GOODBYE ECIJA

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With the Academy Directors

Friday night saw me bidding  a sad farewell to the last group of my lovely students who have been a part of my life since last September. I have to admit I shed a little tear (and so did some of them). My walk home, after handing in the keys to my boss, was filled with mixed feelings. I knew this was the last time that I would be treading the familiar route, one that I had walked four times a day, in all kinds of weather. As I walked I said a mental goodbye to the places I regularly walked past. Sometimes in the freezing cold, other times with sweat pouring down my face.

One of the things I am really going to miss about being there is the lovely long break in the middle of the day for siesta.  My break was usually 3 or 4 hours, depending on the timetable and whilst it was a bit strange at first, and I never used this as a siesta time, I soon developed the habit  of using these times to work on other projects or simply relax with a good book.

I arrived struggling to speak Spanish, and even more, the accent of Andalucia but now I surprise myself with how much I actually understand and am able to communicate. I think I surprised some of my colleagues and students too. Whilst I am by no means fluent I can get by very well. You can read about my early adventures in the Spain tab of my blog, but my most memorable occasion is the gas bottle episode.

I became accustomed to the fact that all the shops close for lunch and on Sundays, including many of those in Seville and Cordoba too. I learnt to organise myself around their opening hours and Sunday was truly a day or rest and recreation.

Whilst I still registered that the church bells peal out every hour, every day of the week, even through the night. I got used to it and it became a familiar part of daily life in a little Spanish town.

I loved sitting in the Salon (the main square that is more correctly named Plaza Espana) especially in the recent months when the daylight lasted until about 10 o’clock, and at the other little bars having a tapa and watching whole families or varying generations all eating together, the children and dogs all playing sociably. I didn’t enjoy the dog poo that I need to keep a sharp eye out for!

It’s been a great learning experience. Learning about the rich culture, both ancient and modern, learning about the people and the local customs. All in all it’s been a wonderful opportunity to learn first hand about life in a small Spanish town away from all the commercialism and tourist hubble-bubble of the larger cities.

All in all, it was a wonderful experience. Thank you Educalia Ecija and all the fabulous people I’ve had the opportunity to be involved with during my time there.

Michelle

 

Exploring the Albayzin – Granada, Spain

The school year is drawing to a close, at least here in Europe, which means so too is my time here in Spain. I’m making the most of the last few weekends and have been to Granada, Cordoba and Seville this month. Distances are not as vast as at home in Australia, so even though I don’t have a car here, it’s fairly easy to get about from one area to the other. I’m using buses, BlaBla Cars and lovely students who kindly give me lifts if they are headed in the direction I want to go.

Although it’s only a month since my very first visit to Granada, there’s a magic about the place that drew me back once again. My first stop was the cake shop where I indulged myself in not one, but two of the most delicious Arab sweets. It was then down to the serious business of leisurely exploring the Albayzin area, the old Arab quarter. Although I’d visited there before, I didn’t really have enough time for a proper exploration on my first visit.

It’s a very ancient area of the city, also UNESCO world heritage listed, built into the hill on the opposite side of the river to the Alhambra. A series of narrow, steep and winding alleyways offer surprise views and scenes tucked around each b20150430_155323end, including glimpses of the Alhambra in all its glory. There are some areas where cars can squeeze (and it’s definitely a squeeze) along, but for the most part it’s all very, very narrow and you can imagine donkeys being more suited for trekking up and down. I certainly wouldn’t like to have to lug my groceries home from the supermarket, although the idea of a small flat in this area has masses of appeal! I also reckon walking up and down the steep slopes would soon cancel out the sugar ladened cakes I’d be consuming each day if I lived here. Flat shoes are a must and it was with great amusement that I watched a few fashionable young tourists teeter around on their platform shoes.

There is a little bus that you can take up and down, and it’s very cheap (E1.20). We took the bus last time as we were pressed for time. This time my explorations were all on foot, both up and down, round and through the various nooks and crannies, including a visit to the mosque whose gardens are open to the public. The view from here of the Alhambra is pretty spectacular but without the crowds at the Mirador S. Nicholas which is right next door. I also took the big camera this time, so have better shots, but these here are straight from my phone.

My attic room
My attic room where I enjoyed a sound sleep.

