If you ever contemplate leaving your country to plant a flag elsewhere, be sure to learn a bit of that country’s language first.
I’d submitted my student visa application at the Spanish Embassy in New York. The guy who processed my paperwork-who shall remain nameless, for reasons that will become apparent soon-instructed me to follow up with a customs official at Barajas airport to find out the next steps for completing the process here in Madrid. So, when I flew into Brussels (a connecting flight), I showed my passport and kept it moving. After we’d touched down at Barajas, I followed all the signs towards the exit. I noticed, though, that I was moving closer towards the exit. I passed the smoking lounge. I passed the car rental counters. I passed the bank kiosks. As I made my way to baggage claim, I looked out the window and saw a line of taxi-cabs awaiting passengers. Huh?
I collected my four massive suitcases and hailed a cab. Something clearly wasn’t right.
At the hotel, after I checked in, I asked the surly-looking woman at the counter if she knew where I was supposed to go to complete my visa application. She returned my look of confusion with one that said, I have no idea what you’re talking about, nor do I care. Fair enough. I went to my room, took a shower and a nap, and then popped the bottle of Veuve Clicquot that I’d brought with me to celebrate this monumental feat. I was actually in Madrid!
I took the weekend to plot my next move, which included finding a place to live, scoring a cell phone, and figuring out my visa situation. I talked with my parents via Skype and sent a bunch of e-mails to folks who’d asked to stay in touch, and updating my current location on Facebook was the highlight of my day. The world was mine!
Or so I naively thought.
Monday morning, I called the agency tasked with housing students. The conversation went almost nowhere, since the woman I spoke to wasn’t exactly fluent in English. I offered to e-mail my request. The response suggested that I come down to the office, which I did immediately.
At the office, I was given two addresses to go to, as the landlords were awaiting my visit. The first was a single room the size of a shoebox that included a twin bed, desk, armoire, and nothing more. When I say nothing more, I mean nothing more. All for 400 euros. In case you don’t get the absurdness of that price, feel free to do the currency conversion.
The next was a decent sized room with a double bed and a balcony. The problem? The entire apartment smelled like dog-except for, thankfully, the room that I would occupy. Still, I couldn’t imagine living with that smell all around me, especially when I went to the kitchen to cook a meal. The dog seemed nice enough, but I just couldn’t do it.
I went back to the agency and asked about more options.
Remember when I mentioned in Part 1 that everything shuts down in August? Well, then you can guess what I was told next:
“The other owners are on holiday until 30 August. Come back then.” Two days before school began. Damn.