Stephen Brown's Blog


Posted Saturday 06 August 2011 21:30 by Steve in Learning Spanish

When you buy a round of drinks in Spain, it's quite common to get some tapas for free. Normally you get some nuts, or some olives, and sometimes something a bit better like some croquettes or the baby sandwiches in La Flor de la Esquina. Today I went out to find something to eat, and I went to a bar close the the main square. I thought I would just have a beer while I decide what to eat and they gave me this for free with my beer:

I had already eaten a few of the chips by the time I thought of taking a picture!

I got another beer afterwards and the barmaid asked if I wanted another one but I told her one was enough! Not bad to get a sandwich, chips and a beer for €2,00. I didn't need anything else in the end...


Mum on Saturday 06 August 2011 22:59

Thats amazing! We could do with something like that here. We are always dissapointed. it seems out there they are making an effort. well done Spain!

Steve on Sunday 07 August 2011 08:57

I think the problem is that in England, a lot of people will settle for something that isn’t very good. A lot of my friends eat at a local pub near my work where the food is pretty rubbish – they know it is bad but still eat there because it is convenient. I think this is a typically English thing to do!

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Posted Saturday 06 August 2011 16:23 by Steve in Learning Spanish

Yesterday I was due to meet Fernando at 7:30. I left the house with plenty of time, and made my way slowly through town towards the school. Just as I was approaching I looked at my watch and realised it was 7:55 - I'm not really sure how that happened but I think I had read my watch wrong earlier.

We were supposed to meet outside the school but when I arrived the door was open so I went in and Maite and Fernando were waiting for me. I apologised for being late and I think Maite was surprised because normally I'm always early for everything. When we left the school Fernando confessed that he had to run because he was running late too.

We sat outside a bar close to the school and chatted for about half an hour in Spanish, and about an hour in English. I was happy with this arrangement because Fernando doesn't get as many opportunities to practice as I do. He told me that he is training to be a police officer, and we talked quite a lot about the experiences of learning a new language. It was interesting because it seems things have been very similar for both of us in a lot of ways. He said that the first time he watched a film in English and understood most of it made him feel really happy and I agreed - for some reason it is really pleasurable the first time you understand something complicated in a new language. We also talked about the weirdness of English spelling and pronunciation, and he told me that he found English quite easy to read, but found speaking and listening more difficult. We also both agreed that it is much more difficult to understand each other's languages when we are tired. He said sometimes he watches a film in English, and understands the first half, but can't understand anything towards the end. The same thing happened to me on the Ruta Nocturna the other day.

It was also interesting to see the way he spoke - throughout the whole session he made very few mistakes and seemed to have a very good vocabulary and pronunciation. It was only the speed at which he spoke and could understand me speaking that gave him away as being a learner. I felt like I could probably talk about most things with him and he would understand though which is pretty impressive considering he has only been learning English for about 6 months. A few times he asked to repeat what I said because I had said it too fast - he said that when I speak fast he can't tell where one word ends and the next begins. This is a problem that I used to have with Spanish, but not so much any more. Normally I can understand the rhythm of Spanish now, but when spoken fast I simply can't process the information quick enough.

The way I speak Spanish is very different, I think. I have brief moments where I speak quite quickly, but only when I am familiar with the subject and normally when I am talking in the present tense and about myself or things that I have done. The problem that I have though is that there are a lot of things that I still struggle to say and understand. Some of the grammar is way beyond my grasp (for example the subjunctive) and I think that I need to improve my vocabulary a bit before I can talk about everything. When I talk I still make quite a lot of mistakes too.

After our intercambio I walked Fernando to the bus stop and we agreed that next time it would be easier for both of us if we meet outside the casco, and he takes me somewhere in his car.

Today was Saturday so I didn't have class today. I couldn't really be bothered to do much this morning so I went for a walk and then sat in the park near my house and read some of my book of Spanish short stories.

For lunch I had Caesar salad, followed by a mixture of potatoes and vegetables with pork kebabs, followed by natillas. I don't really have much planned for this weekend, but next weekend should be much more interesting because my Dad and Sue are visiting (from Alicante).


