Impressions: Madrid

I had passed through Madrid, or should I say, Madrid-Barajas Airport, five times already.

Madrid. It has always seemed like an annoying necessity; a stop-over when travelling to Peru, the closest city with an airport when heading to my Year Abroad destination, Salamanca.

Although only a 2h45 minute journey from Salamanca and the closest city of interest, you would have thought I would have visited Madrid sooner – but I didn’t. Instead, the capital was the final trip during my semester in Spain after a determination to visit everywhere but.

Whenever people had mentioned Madrid to me, words such as “underwhelming, overrated, not as good as Barcelona” soon followed. The ‘idea’ of Madrid just didn’t reach out to me all that much because of this. It seemed like a trip to visit the city for a few days would be worthwhile, before I headed to the airport to fly home, just to see it for myself. I had really wanted to go to the Hammam Al-Ándalus baths again which are in Madrid as well as Granada and other cities in Andalucía, plus I found out there was a cat café there too, so it couldn’t be all that bad.

Perhaps going to Madrid with no expectations at all made my experience better, but all I can say is this – I loved it! Yes, I actually absolutely loved Madrid, who could have seen that coming? I am kicking myself for not wanting to go earlier, even after three days there I didn’t even manage to go into the Prado or the Reina Sofia… (well you are talking to the girl who has gone to Paris twice and has yet to even go inside the Louvre…). It is indeed extremely different to Barcelona, and although Barcelona is fabulous to visit, I wouldn’t ever consider living there, whereas Madrid gave me the vibe “Wow, I could totally see myself living here, but why it is so hot?!” So that was good. I’m pleased Madrid surprised me but I understand it may not be for everyone.

I stayed at SunGate Hostel which was in a fantastic location near Puerta del Sol and loads of shops. The vibe in the hostel was great and I met some truly lovely people to enjoy Madrid with. They do free evening meals every evening which proved to be popular but I didn’t manage to actually go to any during my stay. Still, after staying in the luxurious Gallery Hostel in Porto the week before, I wasn’t used to some of the issues with normal hostels and I was utterly disappointed with breakfast which was cold churros con chocolate and nothing else.

My first thing was to get some tapas at El Tigre. If you order anything there be warned, portions are massive. A tapa is more like a ración (sharing plate) and I ordered a plate of pimientos de padrón to feed 100 people.

That evening, I ended up going to the Templo de Debod at sunset which was the most perfect moment. As I was there on a Monday evening, it may have been less crowded than at a weekend which was great for taking loads of photos! The light on the temple was beautiful and it was amazing to look at as the sun was going down.

Me at El Templo de Debod

Me at El Templo de Debod

The following day I walked all the way to Retiro Park which is somewhere you have to visit when in Madrid. It was boiling but it was lovely to walk around and enjoy the quiet of the gardens in the center of the city. Next time, I am hiring a rowing boat on that lake!

Oh and what is Spain without a bit of frozen yogurt in the afternoon? Smooy were handing out an offer for a free extra topping on your frozen yogurt – perfection!

As I said, I also went to a cat café, but I was the only one there and the cats didn’t seem to want any attention as they were already so spoiled with affection and were quite moody. But there were free unlimited drinks which was much needed! It was right by the Reina Sofia which I intended to visit, but I was walking around ages trying to find the right entrance and I was exhausted -a siesta sounded much more appealing at that moment in time instead of walking around one of the most amazing art galleries in Spain (next time?).

After a well-earned siesta, it was time to go to the Hammam Al Ándalus baths which I wrote about here – the perfect way to relax during my final evening in Spain before going home!

The following day, my flight was not until late at night so I had all day to see more of Madrid. I took the Sandman’s Free City Tour of Madrid with my hostel, as I still hadn’t seen anything at all of the historical center of Madrid (cathedral, Royal Palace etc.). It was well worth it as Madrid has a very interesting history from humble beginnings which is not very well known. Plus, it only lasted 2 hours which was good as any longer would have been unbearable in the heat.

Next, I purchased some cookies from a Convent by talking to some nun’s through wall without seeing them which surely was an experience, with some new friends from the hostel. We also intended to visit the Royal Palace which apparently is even larger than Versailles (can you imagine?!), but it was closed for an official event which was a shame, so it is worth checking before you go if it is open to the public that day. It is no longer the offical residence of the monarchy but is still used for state affairs.

