When I think about the future I picture myself living in a city. I love London, I love New York, I love Florence, Paris, Venice and Sydney. Oh and Copenhagen is is completely amazing. There’s something about being in a city that makes me excited. I like the anonymity, I like getting lost in a maze of buildings and I like the freedom of experimenting with food, fashion and culture.
I thought that spending nine months in a rural part of Spain would be really challenging. To be completely honest I dreaded coming here; on the drive from Seville to Zafra I stared despairingly out the window at the miles of deserted landscape and wondered why on earth I was putting myself through nine months of misery. Dramatic I know…
Since being here however, I have surprised myself at just how much I enjoy all this country air. The landscape is much greener than I anticipated, there’s mountains behind the town and it’s all quite beautiful. I’ve been going for runs through fields, I’ve done hikes to watch the sunset and everyday I get to admire views of the Spanish hills from my bedroom window. Last week my flatmates and I were even able to eat figs from the trees before spending an evening cracking freshly-picked almonds with our bare hands (and some pretty heavy rocks).
When I first received the news that I would be spending nine months in Zafra, my immediate thought (after some frantic google searching) was ‘Ooh it’s only an hour from Seville!’. While I now appreciate Zafra as a great place to live in it’s own right; with it’s beautiful scenery and small-town friendliness, I’m still very happy to be within reach of a big city. Last weekend my flatmates and I sandwiched a trip to Portugal (more on that later) with two days exploring sunny Seville. It was wonderful.
Plaza de España (above) has got to be the ‘must-see’ spot in the city. It is vast and breathtaking, with a fountain in the middle, horse and carts trotting around, mosaic bridges and ornate towers. We happened to be there on a Spanish national Holiday so a funky red and yellow hot air ballon added to the visual spectacle.Around the Plaza de España is a beautiful park (below). There were runners and roller-bladers everywhere, a pond full of swans, palm trees, lily pads and a some impressively ornate museums too. You can easily walk around, lose yourself in the wilderness and completely forget that you’re in the middle of such a busy city.The Streets in Seville are the very definition of picturesque. The buildings are colourful and quirky, the roads are wide, impeccably clean and there’s a tram that runs down the middle (I love trams!).
The Metropol Parasol or Las Setas de la Encarnación (below) is a really interesting mushroom-like structure located at the Plaza de Encarnación, in the old quarter of the city. Architecturally it’s amazing, at 26 meters tall it’s apparently the largest wooden structure in the world. The view from the top was spectacular and the three-euro entrance price buys you a free drink in the cafe, scoring bonus points with thirsty but thrifty tourists like me.
From the viewing platform at the top of the mushroom you can see right across the city; from the Cathedral to the Alcázar palace and everything in between.Just like the rest of the city, the river is stunning. I leave you with a picture taken on the bridge overlooking the historic neighbourhood of Triana, which lies just across the water from the main hustle and bustle. It’s meant to the most authentic side of town, with fewer tourists but a greater number of colourful houses, narrow streets, food markets and traditional tapas. It’s also considered to be the ‘spiritual heart’ of flamenco and I can’t wait to discover more when I next visit!
Yesterday, my lovely flat-mate Emmy and I caught the 7.30am bus to Mérida! Mérida is about an hour’s drive from Zafra and it’s a UNESCO world heritage site so it’s FULL of Roman monuments. The town is actually is twinned with the Rome and you can definitely see why; scattered throughout the town are the remains of a Roman Ampitheatre, a fortification (the Alcazaba), the Forum and the Puente Romano – the longest of all existing Roman bridges.
The ancient monuments coexist with a bustling high street, a modern square (the Plaza de España) and the normal variety of Tapas bars, restaurants and cafés. It’s a much bigger town than Zafra, with quite a few more shops, so it’s good to know that all this is just a bus-ride away. Unlike Britain, the buses here are reliable and on time (it’s the trains that are a bit dodgy) so I plan to make many more bus trips throughout the year; I want to visit Seville, Lisbon, Madrid and even Barcelona (if I can handle a reaaallly long journey).
We left our apartment at 6.50 am in order to catch our bus on time, leaving so early meant that it was quite chilly so I dressed accordingly in tight black skinny jeans. This turned out the be a huge mistake and by midday I was sweating in all the wrong places… I should be used to the Spanish weather by now but fear of being cold was my priority when making wardrobe decisions at 6am.
I am excited to visit more towns in Extremadura. In fact, this week we are all off to Cáceres for an overnight stay to attend training days in preparation for the teaching assistantship. It’s meant to be really beautiful there so keep an eye out for another post full of sunny pictures (I hope!).
