Category Archives: international travel

Avila Mismaps

¡Hola a Todos!

According to some source I can’t remember, Avila is a medieval walled city that stands about 1,100 metres above sea level. Inside the walls is a city of monasteries, churches, convents, squares, and plazas.

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Moorish prisoners constructed the wall, at Alfonso VI’s orders and after he conquered the city. The wall, almost 1 1/2 miles long, is still in good condition. Fourteen meters high and 3 meters thick, these walls have 9 entrance gates and 90 towers.

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On a cold, sunny February day, I took a train from Chamartin to Avila, a city northwest of Madrid. Once there, I walked around, eventually coming across the tourist office and the famous wall. I approached one of the entrances and climbed the stairs. At the first level, I found several small and narrow passageways, each with approximately 8 stairs leading to a more elevated place for a better view of the city. I was very careful because the steps were narrow and I had fallen down a flight of steps in 1995 at my apartment building in Chicago: I was walking down the steps at 8 a.m., on my way to the gym, and tripped over the cuffs of my blue-jean overalls. I fell face forward down the carpeted steps onto my chest and sustained back pain and a rug burn atop my right wrist, which I can admire to this day. I immediately raced to the gym so that I would be around someone, anyone, in case I passed out from whatever falling down the stairs does to a person…For this reason, I am “old lady careful” either ascending or descending stairs, always clutching the rails. When I see stairs, I not only think of this episode but also of my father, who would always run up the stairs, two at a time, even at 79 years old – and fell one time, as at the time we didn’t know he had a brain tumor.

10171236_10205459746794289_4058497180429153871_n10978535_10205459747874316_1964887529254261957_nNormally, I’m pretty good with maps and had gotten a map from the tourist office, but once inside the wall, I kept getting  very confused about where I was, with all the winding streets. I like to think I’m smarter than all of this or that I’m just having a bad map day or that it all really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things or that I can find my way out of this maze with or without a map, but sometimes I’m not a good guide for myself.

At times, the problem is that I’m not wearing my reading glasses and the print is exceptionally small so I can’t actually see the street names
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Other times, I don’t feel like looking at a map, and having had to figure out so many things since I’ve been in Spain, I just want to walk around and enjoy the city. And then there are instances I don’t have a clue about what’s going on or what I’m doing. But I’m sure these illegible maps are for foreign tourists, who wind up staying in whatever Spanish city much longer than necessary (and buying more souvenirs) because they can’t figure out how to return to the train or bus station: “Might as well get that I LOVE AVILA tee shirt since I’m going to be here the rest of my life anyway, trying to figure out how to scale the wall.” Despite the street-map traffic in my head, I was able to visit a couple of museums there for free, visit a few churches, take about 1,000 pictures of the wall, and see a lot.

In related news, I had visited Chicago in March of 1996, never having been there, except on college choir tour in the suburbs, where the snow was knee-high, and I was using one of those cartoon-like maps with the Amazon River drawn around the Rain Forest Cafe. I like to think that this drawing was so distracting or enjoyable that I failed to notice I had been holding the city map with Lake Michigan at the north instead of the east. I was frustrated because I couldn’t figure out how the lake could possibly be located at my right since it was way at the top of my ma983854_10205459743434205_6681850869402220022_np.

I guess if I had asked someone for directions at the beginning of my trip, I would have gotten oriented much faster.

However, if you ever visit Spain, you’ll notice that the roads in various cities wind this way and that. For an especially confusing time, visit Toledo. If using a map is way too much trouble, as it was in Toledo, I sometimes tuck the map into my purse and try to, map-less, enjoy the shops and scenes, but then I end up having no idea where I am and pass the same shops and scenes about 40 times and start dwelling on how I can’t believe I can’t figure out something so simple and then start fretting over how I haven’t read up on Spanish history and don’t even know what I’m looking at anyway. Then I wonder how an intelligent woman could be this incompetent, meanwhile hoping no one is following me. What is truly remarkable is that tourists in Chicago and even in Spain come up to me to ask me for directions or other information. I must look as if I have some vague idea about what’s going on.

