A grateful farewell

Toledo wasn’t just an opportunity to improve my Spanish through the course, but it was also an opportunity to make connections with people from all over the world. I was so lucky to have met some incredible people during my time in Toledo, and I was surprised by the strength of the connections made.

The HENS Party for Marion, combined with the birthday party for Madison went off like a bang! However, I was to realise that people couldn’t handle their alcohol as I had planned and hoped. The three-bar, two-club crawl turned into two-bar and taco takeaway joint jaunt. Maccas closed seven minutes early much to EVERYONE’S disappointment! It was, however, a brilliant night, yes the penis straws and lollies came out. But as there were also BOYS coming to the event, I cleverly found some CHICK straws to go with the penis-themed ones, which were literally baby chicken straws. I thought I was hilarious. Others not so much.

The weekend following the wedding, along with three other students, I was off to Pamplona to witness the Festival of San Fermín, aka Running with the Bulls. While I have so many mixed feelings about the festival itself, a friend- some would call him brave, others simply insane, wanted to participate. So off we were to watch and support. It was an incredible vibe in the city. I was SO surprised by just how many people were wearing the traditional ‘outfit’ for the festival- essentially white clothing with a little red necktie and belt. Literally, EVERYONE in the streets, shops, restaurants- EVERYONE EVERYWHERE was wearing it. Upon our arrival in Pamplona, it rained for the first time in four weeks. It was insane, it simply pelted down, and the Spanish people just stopped everything, hid in doorways and waited for it to pass. If you were to do this in Sydney, London, Melbourne, surely anywhere else in the world- you’d be waiting for infinite time, surely people have things to do. Apparently, not in Spain.

An early morning and trek back to the city to get a good spot for the show, and we were still three people deep in the crowd. BUT Shane, glorious Shane, weaselled his way into the crowd and got a reasonable spot to capture some videos! Madison thankfully survived to tell the tale of touching a bull, and the horrors of being pushed and shoved by the hoards of runners while numerous bulls come running full pelt at you. Apparently, bulls are NOT slow runners. On the day we witnessed, there were 6 serious injuries requiring hospitalisation, including a broken skull and internal bleeding. However, there were also women in white jeans and WEDGES “running”, however, they were positioned at the very start of the run, closest to the stadium and most out of harm’s way. I guess its all about the position you take! While I enjoyed the running of the bulls festivities, I definitely disagree with the bullfighting that followed in the afternoon. As such, as a mini-stand, I booked train tickets out of the city before they started. Not that ANYONE noticed, but it made me feel a little bit better about partaking in the festival and contributing to the hype.

The final week in Toledo was largely occupied by a little bit of stress, a few exams, a lot of sunning and pretend studying by the pool, a lot of ‘lasts’ and a lot of sad farewells. Surprisingly, I managed to do pretty well in my final exams- both written and oral, so was happy with myself! That happiness was swiftly quashed when my fellow students voted me and another student “Seok” from South Korea to present the farewell speech on behalf of our class at the fiesta. Well, at least we think it was meant to be Seok- someone wrote his name on the ballot paper as ‘Soup’… BUT, originally it wasn’t even meant to be us, the majority of the class votes actually went to Madison (we all knew he would HATE us for it- all the more reason to put his name down), but it was only after the vote that our teacher informed us she wouldn’t count votes for him because he wasn’t in class- instead he was taking another exam in Madrid. SO RUDE. But it all went well.

Some special moments from some very special friends that I will remember for a long while to come; when Sam said “So, is flamenco Spanish for flamingo?“, when Marion serenaded strangers on the escalators with the song Despacito, when Madi said “imagine if the birds fly in the window of the classroom, we’d have to yell at it in Spanish to get it out“, when Sam (again with the great ones) said “It tasted like hot dog but without the hot dog taste“- this pretty much captures the calibre of meals at the residence, as does when Marion demonstrated the hardness of the bread by smashing it on her lunch tray, Salma yelling at a specific boy to “STOP staring” only to have very obvious photos taken of her at the natural pools, when the rest of the team abandoned us at the club after the final fiesta wrapped up and Marion and I had to be informed by our teacher that they cancelled the second bus and we met, had ice (not the drug, just actual ice from ice-trays) from the boot of Jesus’ car and secured a free ride home, when Madison skipped class on the 4th of July because of “Freedom“… Oh, there’s so many more that simply don’t translate well to the written word, so I won’t bore you.

