Big news: I bought a house in Spain!

I have a new hell.

The foreigner’s office has been officially replaced with a new place that wants to make me rip my hair out: IKEA. 

You see, I bought a house – a 125-square-meters-with-an-incredible-terrace and three stories and a kitchen large enough for an actual table and multiple bookshelves and closet space for my two flamenco dresses. There are two bathrooms, three bedrooms, air conditioning units in most rooms, mosquito nets on all of the windows and room to put in a dryer.

It’s a HOUSE, not a piso. And best of all, it’s in my favorite neighborhood in all of Seville: Triana.

But when the Novio and I signed our mortgage in June and began talking about painting and buying furniture and the logistics of moving all of our things, I knew his functionality and my hours decorating my doll houses would lead to arguments over money and space. 

In hindsight, it was genius to not go together to IKEA. The Novio and I did some online shopping one night, then he went and graciously wrote down the numbers and where to find our basics – a table, four chairs and bed frame – in the self-service area. We calculated 600€, just what we had leftover after buying a custom-made couch and the big appliances for the kitchen. I offered to go the following day and pay with our joint account, then have the whole pedido sent to our new place.

After picking the perfect time to go in Spain, despite having entered in the rebajas sales period, I quickly steered through the maze of cute set ups and couches that wanted to be sat on. I ordered our bed frame and found a few light fixtures, then steered right towards the self-service area. 

The headboard and table were heavy, but I felt triumphant for handling it all on my own and happily presented my debit card. 

Denied.

Again.

And a third time.

After asking my bank for help and getting nothing in return, picking everything up at IKEA once to have my credit card also denied, I threw my hands up in the air, asked the Novio to take out cash for me since my bank had frozen my accounts because of the new FATCA rule, and finally, five hours later, paid for our goods.

So. I essentially hate IKEA for being the torture that it is – an obstacle course riddled with carts and baby strollers, an endless amount of impulse buys staring me down and never-ending lines. Going three times in 24 hours did not help, either.

Not that you care about my current grudge against the Swedish home decoration king (though not their meatballs), here are some pictures of our soon-to-be hogar dulce hogar. 

and the best part…

The house is on a corner lot in the Barrio León section of Triana. Wide avenues, chalets and a few famous residents, like the San Gonzalo depiction of Christ and Our Lady of Health, and the family of singer Isabel Pantoja. Most are rumored to gossip at renowned bakery Confitería Loli or in the dinky but bustling Mercado de San Gonzalo.

To me, the house is the physical manifestation of making the decision to live abroad permanently (or until I’ve paid it off), and whatever is to come next with the Novio.

Want to know more about the process of buying a house in Spain? Be patient…I’ll eventually figure out what I just did for the sake of having a house house in a beautiful barrio.

How College and my Study Abroad Program Prepared me for a Life in Spain

Emails form part of my daily routine, and many who write are travelers looking for a great place to eat or see flamenco, asking about what to miss and what can’t be missed, and seeking information on where to stay in Seville or how to get around.

As my blog readership grew and moved into an expat blog, I began to get more and more inquiries about moving to Spain, which prompted me to co-found COMO Consulting Spain

On my first trip to Europe in 2001, at age 15

Claire’s recent email stood out. At 17, she’s already dreaming of moving abroad once she finishes school. When I was 17, I’d already traveled to Europe twice and was hooked on the idea that I’d study abroad. The more I think about it, the more a life overseas made sense, thanks to the decisions I made in college and what seems to be a four-year beeline straight towards my final destination.

With her permission, I’m including a snippet of our conversation, as well as a longer explanation of how I got to Seville in the first place:

Claire D. writes:

I just started reading your blog a few days ago and I’m already hooked. I’m seventeen and ever since I visited last summer, I’ve been in love with the idea of living in Europe. Unfortunately I don’t know anybody else who has the same dream as me so I’ve been searching for information and advice from people who have experienced living abroad, which is how I found your blog. I feel like I have so many questions for you but I’ll start with your study abroad program.

I’ll be starting university here in Canada in September and I’m thinking about majoring in Global Studies. I know you mentioned that you studied abroad during your college education as well. I was wondering what you majored in and if it was related in any way to your studies of Spanish language in Spain.

I knew what I wanted to study from the time I was 12. My elementary school had a TV lab, and each sixth grade class got to produce a morning news program. My first assignment was interviewing other students about fire safety on the playground. As a kid with countless interests, being in a cubicle would NEVER be for me.
 
