Sevilla!: Week One, Lesson One – Patience and Perseverance

13 Sep

Big tip for travellers in Spain, try not to arrive late Saturday or on a Sunday if you intend to take up an apartment. Almost nothing retail is open in the city centre except MacDonalds, Starbucks and five star hotels.

I admit it was completely my fault. Had I not missed the train from Barcelona to Seville I would have arrived at the respectable hour of 3pm and the dominos would not have fallen as they did. As it was I arrived at my apartment at 10pm Saturday night. A fine time for finding an expensive cash-only restaurant in San Vicente for a late dinner but no good for grocery shopping. As the cleaner in Plaza de Armas shopping centre said to me, ‘No one in Spain works Sundays, otherwise when would they rest?’. When I pointed out that she was working on Sunday she had to agree but shrugged and said, ‘Yes, but no one else’.

As I couldn’t buy much except restaurant meals I scrounged around the apartment for left over clothes washing powder to tackle my mountain of dirty clothes. Joy, there was enough left for one load. Even if the washing machine’s engineering is more suited to making cheese (it could just about separate curd from whey but it’s lousy for washing clothes) I would have clean clothes to start the week.

I celebrated too soon – my load of washed black clothes had some obvious bleached white and grey patches. The powder was unlabelled so what I took for clothes washing powder must have been dish washing powder. I had to rewash the lot by hand and a week later I’m still searching for black dye to return my favourite items to their original colour.

No matter I thought, I will just make like a tourist, wander downtown and soak up the atmosphere. I tried both central tourist offices to get a city map but they were closed too. Unfortunately in talking to the ubiquitous handsom carriage drivers about what my options were I stood downwind of the horses too long and set off my allergy (cats, pollen, dust AND horses). By the time I got back to the apartment two hours later and took an antihistamine I was a river of mucous and had a bright red rash on my legs.

Running low on cash (I had paid my deposit to my landlord on arrival) I went to get cash from an ATM. No luck. Several machines later still no money. Finally I tried Bank of Madrid. On the first attempt the machine ate my card. No matter how many times I tried to cancel the transaction it would not return my card. A kindly Spanish couple tried to help me by calling the phone number on the machine (did I mention that my expensively acquired global phone number was not working?). The best they could advise was that if I was lucky the bank might be able to return my card next morning or it could be cancelled and I would have to wait for a new one.

I had 15 Euros left. I was not willing to risk losing my credit card in an ATM too. Deep breath. I found a Starbucks cafe and with free wifi from the cup of coffee I bought I emailed my landlord, Nacho, explained my predicament and asked him to return some of my deposit until I got my cash card sorted.

Several blocks from my apartment and after walking for two hours in 32 degree Celsius heat I found a Chinese mom and pop convenience store open and for three euros bought green tea bags, an apple and some instant noodles – I was set for food and drink!

After a siesta I went back to Plaza de Armas cinema and with most of the remainder of my cash bought a ticket to see Almodovar’s newest film, ‘El Piel que habite’ (my translation – ‘The skin we live in’) in lovely air conditioning. Nothing takes you out of your troubles like a good thriller, and it is an excellent thriller even though I only understood every fifth word.

Next morning I was waiting outside Bank of Madrid at 8:30am when it opened (yes, banking hours are rather different too – 8:15am to 2pm Monday to Friday for BoM). I was fortunate that the manager was helpful and immediately extracted my card from the machine. Obviously this happened regularly. Unfortunately the card still didn’t work in the ATM inside the back or at the one across the road. His advice had been to check my balance and change my PIN. With my last 2 euros I tramped back to Starbucks did exactly that and lo! the card worked!

I was also able to check my mobile phone account online and found my balance was insufficient to make calls so topped that up. I had cash and a working phone. And when I got back to the apartment Nacho had returned my 200 euro deposit. Oh happy day!

Since then I’ve provisioned the apartment, opened a bank account, bought a cheap mobile and prepaid Spanish SIM card and ALMOST got wifi in the apartment. That’s been another lesson in patience and perserverance.

I bought an iphone 4 and an ipad 2 specifically for this trip as they’re simple to connect to the Internet through 3G with pre-paid micro SIM cards, or by wifi, but I had not realised until I tried four different telecomms stores and finally checked the web, that Spain is one of the very few countries in the world that does not have pre-paid micro SIMs yet. I don’t want to get a monthly plan for 3G as there is an 18-month minimum contract duration. My apartment doesn’t have wifi and my landlord does not plan to get it so I was stuck.

I thought I’d found the solution, albeit a rather expensive one, by buying an ‘Instanet’ kit and entering a month by month payment contract to create a wireless modem at home, but it is six days later and I am still not connected as after three expensive calls to the technical assistance line I have been told that the first time one connects must be through a PC or laptop, not an ipad (subsequently one can connect any number and many of devices) and guess what – I don’t have a computer!

After spending 25 euros on taxi fares and missing half of my class last night (Andreas was not impressed) I was no closer to having a functioning wifi in the apartment. I quit. I returned the modem, cancelled the contract and with the help of Vanessa and Esther, the lovely women at Phone House, Triana, I have bought a Yoigo pre-paid data SIM that they cut down to micro-Sim size. It’s probably breaking some law but I am so beyond caring.

And when Yoigo’s internet starts working again (guess what, it’s down today) I might have a connection. For now I’ll just sit here in Macdonalds, eat fries and use their free wifi…..

POSTSCRIPT: Tengo wifi! I can finally start my Flamenco research. Big thank you too to Nina at Los Arcos Instanet, you are one tenacious mujere!

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