Friday, June 8, 2012

"The worst airport in the world."

You now know that I am back in the US, but I figured I would reflect on my travels home (a week ago).

I decided to fly AirFrance since I refused to associate with Iberia (or anything in the One World alliance that may fly me on Iberia) because as you might know, Spain loves a good strike. And Iberia has been on strikes, no joke, every Monday and Friday of every week for the past couple months (and for a few more months into the future). I didn't want to deal with that crap, so I figured I would do the same route I did from Christmas, flying to Paris then home.

I don't think I mentioned the details of the time I originally took this route during Christmas, but I will mention it now. CDG (Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris) is quite a...trek. You have to be prepared to hike miles to transfer planes. It's a bit ridiculous.

No, this is not a "must just be you" kind of thing. When researching stuff for this blog post, I came across this dandy comment from Bill:

Time it takes from terminal 2G to terminal 2E, departure gate on the L port.
- Bill Bray
For anyone interested, it took me exactly 50 minutes to get from the arrival gate at 2G to the departure gate in Terminal 2E, port L, to get on a flight to Minneapolis. If you already know you leave terminal 2E, that's half the battle. You go through customs in 2E just before you get on a shuttle to get to port L gates. The customs line wasn't long (Monday), and I believe there was an Orange line for those in a rush.

(4 Jun 2012 - 08:00)
Bill, you said it well. I am glad you didn't say it with a huff and puff as many Americans at the airport were so glad to do. I will get to his "half the battle" comment in a moment.

Okay, my plane arrives at 9:05am in Paris. My next flight leaves from the same airport, at 10:30am. Sound easy? Think again...

Friday, June 1, 2012

A hankering for American Food

As you are reading this, I am heading home.

And I am hungry for some American Food. Yeah, I capitalized Food. Because it is that special.

Some of the things I have a hankering for:

Beef Jerkey
Pulled Pork
BBQ sauce (just the sauce...and a spoon)
Pop Tarts
Butterfinger bars
Root Beer

Preferably, all of the above will be waiting for me upon arrival. But I could go with just the beef jerky and Butterfinger bars. Gotta keep it healthy.

Kids at airports

I heard this on a recent SNL episode during Weekend Update...

"A new study suggests that people with children are happier than people without children. The study was NOT conducted at an airport."

We'll see how it goes.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

FAQs part 2

Tomorrow, as some of you may know, I am heading home. My bags are packed...and I mean really packed. Jam packed. More so than before.

But tomorrow I leave, and hopefully travel will run smoothly, as we always hope.

I thought I'd take the time to answer some FAQs that I know I've already been asked and anticipate being asked for the next week or so.

Here we go...

But really, how is that packing going?
I am at the max weight limit for both my bags, and my carry on is holding various random clothing items that didn't fit into the suitcases.
As with studying abroad, I know I had to leave some stuff behind. I am leaving behind some brown boots that I bought here (they are in perfect shape, too! What a shame!) because they were only 20 euros and every pair of socks worn with them bore holes at the end of the day.
I am also leaving behind my short brown cowboy boots that I bought here back in 2010. The seams are ripping, the rubber sole is wearing down, and the inside is just...wrecked. I think they deserve a goodbye. Also, Eric hated them. Maybe he'll be happy they're gone.

I am also leaving behind some miscellaneous stuff, like a 1-euro sewing kit, a Doublemint Gum tin, and lots of magazines. Oh, and bath products. Lots of random little bottles of shampoos and lotions.
And my gold beach sandals. They need to be in the garbage, like, now.

I will be wearing a LOT on my back. It always sucks, because I start sweating while running around the airport, but then the airplane is always SO COLD. There is no balance. You just have to wear a tank top, button up, hoodie, and leather jacket like I plan on doing tomorrow. Then you can sweat sweat sweat then shiver on the airplane. Bonus: you can use your folded up jacket/hoodie to make up for the massive dips in the lower back and seat due to AWFUL ergonomic design.

 I have said it many times, and I will say it again: who the HECK designs those airplane seats? Never ever have I wanted a seat that makes me curve my back so I hunch forward then have so much neck support that I am stuck in a chin-to-collarbone pose for a flight. Every airplane and airline is like that, so clearly there is some major negative groupthink going on right now.

Why are you coming home so soon?
As I mentioned in the previous FAQ, the contract was up after 6 months. The company tried to extend it, but the government program funding it was ending in May, and therefore my pay was ending in May.

