The Final Post – Best Moments

4 months, 18 posts and over 13,000 words later, it’s time for my final post. It’s been one rollercoaster of a year, to employ the most shameless cliché conceivable. I have experienced everything from genuine heartbreak to unparalleled glee. I could spend hours writing an essay about everything I have done and everything I have learnt, but no amount of words would ever capture the experience in its totality. So instead I’ve decided to trivialise it all into my Top 10 Erasmus Moments:

Top 10 Erasmus Moments

1. Erasmus Christmas – Latour-de-Carol

In December of last year, me and friends from Toulouse embarked on a Christmas trip to a little village nestled in the Pyrenées. Over 2 days, we climbed hills, had snowball fights and exchanged presents. The weekend filled me with undeniable joy at the moment when I most needed it, and I’m certain I will never forget it. Thank you to all of my friends for being there and making it the best part of my Erasmus experience!

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2. Festival of Colours – Granada

As covered in a previous post, the Holi Festival of Colours was a celebration of joy, freedom and lack of responsibility. The weather may not have been on my side that fantastic weekend in Granada, but the sun made an appearance to dry our sorry clothes and lighten our already soaring spirits.

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3. “It’s no Blackpool Tower” – Lisboa

I would never have imagined travelling to Lisbon of my own accord before this year. However, with the help of my considerably more organised friend Rachel, I managed to spend 3 days there and enjoy all the tourist attractions on my ever-important Top 5. The trip’s hilarity was epitomised by this withering comment on Lisbon’s questionably-sized Torre de Belém.

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4. Ice Skating – Toulouse

Unfortunately my adventures in Toulouse have gone by conspicuously undocumented, but there is no doubt I enjoyed as many new experiences there as I did in Spain. This was another of my Year Abroad firsts: I have wanted all my life to go ice skating but had never achieved it before this point. To my extreme delight, I found I was competently able to skate and my Finnish friend even showed me some more advanced techniques! There are plenty of other joyous moments in Toulouse that could have taken the place of this one, but I chose to place ice skating highest because it reflects the Year Abroad experience perfectly: trying something new and out of your comfort zone, and ultimately discovering it brings you great pleasure.

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This picture has absolutely nothing to do with ice skating, but I thought this blog was seriously lacking of pictures of Toulouse!

5. Thank God It’s Friday – Madrid

Covered in more detail in its relevant post, my weekend in Madrid reminded me of the fun I had so desperately been missing from my Manchester friends.

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6. Rubber Band Fight – Toulouse

An innocent demonstration of how to flick a rubber wristband turned into all-out elastic warfare, this spontaneous play fight epitomised the random spurts of childlike joy that characterised the amazing friendship group I made in Toulouse.

Pont Neuf - The oldest bridge in France

Pont Neuf – The oldest bridge in France

7. Skyfall – Toulouse

My friends will probably kill me for including this, but watching the new Bond film with a special someone was a dear moment, regardless of the events that were to follow.

Including a picture of us together would probably be a bad move so look, a pink thing!

Including a picture of us together would probably be a bad move so look…a pink thing!

8. ¿Novio o novia? – Valladolid

That awesome moment when your Spanish teacher is like “Novio? Don’t you mean novia?” and you’re like “Nope, I meant BOYfriend 😉

Immortalised on Facebook thus, this awkward moment turned comedy classic was a brilliant example of the social dangers of language barriers.

This is my actual boyfriend.

This is my actual boyfriend.

9. Making Headlines – Valladolid

After being graciously offered free tickets to a classical music event in Valladolid, I featured in the following day’s paper!

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That’s me on the bottom, in the red cardigan!

10. “¡Los ingleses!” – Valladolid

Because there’s nothing like being welcomed to Spain by the scornful cry of “Oh, English people!” as you try and enter the local gay bar.

Now I'm just being silly.

Now I’m just being silly.

In all seriousness, this year has been a genuinely tough but rewarding experience. I just want to thank everyone I met on my Year Abroad as well as my family and friends for supporting me all the way through. Without you, I would have been on a plane home after a month.

