Six Years in Spain – Six Posts You Can’t Miss

Six years ago, my 90-day student visa was cancelled as I stepped off the plane in Madrid’s Barajas airport. Happy Spaniversary to me!

Somehow, in the span of six years, my blog has gone from a little pet project to being a story of sticking it to El Hombre, of carving out a space in my little Spanish burbuja and learning to embrace my new home. People know my Spain story…or so they think.

Want to know something? My first year was hard.

And so was the second and third.

And then I couldn’t figure out how to stay in Spain legally and make enough to support my tapas and traveling habits.

Just recently, my group of guiritas and I were talking about how we all finally, finally – after four, six or even eight years – feel settled in Spain. I’ve written before about how I feel like I have a life in two places, like I can’t be 100% present in either, and that choosing one over another would be extremely painful.

I’ve made Seville my home, but it’s been like the prodigal rollercoaster – highs bring elation, lows bring the dark storm clouds of depression. During six years in Spain, I’ve weathered homesickness, disappointment, rejection, a break up. I’ve cried with friends over Skype when their loved ones have died, gotten teary when getting the news when amigas have married or had kids, and I’ve missed it.

Today, as I celebrate six years living in the land of sunshine and siestas, I’m actually reminded of the times where I’ve had to grit my teeth or scream or curse the Spanish government for their inefficiency.

Think you know the girl behind this blog? If you haven’t read from the beginning, you may not know the whole story.

Year One

I arrived to Spain on September 13th, 2007 and promptly toppled over, the weight of my bags way too much to handle (and before I got weighed down by solomillo al whiskey and torrijas). This was, in many ways, a taste of what was to come: stumbling, falling, laughing about it, and getting up again.

While it was the direction I wanted to take after college, I felt utterly alone in Spain. I came without knowing anyone, with little Spanish and no idea what to expect in my job. The first few weeks were trying, and I was ready to up and go home. Meeting Kate and Christine, two guiris with whom I’m very close, changed everything (thankfully). When I read the following post, of how lonely and depressed I was, I cringe. What a difference a year (or five) makes. read: Sin Título.

Year Two

Believe it or not, my second year in Spain was tougher than the first. Yes, I spoke more Spanish and, yes, I had the abroad thing more or less figured out. But it was the year that the Novio started going to Somalia for long months with no phone contact, the year that I had serious doubts about a life in Spain and the year I almost went home forever…that was the intention, anyhow. Oh, and I got hit by a car, too.

But by far the worst was the fact that my ugly American was creeping in. I was discriminated against for jobs, told my Spanish was absolute kaka and got taken for tonta. Apart from my personal doubts, I was so sick of the sevillanía that had me feeling like an outcast. read: Hoy Me Quejo De.

Year Three

My third year in Spanilandia was by far the most fun – loads of great fun with close friends, traveling to Morocco and Prague and Budapest, finally coming to terms with my two years in Spain. I was determined it would be my last, but it was just the beginning. The Novio and I rekindled our romance not even 12 hours off the plane, and I decided he was worth staying in Spain for. As I tearfully said goodbye to my students at IES Heliche, I was faced with the problem of how to keep living in Spain legally.

I figured out a way to skirt around stupid government regulations in what has been my proudest moment to date. Getting a last-minute appointment o renew my NIE number and lying through my teeth, I could breathe easier knowing that the Spanish government would come knocking on my brother-in-law’s door if I ever got in trouble. Suckers! read: Breaking Rules and Breaking Down.

Year Four

My fourth year of Spain seemed to have everything turn around: I got a steady job, I moved in with the Novio and I had a great group of friends. I was no longer an auxiliar, traveling on the weekends and botelloning around the city. Just when I began to feel comfortable, I was faced with making loads of grownup decisions about a stable future in Spain (with a pleasant surprise!). read: What a Week.