We made a quick detour inside the cathedral but I must admit, for being the cathedral of the capital of Spain, it is so ugly and it was quite sad. It has nothing on Barcelona, Sevilla, Salamanca, Toledo… the list goes on. It could be at the very bottom of a long list in all honesty.

We stumbled across the Mercado San Miguel on the walk back. It’s a beautiful building although quite small with a wide selection of stalls offering tapas, patisserie, wine and other products, but it does seem to be high-market and quite touristy.

It wasn’t long until it was time to head to the airport, to say goodbye to Spain for the forseeable future. Yet due to the air strikes with Ryanair, my flight was delayed an hour and a half and I didn’t manage to get home until 2am! Spain obviously didn’t want me to leave…

So all in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Madrid and what I saw of it. I will definitely be returning in the future.

But for now, VOU PARA LISBOA (I’m off to Lisbon!)

Beijinhos (getting into the Portuguese vibe now),

Untitled

Highlights from Porto

It’s been a whole three weeks since my trip to Porto and although I wrote a brief overview of my time there (Five days in Porto), I would like to share some of the best parts of my trip: seeing the city, meeting with friends, eating the most amazing food and staying in the best hostel I have ever stayed in!

Porto is the second largest city in Portugal, behind Lisbon the capital. Porto has a very different vibe and identity to Lisbon and I loved exploring a new city and region of Portugal. Just like everywhere else in Portugal it seems, Porto is very hilly! My five days spent there was a great work out for my legs and I am glad I took comfortable trainers, I don’t know how these other travellers walk up and down those hills in flip-flops!

Ponte Dom Luis I

View from Miradouro da Victória

View from Miradouro da Victória

This is by far the most essential thing to do in Porto; walk along the top level of the Ponte Dom Luis I, which gives great views over Porto from Gaia (the city on the other side of the river), especially at sunset. The walk back from Ribeira (the area on the riverbank) back to my hostel was the must brutal climb ever.

I also stumbled across the Miradouro da Victória which was a gem and gives views of the bridge, Gaia and the wine caves and Sé cathedral.

Estação de São Bento

Interior of São Bento train station

Interior of São Bento train station

This train station is absolutely beautiful and you will fall in love with it if you appreciate azulejos (that’s those blue tiles which the Portuguese adorn everywhere on their buildings).

Many tourists come to the station simply to admire the artwork on the walls but the station also has trains (shocker, I know) with destinations to nearby towns of interest. I hopped on trains to Guimarães (the birthplace of Portugal) and Aveiro (the Venice of the North) during my trip, but there are also trains to Braga too. There are so many tour companies which offer day trips to these places, but they are usually no less than 40€ each. Train tickets are a mere 7€ return for a one hour journey each way (rough estimate), and the towns are small enough to visit without a guide, just maps from the local tourist offices, which saved me a lot of money.

Torre dos Clérigos

View of the Torre dos Clérigos in the distance

View of the Torre dos Clérigos in the distance

The Clérigos tower was the first thing I did on my day of arrival and it’s a great place to climb to get a view over the city of Porto. It’s 3€ entry and there are exhibitions in the tower to look at and you can also enter the ajoining church.

Nearby is also the Livraria Lello, a famous bookshop known for inspiring the library in Hogwart’s for J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. It’s very touristy and difficult to get a picture without people getting in the way which can be frustrating, but it is worth the stop as it is indeed a very pretty bookshop. It was interesting to learn that J.K. Rowling lived in Porto in the 1990s and that her time here gave inspiration for many aspects in the novels; from the Hogwart’s uniforms, to the library and the house at Grimmauld Place. It’s something not much talked about so it was really interesting to learn something new about Harry Potter.

Jardins do Palacio de Cristal

Jardins do Palácio de Cristal

Jardins do Palácio de Cristal

View from Jardins do Palácio de Cristal

View from Jardins do Palácio de Cristal

Jardins do Palácio de Cristal

Jardins do Palácio de Cristal

The Gardens of the Crystal Palace were a short five minute walk from my hostel. Although, I probably would not have gone there if it were not so close, it turned out to be one of the highlights during my time in Porto. The gardens, although unfortunately surrounded by the ugly “Crystal Palace” building that is falling apart and deserves levelling off, are absolutely beautiful and when exploring you come across spectacular views of Porto and the River Douro too. Personally, these gardens deserve a visit to anyone visiting the city. I’d recommend visiting in the morning as the gardens are quieter and more opportunities to get photos.

