Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Easter

During the rest of the Easter holidays I feel like I've been fairly productive. I've finished my project and essay, renewed my residence certificate, organised my finance, packed away my winter clothes, been to the gym, baked some things and tidied the flat. As a reward, I've booked a trip to Granada (a city on the south coast of Spain) with Maria, who will be visiting me next month. My previous flatmate now lives in Granada, so it will be nice to see her if she's around.

Easter is very important in Spain, because the majority of Spaniards are Catholic. There was literally a week of processions. Each day various churches lead a procession carrying a Biblical figure. On Friday night I went to see the procession of Mary and on Sunday as I was walking home from church I saw the larger procession. The atmosphere was quite solemn on Friday, but happy on Sunday. Although it was a strange experience for me, I think it's good that Spain makes an effort to reflect on the real meaning of Easter, whereas in the UK all we really seem to do is pig out on chocolate.



















On Sunday afternoon I met up with an assistant who was here last year and is visiting Melilla for a holiday. I contacted her before I arrived in Melilla and she put me in contact with my previous flatmate. I have her to thank that I ended up in my flat and I'm grateful that I didn't have to go through the stress of flat hunting. We seem to get on well, so went for some tapas and to an ice cream parlour. I'm happy because the weather is becoming a lot warmer and now all the ice cream parlours and snack shacks along the promenade are open for business. Then we shopping in Nador, the city over the border in Morocco. We went to this cafe which is basically on stilts in the sea, which was really pleasant and had nice views. Whilst we there we saw some small boats that seemed to be going round in circles, so we went over to them and they encouraged us to get on. The boat was a bit old, the speakers were sellotaped to the sides and it was playing Snoop Dogg. I have to say it was one of the strangest boat rides I've ever been on.














As my year abroad is drawing to a close, I've come to realise what I take for granted in life. In the past I've felt negative about the UK as a nation and it's attitude towards the rest of the world. However, I've come to realise how I probably couldn't live in Spain for longer because of how much I miss my family and friends back home. I also miss the simple things like vegetarian food, central heating, drinkable tap water, orderly queues, good customer service, effective recycling facilities and Easter eggs! I know that now I'm probably taking some things for granted here and I'll miss them when I'm gone, such as the relaxed lifestyle, the cheap cost of living and the beach.

Most importantly, I've learnt how difficult teaching and hospitality are and I now realise how much I've taken my teachers or anyone who has shown me hospitality for granted. I've started to think that maybe you can't ever really fully appreciate something that someone has done for you until you yourself have done it for someone else.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Visiting Barcelona

Last week school finished for the Easter holidays. I'm back to work on the 21st and then I will only have 6 weeks left! I spent last weekend in Barcelona with mum and my sister, Charlotte. I flew to Madrid in the afternoon, where I boarded a connecting flight to Barcelona. I was feeling quite concerned because my first flight was delayed by half an hour, meaning I landed in Madrid at 16:25 and boarded my next flight at 16:30 for a 17:10 flight (which also happened to be delayed and left at 17:30). It was lucky that I only travelled with hand luggage, because otherwise I probably would have missed the second flight!

I arrived in Barcelona at around 18:30 and got the airport bus to Plaça de Catalunya in the city centre, which only cost 5.90 euros. It was very strange to see all billboards and signs in Catalan, the regional language of Catalonia in north-eastern Spain. To me it looks like a combination of French and Spanish, therefore I could understand a few words, but not much. Luckily, as Barcelona is a city which is very popular with tourists, there were no language issues.

I then went to the the tourist centre, where I picked up some leaflets and a map. The receptionist explained to me how to get to the Barceló Atenea Mar hotel via the metro (underground). I was originally planning to walk, but decided otherwise because I was feeling tired and hungry. I took the L1 to Urquinaona and then the L4 to Selva del Mar, which cost 2.15 euros for a single. I then had to ask directions because I had no idea where I was, but eventually I arrived at the hotel at around 9pm. 

I think I've improved my confidence quite a lot this year because I used to feel stressed in a situation where I was lost. When I went to Finland in 2012 I totally panicked at the idea of flying to a new country where I couldn't speak the language, but the reality is that it's quite simple to do, there are of lots of people to help and the majority of countries have at least a basic level of English. Now I just know it's best to research and plan ahead. If those fail, I just relax, leave myself plenty of time and ask for help, because stressing just makes a situation difficult when it doesn't need to be. Although I still struggle to cope when people around me get stressed, generally I don't feel as awkward and stressed as I used to be due to the relaxed Spanish atmosphere.  I'm not sure if this will have a lasting effect on me or if I'll fit back into the rush of British life as soon as I touch back down in England.

I dumped my stuff at the hotel and made my way to the Diagonal Mar shopping centre just down the road, as I had read online that it had a Subway and Primark, two European luxuries that I long for whilst in Melilla. I enjoyed a footlong sandwich and a browse around Primark before heading back to the hotel. As I had been without a phone for 2 weeks (I lost it on 23rd March), I'd been a bit out of the loop and couldn't remember when my family's flight came in, but had agreed to meet them in the hotel. 

