San Lesmes

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Today in Burgos was the festival of San Lesmes – the patron saint of the city. Inquiring about it, it didn’t seem like it was celebrated by many locals, but definitely thought it worth checking out!

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There was a parade (which we overslept for), food stalls with giant queues, but best of all was seeing a group perform the local traditional dance.

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The traditional costume and music were beautiful, and felt like we were almost stepping back into medieval times! Well, with iPhones and digital cameras etc…

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It shows you don’t have to  be religious to enjoy a religious day of worship – today was clearly about fun and being proud of the city!

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He shouted “Viva San Lesmes, Viva Burgos!”, to which we all shouted “Viva!” back.

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I have seen flamenco and other traditional Spanish dance performed in bars and culture centres, but seeing it performed out on the street was an incredible experience – even if my feet were numb! I love this country and its huge variety of tradition and culture!

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The Abbey of Santa María la Real de Las Huelgas

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On an unusually sunny and warm (!!!) January day in Burgos, I went with friends to a local Monastario. A translation would be a convent, as it is where nuns live (around 150 in its prime, nowadays around 30 nuns live here). A Monastario can either be for monks or nuns, but obviously not both at the same time.

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The tour cost 6 euros, and was very much worth it. The tour guide translated the information into English for us, and told us many fascinating facts and stories surrounding the monastario, which also acted as a palace for the royal family. Fun fact: although in modern Spanish huelgas means strike, as in to go on strike, when the monastario was first built the word meant “to not do anything”. In other words: to be on holiday. The King and Queen of the Castilla y Leon region (King Alfonso VII and Leonor de Inglaterra/ Eleanor of England) essentially used it as a holiday home.

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Although we could only take photos outside, both outside and inside were very beautiful with a pure, serene atmosphere. The stonework made it very cold inside, although we were not wearing coats outside, so be prepared if you ever find yourself visiting it or somewhere similar! Inside I found it fascinating to discover the decor that was created by Moors who had ‘converted’ to Christianity during the reconquest. Seeing Arabic scripture in a Catholic place of worship I think might be a uniquely Spanish feature – showing how much the country is built upon various cultures throughout history.

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A beautiful and interesting place to visit in Burgos! The local area also has a sweet little pueblo vibe with cafes and bars for the families. Every day I fall in love with this city some more!

Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain

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Hola! This Saturday just gone consisted of a last minute booking to spend the day in Bilbao with fellow English teachers in Burgos. Bilbao is the capital of the Basque country in the north of Spain – an area filled with it’s own unique cultural heritage.

One prominent example is the Basque language – very different from Castilian Spanish! Although not as widely spoken in the Basque region as Catalan is in Catalonia, it represents a strong sense of national identity for the Basque people – many of whom want independence from the rest of Spain.

The weather reached 20 Degrees Celsius in Bilbao – a huge (and pleasant) change from cold Burgos! I even ditched my jacket and jumper for just a t-shirt. The city, although heavily industrial, is still very beautiful to walk around.

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Before meeting the others a friend and I visited the Basque Museum (or Euskal Museoa/Museo Vasco!). It was small but showed different artifacts of traditional Basque living – mainly pastoral and marine! For only 3 euros it is worth popping into, and is located in the old town which is never boring to wander around.

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This I was pleasantly surprised to see, as it’s an exhibition I had previously seen in Brazil. It’s a small world!

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The Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art: we didn’t go in, as people say unless you’re mad for modern art (which I am not), it’s only the outside that’s worth seeing. And entry is 13 euros, which is expensive compared to the other museums. However the exterior certainly is impressive!

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After we travelled on the funicular to see the whole city from above. We caught it just as the sun was beginning to set, so it was beautiful!

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Before catching our return coach, my travelling companion mentioned an ice cream shop called Nossi-Be that sells not only strawberry and chocolate ice cream – but ice cream with fish and cheese flavours! I had to try. I went for a scoop of violet and a scoop of cod. The violet tasted fine, the cod tasted like cod. Very difficult to decide whether it was okay tasting or gross. What made me unable to finish was that the cod ice cream has a chewy texture – which I don’t think is good for any flavour! So I would recommend a taste, but maybe not a scoop!

