Blog,  Travel

España: Reasons to Celebrate

Weeks 32, 33, 34, 35 & 36

May 2018

I made it! My last month working as an auxiliar and living in Spain. And what a month it was! Honestly, I think I was sick for two-thirds of it. But that can sometimes happen when there is so much anticipation for something to end and the change that is coming as a result. Plus when you work with kids, the chances of catching sick germs is way higher too.

Sam, Belinda, Hailey, and I came back from Morocco after yet another mini break and Spanish puente. We didn’t get back to Seville until midnight on Tuesday and it was way past midnight when I finally was asleep in my bunk at a hostel. There was no way I could make it to school on Wednesday even if I took the earliest train back to catch my carpool. So I had to tell them that I couldn’t make it. It was the first time I have missed a day and it didn’t seem like too big a deal. Of course, they want me to make up the hours but that’s fine by me.

So with the time, Sam and I explored Seville on Wednesday. Everything was packed! Apparently, Madrid had a holiday so many Spanish tourists were in Seville for a long weekend. The Alcázar wait was hours long and we didn’t book tickets ahead of time. We only had time to see the cathedral. It is the biggest Gothic cathedral in the world. It is immense! I really liked Seville, a bustling city in the Spanish sun.

Soaking up sun in Seville

We went back to Córdoba in the early afternoon to be home at a reasonable hour. I then had time to do laundry, buy food, and cook dinner before preparing for school the next day (my one day). I was super tired after traveling for such a long amount of time. In Morocco, we spent twenty-four hours on a bus in five days! Definitely not the most ideal vacation, and certainly not a relaxing one.

But I was looking forward to May and being in my city of Córdoba for the last month I was here. I set aside time to see my people and see my city. I wanted to take in as much as I could. And at this point, I was sick of traveling. Córdoba offers so much in the month of May anyway that there is no reason to leave. The last weekend of April/beginning of May is the Cruces de Mayo (which I missed being in Morocco) where businesses and organizations make crosses out of flowers. The first two weeks of May are Los Patios where people decorate their patios with impressive displays of flowers and open their homes for people to see their flourishing flora. The patios are also judged in a competition for prizes. The last two weeks of May are full of fería, a flamenco “celebration” (basically a two-week party). A whole month full of nothing but festivities!

I started off week 32 with my first taste of Los Patios on Friday evening with a visit to a fancier part of the city. Old and established patios dominate one corner of the city. I was impressed with the small sample and was ready for more. The next day, on Cinco de Mayo, we didn’t celebrate it as much as used it as an excuse to get together and have a fajita and taco dinner night.

On Sunday, I spent the day generally relaxing and taking a breath of the warm spring air. Then more patio visiting filled my time after school on Monday. What made got me seeing people’s homes full of flowers stunning city gardens, was that people actually lived here. They got to enjoy their gems for the whole year. They are quiet and secluded, and usually hidden except for these two blooming weeks.

Experiencing los patios of Cordoba as an auxiliar living and teaching English in Spain

Despite all my relaxing flower tours, I ended up at urgent care on Tuesday evening with an intestinal bug from Morocco. Hailey had some of the side effects too. We know exactly what is was… that damn kebab. So here I was with a doctor’s note for two days off. I didn’t feel that sick but it was really nice to have the mental health days. I was absolutely burnt out from way too much traveling. The commuting every day made me feel like I could never get enough of a break at home.

I used the time to catch up on some writing and personal projects I wanted to do. Plus I was back and forth to the doctor’s office for tests on Wednesday. I painted my nails and watched a movie on Thursday. It felt indulgent compared to my flatmates going to school like normal.

By Friday I was really feeling more like myself again both physically and mentally. That meant I was up for some more patios. There is a map for the festival with different colored routes you can follow. This day we decided to do the route through the main part of Córdoba, past the biggest tourist attractions like the Mezquita and through old Córdoba. And honestly, it was the most disappointing route of all the patios I ended up seeing. The smaller neighborhood patios were much more impressive.

Los patios of Cordoba with an auxiliar living and teaching English in Spain

My friend Sarah from college came down on Saturday from Madrid to visit Córdoba. She was an auxiliar in Madrid and also got her masters at the same time! What a smart cookie. She took the train down and I became the official tour guide of Córdoba. It was wonderful to see her and slowly explore the city. We took loads more pictures and I even got to hear the organ being played in the Mezquita.

