Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Settling in

I arrived in Madrid with Ruxi and Amy on Thursday afternoon. I didn't get off to a great start, as I had some issues with luggage. I had found it somewhat difficult to pack everything I needed and keep to the 20 kilogrammes suitcase allowance. There wasn't a weight restriction for the hand luggage, so I crammed 13 kilogrammes of luggage into a bag that was the right measurements and hoped for the best. I had no problems until boarding the flight, at which point the attendant complained that my bag, unsurprisingly, wouldn’t fit into the measurement cage. Despite her angry temperament she was sympathetic and said she would put my over sized hang luggage into the plane's hold with my suitcase without extra charge. I was fairly concerned what the state of my ghd hair straighteners inside my hand luggage would be after the flight or whether my hand luggage would appear at all, but it appeared intact alongside my suitcase when we arrived.

Celebrating exactly 20 kilogrammes!

We then met up with a group of other Language Assistants and went on what we thought would be a simple bus journey. However, we missed our stop and ended up taking the metro (underground train), which wasn't the easiest choice due to carrying my total of 33kg of luggage whilst climbing up and down steps, as most stations seemed to lack lifts. After realising I had left one of my favourite jumpers in the overhead cabins on the plane and opening my suitcase in the middle of the street to find a map, we finally made it to Hotel Convención despite being too late for the evening seminars.

Whilst checking into the hotel the receptionist told me they were expecting me to be a man. I'm not sure if this was because I'd filled in a form incorrectly or if my name sounded male to Spaniards, but I had to be given another room because all assistants were sharing. Then my room card wouldn't work, at which point I just felt like giving up. However, I managed to get my room card sorted out and my mood improved significantly after a buffet dinner. I was keen to experience Spanish night life, but simply didn't have the energy after the events of the day.

Friday consisted of seminars about our role as Language Assistants and instructions on preparations when we arrive at our cities. I found a lot of the information difficult to understand, depending on the speaker's accent and speed. I managed to find some of the English assistants who were going to Melilla and met lots of other people going to different places. The hotel was inclusive of all meals so I was able to try a lot of Spanish cuisine, including Spanish omelette, olives and different salads. Spanish olives are the best I've ever tasted!

We checked out of the hotel on Saturday morning, and then went back down to the depths of the metro in search of a hostel with some of Ruxi's friends. Just under an hour later we arrived at a hostel, which to our dismay had no rooms left. We were then given directions to the nearest hostel and finally found a free room. After the relief of putting down our luggage, we set out into the city to see some landmarks. 

The senate

The royal palace

Bank of Spain

Jeronimos church

Alcalá gate

Ruxi had an early flight the next morning so we tried to have an early night, despite a rock concert across the street and a drum and bass rave downstairs. I managed to get a decent sleep after Ruxi had left; the hostel was actually the best I have stayed in so far. We had a twin room, whereas the hostel rooms I had been in before had had over 10 beds, which wasn’t always the best experience. Later that morning I left in plenty of time because I wasn’t entirely sure how long it would take me to get to the airport. I dragged my luggage down into the metro once more and I could tell that people were looking and probably wondering how on earth I got in down there. I have to say my arm muscles are aching considerably and I have quite a few bruises on my arms legs, but I refused to pay more than 30 euros for a taxi to the airport.

Life lesson: don't take luggage 
into the Madrid metro

After several laps of the Plaza de Cibeles roundabout, I eventually found the bus stop and somehow arrived at the airport 4 hours before my departure. I was thankful that my suitcase allowance was 23 kilogrammes for the second flight, so to the amusement of other passengers, I opened my suitcase at the check in area, layered up with some extra clothes that were in no way colour coordinated and stuffed some of my hand luggage into my suitcase in order to avoid another angry flight attendant.

