spain: two months in

Two months ago today we flew into Madrid with our five suitcases, two backpacks, and a good idea of what we were getting ourselves into. Ha. Turns out we (I) kind of overpacked (really regretting those seven pairs of shorts that made the cut) – I didn’t have to re-wear anything but pants for over six weeks - and as far as what we thought we were coming here to do (learning Spanish and teaching English, by the way) – we’re not doing a lot of it.

In a lot of ways, Spain has been a lot better than we expected. We haven’t really struggled with culture shock (yet?), and we’re not missing home (again, maybe it just isn’t hitting us yet), although I’m trying to be careful how I use that word, because our little apartment on Calle Toledo, that’s our home right now (it might not be where our people are, which you could argue, is where home really is, but when we leave Madrid or we go out for the day, when we say we’re going home, we mean back to our place on Toledo. It’s our home right now).

Food is relatively cheap – groceries for a week cost around 30 euros, which is significantly less than we were spending at home (see, there I go again. This time I mean in the U.S.).

The weather has been beautiful all fall – it’s stayed in the 70’s until this past weekend when it’s finally dipped into the 30's at night and 40's and low 50’s during the day, and it seems like it may stay there for a while, which we can handle (although we don't necessarily welcome it). I mean, it’s almost December!  What do we expect?

Day trips out of Madrid are plentiful, easy to do, and absolutely worth it. To be honest, they’re probably what’s made it all worth it. While our weeks are full of lesson planning, working (a little), trying to get more work, and other assorted tasks, the weekends are when we get to take trips (which has been almost every single weekend thus far) and are what we really live for. Let’s be real: we’re mostly here to travel and see Europe and the areas outside of Madrid do not disappoint.

Our landlord is British, and is fluent in both English and Spanish – what a huge gift for these two new-to-Spain English speakers!   The first three weeks we lived in apartment 4H, there were quite a few issues – we needed a new water heater, a new kitchen table, a new washer, the plumber had to come multiple times, and we had to be at the apartment for each of these things to happen. But overall, our landlady is responsive and willing to work with us and really great and, did I mention? English speaking! We toured a lot of apartments here and found that to be quite uncommon, so this arrangement is clearly meant to be.

We’ve also realized that our location is about as good as it gets, at least in my opinion. We’re one street off of El Rastro, which is the weekly Sunday flea market that is just massive. In fact, I think it might be the largest in Europe (don’t quote me on that, though). We’re in the La Latina neighborhood, which is very alive and happening, but not too alive and happening, if you know what I mean. Our apartment itself is silent, which is just how we like it, but we live on Calle Toledo, which is actually a bit of a famous street in Madrid. We’ve found that when we tell many native Madrileños where we live, they know exactly what we’re talking about, which is kind of neat/weird. We’re less than a ten minute walk from Plaza Mayor and Sol, so if we ever want to laugh (I mean...look) at tourists and their selfie sticks, or just relive our first day in Madrid (that’s exactly where we went, too, just sans selfie stick), then we can head there. We’re also very close to the Madrid Río, which although I still think that Retiro is Madrid’s crown jewel, the Madrid Río is the jewel belonging to the younger sibling that won’t inherit the throne – just as valuable and precious but not as well known. Or something like that. We’re about four minutes from a library, which I’ve mentioned on the blog in almost every post, so it’s obviously very important to us as our primary source of (free) WiFi and way of interacting with the outside world. It may not win the friendliest staff of the year award, but we still love it very much and are its most dedicated patrons, standing outside every morning before they open so that we can get the best seats near the electrical outlets (I cannot emphasize enough how important this is!!! There are like ten outlets for the fifty chairs in the study room! We are very serious and we mean business every morning at 8:55am!!!). Ahem, yes, anyways, we love our local library and our neighborhood of La Latina and would love to show you around if you’re ever in Madrid.

Not everything has been as glamorous as our Instagram accounts may make it appear. First and foremost, we are working a combined 13.5 hours a week. Yes. This was not what we had planned and this was not what we had been promised by our company. We are making the best of it, though, and living very simply – our expenses right now are rent, groceries, and travel. That’s pretty much it. We have a few recurring expenses from home (car insurance, cell phones, etc.), but other than that, until we have a larger income, we’re keeping things minimal.

You might see us on a weekend trip to, say, London in a few weeks and think, “Oh I thought they were poor?” Well, yes, we are. We are living primarily off of savings, but we are making hard decisions like, do we want to come back to the U.S. from living in Spain and not have travelled? Do we want to come back with all our savings intact and have spent the majority of our time sitting in our apartment? Or do we want to take advantage of 20 euro Ryanair deals and get up at 4am so we can catch those flights and have weekends away exploring Europe? When I put it that way, it sounds like an easy choice, but it’s really not. It’s difficult when we’re not making much money, and our life feels a bit leisurely (at times) and our schedules are lax because things haven’t worked out like we had planned, and yet we’re living in a country we’d love to explore, in the midst of other countries we’d love to explore, knowing that we have the finances saved but feeling a little guilty about it. Does that make sense?

Another thing that hasn’t come together as we had hoped has been the whole internet situation. Once we were able to move into our apartment, we explored different options for internet, and realized that most of them required a contract and those that didn’t, required you to be either a university student (i.e. studying abroad) with a validated NIE number or a resident of Spain. Since we don’t meet either of these requirements, it’s impossible, as far as we understand, to get internet in our apartment. So, we stand outside of cafes or restaurants that we know the WiFi password for, or we go to the library when it’s open. This works fairly well – and it certainly saves us some money too! – but now that it's cold out - and I’m sure it’s going to stay that way for probably the next four to five months - our arrangement may be far less enjoyable.

We had also planned to take Spanish lessons on a regular basis as soon as our TEFL course finished and we knew what our teaching schedule would look like. However, we’ve been getting around just fine with our minimal Spanish skills, and right now we’re choosing to spend our savings on travel instead of learning Spanish, so like I said, hard choices. My philosophy – and this isn’t right or wrong, it’s just what I’m thinking right now – is that we can learn Spanish online or in the U.S. or in a variety of different ways. We can’t see Spain or travel in Europe while living in the U.S., though. I mean, we could fly back and forth maybe once a year if we really saved up like we did last year when we went to London and Paris for two weeks, but that was assisted by a major tax refund, and isn’t something we could count on on a yearly basis.   So we’re spending our money on travel instead of language right now and doing our best to teach ourselves via free apps like Duolingo, some resources we brought from the U.S., and the Spanish we see and hear all around us on a daily basis. We won’t come back fluent, that’s for sure, but hopefully we’ll know a few more words than when we left.

We spend a lot of time together these days, sort of by default, and talk about these sorts of things frequently, as well as what's next, how can we live in Europe forever (don't worry, that's just me, not Danny, so it's probably never going to happen), what should we do next weekend, what's for dinner, and so on.  It's good, I think, to be talking about the good and the bad, the gifts, the hard places, asking all the questions.

So.  Two months in Spain.  We're ready for another two, or more specifically, four (since that's what our visa allows at this point).  So excited + thankful.

* Photos taken on our first day in Madrid in the Plaza Mayor and at the Chocolatería San Ginés.  Pardon our sleepy faces and struggles with using our camera - we had just taken it out of the box two days before.  We got churros con chocolate on our first day in Madrid, and it's become our tradition on the 24th of each month now.  In October we went back to the same place, but today we're going to check out somewhere in our neighborhood, because it's more convenient and it'll be cheaper as well.