Where to live in Spain: Madrid v Valencia

where to live in Spain

Valencian street art

If you are thinking of moving to Spain and wondering where to live in Spain , it is always interesting to hear what other expats living in Spain have to say about areas they have lived in.

Today, Caroline gives us her thought on the beautiful cities of Madrid and Valencia…

 

From the stimulating and spontaneous Mediterranean coast, to the noble and austere heart of Spain, Valencia and Madrid have much to offer for both holiday-makers and those wanting to make Spain their home. While the luminous coast and the sagacious inland cities are different, they both have much to offer.

Valencia – The good

So often a cliché, but with at least 300 blue-sky days per year, your soul with thrive in the light and warmth of Valencia. Spain gets cold in winter, something often forgotten by outsiders, but while most of Spain shivers in the depths of winter, Valencia remains milder than its counterparts. Have no fear, skiing is not far away if you like to chill, but be prepared for 20-degree winter days, as well. When summer rolls around, I love to relax in the hot sunshine, or kick back on the beaches tantalisingly close to the city centre.

Valencia boasts a park to die for, nestled in a dried riverbed. Seven kilometres of both revelry and solace runs through the city like a vein of indulgence. It starts with the wondrous Bioparc zoo; the green belt weaves its way past lucky locals with sports fields, playgrounds, cafés, cycle lanes, paths to stroll along, ponds and fountains, and greenery all around. The park comes to rest gently near the sea, blessed with the magnificent Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències, the City of Arts and Sciences complex, giving all day beauty and entertainment. Sitting under a tree for a picnic or watching a dolphin perform – the Turia has it all.

Don’t bother driving this amazingly compact city; you can walk from one side to another. From the beaches just north and south of the city centre, to the majestic old town, and everything in between, you will see it all in no time. Airport and train links can have you anywhere in hours. Smaller towns and the stunning Albufera Lake also beckon nearby, giving a whole new perspective on the Valencian region.

Valencia has an air of spontaneity and enjoyment. From the lavish and exciting Las Fallas festival to everyday activities, Valencia makes me feel young. Less concerned with an official identity compared to other cities, Valencia allows freedom and contentment. Whether I want to walk around wearing my best, or take it casual, I slot right in. When I first moved to Valencia, I had no idea about the Spanish lifestyle, but Valencia has no set rules.

where to live in Spain

Valencian church

First settled by the Romans over 2000 years ago, the jewel of a city has been a prize ever since. The ruins of the first settlement remain; right alongside many more structures carefully crafted and adored over 1000 years or more. The Valencia Cathedral, the Gothic Torres de Serranos and Torres de Quart, La Sonja silk market, Mercado Central, Miguelete bell tower, Virgen de los Desamparados basilica, medieval churches and a host of art museums are just some of the sights to explore. Valencia’s commitment to ensuring its place as a beautiful eternal city rewards locals and visitors alike.

Valencian is an official language right alongside Spanish in the region. This variant of Catalan is taught in schools, to preserve the tradition.  Valencia city itself has its own unique variant, but if you only speak Spanish, that’s okay too. Increasingly, people in the city are speaking more English if you are truly stumped, a stark contrast to a decade ago. You won’t get authentic paella anywhere but Valencia, and you can swap the usual churros and chocolate for more local horchata and fartons if you want to immerse yourself more. Las Fallas, a truly Valencian fiesta, will make you feel at home as you learn to burn giant statues on every street corner to welcome in springtime.

Valencia is a top Spanish city but doesn’t boast the prices of its counterparts. Shopping provides both the larger national stores along with local varieties, and everything from the food to the properties won’t have the hefty price tag other European cities carry around. From the old town restored apartments to beachside or rural homes, your euro will go further. You can walk out of a restaurant after dinner, wondering you just accidentally ripped off the owners with the small bill; but you can also take on a Michelin star quality experience since Valencia provides all the choices.

Valencia – The not-so good

Noise. One study showed that 40 percent of Valencians have poor hearing, and that wouldn’t surprise me. I have gotten more peace on Barcelona’s La Rambla than in an average Valencian street. If you live or stay in the old town, prepare to get no peace. One of my Valencian apartments was on the 30th floor, which blocked out some noise, but my neighbours were always there to shout conversations at each other at 2am.

where to live in Spain

Plaza de la Virgen Valencia

After moving from damp New Zealand to dry Valencia, I loved that I could hang out laundry at midnight and have it dry by morning – until the ever present Valencian dust lands on everything. The city is so often covered in a fine layer of yellow dust, giving the city a dirty look. However, when it rains, the city gleams again.

Valencia’s service industry needs a kick in the pants. Many cities could claim the same, but whether it’s the waiters, shop assistants, or the gas repair guy, the attitude can be a pain. Manners and patience go a long way, but still, expect to feel exasperated. Be direct, or you’ll never get a drink.

Go to bed at midnight, hoping for an early night because you have to have your face on live TV tomorrow and you don’t want bags under your eyes… BOOM! Some idiots are letting off enough fireworks outside my apartment to ignite a small nation outside. Why? Chances are some obscure fiesta is occurring. The party calendar is pretty full in Valencia, but between the noise, delays in getting official things completed and traffic blockages, it can become annoying.

Madrid – The good

where to live in Spain

Metropolis building madrid

In one city, the different barrios have so much to offer in terms of lifestyle variety. The Salamanca and Retiro barrios have designer stores and architecture, beautiful parks and leans against the some of the greatest art museums of them all. Sol, the literal and spiritual heart of the old town brims with mystery on every little street. Lavapies is filled with both Spanish history and those moving coming to Madrid, giving a superb multi-cultural vibe. Gran Via provides the shopping, Huerta and Santa Ana are packed with bars and cafés, and Chueca has nightlife to die for. No matter your choice, there is a barrio for you and your budget.

The golden triangle of art sits proudly in Madrid – the Museo del Prado, Museo National Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and the Museo National Centro de Arte Reina Sofía offer endless hours of delight. But there is more – Museo Panteón de Goya, Museo Sorolla and Museo Lázaro Galdiano among others hidden gems.

You will never go hungry in Madrid. From the oldest restaurant in the world, to modern places churning out new ideas, I always feel spoiled for choice. No expertise is needed; simple wander the streets for delicious, traditional and imaginative offerings. All budgets are catered for, as well as all tastes. Even the tapas portions given out with each drink are generous.