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Okay, so I’m being hard on myself. Actually, my sense of direction is pretty good and I’m normally quite competent with maps, and I especially have to give myself lots of credit for reading train maps in cities with which I’m unfamiliar, plus I lived outside of Tokyo for three years and read train signs in Hiragana. I used the train all the time in Madrid, understanding the system pretty well pretty quickly. So if I have lived in two foreign countries and could read the language and am still alive today, I guess my map situation isn’t so bad. And despite what I said, I think I can find almost anything. I don’t know why I need to reference this information, as I have driven many places without GPS, as well as found many places in foreign countries (think JAPAN), and everything turned out all right! However, I suppose there are always exceptions to the rule, and Toledo and Avila happen to be two of them, not to mention Sevilla, whose street names on the map were so small I could barely see them, plus I wasn’t wearing my reading glasses at the time.

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I don’t have much more to say about Avila. I figure if you or I want to know the history, we can consult the Internet (Wikipedia, if we’re hard up), or you can just look at the pictures on this blog. They tell a better story than I do, plus I’ve already explored the area, gotten turned around many times, and wasted lots of time, all in an effort to save YOU a bunch of time, trouble, and agony. I hope you enjoy the pictures, and the good news is that to view them, you don’t even need a map.

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¡Besos!

International Girl in Spain

Hallie Belt, M.A. and B.A., English

halliebelt@beltstyles.com, 312.285.8429

www.beltstyles.com

Follow @BeltStyles

WRITER and YELPER: Resumes, LinkedIn Profiles, Cover Letters, References

BLOGGER: International Girl in Spain, My English Quarters, Dating Till It’s Over (under construction)

AUTHOR: The Search for Order: T.S. Eliot’s Use of Music and Musical Form

VOICEOVER: Hallie Belt’s Voiceover Demo

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Home, Sweet Home…sickness

Calle Santiago

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¡Hola a Todos!

Before I lay my homesickness on you, I will relate my goings-on these past several days.

 

On Wednesday and Thursday, I emailed my resume to several language academies, as I’m trying to get a part-time tutoring or teaching job. On Friday, my day off, I dressed for my interview and 316691_2290453142001_73728_ntook the Metro to Ruben Dario station. A Spanish girl with a British accent interviewed me and seemed hopeful about my prospects of working with the company. I was delighted to hear that I could find work in the area where I live and would be tutoring only one or two children (brother and sister, for example) in their home. I like tutoring, so that sat well with me.

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After I came home and wrote in my blog, I prepared myself for a second interview at 4 p.m. I had called an American woman that morning at the International Institute, and she said that even though she had teachers for all her courses, she would meet with me, possibly for January classes. After the short interview, she showed me the downstairs library, which was filled with movies. I told her I would love to check out movies once I get my permanent resident card and a handy extra 10 euros, but since my wallet had been stolen, I couldn’t spend that money yet. In the meantime, I was hoping to go to the public library to check out movies and books for free. Anyway, this place was a nice alternative, as there was also a garden and an area for drinking coffee outside. Later, I went to the Prado Museum, which was free from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday nights, but the line was lengthy, so I went to the museum store located across the street, then to the Thyssen Museum, which was not free, and looked around the gift shop.

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On Saturday morning, all I felt was lonely, forlorn, and isolated for a 317472_2334873412480_1081660831_n-2couple of

 

 

 

different reasons I won’t explain here. Hard as it and everything was, I decided to take my dad’s advice from 1983, when I moved to Austin and was feeling the same way: “Hal, go outside and do something. Go to the library, and stop thinking about yourself.” Sometimes it’s hard not to think about yourself during these times of crisis, but this advice has sometimes served me well over the years. I used my Metro pass, my legs, and my three-surgery feet for nonstop travel that day.

Plaza

First, I went to the Instituto Cervantes (I attended that school in Chicago), an enormous building with a free exhibit on the cosmos, so I viewed that, not absorbing any of the information but just trying to get my mind off the loneliness. Then I went to another free museum and viewed more art. Later, I walked to the free Archaeological Museum and the National Public Library — more free art — and to the bullfight ring, walking around the outside of it. I strolled along Goya Street and hopped on the train to Debod Temple and — along with the many lovers, as well as brides and grooms being photographed in this lovely spot — viewed the setting sun. Yup. Just me, the brides and grooms, and the lovers. Try to imagine the fun I was having.

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I walked over to Plaza Espana, viewed the statue of Cervantes, walked between booths of artisans selling their wares, and then decided to take the Metro back to my station, Opera, as my map was already torn at the creases, and not only did I have difficulty viewing the streets due to the darkness but also due to the fact that my eyes require reading glasses. My forlorn feeling hadn’t yet vanished, exactly, but these adventures helped my state of mind. I had walked so much on Saturday that by the time I got home, I was very hungry and tired, so I ate dinner and went to bed.

