So you went to Carnaval in Cadiz?

Welcome to Cadiz!

Last week I wrote about my trip to Carnival in La Rinconada, 10km outside of Seville. Well this weekend marked the last weekend of carnaval and to celebrate we went to Cádiz, the capital of carnaval and (apparently) the only place where the dictator Franco failed to squash carnaval celebrations.

The most important thing about Carnaval is you have to dress up. I saw some American students on the train from Seville to Cádiz who had made very poor effort. One of them was wearing normal clothes with a Spanish football shirt on. I shook my head at her in disdain. I imagine she saw me… I say this because everybody on that train was staring at me. Due to circumstances out of my control, I was not sitting with my friends. Which meant I was sitting in a coach of people dressed in normal clothes, dressed like this…
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Carnaval in La Rinconada, Seville

In the UK this time of year usually revolves around Valentine’s Day and pancakes. But this weekend Valentine’s day barely even registered with me as in Andalucia, it is CARNAVAL!!!

I have a couple of friends currently experiencing Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro. But who needs Rio when only 20 minutes away from Seville is the small town of La Rinconada!?

This is the town where I’m working at the moment, and over the past couple of weeks our workmates have been talking to us about carnaval. They told us carnaval is very important, and that we had to come and we had to dress up. When we started talking about costumes, they were very clear: this isn’t any ‘carnival’ style dress up like you might get at Notting Hill carnival. Our boss shook her head when we talked about bralets and headdresses. “You have to wear real costumes”, she said. “People spend months preparing!”

So we begrudgingly agreed to borrow some “Mexican” outfits from her. Our other wonderful colleague invited us to her house to go with all her friends. She told us we could NOT wear our costumes on the way to Rinconada. “You have to get changed HERE!” she said. It seemed like carnaval had a lot of rules. We bundled over on Saturday afternoon, costumes and a bottle of negrita in our backpacks, and the festivities began! The warning that carnaval was important really did not prepare me for what were getting ourselves into. After a boozy lunch at our friend’s house, we got changed and painted our faces. Our friends all went as bees, and had somehow commandeered a full-size shopping trolley that they filled with bottle of coca cola, cups and a polystyrene box filled with ice and rum. So much rum. I thought this was just the storage device in their home but it turned out that you had to take the trolley to carnaval with you.

We left the house, trolley in tow, and walked up the road just in time to see the start of the procession. Leading the way was the carnaval queen, who was pulled along by a tractor and half-heartedly throwing confetti into the crowd. Then behind here were hundreds of people. Everybody came in groups, all dressed as the same thing… chickens, aliens, clowns, dogs, farmers, bollywood dancers… the variety was impressive. I’d tried to reflect Frida Kahlo in my Mexican outfit, but it wasn’t very successful and I just looked like I was dressed as any old Mexican. I was a bit concerned people might think I was suggesting all Mexican women had monobrows, and be offended. It soon became clear I needn’t have worried as being offensive didn’t seem to be a concern. We witnessed quite a surprising amount of people who’d decided to actually black up for the occasion as they dressed up as “African tribes”…

We joined the parade and marched through the streets, looking at people’s costumes and drinking from our trolley. We passed our friend’s house on the way – and her mother’s! – so stopped off to use the toilet and have a break. Then, as the sun had set, we reached the plaza where there was a giant stage playing live bands and bars and candyfloss carts. We didn’t need the bars though, as we wheeled the trolley into the crowd and danced around it! It was so fun!

We wanted to go back to Seville to sleep, so we unfortunately had to take the last bus home at about 10.30. By this point we’d already been partying for like seven hours so it wasn’t too upsetting, but nevertheless it would have been fun to stay longer. There isn’t really a carnaval in Seville. This was made painfully clear once we’d got the bus back to the centre of Seville, and were wondering around feeling extremely bubbly with our costumes on. We were met with very lukewarm responses. Nobody would let us in to any bars! In fact, when we needed the toilet, we had to sneak into a little pub! It was a harrowing experience.