Year Abroad perks

What I have loved about the Year Abroad is that my coursemates and I are scattered across Europe (some more further afield), and it has been in many cases an opportunity to visit both somewhere new and also catch up with friends I haven’t seen in a few months. As my friend Nathan has been living and studying in Porto this semester, I promised I would come to visit, as it isn’t all that far away from Salamanca!

Although his mum was visiting that weekend as well, we met up and walked along the Ponte Dom Luis I, which was obligatory during my time in Porto before having an Italian meal (I am amazed at how cheap the food is in Portugal still!).

The weekend I was visiting coincided with a music festival at Serralves called “Serralves em festa.” Serralves, as far as I understand, is a Contemporary Art Museum in a massive park (it is huuuuge), which happens to be the most visited museum in Portugal and a short bus ride from Porto’s city center. The festival is a 40 hour nonstop thing all weekend but we ended up going on the Saturday night to see what it was all about. We caught the free bus from the Casa da Musica Interface and met up with some of his friends. We managed to stay until 3am, which for me was quite an achievement as I had been climbing up and down hills all day without even a siesta. The music was totally bizarre, there were no lyrics, but the park was littered with people, so some people must have liked it. It was difficult to see as there was hardly any lighting and walking around was a safety hazard. We stayed until 3am as we were waiting for the “Brazilian music” to start, but it wasn’t what we were hoping for so we caught a taxi back.

The funniest moment

On the way to the festival, I met Nathan’s Brazilian friend Julio and he later promised us that before I left Porto, he would cook us a Brazilian beef stroganoff. This was set for the Monday evening after Nathan’s language class, and I was looking forward to some good food – although of course, nothing went to plan. After getting all the ingredients, we forgot to get rice (oops) but it’s okay, it got sorted, until the glass jar of rice broke on the floor. Then, when cooking the beef, the plate that was on top of the pan keeping the heat in, shattered under the pressure of the heat and landed in the meat in tiny pieces, making it unedible. We couldn’t really believe it for a few moments but we accepted the inevitable. It was already quite late, 11pm more or less, so we tidied up what we could before ending up in a kebab shop eating falafel kebabs, or as the Spanish say “Kebaps” but that is a different story…

Disaster

I’ll hopefully get some of this famous stroganoff without the plate bits someday.

My final evening in Porto was rounded off just how it should be; I really wanted eat somewhere which served cod because no trip to Portugal is complete without consuming cod – this is a fact. I ended up having Bacalhau à Braga, fried cod, surrounded by half chips half crisps (I still am amazed how they manage to do this) with onions and lots of olive oil and peppers. It was a good moment. I would really recommend this dish but I still uphold my love for Bacalhau à Lagareiro which I had in Lisbon in March.

We then walked along the RIver Douro at sunset until it went fully dark and then walked back to Ribeira. It was a lovely walk and the views were stunning as there was even a full moon that evening! By the time we reached Ribeira I was already exhausted but then I remembered there was still the massive hill to climb back to my hostel, so that was something!

Me, Nathan and Julio, full moon on the River Douro. Perfeito!!

Although I love Spain for its tapas culture, the pintxos I had in Bilbao, the tortilla… Portugal’s cuisine is much more accessible to me; Spanish cuisine is heavy on pork and seafood dishes, foods I don’t eat. I have therefore been limited in sampling my region’s specialities such as hornazo amongst other national dishes. Portugal however is very fond of cod and chicken and there is always an option for me at a restaurant in Portugal, something less common in Spain, so my experiences at finding somewhere I can eat has been more positive there. Plus, there are pastéis de nata, enough said.

Pastéis de nata = perfection

During my five night stay, I stayed at Gallery Hostel in the art district. It was rated number one on TripAdvisor in Porto and I am so, so pleased I stayed there! Unfortunately, I now have extremely high expectations for every hostel I stay in, yet none can comapre to Gallery Hostel *cries inside*: from my room, to the comfy mattress, to the lack of noise levels, to the in-room bathroom, to the delicious breakfasts, the exceptional evening meals, the fact that they wash up your dishes for you and make your bed every morning… the quality of this hostel is superb and there was nothing I could fault. It was like staying in a hotel but sharing a rooom with 5 other travellers at the price of any other hostel.

