What I’ve learnt on Day 347…

* When arriving in the centre of a city you’ve never been to at 11.30pm, you’d be forgiven for just blindly following GPS to your hostel. Sadly, if your phone is completely idiotic it will take you to the correct number building but on the wrong street. Meaning you end up at a Chinese restaurant rather than a hostel. Not ideal at midnight.

* Said hostel provides free bikes to explore the city, which is such a great idea. As Barcelona is full of bike lanes too, it’s surprisingly stress-free (or at least it is once you’ve found where the bike lane begins..)

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* We cycled the length of Barcelona beach and the further you get from the city centre, the prettier and emptier it gets and you can find some unexpectedly tranquil and quiet beaches.

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* If you decide to do some hostel hopping as we did (which I would fully recommend as it’s a great way of getting to know different parts of a city) you’d definitely be better off not leaving it to the last minute to find 2 beds on the Saturday of an August bank holiday weekend- you’ll end up paying double for a hostel half as nice.

* The famous market La Boqueria on La Rambla is lovely to walk around- full of fruit, fruit juices, meats, pastries, nougat and chocolates. If it weren’t for the ludicrous amount of tourists, it would be a foodie’s paradise!

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* Wandering around aimlessly for hours means you can find some unexpected gems in a big city like Barcelona. Near the Agbar tower, we stumbled upon a flea market (where you can genuinely buy anything from bulbs to food blenders to material by the metre) which is inside a big hall with an incredible mirrored ceiling.

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* We were very lucky that our trip coincided with the fiestas in the arty neighbourhood of Gracia. Each street clubs together to decorate their street the best- the streets come alive at night with live bands, drinks and food. Each street chooses a theme to follow- from fruit or music to psychedelic or Indian to a theme from a book like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Alice in Wonderland.

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* The fiesta also has lots of things going on beyond music and drinking. One day we stumbled upon an outdoor cinema in a square showing Mama Mia dubbed into Spanish!

* Due to a few too many mojitos at the fiestas and an early morning hostel change, a hungover sit down and glass of ice tea was urgently needed whilst walking down La Rambla, which was actually very nice. Until we got the bill… €4.50 for 1 soft drink that came from a bottle?!? Luckily, the price was so obscene that it actually just made us laugh.

(17.8.14)

What I’ve learnt on Day 344…

* This last month in Mallorca has gone incredibly quickly- in the blink of an eye. For something I was not only not planning on doing but also for something I planned at such late notice, I have been incredibly lucky to end up in a situation I’ve enjoyed so much (so much so, that I ended up staying a week and a half longer than originally planned).

* Mallorca is a lovely island, full of surprises: amazingly friendly and open people, delicious food and stunning beaches, pretty ports and charming pedestrianised walled towns.

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* Once you escape the more touristy parts of the island (avoid the south coast) Mallorca has a lovely island-life atmosphere- mixed with the openness of Spanish culture. There is a lovely quality of life here. Everyone knows everyone and after just a month here I pretty much always bump into people to say hello to on my bicycle rides into town to go to the market or buy fresh bread.

* Having lost count of the numerous beaches I’ve been to on the island (we go most days and almost always to a different one), I’ve worked out what I like in a beach- the smaller, the more enclosed, the fewer the people, the more numerous the fishes and the clearer the water, the better. Luckily there are an abundance of these sorts of beaches here!

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* Early morning before anyone gets there, or late afternoon/evening are the best times to go to the beach- fewer tourists and weaker sun make it so much more enjoyable.

* On the positive side of there being so many tourists here, (and particularly so many Germans), you can get a decent Eisschokolade in pretty much any cafe (balls of vanilla ice cream floating in chocolate milk with whipped cream on top), which I don’t think I’ve ever seen outside of Germany. We tried making it at home but the cream was sadly completely rancid.

* If you’re lucky enough to have access to the boat of a grandmother, the best way to spend a morning is sunbathing on a boat, dropping anchor alongside una playa virgen (no hotels, roads or people), having a nice swim in the crystal Mediterranean before teaching along the coast back to port.

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* Life is definitely about taking chances, saying yes, ending up where you least expect and deciding to embrace and enjoy the adventure. You never know where you’ll end up and how many lovely people you’ll meet who will hopefully be good friends for a very long time to come.

