No Habla Español: English Woman Living in Spain #9

So, it seems fitting that this is only my ninth post about my time in Spain. As a person who likes round numbers, it leaves a door open for future opportunity to return. For this last post, I have complied a list of things I’ll miss about Spain, as well as those things I’ve been missing from the UK. I came to the country not even a beginner in Spanish, and have since done an online test (from a language school in beloved Battersea, of all places) and the test placed me as a Pre-Intermediate 3 (A2.3 on the CEFR). I have been in Spanish lessons all June, and spent last Saturday reading a story book at the pool, plus the doorman to my building just said I have improved (though he seems to say that a lot!) I’ve been to Granada, and will be finishing my trip in the beautiful Cadiz, where I’ve never been before.

So, here we go with Spain vs. UK.

Weather

So, it’s always around 10 degrees warmer here in Andalusia. That said, it is very hard to keep to a good temperature because it is so expensive. In winter, my apartment just has a choice between air conditioning and an electric radiator. In summer, it’s windows or air con. Bills have been expensive as it is, so it doesn’t feel like much of a choice. The fact there isn’t central heating makes as much sense to me as the UK not having air con (so, equally silly). The summer sun is more reliable here, but I’ll be back to the UK’s unpredictability soon enough.

Food

Whilst away I’ve missed roast dinners, and despite getting my fill over Christmas, I’m salivating now just writing the word gravy (which, by the way is really hard to describe in Spanish – un tipo de salsa?). My favourite Spanish dishes can be had in the UK, and with that in mind, what I appreciate in the UK is the variety of cuisine, and it has made me want to try food from even more nationalities. Even with the summer heat now, the lack of gardens also means a lack of BBQs, which I’ll also look forward to sinking my teeth into on my return. What I will miss most is the availability of churros con chocolate, which are a dessert option in some restaurants, but here are a staple of any good cafe. As well as that, I love that sandwiches are generally plain (no mayo), and on massive delicious bread. Like this tortilla one.

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Drink

Anyone who knows me will know my chocolate and milk habit, which I have as an evening treat – a reward for my hard work. Milk in Spain is not the same, and generally tastes sweeter. I did manage to find a decent skimmed milk, and have recently been popping a mug in the freezer so it is extra chilled. On the other hand, I have no idea how I am going to fill the void of both still lemon juice, and tinto de verano or vargas.  Yes, I can get lemon juice in the UK, but it comes in relatively expensive cartons, and not the nice big bottles you have here, and you can get a bottle of vargas for under a euro. It is so fruity and has low-alcohol content, so it is delicious.

Places

There is an Irish pub in Córdoba, but just isn’t the same. A good pub maintains what is meant by its full name: public house. They are cosy, family-friendly, and serve proper pub food (see: gravy). British children often grow up going to pubs, usually with a playground to accommodate them and I have many fond memories of The Leather Bottle, playing wit friends and eating salt-and-vinegar McCoys with a blackcurrant cordial. I’ve now changed that order to a pint, but what I will take back with me is the smaller measures in Spain. Obviously, they’re more liberal with the spirits (best gin con limón ever), but I love being able to get just a caña or maceta. I feel like I might start getting half pints when back in the UK. Another plus here is that you can get cheap tapas whilst drinking, and sometimes it’s even free.

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Entertainment

I feel a great connection with Spanish music, and have also enjoyed some of the flamenco fusion nights, which are filled with people of all ages, often dancing traditionally. The festivals in May will definitely be calling me back. This kind of culture just can’t be found in the UK if we think about what is traditionally British in terms of dancing… Morris dancing? I’m sorry, but no thank you. In my opinion, nothing quite matches the dancing here, and I would love to learn the sevillianas so I can feel more of a part of it. Despite this, I know I can learn this dance back in London, because again, the UK trumps every time when it comes to variety. I am spoilt for choice having had the fortune to grow up, and still currently be able to live there on my return.

