Category Archives: Tourist

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!

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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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.

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!

Only a tourist.

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My year abroad ‘adventure’ began June 30th 2011, actually visiting Estepona for the first time, as a tourist.  Estepona is a town at the very south of Spain; hot most of the year and with fewer British tourists than other coastal towns.  It’s good to see that Britain has left some areas of the Costa del Sol free from breakfast bars and English pubs, when instead you can enjoy the ‘Churrerias’ and Tapas bars.

The majority of tourists are found around the port.  Highlights of this area include a ‘faro’ – the lighthouse, its own ‘plaza de toros’ – a traditional Spanish bullring (apparently, Estepona is not leading in the bull fighting league.  I myself had no idea there was a league for bull fighting!) and a popular market on Sundays.  Of course, as expected on the coast, there are also beautiful Spanish beaches, with views of Gibraltar and North Africa on clear days.

However, what I would consider to be the main attraction of Estepona, from my first short visit, is the town centre or ‘old Estepona’.  Tourists keep the port a lively place but, in my opinion, this does not compare to the atmosphere of ‘Calle Real’ and its surroundings.  During siesta time you’ll find you’re the only person around – as I did occasionally.  However, early mornings and late nights see these cobbled streets filled with people, particularly families of many generations with their well groomed dogs.  Animated chatter, drinking and eating are the activities that surround you as you walk up this street.  The atmosphere is incredibly friendly with the laughter of the young and old, and the standard Spanish greeting of kissing both cheeks (or what I call the ‘double-cheek kiss’).

Bars, cafes and restaurants are everywhere as expected but with a brilliant selection of traditional places.  My favourites include El Aguilar, which has a brilliant pizza menu, mainly because the pizzas are named after the Spanish football team!  Silva is delicious, next to try Fabregas!

Pizza Menu from 'El Alquilar'

Secondly, Italian El Rincon Toscano – amazing food, tailored to your taste and excellent service.  Every meal beautifully ends with a shot of Limoncello in a chocolate case.  Muy deliciosa!  And, I can’t forget ice cream.  El Gelateria del Centro has the BEST ice cream – a wide selection, generous scoops and in a lovely area.  Perfect anytime (and undoubtedly where much of my year abroad will be spent!)

Estepona differs from other areas of the Costa del Sol with a lack of high rise hotels on the beach and an emphasis on Spanish tradition.  Of course, this attracts a lot more Spanish tourists than English, which for me, a student trying to improve their Spanish, is excellent.

Estepona becomes my home for a year, and I hope it will embrace me as I am coming to embrace it.

Feedback would be appreciated for my very first post 🙂