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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! 🙂

 

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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!

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!