Thursday, 24 January 2013

My first Spanish feria.

In Spain a feria is a local festival which often celebrates the patron Saint of the town. The party is normally fairly boisterous and consists of traditional dance, music, food, drink and of absolutely no time for sleeping whatsoever.

One of my friends, Lena, is a language assistant in a secondary school in Fiñana, a town in the Sierra Nevada, and 20th of January is the day when they celebrate Saint Nicolas. The Erasmus group at the university was holding a day trip to both the mountains and the festival at night, so a group of us signed up.

Starting off at 7:30am (!!!) we headed for the mountains however unfortunately excess ice which had gathered through the night halted our plans slightly. Nonetheless we managed to illegally park in a layby and have fun in the snow for a while. The view was stunning and I still cannot get over how beautiful the colours in the lake were.

As we had some time free we decided to stop in Granada for lunch. I couldn't have been happier with this plan and I finally managed to find a Moroccan wall decoration that I liked, something I've been meaning to do for ages. In the shops, most of the assistants usually assume that we're American, as there are so many American students in Granada, and so they always seems a little more interested when they find out otherwise. I had this charming conversation:
Shop Assistant: "De dónde eres?" (Where are you from?"
Me: "Irlanda del Norte" (Northern Ireland)
Shop assistant *with obvious excitement* "Ahhh! Gerry Adams!"
Me: ".....Um.... well .....ok."

Ah the day wore on it was time to head to Fiñana and by the time we arrived the town was already filled with the sound of exploding fireworks. These fireworks are not like those at home- carefully regulated by the town council, hidden out of sight and extremely colourful and child friendly. No, the three pieces of advice we were given when we arrived were: If someone offers you a lit firework don't take it, if you see people throwing fireworks on the street try to avoid them and when the main display begins open your mouth to allow the sound to pass through your body- otherwise you could seriously damage your hearing.

The streets were full of people drinking from plastic bottles which they had strung from their arms and everyone seemed to have red banners tied around their necks. The statues of the Saints were carried onto the streets to the sound of people cheering and singing and then the firework display begun. We were feet away from hundreds of rockets being lit into the sky and you could feel the ground trembling. The stocks were re-filled constantly but as this was happening local men let lit fireworks OFF FROM THEIR HANDS as casually as though they were just smoking a cigarette. In fact a few were doing just that at the exact same time. We had to run more than once to avoid them getting too close.

Meanwhile the town hall had provided wine, various meats and popcorn free to everyone watching. The wine was really good and the meat was from pigs which had been killed in honour of the celebrations earlier in the week (at least this is according to lena's angelic pupils). We hid from the cold in a local tapas bar and continued sampling the local delicacies before it was time to leave.

I had a brilliant day. The Sierra Nevada was beautiful, Granada never fails to disappoint and the Fiñana feria was seriously cool even if it was a bit mad.

Monday, 7 January 2013


Sitting at the airport ready to fly back to Spain for 7 whole months! Yup, I’m one of those Starbucks wankers with a laptop so I am successfully completing hipster look #109- boom.  While I’m too tired to actually ask for the wifi code I thought I’d start a cheeky blog post before I try to hide the rest of my stuff on me so easyjet doesn’t charge me a fortune.
(NB I obviously did not finish the blog post at the airport as it is now 11pm and I'm tucked up in my Almería bed)

I mentioned a few days ago that I wanted to make a list of goals for Spain, rather than resolutions and I’ve managed to come up with about 8 ideas, mostly goals, with the odd resolution of two thrown in for good measure.

1.      1. Visit at least 8 more Spanish cities.
I have a list of places I want to visit in Spain as long as my arm, but after fitting in two major cities in one puente I’ve realised that if I actually want to enjoy my travels properly I’ll have to make sure not to pack too much in at once! I’m making my general list into more of a ‘Life goal’ and instead will attempt to get to 8 cities before I leave. I already have plans for Alicante, Valencia and Cádiz so hopefully 5 more will be do-able!
2.       2.Go to a music festival.
Right so I love music and I think it gives you a really great insight into the culture of an area. In the UK music festivals usually consist of mud and welly boots so I am DETERMINED to make the most of the summer sun and make it to at least one Spanish music festival- there’s one in Benidorm that’s headlined by Two Door Cinema Club that I’m very tempted by!
3.      3. Take up a class.
This is one thing I wanted to do last year but the upheaval of moving kind of got in the way. I would love to take a dance class but if not then something artsy based would be good- one of my personal resolutions is to be more creative this year; going to primary school arts classes has inspired me!
4.   4. Complete everything on my ‘Things to do in Almería list’
To be fair I think I’m getting through that pretty nicely as it is. Having that list sticking up is soo useful when I think I’ve nothing to do and then just make myself look at it, pick an item and do it. Hopefully I’ll get to some of the local areas too.
5.     5.Spend less time on facebook.
      Ok so everyone who’s met me knows I’m a facebook addict. To be honest I normally just have it on in the background and use it as light distraction- honest! But while this works pretty ok most of the time it can have a slightly more negative effect in Spain; I get far too caught up in what people are doing at home. Most of my Spanish friends spend their time on Tuenti, so really I spend a lot of time on facebook feeding any mild homesickness I’m experiencing. It’s a great way to keep in contact but I want to limit contact so I make sure I’m not sitting on facebook while missing out on enjoying myself here.
6.   6.  Learn about Spanish politics.
Yea this one is quite important. I pretty much know zilch. Which is pretty shit when the government reforms are making a serious impact on the lives of people here, and street protests are a weekly sight. So I’m making a conscious effort to check out some politics books and buy a national newspaper once in a while!
7.    7. Write in Spanish every week.
This one is mostly covered by the private class I’m taking but it’s pretty much the only aspect of Spanish I can’t improve just by being social or going through daily life, and yet it’s one of the most important skills.
8.      8. Remember to have a sense of humour.
So I came with this attitude and it worked. Laughing at embarrassing moments was the only way to cope. But as the year goes on you get sick of making mistakes when simply ordering food, or of people thinking you’re a passing tourist. Work can get stressful, I got pretty homesick just before Christmas and I always feel like I’m just not doing enough! However I really want to remember to step back, laugh and just chill out a bit. When I went home I mostly focussed on the positives when I told people about Spain, as every year abroader does. This can lead to the feeling that everyone is having a perfect year and any hitches in your own are a total disaster. So pleeease, crazy brain- no more stressing! You have 7 months to do, so what if you’re not a fluent uber amazing teacher by the end? Just make some epic stories for when you get back. 

