In pursuit of a roost: a practical guide to finding housing in Spain

As an Auxiliar de Conversación, finding an apartment (piso) is the most panic-inducing endeavor you will take on when you move to Spain. At least it was for me. In college, I made friends with type-A people who painstakingly screened and selected our housing, while I nodded enthusiastically. So when I moved to Galicia, not only was I finding my own housing for the first time, but I was finding it in another language. Gulp. Needless to say, and I made some mistakes. Here are some keys to getting a roof over your head Continue reading

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Week {14} in review

Boiro, Galicia.

Humans of Santiago.
Parque de la Alameda, Santiago de Compostela.

Parque de la Alameda, Santiago de Compostela.

“Risoterapia” (laughter therapy) with 2nd and 3rd graders.

A new café discovery: Pan e Chocolate, Santiago de Compostela.

New café discovery: Pan e Chocolate, Santiago de Compostela.

Don’t ask me where “Weeks 4-13” are…seek and ye will not find. We’re now running on 43 straight days of rain here in Galicia…not that I can complain from what I hear about the weather back home.  But I’m pretty sure I’m not leaving my bed today.

Peace, love, and lluvia,

MB

The Piso

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Rúa San Pedro, the lovely street a minute’s walk from my piso.

So last week I moved to Santiago, right? I found a cheap apartment with two nice female Spanish college students in the older (prettier) part of town. As it turns out, these three positive qualities (price, roommates, and location) have been overshadowed by the true heinousness of the apartment. After a week here, I have come to terms with my own stupidity in housing selection, and have come up with seven rules to keep from making the same mistakes again.

Do not select an apartment:

1. Because the roommates call you “chulo” (cool) for being American and that makes you feel warm and fuzzy because you don’t have friends yet.

2. If you have only toured the apartment at night. Those shadows in the corner/behind the desk/around the window might be are assuredly mold.

3. If you there are so many spots in the wall that it is hard to tell at a glance which ones are holes and which ones are mold.

4. If the hot water is powered by a gas tank that you have to manually switch on before you shower. On Sunday, you will run out and the landlord won’t be able to bring more until Tuesday because Spain, and the last time you showered will have been on Saturday, and you will have to start taking sponge baths seventy years prematurely.

5. If the apartment does not have heating, and also does not have the ability to both run a heater and charge a laptop at the same time.

6. If the statement “yes, we have wifi” is followed by an explanation that includes the words “descodificar” (to decode) and “de nuestro vecino” (our neighbor’s).

7. If you cannot bend over the sink to brush your teeth without entering the shower.

Having learned these seven very valuable lessons, I feel both ill and well-prepared to begin round two of apartment hunting. Wish me luck!

Week {3} in review

Week three brought lots of changes, the biggest of which was my move to Santiago de Compostela. Other things worth noting:

Escarabote

Port of Escarabote, Galicia

Obligatory coffee picture (La Tertulia, Santiago de Compostela, Galicia)

Playa Cabío

Playa Cabío at sunset (A Pobra, Galicia)

Favada asturiana, a traditional Asturian stew (as prepared by the English profe)

Preparing labels for art classes in English.

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, as seen during my furious apartment hunting.

My students have taken to gifting me things…

Port of Escarabote

Here, the preferred method is to decapitate trees before they shed their leaves. Naked trees > leaves on the sidewalk, duh (Port of Escarabote, Galicia)

My two lovely Pobra roommates saw me off on my move to Santiago with a slice of cheesecake in a butter container. (Nauseating Bus, Galicia)

Two-week-iversary.

Today marks two weeks since I moved to Spain – can you believe it? Seeing as I’ve done a pretty poor job writing as I go, here are some highlights from my first 14 days as an expat.

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Sunrise in A Pobra do Caramiñal.

Lunch, as made by the English teacher: Spanish tortilla, salad, Albariño wine.

Lunch as made by the English teacher: salad,  Albariño wine, and Spanish tortilla.

Salad & prosciutto with cheese

Salad & prosciutto with cheese.

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Café con leche and churros.

PB&J on a rainy day

PB&J on a rainy day.

A Pobra, regularly.

A Pobra, regularly.

A Pobra, on a rare sunny day.

  • First Spanish word I learned: Escarabajo (as in the type of car I drive – a Beetle!).
  • First English phrase I taught my teacher: Couch potato.
  • Weather in Galicia: Really, really rainy (ahem.)
  • In a manner of speaking: There are two languages in Galicia – Castellano (standard Spanish) and Gallego (the regional language). Residents of Galicia are raised learning both languages. When I first got here, my Spanish was so rusty I couldn’t understand the difference between the two, because I understood nothing at all. Now…let’s be real, that still happens.
  • Weirdest food eaten: Octopus. Suckers and all. Suckas.
  • Beverages I know how to order: Café con leche and vino blanco. Es todo.
  • Peanut butter consumption: Moderate. Still on my second jar.
  • My school: Small but wonderful, with less than 200 students and less than 20 teachers. The kids have a terrifying amount of energy, and the teachers, a terrific amount of patience. My face hurts from smiling by the end of every day.