Madrid was only a small town until 1561 when it was selected as the new capital of Spain. Since then, royalty has built grand structures all over, giving the architecture a deep-rooted and proud style. The Hapsburgs and Bourbons allowed design and size flourish, and each century left its mark. While severely damaged in the civil war, the beauty of the city has been nurtured.

Madrid can be seen as the heart of Spain in more ways than one. The airport provides many flights to locations near and far, and the train systems can get to across the country in no time. Public transport is well-organised, so if you don’t wish to navigate the streets on your own by car (like me), seeing everything is certainly an option.

Despite being a bustling city, with green spaces like Buen Retiro Park, Casa del Campo and Campo del Moro Gardens, the Sabatini Gardens and the El Pardo forest bordering the city, you can sit back grab some space.

where to live in Spain

Madrid church

Madrid – The not-so good

I’m not a big fan of crowds, so the streets of Madrid can feel like a mission in patience. On an average Saturday, walking the streets of central Madrid can be an absolute crush. Even in these times of recession, people are on the streets, shopping and eating. Frustration creeps in with every turn.

The weather – it’s not called nine months of winter and three months of hell for nothing. I’m not adept at inland living, and Madrid feels like a pressure cooker in summer, and the winter is biting cold which freezes the bones.

Madrileños are strong, proud people who know their own minds. It can feel easy to be written off as a no-nothing foreigner when in a group of locals. If you want to make friends, be prepared to need to work for it.

Madrid traffic can be a nightmare! Streets aren’t always well-labelled, and people just step out with an air of invincibility. If you want to drive to the coast for the weekend, the four hour drive will involve 45 minutes of swearing at lights just to leave the city.

There is no question that Madrid is the most expensive city in Spain. Buying or renting an apartment will make you cringe in fear, and what you get for your euro can leave a nasty taste in your mouth. From food, to schooling, healthcare, hotels – you name it, the price can certainly annoy.

The result…

Valencia and Madrid are incredible cities, vastly different to one another, and perfect for travellers and migrants to use as a guide of how different Spanish regions are.  As a tourist, both cities are a must-do. For those who love the bustle of the city, Madrid will delight, and those seeking relaxation will favour Valencia. For long-term Spain lovers, work would be the biggest issue, with jobs hard to come by in both cities. Study costs in depth before making a decision. They say you never forget your first love, and for me that is Valencia. The good outweighs the bad by a mile.

Caroline Angus Baker is a New Zealand author, specialising in Spanish history and politics. Her ‘Secrets of Spain’ novel series, set in Valencia and Madrid, is available now. For more on Valencia, plus book giveaways and free weekly reads, visit www.carolineangusbaker.com

¡Gracias Caroline!

Do you agree or disagree with Caroline’s thoughts? Where would you rather live? Post your comments and we will welcome other ideas too about where to live in Spain.

Don’t forget to read Molly’s thoughts about Granada v Barcelona HERE

If you are thinking about the Malaga province or Costa del Sol, read the article HERE.

Read our thoughts about the best place to live in Spain HERE.

Guest Post: My top five things to do in Nerja

things to do in nerja

Nerja is a town that’s getting an increasing amount of attention as a tourist destination with all the official figures showing that more people, from an ever increasing number of countries are not only hearing about the little seaside town on the eastern edge of the Costa del Sol but visiting it too.  With a little bit of research on the internet you can quickly put together a short-list of places to visit if you’re staying here but the obvious places are not always the best.  With that in mind and after living in and around the town for almost twelve years I thought this might be an opportunity to highlight some of the corners of Nerja that tourists often miss but are known and loved by the locals.

The Nerja Caves

Ok, so I admit that after an introduction like that the caves are not exactly a ‘hidden’ gem, after all, they’re what put Nerja on the tourist map but as an attraction to the town that registers almost half a million visitors each year they absolutely have to be included in any top five list.

They’re likely the most well-known of all places to visit in Nerja, along with the Balcon de Europa, however there really is no more fascinating a way to spend an hour or so whilst you’re here.  The series of caverns which are still being explored and studied continue to reveal more surprises and may even contain the oldest discovered images ever created by man!  Unfortunately, not all of the caves are open to the public, partially because of the sheer difficulty in accessing some chambers but also due to the on-going research that is taking place at the site.  Irregardless of this you’ll be more than satisfied by a stroll around the Nerja Caves.

things to do in nerjaKayaking from Burriana

Nerja is fortunate enough to be bordered on two sides by natural parks one to the north which covers the mountain ranges that insulate the town from the cooler northern air and another to the east which is a protected area of coastline.  The Acantilados de Maro – Cerro Gordo natural park is a beautiful section of coastline, with stunning plunging cliffs and mountain rivers that flow and cascade straight into the Mediterranean.  A trip by Kayak is a wonderful way to view the park at your own pace either with or without a guide.  You can explore the hidden corners of the coast which are only accessible from the sea, glide through the crystal clear waters which this area is known for, paddle past Andalusia’s best beach of 2013 at the neighboring village of Maro and watch the wildlife which thrives in the area.  It’s also a great activity for the kids with the local hire company which has both double and single person Kayaks available also being closely involved with the annual Burriana beach children’s summer camp.  Their monitors are qualified to a high standard and regularly take children of all nationalities on Kayak trips from the beach.

things to do in nerjaThe Chapel of the Virgin of Anguish

Most visitors to Nerja will automatically be aware of the church of El Salvador.  Its prominent location right next to the Balcon de Europa in the centre of town means it’s difficult to miss, however not so many tourists will be aware of this little chapel which is arguably of far greater importance to people of the area.  The chapel or Ermita in Spanish is the year round resting place of one of the Patron Saints of Nerja, the Virgin of Anguish (Nuestra Señora de Las Angustias), a figure still very much admired by the Catholic faithful of Nerja.   As you enter you get the feel of a simple humble little chapel next to a taxi rank, indeed upon my first visit the TV program ‘Little house on the prairie’ popped into my mind however as you approach the alter that image quickly fades as you take in the magnificence that surrounds the figure of the Virgin Mary.  A fantastically adorned golden arch, flanked by patterned walls beneath a frescoed dome ceiling featuring an image inspired by Pentecost.  The chapel was recently renovated and many of its decorative features painstakingly restored so don’t leave without seeing it.  It was years before I went to take a look and it turned out to be one of my favourite places in Nerja.