Finally, I would like to thank anyone who has read my blog. As you may be able to tell, I have put a lot of effort into maintaining this blog and it has given me a great amount of happiness to hear that some people actually enjoy reading it!

So I hereby end this blog – it may not be the end of my blogging altogether, but certainly the end of a terrifying but incredible experience. Thank you and good night.

–Joe Rohde, 07/07/2013–

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Year Abroad: Do’s and Don’ts

Having reluctantly embarked upon the Year Abroad experience and made my way out the other side a positively enriched human being, I thought I’d impart some of my worldly knowledge for any future students preparing to take on the challenge. So here it is, my Do’s and Don’ts for your Year Abroad:

DO:

Travel

This is my number one recommendation. You’re planted in a brand new country with beautiful cities to explore at every turn – you’d be mad not to harness the opportunity. I regret not making more trips whilst in France, but I more than made up for it by visiting a wealth of wonderful cities whilst in Spain, including Granada, Lisbon and Segovia.

Write a blog

It may seem like unnecessary effort, but I strongly recommend writing a blog. It will help you gain perspective on all the little stumbles and major achievements you make throughout the year, give you a great source of memories for future reference, and provide your friends an up-to-date account of what you’re up to. It’s not always easy to find things to write about, but you’ll be surprised how many people will want to read all about your adventures!

Try new things

New language, new country, new culture. You’re young, impressionable and free. Enjoy it! Try something new! Take a risk!*

*DISCLAIMER: The author is not responsible for any injuries caused following this blog post.

DON’T:

Avoid foreign-language contact

If you’re going abroad to improve language efficiency, you have no excuse not to engage in language everywhere you go. Language practice is at every corner: chatting to your classmates, watching TV, reading a notice on a window. This will be your ultimate opportunity to improve fluency and every moment sat at home on your computer or chatting to English friends is a moment wasted. I’m not telling you not to make friends who speak your language, but remember that the more you speak a language, the easier it becomes. When you get back and you’re struggling with grammar exercises, you might just appreciate the advice.

Dwell on drama

“Easier said than done” – the dismissive four words that characterise a self-proclaimed lost cause beyond help. I can’t guarantee you that your Experience will be the perfect year of freedom, self-exploration and adventure you might expect. I can’t guarantee it won’t be either, but life isn’t always plain sailing. Far from family and not entirely at home in a different culture, the smallest of problems can balloon into causes for panic in the click of a finger – but that doesn’t make them any harder. In fact, anything you can deal with at home with your family, you can deal with out on your own – you may just not know that yet. Accidents happen. Drama arises. People change. The only thing you can be certain of is your own decisions, and that is exactly why the Year Abroad experience can be so important; it can teach you a whole new level of independence.

Miss out on experiences

You’re feeling lonely. Homesick. You’re not sure you can speak the language well enough. This may well all be true, but there is a wealth of experiences at hand, and it’s up to you to participate in them. Whether you’re excited or scared, you’re about to begin on a wonderful, daunting experience and you owe it to yourself to seize every opportunity. Go to the cinema. Make new friends. Have a look around town. I can assure you that for every student wishing they were home, they have five friends wishing they could trade places.

 

I know my advice can be comically heavy-handed at times, but I only offer it because I have been through my own share of experiences, both good and bad, on my Year Abroad. If you take nothing else from this blog post, take this piece of advice: make the most of what you have. You may just find you’re luckier than you thought.

Sorry to any of my regular readers to whom this was not directly relevant – I hope you enjoyed reading it anyway.

–Joe Rohde, 04/07/2013–

Weeks 18, 19 + 20: Time to Say Goodbye

Week 18: The End is Nigh

With my exams under way and a wealth of free time at my disposal, this was hardly destined to be the most exciting week to date. I did, however, attract some mostly unwanted attention with my questionably-sized shorts from a Spanish woman in the supermarket. She approached me singing ABBA’s “Money, Money, Money” and asked if I was American. Baffled, I smiled and nodded as she walked away, uttering, “very beautiful”.