Rua Miguel Bombarda (art district)

Rua Miguel Bombarda (art district)

Overall, I had a fantastic visit to Porto, it’s a beautiful city, some great memories were made and it was also good to practice speaking plenty of Portuguese in context outside the classroom.

IMG_1723

I wasn’t too sad to leave Porto on my return to Salamanca because I already knew it would not be long before I was back in the country! I was anticipating my return to Spain as my time there was more limited as I don’t know when I will next be going back… I fly to Lisbon in 11 days for 4 weeks, it has come around so fast! Some prefer Porto, but I am still whole-heartedly in love with Lisbon, it’s just got that something.

I have already blogged about my return trip to Hammam Al Ándalus in Madrid, but I’ll be blogging next about my visit to the city in general. Madrid really surprised me as I thought I wouldn’t like it, but I couldn’t be more wrong, as I absolutely loved it! I had been putting off going for so long. I don’t regret leaving it until now but I am so glad I gave it a chance while I could!

Hasta luego (from cold Northern England – for now)

Untitled

Hammam Al Ándalus in Madrid

Ever since my wonderful experience at the Hammam Al Ándalus in Granada (which I wrote about here), I wanted to return straight away! The Hammams are located in Granada, Málaga, Córdoba and Madrid, so if you find yourself in any of these cities, it is definitely worth booking in if you appreciate some well-deserved relaxation.

Unfortunately, I was living in the north of Spain, and therefore a minimum three-hour train journey from the closest Hammam (Madrid) which made it more difficult for me to return. I managed to prevail though, and squeezed in a return trip to Hammam Al Ándalus, this time in Madrid, during my first visit to the capital. It was the perfect treat to end my four months living and studying in Spain, the evening before flying home to the UK.

Relaxation Room

The Hammam in Madrid is excellently located in the city center, between Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor which makes it easily accessible and was only a five minute walk from my hostel.

After taking a walking tour during my visit to Madrid, it was interesting to learn that the city itself has a fascinating Moorish history which nowadays is very unknown; originally known as Mayrit, Madrid was founded in the 9th century. Its location in the center of Spain was no coincidence either – at that time, it was a crossroads between the divide of Christian North and Moorish South and therefore in an important defensive position, especially as it is slightly north of Toledo, which was the capital of Spain, to protect it from invasions from the north. Although the Hammam baths bring some of the luxury of Andalucía to the capital nowadays, the baths are in fact perfectly at home here in Madrid, which was once an Arab city with a mosque, souk and hammams, however much of this is now lost and Hammam Al Ándalus is the only hammam now in Madrid.

Still, the cathedral in Madrid, called “Almudena” although named after a medieval icon of the Virgin Mary, the Patron Saint of Madrid, the word “Almudena” in Arabic translates to “the citadel,” and traces of Madrid’s Moorish roots are still to be seen. Therefore, a visit to the Hammam in Madrid is still a culturally enriching experience as well a relaxing one.

My hammam experience this time also started with a 15-minute full-body massage, and I chose the Red Amber oil again as I loved the scent the last time. In the Relaxation room you can find a “Fuente de té” (a tap that provides hot Moroccan Mint tea). I love the tea so much and I drank countless cups of it in between relaxing in the heated pools. There are three pools to choose from: cold (18°C), temperate (36°C) and hot (40°C) and also a steam room, my favourite being the hot pool. I enjoyed starting in the temperate pool, moving on to the hot, the steam room and then cooling off the with cold pool and a shower – I was not as brave as some of the other people who got fully submerged in the cold pool! It is just so cold.

As I went mid-week at 8pm, there were not as many people in the baths as there were when I went to Granada on a Friday evening. This was great as there were fewer people in the pools and I mostly had each area at a time to myself to unwind! I would definitely recommend booking to go during the evening as it allows you to relax after a long day of sight-seeing during the day and I fell asleep easily when I went to bed.