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On Sunday, I was emailing my friend in the States and crying while I was typing to her. You can sometimes do everything practical to get your mind off yourself and improve your life, but if your emotions are there, they’re there, and unfortunately, mine were there to hang out for a while.11401563_10206422378739486_4780463268211809348_n

Again, I sought refuge in my dad’s advice, so after taking a shower, I ventured out, once again, to Reina Sofia, the place where I had viewed 10 minutes of a Hitchcock movie the previous Sunday, but I first allowed myself to shop along El Rastro, the flea market I had seen the previous Saturday. There was a huge crowd, and the market went on for what seemed like blocks…and probably was. There were booths of clothes, jewelry, purses, sunglasses, sweaters, art — you name it. I walked through La Latina neighborhood, then walked north on Atocha Ronda over to Reina Sofia, an enormous building. For this free day at the museum, there was a long line for the museum, but it was moving swiftly.

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The museum contained a lot of Picasso, Miro, and Dali, some Goya, and several other works of art. Picasso’s Guernica was enormous, and couples were posing beside it. I always find that humorous: An artist has worked long and hard on a piece, and then two girls, one with her lips almost touching the other girl’s cheek, in a near kiss, were holding this pose for at least 10 seconds before their picture was snapped. This pose seemed so odd against Picasso’s Guernica.

ReinaI walked toward home, picking up a few items at the grocery store, wrote more in my blog, and emailed a few friends. Perhaps trying to cheer me up, my good friend Javier, who lives in San Sebastian (Spain), had sent me a downloaded poster of the Klimt film we had seen a year ago in Chicago at the Gene Siskel Theatre. (While Javier and I had been watching the movie, in English, I kept hoping he wouldn’t ask me to summarize the story, as I had had no idea what was going on. We have both found it rather amusing, ever since, to imitate John Malkovich’s seemingly indifferent responses throughout the movie.)

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1916347_1265071548102_6528230_nAnother source of great amusement is Bob Dylan’s no-musical-range-every-song-sounds-the-same MTV Unplugged, which Javier and I had also viewed a year ago. We had to watch the entire concert, because we were both waiting for the band to play a different song from the first song, but they never did: They played the same song throughout the show: The songs just had different titles, I guess. And Bob Dylan sounded as if his voice could’ve used some WD40. Javier gets a kick out of imitating this: And for my next number, I’d like to sing… [and then he proceeds to imitate Dylan’s monotone, creaky voice. We are much more amused by our imitations of famous people than we are by their work. I’m sure that John Malkovich is better in other movies, and I even like Bob Dylan’s greatest hits double CD, which I gave to my stepmother for her birthday, so I’m not really against either, although I have to admit that John Malkovich isn’t my favorite actor.

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11053557_10206423702412577_5646328091683124427_nMy forlorn feeling was diminishing somewhat on Sunday, plus I had something to look forward to: I was going to meet Ellen, a friend from orientation, at 7:30 p.m. for drinks and tapas. During our conversation, she told me she had worked for the Wall Street Journal for 10 years and had gotten her master’s degree in Spanish from Middlebury College, here in Madrid, so I was calculating that she was at least in her early 30s, which was some comfort to me, considering that most of the group at our orientation were in their twenties. She’s smart, seemingly self-confident, and has a good sense of humor — and it was nice to talk in English with an American, I have to admit.
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1916347_1263731274596_3584768_nEllen and I went to a surprisingly cheap tapas bar she knew about and had a couple of glasses of red wine and tapas. We spent about 3 hours there and had a good time. We talked about going to a movie in English, with Spanish subtitles, not Spanish dubbing. She wants to refer to me a pharmacy student who needs help with her English, so I hope to have another tutee.

Feeling better today. I suppose it’s all in a day’s work being in Madrid. It’s another clear, sunny day here. We’ve had this weather almost every day for the nearly 3 weeks I’ve been here.

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¡Besos!

