32 Times Of Treinta y Uno

When I look back on year thirty-one, it looks like a very weird year. Nothing immediately crazy stands out to me until I actually look at it with a closer eye. Then I realize that this year was very much defined by leaps of faith, incredible travels, and was actually quite the successful year, with some (big) emotional bumps along the way.

Thirty-one started off with a romantical getaway to Brussels with Lambchops, complete with decadent Belgian chocolate aplenty and terrorist scares following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. Spring time saw the Sistahood of the Traveling Yarmulkes of Diamonds and Schaeffs pop off to my fourth continent for a Moroccan getaway filled with camels and schmatas. My first full summer in years was spent exploring Greece and its downward spiral via shiny red vespa, and bouncing through the culturally rich Balkans. And now, thirty-one has come to end on a high note with a purposeful trip to New York which included passage of all Teaching Certification exams; and thank God because my entire life revolved around them for 3 months (hence the lack of bloggery).

That was a lot of happenings, and what better way to sum up the year than by highlighting year treinta y uno with thirty-two times my life saw a filter or two through the Instagram lens.

So, without further adieu…

1. Birthday & Balls In Brussels With A Babe

Lambchops and I booked a very last-minute (per the usual) jaunt to Brussels for my birthday weekend, where we drank delicious beer, ate the most decadent Belgian chocolate, visited European Parliament for my Mr. Politician man, and played with these giant silver balls at Atomium, a structure that is entirely retro inside and was originally designed for the 1958 Brussels World Fair. It was bomb, and we had lots of silly fun trying to get the perfect photo cupping these balls.

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2. Dining Amidst Hemingway

I only had one spot in mind as to where I wanted to spend the night of the oldest I’d ever been, and that was at the oldest restaurant in the world according to the Guiness Book of Records certificate that sits in the front window of Botin. Justin wore a vest and tie and his horrible shoes, we tried their Cochinillo, and we paid a visit to the table in the corner where one Ernest Hemingway used to sit and drink himself away before writing about how Madrid is the most difficult city to fall in love with. I agree with his drunk musings.

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3. Hello Year Of The Goat!

I really miss celebrating Lunar New Year in a place where it’s celebrated, but thankfully Spain has Chinos by the bushel and two of the few friends I made in Madrid are an Asian and a pseudo Asian like I. So we went out to indulge our noodle and MSG dreams, and it was divine. Except for the tofu. It could have used some more spice.

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4. Wore The Gaudiest Thing I Own

Never one to shy away from a good prop, I wore the gaudiest thing I own to take in some Gaudi on a weekend pop off to Barcelona with Jen. I realized that all I remembered about Barcelona from my 2006 trip with MayMay was Giuseppe, a nap that lasted forever, and Paella followed by some sort of free shot. So we wandered, admired all the stunning Gaudi, found his first commission off the beaten path, ate the best Patatas Bravas ever, and once again ate Paella to remember. I can also now say I have truly (soberly) visited Barcelona.

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5. This Man

The seasons changed and Justin and I took in a few Tinto de Veranos terrace-side this fine gentleman. Truly a treat to the eyes and worthy of remembrance.

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6. Sistahood Of The Traveling Yarmulkes

This was a trip we first only joked about, and then when everyone got on board it was pretty fabulous. Four crazy sistas who have been bickering and loving each other since the Willow Elementary days found ourselves exploring Madrid and then the most culturally shocking country I’ve ever visited – Morocco. What started out as a holiday where we were keeping our JAPpiness under lock and key, turned into an education about a place where so many religions co-exist peacefully. Morocco was colorful and vibrant and accepting, and perhaps one of the most visually intriguing places I’ve ever visited.

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7. Semana Santa’s Own Ku Klux Klan

Semana Santa is Easter, or Holy Week in Spain, and I had no idea that these costumes were traditional to the holiday until the sistas and I stumbled upon them late one night. It was one of the most unsettling visions to walk in to, and we were all a bit disgusted but couldn’t stop staring. However, after some brief research, the Nazarenos actually have no correlation with the Ku Klux Klan, known to wear the same costume in white. In fact, this tradition pre-dates the KKK. Essentially the origins of why they wear these costumes is still a mystery, however their faces are covered as they are in mourning and in repentance for the sins of the past year. Can’t say I’m a fan, but I still find this cultural aspect utterly fascinating.

