Blink and you’ll miss it

In five weeks’ time, I’ll have left Santiago and arrived in Madrid. When I was in Granada, I spontaneously booked flights and a hostel for a three-day trip to the capital…alone. It seemed like a great idea at the time. From there, I’m flying back to the UK, and then that’ll be it. It’ll all be over. As my friend, Ella, said recently, “we are so nearly there”. (You can check her year abroad blog here. It’s great and far less rambly than mine.)

It’s a strange thing, year abroad. It is preceded by a build-up spanning, literally, years: everyone who considers studying languages at a UK university knows that the course includes an obligatory year abroad. So potential applicants tend to be aware of its existence at least two years before starting university, which is two years more before actually having to go abroad. Potentially four years of preparation.

Then, in first year, tutors will occasionally mention it, often by way of reassuring students that the year abroad is the time when their spoken language will really come into its own (which, judging by my experience, is the truth). As a first year, you’re blissfully aware that you’ve still got a whole year to think about it before actually having to go. Getting into the swing of student life takes priority.

Then, before you know it, it’s the start of second year and there’s suddenly not that long to go. The faculty starts to host language-specific talks; emails advertising internship opportunities come fast and furious; deadlines start to fly by. The people who decide to do British Council (working as a Teaching Assistant) have it relatively easy in terms of organisation: they fill in one form and, to an extent, they’re sorted. I suspected that British Council wouldn’t be for me; having worked with children in France, I can confirm that my suspicions were correct. Don’t quote me on this, but I would guess that roughly 50% (?) of Oxford students decide to do a British Council placement. For those who study abroad, the university has a fixed number of places available at certain European universities (including Salamanca, SciencesPo, and the Sorbonne); alternatively, you can choose to sort yourself out with a different university. I don’t really know a whole lot about either of these options as studying wasn’t something I ever considered.

In terms of arranging a work placement, a lack of fussiness helps. I knew I wanted to work but I wasn’t really sure about the specifics. I was just keen to get something organised. I saw the advert for Langue & Nature, thought it sounded fine, and applied for it. I was told that my application had been successful in January, and that was the first six months of the year sorted. Sighs of relief all round.

August rolled round and that was it: I was off. I don’t want to use the word “anticlimax” because it wasn’t at all, but I can’t think of an alternative for describing the realisation that, after so much preparation, this was it. I was doing my year abroad.

Because of how things worked out (my family has been dealing with a difficult, unexpected situation for the past few months), I ended up organising the Spanish half of my year abroad when I was in France. To be honest, knowing what I do now about the Spanish lack of urgency, it would have been a miracle if I’d been able to organise anything before then. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I found the Granada hostel through Workaway; I then found ESN Santiago through a website called Erasmus Intern. I would really recommend both websites; with hindsight, the former is definitely better suited to people wanting an excuse/reason to travel than it is to year abroad purposes, but the latter is perfect for students looking for work placements.

By the time I got to Spain, I was almost 2/3 of the way through because I’d only managed to organise 14 weeks for Spanish in comparison to 24 in France. That’s 38 weeks in total (A-Level Maths right there) of which four weeks remain. How?! This year, with all the build-up and preparation, is almost over. I don’t feel like I’ve wasted time at all, but it’s still difficult to believe just how quickly it’s gone by. In a few short months I’ll be back in Oxford attempting to tackle finals. In all the rhetoric surrounding year abroad, people have a habit of skimming over the fact that you have to go back and sit what are probably the hardest exams you’ll ever do…and all after a year of (and I think I speak for most people when I say this) doing very little academic work.

This post has turned out to be a bit longer than I was expecting, so I’ll leave it there. There’s not really a lot more to say in terms of updates. Saturday’s trip to the Islas Cíes was rescheduled, as predicted, due to bad weather, and I can’t go on the new date which is a very sad state of affairs. Instead, I went to A Coruña for the day for some sightseeing which was cool. I also ate some great octopus but sadly didn’t get a picture.