Lifestyle

As much as I miss my family, having lived with my parents for the past five years, living on my own in Spain has been a dream come true. I paid about half my salary to live alone, but I relished this space, not to mention my independence. I’ve been eating less meat (mostly only when I go out), whilst meat or fish is a staple with every meal with my dad’s cooking. For the time I was living and working in London post-university, I started not to take lunch breaks, yet now having the long ‘siesta’ afternoon breaks (I don’t siesta), I have appreciated the importance of a proper break away from work at lunch, cooking my main meal during this time. Of course, this is made easier by living less than five minutes walk away from work. That glory is what I am most going to miss. Still, working in the day time is preferable, but it’s likely that any TEFL work I do back in London will be evening work too. That said, I find this kind of pattern means I see work as part of my day, rather than something to get over and done with.

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People

I’ve made friends here, and I hope to come to visit them next year. That said, a year just isn’t long enough, especially with the transient nature of this work, and if I had better Spanish I would have liked to make more Spanish friends (a lot of the locals who engage with English teachers tend to be men…) I just wish I had come sooner, but like there aren’t enough hours in the day, sometimes it feels like there aren’t enough years in the lifetime. In some ways, I have found it difficult to be away from friends and family, and this was more so when hearing of the news of terror attacks, the Grenfell Tower fire, another fire in Bethnal Green where I used to work, and more personal matters, such as my Great Uncle passing away just last week. I was lucky in that I had friends and family visit, but I am so looking forward to seeing all my friends in the UK again, friends I’ve known from age four, from secondary school, from university, from poetry.

Home

This brings me to one of the things that makes me feel most at home in the UK: our lovely poetry communities. I have already signed up to take part in the Poetry Cafe fundraiser. I’m also going to be at Edinburgh Fringe festival with She Grrrowls (Black Market Room 1, 7:20-8:20 pm). I am feeling anxious, but also excited. So many of my friends have achieved such amazing things in the time that I’ve been gone, and I just can’t wait to see them doing these things (and join in a bit too, hopefully). There’s so much that I want to do, including continuing learning Spanish, and although I obviously won’t be able to do this in the same way without physically being in Spain, to have only been to one poetry event, this is possibly the number one thing that I missed in the time that I have been gone, because I was almost starved of it.

So, I leave here in July, relating to this quote from Suzannah Weiss: Few are familiar with the concept of going somewhere, loving it, and, nevertheless, leaving.

 

No Habla Español: English Woman Living in Spain #8

I have just finished stage one of packing for going back to the UK. I still have over a month, but having accumulated more than I came with, I felt the urge to check I’d be able to fit it all. I had to purchase an extra suitcase, but I had a sudden panic that it wasn’t enough.

I bought the suitcase for just €9 from an app called Wallapop. The service enables people to sell second hand goods to local people. I also used this app to buy my dress for the feria. I went to one woman’s home her husband was also there, their apartment was immaculate, like a showroom, and I went into a bedroom to try the dress on.  That one didn’t fit, so I found another I liked. The owner of the first spoke very fast Spanish, so it was difficult, but the second woman I visited spoke English.

The dress was beautiful again, and though it didn’t fit, it seemed possible simply to get it taken out a bit so that the zip could do up. I agreed to the price of €80 if the woman could come with me to get it adjusted. It was only €10 and did the job, and I just had to pick it up on my own. You can find out more about the feria in my article for The Norwich Radical.

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As things are coming to an end here, I also have to start cancelling things. I’ve been writing messages to my agency to arrange a date for the key and deposit exchange, which I’ve been doing in Spanish. At one point she left a voice note instead and I painstakingly tried to write the message down in Spanish. I got the gist, but it was important, so I asked for the written version and understood the same. I started the cancellations by ending my gym membership. I attempted to speak in Spanish, but was saved somewhat by a woman who could speak English. I’d wanted to go to one last zumba class, but they wouldn’t let me.

One thing that can be annoying here is that they are so rule-orientated. I guess there aren’t perhaps as many rules as other places, but the ones they do have are enforced in such as way that can seem unreasonable. Whilst the gym was happy for me to pay for the time before the first payment, yet couldn’t allow me a few days when the payment leaves my account on that same date. I was frustrated also at my recent relaxing trip to a public outdoor swimming pool and they lifeguards were adamant for me to take my glasses off in case they broke. I tried to explain in Spanish that I needed them to see, that they were prescription. So, I had to swim in blurry surroundings. Still, can’t complain too much. I will be returning as much as possible to spend days reading and swimming. They even have a cafe there, so on weekends I could go from 10am-9pm!

