Saturday, April 26, 2008


This past week in El Puerto de Santa Maria, a neighbouring town of Rota's, it has been Feria. Literally translated, the feria is a fair, but it is so much more than that! There are your typical fair rides and game booths, but that's not all... Basically feria is a week of fiesta, sherry drinking and sevillana dancing that usually takes place in the middle of May, and that locals look forward to all year long. The fairgrounds are so big, they have to be on the very outskirts of the city.

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Once you enter the grounds, the streets are lined with colourful tents (casetas), lanterns, and horses and carriages, making you feel like you've been transported back in time. The casetas are the focal point of the fair. They’re set up by local families, clubs, societies and businesses and within each one is a new and exciting party with a plentiful supply of food, drink, 24-hour merrymaking, and non-stop dancing. It’s common for the locals to “caseta-hop” from one tent to another.

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My friend Princess and I spent the whole day on Saturday just wandering around, and taking in the atmosphere of the whole thing. Most of the women and children were dressed in traditional Spanish flamenco outfits that you imagine when you think of Spain (or at least I do!) And everyone is well-versed in a dance called Sevillanas, of which there are 4 different types. These dances all follow a certain pattern, and somehow, all the dancers know which of the 4 is being performed at any given moment, so when you look out at the dance floor, what you see is a perfectly synchronized group of dancers clapping their hands, stomping their feet, twirling their hands around, and switching places with their partners, ALL AT THE EXACT SAME TIME! In case you can't tell, I was exceedingly impressed by the dancing!

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Unfortunately, after a long day of drinking rebujitos (fino white wine, like Tio Pepe, mixed with Sprite or 7-Up) and tinto de verano (red wine mixed with lemon-flavoured soda), it was time for us to go home, although many of the locals would stay and party all through the night!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Picture Day

Today I decided it was time to take some photos of my (temporary) Spanish hometown, our usual hangouts, the old part of the town, and my favourite place - the beach!  So here they are...

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

School visit and Seville

Today was an interesting day, to say the least!  We started off by going for a visit to my school... the teachers were excited to finally meet my parents, and all of the English teachers (and some others too!) were eager to practice their English on them.  Afterwards we drove the rental van to Seville, stopping at the way (and only getting a little bit lost!) at some ruins just outside the city called Italica.

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After about an hour of walking around and sightseeing, we carried onto Seville, where the GPS proceeded to direct us down the narrowest, most awkward streets in the entire city of Seville!  Now don't get me wrong, a lot of Spanish towns are completely made up of narrow little streets... however, Seville is not one of them!  The main area where they are concentrated is the tourist area, and you do NOT under any circumstances want to drive a gigantic van around in them (and lost, no less)!  Below you can see the back of our van, and one of the streets we carefully drove down... and this was one of the widest ones!

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Eventually we all got pretty claustrophobic, and were afraid of scratching the rental vehicle, so we stopped and since I was the designated translator of the trip, I asked someone how to get back onto the main, wider streets!  He told me, but warned that it would get very very narrow right at the end.  Assuming that it couldn't possibly get any narrower than it already was, we continued on... boy were we wrong!  When we came to the last section of the street, we realized we could hardly move an inch in any direction, for fear of scratching the car, or worse... getting completely and utterly stuck between the two walls ahead!  We managed to get out, but only after a stressful 15 minutes of careful inching ahead, and having to pull the rearview mirrors in.  Well, that and the fact that we had an amazing driver and a great navigator in the front seats!

Unfortunately, by the time we found parking (on the other side of the city!) we were too late to see the cathedral and Giralda bell tower, so we just went to the Plaza de España (which happens to be my all-time favourite site in Seville, and maybe even in all of Spain!) 

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Afterwards, we did a whirlwind tour of the rest of the tourist sites... by horse and carriage!  My favourite part was that I got to sit up front and talk to the driver in Spanish, then translate for the other 4 in the back (although he did speak English, so I think it was just for my benefit that he gave the tour in Spanish!)  The most interesting part was when I asked him how he came to give this kind of tour as a profession, and he told me that his grandfather had done it, his father had done it, and he had been doing it with them since he was young.  So it seems that it's something that's passed down through the generations. 

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Luckily, we made it back to Rota just in time for dinner at my favourite Irish Pub (it's actually called O'Grady's, but we call it Patrick's because when we first arrived in Rota, we made friends with the Irish owner, whose name is Patrick!) and happy hour!

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Back to Rota... with the parents!

Today was our last day in Madrid, and we started it off by going to see the bull ring and bullfighter museum. We took the metro there, which is an experience in itself for anyone from a small town. The bull ring was interesting to see, even though we didn't go inside, but the museum was nothing spectacular.

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We spent the rest of our time shopping, and then flew back to Jerez, the airport closest to Rota. From there it was a gong show driving to Rota in our rental van. Dwayne had brought a GPS with him, but before we got it up and running, we had already missed the first exit! We got quite turned around, but the GPS (who we nicknamed Greta) got us back on track and we made it eventually! They all checked into their hotel, and then we went for dinner at an amazing Argentinean restaurant only a block away. They make the best steak, with different kinds of sauces to go with them. Later I took them for ice cream and a walk along the beach.

