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International Stumblings of a Moneyless Idle

Lazily making his way through the world

Caught Red Handed

#jardinesdelturia #Valencia or #parkrio one of the biggest public parks in Spain. The unmotorised highway of Valencia city.

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As well as a change of job, I had also changed my dwellings for my last two weeks of Valencian summer. Not once but twice. I had told all the staff at the hostel that I was leaving but staying in the city for a couple of weeks. Alex, one of the Aussie activity guys said he had a spare room in his house that I could have till the end of the week. It was just around the corner of the hostel, right next to the Torres de Quart; one of the two remaining 14th century city gates. Serrans Gate is the touristy one, restored to full spender, it sits in an open area next to the park at the end of one of the old towns busiest streets. Torres de Quart is the battle scarred gate, inconspicuously looming at the end of a quiet road covered in cannon ball holes and blows left by the Napoleonic Wars. Apartments in most major cities which live in quiet, central streets next to major monuments are normally very expensive. In Spain that isn’t the case. You can have a cheap, central flat on a pretty road for ten times less than in England. I’m not exaggerating.

The flat I stayed in the following week was Marcella’s. A Colombian Canadian who I had met through the German friend I’d met at a Couch Surfing event. Marcella was a jovial, wholehearted person volunteering at a nursing home. She had once tried to teach me how to dance to Latin music; I was a slow learner. There wasn’t any drama in Marcella’s flat in the modern North of the city. Well not until the very last moment anyway. I had a sofa-bed in the entrance parlor that would have been very uncomfortable had I not been tired at the end of each day.

Alex’s was quite different. I’m not sure what happened to Atlas. I know that she had been seeing a Spanish guy in Madrid and had continued to reiterate that we should talk less, but two days into me living at Alex’s flat she decided to visit. I asked if it was cool for her to stay and he brushed it aside, “of course”. I was staying in a free room he had; Atlas arrived, she was very happy and very prurient. We court up in my spare room before leaving the house for a drink. We quickly returned though as, well, when in company. I had a message on my phone from Alex when we got back. He was asking me to move our things into the room next door as the landlord might arrive to show the room to someone. He said that the room was free. I took that as the room was available to use as I had the last but when we moved our things in, it seemed very much occupied. I sent a text to confirm its availability and he replied, simply: “Sure”. Given Atlas’ unexpected, welcome visit we dived into the room. It was a hot sticky summers day. In midst of things there was the noise of someone entering through the front door, the sound of a suitcase. I leapt off the bed and blocked the door just as someone tried to push it open.

“Hello?” a female voice asked confused.

Me and Atlas looked to each other fearfully.

“Just a minute.”

We had taken the precaution of removing the sheets from the bed. We quickly returned them over the sweaty mattress, threw on our clothes, took a deep breath and hid our smiles the best we could. The girl, quite confused, sat awkwardly in the kitchen. She took it well enough. She didn’t seem happy about it but who would? We quickly left her to enter her room, smells of us surely lingering unpleasantly. I slept my last two nights on the sofa in the front room.

#torresdequart torre medieval que rodeaba el casco antiguo de la ciudad de #valencia

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Free Food, Botellón and Skinny-dipping.

#belltower #elmigelete of #valenciacathedral #valencia the bell weighs 7514 kilos!

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The next few weeks went by very quickly. Two of the most enjoyable I had that summer in Valencia. It wasn’t all because I’d stopped working at the hostel but that was a big part of it. The new job was; not like a job. On Monday we walked with students down to the beach where I played some volleyball with them before heading back. On Tuesday and Thursday we took them on tours of the city center and on Wednesday I had six 15 minuet conversations. (Ann did the tour, I just came along and chatted). After the tour we would allow the students 30 minutes to wonder about the center while we and the other conversation partners had a quick beer. At the end of each activity we would have to go to the canteen in the student’s residence to eat with them, to me this just meant free food. The canteen buffet wasn’t great but my diet that summer had been awful.

For two weeks that was my job in Valencia: beach, talking, walking and free food. My workmates were a laugh too. One was an older Canadian guy who was in-between jobs, the other two were English and around my age. One, a tanned, confident boy who looked like he had been doing the job for years asked where I was from. Being used to no one knowing my small hometown of Telford, I said:

“The West Midlands.”

“Me too” he said “Where in the West midlands?”

“Shropshire” I said.

“No way, me to. Where?”

“Telford.”

“Me too.”

