After 6 months on the road, we have settled in southern Spain for the winter (or forever?!). We are enjoying the sunshine, walkable city and low cost of living. Oh, and here is the view from our apartment.
Needless to say, we are enjoying our life here. However, I will fully admit we are still in our honeymoon period, having only been here just over a month, so I will report back again in a few months to let you know what Spanish things are driving me bonkers.
In the meantime, I will tell you a little bit about our life here. It is, in many ways, a big change from life in the USA.
We are staying in a small town on the Costa Tropical. We are near the famed Costa del Sol, the region swarming with mega-resorts and Northern European tourists. On the Costa del Sol, you can get by very easily without knowing (or even hearing) any Spanish. Here on the Costa Tropical, you see a bit more of everyday life. There are certainly tourists, but not many in the low season (winter) and many of those tourists are Spaniards. The full-time resident population of our city is just under 30,000. In the summer, the town will be pack with over 100,000 people, many of which are people from the big cities in Spain (Seville, Madrid, etc) escaping the stifling heat of the Spain summer. We love the lack of crowds, even when it means some closed restaurants and shops, in the winter.
There is a cute “old town” area, with restaurants and the town hall. As a bonus, it is now decorated with lights for the holiday season.
One of the things we absolutely love about life here and our town is that we can walk EVERYWHERE! We have our car here, but it usually stays parked all week long, and we only use it on weekend trips out of town. Or when, about once a month, we take a drive to a larger nearby town to the closest hypermarket to stock up on things like Cheerios or peanut butter or socks.
So back to walking – we walk to the bank, the grocery store, the school, the local swimming pool, restaurants, the handy local store that is a cross between Wal-Mart and the dollar store, to the beach and playgrounds. Everywhere! We love it. We walk and everyone else walks. Back home, we would have to make a big effort to walk anywhere, and there were only very few places we could even consider to be in reasonable walking distance – certainly not everywhere we needed to go on a daily basis.
There are even some ruins here – there is a castle that stands on a hill overlooking the town, dating back to to the first century BC, with history including the Phoenicians, Romans and Moors.
The town used to also be the home of a large fish salting factory for the Phoenicians and Romans, and the ruins are now surrounded by a small park.
There are also a few sets of aqueduct ruins (gotta love the aqueducts!), including one with a playground in it. We haven’t been there yet, but plan to go soon – stay tuned for our next blog post – or follow us on instagram if you just can’t wait that long 😉
One of our main priorities in coming to Spain was for the boys to improve their Spanish – ideally becoming fully bilingual. Spending five hours in school every day is a good way to achieve their goal. They had a decent level of Spanish before we left, and since I have no way to judge, I’m not sure how much their Spanish is improving. I guess time (and my Spanish-speaking friend from home when we see her at Spring Break 😉 ) will tell.
We are really enjoying school life in Spain. The days are shorter, which means they start school at 9am, instead of 7:40 like back home. Change our 1/2 hour car drive to a 10-minute walk and that means we don’t have to leave the house until 8:50, a full two hours later than we did back in the US. That is basically worth the move right there! I kid not! They are also out of school at 2pm, and home by 2:10, instead of home by 3:30 like at home. So are the kids getting LESS education here? Maybe. But we are confident they will learn what they need to. Here are a few other highlights of school life:
- All boys are at the same school at the same time. Hallelujah! Angels singing. We finally have the holy grail of parenting (behind coordinated naps), the momentous milestone of a synchronized school schedule. And it will stay this way for another 2 1/2 years (you know, just in case we decide to stay that long 😉 )
- The student age cut-off for the school year is based on the calendar year. With our two summer-birthday kids, this was a huge relief, and I am happy to report that our kids are all 2 years apart in school (4th year, 2nd year and final year of Infantil), instead of the 1 year and 3 year gaps we had in the US
- The students learn TWO foreign languages at school! For someone who had to work so hard to get our kids to learn a single foreign language in elementary school, the fact that all student get TWO is amazing! This year, all the kids get English, and A gets French as well. Next year, all the kids, starting in 1st year (which will be N’s grade) will do French.
Now of course there are some challenges of having kids in school. Like the notes that get sent home. I suspect these notes would be difficult to understand without the context and knowledge of Spanish culture even if we did speak Spanish. But, since we don’t….yikes! You should have seen how long it took us to decipher the note that said we needed to dress A up like a shepherd for a school show. At the same time, we were trying to figure out the procedure (via more school notes) about how to pick up the kids report cards. This all happened yesterday, and we were feeling pretty good about ourselves for about five minutes, like we were finally figuring things out. Then, we picked N up from his class and realized that all of his classmates (except him) had come to school dressed up in a chef’s apron and hat that day. Hmm, guess we missed something there…
C and I are working hard on learning Spanish. Right now, our goal is just to be good enough to survive daily life. We have pretty well achieved “fluent enough for a grocery store transaction” but are still very far from “understanding the notes the boys get home from school”.
