CORDOBA…..my first visit

Monday was a public holiday here in Spain and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit Cordoba which lies in the heart of Andalusia on the banks of the Guadalquivir River. Occupied by the Carthagians, Romans, Visigoths and Moors as well as Christians the city is steeped in fascinating history. Over the years I have read many historical novels set in this city and period so I was keen to see if it would live up to my expectations.

One of the delightful patios
One of the delightful patios

My day started with exploring the area that lies within what was once the walled city. I meandered the warren of medieval streets which are a living testament to the colour (and somewhat bloody) historic past of this fascinating city. Delightful whitewashed buildings with large wooden doors that open to reveal wonderful private patios which are a sourced of great pride to their owners. Apparently they have an annual event each May when patios are opened for public viewing and much coveted prizes are awarded for the best patios.

I then headed to the Alcazar which started its life as an 8th century residence for the Caliph (built on top of a former Visigoth fortress). In the 14th century Ferdinand and Isabella conquered the area, took over the Alcazar and used it as a residence as well as headquarters for the Spanish Inquisition. The Alcazar is today known as the Palace of the Christian Kings and is open to the public. I paid my E7 and scampered excitedly inside to explore.

View from the tower
View from the tower

I decided to climb to the top of the tower first (for someone who does not like heights I am doing an awful lot of tower climbing these days!) and was rewarded with fantastic views of Cordoba and the surrounding countryside. Standing there, gazing out over the parapets, it was easy to imagine how it must have been in days gone by when sentries stood watch for approaching messengers.

 

Stepping into the gardens of the Alcazar I was greeted by the soothing sound of running water and the fragrance of orange trees which perfumed the air. Very relaxing and restful and I could just imagine a troubled monarch walking down the broad avenues as they sought to escape the pressures of office. I glanced down at my watch and in surprise noticed it was already 2pm! My imagination had to come to a halt and bring itself back to the present as I needed to meet my friends for lunch. I reluctantly dragged myself out of the Alcazar.

Looking back from the gardens
Looking back from the gardens

After lunch we explored more of the old streets and exterior of the Mezquita but there wasn’t enough time to go inside so I know there definitely needs to be several more days allocated to discovering Cordoba.

Michelle

Why the change of lifestyle……an answer to the question so many are asking

As a child I lived all over the world and called several different counties home. My father worked for the United Nations and this somewhat nomadic lifestyle was the life I was born into, so of course, I did not realise that our lifestyle was so different. As I grew older and stared work in London I would work few months to save enough money and head off somewhere on my travels.

One of my trips took me to Australia and I met my husband. Family life and commitments meant my wanderlust had to be curbed. Four years ago I found myself single again with my children almost all grown up – Sasha was about to finish school and head to university – the a little voice that lurked deep in the back of my head started saying that now was the time I could start thinking about make my dream of travelling and living abroad come true.

The only problem was that I would need money to live overseas for any length of time or I would need some kind of income stream. This presented a dilemma as it reduced where I could go with my current skills to just English speaking countries. I pondered how I could possible work in countries where my knowledge of the local language was not exactly top quality or in many cases non-existent.

After some research and analysis I decided that I could use a skill that I already possessed and knew was in high demand – English.

I was always good at this subject at school and for many years have been editing and writing for others so why not develop my English further by learning to teach?

My Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL) studies had to happen in conjunction with working full time and this meant when the schedule was really full my studies when on hold for bit.

Luckily I found English classes a very refreshing break from my day-to-day work because the students were all so keen and eager to learn. They looked to their future with the view that learning English was a way to secure their future life.

My TESOL studies open up a whole new world. I was forced to exercise my brain in a totally different way and exposed to so many new concepts around the acquisition of a second language.

Through my training I met an amazing array of individuals, all with incredible stories to tell, of their journey to settle in Australia. I also met teachers with interesting stories of where they had been and the things they had experienced.