That evening what did we do… Saw more patios of course! I saw so many in the end, just a mini taste of all the potted plant glory of city gardening. Check out my best pictures from the whole patios festival. It’s really incredible that they prepare all year for this festival. I think Los Patios was my favorite of the May celebrations. The vibes of the city bloom in a spectacular celebration of art and culture. Musicians play outside of people’s homes on the streets to liven the atmosphere. Everyone waits patiently in line and chats and maybe has a glass or two. I even got to witness a dance academy put on a ballet performance– not easy on a cobblestoned patio let me tell you!

The end of Los Patios brings the beginning of Féria. The event didn’t start officially until Friday but my school was getting ready for it in the meantime. They had a Féria “experience” in school where a local flamenco instructor came into school taught each grade some flamenco moves. Most of the students dressed up for the occasion. It was precious! Boys with drawn-on facial hair and button up shirts and girls with flowers in their hair and silk shawls.

Spring rain was definitely over and the newest project for students to show off was bugs in boxes. In shoe boxes, my students collected leaf-eating worms that they observed destroy foliage. Kids were so proud of their new pets. Kids can be weird sometimes but as a student, I would have liked to have a box of bugs to watch chomp and grow fat rather than have to pay attention to the teacher.

The end of the school year is always a fun time too with field trips and other assemblies. Some of the moms put on a production of fairy tales for the little kids. Students watched their mom or some of their friend’s moms dress up as Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, and other notable females for a short play before recess one day. I could feel the end of the school year drawing nearer and nearer with every degree the temperature rose.

Flamenco dresses for Feria in Cordoba in late May in Spain

The picture above is from a fancy department store selling flamenco dresses (and accessories) for Féria. These day dresses are called trajes (simply meaning dress, but I’ve also been told that it also more or less means gypsy dress). These trajes de flamenca are gorgeous and not meant for dancing– they are too tight! They are a costume that women wear for the two weeks of the flamenco celebration. Jane bought a dress. Yes, a stunning gown like one of these. She got an amazing deal buying a second-hand traje that included all the accessories: shawl, earrings, and flowers. Jane renewed the program and is returning to teach again next year. She looked amazing in her dress all done up and I know she’s going to look just as great next year! With her dark hair, she was instantly Spanish.

On Friday, Féria was ignited with midnight fireworks. On the edge of Córdoba in an open space, the city sets up rows and rows of tents. They also build a mini Mezquita lined with lights. At midnight, the reproduction of their most famous landmark illuminated the area and the party was officially started. I went home after the fireworks. There was just a ton of people and it was a little overwhelming.

The next day was the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. I was engrossed in the whole proceeding. Never before have I ever been so invested in an event of the British royal family but I was reliving (in a small way) the visit to London and Windsor Chapel I did the month before. Plus who doesn’t like a wedding? I narrated the entire event to my reluctant flatmates as they did their own things around the apartment. Hailey did join me eventually. I loved it all!

That night we did Féria for real. We got done up and purchased booze to join everyone pre-gaming by the river. We made a rookie mistake: not eating enough food beforehand. Madre mia the wine and coke did me in. Hailey and I went searching for food since neither of us had really eaten anything. We stood in two separate lines where we reached the front and realized we needed food tickers. Eventually, we gave up, left the festival, and got kebab on the way home instead.

Hayley Elizabeth experiencing Feria in Cordoba Spain in late May

I did Féria but Féria also did me in. I was back at my apartment by one in the morning yet I woke up feeling wiped out. I felt bad because my friends from the US were coming to visit and stay with me. Then we were traveling the next weekend together. They arrived Sunday afternoon and I didn’t give them the best welcome in my weird state of tired and sick and ready to be done with the stress of school. Things got better with the best equalizer of all: food! We went to a great restaurant that served all the best of traditional Córdoba food. I got to eat all my Spanish favorites and get my friends to try them too.

