Skier, jump, sierra nevada

Sierra Nevada opens for 2012/13

 Sierra Nevada opens for 2012/13

And so it begins. Ski-bums from all over Spain will flock to Europe’s southernmost ski-resort in huge numbers this weekend, after seven long, snow-deprived months. And if all of this recent rain is anything to go by, then by eck are we in for a treat.

At least 11.5kms of untouched slopes will be open in the Nursery, Borreguiles and Veleta areas, and the RIO will be open by Saturday, allowing for skiing all the way down to Pradollano village. It’s an encouraging start, if we look back on last season’s woeful offerings.

The average snowfall peaked at just over 80cm in February- three times less than the year before and still well off the mark in comparison with other recent years gone by. Couple that with the fact that there still remained hordes of skiers and zigzagging ski-schools clogging up the slopes, plus gallingly time-consuming queues for chairlifts to boot, and we were left with a very bothersome case on our hands indeed.

 Sierra Nevada opens for 2012/13

Hiking to find the freshest lines last Spring

I suppose I hadn’t really considered the fact that here I would be but a sprat amongst the jostling crowd at the weekends and puentes, as opposed to a happy-go-lucky ski-bum tied only to a 3-shift-a-week bar job, like I was during my time in Canada three years ago.

In fact, if conditions had been just half as good as they were in Canada, then perhaps the hard-shell feelings of frustration and disappointment wouldn’t have been so overwhelming. Unfortunately, things never really improved. Instead, skiers and snowboarders alike had to rely solely on the resort’s droning piste-side snow-makers, which were constantly pumping artificial deluges of the white stuff onto its otherwise ice-swathed slopes, in order to find anything even remotely approaching ‘powder’.

However, with an unshakable snowboarding addiction like mine, it’s difficult not to have a good time, even if the conditions are as dire as they were. I only managed six or seven visits during the 11/12 season but at the end of each day I always left with a smile on my face.

Now I’m all giddy and restless, because this year I know things can only get better. My board is waxed and my iPod playlist is complete. Ready, shreddy, go…

Click here for information on ski-hire, ski-schools and all the latest news on the Sierra Nevada.

 Sierra Nevada opens for 2012/13

The resort’s half-pipe on one of last season’s better days

 Sierra Nevada opens for 2012/13

Line hunting

 Sierra Nevada opens for 2012/13

The Sierra Nevada

speak spanish, habla español

Think you speak Spanish? Think again

 Think you speak Spanish? Think againOk, those of you who reside in, or have ever visited the Andalucían province of our beloved España will surely know where this is going, but for those of you who don’t/haven’t, let me just clear one thing up: we don’t speak ‘Spanish’ here. At least not the Spanish you’ll have heard on TV or learnt at school. Oh no. Grab the nearest umbrella or have a Kleenex at the ready because here, we speak what is known as ‘Andaluttthhh!’ (which is actually spelt ‘Andaluz’ but now you get the point).

If you’re planning a trip to Spain, you may have been all clever and had the foresight to enroll in a 10-hour language crash course. Well done you. It’ll surely come in handy in Madrid. But let’s assume that, like most tourist itineraries often tend to be, a sizable chunk of your trip will be spent reconnoitering the rural plains of Andalusia, with all-but obligatory stop-offs in Seville, Granada and Cadiz. Here, that crash course will feel about as worthwhile as a pedal-powered wheelchair would to Steven Hawking.

“But what about this fantastic pocket-sized book on useful Spanish words and phrases? Surely that’ll help?” I hear you cry.

Well, go to the window, now open it, and take that book and hurl it as far as you can, because as soon as you say something, you’ll most likely encounter a reply unintelligible to most other Spaniards, let alone you.

