Saturday, 31 December 2011

Reflexiones y Prepósitos


It wouldn't be New Year's Eve without the obligatory resolutions and reflections on what you've done over the last 12 months, so here they are.

Come to think about it, 2011 has been possibly the best and most exciting year of my life. There have been some big milestones, such as finishing my dissertation (on judicial activism in the age of terrorism if you're at all interested), graduating, spending two months in Nepal and moving to Spain to start my first 'proper' job. I've also had the chance to get to know some amazing new people and share fantastic news with some of my oldest friends, two of whom have just got engaged!

Put simply, 2011 was a year of feeling the fear and doing it anyway. It's been a year of saying 'yes' to things I wouldn't usually say 'yes' to and it's worked out pretty well. I hope to live 2012 in a similar way. I do, of course, have a few resolutions for next year though:

Stop bloody worrying so much.

I've always been a bit of a worrier. I thought I was finally waving goodbye to worries and fears when I moved to Spain, but that now my circle of friends are starting to acquire grown-up jobs, mortgages and fiancés, I occasionally seize up with terror that I don't know exactly where I want to be or what I want to be doing.  'And dear God', I think, 'maybe soon I'll become one of those lonely, crazy cat ladies.'  This is exacerbated by the fact that I don't even really like cats all that much.

In the book I've just read, there was a character who is full of worries about everything from what she's going to wear tomorrow to how to eradicate world poverty. When I identified with her agonising over the correct way to sign off an email, I realised that it was time to chill out a bit.

The point was driven home in a lovely passage where a friend / lover / man who is very bad at punctuation writes her a letter that amused and reassured me:

    'I know that you feel a little bit lost right now about what to do with your life, a bit rudderless and oarless but that's okay that's alright because we're all meant to be like that at twenty four... I certainly don't have a master plan I know you think I've got it all sorted out I haven't I worry too I just don't worry about the dole and housing benefit and the future of the Labour Party and where I'm going to be in twenty years' time and how Mr. Mandela is adjusting to freedom.'
Be less 'permissive.'

The word 'permisiva' is a term that my flatmate came up with to describe me. Definition: 'habitually or characteristically accepting or tolerant.' But not in a nice, easy going way – it's more of a 'do/say whatever you like to me and I'll just sit back and take it because I'm very non-confrontational' way. Sadly, I think she makes an excellent point, so next year I'm going to be a bit more 'inpermisiva'... or whatever the opposite of 'permisiva' actually is.

Keep learning.

I'm aware this will sound immensely sad, but looking back on the last year, some of my happiest days were spent holed up in a library with my head stuck in a copy of Human Rights Law Review or International and Comparative Law Quarterly. I probably didn't appreciate this enough when I was at uni, but I love  getting my head around theories, constructing arguments and applying the law to real life situations. So more of that when the teaching's over, por favor.

But while the teaching continues, I resolve to keep up my language learning. After all, I have only five more months to stop making senseless gramatical errors in Spanish!  

And then after those five months... I don't know.  But I'm not going to worry about it.

¡Feliz año nuevo a todos!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Más regalos!


Before I go home for Christmas tomorrow, I would just like to reiterate how AMAZINGLY LOVELY everyone here is.  In the last week, I have acquired yet more gifts, including bottle of reserva from one of my students, a keyring from a barman who likes my accent (I know a keyring's not very exciting, but we might as well count it) and a big box of traditionally Riojan sweets from the mother of two of my students.  The wine and sweets are now in my case so I can take a taste of La Rioja home with me :)

Come to think of it, wine and sweets are about all that is in my case.  I might have to wear the same outfit every day for a fortnight, but at least I'll have a glass of Campo Viejo in one hand and turrón in the other!

Anyway, I have to get up at 6am tomorrow for 13 solid hours of sitting on buses and planes and hanging about airports.  It's definitely bedtime.

Buenas noches España, hasta pronto!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

La enseñanza


So despite the fact that I came to Spain to teach, I haven't really written anything about how I'm getting on in the school yet. The reason is that I thought that with time I'd be able to gauge if things were going well or not, but to be honest, I'm still trying to figure out what a good teacher actually is.