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I’m hoping to go back to Spanish classes, and definitely want to continue learning when I’m in the UK. My friend Laura also came to visit for a second time (she’s lived in Barcelona for two year before), and we were approached by two Spanish men who tried to encourage us to speak Spanish, so we had a bit of practise, but inevitably ended up speaking more English than Spanish. For those thinking about going to Spain to improve their Spanish, I would say to study beforehand. I feel that if I had studied the amount I have done now then I would feel more confident to practise speaking more. Still, it can be difficult to meet people who aren’t other English teachers.

I’ve got my eye on a language exchange in London, and I may even land a job at an academy that has Spanish there too.

Hasta luego!

No Habla Español: English Woman Living in Spain #7

So, a friend of mine asked how the Spanish was going today and so I thought about writing this. Here’s your answer, Alys!

I’ve had to be flexible recently as it’s been Semana Santa. It also means I’m having to try to get back into those habits that I’ve now broken, including both physical and mental exercise routines! Instead of using my apps, I’ve done a lot of text-book studying and I’ve got through a lot, which feels like progress. That said, I will have lots of revise too – learning anything is a lot about repetition, which is at times isn’t as fun as learning something new and understanding it.

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Semana Santa processions

I did my first solo trip outside of the UK. to Madrid. I’d been away semi-solo before, and in reality this trip ended up being quite similar. I was in a female dorm in a “party hostel” which was had a great group of girls staying in it and so I had a couple of people to hang out with a lot of the time. Going away made me think how easy it can be to make a home somewhere, for something new to become a comfort zone. It was as if I had forgotten that I had actually come to live in Spain without knowing anyone. Córdoba has become another comfort zone of which to push myself out. And then that hostel room became a comfort zone of sorts.

That said, I did take myself off one night, when my hunger didn’t match up with that of others. I wanted something cheap. I loved Madrid, and with each day I imagined more what it would be like to live there, but it was hard to find good, cheap food. I spoke in Spanish at one place nearby that was shown as cheap on Trip Advisor, but there was no tapas. I spoke to them in Spanish and the cheapest they could offer was a half portion of eggplant at 6 Euros. I apologised, explaining that it was too expensive for me, and left. All in Spanish. Score. I ended up getting Chinese food for the same price including a bunch of noodles and spring rolls and expanding my variety of vocabulary!

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First day, on the walking tour.

In Malaga, with two friends from home, I tried to practise when I knew what to say. I was impressed by one friend who didn’t even study Spanish, but also a little jealous: how could she know all this vocabulary that’s taken me all this time to grasp?! But she also has some knowledge and interest in other languages, such as Greek, Italian and German. They say it’s easier to pick up languages when you know some of others. Then again, both friends were impressed when I was able to tell the waiter at our evening meal that the sangria was good, but the food was not, and managed to get us four tapas taken off the bill.

Initially, I started this journey wanting to become fluent within 10 months. I’ve always been one for setting unrealistic expectations… It stressed me out and tired me out. It was just too much. I’ve been writing a lot of poetry as part of the “40 Sonnets” group… although this year aiming to write one Terza Rima a day. I just finished catching up yesterday and spent all morning writing my diary. I also want to get back into my short stories. And I like to watch Friends with my lunch. So, occasionally I might watch Spanish TV, listen to Spanish music, and speak in Spanish. But I need these other parts of my life in order to feel balanced.

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Malaga

What I am happy about is that I am working hard, enjoying studying, and not feeling worried that I’ll be back at my parents’ house in three months. It’s a starting point and as long as I am consistent and make time to study in some way each day, then I can only go forward. I feel really inspired by students who have studied for 3-4 years at home and have a good level of fluency in English, including grammatical concepts. It makes me think it’s possible for me too, that just because I’ve haven’t yet learnt Spanish from  a couple of years at school, it doesn’t make me “bad at languages”. And it keeps me going to imagine a time where I can travel back to Spain, and go to other Spanish-speaking countries and communicate, that maybe it could even expand my ability to understand and be understood in terms of poetry and literature too.

That reminds me, I really must pick up those graded reading books again…

 

No Habla Español: English Woman Living in Spain #6

I last updated this series around two months ago. The major change that has happened that makes learning a another language so much more important is ‘Brexit’.