* A familia Mestre-Villan, ¡gracias por todo! Me lo ha pasado fenomenal y me ha encantado esta estancia con vuestra familia encantadora. ¡Espero que nos veamos muy pronto!

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* Mallorca, I’ll most certainly be back for more. But now onto my next- and sadly final (for this Year Abroad at least)- adventure- Barcelona with my lovely friend Jennie!!

Besitos xx

(14.8.14)

What I’ve learnt on Day 339…

* By luck, I managed to coincide my stay in Mallorca with the town’s annual week long fiesta and going with a family from the town means you see it in a whole different light- from the eyes of a local rather than a tourist.

* The first night of the fiesta is an opening ceremony, where hundreds of people gather in the square in front of the town hall for music, speeches and dancing. Then all of the younger people, covered up in jeans, hoodies and scarves so that only their faces are showing, remain whilst the other people flee before the devils arrive. The 30-odd men and women dressed as devils, wearing masks and with loud, clanging bells tied around their waists, dance amongst the remaining people with fireworks on sticks. The result is a sort of chaotic mosh pit of dancing, a lot of sparks and smoke and a lot of loud, almost tribal-like drum music. Never did find out the actual reasoning behind it, but out was undeniably quite a spectacle!

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* Every day of the fiesta is a different event: whether it be an enormous party with live music, a show, an exhibition, the cooking of a giant paella, a fireworks display, kids activities and foam in the local pool. Everyday, however, there are fairground rides (yes they’re still fun, even if you are 21 years old), music, stalls with toys and jewellery, and crêpes, hot dogs and candyfloss!

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* The penultimate night of the fiesta is a giant party in the main square (which, in true Spanish style) doesn’t begin until midnight. We didn’t go until after 1 though (obviously!). A night of live bands, dancing, singing and breaks for crêpe eating until dawn.

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* If you want to see the Spaniards really going for it, put on some songs by Queen (who knew?)

* Another brilliant sight? Watching several hundred Spaniards do ‘follow the leader’ around the main square at dawn.

* As tradition dictates, we climbed the town’s biggest hill to the old church perched on top to watch the sun come up with a 360° view of the surrounding countryside and the sea. Then I finally crawled into bed at 7.30am.

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¡Hasta pronto! Xx

(9.8.14)

What I’ve learnt on Day 330…

* The Balearic island of Mallorca really isn’t just sunburnt Brits drinking too much. It’s got a seemingly endless number of gorgeous beaches (from tiny, rocky coves to mile long stretches of white sand; beaches with waves taller than you and perfect for surfing to beaches with still, crystal-clear, turquoise water perfect for snorkeling) as well as beautiful historic towns and villages with charming, rustic architecture and a laid-back pace of life.

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* Considering the extremely last-minute nature of my decision to come here, I have massively landed on my feet- living with the loveliest, most open family in a stunning location. Spontaneity is (nearly) always the best thing!

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* Mallorca may still be a part of Spain but it may as well be a German colony there are so many Germans here! In the market you’ll hear more German than Spanish and all menus come with Spanish followed by (or sometimes preceded by) German.

* Also, who knew that Mallorca had its own language? Mallorquín is a dialect of Catalan and looks like a mixture of French and Spanish, so I understand a fair amount.

* The Brits and other northern Europeans can all be found on the beach throughout the day from morning until late afternoon. The Spaniards however, to avoid the hottest part of the day, never go to the beach before 5.30-6pm. It’s still a lovely, much more bearable temperature and the beach is nice and empty too as we arrive as the tourists leave. And nothing beats eating fresh fish for dinner on the beach at sunset.

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* The family I’m living with are the most incredible cooks! Rabbit is easily one of the most under-appreciated meats in the UK- it’s absolutely delicious! I’ve also learnt to make a proper paella from a Spaniard!

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* After several months of not seeing any rain at all (oh, life in Spain!), even 5 minutes of light rain (let’s call it spotted) comes as a bit of a shock. But when the sun is back out within half an hour and it remains around 30°C, it’s really not too bad.

* The temperature in general in Mallorca is pretty ideal and a lot more bearable than the intense, never-ending, dry 40° heat of Seville!

* Spending so much time with a 7 year old girl means getting to indulge your childish side- building sand-castles, colouring, making teepees in the garden, lots of swimming in the pool and sea but, most importantly, being able to watch some excellent films (Frozen and How to Train Your Dragon are both brilliant films, even dubbed into Spanish!)

