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August in pictures

It’s been a while since I last posted on here but I’ve been a bit caught up in the routine of working and writing my university essays. Whilst on my year abroad I was given two projects which I’ve had the past 14 months to write, however I have typically left them to the last minute and most of my free time in August was spent at my laptop hastily hashing together coherent sentences whilst regretting not working on them sooner. Anyway both are finished now which means guilt-free free time!

To update you all, just two weeks remain of my work placement and I’m beyond happy about this. I feel like I have now mastered the fine art of selling expensive cotton shirts and I rarely make mistakes at the cash desk, so things are definitely less tense, some days I even enjoy myself. Having said this, I’m more than ready to stop folding cashmere v-necks and measuring body parts. Also, it’s been eerily quiet in the store recently as most of the French population are off on their summer holidays. This usually means I am left alone to supervise la boutique whilst my boss gets some work done in the office. If there are no deliveries to deal with or customers to (attempt to) help then I mostly just polish the displays obsessively and rearrange the ties in colour order. I find myself messing things up just to give myself something to tidy and I don’t know if these habits are healthy if repeated for 35 hours a week.

Luckily I have enjoyed some time in central Paris over the past month or so and the weather has generally been perfect (I’m tempted to say ‘insufferably hot’ but I’m about to experience a winter in Durham so I will not complain about warmth). Below are some of the sites of Paris that I have enjoyed recently…

The beautiful funfair at Les Tuileries and views from the terrace of Galleries Lafayette

Jardin de Luxembourg

Montmatre, including Le mur des je t’aime – a wall of ‘I love you’ in multiple languages ❤

Exploring the Île de St Louis, one of my favourite parts of Paris

I haven’t been able to watch the Great British Bakeoff but a visit to Ladurée is sort of the same thing…

And finally, the Eiffel Tower. Just dreamy.

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Happy September!

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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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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

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

Badajoz

For the past few weekends I’ve stayed here in Zafra, partly out of laziness (teaching is exhausting!) and partly in an attempt to save money for my big Barcelona trip in December. This weekend however I got a bit restless, so, for a change of scenery, my fellow language assistants and I took a little day trip.

We took a bus to the nearest city, Badajoz, which happens to be the capital of the Extremadura region. A lot of residents here in Zafra say that Badajoz is nothing special, so until now we had prioritised visits to more impressive towns like Sevilla and Córdoba. Fortunately, we were all pleasantly surprised by what Badajoz had to offer. The town centre is admittedly quite large and ugly but when you venture towards the old part it gets a lot more picturesque. The main square is really beautiful, it’s decorated in white marble with a mosaic of pointed stars.

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There’s also the Alcazaba which has really cool Moorish architecture. You can walk along the walls of the fortress and get brilliant views of the city below.IMG_8337

IMG_8339We also managed to squeeze in some shopping – we stumbled upon Primark! Like true Brits abroad, we spent a good hour in excited awe stroking the fleecy Christmas pyjamas, trying on novelty reindeer hats and losing each other amongst the endless racks of clothes. This may or may not have been the highlight of the trip…Untitled

10 things I’ve learned whilst living in Zafra

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  1. The sentence “I’ll meet you by the bull ring” is both common and acceptable.
  2. If you decide to leave the house at siesta time you’ll develop a new affinity for Will Smith in ‘I am Legend’. There are no people, anywhere. It’s creepy.
  3. Each week your food shop will cost the grand total of eight euros and seventy cents. Each week you will feel surprise and smug satisfaction.
  4. It’s crushingly disappointing when your day of errands is put on hold because it’s a national holiday and EVERYTHING is shut. No food in the fridge? You’ve got 99 problems and hunger is most definitely one.
  5. Going for a run in the countryside comes with multiple trip hazards including freely roaming chickens and rogue cattle.
  6. You must repeat your name slowly and phonetically when meeting new Spanish people. You must then allow them to refer to you as “chica” because they simply cannot pronounce it.
  7. You will soon realise that whole town knows each other and everyone is related to everyone (mainly due to large families in which no one leaves Zafra, not so much due to incest).
  8. Skype is a wonderful thing.
  9. Speaking English attracts persistent staring. Do I have three heads? Is there toothpaste on my chin? Nope, you’re just foreign.
  10. Speaking English equals private lessons and extra cash. You’ll pay me to chat in my native language? Don’t mind if I do…

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