Week 19: Sunbathing, Singing and Segovia

Week 19 was passed out in equally uneventful relaxation, but I had been intent on visiting the nearby Segovia, and although I was alone, on Saturday I made my intention a reality. To offer a taste of Segovia as a tourist attraction, here is my Top 5:

1. Aqueduct

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The Aqueduct is the symbol of Segovia, and with good reason. Held together with nothing but pure physics, this monument is a testament to Roman engineering.

2. Alcazar

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Cited as the inspiration for the castle in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, this beautiful hill-top castle is an unmissable attraction.

3. Cathedral

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As you will have learnt from my blog, Spain is not shy of grand cathedrals, but Segovia’s easily became my favourite on first sight.

4. Muralla

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A little-known tourist sight, this section of the city’s walls can be mounted for a small fee, affording lovely views.

5. Iglesia de la Vera Cruz

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This quaint Church is a little beyond the perimeter of the city’s walls, but has a unique and striking aspect.

Week 20: Time to Say Goodbye

My last three days were primarily spent packing – a task that was not completed until within moments of my departure, in accordance with my character. I was, however, able to squeeze in one last city visit on my last day: Bilbao. I only had a few hours, but I was able to see the city’s unquestionable main attraction: the Guggenheim Museum. Notable for its striking architecture as much as its modern art collection, this Museum easily ranks within Spain’s most prestigious museums and galleries.

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I also managed to catch a glimpse of Deusto University, a university I could have chosen to study at:

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Yes, it does look beautiful and idyllic, but I regret nothing.

Leaving the country was a strange experience: I had wished away my experiences all year, and the time had finally come to return. As any of my friends could have predicted though, my excitement to be home far outweighed any sadness to leave the crazy, emotional world of the Year Abroad behind. But enough of that misty-eyed philosophising – I’ll save that for my final post.

–Joe Rohde, 01/07/2013–

Week 17: Top 5 – Salamanca, Valladolid and Madrid

3rd – 9th June

Thursday 6th – Arrival of The Family
This week I was treated to a lovely visit from my parents and brother. I arrived at the train station extra early to dispel my track record of being late for everything. Since we only had half a day, I decided not to subject them to the minutely detailed itinerary I had planned and took them to Campo Grande, a large park in the middle of Valladolid. I showed them the city at a relaxed pace and relished the chance to be reunited with my family. Rather than recount each day’s events, I have decided to treat you all to my renowned Top 5 lists.

Friday 7th – Salamanca

1. Plaza Mayor

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Renowned as Spain’s most enchanting Plaza Mayor, this is the first stop for tourists.

2. Cathedral

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A wondrous mix of old and new, Salamanca’s cathedral is of undeniable beauty.

3. Puente Romano

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A roman bridge lies South of the city, and affords pleasing views.

4. Universidad de Salamanca

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As well as being the student capital, Salamanca boasts Spain’s oldest university.

5. Casa de las Conchas

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I don’t really have anything intelligent to say, so let’s just all look at the pretty picture.

Saturday 8th – Valladolid

1. Plaza Mayor

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The epicentre of Valladolid, and in the words of my teacher, “better than the Plaza Mayor in Madrid”.

2. Campo Grande

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A giant park in the centre of town offers windy paths to get lost in and peacocks strutting about nonchalantly. Don’t miss the steps to the viewpoint hidden away amongst the trees!

3. Plaza Zorrilla

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Home to de Academia de la Cabelleria (Academy of the Cavalry) and a charming fountain, this Plaza is unquestionably photogenic.

4. Plaza San Pablo

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This Plaza leads on to the National Sculpture Museum and houses my favourite sight in all of Valladolid – the beautiful Gothic façade of the Iglesia San Pablo (St. Paul’s Church).