A friend I made in France is currently hiking the camino de Santiago and is due to arrive on Saturday so I’ll be spending the coming weekend with her which should be fun. There are few things I enjoy more than playing the tour guide. Having visitors is also a great excuse to go out for dinner. Although, what with spending so much time alone, I’m finding that I don’t really need much of an excuse to do that anyway. Whoops.

Pals, port, and pastéis de nata in Porto

With six weeks to go, restlessness is starting to set in. Actually, it’s not starting at all; it’s simply reaching previously unseen levels. I am counting the days down more avidly than I did even during those last weeks in France. I am quite literally wishing my life away, but I can’t help it. Equally, I can’t believe it’s over: I look at photos from last summer and marvel at how long ago that was and at how much has happened since then.

Anyway, enough of my ramblings. I know that the time will fly; I’ll soon be touching down at Stansted whilst asking myself where the past ten months have gone.

As I mentioned in my last post, I spent the weekend in Porto with Matt. It was glorious.

IMG_6830

Look. Glorious.

Matt took full advantage of my visit to go into full-blown tourist mode himself: he’d pre-planned a route for the first afternoon which we started almost as soon as I arrived. Not that I was complaining after having been sat on a bus for the previous four hours. I won’t bore you by going into detail, but that first afternoon included a visit to a huge park from which one can take in the wonderful view pictured above (“the best view in Porto”, apparently), walking past the library that inspired J.K. Rowling (which was, sadly, almost totally obscured by scaffolding), and wandering down through the city’s narrow streets to the port. Then, in the evening, we went out for some (very) well-earned burgers, and I had what was possibly the best veggie patty I’ve ever eaten. Let me tell you, the hunt for a decent veggie burger never ends. We washed it down with a large jug of sangria. More sangria followed in a bar with some of Matt’s friends and I was the most drunk I’ve been in quite a while. Whoops.

The next day, we were up relatively bright, early, and hangover-free and, mercifully, the sun was shining. In terms of the weather, I could not have chosen a better weekend to visit. Granted, the wind at the beach, which we visited in the morning, was bracing – as, I suppose, is to be expected from a beach popular with surfers – but it was worth it for the sea views and expanses of golden sand.

IMG_6839

Then, after having lunch at a snack bar (where I got a lush salad for €4.50, what a win!) we headed down to the riverfront for what may have been my favourite part of the weekend: port wine tasting. I didn’t realise this, but apparently fortified wines labelled as “port” or “Porto” has to be produced exclusively in Portugal’s Douro Valley. We tried a tawny wine – maybe the equivalent of rosé in the world of normal wine? – and it was delicious. The chocolates that were served with it were the icing on an already very well-made cake.

That evening, we met up with some of Matt’s friends (who were lovely) and headed to one of the city’s main squares. Midnight marked the beginning of Queima das Fitas (literally “Burning of the Ribbons”, but basically an “academic” week of partying preceding the beginning of the last exam period of the year) and, as such, there was a concert (of sorts) put on by the students. It was, in a word, bizarre. The music was all fado, which is the name for a type of Portuguese music known for being melancholic and not the easiest to dance to. All of the students were dressed in suits and wrapped in long cloaks (Matt has christened them “the Harry Potters”) but I still can’t give a decent explanation as to why. From what I understand, many Portuguese universities have a tradition called praxe (pronounced “prash”) which seems to involve little more than humiliating new students and forcing them to join in. Basically, a relation of the Bullingdon Club’s seems to be fairly prolific across the whole of Portugal. But maybe I misunderstood.

The next morning, I was sad to leave but very, very happy to have visited. Porto is a great, vibrant city and it would have been a wasted opportunity not to go now that Matt’s there. On my way to the bus station, I stopped at a bakery to buy something that I’d been told not to miss by several people: pastéis de nata. Basically a custard tart, but so much better than a custard tart.

Pasteis de Nata

Image taken from Wikipedia

I bought some for my housemates too and we ate them together that evening. Sprinkled with cinnamon, they were divine, and that’s coming from someone who isn’t usually a fan of pastry-based baked goods.