By the time I got back to my hotel at around 11pm, my poor little footsies were pretty tired. It was a most welcome relief to slip off my shoes, wiggle my toes and settle back with a glass of bubbly in hand before dragging myself into the shower. The hotel was a converted 16 Century mini palace located right on the Darro. My room, which I’d booked at the last moment, was in what was obviously a converted attic space. I slept like a log!

wpid-20150607_110042.jpg wpid-20150607_105538.jpgSunday morning saw Wayne and myself enjoy a leisurely breakfast before doing some serious haggling for leather bags. Our purchases left us thirsty – shopping is hard work – so we headed  into yet another colourwpid-20150607_125119.jpgful square, for refreshments and watched the local townsfolk go about their regular Sunday businewpid-20150607_124841.jpgss.  In the afternoon we headed back to Ecija which is a total contrast to Granada and certainly a whole lot cheaper in terms of eating out. I guess I’ve been spoilt spending all these months in a little local place where I’ve got used to paying local prices. I reckon I’m going to be in for a rude shock when I am back in Australia again. However, I’m really looking forward to a bowl of laksa!

Michelle

An Update from Australia

I’m writing this one especially for my Spanish friends to give everyone a quick catch up on what I’ve been up to since leaving Ecija on the 27th June. Big shout out of thanks to Arnaud for the lift to Cordoba railway station. I had to dash off on that particular date because I was bringing my 13 year old niece to Australia for the very first time. She is Spanish and lives in Seville and was already on school holidays so time was precious. I was thrilled, as I travelled, to receive emails and text messages from several students telling me how they had managed their speaking exam. Well done everyone!

Alexa chopsticksThe journey to Australia is not exactly short, but we broke our trip with a stopover in Singapore where I introduced Alexa to some aspects of her Asian heritage. Like most Spaniards, she’s not partial to spicy food and I think was a little overwhelmed by the Hawkers Centre, but she gamely tried using chopsticks and was successful!

Haw Par Villa, Singapore
Haw Par Villa, Singapore

She also enjoyed Haw Par Villa with the Chinese mythology scenes. It was fun for Wayne and I to see her reactions too.

We arrived in Darwin in the early hours of 2nd July, and had 12 hours here before flying on to Brisbane. Alexa really enjoyed meeting her cousins Sasha and Ellie for the first time and seeing her grandparents again.

Elie, Alexa and Sasha
Ellie, Alexa and Sasha

They spent a great week together but I came straight back to Darwin as I had a pile of work to sort out. I’d been gone almost 12 months, so as you can imagine there was a pile of paperwork and other business to attend to. Boring, but essential things like insurance documents, bank statements and so on the list goes.

I’ve had a hard time adjusting to how expensive everything is compared to Spain. No more lovely cheap fruit and vegetables, they are exorbitant here by comparison, but on the other hand the salaries here are much higher.

So what do I do with my days? I usually wake by 6 am most days. I sit out by the pool and have my coffee, the first cup of the day, as dawn begins to break. I like this time as I have a chance to sit quietly and think about the day ahead and my calendar before heading into the shower, followed by breakfast which is usually yogurt and fruit. No tostada con jamon and ham is definitely not the same as jamon in taste or texture.

I then get started on my work diary, checking emails, Facebook and touching base with US clients as they are 16 hours behind and it’s still the day before there. It’s then straight into my writing tasks, which includes blog posts, profile writing and editing for my clients. I do love the variety of genres I am able to tackle so the work is never dull.

By 10 am I’m usually onto all the local Australian tasks for the day, which I try to have cleared away by 12 noon. My afternoon work session starts at 4 pretty much like it did in Spain, but here it’s because I need to be available for European/Middle Eastern clients as they’re just beginning their work day. I’m also pleased that I am still able to work with a few students via Skype for the extra practice they need.

I do miss being in Ecija, sitting in the Salon having tapas, but I don’t miss the terribly hot weather there at the moment. My lifestyle in Spain was definitely more relaxed than it is in Australia. However, I do understand that I was in a very fortunate position to have a job when so much of the country is out of work. I was also able to maintain my freelance work so my life was very comfortable there. Even though I am back in Australia, I will maintain my Spanish rate for any clients from Spain as I know the burdens that everyone faces with the crisis and making ends meet.

My work day usually ends somewhere between 8 and 10 pm, a bit like in Ecija. It’s then time to relax and kick back with the family and enjoy a glass of vino blanco. I usually choose a New Zealand white wine which is very different to the wines of Spain.