Maro Tower

The tower in Maro is a great place to visit if you’re a little bored of the beach and fancy a short walk in the countryside.  Located on the eastern side of the village of Maro it’s clearly visible from the road and surrounded by the coastal natural park.  The tower itself is one of the watchtowers which are common along the Costa del Sol, once used to warn of marauding pirates, however this example was restored a few years back and is now in pristine condition.  You approach the tower along a well-used path, making your way through typical Andalusian scrub and Aleppo pines.  If you happen to be here at the right time of year you might also be able to pick wild asparagus or see some of the large and colourful butterflies which thrive in the area.  The real reward will come as you approach the tower though with fantastic views to the east along the natural park coastline and to the west Maro and Nerja.  There is, at least in my opinion, no better view in the municipality whether you’re visiting on a perfect summer or stormy winter’s day.

things to do in nerjaSnorkeling at El molino de papel

A few years ago I was introduced to a beach on the outskirts of Nerja by a girlfriend (now ex) whose family originated from the area.  She told me that although the beach was a little out the way and not at all popular with tourists it did have its plus points and was a place that all the local families knew well. The beach is known in Spanish as ‘El Molino de papel’ or in English ‘the paper mill’ thanks to the non-functional although inhabited paper mill that you pass on your way down to the shore.  You’re probably expecting at this point to hear a story of a fantastically unspoilt beach boasting golden sands that stretch off into the distance as far as the eye can see.  Well I’m afraid that this isn’t one of those beaches.  In short, it’s ugly.  No fine sand here, no life guards, no showers, no facilities of any kind.  It’s rocky and frankly a bit worn torn by the elements however my ex-girlfriend was accurate in what she said.  For all its negatives it does have some super positives when it comes to snorkeling.  Its waters are crystal clear and teaming with shoals of fish.  The rocky bottom allows plenty of anchor points for sea urchins which litter the sea bed as do thousands of sea shells and on the western edge of the beach the sheer cliffs, eroded at the base, provide a perfect habitat for crabs and even Mediterranean lobsters!  All of this kept me thoroughly entertained on my first visit and gave me an excellent reason to return each year in summer.  If you’d like to do a bit of snorkeling whilst you’re here my advice is to forget the popular tourist beaches of Burriana and Torrecilla, jump into the car and head towards La Herradura until you reach this beach.  You’ll be glad you did!

So that’s the end of my top five things to do in Nerja, I’ll admit that there were a few more things on the list and it was surprisingly difficult to choose what to include and what not to but hopefully I’ve managed to point you in the right direction to getting the very most out of a visit to Nerja and the surrounding municipality.

Thanks to  Steve Simons from www.Explorenerja.com for these great ideas!

Remember if you would like to know more about living in Nerja … read this article.

Five of the Best Things to Do in Marbella with Kids

things to do in marbella with kids

Marbella might be well-known for glitz and glamour, for shopping and yachting, but that reputation belies the fact that it’s also a great place to be with children, whether for a couple of weeks’ holiday or simply a quick day visit. Whatever the time of year, one of the great things about the town and the surrounding area is just how family-friendly it is. Here then are a handful of things to do in Marbella with kids…

Head for the Beach

This first one is a bit of a no-brainer. On the list of fun things to do for kids, heading for the beach is always going to be right up there. At any time of year there’s plenty to do to keep everyone entertained, but off-season, they’re quieter and lend themselves that much more to a variety of wholesome activities, from family football matches, to kite-flying, sandcastle-building and even a spot of fishing.

Where to head for a great beach in Marbella? To the east of the city, El Pinillo is one of the best bets (and also has the benefit of being adjacent to the Funny Beach theme park – see below); Cabopino, again out to the east, has a slightly more natural feel to it than the main city beaches at Puerto Banus, it also backs onto sand dunes which are great for little ones to run around and hide in.

Get in the Swing of Things

‘Marbella’ and ‘golf’: rarely have two words gone together so naturally. While many of the golf courses in Marbella and on the Costa del Sol are competition standard and, packed with serious golfers looking to knock a few strokes off their best round, are not the best place for small children, many have practice facilities and golf coaching available. At the more luxurious end of the scale, La Quinta in swanky Nueva Andalucia has a kids’ club (Laquintagolf.com) while for older children, Estepona Golf (Esteponagolf.com) offers some of the best value golf on the Costa del Sol with a range of different packages – from weekend green fees to early morning nine-hole deals.

Go-kart Rides at Funny Beach

Leave aside the silly (and probably mistranslated – it’s ‘fun’ rather than a laugh a minute comic episode) name, and Funny Beach (Funnybeach.com) has an ace up its sleeve for bored broods in the form of a go-karting track. Prices for kids start from €8 for five minutes, or €20 per eight minutes for adults, with reductions available for those with day passes.

Horse Riding in the Mountains

Andalucia’s obviously famous for the quality of its riding. But it’s not all high-quality horsemanship you’ll find down here – around Marbella there are also plenty of opportunities to take a horse out for a hack and explore the surrounding countryside as a family.

Alternatively, if one or more of your litter is a keen young rider looking to benefit from exposure to one of the world’s finest equestrian cultures, you can book in for an hour or two’s lessons. Miranda and Giles run the excellent Rancho Huerta del Batán up in the mountains of Coín, a 30-minute drive away from Marbella, and offer a variety of different packages (Horseridingspain.com).

Dolphin & Whale Watching

Dolphins and whales are common-place in the western Mediterranean, drawn by the fish attracted to the Straits of Gibraltar by strong currents. While there are any number of companies who run boat trips up and down the coast, one of the best places to see them is a little way to the west at Tarifa. Here the charity Firmm (Firmm.org) run two-hour trips several times a day, with staff helping to point out up to four species of dolphin along with sperm whales and even orcas and fin whales. Taking the family out on a boat to spot beautiful creatures leaping in and out of the sparkling blue water – exciting, with lots of fresh air, and it’s even educational. What more could you want in a family day out?

Guest post by:  Phillipa Sudron is writing on behalf of Hotel PYR Marbella: Hotelpyr.com.

Six Ways to Get Your Child to Study for Their Exams

ways to get your child to study

How hard is it to get your child to study?

