No, I’ve not gone mad. Based on the top four results on Google, that was the onomatopoeic sound of me blowing my own trumpet. The blog’s not quite two years deep yet but evidently I must be doing something right; I was just named runner up of MyCurrencyTransfer.com’s Expat Star Awards 2014– another accolade to add to my collection! So thank you guys! (See shiny badge to left ;))
In the grand scheme of things, there’s probably a lot I’m doing wrong too, but we’ll get to that.
According to My Currency Transfer– a great money transfer comparison site for expats –the Expat Star Awards recognises, rewards and celebrates expats of all ages and stages who’ve either picked up their lives and moved to Spain or decided to dedicate their working life towards expats in Spain.
Since I don’t earn much out of blogging, I hardly think it fitting to say that I dedicate my working life towards expats in Spain. So I guess that means I fall into the first category, except when I moved to Spain I really didn’t have much of a life to pick up; it was more like a degree, a TEFL certificate, 12 t-shirts, 4 pairs of shorts, sunglasses, flip-flops and a snowboard.
Most of my adult life has taken place in Spain, and is now so different than what it once was that if I were to actually pick up my life and move back to the UK, I really would be in disarray. Yet that thought is still never far from my mind; I am still young(ish) and I have ambitions to fulfill, most of which necessitate earning more money!
In the meantime I am still full of love for blogging and have started to see the hard work pay off. My other blog is more of a slow-burner, since I tend to concentrate more on this one and other projects, but I know it will come good. There is plenty of room for improvement across both blogs and any feedback from anyone out there reading this would be greatly appreciated!
A few weeks ago I mentioned that I had been accepted onto a new digital marketing course developed by Google called We Are Squared. This, I hope, will help hone my skills and guide me towards the career path I crave. The course is now well underway and I’m already learning heaps about innovative marketing strategies, groundbreaking technology and how consumer behaviour either influences or is influenced by it. It’s all very fascinating, and although utterly self-absorbed and non-Spain related (much like this post), I will be sharing my experiences from time to time here on the blog.
So with these recent successes in mind, I’ll leave you on a note of gratitude: to all my readers– whether regular, accidental, one-offs or sporadic at best –thanks for being here and finding the time to indulge me. You’re all stars 😉
One can never underestimate the importance of a good hobby. Hobbies keep us sane, engaged, healthy and feeling purposeful. They make our lives more interesting; provide a release from the daily grind and add inspiration to an otherwise dull day.
At University I didn’t really have any hobbies. A weekly 5-a-side football match and an annual snowboarding trip were about as close as it got. I just ‘socialised with friends’ the rest of the time. I studied sometimes too.
No, I had to come to Spain to find a real hobby; one that I stick by religiously and continue to reap an unpulpable amount of joy, satisfaction and (see unpulpable) a platform with which I can coin new, pretentious words from. I am of course talking about the very thing that I am doing now: blogging.
Blogging is by far my favourite and most time-consuming hobby, but I have a few hobbies, or just ‘things’– which may or may not be considered hobbies –that I enjoy doing in my free time. And if I didn’t do any of these ‘things’ then my life would be pretty boring.
It dawned on me that I urgently needed a hobby– other than (slowly) learning Spanish –about a year in to my Spanish adventure, after I’d actually managed to watch two seasons of Dexter in three days. That’s 24 hours, by the way. 24 hours of brilliant, gripping, gory television that only casts absurdly beautiful people, which felt great at the time, yet not so great when the credits for the last episode started rolling and all I wanted to do was watch season three.
So I started blogging, attended intercambios as often as possible, travelled as often as possible, bought some turntables and learnt to DJ, started playing football again (twice, maybe even three times a week now!) and my new, enviable environs allowed me to go snowboarding any weekend I so desired. I even hired a personal trainer in January of this year, which– were it not for an unfortunate tumble in the Sierra Nevada (blame hobby #6) –I’m sure I’d be seeing the benefits of. And I’ve started learning French.
These are my ‘things’ and I love them to death. Some people get enough satisfaction from their job but this is rare for an EFL teacher, who– let’s be honest –tends to have quite a bit of free time on their hands, particularly during the day. This time needs to be filled with creative, self-gratifying pastimes that will help you gain confidence both socially and professionally.
If you’re stuck for an idea, just dig a little deeper; there’s no way you’re not interested in anything. The possibilities are boundless. If you’re not one for sport, you can always turn to the internet.
Social media giants such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have become a hugely popular medium for DIY folks with a passion for creativity, and– if online gaming’s your thing –you can go to Twitter for some reliable expert advice and tips from the pros.
Hobbies provide a slice of work-free and responsibility-free time in our schedules. Not only do they make us more cheerful, but they can unlock inner talents we never knew we had, open doors to new people and new places and even turn into career paths (fingers crossed eh).