Theresa May has signed papers that mean this is actually happening. The “United” Kingdom is leaving the EU. Whilst part of my anger at this is about the freedom of my own movement, and the injustice at having to buy a new blue passport (not to mention the economic impact), what I am really lamenting is my home changing. In some ways, the bubble has simply burst, but a lot of London people like myself like to celebrate the diversity of the capital and parts across the country. Perhaps with rose-tinted glasses, my childhood is remembered as a melting pot of cultures, my own Hispanic roots included. The older I grew, the further afield I went, the more divided communities seemed to me, and fearmongers appeared to up the ante. And now this. Although London voters as a whole wanted to remain in the EU, the rhetoric of the Leave campaign has given free reign to those committing racist and xenophobic attacks all over.

I had a student ask me if I thought that now English wouldn’t be as necessary to learn now. The computer engineer student is interested in working abroad in the future, but he wants to remain in a European country, possibly to to still be close to his family. The city where I am living has so many language schools full of students learning the English language, but after all these years studying, they’re having their future tampered with by, frankly, ignorant people. Ignorant, because it was revealed how many people regretted their vote and didn’t realise what it would happen, or even that it would happen at all. And so, in continuing with my line of work teaching English, the least I can do is keep up with my struggle to improve my Spanish.

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So, I’ve been trying to speak more, confusing the word ‘make-up’ (maquillaje) with ‘butter’ (mantequilla) and feeling awkward in various situations. I’m now ahead on my lesson plans, so I’m spending more time with my head in books, on apps etc. I’ve also been able to speak to more locals and actually practise speaking Spanish with them, resulting in coming home at 2am on a work night – from an Irish bar, of all places (it’s okay, I have Thursday mornings off). I enjoyed it so much, my English workmate was like ‘Why are you speaking in Spanish to me?’ when I tried to keep it up.

I’m also hunting for a traje de gitana/flamenca. This has meant looking at Wallapop, my new favourite app, where you can search for second hand things that are nearby. So, today I walked for half an hour to meet a woman to try on her dress. She had a perfect home, and my ideal dress – red and white varied polka dots, long and traditional, yet modern. As always, when I tried to say how bad my Spanish was, she didn’t seem to understand and still spoke fast and expected me somehow to understand. Sadly, the dress wouldn’t go over my shoulders as the arms were too tight for me. ‘Es muy bonita, pero es demasiado poco en los hombros y los ambroz’ I think I said… I should have said ‘pequeño’ (small) instead of ‘poco’ (little) and ‘brazos’ (arms) instead of whatever the F that word was at the end.

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Earlier on in March I also took part in Grito de Mujer. An incredibly nerve-wracking situation, I was more concerned with not knowing what was going on than reading my poems. Other than missing out on the first few takes of a group photograph, and some of my translations getting lost, it was all fine. Someone did have to translate a bit when I wasn’t sure what the host was saying to me, but at this event, and another, I tried to absorb the Spanish around me. The photo was also in the newspaper, which is pretty cool! You can find out more about the night here.

Lastly, I’ve also started to do the speaking exercises in my textbook by recording myself. I figured it’s better than skipping exercises, and maybe I’ll get to see some progress! It’s super embarrassing to share, so I’m still working out whether I will share more or not, but my first post inspired someone to take up a language, so that seems a good enough reason to keep it up!

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P.S. Give Gibraltar back.

 

No Habla Español: English Woman Living in Spain #5

Another month in Spain, another review of what I have achieved. At times it doesn’t seem like much. But then there are are moments, where I have had a successful interaction, and it probably seems a bit silly how excited I get by it. I don’t get many interactions, because I don’t put myself out there a lot. But I successfully asked my doorman for another key (for visitors) and a few days later got a key. He is pretty much the only person I speak to in Spanish on a regular basis.

Case in point: I went on a hike with a massive group of mainly Spanish people, and only really spoke to other English teachers. It was a day that was amazing for so many reasons, but it was also painful for other reasons. At the end of the 17/18km we had a cheap paella as our reward. However, we were misinformed about the process, and not being able to access the language meant we had to queue up again, when we were so close to being served (I was hangry). A failed conversation with some Spanish people who couldn’t speak English made me feel embarrassed and reminded me of being in Vietnam, that kind of awkward laughter from everyone, not really knowing what was funny. Why did I find it so hard to speak when put on the spot?

