Barcelona, otra vez!

This weekend I was lucky enough to visit Barcelona for the second time in the past month. I am really lucky to live so close to the Spanish border! This trip was special because I got to spend the weekend with my boyfriend, James, who I had not seen for over 3 months and was therefore the first time seeing him since I started my Year Abroad.

Luckily for him as I had already been to Barcelona recently, I knew my way around the city (more or less), had already sussed the metro system and was prepared with a list of places and restaurants where I wanted to take him.

This time around was also quite different as I was the only Spanish-speaker in the group. Last time I was able to rely on my friends who are a million times better at speaking Spanish than me, so I would always let them do the talking if necessary. However, this time there was no hiding behind them and the majority of people I met preferred me to speak Spanish instead of English, so it was a great opportunity to get some practise in. I managed to survive in all the converations I had and was understood, so I am sure I will be fine when I arrive in Salamanca, and will hopefully be more confident after living there for a few months! From checking-in at the hostel, ordering food, asking directions, asking to find a top in a different size in a clothes shop, it was a good weekend for my Spanish!

As James’ flight was not scheuled to arrive until 8pm, after arriving by train at 2pm and checking into the hostel, I spent the afternoon making the most of Barcelona’s amazing shopping opportunities. Perpignan is not the best when it comes to shopping, and it’s fair to say I have saved a lot of money this semester as I have hardly bought any new clothes, however I do love a good shop. One of my new favourite shops is called ‘Oysho’, a Spanish store which sells really cute pyjamas and which are not too expensive either. I am in love with this place – they even played Lana Del Rey’s new album in the changing rooms (one of my favourite singers) which made it all the better! Unfortunately, I don’t know anywhere in the UK where they have stores but I know for a fact there is a store in Salamanca which I will be visiting very soon 😉

View from the hostel balcony

View from the hostel balcony

View from the hostel balcony

View from the hostel balcony. A bit noisy as it was on a main street and there were also road works 😦

After collecting James from the airport at 8pm we headed to La Plaza de Catalunya and got a bite to eat at 100 Montaditos. I have been there twice before, it is basically a very cheap fast-food outlet where you can get fast-food and drink cheap and there is a very lively atmosphere usually filled to the brim (as was the case this time). I got to make my order all in Spanish too and they ordered everything correctly this time. The server asks you for your name, for when you go to collect your order, and he was a bit baffled by how my name was ‘Robyn,’ as it is also only a boy’s name in Spain (just like France), but I am used to this moment of confusion on people’s faces now after spending 3 months in France.

Our hostel was located in the Barri Gothic, perhaps my favourite area in Barcelona, due to its narrow streets filled with interesting shops that you can get lost in. We were not far from the cathedral, so that was our first stop on Saturday, before heading out for tapas at the same place I went the last time I was in Barcelona. Despite being very tired, we managed to make our way to the Picasso Museum, which I had been told was worth the visit, which was just around the corner. We were pleasantly surprised that it was free entry because we were students – finally somewhere free in Barcelona!!

Interior of the Picasso Museum - very nice!

Interior of the Picasso Museum – muy bonito!

The Picasso Museum is located in a beautiful building; it was very odd to go from one modern room just white plain walls, to the next which consisted of a fancy chandelier and beautiful decorations. After a bit of convincing, I plucked up the courage to ask in Spanish about the building’s former significance before it became a museum – apparently it used to belong to rich merchants who constructed them in the 13/14th centuries. It does not take long to walk around the permanent exhibition and a variety of Picasso’s works from various collections and points in his life are on display. The museum offers an audioguide for the price of €5 but we did not get one, however each room offers information in Spanish, Catalan and English which was very informative. As we visited out of season, it was not busy.

In the evening, we went to Las Arenas, a shopping centre converted from a former bullring near La Plaza de Espanya and the Font màgica de Montjuïc (Magic Fountain); I love this type of development – making the most of current architecture and turning it into something quite unique, instead of it knocking down unnecessarily. Inside it there are a variety of shops, food outlets and a cinema. The rooftop is also open where you can get a great view of Barcelona, and this was also where we ate dinner that evening.