Are you excited about coming home/are you gonna miss Spain?
You know, I don't really have a good answer to this question. In all honesty, I am sad to be coming home. However, I don't want to stay here either. There is nothing inherently bad about either place, but I am in this sort of limbo that makes me not want to be at either one.
It is like that feeling of graduating high school or college. You like it where you are, but you don't want to stay out of want to move on. But moving on can be scary and unknown, and that's not something I really look forward to.
That is where I am right now. I can't stay, because there is nothing keeping me here...but there is nothing really drawing me home (that's not to say I don't miss my friends and family).

Why didn't you take a week or something at the end of your stay in Spain to travel or vacation?
Basically, I am rushing home because of our friends' Mark and Lauren's wedding shower that is taking place on Friday. Yes, this Friday, as in five-hours-after-my-plane-lands Friday.
Also, my neighbor who has been like a little sister to me, Emily, graduates high school on Sunday, and is having her grad party that day.

What are you going to do when you come back? What's next?
This answer should really just be "?"
But the long answer is job searching, babysitting, and trying to figure out what I am going to do for the rest of my life, much like how it was after college graduation.

Are you going to continue your Spanish?
I don't have any plans. I don't want to come off as haughty when I say this, but it is really hard to take classes at this level of Spanish at my age. College level courses are what I have already taken, so it would just be repetitive. There aren't as intensive of courses as there are for things like English (adult ESL, for example). However, I am not really looking for classes, either. The only way I have been intensively improving the language was when I was here in Spain, immersed and conversational.
I do plan on Skyping my host family. Hopefully I can call them at least once a month and fit in some Spanish conversation.
But I don't think I will lose it, since prior to Nov 2011 when this trip started, the last time I had used it was in May 2010. It doesn't quite disappear.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Gadget cat.

There is a popular cartoon here imported from Japan called "Doraemon: Gadget Cat from the Future."

It is probably the worst cartoon ever. It's just over-expressive (you can tell by the mouths that take up half the face in the above photo) people interacting with a cat that is gigantic and doesn't do anything impressive. 

It isn't funny or clever.

Did I mention it's from the 70s? I mean, live action TV back then was awful (Batman). Just imagine cartoons, and international cartoons. 

Ugh, and of course it is dubbed, but since these people are so expressive and whiny and annoying, half the dubs are just sound effects of heavy breathing or "ahhh!" or "ayy!" when people are falling over.

It just wastes a half hour time slot of TV while we could all be watching something else. However, Lucas and Lucia love it.

Cristina and Pichon hate it. As did Rocio. Clearly parents hate it all over.

One thing is for sure: Doraemon will NOT be on my list of  "things I will miss when I go back home."

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sunday with the kiddos

Today Monica and Cristina's parents (Alicia and Pepe) invited me over for lunch with them, Jose Enrique, Monica, Dani and Maria. I already knew it'd be great because Dani and Maria are so entertaining.

Dani asked his parents the other day, "How come Lucas has two mommies?"  referring to me and Cristina.

Sara, Alicia and Pepe's cat, was sitting on a chair near the window and Dani sees me near her and says "Isn't Sara just beautiful?"

Dani and Maria were playing hide-and-seek, and Dani was looking for Maria. We were on the top floor, and I was about to go to the bathroom. I enter the bathroom as Dani says "She's not up here anywhere." As he is talking to me, I am opening the lid to the toilet. I tell him "She might be downstairs." He looks in the toilet, then looks at me with a really confused face, and says "She's down THERE!??!"

We eat lunch (yummy meatballs and broth!) and had fresh strawberries (picked from the garden) for dessert. And then, out of nowhere, I get bombarded with unexpected gifts. Monica and Jose Enrique give me a ring and matching pin, and Jose Enrique jokingly says "I picked that one out. I spent all day in the store trying to find the right colors." Dani was by my side, helping me open every gift, telling me before opening each one "It is a SURPRISE!" I open a little box and inside is a personalized piggy bank with a photo of the kids dressed up for Las Fallas. It was from Maria and Dani. Then Alicia passes me a package of beans for when I make paella. She also passes me a wrapped gift, which was an apron and washcloth with a fallera printed on it, along with a recipe for paella. She told me "It's even more for your dad, who will be making the paella. Can you imagine him wearing this flowery apron?!"  Then Monica passed me yet another package, which included little earrings that Marina designed for her brand, Manitas de Plata. I loved them. Then I went around and gave cheek kisses to everyone as I wished them thank you.

Dani was rambling on about me going back to Chicago, and he said "And I am going with her. She'll drive the plane, and we are going straight to New York City."

An hour later, still clearly thinking about it, he told me out of the blue, "I want to go with you on a plane to Chicago."

Me too.

A gorgeous Saturday in Valencia

Yesterday was my last Saturday in Valencia.

My host family is in Munera for the weekend, since one of Pichon's cousins has her communion.

I decided that I would make a trip into the heart of the city and spend all day long shopping, eating, people-watching, etc.