Mum on Saturday 06 August 2011 20:19

Hi Steve (Hola)

I am continually impressed with how well you are doing. I cant believe you are half way through your stay already. I think it will be really nice for you to have a visit from your Dad and Sue next weekend.

Love Mum xx

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Now I'm Definitely Top of my Class

Posted Friday 05 August 2011 17:36 by Steve in Learning Spanish

Yesterday I went to 2 of my favourite places in the evening. The first place I went to was La Flor de la Esquina - I particularly like this place because it serves nice sandwiches and is good when I am not too hungry. The beers there cost €1,80 for about half a pint, but as an added bonus they come with a free sandwich (in a bread roll, big enough to eat in about 4 bites). I've had all sorts of free sandwiches there before: Ham and tomato; black olive and anchovy; smoked salmon; and tonight I got a free 'mixto' which has ham and cheese in it. I also ordered a ham and tomato sandwich which is one of my favourites because the ham (jamon iberico) in Spain is probably the best ham you can get in the whole world! Trust me - I'm not exaggerating.

After that I walked to another place and had a couple of beers and chatted to the waiter a bit about my time in Toledo, and returned home around midnight.

Today in class we had a slightly longer break because it was Friday, and we went to a nice restaurant called '' for breakfast. I had a tosta con jamon - more ham! It was also the last day of the course for Jeremy and the American family, so now I am the only student in the school. For the next 2 weeks it looks like it is just going to be me and Christina which is no problem at all. I think that having individual lessons instead of group lessons is going to have advantages and disadvantages: It's going to be good because I obviously get more attention in class and things will move along at exactly the right pace for me, but I will miss out on some of the fun group activities that we have been doing.

The last few days with Jeremy have been really fun because we have been playing a board game at the end of each session, where you have to move around the board and conjugate verbs in the past tense. It's funny because I normally am slightly better than Jeremy (although I think he caught up with me today) but I always lose points by being too cocky and trying something too complicated. At the same time I always pretend that it is a deadly serious competition and that I really want to win, when in reality it's clear that I don't care (for example when I cheat and help Jeremy).

I think it would be ideal to have 2 hours of group lessons a day and 2 hours by myself, but either way the difference is only marginal and I think it's still going to be a lot of fun because Christina is really easy to talk to.

When I got home today I had some really nice food, but I can't remember what it was called. For the starter I had a dish that had roasted vegetables (peppers and aubergines and onions - I think), hard boiled eggs and anchovies. It was really good! For the main course I had a beef steak and some bread. I had watermelon for desert.

After lunch I watched a bit of TV but somehow Paula got hold of the remote control and insisted on changing the channel every few seconds. I had good fun trying to get it off of her but in the end I always let her win. Afterwards we both came upstairs and played on my computer for a bit, and then she went off to shower, which is just as well because there was no way I could have written this with her in the room! It's all good fun though.

In an hour I am meeting with Fernando for my intercambio. I know nothing about him except that he is about my age and is learning English, and that his level of English is slightly higher than my Spanish. It will be interesting to see what happens as I have never done anything like this before. I think we are just going to go to a bar and have a few beers.

Also in case anyone is interested: The film I watched yesterday was called Pagafantas.

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La Ruta Nocturna

Posted Thursday 04 August 2011 18:51 by Steve in Learning Spanish

Yesterday, after I finished writing up my blog post I watched a bit of TV. The program was called 'Destino: España' and is a program I often watch at home using the internet. This show is about foreigners that have moved to Spain, and each episode shows several different sections about the life of a different foreigner living in Spain. This episode was about Castilla la Mancha which is the area I am in, and it even had a section on someone living in Toledo.

After the program Paula came in again and sat with me, and Charo brought in Paula's dinner. She asked me if I wanted to eat too so I had dinner in the house and sat with Paula. Paula takes a long time to eat her dinner and kept asking me if I wanted some ham off of her plate. Every time I left the room (to get water, change my clothes) she would ask me where I was going and I have to say "I'll be back in 1 minute". By the time I needed to leave she still hadn't finished and she asked if I was going and if I could take her dinner downstairs for her because she didn't want to be by herself. It's amazing to see a three year old easily using a lot of the grammar that I find really difficult (like the subjunctive!).