This week we are all preparing to go to the last weekend of carnaval in Cadiz. We have been told that carnaval in Cadiz is “a life changing experience”. Hopefully in a good way? Time will tell!
Continue reading “Carnaval in La Rinconada, Seville”

Cycling from Seville to La Rinconada

The duchess and I went on our first Grand Adventure today. (The Duchess is the name of my bike….its hasn’t caught on yet – most people still simply call her “your bike” – but I’ve committed to the name so I’m going to back myself and keep using it). We’ve been on a couple of small adventures around town but today we decided to plunge ourselves into the exciting new world of intercity travel and I cycled to work!!!

Typing about this experience is more difficult than usual as my body is in complete melt down. I feel like my bones are crying. I am living in Seville but I work in a park in La Rinconada. The park is 12km away from my house: I know this, because my workmate measured the cycling distance on her phone. This is the same young lady who cycled to work last week and told me that the journey wasn’t that hard. She strolled into work one morning, bicycle in tow, bright eyed with windswept hair and rosy cheeks. I asked her if she was okay and she said “I feel amazing.” I looked at her and thought to myself “I want to feel amazing! I want to have windswept hair!”. So yesterday after much deliberation I decided that today was The Day that I started my journey towards becoming the cycling goddess that I’ve always dreamed of being.

Obviously I didn’t get windswept hair because I approached the adventure with extreme caution and terror, and wore my electric blue bicycle helmet. I was in fact quite diligent in my preparation. Me and The Duchess woke up bright and early and I had a pot of porridge to warm me up before setting off. I even put my jumper in my backpack instead of wearing it so I wouldn’t overheat and spontaneously combust. Despite these preparations I began to wonder if I’d underestimated the immensity of the task at hand…Just as I was struggling to fit Duchess into the tiny lift in my apartment block, I got a Whatsapp message from my dear Workmate saying “dont forget to stretch.” An ominous message to receive indeed. Years of PE lessons, where I was always relegated to the bottom ability group and even my closest friends refused to be my partner due to my complete lack of ability, have taught me that if you have to do stretches before embarking on an adventure then the adventure really isn’t going to be enjoyable. Nevertheless I am at heart an optimistic person so I stretched as hard as I could (and I NEARLY touched my toes during one of the stretches!)

And so we set off!! As we were reaching the outskirts of Seville, my workmate – who I will henceforth refer to as Harriet (because that’s her name) – turned around and asked if I was doing okay. I proudly replied I was doing absolutely fine! I thought to myself, god, this is great. Cycling to work every morning. A bright start to the day. Get the body moving. Awaken your senses. Live a little!

As we reached the edge of town, the cycle lanes stopped. Shortly afterwards the pavement stopped and things began to go downhill. Well, to be more accurate, things began to go uphill. Just outside of Seville there is  a HUGE bridge over a railway track! Its one of those funny things that the bridge does NOT look that big when you’re in a bus….however I would like to confirm that this bridge is far, far bigger and steeper than could possibly ever be necessary. It started out okay but I was going slower and slower, and about halfway up I was moving so slowly that I didn’t know if I was going backwards or forwards. People driving in the other direction contemplated me with great interest. Cars going in the same direction sped past without warning and scared me silly. It was a difficult time.

This was only about 1km of the journey done, and I’m pretty sure the rest of the way was also uphill (though I’m willing to admit that it probably wasn’t and I was just lying to myself). As my knees went up and down on the bicycle peddles I decided to sing some songs to keep my spirits up. I couldn’t think of any songs and ended up rhythmically chanting “Never again. Never again. Never again” as I peddled. It didn’t do much to inspire me.

Eventually we reached La Rinconada. Harriet and I cycled side by side and I had to ask her what day it was. I was terribly surprised when she said it was still Wednesday as it felt like I’d been cycling for days (actual time was 50 minutes). She asked me how I felt and I told her I thought my bottom might have fallen off because I couldn’t feel it anymore. She nodded with understanding.

The last leg of the journey, from La Rinconada to the park, was more pleasant. By the time we arrived I’d recovered a bit and felt quite perky – in fact I felt positively energised. I felt so cheerful I even employed some comic walks as I was traversing the classroom. My colleagues were appalled at what we’d done, and sat us down and made us coffee and toast so we could recover. “You are heroes,” said one of them. I said that Harriet was a hero but I thought I was going to die, and he nodded gravely. To be honest I hoped that I looked as rosy cheeked and wonderful as Harriet did, but when we were heading back home my colleague looked at me with concern and said “Are you cycling in tomorrow as well?”. When I said I might be he frowned. “I’m driving,” he said. “You can text me! I can pick you up! Don’t worry!” It an offer I am feeling inclined to accept…

That’s all for now folks!

