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.

Seville Snapshots: Colorful Windows in El Centro

Madrid and I have a complicated relationship: it took me a few years in Spain and several trips to discover what was beneath the flashy Gran Vía, to understand the pulse of the big city that houses Velázquez and Guernica. Then my friends showed me where to have the best Thai on Atocha and Indian in Lavapiés, the metro became second nature.

I’m a city girl. I love walking over grates and feeling the subway thunder under me (or above me back home in Chicago), anticipating the changes of the stoplights and the cacophony of car horns and radios.

But returning to Seville after ethnic food and cañas with friends in La Latina or Malasaña feels like the new me. The car horns are replaced by horse hooves in the city center, and the metro can’t take me as far as my feet or bike. The garritos in Madrid aren’t as lively as the flower-clad iron bars in Seville, and while the orange and stone buildings of La Capital are beautiful, I prefer the crumbling, whitewashed walls of Andalusian villages like Osuna or Arcos. To me, the hallmarks of Andalusian architecture help it stand out from Madrid’s busy streets and high-rises.

Te dejo, Madrid. It’s an inevitable stop for me while traveling or for work, and perhaps the Novio and I will end up there in a few years, but for now, yo soy del sur.

Have any photos of Spain or Seville to share? Sunshine and Siestas is looking for contributions from readers for the busy summer months ahead. Get in touch with me through Facebook with your ideas, photos o lo que sea!

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.

Seville’s Best Neighborhoods for Living

So, you’ve gotten the visa, packed your bags and moved to Seville. The first order of business (after your cervecita and tapita) is looking for a piso and a place to call home while you’re abroad. While living in the center of Seville can mean a long commute or blowing half of your salary on rent, it is undoubtedly one of the most liveable and lively cities in all of Spain. 

Choosing a neighborhood that’s right for you is imperative for your experience in Seville. After all, you’ll be living as a local and skipping the well-developed tourist beat. Each has its own feel and character, and not every one is right for you and your needs. Ever walk in a place where you can see yourself – or not? Here’s a guide from a seven-year vet to the most popular neighborhoods in Seville’s city center, from what to expect from housing to not-miss bars and barrio celebrations.

But should you choose a place to live before you make the move?

In retrospect, it probably wasn’t smart for me to pay a deposit on a house I’d never seen. I hadn’t met my roommates or staked out the nearest supermarket. While I lived in Triana happily for three years, I’d suggest renting a bed or room in or near the neighborhoods you’re interested in before making a decision about where you want to live for a year. After all, a bad living situation can make or break your experience in Spain.

Not all neighborhoods in Seville are listed on this post (not even where I live!). Consider more than just price or location: think about commute to work, ease of public transportation, noise and the people you’ll live with.

El Centro

photo by Christine Medina, run on Sunshine and Siestas

Seville’s beating heart is the most centric neighborhood, El Centro. Standing high above it is the Giralda tower, the once-minaret that guards the northeast corner of the third-largest Gothic cathedral in the world. This, along with the Alcazar Royal Palace and Archivo de Indias, forms a UNESCO World Heritage Site (whose status was threatened by the controversial Torre Pelli recently). Life buzzes in these parts, from the public meeting point in Puerta Jerez to Plaza Nueva’s Town Hall. Housing costs tend to reflect the fact that you’re smack in the center of it all, hence the apt name.

Not to miss: having a drink at Hotel Dona Maria next to the Cathedral or in Plaza del Salvador, the interior patios of Salvador which was once home to a mosque, the winding Calle de Siete Revueltos, cheap and oversized tapas at Los Coloniales, the fine Museo de Bellas Artes and the art market out front on Sunday mornings, Holy Week processions, having a pastry at La Campana Confiteria, the view from Las Setas.

Santa Cruz

The traditional Jewish neighborhood of Seville borders the historic Center and oozes charm. That is, if you like Disneyland-like charm. The narrow alleyways are now lined with tourist shops, overpriced bars with lamentable food and hardly a native sevillano in sight. For a first-time tourist, it’s breathtaking, with its flamenco music echoing though the cobbled streets. For the rest of us, it’s to be avoided as much as possible.

Rents here are typically not cheap. For a studio or one bedroom, expect to pay 450-700€. For a shared apartment, you’ll pay 300 – 400€.