Year Five

For six years, I’ve made a living teaching people my native tongue. After three school courses as a language and culture assistant with the government, I scrambled to find a job, register for a social security number, and then learn the politics of working at a private school. While the gig provided me with the financial support I needed and a steady job, I soon realized it wasn’t for me. After two years, I had to say goodbye to a job that I enjoyed, forcing me to realize that I was an adult and I would have to make tough decisions every once in a while.

I miss my kiddos all the time, but still get some contact hours at my academy while playing the admin role as the Director of Studies (no, I do not blog full-time). read: Saying Goodbye.

Year Six

Alright, I’m a hag and I admit it. Cautiously optimistic after a few years of disappointments and setbacks in Spain, sure, but my ornery abuelita card has come out recently as I start to get annoyed with Seville. Don’t get my wrong, it is the ciudad de mi alma, but as with any city, there are things that drive me absolutely insane.

If it weren’t for wearing a tight flamenco dress once a year and the cheap beer, I’d be out. As my dear sevilliamericana la Dolan says, ‘La sevillanía me mata y me da vida.’ read: Jaded Expat: Four Things I Dislike About Living in Seville.

My Spanish life is just that: life. I pay taxes and get unemployment benefits, I have car payments, I have a house to clean (dios do I miss my señora). I’m a young professional living for the weekend, traveling when I can, and taking the good with the bad. Since the beginning, I fought to have raíces here not because I’m afraid of failing, but because I feel like it’s where I am meant to be right now.

What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced while living abroad?  

Shooting My First Wedding: Andrea y Carlos

I’m a sucker for a good love story. Maybe it’s the midday hours watching Spain’s answer to Lifetime: Television for Women, but having been in a relationship for the last 5.5 years, I find myself seeing myself settle down, and for real this time.

I especially love the stories when people have overcome language barriers, visa issues, and the naysayers. When a fellow blogger married her gatidano boyfriend a few years ago, I loved his English vows, claiming that a bilingual relationship is twice as enriching, twice as fun. I wholeheartedly agree. How great is making Thanksgiving for your extended family or teaching one another idioms and swear words?

I’m just one of many who have fallen in love abroad and who fumbled in Spanish for love, so when my friend Andrea called me and asked if I’d be interested in photographing her wedding to her sevillano, Carlos, I jumped at the opportunity. Being another guiri-sevillano couple it was a pleasure to help them capture their special day that was full of laughs and a ton of love. Like the Novio’s family, Carlos’s relatives have really embraced Andi and their bilingual love.

I spent hours researching shots, looking for interesting places around Triana and Plaza de España to take pictures of the pair, and testing lighting in the venue. When I turned in the pen drive with 5.8GB of photos, video and touched up shots, Andrea and Carlos told me that they would be delighted if I shared them. Shooting a couple that was in love and looking forward to their new life in Maine was such a pleasure, and I was flattered that they asked me and Camarón to join in.

I had loads of fun shooting Andrea and Carlos’s wedding, from Andi’s hair appointment into the wee hours of the morning. If you’re looking for someone to shoot special events, get in contact with me at sunshineandsiestas[at]gmail.com

Seville Snapshots: Love Locks in Florence, Italy

Actions always speak louder than words, right?

I mean, I teach English and I know more idioms than I would ever need to know, but my knees goes all jelly and my heart melts when I see random acts of kindness or unnoticed displays of affection on the street.

During our recent trip to Florence and Bologna, where we chose tagliatelle over tourism, we stopped at the Ponte Vecchio, one of my favorite parts of the city. I’ve long loved bridges and the chalky colors of the jewelry shops perched on top of the stone bridge are no exception.

On my first trip to Florence four years ago, I saw the bridge at night. The cobblestone was slick with rain, and I was in a hurry to meet my couch surfing host for a glass of wine. This time around, the Novio had forgotten his sunglasses and we squinted at one another as we walked arm and arm from the Uffizi Galleries.

Like us, love locks were arm-in-arm with the wrought iron of the statue on the bridge. In a city in close proximity to the Eternal one, eternal love was scrawled in permanent marker across heart-shaped ones, small luggage ones, and the type I had on my locker in high school. Cheesy, maybe, but a testament to love in one of the most romantic places I’ve ever been to.