In a job that employed native English speakers from all over the world, I was working, in a group of 4, with a guy from Telford. I came from an area called Ketley bank, he was from neighboring Ketley. He had also been to the same collage as me at the same time as me, just the year above. I was surprised I hadn’t recognized him, Telford’s not a big place. They were good guys, on the Thursday, both Thursdays, I went out with non-Telford Jon (They were both called Jon).

The first Thursday, we had met the students during a botellón next to the beach. To the delight of Jon who could introduce me to the concept, this would be my first experience of a botellón. Botellón translates as big bottle and all it is, is a bunch of people who gather in a public place and drink supermarket alcohol. Its ‘predrinks’ but Spanish style. From what I can tell, every city has a selected botellón spot. A place where people drink and the police turn a blind eye. I’m not sure what happened after the big bottle but I remember how it ended. Me, Jon and about 8 of the uni students stripping to our underwear and jumping in the sea. I was told the following week that this is deemed unacceptable.

In terms of the job, I was enjoying it and looking forward to continuing in Cartagena after my graduation. There, I was told that I’d be a “conversation partner coordinator”, earning a hundred quid more a month. All was looking pretty rosy.

Looking West from #micalet tower of #valenciacathedral #valencia

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Conversation Partner 

#plazadelavirgen looking at the #micalet Tower of #valenciacathedral #valencia

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That Sunday I finished my final shift at the hostel, I had no party, no cake but I really didn’t expect one. If the hostel staff had a celebration every time someone left then there would be one every week. Also, it wasn’t my last day living in the hostel. I was allowed to stay for free for two more days before they would kick me out. After, I was going to move into one of the pub crawl Aussie’s houses until the end of the week. He lived 3 minutes away, just around the corner, I wasn’t going anywhere fast.

Before starting work for Berlitz I had ironed out the details of where and for how long I was working. They had offered me positions in Valencia, Madrid, Sevilla and Cartagena; the last of which I knew nothing about. My mind worked like this as I made my decision: I had spent a very pleasant 2 months in Valencia but this was an opportunity to go somewhere new. Madrid was where Atlas was and I really thought it wouldn’t aid my emotions and our separation if I went and lived in her city. Sevilla, I had been told, was Spains hottest city and although it was a place I would really like to visit, I didn’t really want to work in such sweltering conditions. That left the obscure Cartagena; a seaside city in the region south of Valencia, Mercia. That short description and the fact it was home to some impressive remains of a Roman amphitheatre, was all I knew of Cartagena when I decided it would be the next city I would live in. Little did I know at the time but that decision would end up saving my Spanish adventure.  There was another reason for choosing Cartagena. 3 weeks from then I had my graduation ceremony for my university back in Falmouth. I had always intended to go but because the Cartagena job didn’t start until the week after, it meant I wouldn’t need to take any time off. The plan was: work for 2 weeks in Valencia, bum around for a week (I hadn’t quite decided what to do), go back to Falmouth for 3 days, graduate, fly back to Spain to start a 2 and a half month contract in the unknown town of Cartagena.

I went to start the new job on the Monday full of optimism. Before I arrived I knew 3 things about the job: It was fewer hours (4 ½ hours instead of 7), less days worked (4 days instead of 5) and more money (550 a month instead of 100). Apart from that I knew nothing about what a conversation partner was or did. I arrived and was greeted by the “head of conversation partners” Anna, outside. She was sitting down at a table furiously puffing on a cigarette and sipping a coffee. From the moment she started talking I could tell she was a character. She had an energy which she seemed to only just keep controlled, she was constantly smiling, not a fake smile but genuine and she had a childish youthfulness even though she was probably around 50 years old. She explained, extremely casually, that our roles as conversation partners were to keep the students entertained, but more importantly, speaking English after they had finished their lessons. The students were all university goers on a 5 day intensive course. Anna explained that the way we kept them speaking English and enjoying themselves was simple. We took them to the beach, took them on tours of the city centre and had little chats with them. That was the job.

If it sounds easy or good fun, that’s because it was. For the entire time I worked as a conversation partner, I never felt like I was working. All the students were around my age so I’d always be able to have a laugh with them. They all wanted to go for drinks with you on a Friday. Let’s face it, gong to the beach isn’t work. Working as a conversation partner just felt like a good way to spend my time while I was in Spain and nothing you would consider “a job”.