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8. In A Boat With A Dream Boat

My dreamboat came for another visit to España, we went to Retiro Park, and he refused to let me do the rowing. How romantic.

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9. Fucking Four Names! 

I think it’s safe to say that everyone from our first year in Korea assumed Thomas Sean Dominic Kelly (otherwise known as 4names) fell off the face of the earth. Well, newsflash, he didn’t and he’s still alive and popped over to Spain to pay me a little visit. We did a couple Asian things, like got bubble tea and posed in front of this Korean restaurant, and then we went and drank many a glass of Vermouth and caught up about life since everyone thought he died. It was a great blast from the past.

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10. Shika Shocka Hip Hopping

Two years ago Shika volunteered in the Philippines, met Dustin, came to visit him in Koko, we hit it off over fluffy whipped creamy waffles, fresh lobster, Mickey Mouse ears, and fancy bows. Since then we have become great continent hopping friends from Seoul to NYC to Madrid and back again. During her quick trip to Madrid we people watched in front of the royal palace, caught up about our boys, and enjoyed the most deliciously ginormous tomato dinner. Everything about her visit was a little bit o’ heaven.

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11. An Afternoon At The Bull Fight 

I still do not condone this bullfighting business, however, it also sits as one of my favorite, most Spanish experiences since arriving in the country. Before attending I was told things like “It’s an art”, “It’s so beautiful” and was eerily perturbed by that phraseology to describe something so barbaric. Then I went, met an avid bullfight goer, and witnessed the artistry first hand. It’s backwards, but it’s a huge part of Spanish culture, so to me it’s worth the experience. And boy was it. I wrote about it here if you want more of the bloody details.

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12. Chef #dadbodenlacocina 

Justin is quite the wizard in the kitchen, and I dearly miss having someone cook for me since he selfishly chose to depart España. Well, this night he cooked a massive Paella feast for me and his favorite Frenchies. It was a very tasty evening.

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13. First Father’s Day In Four Years

2015 was the first Father’s Day I’ve actually been present for in four years. I arrived back state side the day before, and the next day we all took him to the cafe at Paradise Cove for lunch and a dip in the great big Pacific. He was so happy and I was so happy to be home to celebrate and take this photo in the most appropriate place we ever could have.

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14. Our Jeanelly Became A Novak!

The first of our Fab 4 got hitched on the beach in Malibu to the amazing Alex, and it was the island party I couldn’t wait to get to! There was so much wind, so much dancing, so much wine, and so many lovers all in one place. Not to mention, I also had my first plus one to a wedding and came in tow with my handsome Greek man who got his first taste of America.

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15. A Grand Tour Of Los Angeles As Promised 

In 1999 two little teeny boppers promised the cute boy working at the front desk of our London hotel that we’d give him a Grand Tour (capital G and T) of Los Angeles if he ever found himself there. Well, this summer he did and the Sistas Schaeff took him on that Grand Tour. Even though he didn’t want to take us up on our long overdue offer of a trip to the happiest place on Earth, we found the next best thing. Our feet and Walt’s star will have to suffice until next time when he decides he’s only as old as he thinks he is.

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16. Googling Away In Silicon Valley

Lambchops and I paid a long overdue visit to my favorite Baller in the world and his brand new bride, Michelle. We barbequed, swam, imbibed, and stayed up late gossiping like the good ol’ days, then woke up bright and early for a grand tour (there’s a trend here) of Google, which was awesome! Later that night we also got the royal treatment at Facebook when Lambros’ Godfather showed us around. I’d say this guy’s trip to America was a great giant success.

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17. Countin’ It With This Gem

The guy who has always been so damn close to my heart, Mr. Yoga Master, Mr. Crystal Celebrity on Instagram, and I had a divine lunch at Veggie Grill where he gifted me this pretty Amythyst. When we first saw each other in the parking lot I don’t think I let go of him for like 5 minutes. I was SO happy! When we sat down we realized it had been about 5 years since we last saw each other, and it was like no time had passed at all. My Adam Reff is still one of the most lovely and amazing people and it was the best catch-up date I’ve had in a long long time.