Do you like love locks, or are you against them? Where have you seen them around the world?

Romantic Ideas for Valentine’s Day in Seville

If my children ever ask me how their father and I met, I won’t have much to tell (drunken exchange in a bar).

The real romance is how we fell in love and where we did it.

Take a dashing Spanish hombre with a job as a fighter pilot and impeccable English, and set the story against Spain’s most romantic city, Seville, and it’s easy to see why I felt trapped in a fairytale with acento andalú and no talking animals. Truth be told, we fell in love over beers at a typical Spanish tavern, sharing a plate of stewed bull’s tail, but our first year of dating felt romantic given the beauty of Seville and it’s most famous lover, Don Juan Tenorio.

As a city marked by bandoleros, kings, Moors and Christians, Seville is architectural eye candy for even the most hardened heart. Quaint plazas are hidden away under the shade of orange trees, sidled up to soaring churches from the 16th century. There’s a steady hum of chatter spilling out of bars as sevillanos have their afternoon glass of fino, a dry sherry that matches well with brine-soaked olives. Sunlight glints off of fountains during the day. whereas the twilight affords a dressing up of monuments, flooded with light.

But southern Spain’s capital is all feeling and less seeing: haunting flamenco chords echo through empty cobblestone streets, the smell of orange blossoms and incense rife in early Spring, the viscous liquid gold of the olive oil that graces every plate. Seville captivates the senses and makes falling in love easy – with the city, with its people, with the perfect caña and the chico who stole your heart.

My top picks for a romantic day in Seville:

Take a dip in the Baños Arabes: The Moorish reign of Seville have left a stamp on the cozy Santa Cruz quarter, which nuzzles the Alcázar palace. After having breakfast (try La Cachererría on Calle Regina for toast kissed with olive oil and crushed tomato), relax in the low lights and pools of the Arabic Baths. Located on an alleyway so slim you can touch both sides, the restored building offers a thermal bath circuit and massages for upwards of 58€. (Calle del Aire, 15).

Horse Carriage Ride through María Luisa Park: Seville’s city center is clogged with pedestrians, tourists and an eye sore of a light rail, but the green lung is located just past the university. The park, crowned by the half-moon Plaza de España,  was built to commemorate the 1929 Iberoamerican Expositin held partly on its grounds. The leafy refuge, with tiled fountains and plenty of grass for a picnic, is best seen from a carriage, which are available for rent in the park.

source: flickr

Stop by the monument dedicated to Gustavo Adolfo Béquer, a Sevillian poet of the romantic period. His most famous work, Rimas, is the inspiration for a marble statue situated at the north end of the park. It depicts Cupid throwing arrows at three women.

When your stomach rumbles, have dinner on the Guadalquivir: Known for its tapeo, or tapas hopping, Seville also boasts world-class restaurants. Among the most romantic are those that line the Guadalquivir river on the Triana side of town, particularly on Calle Betis. From here, the bullring, Masetranza theatre and Torre del Oro are the protagonists of the riverfront, with the Giralda Tower and the spires of the cathedral in the forground. Go all out at Abades Triana (Calle Betis, 69), or try Kiosco de las Flores (Calle Betis, s/n) or El Faro de Triana (at the end of the Triana bridge) for budget options with unparalleled views.

Following dinner, have a cocktail at one of the terraces in the city center. Hotel EME’s bar has a hip vibe, while ROOF’s views include the Metropol, a mushroom-like wooden structure that has taken over Plaza de la Encarnación. If that’s not your style, you can tuck into a peña flamenco and cozy up to cantaores while drinking Agua de Sevilla.

What is Spain’s most romantic city, in your opinion? How would you spend a romantic day in a city?