I really like it here so far. Big changes are on the way, though. This weekend, I am moving out of A Pobra (the little beach town I am in) and up to Santiago, a much larger city with a university. I will be living with two Spanish college students (!), and will definitely miss the two wonderful Americans I have been living with here in A Pobra. But Spanish must be learned!

Hasta luego,

MB

In the beginning

Leaving Madrid

Leaving Madrid

Arriving in Santiago

Arriving in Santiago

In the beginning, there was a plane, and on the plane was Molly. After 17 hours of flying (Atlanta – Miami – Madrid – Santiago – oh my), I finally arrived in Galicia. I could tell the difference between Galicia and central Spain just by looking out the window. While the land surrounding Madrid was craggy and brown, the Galician countryside was a rolling patchwork of green.

Montse, the English teacher at my school, picked me up from the airport in Santiago, carrying a sign the students had made.
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Needless to say, I felt quite welcomed. Montse has been an absolute blessing, driving me around to pick a cell phone plan, get my foreign documents in order, and open a Spanish bank account.

Presently, I am staying with two auxiliars (that is, English Language Assistants like me) in A Pobra, which is where Montse lives and a 10-minute drive from school. They have an extra bedroom and are kind enough to let me use their apartment as home base while I figure out where to live.

A Pobra is obscenely picturesque. I will leave you with the following view. This is what you see if you exit the apartment building and walk for about 30 seconds.

Playa del Arenal, A Pobra

Playa del Arenal, A Pobra do Caramiñal.

I’m sorry, what?

Will wine for wifi

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So.

I am in Spain.

There is so much to tell, but that will have to wait. I am still bustling around, trying to figure out which city to live in. Right now, I am on my way to Santiago to meet with a potential roommate. I am currently crashing in a small town (absolutely precious) with two other auxiliares. However, they do not yet have internet, which means we must patronize the cafe-pizzeria a 45-second walk away to get wifi. This is not a terrible thing to have to do, unless you count the fact olives are served with my wine (olives are always a terrible thing).

The important things to know for now are (1) Galicia is gorgeous, (2) buses are nauseating, and (3) olives are repugnant.

Hasta luego!
– MB

Muscle pizza and orange rabbits

The Orange Rabbit in all its glory. (No hating on my flip phone’s camera.)

Last week I went to Miami to apply for my visa, and I must say it was one of the least fulfilling trips I have ever taken. I do not, however, blame this on Miami. I arguably wasn’t even in Miami, but the district of Coral Gables (where the Spanish Consulate is). Coral Gables’ only attraction within walking distance of my hotel was Miracle Mile, a road of nice-enough shops capped off with a Denny’s. I did not even set foot on a beach. The only time I saw water was when it was being leached from my skin by the heat.

The good news is that my visa appointment went off without a hitch – ten minutes from start to finish. But do you know how irritating it is to spend a few hundred dollars to fly to a city for the sole purpose of handing someone ten pieces of paper? Very. Irritating.

Anyway. What’s done is done. The three highlights of my stay were seeing this orange rabbit (a reminder to us all of dangers of GMO carrots), passing a store called Coral Gables Juice Bar & Muscle Pizza (???), and visiting Books & Books, which, coincidentally, is not a part of Miracle Mile and (not coincidentally) wonderful.

Now I am a lady in waiting. Visa visa come to me!

-MB

The twiddling comes to a close

You guys. YOU GUYS. I’m moving to Spain!

Galicia, Spain - map

Galicia, Spain: my home for the next eight-ish months.

I’ve been dying to be able to talk about my future with any kind of certainty, and now I can. Back in July, I was accepted to the North American Language and Culture Assistant Program (NALCAP – Auxiliares de Conversación), but heard nothing else for NINE WEEKS. Nine weeks! Last week, after placing a few international calls, I finally received my placement at an elementary school in the province of A Coruña, Galicia. It turns out Bellsouth has xenophobia and was blocking – not spamming, simply blocking – all the emails the Ministry of Education tried to send me. Who says technology doesn’t discriminate?

As you can see, Galicia is in a rather remote corner of Spain. Unless you’ve taken Spanish (and even if you have), you probably haven’t heard of it. When tourists hit up Spain, they gravitate towards the sunny beaches of Barcelona and Andalucía in the south. However, I have heard an abundance of wonderful things about Galicia, namely its rugged lushness, friendly inhabitants, and fresh seafood. It’ll be exciting to get off the beaten path!

It would be fair to call this journey “constructive procrastination.” The word “constructive” is important here, because I have three major goals for this experience:

  1. Get a feel for teaching. I have graduated from college and, to no one’s surprise, have no idea what to do with my future. I may want to teach as a profession at some point, but not immediately. Time to try on the Teacher Hat and see if it’s for me.
  2. Achieve fluency in Spanish. As a graduated Spanish major, you would expect me to be able to speak the language, right? How very presumptuous of you! No, I speak elevated Stutter Spanish, but nothing respectable.
  3. Indulge my wanderlust. I am not delusional enough to believe I can satiate it, because ohmygosh there is so much to see in the world, but I am so excited to get out and explore. OHMYGOSH THERE IS SO MUCH TO SEE IN THE WORLD.

And so the scramble begins. This week, I am off to Miami to apply for my visa. It would appear that I have a (temporary) future. 🙂