Monday, January 30, 2012

SpanAir Magic: Disappearing before your very eyes

Some big news this week in Spain is that SpanAir, a Spanish airline, has stopped all of its flights due to financial circumstances.

If you try to go to their website, you will see the following message:

It basically says that as of January 27, the company has stopped all operations.  Just out of nowhere, poof, they're done.

Its last flight was this past Friday night.  In the CNN article I linked to above, it quotes the following statement from SpanAir: "Because of a lack of visible financing in the next couple of months, the company has chosen to case the operation of its flights as a prudent and secure measure, and it will now take all legal pertinent measures."

Luckily I wasn't out traveling anywhere, so I'm not stranded in an airport as some travelers were.  In fact, I don't have any travel plans until the end of February when we have an ultimate frisbee tournament in the Canary Islands.

Canary Islands. Islands. That means flight.

Let's see, I bought my plane tickets for this tournament back in December.  From Madrid to Las Palmas I'm flying on RyanAir. Phew, we're safe.

And my return ticket I bought from, uhh, oh dear.  You guessed it: SpanAir.


It was a pretty expensive ticket, too, because we wanted to leave later that Sunday night so as not to miss the end of the tournament.  I have no idea how to get a refund for the ticket, and I'd better find a new one asap through another airline.

Oh Spain.  Always so full of surprises. And magic.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Getting Crafty: DIY Kindle Case

Ever since my HelpX time in Válor, I've been itching to craft.  This interest was sparked by two of the other HelpXers I was with: Ida from Denmark and Kayleigh from Wales.  They were always doing some sort of creative craft.  One night Ida dyed pages of paper with red wine to use them for a book.  Kayleigh made a journal by stitching pages together.  It had a cardboard cover that was stitched to the pages, and she knit a cover for the journal as well.

Upon my return to Madrid (and the internet), I started spending some time every week every day browsing

Two weeks ago this DIY Kindle Cover caught my eye.  I decided I'd make it once my kindle arrived.

Last weekend while continuing my never-ending cleaning/organization project at Gregorio's house, I kept my eye open for materials I could use for this project or other crafting endeavors.  Although the DIY Kindle Cover directions called for a hard cover book, I found an agenda book from 2008 with removable pages on one of Gregorio's shelves.  It was less sturdy than a hardcover book, but it would allow me to skip the step of cutting out the pages from the binding from a hard cover.

2008 Agenda cover with calendar inserts removed
I also spotted a mini hot glue gun, but he had no idea where the glue sticks were.  I took the glue gun home with me, as I figured it would come in handy with the case.

Since my kindle arrived this past Friday, I was anxious to make the case as soon as possible.  Saturday morning before I had to leave for frisbee, I went to my closest chino shop in an attempt to buy everything I needed at one location.  I could have searched around for a fabric shop, but if I could find everything I needed that morning then on Sunday I'd be able to make it (even though all of the shops would be closed).

For the kindle case project I bought mini hot glue gun sticks, a vinyl table cover, and elastic.  Each of those items were a euro or less, except for the vinyl table cover which was 2,50 euro.  I also picked up some shoelaces, two small dish towels, and sewing needles and thread to be used for future projects.

I'll show you step-by-step what I ended up doing.  Remember, credit for the idea goes to Lori at Crown Hill.  I made some changes due to the materials I had available to me.

Step 1: Cut the book cover to fit the size of your kindle.

I was able to use a pair of scissors instead of an exacto knife since my cover was softer than a hard cover book.
Cut the edges to fit the size of your kindle

Just the right size

Step 2: Make four holes on the right panel of your book for the elastic.

I made sure the holes were in line with each other and that the elastic would fall where I wanted it to on the kindle.
While Lori used a drill for this part, I found a nail and hammer and was easily able to make the holes.