Is a good teacher strict or lenient? Should classes be fun or serious? Should a language teacher focus more on grammar than on speaking and understanding? Is a good teacher open and personable or do they cultivate an air of mystery?

The response, as I'm finding, is that there is no set answer to these questions. Even when I myself was in high school, there were teachers who had very different approaches to their classes, but who excelled in their profession in their own ways. The common thread was that they were all passionate about their subject and wanted to transmit that enthusiasm to a new generation.

When I think about it, I owe a lot to my old French teacher for making me as interested in travelling and language learning as I am today. I swear to you, I took the decision that I was going to learn French and Spanish and live in both France and Spain when I was 11 years old. And it was all because I was mesmerised by the fact that my teacher could speak three languages fluently and was full of anecdotes about time spent living abroad.

When I think about what kind of a teacher I am, I can recognise both my strong points and flaws. On the plus side, I genuinely want my pupils enjoy my classes, to be enthusiastic about learning English and to be able to communicate. On the other hand though, I think I'm a bit too tolerant of less than perfect behaviour because I want all of the kids to be on my side.  It is, of course, very easy to exploit a friendly, likeable teacher and turn lessons into a farce, whereas a teacher who is hard on pupils pushes them to learn more and is essentially more effective.

So at the moment, I'm trying to find a happy medium between strict and lenient. This entails trying to perfect a stern, teachery tone to use with problem pupils, but it's difficult because I don't have a bad temper and hate raising my voice to anyone. The last time I gave someone a proper row in my class*, I had an uncontrollable urge to burst into an fit of giggles, but luckily he looked at me as if I'd just killed his dog and I regained my composure.

*  It went a little something like this:
* pupil who has written one line of given task is laying across his desk*
Me: Pupil, please take your head off your desk and complete your work.
* pupil raises head momentarily and then puts it back on the desk when I turn around *
Me: Get your head off the desk.
*pupil does as before *
Me: Head. Off. The. Desk.
Pupil: But I'm tired, miss.
Me: We are all tired. I'm tired too. But do you see me lying across a table with my eyes shut? No, you don't. Because this is a SCHOOL, not a bedroom. NOW GET YOUR HEAD UP OFF OF THAT DESK RIGHT NOW OR GET OUT!

Love for teachers: - A nice bit of slam poetry about 'What Teachers Make.'
I'll even let him away with hating on law school...

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Hoy en clase...


I was doing a listening exercise with the song 'We Found Love' by Rihanna.  Filling in the gaps of missing words produced some interesting results...

Yellow time in the light
Now we're standing side by side
As your shower crosses mine
What it takes to come alive

It's the way I'm feeling
I just can't drive
But I gotta let it go.

(The correct version can be found here: !)

The best part, though, was when I asked them to translate the phrase: 'It's like you're screaming.'  One boy raised his hand and proudly stated:  'A mí, me gustan los helados.'  ('I like ice cream'!!)

Thursday, 8 December 2011

La Laurel


I've just been asked a very interesting question: 'What's your favourite street in the world?'

Until I moved to Logroño, I'd probably have been tempted to say something clichéd like La Rambla in Barcelona or the Champs Elysées in Paris, but now I have a proper answer: La Calle Del Laurel.

This street, or the 'Senda de Los Elephantes' as it's colloquially known, is the perfect place to go with friends to chat, eat and drink. Its 16 metres are jam packed full of pincho bars, each of which specialises in a different kind of ABSOLUTELY DECLICIOUS food. There are too many bars to tell you about them all, but Blanco y Negro and Bar Soriano deserve a special mention. The former does a pincho of melted goats' cheese, ham and rasperry jam on fresh bread, and the latter's specialty is champiñones smothered in garlic butter. Yum.
You really have to try these to appreciate how good they are.   Let's just say that the owner  has been selling them like hot cakes for over 30 years.

But it's not only because of the food that I love this street. It's one of the first places I came when I moved here and it me feel like I'd truly arrived in Spain. Not gimmicky, touristy Spain, full of overpriced sangria and bravas, but a place where I could get the full cultural experience.

