Tag Archives: Spain

blow your own trumpet

Burrup! Trump! Parp! Rootle- tootle!

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 icon wink Burrup! Trump! Parp! Rootle  tootle!

That’s better.

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Chiringuito3

Hometown Hidden Gems Granada: El Chiringuito

Hidden high up in the hillside bario of Sacromonte, you’ll find one of Granada’s best kept secrets: El Chiringuito.

Traditionally, chiringuitos are small, makeshift, unlicensed (and unchecked) enterprises, often run by families on beaches across coastal Spain, which sell cheap drinks and tapas. In fact they are more like shacks than bars. Sometimes it’s just a bloke, a cooler full of beer, a chair and a table, and he makes a killing. At least in the summer and spring time he does; these beach-side chiringuitos are seasonal, and in the cold, rainy autumns and winters, business stops dead.

Granada’s is a one-off; it’s often just €1 bottles of cold beer or coke on offer but the walk up, beginning from Plaza Larga in the historic Albaicín bario, is well worth the effort for those who like neither. There’s probably bottled mineral water anyway.

The bar sits on a most dramatic platform, facing the Sacromonte valley with the Alhambra on one side, the Albaicín on the other and the city of Granada and mountains beyond. It is without doubt the best view in town– the sort that would usually yield crazy prices just to be able to sit down with a beer and gaze at. The cost of a tubo (a bit more than half a litre of beer) and tapa at the bar directly beneath El Mirador de San Nicolas (Granada’s most famous viewpoint) for example, beggars belief; I paid €6– an outrageous figure in Andalucía, which, needless to say, I won’t be paying again!

IMAG1011 1 Hometown Hidden Gems Granada: El Chiringuito

On a clear day, you can see right out to the horizon, and if it’s Spring, then there will almost certainly be a sprinkling of snow left on top of the Sierra Nevada mountain range over your left shoulder.

What’s more, authentic flamenco guitarists regularly come here to practice– not busk–and local gitana ladies might occasionally join in with the crooning. This quiet corner sums up flamenco-historic Sacromonte perfectly, yet, bewilderingly, guidebooks tend not to mention it. If you’ll excuse the cliché, it really is a hidden gem.

IMAG1009 Hometown Hidden Gems Granada: El Chiringuito

Getting There

From Plaza Larga in El Albaicín, take C/ Panaderos, then a right onto Plaza del Salvador. Continue straight until Cuesta de Los Chinos on the left and follow this all the way until you find the chiringuito. There will be white, plastic furniture outside so you should know when you are there.

If you have a car it’s best to park on Cuesta del Chapiz and walk up but to be honest you won’t want to take a car anywhere near the Albaicín, lest you become stuck or very, very lost.

*This post was written in collaboration with US-based RelayRides, a hidden gem itself in the rental car industry, whose goal is to make traveling easier, more personable and more affordable via their unique peer-to-peer service. I received no monetary compensation for this post. All thoughts and opinions expressed are entirely my own.

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rio verde, granada, spain, junta de los rios, andalucia, lagoon, waterfall, otivar

Day Trip to Rio Verde, Granada

It’s summer. It’s hot, sticky, sweaty and insufferable. It’s hitting 45ºC almost every day and nearly impossible to sleep. It’s not even August yet. So thank God that I am not in Spain.

I love the heat, but perspire even at the thought of such insane temperatures. No, Spanish summertime is not for me. Instead, I retreat to the cooler shores of the UK, where, in Oxford, I teach English to Chinese and Japanese undergraduates who don’t find Alan Partridge funny.

alanpartridge Day Trip to Rio Verde, Granada

Alan

But if you are in Spain, and looking for a way to escape the heat that doesn’t involve crowded beaches or public swimming pools, then my advice is to grab as much food and beer as possible,  jump in a car, drive or be driven out to the sticks and find either a fresh water lake or lagoon, preferably with a waterfall. Then stay there until you’ve finished all your food and beer (and get someone else to drive back).

It’s actually a lot easier than you think to find one of these nirvanas. A few weeks ago I posted about Lake Bermejales– an enormous, emerald-blue fresh water lake near Alhama de Granada. It’s perfect for a summer day trip and a hundred times better than the sandy (or pebbly) and salty beach.

