30 March 2013

Come with me now on a journey through time and space...

... as I describe to you (through the magical medium of mainly photographs) my experiences thus far living in Tarragona. Yippee! I will begin with... food! Because it's one of my favourite pleasures in life and if there's one thing me and my boyfriend, Paul, do best, it's eat. It's our favourite pastime.

The food in Spain really is something else, in my opinion. It's all so fresh and flavoursome and living in a seaside town means we get to enjoy the privilege of eating some really delicious seafood. There's a restaurant down on the port which does ridiculously huge portions of squid rings, garlic prawns, mussels and serves the most amazing paella marisco, which I would happily eat every day if I could. I've never been a seafood person, in fact my stomach would heave in horror every time the words prawn or salmon were even mentioned, but since moving abroad I've become less picky with the fruits of the sea and I am so glad I've branched out with the ol' taste buds. 

As well as boasting some of the most succulent seafood around, Spain has shown me how something as simple as potatoes with spicy tomato sauce and allioli can be one of the best-tasting mid-afternoon stop-off snacks (or, as it is known in Spain, tapas). Other delicious tapas include: fried battered squid, chorizo cooked in cider, spinach frittata, meatballs, garlic mushrooms, tomato bread, glazed pork belly and a mixed platter of the best Iberian cured meats. You can't go wrong with any of that.

Next up... my visit from my boyfriend, Paul!
He's lovely, isn't he? It was so hard when I first arrived in Tarragona because, although I had internet in my friend's apartment (who was very, VERY kind to let us stay there for a week whilst we searched for our own place), it was still hanging over my head that it would be weeks before we had it organised in our own place. Not being able to Skype him every day was hard, so when he finally came over (on his own birthday no less!) it was almost like meeting each other for the first time all over again. Needless to say I bawled my eyes out, but it's always the best feeling that first hug, even if it is in front of a bus station or an airport full of people. I can never quite describe it.

Here is a brief overview of what we saw during our week together!

A lot of the photos taken were of graffiti and street art because we love the normal tourist-y things (like the Sagrada Familia, which was just breathtaking), but we also like to look at cities from a more gritty angle and ride the metro all day to see what there is to discover down side streets and alleyways. Besides visiting Barcelona three times to explore some of the deep-dark corners, visit the sex museum and find the Montana paint shop, we ate a lot of good food (like I said, it's one of our favourite pastimes!)

I was really sad that he had to leave again, I always am, but this time was different because I really wanted to share everything in Spain with him because we both want to live here when we're older (I say older, probably in the next few years!). After he left it didn't feel right for a long while; I really wished that I could share everything I was seeing and doing with him and I still do now. I suppose it's all right though because we now have the new family addition of internet (yay!) and he'll be coming over again in June (after I go home for twelve days in a couple of weeks). But still, it's the hardest thing being apart from somebody that you've spent almost every day with for the past four years and shared every little detail about your day with. "You can do that on Skype" I hear you say - but it's not the same when you can't irritate the hell out of each other in real life. Virtual prodding and poking like on Facebook actually does nothing to get a rise out of the other half for your own amusement.

So yes, the boy came and went. I got into the swing of things at university - which is a damn side better than the one I was presented with in France, I'll tell you that. For one, I don't feel like I have go to university in Spain wearing a hard hat and dust mask; the buildings are all brand new and the facilities are excellent. I'd heard stories about how bad the organisation is at the URV, but it's not a shade on the complete chaos of Aix-Marseille. At least the Spanish have a "no pasa nada" attitude and will try to help you as best as they can (albeit it can sometimes take a while for paperwork/important documents to go through), whereas the French just absolutely loved to put up red tape  anywhere they could and then feign stupidity when you asked how to cross it.

But, I am actually enjoying university here. The lessons I'm taking are quite interesting. They are as follows:

  • Introduction to English Translation - Does what it says on the tin. It's a lot of technical jargon about translation techniques and cultural issues, but interesting nonetheless.
  • Uses of Written Spanish - I thought this would be about analysing different types of written text, but really so far it's been about putting us Erasmus under a lot of pressure to read 9-page articles/60-page textbooks and do spoken resumes and reviews of them. This is my least favourite class.
  • Teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language - This is easy for me to understand because I already studied a year of teaching English as a Foreign Language. It's the same concepts, just switch the languages.
  • Advanced French - I don't think any of us think this is as advanced as we expected, but maybe it's because we've already lived in France and have picked up more than we originally thought? It's all right though, it's a nice revision lesson for what we have learned and the teacher is a really sweet, old grandfather figure who doesn't give us homework if we have too much to do already.
  • Spanish in America - This is my favourite lesson, but it happens to be at 8am on Wednesday AND Thursday! It's a lot of names, dates and numbers (basically, history) but the content is actually really interesting to me, especially about the Aztecs and the Mayans. I have no idea how I'm going to sit the exam because I've never answered a history question in my life, but I'll give it a go.
So there we have it! Those are the main points that I should have mentioned ages ago but was too lazy/just never got round to doing it. I don't think I missed anything major out apart from when we were finding a flat, but there's not much to talk about there aside from the fact that everything is DIRT CHEAP, there is next to no paperwork involved and our estate agent is like our Dad. Our landlord and his wife live in the flat beneath us as well, which is handy if we ever have an issue with anything!