International Girl in Spain

Hallie Belt, M.A. and B.A., English

halliebelt@beltstyles.com, 312.285.8429

www.beltstyles.com

WRITER and YELPER: Resumes, LinkedIn Profiles, Cover Letters, References

BLOGGER: International Girl in Spain, My English Quarters, Dating Till It’s Over (under construction)

AUTHOR: The Search for Order: T.S. Eliot’s Use of Music and Musical Form

VOICEOVER: Hallie Belt’s Voiceover Demo

Español y Yo

Hola a Todos,

I know you’ve all been champing at the bit, waiting to hear my take on the differences and similarities between the Spanish and English languages, the slew of grammar goodies one should take very seriously should one wish to speak Spanish like a native. I am also well aware you’re interested in getting a good laugh out of all my problems communicating with Spanish people, but since you can find the former on the Internet and the latter in practically all of my other posts, I will instead grace you with my simple, yet creative, approaches to learning Spanish:

  1. Watching telenovelas: A great idea, as soap operas are filled with scenes involving the characters staring at each other before the next scene or commercial break, which allows me ample time to process that the evil twin is definitely going to shoot her father-in-law, after she cheats on her husband. I watched telenovelas a few times at the beginning of my stay here and understood some of what was going on but was frustrated that I wasn’t getting a clear-enough picture, so, now that my Spanish has improved some, I’ll watch them this summer. (When I was growing up, my mother forbade us kids to watch daytime soap operas or Peyton Place, because, well, she thought they set a bad example of life and relationships. Forgive me, Mom.)
  2. Studying my Instituto Cervantes book on the train rides to and from work. I did this some, but I found that while my grammar was getting better, my conversation wasn’t — and I needed more conversation, so I try to speak Spanish whenever the mood strikes.
  3. Attending a free Spanish class in Moncloa (Madrid). I signed up for these free CEPA (Centro de Educacion Para Adultos) classes in February and then found out two weeks later that I needed to have an operation, so my progress was impeded by an approved supply of drugs, doctor visits, and recovery time, plus feet that were killing me after I had spent so much of the school day standing and walking through huge train stations. Now that I live in Fuenlabrada, Moncloa is quite far to go to attend a class in which the teacher lives and breathes Spanish dictation.
  4. Speaking with a Spanish roommate. My ex-roommate, a Spanish girl, almost never talked to me, much less talked to me in Spanish, as she spoke English fairly well and, I assume, didn’t have the patience to listen to my Spanish. Why? Let’s put it nicely: Please remind me never ever EVER to live with anybody like this…EVER again. I now have an roommate from Cameroon, so I speak Spanish with him, plus 8 other languages, which he happens to know in case I ever want to attempt that.
  5. Attending language exchange parties in Madrid or talking with others one-on-one, e.g., our cleaning woman. I prefer the latter option, as our cleaning woman knows NO English, so I am forced to speak Spanish with her and can’t lapse into English. Also, I prefer a patient person.
  6. Talking with more people at school in Spanish. A good and obvious idea.
  7. Talking on Skype with people who want to exchange their Spanish for my English. I did this for a few weeks, and it was very good with three people, out of the dozens that contacted me, but there always being a lot of people to weed out, problems with schedules and people constantly changing the times. One girl I was supposed to meet in person said she was having personal problems and cancelled the appointment about five minutes before I was to meet her. For about two months, I didn’t have [my own] Internet connection, so I fell out of touch with the other people. I still might contact one of the guys I was in touch with. He was an excellent teacher and a good student! In the meantime,
  8. Borrowing movies from the libary and watching them in English with Spanish subtitles or in painful-to-listen-to Spanish dubbing over with English subtitles. I borrow movies a lot, partly because I hate to pay so much at the theatres to see a movie I might not like, the library is about a block away from where I live, I like reading the Spanish subtitles, I don’t like sitting with groups of people who either talk to each other or on their cell phones during the film. (I’m talking about Americans because I’ve been to the theatre only once here and the audience’s behavior happened to be excellent.) I went to an interesting performance the other day, and the people beside me talked the whole time. Call it a pet peeve, but I call it respecting the fact that we all paid to watch a show, not hear other people’s conversations.
  9. Trying to understand Hablar por Hablar. This is a podcast in which callers talk to a radio station host about their personal problems. The Spanish goes a little fast, and well, the problem is that I just now thought of it. I haven’t listened to it in a very long time, to tell you the truth, so it’s on my summer list.
  10. Reading free Spanish newspapers like Que? or 20 Minutos. I read them on the train sometimes.

