Paris, Capital of Paris

Many people think of Paris as the epitome of French cities; a prime example of fine foods and haute French fashion, laced with stunning Haussmann architecture and a healthy dash of culture. It’s not untrue that the French capital is representative … Continue reading

31 Reasons Never to Move to Another Country

Obviously it’s a terrible idea… 1. You’ll be forced to sample all sorts of new and exciting foods…   2. …and you’ll probably get fat as all the delicious food moves towards your mouth, like a moth to a flame.   … Continue reading

The Collier English Dictionary for British-American Translation

I have a few American friends and it’s fair to say that, on more than one occasion, things I’ve said have got completely lost in translation. My English accent has, of course, been admired by our transatlantic allies, but my … Continue reading

British Expatations

Oh the Parisian dream! When I was little I wanted nothing more than a Haussmann-style apartment overlooking the Jardin du Luxembourg and to take my obscenely small dog for walks along the Seine. I envisaged my twenty-something self rolling around around … Continue reading

The ELA List

Being an English Language Assistant in a foreign country is entirely comparable to being a C-list celebrity. Going shopping, eating out or generally walking anywhere near your school at the weekend triggers a series of resounding “HELLO HEATHER”s and “BONJOUR … Continue reading

What is Fluency?

To the untrained tongue, fluency is the idea of speaking a language without error or miscomprehension. The mere sound of the question “Oh, so are you fluent?” strikes fear into my heart, because such a question would never be asked by person … Continue reading

Broke in Boulogne

For the past two months I’ve had the privilege to live and work in the Parisian suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt. The commune is basically everything you’d expect from Paris (sans Tour Eiffel) except with 112,000 people squeezed into its two and … Continue reading

Send My Bag: 2014 REVIEW

Send My Bag: The Hassle-Free Way to Transport Your Luggage Whether you’re moving to university or embarking on a year-long Erasmus adventure, you’ll probably be considering how to move all of your belongings to your new home. For some people, … Continue reading

REVIEW: sendmybag.com

Send My Bag is a friendly, fast and reliable shipping service based in the UK that allows you to send baggage ahead and avoid the stress and sting of “cheap” airline luggage fares. Whether you’re moving between home and university or shipping internationally, you can send sports equipment or even pack up your life in boxes and cases to take the hassle out of travel. For £29 you can send up to 20kg, and for an extra pound you can send up to 30kg! That’s more allowance for less money than you’d find with the supposedly “budget’ airlines AND you don’t even have to haul it around with you. Genius.

So how does it work? First of all you visit www.sendmybag.com where there are all sorts of FAQs, videos and brief Twitter reviews outlining what the company is all about and the kind of service they offer. On the homepage you will find a Quick Quote calculator that allows you to calculate the cost of your desired shipment based upon collection and delivery destinations, date, and the weight of the item to be sent. As an example I have completed the form as I recently did for a shipment from Madrid (Spain) to Lincoln (UK).

Quick Quote Calculator SMBAs you can you see, for just £30 I can send up to 30kg baggage, and that’s exactly what I did. Twice.

When I first looked into using the Send My Bag service I was a little dubious about the security and reliability of the company owing to its relatively small size and the fact that I had never even heard of it, but I was not disappointed. My first shipment went absolutely perfectly and without the slightest hitch. My back-breaking 27kg suitcase was collected from my apartment in Madrid at 1.30pm (CET) and was delivered to my new address in the UK at 11.30am (BST) – that’s not even 24 hours! – and the service is fully trackable allowing you to keep tabs on your goods from door to van (to plane) to van to door. Well worth my £30 for an even more relaxed British Airways flight (I treated myself to a minor luxury for my final flight home).

My second shipment wasn’t so smooth sailing. Due to a minor computer glitch I ended up needing to reschedule my collection in the middle of the night which proved particularly difficult owing to the fact that I was flying out of Spain at 7am the following morning. Usually a rescheduled collection (due to absence) would incur a small fee to cover the driver’s return, however the Send My Bag team were very understanding and accommodating and helped me to rearrange a collection at a time suitable for my flatmate.

Unfortunately that wasn’t the only glitch, but fortunately SMB weren’t to blame. As I later discovered upon recovering my tracking number from Spain, DHL had somehow managed to put my box onto the wrong plane and it had ended up in Barcelona before passing through Gatwick and eventually arriving at East Midlands Airport. One whole week later, after a European mini-break, my box and I were ecstatically reunited much to the bemusement of the DHL delivery driver and thanks to the outstanding support of the SMB team who made numerous calls to DHL in order to locate my shipment and who then tracked it all the way to my house.

All in all Send My Bag is an absolutely fantastic service offering value for money, reliability and outstanding customer service and support. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to cheaply and stresslessly ship excess baggage abroad or to university. They have pretty much saved my life. 10/10, 5 stars, A+, 100% amazing. THANK YOU.