Perhaps I’m overstating it a bit. If it’s not too late, maybe don’t throw your useful book out the window- that’d just be silly. Lots of Andalucians speak the language beautifully, and are often very accommodating and willing to adjust their natural speech patterns when it comes to dealing with helpless tourists. But be warned- there still exist many Spaniards who are not so obliging. Let me paint you a picture or two:

I had just arrived in Granada, and in realization of the fact that my Spanish was clearly not up to scratch to be living with Spanish people, I wasted no time in finding somebody to start an intercambio with (basically a short, informal language exchange between two people). I sent out an invitation online, and received several very enthusiastic responses the same day. I chose Juan, as he and I seemed to share some common interests. So, the day of our first meeting arrived and we met at a local café. We sat down, ordered our drinks and began:

Me (in my best possible Spanish): Hola Juan. Encantado. ¿Como estás?

Juan: Bien gracia’. Entonce’ dime- ¿cuanto tiempo ma’ o meno’ lleva’ aqui en E’paña?

Now, all you Spanish speakers will no doubt be able to picture my resultant look of befuddlement. For everybody else, imagine how confused a foreigner with minimal English would be if he sat down for a chat with Kenny Dalglish. All those apostrophes are ordinarily substituted with s’s, and had there been a single one in Juan’s opening line then I might have just grasped what he was saying to me. The rough translation is ‘Fine thanks. So tell me- how long have you lived in Spain for?’ I got the first bit at least.

 Think you speak Spanish? Think again

¿Como?

I didn’t meet up with Juan again. It was a lost cause- his accent was just too strong. This came as a particularly dispiriting blow seeing as how I’d just completed a year in Cadiz, where the locals are even harder to understand- I’ll never forget my lovely chats with the old woman who I would sometimes bump into on the communal terrace when I went up to hang the washing out. I’d write a dialogue, but there’s nothing to write. I simply couldn’t understand a word. I just smiled and nodded in agreement as she unremittingly gabbled on in that curiously monotone, nasal and consonant-less voice of hers. I occasionally chipped in with a ‘si’ or a ‘claro’ but politely asking her to repeat or speak more slowly was futile.

Even just understanding a simple ‘goodbye’ took some getting used to. I knew already that ‘hasta luego’ meant ‘see you later’ and felt that I could pronounce it rather well. That means nothing though, when what you’re hearing sounds nothing like what you’re saying; ‘a’ta luego’ is what the locals say where I lived in El Puerto de Santa Maria. But venture further south into the heart of Cadiz and you’ll soon find that that is relatively clear in comparison to what comes out of the mouths of the city’s ‘true’ Gaditanos; ta wego, or ta we’o and in some extreme cases even just we’o, which is essentially just a grunt, are perfectly acceptable ways of saying goodbye here.

andalucia tourism map Think you speak Spanish? Think again

Thankfully, I am now no longer baffled by this so-called ‘bad’ or ‘lazy’ Spanish. In the space of two years I have come from absolutely loathing the fact that I had to put up with it, to understanding it, respecting it and even using it myself (much to the delight of my Andalucían housemates).

As a language teacher, I whole-heartedly believe that there is no such thing as ‘badly spoken Spanish’, rather it is, just like any other language, undergoing the natural process of change, and such instances of elusive or completely omitted ‘s’s and ‘d’s etc, are merely examples of this fascinating process, even if they do leave the intended recipients squinting in utter bewilderment.

Are you an expat in, or have you been to Andalusia or another part of Spain with an incredibly thick accent? Have you ever had any similar experiences? I’d love to hear about them.

*Proud Andalucíans defending their accent!*

teaching english, tefl, spain

Teach English In Spain

 Teach English In SpainLast July marked the fourth year to pass me by since my graduation in 2008, meaning that I have now been a graduate for longer than I was a student. Yet I am still to take my first leap into the cut-throat world of Britain’s job market. Instead, I have since been occupied by the unwavering and ever-flourishing obsession for exploring and learning about other cultures, and over the last two years, this preferable lifestyle has been better facilitated by my current line of work, TEFL.