 

#dooroftheirons of #valenciacathedral #valencia

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Hostel Life

The #medievalmarket in the early morning. #elcarmen #valencia from #backpackershostel

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Working, living at the hostel had been, all in all, a pleasant experience. It wasn’t what had been advertised and you had no privacy but it had been a great departure point to help cast me off on my overseas life. I met a lot of interesting, outgoing people, especially in the first few weeks, the staff were friendly and it was cool being able to live smack-bang in the middle of Valencia’s oldest district “Carmen”. The pub crawls, which were extended from 6 nights a week to 7, meant I always had a chance to let off some steam with the crazy, Aussie lead group who ran the activities. Most of the time I would just go to the first bar where the drinks were free and then go home. I only ever made it to the big night club at the end of the crawl if it was a particularly good group and I could make myself turn a blind eye to the amount of money I would spend on drinks getting there.The only two nights a week I couldn’t go on the crawl were the two I worked. Even the night shifts I began enjoying. I ran the hostel on those nights and I often didn’t have any problems. Only once in my 2 and half month tenure did I have to call the management back because a Spanish guy refused to believe the hostel was full.

On the morning shift, which was my most common, I had to wake up early to get the croissants from the small bakery 5 minuets walk from the hostel. I’d walk through the old town as it was still waking up; no tourists or trinket salesmen to disturb the scenery as I walked to the back door of the yet to open bakery. The smell of the freshly baking pastries wafted out to relieve the senses of the early morning sewer smell. The hairy armed baker would grunt and pass me a tray half full with croissants, half pain au chocolat, I’d always steal one while they were warm.

After returning to the police station, this time armed with my Spanish speaking German friend, I was ready for another day of Spanish Bureaucracy. It wasn’t to be. To my amazement I went through to the office and was told the number I had on a piece of paper was my NIE and all I had to do was pay for it at a bank. After all that waiting, walking and box checking, I hadn’t even known that the task had been completed. Later that day I approached the hostel boss, an Argentine lady who everyone feared and who apparently hated men. I told her that I would be finishing at the end of the week as I didn’t have the cash to continue working there. She took it well enough, the staff turn around at the hostel was ludicrously frequent, and with that, my hostel life would soon be over.

Pretty pastel houses 🎨💕#balconycrush #prettypastel #architecture #wanderlust #valencia #elcarmen #citytrip #beautifuldestinations

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Spanish Bureaucracy

I can’t remember who exactly recommended it to me but I started looking at the professional job search site Lingo Bongo. Lingo Bongo is a site for people looking for teaching jobs in Madrid, Barcelona or Berlin. After a small scan through that days entries I found a job ad for a position not in Madrid, Barcelona or Berlin but Valencia. It was with the same company that the sunburnt, sangria drinking guris worked for; Berlitz. The job ad wasn’t for a teaching position but as a “conversation partner”, whatever that was. I sent an Email and sure enough I got a reply.

Are you in Valencia?  

Yes. I replied.

Can you start in a week and a half?

Yes.

Great, all we need is your NIE.

What’s that?

NIE stands for ‘Número de identidad de extranjero’ or ‘foreign identity number’ and you need one to work legitimately in Spain. As I was only technically volunteering at the hostel I hadn’t needed one so far. My contact at Berlitz, Yolanda, who was very nice and very helpful, sent me instructions on how to get it. I printed out the form, filled it in with the help of some of the Spanish speaking hostel staff, made the recommended 3 copies of every other document I had and off I went. This would be my first encounter with Spanish bureaucracy which to this day is by far my least favourite part of living in Spain.

First I had to go to the ayuntamiento (town hall) to get an official residency certificate. For this I needed some proof that I was living in a building in Spain. The only document I had with a Spanish address was my hostel work contract that said I was living in the wrong hostel. I gave the stern looking lady at the ayuntamiento this document to which after several seconds of bewilderment looked unimpressed and handed it back.

“No, no. Bill, bill”

“No bill” I replied in perfect English. “Hostel” and pointed at the address.

She reluctantly took the paper from me, grumbled, printed and stamped a new document and ushered me out.

This piece of paper, for an entire year, would state that my official residence in Spain was a hostel I never actually lived in.

I took my official document and headed for the police station, because where else would you expect to get a tax number? Here I was taught about rule 1 of Spanish bureaucracy: all civil buildings are only open at specific, short periods of time. This includes banks, government buildings and the like. You better be free between 10 and 2 otherwise your screwed. The next day I tried again. I walked to the small, squat building which looked like a windowless American diner surrounded by barred, metal fencing, and went inside. I walk in and it’s packed, people are overflowing out the door. I am told to take a number and am directed into a small stuffy room crowded with sweaty people peering up at a little screen displaying numbers. I shared the room with a few other foreigners and a large group of depressed looking natives. Every 5 minuets or so a noise would sound and one would get up and scuttle into an office. I waited, unable to go for a coffee as the numbers weren’t called chronologically, for 40 to 45 minuets. Eventually I was called through. A lady took my documents, asked me a few questions in Spanish and smiled at my non understanding. Then, the lady looked at my documents asked me a few questions in Spanish and smiled at my non understanding. This repeated once more before she stamped a sheet, wrote a number and sent me on my way. I had no idea what just happened. I just took my sheet and followed my instructions.