So now I’m back in Santiago and the sun, miraculously, is shining here as well! This evening, I’m going to the language exchange that I go to every week: it’s really good for meeting people and, seeing as it’s an ESN event, it would be borderline rude not to go. And, this Saturday, I’m supposed to be going on a day trip to the Islas Cíes, once named as the world’s best beach by The Guardian, but it’s supposed to rain so it might well be postponed.

Six weeks left of my glorified gap year. Six weeks is nothing compared to the number of weeks that are already behind me. I can do this.

The swings and roundabouts of Spain

Suffice to say that it’s been an uneventful couple of weeks here in Santiago. I’ve got very little news for my fans (meaning my parents and approximately three friends who actually bother to read my blog) so, instead, I thought I’d write a post similar to this one that I wrote when I was in France (for which, by the way, I am growing more nostalgic by the day…). Here is a list of a few of Spain’s quirks that I’ve found especially noticeable.

  1. Fast? Pero qué significa? I was warned that the Spanish couldn’t do anything fast or on time, but I’m not sure that I quite realised the extent to which this, ahem, cultural foible seeps into every aspect of la vida española. Going to an event that’s scheduled to start at 9:00? Don’t bother turning up much before 10:30. Need to get somewhere fast? Then best leave plenty of time if you’re going by foot because no doubt you’ll get stuck behind someone who is walking excruciatingly slowly and is apparently oblivious to the fact that tienes prisa but can’t get past them because they’re taking up the whole of the very narrow pavement. I get more annoyed by this total lack of urgency than I should: I’ve been conditioned to expect everything to start more or less on time and, when it doesn’t, it disconcerts me. Flexibility – something that I readily admit to often lacking – is necessary, but reminding yourself that all this waiting around feeling like time is being wasted is good for personal growth isn’t awfully helpful when you’re trying to speed-walk past a couple linking arms and blocking the pavement.
  2. The day starts about four hours late. Everything about the day in Spain is delayed by about four hours to what I’m used to. For example, my flatmates usually get up at about 10.30am, eat lunch at some time between 3pm and 4pm, have a siesta (yep, Spanish people actually do this), and go to bed at 2am. At least, I think 2am is accurate, but I wouldn’t swear to it because I can count on one hand the number of times that I’ve still been up at midnight since arriving in Santiago. Nights out don’t really get going before about 1.30am, as I found out on Friday when I went out for my first, and quite possibly last, time in Spain. The British custom of starting pre-drinks at 8pm would be a fatal error. I find this relaxed approach to tackling the day quite cool but, unfortunately, am far too used to early mornings and fond of early nights to be able to adapt to it in three short months. Something for the future, maybe.
  3. Living expenses are, comparatively, so low. Certain things in France – wine, mainly – made me balk at UK prices, but Spain is on a different level. Obviously, as an unpaid intern, this is a huge advantage for me. My rent and bills comes out at around €200 per month; my best friends in Oxford pay £85 a week. Food is inexpensive, both at the supermarket and in restaurants. Bizarrely, I’ve managed to spend the entire second part of my year abroad in two of Spain’s only cities where most bars offer free tapas with every drink – and we’re not talking peanuts and olives here. Think generous slices of tortilla and chunks of local cheese on fresh bread. To my delight, I recently found a cafe that does takeaway coffee for €0.80.  The size of Santiago means that I can walk everywhere, thus meaning that I don’t really spend any money on transport. In summary, whilst I’m not earning any money, I’m also not spending a whole lot of it either. However, I am in the process of preparing myself for the shock of returning to the prices of the UK (which are, I now realise, extortionate by any standard).
  4. “Pero hablas bien español!” Refreshingly, the Spanish, unlike the French, do make a considerable effort to understand non-native speakers’ attempts to speak Spanish without immediately switching to English upon detecting the accent. Much to my amazement, people compliment me on my Spanish on a fairly regular basis – something that happened very rarely in France, even during my final few weeks there. Of course, I remain convinced that my ability to string a sentence together alludes me at least 50% of the time, but it’s still a relief to be understood. There was a particularly embarrassing exception to this last week: I repeated the word cortado (basically a macchiato) about ten times before being understood. Needless to say, I have not been back to that cafe since.
  5. Everyone does an Erasmus exchange. Okay, not literally everyone, but it is fair to say that I’ve met far more Spanish people who have been abroad as part of their degree than I have Brits. In fact, studying abroad is something that seems to be far more accessible for students, regardless of their degree subject, in many European countries than it is for us. There are so many things to be learnt from spending time abroad as a student, and it seems a shame that the majority of students in the UK are never presented with the opportunity.

