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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Evelyn´s travel review

Wednesday, 3 October
When I had woken up at 4.45 am, I didn't feel like travelling to some reason. I was anxious in a bad way as if I had forgotten to do something important, but I couldn't reason it. Our PE teacher Kadi and Lea´s husband Priit gave us a lift to the airport.
 At Tallinn Airport we had to rearrange our suitcases a bit because our hand luggage exceeded allowed 8kg. There weren't many people waiting after us, but still one man was so impatient and shouted about it. As it turned out later in Riga, we had to queue 7 hours together with this impatient passenger.  On our Tallinn-Riga flight the plane started to circle around Riga without landing. At one point we saw their TV tower strangely near the plane. Then the plane started quickly to ascend, our ears aching and then the captain announced that we were going to land at Kaunas airport instead.  Why we couldn't land at Riga, the captain told us after we had landed at Kaunas - there  was too thick fog in Riga. The captain as well as the cabin crew didn't inform people much what was going to happen next, but after an hour or so they said that we would go back to Riga as soon as possible. We sat in the aircraft and waited and waited. Cabin crew reassured that all departing flights from Riga delayed too and we should  be able to catch our Istanbul flight. When it was 12 noon I asked cabin crew about it again and they replied that we would still catch the flight. At the same time Piret received a text message from Kadi who had seen on the Internet that our flight departed at 11.50. At Riga Airport we walked straight to the transfer centre  where more and more people started to queue, about 20 people in front of us and a few hundreds after us. After an hour of waiting we realised that the queue wasn't moving at all - the same passenger was at the counter who had been there when we arrived. I tried to get information from other airport staff, but in vain. More and more people started to push in the queue which caused quite a chaos. Security was just standing there and watching, shrug their shoulders. Eventually we got information number to call and I was told that there was no chance to get to Istanbul the same day, we had  to stay overnight in Riga and take the first plane at 6am to Munich. At one point a woman seemingly of Indian-Pakistani origin started to stand in front of me, 8 passports in her hand. I told her politely to leave, she looked at me and told she had been standing there from the beginning. It made me upset and to my surprise I found myself shouting and calling for the security to make sure they send her at the back of the queue. When I was almost losing my patience, our students still found things to do at the airport and time went quickly for them. I hadn't experiences such ignorance for a long time. So we waited from 12.30pm till 6.30pm until we were given papers for our accommodation and transfer vouchers. We tried to get our luggage, waited till 9pm and then were confirmed that suitcases would go straight to Istanbul. We decided to leave as we thought we'd miss our dinner, the Air Baltic had promised to provide it in the hotel. The bus driver who took us to the Domina Inn hotel in the centre of Riga was very friendly and helpful and I spontaneously said: "Thank you, you are the only normal person we have met today." Later in the hotel the receptionist was surprised the airport had given us dinner vouchers as they weren't valid in their hotel. So we decided to go to the nearby shop and eat all together in the hotel room.   I tried to find tickets for Istanbul-Kayseri/Nevsehir and to find information whether Pegasus Airlines would offer us available seats on their next flight as some airlines kindly try to do. After several telephone calls, one bad news came after another.  The hotel was nice, just the tap water was totally brown. We noticed it after we'd had tea. Receptionist told he heard such complaint for the first time and explained there might have been digging works nearby. Strange.
Thursday, 4. October