At the next building, yes there is another building, I took a form, filled it out, took a number, waited, was called to a desk, had my previously hand written number typed into a new document which of course was stamped. It was then 2 o’clock and I still had to return to the police station. That would have to wait.

#spanishbanks open for nobodies convenience.

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Guri

The seemingly endless #malvarrosa beach in #Valencia

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The next few weeks were quite entertaining, some of the staff changed at the hostel, not necessarily for the better but it did introduce new faces. My almost daily runs in blistering hot heat ment that I was fitter than I had been in a long time and my diet had improved a little as I knew a bit more about the small amount of vegetarian options in Spain. My financial situation remained unchanged and I didn’t really know where to look for jobs.

Atlas came to visit Valencia for a weekend sometime around this time, I hadn’t shaken her from my mind so I anticipated her arrival eagerly. She was not only visiting me though, she was also meeting with a friend of hers from her first year at uni who was working in the city. I met her, Atlas and another English guy who also worked in Valencia. He was fresh back from the massive music festival Benicàssim with sun burn and hangover intact.

Spaniards have a name for the typical sunburnt, often drunk tourist from not exclusively but mostly aimed at the British: Guri. Guri is a word that is meant to be a little offensive but in true British style has been accepted and even embraced by those who know its meaning. I had, up to this point, tried to avoid looking like a typical guri but the people I was introduced to on this day were just this.

The two people who lived and worked in Valencia introduced me to their other co-workers who were all: already drunk in the early afternoon, sunburnt and drinking jugs of sangria at a beachside bar. There is no problem with this until you realise this group of young guri’s were all teachers in a national English academy. It was through this group that I was first told about the Berlitz School of language. I knew teaching English was a popular job for English speakers living in Spain but I had never really seen myself doing it, partly because of dyslexia and partly due to my lack of qualifications. Meeting this group of young teachers put the thought in my mind.

I was on the beach with the group as they continued to drink, I told Atlas and her friend of the hostel pub crawl which they were immediately up for and I was eager to introduce them to as it meant that I could stop spending so much money at the beach. We got a taxi back into the city centre and met up with the crawl on their way to the 3rd bar. We followed them around a few bars and then to one of Valencia’s largest, most popualar nightclubs: Akuarela. Atlas lost her friend and therefore her place to stay and hence ended up sleeping on a single, top bunk bed in a room with three other girls in the room and me. Once again, by chance, “just being friends” hadn’t worked.

The #controversial yet #spectacular #cityofartsandsciences in #Valencia

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Nàquera

#Cycling across the bridge into #Nàquera #Valencia #Spain

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Nàquera is a small and, in many ways, insignificant town on the edge of the La Calderona natural park. It’s only around 20 miles north of Valencia and can be easily reached by bike, car or if you really wish you can go half the way on the tram and half walking.  The town/ village/ pueblo in itself is very simple with few shops or tourist attractions but it does serve as a gateway into the natural park. From Nàquera there are several paths leading up into and through the surrounding mountains, the paths around La Calderona interlink creating paths between the villages. The mountains themselves are unlike those I have visited before in northern Spain, France and northern Europe as they are dry, almost desert like environments with only shrewd strong plants dominating the higher reaches. Lower down you have more pine trees and floral plants that in the summer are alive with the deafening buzz of crickets. Despite not being very touristy there are restaurants, cafes and bars to relax and recuperate.

La Calderona is home to more celebrated villages and higher, more intriguing wildlife than that of and in the immediate vicinity of Nàquera but if you are living in or spending a reasonable amount of time in the city of Valencia it is a northbound target to reach by bike or foot. I recommend it as a destination if you are a cyclist in the city. Cycling south along the sea and around Albufera is popular and I would advocate it more than cycling North. You will not be blown away but you will be intrigued. When you enter the valley it sits in you will see a different, in some ways more traditional Valencian life.