5. Playa de las Moreras

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Once again in the words of my omniscient Geography teacher, “In Madrid they don’t have a beach, but here they do!”. Well, nearly. A multitude of sand dumped on the banks of a river does not a beach make, but it’s a nice place to relax and pretend you’re in a proper holiday location in Spain.

Sunday 9th – Madrid

1. Museo del Prado

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Erm, you can kind of see it right in the background…

This museum is known worldwide for its extensive collection of paintings, perhaps most famously “Las Meninas” [Velázquez, 1656].

2. Parque de Buen Retiro

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An inconceivably large park offers plentiful space to sit and enjoy the sunshine within the busy city.

3. Palacio Real

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This iconic palace should be in every tourist’s itinerary.

4. Cathedral

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Situated next to the Palacio Real, the cathedral isn’t one to miss.

5. Puerta de Alcalá

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I’m sorry, that picture is awful, but I didn’t manage to take a single good one in my three visits to Madrid.

All in all, I was thrilled to spend time with my family, but couldn’t help but notice the cruel irony of the weather being far better in England that weekend…

–Joe Rohde, 23/06/2013–

Week 16: Top 5 Valladolid – Museums

27th May – 2nd June

On Thursday, to mark the end of our Geography class, our teacher treated us to a tour of the Museo de la Academia de Caballería (an Army museum) and a personalised tour on the tourist bus. Not everyone in my class was quite as enthused as I was, and our teacher was a little dismayed at the lack of attendance given he had booked out the whole bus just for our class, and only 3 of us had turned up. The Army museum wasn’t entirely to my taste, but it was interesting nonetheless. The tour bus, however, was great – we sat back in the brilliant sun as the bus ambled around Valladolid and our teacher imparted his bountiful knowledge. It also afforded me the opportunity to take some nice pictures (apparently my new favourite hobby).

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Auditorio Miguel Delibes

After this, he handed us each a card which afforded us entry into the 11 most important museums for free. Before he sent us off, he treated us to a quick tour of the Casa-Museo Cervantes – a museum inside the house that was once inhabited by the legendary Miguel de Cervantes. It was only small, given it was a house and not a purpose-made museum, but well worth a visit. Afterwards, I hurried home and brandished my map of Valladolid to plan my own personal Museum Adventure. To this end, I have decided to make this post more of a featured post about the best museums of Valladolid, with as little self-deprecating commentary as possible.

Top 5 Valladolid – Museums

1. Museo Patio Herreriano – Contemporary Art Museum

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This is where I was truly at home. Contemporary art museums are unquestionably my favourites, and the lack of visitors afforded me a serene atmosphere in which to contemplate the works. My absolute favourite room involved lush, relaxing music and a set of tubes that apparently played out different notes as you walked past. Impossible to capture in either words or pictures, I offer you my favourite piece: a cascade of books tumbling from the ceiling as you descend the stairs to the exit.

2. Museo Oriental – Oriental Museum

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This museum houses the largest collection of Oriental art in Spain, and is an unexpected gem in a traditional Spanish city.

3. Museo Nacional de Escultura – National Sculpture Museum

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Valladolid houses the most important sculpture museum in the whole of Spain. I can’t say sculpture is my absolute favourite interest, but every visitor to Valladolid should take a look – and it’s free for students! Pictured above is the tremendous façade of the main builiding, El Colegio de San Gregorio.

4. Museo de la Ciencia – Science Museum

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The Science Museum is a little further out, but as one of the largest museums in Valladolid, it’s worth a look. I went on my own when there was apparently no-one there, which detracted somewhat from my enjoyment, but as a science geek at heart, I appreciated it nonetheless.

5. Museo Diocesano y Catedralicio – Cathedral Museum

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This little museum within Valladolid’s cathedral offers you a glimpse at the religious art of Valladolid, perhaps more extensively viewable in the Sculpture Museum. Highlights include a detailed model of the cathedral and a root uncannily in the image of Christ found by a heretic.

Coming soon: Top 5 Valladolid – Sights!