Despite sharing a border, France and Spain are, in some ways, starkly different. I’m very glad that I’ve been able to spend a decent amount of time in each of the two countries – language skills aside, living abroad is an eye-opening experience in more ways than one.

Speaking of France, tomorrow I’m leaving Santiago for the weekend to go to Porto to visit Matt. I’ve never been to Portugal and I’m pretty excited. As a reminder of the (many, many) hours we spent together at the château, here are some lovely photos of my fun-lovin’ co-intern (he’s probably not reading this)…

I’ll write next week about what I get up to in Porto; until then, adios amigos!

“Why I love…Santiago de Compostela”

WARNING: This post is little more than shameless self-promotion.

A friend from Oxford who is working for a chain of luxury hotels for the Spanish part of her year abroad recently asked whether any other year abroad-ers would be interested in writing a post for the company’s blog. The brief was that the post should focus on the positive aspects of living in any given city (given that the company is trying to get people to stay in their hotels, negatives should be skimmed over…) meaning that I couldn’t say anything about Santiago’s constant rainfall. However, whilst writing the article yesterday (yay for free Friday mornings) I realised – not for the first time – that there is actually a lot to like about the city. Here’s what I managed to produce – apologies if the overall tone is nauseatingly positive…

Why I love…Santiago de Compostela

Nestled in Spain’s top left-hand corner, in the region of Galicia, Santiago de Compostela is best known for being the final destination of world-famous pilgrimage route Saint James’s Way, or el camino de Santiago. The discovery of the remains of apostle St. James at the beginning of the 9th century transformed the city into one of the Christian world’s most important holy sites. Hoards of pilgrims continue to visit the city today: according to Santiago’s Oficina de Peregrinaciones, more than 11,000 arrived last month alone. However, this seemingly unassuming city has far more to offer than some travel guides may have you believe….

1. The Cathedral

…which is not to say that you should disregard them completely. The Cathedral, located in the enormous Plaza do Obradoiro, is not to be missed. Incidentally, directly opposite is the Hostal dos Reis Católicos, which was constructed in 1486 by Spain’s Catholic Monarchs, Isabel and Fernando.  The Cathedral is free to go in if you’re happy to wander around by yourself; additionally, guided tours of the building’s excavations, roofs, and galleries are available for a cost. The Cathedral’s gem, the tomb of St. James, is included in the free part, and photography is allowed. If you’re interested in historical specifics, consider a paid tour; if all you’re looking for is an overview, the free version is more than sufficient.

2. Tarta de Santiago

Originating in the Middle Ages, tarta de Santiago is a simple cake comprising of just three ingredients – ground almonds, eggs, and sugar – and its protected status means that anything labelled as such must be produced in Galicia. Desserts don’t always do it for me, but I was instantly seduced by the nutty sweetness and dense, melt-in-the-mouth texture of tarta de Santiago. Whole tarts, available in two sizes, can be found in most bakeries; cafés and bars also tend to offer it as a merienda, or afternoon snack. Bar La Tita (Rúa Nova) does an especially good one, served in large slices and to be enjoyed after the free portion of tortilla española served with every drink.

3. Its perfect size

A sprawling metropolis Santiago is not; with a population of fewer than 100,000 and a centre that takes about 45 minutes to cross by foot, its size is ideal for long weekend breaks. The city’s extensive bus network is largely unnecessary but may be appreciated by those averse to hilly terrain and frequent rain. Despite Santiago’s compact size, you’re unlikely to run out of things to do: the old town is packed full of museums (with theMuseo do Pobo Galego (the Museum of the Galician People) reputedly being amongst the best), historical squares, cafés perfect for people watching, and independent shops stocking everything from jewellery to gastronomic specialities of the region.

