Saturday, August 16, 2003

And that's a wrap!

Hello everyone!

Well, it's all finished...AT LAST! And the good news is: I passed! I know you all probably thought that I was sweating it for nothing, but truly, it was up in the air there at moments. Two people from my class did not pass, the Scottish guy and the Norwegian guy. The Norwegian guy, Erlend, didn't really care. He's a stage director in the theatre, so he was just kind of doing this for fun, but the Scottish guy, Campbell, took it a little hard. But, he's in the middle of getting an MA in Art History back in Glasgow, so he'll be going back to that (and teaching yoga).

So, we've all gone out the past couple of nights, in celebration of finally being done. The Red Onion has probably never seen such business, and of course the waitresses were just as rude as ever. Nice to know some things will probably never change. :-)

It's so sad to think that I'll be leaving here and probably never seeing any of my classmates again. We've all exchanged emails, of course, but you know how that always goes. You want to stay in touch, and inevitably you don't. Kind of like summer camp. But, it's nice to know that I do have a truly international network of friends that I could call upon if I like. In fact, one of my good friends from the course, Dagmar, will be moving to Portland later this year! So, the next time I go to visit Adam, I can see her too! :-)

Anyway, so what's next for me? Well, I'm going to stay with Pernille for a couple weeks, where she will be throwing me a birthday party to mark my 26th year. I'm so excited! And I'm really happy to be able to see her family again, since I had such a great time with them on my last visit. And, of course, I'm also excited to finally see Denmark when it's bright and sunny, and not gray every day. :-)

So, after my birthday, I have to decide what I'm going to do. It's unfortunate, but because of the timing of the CELTA course I did, most major language schools have already completed their hiring for this school year. So, I was considering coming home, subbing in the Des Moines schools, volunteering for one of the organizations around town that give free ESL classes to immigrants, getting my own place, getting experience in order to look for an overseas job later, blah blah blah. But, after a couple days of reflection (and some harassment from my mother), I realized that I was probably only considering that plan because I am very homesick. I'm particularly homesick not just for my friends and family, but also just for the familiarity of Iowa itself, and the rhythm of life there. I keep thinking about what I will miss (the tomatoes, sweet corn, watermelon, barbeques) from this season, and how much I will miss fall (a little nip in the air, pumpkin pies, apple festivals like the one we went to last year, the leaves changing colors). And of course, Thanksgiving, and even Halloween. And of course, I miss my cat terribly-laugh if you will, but it's true. :-(

But, all that aside, if I come home now, I probably will end up kicking myself, and I know that. So, I've taken an important decision. I'm going to Italy. I don't know how long I'll stay there, but I'm going there after I'm done at Pernille's. According to my teachers at CELTA, it's fairly easy to find work on the sly in Italy, due to their charming reluctance to follow silly things like rules and laws. :-) I think I'm going to go to Rome first, where there are likely to be many language schools. My teacher said that in a place like that, you can often just show up and get work. (Plus, it's the best time of year to go: fewer tourists, not so hot, etc...) So, that's what I'm going to do. And if it doesn't work out, then I'll pick a small town on a southern coast somewhere, where it's not touristy and is likely to be cheap, and maybe I'll just be able to afford to live there until Christmas. But, if not, if it all just really sucks and I can't stand it, then I hereby give myself permission to change my ticket and come home in October, and I don't want to hear any shit about it from anybody. After all, things are allowed to not work out the way you thought they would. :-)

So, that's that... I'm feeling really exhausted right now, and I have so much to do before I can leave tomorrow. I'm not looking forward to having to pack everything up tonight, that's for sure! Anyway, I don't have Pernille's phone number and address at hand, but as soon as I do, I'll make sure to email it to you in case you have any fabulous birthday gifts to send me. ;-)

OK, time to get a move on. I hope you're all doing well, and that nobody out there is having a stroke right now, envisioning me working on the sly in some dusty Italian village. Don't worry...I won't settle anywhere that doesn't have at least *one* internet cafe and a pay phone. :-) Take care everyone, and when next I write it'll be from sunny Denmark! Ciao!

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Hello from sunny Prague!

Hello everyone!

I'm sorry that I seem to have disappeared off the face of the earth, but last week was the busiest one I've had since I got don't be too mad at me! Anyway, lots to talk about today, so maybe that will make up for it. :-)

Anyway, I've already written this email once and then had the computer crash right before I sent it, so I don't know if I have the strength to write it all again, but I will try. :-)

OK, school update: I passed my lesson on Wednesday with flying colors. Good thing, too, since we had our final "tutorial" on Thursday where they tell us if they think we'll pass. :-) So, Betty told me on Thursday that her and Shaun think that I'm a "solid pass" for the class, as long as I keep going as I am. And she said that she "had a feeling about me" and that she thinks I'll do well, blah blah blah. It was nice to hear, and so hopefully things will keep on track!! :-)

Anyway, I had a lesson Friday that went well, too. Shaun is observing my group now (they flip-flopped again), and he gave me some great hints for my lesson on Friday, which helped a lot. Anyway, he said that it was a "lovely" lesson, and done very well, that he could see lots of improvement since the last time he assessed me, etc... So, that was great to hear! It was my first 60 minute lesson, so I had been nervous about making it last the whole hour-and indeed I did end up needing to fill the last 5 minutes-so I used a vocab review game, that even used words from the previous teacher's lesson, and Shaun loved that. So, good all around. :-)

On Friday night, my classmates and I were eager to celebrate the fact that we're almost done, so we went out to the Red Onion straight after school. We drank many half-liters of pivo (beer) and even dared to try some of the pub's incredibly sketchy food. I personally tried the onion soup (fairly tasty), potato croquettes (bland but OK) and the Czech equivalent of cheese sticks, which should just be called Cheese slab, since it's just a slab of breaded and fried cheese, served with tartar sauce of all things. (I tried to get some red sauce as a substitute, and ended up with ketchup, but that was still better than tartar sauce!)

Anyway, the great thing about Friday night was that we were a big group (over a dozen) of incredibly diverse, international people, who all get along really well. And, therefore, we have some very interesting and intense conversations. When we first got to the pub, it was just me and my 5 TP people, so we were talking as a big group. Started with European history and politics, segued to religious history, works of literature, American politics as they relate to the rest of the world, etc... as more and more people joined us, the conversation broke up into small groups, so that eventually, if you looked around the table there were 6-7 intense and incredibly varied conversations going on at once. It was so great! This is one of the reasons I came here, so it made me very happy. :-)

That night I made plans to go to see "The Hours" with two of my friends, Markia (from Slovakia), and Mark (from Nottingham in England). We met up on Saturday night and tried to find our way to one of the Palace Cinemas, a huge theater in a posh part of town that was supposed to be just like an American multi-plex. And, indeed, it was. It was ENORMOUS. We were, sadly, too late to have time to buy popcorn, but I'll get some next time. :-) Anyway, our movie was on the 3rd floor, and once we got up there, the usher had to show us to our seats (damned assigned seating!), in the total pitch darkness, and the whole time I'm thinking I'm going to trip and fall down the stadium-seating stairs because I couldn't see anything! And, because of our seating assignment, we had to crawl over the people on the end, causing a big disturbance. Naturally. But, it was worth it because the screen was HUGE. Bigger even than the screen at the River Hills theater. And, I know Dad will love this, almost all the people stayed to watch the credits until the very end! Only a few young people left once the main cast list was done, and everyone else stayed put for the whole thing! Quite unlike America, that's for sure!

Anyway, after the movie, we went in search of dinner. Along the same street as the theater, we found a place called The Cafe Louvre, which is somewhere I've read about and always wanted to go (Kafka used to hang out there!). But, once we got up there, my friends said it was way too hot to stay there and eat dinner. So, another dream down the toilet. :-( But, I'll go there on my own one of these days--I don't give up that easily! Anyway, we ended up walking all the way down to the street and ate in a cafe across from the National Theater and right on the river, called the Kavarna Slavia. I had, for the first time, goulash and dumplings, and it was delicious!

After dinner, we walked along the river for awhile, pausing to take in the stunning view of the castle up on the hill, and also to take in the fact that we're lucky enough to be living here. It was a lovely night, so we spent a long time just hanging over railings and watching boats go by. It was so nice. :-) After that, we wanted to go somewhere for drinks, so we walked in the general direction of a metro stop, and ended up at this Cuban/Irish bar, called O'Che's, and had a few pints. I also had a mixed fruity drink, my first in Prague, and although it was tasty, I probably won't be having any more. It cost 120 Krowns!! This is about $4.50...not too bad in the States, really. But, for purposes of comparison, a *half-liter* of local brew here cost me 22 krowns, about .80 cents, at the Red Onion. So, I think I'll be sticking with pivo, thank you very much.

Anyway, today I've decided that I'm going to do some sight-seeing. There's an English bookstore I want to go to, as well. And an Egyptian restaurant I have my eye on. And then I think I'm going to go see another movie at that same theater--and this time I'm getting popcorn!! :-)

OK, after writing this email TWICE, I'm tired out, and in desperate need of some lunch. So, I shall leave you here. :-) I hope you're all enjoying a lovely summer. Mom, how are those tomatoes coming?? Have you saved any for me?? :-) Anyway, take care everyone and I'll talk to you soon!

Wednesday, August 6, 2003

More good news!

Hello everyone!

Just a quick email to let you know that I had another grammar lesson to teach today, and it went VERY well! Whew! I was really sweating it, let me tell you, but thankfully I pulled it off with aplomb and panache and all that. :-) I think the music really helped.

A bit of explanation.... Our school has an audio system in every classroom (only tapes, no CDs), and our main teacher, Shaun, always puts on a tape with random music while we're working in groups on something, or reading to ourselves as part of the lesson. Basically, whenever he's not in front of the class talking to us or giving directions, he has a tape playing to sort of provide background music. And he has encouraged us all to make a tape of our own to play when we're doing lessons. It truly does make for a better and more relaxed atmosphere in class, so I really wanted to do it. So, I bought a couple tapes at the big supermarket, and had the school librarian make me a copy of one of my CDs. I was able to play it for the first time today, and I made a point of putting in on during the 10 minute break before my lesson (I went last out of 3 today). Playing my own music, something I could sing along to, really helped me relax and get in the right frame of mind for the lesson. Last lesson I did I think I must have passed by the skin of my teeth because I was so nervous and sweating buckets. This time I was calm, cool, and composed, and the lesson went exactly according to my lesson plan, and exactly how I had envisioned it in my mind. Something that's probably a rarity in the real world, but it was nice to have happen today when I needed it most!

