Thursday, 24 December 2015

Road trip!

Over my birthday a few weeks back, Fate handed me a super-long weekend, so I decided to do something special and planned myself a little road-trip.  I picked up a really over-priced hire car from Granada and headed west across Andalucía, passing through Ronda, Cadiz, Tarifa and Gibraltar.  Since I've been uber-lazy with the blog and there's too much to fit into one blog post, here are the highlights of my trip...

Discovering the oldest bullfighting ring in Spain

Exploring the hillside towns of Malaga province

Checking out the Old Bridge of Ronda

Looking across to the mainland from the island city of Cadiz

Looking out over the coast of Spain from the Cadiz Cathedral
Seeing the Trafalgar Lighthouse

Standing at the southernmost point of Europe - Tarifa, Spain

Looking over the Strait of Gibraltar to Africa

Watching glassblowers at work in Gibraltar

Meeting Barbary macaques in Gibraltar

Climbing the Rock of Gibraltar! 

Celebrating my 23rd birthday in style on the Costa del Sol

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Violence Against Women: Baza Says NO!!

Wednesday was International Day to End Violence Against Women. Despite being a proud feminist, it’s never been a big ‘event’ in my life, like Daffodil Day or Remembrance Day, so I put on my shoes and scarf and went to school as usual.

However, El Día Internacional Contra la Violencia de Género is a pet project of the deputy headmistress. Loli is a tiny, motherly woman who reminds me of a more smiley Professor McGonagall, and when Loli wants something to happen, it happens. With recruited student labour, Loli orchestrated a whole-school assembly commemorating Spain’s 54 victims of domestic violence and violence against women this year. As one student read out the name of every victim, one by one, another student laid a card with their name on a homemade floor poster of purple and white, while a third placed a lit candle on a second purple floor mat in the pattern of the symbol for the Day to End Violence Against Women.  This was followed by two students singing ‘Jueves’ (‘Thursday’), which was written for the 2004 Madrid terrorist bombings, accompanied on the piano by Bernard, one of my Year 11 students who studies at the music conservatorium next to the school.

Outside in the sports arena, various class groups were taking it in turns to run laps of the school yard to a total of 48 kilometres over the whole day – one kilometre for every adult victim. I joined one of my classes for a few laps just as Jiminez Montoya, another high school backing onto our sports area, released a bunch of white balloons in memory of the victims. Meanwhile, the Year 9s from Jose de Mora went to Plaza Mayor during 4th period for a service with the town. Later that afternoon one of my girls handed me one of the knitted white symbols they were handing out in Plaza Mayor to pin to my scarf.

While I appreciate the importance of the occasion – as an educated adult woman, it’s hard not to – but I’ve never lived in a place that afforded the International Day to End Violence Against Women its due worth. What’s even sadder is that Australia has even more victims of domestic violence for 2015 than Spain does, and our population is half of theirs. But this year’s Australian of the Year is Rosie Batty, our most recognised survivor of domestic violence, so maybe we’re getting somewhere.

Those candles for the 54 victims continued to burn in the school’s vestibule all afternoon, as a mark of respect. And as I walked home through Plaza Mayor that evening, I saw this hanging from the town hall:

I get mixed messages in Australia sometimes, but Baza certainly says no.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

In The Bleak December, or, 6 Ways To Spend Christmas In A Foreign Country

As December approaches, I'm faced with a rather difficult and thought-provoking dilemma - what am I going to do about Christmas?

For me, Christmas is mostly about family.  In Australia, Christmas also represents the end of the school and working year, the end of the calendar year, the start of summer and the holidays, and the beginning of a brand new lap around the sun.  It's basically a big party to round out the year, filled with food and laughter and gift-giving and general merriment, all dedicated to cherishing the people nearest and dearest to you.  That's what Christmas means to me; only this year, living 16,000 kilometres away from home means that I won't have any of it.
Paris Christmas Night Market, 2012
This is not the first time I've had to find a way to celebrate Christmas on my own.  When I was on exchange in France a few years ago I likewise found myself at a loose end during the Noel holidays, as all my European and American friends flew home to be with their families.  The Australian expat group I'd discovered all scattered to their respective families for the big day.  I couldn't even find a bunch of old French nuns taking in poor lonely students for a bit of a Christmas lunch.  I ultimately spent most of the day cosily in bed with my second (or perhaps third) dose of merry old flu since arriving in Europe, and by the time a group of Brazilian friends I'd invited for 5pm finally showed up around 10pm, I was wrecked, ready for bed and a terrible hostess.