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Bilbao was certainly beautiful, and definitely a city worth visiting. It’s small, so a day or two would be enough. I wish we had been able to see more, there are a few things unchecked off my list, such as the Fine Arts museum and the Basilica, but I’m happy to have an excuse to return.

Why Travelling is better for the soul than Tourism

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Travelling…tourism… each suggest two very different aspects of going on holiday, but can also be incredibly similar. What actually is the difference? Travellers make me think of backpackers with a checklist of countries in their mind, whereas tourists make me think of families on holiday. But the lines cross when you go on holiday with friends or a partner, is it tourism or travelling? Does it depend on where you go? Often in both cases you check out all the famous landmarks- surely even the most hipster of travellers wouldn’t ignore the Colosseum when in Rome? As a traveller or a tourist you let your hair down and often eat and drink way more than usual. Travellers are more commonly found in hostels, but not all stay away from hotels!

 

But travelling and tourism are different – some argue that travelling means integrating yourself into the local culture, whilst tourists tend to stay in the same places designed for tourism (often resorts!) Travellers are people who always have their passport and luggage at hand, just in case, whereas tourists count down the days until their holiday (but I think all leave packing to the last minute!)

 

I prefer travelling over tourism, as I’m sure many of you do as well. Why is it better? Why do we insist it’s more fulfilling? Well…

 

Community

When you go on holiday as a tourist, it’s usually with your family or people you’re very close to. Which is fine of course. But when travelling people are more inclined to reach out to other fellow travellers, especially if they’re travelling solo! There is always a sense of community and immediate bonding between travellers as we all have stories to tell, all have faced similar issues whilst travelling, and all are just wanting to reach out to the world and seize the day.

 

The Less Beaten Path

As I mentioned, nobody skips out on the most famous tourist hotspots/landmarks. But when travelling you’re more inclined to take a local’s recommendation, or try the lesser known places your guidebook mentions. Some of the best places I’ve visited have been random recommendations, pursued with a “why not?” attitude. Sometimes these are the memories you truly hold dear, rather than fighting for a view of where everybody goes.

 

Embrace not Escape Life

“We travel, not to escape life, but for life to not escape us” Perhaps cliched, but a well-known and well-loved quote for many travellers. When people book holidays it’s because they need a break from 9-5 jobs, bills, wet weather, family, stress and routine. Way too often people say they need something, like a holiday, to look forward to. It’s part of the reason I never want to take on a job I hate, because I don’t want to be just looking forward to the weekend every Monday-Friday. Travelling is not an escape from life, but an embrace because you feel truly lucky to live on this planet with so many amazing sights and cultures to see (as opposed to other planets such as Mercury, which I bet are quite boring to live on).

 

Experience the Lives of Others

Finding out how people live their lives differently to yours is rewarding as it opens your mind, and you develop a stronger sense of empathy. Although it may not sound like it, but realising you are just a single drop in the ocean can be liberating (best way I get over problems, knowing that they’re just a tiny blip in the grand scheme of things). And to achieve this is to get out in the world, and experience a life different to the one you’re used to.

 

The feeling like you can take on the world – and do!

With travelling can come many problems – getting lost, strange people wanting to help, in a place where your native tongue isn’t spoken (we can’t always rely on English!) etc etc. Tourism, not always, but usually comes slightly bubble wrapped and with a feeling of total security. On the other hand, travelling can often test your wits and common sense, and when you come out the other side triumphant, you realise no problem is unsolvable. It creates a can do attitude that you can wear for life.

 

 

As I’m at a time in my life of saving pennies and living paycheck to paycheck, I know I’d rather spend my money on travel and life rather than some flashy package deal holiday – I know which leaves me feeling happier and more fulfilled!

