ciento volando

travel, stories, and other flights of fancy


please do touch

“If the fat one touches us, we might have to close the school…”

“Oh, how I want him to touch me!”

“What will you do when the fat one touches you?”

“Wouldn’t it be great if he touched us together… our lives would never be the same…”

Gordo-de-navidad-telamThat’s right. It’s Christmas lottery time… and all of Spain is waiting with baited breath to find out who El Gordo, the fat one, is going to touch.

With a total prize pool of 2,520 million euros (this year), La Lotería de Navidad is the biggest grossing lottery the world. It consists of an extremely complex system (for the numerologically confused, such as me), in which prizes are drawn from two giant gold spherical vessels containing thousands of ancient wooden lottery balls. First category, El Gordo, is worth 4 million euros, so there’s a fair bit left over for sub categories…the love is nicely spread about the country. One ticket costs a hefty €200, but is usually split into decimos of €20 each. The lottery is drawn every year on the 22nd of December, in an elaborate 3 hour ceremony in the National Lottery Hall of Madrid. Traditionally (since 1812), pupils of the San Ildefonso school (formerly reserved for orphans of public servants) draw the numbers and corresponding prizes, and sing the results aloud for the audience (who is usually decked out in lottery-themed fancy dress). And of course the event is broadcast on national television, inconveniently clashing with school concerts and masses across Spain.

Children singing the lottery drawAs the tickets are so pricey, it’s customary for groups of friends and colleagues to all buy decimos of the same ticket, so that everyone can (potentially) win together. Like any form of gambling, there are a tonne of superstitions and statistics floating around regarding the luck of certain number combinations, regions, and vending outlets. You can even search your preferred number online to find out exactly which vendor will have it in stock. Enlarged colour photocopies of the ornately decorated tickets are displayed in shopfronts, dashboards, and noticeboards all over Spain. Publicising your lottery number is almost as important as buying the ticket in the first place.

I don’t have a shopfront or a dash board, and I’m not even important enough to get my own desk. My pigeon hole is in the dingy, bottommost corner of the pigeon hole bank thingy, where it’s frequently obstructed by wet umbrellas, and far too low a place to post my future fortune bringer.

So my only real display space is here. You will therefore all be thrilled and delighted to know that this Christmas, this little blogger is playing (half of a tenth) of ticket number:


I must say, have a lucky feeling… I can’t help it. Someone’s got to win, and I’ve actually met someone who has in the past. Plus I’ve been lucky in (much smaller) competitions before, you never know, it might just happen again. Luck is luck, and mathematically, it’s impossible to use up, I think. Also, the colleague with whom I’m splitting the ticket lost it shortly after she bought it. It took her two weeks to find (in a very logical place: wedged between the pages of one of the umpteen textbooks she uses and leaves lying about the office and random classrooms on a daily basis). She did tell me that if she couldn’t locate it, I should find another partner. But Murphy’s Law would suggest that once lost, the ticket was sure to win, so I’ve developed a certain attachment to it. Of course now we’re back to the original odds, but least it was a lucky ticket for a little while.

I know this is all very flawed logic, but that’s not the point. As they say, the lottery gives you ‘the chance to dream’. Not that I personally need an excuse to dream, but ‘in these uncertain times’, many other people do… so good luck to them. May the fat one touch* us all.

In the meantime, real life continues, semi chaotically. The end of the year always seems to speed up, and now more so than ever. Perhaps we really are hurtling towards a precipice…. if so, having to give up my millions due to the fall of capitalism or the end of the world is going to be a hard pill to swallow.

Anyway, work-wise, I’m on the home straight. With just under two weeks of class to go, the real world has become a steadily fading foreground. Pretty soon I’ll up up up and away… a little further north, to some destinations both known and unknown. It’s going to be my second Christmas away from home (already), let’s hope that this time it’s a proper white one!

I’ll endeavour to keep in touch whilst on the road… but what with the end of the world, the touch of the fat one, the birth of Christ, the beginning of the New Year, and my first taste of real German pretzels… there’s gonna be so much happening, you’ll have to forgive me for any lapses in communication. Plus travelling hand-luggage-only in winter doesn’t allow much space for dinosaur laptops…so I’ll be leaving this cranky old stegosaurus** at home.