We had to wake at 4am and start our journey back to the airport. The hotel gave us paper bags with breakfast. We had our breakfast at the airport before going through the security. First I went to Air Baltic desk to ask about our missing luggage and whether there would be enough time in Munich to catch 8.35 am flight to Istanbul, the flight we were given tickets to. She made some phone calls and confirmed everything was fine with both concerns of mine. I also asked about those things before boarding, again got affirmative answer. Lufthansa gave much better service - the staff seemed matter-of-fact and captain didn't make any false announcements like the day before. We were given another breakfast on board, too. Boys were a bit excited to see  the mountains in South Germany. In Munich we rushed to Lufthansa desk. The woman there was surprised we were given tickets to 8.35am flight as it was unrealistic to catch it. There had been just 35 minutes between 2 flights. She said we had to pick our luggage  in Munich too. When I said in Riga we were told not to, she started to make phone calls and said that our luggage seems to be lost, again. I started to feel that I was having enough of it all. I envisioned plan A how I had to buy new tickets for all 6 passengers  to fly back to Estonia or plan B to buy new tickets from Munich to Kayseri or plan C arrive in Nevsehir 2 days later and spend the next 2 days like homeless bums. Tears came to my eyes.  I felt so tired of airports and flying. Lufthansa employee started to take our case more seriously and made additional phone calls. As I understand German, it was good to hear that she could give us tickets for a later flight and our luggage was successfully tracked. She confirmed once again that we would get our luggage in Istanbul. I went to Turkish Airlines desk to ask about the domestic flights. I was told the cheapest was €1200 for 6 passengers, the same flight was €434 when I checked them in Riga. My sight went black. I couldn't believe just 8 hours had made them so much more expensive. So I went to the computer and luckily found a cheaper flight, but by that time it was almost boarding time.  I inserted all passenger names and dates of birth, bank details and at the very end got a message "Try again." Yet, money had been debited from my account. I didn't dare to try again and delegated this important task to my beloved person, Greg. So when we were on the plane we didn't know whether we can continue our journey from Istanbul or not. 

Teachers' mood was fluctuating. As there was nothing much to do on the plane, we started to make jokes about lots of things and life seemed brighter again. We were given cooked lunch - pasta with spinach. Boys also seemed to enjoy the flight. We flew over Romania, Slovenia, Bulgaria. For some time we flew in parallel with the Danaube River. The view from the plane over Istanbul was stunning - there was no doubt it has around 20 million inhabitants. First we saw lots of blocks of flats in the middle of empty land, but then the populated areas became more dense. We could also see how the Marmara Sea, the Golden Horn and the Black Sea surround Istanbul. We landed at Atatürk Airport. Atatürk means "the father of all Turks", president Mustafa Kemal was called so. He admired European lifestyle and culture and his visionary ideas changed Turkey into a contemporary, civil country. Osmans' way of writing was replaced by Latin letters when he was in power. Buildings and streets named in honour of him were everywhere. Passport check went quickly, suitcases appeared on the belt fast, but what we couldn't recognize were our suitcases. I went to the lost luggage office and the woman already asked whether we came from Riga. They were very surprised what had happened there. We got two packages with essential items, it contained a T-shirt, tootbrush and etc. Our next flight by Turkish Airlines to Nevsehiri was without problems. We were given a sandwich and two different  meze and a muesli chocolate. 

We arrived at Nevsehir Airport at 7 in the evening. One day later and instead of 3 flights, we'd had 5. It had rained, the air was humid and warm. Around us were bare mountains. I could smell unfamiliar plant in the air. The airport was very small. We were greeted by Gazi, some Turkish students, bus driver and a Spanish girl. Slowly I began to forget all the hassle in our journey, though it was a pity we had missed a chance to see their school, their great welcome show and the Red Valley, I was sure there was a lot to see and experience yet.  It took about half an hour to get to the hotel. At the  hotel - Seven Brothers, our students met their hosting teachers and students. We were very happy with the hotel, its interior was great. Though our room was rather small for 3 adults, it was a very good value for money.  We got ready for our first dinner together and as we still didn't have our luggage, we went to the dinner exactly the way we had arrived. 

 Thursday's dinner was at Topluzan Hun’ restaurant on top of the hill where we could have a magnificent view to the downtown in lights. First we ate different meze - appetizers with white bread: spicy tomato stuff,  flavoured yoghurt, mushrooms in cheese, eggplant and different cheeses. I chose to drink  ayran – cold salted buttermilk. We had kebab (Adana kebap) for main course. There were 3 choices for dessert, I chose rice pudding (Firinda sütlac). The highlight of the evening was when Özlem started to tell the fortune upon the Turkish coffee cup. I had to think of a wish and though it is a matter of interpretation or what you wish to hear, her sentences made sense to me.

Friday, 5. October
Breakfast in our hotel had lots of choice, but some foods tasted unusual and the next mornings I ate cucumber, tomato and cheese sandwiches. I was amazed to see locals prefer French fries for breakfast. They often had fries and rice together. My first Turkish tea was too strong. So I had a close look how locals had it poured and next time it tasted good. They drink it from a vase-shaped glass. After breakfast we went on a sightseeing tour by bus. From the bus window I could see brown fields, burnt from summer heat. The landscape was typical to a steppe, mountains in the background, few bushes and trees. We passed an old settlement Göre.