Making holes with a nail and hammer

Step 3: Thread the elastic through the holes.  In the picture below you can see how the length I cut the elastic compares to the size of the right book cover panel.  I'd rather trim the elastic a bit than finish threading it through and discover it's too short.

Cut the two elastic strips longer than the right panel's length

In order to get the thick elastic through these small holes, I ended up using the nail again.  I folded the corner of an end of the elastic over so that it was twice as thick and pushed it through with the nail.  I found that if you don't fold over part of the elastic, the nail will simply poke a hole through the elastic instead of pushing it down.

Being resourceful and threading elastic with a nail

Step 4: Adjust the elastic straps to the tightness you want.

I put my kindle in and pulled the elastic on the back side until I was happy with the tightness.

Adjusting the elastic straps before gluing them down

Step 5: Glue down the ends of the elastic straps on the back cover.

I used the hot glue gun for this part.  I tried to make the elastic lie as flat as it could when I glued it, but I knew the back would still be a bit bumpy after covering it.
Glue down the ends of the elastic straps

Step 6: Cut out your vinyl (or in my case, table cloth), leaving about an inch overhang on each side.  Then glue the vinyl to the outside cover.

I think Lori used some type of fabric glue for this part, then let it dry while being pressed under heavy books for many hours.  Since I only had the hot glue gun, that's what I used to glue down the cover.  Thick lumps of hot glue can dry quickly leaving an undesired bumpy texture,  so I was careful to only squeeze out a little bit of hot glue at a time.  I would smooth it out right away so that the glue would set as flat as possible.  I quickly turned to using the handles of my scissors to do the pushing and smoothing out, as that glue is quite hot - even through the vinyl!

Glue the vinyl to the cover

Step 7: Cut a diagonal at each corner, as pictured below.  

Trimmed corners

I realized at this point that I hadn't left enough space along the right side between the elastic strap and the edge of the case.  This was problematic because when I folded the vinyl flap over, it covered up part of the elastic straps.

To fix this issue, I made the cuts shown below so that the vinyl wouldn't overlap the elastic.  The first indent I cut was on the right side, but I went too deep.  The indent on the left side worked a lot better, as the material folded right up to the edge of the elastic.

Creative problem solving

Step 8: Fold the edge flaps in and glue them down.

Flaps glued down

Although this was just the inside of the case, I thought it looked a little sloppy since I hadn't made my edge lines very straight.  Then I had the idea of using that shoestring I had bought to make it look neater.  I'm very happy with the addition:

Looks better with shoelace

And that's it!  For now I'm just using some shoelace scraps to keep the cover closed, but on my next craft adventure I might try to make a more decorative elastic strap like Lori did.  Here are my current results:

DIY Kindle Case success!


I'm off to do some reading.  (On the kindle obviously!)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Snail Mail in Spain: Slow as a Snail?

When I got back to Madrid after my two weeks away over winter break, my grandma asked me if I had received the package that she and my aunt had sent me for Christmas.

Package?  Uh what package?  Negative.

She said they had sent it before Christmas, and by this time it was January 8.  I figured I would wait a bit longer; perhaps the postal service had been backed up with the holiday season (and for being closed on all of the Spanish holidays).  I read on the auxiliares' facebook page posts from some auxiliares about receiving packages a month after they were sent.  (Other auxiliares also have shared horror stories about needing to go to the Barajas airport to pick up packages -- which is a far ways out of the city.  Once they got there they had to pay huge custom fees, between 50-100 euro, if they wanted to see their package!)

It was also during that first week back in Madrid two weeks ago that I decided to buy a kindle.  After dragging four books with me to Válor then meeting another HelpXer with a kindle, I saw how useful it was for a reading traveler (and daily metro-rider).  So I made up my mind and when I got back to Madrid I ordered one from the U.S.  Due to the mailing horror stories mentioned above, I had my kindle shipped to my home in the states (free shipping), and then planned to have my mother ship it to me here.  I thought that if I had it shipped straight to Spain, I might have to pay custom fees since it would clearly be new.