One of the positives of being a TESOL teacher is that none of the students know my history. I am just their English teacher. They know nothing about my awards, my breast cancer journey or my business successes and therefore there are no expectations other than for me to help them learn English.

It is really nice to be able to live in anonymity without people expecting me to live up to a reputation.

The other reason for this change is I’ve always told my clients they can achieve whatever they set their minds to and sometime I think they are sceptical. But I am walking the walk as well as having talked the talk.

I am demonstrating that, despite the fact I am no longer a spring chicken, I am perfectly capable of moving across the world and finding a job in a country that does not use English as its main language.

I was successful in achieving my goal because I took a very strategic approach. I had a plan.

Today I’m paid a good wage in a country where unemployment figures are 24.5%, have a very comfortable apartment and am enjoying this new way of life whilst also, thanks to the business hours I keep, am able to keep a little toe in the business world by continuing to mentor, provide strategic advice and write.

I’m also sticking to my philosophy of choosing to only work with people who I have a mutual respect for.

I’m working at an English Academy where the policy is to keep the fees as low as possible as the boss believes that education should be available to everyone and she offers many additional extra’s that other places would charge for and this is really valuable to those who have no jobs and so little money.

How long will I stay? Who know! Let’s see which way the wind blows.

Hasta luego
Michelle

Vale Anna Wellings Booth OAM

Anna. My courageous, compassionate, humorous and all round simply amazing friend is with us no more.

I received this news on Friday afternoon here in Ecija. The message pinged onto my phone as I was waiting for my class of students to arrive so I really didn’t have the opportunity to properly absorb the news. I was shocked and the next 4 hours of my classes passed in a kind of blur.

Anna had been on my mind a lot lately and it was only last week that I emailed saying I hoped she was well and not laid up in the hospital with some ailment or other.

You see Anna has had all kinds of issues with her health but she never let them stop her doing what she wanted – at least not until more recently.

Anna used to tell me her ailments were a result of a ‘life well lived’ – she had a great sense of adventure and was game for almost anything. Anna was resilient and always bounced back from whatever ailed her.

Anna was a do-er and could get almost anything done.

She had the great knack of being able to charm people and gently persuade them to do things they perhaps had not exactly planned to do. A case in point being that very first Field of Women that was planted in Canberra back in 1998 and then the establishment of Dragons Abreast ACT a year later.

Anna and I shared many memorable moments and experiences together over the years. We laughed and we cried together many times over the last 16 years – mostly we laughed.

Some of my standout memories are:

  • the trip to Niagra on the Lake where we stayed in a little B &B, sat out in the garden with a picnic and squirrels scampering around us as we dreamt of bringing the story of Dragons Abreast into print,
  • Anna tearing her hair out in Caloundra as she (wo)manned the phones and coordinated buses for 2000 pink paddlers.

My most recent memory was a visit to Canberra when I was there for the Lifeline Conference earlier this year.

I had very limited time so asked Anna if she would like to perhaps meet for breakfast at my hotel. In response, I received an email saying she’d love breakfast but was in the hospital so could I go there instead.

So at 7 am on a cold, wet Canberra morning, when it was really a bit too early for visitors, Anna and I sat in the hospital corridor and exchanged news for an hour and a half before I had to dash away for the start of the conference. That was the last time I would see my dear friend.

Anna was one of a kind

She always had a twinkle in her eye, was big of heart, wonderful with words, a diplomat and an inspiration to all who knew her.

Anna never complained instead she just rolled up her sleeves, stuck her tongue out to one side if she was concentrating, grabbed her walking stick and off she went!

I am so privileged to have been able to call her my friend. I am a better person for having known Anna – she was one of very special lady and there are no words that can adequately describe this amazing woman who was a wife, a mother, an advocate for causes she believed in, a gentle guiding hand, a wise counsellor, and an inspiration to many and an all-round incredible, irreplaceable, fantastic person who enjoyed a glass of red wine.

Anna, rest in peace now.

Thank you for friendship, inspiration and support – you’ll live in my heart forever.

