Back to School September Blues

3 Sep

September is one of those months that makes me look forward to all things autumn/winter. Don’t get me wrong, I am a summer creature. I live for the sun – which is good because all year round, Spain has this in buckets (and spades)!

People often assume that I left England due to the weather but nothing could be further from the truth. I love the cold winter mornings, the multi-coloured leaves on the trees and the excitement of a nice warm week in Spring. In fact, I absolutely love visiting England in its winter months – gone are the pressures for it to offer me good weather, I just know it will be dark, cold, wet and windy. I don’t mind that at all.

My summer holidays this year were spent in one of the rainiest areas of the UK, the north side of the Lake District. Unusually, the temperatures were warm and the sun shone. Cool nights and fresh mornings, with beautiful blue skies and rich fluffy clouds floating around – England like this is just perfect.

My final days, however, saw the usual cooling down of temperatures and darker nights that inspire a nice glass of red, some cheese, a blanket and a good book. The heating and fire were a welcome member of the family; it was time to lock the doors and have a good chat at home.

Can you imagine my shock, then, when I returned to Madrid on September 1st to balmy 35 degree temperatures and the heating having been replaced with air conditioning. Shock TOTAL! Full of a cold within two days and my hearty soups replaced with gazpacho and salads. For me, this is just NOT September! Back to school/work means winter wardrobes and duvets. I walked home last night and was so warm that I had to stop half way and got a cold shower on arrival.

So, like the seasoned guiri that I am, I am embracing that Spain Is Different and that September is different now. Back to school no longer means blues; it means pool, party and picnics in the park. It might take some adjusting, but I am sure I will manage. A quick trip to the local pool this weekend will be a good first step.

Lake District, near Blencow. Proof that it was sunny during August!

Lake District, near Blencow. Proof that it was sunny during August!

 

Corremos por Boston

30 Apr

I’ve never been so proud as I was this weekend watching my boyfriend run the marathon. Touched by the Boston bombings, we were both very emotional watching the streams of people flocking through the streets of Madrid; fearless.

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What are you wearing…?

24 Apr

Since the warm spell has begun, I find myself constantly feeling like a guiri (a Spanish, slightly derogative, term for foreigners.)

I am wearing cool clothes: skirts, strappy tops and flip flops; while the Spanish are wearing scarves, hats and tights. ACTUALLY tights! I nearly spat out my ice cream today when I saw someone wearing pop socks under cropped trousers. Seriously, it’s 27 degrees. Whatever country you’re from, be you man or woman, you can afford to get three inches of your legs out and appreciate the heat.

Most of my Spanish colleagues agree. “It’s ludicrous” they cry, wearing three layers and a scarf, with the heating turned high.

Maybe one day I’ll convert and be that guiri that refuses to swim in the sea until it’s over 30 degrees or wears jeans when it’s over 50. Until then I’ll stick to what I know and continue with my guiri ways and much loved strappy tops and flip flops.

Here comes the sun doo doo doo doo

16 Apr

I returned from England on Sunday to beautiful weather in Madrid. It seems that we have five months of winter, two weeks of spring and autumn and six months of summer.

Makes a change from the 12 months of winter that England offers…

Spanish weekends mean food, drink and flamenco

18 Mar

Like any big city, Madrid is bursting with fantastic bars, cafes and restaurants. My local friends are worth their weight in gold as they are always keen to show me something new and more fantastic than the last.

Last weekend was no exception. I had managed to grab myself an invitation to an afternoon of homemade paella and drinks with a group of people from all over Spain. We began at a flat just near Sol, Madrid’s main plaza, and seven of us crammed round a little table to eat. The paella was huge and tasted magnificent; with squid rings, clams and all types of meat. I washed it down with a glass (or two) of my favourite Spanish white wine, Antonio Barbadillo (from the Jerez/Cádiz area), it’s mild and fruity and so tasty, yet easy on the purse – ideal for an afternoon like this.

The group was merry and getting restless by 6pm so we all headed out to get a coffee, or something a little stronger. We headed through Chueca and away from Malasaña, an are which has tons of chic places to drink and eat. We landed at a stunning bar in Calle San Mateo called Olé Lola.

