Livin’ la vida española

Hola a todos! I’m drafting this late on a rainy Saturday afternoon in Logroño because I’m anticipating a busy week this week! I’m trying to perk myself up with a mug of coffee because I’ve drunk myself into a sleepy state this afternoon …I’ll tell you more about later! Although even if I hadn’t, I might still be drinking coffee because whilst I’m still loyal to tea, coffee has found a space in my life since I moved here. (Don’t worry, afternoon drinking sessions are still quite rare!)

It’s taken me almost six months, but I’ve finally noticed that I really have adapted to living here. I’m now living a strange life that’s not quite Spanish and not quite English either! Drinking coffee is just one of the changes I’ve made, but I don’t think it’s the main one.  Although, saying that, I am now drinking quite a lot of it! I’m a bit worried I’m developing a dependency because I usually have about two every day,  and before the first one I feel exhausted and sluggish. To be honest, I’m more concerned about gaining weight from it than the effects of caffeine, because it’s usually made with full fat milk and, at school, with a generous dash of cream too! I realise this probably makes me a horrible vain person. Here, drinking (always espresso-based) coffee is a social norm. In the same way that we Brits are flummoxed when someone rejects an offer of tea, not drinking coffee is a strange notion to Spaniards.

In the cafeteria at school, the only drinks served are juice cartons for children, weird types of tea in strange flavours like peppermint and fruit  that isn’t actually tea and, of course, coffee. So, really, it’s drink coffee or cry alone (an exaggeration, maybe!). Not only is coffee the social day-drink of choice, it’s also cheap. It’s neither of these things in Britain, so I’ll probably give it up when I come home!

ImageMy favourite coffee of the week because the waitor said “Mi corazón es para ti guapa/ my heart is for you, lovely” which at the time I though was quite sweet, but on reflection might be a little bit creepy!

I drink coffee out of choice, but my timetable has changed out of necessity! Those of you who know me will know how my day revolve around food! My day at school finishes at 3, which means I can’t eat until gone half past – which fits in nicely with siesta time. This puts my day back, so I’m not hungry again until 8 or 9 (actually, I’m always hungry; I have to judge hunger by when I absolutely have to eat again!).

I’ve also adapted my diet. I’m proud to say that I haven’t had any more food parcels recently, and I can’t remember the last time I ate gravy! Fruit and vegetables are incredibly cheap here and I get most of my protein from eggs and fish. I’m trying to learn to cook Spanish omelette (the one with potatoes) but all of my attempts have failed so far!

You, my friends and family, will probably be able to judge this from a better perspective, but I think my attitude to life and perhaps even my personality has changed too. I think I’m more self confident and assertive – if you can get by on a second (or in my case, third) language, you can do anything …and after you’ve made some of the mistakes I have, there’s not much that can embarrass you! Having the occasional shop or cafe worker try to overlook me or do me over (or worse, look down their nose at me) because  they think they can get away with it because I have a foreign accent and imperfect Spanish has taught me to stand up for myself and be more assertive.

So I’m not the doormat I perhaps was before, but in many ways I’m more relaxed. Although I can’t bear not to be punctual, I’ve realised that being five minutes late isn’t the end of the world, which everyone here almost always is and which is something that really grated on me to start with. When in Spain..! I’ve learned to let things go, too. Living in a cheaply-built flat means that I’m surrounded by noise from every angle. For months I nagged my flatmates to keep the doors shut and not speak loudly at night …they didn’t remember, so I bought some ear plugs. Although, when my neighbour downstairs was playing music really loudly with a window open, I opened my window and played the same song with a 5 second delay… HA.

And voila, I’m Spanish …not quite!

A potential fau-pas of the future might be calling the club the disco, which I’ve started to do when I speak Spanish! In Spanish, it’s la discoteca, which must be where it’s come from! This needs to be resolved before I get back to England – it’s embarrassing!

A lot of my spare time this week has been dedicated to my year abroad essay, but on Saturday a lovely teacher I work with invited me to a traditional Spanish lunch. She lives in a beautiful old house in the equally beautiful village of Navarette, which is just outside Logroño. It’s such a small thing but it was really nice to be in a house again. Logroño’s 7-storey flats make me feel cramped like a little ant in an ant hill sometimes.

