My next destination had to be Europe, I was longing to be somewhere closer to home, and I wanted to choose somewhere not just for adventure but to settle. It’s time to put down roots. But this time I ruled out learning a new language from scratch. After 18 months of pigeon Thai, and 11 months of Spanglish, I decided to stick to a country where I had the foundations of a language, at least enough to hit the ground jogging. After many hours scrolling through ESL job sites, I sent out a bajillion CVs to start the recruitment process with various schools. I finally decided on a little English academy in Cáceres, in the west of Spain, and this is where my adventure begins.
I’ve been settling in really well and have found a nice routine between pilates and language classes, popping to the panaderia for a baguette, wandering through the old town soaking up the sunshine, and sipping coffee while reading in the adorable café around the corner whose garden boasts a view of golden fields stretching out for eternity. Since moving to Cáceres, my stress levels have plummeted and my appetite for adventure has returned.
Declared a World Heritage City by UNESCO, Cáceres sits comfortably in the west of Spain, in the region of Extremadura, just a couple of hours from Portugal and with larger cities like Seville and Madrid within easy reach. It’s near enough to get to easily but far enough away to escape from hustle and bustle of city life. It’s a traditional little place, where shops shut for siesta and not a soul can be seen doing business on a Sunday, it takes some getting used to, especially when you’re craving a Magnum on a Sunday afternoon. Another unique aspect of the Cácereño lifestyle is the times they eat. Dinner at 10pm? What about sleep? But, after just a few weeks I slipped right into the flow and now it makes perfect sense. In fact, sense is my word of the moment - work/life balance and good wine at low prices are just two of the sensible things I have noticed about life in Spain.
I remember my life in Bristol consisted of bouncing from festival to festival in the little parks around the city, and I’m pleased to see that Extremadura has returned that pastime to me. With free little festivals popping up every month or so, the region has already welcomed me with beer festivals, fancy dress parties, Irish music sessions, rock bands, and a medieval festival where the old town of Cáceres was festooned with medieval banners and market stalls. I have yet to experience the festival of San Jorge, the patron saint of the city, where a dragon is burned in the main square, and WOMAD which draws music from all over the globe. As yet the jury is out as to what the best festival is but I am enjoying the judging process. So far I think the leading contender is El Carnaval. While Irish folk are stuffing their faces with pancakes drenched in sugar and lemon juice to mark the beginning of Lent, the Spaniards throw a massive nationwide party, when they get dressed up in costume and have amazing parades.
I ventured along to Badajoz which is reported to hold the third best parade in Spain, after Gran Canaria and Cadiz respectively. Accompanied by Red Riding Hood and her Grandmother, I rocked up dressed in fairy wings and a painted face, and stood in place to watch the passing parade consisting of over 40 floats. I have been told that the parade entrants come from all over (there was even a drumming group from Bristol) and the performances are practised for months in advance, while the phenomenally detailed costumes are made by hand. The parade was out of this world and blew every other procession I’ve ever seen out of the water, and yes, I’m including that time some dude on a tractor threw Kit Kats into the crowd in the 1986 St Patrick’s Day Parade in Cork.
So, as I wait for the next festival to roll around, I will continue to enjoy the lifestyle the Cáceres has to offer including delicious Jamon Iberico, café con leche with early morning churros, and the golden primavera sunshine. I’m working on the español..
Images: Sinéad Millea.