Oh! And the fact that Spain is very noisy and REALLY enjoys a party. Recently, because this week has been Semana Santa, there's been various church groups dressed up in traditional hats called capirotes (they resemble the KKK hats, to somebody who's not religious) playing ominous drums all hours of the day and carrying gigantic, wooden religious scenes in an extremely creepy, swaying motion down my street. It's very different here, but different good, not different bad. I think interesting is the word.

I'm glad I wrote this now because my family are coming over to visit tomorrow (it seems like it was only yesterday they'd told me they'd booked flights!) so I'll be able to write about that when they've left. 


NOTE: all photos in this post have been taken by me. Please do not redistribute without my permission. If you would like to redistribute an image, comment and ask and I'll (more than likely) say yes. Additionally, some of these photos can also be found on my Flickr.

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21 March 2013

Cuanto tiempo...

... ¡que no nos hemos visto!

I keep meaning to write a post because it's been TWO LONG MONTHS since my last one, which is not good at all. I'm sorry about that, I will try harder in future (promise). Since two months is an extremely long time and I have done a LOT of amazing things since then, I'll give a brief overview in another post very soon with a giant photo dump. I will, however, begin with this:

I've just got back from a long weekend in Valencia for Las Fallas, which is basically just a fire-wine-and-churros-fuelled firework festival with giant, 60ft cartoon-esque statues on every corner and entire streets adorned with Christmas lights making you feel like you're simultaneously strolling down Main Street, Disneyland and attending some sort of tacky, kitschy church service (a good one though, where the congregation is salsa-ing down the aisle and the high priest is throwing firecrackers about the place to make you dance, suckas).

I have just realised that I still don't know much about Las Fallas (probably should have learned what it was all about before I went, eh?) and what it all stands for, except for the fact that they pick the best Falla (the 60ft statues) at the end of the five-day long festival and... burn it. They burn everything. Burn burn burn burn burn. BUT WHY?! Entire streets within the different neighbourhoods are cordoned off for months at a time for the Fallas artists to work on their pieces, and at the end of the day they just burn them?! Let's find out why.

Wikipedia says:
There are six different events featured during the Las Fallas festival which are as follows:-
  • La despertà - Literally "the awakening". Each day begins at 8am with brass bands walking through their respective neighbourhoods, essentially letting everybody know that the day and the party has begun (just in case they had forgotten in the couple of hours between getting to bed at around 5am and the call of la despertà at 8am - much like our group).
  • La mascletà - Basically day-time fireworks (starting at 2pm every day). "But what's the point in that?" I hear you say, "You won't be able to see them!" It's not all about the visuals for the Spanish. It's also about the aural! We were lucky enough to experience one of these and the noise is just mind blowing. We could even hear them when we visited Oceanografic on our final day, which is 3km outside of the city!
  • La plantà - The day during which all Fallas must be completed, or else they face disqualification.
  • L'ofrena floral - Each falla casal (group of people from each neighbourhood) takes an offering of flowers to a statue of Saint Mary, which is then dressed with the flowers (and then, presumably, burned like everything else).
  • Els castells and la nit del foc - There are firework displays on the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th down in the old river bed, each night getting louder and more flamboyant. Wikipedia says nothing about els castells but I'm presuming it's something to do with people drumming and dancing in the archways of the castle towers surrounding the old town.
  • La cremà - Unfortunately we didn't get to witness this, but this is essentially the burning of the Fallas statues at the end of the festival. They all get set alight at the same time so the city itself appears to be burning to the ground. Cool (but dangerous - alas, that's Spanish health and safety laws for ya.)
So why do they burn them? Apparently Fallas didn't start life out as gigantic cartoon foam impressions of Steve Jobs and Andy Warhol, but were in fact wooden planks used by medieval carpenters to hang their candles from in the dark (the festival's come a bit of a long way then, eh?) The townsfolk then decided to dress the planks up to make it look like a person and the children would knock around the houses of the neighbourhood asking for una estoreta velleta, which is an old rug. It's a bit like the children of England knocking around their neighbours asking for a "penny for the guy" on Bonfire Night. So from then on, it became a sort of competition between neighbourhoods and Fallas got bigger and better and finally ended up a little something like this:

She was a really tall one (and I apologise for the semi-nudity but this is the only good shot I got of any of the Fallas, which is a bit of a shame. But she's a bodacious babe, so who cares?)

So there we have it! A rough written representation of what Las Fallas is about, but I highly recommend going to experience it for yourself if you ever get the chance to do so because there's nothing else quite like living through the adrenaline-filled fear of the possibility of being set alight at any given moment. Enjoy some photos! (Mostly of street art...)

NOTE: all photos in this post have been taken by me. Please do not redistribute without my permission. If you would like to redistribute an image, comment and ask and I'll (more than likely) say yes. Additionally, some of these photos can also be found on my Flickr.