Yay! Yay! Yay! Viva Espana!
So overly excited that I started planning my move MONTHS in advance! ...like in October when I was scheduled to go at the end of spring.
I thought that I would have everything covered and it would be such a breeze! After all I had already lived in 3 different countries on 3 different continents ...this one would be nothing to lose sleep over......right?
I thought wrong.
I had a very unwelcoming welcome that could have completely ruined my entire stay in Spain.
One that still makes me shudder when I think of how narrowly I survived this nightmare....this nightmare on a street that shall not be named.
And so begins my little nightmare on Nameless Street.
About two months before my actual move to Spain I got to work putting all the final necessary pieces together: Spanish tutor, Phone contract, Health Insurance - where would I live? ….what would best suit my needs?....hmm...I'd live in an apartment!
This was the last important bit - the apartment hunt!
I contented myself to conduct my search for apartments online since I did not have the extra cash (or even the time) to hop over to Spain to search in person. So Google Translate became my best friend as I navigated through the various ground level pictures I could project via Google Maps.
I'm a dork - yes! I know.
And then....I found it! I had a choice of 10 and I narrowed them to one....the best one, the ideal one, the one that I thought would make all my dreams come true in Spain! I would move into the apartment, and somehow, one day, Antonio Banderas would need to borrow some milk and knock on my door (yes mine!) only to have me reply in fluent Spanish (that I didn't speak at the time!) if he preferred whole milk or skimmed (because naturally I would have both on hand!) in a warm and considerate questioning tone....
Okay no. But, you get the point?
I thought this apartment would serve as a great setting for my internship in Spain. According to Google Maps, it was about 10 minutes walking distance to my place of work and it was pretty cheap for being at the centre of the city - and to top it off, there was no security deposit required! Yay! Now that I look back on it....perhaps I was a bit too...over zealous..? I mean, there had been a couple of red flags that I conveniently ignored so as not to ruin my dream apartment....Antonio Banderas and the milk remember?
My supposed house-mate/landlady spoke only Spanish which I thought was awesome since I was aiming for the complete Spanish total immersion experience! On the other hand, it made communication (even with Wordreference and Google translate) a tad tricky.
Many things got lost in translation...or now that I think about it, perhaps this was the act she was putting on so as not to respond to my numerous (and important) questions!
I knew in my gut that something was up when she ignored my requests for more pictures of certain parts of the apartment, like say - the bathroom showing the actual shower and tub. But then the world sent me subliminal messages LOUD and CLEAR when she even got ANGRY (yes!!!!!!! can you imagine?) with me for insisting on seeing said bathtub which seemed to not exist! Being that time was drawing short until the moment of my departure to Spain, I decided to let it go and make the most of what I had found....after all, it was a great find,
So the day arrives....I confirm my leave for Spain with the landlady.
I try to remain calm and tell myself that it was nothing.
So I manage to get to the city centre from the airport (with no help or instructions from the landlady might I add) and then proceed to take a taxi to the appointed destination. I had written down the address on a chewing gum wrapper. No. It was clearly and neatly noted both on my phone and a sheet of paper. I just thought the chewing gum wrapper sounded more interesting to say...
I handed it over to the driver and smiled.....luckily he got the gist of what I needed without my having to say anything.
Did I mention that at that time I did not speak even a word of Spanish? Singing along to vulgar Pitbull songs does not count!
When we had arrived at our destination at Nameless Street I almost died.
“Esta aqui!” the driver announced.
I just stared at him.
Thinking that I had not understood his Spanish, he said “Es su piso.”
All I could whisper was, “No.”
“But it can’t be!” ….it couldn't be could it?
There would be no way Antonio Banderas would come by here for some milk. No freaking way!!!!!!
It was horrid!
It did not even look legal to live there. The peeling paint, the corner store and hardware store on either side of the broken down gate - with the screaming salespeople - one who had just so expertly spit on the floor that I would have to walk by.
The driver had already started getting my suitcase out of the trunk. It was too late to turn around. But then turn around and do what? Go where?
I had to suck it up.
He left my suitcase right in front of the gate (next to the gross saliva) and gave me an encouraging smile!
All I could do was stand there, feeling very unsure of everything at this point.
I got out my phone and dialed the telephone number the landlady had emailed me.
“The number you dialed is not valid.” I think I might have felt like crawling into a little ball....But no!
I put on my big girl dress. I am the one who chose to come to Spain and I was going to make sure the experience was a great one that I could recount to my sister’s tuxedo cat - and in Spanish!
