Europe

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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Granada

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I have now visited all the sights on my spring travel list! Last weekend I concluded my travels by celebrating my 21st birthday in Granada.

Granada is famous for the stunning Alhambra which sits in the centre of the city on top of a huge hill. It’s recommended that you buy tickets well in advance (we bought ours in March) because they sell out about as quickly as a One Direction concert.

The Alhambra experience was very special, and worth the planning. There are palaces, towers and gardens to visit – all with spectacular panoramic views of the city below. Like a One Direction concert there were plenty of people, however the site is so vast that other tourists are dispersed amongst the various buildings and foliage so it doesn’t feel too intense.

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You can easily enjoy many hours exploring the Alhambra, I was there all morning and I’m pretty sure I still didn’t see everything. The highlight is undeniably the Nasrid palace which is probably worth the entrance fee alone. it’s just as pretty as the alcazars in Sevilla or Córdoba but on a much bigger scale, I loved it.

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The rest of the weekend was spent eating and drinking in Moroccan style restaurants and tea rooms (another great thing about granada) and it was all kinds of wonderful. I enjoyed frozen yogurt, my favourite treat, and even had a wild night out (complete with mojitos, crazy dance moves and 5am hostel return).

I now have just two weeks left before it’s time to say goodbye to Spain..

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Feria de Sevilla

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Yesterday I visited my favourite Spanish city, Sevilla, for the famous April Feria! Every year the Feria opens it’s doors and the Sevillianos enjoy a week of dancing, drinking and tapas-eating whilst dressed in traditional flamenco style dresses or suits.

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On area of 450,000 square metres you can find endless streets of casetas (marquee style tents) which belong to various families or companies in the city. Each caseta is beautifully decorated in unique but typically-Spanish styles. Along the outside walkways between casetas, thousands of lanterns brighten the sky by day and glow at night.

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A British equivalent of the caseta is probably a beach hut – each owned by a different family, each with different character and style. They obviously serve VERY different purposes but it’s the only familiar concept I can think of.

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The caseta concept is quite unique to Spanish festivals, the casetas vary in size but they are essentially rooms with bars, seating areas and dance floors so that each family can have their own private party with friends. There are also large public casetas (for the riffraf like me) but the feria is first and foremost a celebration for the people of Seville.

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Seeing Sevillano dancing was a highlight. All men and women know how to dance Sevillano, they do it in pairs, they clap and stamp along, moving their arms in perfect synchronisation and looking at each other intensely as they do so. I wish we had a similar dance culture here, it puts the awkward shuffling that occurs in British clubs to shame. There’s also there’s nothing more attractive than a man who can dance, especially if he is well-dressed in a blue blazer like so many of the Sevillanos.

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The best thing about the Feria for me was seeing the beautifully colourful trajes de flamenca, the dresses worn by the majority of the women. Each dress was unique and they are so beautifully intricate, flamboyant and amazing. I also noticed an ingenious design on one woman’s dress which I imagine is a common feature. Under some of the bottom ruffles was a zipped pocket to store a phone, money and other essentials – these beauties are practical and stylish.

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The Feria is known for being quite exclusive and I suppose it probably was, but tourists like me can enjoy it too and I am so glad that I witnessed it whilst I’m here. For me the Feria epitomised Spanish culture and it was a brilliant spectacle to observe. I did do my fair share of participation too though; my friends and I didn’t return home until 4am (this was actually due to a cheap deal on buses rather than a desire to stay so long) so we saw the partying continue way into the night, we attempted to dance along AND we sampled the typical drink rebujito. A successful day all round!

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Expectations

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Back in January 2014 I attended a rowing ball with my boat club at Durham (yes it was as pretentious as it sounds). Unusually, to encourage mingling between members of different colleges, there was randomly allocated seating at this event. Now initially this situation filled me with great excitement at the prospect of being paired with a hunky oarsman who could later become my husband, passing his chiselled jaw line and natural athleticism to our future children (the dream lives on…). This expectation was soon dampened however, when the seat next to me was filled by a very posh, ponytail-wielding rower, who turned out to be a bit of an idiot. Despite immediate disappointment, I told myself that hairstyles were temporary and ploughed ahead with the small talk. We quickly covered the usual topics before moving on to discuss my impending year abroad.

The reason I’m telling you this anecdote is because when I mentioned I would be spending the Spanish part of my year in Extemadura, this boy, who we’ll call Charles, had a very strong opinion to declare. He raised his already up-turned nose a further two centimetres and loudly scoffed ‘That’s the ugliest of the Spanish regions, it has a bland landscape of nothingness and its not worth visiting at all’.

Now this was a bit of a conversation killer for me as I was soon to be not only visiting, but living in this ‘bland region of nothingness’ for a whole eight months. I didn’t bother asking, as I should have, just what evidence or experience qualified him to make that statement, instead I turned to focus on eating my garlicky chicken and wallow in self pity.

What Charles said went on to stay with me long after the garlic aftertaste that evening and I added his comment to my growing list of reasons to be anxious about my year abroad.

After living here for six months I can safely conclude that Charles was wrong. There are definitely more beautiful regions in Spain (the absence of a coastline is a bit of a downer) but Extremadura is still really, really beautiful. As I described in my previous posts about the waterfalls and cherry blossoms in Plasencia, the roman ruins in Merida, and the beautiful parts of my own town Zafra and nearby Badajoz. This region is actually really diverse, interesting and pretty. I am not sponsored by the local tourist board, but I have spent a lot of time in this part of the world and I now feel qualified to prove Charles, and anyone else wrong.

Yesterday for example I went for a hike with my friends and found fields and fields of wild poppies. The other beautiful thing is that the area is mostly untouched and sparsely populated, possibly due to Charles spreading his ill-informed message.

So, the moral of this story: DON’T trust men with ponytails and DON’T write off places before you visit for yourself. I hope you’re having a wonderful weekend!

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Cádiz

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The Easter holidays are just one week long in Spain; as opposed to two at home (or five if you go to university!) but the time off was much needed and much appreciated nevertheless. I spent four highly relaxing days in Cádiz where I lazily flitted between the beach, the park and the town square, taking time to read my book and sunbathe. This has actually been my first Easter break without revision in about six years and it was quite blissful.

Cádiz is smaller than I expected and very easy to walk around. It reminded me of Manhattan, New York for the sole reason that its surrounded by water and the streets are in a grid formation. Its beautiful because you can get lost amongst the shops and bars then glance to the right and catch a glimpse of the turquoise ocean.

I spent most of my time being a lady of leisure, listening to podcasts, sleeping and eating frozen yogurt… However when I did get my camera out I captured these snapshots of the seaside scenery.

Cadiz2Cadizcadiz3IMG_0592IMG_0642IMG_0555It was a little sad not to be at home for the holidays, but these beautiful views certainly made up for missing the family Easter egg hunt… For now though its back to another eight weeks or so of teaching Spanish teens. I can’t believe how quickly the time has gone and I know I’m going to miss all this sunshine and traveling next year, so I’ll be enjoying every last second of the next few weeks. Happy Easter weekend!

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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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