We’ve been living in Spain for more than seven months now. With school just finished for the summer (finally!), and we are about to leave town for a European road trip, I thought I would do one more post of what we think of life in Spain. I wrote an initial post of some of our favorite things after we had been here about a month, but wanted to do an update now that we’ve spent a bit more time here.
If you don’t want to read my long post and just want to look at pictures (talking at you, mom!), then you can skip down to the bottom where I have lots of random pictures around town.
Without further ado, here are some of our favorite and not-so-favorite things:
Fresh-Squeezed Orange Juice
Yes, seriously orange juice. They have machines at most restaurants and even at the grocery store to squeeze Spanish oranges into fresh and super delicious orange juice. And being Spain, the price isn’t bad either!
I am still loving the free tapas when you buy a drink. The quality of the tapas can really depend on where you go (little fried fish are common in this seaside town), but the surprise of not knowing what you will get next is really fun! I am finding myself drinking way more than usual, just because of the excitement (and relative bargain) of the tapas. When we travel in Spain to regions that don’t have free tapas with a drink, I pretty much never bother drinking wine, but if it comes with a tapa, sign me up for one or two! C and I go at least once a week while the boys are at school.
When we first got here, I didn’t love the churros, however, like the tapas, I just had to figure it out. First, we found our favorite place, and second, we figured out the best way to eat them (for this non-chocolate eater, that means coated in sugar). Now, we usually go to our favorite churro place (where you can get an entire large portion of churro for only €1) almost every weekend we are in town.
The town offers lots of athletic activities, for kids and adults alike, for great prices! A has started playing tennis twice a week with the local team. The lessons are pretty cheap and they also offer (free) tournaments in a nearby town every month. A has really enjoyed playing in those, even making the final once (and every other time losing before the final to the same 7 year old tennis prodigy – hopefully one day he will say “I played him when….”) On the down side, it is pretty hard for us to get access to tennis courts when he isn’t playing, which is a bummer. Nothing like having 6 courts behind your house like we did back home!
In addition to tennis, we are all swimming twice a week as well (even me!) It is a great setup where I can go twice a week just like the boys with a “monitor” – a mix between a swim instructor and a coach, and he gives me a workout to do. A friend of mine swims with me and we really enjoy the workouts! A has his lesson at the same time as me, so we walk to swimming together (the other boys go earlier in the day). For the four of us (all except C) to swim twice a week, for an hour each time with a coach/instructor, is only €70/month in total!
All three boys are now playing soccer (football) and TOTALLY loving it! It is the equivalent of a recreational league, so pretty non-competitive, with two practices then weekly fun matches between all the players in town (just picking teams each week). Poor little N is “that” kid on his team. Yep, he doesn’t seem to know what is going on, and just kind of aimlessly runs around. But he seems to like it well enough, so we are happy if he is happy (funny story: one “game” day, the coach divided the group into two teams for their match. One little boy who had been put on the same team as N took him by the shoulders and subtly moved him into the line of the other team 😮 . Luckily, N was fairly oblivious so didn’t realize the kid didn’t want him on his team, and the kid really wasn’t mean about it. We were a little sad to see it, but since N wasn’t bothered one bit, we just enjoyed it for the comedy of it all) Stay innocent, my son!
Lastly, C is doing group personal training sessions like he did back in the US, but they are really affordable and provide the added benefit of some Spanish practice, so he is happy to have found that. He even gets a running partner sometimes in the owner of the gym.
Spanish drivers are SUPER considerate of stopping for people in crosswalks. It took us a while to realize it, but typically if it looks like someone is even kind of considering maybe crossing the sidewalk, drivers will stop at the crosswalk. It is so polite, I love it. Though I never really appreciated it until we went to Rome, and there the drivers will NOT stop unless you basically walk in front of them with confidence. If they sense any doubt, they will blow right past you! We wondered if maybe our experience was from living in a small town, and it was unfair to compare to Rome, but when A and I took a recent trip to Madrid, we found the drivers to be just as respectful at crosswalks. Go Spain!
