Slowest. fastest. connection. ever.

Confused by the title? I suppose I need to give a bit of background information.


(Stereo MC’s – “Connected”)

September 22nd 2008 we signed up for a 20Mb ADSL line with Jazztel here in Spain. Unfortunately for us we basically got skanked.
Telefonica (the national phone company) came out to set up the line but Jazztel never took over and so we started getting billed for line rental on a line that we weren’t using.

FINALLY it seems we’ve got things sorted and we’re told we’ll have internet within 2 weeks. In fairness though, it’s Spain so who knows.

Over four months to get internet. Sweet jesus that’s bad. Next year’s Erasmii are getting forewarned about this.

I went home… but I’m back home again

Going home for Christmas was weird.

I loved it. That can’t be denied.

But it was really odd.

At first I thought that things had changed or people were acting different. But everything was just how it always was.  ‘Cept for me.

Being in the family home was one of the first things to strike me as being odd.  Between the day I departed, September 16th, and the day I returned, December 19th, was the longest period I had ever been away from home.  94 days.   I had mentioned in a previous post about revisiting Nerja after years and it having an oddly familiar yet different vibe.  Coming back to my home in Dublin was similar.  It no longer felt like “my” home.  I was a guest in my parent’s home.  By no stretch of the imagination am I suggesting that they weren’t welcoming or accomodating – on the contrary; they could not have done more to make the 2 and a half weeks I spent back in Dublin more enjoyable.  But it was something personal that I still can’t put my finger on that made my hometown feel alien.

I was struck with the sensation many times over the holidays.  Walking through the streets of the city centre I felt more like a foreigner who knew the city well than a local.  In conversation I kept referring to “going home” to Granada.

It wasn’t helped by the fact that walking through the door of my apartment in Granada after the break I was overcome with a feeling of “back to normality”.

It’s time….

There is no better song to sum up my feelings right now. Let the Christmas festivities begin:

Hellooooooooo Europe

Spain’s a ridiculously diverse country.  I feel I can say that completely unqualified given the travelling I’ve done over the past weekend.  From the famous-beach filled south to the desert landscapes of central Spain to the lush green, snow-capped, Lord-of-The-Rings-worthy scenery of the North, this weekend has made me realize, amongst other things, that Spain has way more to capitalize on in terms of tourism than just the Costa del Sol.

 

What really blew me away this weekend, however, was my travel destination itself.  If, living back at home, a friend had suggested to me to take a weekend trip to Bilbao, I wouldn’t have necessarily ruled it out instantaneously but I would have definitely looked into other potential travel suggestions for the aforementioned theoretical weekend.  Now, having been to Bilbao, if a friend suggested to me to take a weekend trip there, I’d have the Ryanair flights booked quicker than you could tell me “Be careful of the hidden charges”.

 

As Hughie, my host and tour guide for the weekend, put it, it’s by far one of the most European cities in Spain.  One look at the photo below and you’ll see it’s just like any European cosmopolitan hot spot.

 

Bilbao city view

 

When compared to Madrid, Bilbao has a greater flair for architecture (case and point: the Guggenheim), international-franchise-filled Temples to Consumerism (a.k.a. shopping malls), multi screen cinemas and an intangible air about the people that puts them far more into the European category than the Spanish category.  Perhaps it’s all the result of the Basque desire for independence that’s resulted in them distancing themselves from Spanish traditions even if that does mean they become more generically European.  Enough about the political malark though…

 

 

Thursday night

 

Hughie, accompanied by the lovely Sarah, picked me up from the bus station shortly after my arrival and brought me back to chez Hughie.  After the guided tour of the apartment I was left in a somewhat jaw-to-floor manner.  Never had I seen such a nicely-furnished, 4 bedroom, 3 bathroom, Erasmus-student-hosting Spanish apartment before this day.  The rent, however, offered some explanation as to how one could attain such high standards of accommodation. At 60% higher than what I pay in Granada my jaw now needed to be surgically removed from the floor.