Whether you’re living in Spain or the UK, these days it seems like the educational stakes are higher than ever: good grades lead to good courses at good universities and eventually (with a bit of luck) to good jobs at the end of it. Fall at even one of those hurdles, and the task for your child can become infinitely harder.

Which is why helping them get the best start is so important. Whether they’re studying for their A Levels at an international school in Malaga or going through the Spanish system at a local state-run school, one thing’s for sure – they’re very unlikely to do it without lots of hard work.

Here are five ways to get your child to study for their exams…

1. Present the facts

We might well be seeing signs that we’re coming out of global recession, but unemployment in Spain is still around the 25% mark (with over 50% of young people without work according to recent figures). Across Europe the reality is hardly any less stark – in the UK, for instance, current unemployment is around 7.8%. In other words, now is not the time to choose slacking off and an afternoon on the beach over long-term gain. Put it like that, and your young student is sure to understand.

2. Help install a routine

Once the facts of the difficulties involved in getting work without good grades have been established, it’s important to help your child establish a routine. Routine starts at home, with regular meal times and breaks to help them structure their study around – both during term time and throughout the school holidays. It shouldn’t be all about work, however – helping your child get the balance right between studying, relaxing, hanging out with their friends and exercising is the key to their wellbeing, and is a valuable lesson which they’ll take the rest of their lives.

3. Get involved

Once the groundwork has been laid for the establishment of a good routine, it’s important that you get involved in your child’s education. After all, why should they care if you don’t appear to? Helping your child with homework is just one way; taking a general interest in – and talking about – what they’re studying is another. Learning is fun. And who knows, you might even take something really worthwhile (other than an improvement in your child’s education) from it? Getting stuck in and helping them with their homework comes with the added bonus of improving your Spanish, too.

4. Use the carrot

We all like to be praised when we’ve worked hard and done a good job at something. A teenager studying for their exams is absolutely no different. How to motivate your child? Little rewards and regular treats – whether it’s in the form of a particularly nice dinner or a movie night with friends – are an important part of keeping a student motivated in the run-up to their big day. Similarly, a promised reward like a holiday with friends or a new car for getting the grades they need is likely to have the desired effect. Bribery? Maybe. But you see if it doesn’t work.

5. (But don’t forget the stick)

Praise and regular rewards for good work are all well and good, but they may not be enough to get your child to study for their exams. This doesn’t mean harsh, Victorian-style discipline, or anything – simply that if they step out of line, they need to know that the withdrawal of special privileges will follow shortly afterwards. Hitting them in the wallet is always a good way to get their attention, and the withholding of an allowance should soon sharpen their attention on to the job in hand. Any other special attractions – like use of the car, say – that they are provided with can also be just as effective (along with the swift retraction of any carrots previously dangled).

One thing is well worth remembering, though: we were all young once. And not all of us studied quite as hard as we might have done. So cut them a little slack, too. Help them out wherever you can, cross your fingers and trust them to do their best.

6. Don’t panic

Last but by no means least… keep calm – both before, during and after the exam period. While you want your children to do well, knowing that they have a supportive family network who will help them through the next stage whatever happens, is incredibly important. And if they don’t get the grades they’re after? Make sure they realise it’s not the end of the world. From exam retakes to distance learning and adult education, there’s always another way to learn.

 

Guest post by  Phillipa Sudron is writing on behalf of Oxford College: http://www.oxfordcollege.ac/

What tested tips do you have to encourage your children to study? Please share them with our readers …

 

Spanish News in English: The Spain Report

spanish news in english

Are you looking for an unbiased source of Spanish news in English? An honest source that is not influenced by political and propaganda issues?  A source of Spanish news in English that has not been poorly translated by some kind of google online translation robot?

“Oooh stop it!” I hear you say. “It’s not really like that is it?” Surely the tabloids and online sources we have access to are of a higher standard than that. Well, until now, I must admit I haven’t been very impressed!

However, there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel. A great new source of Spanish news in correctly written English and without political under minings and influence has been born … introducing The Spain Report!

We (FIS)  asked Matthew Bennett (MB), the brains behind The Spain Report to tell us more about this exciting new project.

MBFIS: Tell us a bit about yourself Matthew… 

MB: I first arrived in Spain all the way back in 1998 to teach English in a summer camp in the northern mountains. I was about to start the third (ERASMUS) year of a degree in Modern Languages & Linguistics and I was met off the flight at Barajas, whisked across Madrid in the back of a car and pushed onto the night train up north. I got off at 5 a.m. in the middle of nowhere, and Father Javier, the priest who ran the camp, was there waiting for me.

I’ve been here for about 13 years in total now, first struggling to make my way as a journalist, then as a translator and now as a journalist again. My first company was a languages affair, but it seems I just can’t pluck this journalism thorn out of my side.

My son Hugo was born here just over a year ago, so it’s personal now.

FIS: So, what is The Spain Report? 

MB: A new online newspaper to do 21st–Century, independent foreign correspondence in Spain, for readers in Spain and around the world in English.

The idea is to do breaking news and major stories in a variety of broadsheet- and broadcast-quality text and multimedia formats for you.

Completely independent and non–partisan, with no corporate or party-political interests, it’s just The Spain Report, you the reader and a kind of quest for a deeper truth about the major news stories coming out of Spain.

It seems The Spain Report’s readers also want me to get out and do as much original, on-the-ground, in-depth reporting from around the country as possible.

FIS: What gave you the idea to launch The Spain Report?

MB: Analysing the ‘News from Spain in English’ market as part of the application process for The Guardian’s Madrid Correspondent position, which came up in May and which they still haven’t found anyone for for some inexplicable reason. There are so many ways existing media organistions could be doing much better in terms of reporting on Spain in English but for some reason seem not to be doing so.

FIS: Why is it different to other online newspapers?

MB: It really is completely independent and non-partisan. There’s no editorial line, as such, no party political leaning, no ‘angles’ going into a story. Just talking, and listening and translating and finding a deeper truth for you as a reader.

Then I want to make use of all of the mobile and digital news gathering tools we have available nowadays to bring readers along for the ride as much as possible and to give them news and information about Spain in lots of different ways that make sense online.

