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Cartagena

December 24, 2010

Walking out of the Plane in Cartagena was like walking into a sauna. As I waited for my bag I realised that I didn’t have the piece of paper with the name of my hotel on it. The lovely tourist information lady let me use her computer to check my email. I like her more than the man in Bogota. The hotel was OK, but not really worth the money they were asking for so I decided not to stay there for more than the first night. I intended to look for somewhere else to stay that afternoon, but I got distracted by the city, the music everywhere and the dancing.   I also came across a stage being set up and when I asked what was going on was told there was going to be a free concert to celebrate Cartagena getting World Heritage Status.  I went, got a delicious early tea and came back for the concert.   It was great.   Lots of different types of music, dancing, carnival costumes, people climbing cirque de Soleil style, a shower of glittery confetti and fireworks. While I was there I got talking to an Australian tourist and his American and Brazilian friends and we ended up drinking aguadiente in a bar on the walls,  overlooking the whole city and the sea under a full moon.  You can’t complain!

Dancers at the Concert

I woke up feeling a little rough and realised that I had forgotten to buy water on my way home. I showered and went out in search of coffee as fast as I could after ascertaining that check out was 2pm so I had time to go in search of  Spanish lessons and accommodation.  The school that I had emailed about classes suddenly decided that I could only do full weeks at a time and had to start on a Monday, which was no good to me at all. I was a little irked to find that out after having walked all the way over to their building.   I was hoping that they could find me accommodation too, so I then had to go in search of hostels. I took advantage of the 7000 peso lunch menu, free WiFi and air conditioning in the Hard Rock Cafe and got myself a list of places to go and see. Only one of them had space and they were just round the corner form a Spanish and Salsa school that didn’t mind me starting mid week and offered to give me lessons every day until I leave (that includes Christmas day!). I went back there later to have a taster course and rather enjoyed myself. Roll on proper lessons later today!

 

The evening looked like it was going to be another lonely meal and early night but, as I sat in the square with a glass of wine waiting for my food and watching the street theatre, an American came over, said he was eating alone too and asked if he could join me. He had ridden his motorbike down from North America, through central America and now is working his way south through South America. He was interesting to talk to and it was nice to have company. We went for a drink after the food. I then had to go as I needed to be up early(ish) to be at my first Spanish lesson at 9.

 

The other person in the Spanish group is a Russian, living and working in Paris, who has a lot of Spanish friends and so speaks Spanish with quite a strong Spanish accent.  He is having lessons to improve his grammar. This suits me fine. I now have quite a lot of homework to catch up the last 3 days worth of work.

 

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Bogota

December 24, 2010

Well, I thought I’d blog my adventures in Colombia partly so that those of you stuck in the snow can be jealous of my tropical location but also because it gives me something to do when I’m sat on my own in a cafe. I may also translate it into Spanish because, quite frankly, I need the practice.

Getting to Bogota was stress free and I arrived, got a secure taxi from the airport to the hotel (Abitaire56) and settled into my room pretty quickly. I was tired and it was cold, drizzly and dark so I decided to go to the nearest food place, eat and have an early night. Who knew that beansprouts would work on Pizza?

The next day I spent the morning talking to Kevin via the wonders of the internet, and found out that he wasn’t going to arrive in Bogota that afternoon. I left him looking at other options and went into town for lunch and a wander. The taxi driver that took me into town went the scenic route (which I didn’t really mind as it let me see more of the city) and chatted me up for the whole journey. My favourite part of the conversation went roughly like this;

Taxista: como te llamas?
Me: Cally
Taxista: Como la ciudad?
Me: Si
Taxista: Hermosa y llena de vida como tu!

Which I think beats the freckle comment but I’m not sure.

I enjoyed wandering round La Candalaria, it is pretty much the same as all of the other colonial areas you see in Latin America, but the Christmas lights were pretty and the place was heaving with people, street vendors, street performers and traffic that doesn’t feel the need to use the horn every second. It started raining so I took refuge in a cafe and had a very nice chichen and potato stew thing with choclo in it. Just what you need on a cold rainy day. I eventually stumbled upon the tourist information and found out that almost all of the museums in Bogota are closed on a Monday, the exception being the emerald museum. I went there and learned a lot of geology in a short space of time. The most interesting thing was that the reason that gems are cut in different shapes is to do with the refractive index of the mineral. This is why good emeralds are cut in rectangles. It brings out the best of the luminosity and colour. I was quite pleased that I understood the tour as it was in Spanish.

