Bron in the Basque Country: First Impressions

Here we go.

This is it. The big one. The one we’ve all been waiting for. My year abroad.

Bilbao is bigger than I expected. After moving from a small town to a small city to THE CAPITAL OF A PROVINCE, it’s understandable how it can be a little overwhelming. Combined with the fact that I (non-surprisingly) was thrown into speaking Spanish from the word go, it continued to be a lot to take in. I made the wise decision in hindsight to insist that Mum was dragged along with me into the chaos that is immersing myself into a completely different culture.

There’s more to learning a second language than one might think. Surprisingly to some, we are not instantly fluent as soon as we conjugate our first verb, and furthermore the real world is a very different environment compared to just parroting phrases in a classroom. I’ve been ordering food, translating for my Mum and asking for directions, and I’ve had to think on my feet in a way I’ve never had to at home. I also have the added bonus being that people are not only rapidly talking to me in Spanish, but also in Basque.

The Basque Country seems to be one of those love-it-or-hate-it places. It’s a little rough around the edges and the people are proud in a way that can often be seen as harsh. The restaurants don’t open until 8 in the evening, and the buildings are so tall they can be intimidating.

On the other hand, it suits me just fine. It’s colder than the stereotypical Spain, I’m never too far from a coffee shop or a wine bar (two of my greatest loves in the world) and the public transport is incredibly efficient. Obviously it hasn’t all been plain sailing but it’s important to know if you’re moving to a new country that sometimes you may have incidents that will upset you but you will get over it and develop as a person. The Guggenheim is gorgeous, the scenery is beautiful and there has been so much to explore in the first week alone.

I’m sure the city will grow on me, and as long as those skyscrapers don’t grow on me the best is yet to come.

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The Guggenheim is down the road from my flat…

I’m in Spain! I’m going to write a first impressions blog once I’ve had a few more days to accumulate some more fun anecdotes (for which I already have many), but for now, I need to talk about The Guggenheim.

The Guggenheim is not only an architectural masterpiece in Bilbao, but a place very near to my flat. A place which has been the first thing I’ve mentioned to any of my friends ever when they’ve asked me to tell them about where I’m living for the next year.

It was fascinating. Once you get through the intense security you enter a world of vision. It’s a world of innovative creativity and architecture, paintings and sculptures that have shaped the world of art.

I’ve never really been that compelled to go to an art museum and look at paintings, pondering about what went through the artist’s mind in order to produce this interpretation of the world. Thanks to the audioguide that we received, I was able to absorb the information while viewing the beautiful pieces in front of me. It was interesting to see more contemporary art as well as the origins of techniques and artistic trends that are well known today. I remember studying Andy Warhol’s Pop Art in primary school, and witnessing the beginnings of original style and various revolutions- politically and creatively, was eye-opening.

There’s so much to see, and there’s student discount, and you can access the audioguide in Spanish, Basque, English and French… so there’s something for everyone?

I’m just saying, the fact that the Guggenheim is just down the road from my flat is definitely not a bad thing, and if you’re ever staying in Bilbao I would highly recommend you pay a visit.

How to move out without having a breakdown

What was initially a couple of weeks of blissful ignorance has turned into the frightening revelation that I have less than 24 hours until I start the next chapter in my life. One by one, my course mates and I are slowly leaving to settle into new experiences in our respective regions. I’m no stranger to moving out, due to the fact that I’ve been moving up and down the country for the past two years, but this is a new level of upheaval.

One must think about the short term in addition to the long term. What is the likelihood of you returning home within the next fortnight? Will you need to bring anything with you so you can last a couple of days before you need to go shopping? If you’re new to University this year these things could be even more daunting as you guys get to experience the joys of communal laundrettes, sub par student housing and having to downgrade your food preferences.

If you’re travelling, making sure you have the necessary documents organised is so important. It will involve more than just bringing your passport. It means bringing copies of passports, getting travel insurance, trying to find where you buried your EHIC, and so much more. Chuck it all in a folder, and you’re golden. It might be a good idea to check your passport is safe now.

Connections are also crucial. Use the internet, take advantage of what the pre-technology cavemen didn’t have. Can you get the awkward introductions to your new flatmates out of the way via a message? Do you really all need to bring a toaster? Are there any other potential friends in the same boat as you? Why worry alone when you can worry with likeminded people? Make plans for when you get there. Keep busy, get to know your surroundings. Find key places and landmarks and you’ll settle in no time. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself anyway.

Most importantly, don’t let setbacks steer you from the realm of organisation into a chasm of chaos. I may not be the best example of this as I’ve done all my packing for 8 months this afternoon when I leave tomorrow morning, but organisation is probably more wise.