FIS: Who are you appealing to? (i.e. target market readership)

MB: Anyone interested in Spain, which so far seems to break down into four groups: interested foreign readers abroad (investors, etc), English-speaking expats in Spain, what we might call international Spaniards, and finally global media editors and producers who want to stay on top of events in Spain and have access to people who know the country when big Spain stories break here.

the spain reportFIS: We know that your first investigative venture was a great success. Can you tell us a bit about it and how you raised funds for the project …

MB: A wonderful experience, yes. There was a massive amount of global media and reader interest around the Santiago train crash at the end of July. After live-blogging it all night and all the following day, and speaking to a couple of dozen global news programmes about it, I asked The Spain Report’s readers if they wanted me to go up there for a couple of weeks to speak to the people involved and find out more for them. They said yes, and they funded most of the trip too.

They basically bought their own independent Spain correspondent for a couple of weeks to ferret out a deeper truth for them. I collected enough material (photos, visits, data, contacts, 15-hours of unedited interviews with key figures that night, etc.) to do a really great story, but it will take a while to process it all and write it up, as I keep working on the normal news and the rest of the project.

Several people asked me if I wouldn’t mind continuing to do this by, for example, going down to Gibraltar or up to Catalonia as well. It will be my pleasure. Spain is a big enough country to be able to do this more or less permanently, between major breaking news and ongoing important stuff like the economic crisis, the secession of Catalonia or this non-stop flood of political corruption. i can think of loads of great stories in Spain waiting to be told properly in English.

So I’m now setting The Spain Report up to provide regular, continuous value to its readers. Then I want those readers to subscribe for a (very) small fee which they themselves can choose. Everyone even slightly interested in Spain should jump on board. I’m also working on how to allow readers to contribute articles and photos and things from around the country. Between the lot of us, we can do something great with The Spain Report.

FIS: What should people do if they have a topic they’d like you to cover?

MB: Just e-mail me: matthew@thespainreport.com

**************************

A big Family in Spain ¡GRACIAS! to Matthew and The Spain Report … a great new source of Spanish news in English!

We love independent, non biased reporting of facts. Do you? If you’d like to hep support this great new initiative, pop over to www.TheSpainReport.com and sign up for updates.

Do you have any stories you’d like Matthew to investigate? We’d love to hear about them …

family in spain

Moving To Spain – A Basic Things To Do Checklist (Guest Post)

moving to spain

Thousands of people have done it over the years, but that doesn’t mean they’ve done it right. For many, moving to Spain can be a dream come true; for others, simply failing to take a few simple, but necessary, steps means that things inevitably start off on the wrong footing and they’re left forever playing catch-up.

Here are just a few things to bear in mind before you make the big move…

Before You Go…

Don’t Burn Your Bridges

Perhaps the best advice above anything else when moving to Spain is: if you can afford to keep a property in the UK (or your country of origin) then do so, whether you decide to downsize to a smaller more manageable property or keep your original home. This gives you options in the future and a possible rental income, too.

Who to Meet

Contact a financial advisor, ideally one who has specific experience in Spain.  This person can advise you on pensions, tax liabilities and what is necessary to do in terms of fiscal responsibilities in Spain. Questions that you should be asking at this point include: if you are keeping a residence in the UK and planning to rent it out how is the income taxed? If you work part of the year in the UK how will that affect fiscal residency? These can all be answered on a case-by-case basis by an experienced Financial Advisor.

Inform the HMRC (Hmrc.gov.uk) – there are certain forms that must be filled in including form P85 – Leaving the UK.

On a slightly less formal note, it’s a good idea to get involved with social media before you go; you’ll be surprised at how many expatriate groups exist on Facebook and Twitter. It’s a great way of learning about different areas and local customs and things to do, and possibly even meeting people who are living your dream.

Tie Up Loose Ends

In terms of your British bank accounts, ensure you have internet banking set up before you leave the country; also make sure that all your statements are being sent electronically and your debit and credit cards are up-to-date.

Have a clear-out: surprisingly enough, Spain has shops, too, so don’t be tempted to bring all your furniture over with you. Besides the cost of delivery, you might find that what looked perfect in an old cottage in an English village doesn’t quite work in a Spanish villa or that, with the temperature differences, a formal indoor dining table and chairs would go unused.

It’s often not worth importing your car, either: firstly, there’s the fact that the steering wheel is on the wrong side, while secondly, as well as the duty due, you might as well have bought a car in Spain. (Although be warned: Spanish second-hand car prices are much dearer than those in the UK and many other countries.)

Learn a Bit of Spanish

Enrol in a local college while in the UK, to learn the basics. It takes a long time to be bilingual (and many never even get close), but by starting with a conservational Spanish class at home, you will at least be able to greet people, order food, speak to your children’s teachers, and understand basic inferences. There are places in Spain, most typically on the coast, where it’s not absolutely necessary to speak Spanish, as the English communities are well-developed. However, being able to have a basic conservation with a Spaniard will help with feeling less isolated, as they are such a sociable bunch as a general rule. (Plus it takes the pain away from the day-to-day administrative tasks that will need doing!) A useful translation site for day-to-day queries is Spanishdict.com.

When You’re There…

Administration

When you have moved to Spain, two things are important initially: one is obtaining a NIE (Numero de Identification de Extranjeros); this is the unique identification number that you and your family need. The second is being registered as living at your address in that municipality (Empadronamiento), which is similar to the electoral role in the UK. Your town hall (Ayuntamiento) issues the Empadronamiento certificates and the police station or comisaría issues the NIEs. To obtain an NIE you must have photocopies and originals of your passport, contract of house rental/deeds of your house in Spain, and fill in a personal details form. A certificate of Empadronamiento is needed when you buy or sell a car, register a child in school, apply for the NIE, apply for residency (Residencia), get married, vote and apply for a local health insurance card. It’s important to get an NIE – this is your identification while in Spain and it’s needed for all manner of things, in addition to the above. For more advice and assistance about NIEs and Spanish bureaucracy, visit www.ccbspain.com.

Rent Before Buying a Property

The fun bit is house-hunting but mistakes can be made at this early stage. There’s a huge difference between being on holiday somewhere and living there. To ensure moving abroad to Spain is for you, it’s never a bad idea to rent for a year prior to buying a property. Spain is a huge country and it will give you the opportunity to sample a few different areas until you find the perfect spot to hang your hat. Rent in Spain is relatively reasonable, too, so don’t feel as though it’s a waste. A good place to start when looking to buy or rent is Rightmove.co.uk, with a good selection of properties from private vendors and local estate agents, while if you’re looking to buy Girasolhomes.co.uk is an excellent bet.

