They say Andalucia steals your heart…

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It’s official – the grey sky, Mum’s cooking and the fact that I’m wearing more than 2 layers of clothing proves it – I’m back in England!

Naturally, I’ve found myself reflecting on my time abroad and thinking about all of the things I enjoyed and have begun to start missing.  So here are a few of my favourite things about Estepona and Andalucia, Spain.

The Weather

As British as it may sound, the weather is something I will miss greatly.  Living on the southern coast of Spain was a treat of hot weather, light breezes and pleasant nights.  I’m sure that the more I reminisce, the more I’ll forget about the crazy weekend down pours and even the random day of hailstones (‘granizo’) in April!

But it’s true what they say – a sunny day can improve your mood, even if I did constantly complain about the tan lines!

The Views

I saw some wonderful things during my 9 months in Spain and I was lucky enough to experience many of them daily.

Estepona is a beautiful coastal town, and every morning I would begin my day walking along the promenade (‘el paseo maritimo’) in awe of the clarity and the majesty of the Gibraltar rock and Atlas Mountains.  In my office, located in the port of Estepona, we overlooked the marina and the luxury ships.  Lunch time meant wandering down to a relatively quiet area of La Rada beach, sitting on the rocks looking out to sea and with views of the great mountain in Marbella, named ‘La Concha’ the shell.  And in the evening, I could return to my flat, open up my window and look out into the bustling old town and the Sierra Bermeja Mountain that dominates the landscape behind Estepona.  Something I became quite fond of seeing every morning.

La Concha, Marbella – taken October 2011.

Sierra Bermeja – the backdrop of Estepona.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I’d recommend to anyone travelling around Andalucia would be the drive to Ronda.  It is the most breathtaking journey where driving along the mountain you see thousands of trees lining the rocky area, and you go higher and higher until you feel like you’re on top of the world!  It may sound like I’m on the verge of saying it changed my life… it didn’t, but it was AMAZING.  A definite must-see.

Andalucia

When I first reached Estepona, I shamefully admit that my knowledge of Spanish regions was somewhat lacking.  I arrived to learn that Andalucia was a more traditional area of Spain, rich in culture and proudly speaking the Andalucian dialect of Spanish –‘andaluz’ – the second most spoken dialect in Spain, but with a reputation of being notoriously difficult to understand!

But after only 9 months in the Andalucian region, I feel a great love for the area for many reasons.  There are so many great cities and monuments in the region with the rich culture of Malaga, the vibrancy of Seville and the Sierra Nevada in Granada.  Generally, the people are friendly – occasionally over-friendly, but the people are lovely and help you along with your Spanish.  But most of all, Andalucia –and Spain- have an amazing way of life.  At nights and weekends, the streets, cafes and restaurants would fill up with friends and families of different generations, simply enjoying life.  In addition to the processions and festivals, it seemed like every day was a celebration in Spain – and it’s an uplifting feeling to see such enjoyment of life.

The Food

It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t mention the food in my final blog.  As a great appreciator of food, it’s no surprise that Spanish food became one of my favourite things too.

Some Spanish delicacies that I tried and came to order again and again include:

  • Puntillitas – fried baby shrimp.  Before reaching Spain, I swore I hated shrimp but I was proven wrong by these tasty little shrimp in batter, with a generous squirt of lemon juice
  • Almejas y Mejilliones – staying with seafood, an important food group in Spain, I also tried clams and mussels for the first time.  The mussels are usually served in a tomato sauce, and are quite tasty, but my favourite are the clams cooked in white wine with a squirt of lemon.  They taste great, but are dangerously small that you can keep eating and eating until the whole ‘ración’ is gone!
  • Solomillo al whisky – the Sevillan delicacy that I tried during my time in the wonderful city.  There are no words to describe the mouth watering taste of the fillets cooked in whisky!
  • Patatas bravas – what I consider to be the Spanish version of chips, these small chunks of fried potato with chilli and garlic sauce and the perfect accompaniment to any tapa.
  • Tomates aliñados – the beauty of this dish is in its sheer simplicity.  Slices of tasty Spanish tomato in olive oil, parsley and garlic – both refreshing and delicious
  • And speaking of olive oil, I can’t forget about the typical Andaluz breakfast of cafe con leche and toast (tostadas) with olive oil and salt.  A very satisfying breakfast!