So, anyway, I got very positive feedback from Betty today. (no more Betty the Bitch, I guess) And, most importantly, I felt that I really connected with the class, built up some rapport, and that I truly taught them something (how to use "used to", to be specific). All good things. :-) So, now I feel much more positive about things. And, this is great timing because tomorrow is our last tutorial with our teachers so that they can tell us whether or not they think we'll pass the course. Unless I totally screw up on my last couple written assignments, or last two lessons, I think I'll pass. I'll be done by the end of next week, and whether I pass or not, I will be DONE!! That's what's keeping me going right now!

OK, I really need to get going. Homework beckons, as ever. :-) Take care everyone, and I'll talk to you soon!!

Monday, August 4, 2003

I passed!

Hello everyone!

Well, some happy news! I passed my lesson today! Yay! Of course, I thought that it was total shit, but the assessor liked it and I guess that's what counts. :-) The problem stems, of course, from the fact that this was my group's first day with the "low" learners. We started off with the "high" group, so we got kind of don't know how easy it is to take for granted being able to have a real conversation with someone! The learners today were a frustrating group, on several levels, but mostly because we simply weren't used to giving instructions to people who don't really understand what you say half the time. Most of the time, actually. It was very hard.

The guy who went before me, Mark, had an OK start, and kind of got them to work the way he wanted, but not really. So, when I got up there, I wasn't too nervous, but once I opened my mouth and started talking to them, all I got was a sea of blank faces. And I was making a sincere effort to "grade" my language down to their level, but still....blank faces. I was supposed to start off doing a brainstorm of jobs they had while they were in school, but no one could come up with anything. One lady just said that she was a teacher (which is what she's doing now), and when I said, "No, that's what you're doing NOW." She said, "No, NOW I am a student!" It was most frustrating!! And, naturally, it set me off on the wrong foot for the entire lesson. I was sweating buckets, due in part to nerves, and in part to the fact that it's in the 90s here today, high humidity, and zero air conditioning-not even a fan.

So, I went through the lesson, and it managed to last the required 40 minutes (that's always something you have to worry about--will it be too long or too short??). The really shitty part was that, totally by accident, the students came in and managed to sit themselves at the three groups of tables so that there was one table of totally low learners, one of medium level learners, and one of high level learners. It was total shit because one table required A LOT of extra attention and instructions, and one finished everything early and got bored. One of the girls at the high table was a total bitch. She was maybe 20, and when I walked around to listen to what they were doing, I actually heard her say IN ENGLISH, that this class was boring and the subject matter stupid. And, when I went over to her group to give them an extra task because they had finished early, I told them to read through the material again to get a better answer for some of the questions, and she flat out said, "No." I just said, "Um, OK." However, if she were my "real" student, she would have been in major trouble with me today for being so flat out rude. One of my big questions in feeback tonight with the assessor was, "How do you plan a lesson when you have such a huge discrepency in language levels??" Because one group will invariably be bored, while the rest do ok or really struggle. It's going to be so much harder than we thought. *sigh*

Anyway, all I care about at the moment is that I passed my lesson and didn't freak out in the middle of class like the other teacher today, Campbell, did. He actually started laughing several times during his lesson from the sheer absurdity of trying to teach these students. It was a laugh on the verge of insanity. I totally felt for him, because I thought I was going to lose it during my lesson, too. Thankfully, though, I made it through, sweat and all!

Tonight I have to work on my assignment that's due Wednesday. I had no time for it this weekend since I was so preoccupied with planning for today's lesson. So, that sucks, but oh well. I think I'm going to go to the store and get a big thing of ice cream or something as a treat for passing my lesson. :-)

Thanks for all the positive thoughts being thrown my way today--I'm sure they influenced my teacher's decision to pass me! :-) I'll write more tomorrow when I've got free time during the afternoon. Talk to you all later!!

Saturday, August 2, 2003

Yes, I'm still alive!‏

Hello everyone!

Sorry that I've been so busy with school that I haven't had time to email! Uncle Pete took me to task, so now I will try to be more vigilant. :-)

School is going well at times, and bad at others. We just had a switch of which teacher is observing us during our lessons, and the lady that I have now (Betty the Bitch) totally ripped my last lesson to complete shreds. She was actually quite mean about it. To be honest, I was glad that I didn't break down and cry during the feedback session. I did, however, end up crying in the hallway afterwards when some of my friends came out to see if I was OK, so it was only a partial victory. Tearing someone down like that isn't exactly a huge confidence builder. Consequently, I'm really nervous for my next lesson on Monday, so I want to make sure I prepare it backwards and forwards.

As for the rest of school, everything is going really well and I'm getting along great with my classmates. Thankfully, we've all clicked and we find it easy to work with one another. That's a good thing since we're required to work together on several written assignments! The only trouble is that they like to work "down the pub", and I need a little more quiet and little less "pivo" (beer) to get any real work done. Plus, the place we go to, "The Red Onion", has the absolute rudest waitresses I have EVER seen. They hate us foreign bugs taking up space at their tables, so they yell at us every time we go in there. To be frank, I don't know why we keep going back, except that it's just so close to school, and also because their basic half-liter of pivo is about .85 cents. Believe me, this is a major consideration for my school friends, all of whom could drink everyone on this mailing list under the table.

Anyway, I'm just taking a bit of a break right now at the local internet cafe. I'm a regular here now, which is kind of cool. There are two girls who work here, alternately, in the evenings, and they both recognize me (no doubt are calling me "The Crazy American" behind my back), and they know that I always want a "Bon Aqua" Neperliva, and for some reason they both find that amusing. (It's a bottle of water that isn't carbonated.) It's nice to be recognized as a sort-of local. They like to practice their English on me, which I don't mind.

Today I had a huge break-through. I haven't been able to figure out how to work the washing machine. I turn it on, it makes a humming noise, I try to select one of the "programs" on the dial, and then it just does nothing. So, I asked one of my Czech speaking school friends to come over today, and she fixed it in about 30 seconds. What was wrong? Well, the water wasn't turned on! How silly of me not to have assumed that it would be off! Jesus...sometimes things seem so backwards here! You know, I got the funniest email from Grandma. She said, "I just can't feature the windows not having screens. Perish the thought!" LOL It was very amusing. But, I also can't feature why they wouldn't want to have screens. Actually, I know why. They don't use clothes dryers here, so a lot of people have clothes racks that they hang out their window.

Speaking of break-throughs, I have had several minor ones that, under such stressful times, I consider major victories. They all center around the grocery store. :-) I was so happy the other day because I discovered the spices. I had been looking for bottles, when in fact, they all come in little packets. And today I found actual crackers, which aren't available at the usual store I go to. Plus, I've been trying lots of different cheeses since they're all foreign to me. I still haven't found peanut butter, brown sugar, or honey mustard, but I'm assured that the TESCO'S has everything. I've just been too busy to take the 15 minute metro trip to get there. A non-food-related victory is that I finally discovered how to convert a computer keyboard to use English keys, instead of Czech keys at the cafe that I use in the evenings. On most computers, there's a little icon at the bottom of the screen that you click on, but this one is different. But finally I figured out how to do it manually, so that was a major thing since typing with the Czech keys took me forever. (The difference is that the "y" and "z" are reversed for some reason, and all of the punctuation keys are in a completely different order and the number keys are all fucked up too.)

Anyway, it's been really hot here the past few days. Almost as hot as Iowa, honestly. The humidity is sweltering, too. Thank god I remembered to bring my red Spanish fan with me! I can't remember if I mentioned this before, but my fan is the envy of everyone at my school. Last night I got some more compliments on it at the pub. Honestly, if I'd been swishing around Des Moines with that fan, people would have thought I was nuts, but here it makes me look all chic and cool. I like the way these people think. :-)

OK, time for me to sign off. If I haven't written to you personally, please don't hold it against me. I wish I had more time, but I just simply don't. I might be back here tomorrow, so maybe I can get more done then. Anyway, I hope all of you are doing well. :-) I'll talk to you soon!

Thursday, July 31, 2003

Such bullshit

Hello my friends!

Well, another shit day for me here in glamorous Prague. As you know, I had to teach my first grammar lesson today. Would you like to hear how it went? Well, sit back because I'm going to tell you anyway! :-)

I was really sick last night, too sick to plan anything before this morning. So, I spent the morning and afternoon planning what I could. I could have called in sick (we're allowed to miss a couple days), but I was better this morning, and plus my not being there would have meant that the assessor would have to teach my course, and I didn't want to do that. Anyway, it was a bit frantic, but I felt OK going into the lesson, and the lesson itself *I THOUGHT* went pretty well, all things considered. The students were responsive, and when I went around and listened to them (or read their writing on their worksheets), they all seemed to be getting it. Granted, it was a bit of a review for them, but students need review (or as the Brits here would say-"revision").

Anyway, the gist is that I thought it went fine, my fellow CELTA students that were observing thought it went fine, and then during the feedback session with the assessor, she totally ripped me to shreds in front of everyone. And she put a check next to "Does not meet the requirement for this stage" on my assessment. It was horrible. It was all I could do not to cry. And this is ordinarily a nice woman, so I was a little taken aback. Anyway, I managed to get out of the classroom without crying, but then I was stuck in the hallway because we had to wait for the classroom where we store our files to finish being used before we could file away our assessments for the night. And while I was out there, a couple of the people that were in my feedback session came out and told me that they thought Betty was really harsh on me, and then of course that started me crying. So, I asked my friend to file my stuff for me and I left before anyone else could see me cry. And the shitty part is that I just wanted to go home and bawl for a couple hours, but I had to fucking go and meet this guy about an apartment. And I probably won't pass the course anyway, so what will I need an apartment for?? (The apartment was nice, actually, so I told him I would be interested. I'm supposed to hear back from him by the end of the week.)