College
At the University of Iowa, I went into journalism, but we were forced to pick another major or concentration. Most of my peers chose Poli Sci or English. The reason I chose International Studies as my second major was because it was a DIY program, so all I had to do was argue my way into classes, prove that they had something to do with international studies, and I could earn credits towards my degree.
 
 
Christi and I lived with the same host family in Spain!
 
I enrolled in courses like Paris and the Art of Urban Life, Beginner French, Comparative Global Media and Intercultural Narrative Journalism. I have always loved travel, languages and media, so a concentration in international communication was a great fit for me, and I can honestly say that I enjoyed my coursework. I also chose to minor in Spanish because it was my favorite subject in high school.
 
Little did I know that choosing to minor because, hey! I’m an overachiever, would actually set a course for the rest of my life. My mom studied in Rome during college, and all but demanded I do the same (she did not, however, ask this of my little sister). Between dozens of cities and scores of program choices, I balked and did the simplest one: a six-week summer program in Valladolid, Spain, operated and accredited by the state of Iowa. A large contributing factor was the $1000 that went towards my tuition, too.
 
Study Abroad
I know virtually nothing about Valladolid, a former capital about two hours northwest of Madrid, and my first impression was not great: a hazy day and a kid peeing on the side of the road. As our program director, Carolina, called off names and assigned my classmates to host families, I grew really nervous.
 
 
With Aurora, my host sister, in Valladolid
 
Aurora lived in the Rondilla neighborhood of Valladolid in an ático. She was in her mid 30s – a far cry from the majority of señoras who were widows and creeping up on the tercera edad. Her mother of the same name came each day to make our beds, cook for us and wash our clothes. From the very start, young Aurora welcomed us into her home and her circle of friends, inviting me and my roommate out for drinks or movies, and making sure we were exposed to as much castellano as possible.
 
If you’re going to study abroad, do so with a host family. You’ll have someone to give you an introduction to Spanish life, cuisine and culture. My experience would have been much different if I’d lived with other Americans, and I still visit my host family as often as I can.
 
 
I took classes in Spanish Literature and Culture in Valladolid
 
When looking for a study abroad program, I’d suggest that you take into account more than just cost and location. Schools and programs are now offering internships, specialty courses and the ability to take class at universities with native university students. If your language skills are strong, give yourself that challenge. I also chose to study somewhere that was not a study abroad mecca – there were less than 40 Americans in Valladolid that  summer, so I learned far more in six weeks than I expected to! Consider going somewhere besides Granada or Barcelona, like Santander, Alicante or Murcia.
 
As soon as I was off the plane at O’Hate (wrote that accidentally, and it stays), I announced that I would be moving abroad as soon as I finished school in 2007.
 
Back to College
Once back in Iowa City, I dove back into coursework. I worked for the Daily Iowan, continued taking Spanish courses, had a successful summer internship at WBBM Chicago that could have turned into a job…but I dreamed of Spain.
 
My coursework became more and more focused on international communication and moving abroad, and my trips to the study abroad office were frequent.  At this point in time, there were very few gap year programs, and I had two choices: teach abroad or work on a holiday visa.
 
 
I also focused on my college football obsession and grilling brats on Saturday mornings.
 
My decision to teach in Spain was two-fold: I was nervous about the prospect of living abroad, and I knew I wasn’t done with Spain once I finished my study abroad program. I’m glad I had a primer before moving here after college – I may have been confused by Andalusian Spanish, but at least I was aware that things close midday! 
 
I received the email that I’d been accepted to teach English in Andalusia just a few days before graduating in May 2007. Then came the tailspin to get a visa, book flights, look for a place to live in Seville, figure out what the hell I was thinking when I applied to TEACH since I had an aversion to kids, and wondering if Spain was really worth all of the hassle.
 
Life In Spain
 
But I went anyway, touching down in the land of sunshine and siestas (and this blog’s namesake) on September 13th, 2007.
 
 
My parents have supported me since coming to Spain, even though we’re thousands of miles away from one another.
 
If I may say it, there’s a huge difference between living abroad alone when you’re still in your late teens as opposed to living there after you’ve graduated. Living abroad has its own set of what ifs, of doubts, of struggles, and when you’re younger (that is, if you’re a basket case like I was!), everything seems a little bit tougher. When I arrived in Seville, I lived with a 19-year-old girl from Germany who really struggled to be away from home, and ended up leaving soon after settling in. I highly suggest you consider studying abroad anywhere to get a taste of what to expect, whether in an English-speaking country or even in Spain. 
 
