3 days in Tenerife – What to do

Bank holiday. A long week-end ahead and no plan in sight? Been there.

Luckily for me, my friend was asking herself the same thing, and between two (bright) heads, we came up with this: let’s go to Tenerife!! Being the cost-effective girls that we are, we found a nice offer: flight, decent hotel in a nice place, whole (very touristy) package.

Arriving in Tenerife, we took the guagua to the Acantilado de los Gigantes, and on the way we congratulated ourselves for not going for the popular spots. Personally, I think the very touristy beaches do not do Tenerife justice.

And then, looking up for things we can do, this beauty appeared irresistible. Teide mountain. And instead of spending a quiet evening “at home”, and a quiet day on the rocky beach, we decided to go see the sunrise on top of the highest Spanish peak. You need to know that only a certain number of visitors get to go on the top of the Teide, you need a permit (it’s free, but you have to book in advance), but if you spend the night at the refuge you get a free pass before 6:00AM.

Said and done. A taxi to the starting point can set you back about 60 euros, but it was totally worth it. I forgot to say people are so incredibly nice in Tenerife, so if you speak a bit of Spanish go for it, you won’t be disapointed. Who have seen a taxi driver stopping on the way several times, just to make sure we are not missing the beauty of the day, and who had seen a taxi driver going on a mini-expedition to find the perfect volcanic lava rocks and pine-cones, without being asked!! And further more, he offered to take it back to the hotel with him, no need to carry a stone to the top, he said.

Enough words for now, here are some pics taken on the way… how can you not love it?

Isle of Gomora rising from the cloudsImage

Mighty Teide (I have this pic on my phone and I can’t get enough of it).Image

Let’s get back to our route: you can go by car until the 40,2 km of TF-21. From there you have to go on foot until the Altavista refuge, and spend the night. It’s very well marked, it is impossible to get lost.

We have seen several info pages, and they all say you need to hike for about 4 hours. Nope. 2,5 hours are more than enough to get to the refuge, at a leisurely pace. The last hour becomes more difficult, as the path is quite steep, but practically anyone can do it. And you will be so wrapped in the scenery, you won’t realize the time passing.

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While hiking, it’s all warm and nice. Don’t get yourself fooled though, up there at 3260m the wind is ruthless.Image

The refuge is cozy, lots of beds and lots of very nice people. I always wonder why the hikers are so nice… must be the clean air they ingest… Oh, and Wifi!! After all, you have to brag to your friends you are about to conquer Teide.

At 4,30AM, everyone is up. Breakfast and off we go. Oh, you need a lantern, since you are climbing to see the sunrise, you climb in the dark…

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seems pretty obvious, but it was not for us until we stepped outside the refuge :). Luckily, did I mention there are lots of nice people? We got one right away!

A tough 1,5h hike later, we were at the top! Come on, sun, rise, we are freezing our a…….s off!! The wind is almost unbearable, but from place to place the volcano is spitting hot air. Don’t put your frozen hands directly onto the hot air as I did, it hurts…

But once the sun is up, you forget the wind, you forget the tired legs, and just enjoy the view… the sun on one side, and the volcano’s shadow projecting onto the sea at the other. Unforgettable!

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And if you’re lucky, Gran Canaria island appears from the clouds

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You can use the rest of the day visiting the north of the island, it’s so different from the south, all green and nice!! And then go back to the hotel and sleep like a rock. Not much action by night in September anyway.

Next day is the last, so what to do, what to do… whale watching sounds nice… Just ask the hotel,don’t worry, they are so nice people they will always advise you the best option (not the most expensive).

Go to the Maritima (the harbour), get your boat, and go see the whales (if you’re lucky, dolphins, too, we were not lucky), and the beautiful landscapes.

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DISCLOSURE: the canary islands whales are not huge, so if you’re expecting a beast, well, lower your expectations. They are very friendly though, and not at all shy.

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And last but not least… a dip in the ocean!!

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After this, we dried, we took the luggage on the way, and off to the airport we go!! But I was left with great memories, the most impressive sunrise I have seen in my life, I learned (all the) people can be funny and so nice for no reason. Not to mention me and my friend were in sync. All in all, 3 days perfectly spent.

 

Mandarin Summer Program at BLCU

Thinking about the endless nights of google-ing when I knew I wanted to spend my summer studying Chinese (my newest shiniest hobby), I decided to post my own perspective on the matter. The matter being the Chinese Summer Training at BLCU (Beijing Language and Culture University).

It is very subjective, of course, but there are things I wished someone would blog about.

Is it worth it?

Some say it’s great, some say it’s s**t. The truth is, as always, somewhere in the middle. If you want to go home with a significant level of Chinese, you need to study study study. Sure, some teachers are not that great (mine was fantastic, though), but in general by participating in Class and get some homework done, you’ll learn a great deal of Chinese. Truth being said, it’s quite easy getting distracted, but in the end, loosing yourself on the streets of Beijing can help a great deal – very few people speak another language besides Chinese. Even if you don’t study that much, just going to classes helps a great deal.

