Saturday, 26 November 2011

Mad for Karneval

In Cologne Karneval time is so important that it has been named as the fifth ‘season’, kicking off with a whirlwind day of costumed alcohol consumption on 11th November (‘Elfter Elfter’) and culminating in a six-day party extravaganza in February. This is no tourist event or youth rebellion; here the overwhelmingly native German crowd brings together the fresh-faced, newly legal drinker and the veteran Karneval-goer in a mass of crazy, ridiculous, and often entirely impractical outfits in order to celebrate… well I have no idea what actually, perhaps beer? Or the quashing of the German stiff ‘n’ sensible stereotype? Certainly watching my boyfriend flail his arms around gaily whilst dressed in a ghastly old blue wetsuit and entirely random mullet wig made me stop and think – we were wrong all along; the Germans DO have a sense of humour, we just don’t get it!*

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Why Tommy Girl hit the road

It’s time for some background information, focusing in large part on who is Tommy Girl, and why on earth is she travelling? Well, my hypothetical inquisitive friend, she is a 22-year-old graduate from Britain who has been driven to where she is today by her three great passions: languages, travelling and writing. Oh alright, there may be a boy involved too…

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

We'll meet again: Paris Take Three

Well, we had to have one photo of the good old Eiffel Tower!

And so the final day of my Parisian trip arrived, and as if to mark the occasion and send me on my way with a positive impression I was treated to a good dose of sunshine. I still had several tickets remaining from my carnet of metro tickets (€12 for 10 as opposed to €1.70 each), so I was keen to squeeze in a couple more areas of the city before my departure. Emerging at Hôtel de Ville we were greeted by numerous hunky, ridiculously tall men in equally ridiculously baggy shorts and vest tops shooting hoops in a temporary basketball arena that had been set up for what appeared to be some kind of NBA promotional event. Rumour has it Tony Parker was in town, but sadly we had to make do with a lanky ‘cool dude’ being dragged from the audience in order to (very reluctantly) tear his street cred to shreds by twirling 15 times around a basketball with finger touching nose and elbow touching said basketball.Very amusing!

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The proof is in the pastry: Paris Take Two

After a nice long sleep we were eventually stirred by music floating in through the open window, announcing the beginning of Journée du Patrimoine (Cultural Heritage Day, when numerous monuments and important buildings open their doors to the public, usually offering a special programme of events). Once fuelled up with a café crème and three mini viennoiseries we sauntered towards Le Château de Vincennes to take advantage of the free cultural programme. The château is large, attractive, and, well, very French-looking! People were lining up to take tours, several of them kitted out in traditional dress, but we continued to the central courtyard where we could see some kind of marching band emerging from an archway. This turned out to be a reenactment of a march by the Grognards de la Somme, soldiers of the old guard of Napolean I. The drummer’s time-keeping and the group’s synchronicity left a lot to be desired, but the concentration on the their wrinkled faces as they huffed and puffed in their archaic uniforms was endearing to say the least.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The tourist branches out: Paris Take One

I am a big fan of the French capital and have been four times before. None of these previous visits lasted more than three days, and yet I always obediently crammed in as many “important tourist sites” as I could; Sacre-Coeur, Moulin Rouge, Champs Élysées, Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Pompidou, Musée d’Orsay… Been there, done that, taken numerous pictures and basked in their historic grandeur. But there comes a time for every visitor returning to a capital city when they feel the urge to try something new, and venture off the double-decker tour bus route...

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

All at sea

I must admit to feeling a little out of place as I strolled up to the reception at the Hotel Jerez, a 5 star hotel and spa, which we had managed to book for 65 euros a night thanks to Considering the free private parking that came with the room this deal actually turned out cheaper for us than the more modest hotels or even hostels that we had found elsewhere in or around the city, and what a luxury to have your room cleaned and fresh towels delivered every day! Ideally we had wanted to be right on the coast, but naturally the world and his wife were also heading that way, so everywhere was either fully booked or the price had been hiked up to peak season rates, so our solution was to stay in an attractive town slightly more inland and drive to the coast most mornings.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Next stop, Sevilla!

So, onwards to Seville… The roads once again managed to thoroughly confuse us until we resolved to buy another map (note to self: resisting maps is futile) and finally conquered the one way system to reach our destination, Hostal Jentfort. We had decided to sacrifice the ‘traditional’ Seville hostal (with patio and potplants) in the name of a good deal. Our double room was neat and a good size, with an en suite bathroom and air conditioning. Parking in the private garage was 10 euros per night, and the room was around 35 euros. The 24 hour reception desk was usually manned by Pepe, a jovial pensioner who instantly warmed to us because my boyfriend has a Spanish name, Manuel (or, as Pepe affectionately called him, Monolo).