Open a Bank Account

Shop around for a bank that gives the best deal. Look for things like free European transfers and check the costs of having a credit card and bank account in Spain as they’re often more expensive than in the UK (and many other countries). Also, most banks charge if you use a different bank’s cash machine, so ensure yours is convenient to where you live. Banks open only in the mornings Monday to Fridays; however, during the winter months most banks extend their opening hours to either on a Saturday or a full day during the week.

With the above having been completed, and with your NIE and Empadronamiento certificates, Spanish bank account and confidence in the knowledge that your finances are in order, you’ll be free to discover your new home. By picking up knowledge of Spanish along the way and involving yourself with the local (and cyber) communities you can make informed decisions about the rest of your life in Spain.

WATCH FAMILY IN SPAIN’S  MOVING TO SPAIN HINTS & TIPS VIDEOS BY CLICKING HERE!

About the author:

Phillipa Sudron is drawing from her own experiences of living in southern Spain for more than five years. She is writing on behalf of Richard Alexander Financial Planning: http://www.ra-fp.com/moving-overseas/.

From West to East and almost back again ExpatChild.com

west to east

We recently came across a great website that contains lots of interesting and informative articles about the ups and downs of having, and living with, expat children. Whatever country you call home, we think this website will be of interest to you. So, let us introduce you to , the founder of www.expatchild.com , Carole Hallett Mobbs …

 

“Late in November 2006 our family moved from Britain to the Land of the Rising Sun. My husband had been relocated to Tokyo, Japan for his work and I sold my publishing business to become a ‘trailing spouse’. Our daughter had just turned five years old so would spend her first school years being educated in Japan.

Living in Japan was an amazing experience and we spent a wonderful four and a half years there.

Our postings generally last for four years so we knew we would eventually be relocating again, or even returning to the UK, depending on my husband’s job. As it turned out, our next relocation was to Berlin, Germany: almost ‘home’, but not quite. I hadn’t experienced culture shock at all in Japan, but certainly did so in Germany.

This may have had something to do with the events during our last weeks in Tokyo…

A month before our long-planned departure date in April 2011 the massive 9 magnitude Tohoku earthquake of March 11th rocked the foundations of the entire nation.

Subsequently we arrived in Berlin after an exhausting and emotional 24 hour trip. We were all distressed by the departure and it took us some time to recover from the past month’s trauma.

Compared to the friendly expat community in Tokyo, Berlin had nothing for me. I found myself isolated, bored and depressed. When you relocate with very young children, you have an easy way to meet other people, either at kindergarten or at the school gate. But as soon as the child is old enough to go off to school on public transport, as mine is, that option disappears and nothing was here to take its place.

Although I’m very self-sufficient I still needed to reach out to others somehow. I also needed to find a way to occupy my time as I was unable to continue my previous work.

While on our annual summer break to the UK last year I was able to gather my thoughts and look to my future and the idea for the website was born. I thought about what was missing from my experiences of moving overseas and that was straightforward advice written in plain English.

ExpatChild.com offers practical advice on topics ranging from flying with a baby to finding the right school, and from arranging leaving parties to raising multilingual children to what to pack and how to pack it. The aim of the site is to provide knowledge and information to other parents embarking on an expat life, and for existing expats who are embarking on a parenting life.

We’ve now been in Berlin for nearly two years and are unexpectedly ‘on the move’ again: we’re being posted to Pretoria, South Africa this summer. Rather than a year’s notice as before, we had only two months. Life is rather frenetic right now and I’m able to put my own advice into action as I start decluttering and packing yet again!”

By Carole Hallett Mobbs, an expat parent and founder of ExpatChild.com

A Proust Interview: The Lady who Offers to add Sizzle to your Life

Meet the Lady behind the Sizzle

sizzle

Have you noticed how some people are really good at telling you how great they are? Within minutes of meeting them, you no longer hear what they are saying. Their every sentence starts, includes and ends with “I”…

Then there are those who keep quiet and don’t say too much. They listen to others and when it is their turn to introduce themselves, they give a pretty vague mumble and often play down their achievements.

A few months ago, I was introduced to the lovely Belinda Beckett. Even though this was the first time we had met in person, Belinda had, several weeks earlier, very kindly offered to proof read one of our Family Life in Spain Online Magazines … My goodness, I had never imagined how many mistakes a professional proof reader would find!

Not only did she point out mistakes, she also offered constructive criticism and improvements. It was so obvious that she was a professional. She not only Talks the talk, she walks the walk and she adds sizzle!

Belinda has recently given birth (her words!) to her very first blog  on www.belindabeckett.com .

As an attempt for thanking her for her hard work and also for thanking her for making us laugh out loud on many occasions when reading her posts, we thought we would introduce you to the lady behind the sizzle.

The following questions are taken from a Proust Interview Format that Belinda introduced us to. The back-of-the-mag interview format of 35 questions is designed to reveal the hidden truths behind the most private persona. So here she is …

cats with sizzle

Belinda’s Family …

 

1.What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Sun, sea, sangria … and sizzle!

2. What is your greatest fear?

Driving in Spain. I passed my test 30 years ago in the UK (on the 4th attempt) but I’m mentally on L-plates and back to practicing in car parks over here.

3. Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Charlotte Bronte. She put two fingers up to the Victorian establishment  with her controversial love story between plain Jane Eyre and the saturnine Mr Rochester.

4. Which living person do you most admire?

Richard Branson makes success look achievable and fun, and seems genuine with it.

5. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

Olympic Gold Medal-winning self doubt .

6. What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Mendacity. I hate deception and phoniness as much as I love the word, especially as uttered by the divine Paul Newman in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.

7. What is your greatest extravagance?

Squandering my time on earth working!

8. On what occasion do you lie?

When I’ve dropped the dinner on the floor…

9. What do you most dislike about your appearance?

That it’s not like cheese, i.e. it doesn’t improve with age.

10. When and where were you happiest?

Now, living in the boondocks of Los Barrios. It’s neither a pretty pueblo, nor well-known – an interesting challenge for a writer.

11. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

My tastebuds.  I’d like some that don’t make all fish and seafood taste yuck!