Ergo, hobbies are awesome, and if you ain’t got one, GET ONE!
So long 2013! You’ve been good to me. I might not have quite fulfilled every ambition I set out to achieve at the beginning of the year, but definitely most of them. I’ve seen much more of Spain, started writing editorials and publishing in Spanish, started a new blog and had more work published on other sites. I’ve also met and connected with several other bloggers who’ve given me some fantastic advice and ideas – Molly of piccavey.com for one, and Marianne of East Of Malaga another (who actually gave me the idea for this blog post).
So, without any further ado, let’s get to it.
Last January I was lucky enough to spend my New Year’s Eve in Edinburgh for the annual Hogmanay celebrations. Although it wasn’t my first time in the Scottish capital, it was – needless to say – a wonderful place to see out 2012, and a great opportunity to test out my new camera. Hogmanay, I’ll be back.
February was particularly memorable on account of the deluges of snow upon which the Sierra Nevada was bestowed. It snowed heavily several times, which made for perfect conditions and the best I’ve ever skied in Spain.
I also had my Step by Step Guide to Cadiz Carnaval published with The Olive Press. Take a look at it here!
A very happy me in Ronda, Andalucía
Timer selfie, Plaza de Torros, Ronda
Slaves to the rave at Dragon Fest, Santa Fe
In March I traveled to Ronda for the weekend which was, ironically, cut short by the same snow that I had been so thankful for in the Sierra Nevada just days before. Didn’t matter though; two days were enough and Ronda is beautiful in any kind of weather…
I also attended the annual Dragon Festival held in Santa Fe to celebrate the Spring Equinox. My review was published with Clash Magazine.
I’ll level with you: I can’t stand Semana Santa, so when April comes around I hit the road, and this year I headed north to escape the Andalucían crowds. My journey took me to Bilbao, San Sebastian and Pamplona. All three cities were individually fantastic and really opened my eyes to a completely different way of Spanish life.
I also had the best experience I’ve had in Granada so far: the epic Piste 2 Playa day trip, which ultimately led to the decision to stay yet another year!
M83 at SOS 4.8 Festival, Murcia – just 2 hours away by car
Piscina, La Caleta Camping, Las Negras
La Bodeguiya Bar, Las Negras
May kicked off with one of the festivals of the year – SOS 4.8 in Murcia. I saw several of my favourite bands and DJs, including M83, Justice and The XX. Once again, I reviewed the weekend for Clash Magazine. Read it here.
I also went on the best beach trip of my Spanish stint thus far, to the tiny pueblo of Las Negras in Cabo de Gata, Almería. The town is as sleepy and charming as they come, and the beaches have actual SAND!
Celebrating San Juan
Lanjarón’s legendary water fight
June provided me with the most fun I’ve ever had inside one hour: Lanjarón’s enormous and legendary water fight. It occurs on the night of San Juan, as does a plethora of other festivities in most other Spanish towns and cities – particularly along Spain’s south coast.
I also worked for a national British newspaper for two weeks in London. It was useful in the sense that it made me reailse that I never want to work for a national British newspaper.
Radcliffe Camera, Catte Street, Oxford
View from el balcón de Europa, Nerja, Andalucía
July was a busy month, though not especially so for blogging. Instead, I was tied up with work I am actually paid to do: teaching English to foreign folk. Usually these summer schools seem like never-ending nightmares, but this year I worked for The University of Oxford who – thankfully – pay well and do not deprive you of a social life.
I did, however, find time for a fleeting visit to Nerja, a gorgeous beach town just east of Malaga. Read my feature with The Olive Press here.
Still busy with teaching in Oxford, it wasn’t until the end of August that I had time to travel. However, I did have a lot of free time in the evenings, which spurred me on to get my brand new part-time travel blog up and running. Watch out for official launch coming soon!
Perhaps my biggest victory – other than surviving two months of teaching intensive Business English to squealing Japanese teenagers – was creating and publishing my very first post in Spanish.
Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
Confluence of the rivers Sava and Danube, Belgrade
Me in Pest, overlooking Buda
September has been my best month for two years running now. This year and last year I kicked it off with back-to-back music festivals in Croatia (review here). Somehow, I managed not to end myself in the process and came out well enough to continue traveling through Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia and Hungary. Needless to say, good times were had. You can read about them on my new blog.
In October and back in Granada, the hunt for a new apartment proved more difficult than first thought. Eventually, I was able to find the perfect place just a stone’s throw away from the Alhambra. And now – for the first time ever since moving to Spain – I am completely happy with where I live and who I live with. No nasty kitchens, no miserable housemates. Only took three years.