That’s all for now. Except that I should probably mention (without getting too mushy) that I’m thinking more than ever of my faraway family and friends, and missing you a little bit more than usual… As is only natural at this time of year, I suppose. Anyway, I hope you’re all well, and staying warm, or keeping cool, and making the most of the silly season

love and cyber hugs

xox jean
*I should probably explain the nature of the Spanish verb tocar, to touch. It’s used a little differently to English, and can mean anything from playing an instrument to ‘being chosen’ (think little green Toy Story aliens).
Anyway, the innuendos never cease to amuse my simple mind:

  • My housemate touches the trumpet. She touches really well.
  • I prefer playing Scrabble with just two people. That way you get touched more often.
  • Marie Carmen’s elderly mother touches her every fortnight. (Every fortnight it’s Marie Carmen’s job to look after her elderly mother).
  • It touches me to clean the bathroom. (It’s my turn to clean the bathroom).
  • Gotta go! The bell is touching!
  • Give me a touch when you get there. (Give me a prank call when you get there)


** Perhaps my first fat purchase will be a skinny tablet computer.



Barcelona and back again

The overnight bus from Jaén to Barcelona took just over fourteen hours, and wasn’t the most pleasant of journeys. By no means was it uncomfortable (to the contrary, the seats were wonderfully squishy and of course I had plenty of leg room), it’s just that the length of the trip came as a rude surprise to me. I keep forgetting that Spain is very big for a European country. And since leaving Australia, I’ve clearly gotten weak in terms of long distance travel.

Fourteen hours. Which could have been less, I thought bitterly, if the journey wasn’t punctuated by so many unnecessary ‘rest stops’. These actually made ‘rest’ impossible, as it was compulsory to get off (and stay off) the bus during each stop, for anything from 20 minutes to 2 hours. Great for the circulation, terrible if you just want to sleep in one place.

Fourteen long, expensive hours, as my friend pointed out on my arrival. Why on earth didn’t I just fly? It would have been half the price!

Why didn’t I think of that? I guess I’m just not used to living within reach of an airport. Or thinking things through at all. But no matter, at least I could still book a cheap and breezy flight home.

Well, no. I just had to be a double nuff-nuff. As I was travelling inside Spain, I’d decided there was no reason to take my passport with me, and that my residency permit thingy would do. My expired residency permit, that is. The new one is waiting for me in the Segovia foreigner’s office. So without any valid form of I.D., booking tickets and negotiating airport security was a non-option. It was back on the bus to get home. If you include the leg from Jaén to Martos, my village, that’s over thirty hours travel there and back… all for three nights in a city I’d already been to.

As it turns out, the sleepless hours and precious euros were absolutely worth it.

To begin with, there was a surprise upside to the long and dreary bus time. No, I didn’t meet the man of my dreams (he was probably on the aeroplane, sitting next to where I should have been), but… Serendipitously (how I love that word), it turns out that the book I’d downloaded for the journey, La Sombra del Viento, is set in Barcelona. How perfect! I had no idea, I’d just wanted to read it because it’s the first in a very popular Spanish trilogy, which all have evocative titles, and are based around a mysterious cemetery for forgotten books. But for the novel to be set in the city where I was headed, and, as it turns out, to be full of history, suspense, romance, action, and gothic style magic realism, well that absolutely made my journey. En route to Barcelona, I was already there, and about 60 years ago at that.

Luxury reading time and gourmet picnic dinner aside (I’m over crusty bocadillos from roadside cafeterias, now I travel with an arsenal of fancy sandwiches, fresh fruit, and 85% cocoa ‘emergency’ chocolate),  it was a relief to finally arrive, in person, at my destination. If somewhat groggy and sleep deprived.

I’d been to Barcelona about five years ago with a friend from high school, and we both took an instant liking to it. We spent three or four magical days there, walking up and down La Rambla, taking a bus tour, queuing for ages to get inside the Sagrada Cathedral, going to giant nightclubs, getting lost, eating gelati, drinking sangria, and falling completely in love with the city. We knew it wasn’t the last time we’d be there, but the first in what we imagined would be numerous visits throughout our hopefully long and successful lives.
And finally, there I was again.

