ciento volando

travel, stories, and other flights of fancy


flying south for winter

It’s been two years and nearly four months…in other words, far too long. But finally I’m going home, for a good chunk of time over Christmas.

People in Spain keep commenting how nice it will be to escape the frosty Segovian winter and get a dose of Australian sunshine, but the truth is, I couldn’t give a damn about the seasons. I’m just so excited to be seeing everyone at home. It’s got to the point where I’d even go in June, and that’s saying a lot. I definitely don’t feel ready to move back ‘for good’, but god I miss Melbourne, and I’ve been missing it in little phases ever since I left.

When Mum was here last summer, we agreed that no matter where I was living or travelling, I’d make it home for every second Christmas. I think that’s only fair, and as far as Mums go, a pretty lenient concession.

survive the flight kit - laptop, iPod, e-books, real books, diary, sudokus, writing stuff, chocolate, fruit, nuts, chewy (if I actually had a kitchen sink I'd pack that too)To be honest, I’m a little anxious. About getting/missing such an expensive and important flight. And because more than any other holiday, I want this one to be perfect (though I know that these things never are). I’ll be making a few trips within the trip (to visit distant rellies, to a music festival, to go bush walking in real Aussie bush), so time-out in Melbourne will be limited. It’ll be logistically/temporally/humanly impossible to spend ‘enough’ time with ‘everyone’. But no matter, I’ll do my best, cross my fingers, and drink a lot of coffee (if I can remember how to order it… coffee is so complicated in Melbourne!).

In the meantime, on the Spain front, everything is trundling along nicely. Apart from the initial chaos at the start of the academic year, my classes seem to have all fallen into a good rhythm.  I’ve had four city breaks in the past five weeks (Cordoba, Salamanca, Oviedo, and Madrid), and for the first time in a long time, have been enjoying both weeknights and weekends… sampling and re-sampling Spanish food and wine, just in case I hadn’t done enough of that already! It’s occurred to me that perhaps everything is getting a little too comfortable. After New Year’s, the plan is to pull my socks up, put my nose to the grindstone, work my butt off, espabilar*. But before expending all that energy, it’s probably a good idea to recalibrate. And the best place for that is home.

I’ll be there soon, in just a few sleeps! **

* espabilar is one of my favourite Spanish verbs, meaning to ‘liven up’ or ‘work harder’. It comes from the noun pabilo, wick, and refers to the action of cleaning back the melted wax from a candle so that the wick can burn better

** no idea how many real sleeps until I’m home, but the journey will take well over 30 hours… so I’m hoping to fit a number of snoozes in!

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Segovia – Gotham City?

Well not really.

Segovia is currently looking more like a scene from a Disney Christmas movie… it’s full of cheer and couldn’t be further from sinister. The ancient stone streets are dripping with icicle shaped Christmas lights and tiny silver stars. The air is crisp and cool and smells of roasted chestnuts. The shops have put out their best wares and set up extravagant Belénes (Nativity scenes) with the hope of luring passers by, and the bakeries are overflowing with turrón (slabs of nutty chocolately Christmassy goodness) and Rosco de Reyes (Kings ‘Rosco’?, which looks like a giant doughnut and tastes like sugar). The hornos de asar (woodfire oven restaurants, famous for roast lamb and suckling pig) and looking more cosy and inviting than ever.  There are even people walking around laden with shopping bags, an uncommon sight these days.  And of course, there’s a permanent crowd outside the lottery vendor on Calle Real, the main street. Perhaps it’s just me (I’m a wee bit excited about Christmas), but the mood right now is wondrous and optimistic. This city is just so beautiful.

Last night I took my camera with me to get some photos of the Christmas lights during my usual scoot from house to house, class to class, which criss-crosses half the city. Unfortunately, or rather, predictably, hopelessly me, I was in too much of a rush to stop and take photos early evening, and by the time I was on my way home, the my favourite lights on Calle Real had been turned off. Instead, I ended up catching this one snapshot of a motorcycle zipping through the backstreets behind the Cathedral. It’s not quite what I had in mind for the evening’s photo session…but I like it nonetheless… for some reason it reminds me of Lisbeth Salander from the Millenium trilogy… or a scene from Gotham city…

I’m yet to discover the city’s real underbelly… I have a feeling that it won’t be found within the 5km radius of the old quarter that is my usual stomping ground.

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To: People on the old mailing list
Subject: England, Christmas & New Years, and more travels around the south of Spain
From: jean

Dear all;

I have one thing I really want to say, and that is:


‘scuse the alliteration, couldn’t help myself… I’m just a wee bit excited because I’VE SURVIVED MY FIRST EUROPEAN WINTER!
I may have cheated a little by living in Andalucia, where there was no rain and no snow and winter didn’t actually kick off until December. But it was cold, by my reptilian standards. Hinojosa is on some kind of tableland and so the weather drops to sub zeros, but apparently this was never factored in when the houses were being built. The bulk of my daily energy was spent keeping warm – rotating heaters, opening and shutting blinds, washing my hair in a bucket, ironing clothes dry, and moaning about the weather and the cost of electricity (couldn’t help it, it’s all anyone every talked about). But, the worst has passed and I know I’ve certainly got off light. It’s only Feb and the days are already beautiful – sunny enough to eat al fresco and get a bit of colour in the face… while the rest of Europe is still knee deep in snow!

So I’m absolutely bonkers to have applied for another year in the north of Spain, where does get really cold and there are mountains and wilds and goodness knows how I’ll survive – except I’m hoping the houses will be better equipped – and it would sorta be nice to hear rain on the roof every once in a while…

Enough about the weather.