Toledo was a time full of learning, laughter and memories. I had an absolute ball and it will be a month that I will hope to remember for a long time coming. It’s so hard to put in words just how much fun I had meeting such special people, and it’s something that I truly believe has changed my perceptions of the world and people from different countries. Never before had I met anyone from Jordan, never before had I had a conversation in Japanese-Spanish-English, never before had I gotten drunk on the 4th of July with Americans, never before had I taken Flamenco classes, never before had I made great friends with our bartender and invited her to join our birthday/hens party, never before had I thrown a hens party (great practice for Nicola’s!), never before had I had such a multicultural experience, and I am so happy that I was able to share it with some amazing people I hope to call my friends for years and years to come. Now I simply have to travel the world and visit them all again, because I will miss them immensely!

But for now, the next chapter, off on a mini jaunt around Europe visiting friends and family!

xx

La segunda boda!

Another reason that Europe is so incredible- you can jump on a plane and fly for the same amount of time as a flight between Sydney and Brisbane and be in a completely different country. I was privileged enough to witness such a beautiful couple profess their unconditional love in front of their nearest and dearest! I have been to a handful of weddings, but a wedding on a boat on the River Thames, with the London Eye in the background was certainly one to remember.

The commute to London airport was great, super smooth sailing. The queue for immigration was not so much. The UK citizens and those with EU passports sail right through, no hassle, no queues. The rest of us are stuck in the holding pen for what feels like hours with the only concession being free wifi. Luckily I had my sister messaging me the menu for the cafe at which we were to meet, so plotting my first SUPER DELICIOUS coffee in a while and something scrumptious for brunch had my brain occupied. But really, Heathrow needs another line at immigration for those of us who can claim ‘Hey, OUR QUEEN IS YOUR QUEEN. Let us in.’ The guy at immigration was lovely, but inquisitive, wanting to know why an Australian had a Spanish visa but was coming to London for only three days. Can’t a gal want to see the world?

Reunion with my big sister and a good cuppa joe, and I was absolutely ECSTATIC. Even more thrilled that, upon return to her apartment, she bestowed upon me a whole TUBE OF VEGEMITE. God, I was in heaven. We met up with her fiance and his parents and went for a stroll along the Thames- how very British. The weather was, however, very un-British. A warm 32ºC but rather humid and the British were DYING. I was warm, but stupidly in jeans. So, how else to cool down but to treat yourself to an ice-cream cone on your stroll. My sister happened to lick her ice-cream ball clean off the cone, but luckily, with cat-like reflexes, caught the ball in her hand, swiftly popped it back on the cone, and continued on her merry way. Hilarious.

Nicola and I decided to get some tickets to see ‘The Play that Goes Wrong’, so headed to Leicester Square and scored the last two tickets for the evening. So lucky. We then had a job to do. **Warning, if anyone is super conservative- stop reading the rest of this paragraph. One of the students back in Toledo was getting married upon her return back to the states. As such, we decided to throw her a ‘Hens Party’ (an apparently hilarious name for a Bachelorette Party that Americans are unaware of). A simple joke that I was going to track down penis straws, turned into a mission, and Nicola and I were on the case. We found them, a short way away from the theatre, and also thought some penis shaped jellies would be a fabulous way to make the bride-to-be blush… I was thrilled with the successful mission, and we went for dinner, got a few things for the wedding prep, and walked to the theatre. Upon showing our tickets, we were also informed that there would be bag checks. To which I immediately blushed and good old Nicola made a run for it inside. Never before has a bag been checked so thoroughly or so slowly. It only had three items in it- a packet of penis straws, a box of penis jellies and a wedding card for the following day. The lovely security man scrutinised the contents of my bag, smiled a cheesy smile and told me to ‘have a lovely evening, enjoy the show. Thanks so much for that.’ I almost lost it right there.

Ok. Back on the straight and narrow now, no more penis-themed-items related jokes, I promise. The show itself was hilarious, Nicola and I spent the two hours of the show in stitches. Highly recommend the show for all!

As David was staying with his brother, performing best man duties, I jumped at the offer to forgo my bunk bed in a very hot hostel room for a sleepover with Nicola, and spent the evening painting nails, wearing face masks and having a good nights sleep. Wedding ready.

An afternoon wedding meant time for brunch in the morning with Mr Lodge, which was lovely! Again, delicious coffee and EGGS! Yay- actual protein for breakfast! Wedding preparation was thankfully conducted in Nicola’s apartment, I would hate to think how I would have looked if I had to get ready in the tiny bathroom on the third floor of a hostel without air conditioning. The other entertaining event of the day was the fact that it was the England vs. Sweden match in the World Cup, starting at the SAME time as the wedding ceremony. There were people queued up outside of pubs and event spaces from the early hours of the morning, and just as many people drinking in the street in the not so early hours of the morning. We happened to be next to a boat on the Thames that had a LOT of English Supporters, and there were a few roars and cheers during the ceremony, but it by no means diminished any of the beauty of the special day!!! Luckily England won.