So I have laid out for you all of my ideas for learning the Spanish language, besides, of course, the daily singing of Shakira songs. I would have made much more progress with Spanish had I done every one of these things every day, but I instead spent way too much time recovering from everything that happened tthis year, as well as thinking about the following silly things:

  • How much Shakira has accomplished at 32, including speaking 3 1/2 languages (the 1/2 being Italian, in addition to Spanish, English, and Portuguese), composing hundreds of songs, winning all sorts of awards, being an international superstar. These are the geniuses of the world, even though this one comes in a pretty package with hard abs. They don’t waste time: they get something done. I have accomplished some of what I have wanted to, but I know I have much more to do. (Maybe this isn’t such a silly thought after all)
  • Why, when walking down the street, hardly anyone, except me, moves out of the way. This happens in the States, too, but not with such alarming frequency
  • Why hardly anyone here holds the door for the person behind them or says “perdon” when they push past you
  • Why the saleswomen ignore you as they rush to hang up clothes right in front of you, even if the hook of the clotheshanger is stuck in your eyeball
  • Why Spanish [and AMERICAN] people, in a group, spend an hour talking about where they’re going to eat instead of quickly agreeing on something and saying, “Okay, let’s eat there!” A question I can’t help asking myself is, “Why hadn’t all of this been decided beforehand?” (Of course, what then never fails to happen is that now that I’ve made this remark, I’ll be guilty of debating with myself for 3 hours whether I should eat a Whopper at Burger King or head on over to McDonald’s for a tasty Big Mac. Decisions decisions.) I asked a Spanish teacher about this phenomenon, and she responded, “Because we don’t listen to each other.” I found that highly amusing.
  • Why I’m nervous about speaking Spanish in front of a group and always make elementary mistakes, like saying “Japon” (Japan) for “jamon” (ham)
  • Whether or not Spanish people who see me on the train reading a book in English and come to the conclusion that I’m an English speaker want to practice their English with me
  • If, upon my return to the States, my cats plan only to scratch my eyes out or if they opt for peeing on the new, queen-sized sleeper couch and queen-sized bed I bought for my tenant this past February.
  • Why I did a crazy thing like move to Spain, when this low-paying job is really for people in their 20s, and why I have experienced so many difficulties here and in Chicago. Trouble, simultaneously, on two continents (yeah, yeah, I know I’m an overachiever). Yes, I know age doesn’t matter and it’s a good experience and all of that bull, but for several months, I felt quite old in this position, especially since the other American teachers are in their early 20s. My hangup, definitely, because they don’t do or say anything to make me feel that way
  • How I’m going to be teaching drama at The English School this summer and will probably have a 10-year-old kid in my class whose mother or father taught at The Yale School of Drama and who will be questioning everything I’m doing
  • How difficult it is to find a cute, comfortable, closed pair of shoes (better for wearing my orthotics) here in my size
  • Why Spanish kids in their tweens, teens, and twenties can’t help making out like mad on the escalator, in the train station, or anywhere else in front of a load of people. Two girls boarded the train and proceeded to stand behind me and lock lips, complete with slurping noises. (Can I ask the director of this Spanish film to take me out of all of these makeout scenes or else at least pay me to be in them? My character? The long-suffering American witness to all of the Spanish exhibitionists)
  • How, when I look around the classroom, the kids are way too used to my being there, as if it’s a regular part of their day:

ACT ONE

Interior: Seven-year-old Spanish child sits in bed.

LYDIA

(Expressionless and muttering to herself in Spanish)

Today, I’ll eat breakfast, go to school, have English class with Hallie, play outside, yell a lot, eat lunch, talk a lot, go home, and have a snack.

ACTS TWO AND THREE

Cut to Classroom:

HALLIE

(Looks at Lydia. Furrows her brow. Tears drip from her cheeks, as she picks up Lydia.)

Well, couldn’t you be a little more excited that I’m here? Aren’t you curious about me?

(Lydia throws her pencil at Marta.
Frowning, Hallie sets Lydia back down in her chair.)

Oh, I forgot: You’re only seven years old and light as a toothpick.

Cut to: Hallie in a dark room at home

Hallie sits at the computer and blogs about Lydia.