View of Las Arenas

View of Las Arenas

Night time view of the Plaza de Espanya and the Magic Fountain in the background from the top of Las Arenas

Night time view of the Plaza de Espanya and the Magic Fountain in the background from the top of Las Arenas

Before dinner, we walked across the road to the Magic Fountain. We arrived just before the 7pm music and light show; times for the Magic Fountain vary according to the time of year. During the summer months the fountain is on every day until 11:30pm, however in the winter months it is usually only on during the weekend and ends at 9pm, so check the website before you go so you are not disappointed.

Yep, those are all people waiting to see the Magic Fountain on the steps!

Yep, those are all people waiting to see the Magic Fountain on the steps!

I was surprised to find that there were hundreds upon hundreds of people who had turned up to see the fountain! I went to see the Magic Fountain last time I was in Barcelona but we only managed to see the final 10 minutes of the show which was a shame. It’s a great thing to do during the evening if you find yourself in Barcelona, especially as it is free! Don’t forget to climb up all the steps to the top by the museum for a great view of Barcelona at night as well.

10411049_10154810572655447_4140908985453232851_n

Magic Fountain

Magic Fountain

On the Sunday we went to the Sagrada Família at midday with our prepaid online tickets. I had already visited last time, but I was more than happy to go again as it is absolutely beautiful and I could not allow James to fly all the way to Barcelona and not see it! I especially love the interior and the stain-glass windows.

Light reflections from the stained-glass windows inside the Sagrada Família, Perfection!

Light reflections from the stained-glass windows inside the Sagrada Família, Perfection!

Light reflections from the stained-glass windows inside the Sagrada Família. Perfection!

Light reflections from the stained-glass windows inside the Sagrada Família. Perfection!

One of the main doorways into the Sagrada Famílis

One of the main doorways into the Sagrada Família

After trudging round a large area of Barcelona, we managed to find somewhere relatively affordable and interesting to eat, nearby to where we went the day before, near the Arc de Triomf.

Us by the Arc de Triomf

Us by the Arc de Triomf

And soon we were collecting our bags from the hostel and there was a quick tearful good-bye at Sants station before I had to catch my train to Perpignan and James had to get his flight back to Manchester.

After recently getting a new phone (a Samsung S4) after using my iPhone 4S for the last 2 and a bit years, I can now take all my pictures on my phone. The camera is really good quality and has great editing facilities and photo-taking options which are far better quality than my current camera. I’m quite made up with it as I specifically bought this phone for its camera. I still haven’t gotten round to fixing my main camera which broke all the way back in July in Kraków.

Barcelona is an incredible city and there is so much on offer; rich in history, culture, great for shopping and atmosphere and on a plus note for me, I can get to grips with the language (okay. not Catalan but Spanish…). Yet in truth, it isn’t at the top of my list for places I have visited this year, maybe partly caused by just how expensive it is for tourists or how everything is not exactly all in walking distance.

I have been priviledged enough to travel to so many places in the last 6 months: Wrocław, Warsaw and Kraków in Poland, a large part of Israel, a great chunk of the south of France and then Girona and Barcelona. If anything, my favourite city that I visited in 2014 would have to go to Kraków, hands down. I could talk for hours on reasons why it is an amazing place to visit: it’s very affordable for young travellers, so many things to do etc. but all I can say is go, and don’t just go for a weekend to see the Auschwitz concentration camp, the Salt Mines and leave for Budapest – yes, do all of those things as they are very much worth the visit( Auschwitz and the Salt Mines being the main reasons why I wanted to go to Kraków in the first place), but make sure you spend a bit longer in Kraków and take in what this beautiful city has to offer. I happily spent a week there but it could have been longer.

View from the Town Hall Tower, Kraków. Need I say more?

View from the Town Hall Tower, Kraków. Need I say more?

Barcelona is still a great city, and I will be heading back there on the 19th December to catch my flight back home for Christmas. Although, I doubt I will be able to do any shopping or signtseeing there for the few hours I have spare before I need to head to the airport, as I will have two heavy suitcases and a rucksack in tow!

Have you visited Barcelona, what do you think? Or do you hope to go in the future?

What is your favourite place that you have travelled to so far (in 2014)?

Bonne semaine,

Untitled

Advertisements

Poland special: Wrocław highlights and language barrier issues

I understand I am in France now, and I was last in Israel but I am still catching up on blogging about Poland!