So I instructed my mom to wrap the Amazon box so the U.S. post office workers couldn't tell it was brand new when she went to mail it.  I told her to say it was a book that cost less than $20 when she filled out the contents sticker (to avoid the custom fees).  When sending things here from the states, your recipient should be safe (and fee-free) if you say the box/package contains "personal items" that are worth less than $20.  Just don't let them know if it's anything new or valuable.  (If you insure the package, your recipient will surely be charged)

The kindle arrived in Wisconsin this past Saturday.  On that same day here in Madrid, I was at frisbee practice talking with a fellow teammate about the shipping issue.  She told me that she had ordered a kindle earlier this year from the U.S.'s Amazon, and had it shipped directly to Spain.  The Spanish delivery people actually called her to see if she'd be home when they were trying to deliver it.  Since she was never home earlier than 6pm because of work, they asked for her work address and delivered it right to her school.

And here I thought I was being sneaky and clever, when I should have just had it shipped directly to me in Madrid.  I still hadn't received the package my grandma and aunt had sent me before Christmas, but it was too late to change my mind with the kindle shipping issue.

My mom sent my kindle to Spain on Tuesday of this week, and I've decided it will either get here in a week, a month, or never.

When I send letters from Madrid to the United States, they usually take between one and a half to two weeks to arrive.  But I remember when I sent some study abroad documents from Madison to the coordinator in Madrid the summer before I studied here, they arrived to her in three days.  Most cards from home only take a couple of days to get here as well.  That United States is pretty good at shipping mail out of the country.

Then last night when I got home late after frisbee practice (first practice since fall league ended -- yay!), my roommates told me I had an aviso de llegada from the post office.  That means they tried to deliver something that's too big for our apartment's mailbox when I wasn't home, so I needed to take that slip of paper and some ID to the post office to pick it up.  My grandma and aunt's Christmas package!  At last!

Their names are Kathy and Bernice, but on the aviso de llegada the Spanish postal service person had written that the package was from "Kathy y Bernicéé" haha

So this morning I walked down to the post office with the slip of paper to pick up my package.  The woman took my slip and was looking on two shelves of packages.  She'd pick up a package, look at the address, then set it back down.  I watched her pick up the same packages multiple times.  Then she asked a taller coworker to help her.  So the two of them are double checking these two shelves of packages.  There couldn't have been more than 25 packages between the two shelves.  At one point there were three workers standing in front of this shelf looking.  Oh great, I'm thinking.  A month later, it finally arrives, and now they've lost it?!

The three continue looking as I imagine hopping the counter to take a look for myself.  And then finally the woman comes back to the counter.  She has a box in her hands.  Thank goodness.

As I'm walking home this morning, excited to open the package, I was composing this very blog post in my head.  I wanted to be sure to include the fact that the package was mailed on December 20, 2011.  Do you know what day it is today?  January 20, 2012.  (Happy Birthday JB, btw!)  So if mother sent the kindle on January 17...

I seriously considered taking a detour back to the library where I had returned some books before I went to the post office.  If I won't be able to read my ebooks for another month, maybe I should check out a few more.

But I'm reading a book now that I'm borrowing from Gregorio, and I wanted to open the package so I went straight home.  I walk in the living room, box in hand, and here's what I see:

Living room as it always is, plus a little something on the table

My attention was immediately drawn to the table.  What's that?

Well would you look at that

No. Way.

No. Freaking. Way.

During the half hour that I had been out walking down to the post office, they had delivered this envelope aka kindle.  Luckily my roommates were home this time, so the mailman brought the package to my apartment instead of having me retrieve it from the post office tomorrow.

I couldn't believe it.  I was already so thrilled to have a box to open, and now I have a kindle to open too?!  

I brought both packages to my room and just stared for a while.  There was no rush to open them because here they were, both packages sitting safely on my bed.  Not lost in the mail.  Not waiting at the airport for me to come pay.  

