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

 

 

 

Granada Part 2 – The Alhambra

The Alhambra must surely be the jewel in the crown of Andalucia, a province that is rich with monuments, yet there is something that extra bit special about this historic citadel that overlooks the city of Granada.

Majestic Alhambra
Majestic Alhambra

Nestled against the breathtaking backdrop of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada, the Alhambra, rises as a majestic fortress over the city. The UNESCO World Heritage site stands as a beautiful, intriguing and stark reminder of years long since past when the Moors ruled Spain before Queen Isabella, the Catholic,  finally conquered the Moors in 1492.

Having read a myriad of books set in this period with the Alhambra as a backdrop, I wascropped-wpid-20150430_165935.jpg keen to see its marvellous beauty for myself. Imagine my disappointment when I learnt we were unable to get tickets. I was devastated to learn they needed to be booked months in advance! We’d only decided to go there two weeks earlier as it was a bit of a juggle with my teaching timetable to create the time needed for the trip.

Never someone wh20150430_155323o is easily deterred, I started to ask about amongst my tourism contacts, and despite their best efforts no tickets were available. Nevertheless, we arrived in Granada determined to make the best of things. We trotted down to the local tourist bureau, official Alhambra ticket office and also sought out the locals. The consensus was that, if we were to queue early in the morning, well before the ticket office opened, there was a chance we might be able to get a ticket as a certain quota – approximately 300 they thought, were held back for gate sales. No one was sure how many or exactly what time to start to queue, but heck, this is Spain, and there’s always contradictory information. I’ve got used to it and go with the flow.

My cousin Michael has never been an early bird in all the years I have known him, so no way was he planning to leap out of bed, not unless he absolutely had to. I, on the other hand, was determined to give it my best shot. At 6.15 am when it was still pitch dark and with not a soul in the street except me, there I was on my way up the hill to the ticket office. I had planned to walk, but it was so dark, that I decided a taxi would be prudent.

My taxi deposited me at 6.20 outside the ticket office where, to my wpid-20150501_171326.jpgamazement, there was already a queue of about 50 people! I joined the line of Italians, Americans, Japanese and Spaniards of all ages who, like me, were determined to wpid-20150501_154621.jpggain admission. We jiggle from foot to foot trying to keep warm. Some of those in front of me even had blankets on the floor, so goodness knows how long they had been there!

At 8.15, I was the proud holder of 2 tickets for the 2pm admission with a 3.30 timeslot at the Nasrid Palace. As I emerged from the ticket office, I noticed the queue was now some 200 – 300 plus deep. The authorities that manage the Alhambra have restricted the number of entries per day and split them into two sessions. Some may complain, but I think it’s a fabulous idea as it prevents the place becoming too overcrowded while also protecting this unique monument.

Michael and I spent an extremely enjoyable five hours exploring the magnificent gardens, nooks and crannies as well as the various buildings and towers that make up the Alhambra. The history of the place seeps through the walls and speaks to us of decades long past. The walls of the Nasrid Palace, echo with the whisper of a bygone era, a time when the Moors of Granada were a proud and strong race. I loved the Alhambra and would go back in a flash! It was definitely worth standing in a cold line in the pitch black to obtain a ticket.

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

Locals supporting locals

I know in Australia we have the food banks, wishing trees and so many other things for those who are less fortunate,good person but here things are a little different. It’s the little community events that are supporting those within their own areas.

On Saturday I went to the supermarket and there were volunteers there doing a collection for those who needed support. Shoppers were very gently and politely approached by the volunteers to consider purchasing an extra item while they shopped and popping it into the collection trolleys.

I think this is a great idea and it was good to see so many people getting behind the initiative. All the goods are distributed locally which is fantastic and really embodies charity beginning at home. I was so pleased to be able to add multiple packets of biscuits and boxes of juices to my shopping for inclusion in the donation trolley. In the scheme of things it cost me so little but will mean a lot to someone who does not have the money for these kind of items.

I give thanks each day that I have a healthy family, a roof over my head and food to eat.

Michelle

Paper…..such precious stuff

I suspect we take paper f1528657_625843537472168_378676817_nor granted most of the time but since I have been here in Spain I am rediscovering what a wonderful commodity it is and what an important role it plays in our lives.

Thursday saw me return to Seville again in the hope of securing my identity card. This week it was much colder and there were about 25 people ahead of me in the queue and no friendly American to chat to. I spent the time jiggling from one foot to the other as I tried to keep myself warm for 45 minutes waiting for the sun to come up and the doors to open.

The tall thin chap from last week, who I’ve now named Scruffy, was at the desk all rugged up with a bright yellow scarf round his neck and a sweatshirt that had seen better days. I did notice he’d managed to have a hair cut since last week. Very pleasantly he gave me a number and shooed me into an enormous waiting room complete with toilets. It was a different one to last week with only a couple of people in front of me and desks with loads of staff so I thought it boded well for fast processing or maybe the fact that there were loos there meant things were going to take a lot longer!