For those of you (a distinct minority I assume) unfamiliar with this acronym, that stands for ‘Teaching English as a Foreign Language’.  The job brought me to Spain in September 2010 and consequently Granada a year later. Since my arrival, I have met and inevitably had to explain the nature of my abode to rather a large number of people (mainly students), due to my constant meeting with them, and frankly the ensuing response has always been something along the lines of “God. That sounds amazing”. And to tell you the truth, it is.

 Teach English In Spain

Okay, perhaps its not the most lucrative of job opportunities out there, but whether you’re in it for the long run or just for a brief spell, there is, in my eyes, simply no better way to immerse yourself in an alien culture while sustaining a steady income.

I teach 20 hours of English to a variety of levels and ages per week, I don’t start work until the afternoon and I am paid a respectable sum for my efforts at the end of each month. I have what I consider to be a fantastic social life, spent with friends both in and out of work- allowing me the opportunity to converse in ideal amounts of both English and Spanish, and I am even able to nip up to the Sierra Nevada to feed my snowboarding addiction at least two or three times a month, without worrying too much about the cost!

img 4661 Teach English In Spain

The Alhambra Palace, Granada

 Teach English In Spain

The Sierra Nevada Ski Resort, Granada

Don’t get me wrong- by no means does the job come without its responsibilities: consistent high-quality planning, frank assessments of students’ work, and technical expertise, are but a few standard requirements. It does, however, allow for a stress-free and leisurely lifestyle that when laid bare in words, never fails to provoke wild outbursts of jealousy from whoever’s asking.

Take two friends of mine for instance, both Erasmus students, both American, and now (sadly) both returned to the US. The pair of them were so impressed when I revealed to them the nature of my livelihood that they have since decided to do a TEFL course following their graduation, with the intention of coming back to look for work in Granada. It was this spot of inadvertent preaching which led me to write this post, in the hope of convincing more to do the same.

So, these courses then. They usually last for about four weeks (intensive) or six months (part-time), and can be done just about anywhere on the planet for a fee within the region of £1100. This price tag may seem excessive but keep in mind that a higher fee generally reflects a higher standard of quality training. The most prevalent and globally recognised courses are the Cambridge CELTA (Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults) and the Trinity TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), both of which are held in equal regard, though the CELTA is probably favoured by employers due to the ‘Cambridge’ affiliation.

If these options weigh too heavily on your purse then there are always plenty of other cheaper/shorter or ‘online’ courses to choose from. But be warned- though there are many Language Schools out there who will take on teachers with these sorts of qualifications, the majority of them do not, as it is often the case that these courses neglect to provide trainees with actual observed teaching practice.

 Teach English In Spain

There are several centres in Granada that offer the practical courses via the intensive format, and a great deal more throughout Andalucía. However, due to the fierce competition for TEFL jobs in Spain, schools are usually swamped with applications- hence the need for a more personal touch and a healthy dose of lateral thinking.

As for availability of work, there are masses of language schools to choose from in Andalucía; here in Granada there are several highly reputable academies, though to my knowledge most only hire teachers who hold either a CELTA or TESOL certificate. Most of the work in Andalucía can be found in Seville, where some schools even offer the possibility of employment following the obtainment of a CELTA in their own teacher-training academies.

Whether you’re a student who is desperately looking for a way to ‘extend’ (as my Erasmus friends put it) their time here in Spain, or just a regular somebody looking for something completely different, know that TEFL can provide you with boundless opportunities and take you just about anywhere you want to go in the world. Have yourself a browse for current job postings on tefl.com to see where you could start your adventure.As for me, life here in Granada has just about everything I need: great job, great friends, blue skies, sun-kissed beaches, snow-capped mountains and then of course there’s all this free food I keep getting. You do the math.

 Teach English In Spain

Plaza de España, Seville

 Teach English In Spain

Barcelona, Spain

Madrid (in rainy season)

Grey, sunless skies, spewing forth sheets of torrential rain onto its miserable-looking inhabitants- I had hoped for a much brighter first impression of Madrid. This was far from it. Of course I’d known what all but certainly lay in store for me, after consulting my phone for countless weather updates, but I had remained cautiously optimistic up until our arrival. Now, I could see I had been foolish.