4. Student Life

The University of Santiago de Compostela welcomes 500 Erasmus exchange students every year and has a student body totalling more than 42,000; indeed, the city probably owes much of its buzzing ambience to the students’ omnipresence. Needless to say, then, that bars and cafés cater to the needs of the students and so life in Santiago is inexpensive. Expect to pay up to €15 (at the very top end) for a three-course lunch with bread and coffee or, alternatively, take advantage of the free tapas (with a drink) served at almost every bar in the city. Notable establishments for enjoying the latter include La Tita (mentioned earlier), O Piorno (Rúa da Caldeireria) and A Taboa de Picar (Rúa do Pombal). Want to get a taste of the nightlife? Thursday and Saturday are the student nights out and the drinks offers are ludicrously good value, but be aware that nobody in Spain heads out before about 1am. If you have a few hours to kill, grab a map from the tourism office (Rúa do Vilar) and take a self-guided walking tour around the University buildings; some of them date from 1495 and are well worth seeing.

5. Accessibility

Finally, a boring but important consideration to take into account when travelling: getting to and from your chosen destination. Thankfully, Santiago de Compostela has its own airport about 11km away, with a bus leaving for the city centre every half hour. Ryanair and Easyjet both offer inexpensive flights to and from London; Madrid, Barcelona, and Paris are all easily accessible too. If you’re keen to explore further afield without the faff of a flight, Spain’s bus network is exemplary. ALSA runs daily buses to and from Porto; several companies go between Santiago and Galicia’s other towns and cities, including Vigo and A Coruña. And don’t forgo the opportunity to visit Playa de Rodas, named a few years ago as the world’s best beach by The Guardian.

Santiago de Compostela is so much more than a one-trick pony; whilst being the home of the remains of an apostle is an undeniably impressive accolade and, for some people, the only reason to visit, venturing away from the (literally) well-trodden path is the best way to go about discovering the city. Santiago is easy to overlook but it is brimming with cultural, historical, and gastronomical wealth. I’m yet to speak to anyone who has visited who doesn’t rave about it, and I am unashamed to say that I wholeheartedly count myself amongst their number.

The original post is on Splendia’s blog; it can be viewed here

Having friends to stay: a glimmer of normality

I’m into my second week in Santiago de Compostela and my time here is, so far, shaping up rather nicely. My suspicions about my flatmates being total babes have turned out to be correct, the city itself is super cute, I only work about 20 (twenty!) hours a week, and, best of all, I’ve actually managed to meet some people my own age. Working for ESN has meant that opportunities to meet Erasmus students here are abundant. I can take part in any/all of the activities and trips run by the organisation that I want – there’s a trip to Morocco at the beginning of June that, bank balance permitting, I’ll be first in line to sign up for – and, additionally, most of the other people who “work” for the organisation (I use inverted commas because it’s run entirely by volunteers, quite a feat in itself) are students too. Life in a certain French château this is not: I’m not made to feel like anyone’s inferior and blame is rarely apportioned to anyone. As far as unpaid internships go, I think I got fairly lucky with this one.

Some highlights of other things I’ve done so far: went on a guided tour of the roof (?!) of the cathedral; discovered the famous tarta de Santiago (spoiler: it’s delicious); went to a language exchange, run by ESN, in a very swanky bar; and took part in ESN’s International Dinner, in which teams prepare some food typical of their country and then award points to other teams in a Eurovision-style voting system. Turns out that there aren’t many Brits here; my team consisted of just one other person, Catherine, who approached me at aforementioned language exchange and proposed entering the competition together. Amazingly, our offering of finger sandwiches, cream teas, Eton mess, and sausage rolls (along with vegetarian alternatives) impressed the other teams enough for us to come second! Considerably better than the UK usually does in Eurovision.

IMG_6688

Any Brit’s staple diet. Obviously.

However, the best thing that has happened so far in Santiago was having a friend from Oxford, Lizzie, come to visit. It was so much fun – and made more exciting by the fact that this was her first time in Spain! – and having her here gave me an excuse (as if I needed another) to play the tourist in my new temporary home. We went out for many a coffee (always accompanied by the obligatory chats) and had a fabulous vegan lunch; having eaten hummus everyday in Granada, its presence on the menu came as somewhat of a relief (and I’m only exaggerating a little bit).

