In early March I jumped the UK ship and set sail to Spain. To live carefree in my favourite country before the Brexiteers bash down my door and steal my lovely burgundy beacon of hope, my pride and joy, my EU friendly passport. I exaggerate… I hope!
The rough plan was to see more of the country whose natural beauty and culture makes me feel alive. So I spent Spring (primavera) living, working, learning and exploring Spain. Because… why not?
We all have a country that captures our imagination, the place where our minds drift off to when we’re feeling trapped. You do don’t you? For me it’s Spain, and that’s why when I had a few life-kicks I knew exactly where to go.
After travelling for a year in the hope I’d find a country to spend the rest of my life, I never found it. I found beautiful places that captured my mind and people that gave me faith in humanity. Beaches, mountains, forests and sunsets that all reminded me that without nature we are nothing.
This planet is incredible, but I was always happy to move on to the next stop. I concluded that I’d fallen for moving, it was the newness that I craved.
It wasn’t until a few years ago when my work took me back to Spain, that I discovered the country for me was right on my doorstep – how convenient. Spain feels like home, from the minute I land, wherever I land. My stint living in Barcelona sealed it.
Stop rambling, I hear you scream and tell us why Spain! Ugh, it’s more feelings than facts. Like a sigh of relief, or the warmth of a fire on a freezing night, running down a hill so fast that you lose control of your legs, that first sip of wine after a long week. Make sense?
Okay, so to be more specific it’s the richness of culture. The more time I spend in Spain the more aware I become of the age old traditions, that are often totally nuts. Catalonia’s Castells, La Tomatina, Las Falles in Valencia. The list is endless and it excites me that there are so many more, waiting to be discovered.
Oh and the art. Roaming the same streets that Picasso and Dali once walked is my kryptonite. Especially when the streets are cobbled, the cafes are filled with good coffee and there are plenty of plazas to watch the world go by.
The nature too. Beaches, mountains, islands and valleys… all in a climate you can actually enjoy. I mean, why don’t more Brits realise this and jump ship 😉
The passion, the creativity, the open emotions, the late night dining, the forgetting to look at my watch for a whole day because punctuality isn’t the most important thing in the world. I think my ‘Ode to Barcelona‘ post describes this best.
Unlike these absolute bellends, I thought I’d integrate and learn some Spanish too. If you are not British do not watch this! I repeat DO NOT. It’s best you are unaware that we breed humans so full of hypocrisy and ignorance.
So I enrolled into Spanish school and took lessons every day and to start with my brain felt like it was having a meltdown. I’d leave after five hours of lessons and have forgotten how to speak and write English. Yet I couldn’t speak Spanish either. My head was a jumbled mess of Spanglish.
This wasn’t my first attempt to learn Spanish but it was far more successful than my last. I’m no linguist that’s for sure, but the penny started to drop. After a few weeks I moved from present tense. Although, at the time I tricked myself into thinking present tense was all I needed. I mean it’s far more zen not to worry about the past or project to the future right?
We brought in newspaper articles in our native language and explained them in Spanish. Interesting when Brexit and specifically Spain and the UK’s relationship was dominating the headlines. I think Brexit is a terrible idea for multiple reasons and during this time I felt like having an anti-Brexit tattoo (what would this look like?!). But if any personal good is to come from Brexit, it made me work my arse off to learn enough Spanish to articulately explain that I’m not ‘one of them’.
When I couldn’t sleep at night, I conjugated verbs. By day my classes pushed me to do things like creating fairy tales in Spanish and taking classmates on historical tours of the city.
Gradually I learnt and received my A1 and then A2 certificates. This basically means I should be able to string a sentence together.
Okay, so the first question I always get asked by faraway friends is: ‘where are you?’, the second is nearly always: ‘are you working?’
People are always intrigued in how you survive, especially if you live a life less ordinary. I’m often treated with suspicion, like how dare I escape being a cog in a big corporate machine. You may have seen the wanky term ‘Digital Nomad’ being floated around, well that is how I survive.
Having spent around ten years being a cog, it bought me the knowledge and experience to work independently. Social media, content creation, PR, strategy, consultation and writing are all things that don’t really require the office chains. It helps working in the travel sector as every stop is just more inspiration, filling me with ideas and ultimately making me better at my job.
So by morning I took Spanish classes and my afternoons brought me back into the online world of work.