I walked to the metro train near my house, and when I got there, there was an older man (in his 60s) who said "Siempre las más blancas son las más guapas. No te pongas morena!" which translates to "It's always the palest girls who are the prettiest! Don't you ever get tan!"

I got on the train, and at the transfer station (to switch to the more city-centered green/red lines), there was a little toddler playing with a plastic toy on the platform (he was very far from the edge, don't worry). I was watching, along with the lady next to me on the bench, because well, kids are cute. The little boy then jumped, tripped, and launched the little toy out of his hands. It was like slow motion, bouncing, bouncing...and it got all the way to the edge of the platform, bounced, and then FELL. Onto the tracks. It was pretty suspenseful, and I  audibly went "awwww, no!" And the lady next to me turned to me and laughed. The poor kid. The dad, smartly, didn't go after the toy and just told the kid it was too late, and it met it's demise, four feet down on the tracks. How unfortunate.

I got off the train at the Colón (as in, Crístobal Colón, who you might know as Christopher Columbus) stop, and I immediately found the 7 Camicie store I was looking for. When my parents and I were in Portugal, my dad went into this store and fell in love with their snazzy shirts, but they didn't have a particular one (double collar, black and white stripes) in his size. I found out there was another one in Valencia, so after my parents were gone, I checked it out. As I have mentioned, these stores have about 10 shirts in each size. No luck at the Valencia one, or even the Alicante one for that matter. This was my last shot, and THERE IT WAS! I thought there was going to be something wrong. I have been to three stores already with no luck. There was no way I could have found it. But alas, I did. The funny thing is, I have passed this store a million times, since I get off that metro stop a lot. However, I always ignore it because although the pretty colors in the windows catch my eye, I am always like "oh, it's just men's shirts. PASS."

I then went to the Correos, or mail, building in the main city plaza. That building is one of the older buildings of the city, and has a huge main hall with marble columns and three floors looking into the center area, topped with a glass dome. Epic. Cristina's mom worried me on Friday by saying "When [not if] you need to ship stuff home, it will be helpful to know how much it costs. When Cristina studied in Italy, she shipped a lot of stuff home, and it was cheaper than paying for extra luggage." I hope I don't have to ship stuff home. I never had to do that before. Also, I don't think that shipping stuff home will be cheaper for me. I think extra luggage costs like $70, and I found out yesterday that approximately the same size and weight box would cost 150 EUROS ($195) to ship. So yeah, I REALLY hope I don't have to ship stuff. I'll just be that obnoxious person with lots of carry on stuff that just barely works into the limitations. However, if I remember correct, that first plane to France is tiny. I remember thinking that a Harry Potter book in my lap was cramped.

Now that my "stuff I really have to get done today" was done, I was free to roam the city. I dipped into Mercadona, the grocery store, to see if anything looked yummy to grab-and-go. The produce section in this store is like, well, all Spanish produce sections in that you have to weigh and sticker your bag with a price before checking out, unlike in the US, where they do it for you at checkout. Each produce item has a number next to it, so you know what button to press on the scale. If you forget, there is also a sign above the scale with typical produce items and their keycodes. I saw a girl (maybe a couple years younger than me) go to the scale and look really confused. She stared at the fruit, then at the board above the keypad, trying to find her item. She just had this hopeless look on her face, like "I have no idea what I am doing." She found her item on the list, punched it in, then she took a minute finding where the sticker ejects from the machine. Then she slowly grabbed her stuff with this "I hope that's it" look on her face, and immediately bumps into an elderly man behind her. She looked so shaken. I felt like a senior watching a freshman get to class for the first time. "I was you, once."

I didn't end up getting anything because I forgot that they don't refrigerate any soft drinks, so although that 20 cent can of Sprite was calling me, it was room temperature. And who likes that? No one.

I then hopped over to El Corte Ingles, where I spent the next hour and a half. I have mentioned this store before, but if you forgot, it is like a Macy's on steroids. It is a department store, but with SO MUCH MORE! There is a massive stationery section, gift section, tourist gift section, bookstore, music store, makeup area, clothing area, shoe section, etc and the list goes on. These stores are massive and there are THREE on Colón street alone. Their gift section is awesome. They have a purse in the shape of a giant Converse shoe, phones in the shape of hamburgers or high heels, plastic ice cubes in the shape of anchors and ships, magnets that play music, and other random cool stuff. The stationery section is equally awesome, and the epitome of window shopping: there is so much cool stuff to look at, even though you already know you won't buy anything. Is that a Swarovski crystal pencil? Is that a notepad in the shape of a chocolate bar? Are those erasers in the shape of 3D cars that have real wheels? Is that a journal made of Lego bricks? YES, yes, yes yes! Cristina gave me a coupon the other day for "spend 60 euros, get 6 euros back". I could easily spend 60 euros, since I had souvenirs and gifts to buy! However, I came up short, since there was a book in my purchase and the coupon couldn't be used on books. I wasn't going to spend 10 more euros to save 6...that didn't make any sense at all.