IMG_6698

Lizzie left this morning (getting up on time proved difficult after an unexpectedly boozy meal out last night) and I think I can safely say that pasamos la bomba during her stay.

I’ve had quite a lot of people come to visit me during my year abroad. Whilst Lizzie was the first to come to Spain, three friends from home as well as parents and brother came to see me when I was in Laval; I met up with two separate friends in Paris and visited my closest childhood friend in the city where she’s doing a British Council teaching assistantship. My excitement to see someone from home did not diminish as the number of visitors increased. Showing people where you’ve been living is exciting every time and offers the chance to do things and visit places that you wouldn’t normally, but I’ve realised that the real thing that makes seeing people from home during year abroad so refreshing is the feeling of calm and normality that they bring with them. Year abroad is many things, but relaxed is definitely not one of them: there are too many pressures (social, linguistic, work…) brewing in an unfamiliar environment for that to be the case. With friends from home, everything is easier: conversation flows more easily (probably read definitely aided by the fact that it’s in English) and there’s more common ground between the two of you. And who doesn’t love a good heart-to-heart? In my experience, whilst year abroad friendships can be great, they’re not often intimate enough for DMCs to be happening on the regs (although I did have a great one with a friend in Laval whilst sat on the kerb outside the town’s only nightclub).

I don’t miss the work at Oxford, really – although I do often miss the feeling of being constantly, overwhelmingly busy – but I do miss the casual nature of the social life: going to a friend’s room for a cup of tea, meeting in the college bar, sitting in the gardens with Pimm’s and strawberries (oh, Oxford). Having people to visit offers a way back into that life for a blissful couple of days. And, with only eight weeks of my year abroad left, a couple of days is enough to keep me going for now.

The beginning of the end

The final leg of my year abroad has begun: I’ve made it to Santiago de Compostela, destination of the world-famous camino de Santiago. But, of course, because I am inherently shambolic, the journey was not without its hiccups.

I’ll start with a brief summary of the second half of the time I spent in Granada. Sadly, the friends situation progressed very little – I got to know the other people working in the hostel slightly better but that’s about your lot – and I continued to fill the void left by human contact with coffee, ice cream, and carrot cake. A lot of running also happened because I finally took the plunge and signed up to Oxford Half Marathon. The highlight of the last couple of weeks was a spontaneous day trip to one of Andalusia’s beach towns, Almuñécar, with Violet, basically the only friend I made in Granada and with whom I was put in touch by one of my best childhood friends. It was dreamy.

IMG_6579

Look. Dreamy.

Aside from that, nothing really happened – three words which sum up the past month quite accurately, I think. The hostel was cool as a place to work and I enjoyed exploring the city, but I think my mistake lay in thinking that I would be able to make friends in just four weeks – especially given that one of the weeks was Easter, seemingly Spain’s biggest national holiday. Never mind; at least I spoke some Spanish and didn’t spend much money because of my lack of socialising. Swings and roundabouts.

Having travelled all day, I’m now nicely moved into my new room in Santiago. The day got off to a disastrous start. My phone was doing a software update overnight; because of this, my alarm didn’t go off. I woke up at 8:05 for a bus that left at 8:00. Absolutely bloody fantastic. Ten minutes later and I was dressed and out the door, having been waved off by hoards of tearful pals (just kidding). Merci dieu, there was another bus from Granada to Malaga airport an hour later, and so what had initially seemed like an insurmountable disaster actually turned out to be only a molehill. I made it to the airport well in time for my flight – which was then half an hour late (classic). I’ve always been an advocate of Ryanair but the lack of communication today was the most frustrating thing ever, and my annoyance was amplified by my extremely heavy rucksack (which, you’ll be relieved to know, safely made it all the way to my flat in Santiago) and the battle I am still waging against a cold.