Sightseeing in Madrid

On Monday, we went to one of the main sights in Madrid - the Royal Palace. It is known as the official residence of the Spanish King and Queen, but they actually live in a different palace on the outskirts of the city. Nowadays, the Royal Palace is mainly used for state occasions. This palace is the largest royal palace in Western Europe in size, and it has more than 2,800 rooms!

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After our tour around the palace, we stopped at a cafe for churros con chocolate. which are strips of fried dough that you dip in thick, hot chocolate with a pudding-like consistency. Supposedly the name churro comes from its shape, which resembles the horns of the Churro breed of sheep from the Spanish grasslands of Huarocho.


Next we went for a relaxing walk in El Parque del Buen Retiro, and even had a bit of a nap out in the sun. We topped off the day with a typical Spanish lunch of mixed paella and other tapas. Paella is a typical Valencian rice dish made with saffron, tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil. The origin of the name paella comes from the frying pan that it is traditionally cooked in. My parents and their friends also tried croquetas (deep-fried mixture of ham and mashed potatoes) and tortilla espanola (potato omlette).

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Monday, April 14, 2008

My parents visit Madrid

This weekend was a very exciting one for me, because it was the start of my parent's two-week visit!  On Saturday I took the 7 1/2 hour bus from Rota up to Madrid, and spent that night at my fellow language assistant Princess's.  The next morning we headed to the Rastro, a popular open-air flea market that takes place every Sunday.

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Then later that afternoon, I went to the airport to meet my parents, and their friends Janice and Dwayne.  It was great to see them after being away from home so long.  By the time I got them to their hotel near Gran Via, right in the centre of the city, and they were ready to go out again, it was almost sunset, so I decided to take them to the Temple of Debod.  This is an ancient Egyptian temple that was given to Spain in 1968 as a sign of gratitude for their help in protecting several other Egyptian monuments.  Then we had an amazing dinner at an Italian restaurant on Gran Via.

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Ancient Corinth

After a relaxing day yesterday, which we spent catching up on lost sleep and wandering around Corinth, we decided to make a trip to the site of Ancient Corinth today.

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Ancient Corinth was founded in the 10th Century BCE and was the largest city in ancient Greece. Corinth was Greece’s richest port as well, because of its strategic location on a narrow stretch of land that joins the Peloponnesus to the mainland of Greece. In ancient times, they traversed the isthmus by hauling ships over the rocky ridge on sledges, but it is now cut by a canal.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

Arrival in Corinth, Greece

Late last night, Chella and I caught a flight to Greece.  We left from the Seville airport, although we almost missed our flight!  We had a connecting flight to catch in Barcelona, and we arrived in Athens at 6 am, where we caught a train to Corinth.  Helen, a relative of Chella's who lives in England, had given us her house key so that we could stay with her.  We finally got here, but we had a really hard time of it!  First we had to figure out how to get a bus to the city centre, which was difficult since when we asked someone (in English) when the next bus was, he told us they weren't running today.  Luckily, a nice old Greek man who spoke better English, helped us out by getting us on the right bus (they were in fact running!), and telling us when to get off.  We still had a hard time finding the house though, because the house numbers don't seem to go in any logical order.  Now that we're here, it's time for some breakfast!

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Visiting Seville with Chella

Early this morning Chella and I took the bus to Seville for a combination sightseeing-shopping trip.  We started out by going to see the Plaza de España.  This amazing, gigantic plaza was built in 1929 in honour of Seville hosting the Spanish-American Exhibition.  The Plaza is a huge half-circle with buildings continually running around the edge accessible over the moat by numerous beautiful bridges. In the centre is a large fountain.  If the picture below looks familiar, that may be because this plaza appears in George Lucas' Star Wars movie, Episode II: Attack of the Clones.

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Afterwards we shopped for a bit until we got to the centre of town, where we went into the Cathedral.  Construction was begun in 1402, and continued into the 16th century. It is the largest of all Roman Catholic cathedrals (Saint Peter's Basilica not being a cathedral) and also the largest Medieval Gothic religious building.  It houses what is thought to be the tomb of Christopher Columbus. 


We also climbed to the top of the Giralda tower, where there was a great view of the city. 

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After all that sightseeing, somehow we still had the energy to shop for hours, so we didn't get home until late tonight, and we are exhausted!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Semana Santa

In Spain, the whole week before Easter (this past week) is celebrated with processions and religious ceremonies.  Spain is renowned in the world for its Holy Week celebrations, and some of the most elaborate occur right in this area, and tonight we went to our first procession!

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During the processions, which occur throughout the week, pasos are carried through the streets.  A paso is a lifelike wood sculpture of individual scenes of the events that happened between Jesus' entry in Jerusalem and his burial, or images of the Virgin Mary showing restrained grief for the torture and killing of her son. Some of the images are of great antiquity and artistic masterworks. These pasos (which usually weigh over a metric tonne) are physically carried on the neck of volunteers (usually from the age of 24 to 48) who are hidden inside the platforms, making them seem to move all on their own.