So, this time around I've decided to plan ahead instead of winding up in a cold and lonely apartment on December 25th without even a Christmas tree for company.  Thus, below are a number of ways to pass Christmas Day when you're all dressed up in a foreign country and nowhere to go:

1. Have a quiet affair at home
The most simple option is, after all, to stay home and have Christmas in my apartment here in Baza, and with a bit of pre-planning it needn't be the rather pathetic affair it was last time!  With a Christmas tree, some nice decorations, my favourite Aussie Christmas carols and a good meal for Christmas lunch, there's no reason it can't be merry, and I can Skype my family back home to open presents and share the day with them courtesy of modern technology.  Staying in Baza means I can also experience the local build-up to Christmas, whatever that may look like in small-town rural Spain, and enjoy the sense of community that I love around here.

2. Adopt myself out to a local Spanish family
If any Spaniards in Baza are reading this, one Australian girl with puppy-dog eyes seeking half-day adoption for Christmas!  Will bring presents, cook food and be extremely cheerful.  Can be returned to owner/own apartment when sufficiently glutted on eggnog and Christmas pud.

Spending the day with a Spanish family would also mean that I could see all the town Christmas preparations and even Skype my family on the day as well.  Only problem is, Baza doesn't seem to have a human adoption agency somehow!

3. Fly solo - literally
The extended Christmas holidays would be the perfect opportunity to take a long trip somewhere that I haven't been, like Portugal, Africa or Ireland, or even re-visit somewhere I have, like France or England.  Despite my four-day week, trips beyond Spain or even Andalucia aren't an easy proposition, so Christmas gives me just the excuse I need to hop on a place and run away from Spain.  Of course, taking this option means on Christmas Day I'll wind up in a random hostel wherever I happen to end up, with no guarantees of good company or Christmas cheer, which doesn't sound like the greatest version of Christmas to me.

4. Misery loves company
The useful thing about being me is that I've got friends scattered all around the world - and they're concentrated in Europe!  Off the top of my head I can think of three or four other Aussies living away from home who might appreciate some familiar company to make Christmas a little less...well, sad. Whether I go to them, they come to me or we both meet in a third location, I'm sure two lonely hearts can find a way to make Christmas more fun for the both of us!

5. Find a surrogate family
Instead of heading off a trip and trusting to Providence about where I land on December 25, I could always head back to somewhere I've been before that would open its doors to a bunch of strangers all looking for a bit of Christmas love.  I'm thinking specifically of a hostel in Scotland where I worked briefly as one of the team, and which would be happy to welcome me back into the family.  Chances are there'll be a few other lost souls who've wound up there for Noel, and we'll make our own Christmas together - probably involving haggis and getting drunk on eggnog flavoured with local Scotch whisky!
The delightful Fort William Backpackers' in Scotland
6. Ask Santa for a teleporter for Christmas
Though to be honest I'm not quite sure how he'd get into my apartment, since there's no chimney....

There's well over a month before Christmas, so I still have time to decide on the lonely fashion in which I'll try and make the best of December 25th.  Mind you, if anyone can sell me on any of the above options, or come up with a better one, then I'm all ears! ¡Vámanos!

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Down The Rabbit Hole

Ever since I arrived here, people have been asking me the same three questions: where are you from (Australia, easy); why on earth did I decide on Baza (I didn't), and; do I like Baza (I do). When they ask why the last answer, I've learned how to explain that I come from a small country town much smaller than Baza, and I like the cosy feel and friendly community atmosphere that both towns have in common. I think I've  floored a few people with that response from a 22-year-old.

But there's another increasingly significant reason why I like Baza. In terms of history, historical sites and cultural traditions, Anglo-Saxon Australia is pretty skint. The main attraction in my town is an 1850s gold mining battery, which is stored in a shed. So, if you go sightseeing in my town, you'll see a shed. The main street is pretty, I'll grant you, but it's just like any other street.  It lacks excitement.

Baza, on the other hand, is everything that my town lacks.  As I learned this weekend, Baza is a former Moorish (Arabic) town, with some of the buildings dating as far back as the 12th century or more.  Every time I step out of my apartment I'm entering a veritable wonderland of living history, beautiful scenes, unusual buildings and fascinating places.  Even something as simple as a trip to the doctor can be like falling down the rabbit hole, wondering where I'm going to end up or what I'm going to find along the way. My flamenco classes, for example, are in the Casa de la Cultura (Culture House), which used to be the Casino de Artesanos (Artisans' Cottage), about 200-odd years ago.  My yoga class is in a side street off Plaza Mayor, which backs onto Iglesia Mayor, which started life as the main cathedral for Guadix-Baza diocese some 500 years ago.  Every time I head out to do a Reclining Mountain Pose I pass by 700 years of imposing stone history on my way.

Amongst my explorations this weekend, I made my way down to the baños árabes, or Arab baths, which were built sometime back in the 12th century.  In Moorish times the baths served a three-fold purpose: promoting good hygiene, providing a social gathering place for the locals, and; enabling Islam's ritual bathing.  Most people met for a weekly catch-up in the largest central 'warm' room, while massages and more deep-cleansing scrub-downs were on offer in the 'hot' room, which disseminated its heat through the rest of the building.  A 'cool' room, boiler room/wood shed and welcome vestibule made up the rest of the facility.  The baths have now been preserved and opened to the public, though as the ground level has risen somewhat in the last 1,000 years, visitors now enter at the roof level of the old baths and peep over the railing into the boiler room before descending into the vestibule and touring the baths the way bathers would have done a good 10 centuries ago. 

