Italia Part 4 – Siena

I wasn’t sure if I was even going to make a post regarding Siena because we were only there for a few hours…and it sucked. I had, by far, the worst meal I have ever been served in my life there. I’m not exaggerating. But I’ll get to that part later.

This adventure starts with the journey of finding the damn bus station that we needed. True to form, Diana and I had done little research regarding where we needed to go to take the bus to Siena. We figured we’d follow the signs…ahahaha how stupid. I forgot that Europe doesn’t really believe in street signs and labels. After wandering aimlessly for awhile and asking for directions to the bus station twice, I finally spotted the thing as Diana and I were crossing another street. We made it 10 minutes before the bus was scheduled to leave. We bought our tickets (after dealing with some attitude from the ticket vendor) and were finally on the bus to Siena. The ride from Florence to Siena was pretty short. Diana and I passed the time listening to music on our ipods.

Once we arrived in Siena, we realized we had no idea what we wanted to do there. We figured we’d start by going to find the famous Piazza del Campo. Again, it took us a little longer than it should have to find it…and I wasn’t all that impressed by it once we did. I think I had built it up too much in my head and it just didn’t live up to my expectations.

Once we were done there, we went off to find food. We decided on a little place since the menu seemed decent enough. Oh man, we really should have just waited until we got back to Florence. We ordered our food (we each ordered pasta) and started to chat while we waited to be served. It should be noted that Diana’s back was facing the kitchen area, so I was the one with the view when the woman came out with our food. I tried to keep my facial reaction to a minimum, though I think Diana could tell that something was wrong. You see, I saw the woman walking towards us with what appeared to be lean cuisine. I shit you not. This was our food: More

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Flight Woes.

I was so hoping so have a nice, relaxing travel back home…alas, it was not meant to be. My day got off to a rough start with the fact that the service that was taking me to airport got me there at 8:00, roughly an hour and a half before my flight. I usually like to be at the airport 2-3 hours before my flight. So I was speeding to the check-in desk and then later through security. By the time I got to my gate they had already started the boarding process.

However, our flight was scheduled to take off at 9:30, at we were still sitting on the plane at 10:00. At 10:15 the captain announced that the plane had mechanical issues and that the repair was estimated to take at least 2 hours. So we all had to be taken off the plane again along with our luggage. Now, in Spain, a lot of times you have to take a shuttle that takes you to your plane. This meant that I had to carry my carry-on up and down several flights of steps. It was no cake walk.

Since we were now 2 hours delayed, this meant I was going to miss my connecting flight in Charlotte. Unfortunately, the employees were of no help because they said they couldn’t do anything about connecting flights until they had a new estimated time of arrival. Suffice it say that there were some very pissed of flyers (myself included). They were nice enough to give us vouchers to buy snacks at the cafeteria so once I did that, I sat down on the floor and waited. Ultimately, our flight was delayed 5 hours. They announced that those of us that missed our connecting flights would be helped once we arrived to Charlotte. This meant that I had no idea whether I would be on a flight home when I arrived to Charlotte or if I would have to wait until the next day.

Now, let’s talk about the plane we were on. It was old. It was no wonder that there were mechanical issues. Also, this was the first time I’ve flown a 9 hour flight that didn’t have screens in each seat for people to pick their own in-flight entertainment. There was just one regular sized screen towards the front section of the plane. Then the movies they played were old. My face must have been one of sheer denial when I saw the beginning credits for SPEED began to play. I mean, I love Sandra Bullock, but maybe something recent like The Blind Side would have been a better choice. I wasn’t really interested in any of the films they played and I couldn’t really sleep because I was so anxious about getting a connecting flight which meant that the flight felt like an eternity to me.

Finally, after 9.5 hours of flying, we made it to Charlotte. However, we weren’t allowed off of the plane because the line at customs was completely full. So we waited another 20-30 minutes to be left on the plane and were greeted by a customs like that took about 30 minutes to get through. Once we all had our luggage, we were all running to the counters to see about our connecting flights. There were so many of us and we were causing such a commotion that a Charlotte employee asked, “Where are you all coming from?” To which we all screamed, “MADRID!” Finally, they had to make a separate area for us at the check-in counter. When it was my turn, the guy informed me that they had rebooked me for an 8:00 flight…it was currently 7:30. He proceeded to tell me to hurry because they were probably already boarding. I proceeded to run like a mad woman to security. I made it to my gate at 7:50, sweating and panting, only to be informed that my flight was delayed an hour.

Thanks to the delay, I was able to call my parents and inform them that I would finally be arriving in Maryland around 10:20…6 hours after my original arrival time. Thankfully, the flight from Charlotte to Baltimore was only an hour. Granted, by the time we landed, I had been awake for 22 hours, so even 5 minutes felt like an hour.

