Saturday, 23 February 2013

Life in Spain: First Impressions

In January, Corin and I spent a couple of weeks travelling in Barcelona, Seville, Granada, and Madrid, visiting palaces, cathedrals, museums, and all the usual tourist attractions.  As a bonus, we got to ski a couple of days in the Sierra Nevada mountains, from where, ON a clear day, IF the lift to the top of the mountain is open, you can see Morocco.  Unfortunately, these conditions weren't met when we were there  (which means we''ll be going back to try again!)

Alhambra, Granada
Corin with our cool Portuguese ski guide, José

ceiling detail, Alhambra

As travellers, we learned various random things:
Granada, 13 dias de huelga

  • how to spot pickpockets on trains.
  • to ignore street vendors (except those selling umbrellas on rainy days)
  • what happens when rubbish collectors go on strike (it all piles up in the streets and the people shrug their shoulders and walk around it or over it).
  • that doing laundry at a hotel is more expensive than throwing the clothes away and buying new ones. 
  • that buses can make it safely down a steep, narrow mountain road with hairpin curves and vertical dropoffs.  In a blizzard.  With a driver who bursts into song at all the scariest bits.  (You just have to remember to breathe).
  • that despite the economic crisis, money is being poured into infrastructure, particularly the railway system, with new trains, tracks, bridges, and tunnels.  

So, after about two weeks in Spain as tourists, we arrived in Santander and moved into the 2 bedroom apartment/flat/piso that was to be our home away from home for the next four months.  

We are now really 'living in Spain', and what follows are our first impressions, in photos:

We live in the 'barrio pesquera' (fishing neighborhood).  Next street over is the fishing port:

We live on the 6th floor.  Here's the view out of the window (mainly of other people's windows!)

There's a school down below.  A couple of days after we moved in, they had a peace (paz) celebration out in the playground.  It happened at the same time that Valencia was celebrating 'conversation on peace', which I thought was cool.  Here's a picture I took from the balcony.  The music was a bizarre blend of Beethoven's 9th and Lady Gaga.  Sorry, no video! (just as well perhaps?)

All the apartments are above shops and businesses.  We feel pretty safe because the business below us is 'Academia Cop,' a security guard training school!  On our left is a bookstore, and on the right, a bar.  There are bars and cafeterias everywhere, and both sell more or less the same selection of drinks and tapas (the difference is the opening hours; cafeterias open and close earlier than bars).  Even in freezing weather, there are always people sitting at tables or standing on the street outside the cafés and bars, drinking and talking with friends.  Children and dogs are also welcome everywhere.

This next part is my favorite:  We have a car-free life.  From where we live, it's an easy walk to the markets, the port, the shopping areas, the bay, and the beaches.  Corin takes a local bus to the university, and we take regional buses and trains if we want to go outside the city.  There isn't one transport card like Oyster in London; each company has its own system.  There are two train companies and two bus companies operating in Santander, so we need to buy pre-paid cards for each of them.  To cross the bay we need another card for the ferrry.  It's a bit confusing but I'm getting used to it!  (Corin was somehow used to it before we even set foot in Santander).  Most of the time, I just walk, because I like walking.  Here's a picture of one of my favorite places to walk:  the promenade along the bay.

And here's the view across the bay:  

Next topic:  Food.  Here in Cantabria, everything we eat is caught, grown, baked, or otherwise produced locally.  We buy our food here.....

Fish market 

... here....

Produce market

..... and here ......


I don't think I have anything I can add to those pictures!  We are completely spoiled now for food quality and freshness.  But, we do have to remember that the markets and most shops close between 2 p.m. and 4:30.  

On to more mundane matters:   Laundry.  We hang our clothes out on a clothes rack on the balcony and then iron them dry.  People who don't have balconies hang their clothes over the street and cover them with an umbrella or a tarp when it rains.  The umbrella/tarp mechanism is built into the clothes lines.  Strange but true.

Lastly, the rubbish.  All of Europe recycles, although each country has a different system.  Here, we have three separate bags for paper (blue), plastic/metal (yellow), and orgánico (green).  Every street has at least one set of these color coded bins, as well as several for glass, and they are emptied daily (except when there's a huelga!)  So, the chore of 'taking out the trash' in Spain involves going to the end of the street and dumping the three separate bags into the three separate bins.  Not something you can do in your pyjamas, like at home!

Coming soon:  More on Santander and Cantabria (coast and mountains, local customs, local food) and the university (international education and the exchange experience).  Please subscribe to the blog if you would like to receive notification of new posts by e-mail.


  1. Hi, Sarah! What perfect timing; I was just about to send you a FB message asking how you're settling into Santander. Great photos and great blog! :)

  2. aw, thanks, Kim! You must come up and visit for a weekend, Santander is great and you'll love it here :)