The Arabic baths
Lucernas in the warm room
The hot room
Looking from hot to warm
Warm room skylights
But I think my favourite discovery of the past few days has been the Plaza de los Moriscos, or Square of the Moors, tucked away off a series of pedestrian-only streets in the suburb of San Juan.  On one side of this quiet, innocuous little grotto is a triangular house covered in fist-sized hemispheres with a little peak on each.  Famously called the Casa de las tetas, or 'The Boobs House', there is something delightfully incongruous about the well-kept balconies of greenery, on a pretty whitewashed house across a quiet square from a marble fountain, surrounded by hundreds of stonework models of the naked female nipple.

Plaza de los Moriscos
Casa de las Tetas
Lovely flowering balconies
I also took a peep inside the church of Saint James, one of many churches I've seen around Baza (well, I've seen their bell towers, at least.  I've yet to find most of the churches attached to said towers). It's the first church I've been inside since arriving in Spain, so it's hard to say what's normal, but it's nowhere near so elaborate as the churches in Italy, or as Gothic and gloomy as those in France.

Then, of course, there's the many other side streets and back streets and narrow streets and not-streets that populate Baza, the churches and ermitas and fountains and nooks and crannies and doorways and balconies and inumerable other quirks that make Baza such a magical place to live and explore.  There's even a working mule, complete with saddlebags.

Yes, I said this was Wonderland.

Plaza de Santiago
Iglesia de Santiago
Calle Acequita
Callejón Poyos (I think)
In the old arrabal of Marzuela
The back streets of Wonderland
Caños Dorados - Fountain of the
Golden Pipes
The north-west corner of Baza
It has a TOWER!
Calle Chorrillo
Panorama of Baza from the Alcazaba
Eastern Baza
North-eastern Baza and Iglesia Mayor
Iglesia Mayor by sunset
Plaza de Santiago by night
The Church of Saint James again

Monday, 2 November 2015

I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside

I just got back last night from my first weekend away here in Spain.  After class on Thursday afternoon I dashed off to Granada for a chiro appointment and I figured, while I'm on the road, let's go somewhere different for the weekend.  So on Friday morning I hopped on a bus to the nearest coastal city, Almería.

It's been months since I've seen the ocean - in fact, unless you count a morning in Greenwich, I haven't seen the coast since Italy three months ago - and as a sailor it's weird and even a little painful for me not to hear the waves and feel the salty breeze in my hair every so often.  I spent a lot of my time down by the beach or the port just staring out at the water, enjoying the sight and sound of the ocean.  I really have missed it - and watching the ferries arriving and leaving from ports in Africa made me wish I could jump aboard!

I also asked around about any tall ships in the area, but about the best anyone could offer me was a small private yacht, and as I've explained many times, when it comes to computers, ships and hot chocolates, I always say bigger is better!  So Almería at least is off the cards for sailing, but thankfully there's more to Spain than Almería!

On Saturday morning I walked up to the Alcazaba, which I was curious about because there's a ruined Alcazaba in Baza that I stumbled across a few weeks back with no idea what it was.  As I understand it, Alcazaba is an Arabic word for 'castle', and refers to the Moorish fortresses now scattered across southern Spain.  The Alcazaba in Almería is quite extensive and impressive, a proper royal hall with defensive capabilities and large landscaped gardens.

The actual buildings are currently undergoing archaeological restoration and excavation, but the gardens were great.  There's a Moorish fascination with water features that I've seen in all the architecture, often featuring a series of connected pools, and frequently surrounded by greenery.  Of course, the other major draw of the Alcazaba is the view.  As a defensive fortress, it's built on the nearest hill overlooking Almería, so for the price of walking up the hill I could see halfway to Africa!

Travel guide perfect anyone?

My first walk down to the beach

Sunset from the port

The lighthouse at the end of the pier

"Sunset over the beaches..."

Artistically blurry shoreline photo

Could this be California, perhaps?

The Almería Cathedral

Plaza de la Cathedral

Streets in the old town

More streetscapes

Views over Almería

Me in Almería - hi!

Almería again

The Alcazaba gardens

Staircase waterworks

Landscaped gardens

More fountains

Looking down through the Alcazaba

The bell tower

Reflecting pools

The archaeological works

Courtyard of the upper buildings

Eastern Almería - the old town

Looking out from the gun tower!

I'm in a castle!

The other side of the hill

The Alcazaba from the south tower

I love the blue building!

Beachside sunsets

Looking across the water

The old pier

Glowing sun

I really, really love that lighthouse

Am I leaving California??

More pretty buildings

Artistic photos of Spain According to Firefly