Following the popularity and feedback on our post Sure Signs That You’re Adapting to Life As A Mum in Spain, we are excited to share a “tables turned” post from a Spanish mum living in the UK.
Leonor contacted us via our Facebook Page and we invited to share her observations of being a mum in the UK, from a Spanish mum’s point of view.
Leonor and her son, Imam
So, over to Leonor …
You realise you are adapting to life as a mum in the UK when…..
1. Your school meetings start at the actual scheduled time…. (the first one is the only school meeting you will not be on time; being the only parent who is late you will be too embarrassed to do this again!).
2. You go to the pub with your children and you are told the children are not allowed here. Come on!! Bad day for you….:(
3. You are called “Mrs (your surname)” instead of being called “your first name” by the teachers at the school.
4. You learn you can be an active part of the school; you can even stay at your child´s classroom helping him. Amazing! I was allowed to be a primary school child again….(the only problem was the chair which was a bit small for me but shhh…this is my little secret).
5. You learn that schools don´t use any books (Maths, Science, English…) at all, so you don´t have to buy them (yay!!). Don´t sing victory too soon, you will have to buy instead the uniforms for the state schools (uniforms in Spain are only used in private schools).
6. You learn you should not go out with your children after 5.30pm as almost everything is closed and families do not go out after this time.
7. You go to the beach with your children but you never (hardly) go into the sea as it´s frozen (your children will not mind the water temperature. Admit it, you are getting old and whiney!!).
8. You realise you can dress as you please and even go out with your pyjamas and slippers but still nobody would be looking at you. Yay, freedom!! Don´t do this in Spain! It´s seen as a crime!!
9. You learn there are 24/7 supermarkets so you can actually go shopping at 2am if you want to (I actually went shopping at 3am once, just to check if they were telling the true….). Very useful indeed for busy mums!
10. It´s raining cats and dogs but your children are not coming back home running from the rain; it seems they don´t care anymore if it´s raining or not. Rain does not affect their lives, but would still affects yours (you are too old to get used to getting wet).
11. The time you realise you cannot touch/kiss/hug children in the UK! That was, I think, the hardest one for me. I was told this when I started working as a teacher in one of the local schools. At the end of the year, some students came to me with a big bouquet of roses, cards and several gifts in order to thank me. I did not know what to do as I just wanted to hug them all and kiss them!
12. My favourite one; Sleepovers!! 3, 4, 5 children staying at home (your home) in your son´s bedroom, until the day after! What a great tradition in the UK. I so love making dinner for all of them!
Hello. My name is Leonor. I am from Spain and I am thirty something years old.
I am the Academic Director for Cervantes Ltd (find more about me here: www.spanishpassion.co.uk), an academy of languages based in Eastbourne-England. I teach standard Castilian Spanish, the official language of modern Spain. I love my profession and find teaching more a pleasure than a job.
My 7 year old son and I decided to move to England a long time ago. I quitted my job in Spain as a manager of a language department in an academy of languages near to Gibraltar, as our personal lives were not great at that moment, so we were ready for a big challenge. It was the right time to do it.
What can be a bigger challenge than going abroad with your 7 year old son, your car and your suitcases being a single woman? That is what we did. We took our car, our clothes and our great self-esteem with us.
I soon realised that I could not take onboard a full time job if I needed to help my son to integrate with the school, the language, etc., so I started as a private teacher working at home until I found a flexible position as an academic director for a school of language whose students are all over the world so they do lessons online as well as face to face. This flexible job would allow me to have some income and take care of my son properly, with plenty of time to help him. This was exactly what I needed.
My son is now 14 years old and we love our life in the UK. We feel very British although we miss Spain a lot. I am still working for Cervantes Ltd and I am happier everyday.
I don´t know if we will ever go back to Spain but I know something for sure; my heart will always belong to my two countries, no matter what happens. We are half-English, half-Spanish.
I hope you enjoyed at least some of my experiences as a Spanish mum in the UK. I need to clarify that most of my life lessons I listed above, happened thanks to my son. My child was the one who allowed me to get to the bottom of the British family life and enjoy all this, whilst learning from it at the same time. Without my son, I could have lived in the UK independently from the British culture, just hanging out with Spaniards, like Spanish people do here everyday. I couldn´t do this, as I had family commitments with my son, and it was precisely this which made me be part of the real English family life and integrate easier. I don´t think I could ever thank my son enough for this.
What do you think? Do you agree? If you are a Spanish family living in the UK, we’d love to share your story: Contact Us.
As an expat, do you celebrate St Georges day in Spain? Do you celebrate it English or Spanish style? Did you know that Sant Jordi is also a big celebration in Catalonia, Northern Spain?
Following our recent trip to Barcelona and our fascination with the the architecture and the history that is found in every street and building around the city, we decided to invite Matthew from Barcelona to tell us a little bit more about St George’s Day in Spain.
