Month: March 2015

Plasencia

Plasencia town

This weekend I was reunited with three very important things: my Mum, my Dad and access to a car.

I have been without all three of these things throughout my year abroad and it has, at times, been tough. The three entities are mutually compatible, of course there’s always the odd moment when my Dad gets annoyed with the car, or my Mum gets frustrated with my Dad, but all in all it was a lovely treat for us to spend four days together here in Spain.

We explored the city of Plasencia first of all. We stayed in the beautiful Parador hotel where I enjoyed the luxury of a suite all to myself. After a year of hostel trips I happily slept like a starfish and maximised every corner of the double bed in all its crisp white sheet and plump pillow glory…

The Parador Hotel

We then ventured to the Jerte Valley in search of cherry blossom. Unfortunately we were about a week too early to see the valley in full bloom so we had to settle for photographing the same tree multiple times.The landscape was still wonderful though and waterfalls happen to be beautiful all year round so we enjoyed our day of adventuring anyway.

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Waterfalls in the Jerte Valley

The Jerte Valley is famous for the cherries it produces and so the nearby towns were full of cherry-related products like jams and liqueurs, there’s also the Jerte river which runs through the centre and pretty bridges all the way a long. I’d love to go back at some point in the future to see the blossoms and the cherries at their peak. It’s a lot closer to home than Japan and the airfare is definitely significantly less…

So it was another busy travelling weekend and now I’m looking forward to my Easter break for some relaxing. The hot weather is supposedly on it’s way and I am 100% ready. I’m also intruiged to see some of the Semana Santa celebrations here in my town, I have a feeling its going to be VERY different from the chocolate eggs and bunnies I usually witness – I’ll keep you posted!Untitled

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Morocco : The Blue City

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Chefchaouen is known as the blue city because as the name suggests, the walls, paths, doors and buildings are painted in beautiful shades of blue. Interestingly, there’s actually a practical reason for this because the blue keeps the town cool in the summer; it works as a natural form of air conditioning and scares away the mosquitoes too. The city is amazingly picturesque and its unique colour makes it an enchanting place to visit.

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Chefchaouen itself is quite small but it’s easy to get lost in the maze of pretty, houses and pathways. A lot of the buildings are actually shops selling traditional Moroccan fabrics, leather goods or jewellery so you can see brightly coloured cloths, woven baskets and pretty blankets decorating many of the alleyways too. Its a dreamy, magical destination and I loved it, especially with the abundance of dried figs, dates and pastries to be found on every corner… yum.

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Not only are the winding streets perfect for photography; they’re ideal for shopping too. The handmade items are all beautifully crafted and unbelievably affordable. Strangely, I would liken shopping in Morocco to shopping in IKEA; you end up buying things you never thought you’d need. Its common to enter IKEA looking for a cupboard and leave with a 2 ft toy snake, some jelly moulds and a washing basket in the shape of a frog. In a similar vein, I arrived in Morocco with the intention of buying jewellery and I left with a king-size bed quilt and a decorative leather camel (I also got some jewellery in case you were concerned). The greatest thing is that its acceptable, even encouraged, to haggle for the best price. I generally started at a quarter of the price I wanted to pay and worked my way up. Some negotiations were more successful than others but my biggest triumph was a silver ring for the equivalent of 8 Euros – so far it hasn’t turned my finger green so I’m very pleased!

I loved Morocco more than anywhere I’ve ever travelled. It was colourful, warm, vibrant and the availability of delicious tea was beyond my wildest dreams. I’d love to return in the future to see Marrakesh and the mountain regions too. Until then I’ll be staring wistfully at my photos, reliving my camel ride and desperately searching for a place to display my impractical but wonderful souvenirs…

P.s If you want to recreate the Moroccan tea yourself, try green tea, mint leaves and a teaspoon of honey. Delicious!

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Morocco: Camel riding and sea views

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This weekend I visited Morocco for the first time. I have always wanted to travel there and it seems that dreams do come true! Living in Spain this year means that a journey to Morocco is only a boat trip away and I managed to discover the northern cities of Tangiers, Chefchaouen and Tatouan in just 3 days – amazing.

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The first stop of the trip was a visit to Cap Spartel, the point at which the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean. There was a stunning viewpoint with a lighthouse and a cluster of market stalls selling traditional Moroccan items. We arrived at about 10am so the sun was bright and the air was cool and fresh. It was beautiful.

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Next was a camel ride on the beach. This experience has been added to my list of life highlights, joining the likes of TukTuk riding in Lisbon, Latin dancing with US marines in Costa Rica and morning beach swims in Greece as my favourite travelling moments.

