Now that the money had been raised, it was time to start working on the dates. Having already checked a few locations around the world, I narrowed down to Freefall University in Spain. But actually getting there was going to be a task in itself. I finalized my dates: 23rd March 2014, paid a majority of the fees and booked my tickets. The institute sent me a confirmation letter which I had to submit while applying for my visa. I got all the paperwork done, got my travel insurance and applied for the visa. In the mean time I brushed up my photography and filming skills and learnt a few more.
Two weeks later my passport came back but my visa had been denied. Now I was in deep trouble. The reason was that they could not determine my reason for going to Spain. I mean, it’s clearly mentioned in my application that I’m going to learn skydiving. For heaven’s sake. Now what do I do? I’d already paid most of my fees and I wasn’t sure if they would refund it. I called up the visa office and they said that I can appeal for the visa. Quickly I reorganized all my documents and filed for an appeal. This was my last shot. If it got rejected again, I could only reapply after a few months with a considerable financial loss on the tickets and visa fees. Now all I could do is wait and hope they would approve my visa application. Luckily another guy (Sahas Reddy who I met in at the institute) had also applied to learn skydiving around the same time as I did. So when the embassy saw two applications for visa for the same course they called the institute and confirmed.
After ten days of waiting and hoping my passport had arrived. When I went to collect it, they handed me a sealed envelope. Now it felt like I was opening my final exam report card when I was a kid (I wasn’t a bright student growing up, failing all the time). Without any hesitation I quickly opened the package and opened up my passport and there. THERE was the visa, my entry into Europe. Ecstatic, I walked out and treated myself to some nice biryani.
After a few days of planning and packing I flew to Spain. Damn that was a long flight (never been on such a long flight before). Finally I reached Madrid and with my guide manual in my hand that David had emailed me I made my way to Aranjuez a small town 45 minutes from Madrid. Once I reached Aranjuez I was picked up and taken to my hotel, Hostel Real with very friendly people working there. Hostel Real is very centrally located in the small town, 2 minutes walk from the palace so I knew I wouldn’t get lost.
Over the next few days while roaming around in the town, I noticed a lot of things were called Real. Hostel Real, Café Real, Real Moneychanger, etc.
Also little did I know communication would be quiet a problem but I had come well prepared. With an offline version of Google Translate on my phone, wherever I’d go and I wanted to ask something, I’d type it on Google Translate and read it out in Spanish. The people were very pleasant and helpful. In India, as a pedestrian the vehicles would always bully me and not let me cross but there the cars would stop for me to cross. The first time I was waiting to cross the road an oncoming car stopped right before me. After a while when I looked at the driver, he was frantically signaling me to cross. So now I didn’t want to run to the other side of the road nor did I want to take a leisurely stroll and inconvenience him, so I gave a very weird quick walk to the other side. I realized what I’d done and it cracked me up, when I looked at the driver to thank him, he was smiling too.
Rice! I’m a heavy rice eater. But Spain being a bread eating nation it was very hard for me to find rice. Now I hadn’t eaten rice for almost 10 days and my craving grew by the day. So one evening when someone suggest we go to a Pakistani restaurant, I was very excited as I was sure I’d get rice there. While they were very happy eating roti and curry, I sat quietly in one corner and devoured my chicken biryani. Even though I ate rice just that one time I was more than happy to eat their staple food.