I’ll see you all in a different country folks.

The Intermission

I have known I was going to embark on a year abroad as soon as I decided I wanted to study Spanish, which was a fair few years ago. However, this inevitable adventure is no longer blissfully out of sight (although nothing is ever out of mind in my world). I’m leaving next month.

Everyone talks about their life lessons/profound realisations/regrets during or after any travels, but I rarely see any reference to the anticipation beforehand. Still to this day I am reminded that the best part of any good thing is looking forward to it. At this point, everyone is stuck in an interval of their lives, looking into the unknown of moving to a different country, and none of us know what to expect.

One of the most important things to be aware of is that no year abroad experience has ever been the same. Comparison is unavoidable when all your course mates are having similar experiences, and issues like finding accommodation, admin, the culture shock and being completely submerged in the deep end can be generic. They cannot be limited to individual experiences, which can blur the line between a unique and common venture.

Now we’re in the intermission, the intermission which no one seems to talk about. You can only prepare so much, so the time is now spent watching dog documentaries and and discovering a new love of craft beer.

My main piece of advice to future travellers in this position is do not be afraid to reach out to people. Email your lecturers if you’re unsure about something, or even if it is to point you towards the person that you actually should have contacted. If you have an opportunity to talk to students, message them. Embrace the benefits of the internet and make connections if you can.

There are so many things that could go wrong, but there are also so many things that could go right.

The Limbo which is Summer

I’m at a crossroads, I believe.

Summer has always been a blank void, as I don’t have the routines that come with school and university. I’m also back at home in the valleys where my friends don’t live a stone’s throw away and very little is within walking distance. It’s a dramatic change, but a familiar one.

I’ve never had a routine with this blog. I’ve always just written when I’ve felt like it and as a result it’s never been forced. However, now I’m struggling with a direction.

Do I continue to write about my travels, to cities and countries? Do I continue writing about books and review them, and discuss other themes? Do I straddle the line across both themes? Do I focus on one and rebrand as I grow?

Who knows.

 

Drowning in conclusions // Into the Water Review

It had always been my intention to read any future novels Paula Hawkins wrote since I had enjoyed The Girl on the Train, so I was pleasantly surprised when I was reminded that her second book, Into the Water, had been released, and I downloaded it onto my iPad almost instantly. I read her first offering to the thriller world on a whim, and it seemed like I would go about reading her next work in the same way, but with a little more optimism.

This story centres around a drowning pool, which has claimed the lives of many women over the centuries, all with a common air of mystery and illusion. Although the beginning of the story appeared to be more confusing than mysterious with an unclear plot, everything fell into place thanks to the organised structure of the characters.

As I read more, I was hooked. The plot sucked me in and like the majority of the books I read while in Costa Rica, I read this in very little time. There was originality, and although a style of writing could be detected you could definitely identify it as a stand alone novel, and in no way a book that is linked to it’s predecessor.

However, the ending didn’t meet my expectations, and in a similar way to The Girl on the Train, it just jolted to a stop. Then when I thought it was over, some more plot almost leaked through, and then it finally concluded in the most long winded way possible.

It was evidently a thriller, and therefore it didn’t need an epilogue where we found out everything about the future of the characters. I love thrillers that end with as much mystery as they started with, although with more of a sense of closure. Endings are great, but long winded conclusions are a bother. Especially in a novel that is meant to keep you on edge throughout.

Overall, I enjoyed it, despite the ending letting it down a little. I now have another gazillion hours of this car journey to go, which is cool.

Goodbye privacy, hello narcissism // The Circle Review

I’ve read a fair few books since I’ve been in Scotland.

In Summer, the amount of books I read doesn’t change but I may decide to waltz outside with a glass of Pimms, and with the sea views here I’ve been doing just that.

One book that’s stood out for me though is The Circle, by David Eggers. The Circle, is in fact a technology company endeavouring to create a utopia for its users and trying to dominate the world. Mae, our protagonist, starts her new job there and gets to experience the wonders of her new paradise- until she is manipulated into believing that without The Circle the world can’t progress and improve.

Throughout the book it’s easy to see the opportunities one can receive simply by being a member of The Circle. You can sample the latest technology the company has to offer, get free clothes, food, and beverages and the reputation you gain is astronomical.

However, the people are fake.

A similar theme has been explored in an episode of Black Mirror, where you are rated based on your actions on an internet app and the world is silently chaotic. A similar thing occurs here, as it is mandatory to share your life online, attend every event you’re invited to and ensure everyone you talk to is content. Privacy is eradicated, and the narcissism of humans is exposed via the popularity of their respective social media.

