Month: January 2015

Salamanca: Part Two

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After getting a feel for Salamanca on Day One, our second day was spent exploring the city in more depth.

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The cathedral is arguably the main attraction, it’s made up of both an old and a new part, both of which are equally impressive. The interior is stunning but I would absolutely recommend climbing the tower. You pay just 3 euros to enter and the experience is worth every cent. There were multiple viewing points all the way up; a sun terrace, a balcony overlooking the cathedral interior and, for the big finale, a huge bell tower at the top with a 360 degree view of the city. Understandably there was a lot of effort required to reach the top – in the form of a rather claustrophobic set of spiral stairs. Fortunately, unlike both York Minster and Florence’s Duomo, there was an ingenious traffic light system telling you when it was clear to ascend. This avoided the awkward must flatten self against cold stone wall to avoid personal contact with fellow tourist scenario. I was VERY grateful for this. I don‘t like invasions of personal space at any time, let alone within the restrictions of an ancient stone stairwell with limited oxygen/light/escape. In fact, the technology in place reminded me of the red and green lights you find at the top of water slides. There was a line of people, a screen on the wall, a count-down; it was a very similar setup. Fortunately the cathedral countdown was much less ominous; waiting for water slides involves the impending doom of losing your bikini or swallowing chlorine. The cathedral setting definitely decreases the risk of indecent exposure from swimwear loss, you simply have to walk down some stairs.

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Another highlight was a visit to Las Dueñas, a Dominican convent built in the 15th century.

SALALALALLAA.jpgInside was a beautiful courtyard with carved pillars, arabic archways and views of the cathedral, there was also a museum on the first floor and a nun selling handmade biscuits by the entrance below – something for everyone!SALALAAA.jpgOverall I loved Salamanca. I thought it had the right balance of beautiful architecture whilst still functioning as a modern, lively city. It was packed full of students rather than tourists and the whole atmosphere was great. Next on my to-visit list is Lisbon!Untitled

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Salamanca: Part One

Just a week has passed since I made my Spring Travel Itinerary and I’m happy to report that I’ve already ticked Salamanca off the list!

I was told repeatedly by my Spanish colleagues not to go Salamanca in January due to the freeeeezing cold temperatures. However, I don’t have the luxury of time and I want to visit some city destinations during the winter months so that I can enjoy the warmer weather in more costal areas. Also, these colleagues are Spanish and have not experienced Durham winters as I have; they underestimate my temperature endurance.

So, a new bobble hat and ALL THE KNITWEAR later, this weekend I made the journey north.

Salamanca was predictably freezing, however the blue skies and sunshine made for some beautiful backdrops around the city. The first day was mostly spent traveling, but we had the afternoon to get a feel for the city. Below are some photos from Day One of exploring!salamanca.jpg salamanca3.jpg IMG_9367 salamanca4.jpg IMG_9313 salamanca7.jpg

Salamanca is a University town and UNESCO world heritage site (like Durham!) so it features plenty of beautiful buildings. It was pretty spectacular and just about the perfect size, as it’s easy to get to everything and most areas are pedestrianised. There were also LOTS of young people (quite a novel experience after living in a rural Spanish town), so that was a lovely change.

On the second day we climbed the Cathedral tower and explored the stunning Las Dueñas convent, so pop back for Salamanca Part Two!Untitled

The joys of spanglish

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My friends and I, all language assistants here in Spain, experience mistranslations and language-based errors on a daily, if not hourly basis. Fortunately, we have each other to to confide in rather than having to endure the embarrassment alone. I thought I’d share a few of our stories here as a way to remember them in years to come, it’s always fun to re-live these moments.