Click HERE to sign up and earn a 10% discount on your first order!

Check out my new 2014 review of Send My Bag’s updated website and features!

The Final Countdown (I’ll miss you Spain! But also not…)

DISCLAIMER: If you are Spanish and easily offended, it’s best to stop here. RENUNCIA: Si eres español y fácilmente ofendido, es mejor parar aquí. Exactly three weeks from now I’ll be back in the UK and probably attempting to navigate my way … Continue reading

Dancing With Death

“Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honour.” – Ernest Hemingway (Death in the Afternoon)

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Part 2: El Tercio de Banderillas

It’s a hot May evening in the Spanish capital. The sun blares down on you with 30 degree (celsius) heat and a bead of sweat rolls down your back. Down in the ring the air is thick and dusty and two bodies are locked in a standoff. The banderillero, clad in glorious red and black, puffs his chest out and raises his arms in a fantastic display of alpha prowess; the bull scrapes its hoof in the sand.

A tradtional bullfight (Spanish: corrida de toros) is every bit as dramatic and flamboyant as it sounds, and it doesn’t get much bigger than at Las Ventas, Madrid. Last Sunday night I attended such an occasion in a bid to gain some insight into Spanish “tradition” and “culture” and it was simply something that I felt I needed to do. I’m no fool; I knew exactly what I was letting myself in for and, as expected, I despised it. However to a certain degree I couldn’t help but be intrigued by it, which begs the question: is bullfighting a dying art, or simply a barbarous blood sport?

A Spanish corrida is a drawn-out and sensual affair consisting of three parts. The first part, called el tercio de varas, allows the matador to observe the bull as it chases the thrusts of the pink and gold capes of the banderilleros. He observes the way it moves, reacts, its speed and its preferences before being joined by two picadores. Los picadores enter the arena and lance the bull from atop heavily padded and blindfolded horses, thus provoking an attack on the horse and causing blood-loss that weakens the bull. During the second part, el tercio de banderillas, the banderillos one by one attempt to plant two colourfully adorned spiked sticks (los banderillas) into the shoulder muscles of the bull causing further blood-loss and weakening of the animal but simultaneously provoking and further angering it. By the third part, el tercio de muerte(literally ‘the third of death’), the bull is exhausted and slowly and tortuously edging towards certain death. The matador re-enters the ring armed with a small red cape (muleta) in one hand and a sword (estoque) in the other. The matador, using his cape, entices the bull into a series of passes, flaunting his control over the animal and casually dicing with his own life. The third part ends with la estocada, the act of fatally plunging the sword between the bull’s shoulder blades, severing the aorta or heart, however the bull may take a while to die and therefore a coup de grâce is carried out by el puntillero who pierces the spinal cord, finally killing the animal.

What I witnessed throughout the “performace” was an animal, undoubtedly drugged and starved for days, released into arena to be ceremoniously taunted and murdered in front of 23,000 spectators in the name of tradition, culture and art and it was nowhere near as magnificent as I was lead to believe it to be. I envisaged a one man, one bull face-off between two alpha-males dancing to the death with nothing but sand and a red cape between them. I expected an equal and balanced display of nerve, power and stamina when in fact what I actually watched was an eleven on one attack which ended in the bull’s limp and bleeding corpse being dragged out of the plaza by three mules. There was no display of power, only cowardice, and certainly no respect for the noble bull. The matador waited until his cronies had weakened and tired the animal before he dared face it, and even during the first third the banderilleros would cower behind fences while the bull grunted and scratched at the ground.

Sitting in that arena surrounded by cheers of “¡olé!” and cries of “¡mátale ya!” (“kill it already“) I’d never felt more foreign and detached from Spain and Spanish culture, not even when I first moved to Spain and couldn’t get my tongue around the language. People were startlingly entertained by what they were seeing and the vast majority appeared to be seasoned regulars. The horror, anger and disgust that erupted from within me upon the first strike in the bull’s shoulders made it impossible for me to fathom how a person could get enjoyment from watching such a thing. I spent two-thirds of the “show” hoping that the bull would muster up some god-like strength and gore the matador right in the crown jewels. That would serve him right, right?

Ten days have passed and I’m still numbed by disbelief in what I saw, and particularly by the fact that I was sat in a full house (although I hear they’re not usually that full these days). To my eyes, I saw no evidence of a decline in popularity or indeed aversion, however this is just once aspect of Spanish “culture” that I cannot and absolutely will not get on board with. Is it a dying art? Or is it dying for art? I can’t make that choice for you, but I can perhaps shed some light onto why the ladies continue to attend…

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Ya Por Fin Me Siento Madrileña.