Believe me when I say that the list goes on – and trust me, I could continue to talk about the amazing food that I tasted in Spain from ‘gambas pil-pil’ to ‘albondigas’, but I need to draw the line somewhere!

I haven’t even gone on to mention the excellent restaurants in Estepona, including:

Enjoying a massive mint chocolate sundae in Gelateria del Centro, Plaza del Dr Arce – August 2011.

  • La Pampa – a cosy restaurant with DELICIOUS food, all cooked to an excellent high-standard and somewhere I’d recommend without a doubt
  • La Taberna – excellent tapas in the port, a place with a great atmosphere
  • La Escollera – lots and lots of fish!
  • Sur – for a good grill, the Moroccan provides excellent dishes
  • Gelateria del Centro – best ice cream place!
  • Wang – good Chinese takeaway
  • La Taberna de Lucia – a chain of 4 restaurants in Estepona with great tapas dishes

And if you like to cook, the selection of fresh vegetables in the supermarket is fantastic with vegetables twice the size of those in England, extensive fish counters and an aisle solely dedicated to olives.

My year abroad has ended – but I’ll never forget it.  And now I’ve had my taste of Andalucia, I will be back, for sure.

Thank you for reading my blog.

I wanted to end with a song – and it took me a while to choose.  From Danza Kudoro (the song that every Spanish ERASMUS student now knows, I’m sure), the annoying catchy Ai se eu tu pego to the Juan Magan hit – Bailonda por ahi or one of Shakira’s many – Rabiosa.  In the end, I decided to go with the song that was Number 1 in the Spanish charts when I left Spain on 13th May 2012.

¡Hasta luego! 🙂

 

Seville… a.k.a. “Sevilllllla”

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With my imminent return to England, I thought I’d take a trip to one of the most loved places in Andalucia – the city of Seville.  Although only there for one night, I too did fall a little bit in love with the city.

The journey to Seville was an amazing thing in itself.  We had to travel through the inland city of Ronda to reach Seville, which involved the bus driving around mountains.  Normally a view I see from the plane, we travelled further and further up until it felt like I was on top of the world.

After a collective four hours of travelling, Rebekah and I finally reached the city of Seville.  Here are some of the things I loved about Seville.

If there is something Spain does well, and I can say this without a doubt, it’s that tapas are excellent!

And Seville did not disappoint!

A fancy Spanish take on fish and chips.

In a traditional tapas restaurant Casa Román’ in Plaza de las Venerables, I tried one of Seville’s specialities – solomillo al whisky – as the name suggests, strips of meat soaked in a spicy, whisky sauce.  But this description does not do justice to the taste – the juicy and delicious flavour that I’ve only ever experienced with meat cooked in whisky!  The following day we tried something a little different at a Gastrobar, this time treating us to a modern take on tapas, which was very different but just as delicious.  One to mention was the ‘baclao dorado’ [cod], which was served to me in a cocktail glass.  Yes, a serving of tasty cod, with a fried egg on top, sprinkled with crisps, in a cocktail glass.

The food fun didn’t stop there. A traditional and huge paella – always a Spanish favourite – and I agree!

 

 

 

 

After this particularly immense paella on Saturday night, we went for a wander around Seville in search of some night-time atmosphere in the city.  This soon became a fully fledged hunt as the city seemed strangely quiet.  Whether the Sevillanas were saving themselves for the Sevilla Feria that begins this week, I guess we’ll never know!  Eventually, we reached the ‘Alameda de Hercules’, another recommendation.  An area lined with a few bars and mostly ‘botellons’ in street, we stopped for what was an incredibly good mojito, before heading back to the hotel.  It seems that a mojito can be classed ‘as making the best of a situation’!

During our travels around the city, we passed the Real Maestranza bullring– one of the most famous bullrings in Andalucia, which attracts famous bull fighters from across the country.  Saturday was a particularly special day as the first bull fight of the season.  Spaniards were dressed up in their finest clothes and children were having their photos taken with the bull ring in the background.  Yet, as we walked further down the road, we saw the stirrings of what became an anti-bullfighting protest.  Police had closed off the street for the equally large crowd of people walking in the direction of the bullring blowing whistles, waving flags and chanting things like “Andalucía, anti-taurina” and declaring that bullfighting is “ni arte ni cultura”.

Entrance of the Real Maestranza Bull Ring in Seville

Anti-taurina protest down Paseo de Colón.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As in most cities, there were some truly breathtaking sights.