Our original plan that weekend, however, had been to go to another idyllic spot on the radar: Rio Verde. I say ‘spot’, but a river is of course much bigger/longer than a spot. What I actually mean is a secret and isolated lagoon with waterfalls you can jump from, like that scene in The Beach only a little less terrifying.

beach waterfall Day Trip to Rio Verde, Granada

The waterfall where Leo and French pals jumped from in The Beach. Ballsy.

So we went next weekend instead.

The drive from Granada to Otívar, the nearest village to the river, takes about an hour and 15 minutes, but finding the turn-off to Palacete de Cazulas was another matter entirely. When we eventually did manage to find it (SatNav hasn’t got a clue out here) and started to creep our way down, the road became extremely narrow and quite disconcerting. In fact, were it not for the fact we were in a 4×4 I doubt we’d have made it. If you don’t have a 4×4 you’d be better off parking sooner rather than later, lest you can’t get back up again.

Before we left our vehicle we loaded up on water and sun cream– very important in this heat –and then made our way along the river bank on foot for twenty minutes, picking avocados and fresh figs as we went, until we came upon a large, stone dam. On the other side was pure bliss: a turquoise blue lagoon, fed by two waterfalls that had formed through the dam wall.

RioVerde01 Day Trip to Rio Verde, Granada

The River Walk

RioVerde25 Day Trip to Rio Verde, Granada

There was nothing else; just us, the lagoon and nature. However, it quickly dawned on us that we hadn’t actually found the lagoon we’d been looking for– La Junta de los Rios –but we couldn’t have cared less; this was perfect and there was no-one else around to share it with. Just as well, since there is only space for about six people to sit on the facing rocks.

We strayed a little further down the river later on, where we found more avocado and fig trees, but couldn’t bare the thought of leaving our find behind. We stayed all afternoon, some of us posing elegantly beneath the waterfalls (see below), and we never saw another soul.

RioVerde07 Day Trip to Rio Verde, Granada

The Lagoon

RioVerde20 Day Trip to Rio Verde, Granada

The Climb…

The Dive!

 

Later research revealed that we should have continued past the exit we took and taken the next one just beyond it, where there is apparently a ticket booth and a safe place to park. From here it’s a 6km walk to La Junta de los Rios, but you need to be in good shape and have your wits about you since the ground is not even and previous flash floods have caused severe erosion. There are some tour companies based in Granada who offer adventure-style excursions– rafting, canyoning, climbing and so on –and will take care of all the navigation for you, not to mention provide you with a surely unforgettable experience!

Rio Verde is an exceptionally beautiful area and perfect for a day trip and escaping the crowds. Just go prepared and be extra careful with those rocky roads…

RioVerde14 Day Trip to Rio Verde, Granada

Did I not mention I do casual work for Herbal Essences?

Getting there

From Granada, there are two possible routes to Otívar. The easiest is probably taking the E-902/A44 towards Motril, then, exiting from the A7, follow the SO-22, SO-14 and SO-02 to Otívar. This last leg of the journey takes you right through the heart of rugged, rural Andalucían countryside. It’s incredible.

Have you been anywhere like this in Spain? What other alternatives to the beach are out there? Let’s hear your suggestions!

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foto-tt

Why I enjoyed watching Spain fail in the World Cup

I really like Spain. I think that’s abundantly clear, since I’ve happily lived here for almost four years and blog about it every week. However, I must confess that I was quietly celebrating as I watched La Furia Roja spectacularly cock it up on the world stage, and here’s why:

The boundless arrogance of many a Spanish football fan– whether genuine or tongue-in-cheek –has irked me to no end since Spain triumphed at Euro 2012, their third major international tournament win on the trot. This does, of course, warrant some degree of smugness, if vociferous pride– I know I would beat my drum very loudly had my home country managed the same feat (a laughable hypothesis) –but after four years of unbroken crowing and having to listen to how tiki-taka is ‘the best and most unplayable style of attacking football yada yada yada…’, it all becomes desperately annoying.

And then there is the incessant singing that inevitably takes place following a big victory:

“Yo soy español, español. Yo soy español, español. Yo soy español, español etc…”

Most. Annoying. Chant. Ever.

After three major tournament wins you’d think they’d have managed to come up with something cleverer than that.

