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The Girl with the Daffodil Tattoo

A Welsh girl let loose in a wild world

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Travel

How I ended up in Madrid

I arrived in Madrid in 2010, bright eyed and bushy tailed, all ready to learn Spanish. What I had really wanted to do was what my course mates were doing, aka live off mummy and daddy’s respective purse and wallet and do a masters, or just potter about and live with my parents. They spoke of the homecoming with dread. “It’s going to be hard going back to their house after living independently”, they said. I envied them.

Not having taken up the challenge of studying any language properly before (“This isn’t going to help me make money in order to have financial security”, that holy grail of holy grails I had been brought up to seek), I applied to China and was accepted. I was to fly on August 13th, 2010.

I was crashing with my sister in London, a few days before my departure, when someone from British council called me.

“I suppose by now you’ve realised that there’s a problem with your visa”, she said kindly, in the clipped tones of an admirably middle class English accent.

Erm. Come again?

It turned out that some random Chinese citizens had been going in to schools and getting knife happy, attacking teachers and students. I had been (too) honest about my mental health history, getting the required documents that said I was “mostly harmless” etc, so under the disability discrimination act, British Council had hired me. Long live equality! However, the Chinese government had just banned giving teaching visas to loony foreigners, so I was in job limbo.

They said they would sort it.

A few days later they called me to say I could work in central Madrid, even though I didn’t speak Spanish. I was relieved. I had already handed in my notice for my bar job in London and I was tired of living in a capital and having no money.

So, off I trotted.

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How has a masters in Feminism changed my ESL teaching?

Completing a masters in Feminism and Gender, in my second language, while working part time, is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. My family and friends were mostly against it. “It won’t improve your job prospects” they told me, not realising that many jobs simply require a masters in a range of subjects, not just in a specific area.

Whether it is my pass into the upper middle class and financial stability or not, the masters changed me so much. I started out knowing that things were basically unfair, but the masters gave me specific tools to measure that unfairness, while the reading of various philosophers opened my mind to unthought of possibilities.

I make money to pay my rent through teaching. I started to notice the theory in real life. How boys readily answer questions more in class, how girls seem to like dancing and not play football.

Here are some practical things I do in my ESL classes now, since the masters:

I don’t treat all students the same

There is nothing more unequal than treating men and women the same. Women are discouraged from playing football, men singing and dancing. So I try to encourage each group in what their normally discouraged from.

Fancy dress is for everyone, as is singing and dancing
I have a big box of old fancy dress stuff to use in class to motivate younger kids to read. I let the boys pick first, and I also do their make up first for special events like Halloween.

I play football/soccer with the kids at break time

I’ve played football a handful of times. But when I’m teaching little kids, I make sure they see me playing football with them for a few minutes of their break.

I ignore the boys

When I’m answering a question from a girl, boys very often interrupt to ask their own question. I ignore them or say: Wait!

I let everyone answer

Every class when we are correcting, we go round in a circle and everyone gives one answer

I ask the girls what sport they did today

I believe that sport (or lack of access to sport) is a major part of modern female oppression, affecting physical and mental health, as well as with social and self-esteem implications. That’s why I ask the girls what sport they’ve done today.

I use a pink ball in class, with skipping ropes that have “boy” colours

Studies have shown that girls are more likely to use pink balls, while boys don’t necessarily associate skipping ropes with being “for girls”.

I don’t criticise myself

I don’t allow young women to hear me saying I’m on a diet or anything like that. Firstly, because I’m not, and secondly, because that’s harmful to them. I dress casually and spend a short amount of time each day on my appearance.

 

Do you think about gender equality in your classes? What things do you practice daily?

A Weekend in Bilbao

Thinking of spending a few nights in Bilbao? Here’s a quick run down of some essentials for your trip.

Practical Stuff

>Bilbao is very green, which means it rains a lot. Bring waterproof shoes and a waterproof coat. The city is very informal, and you can wear hiking boots, trainers, or sneakers on a night out without anyone batting an eyelid.

>If you like to walk, you will adore Bilbao. Things are reasonably close together, and there are lots of nice buildings, bridges and bars/coffee shops. If you’re too tired (or it’s started to drizzle) the metro is cheap and well designed.

>The airport is just 20 mins from the city centre. (There is nothing I hate more than a long arduous journey to catch a plane)

>People here are the friendliest in the world and will always try to help you, whether they speak English or not.

Guggenheim Museum

If you don’t fancy paying 13e to see the exhibition, the building itself is well worth a look. Designed by Frank Gehry, and inspired by the sea, the building is controversial due to the way it contrasts with the surrounding architecture. Personally, I 100% love it, although I never experienced the city without it.

Guggenheim Bilbao

Casco Viejo

The old part of the city is nicknamed “The Seven Streets”, but don’t be fooled. It’s basically a labyrinth, but there are so many excellent bars, you desire to leave won’t be a problem.

