The first few weeks

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It’s been a long time coming, but here it is at long last.  As a fairly huge amount of things have happened since the move over to Spain, I’ll try to be concise and keep things in an intelligible order.

First off, initially I attended a language school organised by my university, the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV), for two weeks at its campus in Gandía, which is about 60 km from Valencia.  It’s quite a touristy resort on the coast, but was pleasant enough.  I can’t really argue with a daily routine of being up at 8am, taking a swim in the apartments’ pool, going to class until 2pm, eating a MASSIVE lunch (more on the food later), taking a siesta, going to the beach to swim in the sea, going out for a few beers, sleeping and then doing it all over again for two weeks.

Erasmus students in Gandia
Erasmus students in Gandia

Often the evening beer, spent in a bar with temperamental wifi, would be spent alongside a group of elderly women gossiping while playing a board game with many dice.  I couldn’t work out what it was but it looked quite complicated.  Spanish people seem to like playing games at any opportunity.  Old men in bars will play dominoes, young people like to play naipes (a Spanish card game, with a deck comprising four suits of 12 cards) or other card games.  Everyone plays games given the opportunity.

One of the highlights was the sandcastle competition.  My team (“Los Pulpos”, or “The Octopuses”) devised a twist to the traditional sandcastle, combining it with a monster-of-the-deep giant octopus that wrapped its tentacles about a castle that sat atop a mountain.  (See the pictures!)  We came second in the competition (out of twenty or so teams of six) so it wasn’t a bad effort.  What was really pleasing was having people on the beach, ordinary holiday makers and locals, come over to take photos and express their appreciation of our work.  Above all it was a huge amount of fun.

Leaving party at UPV Gandia campus
Leaving party at UPV Gandia campus

Unfortunately, as comfortable as that routine sounds, in all that I had to get to Valencia city to look for a room to live in.  In itself it’s a fairly easy procedure: walk the streets in the area in which you wish to live and look at lamp-posts for notices advertising available rooms.  Make a note of the phone number, call and arrange to view.  Easy enough, but when you have to travel an hour to the city, it turns into a bit of a pain.

Of the flats I viewed, the first two couldn’t be more distinct from each other.  One sounded perfect from the description: “Attic flat in old building, high ceilings, large rooms, well decorated.  Friendly people that like to live together almost as a family.”  It was an honest description at least; the flat was actually somewhere I would’ve liked to have lived.  The downside was that it was basically a hippy commune.  Probably fun for about two weeks, but when reality kicks in probably highly impractical.

The second was its complete opposite.  A dark, gloomy, pokey flat in a completely anonymous-looking block, in dark, blank, characterless streets.  It seemed a bit creepy too.  The guy showing me round (who was 26 but looked 56) kept pointing out that it was a “home, not just a place to sleep”, yet the atmosphere must be kept quiet and studious.  I asked if it would be ok to have friends over for dinner, or a quiet drink (I thought at this point this is not a place for a burn-down-the-house flat party).  Apparently once every couple of weeks maximum would be acceptable, any more would be intrusive.  This launched him into an impenetrable soliloquy as he voiced off (I don’t think it was meant for any audience in particular, he seemed to have stopped noticing that I was there) about his idea of a relaxing home environment.

At this point I tried to make an escape with excuses of meeting friends.  This didn’t seem to work as he roused from his little tirade to wave me back to being sat down.  Leaving was impossible.  I began at this point to scan the room for any weapons…what if he was some kind of psychopath and was about to slit my throat and put me in a chest freezer?  I had to get out.  In the end it was only by forcibly saying that I had to go and heading for the door that I could leave, only to find myself on a dark corridor with no sign of the lift or the stairs.

After some scrambling and this man asking why I had to leave so suddenly I found the lift call, willing it to arrive.  The doors parted open, I dived in and hit the buttons; at this point I didn’t care which floor, just any but this one.

Eventually, and with the help of my student mentor who had a friend that had a free room, I came across a good enough place.  It’s super-cheap but comfortable, in an excellent location and with a set of very agreeable flatmates.  The three guys are all from the Valencia region, and so speak Valencian as their first language.  When I’m around they switch to Castillian.  Still, it’s an excellent way to learn the language through total immersion, particularly when attempting the change the orientation of the door of a new fridge-freezer.  It’s times like those that you pick up a heap of new and useful words (like drill, screwdriver, and when the instructions aren’t exactly clear, “useless piece of crap”).

Incidentally, alongside “bufanda” (“scarf”) I now have a new favourite Spanish word.  I say favourite, the word is actually pretty horrible, but it’s the fact that it exists that I like it.  “Desnucarse” means to kill oneself instantly by breaking the bit where the neck joins the head.  How specific.

Hopefully noone "se ha desnucado" here...
Hopefully noone “se ha desnucado” here…

A bit of a change of subject, but I said I would discuss food.  Food is important here, very important.  Life is fitted around meals, which should comprise a coffee and maybe a little snack for breakfast; a pre-lunch snack; lunch itself (a main meal); a late afternoon snack (if needed), and finally an evening meal.  Lunch in one of the multitude of university cafeterias consists of salad, a first course (rice/pasta/paella), a second course (something meaty with fries), a dessert, bread, and beer/wine/water to drink.  And how much?  Just 4€.  It’s not bad food either, and in a quantity that leaves you full for several hours.

Other excitements that have happened here include the state of pre-emergency (yellow level) when some seriously torrential rain had been sweeping the country.  In one town in the region some 40-odd centimetres of rain fell in an hour.  (It seems impossible, but that was what was quoted.)  Valencia was to be on standby; in the end it was only a few light showers.

Another curious observation has been the parking habits.  The system in the city, with it’s overcrowded streets and sparse parking, gives a new flavour to the process.  Double-parking is perfectly acceptable here, but with the proviso that you leave the handbrake off.  You park up alongside the kerbside-parked cars, get out, lock up and go.  Then if someone parked next to the kerb needs to get out, they push your car forwards or backwards out of the way and drive off.  If they need to move more than one double-parked car, so be it.  So curious to witness the first few times.
I also found out that as a result of the sheer volume of new foreign students arriving in Valencia they ran out of mobile phone numbers, and a delay occurred while new ones were allocated by the authorities.  This prompted me to do a bit of digging to find out just how many students there are here.  On the language course in Gandía there were 300, and it turns out in UPV there are 3000.  Add to that the other universities in Valencia and that’s a lot of Erasmus students.  A heck of a lot.

Apparently I have written some 1000 words, so I think this is a good place to leave off.  Hopefully what I’ve noted down so far gives some flavour to the life here, and now I’ve caught up more or less to the present the entries from now on will be a bit more directed.  Obviously I haven’t regaled everything that has happened, but if I remember anything of note, it’ll be added later.  Actually, already I need to write about the Spanish phenomenon of botellón, but that will arrive soon enough.

Valencia.  City of the future.  Or something.
Valencia. City of the future. Or something.

¡Hasta luego!

Written by Benjamin

October 4th, 2008 at 8:18 pm

Posted in Erasmus, Valencia

Tagged with , ,

One Response to 'The first few weeks'

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  1. Ben!
    It sounds like you’re having a great time- I absolutely love your seamonster/sandscastle combo. So creative.

    I miss you lots, though. Must come visit pronto!
    xxx

    Mini

    6 Oct 08 at 10:23 am

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