Month: February 2015

The Portuguese Palace

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The second stop on our Sintra trip was to the Parque e Palacio da Pena. Yes you’re Portuguese is fantastic – that’s the Park and Palace of Pena.

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To reach the palace we had to get to the top of a very steep hill. This would have been about an hour’s walk, which wasn’t too appealing on a chilly afternoon so we considered other modes of transport. There was a bus, but at 5 euros it seemed a bit pricey. We then discovered that there were TukTuks travelling up for the very same price and, well, it was an easy decision – it’s not every day that you can hop in a TukTuk…

Riding in a six-seater TukTuk up a steep, cobbled hill on a windy sunday afternoon was my highlight of 2015 so far. It was terrifying, hilarious fun and the fact that our driver insisted on turning around and chatting rather than watching the road only added to the adrenaline-fuled excitement.

Pena sits on the top of a hill and is a considered one of the greatest expressions of 19th century Romanticism. Built by King Ferdinand II, the palace is colourful, ornate and an intentional mixture architectural styles. Basically it looks like a disney castle, it’s stunning.

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So, a TukTuk ride up, exploration of a magical castle, TukTuk ride down. It was an unforgettable day spent with lovely people and I couldn’t have been happier. Thanks to my lovely friend Helena for traveling with me (and for some of the photos!), you’re the best. You can read more about our adventures exploring Lisbon here, or Sintra part one hereUntitled

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Quinta de Regaleira

As described in my previous post, Lisbon is gorgeous. This seems to be a recurring theme with Portugal actually, because Lagos was equally stunning in an entirely different way. On our second day in the capital we took a 30 minute train to Sintra and were amazed once again, by what we saw. IMG_9791

Sintra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site just outside of the capital and it’s magical. There’s a little village of cafes and shops at the base of the hill, then a winding path leading up to various stunning palaces and gardens. The first one we visited was Quinta de Regaleira.

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Quinta de Regaleira is comprised of a palace, chapel, towers and ruins, all set within a mysterious, woodland garden complete with caves and waterfalls. The whole place was fantastic to get lost in; there were stepping stones, hidden passages and spiral staircases leading to turrets with views over the sprawling forest below.

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One of the most incredible features was the Initiation Well, a 27 metre-deep well with a spiral staircase leading all the way down. The old stone was covered in moss and it was all very otherwordly and enchanting.

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The cloudy weather seemed only to enhance the ethereal setting and the grey skies made the forest look even greener. I’m certain that this is the type of place that will blow you away whatever the weather and I’d highly reccomend a visit to Sintra for Quinta de Regaleira alone. Keep an eye out for my next post on the Palace of Pena, featuring a TukTuk ride and a real-life disney castle… Happy Sunday! Untitled

Valentines weekend in Lisbon

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This weekend was an extra long one (due to Carnaval here in Spain), so I took the opportunity to visit Lisbon!! This city is my new favourite; it was absolutely beautiful. To add to the excitement of a new city and two extra days off work, one of favourite people in the world – my friend Helena, flew out to spend the weekend with me!

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The first thing that makes Lisbon so cool is the TILES! A huge number of Lisbon’s buildings are covered in patterened tiles. There were different designs everywhere and we couldn’t help but stop for photographs every few minutes – so pretty.

Our first day was spent exploring the city on foot. We wandered around the Alfama (the old town), to see the castle and flea market. We then wound our way down through the streets, squealed whenever a tram passed, tripped on MANY uneven cobbles and tasted some delicious gelato.

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The street art in Lisbon is amazing too, there is something different around every beautifully-tiled corner.

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We found some impressive viewpoints overlooking the water…

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And I learned that trams are my new favourite mode of transport.

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It was Valentines day and Lisbon was very romantic in general. There were TukTuks with red balloons, the main square was full of people wearing ‘Free Hugs!’ t-shirts and there was even a metal ‘Love’ structure to attach hearts and padlocks. Despite Helena and I being single ladies, we found all the festivity really exciting and it was so lovely to see. We were even talked into buying our own ‘love padlock’ as the money went to a good cause (it also helped that the volunteer who persuaded us was an adorable 15 year old with BIG brown eyes).
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Day two of our wonderful weekend was spent exploring the palaces of Sintra, so more on that later!Untitled

A French fiasco in the mountains

I am currently organising part three of my year abroad. I need to spend at least a couple of months in France improving my language skills because I definitely need to broaden my capacities beyond the waitressing-specific vocabulary I mastered last summer.

I’ve been applying for jobs and I’ve even had a few Skype interviews. What I’ve learnt from this is that Skype interviews are the WORST. There’s almost always an awkward sound delay and the screen will inevitably freeze, capturing the most unattractive expression and allowing potential employers a three-minute screen shot of your ugliest angle.

For one particular job, the employer and I scheduled an interview time of 10am on a Monday morning. I spent the whole weekend preparing; I listened to French podcasts to get in the zone, I complied a list of questions to ask and, most importantly, I set up my laptop to ensure the best internet connection, the most flattering lighting and the perfect screen angle. I’d done my hair, perfected my makeup and I was ready to go. I then sat for about thirty minutes with my practiced professional yet approachable smile, in an optimal seating position, sitting not too close but not too far from the screen (to convey keenness without looking creepy), waiting for the call. Sadly, after all my excessive preparation, the call never came.