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18. Grouchy Gavin

I love Kendra and Justin’s little grouch! This time around he didn’t take too fondly to me, but that’s ok. I understand what ‘Terrible 2s’ means and there’s always next time Gavy boy! Auntie D still loves you and your adorable little face tremendously!

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19. The Golden Gate Bridge of Greece 

When we were driving through the Zagori of Epirus in the northwest part of Greece, Lambchops told me we were going to see a bridge just as famous as the Golden Gate Bridge. I don’t know what I was expecting, but the bridge of Kokkorou was unbelievable, dates back to 1750, is one of the most famous bridges in the country, and this photo looks like I’m at the center of the earth!

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20. Met Some Real Life Hitchhikers

When I was waiting in line to buy my train ticket from Thessaloniki to Sofia I cut in front of two Frenchie guys who ended up being my favorite travel companions. Turns out Alexis and Konstantin had hitchhiked all over Europe from Paris but couldn’t for the life of them get someone to hitch them out of Thessaloniki, so fate had it that we were to be train buddies to our next destination. They also happened to be the first hitchhikers I ever met (hello, we don’t do that in America) and helped me concoct the perfect travel itinerary. The day they left Sofia they pulled out all their signs and I was in awe with how much work actually goes into being a professional hitchhiker. Two thumbs up!!

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21. Bosnia And Its Baklava

Perhaps my favorite destination on my Balkans Bouncing tour was Bosnia; Sarajevo in particular. I didn’t know nearly anything about the city prior to visiting, and actually still thought they were in a war that happened 20 years ago. In contrast to the war, Sarajevo and Bosnia is one of the most exquisite, interesting, and culturally diverse places I’ve ever visited, and the Baklava there is to die for. Everyday in Sarajevo I went to this specific cafe called The Baklava Shop and sat on the ornate turkish ottomans and sipped my Bosnian coffee while people watching. It was the perfect midday pick-me-up and I sorely miss the tradition.

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22. The Bridge That Fairytales Are Made Of

Mostar came to me as a suggestion by those hitchhiking Frenchies I mentioned above. I spent a day in Mostar and absolutely adored it. From the cobble stoned streets, the greasy Cevapcicci, the medieval architecture, the insane war-torn history, watching daredevils jump from Stari Most, and climbing up the most claustrophobic minaret of Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque to get this photo. Mostar is definitely a place that must be put on the map of must-see destinations. In fact, make that the whole of Bosnia & Herzegovina.

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23. Mounting Montenegro

I am not a hiker, in fact, I only do it to say I’ve done it or because there’s a view I absolutely can’t miss. I don’t like that #FOMO crap. And well, the hike up to the fortress in Kotor, Montenegro was definitely worthy of the hike. I even personalized it by wearing pink shorts, gold espadrilles, and silver purse. I’m never one to skimp on glitz, even while I’m sweating. My newly acquired friend and I took the long route (~5 hours worth), on our way stopped for some fresh goat cheese and Coca Cola at a home on the side of the mountain, and then admired the breathtaking fjord from high above. All of those Top 10 Places to Visit in 2016 lists put Kotor on the map and I’m just glad I got to see it before even more cruise ships begin to venture there. Truly stunning.

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24. Scared Shitless In Skopje

Skopje, Macedonia was a very bizarre city. Perhaps the most bizarre I’ve visited. There are sculptures and buildings that look like they’re hundreds of years old but were built in the 2000s, it houses Shutka, home of the highest concentration of Gypsies in the world, and has the massive Millennium Cross (bigger than Jesus in Rio) high on the mountain top, which is where I stand perched here. I met a couple Turkish guys on the double decker bus up to the base of the mountain, and well, they were a couple of monkeys who wanted to get up on this gazebo. So you see, once again, #FOMO kicked in and I didn’t want any of that. To actually take this picture was a task, as it took me a solid 20 minutes to hoist my very scared tuchous up there, a couple skinned hands, and then after that was done, even longer to get me down. See what happens when #FOMO fuels you? You land on top of the world (sometimes).