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* Realising that Spanish kids TV is essentially just the Disney channel dubbed into Spanish (as are all adult’s programmes and pretty much all films) makes you feel lucky to have grown up with English as your mother tongue (nothing is ever as good in translation and mouths moving and not matching the words being spoken is unbelievably irritating).

* We saw the former Queen of Spain! (Only former as of a month ago, when her husband abdicated, so now she’s the mother of the King instead.) She was just wandering through the town after the weekly market (with half a dozen bodyguards.)

* Palma is a very pretty city with an impressive cathedral perched on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean. But more importantly, it has excellent shopping…

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* We went to some rather impressive caves in some cliffs, where they gave a classical concert from boats in the underground lake to show off the acoustics before rowing us across the lake in the boats ourselves.

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* One of the biggest bonuses of having a lovely, warm climate (beyond being able to go outside in August without an umbrella and a scarf) is the buckets of homegrown tomatoes, figs, grapes, courgettes, peppers, lettuces and even almonds you get from the garden.

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¡Hasta luego! Xx

(31.7.14)

What I’ve learnt on Day 313…

* After an incredibly strenuous and tiring 6 months living in Seville (cough cough), a holiday of relaxation is well-deserved and needed. So after picking me and my 60-odd kilos of luggage up from Seville, the family and I head off to my uncle’s house in the rural Andalusian mountains just 3 hours east of Seville.

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* 2 weeks of lying around (mostly in the shade), swimming in the pool, admiring the incredible view and watching the sunset, reading a book a day and catching up with my lovely family who I hadn’t seen for longer than 2 days together since Christmas is absolute bliss.

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* Having put up with my cupboard-kitchen without an oven for 6 months (my excuse for eating out most nights in Seville), 2 weeks of my parents’ excellent cooking is exactly what’s needed.

* Having an actual oven as well means just 1 thing: baking! After almost a year of not baking properly (bar 2 weeks at Christmas) full advantage was taken: orange blossom and almond cake with mascarpone cream, salted dulce de leche brownies and white chocolate and cranberry cookies all made excellent afternoon teas.

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* Considering the number of times we have come here on holiday and considering the fact that it’s just 1 and a half hours in the car to Granada, it was almost embarrassing that we had never visited the Alhambra palace (one of the best examples of Islamic architecture in Europe). It is just as beautiful as it was promised to be.

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* Every time that we come to this house we take a walk to this same fresh water pool and waterfall nestled into the valley surrounded by avocado and fig trees. It is the most peaceful place in the world and, after a long, hot walk through the mountains, a dip in the water is perfect.

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* When we were younger we would watch films like Shrek or Harry Potter as a family; now we’ve graduated onto watching the murder and drug-filled Breaking Bad as a family. Oh how times change.

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* As well as sorting out my 60 kilos of luggage, a plan of where to go next was very much necessary (still not ready to leave Spain!). So after some speedy planning, a lot of hurried goodbyes, buying a plane ticket on the Sunday evening, I was ready to fly to beautiful Mallorca on the Monday morning to live with a Spanish family for a few weeks!

¡Adiós península! ¡A las islas baleares! X

(14.7.14)

What I’ve learnt on Day 301…

* I, somehow, (miraculously, some might say) managed to pass the courses I actually went to. Including History of Art, which was rather a surprise. Doing an exam in near-40° heat is less than zero fun.

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* Speaking of heat, Seville can get up to absurd temperatures, and it’s not even close to peaking. One of the signs in the street read 49°C. Living in the hottest city in Europe (bar Cordoba, which is an hour away) without air conditioning is a challenge. A challenge I wouldn’t chose to repeat.

* Luckily, if you leave your 2 Year Abroad essays (which you’ve known about for over a year) until the last 3 weeks, you’ll have to spend an obscene amount of time in the air-conditioned library, where at least you won’t sweat to death.

* Spaniards, despite their olive skin and refusal to wear sun cream, still burn. Even on cloudy days…

* Also, if you put 4 types of vegetable in one stew (2 of which were the pretty standard tomatoes and onions), they will class that dish as having an abnormally high amount of vegetables. They will also laugh at you when you put salad with everything (but salad goes with everything and I need some kind of green!!)

* You may think turning up for dinner at a restaurant 20 minutes later than the arranged time would mean you were late. But in Seville it means you’re the first person there… By a good 10 minutes.