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One of the other teachers I met on the hike also unintentionally hit a nerve. When I asked how their Spanish was, they said they were half-Spanish. Like, obviously that means you can speak the language. It hit a nerve, because, okay, it’s only my grandfather who is Spanish, but my dad is half-Spanish and pretty much everyone on that side of the family has struggled with trying to learn Spanish – my dad, my uncle, my cousins. Wouldn’t it be so easy if the language had just been passed on? I know other people can relate to this frustration, from Latinx people in America, and one guy I heard about whose parents were both Spanish but brought up in the UK ended up not being able to speak it properly.

This is why I strongly believe that languages should be passed on. It seems especially silly for family members not to pass on Spanish, when it’s one of the most spoken languages in the UK. I mean, what were you thinking?!  Both my paternal grandparents can speak Spanish, so it’s a continual frustration. In another life, I could have been bilingual. Instead, I have this strange hole I feel the desire to fill with Spanish. As if I am a fraud, as if my heritage is not in my blood if I cannot speak the language. At times I think my whole reasoning for wanting to learn is silly, but the motivations are something unexplainable to a degree. I must be repeating myself, but it’s especially embarrassing with my name.

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It has been a lot harder to learn than I anticipated, and although I sometimes rush things, there are two things I can think of that I don’t rush: making new friends, and learning languages… All I know is that if I keep going forward and push myself every now and again, then I must be making some progress, however small. And I could spend more time on it, but I also want to do other things, like making friends, and writing, and reading and travelling! Oh, and I do have a job to do too! They tend to take up times.

So, for now, like on the hike, I started, so I will continue…

No Habla Español: English Woman Living in Spain #4

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In my final two weeks I’ve been ill. I struggled through most of it because I wanted to see the Christmas show … which I ended up missing because I was teaching. At work we had a Christmas buffet, where I made up for the lack of alcohol with tortilla and lots of water (I was trying not to drink, but succumbed to two small glasses of red when the water ran out).

I saw a couple of friends on the Saturday, and rested the whole of the Sunday, but the sore throat was still lingering. Sore throats always make me paranoid due to a close-call at university where I was being tested for leukemia, and could have contracted ME. I also had one of the new teachers staying this last weekend in Spain, so it wasn’t the best timing. But they did buy me some lovely coasters as a thank you, meaning I can replace the terrible glass ones I had bought before. Glass + Spanish floor = dangerous.

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Oh yes, as well as the cold, I also discovered some glass in my foot, perhaps a day or two after it went in. When I moved into the apartment, there was a lot of glass that I discovered on random occasions, but I think this particular injury was due to those pesky coasters. Thankfully, I had sorted out my medical card and doctor’s surgery already. However, I needed help from my boss when I had been given the incorrect information for booking appointments on an old leaflet.

I managed to book an appointment with a nurse the next day, and one with a doctor on the Monday. It was confusing, but we used translation apps to understand one another. I got brought from one room to another, where the nurse tried to remove the glass. It still hurt, so they said to come back again if I needed to, but was told I needed a doctor’s appointment to have my throat looked at. I was given a bunch of thick plasters and bandages, as well as an unknow red-orange liquid.

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It had done the job, but the sore throat remained (I also strangely had a nose-bleed, but didn’t think that was relevant). So, I returned on Monday and thankfully was granted an extra day of rest, given a ‘baja’ and a couple of things on prescription. I used the Spanish I had memorised, and even if the doctor did speak English, I was able to speak at snail-pace as she listened patiently and only resorted to translation once, when I was confused about the sick note, thinking I wasn’t getting one, when it was merely that she could only offer one day rather than two because it was red, but there was no sign of, I guess, tonsillitis, or similar.

I told the pharmacy that I could only speak a little Spanish, but before I could say anything, they already took my card and gave me the medication. The cost was hard to understand though, as the ‘seis’ just sounded like ‘ei’, so the cashier told me in English when I appeared confused (though I was paying with a 20, so my confusion was more that she wasn’t just taking the note). One of the main challenges is listening, though I was proud I was able to understand most of what the doctor said.

