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Ávila

Things I have to read that I don’t have to read

I’m not sure whether enjoying learning Spanish motivates me to read, or enjoying reading motivates me to learn Spanish. I loved reading in my early teens but a lack of time slowly pushed me further and further away from that pastime. In recent months I’ve tried a few times to recapture it, both in English and in Spanish. I find reading particularly good for gathering new vocabulary quickly and for learning more advanced words that are rarely used in spoken conversation. It’s also useful if you want to sit by yourself in a café and stare at more than just your slice of tortilla española.

I have more Spanish reading materials than the three I am about to list, but these are the ones I have with me in Salamanca:

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From left to right: El ladrón de paraguas by Raúl Argemí, a copy of Súper Juegos magazine and El fantasma de la ópera by Gaston Leroux (translated by Rafael Sender).

The first is a children’s book that I bought last year in Granada. The title translates as: ‘The umbrella thief’. I was looking for something that wasn’t too difficult for my reading level at the time, and I never finished it. In its original language, too, and illustrated, two little bonuses. The writing is funny and endearing; although I still haven’t finished it, I would recommend it to anyone.

The second is a gaming magazine I bought yesterday. Videogames are a hobby of mine, so the magazine serves the dual purpose of being another source of Spanish whilst keeping me (relatively) informed about an interest I would otherwise be neglecting right now. It’s always good to read about something you’d naturally be interested in and enjoy, which makes a lot of sense and yet often doesn’t happen. I can count a few times where I’ve thought ‘ooh, that would be good for my Spanish’ or ‘this is very culturally/historically relevant’ and bought books that I haven’t read due to a Iwouldn’t-read-this-in-English lack of interest. Good intent is all well and good, but no need to sacrifice all enjoyment (and therefore Spanish progress) for it.

The last is a book I also bought yesterday from a charming shop called Re-Read. All the books there are second hand, and cheap. Whilst it is a translation from the original French book Le Fantôme de l’Opéra rather than originally Spanish, I opted for it due to the reason above — personal interest. I fell in love with the film version of The Phantom of the Opera years ago, then later with the musical and then its sequel (okay, less with the sequel). I’ve been curious to read it since I saw the film and now I will.

Alas, to keep my luggage light I won’t be buying any more books until I reach Seville unless my self-control is ruined by the sheer abundance of beautiful bookshops here but I’ll be sure to post more of my thoughts on these three when I finish them.

My reading breaks don’t end with these though — it’s time for me to go on a travel blog hunt! Inspiration is wood in the fire. I’m going to take a pause before my next post here — a day or two probably — and go reading around instead. Thank you to everyone who’s followed me so far!


Coming up: Personal reflections on my Spanish level

My first Spanish class, and a frog on a skull

Today my host realised that the clocks had moved forward. Her reaction was fantastic.

But anyway:

I had an amazingly awkward start to the day. I arrived at the school a little before the time I had been told to arrive, found the class I was supposed to be in… and wondered why no one else seemed to be around and where all the other students were. Then a teacher saw me and came to help, also found the class I was supposed to be in, showed me where it was (I didn’t have the heart to tell him I already knew), and told me classes started half an hour later. I’d seen that on the wall and wondered why I’d heard that I was supposed to be in half an hour earlier, and again wondered where the other new students were. Anyhow, I went and had a café con leche, passed the half hour, and returned to the classroom, where there were now people.

I later found out I had missed the newcomers’ orientation. Which was the reason I’d assumed I was supposed to arrive early the first day.

How?

Let’s file that under: How to start off on the wrong foot. In fact, there’s yet more confusion (financial, I won’t go into detail on this one*) that I’ll have to talk to someone about tomorrow. Perhaps I could have sorted it today, but I felt too nervous to confront that much in one day after everything else. Yes, let’s put that bit of cowardliness along with the rest in the same file.

[*Hello, it’s Jess from the future here. I sorted it all out — it was very simple in the end, have faith yesterday-Jess! Uh, yes…]

However, the class was great. The teachers were great and the materials were clear and informative. My classmates seem a pleasant if quiet bunch. There are two lessons per day: the first a grammatical one, the second a conversational one. Each is taught by a different teacher. Once the lessons were done (including the ten minute break in between them), I went to the office to bravely inquire (in Spanish) about activities run outside of class time, and managed to get the information/paper handout I needed (…from the same guy that told me classes started in half an hour).

You know, the sort of stuff they would have talked about in the orientation.

Well. A guided tour around the major attractions was one of the activities listed for today, and I decided to join it.


And coming back to this post today (alas, I did not have time to post this yesterday), I can definitely say that a summary of Salamanca’s attractions might be better left until later on in my stay here, so that I have enough time to compose a better summary. At the very least, they deserve their own post. Suffice to say it was a beautiful day (and yes, I’m still going to explain the title of this post).

I’m in love with the colour of the buildings. I don’t know how to explain this artistic, nay affectionate pull I have for this particular stone colour but I captured a picture of the Plaza Mayor (this stone in particular is called Villamayor) in full sunlight which maybe explains it for me:

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Yes?

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How about this one from today, with even better sunlight? No?

No need to be so serious about stone, anyway…

 

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A skull with a frog on top.

Yep. Serving as a warning to students, this iconic frog on ‘La Puerta de Salamanca’ represents the lazy ease of youth whilst the skull reminds them of their mortality…urging them to study hard rather than just party hard. At least that’s what my tour guide said. Go easy on the vino, people. However, it’s supposed to be lucky if you manage to find it amongst all the rest of the carvings on that University’s façade, which for me feels like a bit of a contradiction.

Anyway, the evening ended with tapas with the school — those lovely mini-meals you typically have with alcohol in Spain — and really, that fixed everything.