Olé Lola Tasca and Chill, Madrid

Olé Lola Tasca and Chill, Madrid

Olé Lola opened in 2009 and definitely hasn’t lost its appeal. The flamenco style décor gives the place a feeling of boudoir and luxury, with hot reds and flashes of black in the artwork and seating areas. The theme has been carried out to perfection with Peinetas (traditional Spanish flamenco hair slides) painted on the chairs and even shaped into metal door handles. We were seated in a small room off the main bar with a huge wooden table and high chairs. The room was full of candles and candelabras heavily laden with dripped wax and the low-lighting gave it a feeling of evening, even in the middle of a sunny afternoon. There are numerous seating areas, from high tables to romantic slouching sofas.

Don’t get me wrong, the prices at Olé Lola reflect the décor. The evening and day prices differed but even at 7euros for a cocktail during the day, the price was still steep in comparison to traditional Spanish bars. The shorts were even more expensive; 10-12euros for a standard drink like vodka and coke made me wonder how a place like this could make money off the tourist track. However, it did feel like you were paying for an experience and not just a gorgeous drink. We all chose something different with most people opting for one of the stunning cocktails on offer. My favourite was a Raspberry Collin’s, which was a sweet Gin-based drink that included fresh crushed raspberries, lemons and sugar syrup. The wine selection was also fantastic, at just 3euros for a generous glass.

The image of the traditional Spanish peineta is used throughout the bar

The image of the traditional Spanish peineta is used throughout the bar

Olé Lola would be the ideal bar for a quick glass of wine after work, or for a romantic first date. The bar staff is a mixture of nationalities which is hard to find in Madrid and great for tourists that don’t want to be overwhelmed by the language. Tantalisingly close to the city centre, this bar is a great spot to get into the popular Gin culture that is happening in Spain at the moment, but also a modern twist on traditional style and iconography.

My conclusion: a magnificently modern Tasca is a mouthful of luxury, washed down with tasty traditional Spanish flavours.

http://www.olelola.com

Calle de San Mateo, 28
913 10 66 95

Bodegas Barbadillo: http://www.barbadillo.net/

Sod’s law is alive and kicking in Madrid

17 Mar

Six months into my time in Madrid, I have been blessed with more luck than most. A steady job, great friends and a fantastic standard of living is something I’ve managed to acquire in a relatively short period of time.

So, when my parents came to visit me for the first time I was exhilarated to show them the fantastic life I’m making for myself here, how amazing Madrid is and, contrary to their experience in large Spanish cities, that I’m safer here than in England.

They arrived on a Friday and were suitably impressed with my living arrangements. We went out on Saturday in glorious sunshine to the local market where they saw the myriad of delicious gastronomical offerings that I have on my doorstep. We stopped for a drink which was served with a delicious tapas, at half the price of the same drink in England. My overly cynical parents, who aren’t overjoyed at my move anyway, often claim that my new home city is ‘underwhelming’ so as you can imagine, I felt like I was winning.

My excitement was short-lived because before long my hopeful situation became unstuck. We went for lunch to a very popular tapas bar which serves mounds of tapas free with your drinks. We were treated to exquisite croquettes, patatas bravas and delicious red wine for just 20euros for four people. Again, I could see I was winning them over. The smug sense of victory was rising as I sat and watched my dad insist that we could stay for another drink and my mum, usually very fussy, was complimenting the range of food. I was giddy with excitement.

A pet hate of mine has always been the phenomenon in Spain of beggars coming to your table in restaurants and asking for something. So, when someone came to the table asking for a signature for a petition I was keen to shoo them away as quickly as possible. Being from a city myself, I have always been very safety conscious so, as I was dismissing this young boy, I kept a hawk eye on my SLR camera and handbag, which was full of cash for the day’s activities. He soon left and I felt extremely relieved that my parents hadn’t been too adversely affected by the experience.

It was only when I looked at the table and realised that something wasn’t right, my mum, panic-stricken, exclaimed, “I’m sure they just took something off the table, where is your phone?”

The blood drained from my face as I checked my pockets for my precious mobile and realised it was gone. Without thinking I stood up and began to run towards the exit; adrenaline coursing through my veins. I spotted him about to leave and somehow managed to catch up with him and grab him screaming in Spanish to give me my phone back. He obviously wasn’t Spanish and so I repeated it in English over and over until I felt the presence of my mum and boyfriend next to me. Not surprisingly, the thief looked terrified when my mum began to shout and without skipping a beat he took the phone from his pocket and handed it over.

