Month: September 2014

Monday musings #8

The cost of living is unbelievably cheap here, it’s fantastic. Not only am I renting a two-story, three-bedroomed apartment for the price of my box room at university, the cost of food, transport, drinks and clothes is also considerably less than in England. It cost me 3 euros to go to the cinema last week, a large popcorn was a mere 2 euros and that was from the cinema itself – no need to smuggle in cheap snacks from home!

In most bars, drinks range from 1 to 2 euros and you can get tapas dishes for just 80 cents. I’ve heard of people paying 12 euros for two iced teas in Paris.. well here you can get three meals for that.

The ultimate Spanish bargain however, has got to be clothes. My favourite shop at home has always been Zara and I’m delighted to announce that here in Zafra we have access to multiple Zara-style shops for half the price. I love Spanish fashion so I really am spoiled for choice. When my first pay check comes through it’s going to be hard not to spend it all at once; I walk past the shops twice a day to get to work and the temptation is becoming unbearable.

So it may be that the money I save on living expenses will be spent on new outfits, but at least I’ll be a well-dressed teacher. After all, fashion is another way to integrate into Spanish culture and isn’t that the aim of the year abroad?

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Mérida

IMG_7138Yesterday, my lovely flat-mate Emmy and I caught the 7.30am bus to Mérida! Mérida is about an hour’s drive from Zafra and it’s a UNESCO world heritage site so it’s FULL of Roman monuments. The town is actually is twinned with the Rome and you can definitely see why; scattered throughout the town are the remains of a Roman Ampitheatre, a fortification (the Alcazaba), the Forum and the Puente Romano – the longest of all existing Roman bridges.

The ancient monuments coexist with a bustling high street, a modern square (the Plaza de España) and the normal variety of Tapas bars, restaurants and cafés. It’s a much bigger town than Zafra, with quite a few more shops, so it’s good to know that all this is just a bus-ride away. Unlike Britain, the buses here are reliable and on time (it’s the trains that are a bit dodgy) so I plan to make many more bus trips throughout the year; I want to visit Seville, Lisbon, Madrid and even Barcelona (if I can handle a reaaallly long journey).

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We left our apartment at 6.50 am in order to catch our bus on time, leaving so early meant that it was quite chilly so I dressed accordingly in tight black skinny jeans. This turned out the be a huge mistake and by midday I was sweating in all the wrong places… I should be used to the Spanish weather by now but fear of being cold was my priority when making wardrobe decisions at 6am.

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I am excited to visit more towns in Extremadura. In fact, this week we are all off to Cáceres for an overnight stay to attend training days in preparation for the teaching assistantship. It’s meant to be really beautiful there so keep an eye out for another post full of sunny pictures (I hope!).
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An afternoon stroll

Three o’clock is the perfect time to explore the streets. It’s siesta time and most shops are closed so it’s lovely and peaceful. Not that Zafra is ever jam-packed, I should add, but it can get busy when the occasional tour group hits the town en masse. It was sunny today, so as usual I got snap-happy with my camera and the photographic evidence is below…
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El Parador (above) is an impressive 15th century castle in the centre of Zafra. It now exists as a swanky four-star hotel with an equally glamorous restaurant and bar. The castle used to be the residence of the Dukes of Feria and is still equipped with nine battlement towers, original ceilings, ironwork, handrails and many other remnants of the former palace.IMG_7056I mainly use the castle as a large object to aim towards when I get lost wandering through the confusing streets. However, if anyone fancies visiting me then the hotel provides a luxury alternative to the sofa-bed in my apartment. photo 1

Zafra is full of palm trees. We may be 200km from the nearest beach but at least the palm trees create a holiday vibe. There are lots of parks scattered around the place too and this pretty purple blossom makes regular appearances throughout the town.photo 2

Tonight I am off to the cinema to see El corredor del laberinto (The maze runner) with my flatmates. Let’s hope the storyline isn’t too complicated as I struggle enough with convoluted plots in English.

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La primera semana

I am now the proud owner of a Spanish phone contract, bank account, identity number and my apartment has fully-functioning wifi (hurrah!). I’ve located all the best clothes shops, found a large selection of different food-sellers, tried the local ice-cream and I know my way around Zafra (just about). This week has been busy to say the least.befunky_artwork.jpg

I love living so close to the town centre and it’s great fun to wander around. I am discovering new things all the time; on a walk yesterday I found a fantastic indoor market selling fresh fish, meat and fruit and veg. It seems to be where all the locals do their food shopping and so I plan to do the same. Amazingly, just opposite the market I found a flamenco dance school. There was a class going on at the time so I had a little peak and took note of the class times for future reference. I definitely want to get involved with either flamenco or salsa dancing whilst I’m here!  1befunky_artwork.jpg

In the old part of town there’s the Plaza Grande. As the name suggests its the biggest square, full of palm trees and lined with restaurants and hotels. There are also adjoining squares and numerous lanes full of white-walled houses and the occasional bar or museum.2befunky_artwork.jpg

I feel happy about spending nine months here; it will be even better when I start to meet more people and begin working at the school. Now, after getting through the initial stress that comes with moving abroad, I think it’s time to sit back and enjoy Spain!