We are still really loving being able to walk everywhere. The kids school, most of their activities (except tennis) and the grocery store are all less than a 1/2 mile, or a 10-minute walk from home, along with the town, most of the shops and restaurants in town and our favorite churros and tapas places.
Kids field trips
The kids will often take small field trips to places around town. They have been to the local aquarium, the fire station, the bird park, the cultural center for a music performance, the beach for science class, and the sports stadium for a city-wide track and field contest. They walk to all these places, and we love to hear the sound of these classes as they walk by our apartment or when we see them around town. They have also been further afield, with A’s class taking a trip to the famous Alhambra (a UNESCO world-heritage site), an hour away in Granada. L and N both visited a really neat and historic cave in a nearby town.
Low-key Bits of History
History is visible in Spain in a way that it just isn’t in the US. In our town, not at all famous for its Roman ruins, sits an amazing, large intact portion of an ancient roman aqueduct, a fish smelting factory dating to the pre-Roman Phoenicians and a Moorish-age castle on a hill. It is so cool to casually walk by these sites and think just how long people have been visiting this town.
The kind Spanish people
In our experience, the Spanish people have been really nice. One day, we went out to eat and when it came time to pay, their credit card machine wasn’t working due to problems with their Wifi connection, so they just asked if we could come back another day to pay. No writing down our name or phone number, no asking for cash, just the trust that we would come back and settle the bill later. It was our first time at that restaurant as well. Another time, we stayed in a small family-run hotel and the kind hosts took us on a (free) excursion the day we were checking out. At the end of the excursion, I asked how we should pay, as I wasn’t sure if it would go directly from the booking engine. She said that I didn’t have to go back, they would call us and sort it out over the phone. So, we thanked her for providing us with an awesome tour of the area and took off for home. A few days later, he called to ask for payment, and we got it all settled. Parents at school and employees in the local restaurants and grocery store get to know us and are so kind and friendly. Maybe this is more being in a small town where you see the same people regularly, but we love getting to know and experience the friendliness of the people.
Obviously Spain has some great things going for it, but we know no place is perfect.
Food (non-tapas, non-churros)
Despite the fact that the first three things on my list of favorites were food/drinks, I have to say that, apart from those things, I don’t love Spanish food. Or maybe it is the Andalucian food. It is kind of heavy and nothing too special. There tends to be lots of fish and also a fair amount of fried stuff. I rarely go to a restaurant and have a really great meal. Lots of stuff is just okay or even pretty good (obvious exceptions are mentioned above). Even the bakeries there just don’t compare to a french bakery. All in all, I do think it is maybe better that we don’t have daily access to french bakeries, though!
Lines at stores are just longer than they would be back home. I have kind of gotten used to it now, but at the grocery store, there is always a long line at checkout. It is just expected. At clothing stores, there is always a fairly long line for both the dressing rooms and the cashier. Like Black Friday size lines. Crazy! But people just deal with it here.
Beggars and illegal sellers
Being a town that is warm much of the year, we have our fair share of beggars and other homeless. They generally stay out of your way and aren’t aggressive. Some even have useful talents, like the guy who built (and maintained) an amazing sandcastle. But, one day, we were in a restaurant and someone came in with a sign asking us for help, for food, etc. She was very aggressive, and after she left, we realized – YUP! – she walked off with C’s phone. That was super frustrating, but lesson learned, and it could have been worse! Other than that lady, we haven’t had problems with beggars and never feel unsafe. There are, however, lots of people selling on the streets, either standing on the paseo as people walk by, or stopping when you are in a cafe or restaurant and aggressively asking if we want to buy purses, sunglasses, little elephants on a keychain or CDs (I mean, really, WHO buys CDs?! we figure the guy that has to sell the CDs must have pissed off the big boss!). Still, these people are more annoying than anything, but now we are sure to keep a watch on our wallets and phones when anyone goes by. I think this is common the world over, but really, just something we didn’t experience back home, where we didn’t really have tourists.
