Sailing off into the Sunset…

It’s a glorious Sunday morning here in Darwin. I’ve had a bright and early start to the day. An hour of gardening while it was still nice and cool; the ground was easy to dig after the rain last night. Next task, cleaning the pool filter, two load of washing on the line and all before breakfast. The lawn needs mowing, but that can wait till it’s cooler!

There’s always a bunch of stuff to be done when you have a house and garden. Sometimes I think it would be quite wonderful to just sail off into the sunset.

My friend Toots has done just that! I first met Toots, through the world of breast cancer, when we were introduced by Pat Hancock. Toots was always a staunch supporter of Dragons Abreast, helping out in different ways over the years.

Show Stoppers 2006
Toots  (L front on the end) & her team Show Stoppers – Dragons Abreast NT regatta 2006

 

 

Today, Toots is living a life many dream of – retired and sailing off into the sunset. On Australia Day, this post appeared on her wall:

‘We interrupt this transmission to bring breaking news from aboard ‘Niaete’.. where a clandestine operation of war against terror has been won.

Ratty Bin Liner member of the cell group known as ‘FR’ .. (F&@‪#‎ing Rats) .. not to be mistaken with that other cell known as ‘FC’ (F&@#ing Cockroaches) has been captured.

Ratty Bin Liner caused havoc on board in food lockers completely disrupting life on board as it was known!

After attacking cartons of UHT milk, it was a real threat to the crew that the supply of cafe lattes and cappuccinos may be short, and in the rush of it all, ingredients for ‘elevensies’ were briefly misplaced.

The comment of ‘Praise be that the wine is in glass bottles, not casks!’ was heard uttered a few times.

Ratty Bin Liner was escorted off board with a resounding farewell from all crew of ‘F@$‪#‎k off yah l’il bastard!’ and being Australia Day, sent off on his own sticky glue surf board, of which he seemed quite attached!’

PS. No photos of Bin Liner available as the photographer was at the other end of the boat, far away as possible!

I had a great chuckle, and it made me smile all day. It also confirmed I do not want to live on a yacht! Instead, I’ll follow her adventures from the safety of my house where the exterminator is only a phone call way and stick to harbour cruises!

Michelle

PS – There is also the small problem that I don’t sail!

PPS – Toots kindly gave permission for me to use her post in my blog.

A Little Me Time – The Camino

I’ve always espoused the value of Me Time and today I had a lovely midday break  in amongst my busy schedule. I took time out to head to the cinema, unfortunately I couldn’t stretch to enough time for lunch too.

I went to see the movie 6 Ways to Santiago. It’s about 6 different people walking the Camino de Santiago and their experiences. Sitting in the darkened cinema with two of my fellow walking companions, we were transported back to our time on the Camino trail. Cows coming down the streetThe images were beautiful, so much so that we could almost smell the cow dung. As the pilgrims travelled their journey, I vividly recalled the aching muscles as I put one foot in front of each other.

Lucky for me, I didn’t suffer from blisters, but some of my fellow walkers did, however, we looked after each other and soothed our worries away together.

Sore feet
Soaking the footsies!

If you’re thinking of doing the Camino, I highly recommend this documentary. You can also read my blog entries about my experience here.

The Camino is a magical experience. I’m planning another walk in 2016. If you’re interested in joining a small organised group of women on the trip of a lifetime, I’d love you to hear from you.

Michelle

In the air … A travelogue by Special Correspondent for Dragon Sisters Nowette Awle

I’ve decided to add these articles to my personal blog, with permission from our guest blogger, as they are really fun memories of our 2010 trip. I hope you enjoy them. Michelle Hanton

When a Dragon Sister mentioned going on holiday to Venice and a luxury cruise, I thought, ‘Well that’s OK for some. Some of us have a job to hold down, a family to hold together and myriad obstacles to abandoning all responsibility in favour of racking off on some self-indulgent girls-only jolly!!’ However, where there’s a will, there’s a way; and the more I thought about it, the more I thought: “I will!!” Mindful of the fact that it may well be a very long time before I ever make a dash for Dragon Sisterly debauchery on this scale again, I kept a little travelogue of all the happy happenings along the way.

‘Jetting off’ to Europe has a connotation of speed, glamour, pizzazz about it, which in the interests of honesty I have to say is a far cry from reality. The trip from here to there in cattle class is more akin to a slow boat to China but is it ever worth it!!