Love

Michelle

 

QUICK UPDATE…..Paris

Been 10 days since my last blog so here we go……. been having a wonderful trip catching up with Denise in Paris, Helene & Pierre in Belgium and Paolo in Amsterdam with no time to blog 🙂

Paris – riding the metro from Orly Airport it was wonderful to be met by Denise at the top of the stairs of Saint Michel-Notre Dame.  A very short stroll and we were at her apartment on Ile Saint Louise (one of th two natural islands in the middle of the Seine) which is very large by Paris standard. Wonderful to have my own room with a window that looked straight out to the Seine. Dumped the bags and off we went to purchase fromage, vin rouge, baguette and fruit for our supper. Just love all the little boulangries, other patisseries and other cute shops.

Over three days Denise and I spent hours meandering, chattering, sipping vin rouge and of course a little shopping too – we had a whole year of news to catch each other up on and it was just wonderful and we were blessed with the most glorious weather for walking about. It was also great to be able to have a washing machine instead of the handwash Chinese laundry going on in the hotel bathroom each night.

Wines galore!
Wines galore!
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Exploring some of the perfumeries
Denise and myself having fun in Paris
Denise and myself having fun in Paris

 

Have had 3 job interviews so far. Each was very different and most interesting to see the questions that they ask. It’s a bit weird doing the interviews over Skype but hey, it’s all a new experience. Although I have been offered a couple of things, none are offering full-time work so I need to carefully consider what I will do and where I might base myself in terms of getting the most work but I shall think about that one next week.

More to follow on Brussels, Amsterdam and Seville which is where I am currently and it is gorgeous but that is another update – so stay tuned.

Michelle

Torri degli Asinelli – an adventure in itself!

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View from the top of the tower
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The new Bologna lies in the distance
Bologna
Looking across to Piazza Maggiore and the hills in the distance

“Don’t do anything dangerous” echoed Simo’s voice in my head “we cannot risk anymore injuries before Ravenna”. He then went on to elaborate that climbing ladders should be avoided yet here I am like the local idiot climbing up 498 steps!

I have no head for heights BUT yesterday, without giving it a second thought, there I was gaily handing over my E3 to climb to the top of Torri degli Asinelli. I wasn’t part of a group, I wasn’t travelling with anyone else so no one was egging me on. This aberration was purely my own decision. It was only once I started the climb that the little voices started in my head. I hushed them with the thought this was after all great exercise (great leg work!) whilst simultaneously dismissing that there was a very close resemblance to a ladder!

So why was I doing this? Because I was fascinated by history of this most interesting city and the 180 towers that originally stood was so much a part of it. The Asinelli is the tallest of the 20 that remain standing to the present day and was built between 1109 and 1119 by one of the wealth Bolognese families to protect themselves from attackers by providing an early warning of their approach. I simply had to see the vista from the top myself to complete my morning meandering down history lane.

As I climbed higher and higher and higher – did I mention it stands 97.6 metres high – I thought of Aunty Nellie who climbed York Minister with Yvonne all those years ago. I remember her looking white as a sheet when she got to the top, I don’t recall how old she was but I am sure older that I am – so yes, I could do this!

The stair case is wooden and some considerate soul made sure there are lots of wider spaces which are convenient passing spots on little landings. I stand politely and indicate those who are ‘veloce’ (quicker) should go ahead. It gives me time to rest a little and get my nerves under control for the next bit! I hear the word ‘piano’ uttered frequently by several of the Italians – means slowly – and I agree that slowly is the only way to get down safely.

The tower itself has good ventilation so there is not the old musty smell and claustrophobic atmosphere that permeates many ancient buildings which is thanks to the openings dotted through the tower through which a very pleasant breeze flows at times. I guess they were to shoot arrows through in days gone by.

Finally rounding the last bend and climbing the narrowest and shiniest wooden stairs I find myself at the top. What a relief! The tower is situated at the intersection of the roads that led to the five gates of the old ring wall. The view is amazing and I can see for miles and miles – 360 degrees – the new Bologna is in the distance outside of the original city walls.