I learned a few things about Colombian Spanish in my wanderings – they talk funny for a start – there’s a little bit of a zzz sound to the esses and they don’t roll their r’s so much and they run words together. They also use different words and phrases. They say sigue instead of pasa for example. They don’t use the word botica either.

I then bought a guide book for Colombia and realised that I only had 5000 pesos left. I decided to go and get money out at the cash point, get some dinner and then get a taxi back to the hotel ready for an early night in preparation for my flight the following day. This is where the problem began. I went to the cashpoint and it wouldn’t let me have any money. ‘Never mind’ I thought ‘there was a BBVA next to the Emerald museum – I’ll go there and sort it out’ Little did I know that the banks in Bogota close at 4 pm. I thus found myself in central bogota with virtually no money. First I went to Tourist information, they seemed to think it was amusing that I thought there may be a bank open at 4.30 pm , didn’t know where I could change money (I had 43 dollars on me to, but you can’t spend them in Colombia like you can in Peru) and wouldn’t let me use his phone to call my bank. He did give me directions to a locutorio (place where you can make phonecalls) even though he knew I didn’t have enough money for the call. The woman in the locutorio did give me directions to where she thought there MAY be a casa de cambio and I left starting to feel a bit panicked and teary. The universe decided to cheer me up at this point by making a combi drive through a puddle right next to me and soaking me down one side. I had to laugh. I found the casa de cambio, changed my paltry dollars and arrived back with some money feeling slightly better about the situation. The man at BBVA seemed to think it was my own fault that they had failed to put a note on my account to the effect that I was in Colombia on holiday and would want to get cash out and put things on my credit card. Somehow me going into the bank, talking to the manager and filling in forms wasn’t enough – the manager should have told me to ring a number apparently. Still he got it sorted in the end and the call only cost me 8000 pesos. I went to get money out and make sure that he really had made the changes on the system and decided that after such stress I deserved a coffee and cake. Mmmmmm.

I decided I didn’t really need a main meal as I’d eaten lunch late so I got a typical (if strange) dish consisting of a hot chocolate, some normal bread, some maize bread and some cheese. It was better than it sounds! I used the time to work out where the nearest Transmetropolitano stop was and went off to get public transport home. It was surprisingly simple. The only problem were idiot commuters who, despite not wanting to get on the bus that was in the station, still stood in front of the doors so they didn’t lose their prime spot when their bus did come. They ignored polite requests to move and then glared at me when I just shoved past to get on the bus as the doors closed. Dimwits.

The next day I had a pleasant taxi ride to the airport and then a very confusing time trying to drop my bag off and find the right part of the airport. Things just weren’t sign posted. Obviously you are just supposed to know. I then sat in the lounge for AGES as the plane was delayed for a few hours. I read my book. Somehow the cheapest tickets I could buy turned out to be executive class so I watched an episode of Glee while I flew. Nice!