Thank you Grandma B and Aunt Kathy and mother!  Now I feel like I celebrated Christmas 2011 with the family, and I have visual proof:
The family will understand this picture

My Friday surprise

When you think about it, Tuesday to Friday is pretty fast for getting a package to an airport, on an airplane, flying across the Atlantic, unloading it, getting it to the correct post office in Madrid, and delivering it to moi.

So I still have mixed feelings about the efficiency of the Spanish postal service.  If letters can get to me from the states in a few days, why does it take over a week and sometimes two for my letters to arrive there?  Is it Spain's fault?  Or does the United States take their sweet time checking all letters that enter the country?  

Maybe we could turn this into an experiment: you guys can send me letters and I'll see how long it takes for them to get here.  Ready? Let the experiment begin!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Spanish Lottery and Blind People

Spaniards love the lottery.  There are Loterías y Apuestas del Estado stands all over, like the one pictured below.

Loterías y Apuestas del Estado

That picture looks a bit abnormal sans people, though.  Come on Google Images, help me out.

Lottery booth with people
Ah, that's better.

One time Gregorio dragged me in there and made me buy a ticket.  I think we won something like six euro in the end, though I haven't seen a cent yet. (I'm pretty sure it went to more lottery tickets...)

There are also ONCE booths on nearly every other block, which also sell lottery tickets.

And then there's the Spanish Christmas Lottery.  An estimated 75% of Spaniards buy a ticket for the Christmas Lottery.  These tickets cost 200 euros a piece, so many people will either pool together to get one ticket or buy a décimo, which is 1/10th of a full ticket (That's 20 euros if you were still calculating...)  The top prize this year was 4,000,000 euros!  But I'm getting sidetracked.  Read the wiki article if you want to learn more about the Spanish Christmas Lottery (but not on January 18 because wikipedia will be down, in protest of SOPA.)

Lines for lottery tickets grow as the Christmas season nears

So what's the point?  The point is that buying lottery tickets is very common here.  I'm used to seeing the stands all over; they blend in with the streets and I hardly take notice.

Now jump to last Sunday.  I'm talking with Gregorio, and he's telling me once again that I should get laser eye surgery like he did last year.  "When are you going to fix your eyes?" he's asking me.  I tell him I'm not going to have laser eye surgery because, besides the cost, if they mess up I could go blind.

Saying this jogs another thought to mind that I share with Gregorio, "By the way, I've noticed lately that there are lots of blind people in Madrid."  I see at least one blind person every day, either in the metro or out walking around.  In Madison, that simply wasn't the case.

I thought I simply have a foreigner's perspective, but Gregorio agrees with me.  "Well yeah, that's because blind people live really well in Madrid."

I ask him to explain what he means by that.

"Well you know, they all are given jobs in the ONCE stands --"

I interrupt him, "Wait, wait, wait.  ONCE.  Like, as in the lottery stands ONCE?  Those are all blind people working in the booths?!"

"Yes," he assures me, "ONCE.  O.N.C.E.  It stands for Organización Nacional de Ciegos Españoles [National Organization of Spanish blind people].  They can work in the stands, and the money made from the lottery tickets goes towards providing services for the blind and seriously visually impaired."

Say whaaa.  Well I'll be darned.  I had never realized.

Then on Monday as I was walking to my library, I was reminded of my recently gained knowledge when I passed the ONCE stand on the way.  You'll never guess what I saw:

ONCE lottery ticket booth

In the ONCE logo, there's a clear picture of a blind person using a white cane to walk.  I had somehow never noticed this before!

ONCE logo

Don't worry pops, I'm clearly learning new things every day.  And to top it all off, I haven't acquired the Spanish hunger for lottery tickets, nor has Gregorio convinced me to get laser eye surgery!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Ice Skating in Madrid

I have a bucket list of things I want to do here in Madrid this year, since I'm still not certain how long I'll be here.  