As agriculture plays an important role in the region, we could see lots of potato and pumpkin fields. Rye and other crops had been harvested and added golden brown colour to the scenery.  In one field people were picking strawberries. Also vineyards were common. Their vines are lower and without frames. The weather turned hotter every hour. I noticed how expensive petrol was - €1.80 per litre. Compared to Istanbul there weren't many cars on the roads. Our bus driver had a rather heavy foot - he was speeding quite a lot. First we made a stop to see St Theodore Greek church. Columns that could be turned around were used to predict earthquakes, in old times. This was our first tourist spot and we could see a little market nearby. We couldn't experience any aggressive ways of selling or advertising there. Actually all markets we visited were very pleasant where sellers weren't too pushy and gave you time to look around in your pace. They were willing to negotiate prices though. The sun was shining nicely and we didn't mind to stand and wait till we could enter the Derinkuyu underground city. 

The underground city was created to give shelter up to 20 000 people. It had 8 floors where on top floors stables, wine press and big dome were located. Big millstones in the middle of the walls operated as doors which could be opened only from inside to protect people from invasion. The whole complex is 60 meters deep. We saw its "school", dining room with long stone tables. It also had churches and baptizing baths. At times we had to crawl as the passage was so low. There are 36 different underground towns discovered today in Cappadocia. These forms of homes enabled the Hittites to practice Christianity and escape from persecution and later to protect themselves from the Arab raids in 6th and 7th century. 

Our next stop was by the volcanic lake. We had our first group photo taken there. Driving to Ihlara valley offered breathtaking views. People still live in houses partly carved into rock. The little town reminded me an old Greek village. The road went up and down the hill - our bus driver  must have been a former race car driver to pass the route so fast. When we arrived, we were given nice red juicy Turkish apples. In Estonia we can buy the same sort, except they are imported, not so fresh and juicy and  they are rather expensive. We took a walk to Ihlara valley. It is 150 meters deep, created by the Melendizi River. 

There we could see a cave church where 12 prophets were depicted in brownish-orange colours. We walked about 3 kilometres along the river and reached an area where lots of river cafes were. We saw a Turkish woman making a similar pancake to gözleme - thin bread stuffed with goat cheese. It was tasty, but the goat cheese was a bit too strong to my liking. Then we had lunch in a kebab place. We could choose between 5 mains. I chose fish, naturally. It was quite tasty, especially I enjoyed different types of meze. Green salad with pomegranate syrup was very yummie. For dessert we were served melon and it attracted lots of hornets. Unlucky Gazi got bitten on his lip. After lunch teachers gathered in the river cafe and we had a bit of project talk. We didn't reach mutual agreements very easily, but at least something became clearer.

Next we were taken back to Nevsehir to visit its biggest mosque Kursunlu. We all sat on the carpet and listened to local imaam talking about Islam. I wished to understand more of what he was saying. I liked the way his voice echoed in the mosque, without understanding what his talk was about, his prayer sounded soothingly. We learned that a true Muslim prays at least 5 times a day. The first call for prayer on that day was at 5.10 and the last at 19.44. I was surprised that a real person in every mosque reads the call for prayer, I had assumed they use recorded version. Only imperial mosques have more than 1 minaret. The Koran has 600 pages. Then we walked through the center of Nevsehir which reminded me Catania., in Sicily.  There were  many shops, especially tailor shops where we could see men sewing.

Next we drove to Avanos to have dinner in Kavi Restaurant which lies by the longest river in Turkey - the Red River. The Restaurant had a very cozy atmosphere. As Avanos is famous for its pottery, the restaurant had lots of crockery and pottery items on display, too. We sat outside on the terrace, the river flowing fast by. Evening was getting chillier. Daily + 28 degrees was only +15 in the evening. Again our dinner started with appetizers and bread which reminded me Georgian bread that we sometimes buy in Estonia. I chose to drink ayran. As we had had every lunch and dinner, we ate yoghurt soup again. Yogurt corbas. Main course was interesting. It was cooked in a pottery, covered by a lid made from dough. It was a beef stew with peppers. Burnt bread was hit off by a knife and content poured into a bowl. It was my favourite dish on this trip. We got dried figs and apricots with sesame-honey sauce for dessert.