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Pintxos

Have you ever eaten tapas, and thought, I wish this food was on a small piece of bread, with a stick in it, and with a complete rainbow variety of tastes and textures? Then you are going to have some sort of food orgasm over “pintxos”, which is Basque for “cocktail sticks”.

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San Mamés Stadium

If you’re a football fan, you might like to take a look at Athletic’s stadium.

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Walk along the River

Prosperity, and the subsequent rejuvenation of Bilbao (from an industrial port town) since the 90s has been nicknamed “the Gugghenheim Effect” by the press. If (and that’s a big “if”) it’s not raining, you can take a wonderful stroll by the river.

paseoMaritimoRVictoria

Not Climbing Artxanda

Basques know how to organise stuff well, and as you walk around the Bilbao, you will see that although there are a some steep hills, there are also easy ways to get around climbing them.

A “funicular” is a small train that goes up a hill. A great thing to do (on a clear day) is catch this tiny train from the centre, up Artxanda, which offers a great view for the whole city. They you can walk back down, or take the train back.

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Day out to San Sebastián

San Sebastián is just an hour by bus from Bilbao, and although it is said to be a bit more expensive, it is also famous for it’s culinary offerings. If you like to pack in as much as possible on your weekends away, this nearby city on the coast might be a nice change from the big smoke.

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Bilbao: Casco Viejo Top Picks

Here’s a selection of images from my favourite bars in the Casco Viejo.

Mellila y Fez (Calle Ituribide)

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Morocan kebabs. The best tortilla I’ve ever eaten in Spain. Music. Welcoming staff. This is my favourite bar EVER. And it’s very affordable.

 

Gatz (Calle Santa Maria or Andra Maria Kalea)

Award winning pintxos. Never fails to please and really affordably priced.

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Motrikes (Calle Somera)

There are a lot of bars in Bilbao that are famous for their grilled mushrooms, but Motrikes beats the competition. According to urban legend, the recipe is a closely kept secret, and is worth a vast amount of money. All I know is that I love me some mushrooms fresh from the griddle!

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It’s Almost Impossible to be Unhappy in Bilbao

I cried on the plane to Bilbao again today, knowing that I won’t be back in the UK for a while now. Home isn’t perfect, but it’s so…. normal. You know what to expect. You know roughly when stuff opens, and what time it closes. You count the money without thinking about it. Your brain doesn’t get exhausted by speaking a foreign language, trying to interpret signs that are make zero sense to you.

As soon as I got back to the flat, I lay down on the sofa and had a good old cry. My mum is 100% dead, incinerated, soon to be scattered. Her house is empty. I worked really hard over the summer, emptying the garage and cupboard after cupboard, giving things of no sentimental value to charity (which is where they came from), and my sister did the final clear out of Mum’s clothes this week. Don’t ask me where she got the mental energy. I just sat there, feeling waves of sadness hit me and trying not to get in her way.

I peeled myself off the sofa as there was no food in the house, and I put on my “walking in Spain face”, which tries to be neutral, yet with a hint of “I take no shit”. I’ve been working on softening it in the year since I left Madrid, but it’s still pretty sharp.

The lift in my building arrived. There was a young couple already in there. I got in. The lift didn’t move. “Your backpack” they said, smiling. Anther person got in. They all chatted.

I went to the supermarket, got my stuff, and then waited in the queue. Someone who worked there actually bothered to tell me I was in the 5 items or less queue, smiling, while his other coworkers consoled a crying child who had mislaid it’s mother, feeding her chocolate. When I was ready to pay, the cashier leant over conspiratorially, and told me that I was really missing out by not having the store card. She called over her manager to sign me up, and I dictated to him my details, while a lady behind me remarked “I learn English my whole life and look, she’s learning Spanish and she speaks so well. Where are you from?”.

Back in the lift of my apartment, I stopped to hold a door open for the person entering behind me. She started chatting to me about how cold it was (in Britain it’s 10 degrees colder right now,  but no one likes this to be pointed out). I smiled and nodded, agreeing about the “cold”, while thinking “You know nothing Jon Snow”. As I left the lift she called after me “Happy New Year!”.

I suppose that people are generally happier and friendlier during the holidays, but Bilbao is just such a happy and friendly place in general. It’s the complete polar opposite to Madrid. I wish wish WISH I had moved to the Basque Country earlier, but I always remind myself that if I hadn’t lived in Madrid for 3 horrible years then I wouldn’t have met my lovely partner.

I’m so glad I live here now. Basque people are so lovely and kind,  so polite, so positive, so gracious and welcoming to foreigners. I hope people treat them really well when they are in the UK.

Urban Legend: Santutxu is “the most populated”/Leyanda Urbana: Santutxu “es lo más poblado”

I keep on hearing this phrase:

“Santutxu is the most densely populated neighbourhood in Europe”

and this article is going to be about my quest to improve my knowledge of stats and verifying internet info.