We drank Vermouth outside a bar before it started raining. In Spain, Vermouth is not served as shots but in big cups! After two glasses, my Spanish was flowing very naturally, and then we went to her home for food and wine from her very own wine cellar! I’d mentioned that I hadn’t had Spain’s famous sangria (which no one actually drinks and is marketed to tourists!) since I came to La Rioja and she’d made me some specially, which was lovely. My friend and her boyfriend are great chefs and made some delicious tapas (which is my favourite type of food!) as well as a sort-of paella made with pasta. Needless to say, I didn’t need dinner on Saturday!

The group of people at the lunch were, like almost all the Spaniards I know, very friendly and accommodating. Although I know they probably spoke more slowly and clearly than normal for me, I was very proud because I was able to understand almost absolutely everything and comment exactly what and when I wanted.  This was one of the first situations I’ve felt completely comfortable in a group situation here, and where I’ve felt I was able to express the real me!

ImageImageThe pictures don’t do this justice- it spans half of the street! ImageImageImage

I’m going to finish by dishing out a dose of cuteness! My colleague and friend, whose name is Emi, recently took in a stray cat. She didn’t know it was pregnant and it’s since had kittens. As of Saturday they were just 5 days old. I don’t even like cats that much – I’m much more of a dog person – but these were just the tiniest and sweetest things!


Beautiful Burgos

Hello and hola from sunny Spain! Since the beginning of the month, the weather has been getting ever better here. The Spaniards are saying that “Spring” has come but it hit 26 Celsius on Saturday, and we definitely don’t have a chance of feeling temperatures like that until the middle of summer in England!

I don’t want to make anyone at home jealous (sorry, not sorry!) but my guiri (non-Spanish) friends and I spent a lot of the last weekend in a sun-induced euphoria, lying out in sleeveless tops and shorts in the park, eating ice-cream and making daisy-chain headdresses (okay, that last one may have been just me!) ….


… whilst most Spanish people walked past in thick winter coats, scarves and even hats, and looked at us as if were mad. Perhaps I still need some more to acclimatise, but I don’t think people here appreciate nice weather enough. They should know that many Brits pay a lot of money to go somewhere like Spain so they can take some clothes off!


Logroño feels like a completely different ( or better!) city now that the sun has come out. Despite the weather giving my mood a huge lift and allowing me to spend more time outside, after almost three entire weeks here I felt the cabin fever starting to set in again so on Sunday I decided to adventure out to Burgos.

Because my friends were already busy or had already been, poor Maddie-no-mates (all together now, awww) went to Burgos alone, so please excuse me for the selfies I took to prove I went. You’ll have to let me off for the one above; I don’t have an excuse for that!

Burgos is a beautiful old walled city in Castile. People here had warned me that due to its high altitude, Burgos is famously cold. Some of you may remember the time I went to an incredibly rainy San Sebastian without an umbrella and spent majority of the trip trying to keep warm and dry in bars; determined not to make a repeat of this, I layered up with lots of jumpers, a scarf and gloves. Perhaps because it was so sunny there too, or perhaps because of the amount and pace of walking I did, I ended up lugging most of it around in my rucksack. Better safe than sorry, I suppose!


First stop was the cathedral. As you’re about to see, it wasn’t difficult to find because it’s so big that it takes up most of the old town! It’s a very imposing building and looked really beautiful in the sunshine. When I was young, almost every family holiday involved a visit to a cathedral or old church, which at the time I didn’t appreciate as much as I should have and as I now, with the gift of hindsight, do. How my twelve or thirteen year old self would laugh if she knew I’d go voluntarily when I was a bit older!Excluding St Paul’s, of course, this is one of the biggest and most impressive cathedrals I’ve seen.


Whilst my brother and I were fairly dispassionate towards many aspects of  many of the churches and cathedrals we visited, we had a strange, macabre fascination with the relics of dead saints in some of them, (I like to think that this is normal and human, or at least child-like!) and I now remember the buildings by who was there – so to speak! Particularly memorable is a trip to a church in Lucca, Italy, which is “home” to the entire, preserved body of St Zeta, who is actually taken out and paraded in her glass coffin once a year …but that’s a different story!

We (my brother and I, not Zeta) would have had a field day in Burgos cathedral; there are so many tombs! Most famously, the cathedral houses some of the remains of El Cid, a medieval military leader and heroic protagonist of many Spanish legends.


The interior of the cathedral is beautiful so I’ve put a lot of pictures up! The Dome is said to be the most beautiful example of Renaissance architecture in all of Spain. Philip 2nd said it must the the work of angels, not men – see, I was listening to the audio guide!


The altar piece is Classical and the chapel is Gothic (I 100% remember when these periods were…). The really colourful ceiling was remodelled in the 18th century in horror vacui baroque style, which, as we all of course know, means fear of emptiness. Have a look at the picture below – it is fitting!