Nowhere near as good as Amazon in the US. Still makes me sad.
This may be more of a small-town problem than a Spain problem, but it is really hard to find things we need. Not the very basics. We can get milk and bread and fruit and all the basics at the grocery store, and tennis shoes at one of the many sports stores in town, but beyond basics it can be tricky. The cereal “aisle” is maybe one-fifth the size of our US grocery store, and if we want anything besides cornflakes, we pretty much have to stock up on it when we go to the “big city” hypermarket. For example, on my “to buy” list for our next monthly trip to the hypermarket are cheerios, a digital clock with a plug and a bike helmet. These things would be easy to find at home (hello, Target!), but here, it is a little more difficult.
I mentioned this before, but I could count on 2 fingers the times we’ve eaten dinner out in a restaurant with the kids since we got here. Restaurants don’t usually open for dinner until 7:30 or so, which is way too late for our kids, so we just don’t go. If we eat out, we do it at 2:30 for lunch, after the kids finish school (lunch is usually served until 4pm). Not quite a restaurant, but I was walking by an ice cream shop the other day and noticed its “high season” hours were 12 noon – 2am! Only in Spain!
Also – the hours seem (to us) crazy for the kids as well – I have mentioned before that it is common to have birthday parties for the kids – even for a 5 year old – that runs until 9pm on a school night. It seems crazy late to me. The kids end of the year school party was from 8pm – midnight on the last day of school. Until MIDNIGHT! And we had to go (and stay) because the kids classes all had performances, and little N had his Infantil (aka Kindergarten) graduation that night (at about 9pm). These kids at the school are between 3 and 12 years old!! It seems so crazy to us, but not in Spain!
Related to the restaurant hours, and maybe even more inconvenient for us, is the fact that ALL the stores are closed on Sundays. Every week, we have to do a big grocery shopping trip on Saturday to make sure we have enough food, not only for Sunday, but for Monday’s breakfast before school and their school lunch. Also, since we usually only have time on the weekend to go to one of the larger nearby towns to get to a decent-sized shopping center or hypermarket (like a Wal-Mart supercenter – the only place where we can get Cheerios), we always have to remember to do it on a Saturday, because even on a Sunday the big superstores are closed. Crazy! I know people say that it gives the people a chance to rest and relax with their family on Sunday, but it isn’t like employees work all 7 days anyway, they just have their shifts, and maybe they want to work on Sunday instead of another day. And, in fact, if there were any store that WAS open on Sunday, it is more likely to be a small mom and pop convenience store, where they probably do have to work 7 days a week, since they own it and work in it!
Oh Spanish, how I love you and hate you. Over the year, some days I felt good about my progress, and other days I felt like I was just sliding back down. It is hard, sometimes rewarding and sometimes frustrating. I feel like a complete idiot a lot. I nod and pretend I understand a lot. I get really excited and feel so accomplished by the smallest thing (someone stops me on the street and asks a question that I both understand and can answer – big win!). I learn a new word, then hear it out ” in the wild” – super exciting. Someone says something to me and I have NO IDEA what they are talking about – super frustrating. Parents in one of the kids classes are messaging back and forth on WhatsApp and I have no idea what is going on – like a daily occurrence. Ah well, as they say “poco a poco”
I will leave you with a few photos of life around town.
Soccer (futbol) on the beach. You never know who might join in when you play here (or when the older retiree Northern Europeans might kick you off the field so they can play their “bols” game)
Riding his new bike down the Paseo (we borrowed the helmet :p )
The photo above left shows L & N searching for the tooth that was just knocked out of N’s mouth by the swing L is sitting on. They needed to recover it to put under N’s pillow for Ratoncito Perez (the tooth fairy’s colleague here in Spain). Above right is N and his missing tooth after a visit to the dentist (gratis!) to make sure the early, abrupt departure of his tooth wouldn’t be a problem.
We are looking forward to our summer adventures (stay tuned for more on those), but will be happy to be back in September. Hasta luego, Spain!