To be honest, adjustment was really hard at first. Now that I’ve lived here for nearly seven years, I feel at home and well-adjusted. There are so many factors that go into getting used to life elsewhere: language, customs, food, timetables, religion. I came ready for culture shock and loneliness, and I was SO lonely in Spain for about six weeks, but never turned down any invitation to do something or go out, whether from a coworker or from another expat. I have my sorority background to thank for that, and yet another reason why college really did its job in setting me up for adulthood.
 
 
Back to the studies. Here in Spain, I teach and direct an English academy in addition to freelance writing and translating, but think that my studies ultimately led me to this life abroad. Even though I’m not working with both feet in the journalism bucket, I honed my communication skills in a lot of other ways. Global studies is fascinating, and if you’re interested in higher education, should lend well to tons of cool masters programs in development, international communication or business, or even immigration law (that’s the next master’s I’d love to tackle!).
 
My Advice
Be open to all of the options and opportunities. Follow your heart. Take challenging coursework. Apply for internships abroad. Volunteer. Ask questions. Make friends with your professors and study abroad staff. Research. Take a leap of faith, and remember that you will make mistakes, have doubts and want to give it all up for the comfortable, for what you know, for a relationship or for something better (and perhaps it is).
 
You’ll probably have critics. My grandma has given me Catholic guilt all of my life, and is convinced I’m living abroad to torture her. I can say that my parents are now OK with my decision to stay in Spain and continue the life I’ve made for myself here, and they have supported me throughout – through break ups, bad jobs, strep throat, uncertainty and all of the lame stuff that being an adult (abroad or not) can bring.
 
 
Blending in…kind of…at the Feria de El Puerto in 2010
 
I do still dream of moving cities or even countries. The Novio is in the Spanish Air Force and occasionally has opportunities to go elsewhere. Even though I’m settled and happy in Seville, I’d love to go back to square one and start all over again – and write about it!
 
Do you have any questions about life abroad, teaching overseas, or Seville? Email me at hola@comoconsultingspain.com!

Seville Snapshots: Librería Babel and the Joy of Books

As anyone who has lived in Spain will know, a shop that carries the -ía at the end is a place that sells a certain kind of product.

A carnerceía sells meat, a papelería sells paper goods, though as Lisa hoped, a bar is not called a beerería, but a cervecería. Among my favorite -ias? The liberería, a place where books are stacked high and hours can be lost among the pages. I tend to avoid the big chains, like FNAC or Beta, and head to the small, musty, off-the-Avenida shops. Some of my preferred stops are Un Gato en Bicicleta on Calle Regina for its workshops and mountains of books, La Extravagante in the Alameda for its array of travel books and memoir and La Celestina near Plaza Santa Ana in Madrid.

When I can’t travel, books become my companion. I’m nearly finished with my 20th book of the year, and books about travel line my bookshelf, products of giveaways, the American Women’s Club sales and the evil one-click button on Amazon. This picture of Librería Babel, a forlorn little place right off the main tourist drag, still far enough to go unnoticed, reminds me of the Old World book, long before TV, Internet and e-readers became mainstays.

One great travel memoir I’ve read recently is Dancing In The Fountain: How to Enjoy Living Abroad by my fellow sevillana Karen McCann. She’s been gracious enough to give me a signed copy of the wonderfully breezy and fun book for my readers. Visit the original post for easy entrance, and be sure to follow her here.

What types of books do you prefer? Got any other scoops on bookstores in Andalucía? What are your prefered -ías in Spain?

Dancing in the Fountain: Enjoy Living Abroad Book Giveaway

I’m five minutes early, and there’s just one table left. It’s in the sun and cramped between two groups of German travelers. Karen strides in with just a moment to spare, wearing her signature animal prints. While there’s a gap in age between us, Karen is the type of friend you can have who personifies “Age is just a number.”

I’m eager to catch up with Karen over coffee and talk about her new book, Dancing in the Fountain: How to Enjoy Living Abroad. I devoured the book on a trip this summer though the Eastern seaboard, often subjected to gut-busting laughter and the wise head nods. The book was, in short, delightful.

As someone who loves travel books, Karen’s story of how she and her husband, Rich, moved to Seville is what Maria Foley calls a “love letter to the Andalusian capital.” Indeed, Karen captures the essence of Seville – its people, its food, its quirks that drive every single one of us crazy, all while deepening our love for this enchanting place. The perfect book for dreaming about getting away, of starting over in a new country and making it all work. 

As we are getting ready to part ways, I reach into my bag to find my wallet is empty. In an oh-so-Spanish move, Karen shoes my hand away and offers up a five euro note. “This will more than take care of it,” she says with a slight smile.