Anyway, we switch to teaching the lower level group next week, and I have to teach on the first day, so that will probably be crap too. In our one-on-one session yesterday, the head of the course, Shaun, the one with the enormous crotch who has been observing me up until today, told me that he has seen a lot of progression and that right now I am a "solid pass". So, after talking with him, I felt absolutely wonderful and quite confident. After this afternoon, though, I feel really shitty about the whole thing. Some of the woman's comments were out and out wrong. She said that I seemed not to care what the students were doing while they were working in pairs and in reality, I went around several times to each and every pair, crouching down next to them so that I could hear specifically what they were saying, and when they were writing, I made sure to go around and read what they had down, help them with any questions, correct any errors, talk to them to make sure they were understanding the material. In fact, I would say that it was very comprehensive and the best I've done on checking them while they're working and this bitch was acting like I was sitting on a chair the whole time doing nothing. I am very mad about that comment, actually, because it's nothing but an out and out lie.

Right now, of course, I feel like I'm going to fail, so that just makes me want to come home again. This is probably not going to be the case (about failing), and I know that I'm just being emotional right now, but goddammit, I know I'm not that bad! Let me tell you about one of the guys in my TP group. Rob. He's a late 40-something Australian guy, kind of shoddy in appearance, but a nice guy. Anyway, his first grammar lesson, he spent mumbling constantly, with his back to the class half the time, looking at what he had written on the board and talking to himself about whether or not it was right. It was fucking painful to watch. I delivered a clear lesson on phrases of obligation (must, should, have to, etc...), elicited answers from the class, gave them two activities to do, one of which involved oral practice and one written, and at the end they were having fun and getting most of the answers right.

So, what did I do that got me torn apart? Well, I was too "teacher-centered". For the first part of the lesson, I stood at the board and wrote down the key-point answers the students gave me. When they couldn't come up with the answer, I asked them questions to try to get it out of them, (which worked most of the time) and when that didn't work, I gave it to them. What else could I have done?? It was for this I was most lambasted. And the teacher also didn't think that I had any clear idea that the students were understanding the material. Well, since she didn't bother to get up and walk around (like I did) to check their answers while speaking and while writing, then how could she possibly know that? She based that entirely on who answered the questions during the review at the end.

Do you know of any way to teach a comprehensive lesson on phrases of obligation within 40 minutes (during which you're not allowed to lecture in any way-that would be too "teacher-centered"), where you have time at the end to spend with each individual student (and there are 13 of them) to make absolutely certain that every single one of them has the material down 100%? Because I sure as fuck don't. But that was what was wrong with my lesson today, and so consequently I stand a serious chance of failing this course. And it really is a serious chance-I'm not just blowing things out of proportion. Because of the short time we're in the course, everything counts for a lot.

I don't know...I was really sad, but now I feel kind of angry. I don't even want to see this woman tomorrow, let alone be observed by her again. And the ironic thing is that Shaun was also capable of being hyper-critical, and he was an asshole about it at times, but he always did manage to put in some comments that were solidly positive. Betty was completely negative with me today, and maybe said 2 nice things that were essentially buried under the mountain of criticism. They were that I knew the material well, and I had a good rapport with the class. Whooptie-doo! Her attitude was like, "You should have fucking known better, and I expected more out of you." Christ, it's only my 4th time teaching ever, and my very first doing a grammar lesson, plus you've never even seen me teach before, bitch!

*Sigh* OK, I'm going to stop bitching now. :-) I just really needed to get that off my chest. If I could afford it, I would call you all individually and cry on your shoulders, but I'm only a poor church mouse. :-(

Anyway, I'm off to my lonely little apartment to watch some black and white Czech TV and cry myself to sleep. If only I had remembered to bring my "FUCK YOU BETTY" t-shirt to Prague with me, I'd wear it to class tomorrow. ;-) Take care everyone and I'll email you again maybe this weekend. :-) they say over here. :-)

Sunday, July 27, 2003

Settling in...

Hello everyone!

Just thought I'd send out another email this weekend while I have a moment. I'm really busy at school during the week, so I don't get as much time online as I would like, so please don't feel like I'm neglecting you! And I'm going to be getting some pictures developed this week, and then hopefully scanned in, so be looking for a website update by next weekend if all goes according to plan.

So far, I haven't gotten much studying done this weekend. I did review some grammar last night, but today I really need to get going on this language analysis assignment that's due on Wednesday. Right now I'm just sort of killing time in the internet cafe, then I'm going to pick up a few groceries on my way back home. And then it's homework all night for me. :-(

Last night I went to the grocery store for the first time because I needed to stock up my apartment. Knowing that I would have to carry everything home, I didn't want to buy so much that it wouldn't fit in 3 sacks at most. So, I felt confident that I hadn't put too much stuff in my cart. Well, I get up to the checkouts and I am the only person in the whole place with so much stuff. I was so nervous when I got up there and I have around 20 things, and everyone else has like 4 things. And of course there was only one check out lane open. So, the lady starts ringing everything through and I realize that I have to sack my own stuff, which is no problem, but the bags they have up there for you to use are the same as little sheer plastic produce bags! These bags aren't even as big as OUR produce bags (which would be small enough on their own). No, these are almost half the size! And I have a LOT of stuff to fit in these tiny bags!! At this point I was imagining having to juggle home like 15 of these tiny bags, and I'm thinking NO WONDER everyone has only 4 things--look at these bags!! So, I say to the woman (who does not speak any English), and mime to her, "Do you have a bigger bag?" lots of hand gestures...and eventually it comes to pass that they do have a bigger bag, like a plastic shopping sack with handles, and I can buy one for about a quarter. So, I got two, and then managed to put the rest of the stuff in three little produce sacks, which fit into my backpack. It was so absurd, and as I walked away, I could see that there was a line of about 10 fairly pissed off people standing behind me. Oh, but I did remember, THANK GOD, to weigh and label my produce before I got up there. There were two electronic scales, and above each was a sheet with pictures of all the different produce items. You put your sack of whatever on the scale, then you press the button with its picture on it, and then out would print a label with the weight and price on it. Quite handy, actually. Except, of course, if you go up to the one scale that isn't working, and you press all of the buttons on it in desperation but it still won't work, which is, of course, what I did. But, then a nice girl who happened to speak English came up and I asked her how to work it, and she couldn't make my scale work either, so we used the other scale and all was well. Whew! If she hadn't come up, I probably would still be standing there. But, at least there wasn't a repeat of the embarrassing "Apple Incident" in Spain, when we forgot to get labels!

Anyway, I'm really enjoying having my own apartment. It's fairly spacious, and gets a lot of light, so it has a very bright feeling to it. Especially around 5am when it gets light out and I am forced awake by all the brightness. Also, of course, there are no screens on the windows. I sort of forgot about this last night, when I sat with the windows open while watching TV (and of course I had the lights on), until it got totally dark. And when I went to close the windows, I happened to look up at the ceiling and noticed all the tiny little flies/what-nots that were hovering around the light. Great. So, I shut off all the lights in the apartment, except the one by the front door. They all migrated over there, and then I closed the kitchen door on them. Hah! :-) Yankee ingenuity! (or stupidity...guess it depends on how you look at it!)

Oh my god, I just about had a heart attack! I'm sitting here in this internet cafe, and all of the seats are divided by big wicker screens, so I can't see anything that's going on around me, plus I have my headphones on, so I can't hear anything either. And somebody brought their HUGE dog in here, and it just ran over here to sniff me out, and I didn't see it until it was literally brushing up against my knee. I just about had a stroke!! I guess I should be used to this by now, because people bring their dogs everywhere here, just like in Paris. You see them on the Metro, in restaurants, in shopping centers, everywhere. It's a little unusual, but I suppose you sort of ignore it after awhile.

Anyway, I need to get going to the grocery store. I hope you're all having a great weekend! Take care!

Friday, July 25, 2003


Hello everyone!

I don't have much time to send out email tonight (but I will tomorrow-hopefully!), but I wanted to send out something to let you all know that I'm doing well. I was able to get a flat through my school and it is absolutely awesome. It's HUGE, and it comes equipped with everything that I need (it even comes with a garlic press!). It has a washing machine, a double bed in a separate room (I had thought that it would be a studio), plus a door that closes off the rest of the apartment from the front door and the bathroom/washing machine area. It's got hardwood floors (they're actually probably some sort of Pergo Laminate setup), a separate dining area with a little table and two chairs, a couch, a bed-couch in the living room, lots of windows, and if you can believe it, it's got a little black and white TV! It only shows Czech tv of course, but lots of the programs are American, but dubbed into Czech. Last night, they were showing Deputy Dog, and this morning I awoke to the Teletubbies being inane in Czech. It was a little odd, to be sure. The apartment is about a 15 minute walk from my school, and it's right by a supermarket, and the neighborhood is it's in a great location. Of course, it's not all good. Well, actually there's only one bad thing about it......It's on the 4th floor--and no elevator. So, yours truly hoofs it up 80-odd steps every night. But, it's a good trade-off. I really like it. :-) Anyway, I'm on my way back there to shower and change for drinks and dinner out with classmates to celebrate the end of our first week.

I had my second lesson today, and it went really well. The assessor told me that it was "very nice", which is great coming from one of them! :-) I'm nervous about the upcoming written assignments that we have to turn in, but with some hard work this weekend, I think it'll be fine. I'm really sweating having to teach my first grammar lesson. So far, I've taught the difference between British and American English, and today I did a Speaking lesson that revolved around their childhood memories (so that they would have to use the past tense).

It's been stressful, but my friends at school are great. We all get along so well, you'd think that we've known each other for years. Stressful situations do that to you, I guess. :-) band perhaps?????

Anyway, I need to run. Hope you're all doing well! I'll write more tomorrow!!!

Monday, July 21, 2003

Flat, but no cigar

Hello all!