Disclaimer : most of the following anecdotes involve Spanish native-speakers making mistakes with their English. I am by no means mocking their attempts, in fact I’m 100% certain that I have said equally inappropriate comments in Spanish without realising. I can only hope that I’ve provided similar amusement in return…

The adult holiday

I give private conversation classes to a couple of the teachers at the school, in one of them we were discussing holiday destinations. My pupil was talking about Portugal and persistently pronounced the word ‘beach’ as if referring to a female dog. If you insert that word into the following monologue “Yes I love Portuguese beaches, they are very beautiful and I try to see as many as I can during the summer. This year I will visit the beaches in the south, they are hotter and more appealing to me” You’ll have some idea of how the conversation sounded.

The plumbing disaster

As previously mentioned, I’ve become too familiar with the local plumber this year due to various heating/water related apartment problems. My plumbing vocabulary is quite lacking in Spanish and phone conversations with Antonio are always confusing to say the least. I recently tried to explain a leaking shower head without realising that the literal translations of ‘shower’ and ‘head’ are not applicable together as they are in English. In my panic I said ‘my head is leaking’ and even worse ‘I am leaking’ before eventually getting the point across. I get nervous during phone conversations in English so it’s hardly surprising that it all went horribly wrong.

The inappropriate soundtrack

English music is popular in Spain and, at a breast cancer solidarity event in October, various tunes were blasting in the background whilst we all celebrated the success of the day’s activities. A cancer survivor was on stage bravely telling her story when, in the most emotional part of her speech, a new song began to play. Unfortunately, this song was Enrique Inglesias’ ‘Tonight I’m loving you’ the explicit version (which replaces ‘loving’ with a much cruder verb). The song was in full flow and the audience were tearfully clapping along as they listened to the lady thank everyone for their support. A bad song choice if I ever heard one. Fortunately I was one of just two people who understood the lyrics. Ignorance is bliss…

The class room faux-pas

My friend Gavin was assisting in a lesson about Folk Music last week. Unfortunately for him the teacher alongside him persistently mis-pronounced ‘Folk’ so that it sounded much like the word in Enrique’s explicit song. He tried to subtly correct her by over-enunciating the word himself and by the end of the lesson she was saying ‘fock music’. A slight improvement then.

The constipation question

Comically, ‘to be blocked up’ as in full of cold/flu translates in Spanish as the verb ‘Constipar’. This is already a recipe for a communication disaster. During these chilly months I’ve been told, by various Spanish colleagues keen to practice their English, “Megan, you look so constipated today!” due to my red nose or watery eyes. I’ll never get used to this and I experience the same moment of shocked humiliation every. single. time.

I’m excited to see what the next four months will bring, more misunderstandings I’m sure. I’ll keep you posted!Untitled

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As I type, I’m sat home alone in my apartment waiting for the plumber to show up. This is proof that the year abroad isn’t always as ideal as my Instagram posts might suggest…

Our hot water stopped working yesterday and since phoning Antonio the Plumber (with whom I am on first name terms) I’ve been housebound, in eager anticipation of a hot shower and clean hair. My flatmates are in Madrid and Cáceres respectively, so I have no option other than to man the apartment until Antonio’s return.

Fortunately, I’ve put all this waiting to good use and started planning some future adventures with the intention of never spending an entire weekend inside these four walls again. With spring approaching, I can look forward to discovering more Spanish destinations and venturing further afield to surrounding countries.

So, without further ado, here’s my Spring travel itinerary (because if I publish this to my blog then it’s more likely to actually happen.)

  1. Salamanca – I plan to do a weekend break in this city later this month. I’ve seen some beautiful pictures of the main square and been told by many Spaniards that it’s a must-see destination. It’s also got a huge student population and with the inhabitants of my current town being either school-age or over 40 (and literally nowhere in between) I think it’s about time I interacted with some fellow youths.
  2. Lisbon – Living so close to the Portuguese border I can’t not visit Lisbon. When I travelled to Lagos in October I was not disappointed and Lisbon is known for being the best Portuguese city. It also has trams. I love trams!
  3. Morocco – I have wanted to visit Morocco for about five years now. With southern Spain’s proximity to Africa I simply need to take a bus and a ferry to get there – which is a lot cheaper than flying from England. The ‘blue city’ of Chefchaouen looks breathtaking and I can’t wait to take 1028441239 photos.
  4. Granada – Before I came to Spain, Granada was my number one on my travel hitlist. I’ve seen numerous photos of the Alhambra and I’m desperate see it in person. In fact, I’m thinking of ticking this one off the list for my 21st birthday in May. It would make a wonderful contrast to the previous six revision/exam filled birthdays that I’ve celebrated. It should be gloriously sunny there too.
  5. Cadiz – For a bit of beach action I’m thinking of heading to Cadiz. Cadiz apparently boasts narrow streets and spacious plazas with plenty to see and do. The city has an old town, a modern area AND a magnificent coast. This means I can sightsee, shop and sunbathe all in one weekend – amazing!