After getting back home later that day, I write my friend to apologize again about the coffee. Her reply is quick and telling: It’s happened to all of us.

Photo by the man in the hat himself, Rich McCann, at Karen’s book party

Just like your friend from toda la vida might say on any other sunny day in Seville.

The Contest

Karen has graciously agreed to donating a paperback copy of Dancing in the Fountain: How to Enjoy Living Abroad to one of my readers, and I’m willing to ship it anywhere.

In order to win, I’d like you to tell us, in 25 words or less, why you’d like to live abroad, or why you chose to if you’re already here. You can earn more chances to win by following Karen and I on twitter or liking our Facebook pages, but we’re both interested in hearing what you have to say about packing up and moving to unknown lands.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Contest begins today and will run two weeks. I’ll send the winner, who will be generated randomly, the signed book to any corner of this great big Earth. But wait! I’m also going to give away a $15 Amazon gift card to the reader with the best answer, judged by and agreed on by both Karen and me.

For more information about Karen and her book, visit her webpage or follow her on twitter at @enjoylvngabroad. If you’ve read this book and enjoyed it, let her know! You can also find the book in both Paperback and Kindle version here: Dancing In The Fountain: How to Enjoy Living Abroad.

…y de postre? A Guide to Spanish Desserts

Authors Note. The masses have spoken: on Sunshine and Siestas, you’d like to see more about food, more about interesting places in Seville, more about dealing with culture shock and being an American woman living abroad, and more about studying for the DELE exam (only I’m kinda not…). I can only assume that my readers are like-minded people, and I appreciate all of your feedback and ideas. So, dear readers, here are some of your requests.

As a European wannabe, I’ve learned to relish in the art of a long lunch. And, believe me, no one does it like the Spanish.

I mean, come on, there are stages! A few olives and a beer to whet the appetite, followed by a first course. This could be a salad, salmorejo, chicken breast – anything light. The segundo, or second plate, is the hefty one: meat flanks, a guiso stew, anything to make your pants nearly pop. As the main meal of the day is eaten between 1 and 4 p.m., the meals tend to be protein rich and anything but for dieters. A meal is never complete without the cafelito, then, but next comes the big question. “Señores, ¿y qué de postre?” What would you like for dessert?

I will be the first to scream for ice cream, or cake or cupcakes or pudding or candy, for that matter. My disappointment, then, at a Spaniard’s insistence that I eat yoghurt or fruit for dessert was only normal. Thankfully, they kind of make up for it at merienda, that in-between-why-the-hell-do-we-have-dinner-at-midnight snack. Along with a coffee, Spaniards indulge in something that even the most reluctant sweet tooth can enjoy (I, clearly, am not one of them. My mother wakes up and eats licorice, leave me alone!).

While I fully admit to not love Spanish sweets, I get to the point where anything will do to stop the nagging voices in my head from not eating them. So I enjoy and feel lucky that I can walk everything away!

What do them Spaniards eat for dessert, anyway? We certainly know that their tacos are nothing like the Mexican ones, nor is their tortilla. But how do their desserts measure up?

Arroz con Leche

Let’s play a game of Imagination. Imagine you’ve just gotten off of a plane from the US and have ended up in the land of sunshine and siestas. Imagine taking a bus an additional two hours, only to be met by a smallish Spanish woman in a black dress and an almost grimace on her face. Said lady walks you to her house, where the phrase “everything but the kitchen sink” takes on a new meaning: before you sits a rice dish with whatever that smallish, grimacing lady could find in her fridge. Oh, you imagine to yourself, but this is Spain, and surely there’s dessert!

There is. Oh, but there is. It’s just MORE rice served cold with milk and cinnamon. Can you imagine it? Strangely enough, I love my host mom’s arroz con leche, a simple dish she serves often in the scorching summer months on the central plateau. We’d spend hours sipping brandy and caramel vodka after the ACL on the terrace overlooking the Pisuerga River. I have yet to taste the same home cooking Aurora treated us with (and still does!)

Flan

Ask my boyfriend what my favorite foods are, and he will jokingly tell you mayonnaise and eggs. Guess what? This oh-so-typical-espaneesh treat is made of eggs, caramel and the grossest texture ever. I, for one, don’t like it. Thankfully, the Latin Americans make it with everything from almonds to condensed milk, so those of us grossed out by anything made by a chicken can get our fix. And by those of us, I mean not me – I’m the food-loving texture freak whose 7th grade Home Ec teacher had to spoon-feed her almost everything we made in that kitchen.