Oz – Dubai:   A 14 hour flight with Emirates Air manned (bizarrely) by an entirely Spanish cabin crew. I discover early on that my movie gubbins is not working and I finally give up the ghost after being pinged back to the beginning of Benjamin Button for the 3rd time. The steward who promised to check it out vanishes without a trace. Which doesn’t matter since it is obviously a technical problem only fixable by NASA and handsome as this Spaniard is, he seems more at home with the coffee pot than mission control. Speaking of which, the coffee is curiously scarce, being served a la Manuel chez Fawlty Towers in the middle of the meal. The options are (especially if you’re slow with your nose bag) to drink coffee before your main course, cold at end of your meal, or do without. I ask one trolley dolly “will you be back with coffee?” She says “No!!” but smiles prettily before whipping away the precious pot. And, obviously, don’t hold your breath for a refill – because you’ll need an oxygen mask before that happens! Happily, all drinks are free except champers ($8 a glass). Sadly, I choose the white wine which is barely chilled (tepid) and if you want more than one drink you have to go on a “seek and detain” drinks trolley mission. In short, beverage hospitality is not at all forthcoming!! Otherwise, the cabin crew are very nice in an overall charmingly inattentive way!

I have a long chat with a lovely elderly Rhodesian (now Zimbabwean) chap most of the flight. We amuse ourselves with quips about the Latin lack of alcohol and whether Basil Fawlty is in fact the captain. Total sleep managed: 2 hours.

Transit c.4 hrs Dubai, United Arab Emirates:   I find I am disappointed in the airport, having heard of it being lavish, luxurious, spacious and everything you’d expect from one of the world’s oil sheik capitals. No doubt it normally is but as luck would have it, a new airport is under construction, consequently the current terminal has us jammed in like so many sardines in transit. The only seating available is in eateries or lined up at the departure gates. Duty free shopping taking up all available space which is quite understandable. So, with nothing better to do, I go shopping. Alcohol is delightfully cheap and smarting from my recent in-flight depredations I purchase 1L each of Gordon’s gin and Bailey’s liqueur for a paltry AUS $46.00. Ah, things are looking up!

Final leg Dubai-Venice 6 hrs.:   The closer I get to Venice the better everything becomes: I find myself seated next to a Brad Pitt lookalike and the movie thingo is working perfectly. I am however too knackered to enjoy either. I really should have slept when in the company of the aged Boer and the defunct movie, then I could have had lovely eye candy and in-flight entertainment for this leg (both featuring Brad Pitt!). How daft am I?! Instead I move to get an extra spare seat, stretch out and manage 2 hours zeds. (Dreaming of Brad punting me down the Grand Canal, singing something soppily romantic in Italian).

Touch down!!   I arrive at Venice airport where I am met by a Dragon Sister. We jump on a bus for the 20 minute ride (which costs E3) to Piazza le Roma, Venice’s bus station. This is the end of the line for all motor vehicles. From here on you have to get about on leg power or on various modes of canal craft. Luggage with wheels and travelling light suddenly become a crucial for the jet-lagged traveller. I’m relieved that Dragon Sisters have factored this in and it is only a 2 minute walk over only one bridge (ponte) to get to our destination, the Sofitel Venezia. This is radically different from the tower block Sofitel Hotels I’m familiar with in Oz. It’s a lot smaller with lots of marble, chandelliers, a curving marble staircase and another-worldly bijoux charm about it. My room is decked out in antique-style decor with an en-suite bathroom and two balconies (admittedly they are the size of airline loos) overlooking the canal and the Papadopolous Gardens and pontes. IMG00402-20090614-0223 IMG00041-20090604-0142Amazingly, all vestiges of fatigue disappear. Having briefly appreciated the merits of my new home, I dump my bags and hare out door to explore.

Ciao Venezia! Here I come!!

A Week in Yorkshire

My last blog post was from Malaga just before I headed to the UK. To Yorkshire to be precise, which is where my mother’s ancestral roots lie. I spent many a wonderful holiday in my youth with my grandparents in the picturesque village of Green Hammerton which lies midway between York and Harrogate. I also lived and worked in England both in York and London for a few years, but that was a long time ago, it’s been 14 years since my last visit.Spring Tuba The Ship_Aldborough Mailvan_Phoneb GH20150330_112141-1

It was a delightful week, which flew past all too fast, and although the weather was cold, I was in my brother’s flat which is beautifully heated so I was very cosy and warm. Before I hopped into bed each night the electric blanket made it all warm and toasty before I slipped between the sheets each night.