I was white with shock, the man walked away and I was quizzed by a waiter about what had occurred. As I returned to the table I looked back at the door to see the thief being apprehended at the door and someone laying a punch on him that wasn’t worth any amount of money he could have got for my phone. The poor guy was obviously having a terrible day. I returned to the table and sat down, shaking; thinking about how It could have turned out very badly if the thief had been violent or worse, had escaped with my phone full of photos and memories. My dad, sitting calm as a coma, exclaimed that he’d done the most important thing by minding the bags for us in case it was a ploy to get all of our stuff.

I felt sick and would soon feel worse as my parents began to repeat all their stories of foreign scams and experiences of being robbed abroad. “Just like any big city, you have to be very careful all the time. Especially now you live here”.

I’ve spent 5 years living in and visiting Spain constantly and nothing has ever happened to me. I’ve never been robbed or felt in danger. I once withdrew money next to a group of 40 youths and didn’t even consider that it might be dangerous. I just don’t feel that way here and, even after this incident, I still don’t.

The worst thing is that I knew it would be something that my parents would take with them. A dark stain on their memory of my beloved new home, and it pained me. My dad thought the spanish were slightly badass for punching the guy and delivering some vigilante justice, but still, it made me realise that for all the time I’ve been here it just had to happen during their visit.

Sod’s law definitely exists and I got the rough end of the deal. Then again, I may have to live with my parents forever seeing my home as being a crime hotspot and doubting my choice to move, but at least I have my mobile back. Swings and roundabouts eh?

How to integrate when you move abroad

10 Jan

One of the biggest mistakes that foreigners make when moving abroad is only making friends with people from their own country. It’s all well and good to have a huge group of fabulous English friends/drinking buddies, but why bother moving abroad in the first place?!Image

I have seen so many foreigners leave Spain with no level of Spanish or any knowledge about the culture, spending their whole stay creating a little England in their part of Spain. Spanish people can be stubborn, aloof and downright judgmental but they are also some of the most loyal and welcoming people you’ll ever meet.

My advice is to get out of your comfort zone. Put yourself out there and make the effort to get to know the locals. It was the best thing I ever did and now they are some of my best friends, and my Spanish is a lot better for it too. Here is some advice to make getting to know the locals a little easier…

  • If you are about to move and have a decent grasp of the language then search for a place to share with Spanish people. Believe me, there is nothing that will make you learn quicker than having to sort out house-sharing politics in a different language! You’ll be able to get into the popular TV shows, hear about news that’s interested them and you can also cook for each other in turn. My ex-housemate made the best croquetas and used to cook them for me all the time! It is a brilliant way to learn the language and hopefully they will become great friends too.
  • Don’t have a very good level of Spanish? Try conversation exchanges (intercambios). You can meet locals that speak good English, get to know new places by meeting up somewhere different every time and find a ‘teacher’ that will be patient and keen to help you. A great website for Madrid is Lingobongo.com which advertises people that are keen to take part in intercambios. I have always had great experiences and have met some really good friends. What’s fantastic about intercambios is that you tend to meet people who are also keen to travel, live abroad and speak different languages, which means that you immediately have a lot in common. Whatever your Spanish level it is a sure-fire way to meet new people.
  • Put yourself out there! If you get chatting to a group of people in a bar, nightclub or just in the street then don’t be afraid to ask to meet up again. You must remember that the locals will have more friends and family around than you and so won’t be as keen to step out of their comfort zone and suggest a meeting. Spanish people, I have found, are also very laid back and so you might need to be the first to suggest meeting up and give them a nudge when you haven’t seen them for a while. Believe me, in my experience, it’s just part of the mañana attitude they’re famous for!
  • Invite your Spanish friends to join you and your English friends (as long as they have a decent level of English or vice versa for your English friends). They will quickly see themselves as more than an intercambio or housemate and you will solidify your relationship further. It also means that they will feel comfortable inviting you out with their friends, widening your group even further.

Just because you are abroad, please use the same safety rules that you would at home. If you are meeting a new person always make sure that people know where you are going and feel free to leave at any time if you are uncomfortable.

If you want any more advice on this then don’t hesitate to get in touch.