12. If you could change one thing about your family what would it be?

The need to change their litter trays. Most of my  ‘family’ are cats.

13. What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Surviving in Spain for 20 years … but let’s not be smug, the fat lady hasn’t sung yet!

14. If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what would it be?

I’d like to do it all again as a man, to see if it makes life easier.

15. What is your most treasured possession?

A quirky sense of humour – even about the bad stuff.

16. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Working  on a Sunday.

17. Who are your heroes in real life?

People who put others before themselves

18. What is it that you most dislike?

Queuing. Especially queuing behind sweet little old Spanish ladies in carnicerías  who want un quarto kilo of everything … skinned, gutted, filleted, sliced and diced!

19. How would you like to die?

Having fathomed out Photoshop and many other technologies…

20. What is your motto?

“It will be alright in the end. And if it’s not alright, it is not the end.”  Creatively swiped from Dev Patel in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (great movie!)

*************

Thanks to Belinda for making us smile and for introducing us to this interview format.

Would you like to reveal yourself and be interviewed? If so, just contact us!

Where to live in Spain: Barcelona v Granada … Second Half!

In our last post entitled  Where to live in Spain: Barcelona v Granada .. Let´s kick off! , Molly, who writes for our Newsletters and her own website www.piccavey.com , gave us her thoughts about the positive reasons for  living in Barcelona and Granada.

By the end of the first half it was a pretty even match. In this second half, we take a look at the possible down sides of living in either of  these two wonderful cities. So let’s see Molly’s thoughts about where to live in Spain

The down sides to Barcelona 

  • Catalan can be a problem especially if you don’t speak Spanish and are trying to get to grips with a new language, it will be confusing to see both languages on documents and road signs.
  • Petty crime is a nuisance in Barcelona with most of my guests being pick pocketed at some point, it is a real issue for people speaking foreign languages as they are a target for the criminals in the tourist areas of the city.
  • The tourists can be a little bit annoying when you live in the city. Stag do´s, large queues for museums or big crowds on the ramblas and along the Paseo de Gracia.
  • I found that I can be difficult to mix with people from Barcelona in a long term sense. Networking with foreigners is really easy but these people tend to be short or medium term residents. To make friends or contacts for several years was not easy.
  • The cost of homes in Barcelona is higher than other places in Spain. Renting a flat can easily cost 1000 euros or more. Very few colleagues of mine managed to buy a property. Renting was the norm among the group I knew (mainly 30 something professionals)


live in spainThe downside to Granada

  • The public transport here isn´t so good. In Granada there are no underground or tram services. The trains are only long distance and timetables are vary sparse. The buses seem to come when they want to. They should come every 10 minutes but last Saturday I waited 30 minutes for it to come along. Taxis are not at all expensive. Usually 5 euros will get you pretty much anywhere in the city centre.
  • No Flights. The airport is pretty limited to fly internationally. Flight to Barcelona or Madrid are available. Most people travel 90 minutes to nearby Malaga by car to get flights from there.
  • If you are running you own business, freelance or online based OK. Work is pretty limited. If you want to find work here Spanish is obligatory. A good level of business Spanish. Currently in this area 1 in 4 are unemployed.
  • A problem here is the Enchufismo, this is where families stick together and give jobs to other family members, cousins, pass business among themselves and don’t let anyone else into the click. This mindset can be a particular challenge when doing business. (Not only for foreigners)
  • There aren´t many International restaurants or supermarkets. There are some but they may be toned down to suit Spanish customers. An Indian curry that´s always mild for example. It´s difficult (but not impossible) to buy special cooking ingredients. I often go for online suppliers.

Extra time

For my current lifestyle I am really satisfied with my lifestyle in Granada, the working week seems to be more relaxed, I walk to work which takes just 10 minutes (no buses, metro or queues) this suits me right now. When I was in my mid twenties I couldn´t imagine leaving Barcelona. It is such an exciting place to live. The important part of choosing a new city or town of residence is ensuring that it adapts to your lifestyle and that the way you will live you standard day with fit in with the destination. When you are on holiday it is a completely different ball game.

Thanks again to Molly for her honest feedback. Where would you like to live in Spain? Have you experienced living in Spain? Would you like to tell us why you love where you live? Would you like to take part in the next match? If so, please Contact Us and let us share Your Story about Life in Spain.

Protests in Catalunya: What is all the fuss about?

catalunya independence march

If you’ve been watching the Spanish news recently, I’m sure that the demonstration in Barcelona in Catalunya will have caught your attention, so I’m very grateful to Lisa, (aka Mum from Family Life In Spain), for asking me to provide a quick overview of the situation in Catalunya. She sent me a few questions and I think the easiest way to approach the issue of Catalan Independence and the whys and wherefores of the demonstration is to go through them one by one.

Why are the Catalans so keen to obtain independence?

It’s a simple question of identity, really. Catalans have their own language, culture and history. The language is based on vulgar Latin and is actually a lot older than Spanish which is based on high Latin. A quick example is the verb To Eat – manducare in Vulgar Latin, menjar in Catalan, manger in French and mangiare in Italian whereas comedere in High Latin gives us comer in Spanish.

There are many more examples but I know from experience that when I speak Catalan I think differently from when I speak Spanish.

Culturally, the Catalans are more staid and less passionate than the Spanish. The Sardana – the National dance – is very methodical in comparison with flamenco. Bullfighting is seen as individualistic and cruel and is illegal here. Most Catalan activities are based on groups. For example, castells – the human castles – are a group effort that require cooperation. Both language and culture are the result of a different history.

The Moors only controlled Catalunya for 80 years and never really made it into the Pyrenees whereas the Spanish Reconquista took 700 years. Consequently, there’s very little Arabic influence on the language and racially, the Catalans see themselves as the South of Northern Europe. They also had a massive empire in medieval times and had it not been for the discovery of America, which brought incredible wealth to Castile, the balance of power on the Iberian peninsular could well have remained much more equal.

You add all this together and the Catalans quite understandably feel different and would like to have their own state.

Have any particular events in Spanish history ignited this?