Ordinarily I have myself a little holiday at the beginning of December, but this year I stayed closer to home and took a long day trip to the mountain villages of Las Alpujarras in the Granada province of Spain. There’ll be a post on that soon. I’ve also reached elementary level French, so there’s one goal more or less reached for my fourth year in Spain.
I also started collaborating on a couple of new projects, neither of which have been launched just yet but should be soon! Now here’s to further and greater success in 2014! Feliz año nuevo!
Spain For Pleasure is back! After a week away (and what a miserable week it must have been…) the blog is up and running again, but now via Blue Host and WordPress.org instead of WordPress.com. This means that you’ll be seeing some gradual and tentative changes here over the next few weeks, all good of course.
Meanwhile, Happy Christmas! Or Feliz Navidad should I say. Back in merry old England the weather is as grim as ever, yet as ever I couldn’t give a chistera; home is exactly where I want to be at Christmas, come rain, hail, gale force winds, snow blizzards or – in the rare event – shine. Even if my Dad does insist on playing his ‘Now That’s What I Call Christmas: Woodwind Pipes Version’ CD over and over and over again. That’s just me though.
Were I still in Spain I’d doubtless be very much enjoying my festive holiday. There wouldn’t be many presents – Spaniards generally don’t do theirs until Reyes Magos on January 6th (i’m told that only spoilt Spanish children receive presents on both days) – but there’s still lots of eating, drinking and pretty things to look at in the street. Granada is a shining example:
And then there’s Seville:
Christmas in Madrid
Christmas in Madrid (2)
Santiago de Compostela:
And of course Barcelona’s twinkling Christmas Market:
Christmas in Barcelona (Source: Carquinyol FlickrCC)
Congratulations me. I’ve made it to one year. Well, one year and four days to be precise – timekeeping hasn’t been my forte recently. Nevertheless, my first annum in blogging has been as enjoyable as it has enlightening: I’ve discovered and subsequently learnt an awful lot about blogging, networking, writing and the benefits of social media, and relished every minute of it.
Watching this blog slowly grow gives me an enormous sense of satisfaction, though I suppose, not unlike many other expat bloggers out there, I started this thing so I could update/beleaguer my friends and family back home with some nice photos and whimsical anecdotes. Yet now it’s the thing that drives me and makes me feel purposeful, and has recently begun to open doors that seem to be leading to nice places. And for that, I thank all of YOU for clicking, commenting, sharing and (slight cringe) ‘liking’ the stuff I put out on here.
In terms of visible progress. I’ve been saying for months that I’ll give this blog a much-needed makeover – I may make the switch to WordPress.org (thoughts?) – yet, as was touched on a couple of posts back, this still hasn’t happened, but it will happen – soon! In the meantime, I thought I’d share a few stats with any of you who can be bothered to read on. There are a few interesting ones in there that may surprise you as much as they surprised me. And, of course, plenty of honourable mentions! So…
Number of posts: 70 (goal for year 2: write less and post more)
Second most viewed: Top 10 Tapas Bars in Granada (technically not even what it says it is, as this was a shameless plug/link for an entry into a competition that I came nowhere near to winning. Still, I suppose Expats Blog will be glad of the extra traffic.)
Most shared: Spain 101: Bureaucracy (rants aren’t really my thing but this one just had to come out and evidently people appreciated it for one reason or another.)
Top Commenter: Marriane of East Of Malaga! (has mentioned me on her own great blog twice since she thankfully stumbled upon mine shortly after I got started. And she introduced me to what has now become an invaluable social media sharing group. Get over and check her out if you haven’t already! Gracias Marriane!)
Most clicked on (discounting ‘Top Ten Tapas’ link to Expats Blog and personal social media links: Scribbler in Seville (another valued reader and blogging friend, Fiona, who has featured here as part of the ‘Spanish Inquisition’ series, has deservedly amassed the most amount of clicks from this blog to her own. Click here to keep her momentum going.)
Highest referrers: Britishexpats.com (one day somebody randomly posted a link to my ‘Teaching English in Spain’ page on a really popular thread and my site got bombarded with hits. So thanks anonymous British expat!) and piccavey.com (Molly’s Granada based blog that has been great to connect with!)
Number of spam comments blocked by Akismet: 39,225 (ok, boring stat, but just how does Akismet do it? Whoever he is, he’s a pretty handy guy to have around, so cheers Akismet.)
Most used search term: ‘andalucia spain’ (…unsurprisingly. However in second place is the term ‘shawarma’, which I discussed in a very poetic piece in my first month of blogging. Love it or hate it, it’s part of food culture out here!)