That next morning, however, I really woke up feeling bad. And on top of that, I was absolutely stressed out about calling out sick again and missing school. Which after having a near anxiety attack, I did. I went to the health center again and they confirmed my ill state with a note for another two days off. I was happy to miss school again which is an indication that I wasn’t really happy with my job. It’s a huge reason I’ve decided not to do the program again next year. I love my students but the material and style of teaching (plus the lack of communication and guidance) doesn’t bode well for me or my health. The schedule and the Spanish lifestyle didn’t click with me either. One year was enough. Don’t get me wrong, I’m so glad I did it and I’m writing a reflection post about my experience that will be published on the blog soon (it also includes some of my best photographs of Córdoba).

On Wednesday, I explored the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos one last time with my friends. Being a resident of Córdoba I get into almost all the city attractions for free. Then we all made and enjoyed some homemade paella. I was excited my friends were in Córdoba for Féria and we went early in the evening on Thursday to check it out. During the day there are horses! We made it just in time to see men and women riding their horses home for the night. They really got to see just how much the Spanish like to party. The food and drinks were expensive like most festivals but we enjoyed some Spanish tapas all the same.

Feria in Cordoba Spain with an auxiliar living and teaching English in late May

That Friday we did a weekend trip to Setenil de las Bodegas, Ronda, and el Caminito del Rey. And especially Ronda is now one of my favorite places in Spain. It was incredible! And despite being sick with a bad cough now, I enjoyed myself immensely and had a great time hanging out with my friends.

And without further ado, it was my last week! My flatmates and I had been counting down to this moment! Jane even had the weeks left posted on papers in our dining room. I spent Monday making posters and helping with some speaking exams. School is winding down for students as well and there are exams on exams in every class for every subject. It’s a bit ridiculous.

But Monday night I ended up going to the hospital for severe chest pain and my relentless cough. I thought I might have had pneumonia and they took a chest x-ray to see. Thank goodness it wasn’t but here I was again with another note to stay home for two more days. I have to give credit to the Spanish health care system. I always got the help I needed and usually, everything was done pretty quick. My weekend trip probably didn’t help me but we relaxed a lot. We just meandered around the towns, ate lots of food, and caught up on life.

Because I missed two days of school during my last week, I don’t think many of my students even knew it was my last week. I missed seeing some of the teachers and kids because of all the field trips! My last day was on Thursday and I only had one class. That’s how empty the school was. My last day went out quietly and without much ceremony which is what I prefer. I had to do some paperwork and fill out a questionnaire about my year. I turned in my key and created one last poster to establish my legacy in Hinojosa del Duque.

A lot of things were telling me ‘it was time for me to go home.’ Or at least to leave Córdoba and living in Spain behind me. I packed my life away into one big suitcase and many overflowing backpacks. I packed my backpacking backpack to hike the ancient pilgrimage with my brother across northern Spain: El Camino de Santiago. My family and my neighbors arrived on Thursday night and I took them to my new favorite restaurant with the best of Córdoba and Spanish food. I was a mini tour guide on Friday but headed home for a siesta at mid-day. Being so sick still, I was worried I was going to be able to do the hike at all. But I did it! My brother and I walked over 300 miles of the Camino in June. See my reflection here.

My living in Spain is officially over (and probably over for good). My official “España” blogs are over with a grand total of thirty-six weeks documented over ten journal-like posts. I’m so happy I kept this documentation of my time there. Even now all the detailed memories have faded. This chapter of my life in Spain is over but it doesn’t mean Spain and I are finished yet. I plan to vacation and visit Spain again and maybe take my future family to Córdoba to show them where I lived and taught for a year. There are so many reasons to celebrate life. And no one knows how to celebrate like the Spanish. The month of May alone proved that and I’m glad my last month (despite the illness) could be spent celebrating the place and culture that gave me this opportunity and challenged me so much this past year.

I cried when leaving my people and saying goodbye. As my family and I were walking back to my apartment on the last night, my mom asked me what I’ll miss the most. I sighed and looked out over the beautiful roman bridge we were walking on and said, “the people.” Like in every place you live in and have to leave, I will keep in touch with some people and the friendship of others will slowly just fade over time. It’s sad because it’s the last time that all these same people will all be together in this same place for the same period of time. Like with college or a job, life happens and it’s exciting and wonderful but it also has to move on. Like the river flowing through Córdoba there are highs and lows, fast periods and slow periods, but it never stops. Adios España, hasta luego!

Happy Travels-

Signature with Gray

Reasons to Celebrate: Living in Spain during the month of Andalucia festivals: Los Patios and Feria in Cordoba

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