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25. Shuffled Through Shutka 

Did you read what I wrote above about Shutka? Or this post I wrote about it a few months back? I heard about this place in passing yet again from those Frenchie hitchhikers. Shutka is just full of juxtapositions, slums, and nothing I’ve ever seen before. Those white bouquets I want to believe are leftover decoration from wedding season, which I’m really sad I didn’t get to see. I heard Gypsy weddings are a treat for the senses. Regardless, Shutka was an experience and I got scolded later for accepting an offer into a Gypsy home. Who said curiosity killed the cat?

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26. Exquisite Egremni 

For my last weekend in Greece, Lambchops took us to Lefkada, an island that can be reached by car from the mainland via an underground tunnel. Our destination was Egremni Beach with water so fluorescent you can’t believe it’s not highlighting words in your textbook. Not-so-fun-fact other than the moody afternoon we shared here, is that we were probably some of the last people to get to enjoy its luscious seashore. About a month later Lefkada suffered a major earthquake causing the mountain leading down to the water to completely collapse leaving a shoreless sea. Travesty.

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27. LALA En España

Even though Joshua Becker was in my country of residence on a feat of love, I’m glad I was squeezed into the equation as we had a lifetime of things to catch up on. We drank lots, saw royal things, ate the best Paella in Madrid, and visited the center of this here country. All roads lead to Madrid, and I love having any chance of home visit me!

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28. Scary Or Stunning?

Thank God my roomie likes to celebrar and decided to have a Halloween party at our casa. They looked more beautiful than death and I finally got to put my ‘when in Spain’ Picasso costume into action. We also have enough face paint left over if you’d like your face painted too.

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29. My Life From October To December 

You may have noticed an absence on here for 3 months, and well, that’s because this is what my life looked like. And it all paid off as I am now a fully certified teacher in Elementary Education and ESOL. Now to find a job.

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30. Met Gorgeous Georgie Boy! 

Kayla gave me the news of their new addition on my last birthday, to which I responded with a hearty “I beg your pardon, what?” Well, the adorable little man came this summer and was a huge reason I had to take my tests in New York in December, aside from it’s closer and cheaper to fly to NYC than LA. I had to meet this little slobbery boozy dinosaur, and it’s official, I’m in love!

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31. Shoving Kimchi In Sammy’s Face 

That’s what he gets for never visiting me in Koko. It’s actually quite shocking that he never did, but oh well, because we found ourselves in NYC’s Koreatown, and my little piece of heaven. We were walking down the main street for a little while looking for a place up to my hardcore Korean taste but everything looked super catery to tourists or white people which is a no-go for me. Sammy, being the social butterfly that he is, asked a gang of Korean guys where we should go, and at first they suggested a very white looking place. When he told them I lived in Korea they gave us the good stuff. So, here we are eating BBQ and devouring kimchi and makkoli at Jongro BBQ (which also happens to be my favorite part of Seoul). Happy tummy and fresh breath with one of my favorito homies.

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32. Goodbye Chipless Passport

This is sort of funny, but it was very annoying at the time. You see, my passport expires/d on March 6, 2016 so I made the earliest appointment for renewal at the consulate in Madrid for January 7th. I made it back to America, but when I went to fly back to Madrid I was flagged and denied entry because my passport lacked 3 full months of validity on it. Whoops. Turns out Spain continues to pick and choose what they want to wave their finger at, and passport validity is one of them. Since my just shy of 3 months validity wouldn’t fly (literally), I had to run all over NYC at 12:30am looking for an open Kinkos and a CVS to take my new flawless passport photo (I had to have it retaken due to the definitely drugged up guy who took my first and rejected one) in order to make it and apply for an emergency passport the next morning to fly the following night instead. I succeeded and have since put a note in my calendar for 9.5 years from now to renew my passport at least 6 months prior to the expiration date. On a positive note, when the nice man working at the passport center announced my name he said “Wow!! We were just talking about how flawless your photo is! It’s the best passport photo we’ve ever seen!” The next 10 years of my life thanks you kind sir.

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And there it is! That’s a wrap on 31! I guess now that I look back it was a pretty solid year. Now here’s to 32, which is looking to me like a big fat year of transition, and another big move. L’chaim and here’s to you 32!