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Portugal

January 16, 2010
Thankfully buying tickets to get from Spain to Portugal was nice and easy.  They didn’t even want to check my passport!  The only downside was that the train left Salamanca at 0430 to arrive in Nelas at 0830 (so the woman in the train station told me).  The journey from Salamanca to Nelas was fairly uneventful.  I couldn’t relax on the train as I knew that Nelas was not the final stop and I was worried that if I went to sleep that I would miss it.  The train was a sleeper, but I was sat in the sitting compartment with what looked like a sleeping GAP student and an older man who got up at every stop to have a quick smoke on the platform.  He did give me a can of coke at about 6 am though and thus saved me from severe dehydration!
It was only as I arrived in Nelas that I remembered about the 1 hour time difference between Portugal and Spain.  The woman in the train station had forgotten about it too.  This meant my brother was not waiting for me.  I spent an hour in the cafe on the station being looked at suspiciously by Portuguese men who obviously thought that a woman should not a) be out by herself or b) be in their cafe.  Also couldn’t remember any Portuguese other than ‘I don’t speak Portuguese, do you speak English or Spanish?’ which was met with blank looks.  I ended up with black coffee as ‘cafe con leche’ is too far from ‘cafe met laite’ and obviously unintelligible.  It was 55 cents.  I had forgotten how cheap Portugal is!
Jason was half an hour late.  I spent this half an hour stood on the sunny side of the road opposite the train station trying to photosynthesise and watching the interactions between the stray dogs and passing traffic.
We went to see a friend of Jason’s who, despite being a football hooligan in a former life, was too much of a wuss to use a chain saw on his own and needed  help cutting down 3 pine trees that had become infected with some kind of nematode worm.  Jason got his chain saw out and the two of them played happily all morning while I had a couple of cups of tea, sat in the sun and played with the puppies.  I was exhausted having not slept the previous evening and had a nice early night.  I’m staying in a flat in the village, Jason and Maxine are sleeping in their tent on their land because it is warmer.  They have the flat as a storm decimated their kitchen tent recently and the solar showers are not to efficient when it is frozen and cloudy so they use the flat as a storage unit, kitchen and bathroom.  With 3 bed covers it was nice and cosy.  I woke up at about half past 1 the following afternoon.  Nice.
The next few days were spent chopping wood, looking for a quinta to buy, going shopping, trying, unsuccessfully, to put the roof beams into the house without a crane and eating nice cakes and coffee in places that said they had free internet but turned out not to and having roast dinners.  Eventually I found a quinta to buy and then had to spend a rather stress free afternoon getting a Portuguese fiscal number and opening a bank account.  Considering I speak no Portuguese and Jason’s is not as good as my Spanish I thought we managed remarkably well.  The following morning I went to the lawyer to give my brother the power to buy a property in the Seia region on my behalf and power to take out and transfer money from my new Portuguese account.  If he buys 30 000 pastel natas (a type of local egg custard cake thing – delicious) with my money I will be cross.  I also tried to buy a bus ticket back to Madrid for Wednesday, but was told they didn’t run everyday now and I’d have to go back on Thursday instead.  I hope Madrid isn’t too snowy.  We have had one day of snow here – it was beautiful, but followed by a very hard frost for 2 days, Jason and Maxine’s quinta is the coldest on in the town apparently – it didn’t defrost for 3 days and the ice on the dogs’ water in the morning was about an inch thick!  Daisy was the only dog pleased with this as she loves eating ice, the other two were less than impressed.
The overnight bus to Madrid leaves at 2245 tomorrow and should get me into Madrid at about 6 am.  This gives me ample time to get to the train station, catch a train to Alicante and then the tram to Altea, again.  A journey I will have to do in reverse the following day to get back to Madrid with Mum in tow for our flight to Lima.
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Happy New Year

January 4, 2010

New year was stranger than I could have imagined.  I didn’t feel like drinking, but thought I’d better make an effort to fit in so behaved as if I had for most of the evening (up until the point that Anna, who couldn’t remember phoning the taxi 2 minutes earlier, said to mum ‘give me your car keys, I’ll drive us home’  when I decided that one of us needed to start acting sober and I was the only one who could pull it off… ).

The meal at Jan’s was delicious, and included another first – Ostrich steaks.  They are nice.  Just before midnight (spain time) we were given 12 grapes each and a party bag containing very silly hats, masks etc. which we all dutifully wore while posing for photos (see Facebook for evidence) and then we went round saying Happy New Year to everyone.  This involved a LOT of kissing, dutch and belgians kiss 3 times, the Germans twice.  Only at this point did we realize that the table behind us were Germans and the next table were Dutch.  We had been having a rather a loud discussion about the war during dinner.  Anna, being drunk, immediately started doing Basil Fawlty ‘Don’t mention the War’ impressions .  At no point did anyone vocalise ‘2 world wars and one world cup’  but I am sure I heard my mum sing do-dah, do-dah at least once.

We then had a glass of champagne with cassis in it ( I did drink that, it was yummy) and then Anna and I decided to do a bit of impromptu singing and dancing along to the CD…  I also introduced Anna and Jan to the game ‘would you still be my friend if I danced like this…’ with hilarious results

The bar crawl that mum had prophesied turned out to be more of  a bar ‘stumble round the corner to the bar and then stay there’.  It was interesting.  Yet again Anna and I were the youngest in there by miles, and for any song written after about 1970 we were the only ones dancing.  Our word-for-word interpretation of  ‘In the Jungle the Mighty jungle the lion sleeps’ was first class even if I do say so myself!  We then had to do the whole ‘Happy New Year’ thing AGAIN at 1 am as the British pensioners in the bar refused to believe it was really New Year until Big Ben had struck 12.  After that there was nothing to do but carry on dancing…  I probably should be more embarrassed than I am really, but I doubt I’ll meet most of those people again, and I doubt that they would remember much of the evening even if I do!