5944162832 ed0b553632 b Why I enjoyed watching Spain fail in the World Cup

Yes, yes we know you’re Spanish.

My next point, one that might get me into hot water, is that I’ve also become slightly at odds with what, exactly, it is that the national side, or rather the typical fan, embodies politically. I am neither a nationalist nor a separatist but I believe I am, as they say, ‘a separatist sympathiser’. To quote Jimmy Burns, author of La Roja, “you can’t separate Spanish football from its politics”, and– while not being the case in every instance –when I hear brutal insults hurled at FC Barcelona’s homegrown players from a white, gold and conspicuously Madrileño corner of the bar, I have to ask myself who my fellow supporters really are and whether I really want to be cheering for the same team. Still, it’d be thoughtless of me to tar all Spanish fans with the same mucky brush; most, thankfully, don’t let opposing political ideologies get in the way of the game, but sadly– at least in my experience –enough do.

All that said, I hadn’t wanted Spain to make such a premature exit from the World Cup; the atmosphere before and during international matches is always electric, and I know a bar here in Granada that hands out free shots to its customers each time a match is won. Salud to that.

Traditionally, at least for most of us, Spain are a side used to winning, so for them to be taken down a few pegs is probably for their own good. Everything has a shelf life, even La Furia Roja, and now it’s time to rebuild and redetermine what they are about, and for the fans to remember that they are not, in fact, invincible.

But let’s not forget that it could have been worse. They could have played like England.

englishsarcasm Why I enjoyed watching Spain fail in the World Cup

Were you surprised by Spain’s disastrous World Cup campaign? Who are you rooting for?

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Escuela Delengua, Granada

A Different Sort of Spanish Course at Delengua, Granada

I’ve lost count of the amount of classes, teachers, textbook and online practice exams that have contributed to my learning of Spanish.

I’d be lying if I said that these approaches haven’t helped– I owe a lot to the traditional method –but after three years it all becomes a bit of a bore. There’s only so much sitting quietly as the teacher explains yet another reason for using the subjunctive I can take, so I quite happily jilted Spanish classes a few months ago when I felt I could take no more.

Last month, however, I was invited by Escuela Delengua to participate in a week-long course, here in Granada, which offered an alternative learning approach– and here’s the best bit –outside of the classroom.

Fun Spanish! Yes!

The course content– environment and sustainability –appealed to me too. Although it’s not something I’m usually too proactive about, I still do my bit: recycling, cutting carbon emissions, taking 6-minute showers (is that quick?) etc, so I was sure I would find the course rewarding for both my Spanish and personal growth.

Further reading revealed that the course would involve educational visits to areas of the Albaicín barrio that I had never been to before and even a trip to La Cortijuela, the Sierra Nevada’s botanical garden. The schedule aligned perfectly with my regular working hours so accepting the proposal was a no-brainer.

IMG 3608 A Different Sort of Spanish Course at Delengua, Granada

Granada, Spain

Our group was small– six in total –and someone was nearly always sick, late or lost, so we received close attention form the participating teachers and guides throughout the duration of the course.

The week began with a fascinating tour of my own hood, the Albaicín, with stop-offs at numerous but now disused Aljibes– traditional and canalised water depositories that were used during the Moorish era. We learnt about what materials were used to make them, cal (clay) and argamasa (mortar) for example, and the genius thinking behind the construction process. The day was capped off with a visit to Granada’s Centro de Interpretación del Agua– once the nucleus of the city’s water distribution network and now a museum festooned with a beautiful huerto a huge and extremely flowery garden.

On Tuesday we were taken to a presentation about the ecological damage in the Vega de Granada– a green area within the city –and various methods that have been initiated to help curb it and prevent even more. Then we were shown around a laboratory with a couple of massive microscopes, the purposes of which were explained in great detail, though I have to admit this part went straight over my head. I was far more interested in the ecological goods store we visited afterwards, where I stocked up on organic, dried apple and cinnamon cereal, ginger and lemon biscuits and my favourite Granadina cerveza– Mamooth –which until then I had no idea was brewed ecologically.