La Laurel by night.  In my mind, the reason referred to as 'The Elephant
Trail'  is because you'll probably be as big as one by the time
you've finished eating in all the bars!  However, a Spanish friend reliably
informs me it's because 'coger una trompa' (literally 'to catch a trunk')
means to get hammered!

The street at night buzzes with energy and is full of people of all ages (including children – it's still slightly strange for me to see infants toddling around bars at midnight!) out for a good time. Unlike in Scotland, this doesn't mean getting outrageously drunk and stumbling home when you can't handle any more – it means savouring your food and your glass of wine and enjoying the company that you're in.

Great company and some of Soriano's famous mushrooms!
Also, since Logroño is such a small city, I almost always meet someone I know as I wander along this wonderful pincho trail. I'd never have imagined this would be the case when I first set foot in Laurel two months ago, knowing no-one and only capable of ordering food through the universal language of  pointing...

I'm not the only fan of this great street,
one of its bars has a place where people
can leave a photo in homage to it!
Many have obliged...
I will surely join them when I have a passport photo to hand,
but for the moment, a picture of me in front of the board will have to suffice!
              Anyone who's interested can find a guide to the street here:
(Yes, that's correct, La Laurel even has its own website)

Friday, 2 December 2011

Regalos de Logroño


So since receiving the free bottle of zurracapote the other week, I've managed to blag some more freebies simply by virtue of being a guiri.  

Por ejemplo:

1)  When I went to the supermarket and my flatmate told the cashier that I'd never tried the sweet in my basket (polvoron), I was told to take it for free.

2)  When I went out for pinchos last night, the owner of the bar I was in kept giving my friends and I plates of different meats to try.  He also taught us the expression 'culo veo, culo quiero' (literally, 'I see ass, I want ass!'), which you can say when your friend orders food which looks so good that you need to order it yourself.

3)  Somehow, I've struck up a weird kind of friendship with the bus driver who takes me to work.  It's surprising since all of his conversation starters only include one word.... the first time he spoke to me, all he said was 'Rusa?' ('Russian?') and the second time, it was was 'profesora?' ('teacher?')  So yesterday I got on the bus and he gave me a book with parallel text in English and Spanish.  Bless him.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

El Día de Acción de Gracias


This year, I'm going to be celebrating Thanksgiving for the first time with some American friends. I'm having dinner with them after my Spanish class and am really looking forward to it!

To get into the spirit of things, I thought I'd pause for a minute during this busy day and think about what I am actually thankful for - it's an exercise that most people don't do nearly enough and puts things nicely into perspective! Here's what I came up with:

  • I am young and have plenty of time to achieve my goals.
  • I am in good health.
  • I have an amazing family, which I can always depend on.
  • I have a fantastic group of friends who always keep in contact with me, no matter how far away I go and no matter how long I stay there.
  • I have met some incredible new people since arriving here.
  • I have had a good education.
  • I am employed.
  • I like my job.
  • There is a roof over my head, food in my belly and a cup of tea in my hand.

    And, of course...

  • I'm in Spain!!
Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Una cosa que me hizo reír


So yesterday I was walking around Haro at lunchtime and was taking a few photos, when two men stopped beside me in a car.  'Oye,' they shouted, 'sacanos una foto también!  Somos los más guapos del pueblo!'
('Hey, take a photo of us too, we're the best looking guys in the town!)

I love Spanish people.

'Los más guapos del pueblo'

Unas noticias (por fin!)


So, dear readers, it has been a while since I wrote anything because I have been sooo busy!  To give you an idea of my schedule, yesterday I left home at 9.15, worked till 5.45, waited for a lift back to Logroño, arrived at around 7 and went straight to a group language exchange till 9.  After that, I went to the pub with some people from the group, but I always class this as ´studying´ because we usually speak Spanish and I only drink mosto (a sweet grape juice that´s very nice, but actually about double the price of wine.)  I eventually got back to my flat at 11pm, started cooking dinner at quarter past and collapsed into bed at 2, after procrastinating for ages with today´s lesson plans... how very español my timetable is getting!