We left at about 3 am and got a taxi home.  Anna and Mum don’t remember that…

New Years day was late starting.  Anna made a delicious roast dinner for about 5 pm, I got dressed at 4.30 but everyone else ate in their pyjamas!  I then taught them to play the Peruvian dice game which they liked.  Then other games came out – Pass the Pigs, Pass the Bomb and Therapy.  I tried to go to bed, but gave up as I heard them starting to play Therapy at 2 am so I went to join in.  For those of you who haven’t played therapy it is a bit like Triv – you go round a board, answering questions to get pegs, but the questions are all psychology/sociology questions about different stages of life, and you can end up in another player’s ‘Therapy office’ where they try to ‘cure’ you by asking questions such as ‘on a rating scale of 1 to 10 how stubborn are you?’  then trying to guess what you have put.  If your answers don’t match you have to stay in therapy.  Jan was asked how romantic he thought he was, he put 8, Anna had put him down as 4.  There was a small,  but significant, argument at this point.  It is a game that invites them really!

Yesterday mum spent the day in the house in her pyjamas playing on her DS.  I got bored at 4 ish and walked in and out of Albir along the coast for some exercise.  I don’t think I would ever get tired of that walk, the scenery is just beautiful! I got back at 8 and went out for a pizza with Anna, packed and got ready to leave for Portugal.

I’m still not sure exactly how I am getting to Portugal.  I’m hoping that tomorrow I can sort this out!  I spent a LONG time on trains today, first the tram from Altea to Alicante, then a long distance train from Alicante to Madrid (with a film in Spanish… Apparently in English it is 4 Christmases – the Spanish title was NOTHING like that. I did follow most of it though.  Not sure it was worth the effort, maybe it’s funnier in English), then an hour in Madrid and another train from Madrid to Salamanca.  I arrived in Salamanca at 8pm having left the house at 8 am.  I have found a quite nice hotel though (and they have free WiFi which I can get in my room 🙂 ).  I really need a lot of sleep now and then a good day wandering aimlessly and eating a lot tomorrow…  I hope sorting out getting to Portugal is easy, I fear it won’t be…

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Winter blues.

December 31, 2009

The lull between Christmas and new year is always quiet.  This has been one of the quietest I can remember.  Generally days have run from mid-day through to about 1 am for me and have involved a lot of hanging round the house in my pyjamas waiting for mum to decide if she is going to come out and do anything or not.  She has only left the house once since Christmas as far as I can remember (and that was to go out for a Thai meal).  I tend to get bored by about 2 and go out for a walk, mess about on Facebook (I have spoken to quite a few people thanks to Facebook chat!) and get a late lunch.  Anna has come with me a couple of times too and shown me some of the nice eating places to be found in the area.  She also booked an appointment with her hairdresser for me, so I am now the owner of shorter, neater hair.

The weather has been variable.  Yesterday’s glorious sunshine has been replaced by grey clouds and a very blustery wind.  I am very glad of the 10 Euro jumper I bought from the cheap British clothes shop yesterday.  If it wasn’t for the scenery and the weather I might not know I’m in Spain.  I certainly haven’t needed to use any Spanish since I got here – the language I hear most often seems to be Dutch, followed by Russian, English and Norweigian.

The plan for new year is simple.  Go to Jan’s restraunt (Anna’s boyfriend is the chef/owner) then a pub crawl of the local bars.  Classy…  Hopefully mum will be able to walk herself home, but I’m not holding my breath!  I imagine there will be more Karaoke too.  My plan for after new year is to go to Portugal to see Jason and Maxine.  I doubt I’ll get to the UK, it just seems too complicated!  As it is I’ll probably have to spend a couple of days in Salamanca on the way (as noone in Spain seems to know what happens to public transport once you cross the Portuguese border) but It’ll be nice to get some peace and quiet!  Mum has decided she’s not going to come with me, she’ll probably stay in the house playing her DS game in her pyjamas…

I hope everyone has a happy New Year 😀 and hopefully I’ll see some more of you in 2010!

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Christmas / Navidad / Nadal

December 26, 2009

Christmas has been a bit weird since we grew up, not as much fun as when you’re little, but this year has to rank up their with the oddest…  I thought that last year in Peru, with everything on Christmas eve was weird enough, but at least it didn’t involve me singing the ‘Fairytale of New York’ with my mum in a tiny, brightly lit bar full of pensioners…

Christmas eve started at about 3 pm when I finally got out of bed… mum had made some snacks because there was apparently going to be food in the bar we were going to (Hepburns) I then sat with mum on the couch and watched about 10 episodes of something called ‘Psychic’ which is some kind of police drama.  We finally got ourselves ready and headed out at about 8 pm.  Hepburns was half full and me and Anna going in probably brought the average age down to about 60…  Mum insisted on buying all our drinks and ordered us a rum and coke each.  There was more rum than coke – Spanish measures are large to start with, and the barman was being generous with the  Christmas spirit.

