Thursday, 27 May 2010

One of the certainties of life...

... is paying taxes. While it may, as my friend with socialist leanings likes to remind me, a privilege to do so, actually carrying out the process is a pain. In the UK, the pain of paying taxes is a little stab of regret when you see the figure that was automatically deducted from your salary, in France you have to fill out a form telling them how much you've earned just for the pleasure of being sent an enormous bill afterwards.

As well as your salary, you have to declare other sources of income, including interest on foreign bank accounts. If the interest was paid in another currency, you have to convert it using the exchange rates from the Paris Bourse for the day that it was paid into your account.

Without the wonder that is the internet, I don't know how I would ever have found all this information out, but thanks to modern technology, I am now nearly ready to sit back and enjoy the privilege of contributing to society. Ahh, the satisfaction.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Spain Part 3 - Flamenco!

Three weeks ago, I went on a wonderful trip to Spain. I met interesting people, saw some amazing sights and generally had a really great time. But now, I just don't have the inspiration to write about it. I think I'm suffering from blogger's block. At the same time, though, I want this blog to be an accurate record of the things that I get up to, partly for you, my dear readers, and partly because when I'm an old lady sitting in my armchair without enough money to pay the heating bills because I spent my youth paying pension payments in far too many countries with far too much bureaucracy to allow me to ever get any money back, I want to remember all the good bits. It would therefore be a bit unfortunate if I only wrote blog posts about having nothing better to do than write boring blog posts. And so I am also suffering from blogger's guilt.

The solution? The photo post: a quick summary of my doings, with lots of pictures to tell the real story. Please excuse the absence of unusual vocabulary, interesting sentence structures and original ideas.

On the Saturday of my trip to Spain, R. and I went to Seville, where R's boyfriend lives. I was lucky enough to be there the week of the Feria de Sevilla, a week-long celebration of Andalucian culture, by the Spanish, for the Spanish. Although hundreds of thousands of people attend the event, it isn't at all a tourist festival. Nearly everybody who goes is Spanish and most of them are from Andalucia.

Inside the private caseta

On the main festival site, there are thousands of marquees, or casetas, where you can buy drinks and food and there is music and flamenco dancing. There are public casetas, where anybody can go, and private ones , where you have to be a member of an organisation or know somebody who has contacts with the sponsors to go. We started off in a private caseta that a friend of R's boyfriend got us into, then moved on to the public ones later.

All the Andalucian people who go wear traditional dress and one of the most fun things about the festival is just looking at all the outfits. The music is mostly Sevillanas, which are traditional dances from the area, so you have to know at least some of the steps to join in. R. gave me a quick lesson before we left, but I couldn't quite do it fast enough to really join in. The traditional thing to drink is sherry with lemonade, which quenches your thirst all through the evening.

View from the Big Wheel

As well as the casetas, there is a funfair on the Feria site, and we couldn't resist going on some rides at the end of the evening. By that point, I was very glad I wasn't wearing a flamenco dress!

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Spain Part 2 - Malaga

On my second day in Spain, I decided it was time to venture out into the big world by myself and take a trip to Malaga. This involved trying out pretty much all of the fifty or so words of Spanish that I had hurriedly crammed into my brain before I left, which was quite exciting for me, as I haven't very often been in countries where I don't speak the language. I survived buying a train ticket, but when I got on the train, somebody was sitting in my seat and I decided that my linguistic skills were not quite up to telling them that and went and sat somewhere else, which was fine until both the woman whose seat I was sitting in and the train conductor tried to find out why I was sitting there. I said something garbled that was probably mostly in Italian and probably made them think I was crazy and best left alone, we all smiled at each other and everyone was happy. This pattern continued all day and, even in the tourist mecca that is Malaga, nobody tried to speak to me in English, so I may have sounded like an idiot, but apparently not a British idiot.

The first thing I did when I got to Malaga was go to see the sea. The last time I had seen it was at the Cinque Terre last Easter and I had been missing it. The views along the coast were impressive, but although it was warm enough to swim, I somehow wasn't tempted and settled for walking on the sand in my bare feet instead.

I had paella for lunch in a beach front café and then set off under the full glare of the 30 degree sunshine to climb the hill to Malaga's castle fortress. There is a small museum, but apart from that, there isn't a whole lot to see at the actual castle. What you can do, though, is walk around the ramparts and admire the stunning views of the coast, the city and the hills beyond.

By the time I walked down the hill again I was running out of time, or I would have gone to visit the cathedral, which is large and imposing and stands among the myriad of small pedestrian streets that make up the old centre of the city. Malaga reminded me a lot of Nice and I would definitely go back there to see more of the city as well as to swim at the beaches of the Costa del Sol.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Spain (Part 1)

The past few weeks have been one of these frustrating times in blogging life where I've been so busy doing things that I want to blog about that I have no time to actually write about them. It's a wee while now since, with Ejafyallajokull spewing its ash into the skies over northern Europe, it was doubtful whether or not I would be able to travel to Spain to visit my friend R. in Andalucia. And to be honest, when Vueling, the low-cost airline that I'd never heard of with a website that looked as if it had been translated in its entirety by Google, proudly announced that they were the airline that was to “open Europe”, I was still uncertain as to whether I should get on the plane at all.

But I did, and everything was fine.

R. lives in a small town that lies inland from Malaga on the train line to Seville. She was working when I arrived, so her Spanish friend met me at the train station and we went for a drink at the Irish bar. A few of their other friends were around, so I spent a lot of the afternoon trying to follow conversations in Spanish and for the first time in my life really appreciated people practising their English with me. I can understand the gist of written Spanish because it's a lot like Italian, but spoken Spanish is very fast and it's hard to make out all the syllables in the words quickly enough to understand. Then Rebecca arrived and we went to get some tapas. The region is famous for its olive oil and everything was fried in it and delicious. The town was made up of beautiful white houses arranged in tiny cobbled streets. During the day, it smells of the oil factories but at night the streets are filled with the scent of orange blossom.

The next day, R. and I wandered around town in the morning, then I took a walk out into the countryside nearby in the afternoon while she went to work. The weather wasn't great but because it had been raining a lot, the landscape was surprisingly green. Underneath the lush grass and the flowers, however, you could see the burnt-coloured soil and the only trees were olive trees and orange trees, so it was easy to imagine how it would look after a scorching hot summer.