If I’m honest, the vast majority of what I’ve writted above and was said in the audio guide was way above me, but I feel like you should at least pretend to know about what you blog about, so  I went to the effort of making notes just for you, lovely readers, so I hope you appreciate it!


These are only a small selection from the photos I took; the cathedral is so big that I spent a larger-than-expected portion of the day there. However, this was only in part due to its size and in another (large) part to being made to walk through the museum and art-galleries before you could leave. The museum was filled mostly with these ancient stone heads. I tried very hard to maintain my interest but, let’s be honest, there are only so many time-ravaged faces you can marvel at before you they all start to look the same and boredom sets in.

ImageHow did they work out  who he was supposed to be?

There was an art gallery with some more tapestries and another final one with modern religious sculptures, which I quite liked:


After eventually leaving the museum, I ventured further into the town to find some lunch. Burgos is famous for its morcilla, which is sausage made with blood and oatmeal – a bit like black pudding. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t try any, but I really don’t like black pudding, so I played it safe with patatas bravas!


After lunch I headed for the castle. The castle was, as you might expect, at the top of the hill! In the hot weather, with a heavy rucksack, it felt like a trek, so you can imagine the disappointment I felt when I got to the top and fount that it was closed for siesta! At least there was a cafe outside so I could revive myself with coffee while I waited!

ImageThat arrow is not used lightly!

You can imagine my even further disappointment when I entered to castle to find that it wasn’t worth the wait! The castle was destroyed by the moors, rebuilt, and they destroyed again buy the French in the Revolution, which is very interesting but meant that what’s left of the building is not very impressive! Since I’d walked all the way up there, and waited, I took some pictures. Here are the best ones:

ImageImage Image

On the plus side, halfway up the mountain was a viewing platform which gave amazing views over the town. I chose a great day visibility-wise so I could see for miles! Underneath the platform was a glass-fronted nightclub with infinity views over the vista, which probably makes for a great night but sadly I didn’t stay the night to find out as I had to work on Monday. It’s probably the coolest nightclub I haven’t been to!

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Another week is now in full swing, but don’t worry – I’m won’t be working too hard tomorrow because we’re going to see an English play that’s touring Spain!

Hasta luego!

Lost in translation

I dedicate a lot – many people say the best bits (hmph) – of my blog to the embarrassing messes I make of trying to use the beautiful Spanish language. This week, I thought I’d show you how Spain returns the favour! Here are some pictures of things that have made me laugh, or at least smile, thanks to their use of language:

imageNot quite Banksy…

This graffiti near where I work

Punk is not …dead?

Apparently I need to work on spelling and pronunciation with my students -and good citizenship!

photo (1)

This sign outside a cafe-bar advertising “Noches de coctel”

I’ve managed to keep it fairly light until now, but my blog is about to get educational! (Sorry)

Cóctel” is actually the legitimate translation for “Cocktail”, and is pronounced almost identically. However, the spelling has been changed so that it can be read phonetically in Spanish. It’s a fairly new loan-word,which is a word that was “invented” in English and is used in other languages too. Other examples are “Breikdans (breakdance)”, “Béicon (bacon)” and “Fútbol (you can work this one out yourselves)!”  It’s not that strange to see written, but it’s really funny when having a conversation with someone or listening to the radio in Spanish and up pops a heavily accented English word, so reading them makes me think of this and smile too!

(This also works vice versa, for example our use of the Spanish word “Siesta.” Also, it’s thought that “Alligator”comes from the Spanish “El lagarto.”)


This cheese

Thank you to my friend Anna for finding this one. “The laughing cow” is translated into Spanish as “La vaca que ríe (the cow that laughs).” I don’t really think it has the same ring to it.

imageummmm, what?

This t-shirt

I think something got lost in translation here!

It seems to be a fashion here to wear t-shirts with English slogans on them. However, I don’t think the shops do very much research or proofing because I see some fairly strange combinations of words! (No photos, sorry, I don’t want to be a weirdo taking pictures of strangers!) I’m sometimes asked by children to translate the words on their t-shirts and have to make something up because I don’t have the heart to tell them that it doesn’t make sense or is grammatically wrong! I had a moral dilemma once as to whether I should tell a sweet little 11-year-old that her “Pop my cherry” t-shirt was entirely inappropriate! I decided against it because I couldn’t face explaining what it meant to her. I’m pretty sure her parents had no idea what it meant (I hope), and I doubt many other people around here do either.

photo (2)Sistem – SYstem!