All I have left now is to check out the remaining Hammams in Córdoba and Málaga (hopefully sooner rather than later!), when I am in Spain in the future. I still hope they will expand and come to the UK – it’s cold here and we need some Hammam luxury please…

Hasta luego,

Untitled

Salamanca, te echaré de menos

(Salamanca, I will miss you)

I have had a fantastic time living and studying in the beautiful ciudad dorada, Salamanca, for four months. It is a small city but it is absolutely beautiful. I’d like to share nine of my favourite things to do since living here:

9. Tapas

What is Spain without tapas? My favourite spots are: La Mariseca on Rua Mayor (I love their mini burgers) and Atelier which is a veggie/vegan tapas bar.

8. Casa Lis

The Casa Lis is an Art Deco/Art Nouveau museum in the most beautiful building with incredible stained glass windows and ceilings.

Casa Lis ceiling

Casa Lis ceiling

7. Climb up the towers of the Universidad Pontifica de Salamanca

CF7nvtrWEAAmqQ7 CF7nwiBWIAA59Lr

Personally, this gives the best panoramic views of the city but the climb up the Cathedral Towers nearby is also worthwhile.

6. La Universidad de Salamanca

I loved studying in beautiful surroundings every day at university. The Languages Faculty, spread across three buildings, is a tourist site in its own right (El Colegio de Anaya). Not only this, but the main university building in the Patio de Escuelas is magnificent and even holds a museum about the history of the university inside, the oldest university in Spain! Next door to the Patio de Escuelas is Escuelas menores, a small courtyard which also holds El Cielo de Salamanca, a beautiful painting fromt he 15th century.

The famous main facade of the university

The famous main facade of the university

The inner courtyard of the Languages department!

The inner courtyard of the Languages department!

5. Micro-theatre at La Malhablada

I only discovered La Malhablada in May, which is a shame as I really enjoyed going! From Thursday-Sunday, they hold “mini-plays” of 15 minutes which you can see for 3€ each. I have seen three so far and would like to go see some more this weekend before I leave Salamanca. It’s especially good to practice listening to Spanish, but of course, if you don’t speak Spanish, this isn’t going to be of much interest unfortunately.

4. Relaxing in Huerto de Calixto gardens

A hidden gem

A hidden gem

It’s very difficult to stumble across these gardens unless you are walking around or have already heard of them. Huerto de Calixto is a small garden, tucked away in a corner near the cathedral on the remains of the city wall. It is never overly busy and is a great place to go to sit, read, have lunch and enjoy nature. Although Salamanca has parks, it doesn’t have much greenery in the center amongst the golden buildings, so this is a nice little haven.

3. Dar un paseo al lado del río

Relaxing by the Rio Tormes

Relaxing by the Rio Tormes

(Walking along the river). The River Tormes is a great place to stretch your legs: walk, run, jog, rollerblade, it’s the place to go. It’s lovely and sunny during the day to sunbathe and cool in the evening.

2. El Laurel

The best nachos and guacamole ever (we got free refills!)

The best nachos and guacamole ever (we got free refills!)

Dessert

Dessert was glorious

When Spain is characteristically known as the land of jamón, it is unusual to find not only a vegetarian ta

pas bar, but also a vegetarian restaurant here! El Laurel has been one of my favourite restaurants here in Salamanca – great quality food and I will probably spend my final meal here. Best to book in advance because I have been turned away as they were all full up before now!

1. Plaza Mayor (usually coupled with a frozen yogurt)

10922836_10155344354880447_5128961723475915384_n

The Plaza Mayor is the central hub of the city and rightly so. It’s where you go to meet up with friends in the evening, it’s great for people-watching, it’s extremely clean so you can just sit on the floor in the sun – it’s just so pretty to look at. I especially love walking through during the evening when it is all lit up. There is a reason why Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor is the most beautiful in the whole of Spain.

So, this is it! The next few days, I will be doing a combination of a few of these things here before I leave.

What do you like most about Salamanca?

Hasta luego,

Untitled

The Best Panoramic View: Salamanca

It’s officially summer! I finished exams today which means I have completed my semester studying at La Universidad de Salamanca. Now, I have that normal “post-exams feeling” where I don’t really know what to do with myself; I don’t need to procrastinate from the work I all of a sudden no longer have to do. I can just indulge in Netflix without feeling guilty, which seems a lot less wild than it felt a few days ago…

I posted about my Final Five Week To-Do List which as the title suggests, is a bucket list of things to keep me occupied with during my final weeks in the Golden City, which don’t involve Netflix. I can confirm I am doing well with checking things off – actually, I have done six out of a total of eight which is pretty impressive. All I have left is a revisit to the Casa Lis to see the Coco Chanel exhibition and pop into the General Archive of the Spanish Civil War next door. But today I want to talk about my visits this week to the Torres de la Catedral and also the Scala Coeli Torres de la Clerecia at the Universidad Pontifica de Salamanca.