Well, I'm telling you...I didn't think I'd make it to this computer tonight, but somehow I managed to drag myself here. I don't know how, believe me. My feet feel as though they are going to explode, and I'm so goddamned tired I could just cry!

First of all, back to the school day--I couldn't sleep all night, kept tossing and turning. My left hip is killing me; I took some Tylenol, to no avail. My room was stifling, I'm getting a cold. I finally drifted off to sleep around the time my alarm went off. So, I conveniently shut it off and didn't wake up until 7:30, which was the time I had planned on leaving my hostel *at the latest*. So, great fun to run around like crazy, trying to find an outfit to wear, not having any time to brush my teeth or even go to the bathroom. Luckily, I remembered to throw my small toiletries bag into my backpack so that I could brush my teeth at the school! So, I raced toward the metro, and actually got there about 5 minutes earlier than I had expected. So, with much relief, I ended up getting to school at 8, with plenty of time to find the school. Yeah right.

I walked in what I thought was the right direction for about 8-10 minutes...nothing. Turned around and came back. Walked in another direction for 5-8 minutes....nothing. Turned around and came back, all the while contemplating just going back to my hostel and saying Fuck It to the course and everything. But, eventually, sweat-soaked and foot-sore, I spotted a taxi, and I could have cried with relief. I got in and showed him the map. It was much like Spain when he started trying to explain to me that my school was like just around the corner, but fortunately, he actually (and very grudgingly) drove me to the school. I was literally begging him, not that he could understand what I was saying. Eventually, I got to the school (the damn street isn't marked [most of them aren't-they don't have street signs at all like we do] so that's why I missed it), and went up to find my class halfway through their ice-breaker activities. I told the teacher why I was late (only by 15 minutes, all things considered), and excused myself to use the bathroom. Brushed my teeth, sponged myself down, and returned to the room, still sweaty and beet-red in the face. It was like a first day of school NIGHTMARE come true!!

Anyway, class progressed fine, and I think it's going to be a lot of fun, actually. The people I'm with are funny and easy to get along with, and the students we're teaching (for the first two weeks) are older and at an intermediate level. Someone asked me to explain how the course works. It's very simple: it last for 4 weeks, and during that whole time, we will have classes every morning that teach us how to be teachers. :-) Every afternoon, we will split up into groups of 6 (you're always with the same 6 for the whole course), and we each have scheduled time to teach "our" class. Our class consists of about 12 Czech people who have paid a paltry sum of money to learn English from people they know are just in training. So, they get practically free English lessons, and we get guinea pigs! I will spend at least 6 hours personally teaching these people.

For the first two weeks, my group and I will be working with the upper level students. For the last two weeks, we will work with lower level students. Today was our first day with them, and we all did part of the lesson as a way to introduce ourselves. Mostly, we just did the ice-breaker games with them that we did together at the beginning of the day ourselves. My first day of official, observed teaching will be on Wednesday. I have to do a 40 minute lesson on the difference between American English and British English. For this first week, our lessons will be given to us, and they'll tell us how to teach them. After this week, though, we're more and more on our own to come up with ways to teach the material that's required. It's a little daunting, but at least the head of the course will only be observing me during the first two (and hence, easier) weeks. After that, when we switch to working with the lower level learners, I'll be supervised by a part-time teacher.

Anyway, so school was great, except the having to walk around part, because thanks to this morning's escapade, I have blisters on my pinky toes again. It's never ending, I swear!

But, I had high hopes because I was meeting about the flat tonight. Well, let me tell you right now, I am not going to take this flat. The guy, who sounded like a young and perky Aussie on the phone, was actually a 40-ish, slightly pockmarked, graying hair in a ponytail Aussie, who works in a kitchen somewhere here in Prague. I think he must have used someone else's account to place the ad! Anyway, we had to walk FOREVER to get to the tram to get to the flat, and then FOREVER again to get to the flat, and then up two stories in the building, and the whole flat is kind of dump with no living room and a tiny kitchen with a non-working oven. But the room is huge, and has its own lock on the door, and the guy is grisly but friendly....but I just can't bring myself to live there! I told him I had another place to look at, even though I don't, and that I would call him tomorrow or Wednesday to let him know. But seriously, if you guys had taken one look at this guy *and* the flat...well, there is just no fucking way.

So, now I'm up shit-creek again, and I don't know what I'm going to do. I suppose I'll end up extending my stay at the Casa de la Rock-Hard-Bed, because I don't know what else to do. Frankly, I'm beginning to feel the strain of all this, and right now I feel like coming home as soon as this course is done. Maybe moving to Minneapolis or Portland (you know, somewhere where I fucking KNOW someone!!), calling it quits on this international thing. I miss my goddamn cat, I miss my family, and I don't know if I can deal with all of this anymore!! OK, I realize I just had a very bad day....but seriously, I'm afraid I'm going to crack here! If I can't land a decent place to live before this course is up, you guys might be seeing me a lot sooner than I planned!! I mean, it'll be my birthday in Denmark, and then home again in plenty of time for Thanksgiving.

Seriously...this has been a lot harder than I thought, mostly because of how much energy I have to expend just to do the simplest things. I can't just get in my car and drive 10 minutes to the mall to buy sheets or 15 minutes to work or 8 minutes to a friend's house. If I want a bottle of WATER (and it's the only place nearby that sells non-carbonated water), it's at least an 8 minute walk. Ok, not so bad...if I had my own place I could just buy them at the store. The store, however, is at least a 10 minute walk to a metro, a 3 minute ride, a changeover requiring going up and down lots of steps, and then another 4-5 minute ride to a TESCO that closes at fucking 8 o'clock, and then you've got to carry your shit home on the metro. Or, if you're lucky, there will be a supermarket in your neighborhood, in which case it's probably just a 10 minute walk there and a 10 minute walk back, loaded down with groceries. The veggie restaurant that I like is a 15 minute walk from my hostel. And 15 minutes back, probably when it's dark, and when you've just eaten like a cow and don't feel like walking anywhere. And the internet place is a 3 minute walk, but it's down 30 stairs, across a busy street, and up another 30 stairs, plus down some more to get into the joint. IT'S NEVER-ENDING!!! I'm tired beyond belief, but I can't sleep at night. And I'm getting sick, and it's sweltering hot here with no air conditioning anywhere you go. Everything is ridiculous, and please pardon me for bitching about it here. I am close to reaching a breaking point after this evening. I expected to have ups and downs, but this is a very down night, and it's threatening to take over the "ups"!!

OK, sorry, but I just had to vent a bit. :-) Don't worry too much about me. Anyway, I need to get going back to my hostel so that I can shower and then pass out (hopefully!!). I'll let you guys know if I have any more leads on apartments. Bye-bye!

First day of class

Hello all!

I just wanted to drop you guys a line real quick to let you know how my first day of class went. I don't have very long right now, because I'm going to be meeting Phil about the apartment at 8, but I wanted to tell you that it looks like it's going to be fun, but a LOT of hard work. My classmates are all really great. Mostly British, two other Americans, 1 Scot, an Aussie, an older Czech man. It turns out that our group got split into two sections, and of course, I'm not with any of the three people I met on Saturday night. The one bonus is that the head of the entire course will be our instructor, and he is also the one who will be supervising me during the first two weeks of teaching practice. So, I've got the best teacher, and I guess that's what matters. :-)

I almost couldn't find the goddamned school today. I arrived at the correct metro stop at 8, and class started at 8:30. So, there should have been plenty of time. Unless, of course, the map you're using sucks, and you got about 2 hours of sleep. I walked in the wrong direction TWICE and I didn't get to the fucking class until 8:45! But, they were very understanding. There is no air conditioning in the school (there is none anywhere in this whole city, it seems!), so we all spent the day sweltering in the heat. It was awful. The apartment guy will probably take one look at me tonight and say, "Forget it!" I look like I've been run over by a bus, not to mention that I've got blisters from walking around this morning, so I'm limping like I've had a stroke. Not the best first impression, really. :-)

Anyway, if I get a chance tonight, I'll let you know about the flat. Wish me luck!!!

Sunday, July 20, 2003

Dinner and a bit too much of a show

Hello everyone!

At last, the long-awaited email about meeting my classmates! :-) Well, truth be told, I only actually got to meet 3 of them, out of about 15-20, so it wasn't quite as comprehensive as I would have liked, but oh well! I did get to meet most of the teachers I'll be working with, and I feel that that is an inestimable bonus in the long run. I made friends with a lady named Kathy who it turns out will be the ones giving us our grades in the final week, so that was a happy accident! (Also, she's plus-sized, too, and gave me some tips on where to shop.) But anyway...on to the details! (and as they say, "Life is in the details!")

OK, I did NOT want to be late to this 7:30 dinner meeting (lest I show my true colors too soon!), so I decided to stake it out around 5 or so, just to make sure I knew where it was, and then hang out at someplace close-by so that I could wander in casually around 7:20 or so. The restaurant is located on a sidestreet that is off of the main street where I went to see a movie the other day, so I was familiar with how to get there. I decided to kill some time taking a few pictures of the beautiful buildings, shopping around a bit in the little grocery store by the metro stop, and just people watching. I sat down and ate some pretzels and drank some Fanta, and watched as the hordes of tourists tramped by. I like to fancy that as a person on her own, with no map out, with no camera out (if I use it, it goes immediately back into my bag), and looking a little swarthy, that I can occasionally pass as a native. As long as I keep my mouth shut and don't smile too much. :-)

As an aside: Someone suggested to me that I just have fun and smile...I mean absolutely no offense, but actually there is nothing I could do (aside from open my mouth and speak in English) that would instantly brand me a tourist as walking around with a big smile on my face. I love to smile, I have been told that I have a great smile, smiling usually works. But not here. The natives here do not smile that often, and so I usually wear what I think of as my "Prague Grimace" because if I act like I know where I'm going, and I'm wearing The Grimace, people leave me alone. The vendors don't yell out at me, pickpockets don't bother me (at least not yet!), and the general populace doesn't stare at me like they want to spit at my feet for being another goddamned tourist. I have seen them looking at groups of American tourists on the metro, and it ain't pretty. It's a look called, "Undisguised Loathing." And I don't want a piece of it, that's for sure!!