What’s been happening?

continue reading…

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more on Spain and MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

To: People on the old mailing list
Subject: more on Spain and MERRY CHRISTMAS
From: jean

So… I have the feeling that my last email is still sitting in some people’s inboxes, pending a spare few reading hours…

But given that it’s Christmas, I thought I’d be so bold as to spam you again with a bit of festive cheer.

I’ll try to keep it short

  1. Merry Christmas
  1. Happy New Year
  1. My ticket number in the Lotería de Navidad is: 0943510509. Apparently it’s very important to advertise this fact, and if had a shopfront I’d be displaying a huge blown up photocopy. If the lottery ‘touches me’ (and my colleagues), Hinojosa will have one less primary school, and I’ll be able to fly home every year for Christmas… or maybe sail, in my own private yacht!

As it is, for Christmas I’m flying easyJet to England, dressed in as many layers as I can humanly wear. I’ll be spending most of my time in London, catching up with distant rellies and long lost ex-pat and British friends (for a country I’ve never been to, I somehow know a lot of people there).

I’m crossing my fingers for my first ever White Christmas. If it must be cold, it may as well be beautiful!

Either way, I’ll be thinking of you all.

Stay safe, happy, warm (Northern hemisphere-ers), and cool (Southerners), and have a wonderful, relaxing (or exhilarating, depending on what you prefer) break.

Best wishes

Xx Jean

PS: ‘tis the season to be homesick:


  1. Honey. For some reason it tastes completely different here. I guess the bees eat (?) different flowers and that affects the flavour.
  1. Watching QI on Tuesday nights at Mum and Dads
  1. Sushi-Sushi, Kake de Hatti, Almazette’s, Bombay by Night, Thaila Thai, Ambrosia, Nam Loong, and Shanghai Dumpling Palace…
  1. Good coffee, in funky little cafes. Even if it does cost three times as much. I’ll always be a city girl at heart.
  1. Understanding what’s going on around me, and not just ‘getting the gist’.
  1. Being able to meet people without having the same conversation over and over. I’m beginning to tire of the inevitable ‘you’re not from here, are you?’ ‘oooh Australia, that’s very far away, isn’t it?’ Yes. it’s the other side of the world. ‘how many hours in the aeroplane?’ ‘do you get a stopover?’ ‘are there kangaroos there?’ ‘are you married?’ ‘then what are you doing here?’. It’s like Groundhog Day. And the only way to avoid it is to somehow disappear my accent and improve my vocabulary to include an infinite number of everyday words like ‘grouting’ and ‘lint remover’. Plus learn a whole cast of idioms. And master the subjunctive tense. And remember to use second person plural. And stop using possessive pronouns to talk about body parts (it’s ‘the hand’ not ‘my hand’). And remember the gender of every damned inanimate object/abstract concept ever to have existed in the history of the world, and then make sure that all the relevant particles and modifiers correctly correspond to said object with said gender. And then slur and blur and lisp it all together into a mush, drop all the ‘d’s and ‘s’s, skip the ‘h’s, cough up the ‘j’s like phlegm, and clip the end off all the words… even though Spanish is supposed to be phonetic. But really, it’s a beautiful language, and that’s why I’m here, politely responding to all who ask about Australia – ‘yes, we do have lots of cute little kangaroos, they actually make quite good meat’.
  1. Being able to regularly and fluently vent my frustrations at the end of the day with friends or family. Rather than bottling them up for self indulgent written spiels.
  1. Reading The Age cover to cover on Saturday mornings (even if it takes me until Thursday)
  1. Aussie Rules. Especially how the players fall over and then get back up again, without crying to the umpire.
  1. ‘fresh milk’. Well, I know our homogenised pasteurised stuff is probably nothing like it was in the good old days, but it’s closer to what comes from a cow than the UHT you buy here.
  1. The pace of service. Service here is mostly good, but it’s ever so slow.
  1. BBQs.
  1. JJJ. I know it can be streamed online, but my computer says no. Which is for the better, I’m trying to avoid having too much English around me.
  2. Running Prinny in the mornings and watching the balloons over Brunswick.
  1. Smoke-free bars. The new laws haven’t yet reached Hinojosa.
  1. Normal business hours. Don’t get me wrong, I love siesta, but it’s very frustrating that all the shops close at 2pm, exactly when I finish school, and open again just after I start my evening classes. And running out of tea/coffee/milk on a Sunday is nightmare material. I guess that’s where all the UHT milk comes in handy.
  1. Australian beaches. Not that I went that often, and I can’t say I miss the blow flies and Antarctic water and potential for sharks and jelly fish and the ozone-less burning sun. But Aussie beaches seem so much bigger and cleaner than those I’ve encountered since I got to Europe. Then again, I was on the tourist trail in high season. I’m sure there are better beaches here, and if it was beach weather then maybe I’d go looking for them. I guess what I’m really thinking is that I miss camping at Wilson’s Prom and watching the waves in front of the fire at Apollo Bay… I know I know. I’ve gotta learn to make some sacrifices!
  1. Summer in Melbourne. In rooftop bars and the Botanic Gardens, drinking on balconies and fire-escapes and in backyards (backyards!), with people I know and who ‘get’ me (or at least do a good show of pretending to). One thing about speaking a foreign language is that it totally cripples your personality… it’s hard to edge into conversations, whenever you want to make a snappy little comment the moment is lost before you can form your sentence, and sarcasm is totally out of the question. I feel so boring. But I’m ever so much more polite!
  1. Peanut Butter. There’s only one brand here in the supermarket here and it doesn’t quite cut it. Though I’ve never had a healthy relationship with peanut butter so that’s probably for the best. As for vegemite, I’m hanging in there with half a jar left. Fortunately I’m not a ‘vegemite every day’ person, just ‘vegemite in case of emergencies’. Think I’ll survive.
  1. My family and friends. AWWWWWW

Lots of love and hugs