  • Also how, when I look around the classroom, the kids are waving at me or looking at me or calling me over to see their latest gadget (I show excitement about a dog in a little basket a little boy I’m sure is gay shows me OR a deck of Hello Kitty! cards a little girl shows me)…or else to hold their hand or to help them with English or to tie their shoes or to hug me
  • How when I have taken something away from or reprimanded a student (e.g., Never throw scissors at other students! OR It’s rude to say “Joder”), the student has already either “forgiven” me or forgotten about the incident…or both. They’ll happily say “Hi, Hallie!” in the hall, as if nothing has happened. That’s the good thing about teaching kids who are seven and eight years old
  • How a guy from Cameroon is an excellent roommate and how he can speak nine languages — seven of which are African languages, which he says are all very different from each other — and how I sometimes can’t even remember a simple phrase in Spanish, like “It’s nice to meet you”

So, as you can see, I’m quite the busy gal, thinking about all kinds of things, real or imagined.

As my father once advised me: “Hal, you should always be able to entertain yourself,” words I have obviously taken to heart because not only did I come to Spain because I got a job, wanted to see more cities here, and have an adventure, I came partly to entertain myself a little more while honing my Spanish language skills. So now occupying my mind is my progress with the language, which, albeit slow, is happening, so while berating myself for not knowing more of the language because I’ve been a smidge lazy and thinking about the ridiculous, I have indeed accomplished most of my goals.

And this summer, Javier and I are going to be teaching each other more of each other’s language — although I can’t help but think that I don’t know either English or Spanish at this point. He wants to be certified for a certain level in English, and I would like to get past “Hola” in Spanish, so we have both have our own books and a structured way of studying.

Perhaps this is one of my not-so-silly ideas.

Besos,

International Girl in Spain

Hallie Belt, M.A., English Literature

Blogger, Digital Ad Agency Editor and Proofreader (15 years), English/EFL Faculty Member (15 years), Book Editor, Writer: Speeches, Resumes, LinkedIn Pages

http://www.beltstyles.comhalliebelt@beltstyles.com, 312.285.8429

Searching for Segovia

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Saturday, Dec1918986_1292384830917_5445064_nember 5, 200

Hola a Todos,

I had decided the morning of to go to Segovia, so I boarded a train from Chamartin, the north part of the Metro map — if taking a trip somewhere were only as easy as merely pointing it out on the map — and headed to Segovia, pleased that I was accomplishing one of my goals here: seeing another city in Spain. However, I was less pleased with myself that I hadn’t researched the trip, unusual for me, and hoped that everything would work out all right — and it did, sort of.

I could’ve sworn that those who had traveled to Segovia had told me that Segovia was only 45 minutes from Madrid, and the map showed it was only a couple of inches away, so I surmised that they couldn’t have been lying!

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However, 45 minutes after I had boarded the train, the ticket collector came by, so I bought a ticket, not having had enough time to get one in the station beforehand. As I was purchasing my ticket, I asked the train ticket collector if Segovia was maybe only a few minutes away at this point, since we had already passed the allotted time and had traveled much more than a couple of inches… Maybe I had misunderstood everybody: Maybe downtown Segovia was 45 minutes away from suburban Segovia. While I have a fantastic sense of humor, I don’t have a fantastic sense of humor about these things, except in retrospect, because I normally have a very good memory and am very good with numbers, even possessing a sometimes advanced ability in math, but right now I have so many other meaningless items stored in my head that I don’t really work hard at doing that. (Music and numbers go together is what people tell me, and even when my classical music professor father was dying of a brain tumor and was garbling his speech, he was still citing statistics correctly. He was very good with numbers and math, my sister majored in math, I got a high score on the GREs in math, etc., so I guess math ability kind of runs in the family.)1918986_1292384430907_8060525_n

19960_1316791641072_7569161_nBut the Mr. Train Ticket Collector responded, “One more hour and 15 minutes” in perfect Spanish — considering he was Spanish. I was figuratively rolling my eyes in the back of my head at myself, wondering how I could’ve gotten the time wrong, except for the fact that I hadn’t done even a speck of research for this trip: I had to live with the fact that I had winged the whole thing. However, before I left, I had noticed that the fast-speed train, the “Ave” (Ah-vay), from Madrid, not the train I was riding, took about an hour, which as I recall is about 15 more minutes than 45, to travel to Segovia, an amount of time that didn’t jive with my traveler friends’ calculations. And I was almost certain that they hadn’t been discussing the fast-speed train with me because they wouldn’t have paid the extra money for it. It was all a mystery.

