Molly Sears-Piccavey: An Interview with a Counterpart in Granada

Blogging can be a strange thing – you often find you ‘know’ people without having met them face-to-face (and when you do meet them, you don’t have to fumble through the awkward introductions). One of those people is Molly Sears-Piccavey, a British resident in nearby Granada. She and I have been reading one another’s blogs for years, and we finally got the chance to meet at the annual Writers and Bloggers About Spain meet-up earlier this month.

Read more about Molly and Granada, and be sure to check out her great blog about her adoptive city, Piccavey.com.

Tell us about yourself …

I’m a British girl living in Granada, Spain. I have been here since 2006 and know the place well. This city has a rich historic background, many fascinating buildings and traditions. The Sierra Nevada Mountains are a breathtaking sight to see. On a warm spring day you can still see the snow on the peaks of the mountains just a few miles outside the city. The beaches are a 35 minute drive from the city and the area along the coast produces tropical fruit such as mangoes, bananas and avocados.

What does Granada have that can’t be seen in other places?

Most people know of Granada because of the Alhambra palace. This monument and the typical Albaicin quarter are both UNESCO World Heritage sites. But reaching past the city, the province of Granada really is a land of contrasts. You can see beaches, rivers, mountains, deserts, lush valleys and historic sites within a 30 minute drive of the city. Most of the year, you can see snow on the mountains and in summer we have red-hot temperatures. Because of the diverse geography, it is great for outdoor sports such as walking, climbing and cycling.

What is the best time to visit Granada?

As Granada has a ski resort and beaches 30 minutes away it’s a wonderful place to visit in all seasons. May is my favourite time because at the beginning of the month there is a popular celebration known as the crosses of May. This time of year the orange blossom is in flower around the region and the plants and flowers are particularly bright and colourful.

Can you recommend somewhere to eat in Granada?

Granada really is a heavenly place for foodies. It has lots of local produce and a large selection of seasonal dishes. It you want to sample the local tapas the most popular area is Calle Navas right by Granada town hall.  There are bars and restaurants packed in one after another. In Granada Spain’s only revolving restaurant gives views of the city and of the snow-capped mountains, too. Panoramic 360 is a good option for a romantic dinner with views.

The Hidden secret about Granada:
Granada is often affected by Earthquakes and tremors as it is in a seismic region. On 26th December at the Virgen de Angustias church in Granada a special service is held. The idea is that the Patron of Granada, the Virgen de las Angustias, protects us for another year from a large Earthquake such as the disaster back in 1884.

Tell me something else about Granada…

There is a saying about Granada: Dale limosna, mujer, que no hay en la vida nada como la pena de ser ciego en Granada.

In English this translates as:   “Miss, please give a coin to the beggar, there isn’t anything worse than being a blind man in Granada¨

Come to Granada and see if you agree!

Interested in Granada or Molly? Check out her blog with recommendations on what to see and do in Granada: piccavey.com and see her interview about me, too!

Seville Snapshots: PINC, Seville’s Networking Group for English-speaking Professionals

How many times have you said to a friend, ‘You really have to meet Pepa [or María, or Julie, or whoever]?’ As the resident fair godmother of guiris in Seville, I meet women constantly, causing the Novio to think I have a secret loverboy on the side.

From this idea, plus encouragement from my friends Lauren of Spanish Sabores and Stacey of La Guiri Habla, PINC was born. Well, actually, PINC was born a year before, in Madrid, with a woman called Lisette Miranda. Tired of mere social groups in Spain’s capital, Lisette began a professional women’s group, designed to mentor, inspire and connect English-speaking women in Madrid.

With her blessing, Seville got its first professional group under the PINC Umbrella, and we held our first meeting on October 25th at Merchant’s Malt House. Fourteen women were in attendance – several teachers and academy owners, a hostel owner, a life coach and one interested in non-profit. We introduced ourselves and our products and projects, Lisette gave us a crash course in making our Linked In profiles attractive to employers, and we shared a cocktail and networking session afterwards.