* Adding a live saxophonist to play on top of the chart music in a club (an outdoor club incidentally) significantly improves the standard of music.

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* Despite having lived in Seville 6 months, it was surprising how many things I still hadn’t done- loads of cool modern galleries, a few more traditional galleries, renting a boat in Plaza de España, museums, palaces, a boat trip down the
Guadalquivir, and even (somehow) one or two restaurants. All ticked off now though!

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* One more thing I had never done: go to the Arab baths in the middle of the old Jewish quarter of the city, just one street from my house. Money very well spent. 2 hours of blissful relaxation in hot pools, cold pools, bubble pools, salt pools, steam rooms and even a massage for just over 30 Euros. Wish I’d discovered it earlier… I’d have gone every weekend.

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Obligatory pre-spa selfie

* I must have acclimatised to the heat somewhat, as when a freak cold day of just 30° is predicted, I now wear jeans.

* Seville is still full of surprises- processions of gypsy wagons pulled by bulls through the city centre being just one of them.

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* Perfect way to spend your last night in Seville before the family arrive? A few drinks in a lovely sunny square, dinner in my favourite restaurant (¡el mejor arroz con leche en el mundo!), followed by a him and tonic on a roof terrace bar with a beautiful view of the cathedral.

* And so ends the official part of my incredible Year Abroad. Seville, you have been an absolute joy- full of surprises, beauty, fun, delicious food and fantastic people. ¡Gracias por todo!

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* However, I’m not quite ready for this adventure abroad to be over yet and there’s plenty more of lovely Spain left to discover, so here begins my Summer Abroad… First stop, the Andalusian mountains…

¡Hasta la próxima vez! Xx

(2.7.14)

What I’ve learnt on Day 275…

* Spaniards dress by season and not by weather- when it’s beautifully sunny in March (easily beating a warm English summer’s day) them still be in coats and scarves. Come a slightly cooler day in late May, however, and they’ll be in shorts and t-shirts… Mystery.

* Seville is closer to the Portuguese border than you might have thought- under 2 hours. This means that when the temperature in Seville is reaching the insane heights of upwards of 40° on a daily basis, weekly trips to the stunning (and slightly cooler thanks to the Atlantic) Algarve coast are in order.

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* Slightly strange trying to wrap your head around the fact that you can just drive over a bridge and lose an hour. Who knew Portugal was in a different time-zone to Spain?

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* If you don’t need to pay for flights and you’re going in early June, so out of season, renting a luxurious 6 bed apartment with pool and sea view can cost you just 30 Euros each for the 2 nights. Cheap holiday!

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* If you get in from your night out at 7.30, pass out on your bed, miss your alarm, miss the bus (for which you have everyone’s tickets) and wake up at midday, it can become a rather expensive holiday very quickly as you have to pay everyone back for their new bus tickets when you arrive in Portugal 6 hours later. Oops.

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* Having to take a little boat driven by an old Portuguese man from the little fishing village over to the beach is easily the best way to get to the beach ever.

* Portugal will open your eyes to a whole new world of ice lollies- Big Milk instead of Mini Milk anyone??

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* Eating fresh, grilled fish next to the sea is the world’s best thing. (Man I’m hyperbolic today!)

* After 5 months of using the world’s smallest, most horrible kitchen, the chance to cook in lovely, enormous kitchen and use the BBQ on the terrace of our rented apartment is a very welcome treat. Hadn’t realised that piri-piri was Portuguese either!

* As many people are coming to the end of their stays in Seville, operation tick off as many touristy things as you can is go. New restaurants and bars we’ve always wanted to try, last meals at favourite restaurants, a Sunday afternoon pedalo ride down the river and a picnic on the roof top at sunset.

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* In the gardens of the royal Alcazar palace lives a peacock with an extremely over-protective companion. This duck body guard will start attacking you and biting your ankles if you get too close as my friend Anisha (and her ankles) found out.

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* Having dinner in a square in Seville is never boring. One group of Spaniards will probably get out a guitar and start singing and clapping and dancing flamenco. Then 4 horses and carriages will probably turn up with the entire football team of Zaragoza in them. Only in Seville…

* A gift of Cadbury’s creme eggs in June when you’ve been living in Spain for 6 months is possibly the best gift ever.

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¡Adiós! Xx

(7.6.14)