Really, really tall.

The Real Alcazar was something incredibly spectacular – a beautiful palace with intricate carvings and giant tapestries hanging on the walls.  Even more astounding were the Gardens of the Alcazar, so expansive that we seemed to walk through them for hours.  We came across water fountains – large and small, beautiful flowers and perfectly bloomed roses, vast grassy areas with only the sound of the birds tweeting, as well as amazing views, mosaic benches and some of the tallest palm trees that I have ever seen towering over me.

And then there are the plazas [squares].  Ah, the plazas – one of my favourite things about Spain.

One of the first plazas we stumbled upon was the Plaza de Salvador.  A huge plaza right next to Church of Salvador, and in true Sevillan style, I hear, it was full of people gathered around chatting in the sun and sipping on a cerveza or some tinto verano.  It was pretty cool, and they made drinking in the streets in the middle of the day seem like the most civilised thing!

But, I leave the best until last.  By far the most fantastic sight was the Plaza de España.  After a day of travelling and exploring the city, this is the last place we reached, following so many recommendations.  As we walked through Maria Luisa Park, it was like approaching Disneyland as the plaza became increasingly more visible to us artistically framed between two palm trees.

Plaza de España, Seville

In the middle stood a grand, and given the 30 degree weather, cooling fountain.  In the area around the fountain, couples, friends and families enjoyed horse and carriage rides and rowing around the canal which runs within the plaza.  For a good while we lay on the bench just enjoying the calming and wonderful atmosphere of the Plaza de España, before crossing the bridge to see the 48 mosaic alcoves for each Spanish province.  Of course, I paid particular attention to Malaga stopping for a photo with my home for the last 9 months.

The province of Malaga's presence in the impressive Plaza de España

So Andalucia delivers another excellent city.  As I said to my manager after the trip, “there’s not one city in Andalucia that I’ve visited and not loved”. 🙂

Carnivals, Museum & “Pareeee”

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So, once again, I was caught up in things going on during my year abroad that my blog became a little neglected.  But how do I summarise the last, pretty excellent month?

Well, beginning around the 18th February 2012, Rebekah, Emma and I headed to the CADIZ CARNIVAL.  And capitalised it should be – this huge event fills the city of Cadiz with people from all over the world who come together, dressed up in admirable fancy dress outfits, to celebrate the culture of the carnival, chill in the streets and have a memorable trip!  Although there are carnivals all over the country in February, Cadiz has a reputation of being the biggest and the best, and we were not let down.  I link now to Rebekah’s guest blog for Andalucia.com, who captures the craziness of Cadiz Carnival perfectly.

Celebrations in Cadiz Carnival!

I can’t say it’s been all play… we do work here too!  I’ve found myself visiting museums again – one in particular I have visited three times now!  In early March, the Carmen Thyssen Museum in Malaga hosted a press release for their new temporary exhibition, in time for the celebrations of their first birthday.  During the guided tour around the Museum, by a professor from the University of Malaga, I found myself becoming a little art lover [as I type this, Mum is hysterical with laughter at the thought of a cultured daughter].  He went around explaining the details of the Baroness’ collection of works, describing the traits and the feelings of the paintings and the artists’ intentions.  It was all very interesting and I found myself taking in everything he said, so much so that he could have said something completely random, and I probably would have still nodded in agreement.  Anyway, when writing my guest blog for Andalucia.com, I quite enjoyed my exploration into Spanish culture through art, which is exactly what you can experience at the Carmen Thyssen Museum in Malaga.

And saving the best until last, PARIS!  One of the best things about International Business at the University of Warwick is the compulsory three-day seminar held in Disneyland Paris.  Held between Monday and Thursday, I made the most of the opportunity for a weekend in city of Paris!  A first time visitor, and complete tourist, I had my heart set on visiting the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre and Notre-dame… in one day.  And, in fact, I was pleasantly surprised by the ease with which you can get around the city.  Anisha and I managed to see the Arc de Triomphe and walk down the lavish Champs-Elysses following our touch-down in Paris.  On my student budget, and frankly not being a millionaire, it was an afternoon of window shopping as I compiled my wish list for fancy cars, Cartier diamonds and…. a taste of every burger from the all-burger restaurant (and exciting prospect for me!)

