Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Going to Vaughan Town

I woke up early in my dark hostel dorm room on a Sunday morning.  Quietly I slipped from my bed, stripped the sheets, slipped my pack on and headed out the door.  It was the first time I had set an alarm clock on the trip and wasn’t happy about it, but I was excited for the journey ahead.

I caught the subway and got on a car that slowly emptied out as it moved along.  I then had a very creepy encounter with a guy on the train, which I will not go into details about.  I saw something I didn’t want to see, and luckily I packed light enough to run with my backpack.  I pushed the button at the last second for the door to open at a station before the train left the station. 

I sighed with relief when I saw I hadn’t been followed and waited for the next train.  On the next train there was a large group of young guys leaning on each other singing.  I found it hard to believe they had been up all night drinking and were still awake, but I recalled my younger days when the pulse of dance music kept me going till the sunrise. 

View of Hotel from back yard.  My room was the dormer in the roof on the left.
As I sighed at the realization of the passing of time, I found myself finally at my stop.  I was off to meet up with the bus for Vaughan town.  This is a volunteer program a friend had written about in her travel blog the year before.  I had planned to stay at least an extra week in Spain just to give it a go.

I found everyone on the sidewalk by the bus, sleepy but excited to go on the journey as well.  We were headed to a small hotel in El Barco de Avila, just a few short hours from Madrid, tucked in a valley between snowcapped mountains. 

The purpose of the program is to practice English conversation with Spaniards who’ve been studying English for the past couple months.  For my part, it was easy, there was no script, I was just supposed to talk and keep the conversation going.  The only guideline was to avoid testy subjects, such as religion and politics. 
My cute attic room.

Well, it was also pointed out that Spaniards tend to be very chatty, so we were not supposed to let them dominate the conversations.  We were told to try to make it 50/50 so they practice listening as well as speaking.  Everyone in the group, especially the Spaniards laughed when this was pointed out. 

I was seated with a Spaniard on the bus, so we could chat during the bus ride.  My job began immediately, but after my experience on the Madrid subway a distraction was most welcome!

Several hours later, we arrived at our lovely hotel, which appeared to be a great old house converted to a hotel.  There was even a side building that used to be stables or something, with very modern rooms installed within.  I was enchanted by the property and couldn’t wait to explore, but we were sent straight to work.  We went to have a group activity first, before checking in to our rooms. 

View from my room.
But let me clarify, that I never felt like I was actually working.  For a social being like myself I had fun at every activity.  We each had our own rooms.  Volunteers, who were all native English speakers from all over the world, were given free rooms and meals. 

Our meals were on a regular schedule in the hotel restaurant, where we had tables of four.  We had to sit 2 Anglos and 2 Spaniards at all times.  I was provided a vegetarian sign to put by my plate, because each meal was a fixed menu served to us.  This was the first time I really had to adjust to Spanish meal times.  Lunch was 1-2 and Siesta 2-4.  We had activities after 4 and then we didn’t eat dinner until 9!

Zoomed in on some snow caps from my room.
By the end of the week I was very used to napping in the afternoon and eating dinner late.  In addition, I was introduced to Spanish dishes I would not have picked out on my own.  It was such a great cultural experience for me.  The Spaniards also got to see how Anglos do dinner conversations.  It can be a bit harder to understand one another when you’re speaking quickly between bites. 

I taught all the Spaniards my business meals trick, for remembering what side your bread and water are on.  You just make a B and D with your fingers on both hands and you should see the B on your left hand and the D on your right.  That means your bread is on the left and your drink is on the right.  I explained to them that I learned this trick the hard way, by stealing a boss’ bread at a business meeting.  All of them found the tip very useful and easy to remember.  I was happy to share, especially since most of them were learning English to help them in their careers. 

Our closest neighbors.  Bunch of cute red heads!
My room was very cute on the top floor of the main house, with a big dormer window facing the mountains behind the house.  I felt like I was in a fairy tale, while I would stand in front of my windows and swing them open to feel the wind coming off the mountains, blowing clouds down into the valley over the snow caps.  I breathed in the fresh air, as best I could with the cold I had picked up in my Madrid hostel and looked forward to an eventful week.






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