Any advice regarding places to stay or things to do in these locations would be great. Alternative recommendations are also welcome; I have approximately nineteen weekends left in Spain and I want to see as much as possible!Untitled

January sun

I’ve come to realise that my mood is drastically effected by the absence of sunshine. As a result, I’ll probably become one of those tanned but wrinkly pensioners who retire in Florida, wear visors and play bridge. I really miss the sun during winter and January is especially hard. Amazingly, this weekend was gloriously sunny and surprisingly warm (19 degrees!) so I caught a bus to Seville to make the most of the weather. I’ve been to Seville a few times now so for this visit I decided to hop across the river to Triana.

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Architecturally, Triana is very similar to the main city, it’s just smaller, quainter and has fewer tourists.

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Calle Betis, the street overlooking the river, is lined with coloured houses and apartments, ornate balconies and the typical Seville orange trees.

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Sunshine and blue skies all day long – oh Spain..

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Everyone was out with beers and tapas enjoying a beautiful Saturday. There were even people sunbathing topless by the side of the river. Isn’t it winter?

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I think I even got a slight facial tan, on the 10th of January. It may be harder to leave Spain than I originally thought…

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Home.

I loved traveling in 2014, but there really is nothing like flying home for Christmas. Upon my arrival at Gatwick airport on the 19th of December I was greeted by my Christmas jumper – wearing sister, a tearful Mother and the biggest hug from my Dad. To complete the idyllic scene there was a 10 ft tall Christmas tree in behind us and an M&S food shop was just meters away. At that very moment everything was perfect. The happy, festive mood continued throughout my two weeks at home and I was kept busy with theatre trips, beach walks, family gatherings and catch ups with friends.

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I’m back in Spain now and ready to begin a new term of teaching. I’m excited for more adventures, picture-taking and blogging in 2015. I’ve also started writing for The Backpacker’s Almanac and you can read my first article here. Happy January!Untitled

Christmas in the capital

I used to think London was best in the summertime but this year I changed my mind. During my two weeks at home this December I spent five days in the capital seeing the Christmas lights, visiting galleries and generally enjoying the availability of restaurants serving anything other than jamón (living in Southern Spain takes it’s toll…)

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At Christmastime there’s so much going on in the city. The winter festival on the Southbank involved a Christmas market, a festive train ride, and more mulled wine vendors than ever before. I also visited Somerset house, where the annual ice-skating rink was set up in the courtyard alongside the added delight of the Fortnum and Mason Christmas arcade. This new addition can only be described as a corridor of middle class ladies browsing lose-leaf tea and luxury biscuits to the accompaniment of gentle jazz. It was very festive and very British.

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Unsurprisingly, Covent Garden was also beautifully decorated, it had a giant reindeer, giant candy canes and (yes, you guessed it) giant baubles.

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The Christmas lights were fantastic as always. This year Carnaby street’s were in a funky head-phone formation, whilst Regent Street’s were promoting Night at the Museum 3 and involved large pictures of Ben Stiller’s face. I also enjoyed the noticeable difference in the friendliness of shop assistants, railway station staff and Londoners in general – Christmas spirit really exists! To top it all off, at the end of each of my visits I got to experience this view of the Thames on my walk back to Waterloo.

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Until Christmas 2015, London.

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