1918986_1292384710914_7082_nI sat back down, thinking that this type of mixup went with the territory of being a foreigner, especially one who had done no research, and then decided that it all really didn’t matter: I had no other place to be, no other obligations. It’s not as if I had a husband or a child or a boyfriend or even a cat who needed me to be home at a particular time. “Just enjoy the scenery,” I told myself. When you know you’re not a slacker or even a laid-back person (except in some areas, definitely!) — and you think way too much for your own good — you need to tell yourself these things.19960_1316790801051_1192951_n

When I first moved to Japan, I was talking to a Japanese person about a Canadian teacher who was in my teacher program and was one of four other teachers who had accompanied me on the plane to Japan and was going to be teaching at the high school with me. I knew when I met him for the first time at the second round of interviews, merely a formality, that he was going to be a pill, but then he seemed to be chummy during orientation, which caused me to doubt my first impression of him. (And I can usually count on my first impressions.) The Japanese woman’s response? “There’s always one [person that wrecks a situation, no matter where you are],” and absolutely the same can be said about the train: I was sitting there peacefully, having just reminded myself that I’d better enjoy the scenery in Spain (after all, I am privileged to be given this opportunity to live and work here, so, by golly, I’d better have some fun) — and a group of people got on the train and, from that point, never shut up. Shouting, talking loudly — kind of like my schoolchildren.

1918986_1292384390906_1491662_nWhen these types of things happen, I occasionally think, “Hallie, you could go over and ask them about their country” [they weren’t from Spain] “or somehow learn a few words of their language or find out what you have in common with them.” That would be the adult action to take, but all I wanted them to do was shut up. I thought they should’ve at least had the courtesy to read my mind. I was contemplating moving to another train car, but then I knew I’d be exposed to a nonstop cell-phone talker or a couple who couldn’t help sharing their most intimate kisses in front of total strangers. There is always one — or a group.

1918986_1292385150925_7071937_nThe ride seemed so long that I kept wondering if by the time I got to Segovia, it would be time for me to return to Madrid. When I finally reached Segovia, I walked through the train station toward a big “You are here” map across the street. Some Italians came up to me and asked me, in broken Spanish, something I couldn’t comprehend, so I wasn’t sure how to respond to them. I mean, even if I could have understood them perfectly, I didn’t know a thing about Segovia, so how much help would I have been? I didn’t know how to direct them since I had just gotten there myself, so I said, in Spanish, “Soy Americana.” (I’m American, which is a sentence I figured would get me off the hook. They’d either think I didn’t know how to speak Spanish, didn’t have vacations that lasted more than 2 weeks, so I traveled through every country in 45 minutes, or was just plain ignorant.) They acknowledged me with a smile and left, maybe thinking, “Yes, that’s right. Americans speak only one language, don’t they? Ha-Ha-Ha!” I was still recovering from the length of the train ride, but I probably could’ve said something to them in Spanish, and lots of times I can respond to people in Spanish, but at the moment, I can’t come up with the words fast enough, and most people don’t have the patience to wait.

1918986_1292384950920_916623_nI stopped in a bar and ordered a “cafe con leche caliente” and asked the bartender where the tourist office was. It sounded as if it was far away, and it was. As I was walking there, I was wondering if I was missing something, because this part of town didn’t look either cute or beautiful, two adjectives my friends had used to describe this place. A lot of shops were closed, too, and even though it was the middle of a Saturday afternoon, I had heard that a couple of weeks before Christmas, shopkeepers work only in the morning or else close their shop altogether, so I assumed that that must’ve been the case. Surely something would be open, though. Lack of planning aside, I still expected something great to appear on the scene.

19960_1316791681073_961238_nI walked what must’ve been 2 miles, silently apologizing to my feet along the way, and came upon a plaza and a much more beautiful section of town — with cute shops, restaurants, an enormous wall, a castle, churches, and everything I had secretly hoped would magically appear. I stopped in at the tourist info center, got a map, went into the castle, and then walked to the places the tourist worker had circled on the map: the places to see in Segovia. A cathedral, a castle, shops, etc. Segovia was beautiful and scenic!

1918986_1292385270928_2311574_nA few hours later, not having bought anything except a bocadillo, I walked all the way back to the train station, knowing I had about an hour before the next train arrived, so I stopped in a bar to enjoy a glass of crianza…for myself and my aching feet. On my left were three Spanish guys who were thinking up ways to talk to me and becoming a little more talkative the more they drank. I was pretty much having none of it for a variety of well-thought-out reasons and decided to busy myself with deleting the bad photos from the dozens of photos I had taken that day while trying to shield my camera screen from my curious new “friends,” who were way too interested in what I was doing.