Now, I know you´re going to think that going to the pub can´t possibly be studying, but it´s definitely one of the best ways I know to learn a language.  It´s much more natural than any classroom setting, you get used to hearing slang words and listening to people speaking at a normal pace, you can always have a drink if you need to loosen up your tongue (!) and most importantly, you enjoy yourself.  I just don´t see why learning has to be all about grammar and books all the time!

Last week, I also got a great cultural lesson in the pub because because all of the Spanish people in our group were telling me about this drink called 'zurracapote.' According to them, it tastes like juice and has no immediate effect on you, but after about half an hour after drinking it, you find yourself completely sloshed.  The waiter of the bar overheard our conversation (Spanish people talk LOUDLY), told me that I had to try it and gave me a bottle that he had as a gift!  How nice was that?!!   

In the countryside ready to climb!
One thing that's great about the people here is that they're so enthusiastic about where they come from and want to teach you things, show you things and take you places.  For example, the first time I met my friend, Sara, she got all excited, saying:  'I have to show you LA RIOJJJAAA!!  Start by coming climbing!'  Now, I've got to say that it was very reluctantly that I agreed to this, because I'm not exactly the greatest fan of heights and my arms are like two twigs that would snap under any kind of pressure.  And the first time I tried to scale up the rock, I had all of this in mind and I had to come down after 5 minutes because my legs were shaking so much that I couldn´t support myself.  The second time was much better – I kept telling myself not to look down and not to think of anything other than climbing to the top. And I made it! Take that, fear, twiggy arms and shaky legs!!  

Anyway, I have loads more to say, but unfortunately, I need to devise some kind of plan on how to educate Spain's children before I go to sleep.  More news will be forthcoming at the end of the week!
He made it look so easy...
The views were beautiful!

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Lo que he aprendido sobre España


What I've learned about Logroño and Spain in my first month:

*  You shouldn't expect anything exciting to happen if you walk through Logroño between the hours of 2 and 5pm. All the shops are closed and you might as well make like a Spaniard and have a siesta. (I've been thoroughly enjoying my after-work napping sessions, but am slightly concerned it'll get to the point that I won't be able to make it through a day without one.)

*  Lunch is the biggest meal of the day and you should take as long as you bloody well like to eat it.

*  Spanish people can take a joke in a way that I found most French people can't.

*  A 'txamizo' is a place that young people rent with their friends so that they can hang out, chat and drink. It's called a 'cuarto' in the south of Spain.

*  You should stock up on everything you need before Sunday, because you won't be able to find a shop that's open when the day arrives.

*  If you have a large frying pan and about a gallon of olive oil, you should be able to make most Spanish dishes.

*  You should work to live here, not live to work. There are plenty of national holidays and they are often prolonged by a 'puente.' For example, Tuesday is a national holiday, but I'm getting Monday off as well to turn it into a long weekend!

*  It is commonplace for a night out to start at 2am.

*  People here are very friendly, so you can strike up conversation with a randomer in a bar without being considered a weirdo. (Although screaming 'OH MY GOD, ARE YOU SCOTTISH?' at a Glaswegian DJ in a local nightclub is probably not the best way to go about it...)

*  Eating dinner before 10pm is a typical foreigner faux pas.

*  Spaniards have no concept of the importance of tea to one's life. I have been on the quest to find a kettle for 4 weeks now and I still haven't procured one. If you ask a Spanish person where you might be able to buy a 'hervidor' or a 'caliente aguas', they don't actually know what you're talking about and they ask if you mean that you need a teapot. 'No,' I explain, 'I have a teapot, but I would like one of those things that you put water in to make it boil.' Puzzled looks inevitably ensue and then I'm told that I can always boil it in a pan on the stove or, heaven forbid, put a cup of water in the microwave. Somehow, 'I'm just going to put a cup of water in the microwave' doesn't produce the same comforting feeling in me as the phrase 'I'll just put the kettle on.'

