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Published: October 31st 2011
Bahia de Corrubedo
My new favourite beach.
I’ve often thought, particularly while walking the Camino de Santiago in 2009, that Spain would be the place where I’d settle, at least for a good few years, if not forever. Therefore I’d been putting off moving to Spain for as long as possible because I thought I should get other ambitions out of the way first, such as living and working in Latin America, Eastern Europe and Asia, and travelling around Africa. Seeing as all of those things had been achieved, I started applying for work in Spain.
The north of Spain appealed the most. It is the greenest part of Spain without the excessive summer temperatures found inland and, unlike the Mediterranean, the north coast isn’t destroyed by endless ugly hotels with grey sand beaches covered in pink Brits.
Fortunately there is still a lot of work, worldwide, for English teachers and I found a teaching job in Santiago de Compostela. It felt strange to arrive by plane in only a few hours. Last time I arrived on foot and it took a month.
The old town is beautiful with its ancient narrow cobbled streets, little squares and of course the enormous cathedral. Living in that
part of town requires either a lot of money or a fondness for thick walls, small windows, cold and damp. Living in the new town, though infinitely more bland, is a much cheaper option as there is an abundance of reasonably new and reasonably good flats.
I found a place which was fine, but only that. It was ideal for students, indeed I lived with two of them, but I would have liked something nicer had I stayed longer, ideally with a terrace or some kind of outdoor space. In Tokyo I lived on my own for the first time, which I quite enjoyed, though in Spain more of a priority was living in a house where Spanish was the first language, and I achieved that with Tania and Fabian. Thanks guys, mi español mejoraba mucho.
On the subject of language, I hadn’t really spoken Spanish for two years but it didn’t take too long to come back. What took longer was converting much of what I had learnt in Latin America to the version of Spanish spoken in Spain. It is quite different, with some expressions I’d picked up in Costa Rica eliciting bemused responses from Spaniards.
Cathedral de Santiago
I see it's raining again.
In particular I had to learn the verb conjugations for tu
as in Costa Rica the more formal you
- are used pretty much universally. What I really struggled to improve was my comprehension. I think they speak faster in Spain and with less intonation, combined with phrases that I’d never come across meant I really had problems, especially when in a group. I could talk all day but just couldn’t understand the replies.
The school where I worked, a private language school, was four minutes from my flat - including one minute spent in the lift (I lived on the seventh floor). This was particularly handy during the frequent and famous Galician rains and for a perpetually late person such as myself. The school was mostly attended by children and teenagers; fortunately, almost all of my students were adults. Santiago has one of Spain’s most reputable universities which provided the students for most of my classes. The majority of these classes were preparation courses for Cambridge exams that would allow the students to study abroad. Those students were generally keen, punctual and with high attendance, however, the reverse was often
Castro de Baroña
Where the Romans use to play.
true for non exam preparation classes.
I managed to explore quite a bit of Galicia - usually alone as I struggled to get any other teachers to do anything – except go out for some beers. The other cities are all worth a visit and I particularly liked A Coruña’s setting on the Costa de la Muerte, the cute squares of Pontevedra and Ourense’s Roman bridge and riverside hot springs. However, the highlight of the province has to be the coast. Galicia has more Blue Flag beaches than any other province of Spain, about a quarter of the nation’s total. The granite bedrock provides glittery, shimmering sands and the water is crystal clear, though pretty cold. With the exceptions of the few resorts, you can often have the beach more or less to yourself. (This may depend when you arrive as often when I was leaving a deserted beach at half past four to catch the last bus home, many Spanish families would just be arriving, sensibly avoiding the hottest time of day.)
As a bit of a snub to Galicia, my favourite weekend away, taking advantage of an extra two days off for Ascension Day, was to
La Plaza Mayor, Ourense
There is some fact about it being the only square in Spain with... I can't remember, something to do with the slope.
the Picos de Europa National Park, which straddles the borders between the provinces of Asturias, Cantabria and Leon. The mountains are incredibly picturesque with deep canyons and dramatic peaks. It reminded me very much of Triglav National Park where I used to spend every possible free moment when I lived in Slovenia. But I won’t go on about them because this is supposed to be a blog about Galicia. I will say that if I do move back to Spain, proximity to this national park will be a priority.
... If I move back to Spain. I mentioned in the first paragraph that I thought I’d stay for a long time and it didn’t turn out quite like that. After four months I left Galicia for a couple of weddings in the UK followed by an extended summer holiday (which you’ll be able to read about soon). During that trip I realized that come the next semester I wouldn’t be moving back to Santiago. Fairly cheap living, excellent food and wine (pulpo, percebes y Alberiño, mmmm), and the aforementioned coast are all highly appealing but the longer that I have been away the less I’m missing it. Unlike other
Roman Bridge, Ourense
They wouldn't let me jump off it.
places I’ve lived where there are people, places and experiences that I think of and miss frequently, I’m not really feeling that about Santiago.
So, in conclusion, I’m back where I started. I still think that Spain definitely could be home in the future, but perhaps I’m not as ready as I thought I was to settle. Or, equally, I’ve become more and more of an idealist about where I want to settle and my probably impossible list of requirements is getting harder to fulfil.
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