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

A quick pit-stop in Cordoba

The most important piece of advice for anyone who wants to drive to Cordoba is to PLAN AHEAD: ring your hotel in advance to find out exactly how to get there and where to park, and make sure that the car is not too big – good luck trying to get a 4 x 4 around these tiny alleys! Luckily our budget dictated that we have a smaller car anyway, but we were not so lucky in the navigation stakes. After about an hour of winding this way and that in the maze of tiny one-way streets equipped only with a rather poor set of directions from Google, we finally gave in and bought a street map (6 euros). Even then the one-way system kept us trapped in the labrynth… but we eventually managed to park in a free space and haul our large suitcase a fair distance to our host in 47°C heat. So we arrived, sweaty and exasperated, at Hostal El Antiguo Convento, whereupon we learned that a space in a private garage came free with the room! So off we went back into the relentless sunshine, this time armed with detailed instructions from the hostel staff, and (with the help of a friendly passer-by who showed us how to unlock the garage door) we were soon parked up and back in our air-conditioned room.

Hostal El Antiguo Convento

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Top-tip lowdown!

I have been absent from the blogosphere for a little while now due to limited Internet access, and so much has happened in that time...So, in the interest of imparting as much travel wisdom as I can I am going to jot down the good tips and bargain spots I discovered during the rest of my time in Madrid, Cordoba, Sevilla and the Cadiz coast.


Oh-so-good but ohhh-so-bad!
Churros y chocolate is a typical Spanish breakfast. It is far from healthy (akin to doughnuts dipped in thick hot chocolate), but every trip to Spain should allow for one indulgent treat at your local Churreria. The ones I got for 2.50 euros from 'Milagros I' in Calle Benigno Soto were the best I have tasted to date.

When we got a bit peckish during a stroll in the Chueca area, my boyfriend suggested we try out a rather bizarre looking burger place called 'In Dreams'. Leopardprint fur covered patches of the walls in amongst the mismatched, delapidated furniture; Elvis pouted down at us from one direction, as he and his contempories sang slow 50s tunes from the sound system; everything was bathed in an odd, intense red light; three bearded men wearing leather made up the waiting staff, and we were the only customers. It was, in short, the strangest restaurant / cafe I had ever been in. But I'll tell you something else - the burgers were damn good!! Served up in a basket with chips and traditional Diner-style mustard and ketchup bottles, the Elvis burger (Beef with plenty of trimmings, 7 euros) and the Pat Boone burger (Vegetarian, 8 euros) went down a treat! And the unusual surroundings were certainly a conversation starter...

Friday, 19 August 2011

World Youth Day / Jornada Mundial de la Juventud 2011

Over the last four days swarms of Catholic youngsters from all over the globe have descended on Madrid, kitted out with brightly coloured WYD hats, backpacks and fans, clogging up the metro and generally taking over the city. The main effect that this has had upon me is to make me feel instantly more madrileña, very much removed from this tourist event, and just as displeased as any local at the disturbance to my daily routine. As we were being subjected to a third consecutive song (they ALL love to sing. Constantly.) from a rowdy French group, a local man stepped onto the metro, shaking his head. Seeing the equally pained look on my face he exclaimed, "They are everywhere! Line 4 is full of chinos, here it's los franceses" [more head shaking, this time I joined in]. After such a bonding moment with a local, I had to bite my tongue to ensure that I did not start humming along to the terribly catchy song the Frenchies had just launched into...

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Fiesta de la Virgen de la Paloma

I was aware that the 15th August was an especially holy day in the Spanish calendar, and, thanks to our new friend at the cheese-and-meat counter, knew that it was a public holiday and a lot of supermarkets, shops, etc would be closed for the day. With this in mind, we thought we would perhaps venture out in the early evening to see if we might stumble across some evidence of this fiesta. As we emerged from the metro station at La Latina we were immediately met by crowds lining the street all around us. A member of said crowd informed me that a procession was due to pass by soon, and so (my boyfriend's German efficiency starkly contrasted against the mañana approach of the unhurried Spaniards) we walked in the direction that the procession would come from, and continued to do so as the procession passed us, thus cutting the time it took to see the entire thing in half. This was in fact a smart move, as Spanish processions (just as I had witnessed during the Semana Santa processions in Málaga) when in full swing appear to be a grand, ceremonial march, accompanied by a full band, various important-looking flags and ornamented maces, but will suddenly, and often after only a few metres physical progression, grind to a halt, at which point the previously impressive mass of robed, bejewelled, uniformed processors end up looking like a bunch of disorganised costume fanatics stopping for a chat in the middle of the road.

