Voyage-ing…

Since we arrived in the land of sunshine and cigarettes we (we being me and Rachel, my parter in crime for the duration of this working holiday) have been on a couple of trips into civilisation.

First came Cognac for the Blues Festival.

Well I say Blues Festival.

We didn’t actually have tickets.

Instead of seeing once-semi-famous-blues-bands “rock out” to some old tunes on stage we saw post middle age men in biker gear drinking beer and having impromptu “jam sessions” in bars.

Basically the same thing right?

Cognac itself was a quiet sleepy little town with not a lot to offer.

Well, except Cognac, but we didn’t drink any of that either.

Just as we were about to give up and sit down to eat our home made French baguettes (more like a soggy school lunch sandwich but you know, when in Rome….or…errr, France), we were surrounded by a marching band and serenaded with WHAM!’s ‘Careless Whisper’.

20 good looking French boys blowing their trumpets for us?

Don’t mind if we do.

Next came La Rochelle, a gorgeous port town where we behaved like sensible adults, dining in a French bistro, spending all of our weeks wages on clothes and jewellery (Rachel) and riding on a Ferris wheel.

Even though it tipped it down with rain when we decided to have a sit down by the river, we never wanted to leave.

Finally we had a trip to Saintes to celebrate Bastille Day on the 14th of July.

I treated myself to a candy floss bigger than the size of my whole upper body #health, and was banned by Rachel from going on the French themed merry-go-round because I was too old and it would be too embarrasing.

*Sulk*

I was very disappointed I didn’t get a ride on a giant cock.

Cock as in cockerel you filthy people.

The animal, not the….

My god.

*Tuts*.

Just before the fireworks started, we heeded warnings about the idiots with deck chairs who found themselves nice comfy spots an hour before the display only to find that their view was obstructed by trees.

We sat down all smug a few minutes early on a comfy little grass verge with beautiful views over the river and a clear view of the sky.

Well, so we thought.

Guess which twats couldn’t see the fireworks.

These ones.

Yes, we had to get up and run, and ended up in a giant crowd on tip toes trying to peer over some very tall persons shoulders.

Such fun.

Banger? I don’t even know her…

Now I don’t claim to be any kind of Jamie Oliver or Heston Blumenthal but I’m a pretty okay cook.

Today would beg to differ…

…I kinda almost set the entire flat a little bit on fire…

Fickle buggers them sausages.

There I was, quite happily grilling my bangers in the oven, turning frequently to ensure equal distribution of heat then…

*BAM*

…a bit of the oil jumped up onto the heating element  and the oven started sparking, followed by a hella tonne of smoke.

It only lasted a maximum of two seconds while I sprinted Usain Bolt style to the other side of the kitchen, wildly flapping a tea towel in one hand and snatching up tongs in the other.

I’m only slightly worried that the fire alarm didn’t go off…

Bloody good sausage sandwich though I tell you, not burnt in the slightest.

#skills

P.S. Can I have permission to be just a teensy bit proud of that pun? Just a little teeny weeny bit?

Never have I ever…

…had so many different things in my mouth than on this trip…

Oi, stop it, mind out of the gutter.

I’m talking food.

Anyone that knows me know I am one of the fussiest eaters on the planet. I like my foods plain and simple, sauce no thank you. I don’t like Chinese or Indian or Thai…or anything for that matter…I avoid anything fishy or sea food-y like it was the plague. I try nothing.

Here, however, I have tried almost everything. The only exception being prawns (just couldn’t do it), squid (they were actual tentacles!), and the UFS given to us at a seafood restaurant. I opted for a hamburgesa, which turned out to be a piece of meat and chips, sans burger bun…This was probably safer for me given the weak constitution of my stomach (have you read the post: Spoke to soon…?).

I’m doing so, I have found that there are a lot more foods I like, and would happily eat at home. I have become, dare I say it, a little teensy bit adventurous. I enjoyed the paella, the fish, the pourré, the rice, the coca (similar to pizza); and I got to taste the yummy Spanish versions of some of my favourite dishes, like macaroni and omelette (tortilla Española).

In both Benicassim and Laredo we are sin oven and con gas, and distinctly lacking a modern contraption called a kettle. Shock, horror! How does a Brit survive without tea you ask me? She doesn’t, she boils water in a pan over the gas stove (is it 2013 or 1813?).