 

 

Friday

 

After a successful Thursday night in one of Bilbao’s less-than-formidable clubs (in Hughie’s opinion – I on the other hand thoroughly enjoyed the generously sized drinks), Friday morning played host to a familiar friend, Mr. Hangover.  Having spent most of the day in a minimally moving state, I was recharged and refreshed ready to greet Niamh when she arrived that evening.  After giving her a chance to settle in, the three of us embarked on a walk by the river where we recounted our trials and tribulations and made various validations of the phrase that now ought to be trademarked, “Erasmus is SOOOO hard”.

 

Having worked up a healthy appetite and after numerous enthusiastic reviews from Hughie, we set our sights on a nearby Chinese/Japanese restaurant, now accompanied once again by Sarah.  Excited as I was about the “amazing prawns” that Hughie sung the praises of, there was one word that pushed me over the edge.  That word was buffet.  Kid in a candy store would have been an understatement.  I stood surrounded by prawns and crab, chicken and duck, rice and noodles, sushi and spring rolls, thick batters and thin batters, fried and steamed, sauce-drenched and dry, and most impressively, raw and cooked.  At the back of the room, a large gap in the wall opened into a cooking area, wherein two chefs seemed to be breathing a mixture of flames and steam.  After taking a selection of whatever fish, meat or vegetables you desired from the abundant counter in front of them, you handed your plate to one of the chefs, choosing from a selection of 6 sauces, and within mere moments a stir fry custom designed to your individual taste lay before you.  In spite of my appetite beforehand, which I was convinced would not be satisfied before the 6th plate, I admitted defeat moments before finishing off the 3rd.

 

Satisfied and sated, we returned to Hughie’s house for the 2008 Anglo-parlante Spanish Charades championships.  Hughie and Sarah were battling it out against Niamh and me.  Hands were flying; words were suppressed and ridiculous guesses were made in order to guess such titles as “That 70’s Show”, “The Fugitive”, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” and “Entourage”.  Niamh and I were declared the outright winners and, in pure celebratory fashion, rejoiced our victory by a good night’s sleep.

 

 

Saturday

 

Another day and, thanks to the light blocking shutter-blinds, another ridiculous lie-in.  Driven by hunger to leave the house and after making a credit card booking to plan the night ahead, we set out for feeds in the nearby shopping centre before a cultural stop-off in the Guggenheim.  As stunning inside as it is outside, the gallery hosts some stunning pieces which I would have loved to have photographed for the blog but strict no photography rules render this impossible.

 

With the time having just passed 8 o’clock and still having not had the chance to print out the aforementioned credit card booked tickets, stress levels were peaking.  Furthermore, panic was not aided by my uncertainty as to whether the gig was starting at 9 or 10.  Finding an internet café in the nick of time, the tickets were printed and a low nutrient packed Burger King dinner was consumed before we zipped home to speedily get ready for the Yelle-tastic night that lay ahead.

 

Having taken the metro to the stop we were told, we got off only to be greeted by Sandyford Industrial Estate’s deformed younger brother who’s kept locked in the basement.  This place looked creepy.  In the sense of “I’ve walked onto the set of a slasher movie” creepy.  Empty, quiet streets.  Huge factories with smashed out windows.  Shadows appearing from every angle thanks to the occasionally flickering yellow street lamps.

Yelle needs a blog post of her own and that will follow soon.

 

 

Sunday

 

Thank god we didn’t have big plans for Sunday because once again half the day was spent sleeping thanks to the shutters.  The running order of Sunday’s events could be summarized to food, walk, food, cinema, food; with Zubiarte playing host to all of the aforementioned food stops.

 

After our first bite to eat, we made our way to the centre to check out if there was anywhere open to do a spot of Christmas shopping.  It being Sunday and it being Spain, however means:

Having witnessed the Christmas lights and festiveness of the city, we returned to Zubiarte for a quick bite before hitting up the cinema.  As is always the way at Christmas time, kids’ movies rule the roost that is the cinema timetable.  Within our limited choices, we all agreed on Bolt, Disney’s new CGI endeavour.  Being the land of the dubbed movie, it’s always easier to go for the movie with the simple plot than to leave yourself head-scratching.  That said, I did enjoy the digital presentation of Max Payne that I went along to a couple of weeks back but given tiredness levels and the choices available, Disney was the sensible option in this instance.

