Getting by abroad with Nathan Haas…
Written in July 2015, on the road, somewhere in France…
I’m sitting on a tiny twin bed right now, inches from my roommate for a month: the venerable Dan Martin. I’ve got to say, 4 years ago, I never would have imagined I would be here, riding my first Tour de France. Also, for the record, I didn’t think I would have thrown up on myself 3 times in the first week of the race. Not the best timing for a stomach bug. But I’m happy to say, I’m still here, still racing and I am going to keep on trying.
4 years ago at this time, I was in Australia, racing for a domestic team, attending University, and generally just getting by, riding my city bike around Sydney, and being a (somewhat) careless 21 year old set loose in the university life.
It was a win at the end of the season that vaulted my cycling career upwards, and with only 3 months notice, I packed my bags, and set off to move halfway around the world. It sounds like a dream, the fairytale steeped in romanticism, Spanish nights, Italian aperitifs, the good life we all want. Hey, it kind of is. (less aperetifs on season) But getting by in a foreign country can be TOUGH. I’m sure the other guys agree, and we commonly refer to getting “Spained.” Nothing wrong with Spain, (Catalunya to be exact) possibly just our foreign minds not quite knowing how to get by so far from home.
So here’s a story about life abroad. I made a huge step this year. I bought a flat in Girona. It’s the place of my dreams, yea it needs some work, but oh man am I excited to fix this place up. Well, I bought it off the Bishop of Girona. The head of the Catholic church: apparently he owns a massive stake of properties across the city. Anyway, this was the last flat he owned in a building of 4 flats that at one point he owned all of. Inside the vestibule of the building is (what I thought at first) the quaintest, classically old school teeny tiny shoe repair shop. One older gentleman sits inside this small glass box, essentially under the stairs, repairing shoes. Well, I did look at it and think, “hmmm maybe one day I’ll buy that part too, it would be great bike storage” but didn’t give it much more of a thought. Skip down the line three months later: Its a Friday afternoon. We are closing on the house on Monday morning. My lawyer calls me, and asks if I can come in quickly. So I do (everything in Girona really is walking distance) and he proceeds to tell me this information: The man under the stairs has inherited this space, but not under any strict legality. He’s a long term squatter. And since the flat is the last unit the Bishop owns in the building, I am default owner now of the shoe repair shop. And the squatter. No one seems to be able to tell us how to get rid of him. The other building tenants have tried to pay him off to leave. We’ve now been told he’s actually a bit of a drunk. A court order can be costly, and is difficult without any knowledge of his permanent address. Spain in a nutshell: Even those of “legal” standings have suggested the best course of action would be to strong arm him out with some bouncers. And many have been offered to us on loan. Me, I’m thinking I might just barter for free shoe repairs for life. (Did I mention he uses my electricity?)
So my top ten tips to getting by abroad.
1. Learn basic language skills: I watched Jacob Rathe OWN Girona because he took the time to learn the language. We miss you Jacob, every day.
2. Eat the local cuisine. Get over it. Eat your hamburgers at home.
3. Adopt the “siesta” or other local customs. I mean, naps are the shit anyway, but also, why be awake when everyone else is asleep?
4. Sort your transport. Cars can be tricky, I recommend scooter/ moped.
5.Befriend the locals. This is: local police, local shopkeepers, definitely owners of local cafes, and go there regularly.
6. Accept jet lag. Don’t fight it!
7.Find a way to stream home radio/ home tv. (I swear I don’t watch Neighbours)
8. Keep a clock with home time zone on it. So you always know you can call without looking it up.
9. Taste test all the local beers, find one, make it yours.
10. Never look back.
If anyone has any better advice about how to peacefully negotiate with squatters, I’m all ears. You know where to find me. (At my local regular cafe) or on the twittersphere @nathanpeterhaas
Words: Nathan Haas
Photography: Laura Fletcher