Despite calling mysef a linguist, I found it particuarly difficult to grasp the Polish language during the 3 weeks that I was there. I specialise in Romance languages, not Slavonic. And the sounds and letters that Polish use are completely alien to me. I did try, but I didn’t get very far.

It’s a beautiful language, very softly spoken, but the way that it is written down sounds absolutely NOTHING like how it is pronounced. This made reading from a phrase-book all the more challenging as I had no idea how on earth you were supposed to pronounce the words! The Polish people I met are very aware of this and are understanding that it is indeed a challenging language, but of course, trying outsaying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in Polish can go a long way.

Before I even arrived I had this issue. I was flying to, and spending several days in the city of ‘Wrocław.’ I, along with many other English-speaking people would pronounce this as, well, ‘Wroclaw.’ But, no, no… it isn’t that simple. In fact, ‘Wroclaw’ is pronounced something like ‘Vhrats-wahv.’ It feels quite good now to not be ignorant and actually be able to pronounce it correctly when I am talking about it.

Wrocław on the map

Despite Wrocław being a bit of a pain to pronounce at first, it is in fact a beautiful city. Situated in the SW of Poland, it’s one of the warmest cities in the country! It’s Rynek (market square) and Town Hall are absolutely stunning. Each building is unique and has it’s own style, colour and design. You can just sit there and admire them for hours. I wish I had spent more time here and would not say no to returning in the future.

Market Square

Market Square

??????????

My favourite place though was Ostrów Tumski (Cathedral Island), one of the oldest parts of the city. Standing on Piaskowy Bridge (Sand Bridge), looking over at the cathedral with its two towers in the distance beyond the water, was simply stunning. Yet, I don’t think that the picture gives it justice.

View from Sand Bridge

View from Sand Bridge

Poland 021

Another charming cultural factor about this city is that it has been infiltrated by gnomes (seriously!). There are hundreds of them all over the city, many businesses have their own outside shops too. They are everywhere, but you probably won’t spot them unless you are looking for them. You can even go ‘gnome spotting’ around the city. Although this is all fun and games, they are actually iconic as symbols of Wrocław, because they have a direct link to the political situation of the 1980s. Under communism, the ‘Orange Alternative’ movement (an underground protest movement) used ‘gnomes’ as an excuse to stage absurd, crazy, yet peaceful protests.

Gnomes!

Gnomes!

??????????

I had never heard of Wrocław before I signed up for a week of voluntary teaching nearby, but it is definately a city that you must visit if you are going to Poland. It can easily be overlooked because many people just go to Kraków as that is where all the tourists go. Still, the UK has direct flights there and Poland’s public transport system is well-connected with coaches and trains around the country that are very cheap, so you don’t have much of an excuse. A 5 hour journey only cost me £7 to get from Wrocław-Warsaw and then another from Warsaw-Kraków (this is complete with free wifi, air-con and on one journey, I was even given a free packed-lunch! National Express needs to sort its life out…)

Kocham Polskę (I love Poland)!

Have you visited anywhere in Poland, what did you think and how did you find the language? 

Untitled

August Update and My Summer Highlights

It’s been over a month since my last blog post and so much has happened. I see my ‘Year Abroad countdown’ and it now says it is only ‘4 days’ and not ‘1 month!’

I have had the privilege of touring two beautiful countries this summer: Poland for 3 weeks and Israel over 10 days. I would like to share here a few highlights of this incredible, whirlwind summer of living out of my suitcase.

1. Angloville, Poland :

I worked as an English Participant for one week on an ‘Angloville Junior programme’, essentially an English summer immersion programme for Polish teenagers, 11-18. 20-26 July (Chojnik Hotel in Karkonoskie Mountains).

It was an incredible experience for so many reasons; if you are interested in teaching English, experiencing Polish culture and meeting people from all over the world then it is definately worth applying. I found the programme advertised on my university job vacancies website and Angloville provide full-board accommodation, transportation to and from the venue and activities during the week. All you need to do is speak speak speak as much English as is physically possible without losing your voice (although that did happen to one participant!) in order to help the Polish participants benefit from the experience.