On my way to finding food (I already had a crepe restaurant in mind), I ducked in to a couple more stores that I came across. Hey, I have no rush, no plans, just hours and hours to spend doing whatever I please! I went into a store and immediately noticed a wall of American-themed clothing. Ironically enough, I come across the globe to be surrounded by all things American. At Corte Ingles, there were notepads with major American cities but NO Spanish cities! I was thinking "Hey this would be a great gift" but I wasn't going to get a notepad with New York or LA or Seattle on it. I mean Seattle? Really? How do you have Seattle and no Madrid or Barcelona? Do Spanish people even know what or where Seattle is? I doubt it. This one clothing store was obnoxious in its display of USA and red/white/blue clothing. Now I know I should travel to Spain to get 4th of July clothes. They had jeans with a giant American flag painted on them. They had flag scarves. Flag halters. Tops. Skirts, shirts, shoes, socks. Seriously, America is in fashion right now.

I got to the crepe place near the Virgin plaza. I saw it when my parents were here, but we didn't end up eating there. I got a table outside, and there were already tons of people at the other tables and nearby restaurants (it was 3pm). Prime time people-watching. The waiter saw me alone and gave me a bowl of crayons. The tablecloth was paper, so maybe he thought it would be less boring eating alone. I have always felt self-conscious eating alone in restaurants (which is why it almost never happens). You feel like you are always being stared at, and unless you have a book to read, that is all you are doing to other people. However, I was super comfortable here. I had my back against a fence and my table facing outward (so French...if you didn't already know, patio tables at French cafes always have chairs facing the street). There I was, enjoying my goat cheese/raisin/walnut/spinach galette while listening to a street performer play accordion music, watching people walk by. It was perfect.  After the meal, I went inside to use the restroom and I saw the inside for the first time...the bar was made out of a car! Like, the entire shell of a car was used as the bar, and the bartenders peeked through the windows, and also the car was covered in seashells. It was really cool.

After lunch, I noticed some homeless women on the church steps asking for money, so I went to a nearby sandwich shop, got a tuna/egg/tomato bocadillo (sandwich on french bread), and had the waiter cut it in half. I presented the two ladies with the halves, and the latter bothered me because as I was giving the first lady half, she was like "What about me!?" and when I gave her the half, she was like "What about water?!" There are fountains throughout the city. I think you should be happy with that.

I walked toward the Virgin plaza and there was a group of homeless men nearby, one of which hollered at me something about me being pale and needing to get out in the sun more. Then I think he said something dirty. Wonderful! I kept walking and there was a younger homeless guy (no more than 25) walking in the same direction. A few blocks later, I noticed he was still there, even when there were very few people on the street. I quickly ducked into a souvenir shop to get away from the dude, bought a Valencian flag, and he was gone when I got back out. But it made me paranoid for the rest of the day. Normally I wouldn't mind walking down side streets or alleyways at 4pm, but now I was like "He might be there, WAITING!"

My next mission was to find somewhere to grab a coffee and something sweet. I wandered and wandered because I wanted a cute place with lots of people, but also not a touristy part of the city where it'd be expensive. I ended up at the same spot I've been with my parents and Carly and Sarah, on Carrer de Ribera. It's a little gelato shop, and I got a coffee and ice cream and sat and people watched for a good half hour or so. It was nice having no obligations.

I got up and headed over to Carrer de Russafa which has a bunch of cute clothing shops that I saw when I went to the American store a few weeks ago. After my feet couldn't take it any longer, I got back on the train home.

I pulled out Thank you for Smoking and I, Robot (here called Yo, Robot. Yo robot, how you doin'?) from Cristina's uncle's movie collection and watched those, ordering online from Telepizza a BBQ chicken, pineapple and onion pizza. When the delivery man came, I stupidly left the front door open and Gin escaped, leading the next ten minutes to be spent searching in the neighbor's yard for the cat. Luckily the neighbors were home and could let me into their yard. I was so scared that THIS would be the time (Gin's escaped a lot) that he escaped and was never to be seen again, especially when Cristina and Pichon weren't home. "Oh hey, while you were out, I lost your cat." But he was hanging out in the neighbors' bushes, and after the neighbor offered him some ham, I grabbed him and shooed him into our house.

Aw man, it was wonderful. No obligations, no rush, no one to need to talk to/call/email. It was great.