Not to miss: chowing down a pringa sandwich at Las Columnas, Las Cruces festival in May, the Jardines de Murillo and its fountains, free entrance for students to the Alcazar and its gardens, the beautiful Virgen del Candelaria church (one of my favorites in all of Seville), having a beer at La Fesquita surrounded by photos of Christ crucified.

El Arenal

The neighborhood, named for its sandy banks on the Guadalquivir, boasts a number of gorgeous chapels, the bullring and the Torre del Oro, as well as the gintoncito crowd sipping on Gin & Tonics at seemingly every hour. Wedged in between the Center and the Guadalquivir River, the houses and apartments here tend to be cramped and overpriced, having belonged to families for years. Still, the neighborhood is lively and the taurino crowd ever-present. This is the place for you if you’re too lazy to walk elsewhere and are attracted by the nightlife, which is as varied as old man bars and discos.

For a studio or one bedroom, expect to pay 350-500€. For a shared apartment, you’ll pay 200 – 300€.

Not to miss: the café con leche and tostadas at La Esquina del Arfe, a bullfight at the Maestranza (or at least a view of those trajes de luxes along C/Adriano), the churros lady at the old city gate, the tranquility of Plaza  El Cabildo and its stamp stores and turnstile sweets, the 4,50€ copas at Capone.

Triana

Disclaimer: I’m 100% biased that Triana is the best place to live and wish the lure of free rent and hanging with my Novio on a daily basis didn’t take me away from my querido barrio. Trianeros believe that the district west of the Guadalquivir should be its own mini-nation, and with good reason: everything you could ever need is here.

Once home to the Inquisition Castle (Castillo San Jorge, at the foot of the Triana Bridge) and the poor fisherman and gypsy of Seville, Triana is emblematic of Seville. Quaint homes, tile for miles and churches are Triana’s crown jewels, and it’s become a favorite among foreigners. While it boasts few historic sites, Triana is all about ambiente – walk around and let it seep in, listening to the quick cadence of the feet tapping in its many flamenco schools. Some of the city’s most beloved bars, shops and even pasos are here, and the view from the river-flanked Calle Betis is gorgeous.

The homes here are a bit older and a bit more rundown, though Calle Betis has some of Andalucía’s most expensive property values. Typically, if you opt for El Tardón or the northern section of the neighborhood, prices are more economical. For a studio or one bedroom, expect to pay 350-400€. For a shared apartment, you’ll pay 250 – 350€.

Not to miss: Calle Pureza’s temples and hole-in-the-wall bars, slurping down caracoles at Bar Ruperto (or try the fried quail), the Santa Ana festival along Calle Betis in late July, the ceramics shops on Antillano Campos, Las Golodrinas’s punto-pinchi-chipi-champi meal, the afternoon paseo that the trianeros love so dearly.

Los Remedios

Triana’s neighbor to the south is Los Remedios, where streets are named for Virgens. The apartments are enormous and suitable for families, so don’t be surprised if you have three other roommates. While there’s not much nightlife, save trendy gin tonic bars, the barrio is located along the city’s fairgrounds and comes alive in April, two weeks after Easter. If you’re looking for private classes, this neighborhood is where a lot of the money is (so ask up!), and the many schools and families mean there’s no shortage of alumnos.

There’s also a university building, so cheaper student housing can be found in the area just south of República Argentina. For a studio or one bedroom, expect to pay 350-500€. For a shared apartment, you’ll pay 200 – 300€.

Not to miss: Asuncion’s pedestrian shopping haven, the VIPS boasting American products on Republica Argentina, Parque de los Principes’s lush knolls, the ambience in the surrounding bars during the Feria, Colette’s French pastries.

Alameda

source: ABC online

My host mother once warned me not to go into the Alameda, convinced I’d be robbed by the neighborhood’s hippies. While dreads and guitars are Alameda staples,  the barrio is, in fact, one of the trendiest and most sought after places. By day, families commune on the plaza’s pavement park and fountains. By night, botellones gather around the hip bars and vegetarian restaurants. From the center, it’s a nice ten-minute walk. This does, however, lend to litter and noise. The pros are obvious: close to nightlife (and most of the city’s GLBT scene, too) and the center, and well-communicated (especially for the northern part of the city).