Over the course of the programme you get to know everyone well. What I really enjoyed was just how much the Polish participants grew in confidence and English-speaking ability over such a short period of time. It felt wonderful to have contributed to this, but even more so because they were aware of their improvements themselves and knew they had achieved something incredible.

I am considering going into teaching after I graduate. So, taking part in volunteering programmes such as this as well as my Outreach Work at university has affirmed that this is definately something I enjoy and should perhaps persue further down the line.

2. Kraków, Poland

??????????

Krakow Rynek

This was the most beautiful city in Poland that I visited but also the most touristy. I would recommend Wroclaw for somewhere just as beautiful, smaller and less of a tourist-trap.

Wroclaw

Wroclaw Rynek

Unlike Warsaw, Krakow’s ‘Rynek’ or market square is completely original and has stayed intact despite WWII; many of the buildings date back to the 13th century. As the ground level has risen since then due to lots of road resurfacing over the centuries, the original buildings have become cosy basement bars and restaurants.  I stayed a week in this city and I am so glad I did. Many people I met only visited for 2 or 3 days and could only do the ‘major’ sites. Spending 7 days there, I can comfortably say I got do to everything I wanted without rushing things.

The highlight for me was the ‘Miners’ Route‘ of the Wieliczka Salt Mine, a 20-minute train ride from Kraków and about 30p on a student ticket! We had to dress up in miners’ clothing and explore parts of the mine that were not open on the Tourist Route, complete with helmet and headlamp. It was a 3 hour tour, about £7 and there were only 3 of us in the English group! We were able to ask lots of questions and be actively involved in the experience. We even took home a free souvenir of salt rock that we chiseled away ourselves and received a certificate of participation (who wouldn’t want that?!)

I also visited Auschwitz-Birkenhau, one of the main reasons for wanting to visit Kraków, which was a very harrowing experience but still very important. There are many museums, cathedrals, Free Walking Tours, Orchestral Concerts, great restaurants and bars in the heart of the Rynek at very very reasonably priced and the Planty park which is beautiful to walk in.

If you visit Kraków, don’t just go to Auschwitz and the Salt Mines, there is so much to see and do in this beautiful and historic city.

3. Birthright Israel – Taglit

Masada at sunrise

Okay, so what do I say about Birthright? I don’t think any adjective in the English dictionary can express such an incredible experience. I only returned from Israel yesterday but I am feeling serious post-Birthright blues, planning my next Israel adventure and I cannot part from wearing my group t-shirt just yet. But I don’t think I can manage to look at another pot of hummus, bag of falafel or a bagel again anytime soon.

If you are eligible to take part, DO IT. I cannot stress this enough and I can honestly say that this is one of the best things I have ever done. I went on a UJIA Israel Experience, Movement for Reform Judaism trip with 30 other young people aged 20-26 from the UK and Israel. I must say, what makes any experience amazing is due to the great people you share it with. I was so lucky to be able to share this gift of a lifetime with genuinely nice people.

We were able to have fun on nights out in Jerusalem, floating in the Dead Sea, messing about on a water hike and kayaking, but then on a different note we were not afraid to speak our minds and share our inner thoughts or fears and burst into tears at Yad Vashem or during a tense group discussion. I am feeling truly thankful for such an incredible Israel experience and I have come back with a better understanding of my identity, my connection with Israel and have made good friends I hope to stay in contact with for many years to come. MRJBus551 ❤

The Dead Sea (the salts sting so much!)

The Dead Sea (the salts sting so much!)

View of Old Jerusalem

View of Old Jerusalem

Summer 2014, wow, you have been amazing. And now, I need to pack my suitcase again, as I am moving to France on Tuesday to start my Year Abroad!

What amazing things did you get up to this summer?

Untitled

Embracing Solo Travel

Travelling on your own opens you up to new places, new people and you have the flexibility to do what you want when you want!

Tomorrow I am off to Poland and for the first two weeks of my trip and I am flying solo.

First I am visiting Wroclaw, then volunteering at a summer camp for a week at Angloville (teaching English to Polish kids aged 12-18). Then it is a few days in Warsaw before my going to my last destination – Kraków, where I am spending a week with my boyfriend.