Meetings will be monthly, held on a Friday at 8p.m., in the same format. The goal is to collaborate, inspire and educate. Members will take turns sharing a skill that they’re an expert in, allowing everyone to learn something new and hopefully open their minds to tapping into a skill they didn’t know they had. Our November meeting will be held on Friday the 22nd at 8 p.m. at Merchant’s, and you can sign up to attend here: http://doodle.com/4diusq7qgtf6457urq5dsug2

Interested in PINC? Please contact my thru my personal email address or through my Facebook page so that I can add you to the list! PINC is open to an English-speaking woman in the Seville area.

The Guiri Complex (Or, Why I Can’t Have It All)

The other day, Seville was held hostage by light rain. I did a bit of puddle jumping, nearly taking out morning shoppers and walkers with my umbrella as I ran to catch the bus. The bus, in its normal fashion, stopped down the street and stayed there for five months.

As I tried to catch my breath, a man in his 70s covered me from the light sprinkle. He reeked of cigarettes and anise, just the way I like my Spanish abuelos. “Ofu, what a day,” he hacked, a small chuckle caught in his throat. We smiled at each other for a few moments before he offered a bit more, “Look at that bus, getting caught in traffic. People here don’t know what to do in the rain.”

It was my turn to chuckle. Being from Chicago, we’re used to two seasons in the year (winter and construction on the Dan Ryan) and four in one day. I can withstand heat and bitter cold, have survived three tornadoes and even learned to drive in the snow when I first got my driver’s permit. Upon mentioning this, the old man’s eyes lit up. “But your Spanish is impeccable! You may, in fact, be more sevillano than me!”

Aha, there it is. Whenever I seem to be out doing my normal guiri thing (in this case, picking up some forms for the academy), people stop to talk to me. Most are keen on touting my Spanish or are shocked that I moved away from home so young. Y tus padres? They ask, unable to fathom how a child would leave the comfort of their parents’ home, where laundry is done for them and tupperwares full of food dished out.

When my parents were visiting last year, my habits puzzled them. How could I be hungry at 3pm? What do you mean stores aren’t open on Sundays? You really do take a siesta? I didn’t come to Spain to simply hang out and learn some Spanish. I never set out to be Spanish or change my habits, either. What’s funny is that, the longer I live in Spain, the more American I seem to feel.

Just recently, an American food store opened up right in the center (and, ironically, in the same locale where I bought my flamenco dress). The chatter amongst my guiri friends was electric, with everyone sharing pictures of their goodies from the cell phones. When I announced, “I’m kind of against the store,” I got puzzled and even annoyed responses. How could I not love paying 2,50€ for two Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (I kid, and I almost did, except for that I already had some at home!).

Here’s the thing: the trips the Novio takes to the US always bring American gifts and the special treats my friends bring me on their visits are treated like contraband. I’ve left an entire box of Do-si-do Girl Scout cookies nearly untouched – I love opening my cupboard for some sugar to see them there. The Novio dutifully recites back what he needs to bring for Thanksgiving on his upcoming trip (and, bless his heart, he bought me new skivvies this summer at VS – it must be love), and my mother knows intuitively that I will always need greeting cards when she sends me a package. Just like in the Hunger Games, American Parcel Day means I won’t go empty-stomached.

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, vanilla extract, economy-sixed boxes of Cheeze-its. The Novio would take me, wide-eyed and fistful of dollar bills, to the American part of his base for the contraband, usually in the form of cans of Dr. Pepper and ranch dressing. The anticipation of these trips would build and build until I’d consume the overly sweet soda, usually after hitting the gym (I don’t feel guilty, in case you were just wondering).

What’s more, I’ve finally gotten cooking and baking with limited resources more or less figured out, and having all of those things so readily available would take the fun out of it.

Another case in point: When I visited my cousin for Oktoberfest, I nearly had a heart attack when we went into the grocery store on her Army base. For the first time in a year, I was technically on American soil, but my carry-on restrictions meant I had to pick and choose the most important goodies. Reese’s, Funfetti cake mix and cranberry sauce made the cut, and I almost sighed from relief that I didn’t have much room between Camarón and the dirndl. When I enquired about German beer, Christyn said it was only sold in the nearby gas station. Apparently Bud Light > Paulaner (wtf).

