-bits that we would have never known otherwise. For example, there is an old elevator (designed by the son… or pupil of the guy that built the Eiffel Tower) that many tourists use to get up to a view point of the city. The elevator is 5 euros. And then the stairs up the view point is another couple euros. But, you can get the same view a couple blocks down from a public cafe on top of a hotel. The coffee is a little more expensive, but the view is worth it. My friend and I went there the next day and nursed a cup of coffee/tea for a couple hours enjoying the view and laughing every once and awhile as we glanced at the people on the vista point above the elevator. He also told us we must have at least two pastels dos natas while in the city. They were amazing. We did have two.

On the tour were a couple of young German guys on vacation. We talked to them while on the tour and after we got dinner together (at a delicious local restaurant that Uwe suggested). We asked a few Portuguese guys for suggestions of what to get–the menu was all in Portuguese and none of us knew what anything was. We ended up getting two delicious grilled beef dishes and a octopus rice dish to share. Amazing. Just amazing. After dinner we went out on the town, drinking 50 cent beers, dancing with African immigrants and chatting it up with local Portuguese (all in English–no one likes to speak Spanish over there).

The next morning my friend and I got up, had breakfast at the hostel and then pretty much retraced the tour from the day before, but spending more time to check out the hidden treasures of the city that Uwe suggested we do. We ran into him three or four times that day while he was taking another group out on the tour. We also went to the castle and just relaxed on a stone bench that looked over the wall and had an amazing view of the city. (If you hadn’t noticed, we spend a lot of time just taking in views of the city.) We wandered around for a bit and then headed back. We ran into Uwe again and he suggested a cafe that looked out over the city (the views again). The cafe was on a terrace and had a middle-eastern/indian vibe to it. And a random assortment of food. We tried their bruchetta and guacamole and chips, along with a bottle of Vinho verde (green wine). It was a little expensive, but the view was worth it, and the wine tasted delicious, as well as the food. The guacamole was very different from how we make it in the US, so that was interesting to try. That evening we met up with a guy who we met in Sintra–a friend of the Nice Way’s owner–who invited us for dinner. With him were a couple friends. We had a great time eating delicious beef that we cooked ourselves on our own personal steaming rocks and drinking vinho do la casa (the house wine) and talking about anything and everything. After dinner they took us around to different bars to try different local liquors.

Discoveries Monument (Padrão dos descobrimentos) in Belem

Discoveries Monument (Padrão dos descobrimentos) in Belem

We went to the Belem district of the city the next day to see the famous statue of the boat going out to sea with lots of famous people carved into it and to see the huge monastery. Unfortunately, my friend was coming down with a cold–which she still has–so we didn’t do much else. We did try the local pastel do nata (which is like creme brule in a little pastry cup with cinnamon and powdered suger on top of the already caramelized sugar of the custard), which was, to say the least, amazing. Very sweet though. I definitely couldn’t eat it all the time. That night we rested, watched the Chelsea v. Valencia game, took a stroll around the downtown, had one beer and listened to a live band and then headed back.

We left for Madrid, Spain the next day. Unfortunately, our flight had been canceled due to a labor strike–which we were never informed of–but luckily they put us on the next possible flight to Madrid. So, eight hours after we were supposed to be in Madrid originally, we checked in to the hotel where our orientation for the Spanish teaching grant, Auxiliares de Conversación was held. A little funny story about that. We checked in, got our keys, went up to the room and they didn’t work. So we headed back down, to the front desk the keys didn’t work, they gave us new ones. We headed back up again and the keys did indeed open the door. Unfortunately, the room was already occupied. Luckily, the occupants weren’t there. That would have been really awkward. As we head back to the front desk, the guy that originally checked us in comes walking swiftly towards us. “Ah, I gave you a room that was already occupied!” We laugh and said yes, we already figured that one out, which was why we were back down in the lobby for the third time. He quickly gives us new keys, apologizing the whole time. Of course, I’m sure he was more worried of what COULD have happened.

Our orientation was a bit of a let down–quite pointless to be honest. Some parts were useful, the majority was not. But oh well, it’s over. We have another orientation for just Asturias on Tuesday, which I think will be much more useful.

And so there. 2,472 words later, I have caught you all up. I hope you don’t mind this insanely long post. Maybe even a few of you read it. Forgive me if there are spelling and/or grammar errors. I know a good journalist always checks but… I’m much to tired at the moment to do so.