Lake District

Lake District
Lake District


Showing posts with label Spain. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Spain. Show all posts

Exploring a Cloudy Bilbao | Year Abroad

Tomorrow will mark the beginning of my third week in Bilbao. It's a beautiful city and one that's fairly close to my heart since it was here that I got my very first taste of mainland Spain when I worked as an au pair for a family in the Basque Country in the summer of 2013. My first ever post on this blog was actually about my experience of working as an au pair which you can read here.

The Basque Country is actually also the place where the idea for my blog was initially conceived. I spent the most part of my time as an au pair at the family's holiday home, which was at the top of a mountain in a little coastal town with no WiFi. As it turned out, three weeks of internet deprivation along with a lot of time to think and fantasise about all the things I'd do on my return to "civilisation" resulted in me deciding that I wanted to start a blog. In my mind it would be a totally cool, edgy fashion blog; I literally have no idea why I thought this was me or I could pull that off. I guess it was the influence of a few occasional trips into the city and that 18-year-old-fresh-outta-school "I can do anything" mentality (I also decided I'd start collecting old rock vinyls and wearing all leather). None of these things actually happened- probably for the best, I'd say- and as you can see, Alphabeth went in a completely different direction. Nevertheless, it was still very cool to stand in the centre of Bilbao, camera in hand, and reflect on how much has changed and progressed since the last time I was here.

I'd love to say that I've been having an unbelievable time here so far, but in truth, I'm still adjusting. Moving to Spain has been a lot more of a culture shock than I, for some reason, had expected. And, while living here in Bilbao has been a vast improvement on the time I spent in Andalucía- for one, there are an abundance of students and people my own age, and I'm living with two other Irish girls!- it's still hard trying to get into the hang of things like the weird shop opening hours and the fact that Bilbao completely shuts down on a Sunday (this is kind of a blessing in disguise since you can essentially do absolutely nothing beyond watching Netflix in your PJs and not feel the least bit guilty! However, that's provided you've made sure you're not in dire need of anything before the shops close on Saturday night).

Anyone who knows me well could tell you how much I love the British/Irish landscape, though I'm sure that's something you can also probably tell from my usual blog content, and it's definitely one of the things I miss the most about UK- that, and not having access to my daily staple of Heinz Cream of Chicken Soup! The north of Spain is beautiful and green, and it's certainly a lot more familiar than the dry southern coast, but it's not home. That being said, I'm confident that things will get better with time, as they always do. I remember feeling much the same when I first moved over to uni. Believe it or not, I even found England a bit foreign at first.

My three housemates are all off on various travels this weekend so I've had our flat and some time to myself. I had to go into Bilbao Centre to pick up a few things yesterday and decided to bring my camera with me to try and capture a bit of Bilbao and give you lot a bit of an introduction to the city since this is only the beginning of what will be a year of many Spain- and Bilbao-orientated posts.

It was very overcast yesterday which was a shame since it had been beautiful the day before! All these pictures were taken on my circuit around town and back home, the first few in and around Bilbao's main shopping area and financial capital, Gran Vía and then Plaza Federico Moyúa, a well-known square at the end of Gran Vía that contains a beautiful fountain and some gorgeous French-style flowerbeds. Bilbao has unbelievable shopping, something which I don't think is going to be very good for my bank balance this coming year! I've never lived in a proper city before (even Belfast isn't quite a "proper" big city in the grand scheme of things) so it's an amazing novelty to have all the shopping you could ever need literally less than a mile from my doorstep. Even within my own neighbourhood I don't have to go very far to pick up essentials. Within a 2 minute walk from my flat there's a fruit shop, a pharmacy, a butchers, a bakers, bars, cafes and two supermarkets. It makes a huge change from living in Lancaster or where I live in Northern Ireland and having to walk 15-20 minutes just to get to the nearest garage or Tesco Express.

On the way home I passed the Guggenheim Museum. This kind of epitomises everything I love about Bilbao in the sense that the city is such an eclectic mix of old and new, even near-futuristic-style, architecture. On one side of the city you've got the Casco Viejo, the 'Old Town' with its narrow streets and tall balconied townhouses and then just across the river you find places like the Guggenheim, which is like nothing I've ever really seen before. Bilbao's Guggenheim is one of several museums owned all over the world by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, all of which house various pieces of modern and contemporary art. I haven't been inside properly yet, I've just wandered briefly through the foyer but I'm really keen to go as soon as possible.