The best thing about having been somewhere before is that the sense of urgency is gone. Hopefully, you’ll have seen the big ticket attractions already, which leaves room to pick and choose. To revisit what you loved the first time, and to catch what you missed. Everything is easier – the metro is familiar, you know where to avoid the swarms of tourists and the rip off restaurants, your get your bearings faster, so this time you can dig a little deeper into the city. If it will let you.

Barcelona is massive, in terms of urban sprawl, and dense, in terms of everything. It can’t be rushed, and it can’t be ‘done’, even though there are several clear cut attractions to see and ‘do’.

Love it or hate it, Gaudí’s architecture tops the list, and it’s a bit silly to visit Barcelona without checking out at least a couple of his standout masterpieces. Even though I know nothing about architecture, I’m not shy to say that I’m a big fan of Gaudí. I think he’s brilliant. I love his organic, flowing mosaics, and intelligently designed buildings. The apartment complexes, Casa Batló and La Pedrera, make a particular impression on me, for their unconventional elegance, ergonomic sensibility, and natural lighting and ventilation systems. To me it’s all so clever. I was in awe the first time, and was just as impressed this time around (despite the hilarious audio guide).

As for the Cathedral, the famously unfinished Sagrada Familia, it’s just, so, epic… Hundreds of spires of different heights and colours, random turrets and baubles, a menagerie of stone animals swarming around the base and facade, as well as a complex tangle of scaffolding and cranes, the whole project is just exhausting. Author Ben Lerner describes it as ‘the ugliest building [he has] ever seen’. I can understand why, because it is basically a brown, chaotic, over ambitious jumble. Totally ostentatious. But at least not in the manner of those gilt, cupid ridden, romantic churches. For that reason I think it’s great. Hopefully God thinks it’s refreshingly different too. And regardless of personal taste, you can’t help but admire the spiralling staircases and stained glass windows from inside, as well as the sheer enormity of the task of completing it. Surely there’s more than several lifetime’s work in the design of this one building, but Gaudi somehow made time for it, on top of all his other commissions. I’m not sure what exactly constitutes genius, but I’d give him the benefit of the doubt…

So what else is there to see in Barcelona? So much! So much and so many of everything! Art galleries (big and small), museums (robots, erotica, wax, insert random area of interest here), sporting related things (the old Olympic village and the home field of Barça football team), parks and hidden gardens, bizarre and impressive buskers, big stone monuments and buildings from rich Imperial Spain, random teams of street dancers doing capoiera/break dancing/circus flips freestyle routines, groovy new bars with innovative interiors, rustic bodegas with dusty ‘honest’ interiors, an ancient amusement park with a funny name on a hill, and all kinds of fancy gastronomic purveyors of fine foody goodness. (after Roquefort gelati and thyme and pine-nut chocolate, suddenly my gourmet sandwiches don’t seem so gourmet).

So the best thing to do is really just wander. I did, for three (or was it four?) full days, barely scratching the surface of what there was to see, and barely even making it out of the gothic quarter. Now I’m even more convinced I’d like to come back, again, for even longer… despite the complication of Catalan, the bloody tourists (yes yes I know I’m one of them) and the fact that Barcelona is actually quite a grubby city. Not dirty, just grubby.

After all that wandering, the highlights were:

  • David Bowie being played in a lot of shops and cafes.
  • Edgy fashion and good looking people. Yes, I’m that shallow.
  • The Plaça Reial, which is, so far, my favourite plaza in Spain. I know it’s not the biggest or the most significant, but it has palm trees and a fountain and a wonderful atmosphere.
  • The FADExpo, an exhibition of winning and shortlisted entries from the Barcelona Design Festival. This included posters, packaging, architecture, green materials, furniture and fashion. An interesting category was the ‘City to City’ award, which recognises clever urban planning across the globe. I found it so exciting and inspiring to see beautiful, clever things, made by people who think and care about not just their end product, but the future of, like, the world.
  • Fruit juice at the market of St Josep de La Boqueria. One euro per juice, and a veritable rainforest of flavours to choose from. My favourite was blackberry and coconut, but pitaya scored extra points for being fluorescent pink.
  • Good coffee. The coffee in the south of Spain isn’t that bad, it’s just no frills, and if you’re really into coffee, it can be a little disappointing. But en route to Barcelona, I received a message from my friend, who is the biggest coffee enthusiast/connoisseur I’ve ever met, to say she’d just discovered the most amazing place – The Majestic Cafe. For fans of St.Ali in Melbourne, this is where you should go in Barcelona. These guys are serious about coffee. They sell nothing else. They had beans from all over the world, did every possible variation (fast, slow, siphon, moonlight whispering) of coffee, without resorting to sickly syrups, and it was all made with love and an encyclopaedic knowledge of bean origins and ‘nuances’. We even drank coffee out of wine glasses. The cafe smelt wonderful, and, the apartment above was for rent. Hmmm. Imagine what our slightly over excited coffee fuelled brains have been scheming.
  • A little gallery called El Bigote del Señor Smith, which sells psychedelic illustrations, fashion, and jewellery from local artists and designers. Upstairs they run all kinds of workshops such as DJing, ceramics, skateboard customisation, and jewellery making. Unfortunately they don’t have a franchise in Segovia.

In the end I extended my stay in Barcelona to catch up with another friend and squeeze in a bit more aimless wandering. But still it wasn’t enough. On Sunday afternoon I passed a tonne of closed shops and cafes that I hadn’t seen before, but looked really interesting. Such as the Plumista… the quill maker, I’m guessing. I wonder if that’s the same shop as the one featured in La Sombra del Viento? Could be. I’ll have to check it out, next time. Because as I boarded the bus once again, I knew it wasn’t ‘adios’ to this remarkable city where I feel so at home, but an upbeat ‘hasta luego’. Barcelona, I will be back.

And with a great novel, bag of fresh market goodies, and mind racing with possibilities, the fourteen hours flew by.


Write here, right now. The “first” post.

This is weird.

Considering I’ve been spamming friends and family with travel reports for years, and writing a regular journal for a decade, it now feels a little odd being prompted by WordPress to get going and write an ‘opening’ post… Surely that moment has long passed! Which means my blog is already a chronologically wrangled, unsalvageable disaster…

So where am I coming from, and why am I bothering to learn all this html/CSS/widget nonsense?


Roughly this time last year, I packed up all my things, sold some bits n’ pieces, gave away the bulk of my clothes, threw out a whole lot of ‘stuff’, and left Australia on a one-way ticket to Europe. I did a brief (wonderful) scoot around France and Italy, and then made my way to a small and isolated village in the south of Spain, where I would be living and teaching English in a primary school for eight months. That was my starting point. The extended plan was to use Spain as a base to further travel Europe, and then, after magically ‘mastering’ Spanish, I would continue onwards travelling around the globe, goodness knows where, for goodness knows how long. I made no promises about my return date to the folk back home. The reasoning (impulse) behind this indefinite departure was that I wanted total ‘freedom’. Freedom from what, I’m not entirely sure. I simply felt overwhelmed by the urge to be on the road, to find some time, space, ‘inspiration’, and then think of something amazingly clever to do with those things. Sounds a bit wishy washy, and it is.

Needless to say, since leaving Australia I haven’t had any epiphanies, or even come near to being fluent in Spanish. I’ve realised I have no real desire to truly ‘break away’ from where I’ve come from, and just how lucky I am to have a place in the world that will be a pleasure to go back to, when the time comes. Meanwhile, I haven’t tired of travelling (not even close!), I am making headway with Spanish (slow and steady), and teaching English is the most gratifying work I’ve ever done. I’ve signed on for another school year (in a different part of Spain), there’s still an awful lot of Europe left to see, and after that I’ve got my sights set on a couple of other continents… so for the foreseeable, ‘day-dreamable’ future, my initial ‘plan’ hasn’t altered much at all.