Three o’clock is the perfect time to explore the streets. It’s siesta time and most shops are closed so it’s lovely and peaceful. Not that Zafra is ever jam-packed, I should add, but it can get busy when the occasional tour group hits the town en masse. It was sunny today, so as usual I got snap-happy with my camera and the photographic evidence is below…
El Parador (above) is an impressive 15th century castle in the centre of Zafra. It now exists as a swanky four-star hotel with an equally glamorous restaurant and bar. The castle used to be the residence of the Dukes of Feria and is still equipped with nine battlement towers, original ceilings, ironwork, handrails and many other remnants of the former palace.I mainly use the castle as a large object to aim towards when I get lost wandering through the confusing streets. However, if anyone fancies visiting me then the hotel provides a luxury alternative to the sofa-bed in my apartment.
Zafra is full of palm trees. We may be 200km from the nearest beach but at least the palm trees create a holiday vibe. There are lots of parks scattered around the place too and this pretty purple blossom makes regular appearances throughout the town.
Tonight I am off to the cinema to see El corredor del laberinto (The maze runner) with my flatmates. Let’s hope the storyline isn’t too complicated as I struggle enough with convoluted plots in English.
I am now the proud owner of a Spanish phone contract, bank account, identity number and my apartment has fully-functioning wifi (hurrah!). I’ve located all the best clothes shops, found a large selection of different food-sellers, tried the local ice-cream and I know my way around Zafra (just about). This week has been busy to say the least.
I love living so close to the town centre and it’s great fun to wander around. I am discovering new things all the time; on a walk yesterday I found a fantastic indoor market selling fresh fish, meat and fruit and veg. It seems to be where all the locals do their food shopping and so I plan to do the same. Amazingly, just opposite the market I found a flamenco dance school. There was a class going on at the time so I had a little peak and took note of the class times for future reference. I definitely want to get involved with either flamenco or salsa dancing whilst I’m here!
In the old part of town there’s the Plaza Grande. As the name suggests its the biggest square, full of palm trees and lined with restaurants and hotels. There are also adjoining squares and numerous lanes full of white-walled houses and the occasional bar or museum.
I feel happy about spending nine months here; it will be even better when I start to meet more people and begin working at the school. Now, after getting through the initial stress that comes with moving abroad, I think it’s time to sit back and enjoy Spain!
My life here in Spain is slowly starting to take shape. I’m settled in my new apartment, the cupboards are stocked with essentials and I’ve unpacked three seasons worth of clothes.
I flew here in the company of my mum and sister (I desperately needed their moral support and baggage allowance), so we were able to hire a car from the airport and the hour and a half journey from Seville to Zafra was relatively smooth. I had provisionally accepted an apartment before I came out here, one that was recommended to me by a previous language assistant, so upon arrival a friendly landlord, Rafa, met us and we were shown around. It’s a HUGE apartment in the centre of town with two floors consisting of a kitchen, living room, two bathrooms and three bedrooms. I’ll probably rent out at least one of the other bedrooms but the rent is cheap enough that I could live in the luxury of a family-sized flat if I really wanted to.
In between stressful admin errands (setting up a bank account and phone contract) I have been exploring the town. It’s much bigger and prettier than I thought, with plenty of shops, restaurants and cafés. There’s also a public library (which I am currently sat in for wifi purposes), a museum, police station and convent – everything you need!
Yesterday I paid a visit to the school where I will be working. Things didn’t go completely to plan but I have come to expect perpetual confusion as part of the year abroad experience. I walked into the school, explained why I was there and was shown to el director’s office to complete some paperwork. He was an intimidating man who kept referring to me as Marisa. I initially questioned my hearing, then wondered if he was miss-pronouncing ‘Megan’, but soon realised that I wasn’t who he thought I was at all. I showed him my documentation and we eventually agreed that I was in the wrong place. I had walked into the primary school; the secondary school was actually in the building next door. Second time lucky and things were more successful. I was introduced to a second director who was expecting me. He was a vertically challenged but incredibly friendly man. What he lacked in height he made up for in enthusiasm and made me feel very, very welcome. He introduced me to lots of the other teachers and told me to return in a few days to meet my mentor, Mara, who was absent at the time. Introductions in Spain, as in France, involve kisses. So, after experiencing cheek-to-cheek contact with most of my new colleagues I now feel much more at ease about starting work in October.
By dealing with a rental contract, an apartment inventory, bank meetings and multiple phone companies it feels like I have spoken more Spanish in the past two days than I did in two years at University. I’m pleased to say that so far I have made myself understood and am becoming more confident with each encounter. The rest of the week will now involve registering for my NIE (an identity card that permits me to live here legally) negotiating an internet contract and finding some flatmates. It won’t all be hard work though, I plan to attend a local Zumba class and there’s an orchestra performing in one of the plazas on Friday night. Fortunately, afternoon siestas are just about compulsory here so I’ll be doing plenty of relaxing too…