One item on this list was to go ice skating, which I got to cross off this week.  An ultimate frisbee teammate invited all of us to go ice skating on Wednesday evening.
Los Quijotes on ice

It was fun to do something out of my normal weekday routine, and to catch up my Quijotes friends after the holidays.

What: Sagardi Palacio de Hielo
Where: c/ de Silvano, 77  
Metro: Canillas (Line 4)
Hours: Wednesday and Thursday: 20:45-22:15, Friday: 17:30-24, Saturday: 12:30-15 and 17:30-24, Sunday: 12:30-15 and 17:30-22:30 
Cost: It cost 6 euro to skate with skate rental on Wednesday night.  I only glanced at the weekend prices, and I believe they were all above 10 euro.  Obviously, I'd recommend going on a week night.
Other:  The "Sport Hielo" ice skating rink is located within a huge shopping mall.  There were tons of rebajas when we went this week, so bring some extra money if you want to go shopping as well.  The mall includes a 100 Montaditos (other restaurants too), so you can have some drinks and eat a bit before/after skating.

Friday, January 13, 2012

HelpX en Válor: Christmas Celebrations

At my HelpX gig in Válor I worked for one day on Friday the 23rd, and then it was time for a weekend of Christmas celebrations!

On Saturday morning I decorated the Christmas tree with the decorations available:

Christmas tree
Then everyone helped to prepare food for the following day so that no one would need to cook on Christmas, just pop things in the oven.

Chopping vegetables

Making sugar cookies

Down at Tog's house there's a projector and screen in the living room, so we watched "Black Swan" in there on Christmas Eve.

On Christmas Day us HelpXers slept in, then one by one we made our way down the hill to Tog's house.

Christmas breakfast with my fellow HelpXers

My HelpX hosts had told me the night I arrived to start thinking of a game we could play on Christmas.  I had a couple ideas in mind, games that we've played after ultimate frisbee games here in Spain.

It was known that Terry (one of the hosts) wanted to somehow make people jump into a pool during his game, since the water was still too chilly for a swim.  When we saw Tog's pool after breakfast, we noticed balloons in the pool that weren't previously there.  So Terry explained his game: Each balloon had someone's name written on it.  Attached to each balloon was a string, with a rock tied to the bottom.  On the rock was a symbol.  Under the Christmas tree were presents, each containing a symbol drawn on the wrapping paper.  Thus, in order to open a present you had to jump in the pool, retrieve your balloon, then match your rock's symbol to the corresponding present under the tree.

I stared at the pool for a minute thinking there was no way I'd jump in.  I didn't have a towel down at Tog's house, and hadn't even brought a swim suit with me to Válor.

The fact that we were unprepared for swimming didn't stop Ginny.  She was the first to bravely jump in.  Others followed, each with their own style of entering the pool:

After two or three people had gotten their balloons and there was a towel nearby, I decided what the heck, here I go!  I got in the pool wearing what I had on underneath my clothing, and quickly retrieved my balloon.  The water was cold, but it was bearable.  I wrapped myself up in a towel right away once I got out.

Someone jumped in right after me, so I was taking pictures with my camera and watching.  Out of nowhere, someone grabbed my balloon and threw the rock back in the pool!  I hadn't looked at the symbol yet, and the others seemed to have noticed.  Mostly dry and somewhat warm, I jumped back in the pool to get my balloon again.  This time I looked at the symbol right away.

The symbol on my balloon's rock

My corresponding present
Our hosts had bought these little gifts for all the HelpXers from a chino shop, so I wasn't expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised when I opened up my gift.  It was a cute little phone case that perfectly fits my Spanish cell phone.  This phone case will always remind me of that Christmas in Válor, and how I jumped into a cold pool twice for it. 