Tips for Language Learning

Is it a bit hypocritical to write this when my own ability to speak a second language is, ahem, lacking? But although my Spanish is far from where I want it to be, I have picked up some tips from studying, teaching, and witnessing others study a second language. To me, languages are something you never stop learning, even if you can class yourself as fluent. There are still things I am discovering about the English language too! But although it can be frustrating to not be able to express yourself at times in a second language, it is important to keep up with the practice and not lose motivation.

 

Immerse in the Culture

Not a direct way to grasp the language, but something I consider to be oh so important. When studying a language, unless you’re an absolute linguist nerd who gets excited about grammatical rules, it’s unlikely the typical structure of studying will make you enthusiastic about the language. In a classroom, be it in high school or an evening class for adults, language can become tiresome and dead. However, to ignote a passion for the language you should explore music and films of countries that use the language, even visit the countries (any excuse to travel!), talk to native speakers and learn about their culture and history. It can remind you that the language, which is always a huge part of any culture, is a path to exploring and understanding the culture further.

 

Celebrate Little Achievements

When you’re nowhere close to being fluent, it can be frustrating to feel like you’re getting nowhere. This may cause you to miss out on realising what progress you’re making. So when you understand a phrase you previously wouldn’t have, or automatically respond to a question, or even can just remember the alphabet (I still struggle to remember ‘h’ and ‘j’ in Spanish…), be proud of these achievements!

 

Have a little Dutch courage…

This is not, I repeat NOT, what I teach my students. However I know I’m more inclined to practice Spanish and experiment more with speaking it when I’ve had a couple of beers, as are others. This is why language exchanges at bars are a good idea, because you meet new people and can gain enough confidence to dive out of your native language. I think one of the biggest hindrances to language learning is confidence: even I know that I understand more Spanish than I use, it’s just a matter of using it. Not being afraid to have a go with a conversation, rather than just resorting to your native language (which, when it is English, is far too easy to slip back into). Plus with Dutch courage, you’re less embarrassed when making mistakes, as it’s all part of the learning process! But if alcohol is not your thing, there are other ways to develop a relaxed attitude before trying your second language tongue!

 

Ignore Anyone who Laughs

One of the worse things to do to a language learner is to laugh at their attempts. It ties in with the confidence issue, especially if someone is nervous about practicing, – even just smiling as they speak can put them off! So what happens when you’re practicing a new language and your attempts make someone burst out laughing? Take it on the chin, in fairness the person probably isn’t being rude, we just don’t realise what we’ve said! Even laugh with the person, as there’s no harm in laughing at yourself (today in a class one student laughed because she accidentally said she ate her family at Christmas!) Don’t let these slip ups hold you back from practicing more.

 

Speak to both Natives and Practicers

Of course speaking the language is the best way to learn and improve, but I feel it is best to speak with both a mixture of those who are native speakers, and those who learnt it as a second language. The native speakers, of course, know the language best and through them you will grasp the natural rhythm of the language. They are also happy to help those wanting to learn the language, and will guide you through the conversation! However with those who have learnt the language, I always find they speak the language slower and clearer, which is easier to understand! They are also more sensitive to the difficulties in learning the language, and will perhaps confuse you less.

British Modern Comedy TV Shows Well Worth Watching

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God that’s a long title. I probably should have used something wittier, especially as this is a post about British comedy. We have produced, in my opinion, some of the wittiest comedians out there, and some amazing comic actors and writers whose deliverance of lines have created some of the finest moments in comedy.

 

There have been some treasured comedy shows throughout the years, some still adored by many like Only Fools and Horses, and others perhaps left more for reminiscing or telling the younger generations how funny the shows were back in the day.

 

But this post is about modern comedy shows, the ones from this century. British humour has evolved over the years since TVs were first brought into the family home, and here are a few example that in my opinion capture the modern day Brit’s sense of humour, identity and soul.

 

Catastrophe

A British comedy show, but created and staring an Irish woman and American man. Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney play a couple who after a week of endless shagging end up expecting and Rob relocates from Boston to London to be a part of this new family. It’s a refreshing show, as my sister stated when I introduced her to it: “I like it because it’s real”. Exactly. The couple fight, have sex, or vice versa. And even though it was an unplanned situation, they are such a likeable couple because they are clearly a team facing the bizarre world of friends, family, jobs and parenthood. With amazing lines such as Rob comparing Sharon, the overly doting mother, to Gollum.