 

It rained on Wednesday, meaning our trip to the Jardín Botánico de La Cortijuela in the Sierra Nevada was regrettably ruined. Not that we knew it until we arrived, when the rain turned into cats and dogs. Juani, our guide, did his best to animate us and we managed about an hour before retreating back to the van but nevertheless took away some fascinating new knowledge of the Sierra Nevada’s botanical past.

IMAG1040 A Different Sort of Spanish Course at Delengua, Granada

La Cortijuela, Sierra Nevada, Spain

The mountain range was formed by the collision of the African and Eurasian tectonic plates during the Tertiary Period, and is really an extension of the Rif mountains in Morocco. Years after the continents parted, during the last ice age, more plant species emmigrated south in order to escape the colder climate in the north. When the climate grew warmer again, these new species were able to survive by taking refuge in the mountains. As a result, there are now around 2,100 plant species in the Sierra Nevada; more than are found in the whole of the British Isles. Typical then, that I can only recall one without researching them– the Barberry Plant, which smells like bubblegum.

On Thursday morning we visited the Diputación de Granada for a talk on renewable energy sources and how, if proper legislation were passed, we could save a colossal amount of energy through ‘cleaner’ and cheaper methods. The building showcases one such method: a solar powered installation comprised of 72 panels, generating around 10-15% of the building’s power.

IMAG1043 A Different Sort of Spanish Course at Delengua, Granada

The Solar-powered energy source of la Diputación de Granada

Friday was my favourite day by far. We began with a visit to the University owned Carmen de la Victoria, another outdoor garden filled with orchards, flowers and fountains. Next we were shown around a typical Moorish home, also in the Carmen style, by the Gitana lady who lived there. It was fascinating to learn how they still lived with the same insulation mechanisms as their ancestors did hundreds of years before them.

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Later in the afternoon we visited another lady’s home, this time one with a cave in it! This is not an uncommon household feature in Granada’s Albaicín barrio, and this one had been restored from ruins and converted into a bedroom and even a bar. I would love to say that I lived in a cave. It would be incredibly cool. Literally, as the temperature inside stays at around 17-18ºC all year round due to the clay coating of the rocks.

 

To finish the week in style, we, along with all other classes at the academy, were invited back to Delengua Academy for a tapa and wine tasting evening. The event was hosted by Granada-based José Mendez Moya, a sole wine trader who produces wine using only ecological harvesting and fermentation methods. Luckily for us, he brought about 40 bottles of the stuff with him, spanning five varieties. All were divine and 100% organic, and the fermentation process of each was explained in detail before being poured, though I must admit my concentration level began to falter as the night wore on…

 

By the end I had chatted to just about every other student and teacher in the room, and reached the same conclusion with every one of them: Delengua was a fantastic academy and not only taught Spanish in a fun way but went the extra mile to ensure students had a great time outside of class too.

Many thanks to Manuel, José, Juani and José Mendez for their contributions to a week that taught me more than a few neat things about my own backyard!

Delengua offer a range of intensive Spanish courses, ideal to get you off to a winning start if you plan to stay in Spain for a while. Courses last from one week to twelve months and take place all year round. Click here to find out more information.

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el puerto de santa maria, feria, spain

Feria and a blast from the past in El Puerto de Santa María

Once upon a time, before my Granada days, I lived in a much quieter, saltier and crispier part of Spain:

El Puerto de Santa María. Land of sherry wine, fishy tapas and bewildering-to-beginners Spanish.

I arrived feeling completely unschooled yet blithely naïve and willing to embrace a huge change in my life. However, the language barrier obstructed my social life during those first few months, so I often had to look to my environs to remind myself of what a great decision I had made to come to Spain.

The beaches, for instance, are just gorgeous. All of them– unlike Granada’s icon sad Feria and a blast from the past in El Puerto de Santa María –are sandy, sunbathable virtually all year round and flanked by a thick-green, sweet-smelling pine forest. Then there are the countless freshly caught and fried fish tapas bars, stocked full of uh-mazing chocos fritos (larger calamari). It is a feast for the senses. However, it was the warmth of the people I met that really left its mark on me, despite the barely comprehensible Spanish which anyone I spoke to had to endure. Sadly, all but two have now moved on in search of work– la crisis has left them no other choice –but that doesn’t stop me from visiting when I am able to (only twice since moving to Granada!) I also have Meghann of Hola Matrimony to keep me adrift of what’s going on Puerto side.