This is my entry to the February 2013 Carnival of Europe hosted by Aleah Taboclaon of Solitary Wanderer with the theme “Most Romantic Places in Europe

 

Seville Snapshots: When in Rome…

I have to admit that Seville has been less-than-inspiring lately. Between the master’s and work, plus rainy weather and holing up with a recently-returned Novio, I’ve barely even been in the center!

So we escaped la vida sevillana and swapped tapas for heaping plates of pasta this weekend in Bella Italia. Our Cruzcampo became half liters of Moretti; potato chips, crostini.  The Novio even parked his car and chose to hoof it as we explored Florence’s piazzas and Bologna’s jumble of churches and towers.

We spent the weekend looking for the little bits of sun on a cold Saturday in Florence, ducking in and out of bars for espressos and seeking out cheap grappas at old man bars.

In short…we ate. And drank. And ate more.

But you have to wait… I have driving school to attend en español and finish writing about Barcelona.

Making the Choice to Live Abroad (and Stay)

My first steps in Spain landed in a big wipeout.

Armed with two suitcases, a carry-on and my laptop bag, I tried to hoist my backpack onto my bag, using a round, aluminum can as a platform from which to ease my arms into the padded straps.

Yes, I brought all of that with me. Two free pieces of luggage? Those were the days.

 

And I fell, right on my culo. I roared with laughter, falling over on my side and howling. That’s just kind of been my story in Spain.

After five years of living abroad, I’m often asked why I’ve chosen to live a life abroad in sunny Spain. The reasons that have kept me here are quite simple – ask any of my dozen friends who have been here to visit over the last few years, question my parents, read this blog start to finish in one sitting to really swallow the heartbreak of defeat, the uncertainness of a new relationship, crap work experiences. I have slowly made my life in Spain, from the first few shaky steps and the fall on my butt to establishing my version of happiness in my little burbuja in Seville.

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Studying abroad is what made me want to move away from the US in the first place. Perhaps after reading too many of those Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul books, I decided that living abroad was ever going to happen, it needed to be right after graduation.

 

Just days before commencement, the North American Language and Culture Assistant Program offered me  visa and the promise of a job in a high school somewhere in Andalucia. The summer before leaving was full of hurried preparations, tearful goodbyes, and a yo-yo like inner peace with my decision. I kept telling myself it was just eight months, and that no one would be mad at me if I messed up and came home.

My reasons were simple enough: to learn Spanish and travel during a second chance at studying abroad. DJ Yabis, the blogger behind Dream Euro Trip had similar intentions. He writes: I wanted to study and live in Europe so I applied for a prestigious full scholarship (read: tuition, roundtrip flights, insurance and monthly allowance for 2 years) sponsored by the European Commission and GOT IT! Similarly, Mariann Kun-Szabo of tiny girl with a big bag said: I was selected for a scholarship to spend my internship in Spain, with all the costs covered, then I could not stop traveling. Like DJ and Marianne, I had an opportunity fall right in my lap to obtain a visa, work and live in Europe for eight months.

Then suddenly, a week before my plane took off rumbo Madrid, I felt like Spain was where I needed to be. On the plane I went, waving giddily to my parents as I skipped through security at O’Hare and into the International Departures terminal.

My year was not without its ups and downs – I struggled to learn Spanish, had trouble making friends and tried to not think about the life I was putting on hold for a year. Facebook became my enemy, my Skype calls home barely concealed my homesickness. I felt that every label I’d ever used to describe myself had suddenly been stripped away, leaving me fumbling for some sense of self-awareness. But I met the Novio, and he was worth sticking around for. My Spanish Adventure began to take root.

—–

I have started looking at my life in terms of school years, just as I always have. After all, I’m a teacher and a student, and my worklife is measured in school years. My mother said, “Think of Spain as your super senior year of college.” Poor woman didn’t know I’d be on super senior year número six already, but giving myself a few months’ break in between keeps one foot in each bucket – one in España and the other in America. No one is really making my choose just one yet, but I’m sure that will come.