*  An awful lot of the songs that are played in the clubs here feature someone saying 'ay, ay, ay' or 'oi, oi, oi.' Por ejemplo:
- Mark Anthony and Pitbull, 'Rain Over Me' – 'ay, ay, ay, ay, ay, ay, let it rain over me, ay, ay, ay, ay, ay, ay, let it rain over meeee '

- Don Omar, La Mano Arriba - 'ninguém vai ficar parado, Oi, oi, oi, oi, oi, oi, oi…Vem para quebrar           kuduro, vamos dançar kuduro, Oi, oi, oi, oi, oi, oi, oi…Seja morena ou loira, vem balançar kuduro Oi, oi, oi… (this is Portuguese in case anyone was wondering)

- Juan Magan, La Chica Que No Sigue Modas – 'ay, ay, ay, ay, ay, ay, ay, ay, ay, quiero bailar contigo amarte a todas horas, ay, ay, ay, ay, ay, ay, ven a bailar conmigo tu no bailes sola'

I suppose it's good that you can always join in with the chorus even if your Spanish isn't up to scratch!

Friday, 28 October 2011

El primer mes


Since I've now been here for a month, I've been thinking lots about how my life has changed since I left Scotland. Clearly, it's changed in that I've moved to a new country, started a new job, lived with two total strangers, moved into a new flat, met lots of people and started talking another language on a regular basis, but I've also changed. In the space of these last few weeks, I've realised that I'm a lot more capable and adaptable than I thought I was.
To let you understand, the name of this blog doesn't only include the word 'trepidation' for the fun of the alliteration - I really thought that I was going to feel nervous or stressed about various aspects of this whole experience. But it's not been like that at all.  
Something seems to have clicked over the past month and I've realised that I just need to get out there and do things, as nothing is as bad as I imagine it's going to be. I've known this all along, but I still used to think:  'I don't know how to say this in correct Spanish, so I'm just not going to say it.'  Now I tell myself: 'no-one has died because I've got a word or structure mixed up, I'm going to try to put my point across.' I also used to panic at the thought of being in a strange place, but now I've been lost so many times that I know I always find my way back to where I want to be. I think my brain is reprogramming itself to a more confident, optimistic setting.  Nothing is phasing me and it's fantastic.
Who says you have to be at uni to learn valuable lessons?

Our doubts are traitors and they make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.

Sunday, 23 October 2011



I first visited Madrid when I was 19 and fell in love with the place instantly. It has everything – magnificent architecture, beautiful parks, amazing restaurants, great museums, loads of shops and the best nightlife I've ever experienced. I also think it's somehow different from other European capitals. In London or Paris, for example, you often find yourself surrounded by suited and booted executives, who have a permanent expression of consternation etched upon their face and a Blackberry glued to their hand. In Madrid, however, people are dressed up to go out partying all night and usually have a glass of vino glued to their hand. It's the big city without all the stress.

I thought it'd be a real shame to visit Madrid for only a day when I had the whole weekend free, so I decided to go from Thursday night to Sunday of last week. Someone from the British Council Assistants' facebook group had recommended I stay in the Way Hostel near Tirso de Molina, so I booked that and hoped that I'd meet some cool people there. Thankfully, I did and it also turned out to be the nicest hostel I've ever stayed in (although to be fair, the competition includes the dorm in Paris which looked like cell block H and smelled like a sock, where I found a used condom under my bed.)

My first encounter was with the wonderfully eccentric reception guy who accosted me as soon as I got in the door. 'Hello, my beaaaauttifffuuull,' he chirped, 'what ees your name? I am BAU. Let me check you in.' After taking my details, he insisted on carrying my bag up to my (spotlessly clean) dorm, where I met some Londoners and a Bolivian. They invited me a 'quick drink' that evening and though I'm never one to refuse an invitation, I was mindful of the fact that it was already 11pm and I had to be up early the next morning for my induction meeting. Eventually, I agreed to have some food and a glass of wine and then come home. Somehow, though, I ended up in a plaza at 3am having consumed I-don't-know-how-many mojitos that came served in a receptacle the size of a trough.

Trough sized mojito
Getting up the next morning was a bit of a struggle, but I made it to the Ministerio de Cultura on time with the aid of my trusty metro map and a few questions to passers by. It went well for the most part, but one woman seemed to forget that Spanish wasn't the assistants' first language and rattled on at lightening speed, leaving us all a bit frustrated and desperate to get our hands on the promised cocktail at 2pm.