The writing on the window of this hairdresser

If you are a Spanish hairdresser living in Spain and you don’t speak English well … why write on your show window in bad English!?


This is off-topic, but there is a bread company called Bimbo here in Spain. It doesn’t have the same meaning in Spanish (in fact, it doesn’t have a meaning at all) but every time I see a van or a sign with Bimbo on it, it makes me smile!

Have a good week, pasalo bien!

Pancakes vs Parties

Happy Pancake day everyone! It’s been a while since my last blog post, but I’ve been busy celebrating the start of Lent the traditional English way at home, as well as the Spanish way back in Logroño this weekend. I’ve got two weeks’ worth of news so I’ll try to be concise!

Pancake day is probably my third favourite religious festival, closely following Christmas and Easter (though I’m still undecided as to whether or not chocolate trumps pancakes). For any non-English readers, Pancake Day (or Shrove Tuesday) is the last day before Lent. Traditionally, Christians would fast during Lent, so they would make pancakes the day before to use all the eggs and milk which would go-off. Nowadays, people don’t fast, but they still make pancakes!

Every year, my Dad mixes up and fries his famous (in our family, at least) batter and we race to eat as many as we can (…I really hope other families do this, and don’t think we’re greedy!) So I didn’t miss out this year, we held a “Shrove Monday” and held our  “Annual Pitkin Pancake Competition” (we don’t actually call it this… but we should!) while I was at home last weekend!Image

I had a lovely and relaxing time at home with my family. Aside from eating too many pancakes, I also managed to eat too much Mexican food with my friends, cheer York City on to a not-at-all-disappointing 0-0 draw and almost get blown off the moors.

ImageGirl vs Food (Food won)


To beat the post-home blues I’ve had each time I’ve returned to Spain before, I’ve been keeping really busy since I got back here. On Friday, I treated myself to a session at the fantastically cheap municipal spa. It doesn’t have all the frills you’d expect at an expensive spa – the robes and slippers, champagne, fruit etc, but it did have steam rooms, a sauna and a jacuzzi and only cost 8 euros for two hours! A quick trip could become a frequent indulgence!

Going to the spa was quite an experience. Spanish ladies have a lot of body-confidence and absolutely no qualms about nudity. (Before anyone gets hopeful, there are no photos of my spa trip!) There are no individual changing or shower rooms, just one big wet room. Lots of women were strutting around in their birthday suits – and many of them certainly wouldn’t fit into Bershka jeans! Good for them, I thought, until one lady struck up conversation with me whilst changing and I had to struggle to keep eye contact. She completely forgot about getting dressed and looked at me pityingly as I tried to do the knicker-trick (anyone who ever swam competetively will know what this is, but for anyone else:

So you don’t have to cover your body, but you do have to cover your head! It’s obligatory to wear a special silk spa hat, which I didn’t have so I worsened my Spanish and cried poor little foreign girl until I was taken pity on and lent one (I am a little bit ashamed of this)! I thought the reason might be to stop loose hair coming out in the swimming pool, but some women just wear their hair down and balance the hat on their heads. Strange.

Also, there is no queueing for the rooms and no one seems to follow the rule that once a room is full, you can’t use it. The sauna, in particular got very squashed, and even hotter than it would have otherwise been!

Saturday was the day of carnaval, which is probably Spain’s pancake day equivalent. Lent is welcomed here with a party, of course! Everyone dresses up (anything goes, literally!) to take part in or watch the parade and then it’s out to the bars and the clubs! I’d intended to watch the end of the parade and the prize giving, but because the weather was absolutely horrible the participants were speed-marched around the city and finished ahead of schedule, so I missed it. However, here’s a picture a friend sent me:


My friends and I had an animal theme. I was a ladybird:


My outfit got two outings because I was also invited to a carnaval dinner hosted by one of the teachers I work with. We had octopus (octopuses, octopi?), which I was a bit wary of but which were absolutely delicious! It’s encouraging that I was able to follow the majority of the conversation, even after a few glasses of vino!

photo 1 photo 2

Faux-pas of the week: In between having all this fun, I’ve also had to go to work! In one of my classes of five students I held a competition where each child had to speak for as long as possible about a picture. I wrote their initials vertically on the board, ready to put the times next to: PINAS, which made them giggle. “Yes,” I said, thinking they hadn’t outsmarted me, “It says pineapples.” But no, I found out, piñas means pineapples and pinas is a slang term for something eleven year olds shouldn’t know very much about. Oops.