Before tucking into my beautiful Chinese takeaway on Saturday evening whilst watching Eurovision (I was rooting for Italia if you were wondering), Becca and I headed out to climb up the Cathedral Tower at 8:30pm. We went up way back in February when it was freezing, so it was nice to go back when the weather was more forgiving and I actually came prepared with my camera. They have started allowing reserved access at specific times on weekend evenings for the summer season, which is worth knowing if you are only visiting for a few days..

We had a guided tour but I didn’t expect it to last so long! I was craving my duck pancakes the entire time…. We ended up missing most of the acts in Eurovision but arrived in time for the last seven and of course the voting. We learned that the climb up the tower is “una ascención de la tierra hasta el cielo” / an ascent from the ground towards the sky (in a spiritual sense) and that the climb allows us to get closer to God. It just reminded me of Danté’s journey from Inferno to Paradise but without the Inferno part, which is probably a good thing. Anyway, there are amazing views at sunset, so it was pretty cool:

View from the Cathedral

View from the Cathedral

The interior of La Catedral Nueva

The interior of La Catedral Nueva, lit up

The Torres de la Catedral in Salamanca, known as “Ieronimus” is a popular tourist destination in the city and is considered the best place to go to get a good view of the city according to TripAdvisor. However after climbing the Scala Coeli Torres de la Clerecia this afternoon at the Universidad Pontifica de Salamanca, opposite La Casa de las Conchas, I will have to contest this statement. For a similar price (3€) you have access to even better views where you can actually see the cathedral nearby.

View from La Universidad Pontifica de Salamanca with a well-timed bird shot

View from La Universidad Pontifica de Salamanca

Both the Scala Coeli Torres de la Clerecia and the Torres de la Catedral have similar priced entry fees (3€). There is more to see in the cathedral as you can see the interiors of both the Catedral Vieja (my favouite) and the Catedral Nueva (if you are wondering, there are two cathedrals joined together, not confusing at all). You can visit the cathedrals at ground level for a seperate price but if you just want to peek at the interior, it’s best to pay to go up the tower as you can get great views AND see inside the cathedral – 2 for 1.

There are interesting original manuscript collections in the cathedral and information about its history throughout the tour. I was able to test out my new knowledge of reading medieval French and Spanish texts from my History of the French Language class here, and it was cool to be able to put the skills to use because I don’t know where else I am going to use them for the time being.

View of the cathedral from La Universidad Pontifica de Salamanca

Panorama view

The Scala Coeli Torres do offer some information but it feels a bit “forgotten in time,” and not a lot of effort has gone into the collections which are very spaced out, especially as we saw the interior of the chapel area which was cornered off and coated in dust. It just looked creepy, sad and neglected but must have looked magnificent “back in the day”. Still, the  Scala Coeli Torres offer the best views in my opinion of Salamanca and it is worth the climb just for that. I enjoyed both visits but they each offer different experiences.

Hasta pronto,

Untitled

The Year Abroad: My Favourite Moments

Fortunately, my experience of the Year Abroad has been a positive one overall; despite being full of many positives, there has also been a fair share of challenges, all of which are expected and embraced as inevitable. This year is one in which I have learnt so much about my abilities and I have been able to grow as a person, there have even been some pretty great memories to go along with it too.

I’d like to say a massive THANK YOU to everyone who has read RobynBobbingAround during the past year and kept in touch either by following, commenting, chatting on Twitter etc. I didn’t expect myself to be so dedicated to this blog but I am so glad I did. I have enjoyed blogging about my Year Abroad journey immensely and it is something I will be able to look back on for years to come. Although I will be continuing writing this after my Year Abroad is over, I am sure I will be at a loss during my final year of university, unable to jet off for a spontaneous weekend away, but I will try my best. Through WordPress, I’ve been able to connect with other like-minded people who share a love for travel or who are also on a Year Abroad, and it’s been great to see other perspectives and know I am not alone.