The following day was a whirlwind of walking, monuments… and rain!  I didn’t quite picture my first Eiffel Tower experience wrapped in my coat, and still freezing, and gripping onto my umbrella for dear life.  But, despite all of that, I couldn’t help but enjoy the wonder of Notre-Dame and the Louvre, the relaxed charm of the Latin Quarter, the beautiful places we came across and the romance of the city.

Notre Dame, and even more amazing inside.

Eiffel Tower on a grey Paris day

Eiffel Tower on a grey Paris day

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All of this was made better by the croissants, pain au chocolat and, for the child in me, the build up to Disneyland Paris.  The last time I visited Disneyland, I was an excitable toddler who loved the magic of it all, and dangerously my expectations of Disneyland were based on the memories of that toddler.  Needless to say, things had changed slightly.  Firstly, I was the same height as the characters, if not taller.  I could see the human face inside Goofy’s mouth, and Goofy was a little too friendly in a whole other way!  The magic was wearing thin slightly through my adult eyes.

Goofy playing up for us during a buffet at the Disneyland Hotel

Though, I’m sure my classmates can vouch for the fact that I clung onto the magic as hard as I could, and soon enough it became effortless.  I smiled and excitedly waved at my favourite Disney characters as they passed by me on their floats during the Disney parade, I waited patiently to have my photo taken with each character and I queued up for the rides.  Be it flying over the Peter Pan story, spinning in the tea cup, being frightened in the haunted mansion, and my personal ‘favourite’, learning all about the different cultures of the world from manic, smiling dolls, alongside the soundtrack of “It’s a small world”.  An experience I will never forget.

My moment with Aladdin, complete with a wink and wave in my direction. Disneyland - where dreams come true!!

There was quite a deal of work involved in this three-day seminar: early starts, presentations, group work, reading – but all a lot more enjoyable in Disneyland!  In fact, maybe fourth year lectures could be held in Disneyland… that’d be nice.

Sights of Spain.

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The last month has been pretty quiet in Estepona, with people awaiting the next celebration after El Dia de los Reyes Magos.  This, of course, means that shops and supermarkets are now lined with all things red and offers are prominent on boxes of truffles for ‘El Dia de San Valentin’.

These months are also key in preparation for the summer season before the holiday makers come flooding in from Spanish cities and England.  New water displays being built, railings and fountains are being painted and the ‘chiringuitos’ will open soon.

One day in the office, I saw a huge palm tree being put into the port.

Operation Palm Tree.

It made me think about how areas such as the Costa del Sol are built to look good.  The streets lined with palm trees are planned beforehand, all the areas are strategically made to look beautiful and I have watched the terrace where I now have lunch, being built from the foundations up.

My lunch spot on the terrace in the port, overlooking the boats and Gibraltar (unfortunately, out of shot)

A huge amount of effort is taken to keep places like Estepona  looking lovely, which is not really a surprise since tourism is so important here.

Another natural beauty.

But there is no doubting the beauty of the natural sights here.  The clarity of Gibraltar and the Atlas Mountains on a clear day in Estepona is enough to make the walk to work pleasant in the morning.

The following is, without a doubt, another of my favourite sights here.  Every morning, as I leave my flat in a rush to get to work, I always turn my head for a quick glance at the mountain.  Usually the sun is shining down on it from the blue ‘not-a-cloud-in-the’ sky.

Definitely makes me happy.

Estepona - so pretty.

 

El Dia de los Reyes Magos

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So Christmas may seem like a distant memory, with only the novelty of presents and an expanded waist line as a reminder of the festive time.  And yet, I returned to Spain January 4th feeling that post-Christmas gloom… only to celebrate it again!!  Well, Christmas in the Spanish style, known as ‘El dia de los reyes magos’.  Now, this day, January 6th was actually a while ago now, but due to poor internet, there was a bit of delay on this post, so we’ll just pretend I posted it last week, as I was supposed to.

So, I’ve put together a list of the top 3 things you can see during the ‘Three King’s Day’, as it is referred to in English.

3) PRESENTS

Alternatively celebrate with a dessert - though who knew Baileys, Tia Maria, Ameretto and chocolate would make you feel a little bit sick at night?

As a colleague of mine so eloquently explained, “In Spain, the Kings bring the presents, not the big fat beardy Coca-Cola man [Santa – wasn’t sure if I had to clarify that!]” As in the Bible, the Kings bring the presents, and this is the tradition that Spain follows.

