Month: October 2014

Córdoba #3: The fairytale Palace

After exploring the alleyways and courtyards of Córdoba I thought my floral-fix had been well and truly satisfied. That was until I entered the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos.

The Alcázar, which forms part of the historic centre of Cordoba – a Unesco world heritage site, was the residence of various Catholic monarchs. The palace is surrounded by gardens which were truly breathtaking; it was every flower lover’s dream. I will let the pictures below speak for themselves. IMG_8118 IMG_8175 palace1.jpg IMG_8103 palace2.jpg IMG_8092 palace3.jpg IMG_8173Excuse the cheesy poses but I was in a pretty skirt in a pretty location and I had to capture the moment. I refused to let my lone-ranger status hold me back and I went ahead and asked tourists to take photos of me. It’s definitely worth asking people because the momentary embarrassment can easily be forgotten whereas the photos last forever. Also, if you pick an incompetent photographer you get beauties like this! IMG_8052Untitled

Córdoba #2: A City of Flowers

My father’s lifelong dream is to see Japanese Cherry blossom, my Mother talks to her sweet-pea plants and I’ve grown up with two sets of green-fingered Grandparents. It is therefore unsurprising that I love all things floral.

Visiting Córdoba last weekend was perfect for me in many ways. Córdoba is famous for ‘Los Patios‘ – an annual contest in which the city’s residents showcase floral displays in their alleyways and courtyards. Traditionally, the walls of the city are lined with blue flowerpots filled with flowers and each May thousands of people flock to witness the colourful spectacle.Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 20.57.52Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 20.57.02 Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 21.02.55 flowers.jpg flowers3.jpg

Despite visiting off-season, the city was still really busy. Obviously the best time to see Los Patios would be in Spring, but given that prime flower time equals prime tourist time, it’s probably best, crowd-wise, that I visited I went when I did. There was still a lot to see and I feel like I got a good taste of just how spectacular the displays must be in May. flowers2.jpgAs beautiful as Los Patios were, they weren’t the horticultural highlight of my trip. Stay tuned for Cordoba part three…Untitled

Córdoba

I took myself on a solitary sight-seeing adventure this weekend, to the Andalusian city of Córdoba! IMG_8069

I did a lot of solo travel in France this summer but in Spain I’ve been lucky enough to have a great group of friends to travel with, so this weekend was actually my first time adventuring alone since moving here last month. I took a Blablacar (I picked a woman driver to minimise personal safety risks) and it was a complete success. I couldn’t rely on my flatmates to do all the Spanish speaking this time; so I was forced to talk for the duration of the 2.5 hour journey. This was great practice for my Spanish and I actually maintained a good conversation. Estefania, the driver, told me that I spoke very well and that it was impressive considering I’d only been in Spain for a month. I think she may have understood that I’d only been learning Spanish for a month, which would explain her awe at my ability, of course I’ve actually been learning for two years but let’s take her praise as a compliment nevertheless!IMG_8206

As it turns out Córdoba was a beautiful city and probably the perfect place to explore alone given the friendly atmosphere, the abundance of tourists and the close proximity of all the monuments to my hostel. I felt very safe all weekend long.

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As both a former Roman capital and a city under Muslim occupation (to mention just two parts of it’s story) Córdoba has a VERY diverse cultural history. The whole city is architecturally really interesting with Roman, Islamic, Christian-medieval and modern architecture reflecting it’s complex past. As a result, Córdoba feels really eclectic in style – it’s an amazingly jumbled haven of culture. The city features the orange trees of Seville, the Bougainvillea-clad white walls of Santorini, aromatic Tea rooms furnished like arabian palaces and a Jewish quarter with a beautiful 14th century Synagogue. 
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Córdoba wins the award for my favourite place in Spain (so far). So watch this space for Córdoba part two…Untitled

Spanish schedules

The mealtimes here in Spain are drastically different to what I’m used to. I’ve mentioned this before but I’m about to delve into more detail (sorry…).

So this week the twelve year-olds were learning to discuss their daily routine. If I hear “At seven o’clock I wake up” one more time I may self-combust, however, it has been quite interesting to discover just how different the Spanish schedule really is. Here in Zafra the students finish school at 2.30 and go home for lunch at around 3pm. They don’t eat dinner until at least 10pm, having had various sports or music lessons throughout the evening. Back in Britain shops may close at 5.30 and things begin to wind down, whereas here 5pm is considered mid-afternoon; everything re-opens after siesta and the evening is the busiest time.

This routine has definitely been a culture shock. It also makes you feel quite middle-aged when you’re returning home after an evening drink and you pass eight-year old Marta heading to her flute lesson. It’s particularly bizarre for me given that I eat earlier than the average British human anyway.

My first taste of this lifestyle actually came during my French exchange back in 2008 when my host family ate at 9pm. I can distinctly remember sitting in my strange French bedroom picking at the ancient remains of a Go-Ahead bar found in the depths of my suitcase (the yogurt coating had not aged well). It was a desperate moment.