I could talk about “My Least Favourite Moments.” I don’t want to make the Year Abroad look like some fairy-tale traveling adventure; yes, it has been hard at times, and it’s unfair to paint an unrealistic picture of what it can be like for future/potential Year Abroaders, but I don’t like to dwell too much on the negatives – this is not much fun for me to write about. In short, this list would include: homesickness (a lot of it), lonliness, problems with landlords/housemates and French bureaucracy (that stuff is nasty and gets all Year Abroaders in France!).

Although I wrote my Year Abroad Bucket-List with links to all the exciting things I have done during my Year Abroad (there are many!), I wanted to share a snippet of my highlights, of things I enjoyed the most this year which are condensed down:

1. Seeing Émile Simon in concert in Nîmes

Les Arènes during a weekend trip to Nîmes,

Les Arènes during a weekend trip to Nîmes,

Emilie Simon is by far my favourite French singer, and I still listen to her lasted album Mue all the time. I was so glad to see her touring in October 2014, and I even got to squeeze in a weekend trip to Nîmes which I really wanted to do as well – double score!

2. La Vallée des tortues in Sorède 

Julia, moi et Kam

Julia, moi et Kam

My visit to the tortoise sanctuary, a 20 minute drive from Perpignan was another favourite of mine during the Year Abroad! I love tortoises/turtles and it ws great to be able to interact with some during our visit.

3. Lisbon

Torre de Belém

Torre de Belém

What can I say about Lisbon? It captured my heart and I can’t get over how incredible it was. I can’t wait to return for the entire month of July to do a Portuguese Summer Course there at A Universidade de Lisboa!

4. Las Fallas

Las Fallas

Las Fallas

Las Fallas is without a doubt my absolute favourite trip during my entire Year Abroad! Despite the weather being absolutely awful, and getting a serious cold after, it still manages to be in top position! If I had the opportunity to go back to Valencia in the future for this festival, I wouldn’t hesitate to say yes. It was unbelievabely exciting, full of life and noise.

5. Hamman Al Ándalus – Granada

http://granada.hammamalandalus.com/

I couldn’t leave out my trip to the Hammam Al Ándalus in Granada. It was such a relaxing experience, I absolutely loved it. I’ve luckily squeezed in a return visit to the Hammam baths in Madrid, before I fly home to the UK in June. If you are ever visiting Andalucía or Madrid, I’d 100% recommend checking them out if you want some worthwhile time out.


These are only a select few of the many incredible things I have been able to do during my Year Abroad. Runners-up would include my trip to historical Mérida, tasting amazing pintxos in Bilbao and spending afternoons on the beach in Collioure.

Smaller things, but just as important on the linguistic side of things, would include the times when I could feel my language skills had improved, dreaming in French, being mistaken for French/Spanish and no one realising I was actually English even after I spoke (!) and of course realising I actually survived two semesters studying in foreign universities!

I finished my last lecture at La Universidad de Salamanca today and my final exam is this Tuesday. It’s all ending so fast! I still have trips to Porto and Madrid planned before I go home which is exciting, and about 11 days in Salamanca in between to make the most of and enjoy before I return home.

Fish and chips, scones and crumpets await…

Hasta luego,

Untitled

An Afternoon at The Alhambra in Granada

After our wonderful visit to the Hammam Al Ándalus Baths the night before, we spent the majority of Saturday afternoon exploring the Alhambra.

First of all, after breakfast at the hotel, we made our way to the Alcaiceria, the Arab Market near the cathedral. It is easy enough to find, but the entrances are not very obvious and you don’t expect to find all these little market shops when you walk past! The passageways are so narrow, so if it is busy it can be impossible to walk around. I’d recommend getting there around 9-10am and you’ll have the shops all to yourselves! There are so many shops all selling more or less the same things but it is worth having a root around to find anything that strikes your eye. Tea sets, leather bags, jewellery and lanterns are probably the best buys but there are some strange things like boomerangs and sombreros thrown in the mix that are not very “authentic”.

I ended up buying some lovely earrings for 4€ but other than that, it wasn’t my day for shopping there. There are a few high street shops nearby though and I managed to buy a small blue daysack for only 20€ which felt like a bargain, especially as it meant I no longer have to drag around my massive daysack for sightseeing which I mostly use for transporting my laptop when I am flying. I also found some Moroccan Mint tea I had been wanting since the Hammam!

