Our first 6 months in Spain have come and gone – It’s incredible how quickly the time has passed.
It seems like only yesterday that we had arrived in Spain to snow and temperatures of -2C. Now it’s 46C outside and the air conditioning has just packed up in the car !
That said it’s lovely and cool in the cave, with an average temperature of 24C.
So whilst we hide like vampires from the midday sun, I thought I would take time out and share the 6 key things we have learnt in our first 6 months in Spain.
So here goes …
The Natives are friendly 🙂
We have lived in other parts of the World and have experienced various levels of resentment against us as expats/immigrants (defn of immigrant – “a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country”).
In our part of Spain though, this could not be further from the truth. In 6 months I honestly cannot say I have meant one unhelpful/resentful/rude person – I am talking here about the Spanish, not other nationalities living in Spain 😉
Despite the language barriers that we regularly encounter, everyone has been helpful, friendly and gone out of their way to help.
It really is so refreshing and has made the process of moving to a new Country so much easier.
Language is key.
As I said, we live in rural Spain. I have had encounters with a handful of Spaniards who spoke good English and a similar number that speak some English. The majority though speak little or no English at all (and why should they). This can be challenging when dealing with plumbers, electricians, mechanics and the like.
Therefore learning the language has been one of our priorities. Now I am not going to lie to you, its been challenging and frustrating – and it still is. It’s one thing to be able to make yourself understood, but another story altogether when they start speaking back to you !
However, for once, a little goes a long way. Speak a little Spanish, explain that you are learning and they will bend over backwards to try to help. A little mime goes along way as well (more Josie’s field than mine).
I have been taking advantage of the free Spanish lessons provided by the Ayuntamiento. Josie meanwhile has opted for private lessons (as she is gearing her Spanish towards being able to teach her fitness classes) .
Ultimately though, what we have come to realise is that immersion is the key to success; the more you speak the easier it gets. I always try to have a conversation with our neighbour and ask lots of questions. If I don’t know the name of a fruit at the market, then I ask. This does sometimes provide much amusement, especially when I pointed to some broccoli and asked its name (Como se dice en Espanol). The answer was of course ‘brocoli’. At least it was an easy word to remember 🙂
Vegetables – Spain’s dirty secret ?
It’s almost like the Spanish bars and restaurants don’t want you to know that local, fresh, amazingly tasty fruits and vegetables exist here in Spain. Now I love going to the market and seeing what is in season. It’s still a real novelty to see fruits and vegetables appear and disappear from the stalls depending on the time of the year. One week you can’t move for broad beans, the next you can’t buy them for all the tea in China.
But what gives you wonder at the market bears little resemblance to what is served at the table. There is barely a vegetable in sight. A meal will normally be accompanied by chips and if you’re lucky a few fried pieces of pepper. Order a house salad with your ‘menu del dia’ and don’t expect much more than a lackluster offering of lettuce, raw onion, olives and carrot (usually tinned). I can’t understand why there isn’t a demand for the wonderful fresh ingredients that I see weekly at the market. I can only assume that eating vegetables in public is akin to public nudity – it’s just not done !
As an afterthought (and before I start getting hate mail), I would like to add that I absolutely love eating out in the Spanish bars and restaurants – nothing makes me happier than a plate of morcilla, chorizo and salchicon (Josie would respectfully disagree at this point).
Finding a balance.
We bought 2 caves that had been renovated in the dim and distant past and then closed up for 8 years. Once the rose-tinted spectacles had been taken off we began to realise (and still are) how much work we had taken on.
Then they took over our lives !
Everyday we spent hours cleaning years of grime and sweeping up the daily collapses of paint, plaster and ‘cave’. We were cold and despondent as it was difficult to see what was being achieved … there certainly seemed to be no light at the end of the tunnel.
Then it suddenly dawned on us … there was life outside of the caves. In fact if you ventured out this magic thing called the sun not only warmed you up, but also revitalised your spirit. We looked around – there were natural parks, walks. hikes and adventure right on our doorstep. Wasn’t this the reason we moved here in the first place ? So we started to find a balance (and still are). We dedicate time to our caves (still along way to go), we dedicate time to learning the language, but most importantly we dedicate time for ourselves. We have spent countless hours exploring the Sierra de Baza natural park. There are so many walks there and we have never met another soul. Better still, we recently bought a couple of second-hand kayaks, so now we can go and explore the shoreline of Lake Negratin 🙂
Watch your weight !
The benefits of the mediterranean diet are lorded all over the place, often being seen as the elixir of life.
What they don’t tell you is how calorie laden it can be if you are not careful !
It didn’t help that we came from very energetic jobs where you could literally eat and drink without giving too much thought to how it would affect your weight. I worked 6 days a week in the diving industry, and with Josies Mermaid performances (her tail weighed 36lbs, and that was before she got it on and swam in it!) and the classes she both took and taught; neither of us had to be too concerned about our waistlines.
Then we arrived in Spain ! Wine was cheaper than water and olive oil was cheaper still. So we bought lovely healthy fresh vegetables and roasted them in the oven (albeit generously coated in olive oil) and every evening we would enjoy a glass or two of wine. ‘Menu del dias’ were cheap and plentiful (and generally fried) and a beer became a daily tipple, always accompanied by tapas. Whilst we were working on the caves and walking the dogs we weren’t expending anywhere near the energy we had become used to … then one day you look in the mirror and, well, you get the idea.
A little research and we found there are 120 calories in a single tablespoon of olive oil (the same as a glass of red wine)! So we realised we needed to be more mindful of what we ate, whilst at the same time doing something previously unheard of (well to me anyway) – exercise (apparently I still don’t do enough) 😉
So now it’s ‘everything in moderation’ and a LOT more exercise! 🙂
It ain’t always hot mum !
We know from talking to others that we were not alone in mistakenly thinking that it’s always hot in Spain. However for us this illusion was shattered very early on – I mean literally a couple of days after we arrived !
OK, we had a number of factors also working against us. First off, we ended up moving to Spain in January after 10 years of living in the Caribbean.
This meant any weather other than ‘hot’ was going to be a shock for us. Combine that with the fact that we didn’t have a proper winter wardrobe and we were already in trouble !
Additionally, the cave had been unoccupied for along time, so was cold and damp. The only source of heat was an open fire, which anyone who has one will know sends most of the heat up the chimney and not into the room.
And then it snowed …..
I can’t lie, we spent a miserable couple of weeks huddled in many layers of clothes wondering what the hell we had done 🙁 Thankfully winter is Spain is mercifully short and eventually we started to notice an improvement in the temperatures.
This winter we will be better prepared; the cave has dried out and taking shape, we will shortly be having a wood burning stove installed and this time round have a better wardrobe of clothes … and there is one final purchase for this winter that’s still on the cards – an electric blanket 🙂
So all I’m saying is that it’s certainly something to be aware of and plan for.
And there you have it … what we learned in our first 6 months in Spain. It’s nothing revolutionary and we’re sure many others have experienced exactly the same. That said it would be interesting to know what else people learned in the early months of moving to Spain.
So … Who are one foot in the cave ?
We (Danny and Josie) have spent the last 10 years living and working in the Caribbean. In 2015 we decided we wanted to move closer to family and friends so bought a cave house in the Granada region of Andalucia, Spain. We moved there full time in January 2017. Now we write about our experiences of cave living and how we are adapting to life in Spain.
We also have a Facebook page full of pictures, experiences and information that we have found useful along the way. If its your thing, you can also follow us on Instagram 🙂
5 words related to this blog entry …
Time = El Tiempo.
Sun = El Sol.
Friendly = Amable.
Life = La Vida.
Diet = La Dieta.