Monthly Archives: August 2011

Snapshots of Spain

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I mentioned in an earlier post that there was a bank holiday.  Normally in Spain the holidays are for some religious purpose.  August 15th was a normal day, but it was by night that the festival began!  I live in a flat overlooking Estepona ‘old town’ so I luckily had a brilliant view of the whole parade that went down ‘Calle Real’.  After a quick wiki search, I found that the Spanish, along with many others, celebrate the Assumption of Mary – otherwise known as the Virgin Mary’s heavenly birthday when she was accepted into heaven.  It went on for over an hour and the news showed that similar festivities occurred around Spain.  Some highlights (which you can see in the photo) include two brass bands, the men holding the statue of the Virgin Mary shouting “guapa, guapa, guapa” and women dressed as brides.

The statue of the Virgin Mary being carried through 'Calle Real', where people had lined the streets. and the second band following behind.

The whole street was full of people and there was an amazing atmosphere that was great to be a part of.  And that wasn’t even the biggest celebration – that happens in July, can’t wait to experience that one!

More recently, a few sales meetings took me to Gibraltar.  For those of you who may not know, Gibraltar – commonly known as ‘the rock’ is found between southern Spain and North Africa.  It is a British territory, so I was very much considering my little trip to Gibraltar as a potential cure for my home sickness.  After crossing the border, with lots of flashes of your passport, you pass the Gibraltar airport runways.  Literally, you can walk straight past the runways and you see the planes take off from the island very closely, which is pretty cool.

As soon as you look around you see ‘Winston Churchill Road’ and English signs everywhere.  The Gibraltarians have their own accent, something difficult to describe but interesting to hear.  And of course, you can see English everywhere – a language I understand with ease! J

After the sales part of the day, we treated ourselves to fish, chips and mushy peas from one of the many fish and chips places in Gibraltar.  It did feel a bit like home – with Burger Kind, McDonalds and Subway all in sight – but sitting in 37 degrees heat!  All followed by a cheeky visit to Morrisons to pick up things that are missing in Spain (big box of cereal, chilli sauce and a massive pack of Typhoo tea) and catch up on the English headlines (and I may have aww-ed when I saw the British currency – I do miss the Queen on my money!).

I took this trip with one of the directors of the company who’s also a photographer. This led to my next destination of Sotogranda, Cadiz where ‘locations’ were looked at, lighting was discussed and I suddenly felt quite glamorous.  We drove into Sotogrande on a road lined with palm trees – more LA, less promenade style.  At the end of the road was a roundabout with a Porsche sat on it – bit of casual advertisement of a PORSHE on a roundabout!  And I got to see some of the most amazing houses, flats, buildings, yachts, boats and views I have ever seen!  One of the things that particularly

The Burger Bar.

stuck out for me was an American style burger bar that you’d think would be out of place, but for some reason was completely fitting despite the luxury of Sotogrande.  A very glamorous place – I’ll remember it when I’m a multimillionaire looking to buy my third house…. well, we’ll see!

My first sight of Sotogrande which wow-ed me, near the 'Hippy Market'

And to top it all off, a sighting of a Spanish A-List celeb ended the

trip.  We saw the daughter of the Duquesa de Alba, who was the subject of the Flamenco show I saw see post ‘Tans, Flamenco and early starts’.  Like I said, Spanish A-list, so unfortunately I didn’t make the most of the experience, nor did I know who she actually was until we left.  But a brush with fame all the same!

A day of British treats, Spanish luxury and a touch of glamour – and all part of work!  A brilliant day which renewed a fresh burst of Spanish enthusiasm in me!

Another beautiful view of Sotogrande.

Table for one & a generous drink.

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It has been a very mixed week.  It was only a matter of time before home sickness kicked in.  And oh, has it hit.

English dialling tones, chunky chips and TV that isn’t dubbed – it truly is the little things that you miss!  Oh and on top of that… the people, of course!

Work keeps me busy during the week.  Writing up proposals, making sales and my mind’s constant translation into Spanish – a brilliant distraction, and a good use of time!  10.30 coffee breaks are a highlight to get that morning kick, soak up some Spanish – and I’ve always wanted to have a ‘usual’, even if it is my daily ‘cafe con leche’.