At around 3pm we met up with Floorke who took us to a bar she likes near uni. The great thing about Granada is that if you order a drink, you will receive a free plate of tapas with it, so you don’t even have to worry about ordering any food! After a Fanta orange and a tinto de verano, we received portions of Paella Valenciana, pimientos de padrón and cod croquettes. It was so good.

View of The Alhambra from Mirador San Nicolás

View of The Alhambra from Mirador San Nicolás

Soon, it was time to make our way up to the Alhambra. We walked to the Plaza Nueva and caught the C3 bus for 1€20 to the palace. We considered walking there but soon realised how far/steep it would have been in the heat when the bus drove up there. I’d recommend getting the bus up because there is no point being all hot and exhausted before you have even started to look around!

We spent about three hours around the Alhambra which is the recommended amount of time to visit. Our ticket allowed us entry between 2-8pm, but we arrived around 4:30pm. In hindsight, with the Alhambra being so big, I’d say three hours isn’t enough! If you want to just see the main sights, sure three hours is plenty, but we really enjoyed taking in the amazing views of the city, marveling at the intricate designs on the walls and of course, taking many, many pictures and time just flew by. We didn’t manage to see everything which was a shame but we saw the main points of interest (Generalife, Nazrid Palace).

View from the Generalife

View from the Generalife

View from the Generalife

View from the Generalife

Important to note: You cannot buy tickets on arrival at The Alhambra. It is recommended to book several weeks in advance as it can sell out!

Our tickets included a time for when we were allowed inside the Nasrid Palace, (6:30pm). This is the only place where you have to go in at a certain time though.

IMG_1426

The intricate ceiling in the Nasrid Palace

IMG_1432

The ceiling in the Nasrid Palace

IMG_1407

Me at the Nasrid Palace

IMG_1420 IMG_1427 IMG_1367

Overall, I would say I prefer the Alcázar in Sevilla over the Alhambra. The Alcázar in Sevilla is of course a tourist attraction and it can get pretty busy, but it feels less spoiled, less of a “tourist trap”. Entry is much cheaper (2€ for students, not 15€ at The Alhambra) and there is no time limit on entry and you can spend as much time as you want there. You feel less rushed. Still, the intricate designs in the Nasrid Palaces at The Alhambra and the panoramic views over the city were absolutely spectacular – you can’t compare it elsewhere and it is a photographer’s dream.

That evening we had take-away lasagna at the highly-rated Cacho & Pepe on TripAdvisor which I’d recommend. It is small though and the menu can be limited. The weather was still lovely so we found a nice bench by a fountain to plough into the yummy food. I don’t know why, but I am a bit obsessed with Italian food here in Spain…!
The following Sunday morning we walked up to the Mirador San Nicolás which gave an incredible view over The Alhambra – it was well worth the climb! It wasn’t long though until we had to catch our coach back to Sevilla, to then eventually get our night coach back to Salamanca. 2am, driver’s radio blaring away trumpet music and all lights on, it’s safe to say I am glad I will not be traveling by coach overnight for a while! I thoroughly enjoyed my extended weekend trip to Sevilla and Granada and I only wish it could have been longer to see more of Andalucía, but it gives me an incentive to go back in the future (Córdoba, I’m looking at you).

Me and Becca at the Nasrid Palace

Me and Becca at the Nasrid Palace

After arriving back to Salamanca in the early hours of the morning, I was up early to prepare for my Skype interview a few hours later. I was quite worried how it would go with being so tired, but the interview went well as I have since found out I have been accepted for the role! I will be working as an Information Assistant during Intro Week in Sheffield in September which was excellent news.

The weather has since greatly improved here in Salamanca, and I am currently hiding in my room, away from the heat (and pollen which is especially bad today). At the weekend, my flatmates put out the summer furniture on our sun terrace and I have been making the most of it by sunbathing during the last few days! I love our terrace because we have a great view of the cathedral and it means I can sunbathe without even leaving the flat:

View from the roof terrace of my piso!

View from the roof terrace of my piso!

Now, it’s time to focus on uni work mixed-up with a bit of sunbathing until I finish my university obligations here on 26th May. I have also been busy ticking things off to do from my Final Five Weeks in Salamanca To-Do list – mostly just the food parts so far though!

Hasta luego,

Untitled