Over to you Matthew ….
St George’s Day – The most romantic day of the year?
We all know the tale of ‘St George and the Dragon‘. The knight in shining armour who comes to the rescue of a damsel in distress about to meet her demise at the hands of a monstrous dragon. Apart from maybe retelling the tale to their kids, the average reader from England and the UK sees St George’s Day more as an event to celebrate national pride, which of course, is brilliant! However, apart from the increased presence of flags and bunting, very rarely is the day truly celebrated and there is no official way to rejoice in the occasion.
Meanwhile 700 miles south, Catalonia – whose patron saint is also St. George – do have their own official celebration for the day, and it centres around the aforementioned tale. You see, in the Catalan version, after Saint George (or Sant Jordi as he is known here) slays the dragon a red rose bush grows from the blood of the beast, which he gives to the princess and they live happily ever after. Today, men all over the region try to make their own happily ever after by presenting the one they love with a rose, just as the brave knight was said to have done.
Whether you’re in Barcelona or Girona, all around Catalonia you’ll find that the streets are absolutely chockablock with stalls selling roses of all kinds of colours from red, white, and pink to blue, black, and even multicolour. Locals stroll hand-in-hand as pairs, taking in the vibrant atmosphere. You’ll also see men nervously carrying roses along the street as they’re preparing to present them to someone special, and women walking home with a spring in their step, roses in hand and a person in their hearts.
The celebration doesn’t end there though! At the beginning of the 20th century, a bookseller noticed that the day coincided with both the death of William Shakespeare and the apparent burial of Miguel Cervantes. While men were buying roses, this bookseller proposed that women buy their partner a book, and so it has since remained. You only have to walk down Las Ramblas to see the masses of book stalls on the street, as well as various book fairs being held around the city. This Catalan tradition caught on so well that at the end of the century, UNESCO took note and officially declared April 23rd as World Book Day.
If you’re looking for family-friendly things to do, there are many events held specifically for this day. For instance, it’s open-house at Barcelona’s City Hall and Parliament buildings which are usually closed to the public on Plaça Sant Juame. There is also a free workshop for families at Carrer Buenaventura Muñoz, 21 where children can make objects related to the story of ‘St George and the Dragon’. All in all though, the celebration of St George’s Day takes place on the streets because the entire city becomes an attraction thanks to the lively and cheerful atmosphere. So if worst comes to worst, simply take a relaxing family stroll and let the magic of the celebration fascinate you…
About the Author: Matthew Debnam
A London ex-pat who made the move to Barcelona 4 years ago. He writes part-time for various local businesses including OK Apartment, who provide holiday apartments and monthly rentals in Barcelona, but is a full-time tourist at heart.
Living in Seville versus Antequera: Comparing the South’s Biggest City to its Most Centrical
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.
In this article, Cat and Hayley, two young, North Americans give us their thoughts on living in Seville and Antequera …
Seville is Southern Spain’s de-facto capital and a must-see on the tourism circuit. It’s also the center of politics and culture in the south. Antequera, on the other hand, is in the dead center of Andalusia and about as typically Spanish as you can get.
Here we give you the battle between settling in Andalusia’s largest city, Seville, or enjoying the small town charm of Antequera.
The Pros for living in Seville …
Proximity to the beaches and mountains: Seville is located in the Guadalquivir Valley and sits at just one hour from both the beaches in Huelva and the mountains in the Sierra Norte or Cádiz. It’s also not far from the Portuguese border.
Interurban transportation and friendly on cyclists: Home to an international airport, a major train station, and two bus depots, it’s easy to travel from Seville to destinations all over Spain. Several major motorways service the city, too. Seville has also received the accolade of being Spain’s most bike-friendly city, thanks to its flat terrain and over 100 kilometers of bike lanes.
The tapas and dining scene: Seville is well-known for its tapas, a small dish consumed at mealtime. Locals say the bar culture has kept the economy afloat, and the establishments are practically a Sevillano’s living room. What’s more, Seville offers several other types of cuisine, from Indian and Mexican to Argentinian, so you won’t have to eat tortilla española at every meal.
Beauty, folklore, and history: It’s impossible to keep Seville’s charm a secret. From the horse-drawn carriages to the eclectic architecture, the city is full of beautiful corners to explore. Seville is also quite traditional, so flamenco and bullfighting are common art forms and synonymous with the city. Living in Seville means never getting bored of its beauty.
Historic Seville is one of the many culture and contributions to Spanish patrimony. After all, it was here that the Catholic Kings gave Christopher Columbus money to discover the New World, and the riches the conquerors brought back were funneled through the city. This has left its legacy in both architecture and language, making Seville a culturally rich city.