 

Gavin and Stacey

A TV show adored by nearly every Brit in existence. I came late to the party, and only started watching it when the series had ended. But it is one of those shows you can watch again and again and again, even though there aren’t many episodes (which perhaps is the secret to its success – it didn’t drag itself out). Gavin is a Essex boy, and Stacey is a Welsh lass, they fall in love by speaking over the phone through work, and the series follows the growth of their relationship and how two very different families become one. The characters are memorable and hilarious, the stories are heart warming and realistic. Warmth and laughter – it’s what makes a comedy show great.

 

Psychoville

This is an entirely different form of comedy: utterly bizarre and surreal. It is a thriller that follows a set of very different people who are being blackmailed for something that happened when they were all institutionalised. Oh yes, very different from family focused comedies. However it’s sense of humour is one of my favourites: dark, imaginative, and exciting! I’m sad it only had two series, as it felt like it could have continued further into the bizarre, alternate reality of Britain that the title Psychoville suits very well. Its two creators and stars have achieved comic success previously with The League of  Gentlemen, but it is a show that also boasts other great British actors such as Dawn French and Imelda Staunton.

 

Peter Kay’s Car Share

Peter Kay is an amazing British comedian who has captured our oddities, our quirks and our culture both in stand up and on television. He was the first comedian I came to love, and has popped up with some British comedy classics. His most recent venture is a show that focuses on two people participating in their company’s car share scheme, and the setting is largely the car. If you think that would severely limit the story lines and entertainment value you would be wrong – it is credit to Peter Kay’s talent as a writer and to all the actors that this show was immediately adored by critics and the public, and a second series is on its way – yay!

 

Twenty Twelve/W1A

Twenty Twelve was a mockumentary that focused on the team who were responsible for the London 2012 Olympics. If this was real, you’d be shocked we managed to host the Olympics at all. The characters, all with impressive jobs, seem largely clueless at what they were supposed to be doing. The actors delivered amazing one liners with completely dead pan expressions that would leave the audience almost in tears. W1A follows the main character who was head of the team (Hugh Bonneville of Downton Abbey fame), who has been given a new position at the BBC – he is the Head of Values. Whatever that means, he, his colleagues and the press seem unsure of. I Liked W1A as it seemed the BBC was largely laughing at itself – another quality of British comedy. Again, everything seems to be so utterly ridiculous and unorganised it’s a wonder there is even a BBC at all.

 

The IT Crowd

In my opinion, a better, more funny representation of geeks than The Big Bang Theory. This follows a trio of employees who work for the IT department in a huge company (I never learnt what the company actually does). They are social outcasts, who sometimes attempt to integrate themselves into normal society, usually with disastrous consequences (cannibals, bombs, accidentally end up working in a theatre). It was bloody hilarious, and came up with the wonderful line for helping those who are incompetent with technology: “Have you tried turning it on and off again?” Which actually, is great advice for when the computer is acting up.

 

Of course there are so many more TV shows that should be on this list. Thank god for television, thank god for comedians. They make life better with laughter.

Two Countries, Two Lives

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Every country has its quirks, its benefits, and the little reasons that make living there quite peachy, even if you don’t appreciate these qualities unless you’re elsewhere. I won’t say I’m missing England with incurable homesickness (no offence England but not at all), however there are some things I miss.

 

And of course, there are some things about life in Spain that are so much better than in England.

 

So what little things in England do I miss?

 

Tea

OF COURSE THE TEA. I swear it is the only country in the world a proper cuppa can be found (not including the tasty teas of other countries such as China or India, but a good cup of English Breakfast? You’ll have to go to England). I recently discovered the British brand of Tetleys is available in my local Spanish supermarket, and my gosh the taste difference between that and the standard Spanish version of English Breakfast is immense. And Tetleys isn’t even the best brand. Not to mention the odd ways of serving tea here (sometimes they put the tea bag IN THE MILK JUG. Just why). Rant over.