So, back to last night! :-) After hanging out for a bit, I decided to find the restaurant. I easily found the street and walked up it quite a ways, keeping an eye out for the restaurant. Along the way, I passed a bar called "Rocky O'Reilly's: The Biggest Irish Pub in Prague!" There were about 15 Irish soccer players spilling out of it as I passed, and one of them asked me to take their picture, which I did. I had no choice-they were huge and could have beaten me to a bloody pulp if I'd refused! But, I could hear a lot of merriment inside the pub as I passed, so I decided to check that out after I found the restaurant.

The restaurant, Titanic, was just a few doors down. I went in and inquired about a reservation for my school, and they confirmed that this was the right place. One of the head guys (who spoke the best English) helped me, and introduced himself to me as Martin, shaking my hand. Friendly in a brusque way-if that makes sense!

Anyway, I repaired to the Irish bar and was a little surprised to note that there were almost no women in it. There were maybe three at a table in the entryway, but around the corner and down the hall to the main bar area, it was just men. But there were female waitresses, so I wasn't totally alone, I suppose. So, I had over an hour to kill in a bar filled with noisy, probably half-drunk Irishmen. With BBC news on the telly, and a couple pints of Guinness, it wasn't a bad way to pass the time! The bartender was a very friendly Irish "bloke" who explained to me that it was almost always just men in here, and that they were one of the most popular bars in town for Stag parties. Interesting to note for the future. :-)

Eventually I pried myself off the bar stool and went to meet my classmates. I was the first there, joined shortly by a very tall man named Piers, who was--obviously--from England (Devon, to be precise). He is 32, and good-natured, but he speaks in practically a whisper, making it all but impossible to hear him in a loud restaurant. All of us kept saying, "I'm sorry, what was that??" every time he said anything!! I can't picture him being a teacher. And every time that someone mentioned something even a touch risque, he plugged his ears!!! Good grief! No wonder he's still single!

One of the other students there was a girl from Ireland, whose name is spelled something like Aeofie, and is pronounced "Eeffa". She is 24, and she just got done teaching in the United Arab Emerites for a year. She has a college degree, but no teaching credentials, like me. She's not sure what she'll do after this course, but she seems very strong-willed, so I'm sure it will be something interesting. We were sitting opposite each other at the table, so we talked quite a bit. She seems like someone that I could be friends with, so that was very encouraging!

The other classmate who showed up was a British woman in her late 50s, early 60s. I didn't get her name (might have been Pat), and she didn't talk very much.

The most interesting thing was to meet my teachers and the guy who interviewed me. First of all, they're all around my age, maybe up to age 30-32. All of them are British of one variety or another. They were all very pleasant to me, so that was nice. And they all have good senses of humor, which is promising. Also, they could probably drink me under the table, which is something I won't be testing anytime soon! They must have had 5-6 beers apiece during dinner and while we were sitting there afterwards.

We would have sat there all night, I'm afraid, except that the manager of the bar (the aforementioned Martin), told us that he was going to close up and we needed to leave. This was around 10:30 or so. A little unusual, but we had finished eating long ago. I was fucking exhausted, not to put too fine a point on it, so I was actually eager to leave. But, the teachers were PISSED as well as ANGRY :-) and plus the service had been a little slow all night. So, when Martin came around to collect the money (everyone was allowed to pay separately, by just telling him what you had eaten, not seeing a bill or anything), they were so rude to him, that I could not believe it. I mean, they had been making loud comments about the slowness of the waitress all night, but this was a lot worse. They kept loudly joking between themselves about how the service had been so slow and horrible all night, and talking about Martin right in front of him, like he didn't exist and like he was too stupid to understand what they were saying. I was appalled. They kept saying, "DON'T TIP HIM!! DON'T TIP HIM!!" and laughing and yelling about the horrible service. I kept wanting to shout, "THIS MAN UNDERSTANDS ENGLISH!! HE KNOWS WHAT YOU'RE SAYING!!" But of course, they probably knew this already and just simply did not care. It was so embarrassing.

When it was my turn to pay, I quietly told him what I had ordered, and my total was 145 Krowns. (Note: we had talked about tipping earlier, and the lady Kathy had told me that you just round up. I should have given him 150 total or maybe 160.) So, I handed him a 200 Krown note and said, "Please keep the change, Martin." Kathy, who was sitting right next to me said softly, "Oh that's way too much." So I said softly (even though I was raging on the inside), "Well, nobody else is tipping him and I won't be that rude!" (I should note that my total bill in dollars was about $6 and that the tip I gave him was equal to about $2-perhaps too much if I was on my own, but if nobody else was leaving a tip, I felt that this was a paltry sum to pay.) Aside from which, I didn't find anything to be too terribly wrong with the service. They were just mad because it took more than a few minutes for the waitress to fetch them their copious beers. Fuck all of them. I was so embarrassed to be associated with them!!!

It reminded me of an incident in one of Bill Bryson's books, where he's somewhere in Bosnia, I think. Their money was so de-valued, that he saw a table full of German tourists paying for their bill and teasing the waiter with the money, like it was just play money, because for them it was a pittance. That is what these people reminded me of. They treated the waiter like he was subhuman, and it was very upsetting to me. I couldn't wait to leave. I hope that it was only because they were drunk, and that it won't be a recurring theme.

Anyway, more news on the apartment front. I spoke with the Aussie guy, Phil, again today. We made arrangements to meet on Monday night after my class. He was even nicer on the phone today than he was yesterday, and funnier. So, I have high hopes about our compatibility as roommates. When I told him that I would be wearing a "Fossil" backpack, he laughingly asked me how old I was, and then told me that my new nickname would have to be "Fossil". LOL So, that's an interesting start. Anyway, if the apartment is OK, I will definitely take it because I am SICK of being at this hostel.

Well, I've been on the computer FOREVER, so I'd better move on. I'm starving, and that vegetarian eatery is calling my name!! :-) Anyway, hope you're all doing well and I'll talk to you soon!!

Saturday, July 19, 2003

A solid apartment lead

Hello family!

I have got a great new lead on a flat that's actually pretty close to my school! I talked to the guy today and he's going to try to show me around tomorrow afternoon!! I was going to go to a showing of "Chocolat" tomorrow at this movie theatre that's on an island in the middle of the river, but I think I will forgo that so that I can have a place to live. :-) It's fully furnished, has a washing machine, is right on a tram line, and is only about $170/month, including utilities. No phone, but with the money I'd be saving, I think I will just get a cell phone and fuck the cost.

It's with a guy named Phil, who sounds Australian, works in a restaurant on the weekends and teaches during the week. He said he'd try to help me figure out a cell phone, and how to use the tram. He swore several times during our conversation, which I take to be a sign of Australian rough-and-readiness. :-) And he asked me if I was crazy, a heroin addict, or a serial killer. Very funny. So I asked him if he was an axe murderer, and he said, "Oh fuck yeah! I've got a couple axes and we can go chop up the neighborhood together!" It was most amusing. :-) He said he's only had one other call about the apartment, and it was a guy who had several things against him (mostly it was because he doesn't like living with guys), so I was the only candidate, and he'd love to show it to me tomorrow or Monday evening at the latest, and it's available immediately. So, needless to say, if it's acceptable, I will be moving in. :-) The girls who lived there before took the curtains with them for some reason, so I will have to buy new ones, but I think that won't be too much of a problem.

I can't wait to get out of my hostel! Last night I could not sleep hardly at all! I was just starting to doze at 4:30am, and then it started getting light outside!!! And then people started moving around in the hostel, and with the noise and the light it was impossible to sleep. So, first I tried just using my sleep mask for a couple hours, but that was useless because it was so noisy. Eventually, I found my ear plugs and with them and the mask, I was able to sleep a few hours. Good grief! And I have to meet with my schoolmates tonight, so I could have used the sleep. Argh!

Anyway, I'm going to run and get some late lunch. I just thought you'd all like to know about this new apartment development. :-) I'll let you know how it goes after tomorrow! Bye!

Friday, July 18, 2003

Dinner and a show

Hello everyone!

Just a nightcap of an email before I drag myself back to my hostel. :-)

Well, today was a very good day. Finally! I left the internet cafe and made my way down this great street to the vegetarian eatery I mentioned earlier, to look for flat listings. I found several interesting ones, so that was a success. Along the way, I discovered a grocery store, much to my delight. I had a look around, and was interested to see that they carried several American brands of products. For example, Smucker's jams, Heinz Ketchup, etc. Of course, the American brands were twice as expensive as the Czech ones, despite the fact that they were about the same or even cheaper than at home. I didn't buy anything, but I think I'll go there tomorrow. Just a stone's throw from that store was one specializing in fruit! Their window displays were filled with the most luscious looking berries and peaches, and even tomatoes! I went in to have a look and was not suprised to see that strawberries were over $9/gram or whatever unit of measurement they were using-I can't remember! But, they looked great! Smelled good, too. But, too too expensive for this chick, so I moved on.

I spent quite awhile in the vegetarian place enjoying a delicious lunch of roasted potatoes and leeks fricassee. It actually ended up that I didn't have enough time to make it to the English bookstore, so I will have to do that tomorrow. In the end, I decided that I wanted to go to the movie more, so I went! What an experience!

At first, I couldn't even find it. It was on one of the busiest streets in all of Prague and I kept searching for the address, but no place was displaying their address in plain view. Eventually, I found the address, but it was for this sort of entry into a long alley of different shops. I wasn't sure if I would be there, but I walked down this alley, and thankfully, it was right there at the very end. So, I paid about $3.50 to see "Frida". It was down in the basement in what the man told me was the "big" hall. Hah! Um, this place was about as big as one of the rooms at the Cobblestone-and those are about the size of a private viewing room in some guy's mansion. And the chairs were like ones in a dentist's waiting room! Oh, and when you paid, you got to pick your seat location from a picture on a computer screen behind the counter. I chose row 3, seat 8, and then the guy printed up my ticket. Imagine the horror of just letting people find their own damn seats! Can you picture the chaos?! ;-) Very interesting... And, of course, no refreshments of any kind, although there was a bar, but it wasn't open. I saw where they were showing Casablanca and it was like your own little room because it's just on DVD. So, I don't think I'll be going back for that. :-) There are much larger movie houses here, so I think I'll try one of those out.