–Joe Rohde, 17/06/2013–

Week 15: Fomos a Lisboa

20th – 26th May

Monday – Thursday wasn’t entirely uneventful, but the vast majority of this post owes itself to documenting my amazing weekend in Lisbon with my friend Rachel. The best part of the week before that was receiving grades for various assignments, including full marks for both my French presentation and a Sociology essay – true gratification after considerable ardour.

My friend Rachel and I had been discussing the possibility of going to Lisbon for so long that it seemed like it would never be a reality. I had never been to Portugal (despite studying Portuguese for a year and a half) and it was teasingly close to Valladolid. I could only find an overnight train, but for the tempting price I simply couldn’t resist. Only one decision was left to be made – was it worth paying almost double for a bed? I inevitably decided that it wasn’t, but as I boarded the train on Thursday night, I began to doubt my decision. I read for a while but soon grew irritable due to two Portuguese women behind me talking unnecessarily loud despite the evident sleepiness of their peers. I wanted to ask them politely to shut up, but I knew they would just laugh at my pitiful Portuguese, so I bit my tongue and tried to get comfortable. Once they engaged a quantum of self awareness and stopped talking, I was able to drift off to sleep. When I awoke again I realised in my desire for a window seat, I had accidentally sat in the wrong seat. I began to wish I had got it right, as the radiator burned on relentlessly at my feet. Moral of the story: sit in the right seat on trains, people.

On arrival in Lisbon, I began to fret about meeting my friend: I hadn’t arranged exactly how to meet her and my phone was probably out of battery, as had been the case in Madrid. Miraculously though, she appeared and greeted me warmly. I was starving – I had only eaten a dubious tin of calamari, which I had managed to spill down myself like a messy child. We entered the nearest little bar and managed to order breakfast, although I had to surreptitiously read the word for juice off the bottle. As the day progressed, I quickly realised Rachel had a detailed plan of what to do at each point of the day, which was only slightly hindered by me insisting to sit down every 5 minutes. In truth, I was unspeakably grateful – I enjoyed being assured that we would be able to see everything without having had to do any organising myself. Well, except drawing up a Top 5 of Lisbon – a fact I wouldn’t let Rachel forget in a hurry.

Our first stop was O Castelo de São Jorge – a pretty castle affording spectacular views of the city. I’ll try to let the pictures do the talking for once:

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O Castelo de São Jorge – St. George’s Castle

Our next stop after checking in at our hostel was the district of Belém, which houses many important sites such as the Jerónimos Monastery and the Torre de Belém (Belém Tower). Before we saw the tower though, I was adamant to enter the modern art gallery I had found when researching tourist attractions in Lisbon. Unlike many of my peers, I much prefer contemporary art to classical art, and was impressed with the extent of works in the museum.

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A piece by Salvador Dali

After taking longer than expected in the Museu Coleção Berardo – I had promised Rachel it would be a quick visit – we hurried on to the Torre de Belém, which was due to be closing. Much to our dismay, we couldn’t even see where it was from the street. We continued instinctively down the road as I sarcastically noted, ‘It can’t be that big if we can’t see it’ – which led to about 20 minutes of pointing out increasingly minuscule landmarks and asking sarcastically, ‘Is that it?’. When we finally found it, we were rewarded by a site of surprising grandeur…

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O Torre de Belém

…to which Rachel ironically scoffed, “It’s no Blackpool Tower, is it?”.

After seeing the tower, we continued on to a monument known as O Padrão dos Doscobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries), which I had great joy repeating incessantly in an increasingly coarse and inaccurate Portuguese accent. Rachel chuckled mirthlessly the first time, perhaps out of pity, but the humour was soon replaced by sheer embarrassment. This was pretty much routine throughout the trip, with me finding increasing humour in phrases such as ‘muito bem’, mais alto’, and ‘Cristo Rei’. The latter was a monument in the style of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro which I expressed ardent desire to see, despite Rachel reiterating how difficult it was to get there.
“You’ve seen it from afar!”, she protested.
“Cristo Rei”, I responded.
Our last stop was a traditional restaurant, where I beamed at my ability to order swordfish in Portuguese and enjoyed a busy but warm atmosphere. We were keen to leave though, as we were exhausted.