Cocktail time was a great opportunity to meet new people who are doing the same thing as me and hear how they're getting on so far. Most of the people that I spoke to have been placed in the south of Spain though - I was pretty disappointed that I didn't meet anyone else who is in the La Rioja region! (I told the teachers at my school this and they said that I'm the only one here because I'm special lol!!)
Chilling with some French and Belgian assistants in the Parque de Retiro.

Friday and Saturday nights continued in a similar vein to Thursday – fuelled with mojitos and filled with fun. Saturday ended with everyone from my dorm, my friend Andrea (who just happened to be around that weekend) and two randomers we met in the street hanging out in the hostel's kitchen at 6am, thoroughly shattered. A week later, I'm still recovering.

Never again will I worry about travelling alone.

Dorm Night Out Number 3!

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

La Vida Española


I love Spain. I'm not even two weeks into my new job yet and I'm enjoying my first public holiday. It's a beautiful day and I'm currently sitting in a park under a tree, recovering from a Rioja-induced hangover!

Teaching is going well so far, I've done 3 classes about Scotland and the kids were mostly well behaved, except for a group of rowdy boys in my first class who kept asking me if I worked in a nightclub or knew the Queen! Yesterday, I had lots of fun with a group of 12 year olds who had an abundance of questions to ask me about myself, like 'what's your favourite singer/ band/ CD/ football team/ colour/ number/ food/place/ Rihanna song?'*  Looking out at their eager little faces and raised hands made me feel like a proper teacher for the day!

Since my school is relatively small and is in a little town, I expected that I'd be the only assistant working there, but it turns out there are four of us. Two of them are American and live in Logroño like me, so they have introduced me to all the other people on their programme. Last night, we went out for pinchos** and drinks and I am seriously concerned that I might end up becoming an overweight alcoholic by the end of the year. The food is so delicious that I can't help but order something with every drink and the wine goes down faaaar too easily. It's also incredibly cheap - we bought a bottle of Rioja (Joven, but still Rioja) in the supermarket yesterday for 79 cents and a bottle of something really nice like Campo Viejo will only set you back about 4 quid. Result.

I've also been hanging out in lots of cafes and restaurants because I still haven't moved into my flat and don't have a kitchen to use, which hasn't exactly helped. The other day, I thought I'd treat myself to the 'Menu Del Dia' in a restaurant and by the end of it, I could barely move. I polished off a big plate of patatas con chorizo, some beautifully marinated cod, a whole basket of bread and a dessert called leche frita, which was a bit weird, but still pretty tasty. The menu detailed that you could get wine or water with your lunch as part of a 10 Euro deal, so naturally, I told the waiter I'd take the wine. I expected him to bring me a small glass, but he soon appeared with a WHOLE BOTTLE and plonked it down on the table. Whilst I was pretty delighted that I was getting this and my lunch for less than a tenner, I was also a bit worried about what I must look like, sitting alone on a terrace nursing all that alcohol. Luckily, my fears were soon allayed when, as if by magic, one of the few people I actually know in this city spotted me and came to help me drink it. It was great, I felt like Julia Roberts in 'Eat, Pray, Love' (just without the praying and loving part.)

I'm heading to Madrid tomorrow afternoon as I have to go to an induction meeting at the Ministerio de Cultura on Friday. I think I like the sound of it – it's only 3 and a half hours long and the programme informs me that it will start with a coffee and end with a cocktail! Even better, the British Council gives me 200 Euros to attend it, so I can stay for a long weekend! It's really is a hard knock life being a language assistant...

*    All of these are things that I was actually asked!
**  If you're wondering what this is as opposed to 'tapas' (as I did), it's pretty much the same thing, but of the  Basque variety.  'Pincho' in Spanish means 'spike' and this refers to the little toothpicks that are used in the North of Spain to hold the food together.  (Thank you, Wikipedia.)

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Llegada a Logroño


So, by some miracle, I have made it to Logroño without major incident.  But whoever says that the beauty of travel is in the journey has obviously never tried to sleep in London Stansted, nor spent five and a half hours in Bilbao Abando train station.