 

Short Lunches

The Spanish lunch is typically 2-4pm, or something similar. This is no problem on the days I only work mornings, but when I also teach in the afternoon, I find the long lunch break makes me sleepy (it is siesta time after all!) and I may have fallen asleep on the bus before. It can also be a nuisance when shops are closed until around 5pm. At least with the British style of grabbing something quick for lunch, you get a break but not so much you have to drag yourself back to work.

 

British TV

Aside from the news (and sometimes Spanish dubbed Simpsons) I don’t really pay attention to the TV, and being in a foreign country I can’t access all the British TV Channels on demand via my laptop (I hear there’s a way round this but it’s too complicated for techno-phobe me to understand). But British TV is amazing – the comedy, the drama, the documentaries, even the shows about property searches. At least my reading time has increased, which is better for the old brain.

 

Absolute Fear of Saying Anything that may be Interpreted as Rude

Although I appreciate the refreshing bluntness of Latinos, sometimes it can make me want to do a double take, and be all “I beg your pardon?”, true Brit style. Brits can understand when another Brit is being insulting, or demanding, even if they sugar coat it with a million polite words. It can make it easier to absorb, and when you do it yourself you feel less guilty about insulting or demanding something of someone. Feelings are delicate things!

 

Cheap Supermarket Food

Don’t get me wrong, the food in Spain is great. The fresh food is clearly of a higher quality than in England. But it’s harder to find cheaper brands, which is a given in British supermarkets. In England I would do a big food shop once a month, only topping up the basics like milk once a week, and would spend around £60 a month. In Spain I do a food shop once a week and I spend 20-30 euros each time, and I have no idea where it all goes!

 

And what about Spain that has captured my heart?

 

Coffee

Not that I’m converted from tea (I have just finished a cuppa), but it cannot be denied the Spanish make better coffee than the British, and my coffee intake has definitely gone up. From once in a blue moon to maybe a cup every week or two, but still. The flavour is stronger, and the quality is better than all the lattes and cappuccinos and whatnots that we sip in Britain.

 

Longer Days

It is currently the middle of winter, but I was still surprised how gloomy England was when I was home for Christmas, not to mention the days are far too short. In Burgos however the sun sets later, and when it is setting the sky is filled with orange and pink and frankly still takes my breath away. My friends should be afraid that I got a new phone with a better camera for Christmas, as my snapchats may involve a hell of a lot of sunsets…

 

Relaxed Attitude

Sometimes this can grate a little if I want something done urgently, a word whose translation I don’t think holds much importance in the Spanish dictionary. However it is refreshing after three years living in London to enjoy things at a slower pace, with less worry. One example is when I accidentally turned up to a personal training session at the gym half an hour late. In England, this would not be forgiven. In Spain, however, they waved my apologies aside and did not mind at all. People here take their time, and enjoy their time!

 

Evening Plans

In Spain the evening doesn’t really begin until 9 or 10pm. Which sounds bizarre from a British point of view, but in my opinion is quite brilliant. You can do all your tasks, or just laze around the whole day before enjoying your evening. You don’t need to keep an eye on the time, or quickly shovel food down your gob if you’re planning a night out. Cafes stay open much later and become bars, and tapas are available for the peckish at this time. And tapas are always a good idea.

 

Friendliness

I cannot rave enough about the friendliness of the Spanish. It’s a funny contrast: the British are seen as super polite but cold and distant whereas the Spanish can come across as rude but their are warm, welcoming and friendly to everyone they meet. Something the British should learn to embrace! When you’re not a native of a country it may feel overwhelming to be living there, but when the people are always wanting you to feel welcome it certainly helps! Especially when they don’t let the language barrier become an obstacle!

 

I have come to love Spain for all its quirks as much as I love England. To (currently) be a girl of two countries is a fantastic feeling, which I would recommend to anyone at any time in their life!