Most amusing search term: ‘spain women looking for pleasure’ (I suppose I should have anticipated something along those lines coming up with a name like ‘Spain For Pleasure’, though the vague kinkiness of it really didn’t register at the time of choosing my domain. Meh. Traffic’s traffic.)
My favourite post: Project Piste 2 Playa: Granada’s Ultimate Daytrip (I loved writing this nearly as much as I loved actually doing it. A morning spent snowboarding followed by an afternoon on a nudist beach sums up quite nicely just how amazing life out here in Granada is.)
Best travel post: Ronda on a whim (I know, this is isn’t a stat at all – I’m just getting a bit carried away to tell the truth – but occasionally I do like to write about my adventures and this one was the best of last year.)
I think that’s enough of that now. Once again thanks for sticking with me and I hope you’ll remain firmly stuck for at least another year. Who knows, my next post might actually be about Spain again! Either that or ‘Spain women looking for pleasure’. Got to keep all your readers satisfied after all!
I’ll tell you a secret: I am terrible at setting myself personal goals. Worse still, I am even more terrible at fulfilling them. I suppose this is because I tend not to actually write anything down, rather choosing to set them to one side in my invariably forgetful brain.
Since my official leap into the blogosphere I’ve come across various posts embracing this sort of topic, and in truth often found them to be a little too self-interested for my liking, but recently I think I’ve come to understand the usefulness of them. Being open about this sort of stuff not only serves as a continuous reminder of what you want for yourself but also invites valued encouragement. At least that’s the theory of it anyway. In practice? Well, let’s wait and see…
One: Study Spanish properly and pass an exam
Highs and lows have been aplenty during my three-year tussle with Spanish – the highs generally featuring around May/June time when I reflect on another year’s progress (or when blind drunk and I am inexplicably able to speak perfect Spanish), the lows about this time of year, when I realise how much I’ve forgotten over the summer.
All in all I think I can be proud of how far I’ve come, though for all my efforts I’ve never actually gained an official qualification. At this stage one would be integral to my career prospects, so this year I’ll be taking on either the B2 (upper–intermediate) or the C1 (advanced) exam. That means el subjunctivo is going to be my new best friend for the next few months but hey, at least there won’t be any more lows.
Two: Learn another language
Meanwhile, I want to at least get to grips with another foreign language. During my recent month-long jaunt through Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia and Hungary, I was reminded of my hunger to learn language – any language – and my unshakable frustration at not being able to communicate with non-English speaking locals.
So, it’s going to be either French (already ordered a copy of the Michel Thomas Beginner’s French audio box set) or Croatian, which is understood in most other Slavic countries and would be useful for when I return next year to fuel my Croatian festival addiction. Wish me luck.
Three: Visit ten unseen Spanish cities/towns
Spain is massive, and there is so much of it that I still haven’t seen. Essentially, I want to go everywhere, but that might be a tad too ambitious in just one year. Ten seems a reasonable figure – with Salamanca, Valencia and Logroño being the absolute must-sees of the list. Any less obvious suggestions would be most welcome.
Four: Get better at techy stuff
With blogging comes the inevitable requisite to understand a thing or two about technology. I’m sure many a blogger out there can relate to this. Coding, for example, is just pure gobbledygook to me, and no matter how many times I trawl through WordPress.com’s support forums looking for say – how to make my font bigger or how to add a slider to my homepage – I can never figure it out even though the instructions are ‘super easy’. At times I think I’ve got it, but then I am plagued by doubt and worry that I will mutilate my blog into a permanently disfigured monster, thus, nothing ever changes.
Then there is HTML, ‘plugins’, SEO optimisation: all things I want to understand better. So I’m going to take an online course in web development, or something similar. I’ve done some research and found sites like this, but again, any other suggestions are most welcome.
Five: Be a better cook!
One thing I really haven’t developed very much since coming to Spain is my culinary skill set. I’ve a few winning fares in my locker –the brilliantly simple tomate rallado for instance, or the timeless tostada de beans (joking) – but I think my problem is that there are just too many great cooks around me, wherever I go. I’m the sort of guy who is put in charge of nibbles or chopping carrots at dinner parties, and even then I am watched carefully.
I should mention, however, that I recently took on – and nailed – the classic Spanish Tortilla when couch surfing in Croatia. I was asked to cook something Spanish and this felt like the simplest yet most authentic option. So thank you Lauren of Spanish Sabores for your excellent step-by-step recipe, the success of which has spurred me on to add yet more Spanish sabores to my feeble repertoire of foodstuff.
So, this year I’m going to either trade English classes for Spanish cooking classes, or – failing that – take on one dish at a time solo, using Lauren’s wise words and all the other marvellous Spanish foodie blogs out there, such as Anne’s Gambas & Grits. Tostada de beans will take some beating though.