After dinner we drove to watch whirling dervish men. First we were shown a great video introducing Turkish history and culture. Its vision was in great harmony with sound. We watched this video in an open courtyard, bats flying above us. It was nice to enter a heated indoor room where the show began. First 4 musicians entered the room. They bowed in four directions. They were very serious and focusing. It created a similar atmosphere as in mosques, made me realize what we were about to see was something sacred where tourists shouldn't talk to each other nor laugh or take photos. Audience behaved accordingly. Then 6 other men appeared, black gowns thrown over white costumes, wearing tall woollen hats. One man kept his black gown, the others took them off before whirling. I wished to get more information about this religious ritual performance. Music, their voices and meditating whirling affected me in its own way, where I suddenly  felt I had no past and no future. My mind was empty and it was a good feeling as if all what wasn't important had vanished from my mind. I fell asleep in the middle of the performance.

Saturday, 6. October

I woke up at 5am. In a few minutes the call for prayer would have woken me up anyway. It was said there are 80 mosques in Nevsehir. I imagined how on a sleepy morning 80 men have reached mosques to read their call for prayer and how any lively souls in the streets were   most likely going to a mosque. At 7 we had to be ready for Göreme Natural Park. It was a lovely morning, windless and sunny - perfect for our ride on a hot air balloon. My first glimpse  from the bus to tens of balloons arising into the air was as Turkish say “Vai-Vai”. Gazi said the first flight had been at 7  and all together there had been 175 balloons in the air on that morning. Amazing! It was difficult to believe our Turkish hosts had included such activity into our schedule. We watched our balloon landing in the middle of rocks, people got off and we stepped into the rectangular basket. Gas balloons were quickly changed and there we were - ready to go. I think there were about 15 people in our basket. The flight took about 30 minutes and it was enough to observe the surrounding and enjoy the views. At one point the balloon kept descending even though the pilot released the gas all the time. We could see kilometers of  landscape over Cappadocia, its old sharp volcanic  rocks. Cappadocia by the way means the land of beautiful horses.

It seemed as if somebody had poured lots of sand, white cream onto the hillsides, had erected sharp columns and thrown red stone into one area. We landed on a field where we were offered an orange cocktail and certificates of attendance. Next we headed back to the hotel to have breakfast together with students and then we returned to the same Göreme open air museum. Christians who had hidden themselves from the Arabs called Göreme “Gör emi”, which means "you can't see this place". There was mystery involved indeed. First we made a stop in Uchisari on top of the hill by the fort. Its local market attracted us with its fresh produce, souvenirs and nuts. We walked down the hill, passing narrow old streets and saw lots of great cafes, restaurants, hotels. It was a tourist location without doubt, but the high season had seemingly ended for this year
We also passed a Caveman Moulin Rouge cafe. It was a 7-storey house in a cave. Maria Jose gave us a treat with Turkish tea and coffee. Cafe owner said he had run a hotel in the same cave 10 years ago and also had a jewellery shop. Then we reached the heart of Göreme open air museum. We had a walk into its caves, churches and other rooms on our own. Then we heard thunder a few times and it started to rain little bit. Our lunch took place again  in a lovely restaurant. We had similar appetizers and yoghurt soup as the days before, the main course this time was a beef stew with fries. After dinner we had a quick visit to the winery Turasan.
 Our next stop took us to the fairy chimneys.
Near Ürgüp there were three fairy chimneys together. We took lots of photos there. There was also a little souvenir market near there.  We experienced how difficult it  was to cross the road even though there were zebra crossings. Ürgüp is considered to be the center of Turkish winemaking and a few weeks ago they had celebrated annual wine festival there. 