Although this doesn’t fulfil Wizzard’s wish of “Christmas every dayyyyyyy”, it does mean that the Spanish can enjoy all the food, festivities and Christmas TV on December 25 and January 6th– pretty good deal!

2) ROSCON DE REYES

This can only be described as a big, sugary donut-like cake.  You’ll see these ‘Roscon de Reyes’ everywhere, they are the Christmas pudding of Spain.  I went to the supermarket on January 6th, and it was a similar sight to England, but with people making a mad dash for a roscon or two.

The roscon usually is suger-coated pastry filled with cream and topped with fruit (covered in sugar).  I did try the roscon with my colleagues, and it’s definitely something to try.  However, having a slice during my 10am coffee break meant that the by 11am I was on a considerable sugar high.

Spain also has a fun tradition where the cakes are filled with a little figure, either of Jesus or just a toy.  The person that finds the toy (in our case – a little Goofy) receives the toy and the title of king or queen.  This honour came complete with a gold card crown that we insisted Ana wear for a while.  The other ‘surprise’ in the cake is a bean – a somewhat unlucky surprise as the recipient then has to pay for the roscon!

The office Roscon del Reyes - I can taste the sugar!

1) CABALGATA DE LOS REYES

The biggest and most exciting thing you will hear about is the ‘Cabalgata de los reyes’ – the Kings parade, which usually takes place the day before the Dia de Reyes.  In towns all over Spain, kids will drag their parents to fill the streets and watch as the Kings go by throwing out sweets to the crowds of people.  Usually, this takes place after activities are held for the children somewhere in town.

I didn’t truly understand the excitement of the whole thing until I tried to walk home and ended up battling my way through crowds and crowds of people that had lined the streets an hour early in anticipation for the arrival of the Kings.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to watch the parade but caught glimpses as it passed me by enroute to the supermarket.  Worst of all, I received no sweets, but you can’t really fight a 5 year old though.  What struck me is that, such is the mentality of keeping things clean in Spain, the parade was followed by a line of road sweepers who swept up the sweet wrappers as they went along.  An efficient and effective way of tackling mess around town, I thought.

But that there is your summary to Spanish Christmas – El Dia de los Reyes Magos, a post somewhat delayed but festive all the same, just like January 6th.

 

Navidad, Navidad, Navidad.

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December – the most festive time of the year, has been a beauty of a month for me.  Celebrations for my 21st, visits from friends (shout out to Becca Reid and Jenny Barnes, much love), Christmas cheer, and I now write this post from the lovely, if a bit chilly, England after 5 months in Spain.

Still double-digit degree weather in Estepona, at least during the day, England’s bitter cold is shocking.  But exactly what I expect at Christmas.  Sunny days, palm trees and the beach, despite being wonderful, do make Christmas seem months away.  Only the odd Christmas advert and Bublé tunes remind you of the time of year when in the Costa del Sol – a sharp contrast to being smothered by the festive season as soon as you step off the plane (though this is one of the things I missed about England).  Despite my happiness that Christmas lights began to illuminate the streets of Estepona on my birthday, 8th December, this is somewhat later than lights would begin appearing in England.

And of course, with this festive season comes the office Christmas celebrations (with a Spanish twist).  Think less turkey, and more fish – though it was the tastiest sea bass I’d ever eaten!  A delicious meal at the Da Bruno restaurant in Marbella, with English touches including crackers – which then led to explaining the bad cracker jokes in Spanish, definitely made the festive cheer more apparent.  We replaced the English ‘Secret Santa’ with its Spanish counterpart – ‘el regalo invisible’, where instead of being buying for a specific person, you have to buy a unisex gift which is then passed around the table in a pass the parcel-esque game, accompanied by a story directing the present either “left” or “right”.  The meal was then followed by the universal “let’s go for drinks”, taking us around Marbella still wearing our Santa hats.

Christmas Celebrations with the Office

Despite coming back to England for Christmas, there are certain Spanish traditions that I was able to experience.

1)      All over the streets of Estepona, not only are you warmed by the Spanish weather but also the smell of chestnuts roasting on street corners by the street vendors.

