To mark one year since I left the English rain for the Spanish sol (yes, September 4th 2012…*looks back fondly*) here’s a special blog-post charting some of the highlights from my unforgettable Year Abroad in Spain:
The last stop on my little Andalucía tour post-Semana Santa was Sevilla and it really stole my heart. There was something about that city that made it so enchanting and vibrant. The architecture was just stunning everywhere, the little alleyways, the flamenco, the wide, open streets, the buzzing atmosphere, the surrounding neighbourhoods, being reunited with my friend …people couldn’t believe that I preferred it over Madrid. The Alcazar, the Plaza de España and the Cathedral (Spain’s biggest) were just some of the places that made me fall in love with this southern city. There was just an endless list of things to do there and I really believe it’s one of Spain’s forgotten tourist destinations. When us Brits think of holidaying in Spain, we just think Madrid or any Spanish coastal resort, but for that added taste of culture and authenticity, people should seriously consider Sevilla. The weather there is pretty scorching all year round, too.
The sun setting on the Plaza de España
On my third/fourth(?) weekend in Madrid, I was fairly confident I’d seen all the obvious things to see in the capital city so was desperate for an excursion to either Segovia or Toledo, both beautiful cities that make for manageable day-trips. Having a friend in Segovia made the choice quite easy, so a couple of the lads and I went back into Castilla y León briefly to visit my amiga. We visited all the sights, had a nice picnic with a view of the Alcázar (the one that allegedly inspired the Walt Disney castle), the weather was amazing, we spoke Spanish the whole time and just strolled around the mini-city stress-free and high on life. It’s a pretty simple recipe really but everything came together on that day in just the right amounts to make it perfect. (Oh, and we went out in Madrid that night too which is always fun).
Post-picnic photo-shoot outside the Alcázar
3. Viernes de Toros
The third day of the Fiestas de San Juan in Soria was easily the best and most enjoyable. The party atmosphere in the bull-ring for both bull-fighting sessions was just incredible and unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. Even though the actual bull-fighting didn’t make for comfortable viewing at times, I was relieved to have finally ticked this important Spanish cultural experience off of the list. With my bright, lime-green flamenco apron and a straw hat (a weird combination for fancy dress, I know) I remember being ready to continue the party into the streets of La Zona and beyond. I remember the music being the best I’d heard all year (being able to recognise Spanish songs is an achievement when they all have the same melody). Due to excessive calimocho consumption, I don’t remember much else about that day…but I know it was an incredible day!
A fun kind of chaos in the bull-ring.
4. Being published
Pursuing a career in journalism had been an idea I was toying with for some time prior to starting my Year Abroad. I wanted to create an opportunity for myself during the year, to get some experience of the sector in Spain with the aim of being published on a regular basis. It was a long journey, so please bear with!
A few initial emails at the start of the year gave me no replies. It was randomly, one day, that I mentioned it to one of my English teachers who said she would accompany me to the offices to chat through any opportunities with the director of the local newspaper. I was initially terrified of doing this but I was assured that the director was lovely and she would surely jump at the chance to employ volunteers and introduce a foreign insight into the paper. The discussions went well and she said maybe there was a chance I was able to contribute on a regular basis to the weekly school supplement, but she would contact me the following week to let me know. Of course, she never did. I went back 3 weeks later (myself that time…again, terrifying) to check whether she’d forgotten about me. She assured me I hadn’t and said she’d get back to me but still no word.
In the end, a local I had become good friends with said she knew someone that worked for the paper and maybe she could be a way in for me. I wrote two articles to be considered for the ‘Letters to the Editor’ section (both of which are published on this blog: here and here) but they were unsuitable apparently. One day, I suddenly received an email from this friend of a friend saying that the director would like me to write something about my experiences as a language assistant. Of course, I would! I worked on it, had it checked and perfected within 2 days, sent it to her and she said it would be printed in the school supplement the following week.
Job done? Not quite. The day the article was due to be published, I was travelling in San Sebastián so some friends had agreed to buy the paper for me. To my disappointment, the first half of my article had been printed twice with the final line of the article being the most negative bit of the piece (the article overall was quite positive but given the circumstances, I wasn’t going to lie about my suitability in the Science classes). I was genuinely so devastated. I knew a lot of people were surely going to see the piece and I was worried I had misrepresented the school. Of course, none of it was my fault – it was a printing error – but still felt it was the paper’s way of humiliating me for my relentless effort to get involved throughout the year.
The disappointment passed and I forced myself to forget all about the unfortunate debacle and enjoy my time in País Vasco. It was the following week, however, when I was walking out of the language school, I bumped into someone I had met at language exchanges that told me he had read my article. “It’s really good”, he kept saying, to which I kept replying “but there’s a mistake in the printing!” He then let slip that he had read it in that day’s paper meaning it had been reprinted. I refused to get excited until I saw it with my own eyes so we ran to the nearest bar that would still have the paper at 7pm and, lo and behold, there it was in the middle page spread. I was probably the happiest person in Soria that day: I was thrilled and so relieved. It was getting to the end of my year in Spain and finally I had managed to get my name in the paper. 😀
5. Playing Catan
You’d be forgiven for having never heard of this game. ‘Settlers of Catan’ was quite confusing when I first was introduced to it – it involves getting points by building settlements of various sizes on a board (in its most basic description). I was never any good at it at first, but I learned to love it and like to think I improved!
The one constant across all of these memorable moments is the people I spent it with. Playing board games like Catan, sitting in coffee shops, holding dinner parties, going on nights-out and doing crazy, spontaneous things with my new international friends were what really made my Year Abroad experience. Without them, it would’ve been quite a miserable, lonely stint in Spain and so to them I say: thank you for making this an incredible year.