What’s interesting is the ending. Normally in this kind of dystopian sci-fi type novel, they manage to stop everything before it’s too late (although usually with devastating consequences), however here the result is more chilling. What is terrifying and what could even be considered realistic is the fact that it is too late for Mae. The fact that she is manipulated by the internet into having “right opinions” and “wrong opinions” results in the Circle being able to take over the world like a weed. No organisation should be able to do that.

What is more terrifying is that this could be our reality.

Anticipating the next adventure

During my fourth week in Costa Rica, I received an email from the British Council.

I was anticipating this email. In fact, as soon as the first person reported that they’d received one, everyone who had applied to teach abroad for the next academic year suddenly started caring deeply about the fact that they were stuck in a rainforest with no WiFi. It felt like I was receiving exam results, something I always dread, on a much greater scale. This email dictated the next eight or nine months of my life from the end of September, and there was NOTHING I could do to change what would be typed in black ink on my larger than average phone screen.

Thanks to a hummingbird garden with internet access, one by one our emails flickered to life as our fates were revealed to us. It turns out that my year abroad, a crucial part of my degree, will be spent in the Basque Country in northern Spain.

Everyone was ecstatic. There were people who had been granted their first choice of region, people who were already working out which friends they were close to, and people updating their Facebook statuses in a flurry of excitement. I was overwhelmed.

In hindsight, my situation was laughable. The other two places I’d applied to either had limited spaces or none at due to budget cuts. In hindsight I was lucky to get any of my choices (obviously an essay on Welsh Rugby is exactly what the British Council need). However, it was a massive deal to 20 year old me who was currently on the other side of the world, about to LIVE in a different country.

“Loads of people have done it before, and they’ve been fine”, people say. “You’ve literally been in Costa Rica for five weeks and you’ve been alright, how is this different?” others will comment. I’ve never been to Spain. This is going to be very different.

A few weeks later, I found out my province, my town, my school and almost every other piece of information I needed to know. This time, I was the first out of my friends. I can plan. I can look into where I’m going, what I’m doing, and bombard my new contacts with emails.

Bilbao and the area surrounding it, here I come!

The Thing about Scotland

When we went to Aberdeen yesterday the city could only be described as grey. There was the grey of the buildings, the grey of the sky, the grey of the paths, and the grey mood of the people walking on those grey paths.

Scotland in general, however, is quite the opposite.

We’re staying literally a stone’s throw away from the North Sea, and after spending a month surrounded by the Pacific Ocean it was familiar and welcoming (although it was much colder). The pub is around the corner and the alcohol is plentiful, and once again I’ve read far too many books in a short space of time.

Scotland hasn’t changed much since I was last here three or four year ago. There are still views to be marvelled at, and castles to explore, and I’m looking forward to the peace and tranquility that accompanies this country. It’s so easy to relax here, and even though i have WiFi unlike previous adventures, I still feel at peace. I feel removed from it enough that I don’t depend on it (until a group chat suddenly comes to life out of nowhere).

Scotland reminds me of Wales. There’s a sense of individuality to it. You can pick out the Scottish from the non Scottish by accents alone and they have a patriotic pride that is absent in England. They accept the tourists, and they’ve embraced the fact that they are unique, and have welcomed it into their livelihood.

It is beautiful. It is interesting. It is calm.

I’m looking forward to what the next couple of weeks bring.

Shaken and Stirred // Watching Edie Review

I’m really not sure what I just read.

I’m currently sat in the car on the way back from a holiday in Scotland, three hours in to what looks like a ten hour journey. Settled amongst the many Ikea bags with my headphones in and Spotify blasting loud enough to drown out the radio, I started and finished reading Watching Edie, by Camilla Way.

So here we have two best friends who went through more than the average friends do during the heart of their teenage years thanks to boys, hard drugs, distant cold hearted parents and psychological issues. A friendship formed so impulsively was ruptured beyond repair, and Edie escapes to start fresh.

After giving birth to her baby she discovers that the girl that no longer means anything to her is still watching. She is still waiting. She recoils into nothing thanks to post natal depression and the anxiety of her past chasing after her, and Heather returns into her life with the same burst that Edie did all those years ago.

What seems like just a clingy friend turns into obsession, and later possession. Edie rebuilds her life and seeks solace in new friends, and Heather tries to cling onto the friendship that is so frayed by the trauma they left behind in the town they grew up in.

However, it was the twist at the end that impressed me. I was shaken to the core, aware that something so life-changing had happened at the climax of their schooldays due to it being teased throughout the book, but it was darker than I expected. Darker than anyone would have expected.

I don’t want to give anything away because I think this is a book that deserves to be read.

It is not a book to be taken lightly.