The Mole Diaries: Baeza
Cathedral of Santa María in Baeza by Michal Osmenda
Mary Ann is doing an MA in Spanish at the University of Glasgow and spent her year abroad as a Language Assistant in Baeza, in Andalucía, Spain. Here is her insider guide to living in a small town on your year abroad, being a Language Assistant and adjusting to life in Baeza.
BaezaMy town, Baeza, is in the region of Jaén. It is relatively unknown even to Spanish people and it was really daunting to be setting off into the unknown. If it wasn’t a mandatory part of my degree I don’t think I’d have had the bottle to go through with leaving home.
Baeza is a very historic city and has been inhabited since the Bronze Age. It was a very important stronghold in the reconquest of the south by the Catholic Kings and is the site of the first Catholic Church in Andalucia. It is a UNESCO world heritage site along with its neighbour Ubeda which is only ten minutes away by bus because of its impressive history. There is a free app available through iTunes which goes into detail about the history of Baeza. It currently has around 16,000 inhabitants.
Being a Language AssistantI chose to go abroad as a British Council Assistant for a number of reasons. The main reason was that whilst everyone who goes away gets ERASMUS grant money, assistants also get paid a beca (scholarship) of €700 a month by the Spanish government. I also thought that being an assistant would allow me to integrate into a Spanish community as well as to experience “real” Spanish culture and life.
I worked in a bilingual school so I was not just an assistant in English classes but I got to teach in a variety of subjects from Science to Art. I worked 12 hours a week but was in the school for a lot more than that for meetings and waiting time in between classes. For some classes I just read out sentences for dictations, but for others I have prepared a lot of bilingual materials for the departments – listening activities, crosswords, powerpoints etc.
Schools are encouraged to give their assistants one day off a week in order that they can travel. I got Mondays off which is not the best day to have off in Spain since the majority of museums and things are closed but since I would normally travel on a Friday after school to meet up with my friends I had Mondays off to recover whilst they had to be in class.
BandI have always been playing in school bands, orchestras etc. since I was 8 and I didn’t want to stop this year. I took my trumpet to Spain with me and after going to see a local band perform I talked to the director and he let me join the band. This has been the best thing for me in terms of integrating into the community. It also gave me wonderful opportunities such as playing at a bullfight and in a Semana Santa procession.
If you end up in a small town I’d recommend finding a local class in a hobby you enjoy. There will normally be dance classes, music classes or you could even venture further afield if transport allows and do a Spanish class. Most universities offer them for free.
Best piece of advice“Always stay for one last drink” – this has been such a good piece of advice for this year. Being in a small town it is important to try and communicate and socialise as much as possible. I haven’t really met any young people because most of the students go away to the big cities for Uni but I have made friends with a lot of my colleagues from the school.
Eating & DrinkingJaen is one of the last regions where tapas is free. I love going out to the bars in Baeza, ordering a drink (usually a tinto de verano – wine diluted in lemonade) and then being presented with a tapa. For two weeks in March/April the bars all compete in the ruta de taaps and offer a special deal – a small beer and a special tapas – for €2.5. Each of the bars offers something unique and you get a little booklet which they stamp and if you complete it all you can win a prize.
My favourite bar in Baeza is Pedritos on Calle San Pablo because it is cheap and there food is good. Another of my favourites is Da Vinci’s which is across from the town hall.
FlamencoBeing in Andalucía means that flamenco is all around you. And Baeza is no different. In La Pena Flamenca touring acts come and perform most Fridays and there are always locals willing to get up and sing and play guitar. The owner of the bar is extremely friendly.
HomesicknessI got really unwell just before Christmas and this was the only time I felt homesick during my year. Being so far away from “British” things makes it a lot easier even though you might think being in such a rural area might make it harder.
Local places to visitJaén
Jaén city is only about an hour away from Baeza by bus. There are a lot of buses to and from Jaén every day. Jaen has a lot of shops and some museums and monuments. There is also a university there where you can take free Spanish lessons twice a week.
Ubeda is the town next door to Baeza. There are plenty of buses to Ubeda from Baeza but the return buses stop at 8 pm. Ubeda has a lot of history in common with Baeza and a lot of Renaissance architecture. There are a lot of cheap(ish) clothes shops in Ubeda as well as a Carrefour shopping centre.
MachadoBaeza was home to the poet Antonio Machado for a short while and he in fact taught French in my school. They have turned one of the rooms in the older part of the school, which used to be the ancient university of Andalucia, into a replica of his classroom. This year marked his centenary of his arrival and there have been many cultural events.
OlivesBaeza is in the heart of olive country. Jaen region produces the largest quantity of olives and olive oil in the country. They harvest the olives by hand and the harvest starts late November and goes on until April or May depending on the weather conditions.
During this time there is a high influx of Moroccan workers and we were warned to be extra careful. There haven’t been any incidents that I’m aware of here but keep a hand on your bag if you are in a crowded space.
If you have hay-fever or any allergies to pollen stock up on your medicine before you leave the UK. Olive pollen is very strong and anti-histamines cost a lot here (€5 for a pack of 5).
TravellingBaeza has very good bus links to most parts of Spain. There are three daily buses to Madrid which takes around 4 hours, a lot of buses to Granada which takes, depending if it stops in Jaen, around 2 hours, buses to Malaga, Cordoba, Sevilla etc. There is also a local train station Estacion Linares-Baeza which is 5 km away from Baeza. Whilst I prefer taking the train, unless you have a lift then this is cost prohibitive as the taxi fare to the station costs almost the same as the train ticket and the bus costs half of this.
Euro <26 cards get you discounts on the trains and I think they are starting to implement it on ALSA buses as well. If you have a Young Scot card then this is valid for carnet joven discounts and will sometimes get you a discount where student cards don’t.
More information about my year can be found at aliasecosse.blogspot.com.