After the movie, I walked out into the twilight a little dazed to find myself in the middle of this busy and quite beautiful street. At the far end was an enormous building, the National Museum. And all around me were ornately decorated, quite colorful buildings, with facades that looked like wedding cakes. And this is the *norm*!!! Everywhere I turn, I see these buildings and I'm reminded of why I chose to come here. I stood outside the theatre for a bit, just soaking in the scene around me, looking down to the theatre building, and at the people strolling by. For the first time it hit me that *I live here*. I'm not just a tourist. For the first time I actually felt LUCKY to be here, to be doing this.

To be frank, I'm scared shitless to be here at all, but maybe it will actually work out. Tonight I had my first glimmer of hope. :-)

Anyway, enough sentimentalizing... I just ate a so-so dinner at a local pizzeria, and I'm eager to limp back to my rock-hard bed. :-) I'll let you know how dinner goes tomorrow night with my new comrades. Goodnight!!

Dancing Lucinda (dedicated to all the Nadas fans!)

Hello everyone!

I'm going to be checking my email at least a couple of times a day for the next week or so, until things get going with school. So, expect some frequent emails as I struggle to get used to things for a bit. :-)

Anyway, yesterday I just about had a breakdown. I got to my hostel and it was, let us say, not exactly what I had expected. It's in an OK neighborhood, but it's a little run down. As soon as I saw it, I decided that I would be having a private room, and damn the cost. But, as it turns out, the price they quoted me for a private was about $18, quite a bit less than the $34 I would have had to pay if I had booked a private online.

It's sort of like living in a dorm again, but with both boys and girls on the same floor. I have to walk all the way to the other end of the hallway in order to use the bathroom, and the showers definitely leave something to be desired, and little to the imagination. My bed is exactly as comfortable as sleeping on the floor-there is no give in it at all. But, it does come with a feather pillow and a down comforter, which I actually slept on top of, trying to give the bed a little cushioning, to no avail. I have one very large window, with a view of some buildings that is not so bad. Lots of wardrobe space, but no hangers. I get breakfast for free every day, but I didn't go down this morning. I can only assume it will be a stale bun and some water, from the look of things around here.

As for the apartment meeting I had lined up...well, that's down the toilet. I checked my email yesterday only to find that the guy I was meeting gave the apartment away and the new person was moving in that evening. Story of my goddamned life. So, now I am on a mission to find a new place, and I guess it will be Casa de la Rock-Hard-Bed until then.

Speaking of my Casa, it is at least a 15 minute walk to the nearest metro-a bit further than had been advertised. But, that's along a very busy street, so if I have to come home in the dark, I'll be totally fine. Of course, last night I was on my way home and it started to rain. And yours truly had left my motherfucking umbrella in the goddamned hostel. Of COURSE. So, I tried to walk right along the buildings as I scurried home, but eventually I gave in to the inevitable and cursed each squelching step back to my hostel. Let me tell you, it was the last thing I needed after such a long and exhausting first day--but I should have expected nothing less with my horrible luck. Please feel sorry for me, because *I* certainly do. :-)

I awoke this morning, bright-eyed and sore-backed, ready to go again. So, on the agenda for today, after a late rising, is to finish up email here, then walk god knows how far up this street where there is a vegetarian cafe that apparently has flat postings. I will eat there, hopefully find some leads on a place to live, and then I will get on the metro and go to the Globe bookstore, another English hangout that supposedly has flat listings. I'll peruse those, and the books, and then I will once again take the metro to Wenceslas Square, where I will dine at the Hotel Europa (or some other nice eatery) and then take in a showing of "Frida" at the Praha Theatre. After that, I will take the metro back in this direction and limp the 15 minutes back to my hotel, probably in the pouring rain-but I have my umbrella today!-and then I will end the evening studying up on my grammar and snacking on Snickers Bites (thanks Mom!), or possibly Godiva chocolates, as I hear there is a shop of theirs in the area where I will be dining.

Tomorrow I will be meeting up with my fellow students at a restaurant, so I'm very excited to finally talk to some people other than my new best friends at the bank. :-) Oh, and someone asked why I opened my account with only $10. Well, this is because if I put any more money in, it would be frozen until I get my new Visa Electron debit card in a week or so. By the way, my statements will be mailed to the house, Mom, so be expecting them. Since I don't have a permanent address here, I had no choice. Anyway, I don't intend to use that account very much at first; I just wanted to have it open ASAP in case I get a cell phone. But it looks like I won't now, unfortunately. Still the 10 hours I spent at the bank yesterday were certainly worth it. ;-)

OK, I need to stop stalling and get going on my plans, or I'll never make the movie! By the way, Dad, I think I've decided that I'm going to keep going to the movies every Sunday, if I can afford the money and the time. This Sunday I'm planning on going to a showing of "Casablanca" at the same theatre where they're showing "Frida" tonight. Of course, if I get there tonight and it's like $10 a throw, maybe I'll rethink my plan. :-) But after so many years of popcorn once a week, I'm not sure I'm able to give up my addiction. :-) Anyway, I'll let you know how it goes!

Take care everyone, and keep sending me emails! It makes me feel so much more relaxed about stuff, and connected to home. I'll talk to you soon!

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Hello from Prague!‏

Hello everyone!

Well, here is my first email from god it feels like I left Des Moines about a month ago, even though I just got here this morning.

I almost didn't make it here at all. My flight to Minneapolis was 30 minutes late, so I had to run almost all the way to catch my plane to Amsterdam. I made it to the gate, huffing and puffing, and the guy told me I made it with *2* minutes to spare. Literally, they had already made two final announcements for the flight that I could hear as I was running along the endless corridors. It was horrible!!! I hate having to run for a plane!

But, I made it-that's the important thing. The bad news was that I was assigned to sit next to a Dutch woman and her two kids, a girl-maybe 3/4, and a boy-maybe 4/5. The girl was sitting right next to me, and she was constantly bumping against me, pounding on my leg, using me for a back rest and general plaything. All I wanted in the world was to be able to get some sleep, but this girl could not sit still for more than 2 minutes. And her brother spent half of the flight whacking her on the head or singing American songs ("Hey Baby"-the oldie) at the freaking top of his lungs, with no regard for what the words actually were, because hey-fuck it-I'm 5 years old and don't speak English and don't give a shit that I'm annoying every single person in the vicinity. Fuck all of you. By the time that flight was over, I had such a bad headache!! Even the mom was loud. She was in her mid-30s, with long hair extensions in purple, pink, and bright blond, all pulled up into a high ponytail. She kept egging them on and making them practice their English. It was a nightmare, the worst flight I have ever had.

Anyway, so I finally made it to Prague, and the taxi driver was there, as arranged by the school, despite the fact that my flight was late. Thank god, otherwise I don't know what I would have done!! He took me to my hostel, which is essentially a shambles, but oh well. It's in an OK neighborhood (quite posh in some bits), but it's run down on the inside. Once I saw the place, I opted to pay a little bit more for a private room. And it so happened that that rate was still about $20 less than what that booking service would have charged me for a private.

After collapsing on my bed for a bit, I braved the city and went out in search of several things: 1) A place to use the internet 2) A phone card to call my mom 3) A bank to open a Czech account in 4) A cell phone store, and 5) Food.

The good news is that there is an internet place essentially across the street and around the corner from my hostel. And a place next door to that that sells phone cards. Two things down. Now, the bank was easy to find, but the process of opening an account was excruciatingly slow. I was there close to an hour. The main problem was that the girl doing it didn't speak very much English, and the guy she brought in to help her wasn't all that much better! So, we struggled along together, and now I'm the proud owner of a Czech bank account with about $10 in it. :-) The cell phone store was right across the street from the bank, but sadly, I had no luck on that front. I just don't think I'm going to be able to get a cell phone. The cheapo phones that I had been eyeing are only that price if you agree to a *2* year contract! And then you still have to pay a $100 or so activation fee!!!!!! If you just want the prepaid minutes, then you have to pay full price for the phone. The cheapest is about $140. So, I think I might have to put that dream on hold for a bit.

I went to dinner at the restaurant of the hotel I stayed at last time. It was tasty and about $5, so that's not bad. It was raining outside when I got out of the metro station to walk home, so I popped into this internet cafe to dry off for a bit. So, I thought I would take the moment to tell you about the beginning of my journeys.

A big thank you to all who recently signed my guestbook. Yay! :-) Anyway, I need to get back to my hotel so that I can pass out for about 15 hours. Talk to you all soon!

Monday, April 7, 2003

The Carthaginian Rose: Vol. 4

Hello everyone!

OK, I know. You're wondering, "Why are you writing Shannon? You just got home!" Yes, yes, it's true. I am now, at LAST, home. :-) But, because there was no email place in Madrid, and because I was in transit all day Saturday and Sunday, I didn't get a chance to send a final email to everyone. So, a few days late-here it is!

First of all, I think Sevilla was my favorite place of the whole trip. The buildings were gorgeous, it was filled with beautiful orange trees, and it wasn't so huge as to be overwhelming, but it still had enough energy. On our last full day there, Jen and I actually had a bit of an unusual experience. You see, I woke up that day and my face was swollen from the sunburn-just around my eyes and forehead-so that I looked pretty much like an alien freak. Great. So, after much consultation with my mom and grandma via the phone and internet, they pretty much demanded that I go to the hospital and get checked out. I think they were envisioning me with a face that was ready to explode or something, which felt true, but didn't really look THAT bad. So, to appease them, and to quiet my own slightly hypochondriac fears, I convinced Jennifer to go with me to the public hospital. Good lord.

