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

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

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

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

Move to Ecija…update

I spent the morning travelling to what will be my new base for the next little while. Ecija, with a population of just over 40,000, is a little over an hour from Sevilla in the province of Andalusia. It’s been referred to as the frying pan of Andalusia as temperatures can soar in summer to being the hottest in Spain!

Ecija has been a Roman and then a Moorish town. It has lots of narrow, winding cobbled streets and whitewashed houses, 11 towers, a pile of churches (not sure how many yet) and of course a bull ring.

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One of the 11 towers – snapped from the main square

Anne, who hails from Belgium originally and has also been to Darwin, picked me up from the local bus station. She is my new boss and has been here for 3 years. First task of the day was looking at apartments. I am delighted to report I’ve found one already and move in tomorrow.

Everyone seems very friendly but hardly anyone speaks English so my mastery of Spanish is going to have to come along pretty quickly and at least I can already understand a lot of what is said if they speak slowly!

This afternoon (read here 5.30 pm as that is when afternoon seems to start) I went for a walk though town. Shops were full of people at 7.30 and squares filled with families of all ages with kids in prams, on bikes, kicking footballs and roller skating before heading home for dinner. Anne informs me that in these parts we don’t say ‘Buenos notches’ till after 10 pm at night.

I also now have a Spanish mobile number thanks to a lovely Moroccan girl serving me and between a cross of Arabic, French and Spanish the phone is operational! I was also complimented on my Arabic pronunciation which I am amazed and pleased with given it is so very many years since I have used the language.

Tonight I am in a delightful little pension that is located in an 18th century house complete with traditional courtyard and right in the old centre of town. My room is massive and comes with the most enormous bathroom complete with claw foot bathtub that I intent to relax in a little later this evening and fantastic wi-fi connection – talk about a contrast!

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