2)      What you will see as frequently, if not more frequently than Christmas trees in Spain, are traditional nativity scenes

Traditional Belén

, known as a ‘Belén’, which is the Spanish word for Bethlehem.      People put these in their homes, and can be found widely around Spain including El Corte Ingles.  Jenny and I stumbled across a huge ‘Belén’ in Estepona.  Walking around it, the whole of the Christmas story was depicted on this nativity scene, complete with angels, wise men and the baby Jesus.

3)      In terms of food, ‘turron’ is the Christmas speciality, which is a sweet made of almonds and honey.  Although I didn’t get a chance to taste it in Spain, there’s a pack sitting in my kitchen to be opened on Christmas day (as if we won’t have enough to eat on Christmas day!)  And one thing you can’t escape in Spain is huge legs of ham, which are usually enjoyed by families at Christmas, and range from 50 Euros to about 700!

Another Spanish Christmas tradition is ‘El Dia de los Inocentes’, otherwise known as April Fool’s Day, which takes place on December 28th, and throughout the Christmas season.

Some Christmas traditions are the same everywhere, whether in Spain or England, with lights and decorations and the general Christmas cheer/panic.  And unfortunately, even I couldn’t escape Bieber’s destruction of ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’.

Christmas isn’t even the biggest celebration in Spain; I can look forward to the day of the three kings (‘El Dia de los Reyes’) on 6th January.

But before all of that, whether it’s “Merry Christmas” or “Feliz Navidad” (or nothing at all) enjoy the rest of 2011 and I’ll see you in 2012!

Salsa, the Show and Spain

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There are certain things that you have to do when in Spain, for example, eat tapas, watch a Spanish movie and try a Spanish dance.

Earlier this week, we ticked off ‘Spanish dance’ with a taste of salsa – the dance, not the condiment.  (This blog is a bit of a shout out to Miss Becca Reid – the salsa lady herself! 🙂 )

After weeks of saying we’d go, Emma, Rebekah and I made our way to a bar in Estepona, Mambo, popular for its frequent Latin nights.  Arriving at the English interpretation of 8pm, we were sat in the bar waiting for the teacher to arrive.  When Spanish 8pm (8.15) came, Franklin – the teacher arrived and eventually we became a Salsa class with one other girl and two Spanish men.

The warm up was a bit of merengue (pronc. meh-ren-gay and not to be confused with ‘meringue’), a quite simple warm up that saw us stepping, walking and moving our hips to the Spanish version of Gyptian’s ‘Hold You’.  (I tried to find this version to post here but it turns out there are MANY Spanish versions!)  We then went on to the main event learning our basic steps of Cuban Salsa.  Successfully achieving these steps, I felt a great sense of achievement… until I started getting them confused with the other steps we were then taught.

What I couldn’t get my head around was the ‘Dile que no’ (otherwise known as the ‘cross body’ and translated as the “Tell him no” – which I should have been good at given how men are in the south of Spain).  So, I left it to the man to lead me (otherwise known as ‘let the man move me around him’).  I finally did understand the Dile que no luckily, but my basic steps remain a little rusty.

Spanish bluntness meant that we were told exactly how much practice we needed before we left!  However, it was a good bit of fun, definitely brilliant exercise and amazing to be able to understand the teacher speaking in Spanish.  Excellent!

Another big event this week was the ‘Over 50s Show’ – I have been organising our stall for the company over the last couple of months.  An event led by an Irish magazine, it brings together a range of companies from Spain and the UK to come to the Costa del Sol to advertise their businesses to people over 50.

We tried to have "a bit of fun" by taking people's photos and putting them in front of an iconic Andalucian background. This is me in Sotogrande - we tried to encourage fun ones too but they didn't really kick off.

Our stall was opposite a bowling green team.  I think it’s fair to say that you’ve spent enough time at the Over 50s show when you begin to understand the game of bowls.  I did enjoy the food though – it’s quite the rarity to get your hands on some ‘hog roast, apple sauce and stuffing’ in Spain – trust me!

And finally I think a quick note about the weather is worth a mention.  We enjoyed a standard Costa del Sol winter weekend with a toasty 22 degrees.  Lovely (and yet I’m still excited to come home for Christmas)!

That’s all, folks 🙂

The joys of Spanish television.

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Whenever I go on holiday, childish instincts take over when I enter the hotel.  I run in to see the room, the view, choose a bed and without fail – get acquainted with the TV.  And most times, I am disappointed by the TV channels that are full of dubbed films, dramatic shows and token English-speaking channels – usually BBC News/CNN and MTV.  But, the best bit about a holiday, is that there are so many other things to day, you hardly use the TV anyway.