 

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Co-Habitating With A Dictator

As many know, when I first landed in Madrid and was on the apartment hunt, it was exhausting and stressful and annoying all rolled into one pretty little ball of yuck. I saw so many dumps, was put on so many long lists of others in my same boat, and then after a little over 2 full weeks of searching, found a place. I sat and talked with the guy, who we will call The Dictator, for an entire hour and totally hit it off. The room was massive and complete with a balcony and azulejo tiled floor. I was obsessed, and an hour later told him I wanted to live there if he’d have me.

Oh he had me alright.

At first he was so nice, and even invited me to go watch a movie with his “cousin” and a friend. I had other plans, and frankly didn’t want to go, but still thought it was a nice gesture. This my friends is all building up the facade.

Then Mama Schaeff came to visit a couple weeks after I moved in, and naturally I was excited to have a visitor stay with me. The night before she arrived we actually had a roomie dinner because it was my Belgian roommate, Lorenzo’s, birthday, so he cooked for everyone. I casually told The Dictator that my mom was coming the next day and he put on this smile like “Oh that’s great!”

Dun dun dun!

During her whole stay she felt uncomfortable. The apartment is constantly kept dark, and she just didn’t feel a very welcoming atmosphere from the place. Which I don’t blame her. However, we were never home during her visit, except for during intermittent fights and to sleep. Then the morning that she left, I got a text message from The Dictator asking me when she was leaving and telling me that “it’s normal for visitors to only stay for a weekend”. Excuse me but no. Not when they are flying around the globe it’s not normal. This was the first WTF in a long list.

Dali is the opposite kind of weird.

Even Dali thinks this is weird.

Then my friend Kristia was over one Friday or Saturday night. We were hanging out in my room, talking and drinking some delicious vino because that’s what social people do. They talk and utilize spaces that are theirs. At 11pm on the dot I got a text message (note that it’s always via text), saying that my visitor had to leave now. Um, last I checked I am a grown ass woman, paying rent to live in my grown ass woman room, so as long as I’m not disrupting your life or your property I think I am allowed to have visitors. And also, last I checked I already have a father, and he wouldn’t even tell me to have my visitor leave. I wanted to stay and spite him, but I hadn’t reached the point of revenge seeking just yet. So we left.

This happened a couple more times, and each time pushed one more button towards hatred of The Dictator.

Along the way there were also little things. Like notes on the chalkboard in the kitchen saying not to open the kitchen window, or that the water and light bills were too high, which made absolutely zero sense to me, since we basically live in a dungeon where lights are forbidden. And as for the water bill, I obey the once a week laundry rule, doing mine about every 2 weeks. Meanwhile, I constantly see their fresh laundry hanging to dry almost everyday. To top it off, remember that “cousin” I mentioned up above? Well, The Dictator and his “cousin” share a bedroom, which was not disclosed to me upon renting, and frankly, it’s bizarre that two 40 year old male cousins would share a bedroom. I had a sneaking suspicion that the “cousin” was a cover for boyfriend, which has since been confirmed by a prior tenant.  That aside, I was told there were 4 tenants, which I soon realized was 5. Oh, and we aren’t allowed to have boyfriends or girlfriends spend the night, as was told (via text) to my Belgian roommate at 11pm one night while his girlfriend was over. Enter the double standard.

With the “no significant others” rule, and quickly becoming clearer, no visitors rule tucked in my back pocket, I alerted The Dictator the day before L was to arrive in Madrid. Shocked, but not quite shocked at all, I received several rude texts in a row saying that no visitors were allowed to stay over, and that my mom had previously stayed too long. EXCUUUUSE ME, but 1) who says that about someone’s visiting mother? And 2) when I first rented this apartment that was the first question I asked you and got a resounding “Of course visitors can stay! As long as they sleep in your room!” So sorry, but that is not flying.

He eventually bent, but for a hefty price of 20 euros/night per visitor. Preposterous. I came back to him with a counter offer based off what another friend’s landlord charges non-family member visitors. He told me to get a hotel for that price. I of course didn’t listen and L stayed over for the weekend, and I pushed him to not pay one cent out of principle.