(Now Finally I Feel Madrileña) Two weeks ago marked the seven month anniversary of my move to Madrid. Coincidentally, the very same day marked exactly two months since I’d posted anything on here and all of a sudden I felt … Continue reading

Ding Ding, Round Two

It’s been a little over one month since I landed back in Madrid for the second part of my year abroad and it’s already been hectic and eventful. To say that I threw myself straight into the deep end would … Continue reading

‘Viva España’ and All That…

(Originally for Third Year Abroad) In previous posts I’ve been a little hard on my new home and I’d just like to point out that Spain really is not that bad. Sí, the Spanish are horrendous with money, but so … Continue reading

We Need to Talk

The school that I work in is pretty awesome and, when I hear about how horrendous other people’s are, I feel so lucky. It’s not rough, it’s not posh and it’s not too big; it’s the ‘baby bear’ of placements. … Continue reading

‘She’s probably gone and got herself a Spanish boyfriend named “Manuel”‘

The year abroad is like a new relationship with an exotic foreign boy/girl/man/woman [delete as appropriate]. It’s exciting, romantic, mysterious and completely different to anything in your life that came before. I am not having a love affair with a … Continue reading

Cardigan Weather & Home Sweet Home

In Madrid there’s no such thing as ‘cardigan weather’, at least not for longer than a week. Spring, autumn? Forget it. All you get served up here is the kind of heat that makes you want to tear off your skin, and the kind of cold that is only acceptable at Christmas when you’re carolling round the fire (does anyone actually do that these days?). It’s just got cold here, and somehow it went from leather jacket weather to full-blown coat, scarf and gloves weather in literally 48 hours, and when I went out a couple of Saturdays ago I could barely feel my nose. This is SPAIN for goodness sake; I haven’t seen a single palm tree or golden beach in the eight weeks I’ve been here. Granted, I couldn’t be more slap bang in the middle of the Iberian Peninsula if I tried, but it’s disappointing nonetheless when stereotypes are not reinforced.

In Spain there has just been a long 4 day bank holiday weekend and, motivated by homesickness and ageing family members, I decided to take a trip back to the UK. For a couple of weeks leading up to the trip I’d felt completely miserable and isolated until one day I decided that enough was enough and blew over £200/200€ with easyJet. The sly gits, knowing that it was a bank holiday in some of Europe, put their prices up for this particular weekend so the flights cost me double what it did for the ones that I booked for Christmas! Thank god I booked the latter ones waaaaaaayyyy in advance.

Anyway, 4am on Halloween arrived and I was stumbling around my room in the dark attempting to look presentable and to remember my passport. 5am came and I was on a bus full of equally knackered-looking Spaniards, all of us headed for the airport , and by 6 I was already sat on the floor in departures watching House on my Mac – I mean what better way is there to kill time in an airport at el crac o’ dawn? If you’ve never been to Barajas airport then there’s really only one word to describe it: fuckingmassive (yeah yeah, I know). As the bus pulled into terminal one I practically fell out and straight through the revolving airport doors as I wrestled with my suitcase, hand luggage and sheer exhaustion much to the nuisance of the other disgruntled travellers who all seemed to be perfectly poised for the situation. Once I’d pulled myself together and made it inside with the last shred of my dignity I realised that I had absolutely no clue where the hell my check in desk was, and after walking what seemed like miles I was finally blinded by about the same length of the luminous orange roping I’d been seeking – hallelujah!

Over in departures the boarding call came and I lost my final shred of dignity and composure as I bolted, arms and hand luggage flailing, to gate B26 batting Spanish men, women and children out of the way as I went. My love for Britain (not a nationalist P.S…) and excitement for going home had become too much and I simply HAD TO BE first on that beautiful orange plane. As fate would have it I was sixth in the queue which isn’t too shabby at all, and I got my seat just a few rows from the front to ensure as early a cuppa as possible. Hidden amongst the Spanish majority on the plane, I was all snuggled up in my snood, with my book, cup of tea and pot of porridge – an almost perfect stereotype. Upon departure I admired the snow-capped mountains which skim the capital of Spain and by the end of the flight I was gazing down at miles upon miles of green fields, trees and cows. I was home. Well not really because I still had a 4 hour train journey to make, but you know what I mea

The rest of the day was tiring and spent mostly travelling, save for the couple of hours I was afforded to spend with a good friend in London. I hopped (as elegantly as one can with massive suitcase and handbag in tow) onto a train from Gatwick to St. Pancras and admired the sights of our capital as I went. Even in the freezing cold and with a skyline clouded by cranes, London is beautiful. By the time I hit central I was dire need of more caffeine, so nowhere could have been better placed than the Starbucks I stumbled upon, and nothing could have prepared me for the problem that I was about to stumble into… I couldn’t understand the barista! I told her my order and she reeled off the usual questions which I assume were ‘drink in or take out?’ and ‘would you like cream on that?’, but I could not for the life of me understand what she was saying. In Spain that’s a daily occurrence which I’ve become accustomed to, but in my home country and my mother tongue this was quite confusing. So when I heard ‘dirbf wiry tjajeio titt?’ and ‘wiofyf cfhjeya?’ I managed to muster up a flustered ‘err drink in’ and ‘yes please’. (What is my life coming to?) By the time I’d got to the King’s Cross Prêt à Manger things were running a bit more smoothly. I’d caught up with the pace at which London moves and finally learnt to understand a native English accent, so after a quick bite and a chat I was ready and raring to get on with getting home.

