Monthly Archives: July 2016

Going up North

Going up North

So, we have passed six months in Valencia. Sunny,  hot, beautiful Valencia. Next week, however, we are leaving for a month in England. Everyone says that the heat in Valencia is unbearable in August, and I expect that everyone is right. So we will pack up our beloved Victor Hugo (our VW Camper van) and head North for the summer. This is the first time that I have left Spain in the height of summer, knowing that I will be returning to the same place in September. This is a huge relief, as I do not have to contend with the prospect of Winter in England, phew.

If you have read any of my other posts, you will know how alive I feel in a Mediterranean climate; how relieved I feel to see the sun every day and how good this makes life in general feel. So you may be surprised to read that I am actually looking forward to several things about a month in the North of England. Here we go…

  1. Spending time with family and old friends; obviously.
  2. The beach in the photo above. It certainly isn’t a beach of golden sand and clear waters, but I grew up by this beach. I have seen the Irish Sea breach the sea walls; close the promenade in Winter and wash up thousands of starfish in summer. This beach and sea have an energy that courses through my veins. The sunsets are spectacular; unrivalled by any others I have seen. A walk on this beach is refreshing and energising. The same cannot be said of the golden sands of Valencia’s beach, which I also love, in a different way.
  3. More variety in the supermarkets! Terrible though the reputation of English food is, our traditional, bland cuisine has paved the way for creativity in the kitchen. In countries like Spain, France and Italy, which all have their own culinary traditions, there isn’t the same need for the variety and fusion that we have in the UK. However, in Spain, this means that the supermarkets all sell the same ingredients, which can be quite boring if you want to cook something a little more exotic than paella.
  4. Connected to the point above: all the food we eat at home, and out, in England which is unavailable here! Sandwiches, scones, Victoria sponge, tea, quiche, pies, English ham, Quorn, pub food…Ah, bring it on!
  5. A population which is generally spacially aware. I am looking forward to people who look where they are going; who aren’t practically in my back pocket when I am queueing at the supermarket; who don’t stop in the shop doorway/at the top of the escalator/in the middle of the road to have a chat. This irks me no end so I’ll stop now.
  6. Changing skies and weather. After almost six months of blue skies, sunshine and increasingly hot temperatures, I will appreciate some cooler weather and variety; just for a month though! I am also a little apprehensive about what will feel like a huge drop in temperature for us. It has currently been around 32C on average. Back home it’s around 18C, at the height of summer. I really feel the cold, even in summer, so I’ll be packing jeans and jumpers for our ‘summer’ back home!

So, we’re leaving our current home to go back home for a month. When you are a traveller, anywhere you make connections feels like home. Still, wherever you call home, there will always be something, and someone you miss.




The Philosophy of Hot Drinks

The Philosophy of Hot Drinks

We British and Irish are renowned for our tea addiction. Who else can remember their mum squashing a box of teabags into her suitcase, even if you were just going on a caravan holiday to Wales? (Because they don’t have tea, or even shops, in Wales). “Better to be safe,” cautioned your mum, in response to your giggles at her packing priorities. Also, the implicit idea that it is ‘safer’ to take teabags on holiday with you, rather than run the risk of your favourite brand being unavailable in the wilderness of Rhyll. You get the idea. In the UK and Ireland, tea is so much more than a caffeine hit.

You might think that this blog is going to be a rant about how people don’t know how to make tea here in Spain; but we already know that, so I’m not going down that route. This is more about the function of the hot drink in general. Not only do the Spanish (and most Southern Europeans) not know
how to make tea, they also have problems with coffee.  This is a fact that every Spaniard with whom I have discussed the issue has disagreed. But for me, seeing Italians in the Valencia branch of Starbucks is a sure sign that the local coffee is genuinely shite.

So, while the Spanish disagree with my opinion on their coffee, I have come to the conclusion that, apart from the fact that I am right, 🙂 the Spanish and southern Europeans drink caffeinated drinks for a very different reason to the British and Irish. The bitter cafe solo (espresso to most of us) simply exists for a caffeine hit, a jolt of energy. If you order a cafe con leche (a smaller, more inferior version of  the Italian cafe latte) you will be given a luke warm, strong coffee made with espresso and full fat, long-life milk. While the cafe con leche carries fond memories of Madrid for me, it is not a great coffee; which brings me to my point.

On our cold, wet, depressing little islands, a hot drink is so much more than a dose of caffeine. Tea is a cure all. It warms our bones when we return from shopping in a downpour. It soothes our nerves after a shock. It provides heat for our hands when we’ve been teaching in a classroom with a broken radiator. It is to be savoured, enjoyed; not downed in one (we save that for alcohol!) Coffee serves a similar function, minus the soothing- only tea can do that. A long, hot latte is an indulgence to sip. Going for coffee with friends is a treat because good coffee shops are usually quite expensive in England. Again, we draw warmth from our hot drink, taking a moment to breathe in the tempting aroma. A hot drink in England is a small comfort in our cold climate; a moment to pause and relax, because you cannot rush a hot drink, you must wait until you can drink it without burning yourself.

So there you have it. For the British and Irish, hot drinks are so much more than caffeine. They are a rare pause in our hectic lives, a moment of warmth on a winter’s day. This is why I can forgive Spain for its bitter, rocket fuel coffee and its watery, tasteless tea. In Spain, they don’t need a hot drink to warm up; nor to cheer up. They have something we don’t have: good weather.