 Then our bus stopped near a camel-shaped rock at Derventis. We walked between the rocks and enjoyed the views. Our joruney continued to Pasa Paglari. where we saw the highest fairy chimneys. After completing the bus tour in Göreme, we headed to Avanos to visit a pottery. A local handicraftsman showed how a pottery item is made. Its crockery and  pottery on sale was very beautiful and of high quality. I noticed similar style that Gazi had given as presents to me. Sten and Gazi tried their hand on pottery making. We were watching and drinking delicious apple tea (Elma Cay) at the same time. From next door we bought pomegranates. Around 8 teachers were taken to attend a Turkish night - dinner with Turkish music and dances. Male teachers sat on a higher ground and women lower. The Turkish teacher joked about that we women, were their harem. Some teachers tasted raki, anise spirit. Our main course was chicken or lamb, I chose latter. There were lots of different dances and costumes originating from different parts of Turkey. We also were shown a belly dance and some rituals from a Turkish wedding. It seemed that Muhsim had something got to do with it that I was chosen to perform the bride's role. Later our Comenius team danced all together. When we reached the hotel Muhsim gave a nice speech. It was 1am. During those 3 days I got a very strong impression that their teachers had done a brilliant teamwork, were hard-working, fun, sincere, who supported each other in good and difficult times.

Sunday, 7 October
In the morning by 8 some Turkish teachers had gathered in our hotel to see us off. It was a pleasure to meet Gazi's wife. Without exceptions all Turkish people we had met on our travel were  nice, helpful, sincere and easy to get on with. Their values seem to be in harmony and the way they emphasize their country and culture is not just pure patriotic, but seems reasoned. I was also surprised to see the economical part. I expected to find Central Turkey more conservative, old-fashioned, but instead we saw they have had a massive building boom too. Their way of business seems to be conducted with the same principles as in Europe. Streets weren't that polished as in some parts of Europe, but this is what makes discovering such areas more interesting. Of course I can never approve seeing rubbish in the nature or people smoking in public areas without considering fellow citizens or hectic traffic where it seemed to be difficult to be a pedestrian or a cyclist, but again it wouldn't make sense to travel if we expect to see everything that we are used to. Noticing differences is what makes our values stronger and makes us work more to change things for better.  On our way to Kayseri Airport we saw the highest peak in Cappadocia - Erciyese mountain. Kaysri left a very nice impression, there were lots of parks, flowers, playgrounds, wide streets. The town was still sleepy and traffic was little. Though Kayseri is the biggest town in the region, its airport was small. Planes departed every 2 hours or so. We had to go through the security to enter the airport and then for the second time before boarding.

Our flight with Pegasus Airlines went comfortably and quickly. An hour of flying and already we landed in Istanbul Sabinha Göcken Airport. At the information desk we were suggested to take a taxi, because our hotel was on the way to the centre, but it was impossible to find or order a bigger taxi for 6 passengers. So we took one of those modern air-conditioned buses, drove over Bosporus bridge and got to Taksim Square. This bridge was opened in 1973 when Turkey celebrated its 50th year as a republic. Bosporus bridge is 1074m long and the 9th longest suspension bridge in the world. On our way to the center, the bus seemed to drive 130 kmph, changing the lanes was chaotic. We could see lots of new houses. A man in the tourist office spoke good English, but couldn't tell us the best way how to get to the hotel or where was the nearest left-luggage office. It seemed we would have spent all our day for travelling to the hotel and back, so we decided to find a place to leave our luggage till evening. I asked about it from a nearby restaurant and a man there told he would take our luggage and keep it in his restaurant. I asked about the price, he replied: "I want nothing". It sounded very untrustworthy to us. When he heard we were from Estonia, he shouted with joy that his girlfriend was from Estonia too. I asked what her name was, he said: "Inga". An Estonian name indeed. So we left our suitcases there and went for a walk from Taksim to Galata bridge.

Streets were totally crowded. We saw a lot of riot police, special buses and vans, policemen with bullet-proof shields, but the atmosphere was peaceful. Later we saw about 20-30 protestants. The meaning of their slogans was unclear to us. There were many street vendors selling chestnuts. Their smoky smell followed us till Galata when it got replaced by raw fish as there were tens if not hundreds of fishermen on the bridge, fishing rods hanging in long line. The Golden Horn had many sightseeing and cruise ships. We also saw vendors selling Turkish ice cream (Sahlepi dondurma). Wild orchids make this ice cream sticky and flexible to stretch up to 60cm.  Similar to chewing gum. We should have tried it, but at first we kept walking and later we had had other sweets. Some vendors sold pies (börek) and rings with sesame seeds called simi. Eventually we reached a mosque we thought was the Blue Mosque, but in fact it was Süleymaniye Camii. It was designed by the greatest architect in Osman Empire named Sinan in 1550-1557 for Süleyman I. The big building complex has different medreseis (religious schools), hamams (baths), hospital, and karavanserais (guesthouses). Süleyman and his wife Roxelana are bruied nearby. Roxelana was believed to be of Russian origin.  