The coming of Spring is certainly a wonderful time of year to visit England, as daffodils gaily line roadsides and tubs filled with spring flowers added a splash of colour, so even though the air is cold, the outlook is bright.

I spent a very happy time catching up with friends and family, eating favourite foods, both at home and out at the little country pubs which are so unique to the UK. They have English pubs all over the world, but they are just not the same. There is a special atmosphere that oozes from the buildings, the stone floors, the wooden beams and furniture that echo with hundreds of years of history, these places existed long before Australia was even colonised.

I know people say that English cooking is terrible, but that’s not true. It depends on who does the cooking. I feasted on steak and kidney pie, chicken and mushroom pie, Whitby fish stuffed with spinach and prawns served with white wine sauce, roast pork with proper, homemade Bramley apple sauce and much more. In between meals I feasted on homemade shortbread, Wensleydale cheese, Jaffa cakes, Pontefract cakes and the odd piece of fruit for good measure. I’m not sure how much weight I stacked on but who cares!

I arrived back in Spain last night and am all set to start work again later today on what is the final term of the school year here.

Michelle

Malaga – a city of contrasts

The drive from my current home town of Ecija to Malaga yesterday was. much to my surprise, so  picturesque. Very green, peppered with olive groves, scenic hill tops dotted with the occasional houses, dramatic drops and finally the views of the Mediterranean sea sparkling in the distance.

A big shout out and thank you to Nati and Javier for giving me a lift as they headed to visit their friends in Marbella.

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Looking out over the port from Alcazaba

The city is a mix of the old and new. Beautiful beaches complete with bars and restaurants, a marina, port and heaps of museums. It’s a city aimed tourists with several information points where they speak a multitude of languages, wheelchair ramps and streets that are no longer cobbled.

A myriad of modern shops and goodness knows how many different restaurants and bars! Plenty of foreign tourists and menus are in English in lots of places which I avoided like the plague!

Instead I settled20150328_152610 for a cute little place that looked much more local as everyone sitting at the bar was speaking Spanish. Special of the day was plump pulpo grilled to order on the charcoal fire.

I sat for an hour enjoying watching all the action at the bar as the staff bustled about. Tapas is a most civilised way of eating and I love being able to order a dish at a time, especially as if I spot something going past that I fancy, I can just order the same so no cases of menu envy here.

View of Gibralfaro walking towards the city
View of Gibralfaro walking towards the city

Although situated smack bang in the middle of modern-day Malaga, once I stepped into the Alcazaba I was transported back in time. To an era where life was very different. The perfume of orange blossom, lavender growing wild and the wonderful courtyards all offered a sense of serenity and wonder at the amazing people who built this wonder place-fortress that dates back to the 11th century.

The Alcazaba and Gibralfaro are testament to Malaga’s Muslim past with each boasting 360 degree views over the city, including the sea and the hill ranges and I can just imagine that in days of old they were fantastic vantage points to watch for invaders and homecoming vessels.20150328_170859

In contrast to the Muslim history is the Cathedral of Malaga, which whilst not as impressive as that of Seville, is worth visiting even if they do charge a E5 entrance fee but I am told it’s free on Sundays. Lots of wonderful stained glass and the interior is not as dark as Seville.

There are also several museums belonging to the various Brotherhoods in Malaga with displays of Semana Santa regalia. I visited Confradia de la Esperanza which was truly impressive with beautiful embroidered garments, gold and silver ornaments, a wonderful painted ceiling depicting the history of the Br20150328_190940otherhood and boasts the largest floats in Malaga. They were truly impressive. In this photo you can see part of the mural.

Last nigh the streets were being prepared for the Semana Santa parades with chairs lining the main routes and verandahs all decked out with red cloths giving a uniform look to the route. Bands are kicking off the week by parading through the streets where the somber sounds of the drums and trumpet mark their slow procession as the crowds look on. Street stalls are popping up everywhere and the city is ready for a week of celebrations.

The first paso just went by earlier this morning. Watching them walk gave me shivers, the experience is very difficult to describe. Primitive almost and at the same time awe-inspiring. Even though we are in a modern city, the feeling is that of a time when the Church was at the height of its power in Spain. It’s a very eery feeling.

The discipline and dedication of those bearing the paso is incredible. It’s also extremely hot so even more impressive. The crowds that line the route are so thick that it’s difficult to walk about.

I’m off to England now and I have to say I think a week of drums would drive me crackers! It has however been a fascinating experience and when I get back on Sunday there’ll still be parades taking place.

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

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!
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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