After dinner I left to go on another tour of the city that Maite had arranged for me. On my way to the tour a group of Spanish tourists asked me for directions, and I actually managed to convince them that I knew what I was talking about! I think I'm making progress.

The tour was actually pretty interesting - it was a tour of Toledo with lots of myths and legends of the city being explained. More than half of the people on the tour were part of the same group of Italian students (learning Spanish too obviously) so I wasn't the only foreigner.

During the first half of the tour I understood virtually all of what was said, and it was the first time that I noticed that I could understand something, without having to translate everything into English in my head first. They showed us various places where 'witches' used to live, most of it being narrated but a few bits being acted out. They told us about a woman that could apparently summon the devil in the form of a black dog, or a black pig, and you could ask the 'devil' questions about the future and about family members that had died. The pig/dog would then turn in one direction for yes and the other for no. Apparently this woman became quite wealthy as this kind of service was in high demand in the middle ages!

After about half way through the tour, it became very difficult for me to concentrate and I could understand less and less as time when on. I don't know why, but I find it very difficult to understand and speak Spanish when I'm tired. The tour ended at the other side of the casco, and it took me half an hour to walk back home. I was really tired by the time I got back. I spoke a bit with Cristian, but it was a struggle because I was so tired. Normally I speak to him when I'm at my worst!

In school today I noticed that Jeremy's accent had improved a lot. Yesterday I pointed out to him that the he wasn't pronouncing the end of the words properly, and was often 'swallowing' the end of the words like French. Today he didn't do this at all so I could understand him a lot better.

At the end of school Maite told me that they were going to watch a Spanish film at 5:00, and also told me that she had organised an intercambio for Friday. An intercambio is where you meet with a native Spanish speaker who is learning English, and spend half of the time speaking in Spanish, and half of the time speaking in English. As the school also teaches English, Maite has arranged for me to meet with an English student and have a few beers. This is the first time that I have done this so it will be interesting to see how it turns out.

At lunch today I ate mixed grilled vegetables, followed by something Charo made up - it had layers of rice, egg and tuna and was actually really tasty! After that I managed to squeeze in a siesta before leaving to go and watch the film just before 5:00.

The walk back to the school was hard work! Back in England, whenever the sun is shining it is great to go outside and walk in the sun, but when it is 40 degrees (that's 104 to all you crazy Fahrenheit people!), and you have to walk up a steep hill, then it's not so pleasant! Since I have been in Toledo I have not needed to use sun tan lotion once because when the sun is out in full force you have no choice but to walk in the shadows. I still prefer it like this to the miserable weather in the UK because every day it is lovely to walk in the morning and in the evening, and there's always air conditioning (and the siesta) for the hottest part of the day.

The film was pretty good - I can't remember the name of it because it was a word that I am not familiar with, but it was pretty funny. It was also interesting to watch because one of the main characters was Argentinean, and they have a really strange accent. In Argentina, whenever you would make a 'y' sound in Spanish, you instead pronounce it kind of like a cross between a 'j' and an 'sh'. It was also interesting because there were a lot of swear words, and we don't really get to see how they are used in class.

I'm going to head back out again soon to get something to eat, so until tomorrow: Hasta luego!


Mum on Friday 05 August 2011 10:39

Hola Steve

I am really enjoying your blog. It sounds like you are having a great time and your Spanish is improving quickly.

Reading about Paula shows that chidren that age are so similar where ever they are from.

Mum xx

Steve on Friday 30 January 2015 22:27

By the way, the film was called "Pagafantas".

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Why Is It Impossible to Turn on the Air Conditioning Without the Remote Control!?

Posted Wednesday 03 August 2011 17:44 by Steve in Learning Spanish

Yesterday I went out for a long walk before dinner. I didn't sleep so well the previous night, and I think it because I haven't been getting enough exercise. I decided to walk all the way around the outside the city - the same route that I took with Veronica. I stopped half way for a 'clara' which is half beer, half soda water, because I was really thirsty. The whole walk took about an hour.

This time it was a little bit later than the previous time, and I saw lots of people on the way. There are a lot of places up in the hills with a couple of car parking spaces, and people seem to come here to relax and talk. There were quite a few couples sitting together and kissing (sometimes quite vigorously!) and also groups of 2 or 3 girls sitting on the wall by the side of the road talking and smoking. I see groups of people like this all the time in Spain, normally in the evening in all of the public spaces that are out of the way: In the park on my route home; down by the river; up in the hills around the city. I think that people in Spain use their public spaces quite differently to us!