Rnek in Wroclaw

Rynek in Wroclaw

This isn’t the first time I have travelled alone. A few weeks after turning 18 I tested my new found freedom of being an adult and headed off to Paris for 4 days. The main reason I ended up travelling on my own to Paris was because I had no one to go with. I am glad that didn’t stop me from going! It turned out to be the most enjoyable holiday I have ever had, it really was that good – especially because Paris is an amazing city, but also probably because since then, I have been really ill every single time I have travelled: Peru, Paris (second time) and Valencia.

It was a great experience and I learnt a lot about myself, such as: I can survive on my own in a foreign country – success.

As a solo traveller you are able to travel on your own terms and that is the real beauty of it. Of course, safety is the upmost-priority as you can be more vunerable out and about, especially if you are a woman (I have included a short list of safety advice at the bottom of this post).Other downsides may be lonliness and having to pay more for a single-room.

Me having a great time at the Tour Eiffel during a solo visit to Paris #selfie

Me having a great time at the Tour Eiffel in 2012 during a solo visit to Paris #selfie


Why I love Travelling on My Own:

Self-indulgence

Travelling alone means that you don’t have to worry about anyone but yourself.

So you want to go to that art gallery this afternoon? Great, no one is stopping you. No one is going to kick up a fuss because they don’t want to go. You can eat where you want, when you want, leave the hotel whenever you’re ready in the morning. You are free to take it easy and just soak up the atmosphere or pick up the pace depending how you are feeling.

Meeting new people

Smile and pick up the courage to start a conversation. Or if you really don’t want to talk to people, you can just avoid them – your choice!

Usually when you travel with family or friends, you are more likely to stick together. Yet, when you are on your own you are looking for any opportunity to interact with others.

In a Parisian restaurant, I saw another young woman eating on her own. We started a conversation and ended up sitting together for the rest of the meal . It turned out she was also a solo traveller but from the USA, and it was great to meet someone else who was doing just what I was doing. During my trip I met a variety of other solo travellers from around the world, usually they approached me to take a photo of them in front of a monument and then we started a conversation. I doubt any of that would of happened if I wasn’t on my own.

Luckily for me, growing up as an only child I have never minded my own company and that has helped a lot. I never felt lonely in Paris but being able to meet other travellers was still one of the highlights of my trip.


Preparing for solo travel – a bit of advice

Plan in advance: In order to make my trip run as smoothly as I can, I have researched as much as possible about where I am going. I have read Tripadvisor reviews and forums, booked my hostels and coach reservations in advance and written down phone numbers and addresses (just in case).

Don’t be put off by dining alone/The dreaded eating-dinner-on-your-own issue: For me, I think this is the worst part of solo travel and it is probably one of the main things that puts people off travelling alone. But when it comes down to it, I have never had an issue eating on my own in a cafe/restaurant (except once when I tripped on the way back from the bathroom and it was really awkward, but anyway, moving on…)

The best you can do is:

1. Start up a conversation with someone else on their own and ask if you can join them (worst they can say is no).

2. Take a book/newspaper to read to occupy yourself with – so you are not sitting around starting at the ceiling, plus it will signal you are on your own and  may be a conversation-starter.

3. Choose a casual restaurant. One with communal tables or where the tables are close together.

Here are a few safety tips to bear in mind:

1. Trust your intuition

2. Take a taxi back at night – don’t walk back with anyone and don’t tell people where you are staying

3. Avoid dodgy walkways – it’s never a good idea.

4. Stay on main roads with street lights

5. Inform your hostel/hotel where you are going and when you are expected to return

6. Stay sober.

7. Don’t wear flashy clothes/jewellery that will attract attention to yourself.

8. Always carry a map with you.

9. Always carry a phone on you but keep any technology you have with you out of sight as much as possible.

Do you like travelling on your own as well?

Untitled

Teaching, travel and bye bye Sheffield

I finished my two-week placement assisting the Languages Department at King Edward VII’s School yesterday. It was a really rewarding and eye-opening experience as I am considering teaching as a profession after my degree. Being mistaken for a 12-year old Year 7, or sometimes a Year 10, became a daily occurrence over the last two weeks; I guess I should take it as a compliment that so many people believe I look 8 years younger than I actually am! Although, many students thought I was Spanish and I had to let them down saying I was actually English, so that’s a plus.

This weekend I am moving out of my student house here in Sheffield at last. Lots of cleaning and hoovering happening right now.