My number flashed onto the board so I approached the nearest desk where I was told to go into the next room. I found myself back where I started last week faced with the same woman who’d told me I needed more paperwork. A glance at my papers and she still didn’t seem happy, told me to wait and left the room to consult with Scruffy, who seemingly must be fairly senior. Sour Puss returned, and without a word to me, bashed something into her computer, loaded paper into a printer and then looked up, smiled and handed me the precious identity card. I beamed at her and skipped out the door!

I made a quick dash to find the International Bookshop which my American friend told me about last week. Pushing open the door I inhaled deeply, allowing the smell of new books to permeate my senses as I walked through the store in search of the English section. The selection wasn’t huge but for someone starved it was like manna from heaven! I delighted in browsing through the shelves and came away with 2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Fiction, The Goldfinch, which is a lovely thick 864 page book.

At the bus station I grab my English newspaper which is providing not only news for me but is proving to be a source of great interest for several students who have never seen an English paper before.

Paper is definitely a most valuable commodity (not only in the form of my precious ID card), but because the sight, feel and smell evoke our senses stimulating our brains into absorbing, scribbling down our thoughts or simply escaping into the depths of a great read.

Michelle

Winter is coming

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George R R Martin is a huge hit round here

It was 6 degrees when I woke up this morning. I’ll definitely have to pile an extra blanket on my bed tonight if I won’t want to turn into a popsicle. The change in weather has been very sudden and from wearing a sleeveless top last week I am now in a thermal. My latest purchase today was a pair of boots and I’ve fished out the heater for tonight.

The breeze is cold so I’m all bundled up as I walk to work which brings back memories of days spent working in UK and how I never liked going to work in the cold weather. On the upside it never snows here and the sun shines brightly to warm me. Last week, I was busy crossing the road to walk in the shade and this week I’m doing the reverse and chasing the sunny side of the street.

My students have been coming to class all excited about Game of Thrones Season 5 which has just wrapped up filming in Osuna which is the next town to us. Several attended casting calls for locals or have friends who were lucky enough to land a role as an extra. It’s a big deal for the locals as tourism is expected to get a boost as a result of these locations being chosen. In a place which has a high unemployment rate (34.5%) this is welcome news. English is definitely the key to employment and explains why there are so many language schools in Spain and the high demand for native English speakers.

Michelle

Paperwork……Spanish style

A national ID card is mandatory in Spain and I’ve got 3 months to get one. The only problem is I can’t get one locally so need to go to Seville which is easier said than done since I work the hours that the office is open. I’ve also heard many stories, and already had my own share of experiences, about how hard it can be to get paperwork processed in Spain so decided the sooner I go the better. Last Thursday I had no classes till 4pm so here was my chance!

It was still pitch black outside when I crawled out of bed at 6 am. Into the shower, a quick coffee and yoghurt, last moment check that I had all my originals of every document I received in Spain to date plus photocopies and I was ready. At 7 am I was standing on my street corner waiting for Ana (one of my students) who works in Seville and was giving me lift as the bus doesn’t start running early enough.

The sunrises as we queue
The sunrises as we queue

We pull up at the most impressive Plaza Espana just as the sun is coming up, I wave goodbye to Ana and find my way to the office which doesn’t open till 9 am but already a small queue is forming. I am number 4 but less than a minute later another 30 people turn up. We patiently stand in what has a vague resemblance to a line. I get chatting to the American chap in front of me, who tells me it’s his second trip here this week and he’s got a massive folder of documents but he’s an engineer so his case is more complicated than that of a Professora Inglese.

It’s finally 9 am and the massive wooden doors creak open to reveal two, gun toting policemen who step out and shout at us all in Spanish. I vaguely understand that we need to divide into two lines depending on what we need. The line starts to separate into two but I am not sure which one I need to be in and by this time there are about 150 people. Lucky for me my new-found American friend tells me where to stand. The officers come back out and shout again telling us that unless our lines are straight we are not going anywhere. Everyone suddenly straightens up and there is order – amazing!

The officers seem to have a personality chance because now they are beaming at us and tell a few of us to go inside. Luckily I’m still number 4 so I’m straight in. I now have to pass through the security point and then there are 2 more lines. When I am called to the desk the lady only speaks Spanish so I somehow tell her what I want and she points me the next desk where a man shoves a form and a number in my hand before telling me to go next door.

I sit down and look at my form which is all in Spanish. Bloody hell, I wonder if I can fill it in all by myself. Yep, I can manage most of it. My number is called and I step forward to the next desk, handover my paperwork along with the dratted form and smile hopefully. It must be okay because next thing the chap bashes away at the computer, asks me a few question that I respond to in tentative Spanish, and then prints off a piece of paper, stamps it whilst simultaneously yelling for a colleague to come see la Senora (me). I guess he’s worked out I am not exactly capable of understanding what is about to come next.