The flight itself was, as one would hope, uneventful. Santiago airport is half an hour away by bus from the city centre itself. I arrived at 3.30 and was supposed to meet my flatmates at 4.00. It was raining – something it does a lot here, apparently – and so I texted them to say that I would go directly to the flat and see them there. I waited in the rain for TWO HOURS before they arrived, but they were so welcoming and friendly that I found myself not really minding. Turns out that they’ve spent the last couple of days in Porto and had problems on the roads during the drive back. Which seems like a perfectly reasonable excuse.

I’m going to stop there, largely because I fear that I’m at risk of boring anyone who is reading this half to death. And also partly because I really just want to go to sleep. Maybe tomorrow I’ll venture out of the flat to see a bit of the city – or, you know, maybe I’ll stay here and drink tea under my duvet. After today’s jerking start, staying in bed sounds like a very appealing option.

Table for one, por favor

In less than two weeks’ time, I’ll be leaving Granada and boarding a Ryanair flight to Santiago de Compostela up in hilly Galicia. I can’t say that I’m not a little bit relieved.

As I made clear in my last post, Granada is a great city. It’s full of history, it’s small enough to walk everywhere but big enough to not become boring, and, perhaps best of all, most of the bars give you a free tapa with every drink. Meaning that you can basically have dinner and drinks (plural) for about €5. No, the city itself has more than exceeded my expectations; what has made my time in Granada difficult is how hard it has been to meet people.

I was, I now realise, extremely lucky in Laval. Arriving at the same time as the people doing their countries’ equivalents of British Council meant that we were all in the same boat: desperate to make friends and surrounded by people in the same mindset. The layout of the foyer meant that it was easy to organise activities after that initial awkward interaction. Six months later, I was very sad to leave what had gradually become a close group of friends.

Here, it’s very different. It’s a good job that I don’t mind my own company because I’ve ended up spending really quite a lot of time on my own. There are other volunteers in the hostel, but everyone else here has either been at the hostel for a long time or has been to Granada before and none of them really seem to want to do anything. I’m not working many hours at all and cabin fever soon sets in; taking myself off out for a coffee has, to my bank account’s dismay, become an almost daily occurrence. I discovered a particularly excellent cafe the other day that served one of the most delicious carrot cakes I’ve ever had:

IMG_6558

and I will definitely be going back for more before leaving.

Granada is well-known for welcoming large numbers of Erasmus students, but not being one of them makes it difficult to know how to meet them. Besides, most of the students have gone home for Easter now anyway.

I’m trying: last week I went to a language exchange held in a Mexican tapas bar and I’m going to go again on Wednesday; one of my closest friends from home put me in touch with two of her friends (both of whom are absolutely lovely) and we’ve met up a couple of times, and I’m going with one of them for a day trip to a beach town tomorrow. Also, to my delight, everyone from the hostel went out together for lunch yesterday to celebrate my birthday and then, in the evening, my roommate and I went for tapas together. Clearly, the social situation isn’t totally dire, and maybe I’m being melodramatic, but the problem is that I can’t help but compare the current situation with that of Laval.

Anyway, onwards and upwards. In Santiago de Compostela I’m doing an internship with ESN Santiago, the organisation responsible for co-ordinating activities for Erasmus students at the city’s university, and I’m really hoping that the work will offer an easy way to meet people of my age.

The good news is that I’ve been putting all of the free time I’ve got on my hands to fairly good use. I’ve decided to train for Oxford half marathon in October (although am yet to take the final step of actually signing up for it…) and have been running a few times since arriving. I’ve (very) extensively walked around Granada and visited the sights and sites of the city – including, this morning, the Capilla Real, where the Reyes Católicos Isabel and Fernando are buried. Also, Friday marked my first day trip in Spain, when I went to the city of Córdoba, home of the famous Mezquita, a Catholic cathedral/Muslim mosque (yes, really) dating from the 700s.

The Mezquita’s glory is well deserved: it was, for me, the highlight of the city.

Finally, a few words about the Spanish language aspect of things. Thankfully, I can understand just about everything; speaking, however, is a completely different kettle of fish. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve automatically started speaking French, and the structure of some of my sentences is definitely questionable at best, as are many of my attempts at conjugating verbs. Perseverance is definitely the key; not only to the language side of things but, it would seem, to the whole year abroad experience.