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Zafra

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My life here in Spain is slowly starting to take shape. I’m settled in my new apartment, the cupboards are stocked with essentials and I’ve unpacked three seasons worth of clothes.

I flew here in the company of my mum and sister (I desperately needed their moral support and baggage allowance), so we were able to hire a car from the airport and the hour and a half journey from Seville to Zafra was relatively smooth. I had provisionally accepted an apartment before I came out here, one that was recommended to me by a previous language assistant, so upon arrival a friendly landlord, Rafa, met us and we were shown around. It’s a HUGE apartment in the centre of town with two floors consisting of a kitchen, living room, two bathrooms and three bedrooms. I’ll probably rent out at least one of the other bedrooms but the rent is cheap enough that I could live in the luxury of a family-sized flat if I really wanted to.

In between stressful admin errands (setting up a bank account and phone contract) I have been exploring the town. It’s much bigger and prettier than I thought, with plenty of shops, restaurants and cafés. There’s also a public library (which I am currently sat in for wifi purposes), a museum, police station and convent – everything you need!

Yesterday I paid a visit to the school where I will be working. Things didn’t go completely to plan but I have come to expect perpetual confusion as part of the year abroad experience. I walked into the school, explained why I was there and was shown to el director’s office to complete some paperwork. He was an intimidating man who kept referring to me as Marisa. I initially questioned my hearing, then wondered if he was miss-pronouncing ‘Megan’, but soon realised that I wasn’t who he thought I was at all. I showed him my documentation and we eventually agreed that I was in the wrong place. I had walked into the primary school; the secondary school was actually in the building next door. Second time lucky and things were more successful. I was introduced to a second director who was expecting me. He was a vertically challenged but incredibly friendly man. What he lacked in height he made up for in enthusiasm and made me feel very, very welcome. He introduced me to lots of the other teachers and told me to return in a few days to meet my mentor, Mara, who was absent at the time. Introductions in Spain, as in France, involve kisses. So, after experiencing cheek-to-cheek contact with most of my new colleagues I now feel much more at ease about starting work in October.

By dealing with a rental contract, an apartment inventory, bank meetings and multiple phone companies it feels like I have spoken more Spanish in the past two days than I did in two years at University. I’m pleased to say that so far I have made myself understood and am becoming more confident with each encounter. The rest of the week will now involve registering for my NIE (an identity card that permits me to live here legally) negotiating an internet contract and finding some flatmates. It won’t all be hard work though, I plan to attend a local Zumba class and there’s an orchestra performing in one of the plazas on Friday night. Fortunately, afternoon siestas are just about compulsory here so I’ll be doing plenty of relaxing too…Untitled

So I’m moving to Spain

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After a year of planning, paperwork and emails the day is finally here and I can’t quite believe that it’s actually happening. It’s time to fly to Seville and then make my way to the town of Zafra, where I will be working and living for the next eight months. I’ve packed my bags, checked-in online and said farewell to family and friends – there’s no going back…

As exciting as the year abroad is, I am a bit apprehensive. I wasn’t as nervous about my summer job in France because it was only a short placement, I’ve also been learning French for years and have visited the country multiple times for holidays, ski trips and language exchanges. In contrast, I’ve only been to Spain once and I’ve been learning the language for just two years. As a result, my confidence is pretty low and eight months feels scarily permanent.

My current mindset is a mixture of terror and excitement because I have absolutely no idea what to expect. The concept of a new home, new friends and new experiences is brilliant but overwhelming. The pessimistic side of my brain contemplates a year of misunderstandings, confusion and loneliness whilst the optimistic side imagines sunshine, fluency, and Enrique Inglesias lookalikes. In reality my experience will probably be a mixture of the two, although less loneliness and more Enrique would be ideal.

For now though it’s time to get some sleep in preparation for the big day, because tomorrow I’ll be setting off on my new adventure with an open mind and a whole lot of luggage!Untitled

A British Interlude

I’ve been at home for just over three weeks. It’s been wonderful to have a much-needed rest, catch up with my favourite people and organise the next part of my year abroad (which begins on tuesday!). I’ve spent a lot of time snuggled up with a cup of tea in front of the telly, but when I have made it out of my pyjamas I’ve done some fun activities. Here’s what I’ve been up to lately in pictures…

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