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O Padrão dos Doscobrimentos

Saturday’s primary attraction was the Oceanário: a huge aquarium boasting water-dwelling creatures on multiple levels. I snapped away happily, not realising that all my pictures (courtesy of my dubious iPhone camera) would come out horribly. I managed the odd nice photo though:

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O Oceanário de Lisboa

Possibly the most exciting part of the Oceanário was the gift shop. I’m not usually one to splash out cash on over-priced trash, but I found something so quintessentially me I couldn’t resist for a second:

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Oceanário pillow

…shame it cost 20€.

Afterwards we took a stroll down the river Tage, with a view so picturesque one could easily mistake oneself for being by the seaside. We expected the trip to the Oceanarium to take a large portion of the day, so the rest of the day was devoted to shopping for souvenirs. In the evening, we decided to be economical and cook a pizza in our hostel, which was only slightly hindered by our completely inability to light a gas oven and an overly chatty Francophone. I say Francophone because as soon as he realised we spoke French, he began chatting away in that language, despite claiming to be Portuguese. It was equally refreshing and bizarre to practise French whilst in Portugal, but the novelty wore off when he spoke to us for so long our dinner got cold. I’ve never quite met someone quite like him: he was so afraid of finishing a conversation, he would stop mid sentence and wait for you to prolong the conversation.

The following morning marked Rachel’s departure, leaving me alone for a whole day outside of her rigorous plan. I shrugged complacently and resolved to spend the whole day on the beach, satisfied that we had seen everything on my ever-important Top 5. As Rachel left, I hopped on a train to the nearby seaside town of Cascais with palpable excitement: having not been on holiday in a few years, it had been a surprisingly long time since I last saw a beach. When I arrived, one thing in particular startled me: the amount of English being spoken. I was delighted to hear my mother tongue but slightly ashamed that all the Anglophone tourists had come to Lisbon and headed straight for the beach. In truth, I was a little disappointed by the size of the beach, and after scarcely an hour reading under the sun, I was ready to move on. The only other thing I found in Cascais was a cute little bookshop, filled with the heart-warming scent of loved-in books, where I bought the second Harry Potter book in French to broaden my collection. I left Cascais with eagerness to see more of the surrounding areas of Lisbon.

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Cascais

The next stop I made on my way back into town was Estoril, where a grand casino overlooks the railway station. I took extensive pictures and enjoyed the lush gardens here.

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Casino Estoril

On the other side of the station was yet another beach, which far exceeded the one I had seen at Cascais. The guide books had all championed Cascais for seaside entertainment, but I was much more at home here, so I settled in and continued to read my book in a state of pure bliss.

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Tamariz Beach, Estoril

Next, I stopped in Belém once more, with a particular mission: to try the famed Pasteis de Belém (Cakes of Belém). This turned out to involve a lengthy queue, but I was hardly in a rush, so I stood in line patiently. I was mostly thankful that Portugal didn’t appear to close all its doors on a Sunday, much like France and Spain. The cake itself was a perfected form of the Pastel de nata, a sort of custard tart linked to the country. It was very tasty, and well worth the little detour.

With a good 3 hours before my train, I set off slowly back to the train station. It wouldn’t quite be a complete trip though if I didn’t get lost, panic, make a series of bad decisions, and break down in tears. The deciding moment involved frantically pleading with Portuguese strangers to offer me change for a 5€ note. What really struck me was how quickly some people turned me away: I was willing to trade a 5€ note for just 1.20€ in change, but many refused me without a second glance. Perhaps my Portuguese was just that embarrassing. I managed to keep my cool and was pointed towards a shop that would afford me the change I so desperately needed. It was only when I was concievably able to reach the station in time that I succumbed to tears. I even had enough time to cheekily grab a sandwich and a drink. Well, I’d rather be stuck in Portugal than starve.

