Blogging

Thoughts about May

11169973_10204975089631070_5398646100254835763_n

I can’t believe its May already. I couldn’t believe it was March, or April and then suddenly here we are. May is my final month in Spain and it’s also the month I turn 21 so it’s simultaneously sad, exciting and strange.

This weekend I popped to Seville to see the Alcazar, a place I hadn’t visited but knew I needed to see before I left Spain. It was really, really beautiful, with sprawling gardens, fountains and courtyards. They use it as a location for the Game of Thrones TV series and you can definitely see why, it’s a magical setting and quite incredible that it all sits within a big city centre.

Unbelievably it was 40 degrees in Seville the day I visited. 40 degrees on the first of May, blimey. It was around 30 degrees on the first of November if I remember rightly, so I’ve probably had one of the shortest winters ever. I am now appreciating the perks of a Spanish apartment too. The white tiled floors may have been icy in winter but they now cool my feet all day long and it’s fabulous. Gone are the January days of me cursing the drafty windows and echoing rooms, mi piso was built for the summer and I now realise how great this is.

So, my final month in Spain will consist of a trip to Córdoba to see the famous los patios festival, a weekend in Granada – where I will celebrate my birthday in the beautiful Alhambra, then two final weekends of parties and goodbyes. I will be making the absolute most of the hot weather too because a British summer can’t always be relied upon.

**I’ll also be negotiating the cancellation of my wifi and phone contract, closure of my bank account, deep cleaning the apartment and packing my belongings into suitcases. I’ll then be lugging the contents of the past 8 months onto various modes of public transport before inevitably collapsing in a heap of emotion and exhaustion at Heathrow arrivals. But we won’t dwell on this.**

Time to enjoy the rest of the month!

Untitled

Advertisements

Expectations

BeFunky Collage

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!

Untitled

Morocco : The Blue City

Chef2.jpg

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.

Chef7.jpg Chef6.jpg Chef5.jpg

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.

Chef4.jpg Chef3.jpg Chef1.jpg

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!

Untitled

Happy things

befunky_artwork.jpg

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.

Untitled

Salamanca: Part Two

SALA1.jpg

After getting a feel for Salamanca on Day One, our second day was spent exploring the city in more depth.

SALA2.jpg

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.

SALALALAAA.jpg

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

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

Christmas is coming!

photoIt’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!

Untitled