During his entire stay we felt like we were being sneaky and tip-toeing around. Which forgive me if I’m wrong, but that is no way to live in your own home, except if you’re 16 years old and under your parent’s roof. Well, L left on a Monday morning, and on Wednesday late night Jeanette arrived, and without a mere peep to The Dictator. I thought I could be clever by sneaking her in late and he wouldn’t notice. But he would. More on that in a bit.

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Here I am tip toeing through an art installation.

On Thursday morning I got a text message from The Dictator saying “your friend is in the house”. No shit. He said (didn’t ask) you didn’t tell me this, and it’s not allowed. With every message he would send he would nip it abruptly, leaving it like that was the end of that and he has the final word. No no, sir. That is not how the world works. So I told him we are going out of town, so you won’t have to worry about losing your precious bathroom time, or whatever it is you’re so concerned with.

So we went out of town for 4 glorious days for the puente (long weekend). We got back late Monday night and Jeanette was leaving Wednesday morning. Well, Tuesday during my 2nd period class I clicked on my phone to check the time, and what do ya know? There was a string of nipped in the bud texts to me telling me “your friend is in the house” and that I’m not good to co-habitate with. Then the kicker……. I have 22 days and I’m out. I GOT KICKED OUT OF AN APARTMENT. It’s almost comical.

I didn’t respond to any of his nonsense, and then late that night, while Jeanette was using his precious shower water, he came and knocked on my door to just speak at me in Spanish and reiterate his text messages. I of course have a big mouth and I love to use it, and that I did by talking over him in English.  I told him that he’s a liar, and that I won’t listen to him because he went back on his word. I asked him how it affects HIM if MY visitor is in MY room, sleeping in MY bed, and occupying MY space? His response (in Spanish and ultimately in English when he realized I wasn’t going to shut up) “I need to use the bathroom!!!” Oh, you’re a big boy. You can hold your pee 2 minutes so my friend can shower. He also scolded me for turning on the lights so that we could see when we walk. Pardon me for wanting to use one of my vital senses in my own home. Not to mention, it’s also freezing because they don’t turn the heat on, so I sleep bundled up.

Flash forward to a couple days later as I’m perusing Idealista.com, the website used to look for apartments in Spain. I saw my room pop up and immediately posted it to our Auxiliares Facebook group to warn people not to rent from him. This proved to be the greatest way I could have ever used the fabulous internet to my advantage. Not 1 or 2, but 4 people chimed in who were previous tenants or had a friend who was, and EVERY SINGLE PERSON was either evicted after a couple months for having visitors, or had to get the cops involved because The Dictator tried to spin the situation. Nearly everyone was jipped out of their deposit, and everyone said this guy is a psycho. Oh, and remember how I said that I thought I was being clever sneaking Jeanette in late night? Well, one of the previous tenants alerted me that there is in fact a camera/motion sensor in the main hallway of the apartment. Yes, you read that correctly. There is a CAMERA IN MY APARTMENT. Specifically used to track comings and goings of visitors.

So naturally I went out to the hallway to look for it, and low and behold, high above there is a damn camera, and right when I get in shot a red light flashes. I also found some other suspicious wirings in the hallway, but I’m not sure what they are. Did a full sweep of my room and bathroom and kitchen, but thankfully haven’t found anything else. Needless to say, I feel extremely creeped out in my home now, and I’m pretty sure that is some illegal shit, especially if not disclosed prior to renting.

And there you have the apartment hunting and living nightmare that has landed in my lap wrapped in a pretty poopy brown bow. Many people who haven’t moved abroad don’t always take into account the real life things that go into the everyday, and finding a home is one of those huge things. It takes a lot of stepping out of yourself before getting to enjoy your new city, to get the answers you need when you speak a different language from someone. This has now happened in 2 instances, in Korea and now here. I have found out how easy it is to get taken advantage of as a foreigner in a situation like this. When it comes down to it, people basically suck and are money hungry and will exploit all they can to get what they want.

And you know what? THEY CAN SUCK IT.

Or sniff it.

Or sniff it.

Now you tell me! Have you ever had a horrendous living situation abroad? A psycho landlord? A person who literally chills you to the bone that you have to coexist with? Let me know all about it so we can bond over the nut jobs of the world.