Churros

If you remember from my ABCs of Travel, my first international trip led to mega disappointment when my four-year-old self cried at some spicy Mexican something. Ugh, I thankfully got over that and fell in love with battered churros, a doughy coil of battered goodness. While I prefer Mexican churros with their sugar on top, Kike’s Sunday routine often involves me running to the churrería down the street for a dozen of them for the two of us (and after consumption, we quickly fall back asleep, also per Sunday routine).

Eaten mostly for breakfast or merienda, churros are popular with all crowds. There are people who dedicate their lives to pouring the batter into a large funnel into a vat of hot oil, coiling them around, flipping them when one size is fried, and clipping them into foot-long manjares to cool and serve with kitchen scissors. They’re most often gobbled up by dipping the still-hot fritters into molten chocolate or sweet café con leche.

My tops picks in Central Sevilla go to Valor, a Catalonia chocolate company, and a nondescript stand staffed by a frail-looking old lady who specializes in nothing but churros. Valor is located on Calle Reyes Católicos, just steps from the river, and has a full menu of chocolates, ice cream and cakes. The second local is right under the Arco del Postigo, but you’ll have to go next door for coffee or chocolate.

Chuces and Processed Grossness

If Spanish kids ruled the world, chucerías, or gummy candy, would be served in the school lunchroom. I often find it’s the easiest way to tempt good behavior out of even the worst behaved, and I reward myself with making it through the work week with a few nickel-priced sweets. Kat of the now-defunct (you’re KILLING me!) Kata Goes Basque did a good job categorizing the seemingly endless parade of Spanish candies, so I won’t have to tell any of you twice that Spanish gummies could be better than what they ate on Mount Olympus. Ladrillos, besos de fresa, Coca Colas, you name it! I love it allllllll.

As for the other Spanish cookies and cakes that come wrapped with love from Aguilar del Campóo (I SWEAR that is the name, and I SWEAR that I have been there!)….they all suck. Palmeras are crumby, gooey puff pastry dried and covered in something brown (I think it’s chocolate, but refer to the name above) and make me cringe. Principe cookies are good to a point, but like Pringles, once you pop you can’t stop. The things my students bring for breakfast continue to gross me out.

So if you want chuche goodness, Spanish chains like Belros and Sweet Facory are good go-tos, but my absolute favorite is Wonkandy. Simply grab a bag, fill it with as many gummies or chocolates as you care to, and pay by the tenth-kilo. I adore the shapes they have (skull and crossbones and ponies?!) and they have upteen choices of my most favorite capricho – sour gummies. You can find Wonkandy in the center just behind Plaza del Salvador on Calle Cuna.

Ice Cream

More often than not, the major ice cream consumers of this world class dessert is Seville are guiris like you and me. That’s right, those ice cream shops set up right outside the cathedral steps aren’t for naught – tourists can’t help but treat themselves to heladitos when the temps here reach 35º. The central neighborhood of Sevilla is replete with tastes, though I’m more of a sorbet and tropical flavors. Since ice cream needs no more explanations, here’s a breakdown of the best places for the cold stuff.

All Spaniards rave about Rayas (C/ Reyes Católicos and Plaza San Pedro), and it’s the closest you can get to a yuppie ice cream parlor in yuppy enough Seville. All of the typical flavor culprits – pistachio, dulce de leche, stratichella – are found here, though they lack the sorbets I always crave on a hot day. The place is pricey and always packed on the weekends, but that pistachio is pretty darn yummy. When I feel like a gelato, I hop to El Florentino on Calle Zaragoza. The owner has won several awards for his homemade gelato, and he’s constantly coming up with new flavors like Rebujito for April and a rumored Duquesa de Alba batch to commemorate that other royal wedding. What’s more, the genius is always greeting customers and handing out samples. The downside? Too little parking for your toosh. Finally, the Yogurtlandia (Plaza Alfalfa and C/Jimios) chain is a more healthy approach to ice cream, taking frozen yoghurt and blending it with toppings of your choice, like chocolate syrup, fresh fruit, cookies or sprinkles. It’s cheaper in Alfalfa, but always perfect after a long meal.

Now, I thought about making the novio a nice dinner (dessert included!) for our anniversary next month, but given the choice, he’d take a ham sandwich over a dessert item any day.

Fine, more for me!

What’s the dessert like in your region? Have you had Spanish delicacies? If so, what’s your favorite? I loveeeee me some Tarta de Santiago!

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