The day was spectacular, the bride was beautiful (the groom handsome of course), the speeches entertaining, the food delicious (the wine as well) and the company simply spot-on. I felt so incredibly blessed to be considered family by these two amazing people and to be included in their special day! It was sad saying goodbye to Nicola and Dave returning to Australia, especially given that I have no idea if the next time I see them will be when I return to Australia for their wedding. I dearly hope not.

After a slightly hungover brunch with Nicola and family-friend Marcus, I started the LONG train-train-plane-train-train-train-taxi journey back to the residence in Toledo. And straight back into classes the following morning.

Adios!

xx G

El comienzo de la escuela

The first couple of weeks in Toledo were a little shock to the system but equally incredible. Yes, I hadn’t properly studied for a little while, and the constant barrage of information, old and most definitely new, was absolutely exhausting. Luckily for me, the class was actually only from 9am-1:30pm, but to be honest, in the heat, I don’t think it would be physically possible to do much more than that. On a normal day we would head back to the residence after class, have lunch, have a siesta, I would maybe do something stupid like think it cool enough to go for a run and almost die, go to the pool and relax, or take some time to explore the city. With dinner only starting at 8:30pm, the days seem to go forever, but it’s a great excuse to explore the town, do some homework, do some life admin and even sneak in a nanna nap. It’s incredible how much you can get into one day! The Spanish have it down pat. One pretty entertaining anecdote in class- we had to introduce ourselves, and explain a little about ourselves; why we are doing the course/when and why we started to learn Spanish, what else we enjoy doing etc. One young girl from China was explaining a little about herself, and our teacher was trying to explain that she wasn’t the typical Chinese young woman, as she had tattoos, in particular, one on her bicep. She was facing the class and reached behind to gesture to the tattoo on the girl’s arm, but was absolutely horrified when she turned and realised that in fact, she was actually reaching for the student’s ‘teta’- I think we can all guess what that word translates to in English…

We were treated (and by treated I mean that our course fees paid for part of this), to a trip around Toledo on the tourist train, a trip to the caves of Águila and the natural pools at Candelada. Unfortunately, I missed the following excursion due to MY SECOND EUROPEAN WEDDING for the year!! We were invited to attend Spanish dance classes, which were a lot of fun irrespective of my terrible dancing skills (of course helped by a few necessary drinks beforehand!).

In the first few weeks, I explored most of the monuments in Toledo, acting like a proper tourist, with my bright red wristband, pointing me out to all locals like having the word TOURIST printed in glitter across my forehead. I visited the Iglesia de los Jesuitas, Mezquita Cristo de la Luz, Iglesia del Salvador, Iglesia de Santo Tomé, the Sinagoga de Santa Maria la Blanca, and the Monasterio de San Juan de Los Reyes.

I have also met some pretty awesome people whilst studying, including a group of students from Tenessee, who invited me along to celebrate the 4th of July with them. Never before have I felt SO UNWELL in class as I did on the 5th of July, but I survived and it was a lot of fun! The following day also happened to be the class photo day, where we were given our flags, and posed for pictures as a group! I and the ONE other Australian were grossly outnumbered by the few groups of USA University Students, but it was pretty awesome to see the pure number of flags and countries represented by our course group.

For a mid-course break, I was off to London to experience another wedding and catch up with some family aka MY SISTER! Couldn’t suppress my excitement!!

Back to school. But this time without the trip to Officeworks.

¡Vamos a Toledo!  I have not been a proper ‘student’ since 2014, and upon learning that I would be attempting to attend FULL-TIME classes (when I NEVER even had to go to class on Fridays at Uni), I was a little worried. I felt immediately unprepared, after I hadn’t actually picked up a Spanish book in so long, hadn’t been in a classroom in even longer, and hadn’t made my yearly back to school trip to Officeworks to get some shiny folders and matching exercise books. The email that informed me that I would first be completing a Spanish Leveling Exam, both written and oral, freaked me out. So upon arriving in Toledo, did I open a few books and do some revision? NOPE. I hit the streets and did some exploring.

Firstly. Toledo is a beautifully quaint town built on seven hills. BUT, the public transport system is not so grand, especially at 4pm on a Saturday afternoon. So luckily I had loaded the address of the residence (or what I hoped was the address of the residence, as I had been given two different ones by two different people!), on my phone. I couldn’t find any buses that were meant to be at the station, couldn’t find a taxi and found out that Uber has not made its’ way to Toledo as yet. So, in the 38˚C heat, I made my way across these seven hills and walked forty minutes to the residence.