Lots of work for our old brains to do, but we are slowly starting to make some progress. I will update you on this in a few months on our follow-up post on life in Spain.
Eating and Drinking
Lots on this topic. First, the hours here are seriously wacky for us non-Spaniards. We have yet to go out to dinner here. Why? Well, because dinner here is pretty much AT OUR BEDTIME!!! I am only slightly exaggerating because maybe C & I don’t quite go to bed at that time, but the boys do. Their restaurants don’t even open for dinner until at least 8pm. Their big meal tends to be around a late lunchtime, usually between 1-4pm. We actually really like this style, and now tend to have our big meal after the boys get home at 3pm, and only a small snack at home 6:30 or so.
Earlier this week, N got invited to a birthday party of one of his classmates who was turning 5. The party started at 7:15pm on a school night. They played and sat down to pizza and chicken nuggets (some things are universal, I guess) at 8:15pm!! (10 minutes past his bedtime). Then they went to play. Then they came back to sing happy birthday, then back to play again. Then they opened all the presents. Then ate cake. Finally just before 9pm, C politely excused him and N and headed out of there. Yikes! I wouldn’t want to be the teacher of that class of 5 yr olds the next day! (though I suspect the Spanish kids are more used to it, and maybe weren’t the terror of tiredness that N was).
Next topic – TAPAS!
We are lucky to live in the Granada province, where, unlike most of Spain, it is obligatory for the restaurant to serve a (free) tapa – a small meal/snack, when someone orders a drink. So, it is a nice way to get a little snack or meal for cheap. We can order a drink for €2 and end up with nearly a small meal included. We tend to do this when the boys are at school around 11-12 (since our “big” meal will be at 3pm), or later in the afternoon or early evening, particularly if we meet friends.
Now, if you know me, you know I don’t drink much. You probably also know I’m really cheap. So, what ends up happening is that I can’t resist the good deal, and have to order a drink just for the free food. Then, I can’t wait to see what the next tapa will be, so I order another drink. And so it goes. I guess what I’m saying is that I’ve been drinking a lot more than usual here. But IT’S A GOOD DEAL! I can’t resist a good deal!
We have met a few families with kids similar ages to ours, so we like to relax and enjoy our drinks and tapas while the kids run around nearby, because there is always somewhere nearby for the kids to run around (score another point for Spain!).
Another food – Churros! As far as sweet breaded breakfast foods go, it isn’t my favorite, I prefer the French crepes (which is probably a good thing we are here and not in France, where I would have regular access to crepes!). That said, they are still a decent crepe/donut substitute, and a fun family tradition in Spain is to head to a Churreria on a Sunday morning for some churros and chocolate. Though we are somewhat unwilling to embrace the mealtimes, churros con chocolate is one tradition we are happy to make our own.
My last comment under eating and drinking – but it really could apply to life in general – the cost of living is low! Particularly after spending quite a few months in Europe, life here is fairly inexpensive, especially food and drinks (as noted in my tapas above). Remember two buck chuck (back before they raised the price). Here you can buy wine for less than $1 a bottle!
Now – as much as we like it here, there are a few downsides we have found living here.
Amazon in Spain. It is simply an empty shell of what I know it could be. 😦 No more finding something in the store in the wrong size or color or style and just going home and ordering it on Amazon AND for a cheaper price. No ordering Cheerios to be delivered to us every month (I mean, I could but it would cost like a zillion euros). No more submitting an order as soon as a thought pops into my head because – PRIME. Now if I do order anything on Amazon, I have to go pick them up at a bookstore in town, which means 1) she would know if I binge-bought things on Amazon, which is kind of embarrassing and 2) I have to carry all my purchased-online stuff through town to get it home. That said, I suspect C would actually see all this all as a positive of living in Spain.
The weather is warm here, probably 5-10 degrees F warmer than Atlanta, however, there is no central heating. That means, it gets pretty cold in the morning and at night. We have small electric heaters that do a decent job of heating a room up, but the electricity is expensive, so don’t keep it on for long periods. So, I layer up and get used to being a little bit cold.
Seista – its a real thing. It goes along with the strange (to us) meal hours. Here in Spain, everything is open from 9am – 2pm, then almost everything closes from 2-5pm, and opens again from 5-8pm or so. By the time we get the boys from school, we can’t really run any errands (like walking across town to get our Amazon package) until 5pm. Kind of kills the momentum. This is an adjustment, but not too bad so far. Check with me again in a few months 🙂
We are heading into school break after today’s year-end performance at the kids school, and are looking forward to relaxing and enjoying the holidays Spanish-style. For example, not only will Santa be coming to our house this year, so will the three kings! Anyway – more on that to come. Happy holidays to all! See you in 2018!