This whole experience may have put me off US Airways for life. I had never had an experience like this and I’d really prefer not to have a repeat. I must say, though, that after all of that mess, I have never been so insanely happy to finally be home.

Looking Back.

I’m sitting here on my bed, looking around at what has been my room for the past 9.5 months and I can’t believe that I’ll be heading home for the summer come tomorrow (by the time this publishes, I’ll be on a plane making my way to Charlotte, NC, where I catch my flight home to MD). This past year has been such an amazing learning and growing experience for me. I needed something that would push me out of my shell and this did exactly that. I think it’s so funny that when I tell the people I’ve met here in Spain that I’m shy, they all disagree with me and say that I’m not shy at all. That is, by far, my greatest accomplishment this past year.

Then there’s the fact that I always thought that I worked best with primary school aged children and I’ve learned here that I really enjoy and prefer working with secondary aged students. I’ve had such an amazing year with my students and will truly miss them over the summer. It was great to see their English improve over the year and feel like I was truly making a difference in their English education. I know that I’ll be really excited to be reunited with them come September. I have also been incredibly lucky in that I have bonded a great deal with the faculty at my school. I love that we are much more like a family than coworkers. It’s so nice to have that homey environment at work and it’s something that I value greatly. The teachers have me laughing constantly in the teacher’s lounge and during our merienda break and have been the best part of my experience at my school. I was sad when I said goodbye to them for the summer yesterday.

ProtagsAnd what would this year have been like without my amazing new friends? I can’t thank Diana, Sean, and Dan enough for the great memories and laughs they’ve given me this past year. It’s imperative to have quality friends anywhere, but especially when you’re living abroad and are away from your family and friends from home. So to have been lucky enough to find 3 people who I think the world of is pretty damn awesome.

Of course, travelling has also been a major theme this past year. Besides the obvious travel to Spain, I have also been able to visit a few other European countries that were on my bucket list. I never thought I would actually get to see the Eiffel Tower in person or visit King’s Cross station and see Platform 9 3/4. I never thought I would spend nearly 2 weeks visting Italy during Holy Week. Travelling has been an amazing advantage of living in Europe and I look forward to travelling some more when I return. That being said, I do want to travel a lot within Spain next year because I want to get to know that country I’m living in more. And Spain has so many beautiful places to see, it’d be a shame to live here and not visit them.

I must say, though, that the greatest thing that has happened to me this past year has been gaining another family here in Spain. My Spain family completely took me in and treated me like one of their own. The move here would have been a thousand times more difficult without them. I have loved every single second of being a big sister to the kids! My summer will feel too quiet without them. I’ll constantly be expecting to hear a knock at my door and a kid saying, “Yarelis, can I play with your phone?” or “Yarelis, juega conmigo.” And my Spain parents are the best! Anyone who watches telenovelas knows that when you find another person who watches them and loves the same ones you do, it’s like finding a kindred spirit…and I’ve found just that in my Spain mom 🙂 We also share a profound love of cheesecake. And I think I’ve mentioned on here before that my Spain mom is one of the best cooks ever…and if I haven’t mentioned it before, well, I’m saying it now: She is one of the best cooks ever! I never had a meal that she made that I did not enjoy. And my Spain dad is awesome. Super funny and he always has interesting stories and topics to tell/discuss with me. It’s been so great to live with a family that I not only love, but really admire and look up to.

While I am excited to see my family/friends and spend my summer with them, it feels great to know that when I return to Spain in September I’ll be welcomed by great friends and my other family. It’s always nice to know that you have a “home away from home.”

¡Nos vemos en dos meses y medio, Madrid!

Bureaucracy.

There is a lot of paperwork involved when you decide to stay in Spain for another year. The bulk of this paperwork is in the NIE renewal process. It’s actually not that horribly bad…except for all the copies you have to make. Also, I would have been entirely lost in regards to what in the heck I needed to provide for this if it weren’t for BEDA and the auxiliares facebook group. The BEDA coordinator sent out a greatly detailed email explaining to us, step by step, what we needed to do in order to renew our NIEs.

The main things you need to make copies of are: your entire passport, your current NIE (front and back), the certificate that shows you’ve completed your work as an auxiliar for the current year, and the letter of your placement for next year. Then you fill out 2 copies of the EX-oo form, which is available online. You also need to pay the tasa for the renewal, which is also available online to fill out. Once you have all of that, you just need to go to the consejeria to turn it all in. You do have to triple check that you’re turning everything in, because the people at the office will not be able to help you in that regard. They just take all your papers and then put a sticker on one of the EX-00 copies to show that you’ve submitted the application.

The only thing is, you will more than likely have to take a day off of work in order to turn everything in because the hours are from 9-2, which is usually when most of us are at work. I was lucky in that my students had a field trip to the amusement park, so I took that day to get it done. I would have felt more comfortable taking the day off work if I hadn’t missed 4 days a few weeks prior when I had tonsillitis. If you do end up taking the day off of work, they will provide you with a justificante at the extranjería upon your request.