Apparently, the name ‘Georgia’ for a female simply does not exist in Spain. They have Jorge, but there is simply no female equivalent. As such, despite me checking FEMALE on my application forms, I had been placed in a shared room with a guy. I was the first to arrive at the residence, and luckily the amazing lady at reception sorted it all out, and I am yet to be allocated a roommate! How lucky! I unpacked my bags, which was such a nice feeling after being on the move every couple of days for a couple of weeks!

The day before the start of classes (and the dreaded exam), I hit the streets of Toledo and went on a walking tour, and explored a few of the monuments in town. I made my way through the Iglesia de El Salvador, Monasterio de San Juan de Los Reyes, the Puerta de San Martín, Plaza de Zocodover and generally got lost through the city! I met my fellow classmates on Sunday evening and went to dinner locally with a group of students from Tennessee.

On Monday morning, we were put into ‘provisional groups’ for the exam, which confused me muchly as I was placed in level 5 of 6, where I was to remain even after my awful performance in both the written and oral exams. I later found out that the class was Level B1.3, when I had only completed up to A2.3 in Sydney. That’s right, that’s me skipping two whole levels/twenty weeks/sixty hours of classes.

We had a little ‘opening ceremony’ for the course, where they welcomed and celebrated the 27 different countries of students enrolled in the course. I was separated from the group of students that I entered the hall ( *cough cough* cathedral inside the university), which had me thinking that they were simply separating us into independent students and others. That’s when the flags were brought out. I was given the Australian flag and asked if I had my phrase prepared. Um. WHAT? So, apparently they had forgotten to inform me, (as I was walking into my oral exam at the time), that I was the delegate from Australia who was to carry the Australian flag down the aisle in front of everyone, including the very fancy head honchos in charge of the University, say a phrase in Spanish about why I am here or about the city and then say the same thing in my mother tongue. While the ceremony was a little long for my liking, they did give us drinks and tapas while watching the World Cup afterwards, so they made up for it!

Estoy emocionada de mejorar mi Español, antes yo viviré aquí en España por un año. Adios amigos, hasta luego.

xx

Córdoba. The land of flower pots and white walls.

The decision for me to head to Córdoba was largely inspired by instagram. I was amazed at the beauty of the blue flower pots on the white walls, but was amazed to see that there was oh so much more to enjoy! Córdoba has been declared a World Heritage Site and still portrays the mixture of cultures that have settled throughout history.

At first arrival, it was something ridiculous like 38 degrees (celsius) and I was sweating from absolutely everywhere. But it didn’t stop me wandering through the old town to find the Calletera de los Flores, the most photographed street in Córdoba. Next, with a new friend from the hostel, we went for a walk along the river, and ended up at the Victoria Markets to watch ESPAÑA in the fútbol. (Luckily, they won). The markets were great, with so many options, such a great vibe and these amazing mist machines that cool down the air without actually getting you super wet. Great inventions!

I also wandered through the Palacio de Viana, or the house of Patios as colloquially called, which showcased some spectacular garden designs dated up to five centuries ago. It was absolutely beautiful (and also free!)

OF COURSE an absolute highlight of Córdoba was the Mezquita. This incredible building highlights the changes in rule and religion like I have not seen anywhere else. The changes throughout the centuries not only shows the growing worshippers and population, but the complete change in religion upon the reclamation of Spain. In 1236, the sacred site was established as the official church of the city, but only upon the reconquest of Spain by King Ferdinand (and Isabella). In the 6th Century AD however, it was the Church of St Vincent, before the city had been conquered by the Visigoths, as shown by the Roman ruins still present. The Mosque was built after 45 years of worship in the one spot. Originally, the mosque could hold 5,000 worshippers, but in multiple enlargements, steadily grew to hold 40,000 worshippers. The architecture is simply incredible when walking inside. The double archways give a sense of lightness and openness to the space. There is a stark contrast between the Islamic architecture and the Christian overhaul. The understated, beautiful arches in my mind were standout, without having to be over the top and catchy. This isn’t to say that the Christian expansion of the building isn’t beautiful in its’ own right, but it did highlight the difference in the decoration and display in places of worship. Today, the space works harmoniously as a tribute to the religions and customs that were celebrated in the city.

The rest of Córdoba was a dream. There was one park in particular where I was privileged enough to experience and observe ‘normal life’ in Córdoba; a group of teens playing basketball (despite the heat), dog owners playing with the cutest pups, kids and families playing, other catching up over coffee, and others such as myself appreciating the street art. The park also had an elderly ‘fit zone’, designed to keep older persons fit, well balanced and strong! Amazing!

Córdoba was beautiful and highly recommend for anyone visiting Spain! It’s not just about the flower pots!