Local festivals: Known for both its extravagant Holy Week and colorful local fair, Seville actually has a local minister solely dedicated to the springtime festivals. Because Seville is a cultural capital, there are plenty of flamenco shows, music festivals, and gastronomic markets throughout the year.
Strong international contingent: Truly a city with international flair, Seville has become home to people from many cultures without being too overwhelming. There are several international groups for expats to join, allowing us to stay in contact with our language and culture. Seville is also home to two universities, meaning Erasmus students arrive in droves during the academic year.
In the Pros Antequera corner…
Location, location, location: Antequera was nearly chosen as the capital of Spain’s Southern Autonomous Community for its strategic position in the geographic center of Andalucía. Nowhere are you better positioned to visit the South’s most famous cities than in Antequera. Head north to Córdoba or south to Málaga and arrive in just under an hour; while a trip west to Seville or east to Granada will take you around an hour and a half.
Antequera is also within an hour’s drive to the famous Costa del Sol beaches. Are mountains more your scene? Just 15 minutes outside the city is the famous El Torcal Park and Nature Reserve with Jurassic age rock formations that will take your breath away and transport you to another time.
Transportation: If you’re looking leave Andalucía, book high-speed train travel to Madrid from Antequera’s Santa Ana AVE station and arrive in two and a half hours. Or try Málaga’s International Airport, Spain’s fourth busiest with major routes servicing Spain, Europe, America, and Asia.
Eat on the cheap: If you’re looking for a traditional tapas experience look no further. Antequera keeps Spain’s culinary tradition alive and well by charging clients just over 80¢ for a small plate of food to accompany their drink of choice. Take advantage of the small portion sizes to sample a variety of tapas and expect to spend a mere 10€ on a meal out.
Still not full? Don’t forget to save room for breakfast! Antequera is known throughout Spain as home to the mollete, a delicious white bread roll served lightly toasted and spread with any number of typical breakfast toppings from tomato and olive oil, to jam or even paté. Though you’ll see mollete on menus all over Spain, the best can only be found in Antequera.
Culture: Where better to soak up Spanish culture than in this typical mid-sized city? Antequera hosts two ferias each year, one in May and the other in August, which coincide with bullfights at its bullring, built in 1848. Other festivals throughout the year keeps things lively: don’t miss the Tapa Fair usually held in June, September’s Medieval festival or February’s Carnival celebrations.
Practice makes perfect: Looking to perfect your Spanish? Try living in a small town rather than a capital city. With very few fellow ex-pats to depend on it would be almost impossible not to improve your Spanish while living in Antequera.
Cons for living in Seville
For every upside to living in Seville, there seems to be a downside. It’s actually an odd paradigm that expats get used to, but the annoyances sometimes creep up from time to time.
Limited flights from the San Pablo airport: Seville’s airport is quite small and doesn’t fly to many international destinations. This means flying from Málaga or Madrid is sometimes necessary, or catching several flights to reach your destination.
Still one hour from beaches and mountains: Seville is relatively close to the coast and to the mountains, but not that close. When you choose not to have a car, escaping the city can be tricky.
City-wide public transportation: While Seville is considered a transportation hub, the local public transportation leaves much to be desired: it’s expensive, slow and doesn’t reach every part of the city. Biking and walking is the best way to get around.
The heat: Seville is one of continental Europe’s hottest cities, and May to October feel like living in a sauna. Because the city sits in a valley, all of the hot air remains trapped over the city, a meteorological phenomenon known as El Bochorno to locals. No wonder so many sevillanos head to the coast every weekend!
Cost of living is higher: Naturally, living in a city means paying more for rent, entertainment and transportation. Aspiring expats should check out the cost of living as part of their research before choosing a city over a small town.
Small town blues: Life’s certainly far from perfect in Antequera. While locals are friendly and open, with only one cinema, a small shopping mall and a handful of grocery stores, expect to run into the same faces again and again. If you’re a fan of anonymity, Antequera is not the place for you.
Missing home?: It’s been a long day and nothing would make you happier than to kick back with some fellow English speakers in front of a hot plate of Mexican nachos, some spicy Indian curry or even a bowl delicious Thai noodles. Not in Antequera. If you’re a fan of frequent international flavors and company this traditional Spanish town may not be for you.
Buy a car: Antequera is well positioned in the heart of Andalucía; but you’ll be hard-pressed to take advantage of its stellar location without your own transportation. While busses and trains to major cities and small villages do exist, their timetables are famously irregular and inconvenient.
Have we peaked your interest? Have you made a decision? Are you a North American thinking of relocating to Spain? Get in touch.
Do you agree or disagree with Cat and Hayley’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
and Caroline’s thoughts about Madrid and Valencia HERE
Diana’s positive comments about Archidona and Frigiliana HERE
And, of course, our totally biased opinion HERE
If you are thinking about moving to Spain, watch out “Moving to Spain videos” for lots of essential information.