The next step is getting your autorización de regreso, which you need if you have an expired NIE and are planning to travel outside of Spain. Getting this is a pretty simple process that’s done at Aluche. You need a copy of your passport (when I went, the guy only took the page with my picture and information…but I had brought a copy of the entire thing JIC), a copy of your NIE (front and back), your paid tasa (which you need to pick up at a police station because it’s not available online), a copy of the EX-00 with the sticker showing you’ve submitted your NIE renewal paperwork, a copy of your flight plans, a printout of your appointment for the authorization (you do that online), and 2 filled out copies of the EX-13 (available online). You need to bring the original of each document to show the government worker, so make sure you bring all of those with you too. Again, the Aluche office is open from 9-2, so you’ll probably need to ask for a justificante.

My biggest piece of advice is to get to the offices a few minutes before they open. I can assure you that there will already be a line, so it’s best to get an early start. For my authorization, I got there about 15 minutes before they opened and was out the door again just 20 minutes after they let us all in. I got to the renewal place about 10 minutes after they opened, and was in and out in less than 5 minutes. I heard of one person who went later in the day to get his authorization and waited in line for 5 hours. Better to sacrifice some sleep and be able to get it done early and quickly, rather than lose an entire day at one of these offices.

All that being said, doing all this isn’t as bad as it seems. Once you start getting all the documents together, you realize it’s not that bad of a process. It’s just really time consuming. It’s also entirely worth it in order to be able to stay in Spain for one more year 🙂

Italia Part 3 – ROMA

The final part of our Italy trip led us to Rome. Getting the train from Florence to Rome was so easy and nice, especially when compared to the Pisa-Florence train debacle. The hotel we were staying at wasn’t too far from the train station so it only took us about 10 minutes to walk to our hotel. The only sucky part was that it was raining and holding your umbrella while lugging around your suitcase in the tiny Roma streets is no cake walk. We made it to our hotel without getting lost! Shocking for me and Diana.

When we went to check-in, the receptionist informed us that our room wasn’t ready, which wasn’t all that surprising since we were early so we decided to wait in the lobby. While we were in the lobby, we asked about the wifi. The receptionist proceeded to tell us that since our room was upstairs, we wouldn’t have wifi since wifi was only available on the first floor. She said that since we wrote that we preferred 3 single beds when we booked, they gave us the room upstairs. My friend from Maryland still hadn’t arrived in Rome yet, but Diana and I made the executive decision that we would be willing to forgo the 3 single beds in exchange for wifi. You have to understand that Diana and I pretty much didn’t have wifi while in Florence because our hostel’s wifi was complete and utter crap. There was no way we were dealing with no wifi. So instead of each of us having our own single bed, our room consisted of 1 single bed and a double bed. However, the single and the double were smack dab next to each other…so, essentially, it was just one giant bed:

MegaBedEmily had the “single” bed while Diana and I shared the double. It actually wasn’t so bad…and totally worth having wifi over.

Once we got our things settled in the room, Diana and I took off to explore Roma a bit. We quickly realized that crossing the street is a very scary affair in Rome. In Spain, I don’t mind crossing the street even if there’s no crosswalk because most Spaniards stop to let you pass. In Italy, however, there was no way Diana and I would cross a street without a crosswalk. They drive like maniacs! Exploring had to wait a little, though, because our hunger was our main priority. We ended up eating at a small little restaurant near our place (I can’t remember the name for the life of me) and it was pretty good. We were also able to satisfy our coffee fix there, which is always a good thing. We ended up wandering around and just seeing where we ended up. We walked to the Trevi Fountain, the pantheon, and while we said we weren’t going to walk very far…we somehow ended up at the Vatican. I didn’t even believe Diana when she said that I was looking at St.Peter’s Basilica. I was in actual denial that we walked all that way. We took some pictures and then proceeded to the metro because we decided there was no way in hell we were making the walk back to our hotel.

Once we arrived back to our hotel, we were pretty exhausted and just wanted to go eat. Diana had done some research on TripAdvisor and read about a restaurant near us called Mamma Angela’s. We walked over and it ended up being an excellent choice. Our food was delicious! The service is pretty great, too. It’s obvious that the waiters know a lot of the clientele are toursits and really want them to leave with a great impression of the restaurant. There was a slight (hilarious) misunderstanding between Diana and our waiter, which I won’t write on here but it made my evening. Don’t worry, though, karma came back to bite me for making fun of Diana’s embarrassment. But that happens later on in our travel. But, if you’re ever in Rome, I highly recommend Mamma Angela’s. The food is AMAZING (best pasta and tiramisu) and the waiters are incredibly nice and friendly.

Day 2 had been established as our “picture day” because it was suppose to be the day with the nicest weather. Our first stop was the Trevi Fountain: More