So imagine having these limited TV viewing choices every day for a year.  As a student, I was never too bothered by a lack of TV, especially in my first year at uni when I didn’t have a TV at all.  Why?  Because of that little thing called the Internet – whatever you want to watch at the click of a few keys.  However, when you have limited dial-up Internet connection in Spain, you find that the TV is all that you have…  So I ended up watching it and discovered a whole new world!

In Spain, my TV has the equivalent of English freeview, so a selection of random channels, of which I flick through a handful.

The two biggest networks, which for me are the equivalent of BBC and ITV, are la Sexta and La1.  I have two Le Sexta channels which give me a range of documentaries, sports and La Sexta 3, which is a channel that plays films ALL DAY.  Not bad, not bad at all.

However, you may sometimes tune into horrors such the ‘Bratz’ movie and other equally shocking “films”.  If learning Spanish, you can always watch these films dubbed in the language to practice.  Although it does sound a bit odd!  At the very least use should the subtitles.  When learning a language, you can forget everything your parents ever told you about TV being bad – it’s a brilliant way to immerse yourself in the language and pick up a few key words.

La1 is my go-to channel for a good ole Spanish telenovela (Spanish soap).  If you ever watched ‘Ugly Betty’, you might remember Betty’s father, Ignacio, who always used to watch these Spanish soaps, which were dramatic and sometimes badly filmed.

Well, my first exploration into the world of ‘telenovelas’ took me to Palos Verdes in Mexico, watching a soap about two people who had lost their partners for different reasons, but years later were learning to love again (Amar de Nuevo).  Sounds like your typical romcom, right?  Now throw in, the male protagonist – Roman’s deceased wife’s twin sister, Rosilda who is obsessed with him and does some crazy things to try to be with him, including faking an illness and faking the paternity of her child.  The programme has ended and I doubt anyone reading this was following it, so I won’t hesitate at leaking a spoiler.  Rosilda throws herself in front of a bullet and dies to save Roman.  And who shoots this bullet you ask?  Maximo, who is so rich and corrupt that he owns the whole town but was in love with Veronica who is learning to love again with Roman!  But Veronica marries Maximo to take revenge on him because it was he who sent the order to kill her first husband.  And who killed Veronica’s first husband?  Only Bulmaro, who killed Veronica’s husband under the orders of Maximo – his employer AND brother, despite being Veronica’s cousin!  Confused?!  Well, that’s only touching the surface of the storylines.  Though unsurprisingly, Roman and Veronica married (Roman’s brother – Leandro is a priest who married the couple, who has also been in love with Veronica his whole life) and a number of other couples also paired off in the show and everyone lived HAPPILY EVER AFTER.

Luckily for you, I found an English trailer for it :)… enjoy!

And my colleagues used to laugh at me for watching it – it’s addictive.  And I always kept telling them – good for my Spanish!

Other channels include Clan – the kids channel.  Not going to lie, I was a frequent watcher when they played Penguins of Madagascar and Spongebob Square Pants.  Unfortunately, the selection of shows has now lost my interest.  Though I’m not sure even a toddler could manage about 3 hours of Peppa Pig – in Spanish or English!

Divinity is the channel for women.  Grey’s Anatomy, Sex & the City, Desperate Housewives, Style by Jury, Home Heist, Life Unexpected – basically the best and the worst of American TV.  Full of guilty pleasures and the channel to watch for daytime TV when you’re ill – Trust me, I know.

For some good Spanish TV, I would recommend a guilty pleasure telenovela to get stuck into, despite the usually over-the-top opening credits.  Once you get into them, there’s no getting out and you’ll be addicted.  I once missed one episode and the show had jumped 9 months into the future – I guess that’s one way to not have to think of 9 months worth of storylines!  A popular documentary that is good to watch is variations of ‘Españoles en el Mundo’, which basically shows the lives of Spaniards around the world and how they have adapted to different countries.  Quite a gem for a cultural insight into other countries and good for some Spanish practice.

Of course, I can’t talk about Spanish TV without mentioning TV adverts.  It seems that whenever I switch on my TV, the Spaniards are always switched on!  Adverts full of singing and dancing – be that an advert for the dentist to insurance, you will be entertained.  There is also a significant lack of watershed here.  Two examples – during Halloween, horror movies would be advertised all day, with very graphic scenes.  And secondly, Spain thoroughly embraces the saying that sex sells, and they will show adverts to this effect all day… and the most explicit is used to sell cooker cleaner… cooker cleaner!