 

Sadly it lacked the punch of most Disney Pixar movies and with an overall more serious tone, comic relief being provided almost exclusively by the hamster in a ball, this won’t be held in the same prestige as classics such as “Toy Story”, “Finding Nemo” or “The Incredibles”.  Basic “exactly what it says on the tin” entertainment nevertheless.

 

Returning back to the apartment after another McDonald’s stop off, the night was still young so we decided to watch another movie.  Choosing from the selection I had on the laptop, we went for “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”, a dark, gritty, British revenge story about a man avenging his brother’s death.  Although a bit slow to really get moving, it gradually becomes more and more tense, pulling in the viewer only to abruptly end in a manner that may have intended to be full of mystery but comes across as rushed and unfinished, strongly exemplified by the introduction of an underdeveloped, almost superfluous, character in the closing minutes of the film.

 

Tiredness caught up on us again and the prospect of an 8am start was all the motivation I needed to get some sleep at that point.

 

 

Monday

 

The alarm rang and after a quick shower and a speedy job of packing my things up I set off on my journey back down South.  Accompanied by Niamh and Hughie to the bus station, I bid my farewells before getting on board the Bilbao to Madrid “supra” bus.  Given that that means nothing to the majority of you who are reading this, I should clarify why this is so special.  When booking my trip, I had 2 options for the return journey – one where I left at 8:30am, had a half hour to transfer in Madrid and arrive into Granada at around 8:30pm or pay an additional €13, get a “supra” bus to Madrid from Bilbao, have an hour and a half to transfer and arrive into Granada at the same time.  Given I was already paying at least €80 on the journey and few buses I’ve taken in my time here have arrived in exactly on schedule, I thought it more sensible to go for the second option.

 

I’m converted.  THIS is how travel should be.  I was greeted onto the bus by a woman who I would soon discover would be the on-board travel attendant as opposed to the usual greeting of a grumpy bus driver bitching at me for booking my tickets online and not having a physical copy of my ticket as he puffs on a cigarette.  With single seat rows running behind the driver’s side and pairs of seats running on the opposite side, all with ample leg room, I made my way down to seat number 23, a seat I made sure to secure on the online booking when I discovered that beneath lay a plug socket to charge your laptop during the journey.  Moments after I had sat myself down, the travel attendant made 2 trips up and down the aisle; once in order to dispense a free set of earphones to each passenger to enjoy the in-journey movies that would be shown on the TV panels around the bus and again to give out coffee-flavoured hard candy.  Soon after, I noticed a sign to my right bearing the phrase “ESTE AUTOCAR DISPONE DE SISTEMA WIFI PARA CONEXION GRATUIRA A INTERNET” which for the Anglophones means “This bus has free Wi-Fi to connect to the internet”.  Whilst this promise held true for the first half hour of the journey before packing in and the familiar “Server not found” page appeared, my opinion was not marred once the announcement came over the speakers that breakfast was about to be served.  Consisting of a pastry and a wide choice of beverages I was satisfied my stomach grumbling had been silenced and sat back to get writing over the next 3 hours of the journey.

 

It was around noon that another announcement came over the speakers stating that lunch was about to be served.  Lunch?  As in a second meal?  They could not be serious.  OK Trans-Atlantic flight it makes sense to dish up a second serving before landing but a 4 hour bus journey?  Screw it!  I’m not gonna complain!  This time each passenger was given a ham and cheese bread roll, drink of their choice and a chocolate truffle.  Cordon bleu it may not have been but it was easily as good as anything you would’ve got from a roadside stop off without adding a minute to the journey time.

When a Southsider goes Northside… of Spain

Thursday, 11 December 2008

10am: Bus – Granada -> Madrid

5pm: Bus – Madrid -> Bilbao

Lord knows how I got up for the first bus but I made it. The night before I’d gone out with Laura, Bethan, Amy, Alec and Steve for a night that turned out to be much longer than I had planned for. I’d known that Bethan was heading home on the Monday so it was going to be the last night seeing her before Christmas break. I didn’t know, however, that Steve and Amy were also due to be going on the Monday. And in typical Erasmus style what better way to celebrate our last get together as a group for 3 weeks? Boozing.