1918986_1292385390931_233472_nI walked over to the station, boarded the train, and after about 10 minutes realized that the same group I had traveled to Segovia with had picked the same time and car to return to Madrid. The woman was practically lying on top of the man — along three seats. When you ride public transportation as much as I have in the past 18 years, you are exposed to all kinds of people: the nose-pickers, the nail biters, the kissers, the pushers, the starers, the singers, the cell-phone chatterers, the taking-up-part-of-my-seat riders, the shouters, the attention-getters, the money-askers, the instrumentalists/singers (who then become the money-askers) — and then there’s me, noticing it all, so I can bring it all to you. That’s my job, except if I’m wearing earplugs, studying Spanish, reading a book, or listening to my now-stolen iPod.

So Segovia is a trip I highly recommend, and just remember that you heard it from me: From Madrid’s Chamartin, the ride is about 2 hours…or something like this. I honestly can’t remember anymore: I’m researching my next trip.

Besos,

International Girl in Spain

Hallie Belt, M.A., English

Blogger, Digital Ad Agency Editor and Proofreader (15 years), English and EFL Faculty Member (15 years), Book Editor, Writer: Speeches, Resumes, LinkedIn Pages

http://www.beltstyles.comhalliebelt@beltstyles.com, 312.285.8429

Before the School Bell Rings

Hola a Todos,

On Sunday, my roommate (Maddy) and I went to a huge flea market located in the La Latina neighborhood, a 10-minute walk from our condo. Lots of people were sitting outside restaurants, drinking and eating, and many had had the same idea to find bargains at all the booths along the street. We walked along, scanning the items, talking all the while, her showing me this and that, and then we went into an antique shop and furniture store. She knew the owner in the latter and chatted with him.

Then we returned to the condo to use the ladies’ room (okay, I speak for myself here), and I decided to venture out again by myself, with the map but not really looking at it, thinking I could find the place again. I did eventually, but not without some effort. More exercise for me, I suppose. I wanted to go because I hadn’t gotten the opportunity to look at all of the jewelry, clothes, paintings, drawings, etc., not that I had planned to buy anything because of obvious reasons. There was a small drawing of a female flamenco dancer that I liked, so I’m keeping that in mind for payday. Well, maybe a few paydays from now.

Next, because Maddy and I had seen only the outside of it the previous day, I ventured into a big white tent located in the middle of the huge Plaza Mayor. The exhibit? Argentina in Madrid, so of course, I was interested in seeing what Argentina has to offer — and this experience might help me bypass actually having to travel to Argentina. Inside was jewelry, belts, furs, food, and drink. There was a line which aroused my curiosity: I discovered that everybody was waiting to be served about 2 drops of, red wine from, I assume, Argentina. Actually, it was more like 2 tablespoons, but I didn’t think it was worth it. I swear, people love anything that’s free, even if it is only 2 drops. The tent was hot, so I left.

I decided to do what seems to be my new hobby: go to the grocery store. So far, Maddy has given me 150 euros, and I have spent it on groceries for us and still have some to spare. I forgot to tell you my other new hobby: washing the dishes. I admit that I normally hate washing the dishes at home in Chicago. I have several friends who know my dismay at washing dishes; however, here, I immediately wash, rinse, dry, and put away every dish I use. I haven’t lived with anyone for 17 years, so I want to ensure I’m a good roommate. I don’t ever want Maddy saying to her friends, “Yeah, well you should hear about my roommate. What a pig. She leaves the dishes out, never makes her bed, watches TV all the time. I’m ready to kick her out of the country.” She might say something else, but she’ll never be caught saying that.

On Sunday night, after Maddy and I had eaten dinner, she wanted to watch a famous show about 4 couples called something like “The Beautiful People Have Lots of Problems, So Tune In”…in Spanish. I never figured out the real title of the show and didn’t really care what it was, as I couldn’t understand what was going on, but I can’t understand these shows in English. Although the acting looked good (funny how, even though it’s a different language, you can usually tell whether or not the acting is good), I gave up and went to bed.

Besos,

International Girl in Spain

Hallie Belt, M.A., English

Blogger, Digital Ad Agency Editor and Proofreader (15 years), English and EFL Faculty Member (15 years), Book Editor, Writer: Speeches, Resumes, LinkedIn Pages

http://www.beltstyles.comhalliebelt@beltstyles.com, 312.285.8429