Jennifer and I took a taxi there and went into the emergency room. No one spoke English-no more than a few words (despite what my guidebook had said). I tried to give them my insurance card, but they looked at it like they´d never seen one before, which they probably haven´t. They took my name, date of birth, and name of hotel. They directed us to a small waiting area with about 10 people in it. About 5 minutes later, a guy comes out-he could have been a nurse or a nursing assistant, and asks me in limited English what´s wrong with me. After writing down the details, he sends us to this bigger waiting room, where he says I should "Wait for a few minutes and then my name will be called." Yeah right. It was a room with about 80 people in it. Standing room only. There were people on hospital beds, in wheelchairs. Bleeding, coughing, dying right in front of us. I almost turned and walked out then. But, Jennifer said we´ve come all this way, so we might as well stay until 8pm, which is when most restaurants open up. It was 6 then.

We stood around in the mass of humanity, struggling to hear if my name was being called (since it sounds totally different with a Spanish accent). It appeared that they would call your name, take you back for a consult, and then send you back into the waiting room. Then, when your test results were in, or your x-rays done, they would bring them out to you, and explain it in front of everyone, and sometimes take you back again. It was horrible, and degrading to even watch. Almost everyone there was elderly.

Finally, around 7:30, when I was convinced I would never be seen and was ready to leave, they called my name over the intercom. And said a bunch of stuff after it in Spanish that I had no idea what it meant. So, we followed some other people whose names had been called, but they didn´t appear to know where they were going either. Eventually, I ended up standing in line outside of a consulting room.

While we were waiting in that line, some security people came and were hovering around the consult room next door, where some pregnant woman was laying on a stretcher. Eventually, they took the woman away, while she was screaming something about the devil. The security people had latex gloves on. I didn´t even WANT to know what was going on there!

Finally they called my name into the consult room. The nurse or possibly doctor didn´t speak any English, but I had already written down in Spanish what was wrong with me. So, then she had me sit in front of an optomatrist type machine after squirting some orange stuff in both my eyes. She looked at them both, apparently saw nothing wrong, and asked if I had been in the sun and gotten burned. Duh. And then she wrote me a prescription for cortizone cream. Jennifer and I walked out of the room, saw no signs about paying, and then walked right out the front door. I guess they have the name of my hotel, which in turn has my credit info, so I might be getting a charge later. Who knows? We took a taxi back to our part of town, went into the nearest pharmacy (they´re on like every corner) and I got my cream. $5.

So, for the price of two taxi rides and a tube of cream, I got a firsthand lesson in the horrors of public hospitals, in general, and in the way things were done in hospitals in Spain. It was eye-opening to say the least, not to mention depressing. It made us feel guilty for just assuming things would be so easy, as they are for a person in the States who is lucky enough to have insurance. I'm glad I had the experience, but I would never want to repeat it.

Anyway, as a treat to ourselves after that ordeal, we ate again at the Italian restaurant. This time I feasted on gnocchi in three cheese sauce (gnocchi is a type of potato pasta). We sat next to two American guys and tried to have a normal conversation with them, but as my face looked like a nuclear testing site, I sort of kept a bit quiet. :-) One of them ordered what he thought would be cheese sticks, but it turned out to be just a plate of hunks of parmesan cheese. It was hilarious, and it cost him $8. :-(

We spend Friday night in Madrid, not doing much but just resting for our journeys home. Saturday, I spent the entire day on a train, traveling a total of 13 hours from Madrid to Paris in order to catch my plane on Sunday morning. The scenery was amazing, plus I made friends with a Scottish couple and their accents were equally as amazing. :-)

Sunday was a nightmare. I'm telling you-I didn't think I was going to fucking make it home!! I got to the airport (after taking the wrong train and having to switch over halfway there!) about 2 hours before takeoff. What a mistake! I should have gotten there about 4 hours in advance so that I wouldn't have to stress out.

First, I had to take a bus to the right terminal. Then, I had to wait in a line of at least 100 people to check in to Air Canada, while *1* fucking person was at the front of this line, looking over people's passports and tickets before letting them through to get in another line to actually check in and get boarding passes, etc. The man doing this was such an asshole. Every time somebody got up there that wasn't totally white, he actually examined their passports with a zoom lens/microscope thing! And looked them up and down like they were garbage. It was utterly laughable and disgusting. Not to mention, it made the line slow as fuck. I spent an hour waiting in that line and then he took 20 seconds to look over my stuff. And then I had to go over to the security line so that I could get into the terminals. There was another 35 minute wait. So, that by the time I was cleared of everything, there was only about 15 minutes before my plane was taking off!!! I ran to the gate and made it in, of course, but I hate being that stressed out. Not to mention the fact that that of course left me with absolutely no time to buy food, water, batteries for my CD player-nothing for my flight.

When I got to Toronto, it was more of a nightmare, but what else could I expect? I had to retrieve my luggage from the belt (despite the fact that the lady told me it would checked in through to KC), put it onto another belt so that it would go to another building. Then, I had to take a shuttle bus to the other building, walk the length of the building all the way to US Customs. Retrieve my luggage, fill out a US Customs form, lug my bag (which was wrapped in plastic and couldn't be worn) down many hallways to the actual US customs line, wait in it for about 25 minutes, be interrogated by the agent there as to whether or not I support the war in Iraq (I think it was a test-he kept looking at me rather fishily), and then drag my bag some more before depositing it on another conveyor belt. Then, I had to go through security again, where the guy looked at my boarding pass and didn't believe that I was in the right place because he didn't recognize that the abbreviation for the KC airport was MCI. He asked me if I had ANOTHER boarding pass to show him, but I said, "They only ever give you ONE, so that's the only one I have!" and he let me go through, obviously not keen to deal with someone as potentially dangerous as a very stressed-out Shannon.

Then, I had to look on the TV to see where my plane was leaving from. Terminal E, which meant going downstairs and catching another fucking bus. As this lady (also going to KC) and I went downstairs together, and saw the bus sitting outside, we made a run for it-not wanting to wait for another one. Then, this guy comes out from behind this random desk and says, "WHOAH LADIES! Let me see your boarding passes please!" We explained that we needed to catch the bus, but he was feeling very important, so he made us stop to show him our passes. There was no sign up saying we needed to show them, by the way. So, I snatch my pass back from him, and turn to run to the bus. And he yells out, "You know, you have to show your pass. It's not my fault you don't want to. But you don't have to be rude to me lady!" And I turned around and said, "I'm not trying to be rude, but I've been waiting in line all day, and I'll be damned if I'm going to miss this bus!" And I ran outside and hopped on the bus just before it pulled away. What an asshole. And then our flight was delayed anyway, plus it was a tiny plane and was bouncy all the way, and we got in over an hour late. It sucked. I could have collapsed from exhaustion by the time I made it out to my mom's car. For dinner, we ate at Applebee's, and I was amazed by all of the overwhelming options!! I never thought I'd say that about Applebee's, but there you are. I guess that's what a week of being surrounded by nothing but jamon will do to a girl! :-)

Anyway, WOW, this was a long email....but there were a lot of loose ends to tie up. So, now I'm home, and I am excited to get together with everyone again! I have missed being here so much that I don't even think I can fully express it! :-) My pictures won't be developed for a day or two, but I can't wait to show them. I think I'm even going to post the best ones on my website so that far away people can see them.

Thanks for listening to all of my ramblings these past two weeks. Writing things down made me feel a lot better, and more connected to home. Take care everyone and I'll hopefully be seeing you all soon!!

Thursday, April 3, 2003

The Carthaginian Rose: Vol. 3‏

Hello again everyone!

It´s another lovely day here in beautiful Sevilla. Now that my sunburn has gone down a bit, I am actually able to enjoy it. ;-) Not to the point of walking miles and miles around the city like Jen did this morning (perish the thought), but enough to sit out on a bench, reading a good book and taking in the views.

I think I shall take this moment to say that I know I´ve sounded pretty negative in my emails, but I think a large part of that is simply due to sore feet or sunburn, and to a large extent (don´t laugh!) of not being able to find food here that I like to eat. It´s true! I think that we all get in our habits, and what we eat at home is usually fairly non-changing. Which is not to say that one doesn´t have varied tastes; I personally enjoy foods of many backgrounds. But the "things" we eat, the actual dishes, tend to be standard, no matter what the cuisine. At least, I find this to be true for me.

So, not being a huge fan of French food (their divine pastries aside), and having zero experience with Spanish, I was a little weary of having to feed myself on this trip. I didn´t want to succumb to the American tourist mentality of eating at McDonald´s when the going got tough. (Especially after just having finished reading "Fast Food Nation"!) Eating in France was an experience that was OK...not my type of food really, but always something on the menu to eat that was ok, whether it was a salad or pommes frites. But Spain has been a completely different story.

First of all, the majority of restaurants Jennifer and I have encountered here do not start serving dinner until at least 7:30, but some as late as 8 and one as late as 8:15 for Christ´s sake! But, they´re physically open, seeming to offer their wares...but NO! You may come in for a drink, some bread, perhaps a slice of jamon or two, but no real food! There have been at least 3 or 4 times here in Seville that we have been cruelly mislead into thinking we could eat something that was actually not yet serving. And on top of everything, both of us are dying for pizza.

In the states, we could have a pizza in the snap of a finger, at the drop of a hat!! Not, pizza takes planning. It doesn´t help that the two pizzerias that are even vaguely within walking distance do not start serving until 8. There is even a fucking Pizza Hut here, which we were desperate to have one night. Even THEY do not open until 8. And when you are hungry at 6 because you didn´t feel like having a jamon (ham) sandwich for lunch, you start to feeling pretty damn desperate. Desperate like you´ve never felt before, because you look around and there is literally nothing in view which is serving food, or the food they have is being carved off of a smoked pork haunch with the hoof still attached. And you are starving. It´s a little unnerving.

Once, Jennifer and I asked our hotel desk lady for a recommendation of a good Italian place. She gave it happily and we made our way there around 6. Ha! What fools we were to think it would actually be serving food at such a ridiculously early hour! Perish the thought! So, we walked down the block a bit and saw a Chinese restaurant with its lanterns lit and an open sign on the door. Thank god! Ooops-they didn´t actually open until 7:30. Eventually, we accepted our fate, sat down at an outdoor cafe and sipped on bottled water until they opened.