A phone case

After playing the first "game," I went on a walk with the other HelpXers.  From where we went, you could see where Terry and Ginny's properties reside from a distance, just up the hill from Tog's:

When we got back from our adventure through the hills, we all ate a starter course of prawns.  Next came Ginny's game: a wheelbarrow race -- with real wheelbarrows.  People formed teams of two; one person pushed and the other sat in the wheelbarrow.  After pushing the wheelbarrow over the starting line, there was a ramp maybe 12 yards away that you had to push the wheelbarrow over, and then there was a turn-around point you went around and then headed back.

Wheelbarrow races
My partner was the guy from Sweden.  At first he was in the wheelbarrow and I was going to have to push!  Someone else asked if that's how we really wanted to do it, so then we played rock paper scissors and I won the spot inside the wheelbarrow.  He ended up being a super-fast pusher and we won the first race!

Later there was a race between the two winners and the two losers.  We won that race too (he pushed again), so we won a prize!  Around five  o'clock that afternoon we ate lunch: all of the food we had prepared yesterday, plus a turkey.

When the sun went down we went inside Tog's, ate some cake, and then played more games for the rest of the night.  They were all entertaining, new to me, and required only a few simple household objects.  I'll write a post describing all of the games soon, that way your next party will be a hit!  I'll definitely be pulling out these games at future events (Watch out family, these may reappear Christmas 2012...)

It was a great weekend, and I'll always remember that year I spent Christmas in Válor.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

First guests in Madrid

My first guests to stay with me this year in Madrid arrived Monday night, and have already finished their stay; they're headed to the airport as I write.  Who were they?  I'll give you a hint: I didn't know these people a month ago.

It was the young Welsh couple I met during my two weeks HelpXing in Válor.  My fellow olive pickers!

Welsh friends
Last night we went out for cañas near my apartment -- I finally had people to go with in my neighborhood!  They are now headed to France where they'll continue HelpXing.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Second television appearance in Spain

Those of you who followed the blog through my first year in Spain may remember that I was on the news in some footage about Madrid's downtown Sol.  Well friends, it's happened again!

A few weeks ago our ultimate team found out that a news segment had been recorded during our tournament in Valencia.  Hopefully you can watch the video by following that link, but if not here are a few screenshots:

Have I been on the news more in Spain than in the US?  I'm not sure, but it very well could be true.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

HelpX en Válor: Photo Tour

As I mentioned in the last post, Terry and Ginny have two houses side-by-side in the Válor countryside.  The first house is one large room and a bathroom.  It has Terry and Ginny's bed, a sofa (for the dogs), the kitchen table and the food, but no sink.  This house hasn't been rented out before, but their next big project will be fixing up this house to be able to rent it out (put in a fridge, kitchen sink, etc.)

Since there was no sink in the main house, the washing of dishes was done in the helpers' "dormitory," where we slept.  Dishes are moved back and forth between the two houses in the large orange bin seen below.

The kitchen in the helpers' dormitory

My bed during the last week of my stay
The helpers' dormitory is a property that they do normally rent out to British vacationers.

Walking up to the next level on the hill, above/behind their houses, you'll find the pool, gardens, solar panels, and compost.

Scary stairs: One of two ways to get to the pool

The pool


Solar panels for electricity

A view of the main house from the pool-level

Terry and Ginny's friend Tog from England just bought a neighboring house on the bottom of their hill.  It's already booked to be rented out in February, so we spent lots of the days working on Tog's house.

Tog's house from above

Pool at Tog's house

We celebrated Christmas at Tog's, so when I post about that you can see more pictures of his house that we worked on.

When needed, we would refill up jugs of water from this nearby fountain at the bottom of the hill.  It was naturally carbonated water from the mountains-- an interesting taste when you're expecting crisp water sin gas.

Refilling water jugs at Cuesta Viñas
And thus ends the tour of where I spent my winter break.  What were your initial reactions?  Would you want to spend a few weeks in Válor's countryside?