At the front of the building there sits a 43ft tall sculpture of a West Highland Terrier known as 'Puppy'. It was designed by Jeff Koons in 1992 and is made of a metal structure which supports tens of thousands of fresh flowers (I've read 36,000 flowers from one source and 70,000 from another so I'm not sure how many it actually is!) which form the sculpture's façade. I think it's absolutely beautiful and is all the more awe-inspiring in real life! Inside the sculpture there's an internal irrigation system and the flowers are replaced seasonally in May and October so the sculpture can be seen to change colour throughout the year.

As much as I love the Puppy, in my opinion the back of the Guggenheim is even more impressive than its front, if that's possible! The rear of the building backs onto the River Nervion and I feel like it's from this angle that the curved exterior of the building, which is coated in glass and titanium, is the most striking. This is the side I pass from across the river on my walk to university every morning and it never fails to turn my head!

There are a few sculptures aside from the puppy that are dotted around the outside of the museum. The sculpture comprising a series of stacked metal spheres pictured above is called 'Tall Tree and the Eye' and is by Indian artist, Anish Kapoor. There's also another Jeff Koons piece called 'Tulips' that you can just about make out on the platform protruding over the water in the photo above. It's a giant bouquet of multicoloured flowers made out of stainless steel that was part of Koons's 'Celebration' collection where he painted and sculpted items that are generally mass-produced in association with birthdays and holidays.

Finally, probably among the most iconic images of Bilbao in my mind is the huge and somewhat curious 30ft high spider sculpture, Maman by Louise Bourgeois that also sits at the rear of the Guggenheim. It's constructed from bronze, stainless steel, and marble and while it's undoubtedly very interesting, I can imagine it being an arachnophobic's worse nightmare. I'm not hugely afraid of spiders but this sculpture still makes me feel a bit uneasy. I think its a combination of the spindly legs and the sac of marble eggs contained in the spider's abdomen. However, I'm actually still very fond of it, especially what it represents.

The sculpture is an ode to the artist's mother who died when Bourgeois was 21 years old. Despite what it may seem this is a flattering comparison, with the spider symbolising aspects of her mother's character such as care, and protection. It's also meant to encompass the idea of spinning and weaving, alluding to her mother's role in repairing tapestries in her father's textile restoration workshop.

What did you get up to this weekend?

Winter Wanderlust | Tenerife *

As some of you may know, particularly if you've ever read my first ever blog post which was on my experiences working as an au pair in Spain, I am a freaking Spanish nerd. I love the language, I love the culture, and I especially love all of Spain's weird and wonderful customs and traditions.
 With the weather getting colder by the day now and my thoughts drifting to dreams of warmer climes, I thought I'd talk a little bit about the things I love about Spanish culture, particularly in one of my favourite Spanish islands, Tenerife.

1: You can siesta all day, and fiesta all night
If one thing is true of the Spanish, they love to party. In fact, Spain is home to more bars and pubs than anywhere else in the world. The Spanish penchant for parties was something I took a little while to get used to on my first visit to Spain, what with me and all my granny-ish tendencies (early nights are kind of my "thing"). On my arrival I suddenly found that lunchtime had become dinnertime, and bedtime? Well, there's really no such thing. In Spain, partying literally until the sun comes up is standard practice, and fortunately, so are very lazy mornings (and by "mornings" I mean "mornings, but also well into the afternoon").

Tenerife in particular is one Spanish island known for it's buzzing nightlife, especially in the infamous Playa de las Americas, a popular party destination for Brits for its bustling stretch of bars and clubs. However, if like me you prefer a taste of the more traditional Spanish nightlife, there's the unassuming Puerto de la Cruz where when the sun goes down, its quiet streets and plazas become a hub of night-time activity.   

2: I genuinely believe Spanish dance music is a wholly superior listening experience
This may be just me, but it would seem that with the ability of the Spanish to host a most excellent "fiesta" also comes, in my opinion, it's ability to produce some of the worlds most epic dance tunes. Spanish music makes me want to dance like my life depended on it (I mean, everyone loves a bit of Enrique in their life though, don't they?) Also, excuse what may well be my poor taste to a more attuned ear but while I was working in Spain the two little girls I was looking after introduced me to Abraham Mateo (who as far as I can understand is basically Spain's answer to Justin Bieber) and now his song "Señorita" will forever bring me back to times spent dancing along to it in the apartment's living room with the girls.