The #View back towards #Valencia from #Nàquera #Spain

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The First Bull

#Views from the top on #Pinar #Nàquera #Valencia in the #LaCaderona #natural park

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After allowing myself a few minutes to admire the view and take some pictures, I started my decent down the dry, dusty path of Pinar. The hills and mountains of the La Calderona natural park became more hidden as I re-entered the valley which cradelled the town of Nàquera. Not knowing exactly how much time it would take to descend the path or in fact where it would end up, (as my accent had been unintentionally off road) I quickened my pace and was soon back in the town and the park where I had left Lucia.

We slowly made our way back through the town centre and back past the boarded off road that unlike two hours previous was now teeming with life. The road had been blocked off with big wooden pallets because of that most famous of Spanish traditions, a bull run. This was my first encounter with such an event and whatever your views on such a sport/tradition, it is extremely peculiar watching it for the first time. The bull was not very large and didn’t look that dangerous, confused and quite scared is more the description I would have given it. The lack of danger imposed by the small bull was typified by the amount of 12 to 15 year olds confidently antagonising it. Still, a small bull could do a lot of damage to someone so young but the casual attitude of them and the onlookers hinted that this was extremely rare, then again Spaniards are normally very relaxed about everything.

We watched this strange spectacle for a short while before taking some photos next to a modern sculpture of a man riding a bike. It seemed particularly in-keeping with our journey before we departed back on our way to Valencia. Despite having cycled the 27 km up to Naqurea and physically scrambling the extra 200 meters in altitude up the view point and back, our return  journey was surprisingly pleasant. It was downhill all the way and me and Lucia took it easy and chatted our way back to the city. My Legs were scratched and I was a little sunburnt but we made it back with our inner city bikes in one piece.

I enjoyed my mini adventure and I hoped for more. It was relatively cheap and my spirits were high. I didn’t want this to be my only adventure in Spain but it was increasingly looking like it could be. I didn’t want to go back to England (If I did need to go back) with no money and “no money” time was fast approaching. I arrived back in Valencia knowing that I needed a way of earning money and keeping my Spanish poverty battle alive.

#sculpture of a man #Cycling in #Nàquera #Valencia #Spain #rusty

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The Wrong Way

#Views from the top of #Pinar that overlooks #Nàquera #Mountains #Valencia #Spain

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Having peddled our inner city bikes to and into the mountains, we reached the small town of Náquera. The town sits in a valley bordered by two short, steep mountains. Náquera itself is very small and simple, as me and Lucia road into the center there was almost no traffic or people and one of the central streets was being bordered off. We slowly made our way to the other side of town where we chained our bikes to a park fence and went for a sit down. Something had caught my eye as soon as we had crossed the bridge into the town and looked back at the overshadowing mountain.  Atop of it was a cross and there were visible paths leading up to it, paths I now wanted to explore.

Lucia decided she was going to lay down in the park and have a rest while I attempted to climb up to the summit. I thought it wouldn’t take too long as it didn’t seem that high, I told Lucia that I’d be back in around an hour and a half. I made my way back to the start of the path which we had rode past on our way into the town. I passed a sign that said I was entering the path to Pinar, which had a summit of 438 meters (Náquera is already at 250 meters). I started my accent up a well-trodden path that had  an extremely loud chorus of buzzing crickets coming from either side. The crickets made a tunnel of noise that drowned out everything else. Soon, I came across a second smaller path that was much less trodden but appeared to take a much more direct route to the top. Time being an issue I decided to take this path which ended up being a big mistake.

The path soon disappeared and I ended up climbing amongst the many tough, dry, spikey shrubs that covered the face of the mountain. It had become extremely evident that this was no path but I decided to press on to a ridge to assess the situation. When I reached the ridge things didn’t look any better, in fact the opposite. Over the ridge was a steepish drop that then turned into an even steeper incline. The whole landscape was of low spikey shrubs that had already scratched the hell out of my legs but I did see a path far to the right of me. I know I should have probably turned back but time was of the essence and adventure called. Slowly but surely I made my way down and across, no trees shadowed me from the baking sun, my shorts weren’t protecting me from the hardy foliage and my 6 year old Adidas gazelles didn’t provide much grip. I was annoyed at myself but the childish adventurer within was thrilled. I looked back at the town and thought of its townsfolk looking up at the mountain face and thinking “what the hell is that idiot doing?” Eventually I reached the path and from there I hastened to the summit, the cross I had seen from the bottom was thin, metal and ugly but the views of the dry, wild and beautiful La Calderona natural park were well worth it.

The path leading up #Pinar #Nàquera that buzzed with a million crickets. #Valencia #Spain

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