For a studio or one bedroom, expect to pay 350-500€. For a shared apartment, you’ll pay 200 – 300€.

Not to miss: Viriato’s gourmet hamburger, the cute shops on nearby Calle Regina, Cafe Central on a Friday night, Teatro Alameda’s offerings, El Jueves morning flea market, the Feria market and its hidden fish restaurant. 

Macarena Sur

source: Dominó por España blog

Ever heard that famous song by Los del Río? Yep, it was named for Seville’s famous life-sized statue of the Virgen Mary, whose basilica and procession in the early hours of Holy Friday draw crowds and shout of “¡GUAPA!” Rent prices here are lower, bars more authentic and fewer tourists. The markets bustle, and the winding roads beneath plant-infested balconies are breathtaking. It’s also not uncommon to see processions or stumble upon a new boutique or pop-up bar. It’s also located just steps away from Alameda and encompasses Feria and San Julián, making it easy to get to the center, Nervión and Santa Justa.

Studios and one bedrooms run about 350 – 500€, whereas a bedroom in a shared apartment are about 200 – 350€. 

Not to miss: Plaza de los Botellines, Calle Feria and its market (and the freshest Cruzcampo I’ve encountered!), numerous kebab shops for a late-night snack, the Macarena basilica and old city fortress walls.

Nervión

The city’s business center is located in Nervión, where houses are meant more for families. This means they’re bigger, newer and better-equipped (most apartments for rent come already furnished with the basics). Still, Nervión is well-connected to the center, airport and Triana, is sandwiched between the central train stations, and boasts a shopping mall and the Sevilla Fútbol Club stadium.

This area is enormous – it stretches essentially from the first to second ring road in the area due east of the center. Many students choose to live here because of its proximity to many university faculties, like business, education and travel. The apartments tend to be newer and come unfurnished. Studios and one bedrooms are not common and expensive (think 500€), and sharing a flat will run you between 275 and 400€.

Not to miss: n’Ice Cream cake and ice cream shop, the Cruzcampo factory, El Cafetal’s live music on weekends, Nervión Plaza Mall, Parque La Buhaíra’s summer concert series.

Where do I live? Currently in a working class neighborhood where prices are cheaper, parking more abundant and noise almost non-existent. BUT I’ll be moving back to Triana before the end of the summer!

Where are you planning on living, or live already? What do you like (or not) about it? 

Things Not to Expect in your Spanish Flat

“Oh, yeah, amigdalitis isn’t strep, Cat, it’s tonsilitis.” Immediately visions of guy Rimbey’s tonsil operation in the fourth grade had me queasy again. I asked Kelly what to do.

“So you just need to heat a glass of water in the microwave and then…” Stop right there, chiquilla. I don’t have a microwave. Come to think of it, I have very few appliances, save my olla express, miniprimer hand blender and the unused flatiron grill I got Kike for Christmas last year.
I thought back to arriving at my apartment in Triana not four years ago. Eager to meet my roommates in 1ºD, I didn’t bother to look around the flat to see what it had to offer me. After all, I found it on the Internet and Melissa, who was to become a good amiga, didn’t go into much detail about what we had – or what we didn’t. I just rolled with the punches, you could say.

Taking stock of the appliances and kitchen supplies later, there were: random cutlery, unmatched pots and pans, a paella maker, a low-power microwave, a broken iron and a hot water heater. The TV was a mystery to turn on, but the gas-lit water tank took the cake. Literally, because I had no oven to bake one in.

My piso when I arrived, circa September 2007
Gas tanks, or bombonas, are ugly orange excuses for hot showers or boiling water. Buy one of these suckers and you’re guaranteed four minutes of hot water (we had a shower schedule) if it’s full. We learned to turn off the water while shampooing, respect our shower hours or wash our hair in the biday, use the teeny water heater for soups and tea and deal with lighting the stove.

I came to love that house on C/Numancia, even with all of the broken things and heavy wooden furniture. Our landlords gave us permission to paint, gave us money for new pots and pans and Sanne’s boyfriend brought over a toaster. We even got a sandwich maker, which was used seldomly because it was a PAIN to clean.