So I tried the main gate - and almost broke a nail in the process. A few minutes later, someone exited the building and I used the opportunity to enter....there were insects having a party everywhere because it smelled bad. And I could see an open space with what seemed to be unfinished buildings of I still don’t know what on either side. I saw a man painting a wall....based on all what I could see around me, he had a whole lot of work to do! I gave him the same sheet of paper and he told me in Spanish where the actual door to the apartment was....I did not understand his words but followed the direction of his pointing finger. ….to one of the unfinished looking buildings.+
My eyes traced the phantom path the painter had woven for me as I rather timidly hobbled along with my luggage, procrastinating.
Sure, the suitcase was heavy, but I was using that as an excuse to delay my arrival to the actual apartment building.
Eventually, I found myself staring at a run-down excuse of a building....even worse than the view I had gotten at the gate. The “door,” if you could call it that, was wide open......because its hinges were broken and hence it was unable to be properly shut. There were webs...look I don’t even want to go into detail.
It was just awful.
I tried the number again. In my mind, the landlady would answer and tell me in Spanish (which I would miraculously understand) that I had mixed up the address...and that I would have to walk down the street to find a beautiful, modern, clean, not falling apart apartment building.
“The number you dialed is not valid.”
So much for wishing.
Then something came over me - I decided to come to Spain and I was here and going to make the most of it darn it!!!!
So without even knowing if this apartment building in particular was the right one, without knowing how to properly pronounce the name of the landlady, without even knowing if she truly existed - I called out to her. Once, twice, et voila....
Someone called back and said something in Spanish that I hoped meant “I’ll be right down”
I waited for what seemed like an hour ..(no I am sure it was just a couple of minutes but I was nervous and all) then the landlady - who did exist - was at the broken down door with a smile on her face.
I felt sheepish, like I had created this drama in my head for nothing and that everything would be alright in the end. I gave her the biggest grin I could and followed her into the building - pretending to understand everything she was saying to me while ignoring the odour of dead rat that filled my lungs. I silently convinced myself that it would all be great inside...
We lugged my suitcase up the crooked, squeaky (and at certain points, dangerous) stairs...and then finally we got to the apartment door...this was it!
There was no name, no number, and the doorbell apparently did not work because it was missing its external appendage. I heard a sort of wailing sound come from the “neighbours” place directly opposite the one that would be my own for the next several months.
She opened the door and let me in.
I tried to stay positive.... I smiled.
She seemed satisfied with my response....that did not mean I was satisfied with what I could see around me.
It looked like the tornado that whizzed Dorothy to the land of Oz had just come through.
Add that to bad taste in decorating....geez.
She had not even bothered to tidy up a little for my arrival. Not a good sign.
There were clothes sprawled over the “couch” (its insides were outside mind you) in the living room, dust on the counters and unwashed dishes on the table in the corner. Whoa.
I followed her to my room. It looked bigger than what I had seen in pictures which was great but the mold and dust and DEATH....I instantly sneezed, then sneezed again. Still trying to convince myself that I could make it work - I made a mental note to buy some heavy duty cleaning supplies. She left me on my own to start settling in and then I discovered that every single drawer needed a body-builder to pull open - and the insides of the cupboards and wardrobes when opened were a disaster! Dust, dirt, mold, webs.....ew!!!!!!! There was only one measly socket in some random corner of the room and the bedding had strands of hair, insect legs (ugh!), and more dust!!!!! The pillow was not even something a cat would sleep on. She gave me a sheet of paper where she had written the access code to the wifi and then she left. She just left! Oh wait, I had succeeded in communicating that I would need an ATM to withdraw money to pay for the rent. She okayed that saying she would get it when she came back - and then she left.
She just left!!!!!!!!!!!!! I had been given the impression that she would be one of my house-mates and that another female student would also be renting the third room! No. I was here all by myself - in a foreign place that I knew nothing of and not even a decent guide, or a decent apartment!
I was stuck in this old, broken down, dusty excuse for an apartment. And did I mention that it was freezing cold in there? I tried to shut my own pathetic excuse for a window in the room - which creaked so loudly like it would break and would neither shut nor open properly....my fingers were covered in the dusty death again. The building was so old.
After feeling sorry for myself for a little while...I ventured into the kitchen. All the amenities she had claimed to have were nowhere to be seen just a few old forks and cups. Sigh. Oh yeah - and it was filthy - even with a couple of dirty plates in the sink (to add to those in the living room) and the garbage overflowing.