As this was my first time in La Capital, my list of things to see and do couldn’t have been longer. Getting through all of it in just two days was out of the question, so after some painful but necessary crossing-out I managed to whittle it down to just four things: seeing the Royal Palace and its gardens; El Bernabeu; El Museo del Prado, and watching the world go by in Madrid’s multicultural zone of Lavapiés.

The latter was to be the first box ticked off the list, owing to our fortune in securing free accommodation for the night via the services of Couch Surfing. Our host lived there. However, after our arrival and a subsequent phone call, it transpired that our host hadn’t realized that there were two of us, despite as much being made absolutely clear in the request sent three days earlier. As a result, we now found ourselves without a roof over our heads on the Friday of Puente weekend, and it was forecast to piss it down all night.

img 4729 Madrid (in rainy season)We nevertheless enjoyed a lunch that we both agreed, despite its shortcomings, had probably been just about the most traditionally Spanish plato of our time here. Paella for starters, pollo asado con patatas bravas for mains and an entire bottle of vino tinto that would make Aldi’s cheapest wine seem like a vintage Don Perignon in comparison.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent aimlessly wandering the enchanting barrio, as planned, where all races and ethnic principles fuse brilliantly into one great big multi-cultural melting pot. I could quite happily have spent the rest of my day there, but that niggling issue of having nowhere to sleep just wouldn’t stop niggling, and the longer we left it the less likely finding somewhere with space for us would be.

So, we begrudgingly headed for the swarming city centre aboard the impressive metro-link system. What followed was possibly the most wretched and unfruitful four hours of any trip ever had by either of us. Not a single hostel we asked at had beds for the night- our worst fears were fast becoming a reality. All we could do was just keep trying, and eventually, a receptionist advised us that if we were to find a room at such short notice, the best place to look was in Lavapiés…

At least I’d now get to spend the rest of my day there, I thought. Back we plodded, desperately hoping the receptionist had been right, and as luck would have it, we finally found a grubby little one-star hostel a couple of km away from the area’s metro link. We were overjoyed. Checked-in and at last feeling able to relax, we set out in search of one of the barrio’s much-hyped curry houses.

It didn’t take long to find what we were looking for. Suddenly, we found ourselves promenading Madrid’s very own curry mile, along which there were countless Indian Restaurants, each boasting jaw-droppingly good deals; what’s that? Six beers for €5!? And six ‘curry tapas’ for another €5? We’d hit the jackpot. Two hours later, after an exceedingly generous helping of either indulgence, we waddled/staggered back to our musty abode to rest our sleepy heads. There was much to be done the following day!

 Madrid (in rainy season)

Naturally, we overslept, and were awoken by the noise of our door being pounded on rather angrily. The one doing the pounding was the hostel owner, who had made it quite clear the night before, through his eyes-on-the-floor/‘I’ll growl instead of speak’ approach, that hospitality wasn’t really his thing, and he was now discernibly irked. We paid and left, without saying a word. No love lost.

Fortunately, we’d had the foresight to book a bed for the following night in a more centrally located hostel the previous afternoon, and fancied getting there pretty quick. We found our way, checked in again and set about exploring the city for the day, despite the continued downpour.

First up on the agenda was The Royal Palace, which we did eventually see, but not before coming across a most welcome distraction: El Mercado de San Miguel. The food on sale here was amazing. There were enough bocadillos, fresh-fish tapas and paella to keep you nibbling all day long, though watch your spending- we somehow managed to spend €10 just on olives. But by God were they worth it.

img 4736 Madrid (in rainy season)

img 4739 Madrid (in rainy season)

img 4740 Madrid (in rainy season)

After tearing ourselves away we hurried along to the Palace. The rain had waned slightly, but the skies were still a thick canvas of grey. We felt the exterior of the Palace blended in quite nicely. It was big, and worthy of a spot on the to-see list, but not a smudge on the architectural treats of Barcelona, Seville or Granada. Guess we’re pretty spoilt down here.