Getting in:

Fill in the forms and e-mail them, that is pretty much what the require. Then wait patiently for the letter. It will come, eventually.

Accommodation

Now I think it is pretty easy, but I know from experience it can be pretty confusing. The best option (in my opinion, of course) is the International Student House, or Building 17. Why? It is right outside the campus door, which means more liberty. It is slightly more expensive that the average dorm, but no curfew, hot water all the time, some ladies cleaning the rooms every morning (some mornings against your will :). Dorm 17 can fill up quite early, so try and book a room ASAP (once you have the letter from BLCU). For the single room they’ll say it’s not possible, no more rooms available, etc, but don’t give up easy. Complaining and wining is the most efficient form of getting things. If you can’t get one single, the double room is not that bad. They will assign you a roommate sooner or later (mine was later, thank god!). When you call, best to have near you a Chinese speaker friend, if not, it will become pretty soon a tragicomedy, but in the heat of the moment, it will look more like a horror story. I know a couple of people who did not book and just showed up looking convinced they did reserve a room, and they got the most-wanted single room, but it’s a lottery you can very well loose.
I stayed in Dorm 17, so I can only say about the other dorms what I heard from others. There are some with the showers outside the building (can’t imagine going out for a shower in the winter), or with a guard outside watching the time, and if you break the curfew 3 times you’re out, and so on. Other than that, I imagine they’re fine. And quite cheaper.

Eating

BLCU diner is cheap, very cheap, and the quickest solution to get a rapid, greasy meal. There are some restaurants and cafes in the same building, but significantly more expensive. My favorite place for lunch? The U-Center (shopping mall across the street) cafeteria, they have the best noodles I had in my life, for 1,5 Euros a (huge) bowl.

Level test

classroom

When you show up you will have to pass a level test, which is quite accurate. Bear in mind you will be in the same classroom with 20 other people and each of you have to speak “publicly”. The teacher asks all of them one by one and start asking questions in Chinese, gives you some texts to read, and that’s it. But if you’re shy, start preparing. Once you start classes, if you are not happy with the level, you can always switch (with teacher’s approval).

Classes

I studied Chinese for 6 month before going to BLCU, and I got to be in level B. I was very proud of myself for that, but it lasted quite little. To my initial shock, the teacher came in and started to speak at normal speed (which for me was terribly fast), only in Chinese. My first impulse was: What am I doing here???? Bear for a while before running to switch to the lower level, after a couple of days it gets better. I learned a great deal, even if at first I was absolutely terrified of the poker faced teacher, and I will always remember her well.

Colleagues

Mostly students, coming from all over the world, mostly in their (very) early 20s, and in my case, they knew a great deal compared to me. It was quite frustrating at first, until I found out most of them have been studying for at least 2 years. So don’t hurry in beating yourself up that others seem to pick up quicker than you. Chances are they already studied that, but they are in the same level as you, so head up.

Trips

The Summer program lasts for 4 weeks. First week-end is normally a trip to the Great Wall. Packed with tourists and students, but still stunning. Don’t forget to charge the camera!! And it’s a good opportunity to eye people and make some friends. Most of the students are by themselves, so they are as eager as you to bond.

great wall

Then, for the other free week-ends, they organize trips. In my case it was Inner Mongolia (a Chinese province) and Datong caves,

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and the other to the Shaolin Temple.

shaolin

They are quite cheap, well organized, and allow you to see a bit outside Beijing, and make some friends outside the classroom. Very touristy though, which I guess is fine for the average 20 years old student.

Going out

Propaganda and Sensation are two twin discos 5 minutes away from Dorm 17, and quite popular as well. Wu is a good option, and if you fancy a western bar, Helen’s is right outside Sensations. This is for the every-day party scene, for a more posh and no-students areas, San Li Tun Village is Beijing most popular party scene.

Personal advices:

Have some notions of Chinese when you arrive, otherwise ordering at KFC can be a nightmare, not to mention the shock when you realize almost no one speaks English.
Make the most of the sunny days! There is a huge difference seeing the Summer Palace on a normal contaminated dark-grey fog, and on a sunny day.
If you are in your 30s, like me, you will find yourself surrounded with very young people who will look at you with wide eyes, while imagining you with a walking stick. Never-mind the age gap, you can meet great people and make life lasting friends.
Don’t be afraid to interact with locals. Young Chinese are eager to interact as well, we had the best days with our new Chinese friends we met on the street while asking for directions. And what can be better than a cultural exchange in your broken Chinese mixed with their broken English?
Try not to party EVERY night, and most important of all, try not to skip classes. Even if you will find very few moments to study outside classroom, the mere fact of being in there helps a great deal in improving your language skills.
And most of all, HAVE FUN! It’s been a great experience, I will always remember it with a smile on my face.

P.S. It’s 3 AM, so please be gentle with my grammar or spelling mistakes. :). Any doubts or questions, happy to help.