Enjoying a lighter and cuter painted salón

Moving into Kike’s house was a treat. He has an oven and an electric water tank heater, so I can take long showers right after he does. But where’s the microwave? And the dryer? I’ve had to make toast in the oven, fry hot dogs and follow the weather forecast in order to have my clothes hang dry on the line outside my fourth-floor apartment.

If you’re thinking of coming to Southern Spain and expect to find everything in condition like your house back home, think again. Here are four things you’d be lucky to find in an older house:

Central Heating

When I tell people I’m from Chicago, they usually remark, “Ooooh, it must be so cold there!” Yeah, sure, it’s a frozen tundra in the winter, but at least we have sensible coats and heat our homes. Because Andalucía gets so warm in the summer, the houses are more equipped for the hot months. this means white walls, tile floors and a thing called a brasero under your living room table. You’re better off buying a big rug and extra throw blanket from IKEA, along with a small space heater. Just don’t leave it on when you’re not around or at night!

Oven

When my host mother had to deal with my vegetarian roommate who hated fish, she asked one question: Well, what do I make? Emily suggested simply buying a frozen pizza, but poor Aurora couldn’t even figure out how to turn on the oven! even my boyfriend, a born and bred Spaniard, uses the oven for very few things, relying instead on the stove top.

Automatic Stove top

Yeah, that’s the other thing. As I mentioned above, the whole stove thing is tricky. You need to find the nearest dollar store, buy a bit box of matches and turn on the bombona tank. Then, careful enough not to singe your hair or burn off your fingers, turn the stove dials and throw the match on it. At least, that’s how this anti-pyro did it. These oven are practical to save gas, but they sure suck. I am happy to clean and re-clean my vitro ceramica!

Clothes Dryer
Ains, the crux of my existence. I hate that my underwear gets hung out the balcony for all the neighbors to see, and I hate that line that I have to iron out of shirts. After four years, I’ve mastered how to adequately hang things so that they’ll dry, but I hate the fit and missing that the out-of-the-dryer feeling. My requirement for our next house? You guessed it – a dryer.

Just My Luck

Well, I’ve managed to do it again. Two years ago, on our first day in Valladolid, I locked Emily, Madre and myself out on our balcony. Emily climbed through the bathroom window and let us in. Apparently Spanish terraces lock from the inside.

This morning, I was cleaning off the terrace while Eva was having a smoke and I closed the door so that I could wipe down the windows. Eva said, “A few weeks ago, before you arrived, I locked myself out here. It took me 20 minutes to get in.” and I said, “You silly girl! How did you get in? Did someone come?” And she said, “No, but now we must find a way in since we have locked the door.” DUH. I stayed calm, thinking, Melissa won’t be home for a few days, but I at least have a sheet out here so we can keep warm and we could really scrub down the balcony. Eva can light one of her stubs when she wants a nicotine fix. Eva tried to use the broom to pry the door open, and I considered taking the door off the hinge. I didn’t find any hinges.

Then, I got an idea. I knew my keys were on the desk where I’m writing from. It’s right next to the window. I figured I could stand on the outside of the terrace’s wrought iron gate and grab them, after I’d maneuvered them to the side of the desk next to the window. I would have climbed through the window, but there are bars on them. My plan was successful. As Eva held me around the waist, I grabbed the keys and climbed back onto the terrace.

So now we had keys, and I was considering jumping from the first floor down to the street and walking in and retrieving my roommate. She wouldn’t let me. I flagged down a lady walking with some grocery bags, son in hand. I kind of explained to her what happened then threw my keys to her. She came and got us and told us to lay off the bottle. I just said, “Uh huh, ok!” But we were inside!!

Other than that mishap, things are fine. I met the Sevilla team for a drink and to discuss the semester’s work. One of them is from Chicago, so we got along immediately and have since gone and eaten together. I like teaching a lot, too. When I leave, the students will stand by the door and wave their hand and say, “Goodbye American teacher!” The other teachers in the school are all very nice, too. One of them invited me to a horse race this weekend, or out to a movie. Too bad he is about 60. Oh Raf.

If I’ve got one complaint, it’s that I haven’t made a ton of friends. I wanted to go out last night and experience the nightlife, but no one was going out. Well, except Kelly, but she didn’t call me until 2 am and I was already sleeping. I need to suck it up and go out on a school night and just sleep during the day!

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