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.