Blollings cooks: Easiest ever and most delicious mojito lime cheesecake

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Recipe for the easiest ever and most delicious lime cheesecake, that you can make with almost no cooking equipment.

I love to bake at my parents house where there is a wonderful array of electric gadgets and a variety sizes of baking tins (although there is always the very real risk you’ll nip to the toilet and come back to find the cat sitting in the mixing bowl.) There is also an oven. Here in Spain it seems quite common for people to have no oven at all. In our flat we do have an oven, but its more of a modern décor art piece as it is falling out of its little hole and doesn’t turn on. To replace it we’ve been provided with a free standing grill/oven that plugs into the wall. Me and the grill/oven got off to a bad start because one of the first times I tried to make toast in it, the bread fell down the back and immediately set on fire. This taught me two valuable lessons – firstly, you shouldn’t let the bread fall down the back and secondly it seems that we don’t have a fire alarm…

Obviously not having a fire alarm presumable should be illegal, but so should not having an oven, because what the hell can you bake if you don’t have an oven? The answer, dear readers, is obviously Easiest Ever and Most Delicious Lime Cheesecake. This is a wonderful recipe to make when you’re living abroad because the ingredients are easy to find, you don’t need any equipment and its so delicious all your new friends will think you’re a god.

The recipe is adapted from the Philadelphia website’s Key Lime Cheesecake Pie. I tried to make it more like a mojito by adding rum and mint, and more lime juice.

Some hints and tips…

Be careful when melting the butter because if you get distracted it might go all frothy and smell weird and you’ll have to do it again.
The one piece of equipment that’s hard to find might be a case to make the cheesecake in. You need a 20cm-ish tin. I found some disposable foil cases in the supermarket so I bought them, but equally you could line a large pan with foil and make it in that. If that won’t work, try making the cheesecake in individual glasses or jars, which also looks really fancy.

Easy and delicious mojito lime cheese recipe

160g Digestive Biscuits
40g butter, melted
250g Philadelphia Original (or any normal cream cheese)
397g tin condensed milk

To flavour
2/3 limes
Mint leaves

1. Make the base: Bash the biscuits until they are all crumbs. You will need a blunt instrument like a pestle and mortar, rolling pin or a wine bottle. Mix two glugs of rum in with the melted butter. Combine the crumbs with the melted butter mix and press  the mixture down, firmly, into the dish/pan/glasses. You might need a bit more melted butter. Pop the base in the fridge to get nice and FIRM!

2. Make the filling: Beat the cream cheese with the condensed milk. It may take a little while to get rid of lumps, especially if you’re using a fork because you don’t have a whisk or other mixing tool, but it’ll be find with a bit of time. Zest the lemons and juice them, and mix that into the cream cheese along with a couple more glugs of rum…be generous, but don’t be too generous or it’ll all be a bit sloppy.

3. Make the cheesecake: Spoon the cheese mixture on top of the base and put it back in the fridge to set. If you’re short of time you can put it in the freezer, but don’t leave it there too long as it’s hard to eat when completely frozen! Garnish with some fresh mint leaves.

While you’re waiting for it to freeze, obviously you should make yourself several mojitos.

Sourcing these ingredients in Spain:
Some tips for finding cheesecake ingredients in Spain 🙂

Butter – mantequilla (Tulipan is margerine)
Philadelphia Original is sold in most supermarkets, I got the own brand version.
Condensed milk is easy to find and is called leche condensada. You could replace this with whipping cream too (nata para montar)
Limes in Spain are called lima. Now, in some Latin American countries they call limes ‘limon verde’ or even call lemons ‘lima’ so it can get confusing, especially if the fruit shop owner in Spain isn’t Spanish… limes don’t seem to be so common in Seville but I got mine from Mercadona.
Rum – ron. I recommend Negrita because its cheap and good quality.
Mint leaves – mente (or you can use hierbabuena which is sometimes easier to find)