A tall fellow with a tatty T-shirt and hair that looks like it could do with a cut saunters over, smiles at me and says in English “now you go to the bank, any bank and pay” as he hands me the piece of paper. I look perplexed and he explains further “then you come back here and we give you the card.” Ah ha! The light bulb goes on in my head. I quickly ask if I have to get back in the queue as I have visions of myself being there till nightfall. No, he explains as long as I still have my number I can just walk in. Thank goodness for small mercies!

I walk outside into the sunlight and look carefully at the paperwork. It’s only E10.50 that I have to pay but clearly they have never considered an onsite cashier or EFTPOS, much easier to make us all find a bank. I stop two women walking past to ask where the nearest bank is and then head towards it and meet my American friend along the way. Together we find the bank, pay our money and walk back wishing each other success as we part company.

There has been a staff change by this time and the women currently on duty insists I need yet another piece of paper. I have no idea what she means but she prints out an official letter in duplicate, makes me sign a copy (I have no idea what I signed!) and tells me I have to come back in 10 days. I smile nicely, take my copy and head for a coffee shop.
Seems like everything here needs at least two trips and depending on which officer you see depends on what you might need to produce which is why everyone goes to appointments armed with the kitchen sink!

Back in Ecija I show the letter to Anne (my boss) who translates that they are insisting on a copy of some information that is already in their system but that this is Spain so we have to do as asked and I’ve got 10 days to produce it. Anne organised a copy of the required paper and guess where I am going this Thursday? Yep, back to Seville!

Ah well, it’s all a new life experience and I am still enjoying myself whilst appreciating how lucky we are to have EFTPOS at official offices!

Michelle

A newspaper…..bliss!

On Thursday I bought a newspaper. No big deal to most but to me it was a very big deal! You see I haven’t had an English newspaper for over a month. They are not to be had in Ecija. In fact there only things I’ve seen here in English are the text books and some of the notices outside churches and at the museum.

Pleasure is.....a newspaper!
Pleasure is…..a newspaper!

My lucky find of the newspaper happened most unexpectedly. I was at the bus station in Seville when I walked past the newsstand and there, prominently on display, was The Daily Mail, in English! I did a double take and had to look twice. It cost E2.20 which I gladly parted with before scrambling on board the bus, back to the little country town I currently call home, with my precious paper clutched tightly in my hand.

I studied the paper closely and noticed it is printed every Thursday (there were just 3 copies on the newsstand) and it must have been my lucky day because obviously I was in the right place at just the right time.

I’ve ready it from cover to cover and lapped up every word. Ohhhh, the pleasure of real newsprint in my hand as opposed to electronic news – pure bliss!

Funny how the things we take for granted at home take on a new dimension when we are away. Spain might be full of Brits at coastal resorts where English papers and magazine are common place but in little towns in the heartlands of Andalusia they are very rare indeed.

I’ve got to go back to Seville next Thursday for another crack at securing my ID card and the one thing I’ll be looking forward to buying another paper at the bus station on my way home.

Michelle

A month today since I Ieft Darwin ……my new casa

The washing machine is whirling away, I’ve had a much needed shower (and been reunited with the old style gas boilers of days gone by) and the Spanish news is on in the background as I sit down to write this. The news is on so my ear can tune into the Spanish language a little more.

I started my day with what I now consider my Spanish breakfast, 2 coffees and toastada con jamon. I then ventured on a walk from centre of town to location of my new abode (even though I was not moving in till 4 pm) to check out distance on foot and then onto the academy where I shall be working. Took me 10 minutes each way and I was feeling very confident so decided to try a few side streets and ended up going in several circles but as I was not on a fixed timeline who cares.

Weather is perfect for walking. It’s actually very much like the Dry Season in Darwin with lovely days and cooler nights. I am not sure how cool winter will get but I am sure to find out soon enough.

My apartment is on the 3rd floor and there is no lift but that is very normal for Europe. I’m very lucky as it comes fully furnished complete with all kitchen needs and bed linen including flannelette sheets for when the cold weather hits and a hot water bottle plus a cupboard full of extra blankets. I have 2 bedrooms so room for guests but for the moment have got the desk set up there as my study area. Very nice to have space to spread out even though my possessions currently only take up 2 little suitcases.

Bedrooms, lounge and last flight of stairs!
Bedrooms, lounge and last flight of stairs!
2014-09-25 19.08.57
Kitchen, bathroom and the view as you enter front door. Lounge straight ahead, bedroom to left, kitchen and bathroom to right.

Lots of shops of all kinds close by where I went to stock up on a few basics for the fridge. I continue to be amazed at how cheap things are and what a great selection of fruit and vegies there is to choose from. I’ll be shopping in the local style buying my fresh stuff every couple of days.

Hopefully with all the walking I have to do and the great fresh produce I won’t pack on too many pounds! Although I did make a blunder at the bakery today as I thought I asked for one roll but instead came home to find four in the bag. It was at that point I realised the sign must have said 4 for E1 and when I asked for one the girl must have thought E1 worth! Oh well, they are delicious with the goats cheese I got from the deli next door – massive slice for E2 which would have set me back about $15 in Darwin.

Michelle