A month has passed I’m slowly adapting. The key to holding out until 10pm is a late lunch and the school timetable already ensures this. Generally, a seriously hefty breakfast keeps me going until school finishes when I sprint home in hunger-induced excitement.

All I can say is thank goodness for muesli. So. Much. Muesli. Untitled

Country life

1011064_10152378802552322_5864251341212365859_n-1When I think about the future I picture myself living in a city. I love London, I love New York, I love Florence, Paris, Venice and Sydney. Oh and Copenhagen is is completely amazing. There’s something about being in a city that makes me excited. I like the anonymity, I like getting lost in a maze of buildings and I like the freedom of experimenting with food, fashion and culture.

I thought that spending nine months in a rural part of Spain would be really challenging. To be completely honest I dreaded coming here; on the drive from Seville to Zafra I stared despairingly out the window at the miles of deserted landscape and wondered why on earth I was putting myself through nine months of misery. Dramatic I know…

Since being here however, I have surprised myself at just how much I enjoy all this country air. The landscape is much greener than I anticipated, there’s mountains behind the town and it’s all quite beautiful. I’ve been going for runs through fields, I’ve done hikes to watch the sunset and everyday I get to admire views of the Spanish hills from my bedroom window. Last week my flatmates and I were even able to eat figs from the trees before spending an evening cracking freshly-picked almonds with our bare hands (and some pretty heavy rocks).

I’m not saying that I want to live here forever, but for now it’s definitely good. I also know that when I see the crowds in London this Christmas it’s going to be all the more exciting.Untitled

It’s already been a month?!

IMG_7671I’ve been living in Spain for over 30 days! In some ways it’s flown by, but when I think back to the day I arrived it seems like a lifetime ago.

The first week was crazy. It began by handing 700 euros of hard-earned waitressing cash to a landlord who I didn’t quite understand, hoping that I was in fact paying to rent the lovely apartment he’d shown me and not signing away my life. Shortly afterwards I introduced myself as the new English assistant at the wrong school and then obsessively frequented all wifi-emitting cafes within a four mile radius whilst I struggled to set up broadband.

Despite the initial challenges, it took me just a week to feel happy and settled. I met the other lovely language assistants and moved in with two of them, Whitney and Emmy. Together we were thrown into Zafra life by witnessing the bizarre but incredible Feria (the town fair). There we learned just how unprepared we are for Spanish partying, how important jamón (ham) is to the local population, and that it is normal, even encouraged, to buy whole herds of cattle from a market stall. Oh and we also met the Queen of Spain!

Since then I’ve started teaching at the (correct) school, begun giving private English lessons in my spare time and embarked on the impossible task of learning my pupils names, all of whom are brunette and enviably suntanned. I’ve also tried to expose myself to plenty of Spanish; last night I even saw Gone Girl (La Perdida) in the cinema, which admittedly was not the best choice for a non-native speaker given the multiple plot twists, but I think I got the main idea.

In the past few weeks I’ve travelled to nearby towns, taken numerous car-sharing journeys with strangers and hopped across the border to Portugal. Gastronomically speaking, tapas has been eaten, tinto de verano has been drunk and I’ve finally gotten into the habit of having dinner at the unnatural hour of 9pm.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing but I’m surviving and my Spanish is gradually improving. So here’s to another eight months in which I intend to explore more of Spain, make my students’ lessons as enjoyable as possible and keep up this blog. Befriending some more chicos/chicas would be great too. I’m still waiting for my Enrique! Or Juan… or Mario… I’m not fussy.

Thank you for following my journey so far.Untitled

A Long weekend in Lagos

Last weekend I had four whole days to play with. I always have Fridays off and Monday was another national holiday so I thought I’d make the most of the long weekend and go on a little expedition. With so many places to see in Spain my flatmates and I struggled to come to a decision; in the end we decided to profit from the extra day and head a bit further afield to Portugal, Lagos to be exact.portugal1.jpgFrom Seville it was a three hour bus-ride and we went with a company called Discover Excursions so it was all organised for us. We had two nights in a lovely beachside hotel called Hotel Carvi. Given the last-minute booking and the affordable price we had quite low expectations for the hotel, however we were pleasantly surprised. The rooms were spacious and the most important factor – the buffet breakfast – was close to perfection. Yum.

portugal4.jpgOur days were spent exploring caves, doing cliff walks, sunbathing, swimming (in October?!) and discovering the gorgeous town of Lagos. We also managed to squeeze in a Kayaking trip along the coast.

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Lagos is beautiful but absolutely FULL of English people. This came as quite a shock after living in Zafra – a town where speaking English causes locals to stop in the street and observe your conversation in disbelief. However, the abundance of English tourists meant that there were plenty of English-friendly restaurants, so we took advantage of this and went for an Indian! Normally I’d opt for authentic regional dishes but living in rural Spain means that I’ll be deprived of anything other than tapas for the foreseeable future, so we thought we’d make the most of some home comforts. And everyone loves a curry.portugal3.jpg

Despite not actually trying Portuguese food, my first taste of Portugal as a country was very good indeed. The coastline was stunning, the people were friendly and the weather was beautiful. Next on my list is Lisbon!Untitled