Darwin is delightful in the Dry Season and of course it is lovely to see the dogs and be in my own house. Our entertaining in Australia is very different from Spain. We do a lot more at home, having friends over for meals.  It’s fun to cook in my own kitchen where I have everything I need instead of being in my little piso without an oven! We’ve had lots of baked goodies since I’ve been back. Alexa has also been cooking Spanish omelette’s so we’ve had touches of Andalusia here with us in the house.

Sasha and I really enjoyed watching the latest season of Game of Thrones the last few evenings before we went to bed. Last night we watched the final. It was  great to see the scenes filmed in the Alcazar in Seville, and the Osuna scenes. Now we are all in suspense for what comes next season.

Hasta luego,

Michelle

 

 

 

Andalucia Day – 28 February

A gorgeous sunny day today as we mark Andalucia Day and the final day of February. Temperatures are on the rise so I’m a happy little Vegemite. My laundry is fluttering on the rooftop, I’ve thrown open all the windows, turned off the heating and moved back into my office as opposed to doing all my writing and sorting on the dining room table to conserve heat. It’s kind of like when the Dry Season arrives in Darwin and we turn off the aircons.

Andalucia Day is an official holiday here, it marks the day in 1980 when a referendum was passed and Andalucia became an autonomous region in Spain with its own government. Where I live is in the Seville province (one of the eight provinces of the region).

Flamenco and bullfighting, whilst considered typically Spanish, actually originated here in Andalusia. There’s a bullfight on today, but, whilst I am fascinated by the customs and history, which I understand, goes back to about 700 AD, I am abhorrent of the fact that an animal is killed in such a cruel fashion just for sport! Therefore, I shall not be attending any bull fights anywhere or anytime. There was a program on TV about this the other week and whilst I watched the interviews and admired the costumes of the matadors, I flicked channels when it came to actual fight scenes.

Flamenco on the other hand is something equally fascinating, beautiful to watch and causes no harm. I have been pleasantly surprised to learn that so many of my students actually dance Flamenco and that it’s widely taught. A few of the English teachers I’ve met go to classes, but given I’m not exactly musical I’ve not attempted them.

Michelle

BACK IN SPAIN

Today is my fourth day back in Spain; I arrived Wednesday night and have been lucky not to have suffered from jet lag despite the very long trip. It was straight back to work Thursday morning so it’s nice to have this weekend to chill out. I spent yesterday checking out the rebajas – yep, I learnt a new word in Spanish – it means discounts but is the equivalent of our sales since that’s what’s plastered all over shop windows. I also visited the supermarket plus fruit and veg stalls.

My fridge is stocked with loads of eggplant, red and green peppers, gorgeous tomatoes, beautiful mushrooms and crunchy green beans. That said, it’s so flipping cold, I don’t really need a fridge at the moment. When I step into the kitchen each morning to make my morning coffee I could swear it must be about 2 degrees!

However, once you go outside it is gorgeous winter sunshine, so it’s very pleasant walking through the streets, as I did yesterday, to get to the post office and send off a letter to Mum who is not on Facebook or any other means of electronic communications. The walk to the post office offers some lovely vista’s including the beautiful façade of the Palacio de Penaflor, which I believe, is quite something inside, but at the moment is not open to the public (I’m not sure if it ever was) and there seems to be some debate as to what to do with it. I’m really keen to get a look inside this intriguing building.

San Juan, Ecija
Approach to and views of Iglesia San Juan

On the way back from the post office I meandered past the very picturesque, Iglesia San Juan, a place I’ve visited prior but definitely worth a second visit. However, it was closed so I had to content myself with just soaking up the exterior atmosphere.

There’s very little in terms of literature in English which explains what all the fascinating buildings in Ecija are so I’m making it my mission to find out a little bit more about the ones that intrigue me the most. It’s most definitely not a touristy town although we do see the odd day tripper, and whilst it’s nowhere near as spectacular as Cordoba or Seville, the place does have a certain unique charm. I would sum it up as being natural, no touristy shops of tacky souvenirs on every corner and people go about living their daily lives without pandering to tourists which in turn translates into cheaper prices in restaurants and, of course, less English speakers.

Michelle

Dratted flu!