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View of Lisbon from O Castelo de São Jorge

–Joe Rohde, 14/06/2013–

Weeks 13 + 14: Falling in Love With Granada

Week 13: In A Nutshell

6th – 12th May

Normally, I might have had the odd sarcastic comment about this week. However, its notability was somewhat engulfed by my past trip to Madrid and future trip to Granada (below). However, I did receive a pastoral visit from a lecturer from my university, which filled me with a lot more joy than it should have. We chatted amiably about life in Valladolid, and I smugly alluded to my 90% grade in Spanish. After conceding that Valladolid wasn’t the most exciting destination in all of Spain, I reflected that I scarcely would have been happier elsewhere.

Week 14: Falling in Love With Granada

13th – 19th May

Friday 17th marked my trip to Granada. This was a trip I had been intending to make for a very long time; the minute I realised I had no less than 4 friends living down in sunny Granada, I knew it would be worth the 8-hour journey.

Despite the painstakingly early time of 7.30, I hopped on the coach with unparalleled excitement. Throughout the journey, I bombarded Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr* with gratuitous images of my journey. The clouded skies were far from promising, but as we trundled through Jaén into the province of Granada, a glimmer of hope shone forth from the heavens to welcome me to my destination.

*I’ve started a new mini-blog on Tumblr: a more instant look at my life in Spain with pictures and quick updates.

A friend would then convey me to the Alhambra, where I instantly experienced some magnificent views:

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First Impressions of The Alhambra

My initial awe at the beauty of this place was not lessened by prolonged exposure; despite being on my own, I spent a good 3 hours in there without any cause to leave. The Alhambra – a World Heritage Site comprising Arabic palaces and idyllic gardens – is a site of immense and enchanting beauty. The fact I was on my own only broadened my susceptibility to be captivated by its undeniable beauty: perfectly manicured gardens, panoramic views and formidable palaces delighted at every turn. The real magic, though, was in the atmosphere; despite a heavy footfall, I felt an internal wonder, and to my surprise, a tangible air of romance. The gardens of Generalife in particular inspired my all-too-dormant romantic side with the sight of lush greenery and the scent of fresh roses. But enough of that soppy rubbish. Let the pictures in this blog post speak for themselves.

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Romance in The Alhambra

Banished early from the Alhambra by an oncoming downpour, I made my way back to the centre to meet my friends. After initial hugging and effusions of joy, we sat down to dinner. I was filled with immense happiness to see 3 of my friends from Manchester all here in one place enjoying each other’s company. “I’m laughing so hard I can’t even finish my dinner!”, I choked between mouthfuls. After dinner, we sat down to more drinking and laughter, playing Ring of Fire in a delightful mix of Spanish and English. I never settle to speak exclusively English in Hispanophone company, but sometimes the ease of addressing your peers in your native tongue is an irresistible temptation. Once we had successfully made fools of ourselves, we made our way to a nightclub called Mae West, which was sporting a Neon Night affair. Accordingly, me and my friends arrived in fluorescent wigs, much to the bemusement of our peers. The Spanish don’t quite share our unfaltering commitment to fancy dress, it seemed. Once there, I met another friend – a fellow Toulousain from my stay in France – and we spent the night as one party. It was unspeakably bizarre to see so many friends who I had met in different situations all together in one room, but incredibly satisfying. The night was passed out thus: drinking, dancing, and singing poorly-judged harmonies*.

*After a few drinks, my ability to judge harmony declines rapidly, until all I can be sure of is that I am definitely not singing the melody.

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The Alhambra – Alcazaba

The following morning, the festivities continued with relentless aplomb: by one o’clock, we were to be in the town’s hilltop club, El Camborio, for its Festival of Colours. For those unaware, the Festival of Colours, or Holi, is a festival based in Hindu religion whereby the participants throw powdered paint at one another with reckless abandon. True to our British nature, we were eager to be punctual, as we were promised two hours of Barra Libre (open bar). The Spanish understanding of, or rather behaviour towards, an open bar differed notably from our own: we vowed to drink as much as humanly possible to validate the price of our tickets, whilst they allowed themselves to drink as much or as little as they pleased. Thus, after scarcely an hour, we were dancing boisterously in the middle of the dancefloor whilst our poor comrades lingered self-consciously on the periphery, staring in disbelief at the audacity of their economically-minded compatriots. “I think you’ve had enough”, cautioned the barman. “I think we paid 10€ for an open bar”, I thought in response.