Procession stops for a quick gossip

Sunday, 14 August 2011

City strolling

My boyfriend and I love a good city break, but we are not fans of meticulous organisation - we prefer to walk out of the front door and just start strolling, hopefully with a vague idea of where we will end up, but largely following our instincts. Sometimes this can lead to complete dead-ends (i.e. a seemingly deserted residential area, having to employ the 'confused tourist' act in order to convince the ticket lady to let us back on the metro for free), but generally allows you the freedom to relax and enjoy your surroundings, stumbing across things you would otherwise never have found. On one such wander, for example, we found a little cafe with a comically grumpy owner and the best tinto de verano I have had to date, nestled in a cute, leafy courtyard. Nevertheless, when instincts fail and you fancy a bit of direction, I put my trust in the good old Lonely Planet - even if you do not want to follow all of the tips or guides, it always helps to make you feel a little more in tune with your location.

Reina Sofia Gallery

Madrid has certainly been all I had hoped for so far, with a huge range of things to see, do and taste, and without breaking the bank as well - yesterday we had a great time on a budget of absolutely nothing, by sunbathing in the morning, eating a picnic of home-made sandwiches, checking out the Reina Sofia modern art gallery (free on Saturdays 2.30pm - 9pm), then the Prado museum (free from 6pm - 8pm, with an extremely efficient queue system), then having a romantic walk through the gorgeous Parque del Retiro, finishing off the day at home grazing on the leftovers of our cheese-and-meat-counter-raid of a few days before. Ambling around the streets of Madrid, with its juxtaposing city buzz and sleepy summer haze, undoubtedly puts a smile on your face. Well, what do you expect from a city that, on a single metro line (number 4), takes you from Hope (Esperanza) to Prosperity (Prosperidad)?? That's symbolism for you.

The lake in Parque del Retiro

TG xx

Friday, 12 August 2011

Old friends and new

Touching down in a foreign country at 11.30pm, one might be forgiven for expecting to call it a day and get a good night's kip on order to be on good sight-seeing form the next day. However, as far as the madrileños are concerned the evening only began an hour or so ago, and you have arrived just in time to get the party started! A quick pit-stop at home to ditch the luggage and guzzle down the first beverage of the night... and who should emerge from the fridge, but my dear old friend Don Simon! First aquainted in Màlaga, this brand of cheap but oh-so-refreshing sangría and tinto de verano (literally 'red wine of summer', essentially red wine with lemon fanta) was my tipple of choice on many a night on the Costa del Sol. Unfortunately, I must admit that Don Simon has lost a little of his exoticism in my eyes since his fruit juices began appearing in my local Sainsbury's back home...

Tinto de verano - yum!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Here we go...

My suitcase is packed, Ryanair online check-in completed, all-important Facebook status announcing my departure posted. The comfortable, repetitive routine of university life is behind me and ahead lies... well I'm not really sure yet, but it's certainly going to be a change. As a linguist and a travel fanatic I am extremely excited to find out what my next journey away from the good old UK will bring, as I venture over to the land of lederhosen, beer and sausages to work for the next few months.

I have lived abroad before - five months studying on the Island of La Réunion in the Indian Ocean, and six months working on the Costa del Sol in Spain - but this experience will be a whole new challenge. Whereas before I was protected by a thorough understanding of the native language of my newly adopted (or perhaps fostered) countries, this time I will be heading into linguistic pastures unknown... OK, I have taken the odd evening class, and visited Germany several times over the last two years, but there is none of the reassurance that comes from building up a knowledge of a language over many years in an educational environment. I will be testing out the alternative: jumping in at the deep end. I anticipate a lot of treading water at first, flailing my arms eratically as I struggle to string a sentence together, gasping for air as I completely embarrass myself with a language faux pas or two... but by December I intend on being Olympic material. Well, Commonwealth at the very least.

My route is not exactly direct either; first stop is Madrid to babysit a couple of turtles, dodge Catholics when the Pope comes to town, and generally try not to melt in the city that is known as 'the Frying Pan' during the summer. Then my boyfriend and I will be hiring a car and driving to Andalucia, hopefully seeing Cordoba and Seville en route to the coast, whereupon I envisage throwing myself into the sea without delay in an act of desperation caused by the intense overheating that my body will have suffered in the preceding week and a half. At the end of the month we will board the plane (Ryanair once again, I like to travel in style...) to Cologne, and the German adventure begins!

So, for now it is adios amigos, no idea when I will have the internet again, but sporadic entries will undoubtedly follow in the near future...

Besitos, TG xx