After enjoying a lovely Saturday morning browsing round the local market, which was freezing cold I might add, I managed to develop a rotten cold that has seen me laid up for the long weekend with a thick head, runny nose and tickly throat. The planned trip to visit the Mezquita in Cordoba was off and instead I stayed at home feeling very sad and sorry for myself all layered up in three jumpers, thick socks, slippers, a pile of tissues, cough lollies and Echinacea plus a steaming mug of chamomile, honey and vanilla tea.

I’ve spent most of the long weekend sleeping on and off, watching the odd movie on TV and reading while swaddled in a thick blanket. The temperatures plummeted and Monday morning was 1 degree – no wonder I need two heaters going in the sitting room! It’s hard to believe that the weather can get so cold here and so quickly. Although the locals did tell me that it was summer one moment and winter the next – too right!
I had to venture outside to work for a couple of hours Tuesday afternoon but thankfully the temperate had risen a bit by then, the Academy has a good heater and my classes were not so intensive so it didn’t matter that my brain was somewhat foggy. I’ve managed  get through the rest of the week thus far although my croaky voice is a source of amusement to several of my students.

I’ve been sniffling my way back home each evening after class and gratefully stepping into my apartment where I’ve been leaving the heating on while I’m gone. My landlady has told me to watch the power bills as I think she was surprised my bill for power and water for the last two months was E56 but to me that was so cheap compared to Darwin prices. I like to be nice and warm inside instead of wrapped up like an Eskimo in my own place so I’m more than happy to pay what it takes to keep me comfortable.

Dinners have been steaming bowls of home-made soups – thank goodness for the freezer where I’ve stashed pile of meals as cooking for one means I always make more – and settling down to watch some weird stuff on TV, as I haven’t been able to concentrate properly on reading, before dosing myself up again and snuggling down for the night. Last night was impossible to keep warm last night and I ended up crawling into bed with a silk scarf wrapped round my head plus long tights and T-shirt under my flannelette nightie!

This morning I woke up feeling lot more like my old self – still got slight sniffles but thank goodness my head is clear and I can think properly again – so my silk scarf act must have worked. All I can say is thank goodness I didn’t get the job in Mongolia that I applied for! I was definitely being watched over when I missed out on that one!

Michelle

December…..first week

I’ve been here two months already, the time has flown past and two weeks today I’ll be boarding a plane in Madrid to head back to Darwin for Christmas where I’ll no doubt swelter and instead of the heaters will be lazing about in the pool to try and keep cool.

I’m very pleased to be able to say that this week I finally managed to become registered on the Spanish health care system. Only two trips to the Health Centre and one to Social Security and my task was accomplished. I’m definitely getting the hang of this local run around system that involves several visits and many photocopies of all paperwork.

I’ve also got a few thousand more words down on paper, enjoyed two social nights of informal conversation groups which was a mix of Spanish and English speakers, met new people and discovered a little cultural centre I had no idea existed before. The chap who runs it, Juan Manuel Luna Fuentes, presented me with copy of his book “Viaje A Nueva Icaria” all in Spanish I might add so on winter nights I guess it’ll be me and my dictionary trying to wade through it. I also learnt all sorts of fascinating stuff about flamenco which will be the subject of another post.

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Cobbled street just after midnight –  lit by the soft glow of the street lights

Temperatures have suddenly dropped to between 4 and 6 degrees each morning and late at night but I still love walking home in the dark as the city takes on another dimension in the glow of the lamp light. Don’t get me wrong, I am always offered a lift but it’s so much better to walk and after a night of chatter I enjoy the solitude. The streets are quieter and it’s as though I’ve stepped back in time as I walk the cobbled streets towards my apartment. It’s perfectly safe to walk at night and it burns the calories too!

The cooler weather means bundling up in more clothes, and I’ve taken to wearing several layers (which gives a Michelin Man appearance at times) although when the sun comes out it is lovely to bask in its warming rays and then I feel hot so need to peel off a layer! In my apartment I have two heaters going in the sitting room so I don’t turn into a popsicle overnight and, as I write this, I recall the days of typing in London wearing fingerless gloves – if it gets much colder I might just have to invest in a pair once again!

This week an ice-rink has appeared in the main square which is officially called Plaza Espana but the locals refer to it as the Salon and the Christmas decorations have been hung across the streets. I’m heading out now to explore the town and see what delights I can find at the market that I saw springing up in the Salon yesterday.

Michelle