So there’s my insight into Spanish TV and a survival guide should you find yourself in the situation of watching only Spanish TV.  But remember, if you can’t find something you want to watch, you can always amuse yourself by watching films dubbed into Spanish.  I didn’t think it could get any odder than Jackie Chan dubbed into Spanish, until I flicked onto the Spanish-dubbed Mahatma Gandhi movie!

To end, here are a few ‘useful’ things that TV can teach you:

Vocab from Spongebob Square Pants = Bob Esponja 

Sponge = esponja, crab = cangrejo, sand = arena, pineapple = piña, under

You may laugh, but it means I can now ask the very important question of:

Que vive en piña debajo del mar? – who lives in a pineapple under the sea?

From telenovelas:

“No te metas en mi vida!” – Don’t get involved in my life!

“Te amo con todo mi alma” – I love you will my soul

“Largate!” – get out!

I think it’s now evident how dramatic the soap was!

Weekend in Malaga

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A weekend trip to Malaga was an awesome experience of Spanish culture.  Emma and I went for business (a client’s anniversary party) but also had the chance to explore one of the best cities in Andalucia.  It was such a good weekend – it’s definitely blog-worthy!  So here are some of the highlights:

Tapas

When it comes to Spanish food, tapas are the best way to go about it.  Tapas are little portions of Spanish delicacies – lots of seafood, chorizo and ‘other things’.  My favourite was gambas pil pil – prawns in chilli and garlic.  With the spicy and with garlic kick, it was the closest thing to Mum’s cooking in two months, yum!  The ‘other things’ included rabbit and (I quote) “two little birds”, which didn’t sound all that appetising to me and I couldn’t bring myself to try.  Especially with the pigeons flying around (a reminder of England when I usually see seagulls all day) and little birds (oh god, now I really wouldn’t be able to eat it!)

Some advice: tapas places usually have people sitting around large barrels and these barrels are the standard decor – but don’t always go to the big places.  The small places down a little side street have the most rica food

Museums

Malaga is now promoting itself as ‘the city of museums’.  As we walked around the cobbled streets of Malaga we did see that there were museums and other places rich in culture in every corner as we got lost in the city!  We first ventured into the Carmen Thyssen Museum.  Opened recently it holds a large collection of paintings from different periods and of different themes.  The best thing about the collection was the images of traditional life in Andalucia.  There were lots of paintings of women dancing flamenco, people wandering around in the narrow streets of the now ‘old towns’ and a general enjoyment of life.  Though seeing the painting of Estepona ‘back in the day’, there didn’t seem to be much going on here, which didn’t surprise us!

The Beach at Estepona with a View of the Rock of Gibraltar (1855)

As part of the business part of the trip, we also visited the Felix Revello del Toro museum.  Revello del Toro is a Malaga-born painter who has a talent and appreciation for portraits and the female figure.  The museum and the paintings were amazing, and it was brilliant to see the work of someone who can capture the essence of a person in a painting when the height of my artistic ability is drawing a stick man!

Sumida en el Sueno (1989)

Mojito

The 40th anniversary of a language school was the event that we attended for work, and they know how to celebrate in Spain.  With another open bar, delicious canapés and all set in a pretty good-looking language school – it was a great celebration.  And brilliant that I finally got to try a good mojito!  Other than waiting in the queue for a good 30-45 minutes, there was just the right amount of crushed ice and sugar to make a perfect Mojito.  If only I can pronounce it the proper Spanish way now!

Night life

Malaga not only is a city, but a university city!  And with lots of young people come lots of bars.  Since the Spanish night out doesn’t start until a ridiculous 3am, when we arrived in Malaga city centre, there were people milling around trying to attract us into the very empty bars.  And the ‘attraction’ came in the form of a free drink per bar.  Lovely!  Unfortunately, I can’t add so many positive comments about the Spanish music.  I find this quite odd because I’ve heard some good Spanish music, which seems to disappear in bars etc. and is instead replaced with a) not-so-great Spanish music b) retro 80s pop and rock or c) mainstream English/American music.  However, an advantage of this was discovering that the Spanish do pronounce ‘Lady Gaga’ in the best way!

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