I haven't been updating because...I've been addicted to Let's Plays of various Resident Evil games. So now that that confession's out of the way:
I like holidays, I really do. I like travelling, I like the anticipation and preparation that goes with going someplace new and it's even more interesting if I get to practice a foreign language whilst abroad. The downside is the holiday fallout. When you first arrive home from a holiday you always have such a to-do list: you don't just have to unpack and clean the suitcase, you have to switch on water and gas, you have to sift through the pile of post that has ballooned in your absence, and God forbid if you go on holiday and have no internet access, that means dealing with the long list of waiting emails as well as spam if you don't have a good enough filter.
Now the trick is to always arrive home at a reasonable time in the day and at least a day before anything important, like school. When I was growing up my family never returned from a holiday right before the first day of school. So last Sunday Mum and I returned from Spain and had expected a flight to arrive at Gatwick at 6:30pm, with a 20 minute train journey to East Croydon. Instead we learned at check in at Malaga Airport that our flight had a delay of at least 2.5 hours, so we could either stick around or get an alternative. We arrived at Stansted at 6:40pm (roughly) but the journey to East Croydon took more than 2 hours! The time wasn't just wasted on travelling from beyond North London (Suffolk in fact) all the way down to a South London suburb, but we were travelling on Sunday evening, which meant so many underground lines were out of action. We ended up arriving home about 9:20 or so, rather tired. Because of my tiredness I had actually forgotten to switch on the gas (whoops!) mainly because I missed a lever.
Yeah, I should mention that before we left for Malaga Dad showed me how to switch on gas and heating while he was turning such things off. For some reason he doesn't trust Mum with the job. (Dad is still in Spain because of the conference.)
So, about the holiday itself. Spain is gorgeous. As soon as we stepped out of Malaga Airport the heat hit us like a ton of bricks (it was late at night too). During our stay Dad had hired a rental car and the reason I was along was because I could speak Spanish, although it has to be noted that since Mum and Dad have done French and Mum's currently learning Italian, they can just about read in Spanish. But anyway, the fact we had our own manoevreability and my speaking skills (which were a bit scratchy, I must admit-plus the Andalusian accent is rather different to the one I'm used to) meant we could veer right off the metaphorical beaten track and see sights most foreigners wouldn't. An added advantage was we could eat anywhere. The funny thing about the area was that in preparation for any possible tourists, almost every restaurant translated their menu, however none of the staff could speak any English a lot of the time. I have to admit, the amount of times I had to speak Spanish surprised me. I knew that there wasn't a big culture of compulsion to learn English in Spain but the truly small amount of English speakers (or of any foreign language at all) was staggering. In fact, no one in the hotel we stayed at spoke any English. That I find puzzling. Normally it's at a hotel that there are no barriers to information; well the receptionists were helpful but I had to be the one asking the questions and interpreting the answers if need be.
Fair warning: public car parks charge an average €1 an hour.
Other notable aspects of Spanish culture are quite amusing. I was aware that the Spanish tended to eat their 2 later meals in the day late and long, but nothing is more humorous than finding a sign at the restaurant door advertising its 'morning times' as 12pm-4pm. We've also had some strange interpretations of 'tea with milk'. If I haven't said so before, I'll say it now: I don't drink tea. Unfortunately, my parents are big tea drinkers, so our holiday experiences can be organised into 'places that sell tea and do so well' and 'problematic places'. Mum often dreads going to Germany because certain parts of the country do not sell tea. In the East Fresian area there's no problem, when we forayed into 'East Germany' for the first time all of us were pleasantly surprised by the availability of tea at every café and restaurant, even if it wasn't listed on the menu. But to this day Mum will always bring up Trier. I swear it happened a decade ago but Mum was so depressed by the prospect of no tea that she could only rely on one place for it: McDonald's. Saying that, there was a time we went to a McDonald's in Osnabrück and at first order, the machine had broken down. (It was fixed later but I'll always remember how aghast Mum looked when she thought she wouldn't get any tea, she was very happy when the tea got delivered.) The most recent holiday destination that my parents can shove into the 'problematic' area for tea is Venice. Now parts of Andalusia aren't a problem area for getting tea, it's just that culture can get in the way. Some restaurants understood the order of 'tea and milk' as 'teabags donked in heated milk' instead of tea served with a jug of milk, like some restaurants got so right. Another strange incident was receiving green tea, so from then on I always specified black tea. The weirdest one was late at night in Córdoba: instead of bringing my parents their tea, the waitress brought cool beer. We can only assume she wasn't expecting anyone to order tea.
Now this wouldn't be any kind of travel blog without a visitation list: Córdoba was one of 2 cities we visited, the other being Malaga, so we visited the main tourist attractions for the most part: In Malaga we had just enough time to visit both the Girafrado (the fortress at the top of the hill) and the Alcazaba (the castle at the bottom), while in Córdoba we visited the Mezquita-the famous Mosque-turned-Cathedral. There are also some smaller museums (in Córdoba's Jewish Quarter) open all day, like the Jewish House, opposite the old Synagogue and a restored house nearby. I reckon it was on the third day of our visit that we found the most stunning places: first there is the Moral House in Lucena, which details the history of Lucena and its role as a Jewish City and a key academic centre during the Moorish reign (be warned that there are no displays in English, just Spanish). Then we visited the ancient city of Alcalá la Real de la Mota. The place is huge, stunning and packed with information (pamphlets in English are given out). It really is jaw-dropping to look at, and very sad that so few tourists came. So if you ever go to Andalusia, go to Alcalá, you won't be disappointed.