When we actually walked in at exactly 7:32, the staff were still mopping the floors and looked more than a little surprised to see us there so early. But, we soon ordered and were served some fairly nondescript basic Chinese fare. I was ravenous and ate my whole noodle dish in about 5 minutes, still craving pasta from the closed Italian place. It was yet another day of feeling completely unsatisfied, culinarily speaking.

But last night...last night was a divine experience. Jennifer and I decided to go to a flamenco show at 9pm. One that was a little off the beaten path, that didn´t bus in the tourists. So, not having a clue where the address was, we hopped in a taxi. This man drove us around for 15 minutes, all the while huffing and puffing like he was so upset that the traffic was slowing us down. Taking us around the city on a sort of tour of back streets and alleys so narrow I was surprised we didn´t get stuck! Eventually, he dropped us off at the end of a street we knew well-the one with the Italian restaurant and Chinese restaurant. Literally, a 3 minute walk from where we got in the taxi and a 5 minute walk from our hotel!! We just laughed. What else could we do? At least it meant that we would be able to go to the flamenco show and then to the much-desired Italian place for dinner.

The flamenco show was so intense, that I don´t think I can adequately describe it here. Have any of you seen a flamenco performance? I think we´ve all seen a clip, or a scene in a movie (beginning of Mission Impossible 2), but I´ve never seen a live offering in Iowa. Anyway, it took place in an establishment down a long and winding alley (well lit, so don´t worry Grandma!). It was a well known place, but it had a small space and couldn't have large crowds-all for the better. We bought our tickets ahead of time and went to a tapas bar for some fried potatoes (the only thing in a tapas bar that isn't cheese or scraped off a hoof) to tide us over.

The flamenco performance took place in a space that was in the middle of all of these buildings, so that it was outdoors, surrounded on all sides by building walls, but was open to the sky. There´s a word for that sort of space, but I´m blanking on it at the moment. They had a tent roof, very high up, with a typical Moorish lamp hanging down from it. There were candles everywhere, and lots of intricately designed Moorish lamps sitting on the floor. When I say Moorish, please envision any design you have seen from Morocco, filled with filigree patterns, blue and other colored glass, lots of intricate metalwork. They´re just beautiful.

There were chairs all around the outside of the space, with a small wooden square that was maybe 2 inches high in the middle. It served as a dancing platform. Behind the stage, hanging down the wall, were hundreds of vines with some flowers on them. Plus, there were pots of flowers everywhere, including a shallow dish at the front of the stage, filled with water and floating flowers. There were arched doorways all along the perimeter of the space, and a second floor balcony along the three sides without hanging vines. The effect was mesmerizing, before any show began.

But what a show it was! The performers included: one male singer, one male guitar player, one guy who sat on a box and tapped on it like a drum, and one female dancer. There were probably about 6 separate songs that were done, over the course of an hour. At first, it was just the singer and the guitar player. The singer was about my age, and had a strong clear voice, that without any microphone, filled the space and must have carried through the entire neighborhood. I have seldom heard such amazing vocals. The guitar player was an accomplished teacher, and so he was also impressive, again with no amp of any kind. The drum guy was pretty young-maybe 19/20, but gifted with his wooden box. He joined in on the second song, but at first we didn´t know what he was up to since he wasn´t dressed up like the rest of them in all black. He was wearing street clothes and red sneakers!

After a couple of songs, the dancer came in. She was mesmerizing from the start. The instant she opened the door to come in, she was in intense character, every action deliberate and powerful. She slowly walked to the stage, wearing a long flowery dress with a red fringe shawl. When she started to dance, it was so loud! The flamenco style of dance involves wearing shoes with sturdy heels and having legs of steel to pound the shoes into the wooden stage. She was beating up the stage as she twirled around, stomping her feet as hard as possible, and kicking up dust and wooden bits. Of course, this was all done in rhythm with the song, and with the singer clapping along very loudly. It would fluctuate from slow, deliberate, and not so loud pacing around the stage, to wild, seemingly uncontrolled fits of dancing where it was intense and very loud. Lots of swishing dress, stomping feet, and clapping. That is flamenco dancing in a nutshell. ;-) It was amazing and intense and I believe I could go to a performance of it every night for 20 years and never once be bored.

After the performance, still awestruck, Jennifer and I happily made our way to the Italian restaurant. We dined, FINALLY, on pizza and garlic bread. The waiter was a fairly forceful guy who showed us the wine list and then more or less brought over his choice of wine for us and that was that. It was good though. :-) And the garlic bread was also his choice-two orders of it naturally. I´m surprised that dessert didn´t arrive as soon as we were finished, but he did actually let us have some choice in that matter.

The pizza was so good, it fairly melted in your mouth. The sauce was sweet, and the crust soft, yet had body. It was no Big Tomato, but it was delicious. The garlic bread was made with olive oil instead of butter, so it lacked a certain something. Plus, I´m sure they´re using it as a clever way to get rid of day-old bread since it was so hard to chew. On the whole, though, the evening was about a 500% improvement from the day before, so we went to bed comprehensively refreshed.

I know this has been a long ass email, but I needed to vent for awhile. Thanks for sticking with me! As a reward, I shall leave you with a quote that Jen and I heard an obnoxious man telling some chic he was trying to impress after the flamenco show:

"If you take one thing with you from the magic that is Spain, it should be that it´s pronounced 'flamenCO', not 'flamenGO'." What a genius...

Have a great day everyone! :-)

Tuesday, April 1, 2003

The Carthaginian Rose: Vol. 2‏

Hello again everyone!

Today I'm writing from Seville-Jennifer and I traveled here this morning from Malaga. As I recall, I left off after the trip to the Alhambra. That was such a great day!

Anyway, so after the Alhambra, Jennifer and I left Granada via the evening bus to head to Malaga. We felt very brave and non-touristy taking the bus. It was a great, and cheap way to get there. Malaga is a town on the Mediterranean that I think I can say has seen better days. We were picturing something a little less run down, I have to admit. Plus, our hotel, The Carlos V, left a little to be desired in the way of charm and a working elevator. So, we decided to take the bus again the next day for a little day-trip to a nearby (and much quainter) town called Nerja. We got a taxi from our hotel and asked to be taken to the bus station. He asked us where we were going, and we told him Nerja. After unsuccessfully trying to get us to let him drive us all the way there! he dropped us off at this bus stop. We were like, um...OK. But, he reassured us that we could buy tickets there to Nerja and the bus ran every hour. So, we went with the flow, bought round-trip tickets, and caught the bus in time.

Nerja was beautiful, simple, and just as quaint as promised. We got off the bus, walked across the street to a grocery store to get some supplies for the day, and then walked about 5 minutes to the beach. (I should also mention that while we were in the store, Jennifer and I both got some apples to eat. When we got up to pay for everything, it turns out that you had to have some special ticket for the apples, telling what kind they were and what their price was. I saw nothing in the way of a sign telling this back in the produce department, but whatever. Plus we couldn't really understand what the woman was saying to us, so she had to get one of the other checkers to run back and get the tickets, leaving a long line of people behind us mumbling, undoubtedly, about stupid foreigners not knowing that OBVIOUSLY you have to have a ticket for your apples!!)

Anyway, the beach was of the pebbly rock/sand variety, so it wasn't very conducive to actually walking around on, but we laid down beside our meager supplies and spent the rest of the day basking in the sun, enjoying the view, and eating the aforementioned apples. I finished my book and Jennifer got hers started.

It wasn't until we were leaving around 5:30, that we began to realize how seriously sunburned we were. I mean VERY SERIOUSLY. I woke up this morning and it felt like my entire body was on fire. When my brother (Captain Pasty White Skin at the time) fell asleep on the beach in San Diego, and got sunburned so badly that he came home and punched a hole in the door because of the pain, I didn't understand it. Now I do. I simply do not know how Jennifer and I made it here to Seville today. We were both two wretched specimens today. I am feeling moderately better after a dinner at a Chinese place tonight, but honestly, we're both a wreck. I'm hoping right now that when I wake up tomorrow, I'll be a little better, but who knows? Right now, if everything burned was sunTANNED, I would be as dark as I was after sitting out at Katie's pool all summer. Isn't that scary??!! And pretty fucking stupid too!

Anyway, here's another little tidbit, and then I'll leave you. Tonight, we ate at the Chinese place and then we wanted to take a taxi back to our hotel. Well, we walked down to the taxi stand and got into one The driver, who was smoking and chatting with the other drivers, looked like he couldn't believe he was going to actually have to get into his car and drive people around. The nerve! Anyway, after we were in the car, he made a face and started saying something to me, and pointing to the door. Jennifer and I both agreed that we thought he was saying that the door wasn't closed hard enough. So, naturally, I opened the door and slammed it closed again. He made an even bigger face and said something else and pointed to the door. So, I opened it again and slammed it again. He looked like he was going to explode, but after making some noises, he just asked us where we were going. I showed him the little piece of paper with the name and address of our hotel, which, admittedly, was a 5-8 minute walk away-but we were both in pain and suffering! Well, after he saw where we wanted to go, he lost it. He started pointing and yelling and saying god knows what, that our hotel was just a few blocks away or something. So, I just opened the door and said GRACIAS really loudly, and got out of the car. He got out too and kept on yelling at us. So I just screamed MUCHOS GRACIAS!!! and made a sort of up-yours gesture with my arm. He kept yelling at us as we walked away across this busy square. It was horrible. I was so fucking mad that I wanted to turn around and scream FUCK YOU!!!, but he looked like the type that enjoyed slapping women around, so I opted not to. :-) What a bastard. In retrospect, I'm sure he was chastising me at first for slamming the door too hard to begin with, which is amusing considering that I responded by slamming the door even harder TWICE after he said not to close it so hard. He deserved it, though.

OK, my time is almost up at the internet cafe, so I"ll let you go. I hope you're all doing well and I'll see you soon!