On our way back to Taksim we walked through Great Bazaar (Kapali Carsi). We didn't reach its very central part, but got an idea of its size and types of goods being sold. Then we reached The New Mosque (Yeni Cami Meydani). Construction started in 1597 and was completed by 1663. By 8 in the evening we were back in Taksim in Meat and Fish restaurant. We decided to have dinner there and the waiting staff gave us a very good service. Considering the little bill we got, they must have given all appetizers and drinks and desserts on the house. Similarly as at the market, we attracted more customers. When we were there at lunchtime, the restaurant was empty and when we went there in the evening, there was not a single customer, but as soon as we sat down at the table, customers started to come in.  At the underground station it was difficult to buy tickets because the machine was broken, but eventually it was repaired. I was surprised to see that a small lift took people to the metro - in such a busy area as Taksim. Underground lines weren't as busy as you would expect from a metropol.  We had to take another journey by bus. This didn't go so  smoothly. First I had to ask for help to find out which bus goes to our hotel. Luckily there were people who spoke English. When we entered the bus, the bus driver told we had tickets enough for 3 passengers, not 6, though we had bought from the kiosk for 6. There was quite a fuss about it as we refused to get off and other people wanted to get on. At last a man in uniform came and after a bit of explaining, he let us into the bus.

On our way to the hotel we say illuminated Bosporus Bridge and Istanbul in lights. Our hotel was a new one and nice as you would generally expect from a Holiday Inn ones.


Monday, 8 October
At 9 in the morning I made a phone call to the boys' room and pretended I was calling from the reception. I spoke in Estonian. Sten was rather shocked and asked me at breakfast how come staff in that hotel could speak Estonian without accent. After breakfast we walked to Kapitol shopping centre to catch a bus to Taksim. It was impossible to buy bus tickets again so I had to offer 25 lires to a woman and ask her to use her transport card to let us to the bus. Again there was a bit confusion and some other passengers were waiting for us, but it was nice some people bothered to help us and we got to Taksim. From there we took an airport bus. Atatürk Airport was nearer to the centre than the other airport. We arrived early. Our return flight was uneventful in a good way. We arrived in Tallinn on time and were welcomed by rainy and chilly weather. My suitcase was very smelly - one of the wine bottles was broken, but not Baltic Air or weather could break my memories about the hospitality and sights we experienced in warm Turkey. .

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Partner schools

ESTONIA: Kehtna Primary School is situated in the village of 1,200. There are no big towns nearby, although the capital Tallinn is just 60km to the north. We are surrounded by forests, bogs, farmland and therefore paying extra attention to nature studies and the environment is important to us. We are a school of the Green Flag and a Health-Concious school. There are 155 students and 20 teachers in our school. Students are aged 7-17.

ITALY: Liceo Classico "Megara" con sezione scientifica annessa is a secondary school for students aged 14-19. It mainly offers three different courses for classical, scientific and social science studies. The school mainly serves students from Augusta. Our school is located in a very important area for its nature, history, archaeology and tourism. Our suburban town of Augusta is very near to Siracusa, one of the oldest and most important Greek colonies in Sicily. Our students are all members of "Legambiente" which is a national leading environmental organization which offers educational programs in schools. We live by the sea and our area is very rich in waterways, rivers and ponds.

FRANCE: College Claude Bernard is in a suburban city (Grand-Quevilly) with about 30,000 inhabitants. A town with 400,000 people called Rouen is near to us. The area has little industry nowadays following the closure of the chemical factories and the Renault car plant.

TURKEY: Tepeköy Ilkögretim Okulu is a public school serving children aged 7-15, starting from pre-school till the 8th grade. It is a rural school and caters for 226 students and 18 teachers. Our school is in Nevsehir (Cappadocia Region), being situated in agricultural region. Our region does not have sufficient water resources and we need to focus on environmentally-friendly options.

SPAIN: IES Concepcion Arenal is a secondary education centre located in Ferrol, a town with 70,000 inhabitants in the region of Galicia (north-west of Spain). There are 85 teachers and 700 students in compulsory (12-16 years old), post-compulsory (16-18 years) part and in vocational training.