I think there’s a big difference between me and them: They came for work and because the Army required time abroad at one of the overseas bases. I came because moving to Spain sounded like a fun way to skip out of America for a year. I didn’t come for anyone but myself; I came for the adventure and the chance to learn Spanish, and I stayed for the culture, the challenge and the Novio (duh, and the food).

Perhaps it’s the fact that Seville continues to modernize, taking with it some of the old world charm that had me so smitten in the first place. As my friend Mickey pointed out, there were no Starbucks when she came to Seville eight years ago, and now there are three on the same stretch of street (and this was once my homesickness remedy). Souvenir stores have elbowed out century-old hardware stores in the Santa Cruz neighborhood, and there’s English everywhere I turn. My ciudad de alma is starting to seem a lot like any mid-sized American city, and it’s stinging a little bit.

But don’t get me wrong: I relish in the fact that the TDT finally works and I can watch TV in English. Hamburgers, guacamole and roast chicken get made just as often in our home as fabada and tortilla francesa do. I speak just as much English each day as I do Spanish. America is where I lived the first 22 years of my life, and I consider it my home.

There’s much more to it than looking the part with my freckles, blue eyes and reddish hair against the dark Andalusian beauties. The first time the Novio saw me in a flamenco dress, his eyes lit up a bit, and then he just laughed at a beef-loving American stuffed into a traje de gitana. Try as I might, I look the part and even act it. Nevermind that I am a card-carrying resident of the EU, that I belong to a country club and that my partner serves in the Spanish military. I still believe that arriving on time is late, that one can only stay up so long on weeknights (even when she works at 3pm) and that the 4th of July is the best damn date on the calendar because, let’s face it, I love hot dogs and fireworks more than jamón and bullfights.

The Guiri Complex is just that: the inability to really feel like both of your feet are in the same place. My heritage and my native tongue make me a hot commodity in Spain, meaning I’ll always have a means to stay here and work. I’m the lovable friend who makes language blunders and bakes brownies for birthdays, the affable guiri, or foreigner,  in the group.

My friends back home think that living in Spain must be romantic and full of sunshine and trips. It is and it isn’t. If I lived in America, I’d be working, paying bills and contemplating what to make for dinner. I do that in Spain, too. The currency I use for the ingredients for that dinner are bought in euros and sometimes have funny names, but it’s really no different. In fact, I’m often jealous that my friends are all so close to one another, can be at one another’s weddings and make a salary that allows them some luxuries.

I sometimes feel like I live in a strange cross between everything I knew as a kid and the excitement of experiencing a new culture and language from the ground. I still cling to my American traditions and comfort food, but have adopted new holidays and a more adventurous palate. I’m constantly torn between two places where it feels like my heart belongs: Seville and Chicago.

Do you experience the guiri complex? Are your feet in just one bucket, or in both? And how do you cope?

Preguntas Ardientes: Is an International Bank Account Right for Me?

I get loads of questions from you guys about moving to Spain and settling in, how to handle money and how to learn Spanish (and what to eat, duh). Up and moving to any country has its own set of headaches – both before and after – and I try and answer as best I can when readers ask questions on everything to how to work in Spain to how to deal with homesickness. That’s where Preguntas Ardientes comes in – a series dedicated to the ins and outs of expat life in Iberia. If you’re curious or have a burning question, email me at sunshineandsiestas [at] gmail [dot] com – I’d love to hear from you!

Recently, the Novio and I were at a gala for his squadron’s anniversary. Most of his coworkers are aware that his partner is foreign with a flair for sevillanía, so I often become the center of attention during cocktail hour when they shoot a million questions at me (and I’m really more interested in the canapés, jerks).

The most common? What was the hardest part about moving abroad? After adapting to the language and finding friends, the most challenging part of daily life was money (and it’s something you guys ask me about often, too!).

I had and still maintain an income in Spain, whereas as all of my bills were linked to accounts back in the US. I had no idea how to pay taxes in either country (or if I even needed to), and transferring money between euros and dollars soon began to eat into my savings account. Having one foot in two places can be difficult – but then again, I expected to be in Spain for just one year.

While I have kept three bank accounts in two different countries, I never considered offshore banking or international accounts. No, this isn’t the stuff of international spies or crime rings, but a convenient way to handle your money while abroad thanks to flexible options and lower costs of account maintenance.

