Lifestyle

Paris

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For my first two days off I headed into central Paris for some sightseeing. I’ve been to Paris a few times before, on family holidays and French exchanges with school, however it’s such a huge city that I don’t think you could ever really see everything. Luckily I’ve got all the weekends from now until September to explore as much as possible. Yesterday I got the train from my suburban home straight to the Arc de Triomphe, where I was greeted by the most terrifying roundabout in history, I then walked down L’avenue des Champs-Élysées to the Eiffel Tower to meet a friend for a picnic. From here we walked along the river all the way to Place de la Concorde, through the beautiful Tuileries gardens to the Louvre. To finish the day I then hopped on the metro to Place Monge where I met another friend for some Moroccan tea (I can’t get enough) at La Grande Mosquée.

I should also mention that it was 37 degrees this weekend in Paris. It’s been boiling all week and let me tell you, the metro is the last place you want to be on a hot day. It’s basically a furnace packed full of sweaty tourists, sweaty Parisians and probably all the sweaty people in the world, and their children. I don’t think anyone quite knows if its better to walk for miles in the midday sun just to avoid the cattle-transportation experience. I was weighing up sunburn and blistered feet against extreme armit-to-face proximity and limited oxygen. A tough call. In the end I settled for the metro because at least the pain is short-term. Anyway it’s beautiful in Paris so I should stop complaining.

Here are some pictures of my day… As I only photographed the pretty things it’s like the metro never even even happened!

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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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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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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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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

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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Salamanca: Part One

Just a week has passed since I made my Spring Travel Itinerary and I’m happy to report that I’ve already ticked Salamanca off the list!

I was told repeatedly by my Spanish colleagues not to go Salamanca in January due to the freeeeezing cold temperatures. However, I don’t have the luxury of time and I want to visit some city destinations during the winter months so that I can enjoy the warmer weather in more costal areas. Also, these colleagues are Spanish and have not experienced Durham winters as I have; they underestimate my temperature endurance.

So, a new bobble hat and ALL THE KNITWEAR later, this weekend I made the journey north.

Salamanca was predictably freezing, however the blue skies and sunshine made for some beautiful backdrops around the city. The first day was mostly spent traveling, but we had the afternoon to get a feel for the city. Below are some photos from Day One of exploring!salamanca.jpg salamanca3.jpg IMG_9367 salamanca4.jpg IMG_9313 salamanca7.jpg

Salamanca is a University town and UNESCO world heritage site (like Durham!) so it features plenty of beautiful buildings. It was pretty spectacular and just about the perfect size, as it’s easy to get to everything and most areas are pedestrianised. There were also LOTS of young people (quite a novel experience after living in a rural Spanish town), so that was a lovely change.

On the second day we climbed the Cathedral tower and explored the stunning Las Dueñas convent, so pop back for Salamanca Part Two!Untitled