Everything except rent and food seems to be expensive in Spain, therefore I bought online and had sent to my UK home address an iPhone 4S 32GB (I love using it to take panoramic photos, as you will see in this post) and bought a Tesco Hudl, both of which mum brought with her to give to me. I really recommend the Tesco Hudl, as it is low in price, easy to use (especially for beginners) and has a reasonable battery life. I bought it because I get a bit bored whilst travelling and I can't always use my phone because the iPhone battery life is really bad. Therefore, it's nice to have something else to use to read books, listen to music and play games. It's only flaws are that it really strongly promotes Tesco and Google.

Anyway, back to the hotel. I couldn't find them in the bar, but to my surprise they were already in the room unpacking. We were all exhausted, so popped out to a restaurant for some food and drinks before going to bed. The hotel breakfast was a huge buffet and I have to say it was the nicest hotel I've ever been in. The only flaws were that the plug sockets charged our devices very slowly and the hotel threw away the freebies they'd provided after we'd only used them a few times, which seemed wasteful.

The next day mum was ill, so sadly she didn't come out with us during the day. Charlotte and I both bought a 2 day ticket for the Barcelona Bus Turistic, which cost 35 euros and the bus stop happened to be just around the corner from our hotel. Although this sounds like a lot, it was actually quite good because it is unlimited hop on hop off with 3 routes from about 9am until about 8pm. We decided, in the hope that mum's health would improve, that we would save the main red route for the next day when we could all go together. We went around the whole green route, which included the Olympic Port.

Then we changed onto the red route and got off at the Gothic Quarter, in the centre of the old city, where we visited the Cathedral of Santa Eulàlia, explored the area and went in some shops. Then we made our way to Plaça de Catalunya and walked down La Rambla, a popular tourist street. At the end of the street there was the Columbus Monument, where we got back on the red route to go the the Diagonal Mar shopping centre before heading back to the hotel to check on mum. Mum was feeling slightly better so we went back to Diagonal Mar for something to eat and then called it a night so we could get lots of rest for the next day.





Olympic Port


Cathedral of Santa Eulàlia






La Rambla

Columbus Monument





On Sunday mum was feeling a bit better, so we got back on the Barcelona Bus Turistic and mum bought a day ticket for 27 euros. We decided to go all around the red route and get off where we fancied. Charlotte and I were keen to go on the Montjuïc cable cars because we'd never been on one. We got off the bus, went to a cafe and got on a cable car, whilst mum stayed behind to explore the park, because she's scared of heights. The views were simply amazing, we were able to see over the whole city and spot some of the most famous landmarks. At the top of the Montjuïc hill is Montjuïc castle. Charlotte didn't want to pay to go in, so had a look at the views whilst I had a brief wonder round.






Casa Batlló by Antoni Gaudí



Barcelona Sants railway station 


Plaça Espanya






MNAC - Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya



Montjuïc cable cars









Montjuïc castle








We went back down the hill via the cable car and met mum back at the cafe before getting back on the red route and getting off at the Columbus monument at the end of La Rambla, where we had been the day before. Mum wanted to go down La Rambla and see Güell Palace, one of the many buildings in Barcelona designed byAntoni Gaudí. Unfortunately the queue was really, really long so we just admired it from outside. Then we went back to the Cathedral of Santa Eulàlia so mum could see it and got on the blue route, because I wanted to see La Sagrada Família and mum wanted to see Park Güell, both also works of Gaudí. La Sagrada Família was indescribable and one of the most unique churches I've ever seen. I consider myself Christian, but society's perception of Christianity and the views of the extremist minorities have caused issues for me. I don't believe God is confined to buildings, but I felt very close to Him in this one and it felt like it somehow restored my faith. Park Güell was also very original and located at the top of another hill, with amazing views. The sun was setting as we arrived at Park Güell and when we left it was dusk. We had missed the last bus, so got a taxi to Diagonal Mar shopping centre. Unfortunately it was closed, so we went back to the hotel and had dinner at a nearby cafe. 



La Sagrada Família






Park Güell





On Monday we headed straight to the airport. The original plan was to get a taxi to Plaça de Catalunya and get the bus from there, but actually the taxi offered us a ride to airport for 30 euros, which worked out cheaper between the three of us. I went with mum and Charlotte to their terminal and then arrived at my terminal at 12pm. I made it to my check in desk just a few minutes before the boarding time for the 13:15 flight to Madrid, but of course this was delayed again by about 15 minutes. Once I got to Madrid, I grabbed some snacks and waited for my 16:35 flight to Melilla, which was also delayed until 5pm. After last weekend's experience, I no longer trust Spanish domestic flights! The last flight was quite awkward because I was sat behind one of my students, who was naive enough to believe the school when they told the students that I can't speak Spanish, and made negative comments about me to her friends. Good luck to anyone applying for residence, opening a bank account, finding a flat, organising transport and going shopping if you can't speak any Spanish!

On Tuesday I had a lovely day at the beach with Rachel and Siobhan, but now they've also gone back to England. For the next two weeks I don't have much planned other than hitting the beach and moping around the house. Although I have a project about unemployment and a summary of the year which I want to finish, I keeping wondering if I should have just done my own thing and booked flights home for Easter. I've decided to stay here until the end of June because I'd like to enjoy the weather for a little longer and I have a few people visiting. Even though it would have been great to see the rest my family and I won't have been home for 6 months, when I think about it, I probably wouldn't be doing much at home anyway. I may as well enjoy the beach and sun whilst I still can!