Then as my classes came to an end, I was asked by Hostelworld, to lead a group through Spain and Portugal on an 18 day adventure. Road trip! A mix of competition winners and social media influencers, we made our way through the familiar Spanish cities and the unknown of Portugal.
So that is how I earnt my coin. When you live life with few direct debits, out of a bag and in lands cheaper than your own it’s totally doable. It’s a privilege of course but one that more and more are taking advantage of.
The obvious choices would have been Barcelona or maybe island life on Ibiza (if you haven’t been, don’t judge – it’s a magical place), but what if I liked somewhere else even better? So, I made a plan to see a little more.
I have way too much to say about each place in this blog post, so here is a whistle stop tour of my route.
First stop Madrid and what a wise choice that was. Apart from the snow! I mean, who knew it could snow in Madrid in March?! I didn’t even bring a coat!
Spending five weeks in Madrid meant I could get a good grounding in learning Spanish. The people are kind, speak clearly and actively help you learn if you try. I also had a friend here and quickly made new friends too. It would have been easy to stay with such a welcoming community, but the plan was to explore.
Like London, Madrid is filled with exhibitions and art galleries. But big city life doesn’t keep me sane so Parque del Retiro and a few escapes to the mountain towns helped.
Then I headed down south to Andalusia. Of course picking the most insane week to go, Semana Santa or Easter to English speakers. There was no accommodation or Spanish lessons so I stayed in a yoga retreat in the middle of the countryside with the Sierra Nevada mountain range as a back-drop.
This was a weird experience and soon I will share more. But, for now let’s just say we bonded through adversity and I made life-long friends as we watched the full moon rise over the mountains.
Still in Andalusia, I took the bus to Granada, joined a school and moved into an apartment with my fellow global students.
Granada was pretty much love at first sight. I spent my first afternoon weaving my way through passageways, until I reached a beautiful viewpoint. Mirador San Nicholas is a market square nestled in a hillside and looks directly across to the Alhambra palaces.
Life in Granada was sweet, the weather warm and the tapas free! Yes, in Granada you can eat for free! Just order a drink and out comes a tapa.
Far more laid back than Madrid, life in Granada pauses during siestas and flamenco fills the streets. The accent is distinct and I picked up a few bad speaking habits, like missing the ends of words.
Just a few hours from Granada I headed to Cordoba to visit a friend and the ancient city for the first time. As luck would have it I picked ‘Fiesta de las Cruces’. Who am I kidding? You’d be hard pushed to pick a time when there isn’t a celebration happening in any Spanish city.
Like Granada, Cordoba has a strong historic Arabic influence and therefore the architecture is so different from the Spain I’d got to know further north.
One of the things I really love about being in a foreign land is not knowing what on earth is going on. Women passed us on floats, dressed in flamenco dresses and chucking carnation heads at the crowds. I still have no idea why.
So from Andalusia’s flamenco filled carefree living I made my way up north, to the Basque Country. Bilbao was only ever supposed to be a quick pit stop but I loved it so much I went back.
Once upon a time, Bilbao was just an industrial city with no reason for travellers to visit and then The Guggenheim arrived! This futuristic art gallery changed the city forever, putting it on the tourist map. My impression of Bilbao is that it’s an arty city, filled with musicians and well… art. The language changed and the tapas (not free) is all served on bread – Pintxos.
This was always going to be a dream stop, finally a Spanish city that not only had the ocean but one that I could actually surf in.
Great expectations are usually followed by great disappointment. As a friend and I spent a soggy week traipsing around the rainy seaside city, we wondered if the people who raved about San Seb were in fact mad. It has a kind of 80’s feel to it. Or maybe that’s because in our desperation to find some life we spent an evening in a retro cocktail bar.
Luckily I got another chance to explore San Sebastian, the foodie capital of Spain. With a spot of sun and a little surf I saw it with different eyes.
Then the road trip took me to Barcelona, Valencia, Madrid, Porto, Lisbon, Bilbao and San Sebastian. Retracing some past steps and exploring some new cities.
The plan wasn’t to come home. I had intended to head to Asturias and walk the Camino de Santiago (Primitivo Route), through the Pyrenees and finishing in Galicia. But, (there’s always a but isn’t there?!) my life took an interesting change of direction… so the Camino will have to wait for my amateur pilgrimage for now.