I arrived in Melilla in the early evening and it felt very disorientating when the plane descended over the sea! The sky was clear, the sun was shining and as I stepped out of the plane I felt the heat hit me and realised I had probably packed a few too many jumpers. My rather large hand luggage had been placed on in the hold whilst boarding the plane and for some reason the hand luggage was unloaded onto the runway for passengers whilst another plane landed! Going into the airport to collect my suitcase from the carousel then seemed a bit pointless.

Through being given the contact details of a friend of a friend of one of my English Language Assistant predecessors in Melilla, I was lucky enough to be able organise accommodation before arriving. I was careful and asked for some photos of the flat beforehand and had several conversations with my future house mate, Laura. From seeing the photos and speaking to Laura, I felt like I would be happy living there. It is a 2 person apartment which is 40 metres from the beach and only 300 euros a month! It's quite a lot compared to the rest of Spain (maybe because this city isn't particularly big) but not much compared to the previous accommodation that I've had in the UK! Due to the flight I hadn't checked my text messages for a few hours and to my surprise, a friend of Laura (who is away on holiday) arrived at the airport with another friend to pick me up, take me to my flat and show me around. Laura left me a letter with instructions for the flat, which included a warning not to drink the tap water in Melilla. I thought maybe people are just fussy here, so I tried some for the first and last time. It tastes like sea water, so I have to go to the shop to buy large bottles of water. Perhaps this is the result of being located on a third world continent.

The view of the sea from my 
living room

A terrace area next to the kitchen 
where I hang my washing

After looking around the flat and finally unpacking my suitcase, I had a 30 minute walk to the city centre to meet up with some of the other assistants for a Chinese meal and drinks at a bar on the beach! I can't wait for people to visit me so I can take them there. Melilla is almost as beautiful at night as it is during the daytime. However, I think the mosquitoes mostly come out at night because I keep waking up covered in bites. Apparently you can get a mosquito repelling wrist band that lasts around 3 months for 5 euros, which I may have investigate at the pharmacy.

I couldn't be very productive yesterday, because we went to the migrant office to register for an NIE (migrant identity number) and they told us we needed to come back at 9am the next day. I need the NIE to open a bank account, so I had no choice but to relax for the rest of the day! We went out to a restaurant for lunch and I couldn't understand everything on the menu, so I ordered a three cheese salad that I thought would be vegetarian, which turned out to include tuna and I have now learnt my lesson to ask if the meal is vegetarian next time. I then went in search of a shop for mobiles with Siobhan, another assistant from Scotland. We came to realise that the Spanish really do take their siestas seriously, because many shops have strange opening times, including the Vodafone store, which is open 10:00-13:30 and 17:30-20:30 and so we couldn't get a Spanish phone either. We then gave up with productivity and procrastinated on the beach.

Today I arrived at the migrant office just before 9am and the queue was already huge. I had to take a ticket number and it didn't get called up until 12pm! As the city isn't that big I foolishly wasn't expecting to have to wait very long, but as a European city surrounded by Morocco, undoubtedly it was very busy. The person I was talking to spoke incredibly fast and I couldn't understand, so I asked him to speak more slowly. He continued to speak incomprehensibly quickly and to my dismay he had to find someone who could speak English so we could communicate. Eventually I was told that the EX-15 form I had brought was wrong, so they gave me an EX-18 instead, stamped it and told to take it to the bank to pay a fee and return to the migrant office on Thursday to receive my NIE, which I have to say I'm not looking forward to. I then went with Jack, another assistant working at my school, to find our school a lot later than anticipated, which unfortunately is located a considerable climb up the mountains which more or less act as a border between Melilla and Morocco.

We met some of the staff at the school, were given a tour and will return tomorrow morning to meet the head of English. I earn 700 euros a month and I'm only working 12 hours a week! This is incredible compared to the amount I got paid and the amount of hours I worked in a pub kitchen over the summer. I will have a lot of free time, but I want to use it productively, improve my Spanish, travel and earn some extra money, perhaps through private lessons. I'm currently sat at home recovering from the walk in and out of town and up and down the hill, but I may go and take advantage of Vodafone's strange opening hours and try to buy a Spanish phone this evening.

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