And then the bathroom.... the door was pathetic. There was a theme of broken doors going on around here. The poor thing would neither lock nor even close shut and was a splinter injury waiting to happen. The place was FILTHY. It made the rest of the apartment look sparkling. There were used towels hung all over the place....even where they should not have been..toilet paper on the floor - because the actual holder was broken too, used brown-looking old toothbrushes and the toilet did not flush like a normal toilet should. But, even with all that - the worst part....the bathtub. It was completely stained and peeling on the inside - a fungus party. And the shower-head was not only broken but the water pressure was extremely low - the water trickled and burped out. Did I mention that there were strands of hair evenly dispersed all over said “bathroom”...the walls, the floor, the tub....sigh. A nightmare.
So yeah, I cracked. All positivity was out the window. I climbed into the moth eaten insect leg infested bed and would have made even the cutest of kittens feel sorry for me. I snacked on half a chocolate bar that I had stowed away from my trip and ….went to bed, insect legs and all. Needless to say I slept horribly that night...I swear I half expected the entire ceiling and walls to collapse onto me....it could not possibly get any worse now could it?
The next morning, I woke up with allergies that I did not know I had since the room was so well ventilated, warm and clean! And had a great time of the “shower” the next morning that could be compared to a visit to the spa. Yeah, no. I somehow made it to work on time - and in one pitiful piece.
After work, I bought a supermarket’s worth of cleaning supplies and scrubbed the entire apartment until my bones ached. Even that did not remove the stench of mold and fungus - and that bathroom was honestly just hopeless.
Can you imagine that I was still trying to convince myself that I could stay there? Sometimes I wonder about my optimism....
What was more, each time I would need to get around the neighbourhood - in search of food or other essentials, there would be men peeing in the street, harassing my life and scaring the heck out of me or people trying to sell me merchandise and not taking no in any language for an answer! The neighbourhood went with the apartment -Nameless Street of hell.
I endured this for a couple of days - extremely miserable with my health and entire well being in serious danger, until I met up with a new friend. She asked me where I lived and I said, “Nameless Street”...and the look on her face confirmed alllllllllllllll my fears, and any foolish whims I still had of trying to cope with my situation went out the door. She looked both afraid and disgusted - although she had tried to politely hide her true feelings - the truth had escaped from her. So I asked her to tell me honestly what she thought of this neighbourhood.
After gauging me carefully for a few minutes, she decided to let me have the hard truth. Nameless Street was known to be a horrid place to live, a dangerous neighbourhood with broken down old apartments. She felt extremely sorry for me and advised me to get out as soon as I could. Well that did it!
Not having seen the landlady since the first and last time I had seen her, I packed all my stuff, ready to make my move - literally. By the 6th day of being in the apartment, I contacted all the people who had offered me apartments that I had turned down for this crappy one - and luckily one was still available - my second choice! I asked if I could come see it and move in if it was to my liking and the answer was, “Yes.”
So I went over as soon as I could and I adored what I saw (Honestly, you could have shown me a jail cell or the back-room of a butcher’s shop and even those would have been better than the situation I was in). It was a FAR cry from Nameless Street....the neighbourhood alone made me feel like I had travelled to an entirely different city. Now I was truly in Spain!
All the doors could both close and lock - and the cupboards too - without any extra exertion. My room was spacious with light and had all the furniture and sockets I would ever want or need. No insect legs anywhere either! The kitchen was equipped and clean, and that bathroom - that bathroom! It had proper running water and was pretty to look at!
I accepted immediately!!!!!! I could not move in fast enough!
Now this house-mate/landlady was kind enough to accompany me back to Nameless street in her car and gather my bags! Luckily, there was no drama since the original landlady was not there to give me any trouble, and since she had never come back for the rent I was not in a financial bind either. Phew!!!! I left a week’s worth of rent next to the unwashed plates in the middle of the table in the living room for the landlady to see once she came back from pulling her disappearing act. I wondered about that, since the house cleaning I had done alone was worth more than that! And I left the keys to the apartment in her mailbox. My new house-mate was kind enough to take off a week’s worth of the total rent for the month so I ended up not losing any money at all!!!! Yayyyy!!!
On closing the pathetic main gate. I stopped and looked back at the horrible nightmare that was almost my “home.” I shuddered and slammed the gate shut. I was so overjoyed. Now I felt like I had truly arrived in Spain! What do you think the first thing I did was at my new and true apartment? I took a nice, long, hot shower...then curled up in my new bed that did not have any insect legs. And I got a good nights sleep knowing I would wake up the next day and never have to see that horrible excuse of an apartment again!
Ever since, my experience in Spain has been generally a positive and enriching one - even without Antonio Banderas - and leaving the odd racist encounter aside.
Take my advice and be sure to be well informed when choosing where to live in Spain, as this could be the defining factor that renders your experience a dream...or a nightmare!