I commented afterwards to Charo that I saw a lot of couples kissing and she said that in the winter when it is too cold to sit outside they normally park up somewhere quiet and do the same thing inside their cars. I think it's different here because people don't tend to hang out in their parents houses with their friends / girlfriends, which is a lot more common in the UK. Besides, if normal people actually used public spaces in the UK where would all of the chavs hang out!

After my walk I went to the same restaurant where I had alcachofas, and I had the same waiter again who recognised me. I especially like this place when I am eating by myself because I can sit outside, and there are always other people but it is not too busy. It's a good place to sit and watch the world go by! This time I ate 'Pisto Manchego' which consisted of courgettes and peppers in a tomato sauce. I had it with some bread and it was really nice. When I got my bill it said that the waiter's name was Roberto so I commented that by brother was also called Robert - it's good to find any excuse to start a conversation so that I can practice speaking with someone else! I expect I'll be back to this place because I like the food (even if it is a little bit expensive) and the location is ideal.

I slept well last night, until about 4:00am when the cat jumped in my window. I didn't really mind but it woke me up because it jumped down onto my bed first (it's directly below the window) and then onto the floor. I had just drifted off to sleep again when it decided to leave and jumped back on my bed and out of the window, waking me up again. Now I was wide awake and it took me a while to get back to sleep.

Today in our break from class we were split into 2 tables - 1 with all of the Americans (their level of Spanish isn't quite high enough to join in the conversation with us yet) and the other with me, Jeremy and the 3 professors. I spoke quite a lot today and it was actually easier because there were so many people with a high level of Spanish.

After class I came home and had lunch: I had peas with bacon to start, followed by lasagne again, and some shop bought 'natillas' for desert. The desert was nowhere near as nice as the home made version. Charo did ask me beforehand if I wanted lasagne again or something else but I was quite happy to have her lasagne a second time because it is excellent!

After dinner I spent some time playing with Paula whilst some men came and did something to the air conditioning system outside on the balcony. I installed a program previously on my laptop that is meant for 2 year olds so we had a go at that today. Previously I had tried to play pacman with Paula but she is not so good at using a keyboard, and this program was easier because she could just move the mouse and it would draw shapes on the screen and make noises. It kept her amused for a while but not too long.

It's a bit frustrating talking with Paula because I normally can't understand anything she says! She speaks in this slow, droning way that most little kids seem to speak Spanish, which in itself is difficult for me to understand, but she also has difficulty pronouncing some of the sounds because she is from China and has only been in Spain for less than 1 year (Paula is adopted). After about an hour with Paula I was exhausted and needed a sleep!

When I woke up after my siesta, I came downstairs to the living room and it was extremely hot. I decided it would be best to close all the doors and put on the air conditioning but the remote was nowhere to be found. Cristian popped in to say goodbye because he was going out to play tennis, so he tried to help me look for it before he went but he couldn't find it. He left to play tennis and Charo came in carrying Paula - Paula was fast asleep so she put her down on the sofa. Charo had a good look for it with me too. We looked in all the drawers, we looked outside on the balcony, we looked under the table. Charo emptied Paula's bag and there were all sorts of strange things in there. For some reason she has this huge bag that she carries around the house and it had shoes in shower caps, bits of cloth, all sorts of things - but no remote control. We were just beginning to give up and think that the air conditioning repair men must had taken it by mistake when Charo found it in a little push chair with a doll. God knows what it was doing there! Still it was quite funny and we laughed a lot.

Tonight I have a tour of the casco with a theatre group (Teatro de Rojos). It is going to be a tour, where the performers will stop to perform various local legends in the street (I think) and costs €6,00. I will let you know how it goes tomorrow!


Isabel on Thursday 04 August 2011 13:52

Yes, come to think of it, we use public spaces in a very different way... The main difference is there are public spaces for chavs and public spaces for "normal" people!

Besides, nobody hangs out with boy/girlfriends in their parents house. Never! (no matter if you are 16 or 60) :D

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