The rest of my week in England was pretty relaxed and spent mostly catching up with old friends and close family, as well as pigging out on my fave Brit snacks! It was an endless 5 day feast of Walkers crisps, McVite’s biscuits, pub lunches, Nando’s and of course my mum threw in a good old Patak’s curry! The trains were on time, appointments were adhered to, it was completely freezing cold and wet, and I loved it. It was home :)

On the Saturday night I topped off my trip by heading to Nottingham to visit my old flatmates and friends from uni who aren’t doing a placement year. It felt so strange being a guest of people I’d lived with for two years, but after about an hour I was already helping myself to the contents of their cupboards and nail polish collection. It felt so right being back with them, like I belonged, and it felt like I should be there for the year! It was so hard to say goodbye to them, even more so than to my family, because I know that things will never again be how they were in first and second year and I think that’s been the hardest thing for me to adjust to this year. Nonetheless off we trotted, true Trenters, to Ocean for Climax and we had a totally awesome night. It was completely hilarious and care-free and of course no night in Ocean would be complete without crappy VK, the lone middle-aged pervert (how do they get into student nights?!) and the guy in the carrier-bag nappy gawping at wasted freshers making out in the middle of the dance floor. 4am kebabs, perving on freshers in Coco Tang, late night last minute essay writing, and making stupid X Factor videos (and screaming when we actually get on TV); I miss my uni life and the people I’ve shared it with <3

You Can Take the Girl out of England, but You Can’t Take England out of the Girl

Somedays I step out of my flat and I may as well be wearing a Union Jack trench coat complete with matching bowler hat  and Queen Elizabeth II mask, and throw in a Beatles tribute band to follow me around … Continue reading

The Grass isn’t Greener on this Side, In Fact it’s Mostly Desert.

Last week I was feeling a bit down and not fully into the whole Spanish/year abroad thing. “You have been quiet this week” my flatmate said to me which, for anyone that knows me, is not a thing often said about me. … Continue reading

So You Want to be Madrileño? The Tourist Edition

When I first got here I didn’t get to do a lot of touristy stuff as I had to go to training and had loads of other stuff to sort such as bank accounts, sim cards, travel cards and filling my fridge, but once that was all done it was time to enjoy the sunshine, and boy was there a lot of sunshine. Aside from week two which may as well have been monsoon season in some freezing rainforest, the first month here was hot hot, so after the chores I donned my summer clothes (much to the bemusement of the Spanish folk) and went to do touristy things! My favourite place in Madrid by far is Parque del Retiro. It’s so beautiful in the summer and is full of trees and ice cream stalls, and there’s even a lake where you row boats for the bargain price of around 4€ for 45 mins. The 4€ is per boat, not person, and you can fit up to four people in a boat (maybe five if one or two of said people are children). Here’s me trying out for Team GB…

If you’re a French tourist you may wish to follow suit of those who came before you and dress up for the occasion as sailors…

Another really awesome place is the El Rastro flea market which takes place every Sunday in La Latina. The place is full of kitschy jewellery and bags, band tshirts, incense stalls, art stalls, poster printers, fabrics and wall hangings, books, DVDs and the occasional antique. I’ve bought bracelets, rings, a little Spanish dish for my hair grips, a painting of some wandering camels and a beautiful string of coloured silk elephants which are now hanging from my curtain rail. I love this market and the busy Spanish atmosphere there but BEWARE. El Rastro is pickpocketter’s paradise. Only take with you what’s necessary, use a bag which is fiddly to open and keep a firm grasp on it at ALL times. The same goes for pockets… As long as you keep your wits about you and don’t advertise yourself as a tourist you should be A-OK!

One other must is the Teleférico, a cable car which provides amazing views over the city, across the countryside and towards the mountains. You can take a one way trip which costs around 3€ and lasts 11 minutes, or you can do a return trip for around 5€ where they make you get off and walk through the gift shop before getting back on for the return journey. So sly, so sly.

Week 1: A Kid with Asperger’s Threatened to Kill Me

Last Thursday I came to the end of my first week working as an English Language Assistant in a Madrid primary school, and I LOVED it. The first thing that struck me was how much we’re getting paid for the … Continue reading