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View of The Alhambra from El Camborio

Thus, before the paint fight even began, we were in a state of unmitigated joy: indeed, we couldn’t believe our luck to be dancing joyfully in the South of Spain whilst countless others bemoaned their lot. Something about the spectacular views of the Alhambra from the club only added to the irony; tourists would no doubt at that moment be contemplating the site’s unquestionable beauty whilst we danced in carefree delight. After much indignance at the impuctuality of the paint fight and a free paella, it was time to collect our weapons: bags of brightly coloured paint powder. In a strike of pure luck, the sun had just revealed itself to afford us a pleasant temperature as we made our way out onto the patio area. With no apparent signal, the patio was shrouded in a cloud of multicoloured fog: we had begun. We threw our paint around and danced in a state of pure freedom; something about completely ruining each other’s clothes was incredibly liberating. There were no rules, and whilst we more or less reserved our attacks for each other, one boy was particularly adamant to cover me in paint – an unquestionable attempt at flirting. Luckily, we had chosen appropriate clothing – a symptom, yet again, of our inherent Britishness. I was wearing a white t-shirt and some small shorts which attracted rather more attention than intended: at one point, a Spanish girl came up to me, asking “¿Estás en bragas?”. Uncomprehendingly, I responded in the affirmative with insouciant glee. When I turned to my friend for a translation, I discovered that she had in fact asked if I was in my underwear. Maybe that was why I was getting some male attention…

That evening, my Toulousain friend was having a Eurovision party*. Before we could go though, we would have to endure the attentions of a bemused Spanish public at the sight of four youths caked in paint from head to toe. Indeed, as we trampled unceremoniously through the town, we garnered mixed reactions – from the cheering encouragement of a stag party to the disbelieving disgust of the older generation (“¡Qué asco!”). We were not to be fazed, however. On the contrary, we were in complete hysterics. The level of humour was further multiplied by stumbling past a wedding photo. “This is the most beautiful day of her life and here we are looking like absolute idiots!”, I noted amidst uncontrollable laughter. It just so happened that that day a large parade was taking place, and that we had no choice but to stroll casually down the middle of the parade route to the astonishment of spectators flanking us on either side. I cannot stress how ridiculous and hilarious the situation was, even regardless of our merry state.

*A gay’s perfect weekend, I’m sure you’ll agree.

The Eurovision party was jolly good fun: it had been a few years since I watched Europe’s concerted attempt to make a fool of itself and I enjoyed it thoroughly. There was a modicum of drinking involved, but after the previous two days I was reluctant to participate, to say the least. This evening was my first true experience of the culture in Southern Spain; after going out and coming back at 4AM, an Andalucian hailed: “¡Qué temprano!” (as in, “What are you doing back so early?”). I may have been a little less in disbelief had I not been so utterly shattered. The following morning, my fellow Toulousain took me for churros and tapas. I was completely oblivious to the fact that every drink bought in Granada (costing barely 2€!) warranted a free tapa* – a fact which I enjoyed thoroughly.

*Small meal or snack accompanying a drink – ranging from a bowl of olives to a serving of burger chips!

The trip was unquestionably among the greatest highlights of my time abroad: be it due to fantastic company, enjoyable events, or a beautiful city, I had had an unforgettable experience and immediately resolved to return some day. But I had greater adventures yet: in just 4 days time I would make my first ever trip to Portugal and the wonderful city of Lisbon…

Final view of Granada from the Alhambra

Final view of Granada from the Alhambra

–Joe Rohde, 02/06/2013–