I’d been stood up by a French employer. A new type of rejection – international AND virtual, blimey.

A few days later I received an apologetic email and the promise of a call later in the week, no day or time specified. I went about daily life and, after about eight days, assumed I was never going to hear anything and decided to recommence the arduous task of ambushing French companies with my CV.

Then, one Thursday evening I decided to go for a run in the countryside. It was a sunny day and I chose to run up a rocky mountain path for some pretty views. Taylor Swift was blasting in my headphones, blood was pumping, I was sweaty and exhausted – a great workout. Then, just as I was reaching the top of the steeply inclined dirt track, my phone rang. The number was unrecognised so, with no idea whether to answer in English, Spanish or French, I settled for an out of breath ‘Hello?’. Who was it? Monsieur Olszak. He was calling to discuss the French job.

Picture the scene. I am up an ACTUAL mountain, wind howling, dogs barking and chickens cooing in the background (due to the farm ten metres to my right). I was breathless, literally panting, and my mind was a useless jumble of Spanish adjectives and Taylor Swift lyrics. To put it mildly the timing was awful.

I had no choice but to think on my trainer-clad feet and get on with the interview. The signal cut out twice due to the rural setting, however, by the end of the interview I was just about forming coherent sentences. I managed to answer most of his questions and ask a few of my own, but all in the entire scenario couldn’t have been much worse.

Bizarrely (miracles do happen) I got offered the job. It’s with a menswear company in Paris and I’m in the process of confirming things now. I think that maybe the animal noises in the background distracted from my poor French, or perhaps the company needs to fulfil an equal opportunities quota and ‘asthmatic farmer’ ticked a necessary box.

Anyway, I jogged home laughing to myself at the absurdity of what had just happened. At least the whole experience set the bar very low for all future job interviews. Now, if everything falls into place (and my envelope of documents survives the perilous Spanish postal service) I might just be spending a summer in Paris – yipee!

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Happy things

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Living in Spain is really fun. The traveling, the exploring and the adventures are obviously the most exciting part, but they don’t happen every day. I travel every few weekends, and that’s what the majority of my blog showcases. Most of my time is actually spent teaching in the school, tutoring in private lessons and attempting to feel at home in a region famous for iberian ham and bird watching.

My friends at home often tell me how jealous they are of the sunshine and opportunity here in Spain, but what they might not realise is that I am often jealous of the comfort and familiarity they have in England. As with everybody’s lives, there are times when I have bad days here; when I feel embarrassed and stupid in front of the class, when I get frustrated with my Spanish, or when I simply feel really, really homesick.

To overcome these moments it’s good to stop and think about what I’m grateful for, because I really am very lucky with the Spanish life I’ve made. Here are ten happy things never fail to brighten up my day.

  1. Pyjama evenings with my flatmates. Slippers, a game of scrabble, cups of tea.. we have aged prematurely and we are very happy about this.
  2. When I see my students around town and they do a shy, I’ve just seen the English assistant in public wave.
  3. Teaching nine-year-old Miguel. He pronounces, with confidence, words which bear no resemblance to English, Spanish or any other human language. I say ‘Football’ and he repeats ‘Gleefnoo’. It’s like Joey (from Friends) learning French – wonderful.
  4. Visiting my favourite fruit and veg shop and engaging in confusing but enjoyable conversation with Juan Antonio, the owner.
  5. Popping into the tea shop and being asked to taste and critique all their new teas. Amazingly, the shopkeeper has interpreted my English nationality to mean ‘tea expert/connoisseur’ and highly values my opinion.
  6. Receiving messages or emails from my family and friends. The internet is better than sliced bread / rainbows / unicorns / ALL GOOD THINGS when you’re away from home.
  7. Evening jogs to the sound of Taylor Swift’s album. Perfect.
  8. The satisfaction of understanding anything the teenage students mumble in slang Spanish.
  9. When I consult my weather app and realise it’s actually ten degrees warmer than England.
  10. Looking at my calendar and seeing the exciting things I have to look forward to this year – celebrating my 21st (!!!!!!!), a summer in Paris, returning to Durham… 2015 is going to be great.

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Monday musings #10

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Today I want to explain how fond I am of one particular Spanish quirk. Like their Italian counterparts, who use the word ‘bella’, Spanish people refer to women as ‘guapa’ (beautiful) in everyday speech. Adios quapa, hola guapa… it’s used constantly.

As a British native I’m not used to this treatment and it takes me by happy surprise whenever I hear it. Initially I took it as a genuine compliment, thinking ‘oooh that new mascara must be working a treat’ when a supermarket cashier greeted me with ‘hola guapa!’ as she scanned my tinned lentils. Now however, I realise that it’s actually the equivalent of ‘hello love’ in English and is used so frequently that it definitely does not refer to the effort I’ve made with my appearance that day, merely my status as a female human who has just entered a particular shop/school/post office/cinema/bank/library in Spain.

Whether it’s a genuine compliment or not, I enjoy the use of this phrase and it’s always a nice thing to hear. I think we can learn from this custom too. See, if everyone was reminded of their beauty when buying toilet roll on a Tuesday evening, wouldn’t the world be a happier place?

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