According to the Wikipedia article:

Santutxu is the most densely populated neighbourhood of Bilbao and Europe, at 41,430 hab/km2.

A reference is given to a random PDF, of unknown origin, with lists of statistics purporting to be from 2006. However, in this PDF, there are several neighbourhoods that have a higher population density than Santutxu, such as:

Uribarri 42.981

Iturrialde 50.108
Solokoetxe 53.055

San Frantzisko/San Francisco 43.200

I love the freedom of information the internet affords, but I feel like it leaves me with more questions about knowledge than answers. How can one verify information on the internet? What is a reliable source? How can I learn to understand statistics and their manipulation without falling asleep?

—————————————————————————————–

Escucho la siguiente frase de vez en cuando:

“Santutxu es el barrio más poblado de Europa”

y este artículo es sobre mi camino para mejorar mi conocimiento de estadística y averiguar información sur la red.

Según este artículo de Wikipedia:

Santutxu is the most densely populated neighbourhood of Bilbao and Europe, at 41,430 hab/km2.

La referencia para esta información es un pdf cualquiera, de origin anónima, que dice que es estadística de 2006. Sin embargo, en este mismo PDF, hay bastantes estadísticas que dicen que hay barrios más poblados de Bilbao. Por ejemplo:

Uribarri 42.981

Iturrialde 50.108
Solokoetxe 53.055

San Frantzisko/San Francisco 43.200

Me encanta la libertad de información de internet, pero a veces me siento que me deja con más preguntas que respuestas. ¿Cómo puedo averiguar información de internet? ¿Qué es una fuente fiable? ¿Cómo puedo aprender a entender estatística y su manipulación sin quedarme dormida?

Women: Contraception in Spain

Here’s a compendium of info about birth control in Spain, from my own personal experience, top what my friends/coworkers/doctors have told me.

Contraceptive Pill

Cost=between 4 and 15 euros a month

Brits: Stock up on 12 months of the pill before you leave the UK. You will save between 36e and 180 euros over 12 months

You can easily find the brand name for your pill in Spain. I’ve also been told that you can take your empty pill box to the pharmacy (if you live in Madrid) and they can/will search for the equivalent for you and sell it to you without a prescription. When I lived in Madrid I was told (by a pharmacist) that whether it was sold to you or not without prescription (this goes for the morning after pill as well) depended on how conservative the person was serving you. In the three years I lived in Madrid, I never had any problem whatsoever.

My experience in Bilbao has been that pharmacies that will let you buy the pill without a prescription are few and far between. Not sure if this is due to the Basque Country being more Catholic or just general regulations.

In general, there are two types of pill that are covered on social security, meaning that they are cheap (4e for a months supply). These are Diane ( ) and . All the rest are around 15e a month.

Nuva/Merina Ring

Rough cost per month: 20e

This is a ring you insert into your vagina that releases hormones to stop you ovulating.

IUD

Rough cost for  years:

US citizens living in Spain: Might be covered on your insurance (Mapfre, Sanitas)

Many women are now opting for an IUD (a copper device that is fitted into your uterus that lasts for several years). It’s important to get one fitted a while before you go abroad for your follow up appountment.

Implant

Rough cost for  years:

 

 

Disclaimer: This article is includes my research, opinion and opinions from other women I’ve spoken to. Please consult your doctor.

 

Tip for EU People Moving/Travelling to the UK

To get around the UK plug annoyance, use something plastic in the top hole of the UK socket to open the safety shutter.

plug

I like to use a biro lid.

biro

 

Happy travels!

Technology: Phones, Apps, Contracts, and Companies

Going to Spain for a while? Here are some technotips.

  1. Install Whatsapp on your phone

(Almost) everyone uses it here, as many people don’t have phone contracts. It’s also great for keep in contact with your friends at home

2. Get a YOIGO sim

I tried various pay as you go sims, and I like Yoigo because calls are too expensive, their phones are unlocked and relatively cheap (you can buy a two sim card phone NEW for 140e), and their customer service is not completely terrible. You can also pay 7e a month for 3G, which is really useful if you move to a place where internet takes a thousand years to install.

Don’t forget to bring your passport to buy whatever sim card you end up getting; it’s an anti-terror measure here that you can’t buy a phone sim without ID.

3. Bring an extender cable from your country

You can buy travel plugs in Spain, but instead of buying 5 or 6 individual ones for your phone, laptop, hairdryer etc, why not bring an extension cable with you from your country?

Wall>>>travel plug>>>extender cable

>phone

>laptop

>hairdryer

Also, for UK travellers, remember that if you buy electronics in other European countries, you can (usually) shove them in to a British socket by sticking something plastic into the top hole of the plug socket, like this:

plug

I like to use a good old biro lid. It’s the perfect size for opening the safety shutter.

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