Seville throws me curveballs every other day it seems. If it’s not dropping my clothes out of the window when hanging them to dry (no tumble dryer), it’s the sting of not knowing if I’m always making the right decision. But the feel of the sunshine on my face, the fresh produce and the andalú that has kept me here. If I had to put it down in 25 words or less, I’d write that the folklore, the daily challenges and the blunders have kept me here, not to mention love.

—–

 

When I put the question to my readers, it was clear that moving abroad is a change that many have decided to make. Be it the draw of adventure or to try something new, the promise of fresh love, language learning and running your fingers along walls that have existed far longer than you have. Spain is the romantic realization of sultry Latin dreams and of wild jet-setter nights.

Many of them wrote that they, too, had been lured by Spain’s familiar, yet exotic traditions and the chance to live a new adventure. Jackie’s response that she ended up in her happy place, Shannon remarking “I’d love to live in a place where something centuries old is still considered new. I want the romance of history, culture and new adventures,” and Robin of A Lot of Wind just wanted the adventure: We chose to live abroad because we wanted to reach out and grab a bit of life that wouldn’t have dropped into our laps otherwise! And I just love how Marianne of East of Malaga summed it up: It’s a land of beauty, wine and dance – with always a hint of a little romance ;)

 

And I’m not the only one to follow my heart when it came to sticking around in Seville for more than just the sunshine and siestas. Four readers met their partner while on short-term stays in Spain:

Natalia’s husband danced right into her heart on a week-long trip to la Hispalense: Feria de Sevilla, 2009—I spotted a charismatic Sevillano in a caseta and asked him to dance. Happily married and still dancing sevillanas! while Kaley met hers after a pick-up basketball game in Salamanca while studying abroad: 2009 Salamanca. Basketball win. Hemos quedado. Spilled the wine. Climbed the cathedral. Fell in love. 3 years later: I said yes! And Steph of Discovering Ice uses her boyfriend as the perfect scapegoat for her wanderlust: I was in love with a Colombian who was literally half the world away…we just used travel as an excuse to be together! :)

I sometimes think how different my life in Spain would have been had I not accepted the invitation from Kate to go out the night the Novio and I met. Like Melanie: I met my Spanish husband on a bus traveling from Madrid to Cáceres. One seat away then could have meant a world of difference now.

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Travel Bloggers’s responses interested me, too. As I make connection with like-minded travelers, I find that we have much more in common than the T-word. When it comes down to it, an adventurous spirit and the will to do something about it. When I think back on the times when Spain almost didn’t happen because of my own fears or the unwillingness to miss a Hawkeye Football season, I cringe at being so stupid. Alexandra Kovacova of Crazy Sexy Fun Traveler said: I hate boredom and wanted to learn more about this amazing world out there and different cultures. Raymond Walsh of Man on the Lam confessed: I wanted to cover the earth before it covered me.

Some worldly parents, like Talon Windwalker of 1Dad, 1Kid, 1Crazy Adventures said he “wanted my son to see the world and be raised as a global citizen & I wanted to get more living into our life,” whereas Durant Imboden told me that he “didn’t have a choice” because his parents took him along. My parents encouraged my traveling – even if it was just running from one end of the house to the other when I was a kid – and I feel I owe them for instilling an adventurous spirit and apetite for me, and taking me abroad when I was just old enough to have it stick in my head and put me on a direction for life.

Ash of The Most Alive hit the proverbial clavo on the head: Decided to build my life on the principles of adventure, learning and justice – not the social norms of 9-5 mortgage and retirement…
 
…now there’s something to live and travel up to.
 
Lex of Lex Paradise had the mentality for why I came, seizing a pasing opportunity and fulfilling a dream. He wrote: Well, I am now living in Spain as well ;) never thought but it just happened as it suppose to be ;)” which is why I’ve chosen for him to win the $15 Amazon Gift Card. I loved this project and the responses, so don’t forget that Karen’s book, Dancing in the Fountain: How to Enjoy Living Abroad, full of loads of laughs and sage advice, is available on Amazon for purchase (in paperback and Kindle format).
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