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The camels were both incredibly unstable and predictably smelly but they were also surprisingly soft. I got to ride up and down the beach at a slow (and wobbly) pace, taking in the scenic views. It wasn’t all as glamorous as the picture looks – the way the camel stood up involved terrifying jerky movements whilst the dismount consisted of the camel suddenly dropping to his knees throwing me forward like a sack of unwanted potatoes. However, the whole thing was unforgettable and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

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The next part of the trip was Chefchaouen, aka the blue city. More on that in the next few days…Untitled

Madrid

Cybele Palace (City Hall)

This weekend I finally made the trip to Spain’s capital city! I’ve technically been to Madrid airport during a flight stopover, but that definitely doesn’t count as visiting Madrid for real, so this was my first time and I was really looking forward to it.

I got a 5 hour bus from my sleepy town to the big city. 5 hours may sound like a long time but I’ve become quite used to bus trips now, and it’s cheap, and I listened to a really good podcast (Serial, I’d highly recommend it) so it was a pretty good journey.

Madrid is a big place and with only two days I obviously couldn’t see everything. However, the centre is quite compact and with Emmy (my friend and Madrid expert) by my side, I managed to see a lot in just one weekend.

Puerta del Sol

Puerta del Sol

Puerta de Alcalá

Puerta de Alcalá

Palacio Real de Madrid

Palacio Real de Madrid

Parque del Buen Retiro

Parque del Buen Retiro

Palacio de Cristal

Palacio de Cristal

Palacio de Cristal

Palacio de Cristal

Parque del Buen Retiro

Parque del Buen Retiro

Parque del Buen Retiro

Parque del Buen Retiro

Parque del Buen Retiro

Parque del Buen Retiro

Parque del Buen Retiro

Parque del Buen Retiro

The temperature was about 23 degrees celsius and it was gloriously sunny so we had a great time wandering around, stopping frequently for frozen yogurt – my favourite. On this visit we made the most of the weather and stayed outside, however I’d love to go back and explore some of Madrid’s many museums and galleries (El Prado in particular) so a return trip is definitely on the cards…

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Half way

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It’s incredible to say that I’ve passed the halfway point of both my time in Spain and my year abroad as a whole. All in all, although of some individual days and weeks do drag (lessons with 15 year olds often feel like lifetimes of pain), it has gone really quickly. Over the past few months I’ve established myself as a private English tutor, I’ve become familiar with plumbing vocabulary and I’ve finally adapted to Spanish mealtimes. I have built solid friendships with the eight other language assistants here and I’ve made plenty of Spanish friends too. Bizarrely, one of my closest Spanish connections is a seventeen year-old student with whom I’ve bonded over a shared interest in Harry Potter and One Direction. My other closest connections are fellow teachers (mostly middle-aged) and my language-exchange partner Maria (aged 35), with whom I enjoy weekly cups of tea and life discussions. It seems that I have bypassed integration with people of my actual age and so the whole Spanish party lifestyle has alluded me so far. I’m very happy though and I always feel like my head is simultaneously younger and older than my 20 years anyway. Having said that, just last week I made a new friend – a 22 year old local girl called Ana, she invited me out with her friends and we were chatting in a smokey bar until 2.30am. Perhaps my granny lifestyle may be set to change after all!

In September I was really terrified to come here and the whole first term flew by in a blur of settling in and mild panic. I got through any moments of sadness with the thought of Christmas and my impending flight home. Luckily, since returning in January everything has seemed much more familiar and relaxing. I’m now witnessing lighter evenings, easier conversations and I’m enjoying everything a whole lot more. I’ve got through January and I’ve started planning trips for the remainder of my time here, I’m off to Madrid next weekend, Morocco the week after – it’s all going far too quickly.

Now though, for memory and comedy’s sake, let’s reflect on my lowest moments:

  1. Tripping over and falling flat on my face in front of a group of students whilst on an afternoon jog. Knee severely grazed and pride dented.
  2. The power cut in out apartment on cold November morning, which lead to icy showers and a day without internet (tragic).
  3. Getting stranded on a broken down bus and watching in dispair as fellow passengers were, one-by-one, rescued by family/friends with cars. I had to wait for three hours with the driver and a few other abandoned folk, I cried silently and felt very abroad and alone.

However, as bad as these experiences felt at the time, they’re hardly terrible. I’ve had so much fun, so much sunshine and I’ve visited so many beautiful places. These can be summarized in the picture montage above.

Here’s to the rest of my time in Spain and thank you (once again) for following my year so far.

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