The crucial moment in Catalunya’s relationship with Spain came to a head with the end of the Spanish War of Succession in 1714. In 1700, Spanish King Carlos II died without an heir, and up until that point although ruled by the same monarch, Catalunya had enjoyed a great degree of freedom and was effectively a separate country. There were two pretenders to the throne – Philippe de Anjou, grandson of France’s Louis XIV, and the Habsburg Archduke Charles of Austria. Castile backed the centralist Bourbon pretender and looked forward to a Franco-Spanish axis that would come to control Europe, whereas Catalunya backed the Habsburg, who promised to respect their relative independence, and England and Holland frightened of French hegemony formed an alliance with the Catalans and Austrians. Unfortunately, for the Catalans, Charles became King of Austria and decided he wasn’t too bothered about being King of Spain and Philippe, by then Felipe, bought the English off with Gibraltar and Menorca, so the Catalans were left to fight alone from 1712 to 1714, when after a long siege Barcelona fell on September 11.

Not surprisingly, after 13 years of war, Felipe V wasn’t too pleased with the Catalans, and revoked all their laws, closed all the universities and made speaking Catalan illegal. Catalunya wasn’t allowed to trade with the Americas and all goods exported from Catalunya to Castile had to pay duties whereas Castilian goods imported to Catalunya were duty free.

Barcelona entered a period of severe economic decline, and also had to pay for the upkeep of 50,000 Castilian troops that were billeted in the Citadel (now Parc de la Ciutadella). By the beginning of the 20th century, Catalunya had resuscitated economically but in 1923, the dictator Miguel Primo de Rivera staged a successful military coup in Spain, and amongst other things, banned the Catalan language again and increased the taxes.

In 1936, the Spanish Civil War began and once again Catalunya backed the democrats and held out almost to the end. The victor of the Civil War, good old General Francisco Franco hated two things – Catalans and reds – and Barcelona was full of both of them, so without much ado, it was firing squad time again and prison if you were caught speaking Catalan in the street.

This is very recent history, and people of the older generation, my ex-wife’s parents for example, speak Catalan at home but as soon as they are out in the street switch to Spanish. Franco died in 1975 but even now there’s no way you can get her father to speak Catalan in public. Similarly, many people of my generation, who left school before Catalan was reintroduced in 1980, resent the fact that they never learned to read and write in their mother tongue.

What are the main differences in the beliefs of Catalans and Castilians?

People are people and Catalunya is a modern cosmopolitan region. Traditionally, Catalans were blonder and taller than Castilians but Franco shipped in a couple of million Andalusians and there are Moroccans, South Americans, Chinese, Pakistanis and grizzly old Nottinghamians like me, so we’re pretty much the same as anyone else, I think.

What’s important, though, are the cultural and linguistic factors I mentioned above. The children of the Spanish immigrants who arrived in the 50s and 60s have grown up speaking Catalan, dancing Sardanas and supporting FC Barcelona, so they feel different.

Another important point is that although many people want independence, given their Spanish ancestry, lots of Catalans love Spanish culture and are very happy to be bilingual. There’s a fantastic flamenco scene, and typical Andalusian festivals, such as the Feria de Abril are celebrated with mucho gusto.

What’s sparked the current upsurge of pro-independence feeling has been the ridiculous behaviour of the Partido Popular – there’s been a barrage of anti-Catalan insults from Esperanza Aguirre and company, and more importantly, the government reneged on the tax agreement we have and refused to return taxes we’d paid to central government, so we’ve now got a deficit and have to ask for help. When Catalans see Partido Popular politicians being processed for corruption in Valencia and see Bankia go down the drain due to incompetent management, we don’t feel too happy about trusting our money to a bunch of crooks.

What are the Catalans most proud of?

The Catalan word ‘seny’, which means something between common sense and fair play, pretty much sums up the Catalan way of doing things. We like being moderate and measured, and I think the demonstration on Tuesday was a fantastic example. It wasn’t reall anti anything, it was pro-Catalan and took place in a happy friendly atmosphere. We’re proud and pleased when we do things well.

Obviously, we’re incredibly proud of the language, and some of our brilliant writers – Jacint Verdaguer, Josep pla, Mercè Rodoreda,even Terenci Moix. Painters – Picasso cut his teeth here, Salvador Dalí, Tàpies and host more. Gaudí and the Modernistas – what can I say!

The Romanesque churches in the Pyrenees. El Barça! The beaches. The food. The Gay scene …

There’s so much we can be proud of that, without doing anyone else down, we feel we should have the right to do this under our own name not as a maligned region of Spain, a country which always seems to take anything good we do, the Spanish national football team, for example, as its own but criticise anything that’s not quite up to scratch.

We’re also very proud of our flag, by the way. It’s called La Senyera and the four red lines are the Four Fingers of Blood that our first king Wilfred the Hairy scraped on a golden shield before going into battle against the Moors and securing Catalunya as an independent state in the 9th century.

If Catalunya was granted total independence, how would it impact the life of an expat living there?

Difficult question and it all depends on how Europe and Spain react. If we gain independence, we’ll have to leave the European Union and apply for re-entry. The current rule is that new states are only accepted as long as there is unanimous agreement from the current states, so if Spain gets shirty about this, we could be in for a very difficult ride.

Any problems for ex-pats will come about as a result of non-EU membership rather than any express desire of the Catalan government, who will be extremely keen to make life as easy as possible for foreign nationals and so establish itself in international terms.

But the truth is we don’t know what’s going to happen yet. If Mariano Rajoy is minimally intelligent, he’ll give the Catalans the tax deal they are asking for and that might close the flood gates for a while. However, intelligence and diplomacy aren’t typical Partido Popular qualities, so I reckon that Catalan politicians are already working behind the scenes on the European question.

I’ll stick my neck out here and say that if independence comes there’ll be an unsettled period but then Catalunya without the tax drain will become significantly more prosperous. If I had money to invest, I’d be keeping a very close eye on the property market in Catalunya now.

About the author:

Simon Harris has lived in Barcelona in Catalunya since 1988 and is author of Going Native in Catalonia. He has recently started www.barcelona-travel-guide.info.  The site’s only been going since late August but there’s a blog at  bcnblog.barcelona-travel-guide.info  and a forum at forum.barcelona-travel-guide.info, and he is very happy to answer your questions about Barcelona-related travel or simply argue the toss in English, Spanish and, of course, Catalan. You can connect with Simon on    Facebook – Barcelona Travel Guide  at or on Twitter through @simonharris.

If you would like to learn more about this wonderful part of Spain,  please also have a look at  Going Native in Catalunya.

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