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Other recent achievements include, being able to understand a group of people who had paid an entrance fee and telling them ‘otra puerta’ (not that they seemed to listen to me, but seconds later I heard them repeat the same thing when they realised). Having spent too much money on Christmas presents, I also once needed to return a box of cereal that was advertised as 80 cents, that came up as 2.99. I managed to tell them in Spanish and got my money back. I always hunt for the discounted boxes, and I mean, that one didn’t even have chocolate in it. Another big thing is that I memorised the basic verbs available on Spanish Verbs, so I am now onto conjugating in the present tense, which shouldn’t take me as long. Here’s hoping I can keep it up over the holidays…

My top 8 favourite things about Córdoba.

 

1. It’s beautiful.

When I first moved here, I walked around the streets in disbelief that I had the fortune to spend a year in such a beautiful city. Being surrounded by beauty has a way that lifts the spirits. Sure, it was bathed in summer sunlight then, but even in winter, it often is still and the fresh chill in the air doesn’t make the streets any less beautiful. I love the traditional cobbled streets, white and yellow houses with balconies, and the statues that are still popping up around the city. I was also lucky enough to bag my own apartment in the centre, which is equally as pretty inside.

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Pretty, even in the rain.

2. It’s chilled.

The general vibe of the city is pretty chilled out. People are friendly, and forgiving for those like me who struggle to speak Spanish. This means I can enjoy my job relatively stress-free, and day-to-day life is easy-going. Whatever reason for the happy-vibes here, it has had an enormous impact on my wellbeing and mental health. I used to find it hard to relax, but now whenever I get a voice that says what I “should” be doing, I am able to justify my decisions, whether that’s going for a long lunch at De Tapas instead of staying in and being “productive”, or whether it’s taking time out of Spanish classes (which had been stressing me out) and going swimming instead, or even just making more time to indulge in reading. I write poetry regularly and naturally, and whenever I sit down with the intention to write a short story or article, it feels unpressured and enjoyable.

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3. It’s sunny.

Okay, I’m not going to lie, the weather was one of the main motivations for moving here. My first focus was that I wanted to learn Spanish, but I didn’t even look at places in the north like San Sebastian. Long days, that are often sunny and often without rain, are naturally going to make you feel good. With bright blue skies, you can’t complain.

4. It’s small.

Along with the sunny weather, something that is paramount for my mental health is not having to travel on tubes and trains everywhere. Growing up in London, you get so used to its chaos. I’m a highly sensitive person, and I’ve been reminded of certain aspects of this recently – parts of myself that I hadn’t truly taken note of, having not realised the emotion impact. It is absolute bliss to be able to walk everywhere. It’s under five minutes to walk to work, under two to the gym, and the friend that lives furthest from me is only a twenty-minute walk. I’m surrounded by restaurants and shops. Everything I could want is practically on my doorstep. Sadly, it’s impossible to find this situation in London – either too expensive or too difficult to live near work. I know I want to come back to the UK, but moving back in with my parents is a massive compromise on the happiness and independence that I have here.

5. It’s clean.

This point doesn’t need much explaining. It goes along with the beauty, that it needs to be maintained. During the night, the streets are washed down, made fresh and sparkly clean for  the morning.

6. It’s cheap. 

Again, the fact that I can afford an apartment on my own, with a fairly modest wage, right in the centre of the city, is incredible when compared with the UK. I can eat well for less, and eating and drinking out is cheap to, having already mention De Tapas, where you can get a caña for 60 cents, and a small dish for 90 cents. It’s 2.50 for churros con chocolate at Marta’s, and you can get an ice-cream for between 1-3 euros, depending on size. Perfeco!

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These skewers from Mercado Victoria are the best!

7. The food.

So, speaking of food. I had to change this from 5 to 8 things, because I couldn’t leave out the food. I love the typically Spanish dishes such as tortilla and paella, but one of the reasons I love going to De Tapas is that I am surprised by so many new dishes. It’s also very unlike me to enjoy something like that, as I usually order the same things if given a choice, and I don’t tend to fare well with the unexpected. But I like how it forces me to relax and be in a state where I am not in control. It’s also all so delicious.

8. The culture.

It’s a strange thing to feel connected to Spanish culture, but also that it is still something  from which I am an outsider. I love walking through the streets to hear the music play, and recently got to see the most amazing flamenco show. The passion of their voices, the skill in the movement, the rhythm of the music. I want to write more about this, but I almost find it hard to describe. I just know that each day I am making memories, and I will look back on this year as a highlight of my life.

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