Now I seriously need to sleep as it's back to work tomorrow and I've just travelled over 1000 miles on 3 hours sleep. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

New Year's Resolutions

It's January 2nd, the day I consider to be the first day of the new year; because really January 1st is just a day to eat junk food and cry until your hangover and guilt at having not started your resolutions, eases. The resolutions I make for myself are not really of any particular interest to anyone else, so instead, for this blogpost, I thought I'd analyse the resolutions I made for myself before I went to Spain and see how they're going 3 months later. 

  1. Go out every evening (unless sick and hangover does not count). I can stay inside when I'm back in rainy Belfast. Whether it's to a bar, a cafe, or even just a walk on the beach  GO OUTSIDE (like pippin, RIP) 
Ok well EVERY evening was probably a bit of a long shot. There have been at least 3 Sundays where I have not left my bed for more than an hour as the Spanish nightlife has taken its tole. However I have tried to be as active as possible and I have spent an enorrrmous amount of time in cafes and tapas bars! 

     2.Take a picture everyday. Of anything or anyone. 

This failed. However I have several folders full of hundreds of pictures of my Spanish adventure, so really I think I'm doing fine. I've also managed to keep my own diary going, writing every couple of days- for the first time in my life.

    3. Smile even when you're feeling sad. No one likes a grumpy tourist. 

Haha this was aimed at two personal traits, one being that I'm a horrible morning person and worried I'd be grumpy while on weekends away, and two I overthink everything and can manage to bring myself down for no reason- especially when I'm away from my best friends. Remembering to smile has been pretty important. I've surprised myself while travelling in that I've usually been so excited to be seeing a new city that I've forgotten to be tired. However overthinking has often come into play, mostly when something is going wrong or when I'm missing home. The best way I've found to combat that was just to go outside and walk around the city! Seriously it never fails. No matter what I'm sad about I just go and walk along the beach and then into the city centre, and suddenly it seems a lot better.
Erasmus trip to Cabo de Gata

       4. NEVER say no to something that doesn't compromise your safety. Someone suggests snorkling, tap dancing, mountain climbing, japanese sword dancing, I'm doing it. 

Hahaha ok well none of what I've done has been quite as...odd as that but I do think I've achieved this one pretty well. Remembering this was what made me go on my first Erasmus trip through which I made so many new friends, it made me go to a night lit flamenco performance with someone I'd just met- who is now one of my best friends- it took me salsa dancing, and just so many other things. Just say...yes! 

     5.You can sleep when you're home. 

Kinda forgot I was going to Spain where sleeping is like a national sport...well ok I have slept in far too many times; however I think that any time the decision was between doing something awesome or sleeping, I've pretty  much always gone for the awesome thing, so that's good enough for me!

     6.Speak and never be embarrassed for getting it wrong, if you tried. I think I'm going to need to remind myself of this one a lot! 

"Never be embarrassed so long as you tried"- I think this has been my mantra. There's nothing like a year abroad to teach you how to get on with being utterly humiliated. I've made a fool of myself on more times than I'd care to admit and 'got it wrong' even more. However I have TRIED. Oh so much. And I do genuinely think it is paying off. :) 

So overall I feel like I've been doing pretty well. One of my friends told me that he doesn't make resolutions, he makes goals. So now that I have enough mantras to keep me from bursting into tears on a public bus, I thought I'd make the second half of my journey more goal orientated. I haven't had time to think of any yet so I'll give my brain a shake for a few days (or hours, let's face it I don't have a great attention span) and let you know when I come up with something. Ciao. 

Also apologies for the weird white background, Google blogspot seems to be having a mild fit.