I made it! Torre degli Asinale - Bologna
A selfie at the top!

Hardly anyone is up here so I settle myself on a little perch on the ledge which runs around the top of the tower and look down on city life below. It is calm and peaceful, not teaming with tourists but Bolognese going about their daily business.

I’m so glad I made the climb – now for the descent – piano, piano!

Michelle

Bologna – Stepping back in time

A great start to my adventures with lovely Russian breakfast companions who turn out to be cellists with the Russian Symphony Orchestra on their way to Rimini for a concert tonight. We spent a lovely hour chatting about the best things to see in Bologna. These lovely young men told me that not only does Bologna have the oldest university in Europe but also two of the oldest church organs that are still in use – of course being musicians they take an interest in such things – a little more trivia for me to add to the memory banks.

Bologna dates back to 1000BC and history really came to life as I meandered first through one, of what remains, of the former walled city gate and then under the amazing porticos (now UNESCO listed as World Heritage) which hark back to the 12th century.  They were originally built to cater for the influx of students that caused a housing shortage. It was decreed they had to be built on private land, so were attached to existing houses, but had to be available to the public to use and it was also stipulated they needed to be wide enough for a person to lie down and be protected from the elements of nature. Porticos of Bologna

I have it on good authority that there are some 70 kms of porticos which is absolutely incredible. Different styles are located in various areas, so plenty to admire with the common element being they provide wonderful shade from the sun and shelter from the rain to this very day. I can just imagine noble ladies in their lovely long dresses gliding along under these porticos as they stroll across town to visit neighbouring palazzo’s.

I meandered for 6 hours without even realising how time was flying past! The weather was perfect for walking and it was a wonderful treat to be able to fritter away my time soaking in the atmosphere that literally oozed from the squares and small side streets.  A pure delight not to have any schedule to keep for the first time in a very long while.

Tourists are much scarcer than in Rome, Florence or Venice and the majority of those I encountered were Italian tourists. It seems Bologna is a little off the main tourist radar which makes it perfect for the imagination to run riot as I strolled along in my own little world without a cacophony of babble in a multitude of accents breaking the spell.

Michelle

Success

Success – what does it mean? Different things to different people and I suppose the most common myth is that those with the trappings of wealth, status or fame are successful – at least this is what the media would have us all believing. But these are purely external – it is what the world sees on the outside.

Success and happiness do not go hand in hand. Often individuals push themselves so hard to achieve more in terms of material wealth and status that they forget to stop and enjoy what they have already achieved. There is then a very real risk of losing the most precious commodities of health and family.

In my eyes you are a success when you are happy. Now this may sound a bit strange to some but based on my personal experience I believe this is absolutely the case.

To qualify I am talking about being in the here and now and accepting that you are achieving what you want as opposed to what everyone is considering or thinking is appropriate. We must accept that it is only ourselves that are responsible for how we feel. It does take some time and work to actually have the skills and experiences in life to come to a place where we are able to “live in the moment” – believe me I speak from personal experience.

Living in the moment means taking the time to enjoy what are often the very simple pleasures of life – for me, because I am single and pressed for time due to my heavy work schedule, this means things that are also never-ending chores. The lawn mowing and dump run are weekly occurences that become my opportunities for embracing the moments.  I relish the exercise and enjoy the satisfaction of seeing the cut grass whilst my nostrils are tickled and my senses stimulated by the fresh scent of freshly mowed lawn.

Similarly when I walk Janie (the dog) I enjoy allowing my mind to wander where it chooses, as I take the time to appreciate the cool of the early morning, watching the birds dart about as they chirp enthusiastically to each other as they too greet the dawning of a new day.

The alternative to enjoying these moments would be to see them as chores and a burden. It is my choice that these are pleasure moments and therefore I am a success.

Love to hear your thoughts …..

Michelle