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Life lessons for Bermudian teacher in Spain

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Alison Gurini in Seville, Spain

You don’t have to mind your manners quite so much in Spain.

That’s the impression Alison Gurini got when she moved there to teach English as a second language.

Her Spanish friends asked her to stop saying please, thank you and excuse me all the time.

“They think it’s a bit weird in Spanish,” the 33-year-old Bermudian said. “People have told me to stop being so polite.

“I have learned that the further south you go in Europe, the more laid-back people are. The Spanish tend to be very sociable [but] sometimes can come across as being a bit rude. That is because they are very direct in how they communicate with people.”

Ms Gurini has lived in different parts of Spain, on and off for three years. She has also taught English as a second language in Italy and Portugal. She now runs a small travel agency that organises courses and trips for people who want to study abroad. She also arranges trips for people from Bermuda who want to visit.

She has a five-month-old son, Vicente, with her Spanish partner, Daniel Nulas. They moved from Zamora in Castile-León to Zaragoza, Aragon, a month ago.

Ms Gurini studied anthropology in England, but after graduation couldn’t find a job. A friend suggested she take a course in teaching English as a second language. This sounded ideal as Ms Gurini had always loved language and travel.

“Most private language schools in Europe conduct classes entirely in English,” she said. “You don’t need to speak the local language before arriving, and can learn it at your own pace while living in the country.”

Her first job in Spain was in a town called Palencia, population 80,000. The town is in the northwest region of Castile-León. Ms Gurini’s students ranged from age four up to adult. Palencia is a historic town with an impressive cathedral and it is home to the fourth largest Christ statue in the world, Cristo Otero.

“Before coming to work in Spain I knew very little about Spain’s culture or history,” she said. “I thought Spaniards would eat pasta every day like Italians, and dance salsa.”

She couldn’t speak a word of Spanish apart from hello and thank you. She lived in an apartment with a Spanish girl and a Peruvian girl, neither of whom spoke any English. They communicated with gestures, drawings and basic words.

“It wasn’t easy in the beginning and there were days I wanted to give up living in Spain,” she said.

She later moved to Zamora, which has about 64,000 people. It’s a historic town with structures dating as far back as 1100BC.

“It is actually the city with the most Romanesque churches in all of Europe,” she said.

Thousands of people flock there for Holy Week, held each Easter since at least the 13th century.

“Castile-León is an area not well-known to foreign travellers,” Ms Gurini said. “You won’t find flamenco, paella or sangria there. Instead you’ll be served fine red wine from the Duero valley, cheese, cured meats, particularly chorizo, and bagpipes. The northwest of Spain is an area where bagpipes are prominent in folk music. Seeing people playing bagpipes in Spain surprised me.”

Ms Gurini’s new home of Zaragoza has 701,090 people and is Spain’s fifth largest city.

“It is in an ideal location, only one-and-a-half hours from both Madrid and Barcelona on the high speed train,” she said.

“It’s also home to the largest shopping centre in Spain. The main landmark of Zaragoza and its most well-known structure is the Basilica Cathedral of Our Lady of the Pillar which is a Roman Catholic church in the centre of the old town.

“There are definitely more foreigners in Zaragoza, although most foreigners are drawn to the big cities such as Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, and Seville,” she said.

“Once you get out of the big cities, the cost of living in Spain is low. Also, getting out of the big cities can give you a more ‘authentic’ perception of the country.”

She said her encounters with Spanish people have mostly been positive, and she has made lifelong friends along the way.

Alison Gurini pointing to Bermuda on a map she found in Palos de la Frontera, Huelva, Andalusia, Spain. Juan de Bermudez, the 16th century Spanish navigator who gave Bermuda its name, was from this town
The 12th century Cathedral of Zamora, in Zamora, Spain, on the Duero River leading to Portugal
Strawberry fields in Huelva, Andalusia, Spain. Spain is the world’s biggest strawberry exporter with about 90 per cent of Spain’s strawberries grown in Huelva
Palos de la Frontera in Andalusia, Spain. Juan de Bermudez, the 16th Century Spanish navigator whom Bermuda is named for, was born here
Spanish souvenirs
Holy Week in Zamora, Spain
<p>The secrets of Zamora</p>

If you’re visiting Spain, don’t miss Zamora in the Castile-León region.

According to Alison Gurini, it’s a great region to see Spanish medieval cathedrals, monasteries, castles and fortified towns. Zamora is known for its Romanesque architecture, characterised by sweeping arches. It sits on a rocky hill 40 minutes from the Portuguese border.

How to get there: Take a British Airways flight from Bermuda to London. Catch a connecting flight to Madrid. Zamora is about three hours from Madrid. From Madrid, you can rent a car and drive or take a high-speed train or bus. The high-speed train can be expensive; the bus is cheaper.

Be sure to see: Check out the Cathedral of Zamora dating from the 1100s. On the south side of the church is the richly sculptured Puerta del Obispo (Bishop’s Doorway). Cathedral of Zamora is known for its dome and 15th century choir-stalls carved with saints, (famous people of the time period), and also earthy scenes of country life. Outside the walls is the even older church, San Claudio de Olivares.

Holy Week in Zamora runs from March 29 to April 5 this year. Highlights include numerous processions with Gregorian chanting and choral music.

One of the most famous processions is Cristo de las Injurias, which takes place on Easter Wednesday. The Jesús Yacente brotherhood have their procession on the night of Maundy Thursday, carrying a 17th century statue of Christ and singing the Miserere after midnight.

The Museum of Holy Week is located across from another church called Santa Maria la Nueva. This museum contains information, relics and pictures from previous Holy Weeks.

Hotels: For Holy Week in Zamora you need to book a hotel at least a month in advance as thousands flock to the city for the event. Ms Gurini suggested the Parador de Zamora in the city centre. Situated in the historic old town in a character building and decorated to reflect local style, it is the most symbolic hotel in Zamora.

Food: In Spain lunch is from 2pm to 3pm and dinner is from 10pm onwards, which can take getting used to. Shops and business tend to close for siesta, from 2pm to 5pm, and open again until 8pm. If people live close to home they will have lunch at home and a short siesta (20 to 30 minutes), before going back to work. Be sure to try local dishes such as:

• Jamón ibérico (Iberian ham) a type of cured ham.

• Fried cuttlefish

• Mojama, filleted salt-cured tuna.

• Salmorejo, a cold soup similar to gazpacho, made from tomatoes, bread, oil, garlic and vinegar. It is usually garnished with serrano ham and diced hard-boiled eggs

• Chorizo al vino, chorizo sausage cooked in wine sauce

Music: The region around Zamora is actually known for bagpipe music. If you are looking for flamenco music and dance you need to go south — consider Huelva, Andalusia.

For more on travel in Spain see Ms Gurini’s website: www.mapslanguage.com/en.