IMG 3621 Feria and a blast from the past in El Puerto de Santa María

Playa Muralla, El Puerto de Santa María

Last week I decided to make the trip for the annual Feria– a five-day long fiesta occurring each May, which sees the whole town show up at one stage or another, most dressed elegantly in traditional, frilly Sevillana dresses or chic shirt-and-tie combinations. It’s the busiest and noisiest period of the year for any Andalucían town, particularly those with their ferias just minutes away from the centre by bus, like El Puerto.

I took E along for the ride, eager to show her my Spanish ‘roots’. I’d been to Feria that first year and had spent most of it drunk off Negrito Ron y Cola (lethal stuff) and joyriding bumper cars in a sort of sad, older guy among children kind of way. I’d enjoyed las casetas (public tents with bars and music) as well, but had embarrassed myself horribly when attempting to dance Sevillanas, the traditional Feria dance. This year I was happy to let the Spanish boys do the dancing. I would watch.

IMG 3645 Feria and a blast from the past in El Puerto de Santa María

Feria Lights

We’d arranged to stay with Pilar, a local lady advertised on Airbnb who’d apparently just turned 60, though you’d never have guessed; she was the prime example of how years of sunshine, a healthy Mediterranean diet and not smoking makes a life last years longer. She shared her apartment with her father, who was 88, but yet again, looked about fifteen years younger and was nimble enough on his feet.

Pilar would get on well with my mum, were either of them able to speak the other’s language. She never stopped to draw breath, and just sort of pottered about in that mother-like way, pouring us glasses of tradtional fino (sherry wine), mopping up after a leaky tap and drawing extremely detailed maps of how to find things that were literally five minutes away on foot. We decided that we liked her very much almost immediately, but could never have anticipated her most gracious gesture of the weekend: an authentic, bright orange Sevillanas dress that she had worn as a girl, laid out on the bed after we returned from our first night of Feria fun (presumably meant for E, not me– that would be a disturbing image, let alone catastrophic for the dress). It was wonderful and fit E like a glove, so was duly worn– with an enormous smile I might add –for our second night at Feria.

IMG 3633 Feria and a blast from the past in El Puerto de Santa María

E all dressed up and Pilar

IMG 3630 Feria and a blast from the past in El Puerto de Santa María

Practicing our moves for Feria part 2

Quite by chance we stumbled into a caseta (none are private like in Seville) for a great big, rehydrating jug of rebujito– a traditional Feria drink made up of fino sherry and either lemonade or soda water –and were followed by a surge of Sevillanas-dressed women before a live Sevillanas band started playing. Judging by the dancing, popularity and quality of the music we hardly saw any point in moving on, though we eventually did, in order to meet the only two friends who had stayed since we all met there in 2011.

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We found them in a pop/reggaeton-heavy caseta– not really my thing but I can usually pull through providing that there is enough alcohol to hand, and since I’d managed to find a bar selling litres of rebujito for €2.50 this was not a problem. At least not until the Sevillanas started playing. The rebujitos had given me the belief that I was actually able to dance Sevillanas, so, grabbing E with the élan and tenacity of the bloke standing next to me, I attempted to copy his steps and sync my spins and twirls. However, in exactly the same way as I had done that first year, I banged, bumped, trod on and at one point almost flung my dancing partner to the floor– in this case E (sorry E) –before making my exit, horribly embarrassed once more.

 

There was only one thing for it: bumper cars.

I drove, E watched, I drove again, E watched again. E started to walk home. I decided I better go too, but not before buying and devouring a sticky white chocolate gofre, which I deserved for driving so well.

Next day we spent a few hours lazing on Playa de Muralla–my favourite of  El Puerto’s beaches –to conclude a wonderful weekend before driving back to Granada (no bumping this time) high on nostalgia:

Pilar had reminded me of the goodness of El Puerto’s people, the beaches had reminded me of the long lazy days we spent there, the fino sherry of the bodegas we frequented in the summer and I had reminded myself of how terrible a Sevillanas dancer I truly am.

Next time I will stick to the bumper cars icon wink Feria and a blast from the past in El Puerto de Santa María

IMG 3632 Feria and a blast from the past in El Puerto de Santa María

Have you ever been to a Feria in Spain? What was your experience like?

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