3: Churros (for breakfast)
Just in case you're unfamiliar with what churros are, they're basically long, thin donut-type pastries, (often coated in sugar and eaten with hot chocolate) and in Spain, not only is it normal to eat them for breakfast, it's encouraged. 
Now if that doesn't sell you on the joys of Mediterranean living, I don't know what will!

4: Spain has the most outrageous festivals
Spain is the mother ship of celebrations and there are an absolute multitude of festivals and holidays held all year around (some being stranger than others). My personal favourite is 'La Tomatina', a giant tomato fight held each year on the last Wednesday of August in Buñol, Valencia, and then there's the 'Running of the Bulls', where crazy folk volunteer to be chased by angry bulls through the streets of Pamplona. Though really you can't have a proper festival without building a castell (i.e. a giant human tower), which is common practice at various festivals throughout the year in the region of Catalonia.

Like most other Spanish regions, Tenerife also has its fair share of annual celebrations. In fact, it boasts one of the world's largest carnivals, Carnaval de Santa Cruz de Tenerife (The Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife), held each February in Santa Cruz, the island's capital. The festival is a dazzling display of music and colour which lasts five days, ending on the final day in an enormous and spectacular parade.

5: The lush landscapes
Spain is rich in beautiful and diverse natural landscapes, from golden beaches in the south to striking mountain ranges in the north, not to mention the picturesque towns and cities featuring an abundance of awe-inspiring architecture in between. Tenerife is no exception to this rule, as a volcanic island it boasts a contrast of rocky volcanic mountains, forests and natural beaches. Teide National Park is popular with those hoping to experience the most rugged of the island's landscape. The national park is also home to El Teide, the 3rd largest volcano in the world.

6: El Corte Inglés
The ultimate shopping experience. That is all.

For more information on holidaying in Spain or Tenerife visit the First Choice website.

Disclaimer: this post has been contributed by First Choice though all opinions expressed have been my own and do not represent the views of  the company. 

My Au Pair Experience | Summer 2013

I actually heard about this opportunity through a friend, who messaged me just before my exams ended explaining that she had been asked through school if she would consider spending the summer in Spain as an 'au pair'. For those of you who maybe aren't familiar with what an au pair is, it's basically a young person who travels to a foreign country and lives with a host family. Au pairs are normally required to look after the family's children, help around the house and sometimes also help the children to learn English or another language, as it was in my case. My friend wasn't able to do all the dates the family needed so we were going to divide the time between us, doing three weeks each. As it turned out, the family needed the au pair to start the following week and since I had agreed to do the first three weeks, letting go of all inhibition, I booked a return flight to the Basque region of Spain.

 At the time, I didn't really get a lot of time to think too much about what I was doing since I flew out three days after my exams finished. In retrospect, this was probably a good thing since I didn't really have time to over-think and stress myself out. I did, however, have time to read over a few articles and blog posts about the sorts of experiences other people had had working as au pairs, and was slightly disconcerted to discover just how many of these experiences had been negative. Some, in fact, seemed to be real horror stories- tales of people being sacked without notice, kicked out onto the street or even abused by their host families! I was very fortunate in that my host family were extremely warm, welcoming and understanding but I really think these stories are a testament to just how important it is to ensure you find your family from a reputable source and that you get as much background knowledge on your host family as you can before-hand. If possible, it may also be helpful to try and get feedback from other au pairs who have worked for the family in the past, just to make sure everything is OK and to get an idea of what to expect. 

For me, working as an au pair for a short time-scale was at times, challenging but also very rewarding. I didn't really get homesick as such but there were times when I felt very cut-off from the rest of the world since I didn't really get the opportunity to socialise outside of the family very much during my time there. As well as this, it could also be a very tiring job at times, having to speak a foreign language from the moment you wake up until you go to bed again (although you don't necessarily have to speak a foreign language to work as an au pair, it usually helps if you're planning to work in a non English-speaking country). Despite the various challenges I faced, however, I had an amazing time. Fortunately again for me, the children I was working with were two very lovely little girls who were great fun to be around, which just made my job so much easier.

Provided you've done your research, I would definitely recommend working as an au pair for anyone who is keen to have the real authentic experience of living within another culture. It's also a great way to improve your language skills and do something a little out of your comfort zone. I studied Spanish for A level but I definitely feel my language abilities improved a whole lot from my time there, short though it was.

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