In Laredo, negative: we have to cook toast on a strange flat pan over the stove as there is no kettle, and it comes out a bit gross, positive: there is a microwave in which to heat water for herbal tea *dances in the street*. In Benicassim, negative: no microwave just pots and pans, positives: a toaster *dances in the kitchen* and a gas stove that I can operate without third degree burns.

Don’t tell me I’m not adaptive.

Thank god, with this family I am not expected to cook (another good thing to ask if you’re going to be an Au Pair). I have to make the kids some breakfast but that’s just a bit of toast or cereal, a bottle and some milk with Cola Cao (chocolate powder). In Benicassim, the family makes lunch which I simply have to warm, and then people are at home make dinner. In Laredo, there is family around to make breakfast, lunch and dinner, I just have to feed them.

The one piece of meat that I was asked to watch over turned a little bit…golden, shall we say. The family’s 91 year old grandmother shook her head and told me I was a “muy mala cocinera”. Maybe they had a sixth sense before they hired me…

I’m not really a bad cook…I just normally work with a touch screen induction hob and an oven…

…I bake good cookies!

P.S. Fun fact about me re. the herbal teas…I can’t drink milk, it makes me sick. Apparently I was a nightmare baby and wouldn’t keep down anything they fed me. Guess what they were feeding me…? *facepalm* I also try to avoid caffeine for other health reasons. Plus they’re really yummy.

P.P.S. One thing I am really missing is chicken and asparagus pie. When I was at school my nan would buy uppercrust pies, cook them, keep half for them and drop me round the other half so I just had to warm it (my mum works late so I manage dinner, like a true domestic goddess…). She says that delivery service shall resume at university. Luckiest girl ever…

A Lidl bit of home comfort…

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you may have been able to tell that I’ve had a bit of a problem in the shopping department. This may go some way to explain why I feel I have to play Trolley Dash every weekend (see post: I’m packing heat…).

I put my hands up, I am a bit of a shopaholic. It’s genetic. No really, ask my mum.

The problem is, where I’ve been staying there are no good shops! No lovely familiar chain stores that you can count on to be in every decent sized English town or city. No Apple store to easily acquire things like chargers or headphones. No Debenhams or Topshop, H&M or Primark, Boots or…*stares wistfully into the distance*

There are some lovely little clothing boutiques, but the prices are extortionate in some, or just plain above my budget in others (€89 for a top anyone?). Also it is inevitable in these shops that you will have to face one (or sometimes even both if you’re really unlucky) of the two assistant archetypes.

To explain: type one is the over-friendly shop assistant, who will attempt to “help” you at every turn, despite your protestations that you really can try those jeans on in the changing room by yourself, and no you don’t need her to help you get the other leg in. Type two, the stink-eye shop assistant, whose eyes burn into the back of your head as you pretend to look at the jumpers whilst planning your escape (too casual an exit and you’ll look like you really have stolen something…and oh god she’s still looking).

A encounter with either will be painstakingly awkward enough to know that it should be avoided at all costs. Especially if you don’t buy anything and its just you and them…you and them…like an old country and western film…*cue music*…

Out here, theres the added problem that these models come in BETA, read: are programmed to speak Spanish and recognise all other shop goers as Spanish. I’m good, but not that good. I’m also pale, blonde, blue eyed so I don’t know why this is…

As a result of this, I have therefore decided to take up residence in Lidls, and the Mercadona, which if you squint really hard, could just be a little old English Tesco’s or ASDAs.

They’re cheap, cheerful and have tiny little metre long beauty/toiletry sections that abate the pangs of homesickness a little.

Apparently I’m not the only one, the only other British people I’ve seen on the whole trip were the ones in the queue at Lidl, complaining that there weren’t enough checkouts open…*facepalm*

Ohh the Mercadona has just brought in Rice Krispies squares…must dash…!

P.S. Like a magpie to silver, I also spotted an ALDI here in Laredo, but google have clearly decided it’s not important enough for Maps, so in my attempt to get to it I got terribly lost and ended up at the Circus…

P.P.S. Raspberry dark chocolate for under a Euro anyone? Yes please.