I am also lucky enough to have already started sorting out accommodation for my Year Abroad in Perpignan and Salamanca too. I am in the process of writing lots of complicated emails in French and Spanish asking about contracts, bank accounts etc. and pretending to keep my cool like I know what I am doing, as the system in the UK is different. It’s quite a lot to take in, however the realisation that I am flying out there in two months is now starting to sink in!

As I have previously mentioned, I will be spending 3 weeks in Poland next month. I have decided to visit Warsaw for 3 days between my time in Wroclaw and Krakow. So now, I intend to be seeing quite a bit of the country during my time there 🙂

Also going down to London in 2 weeks for my pre-orientation day for my trip to Israel with Birthright. I received a very packed itinerary by email the other day. It includes: hiking, volunteer work, visiting a kibbutz, camel rides, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Shabbat meals, Yad Vashem, the Dead Sea and so much more. I am so privileged to have been given this opportunity 🙂

Whilst I had my car here in Sheffield over the last few weeks, I tried to make the most of it and went to visit Chatsworth House, home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. It was stunning,especially the gardens and I would recommend going there during the good weather! Here are a few photos:

Chatsworth House 10435987_10154269524620447_2882723258579345398_n 10437434_10154269534945447_1420540098890614534_n 10447055_10154269532795447_8552221636307104233_n 10471000_10154269535445447_3567549389621628653_n

Untitled

¿Qué pasa este verano?

I finished my university exams last week and now I can enjoy summer! It’s without a doubt a really busy few months ahead, so I thought I’d share with you what I am getting up to.

Today I started a two-week Teaching Assistant placement at King Edward VII’s school in Sheffield; this is an extension of my Student Mentoring job that I did during this academic year with the Us in Schools Mentoring Scheme at The University of Sheffield at a 6th form college in Rotherham. I am mostly based at the Lower Site where I will be working with Year 7-9s in the Languages Department. Today went well, I even taught a Spanish class which I was definately not expecting. So far it has been a great opportunity and I am grateful for my time as a Student Mentor and as a Languages Ambassador this year which has helped me establish confidence in the classroom. It can be difficult to gain authority as well, especially when the students ask if you’re in Year 10 doing your GCSEs, when in fact, you have just completed your second year of university and are closer to your twenties than your teens. Oh, and when you’re also smaller than all the Year 7s when walking past in the corridor!

In July, I will be working at several Open Days at The University of Sheffield for prospective students.
I am going to Poland for three weeks during July-August. For the first week I will be going to the city of Wrocław (which happens to be pronounced very different to the spelling!) on a volunteering programme to teach English to Polish teens in the countryside. Then, I am going to visit another city for 3 days (maybe Warsaw) before spending my final week in Kraków. I intend to visit all the cultural sites and go to Auschwitz, somewhere I have always wanted to visit. I have never been to Poland before and I don’t speak any Polish. I am sure I will get by with English but as a linguist, I feel truely abhorred by not being able to speak the language of the country I am visiting, so I am hoping to learn a bit before I go. If not, I can always speak to them in French/Spanish/Portuguese to show them I at least try with other European languages (oh dear!).

For the final stretch of my summer holidays, I am travelling to Israel for ten days in August. I have been warned that I am going to roast alive; I can barely cope with the 20°C in Sheffield right now, so I don’t have how I will manage there! I am going on a Birthright Israel-Taglit trip, which is something you may, or may not, have heard about before. Birthright can be briefly described as a not-for-profit educational organization that sponsors free ten-day heritage trips to Israel for Jewish young adults, aged 18–26. Taglit is the Hebrew word for discovery. During their trip, participants, most of whom are visiting Israel for the first time, are encouraged to discover new meaning in their personal Jewish identity and connection to Jewish history and culture. As a young Jewish person who has never been to Israel, I am eligible to go on the trip so I am taking part in this great opportunity. I don’t feel very connected to Israel in my Jewish identity, so I think that going there and learning more about it’s history and culture and meeting similar people in my position will be worthwhile.

And then…..it’s off to Perpignan sometime after that! But for now, I have plenty to do between preparing for my Year Abroad in September. I will be visiting two countries I have never visited before and will hopefully meet loads of diverse people and make many new memories 🙂

Untitled