img 4742 Madrid (in rainy season)

At this point it occurred to us that we were in actual fact only a few minutes’ walking distance from El Templo de Debod- an ancient Egyptian temple donated to the city by its constructors in 1968, after Spain helped save the country’s doomed temples of Abu Simbel following the construction of a massive hydroelectric dam. Three stone-built pylon gateways stand in a line in front of the temple, creating a superb mirror-image with the still water surrounding the monument.

img 4754 Madrid (in rainy season)

img 4756 Madrid (in rainy season)

The day was wearing on and we were forced to concede that it would now be impossible to see both the Prado Museum and The Bernabeu. No contest. Off we went to the stadium of the so-called Galacticos, unaware that there was in fact a game to be played that very night. We arrived and the realization of what may have been about to happen quickly dawned on us.

img 4768 Madrid (in rainy season)“How much?” we inquired.

“€55” replied the cashier.

Ballbags. Not what we had budgeted for, but this was Real Madrid we were talking about. Would I ever have the opportunity to see them play again? Yes, I would, I decided. I know that this blog post would probably have been far more exciting had I let folly prevail over sense, but on this occasion, I kept my moneys in my pocket. I had already bought a ticket to the Granada CF game the next day anyway, so that was enough justification, right? Whatever. We walked briskly away from the stadium before folly mounted a counter-attack.

That night, we signed ourselves up for one of those pub-crawls designed for tourists who want to make friends. The €10 participation fee was a tall order, but we figured it would be worth it. Nope. Not even the slightest bit. Our ‘pub’ crawl started in a cramped, sweaty disco-bar which was playing music of the makes-you-want-to-sew-your-ears-shut variety. We had our ‘free’ listerine-flavoured shot and then faced one of three options; 1) Buy a €6 drink, remain inside and wait for our ears to throw up. 2) Go outside and stand in the pissing rain for an hour while we wait for those who opted for the ‘€20 with free-bar in first bar’ fee to consume as much alcohol as humanly possible, or 3) Fuck off.

img 4772 Madrid (in rainy season)

So off we fucked to an Irish Bar, where we spent the rest of the night berating the ‘Madride Pubcrawl’ and watching some pretty woeful live music. Better than options one and two though, we agreed.

Next day, our bus pulled away from Madrid Station at 11am. The rain had now reached the point of beyond ridiculous. Five hours, that bus journey was supposed to take. A burst riverbank along the motorway ensured that it took just over seven instead. But it wasn’t Madrid’s fault. In truth, one requires a great deal more than just two days in order to explore the city properly so I’ll be back… on a considerably dryer day I hope.

img 4761 Madrid (in rainy season)

img 4773 Madrid (in rainy season)

IMG_4774

Football: Granada CF vs Athletic Club Bilbao

And two years and one month later, I’ve finally done it. I’ve attended a top division football match in Spain. Of course I had to pick a fixture smack bang in the middle of Granada’s apparent monsoon season, and forget to take an umbrella with me, but the experience gained made the visit all worth the while.

At €35 apiece, La Liga tickets don’t come cheaply. And this was the price for the cheapest ticket available.  Puzzlingly, however, these seats were, in my opinion, the best in the house. Right in the corner we were, giving us a perfectly angled view of the whole pitch. Three non-alcoholic beers and one packet of pipas later, and we were off.

img 4774 Football: Granada CF vs Athletic Club Bilbao

“Coño!” “Vete a la mierda gilipolla!” “Hijo de putaaaa!!!!” “La puta que te parió!” The referee had awarded Bilbao a penalty. The fans screaming bloody murder behind me were apparently justified in their firm opposition to the decision, according to one of my pals. I was too busy picking pipas shells out of my teeth (they’re such hard work). The antagonism only continued to grow after Bilbao’s striker stepped up to coolly convert the spot-kick home.