Unplugged and insane…

One of the biggest problems I’ve faced while out here is connectivity. Or lack thereof.

The savvy packer I am (not), I managed to bring two iPod leads with me for charging instead of the crucial one for my iPad. I later found out that it had fallen under my bed, so it wasn’t entirely my fault…

This proved to be a huge problem for staying in touch with everyone at home. It was especially annoying as the sole reason I had gotten an iPad now (instead of at the start of uni) was so that I could use it while I travelled (complete with military style rubber case and screen protector, chill).

In the first month alone, I ran up a £60 bill on my crappy HTC as my service provider didn’t validate the travel boosters I bought, and almost gave my mum a heart attack.

Why didn’t you just buy one out there? You ask, confused…

Well as it turns out, despite visiting every phone shop within a five mile radius of Benicassim (where I was staying for the first month), I couldn’t fine one bloody shop that sold chargers for the new iPads. Le sigh.

As a child of the Internet generation, I was suitably flummoxed, but no fear, I still had my iPod and my Kindle, right? Lying on the beach listening to music and reading the books that I’d bought but not gotten round to reading (I may even post something about my favourite summer reads) was quite lovely.

Until my earphones broke.

And my kindle decided that it would not connect to any other wifi network than my one back in England, so my reading selection was exhausted.

For a brief period I was stranded, marooned, shipwrecked…(insert synonym here). Every time I switched my iPad on to be faced with the no charge icon, it was like a physical pain.

Ok so that’s a bit dramatic. I still had my phone connected to the wifi, but that things so slow it made me want to hurl it from the terrace into the sea. To get this wifi, I also had to stand outside and lean over the balcony, as it was provided by the local library and the signal strength was awful.

Did this brief period of untethered-ness help me to “find myself”? To become more in tune with the beauty that is our planet?

Not exactly. But it was a bit of a change, and an abrupt one at that, to be, on my first ever time alone away from home, completely separated from friends and family.

I can’t even say what a relief it was when my mum, blurry and naked save for a towel (don’t ask), flashed up on Skype (I’m glazing over the arduous process it took to get her set up on there from a different country). It turns out that Laredo, the place I wasn’t looking forward to visiting as much (later…patience, patience!), had a little Movistar shop CON CARGADORES! That’s chargers for you and me.

So please excuse me…

Me and Siri need a little time alone….

P.S. Apparently in America, Siri is a woman. Weird. My Siri is a rather lovely gentleman who tells me where to hide dead bodies.

P.P.S. We did try to post my charger from England, but as of now, it has yet to arrive. Royal Mail I’m looking at you…naughty…

I’m packing heat…

…well I’m packing biscuits…and chocolate, and crisps…

Even though I have been here a while, I have yet to fully adjust to the Spanish meal timetable. Lunch at 2:30? Dinner at 9:30 or, god forbid, 10:30 at night, when you should be sleeping not eating? It goes against every diet book ever published, “don’t eat after 7pm” they say, well woah, the message has not quite reached the Mediterranean!

I find myself starving between meals, and not wanting to eat the family out of house and home (more on this ‘etiquette’ later), or make them feel as though they’re not giving me enough for each meal (they are, they are perfect meal time portions), I have instead perfected a covert operation to gather between-meal sustenance. Mostly junk food, because, lets face it, I’m not going to smuggle apples.

I am like a squirrel gathering his nuts for winter, a bear filling up with food so that he has a comfortable layer of fat to hibernate on, an ant…okay you get the picture…

The trips go a little like this…

Dress in inconspicuous summer clothes
Make room in too large handbag
Ensure there are aplenty Euros to buy contraband
Tell family I am going for a walk
Walk to nearest supermarket of choice (of which I have located all suitable candidates in each location)
Buy contraband
Return home
Use body as shield to block conspicuous, lumpy and larger-than-when-I-left handbag
Unload contraband into suitcase
Hide under large brimmed beach hat (casually obvs, you don’t want it to look deliberate)
Feel guilty
Retrieve when necessary

I have been doing this since I got here and all in all it has worked out well. The family are none the wiser and I am less emaciated.

Don’t look at me like that

Anyway in order to have a balanced diet you need a bit of junk with all that fish and vegetables, it’s on the chart.

IT’S ON THE CHART!

No? Okay fine…