As I become settled in Spain, routines form, even with TV.  My second year at uni was a blur of Friends episodes, but this year a dramatic Spanish ‘telenovela’ followed by ‘Bob Esponja’ (Spongebob Square Pants), The Davincibles and ‘Sexo en Nueva York’ (Sex and the City) is all part of life in Spain! 😛

Though, home sickness really kicks in when you treat yourself to a meal out and the waitress asks ‘Una?’ – and yes, you that you do in fact want a table for one and yes, you are alone.  Now this didn’t seem like it would be big deal.  However I don’t know whether it’s the fact that it’s tourist season so everyone is eating with their families or friends or because generally in England, I usually eat out with friends or family, but eating out alone really emphasises the home sick feeling.  Oh England!

HOWEVER, Spain is still providing me with happier topics to write about in this blog (luckily – no matter how home sick I am, I’m still being sure to make the most of Spain!!)  The port is the hub of entertainment/nightlife in Estepona.

Just a few things about an Estepona night out:

  • Drinks are expensive, but with generous servings of alcohol at the same time
  • Happy hour is 8-9
  • After 9, bars are deserted while Spaniards eat, and they return much later
  • The Spanish enjoy Pitbull and J-Lo… a lot
  • Vodka caramelo is one of the nicest shots that you can get post-meal
  • Spain rains at night but you never realise in the morning
  • Restaurants/cafes stay open so a late night, freshly baked pizza is available for all

The rest is to be experienced yourself.

For now, a magnum and a dubbed movie wait for me as I enter my first of twelve months in Spain.

All things Spanish.

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Every country has its own traditions, its own customs and its own habits.  It’s only natural that when you spend time in a country you notice them.  When living in a country, they become even more apparent as you try to adjust to them.  Here are a few things that I’ve noticed about Estepona, Spain.

Siestas:

When you think of Spain, siestas are something that comes to mind.  The siesta falls between 2pm and 5pm – generally considered the hottest time of the day.  Although, it does seems hot ALL the time here in Estepona!  Lunch falls within the siesta.  As I have already mentioned in other posts, lunch at 2pm is something rather difficult to adjust to when a 12pm/1pm lunch in the UK is the norm.

I might add here that contrary to popular belief, I DO NOT get a siesta.  If I’m honest, I get more of a siesta at uni, even if this does mean having a nap in the library :P.  However, siestas do mean that a LOT of shops, banks etc. are not open.  Which leads me to my next point…

Opening times:

Opening times take a lot of getting used to, and until you do, they may seem completely random.  With a massive break in the middle of the day, most places are open early morning and/or late into the night.  On Sundays you will find that most things are closed other than the big supermarkets.

August is the holiday season in Spain.  As you’ll find in England, many people will take their summer holiday at this time of the year, as in Spain.  However, you may also find here that some shops will close for the whole month or people will be out of the office for ages!

Hello:

Standard greeting in the UK to answer the phone: Hello?  Can I help? etc.

In Spain, ‘dígame’ is widely used.  Grammatically, this is an imperative – so some may consider it a bit abrupt.  I had to think about it the first time I heard it.  However this greeting, used for answering phone calls to working on the fish counter at Mercadona, is used everywhere.  Literally meaning ‘tell me,’ this custom, which does seem to make things more efficient, is a common understood greeting in Spain and something I’m getting used to.  Eventually, I’m sure I’ll be answering my phone ‘dígame’ instead of ‘hola’.

Good morning? :

A quick guide to polite greetings, but more importantly, WHEN to use them –

Good morning = Buenos días (from early morning until about 2/3pm)
Good afternoon = Buenas tardes (3pm- around 9/10pm)
Good evening = Buenas noches (onwards)

Andalucía accent:

The accents and slang of the UK will widely differ from formal, ‘proper’ English taught in foreign schools.  Similarly, the Andalucía accent, from what I’ve heard, is a much more relaxed version of the ‘school-taught’ Spanish with shortened words and strong accents (e.g. you can’t tell the difference between a ‘b’ and a ‘v’ in speech).   This is what I’m trying to adapt to.  That and the speed of naturally spoken Spanish!

Roads and traffic lights:

Generally, a little confusing.  Not as strict or structured as the UK but certainly not the challenge faced in countries like India.  Though they do like to use their horns here, a lot.

The view.

Here are just a few observations about Spain that I’m adapting to – things to bear in mind if you are in Spain.

Though generally, what a brilliant lifestyle here!  I’m sitting in my flat, my windows well open.  They look out onto the streets of the ‘old town’ in Estepona, which has been buzzing all day, full of tourists and locals.  Especially at this time, the siesta, when the smell of food is wafting in.  Lovely!