As per the advice of the aforementioned ´Sleeping In Airports´ website, I arrived in London in the early evening and managed to blag three chairs to lie across during my 12 hour stay.  From what I´d read, Stansted is like a ´refugee camp´ overnight, so I was trying to guard them against the expected influx of people at around 10pm.  In the end, though, all I saw were young couples who were obviously trying to save money, but really ought to have gone to a hotel.  Lying on the hardest, most uncomfortable chairs I have ever had the misfortune to encounter in my life and waking up the sound of people kissing at 4.30am is not an experience I wish to repeat.

Anyway, after what seemed like an eternity, it was time for my flight to Bilbao.  I slept for the whole of the journey, but as I was getting off the plane, a guy appeared beside me and started blabbering something at me in Spanish.  After hearing my poor attempt at a response, he switched to English and told me that the was home for the weekend and works in the Savoy Hotel.  ´That´s cool,´ I said, ´but have you any idea how to get to the train station from here?´ Sadly, he didn´t, but he went away to ask someone for me.  When he came back, he declared triumphantly:  ´There is a bus!´ Then he shook my hand, wished me good luck, blew me a kiss and walked off.

It was all very well knowing that there was a bus to the train station, but my new friend hadn´t exactly enlightened me on where I was supposed to get it or when it would come.  As I was tired and everyone else seemed to be getting a taxi, I decided to follow suit.  But just after I got in, I realised that the meter was charging 3 cents per second.  As I don´t know Bilbao, I started to panic slightly that the train station was absolutely miles away and that it was going to cost a fortune to get there.  And yes, it did end up costing me more for 15 minutes in a taxi than for two and a half hours on the train.  The only good thing I can take from the extortionately priced cab ride was that I understood a (very simple) joke on the radio and that made me feel momentarily reassured about moving here.

After hanging around Bilbao for ages, sitting in a bar on my lonesome with a huge suitcase, I took the train to Logroño and was picked up by one of my couchsurfing hosts.  Thankfully, they are nothing like my hairdresser envisaged - they are the loveliest people ever!  They have been so welcoming, taking me into town to show me around and eat pinchos (I´ve discovered a place that does sangria granizada, which may be my new favourite drink!) and helping me with everything I need to know about the city.  Today, they invited me to their country house for a family dinner and I had a great time eating paella, riding on the back of a tractor (!) and practising my Spanish with various relatives, one of whom was called Tia Maria!

And what of Logroño itself?  Well, it was recently voted the best place to live in Spain ( and I can see why.  Everything looks so clean and new and there are loads of little tapas bars, pretty fountains, monuments and beautiful views of the hills.  Also, everyone is incredibly relaxed here and all the people I´ve met so far have been really friendly.  On my first day here, for example, I got off the bus home faaaar too early and ended up a bit lost (it didn´t help that I thought I lived on Burgos Street rather than Burgos Avenue - the street doesn´t actually exist!)  So I stopped a woman for directions (anyone who knows me will know that I HATE doing this, but I´ve had to overcome my fear of it pretty quickly here) and after we figured out that I must live on the avenue instead of the street, she told me she could come with me to show me where it was.  When I told her that it was OK and that I´d be able to find it, she said:  ´Well, I live here.  If you have any problems, just come back and ring my doorbell.´  Bless her.

Yesterday, I was at the bus stop when a Muslim woman saw the henna on my hand and asked me where I got it.  I was pleased I could actually explain to her that I was in Nepal and that´s where it came from, but she didn´t know where that was and I had to settle for telling her it´s near India.  Then I told her I was from Scotland, but she didn´t know where that was either.  I ended up saying that it´s near London.  We had a bit more chat before the bus came and then she said to me, in English, ´nice to meet you!´ and waved to me as the bus pulled out.  It was then that I decided that I really like this place.

Already I can feel that despite the geographical proximity of the South of France, the culture here is very different.  When I tried to strike up conversation with a (sober) stranger in Toulouse, they would look at me as if I´d grown a second head, but here everyone is a lot more open.  I´m really glad about that, because one of the things I miss the most about Scotland when I´m away is how friendly everyone is.  That and Irn Bru.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Pre-departure Problemas


The other day, I was out for lunch with some friends and was talking about my impending 8-month stay as an English assistant in Spain.  I promised to keep in touch via email and said that I might also start a blog, as I've always wanted to write one and will probably have a lot of time on my hands.   I got such an excited and positive response (something along the lines of – 'YES!! Start a BLOG!!! You should DEFINITELY have a blog. I'll read it!') that I couldn't refuse.  So here it is.

