It’s fast approaching my favourite time of year. Next week marks the beginning of December which means it’s time to put up Christmas decorations, open advent calendars and listen to Christmas songs without feeling guilty! I should probably admit that my flatmates and I put up our Christmas tree over two weeks ago. There was definitely logic behind the keenness; we had a month left until our flights home so we thought it’d be nice to start our own version of advent to countdown our departure. Also, Christmas trees are great for the mood, as is tinsel… and Michael Bublé.
It’s strange being in Spain at this time of year, especially since I’m used to London at Christmas – which is pretty spectacular when it comes to festive decorations. Living in Durham last year was also fantastically christmassy; we had an illuminated cathedral, real snowfall and none other than Joe Mcelderry, of X-factor ‘fame’, officially turned on the Christmas lights! Here in Zafra the whole Christmas thing is a lot more subtle. There are a few half-baked window displays and some lights but it just doesn’t compare to Britain. There are no wreaths on houses, no town Christmas tree and the very few lights that are up were turned on quite unofficially one tuesday morning. Sadly no Z-list geordie celebrities were involved…
Due to the distinct lack of festivity I’ve been seeking alternative ways to get into the Christmas spirit. If I walk for about half a mile along the dual carriage way (there is a pavement for the concerned parents reading), I get to experience the wonders that Lidl has in store (scuse the pun). Lidl, if you’re not aware, is a haven of cheap vegetables, german-branded biscuits and packaged leisurewear. What I’ve also discovered is that here in Zafra, it’s the only decent supplier of mince pies, Christmas puddings and santa hats within walking distance of mi casa.
For a lot of people this nonchalant approach to festivity is probably quite refreshing. Not for me. I’m someone who anticipates the arrival of Christmas as soon as my birthday ends…in May. You can safely assume that I’m monumentally excited to land in London in a few weeks time. I’ll finally be able to experience the crazy shoppers and dramatic decorations without having to set foot inside a german supermarket to do so. I am fully ready for two weeks devoted to present-giving, parsnip-roasting and penguin-advert watching. Only 20 days to go!
After exploring the alleyways and courtyards of Córdoba I thought my floral-fix had been well and truly satisfied. That was until I entered the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos.
The Alcázar, which forms part of the historic centre of Cordoba – a Unesco world heritage site, was the residence of various Catholic monarchs. The palace is surrounded by gardens which were truly breathtaking; it was every flower lover’s dream. I will let the pictures below speak for themselves. Excuse the cheesy poses but I was in a pretty skirt in a pretty location and I had to capture the moment. I refused to let my lone-ranger status hold me back and I went ahead and asked tourists to take photos of me. It’s definitely worth asking people because the momentary embarrassment can easily be forgotten whereas the photos last forever. Also, if you pick an incompetent photographer you get beauties like this!
The cost of living is unbelievably cheap here, it’s fantastic. Not only am I renting a two-story, three-bedroomed apartment for the price of my box room at university, the cost of food, transport, drinks and clothes is also considerably less than in England. It cost me 3 euros to go to the cinema last week, a large popcorn was a mere 2 euros and that was from the cinema itself – no need to smuggle in cheap snacks from home!
In most bars, drinks range from 1 to 2 euros and you can get tapas dishes for just 80 cents. I’ve heard of people paying 12 euros for two iced teas in Paris.. well here you can get three meals for that.
The ultimate Spanish bargain however, has got to be clothes. My favourite shop at home has always been Zara and I’m delighted to announce that here in Zafra we have access to multiple Zara-style shops for half the price. I love Spanish fashion so I really am spoiled for choice. When my first pay check comes through it’s going to be hard not to spend it all at once; I walk past the shops twice a day to get to work and the temptation is becoming unbearable.
So it may be that the money I save on living expenses will be spent on new outfits, but at least I’ll be a well-dressed teacher. After all, fashion is another way to integrate into Spanish culture and isn’t that the aim of the year abroad?
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!).
After a year of planning, paperwork and emails the day is finally here and I can’t quite believe that it’s actually happening. It’s time to fly to Seville and then make my way to the town of Zafra, where I will be working and living for the next eight months. I’ve packed my bags, checked-in online and said farewell to family and friends – there’s no going back…
As exciting as the year abroad is, I am a bit apprehensive. I wasn’t as nervous about my summer job in France because it was only a short placement, I’ve also been learning French for years and have visited the country multiple times for holidays, ski trips and language exchanges. In contrast, I’ve only been to Spain once and I’ve been learning the language for just two years. As a result, my confidence is pretty low and eight months feels scarily permanent.
My current mindset is a mixture of terror and excitement because I have absolutely no idea what to expect. The concept of a new home, new friends and new experiences is brilliant but overwhelming. The pessimistic side of my brain contemplates a year of misunderstandings, confusion and loneliness whilst the optimistic side imagines sunshine, fluency, and Enrique Inglesias lookalikes. In reality my experience will probably be a mixture of the two, although less loneliness and more Enrique would be ideal.
For my 20th birthday I got a beautiful, blue polaroid camera. It’s not the traditional polaroid camera from back in the day, it’s the instax mini 8, which works just like the old ones but produces smaller, rectangular photos. The camera itself comes in different colours and is mini and cute as the name would suggest.
Choose your subject, frame the photo, press a button and voila! you can watch your image emerge then develop before your eyes. Living in the era of Instagram and Facebook it’s rare that I print photos so having these physical momentos is quite a novelty! The brilliance of the instax mini comes at a price though; the film is pretty expensive to buy and with this in mind, I tend to use it sparingly. I have taken just six snaps so far, mainly of friends and family – so I can carry them with me on my travels and have reminders of home.