The next post in our series of guest posts about living in Spain and looking for the best place to live in Spain, written by people who have actually lived there. This time Diana tells us about the maybe lesser known towns of Archidona and Frigiliana in southern Spain.
No negatives from Diana this time. Have you lived in either Archidona or Frigiliana? We’d love to hear your thoughts…
I am lucky to have had the privilege of living in two of the most beautiful towns in Spain, in my opinion. Frigiliana, which is close to the coast of the Costa Del Sol, east of Malaga and Archidona, which is inland of Malaga, close to the borders of Seville and Cordoba and the almost dead centre of Andalucia. Here are my views on each place, I love them both equally and can recommend either one to anyone moving to Spain, but I will let you make your own minds up…
The good points of Frigiliana
- The café and restaurant life in Frigiliana is fabulous, there are so many bars and restaurants to choose from and all have stunning views. You also have a huge choice of international cuisine in nearby coastal towns such as Nerja and Torrox.
- The nightlife is a little quieter, apart from the bars that are open until late, but there is a great choice of bars, clubs, shows etc in nearby towns if that is what you enjoy.
- Frigiliana is close to the beaches of the Costa Del Sol and all the attractions there, all of the main motorways and airports are easily accessible.
- You are close enough to the international school at Almunecar if that is the type of education you would prefer for your children. If not there is a primary school in Frigiliana and other primary and secondary schools in nearby Nerja.
- If you need to use public transport there is a regular bus service from Frigiliana to Nerja daily and from Nerja you can travel to other major cities by bus.
- There are lots of great walking routes and mountains to explore in the area if you enjoy walking or climbing then this is the place to be.
- Frigiliana old town is steeped in history with many winding cobbled streets and steps leading to who knows where to explore.
- There is a large expat community in this area, as, in most areas of the coast, this means contacts and friends are made easily here.
- Frigiliana has its own microclimate giving a more moderate climate all year round compared to some other places in Spain. The summers warm and humid and the winters are mild here with snow being very rare.
- There is a more international feel in this area and the Frigiliana 3 Cultures festival is testament to that, celebrating the history and multi-culture of the town.
The good points of Archidona
- Archidona is more or less central in Andalucia so if sight-seeing and travel are your things it is a fabulous base to explore the whole of Andalucia.
- There are two primary schools and two secondary schools here so a great choice of education and all are equally as good as the next. Granada, Seville, Malaga and Cordoba universities are all within easy driving distance for those with older children.
- The town and surrounding villages are very family orientated, everyone knows each other and what you are up to, you can judge for yourself whether you think that is a good thing or a bad thing!
- Inland Spain is much more “Spanish” than the coastal areas, you won’t find many people who speak English so learning the language is a must here. Archidona is very traditionally Spanish, there aren’t many people of different backgrounds living here so it’s a great place to immerse yourself in real Spanish life.
- The bars and restaurants in Archidona all serve Spanish food and free tapas and you won’t find it difficult to find a cheap and filling “menu del Dia” for around 7 or 8 euros for 3 courses.
- There are local walking groups and lots of lovely walking routes to get you out and about in the glorious countryside.
- If you prefer more defined seasons, weather wise, then you will prefer to live inland where summers are hotter and much less humid than the coast and winters are cooler, we even get snow here every other year or so!
- If you are visiting or moving to Spain to get away from all the hustle and bustle of home then you will love it here, it is quiet and has fewer tourists and visitors than the busier Costa Del Sol.
- There are 2 lakes in Archidona which are nature reserves and we are also close to Lake Iznajar and the El Chorro lake district for water sports, fishing and sailing.
- Local festivals are an intimate affair where locals meet up to dance and drink the night away and you can see toddlers and great grandparents until all hours of the morning enjoying the festivities.
I can’t really give you the bad points as in my opinion there aren’t any for either! It depends entirely on your age, family life, work and education needs as to which you prefer. Some like the more cosmopolitan atmosphere of the coast with its more modern lifestyle and infrastructure while others prefer the more laid back and traditional life that inland Spain offers.
Diana is the owner of Supported Holidays Spain providing holidays for adults with learning disabilities and she also has a beautiful holiday apartment for self-catering holidays: www.supportedholidaysspain.com www.cortijo-los-almendros.co.uk
Do you agree or disagree with Diana’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
and Caroline’s thoughts about Madrid and Valencia HERE
If you are thinking about moving to Spain, watch out “Moving to Spain videos” for lots of essential information.
For details about how we can help you Move To Malaga, visit our relocation website: www.MoveToMalaga.com
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Kayaking 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.
The 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.
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.
Snorkeling 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.
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.
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 …
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.
FIS: 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.
FIS: 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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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 …
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…
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.
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/.