About half an hour later the place was crowded (and the average age had increased with every new person to come in) and the barman and his wife had passed out hymn sheets and we had all joined in with a few well known British carols.  Then the Christmas karaoke started.  After the second rum and coke I was feeling quite jolly and ended up singing with mum,  then,flushed with success due to the rapturous applause I’d had, I decided to help Anna out singing ‘All I want for Christmas is you’ by Miriah Carey… not necessarily a wise choice… there was a lot of karaoke, some dancing to silly songs (see the video of Anna on Facebook) and the discovery of some kind of vodka that, when mixed with chocolate milkshake, tasted just like a crunchy bar (Thank crunchy it was Friday…).  Thankfully they stopped the Karaoke then… and then it was midnight and I had to go round and kiss everyone a happy Christmas.   The promised food had never materialised… half an hour later we had to help mum walk to the taxi and then had to walk her downstairs to prevent accidents…

Christmas day itself was a lazy affair (Mum and Anna both had hangovers), I stayed in my pyjamas until it was time to get ready to go out for dinner and played on Mario Kart (on the Wii) and the Big Brain academy (on my DS) both of which were presents from Anna.

Dinner was superb.  Mum had booked us into a restaurant in Albir with a 68 Euro menu.  There was no choice, they brought the food out and we ate it – and what food!  We started with a glass of that pink champagne stuff , then had a Prawn in some kind of Pesto, followed by 3 types of duck pate with a truffle mayonaise, then a seafood thing, with puff pastry and one of the nicest scallops I have ever tasted, then sweetbread (pancreas…) which was nicer than I thought it would be, then a sorbet to clear the palate, then venison with some kind of cabbagey-mash, then a delicious pudding with hazlenut icecream, mousse and pastry.  There was nice wine throughout the meal (I drank most of a bottle of white by myself as everyone else was drinking red) and then coffee to finish.   We were all so full that after we’d finished we just wanted to go home and sleep, which is exactly what we did!

Today has been another lazy day – I didn’t get dressed until I wanted to come out and use the internet!  Hopefully tomorrow I’ll actually get out of the house in the daylight and get some fresh air…

Anna is currently making a traditional English Christmas dinner, so I ought to get back.  I am soooooo looking forward to the parsnips.  You just can’t get them in Lima!

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The rain in Spain…

December 23, 2009

So, we finally left Amsterdam 4 and a half hours late because of snow on the runway and touched down in Madrid at about midnight.  By the time I’d got my bag, got a taxi (I wasn’t prepared to attempt the metro at that time of night) and got to the hotel I was seriously tired and just got into bed.  5 hours later my alarm went off and I had to get up, shower and get breakfast before catching the train to Madrid.  It turns out that the thing I had forgotton was my toothbrush… what would Chris Evans say?

I love the train – there’s more space than I had on the plane, and they put James Bond on (admittedly in Spanish with no subtitles, but that’s OK – you don’t really need to listen to the dialogue to follow it, you can tell who the baddies are just by looking and a gunfight and car chase are the same in any language!  I actually understood more than I thought I would).  I even got an hours sleep.  It did rain for the entire journey though, and flat, grey, wet fields are not all that inspiring a view.

On arrival in Alicante I walked up to the tram station in the rain, stopping in a cafe for lunch – where else but Spain would you be offered a Tortilla buttie?  Just what I needed!  The tram jouney was enlivened when 3 boys who were obviously stoned out of their trees got on and tried to buy tickets from the on-board machine.  I have never seen people giggle at a ticket machine so much!  Neither had a ever seen such a brilliantly disapproving face as the one on the VERY prim woman sat opposite.  Hillarious!  The view out of the tram was gorgeous though – the coast round here is cliffs and turquoise-blue sea, just beautiful.

I eventually got to Anna’s at 4 pm on Tuesday (having left my house at 4 pm on Sunday and getting about 8 hours sleep in total in between!) sat and listened to Mum talk at me for a bit and then went out for a chinese.  I fell into bed at about midnight and slept for 12 hours – bliss.

Today I have bought a few new clothes (I’m sure I’d packed more t-shirts than were actually in my bag when I unpacked…) and to celebrate mum’s birthday we are having pizza (classy) as none of us can face going out in the cold again!  Who knows what delights tomorrow holds…?  Hopefully it will involve finding somewhere closer to my sister’s house that has free WiFi…