Another point, people look much younger than they are here.  Whether it’s the climate, the way of life or the siestas, they’re certainly doing something right here in Spain.  As my high school Spanish teacher used to say, and a phrase he very much liked to use (shout out to Mr.Gough)

“Que vida más buena que tenemos” – what a good life we have!

Tans, flamenco & early starts.

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My first ‘official’ week has been crazy.

My job has obviously been a major feature of the week with 9am til 6pm days just being spent at work – VERY different to the summer holidays.  Harder still is the adaption to a 2pm lunch and a 10pm dinner.  It’s only natural that by 12pm, the Brit in me wants lunch!  However, no matter what the time is, being able to walk just a stone’s throw from my office to the wall of the beach is brilliant.  I have never had lunch on an ‘ordinary’ day, feet dangling just above the sand looking out at the views of the sea and Gibraltar.  A beautiful accompaniment to the amounts of chorizo I’m munching on at lunch!

Work is a challenging and interesting experience.  At the moment there’s lots of training and when speedy Spanish dialogues start in the Andalucian accent… quite a bit of confusion!  I hope I get better at that!  I get to do real work, which is great and there’s lots of variation.  If my year continues like my first week, it will be brilliant!  Due to a few meetings, I have had sneak peeks of nearby places including Marbella and Puerto Banus, two of the most exclusive and expensive places in Andalucia.  This I noticed, when stopped in a petrol station in Puerto Banus, there were 3 porsches around me at one point in time.  Not bad… not bad at all.

Although most of my week has been filled with my main job of sales, I have also had the opportunity to do some writing.  I attended a press release with a colleague for a flamenco show coming to Estepona.  Cecilia Gomez, the flamenco dancer, was very nice, very talented and an honour to meet and write about.

http://www.andalucia.com/flamenco/dancers/cecilia-gomez.htm

This flamenco show, about the Duchess of Alba, a very important figure in Spain is meant to be amazing.  Luckily, I have the opportunity to go the Estepona’s bull ring tomorrow to watch the show for myself.  It has been reported to be a ‘microcosm of Spanish culture’ so I hope this gives me such an insight so early in my year abroad.

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The flamenco show was fantastic!  Cecilia Gomez was as amazing as I thought she would be.  The dancing was incredible and every intricate move was faultless and done to perfection.  And of course, the outfits were beautiful!  Just being at the bull ring was an exciting feeling.  There was something about the atmosphere there and watching the hundreds of ladies with their ‘abanicos’ –fans, as they all moved together in unison.  We went to the port after and it most definitely is true what they say – the Spanish are a lot more generous with their alcohol measurements!

Today I also stepped onto the beach for the first time.  Shockingly, it has taken me this long!  I was the very definition of a tourist – writing my name in the sand, getting excited by being in the sea and getting a lot of sun.  I tan incredibly easy though and am already significantly darker in just a week… a year is going to be very interesting.

All in all, a very enjoyable week.  My 366 days are off to a great start! 🙂

'Cayetana - su pasión' flamenco show at Estepona bull ring

Estepona, baby!

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(BMI Baby joke – every advert or information notice in the plane ended “…, baby! Amazing the things you notice when you’re trying to distract yourself).

A bit delayed I know but just got Internet access. Expect a post about my crazy first week soon though, but for me who hates flying, the journey itself is worth mentioning.

After 3 hours of sleep and leaving my home at silly o’clock, I left for Spain squashing as much as my belongings as possible in various bags. I hadn’t even left the country before mine (and my Dad’s) greatest relief – the suitcase weighing within the limit! Then for a teary eyed moment (I’m not ashamed to admit) saying goodbye to my parents.

The second greatest relief for an anxious flyer like myself was landing in Malaga airport after a fairly decent flight! Though it was crazy listening to all the holiday makers planning their seven/fourteen day holidays when 366 days laid before me.

My sisters are staying with me for a holiday – what’s better than having a sister who lives 30 seconds from the beach? … “A daughter living 30 seconds from the beach”, my parents might argue. :P. After settling in and catching up on a bit of sleep – the first proper siesta – I took my sisters out for lunch, and then later for dinner (a special one for my sister’s birthday). However, by the second day, I have already introduced them to my favourite dining places mentioned in ‘Only a Tourist’. Yes, they were a huge success. But I feel it’s time to discover more places around Estepona. Perhaps a case of so much food… just enough time?

So now, while my sisters plan the rest of their holiday, I prepare for my first day at work tomorrow (Monday 1st August). It is brilliant to have them here for the familiarity, the comfort of English and, of course, for the awkward moments when you can’t get into your flat!