As for the dismal, ever-pending onset of creativity, well my most recent excuse is that it got waylaid by an irresistible tide of Spanish hospitality. Guilty as charged. I also got sidetracked by lesson planning, taking on too many private students, fretting over Spanish verb conjugations, and running up and down a hill (to work off all the churros and chorizo). Either that or I was travelling. But somehow, I always found time write in my journal, and maintain a detailed correspondence with people at home. To be honest, waay too much time. My travel emails have grown to excessive lengths; impossible for my very busy and mostly office-bound friends to read in their tea breaks, without violating codes of responsible internet time usage. And my journal makes my emails look like haikus.

So in regards to time usage – mine clearly merits scrutiny. It’s hit me that I do a lot of writing, without doing any actual proper ‘writing’. I’ve never struggled to fill a blank page… but how and what I fill it with, is something I want to improve upon.

Which is why I’ve decided to start this blog, against all warning that it will be a very dangerous source of procrastination. I’m never going to stop telling my travel stories, because I can’t, but I can aim to make them more concise, and present them in a more attractive format. I’m also hoping that having an ‘online showcase’ will spur me on to more ambitious projects, other than only writing about myself. For those of you who are kind enough to ‘follow’ me, I’ll be adding some photos, links, articles, sketches and snippets… whatever I can find to make things interesting, and as far as possible from a narcissistic online diary (even if that’s what it is).

If I’m feeling particularly brave, I’ll publish my attempts to write in Spanish, for anyone who knows the language and feels like a laugh. Even if you’re just learning, go on and have a read… my vocabulary won’t be nearly as daunting as that of a native speaker. But keep in mind that I’ve still got my training wheels on, so if you’re looking for examples of perfect Spanish grammar, look elsewhere! And I should probably make a similar disclaimer about my English. (there it is again, the ‘and’ at the start of a sentence!)

So… that’s it really. Oh I forgot to say ‘welcome’. That’s an important part of any opening post. Well, welcome! Have a look around. If you’re curious about the name ‘ciento volando’, check out the ‘about’ page. If you’d like to read my past travels (perhaps whilst planning yours), I’ve uploaded some old emails and backdated them… hopefully this isn’t a major breach of blogging etiquette/regulation. I promise I won’t fiddle with any more dates. (But that’s no fun! Perhaps I’ll write the next entry from the future…)

I digress. Old posts/emails can be found in the archives on the right. They aren’t nearly as dusty as real archives, how ’bout that?!

It appears that at  circa 1,000 words I go all stupid. Which is why in I must endeavour to write shorter posts.

Anyway, thank you for reading this far, and I hope you’ll stick around. Please feel welcome to leave me feedback, criticism, ‘likes’, ‘dislikes’, ‘hahahas’, ‘jajajas’, or even just a nice old ‘hello’ from time to time.


1 Comment


To: People on the old mailing list
Subject: Morocco, Portugal, more on Spain, Vaughan Town, other stuff
From: jean

Hello Everybody!

That one’s in English, I need the practise. Travelling with ‘anglos’ and then volunteering in an intensive English conversation program has made me realise A: goodness me it’s so nice to just rattle on for hours in your mother tongue, and B: Oh dear, my English has deteriorated so much! The presence of native speakers has made me self conscious of some changes. My vocab choice is weird and formal (I steer towards latin based words that Spaniards are likely to understand), I’m hesitant with conjunctions, I accidentally use Spanish grammar structures, and I’m constantly surprised and impressed when my listener understands phrasal verbs, idioms or slang, even if they’re an Australian who I’ve known half my life.
To make matters worse, my castellano went downhill the moment I left Hinojosa. When a friend picked me up from the Jaén bus station near the end of my journey, she said to me after only minutes of conversation “you haven’t been speaking Spanish recently have you? I noticed as soon as you started talking”.  Ouch.

Of all ways, now it touches me to change the chip and burn my eyelashes studying. (Anyway, now it’s time for me to change settings, put my head down and study.)

But moving backwards. I wasn’t sure how to start this email, so I went and read the previous, looking for clues or something. It was no help, being too long, and full of nonsense.

continue reading…

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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…