For anyone who doesn't know me and has just stumbled across this, I've just graduated in law and French and most people think that it's insane that I want to go to Spain to teach English.  And perhaps you will also  be asking yourself:  'What has that got to do with your degree?  Why don't you train as a lawyer and make lots of money?   What are you running away from?'

To answer the first question, it has more to do with my degree than it may appear.  Five years ago, I made the decision not to study Spanish at uni, but only on the condition that I'd learn to speak the language fluently myself.   I knew this would probably entail moving to Spain alone, and to be honest, I wasn't sure if I'd ever have the balls to do so.  Thankfully, I soon grew a pair when I realised that I wasn't going to get very far in life if I was afraid of spending some time in my own company.  To answer the second and third questions, I want to see the world, meet different people and learn new things* before succumbing to the rat race.  Running away is about avoidance - this trip is about discovery.

Now, you'd think that having the whole 'I'm moving to Spain' plan in mind for five years would mean that I have everything impeccably organised.  This couldn't be further from the truth.  I got back from Nepal just under a fortnight ago and have been frantically trying to come up with some sort of plan ever since then.  The first problem I have encountered has been a big one:  I was supposed to get a wage advance before going away, but since the British Council office in Nepal omitted to send my contract to Edinburgh, my only source of money for the forseeable future is my credit card.  This means that getting a £500 direct flight to Logroño is out of the question.  As is spending £70 a night on a hotel.

The only way of getting round this problem is to do things on the cheap, which firstly means that it's going to take me 24 hours just to get to Spain.  I leave on Tuesday night and will be having a sleepover in Stanstead Airport (I thought I was the only broke and miserable soul who would be doing this until I found this website -, then I'll take a plane to Bilbao and a train to Logroño on Wednesday.  When I arrive, I'll be couchsurfing for a few days with a couple (who thankfully speak English because the woman is American) whilst I look for a flat. I told my hairdresser all this yesterday and she said that she'd be dubious about staying with strangers, but I said they seem nice and they have two daughters, so it should be OK.  Her response? 'Rose and Fred West had daughters too...'

My next problem is that my school won't tell me where I'm supposed to be looking for a flat.  I'll be teaching about 30 miles outwith Logroño and had planned to commute from there every day, but apparently my timetable might make this difficult.  I emailed to see if there was any way of tailoring my teaching hours so that I can take the bus home, but the answer I got was basically: 'I don't know and I couldn't even tell you who might.'   To ensure I don't end up homeless, I'm still looking for a flat in the city and am hoping for the best. I've sent out emails in broken Spanish every day this week and some people have given me numbers to phone when I arrive, but this worries me because my Spanish is crap and speaking on the phone in a different language is a very difficult skill to master.  I remember answering the phone in my house in France once and all I picked up was something about refereeing a basketball game.  The message my housemates got that night was: 'Someone phoned, I don't know who. They said something about basketball, I think?  They were a referee or they were looking for a referee or... something like that? Hmm, maybe they'll phone back.' Anyway, I'm thinking about just texting the people and seeing if they reply, but I employed that tactic when I was looking for a flat in Barcelona two summers ago and I still can't claim to have found one... (I did visit a place near the Sagrada Familia, but decided against living there. The woman had a big statue of the Virgin Mary on top of the telly and told me that boys weren't allowed in my bedroom at night, like 'ungodly' things never happen in the daytime.)

The other issue that I'll have to overcome this year is my complete and utter lack of any sense of direction. In Nepal, I didn't venture out unaccompanied for a whole month as I couldn't even navigate my way from my house to the main road.  So even if I actually get to Logroño, I'm not massacred by the people from couchsurfing and I manage to arrange flat viewings via text message, I'll still have a bit of a problem.

This trip would be a lot easier if I could take an interpreter and a guide dog.

* Along with the Spanish learning, acquiring some cookery and guitar playing skills are on my list for the next 8 months!