Let’s face it – Spain is a country that has a high international population, and these people often have ties to their home country – both mentally and financially. For expats who still receive payments of benefits from their home country (such as retirement or payouts, or even freelance work), considering this type of service is one of the biggest benefits of an offshore savings account. You don’t need to worry about converting dollars to euros to pounds and back in your head, nor deal with spending more money to make transfers between bank accounts, as an international account will allow you to do this all for a small monthly fee.
Is an international bank account right for you? If you’ve still got one foot in each bucket, then it’s worth considering. If you’re looking for extra perks, such as travel insurance to cover you wherever you go, then you should more than consider it. Sometimes, you can get more financial benefits from having your assets in just one account, rather than splitting them up between different institutions. Doing your research really does pay off (I love puns and you should, too).
Do you have an international bank account? How does it work for you?

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?  

Apparently, I’m Not the Only Guiri Who Dislikes Barcelona: Aga’s Take on the Ciudad Condal

After I confessed that Spain’s cosmopolitan Barcelona – a city on nearly every traveler’s itinerary, I was shocked to discover that I wasn’t alone in feeling iffy about it. Even friends of mine who have called Barna home have admitted that the city is a bit sketchy, that it’s hard to navigate and that it took a while for it to grow on them. Upon publishing what has been my most controversial post, Aga of Aga Nuno Somewhere offered to write a counter post about what’s to love about the sprawling city. Her story:

Barcelona was the first Spanish city that I visited. Maybe that is why I have such a soft spot for it? I remember walking the first time around Passeig de Gràcia and admiring Gaudí’s masterpieces and how intimidated I felt when being surrounded by thousands of tourist on la Rambla.  During my first visit I was only a tourist, but then came back to Spain for my Erasmus exchange and spent a whole year in a small Catalan town Lleida. I took every opportunity I could to travel to Barcelona, which is only 90 minutes away.

I love big cities, the hustle and bustle of a metropolis, and Barcelona had all I ever needed – sun, beach, beautiful monuments, calmer districts like Gràcia. I secretly dreamt of living there. Little did I know that I would actually move there with my boyfriend for two years. And as much as I like the city, I must admit it was not as great as I would have wanted.

Barcelona is expensive, finding a flat is a nightmare (we actually had to fight in court to get our 1500€ deposit back from the first landlord), Catalans are not really friendly when it comes to service and it is really hard to get to know them. As my boyfriend used to say: in winter they all go skiing to Andorra, in summer they all go to their beach houses on Costa Brava. When you actually live in the city that always appears on a list of top destination to travel in Europe,  all those tourists who come to visit start to annoy you… But I still loved being able to say: Oh, I live in Barcelona.

I discovered some great places to eat, as I am a foodie, so I tend to look for nice bars or restaurants everywhere I go. But unfortunately I have to admit that when comparing it to other Spanish cities, when it comes to food, Barcelona is falling far behind Madrid or Andalucía. You really must know where to go, otherwise you end up in some pintxo chain or paying a fortune for simple tapas and sangria.

I love street art, so every walk around Barcelona was exciting: I never knew what was waiting for me around the corner! And all of those Catalan traditions that I discovered during the fiestas: castellers (human towers), correfoc (parade with fire) or calcotada (eating grilled calcots - a kind of sweet onion). I had my calendar full of all the city fiestas –  la Merce (the Patroness of the city), fiestas de Gràcia and some other neighborhoods.

I also travelled a lot around the region, to lovely Sitges, Montserrat, Dali’s Triangle and Costa Brava. But even if you live in Barcelona for a long time, there is always something new to do, somewhere to go and discover, or simply sit in a chiringuito on the beach with a cold beer (or the winter version: drink in a vermutería- small local bar that serves homemade vermouth).

I really like Barcelona and had my favourite spots there, but then understand that not everyone falls under the spell of Ciudad Condal, especially when spending there only few days and just being a guiri.

Aga writes in Polish and English about her travels throughout Europe with her boyfriend, Nuno, on Aga Nuno Somewhere. Currently residing in Ireland, you can find her on twitter at https://twitter.com/AgaNunoBlog.

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