Minutes later, another one went in. This time there were no complaints. It was a very well taken goal, and at this point the three of us couldn’t help but feel that the game was about to descend into a thorough thrashing.

img 4775 Football: Granada CF vs Athletic Club Bilbao

Sensible football fans

Fortunately though, our fears proved to be inconsequential, when not long after the re-start Granada went and scored! Chances were being spurned left, right and centre and it had only been a matter of time before los rojiblancos found the back of the net. Showing good team spirit, they continued to bombard Bilbao’s goal with ferocious efforts throughout the remainder of the second half but, alas, to no avail. The full time whistle was finally blown and yet again the referee was verbally abused in remarkably imaginative ways.

Drenched and dehydrated due to excessive pipas intake, we trudged away in disappointment. Granada had been unlucky, but could be proud of their gutsy second half display, and despite the result and grim conditions, we all agreed it had been money well spent. If you’re here for the weekend, and there’s a game on, it’s definitely worth a visit.

*Also, if you make the trip to Estadio Nuevo Los Carmenes, look out for Granada’s most dedicated fan: La Papa (The Pope), who, instead of watching the match from his seat, prefers to wander the stadium dressed in red robes, hugging and ‘blessing’ other supporters

img 4777 Football: Granada CF vs Athletic Club Bilbao

img 4782 Football: Granada CF vs Athletic Club Bilbao

Granada’s most religious follower embracing a fellow supporter

Review: Substation’s ‘Terror Bass Planet’

 Review: Substations Terror Bass PlanetIf ever the expression ‘it does exactly what it says on the tin’ could be used more fittingly then I’d like to hear some suggestions please.

‘Terror’ and ‘bass’ just about summed up the theme for Wednesday’s proceedings at the festival venue-sized El Embrujo, just outside of Granada. The site was inundated with scarily-clad punters stumbling about the place, as though they were actual zombies as opposed to assumed ones. Some, presumably in observation of traditional Spanish custom (or lack thereof in this instance), didn’t bother with the Halloween pretense, though it has to be said that by the end of the night these cynics blended in with the rest of the crowd quite convincingly.

Musically, this event was always going to be nothing but no nonsense, hold-on-to-your-mate-style, watertight drum and bass, intended to deliver to its zealous revelers several hours of loud and undiluted fun.

And this, unsurprisingly, was exactly what happened. Fun was had by all- certainly by I and my fellow rave-ees in any case. Our only grumble of the night came before we even arrived, owing to the frustratingly slapdash transport system. The shuttle buses provided for the event were, as one would reasonably expect, included in the ticket’s hefty price-tag, but the first hour of our evening was spent shivering under a bridge waiting for a bus that was allegedly just five minutes behind the last one.

 Review: Substations Terror Bass Planet  Review: Substations Terror Bass Planet

When we finally did arrive though, the good times came in rolling thick and fast; Congo Natty and MC Tenor Fly had already drawn a sizeable horde and ran riot with expertly fused old-school reggae and knee jerking jungle tracks throughout an impressive set. To follow were equally as polished performances from Million Like Us and Aphrodite, who ensured that the D&B mayhem continued to bash the eardrums of all present.

 Review: Substations Terror Bass Planet

Congo Natty a.k.a Rebel MC

Meanwhile, Panacea and Audio cranked up the noise over at the indoor arena with an onslaught of more bass-laden beats to the delight of all those present, but it was undoubtedly headliners Pendulum who stole the show with a markedly professional set capped with a much appreciated rendition of legendary track ‘Tarantula’.

Many a bass-head will tell you that this Aussie outfit sold out on proper D&B a few years back when they took the genre into mainstream territory for the first time, but love em’ or hate em’, they definitely know how to put on a live show.

The event organisers, Substation, can be proud of their first crack at putting on a show on a festival stage, and according to the man at the helm, Lola, we can expect a few more over the year ahead. In the meantime, however, you can catch Lola and his hard-working team at one of Substation’s regular events at Granada’s La Sala El Tren.

 Review: Substations Terror Bass Planet