Coming up: Things I bought to read

 

Salamanca: A plaza, a hornazo, and a dog

Freedom, Sancho, is one of the most precious gifts that heaven has bestowed upon men; no treasures that the earth holds buried or the sea conceals can compare with it

-Don Quijote de la Mancha, part 2, chapter 58

I think I’m already in love with the place. Finding that quote on one of the buildings seemed too fitting not to include. (I tried to translate it myself at first, but then decided the official translation sounded better.) Arriving on a Sunday has meant finding a peaceful quiet here that I hadn’t expected; a lot of the shops are closed and therefore less people are about. I’ve found it calming; a surprisingly gentle hello to this beautiful city.

The journey here went very smoothly, so smoothly in fact that I can almost forgive Daylight Saving Time for depriving me of an additional hour of sleep on a morning where I already had to wake up at 5am. After my flight into Madrid I caught my Avanzabus coach to Salamanca, settling in for a cosy ~3 hour drive. To my pleasant surprise there were individual screens for entertainment and I settled in to watch Chef (in Spanish, of course). It’s a very heart-warming film, and set me up perfectly (if a little hungry) for the picturesque approach to Salamanca.

Once I’d settled in to my new home with my host, I set off with a two-part mission in mind: to find the school where I start attendance tomorrow, and to buy a map. And in my typical wandering, bad-sense-of-direction, curious sort of way, I managed to find both, and more.

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Stumbling into the Plaza Mayor entirely by accident was probably the best way I could have come across it. There I was, standing on a perfectly normal street, thinking ‘that’s a nice archway’ only to walk towards it and find the other side…was the stuff of postcards. Indeed, one of the iconic images that inspired me to visit Salamanca in the first place. I must try for a panoramic shot when I have a day with better lighting – it’s exactly the sort of broad, 360-degree wonder that panoramic shots seem designed for.

Another thing I noticed as I walked around was an abundance of shops selling Iberico ham. In correlation with this, a number of similar shops selling it in bocadillos, and a few of those also selling it as part of something called a hornazo. It’s a thin savoury pastry containing a selection of pork: chorizo, jamón and pork loin. Now that I’m looking it up, I’ve learnt that it’s a traditional dish of Salamanca. In its full form it’s a round pie, but I only bought one slice to go. Alas, I ate it before it occurred to me to take a picture. Oops. Have this picture instead:

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View from Huerto de Calixto y Melibea

 

Well, I’d better catch up on the sleep I’m missing. Oh, and did I mention that my host has a dog? Small, white, fluffy, energetic, and utterly absent from the email correspondence. I’m not sure which one of us was more surprised to see the other. I think we’re friends now.


Coming up: Classes start – Time to see where my Spanish level really is…

Salamanca & Seville: Here I come!

Here goes.

Hello! I’m Jess: age 22, confused about life, and going to Spain. Again. But this time I’m going to blog about it! Starting on the 26th March I’ll be going to Salamanca for 3 weeks and then Seville for 5 weeks; improving my Spanish level, exploring the place and enjoying the culture. I’m writing this blog to faithfully track my progress, share the adventure and hopefully remove any anxious illusions others might have about travelling. I’m going to learn some stuff, share that stuff, and it’s all going to be awesome. It’s going to be awesome and I know this, even though my brain is having a bit of an ‘oh God’ moment as I type this.

This time tomorrow, I’ll be in Spain. Yep.

Course & Accommodation

In many ways, this trip mirrors that of last year’s. So, about that ‘again’ part that I mentioned up there. I did not blog properly for 2016’s visit to Granada, so…here’s a quick recap of how that got started. Last time on Jess has a crisis in her early 20s goes to Spain, I went to Granada for 6 weeks for a Spanish language course, after finally deciding to go abroad alone and break the fear-of-doing-big-alone-abroad-stuff barrier. It was one of those personal achievements I’d always wanted to cross off my list, and one day I found myself searching the internet for ‘study Spanish abroad’ and found myself on this awesome mega-site called AppleLanguages. I was hesitant because comfort zones are comfortable but I booked it anyway before the little panicking Jess inside of me could get louder than the let’s do stuff! one. I decided I had nothing to lose by trying. Plus everyone I mentioned it to early on (like 2 or 3 people carefully selected) were very much on the ‘Go for it!’ team. ‘Tell people you trust about the awesome thing you’re planning -> feel accountable -> have to carry it through’ is a Life Hack.

The AppleLanguages site allowed me to book both accommodation and the course in one shot, something that I found soothing in its ease and so pushed myself to choose the ‘host family’ option for extra immersion. And then I left the job that had provided me with the savings, and I went. A full recap of the Granada experience would need (at least) its own blog post, however, so I’ll have to save those stories for another time. Given that the process of planning this year’s course went almost exactly the same, I’ll let this serve as a basic summary of the course/accommodation booking process for both, with only a few key differences mostly in the amount of travel I’ll be doing getting to, from and between courses.

Language level & expectations

My current level of Spanish is, based on self-assessment and the participation certificate I received in Granada, somewhere between level B1 and B2 using the CEFR; intermediate but still not quite comfortable enough to have conversations easily. Speaking is definitely the weakest of my skills. I’m hoping to make a solid B2 (Upper Intermediate) level by the end of the trip, hopefully bordering C1 (Advanced). I’ll cover much more about Spanish and my learning progress in later posts.

Beyond the 8 weeks

This blog isn’t just here for the one trip – travel doesn’t end with Spain, and neither will language learning. I’m looking forward to connecting with other travellers and learning even more about the world. As I move and grow in Spain and beyond, I hope you’ll share the journey with me!


Coming up: Arriving in Salamanca