The night started with sushi which we soon found to be somewhat overpriced and unbeknownst to us, once you’ve ordered a plate as a course they stop bringing you sushi as the free tapas. Frustrated with out first stop off, we headed on to Café Oriental, a place that screams Aya on the outside but when you see the fruit machine to your right on entry, it’s somewhat evident that it’s not so up market… After a serving of noodles, dumplings and French fries (the latter being tasty but always a disappoint to me to see being served in an Asian restaurant), we headed across the road to a small more traditional Spanish tapas bar (the name of which escapes me now) wherein Amy was happy to see that the waiter who she has a keen interest in was working. Bagels and chips were served up with the drinks and the waiter made a fool of me just as we were about to leave; you know when you’re playing fetch with a dog and you go to throw the ball and you don’t actually throw it and then the dog starts furtively trying to work out “where did the ball go?” despite the fact that it’s still in your hand? Yeah well I was the dog, the bartender was the cruel owner and my change was the ball. Thankfully the bar was somewhat empty so not many witnessed my shame. Next stop was Hannigan’s where they were holding their weekly lottery where they give away random prizes in a draw where they give out 1 ticket per each pint/long drink ordered. Alec and Steve were the only ones with tickets because, unbeknownst to the rest of us, tinto de verano wasn’t included in the ticket-receiving drinks.

While in Hannigan’s Bethan brought an old Carr family Sunday dinner tradition to the table – a “game” of sorts. Well more like a conversation starter. Each person answered 5 questions:

  1. What were the high points of the semester?
  2. What were the low points of the semester?
  3. What were your achievements this semester?
  4. What were your downfalls this semester?
  5. What are you hoping to do/improve/change next semester?

Given it was a farewell get-together of sorts, it could not have been a better thing to do as it really gave us a chance to look back at everything that’s happened over the past few months. Thinking about it I’m not going to go into much more detail as I feel it deserves a blog post in its own right. To keep a long (to be elaborated on later) story short, it ended up being a night of great conversation and bonding and I’m really glad I went along for it.

I wasn’t glad, however, having to get up just before 9am to get my things together to head to the bus station to get the 10am bus to Madrid having had just over 2 hours sleep. Scary how familiat that journey has become – between the trip to Salamanca and Roisin Murphy I feel like I’ve done it a dozen times. You know your becoming a seasoned traveler in Spain when Spaniards are asking YOU where the seat numbers are marked. I clearly exude that sense of “I know what I’m doing here” 😛

Having slept a large portion of the 5 and a half hour bus journey to Madrid, I had an hour and a half to pick up a Pralines & Cream Haagen Dazs milkshake, check my email on the free wireless in the bus station (I dunno if there was supposed to be free wireless or whether some nearby business just didn’t password protect their router but I could get on!) and transfer via metro from Mendez Alvaro to Avenida de America where the bus to Bilbao was leaving from. Keeping a vigilant eye out for pickpockets after what happened to my mom in Madrid and Laura and Niamh in Barcelona, I managed to get to the station with all my possessions still on my person.

From there it was another 5 hour bus journey to the País Vasco – let the confusion commence as I struggle to understand the Basque/Euskadi language! I’ve nothing against culture and as most who know me are aware táim an-bhródúil as mo chuid Gaeilge so native languages are an incredibly big part of culture in my eyes but I seriously wish I could get by across all of Spain with my grasp of Castellano!

Another one for the foolish ideas list

Decided to stay up the whole night so as to avoid the tiredness I thought I’d inevitably feel this morning if I had a short sleep. I’m yet to collapse but I have been mildly hallucinating…..

Chris-eras-mis dinner

It’s a new holiday.  December 6th.  Mark it in your diaries, kids.  And this is how we do it:

Part 1:

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Part 2:

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Part 3:

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Part 4: