Lost and Found in Spain: Susan Solomont talks her book about being an ambassador’s wife abroad

Serendipity. A random occurrence of events that happens casually or unexpectedly.

Not that my run-ins with Spanish bureaucrats have been serendipitous, but as I looked back on 12 years of Spain through rosy colored glasses (or just a Cruzcampo haze), I realize that so many of the relationships and milestones of my Spain life have been a series of coincidences. From my hearing casually about the auxiliar de conversación job to meeting the woman who would introduce me to the Novio (who happened to live around the corner from family back in Chicago) to how we named Millán.

I recently met with Susan Solomont, a former diplomat to the American mission in Spain, for coffee and a chat on a rainy morning in Seville. Her literary agent had put us in contact months before, but between our schedules and the time difference, a well-timed email meant that we could meet the following week during the Solomont’s annual trip to Spain instead of connecting over Skype. Serendipitous, indeed.

beautiful old door in Europe

In many ways, her husband’s appointment as ambassador to Spain under Obama was just that – a happy coincidence and the chance to serve her country’s diplomatic mission abroad. Spain and the US have long enjoyed a positive relationship, so despite the frantic preparations to arrive at Calle Serrano, 75 and all of the minutiae of being a diplomat’s wife, Susan’s journey was, like mine, full of small but bountiful coincidences.

My reporter’s notebook – a relic of the days when I planned to be a journalist and had a heavy interest in Washington – stayed shut as we filled an hour with conversation that carelessly flitted between topics – touching on politics (got that right out of the way), sharing our favorite places in Spain and musing about raising children to be kind and forward-thinking.

In her book, Lost and Found in Spain – Adventures of an Ambassador’s Wife (you can nab it on AmazonBarnes and Noble or Indie Bound), Susan starts off with an anecdote before delving into an aspect of Spanish identity, from cultural to religious to historical. In many ways, Susan’s inception of the news she’d be headed to Spain, her apprehensions over the move and settling into her new life mirror my own, just revved up on Cola Cao Turbo. I felt moved by the shared experience and wanting to learn more about life in Barrio Salamanca – just a few blocks from my house but somehow worlds away.

Susan Solomont headshot

Susan graciously answered my questions via email so that she could enjoy snuggling Millán and tell me about her own children while I sipped my fourth coffee of the morning over our chat.

Can you speak about how your letters to loved ones back home evolved into a book?

When I lived in Spain I wrote a series of letters I called Holas. They started as personal letters to keep in touch with my 13 closest friends. They started to go viral, and I started writing more about our life as diplomats. They were more informative than personal and they ended up reaching over 3000 people.

Leon Square Spain

A literary agent friend who received them encouraged me to put them into a book. She said to me, “A book of letters is not a book. You need a beginning, a middle, an end. Tell a story”.

It took me two years to write the book and two years to find a publisher. These things take time and finally, in 2018, the book came out.

Your transition to Spain was not a smooth one, despite training and assistance from the Department of State. Looking back, what could you have done to prepare yourself for the post?

The transition to Spain had its highs and lows. I was not able to bring my professional work to Spain and instead had to work hard to forge my own identity – hence the “Lost” part of the title. Plus I was away from family and friends and my community. The “Found” part – I found my role, my voice, my place in the Embassy community and Spanish community.

Our Department of State (DOS) is changing [sic and] can find roles for spouses and partners. Perhaps now I could have brought my professional work with me, but in retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t.

No doubt, an ambassador’s job takes you to many interesting places across Spain for various functions, several of which you detail in your book – I particularly liked the story of Jerez del Marquesados. What was your favorite? And is there somewhere you didn’t get to that you wish you could have visited?

view of Trujillo, Extremadura

I’m often asked what is my favorite place in Spain. Impossible to answer, I love so many places. We traveled everywhere in the country. It is so special that I know each region and have visited. I do have a particular fondness for Extremadura and its countryside. I also love Mallorca. The color of the water, the beauty of the Tramuntana countryside.

One day I will return to walk part of the Camino.

An ambassador’s life or his wife’s seems glamorous. What were your days actually like?

Our days were very busy. People assume this is a job where you are socializing all the time. Yes, we were constantly meeting people, but it’s not fancy teas and dinner parties. The work was political, economic and cultural. We also were there for Americans living abroad and traveling. We worked long and hard days advancing the agenda of the US [in Spain], sharing cultural values and strengthening the bilateral relationship.

Holidays can be both memorable and difficult times for those of us in Spain. I celebrate July 4th, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas in my house, which my husband and his family willingly take part in. How has your view on American culture changed since your assignment?

When we lived in Spain we celebrated all American holidays and also celebrated Jewish holidays both with our Jewish friends in Spain as well as non-Jewish friends. Our July 4th celebration was very special. We served hot dogs and hamburgers, had an American rock n’ roll band, danced the night away and celebrated the US’s birthday.

american products thanksgiving

Halloween- I used to host a doggy Halloween party where embassy staff would dress their dogs up and come play on the lawn. Our Marine Unit had a Halloween party as well.

And Christmas- we had the most fantastic tree, decorated in Spanish and American flags.

There are many Spanish stereotypes flirting around Spain and the Spanish lifestyle – I’m guilty, having lived in the land of toros and tapas! Are there any that you found utterly false, or even alarmingly true?

bullfighting in Seville Spain

YES— we wanted people to know that siestas, bullfights and flamenco are not the norms. Spain is a modern democracy that works hard. Perhaps on a weekend someone might take a siesta. Or perhaps there are people who go to the bullfights but not everyone likes them. And the same for flamenco.

Spain and the US enjoy a strong relationship, and each sees the power and mutual benefit in these relations. Were you met with any hostility as part of yours and Alan’s mission while in Madrid?

Not at all. We were embraced by Madrid and all of Spain. People would stop me on the street and say, “I love your country, I love President Obama”.

Have you been back to Spain since 2013? What is your first stop in Madrid?

metro of Madrid

We come back at least once a year. We always spend time in Madrid. We get very busy seeing old friends and eating and drinking too much. We always need a vacation after our time here.

I had to glance at my watch to keep a well child check up, but Susan’s second coffee date of the morning arrived shortly before I had to duck out. Juan and I have always had a case of six degrees of separation – we have about a dozen people in common – but on that rainy, midweek morning, finally gave one another dos besos. Another serendipitous moment (appease me, please).

Chance led both Susan and I to Spain, and despite our moments of both feeling lost, we found ourselves – and, funnily enough, one another – through its people, culture and food and wine.

Susan Solomont titles

Susan and her agent graciously provided me with a PDF copy of Lost and Found in Spain, but all opinions expressed here are my own and were not contingent upon meeting Susan. I enjoyed its lighthearted tone – it does read like a long form letter in many sections – and its reflections on Spanish life and culture through an American lens. You can find more about the book and her companion’s children’s book, Stella the Ambassadog (adorable!), on her author webpage.

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Parenting in Spain: the differences between raising children in Spain and the USA

The 48 hours I spent in the hospital post-birth were a bit of a blur. Between doctors and nurses coming in and out, trying to figure out breastfeeding and the cycle of 20 minutes of dozing before I was interrupted by doctors or a hungry child, it wasn’t until I was back home and fumbling through the first few days and dozens of dirty diapers that the habits of Spanish parents – and just how different they were to my own upbringing – shook my baby-lagged brain.

Fast fashion: my mom sewed all of my clothes growing up

Fast fashion: my mom sewed all of my clothes growing up

I grew up without technology and in an American family in a large suburb of Chicago during the 1990s. Most of my childhood was shaped by the adults who had grown up in the 50s and 60s, and my mother stayed home with her two daughters until I, the elder, was seven years old. Summer camp, sports leagues and a part-time job in high school color my memories of growing up American, and they are also coloring the way I view child-rearing in Spain as I expect my second and push through the terrible twos of my somewhat terrible Spanish son.

The differences between parenting in Spain and parenting in the US are stark, and it begins with the fact that Spaniards tend to begin their families later. When I got married right as I turned 30, many of my friends back home were already parents or expecting; I was the first of my group of American girlfriends in Spain to have a baby, and many of my Spanish friends – including those older than me – have not made a foray into parenthood.

I'm a cool mom: taking my kid to a goat roasting festival in Quirós, Asturias

I’m a cool mom: taking my kid to a goat roasting festival in Quirós, Asturias

At home, I rule the roost and tread water between a full-time job, a toddler, a child on the way and a husband completing a master’s. It all feel imperfect yet under control, even if my American parenting ways sometimes clash with age-old Spanish upbringing habits – particularly with the older generation.

Ear piercing

When my husband and I found out we were expecting a boy, I breathed a sigh of relief: I would not have to make excuses for choosing to not pierce anyone’s ears. Most Spanish families pierce baby girls’s ears while they are a few weeks old or even at the hospital before being released. This is mostly due to the fact that the baby will not remember the pain, but it also aids in distinguishing boys from girls. I grew up playing sports and did not pierce my ears until my junior Prom, and at my mother’s insistence.

Even still, Enrique was a lovely baby who did not wear just baby blue, and many older women in the neighborhood mistook him for a lovely niña. I was always too tired to argue and just said a quick gracias to the nosy abuelas at the pharmacy.

Babies must be weighed at the same time every week

As Enrique grew, I became obsessed with knowing how much weight he had gained. It became a fun guessing game with my mother-in-law, who would take the bus to my home every Wednesday afternoon to weight him at the nearby pharmacy.

Can I visit La Granja with a stroller?

“Remember,” she said after a doctor’s appointment, “what he’s wearing and this time of the day, as you should always bring him into the pharmacy at the same time on the same day of the week and in the same clothing. That way, you get the most accurate reading.”

Imagine the horror when Enrique pooped shortly before the 5:30 pm weigh in one afternoon, or how much we laughed when he gained more than half a kilo in one week during a growth spurt.

Perfumes and perfect outfits

Babies are adorable and sleepy and smell good, they say.

They also spit up on themselves, poop constantly and get weird baby pimples as they fatten up. No matter – babies in Spain wear perfume and outfits that clasp, snap and buckle, both of which I find outrageous. I opted for buying newborn clothes that were soft, durable and well-priced. Enrique had a few beautiful pieces sewn and embroidered for him by family members, which I saved for special occasions and outings. Most of the time, he was in a zip-up pajamas in the cooler months and onesies that snapped at the crotch in the summer.

My mother-in-law dotes on my son and pleaded to buy a number of big-ticket items despite having a number of hand-me-downs. She was especially proud to buy him his first pair of shoes when he began to stand, but I was surprised when two came in the box. One pair were lovely brown boots to dress up a look, whereas the others were what we Midwestern Americans call gym shoes. “Well, because you don’t dress him like the other mothers. He’s ‘sporty.’”

little-boy-baby-clothes-on-a-clothesline

While there was absolutely no malice, she was right: I didn’t dress my child like the rest of the mothers (and I didn’t always dress myself up to leave the house, either – gasp!). I found the clasps and snaps a hinderance during a blowout caca, and considered his comfort over being adorable.

Thankfully, all of the baby perfumes were re-gifted as soon as we discovered Enrique is prone to dermatitis. A baby who pooped himself still smells like poop, even masked by a thick veil of Tous perfume for newborns (and who spends that much money on a baby perfume?!).

Breastfeeding, solid foods and when kids eat

I breastfed Enrique exclusively until he was four months old, something I felt pressured to do. It was time-consuming and he had reflux, but on the flip side I could do it anywhere (out to lunch! At the movies! On an airplane!) without scrambling to find a microwave or shelling out money for formula. We moved on to cereal at four months and were advised to start solids at six.

Enrique is a pretty good eater, but I was shocked when the pediatrician suggested his first lean meat come fro her barnyard friend, the horse, and that he should try kiwi at six – which landed him in the ER with a rash. In the US, we typically start on mushed veggies and certainly do not eat horse (my mother was silently weeping when I mentioned this to her).

Don't let this picture fool you - Enrique ate everything from charcuterie to tiramisu to caccio e pepe on our Rome trip

Don’t let this picture fool you – Enrique ate everything from charcuterie to tiramisu to caccio e pepe on our Rome trip

Kike’s favorite foods now are mostly kid friendly: fish sticks, yogurt and hot dogs. But he’ll also eat a full cocido marileño, is capable of eating an entire tapa of marinated olives and asks for bocadillos de foie for a snack. O sea, español when it comes to eating.

Bedtime and schedules

Spanish children go to bed extremely late. My friends – even the Americans – gasp when I tell them that my bedtime was 7:30 p.m. until I was 8, after which I could read until 8pm but that lights out was to be adhered to – no matter how late it got dark in the summer.

In casually mentioning that my kiddo is usually in bed by 9pm, I am met with bewildered looks. But when does he eat?! Around 7:30 or 8pm, right after his bath. Don’t you lay with him until he falls asleep? Nope, we have a bedtime routine after which I say, “Now Mommy is going to have dinner.” Enrique was not a good crib sleeper, but he leaves me to have some adult time in the evening.

Likely talking grandma into not having a nap

My biggest thing is that my son’s designated nap time at daycare is right in the middle of the day, which is when we’d ideally like to be outside on cooler days or taking friends up on plans for meals. I am moderately strict on the weekends with both nap times and bedtimes, even when there are some tears (even from my friends when I tell them the time won’t work for me).

We also let him sleep late on the weekends. There is nothing better than me waking up on my own at 8am and having a cup of coffee and mindlessly scrolling through social media before I have to start the trudge through changing diapers and clothes and fighting against the TV. Speaking of…

Having the TV on all the time

This is as Spanish to me as a tortilla – Spanish households seem to have the TV on at every moment of the day, and my kiddo asks for Pocoyo as soon as he’s lucid in the morning. I try not to use no TV as a punishment and encourage him to play with his toys or color before he’s pushing the remote buttons and mine.

Family roles and relying on grandparents more

When I was a child, we lived five hours away from both sets of grandparents, so my earliest memories of being at home are with my mother. When she comes, 100% of her energy is focused on my son, and he knows Grandma speaks English, and Abuela speaks Spanish. I have only gotten a babysitter once, and that babysitter was a family member who traded a Saturday night out for Netflix and a pizza.

Dueling grandpas

Dueling grandpas

Grandparents are very involved in Spain, particularly because both parents tend to work in major urban areas. It’s common to see grandparents pushing strollers, at the pediatrician and hanging out at the park. Some of my friends’ children do not even go to daycare but spend all day with their abuelos.

More than two years in and expecting my second, I feel like I have struck a balance. A Spanish friend of mine once said, you either raise a child “a la alemana,” or according to a strict schedule, or “a la gitana” or with the kiddo in charge.

Not a politically correct way to call it, but I am trying to raise Enrique and Millan “a la sevillamericana” – a hybrid of American and Spanish ideals and parenting habits. This all goes out the window when we’re in casa de los abuelos: his Spanish grandparents let him stay up until he is falling over, force feed him chocolate and homemade pudding and allow the TV to babysit. Still, I appreciate the closeness they’ve developed with Enrique and their desire to be involved or let this frazzled mom go have a haircut in relative peace.

Advice for being an expat parent abroad

Being a parent is a hard job, no matter how you slice it. It takes patience, humbling and some commiserating. Add to that cultural and often linguistic barriers, and you’ll find that the highs are extremely high, and the lows can feel crushing.

I often ask other expat parents in Spain for their advice and ideas for exploiting the fact that my children will grow up as not only bilingual but bicultural – and likely without noticing the difference between the two.

Baby's first glimpse of the ocean

Perhaps the hardest part for me is doing so with my parents so far away, and knowing that their experience raising two kids in the 90s was way different than the issues and challenges I’ll face in the new millennium. It’s a frequent topic of discussion when we have our weekly chats: “You know, Catherine, things were just so different!”

Seek out other parents – both expats and locals – to help you navigate and lend a hand if you need childcare. A friend of mine came to visit Seville with her husband and two girls, and I loved watching them while my friends had dinner out for once. She’s been inspirational and helpful in seeing what’s coming and having the shared experience as an American mother raising children in Spain.

Remember that your child needs the fundamentals first – food, shelter and your love and attention. The rest will figure itself out. If you lead by example and encourage your child, he will learn (even if that means a watch down the toilet, having the kid with a dirty school uniform because you forgot to run a load of laundry or a house littered with toys and crumbs).

Christmas in the US

Don’t compare yourself to what everyone else is doing. There is no handbook to parenting, and especially a handbook to parenting abroad. They say in Spanish, cada niño es un mundo, and it’s true: each child is different, and so is every family. You will do the best you can if you believe in the work you’re doing. And you will mess up, so get over that fast.

I’m 30 weeks pregnant with another little boy (have you missed me on the blog?) and preparing for a second isn’t so much about researching car seats and ironing onesies – it’s about making peace with the fact that chaos is coming, that there will be four of us, that my body will turn back into a milking cow, a pillow and a punching bag. Now, who has advice for not losing my shit when I’m nursing one and scolding the other?

Strange parenting habits in Spain

Have you noticed any other odd parenting habits in Spain or the country where you live? 

My Favorite Spanish Christmas Traditions

Christmas in Seville means the adherence to age-old traditions. Sure, there’s bound to be an overplayed commercial depicting Santa or a lottery announcement that has you break down and run to your nearest Lotería stand (looking at you, Faustino in the mannequin factory) but sevillanos stick to their beloved pastimes.

When you’ve worked in retail, you learn to hate, LOATHE, Christmas. May your days be merry and bright? Un carajo, may your days be filled with frazzled shoppers and annoying Christmas tunes.

Christmas in Spain

’m a Scrooge, but Seville is extra special during the holidays, and my feelings about the holidays have changed since moving here. In fact, I find myself missing all of those traditions I used to despise. I miss having a real Christmas tree and going to pick it out with my family, then moan when I have to set it up according to Nancy’s standards. I miss taking the train into Chicago to have lunch at the Walnut Room, even if there are lines and my mother whines that Macy’s is NOT Marshall Field’s and we can NEVER shop there any other day of the year. I almost, almost miss shoveling snow.

But, it’s the most wonderful time of the year! No need to be sad when there are chestnuts roasting on an open fire on every street corner.

You can forget about the 12 days of Christmas – to spark holiday sales and spending, Corte Inglés passed out their toy catalogue long before the official start to the holidays. Even though many would say the Immaculate Conception day on December 8th is the official start to the holidays, Christmas lights are officially on during the first weekend in December.

Belenes

One of the first Christmas presents I ever received was a handcrafted dollhouse that my grandfather made. I spent hours changing around the design of the rooms, more interested in the aesthetic than actually playing with the family of dolls that came with it.

Where we Americans have Santa’s village, the Spaniards have belénes, or miniature versions of that Little Town O’ Bethlehem. But there’s more than the inn and the stable – church parishes, shops and even schools set up elaborate recreations of what Bethlehem, known as Belén in Spanish, looked liked. It’s common to see livestock, markets and even running water or mechanical figurines.

The biggest belénes in Seville are in the cathedral, San Salvador, the Fundación Cajasol in Plaza San Francisco and even at the Corte Inglés. Just look for the signs that say “Nacimiento” or “Belen” and you’re bound to find one. If you want to set up one of your own, there’s an annual market in Seville that sells handcrafted adobe houses, miniature wicker baskets to tiny produce and every figurine imaginable in the Plaza del Triunfo, adjacent to the cathedral.

Christmas Lights

Even though the days get shorter, the sheer amount of Christmas lights that light Seville’s plazas and main shopping streets seem to simulate the sunny winter days that we’re having this year.

Most neighborhoods will have their own displays up in the evenings along main thoroughfares. Expect your light bill to be less if you live near one of these streets – lights stay up until the Epiphany on January 6th and turn on as early as 6pm. It’s worth grabbing a cone of castañas and wandering around the center of town.

Christmas dinners

It’s also quite common for companies to invite their employees to an enormous Chirstmas dinner, followed by copas and often dancing. When I worked at the private school, we’d travel to a finca or salon de celebraciones and have a private catering. The same goes as in America – what happens at work parties…

Most bars and restaurants put out special Christmas deals, which are stocked with loads of options and unlimited alcohol, to entice companies to book at their locales. I usually do dinner with my girlfriends as a way to see one another before the busy holiday season. Many of us are off to travel, so it’s the best moment to dress up, have a cocktail and enjoy the ambience in the center of town.

Open bars on Christmas day

It wouldn’t be Christmas without the booze, so after the midnight mass, called Misa del Gallo, most Spaniards head to the bar to wait out their seafood and lamb lunches. As strange as it sounds, Christmas Day is not as big of a holiday as Christmas Eve or even New Year’s Eve, when Spaniards stay at home with their closest family members.

On my first and every subsequent Spanish Christmas, I can be found drinking beers at La Grande midday. Because, really, sevillanos are a social bunch, and holidays are meant to be shared with friends. My mother was appalled when I suggested having lunch at a restaurant on Christmas Day this year!

…and those I don’t like

Spanish Christmas carols, called villancicos, are TERRIBLE, though I always giggle over the ridiculous lyrics, like about how the Virgin Mary brushes her hair near a river after giving birth and the fish keep drinking water because they’re happy to see the Savior).

There’s always the huge influx of crowds in the center, which makes it difficult to move around and run simple errands (think, American post office lines to order a coffee).

And, of course, there’s the question of Spanish Christmas sweets – lard cookies and sweet anise liquor.

Perhaps the best Christmas tradition that I’ve stumbled upon since moving to Spain is that my parents want to travel. We’ve done away with the tree and instead spend our respective vacations traveling. We’ve drank glühwein at Christmas markets, skiied in Colorado and even stolen grilled cheese sandwiches in Ireland!

How do you celebrate Christmas near you? Do you like Spanish navidades?

Paris’s Jardin du Luxembourg and my musings on expat life

In a little old house that was covered with vines,
lived 12 little girls in two straight lines.

For as long as I can remember, I have been borderline obsessed with Paris. I blame my mom, who bought me Madeline books. Remember how the book started?

My house was neither old nor plant-covered. But I had a lamp shaped like the Eiffel Tower and black and white postcards of Paris in the 30s that I garnered at a rummage sale tacked to my bulletin board.
Eiffel Tower Paris

Growing up in the suburbs of a major city, my jaunts into Chicago seemed to go along with the soundtrack of a coming-of-age movie from the 80s: I wanted to live and breath the big city lights, maybe work for a glossy and have a string of good-looking boyfriends. Which is the plot to essentially every movie that came out when I was a teen.

When I asked my mom to let me study French in middle school, she told me Spanish would be far more useful in a future career. At 13, I didn’t know that learning another language would allow me to pivot from magazine editor to ESL teacher. Not as glamorous as I’d hoped, of course, but everyone starts somewhere.

“We breathe in our first language, and swim in our second.”

Ever since I read Adam Gopnick’s account of expatriated life in the French capital, “Paris to the Moon,” I was resolute that I’d live abroad at some point in my life. I didn’t particularly love the book – required reading for one of my college courses about Parisian architecture – but I did love what it represented: freedom, adventure and a healthy dose of red tape.

Autumn in Paris

My class was meant to be a study in Eiffel and Hausmann. Instead, it was two Midwesterners waxing poetic about the bistros and brasseries just steps away from the Sorbonne. Iowa City is 4,291 miles away from Paris, but that Spring 2005 class somehow seemed to push me towards Europe and towards a city that held so many of my teenaged dreams.

I’d had one of those soul-restoring deep sleeps and woke up early on the first truly autumnal Sundays in Paris. My work trips always fall on a Sunday – a godsend for catching Parisians at play but nearly impossible for eating anything decent. I put on a Mango dress that passed as a raggedy version of Chanel and some lipstick and took the RER down to Luxembourg.

boats on the basin in Luxembourg2

Gopnick often wrote about taking his young son to the Luxembourg gardens – in fact, it’s on the cover of the original 2000 book, a collection of essays he wrote for the New Yorker. I’ve criss-crossed Paris on half a dozen occasions, but usually as the tote-along on a first timer’s foray into Paris, or as a 24-hour stopover punctuating a long work trip. I purposely booked the last Eurostars train out of London so that I could take advantage of a late September morning and visit the park.

Armed with a baguette (fine, it was left over from my London trip and a little soggy) and a jacket draped over my arm, I found the eastern gate of the gardens, constructed in the 17th Century by Marie de Midici. It was just before noon and the Eiffel tower peeked over golden-tipped leaves, reflected in the small, circular pool. My college professors has spoken about the Palace du Luxembourg – its history, its current use in the French senate – but I was contented to have it as a backdrop to the children sailing model boats, their flags and colors somewhat tattered, on the pool.

Cat Gaa in Paris

Olive green metal chairs ring the basin, some reclining towards the sky. I dragged a free sear on the southwest side of the park towards the sun and unwrapped my sandwich. A man crumbled the end of his baguette and fed it to a pigeon while a mother scolded her child in French for nearly climbing into the pool after the stick he was using to guide the boat drifted away from his fingertips. Chatter came from all around me in about half a dozen languages. I’ve always said said markets and plazas were the best place to catch Spaniards wrapped up in everyday life; in Paris, it’s Luxembourg.

Somehow, everything and everyone is picturesque and chic and unsoiled here.

Hell, even my soggy baguette tasted magical because I was eating it in Paris.

“This can shake you up, this business of things almost but not quite being the same. 
A pharmacy is not quite a drugstore; a brasserie is not quite a coffee shop; 
a lunch is not quite a lunch.” 

As a perennial American abroad, I now see my own adulthood reflected in Gopnick’s telling of the mundane – as well as the truly fantastic – parts of expat life. I didn’t know it at the time, but the cadence of my life in Spain would be similar: everything and nothing is the same as back home.

Later that afternoon, post-recruitment event and a few cheeky beers with colleagues, I returned on foot to the garden. Nestled between the 5eme and 6eme arrondisments, I had two choices: using Luxembourg as my anchor, I could follow a foot map along the highlights of the district, or wander around. My professors had laid out all of the 5ème for me, so I veered into the 6ème.

Parisian bistros

Snaking down the Rue du Condé that flanks the Odéon theatre towards the Sorbonne, some of the major highlights the professors talked about in class were suddenly right in front of me. Every alleyway offered me a glimpse into the allure of Paris. Long-legged university students pulled their jackets tighter as they glided down the steps of the Sorbonne’s medical school. It all seemed so Truman Show – until the cost of a beer and the snobbery when I asked to pay with a card brought this Midwesterner right back.

In Paris we have a beautiful existence but not a full life, 
and in New York we have a full life but an unbeautiful existence.

Gopnick’s wife says, upon deciding to return home, that “In Paris we have a beautiful existence but not a full life, and in New York we have a full life but an unbeautiful existence.” I find my experience to be the contrary: my life feels fuller and far more rosy in Spain.

Since that class, ARTH 3020: Paris and the Art of Urban Life, the Parisian joie de vivre and, alas, European life and the string of attractive (foreign) boyfriends has alluded me. My life in Spain is often chaotic and has a noticeable lack of afternoons whiled away at the brasserie down the block. But the small victories and the sobremesa and the afternoons in a complete trance over how I ended up here are fuel. They’re what has kept me in Spain.

Jardin du Luxembourg at dusk

I’m sure that, had I chosen Paris over Seville, I’d be fighting the urge to look at my phone while my child played with a model boat at Luxembourg. And that I’d have stepped in something or spilled on myself or still gotten a zit at an inopportune moment.

Every time I return to my childhood bedroom, I switch on the gaudy Eiffel Tower lamp and drag a finger along the dozen or so books that I haven’t given away. Paris to the Moon is one of them, standing between the Michelin Le Guide Vert that was its class companion and a well-worn copy of a Let’s Go Europe book, published in the same year as the summer I spent in Spain. In an age where mobile phones dictate where we travel and what we share – and even prevent us from losing ourselves in a city – the book is a tangible reminder of the life I chose in Spain.

“There are two kinds of travelers. 
There is the kind who goes to see what there is to see, and the kind who has 
an image in his head and goes out to accomplish it. 
The first visitor has an easier time, but I think the second visitor sees more.”

If you’re my kind of traveler, you enjoy meandering around and taking it all in rather than ticking sites off of a list. I’ve been to Paris half a dozen times and have done all of the big draws, so this time I wanted to wander through a new arrondisment on a free evening I had in the French capital.

Eiffel tower at night

I used the GPS MyCity app for points of interest around the 5ème and 6ème during my afternoon off in Paris – you can easily download sightseeing or local haunts maps and use them offline in more than 1000 cities worldwide.

Comment below for your chance to win a year’s subscription to GPSMyCity and tell me a city you love to get lost in or hope to soon!

Disclosure: I was not paid for this post but GPSMyCity kindly offered me a one-year Premium Pass, which I’ll also us in Vienna next week. All opinions are my own.

How to stay in Spain legally as an American and other frequently asked questions to a US expat in Spain

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I have lived in Spain for eleven years – we are now in the double digits. The only things I’ve stuck to for longer have been gymnastics (12 years) and driving a car (17 years). As September comes and goes each year, the nostalgia kicks in as I remember lugging two overstuffed suitcases from Chicago to Madrid to Granada to Triana. What a long, strange, tapa-filled journey it’s been.

As I approached my ten year Spaniversary, I had planned to write a tongue-in-cheek look at some of the things that make me scratch my head about Spain, weaving in the acclamation process that took a good, darn year. But, parenthood and a busy work schedule meant that that post is still in drafts (I’ll get there by my 20th Spaniversary, promise).

Despite slagging blog and social media activity, I somehow still have page views, followers of my ho-hum #momlife and emails from readers and people who find me organically through Google. Don’t let the out of office message fool you – I love reading them and I appreciate them.

Contemplating a hike in Cazalla de la Sierra. Photo credit: Monica Wolyneic.

I always think, “I can should turn this question into a blog post.” But rather than eleven separate posts, I did a non-scientific study of what you guys emailed and Facebook messaged me about to celebrate 11 years of Spanish red tape and all that comes with it, and I’ve honed down my long-winded emails so that you’re not overwhelmed with word count or information.

Have more questions? Throw ’em in the comments!

How can I legally stay in Spain as an American?

Apart from emails about my favorite places to eat in Seville, I get several emails each week about how to work in Spain and how to legally stay in Spain. Many of you are language assistants or veterans of study abroad in Spain.

I get it. Spain got under my skin, too.

When I was considering making Spain a long-term thing, I looked into just about everything.

Guess what y’all: you have it way easier than I did in 2010.

playa de las catedrales galicia beach

I knew about the loopholes for getting an Irish passport (my dad was not listed on the Foreign Birth Registry, so that was out). There was a difficult-to-attain freelancer visa that I would have had to hustle to get – and I was still on blogger.com. I could get married, but that seemed like an awkward conversation to a Spanish boyfriend who proudly proclaimed he’d never get married (about that…).

I found out that I essentially had three options, apart from the whole ring thing: I could try to find a contract and let my card lapse to modify my status from irregular to a one-year work and residency permit, known as arraigo social; I could start working for a company under the table and rat them out under arraigo laboral, or I could continue on a student visa, obtained through a Master’s program I’d been admitted to, and start earning years towards residency as a civil partner. Modificación and cuenta propia were not buzzwords, nor were they paths to residency in Spain at that time.

So, I set out to try and find a job contract. I spend hours crafting cover letters, hand writing addresses of schools and language academies and licking stamps. Every 10 or 12, I’d reward myself with Arrested Development. I waited for the job offers to roll in but… they did not. In Spain, working legally is a bit of a catch-22: you need a work permit to get a job, and you need a job to get a work permit.

Very Spainful to spend a summer stressing out over staying legal, making money and not having to crawl back to America, tail between your legs.

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Dreaming of being legal in Spain

In all fairness, I was up against a lot: the arraigo social was a long-shot because teaching contracts tend to be only for nine-ten months. I’d also been out of the Schengen Zone for longer than the allotted time (120 days in three years) and had passport stamps to prove it. I couldn’t denunciar the Spanish government for legally employing me, either. Feeling overwhelmed and in desperate need of 20 minutes in an air-conditioned office, I headed to the U.S. Consulate in Seville (which, by the way, does not do residency or visa consultations for Americans in Spain), and the then-consular agent told me to renew my student visa como fuera.

Thankfully, I’d applied to do a Master’s in Spanish and had an acceptance letter and enrollment certificate. I deferred my enrollment for financial hardship but it had bought me a bit of time to not let my residency card lapse. I’d discover later that you can apply for a TIE card renewal up to 90 days after its expiration, but I was in survival mode (and I seriously doubt that Exteriores even had a website at that time).

paperwork

If my house ever catches fire, my mountains of extrajería paperwork means that it will burn fast.

An overnight bus trip later, I stood in line at the Foreigner’s Office in Madrid, only to be told I’d need an appointment. I plead my case, blaming it on the university taking its sweet time to send my documents and the lack of available appointments, and they told me to come back that following Friday. Back to Seville on the six hour overnight bus I went, returning three days later and having registered my padrón certificate with my brother-in-law.

When it was my turn at the eleventh hour, literally at 4pm the day before my residency card expired, I lied through my teeth and said I was going to begin a master’s program. I remember her making some snide remark about sevillanos. As soon as I had the stamp on my EX-00, I long-distance dialed my mom in the US and told her she could transfer all the money, used as proof of financial solvency for my renewal, back out of my bank account.

As all of this was happening, I attended an American Women’s Club tapas welcome party for new members, as I was considering joining anyway. The woman I sat next to casually mentioned something called pareja de hecho. Doing this would make me the de facto executor of the Novio’s will, and would make him my de-facto owner and keeper. I wasn’t cool with that explanation from the funcionario, but I rolled with it because it gave me residency permission, and I could work legally for 20 hours on my student visa.

walking tours in Spain

Spanish bureaucracy is no cake walk

And so began the wild goose paperwork chase around Andalucía (including a brief pit stop in Fuengirola, Málaga).

You know the rest – a change in the stable partner laws while our paperwork was processing allowed me to work legally and build years towards permanent residency. But apart from that, it changed my mindset from taking Spain and my life here on a year-by-year basis, and it was a clear sign from the Novio that we were in this for more than just the language goof ups and someone to have a cheeky midday beer with.

So what is pareja de hecho?

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Pareja de hecho meant no long distance relationship for the Novio and me.

The closest equivalent to pareja de hecho in the US would be a civil union; in fact, people seeking fiancé visas to the United States usually have undergone the PdH process. Simply put, you have nearly all of the benefits of being married, but without the financial implications (in Spain, anyhow) or the ring.

Pareja de hecho allows the non-EU partner to work and reside legally in Spain, have access to state healthcare and move about the EU without a passport. It’s assumed that your partner will not be your “keeper” but proving financial solvency is an element when you later apply for your residency card, and your finances will stay separate unless you choose otherwise.

Pareja de hecho is also called pareja estable or uniones de hecho.

I want to do pareja de hecho. How can I apply for pareja de hecho / pareja estable?

Want to legalize your love? Pareja de hecho is one way to stay in Spain legally as a non-EU citizen.

But ojo: paperwork and eligibility for pareja de hecho differs from one autonomous community to another. Some, like Andalucía or Navarra, will allow the non-EU partner to be on a student visa or even apply with just a passport, whereas Castilla y León will not. Galicia wins the living-in-sin game, as interested parties must have lived together on a registered padrón municipal for two years or more. Both sets of islands will only let Spanish citizens, and not other Europeans, apply.

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Sometimes, crazy is the only way to survive (in Spain)

To qualify, both members of the party generally have to be 18 or older, not related and able to enter into a legal partnership on your own free will. From there, requirements vary by the community – and sometimes even the province – in which you’re applying. Your local government will have resources about documentation and application process. And don’t forget that once you have your certificate in hand, you’ll still have to apply for your shiny new residency card (tarjeta comunitaria)!

In hindsight, pareja de hecho was probably the easiest bureaucratic matter I’ve had to deal with in Spain – I’m serious. And if you don’t believe me, I co-wrote an eBook about it (use LEGALLOVE5 for a 5€ discount in COMO’s online shop!)!

All’s fair in love and bureaucracy, right?

How did you get into teaching abroad? Do I need to have a TEFL or CELTA to teach in Spain?

I proudly marched off the plane in July 2005 after a summer abroad and announced I’d be moving back to Europe after graduation. My parents even encouraged me to do a year or two abroad.

Ha. Ha. Ha.

Senior year, after the obligatory flippy cup game and textbook buying, I visited the Office of Study Abroad on my campus to ask how to move abroad after graduation; one of the peer mentors told me about the Spanish government’s North American Language and Culture Assistant program, which would allow me to teach 12 hours a week in a public school in exchange for 631,06€ a month, private healthcare and a student visa. I was offered a position in Andalucía two weeks before graduation.

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I needed a TEFL certificate to teach at an English academy

The auxiliar program was a positive experience for me, and I found that I was actually pretty good at teaching phrasal verbs and producing gap fills. My coordinator gave me free reign in the classroom, so at the end of my three years, I felt ready to make teaching my career, even going as far as applying for a Master’s in Secondary and Bilingual Education.

Remember all of those hand-written envelopes? I got a few bites, but the work papers was always the snag. When my pareja de hecho lawyer called to tell me I could get a Spanish social security number, I marched right over to the social security office and later that week, caught that damn overnight bus to pick up my residency card. I had a standing job offer and started work as Seño Miss Cat the following week.

Great methodology, fun songs and likeable characters.

When I left the private school – I was overworked and underpaid, and I didn’t have enough time for blogging and freelancing – I jumped into the English academy world. Having heard horror stories about payment and contract issues, I was wary but needed a way to work while completing a master’s program, so I figured the part-time schedule and academic year to academic year commitment was doable. I was offered the Director of Studies position midway through the year and stayed on until our move to Madrid.

When I get asked whether or not a TEFL or CELTA is necessary, I always give the same advice: if you want to work for a reputable academy, you should have a certificate. Not only does this make you more attractive to an employer, but it gives you footing if it’s your first time in front of a classroom. I agree that experience is the best teacher but Spain is the land of titulítis.

Vintage Travel: in Wisconsin at age 6

Is a CELTA or TEFL preferred to teach in Spain? While TEFL certificates are king in Asia and South America, many language schools in Spain will require a CELTA (Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults). There’s good reason for this: the CELTA prepares you to teach the Cambridge Language Exams, which is a language level test that most academies offer.

I don’t really miss teaching as I thought I would, but mostly because I really like what I’m doing now. I do, however, miss my two-month vacation!

What do you do for a living? How did you get into university admissions?

After nine years in the classroom, a Facebook post changed my career rumbo. An American university in Spain was looking for an admissions counselor. I read the job description: people skills, basic computer skills, work permission in Spain. I could handle that. I wrote a fun cover letter, added a picture of myself on the school’s U.S. campus and sent off an email to HR and the Director of Admissions – less than a month later, I had an offer.

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A clue to the institution I work for – from one oddball mascot to the next!

Working for an American-style company (it’s an S.A., which is why I got paid maternity leave and am in the Spanish social security system) is a serious dream. My role includes representing the university in recruitment events in my geographic zone, reading applications, counseling students on visas, and overseeing recruitment and marketing for our graduate programs. It’s a fun challenge, and I’m still in education – and I am using my journalism chops at long last. Like many elements of my life in Spain, patience and perhaps some karma helped tremendously.

Want to get into international student admissions? You should be personable, able to work independently and keep up with trends in enrollment, higher education and whatever social media a teenager would be into. You should also be willing to answer very, very mundane questions. Working for a small, niche school has its challenges, so every enrolled student feels like a win – especially when you met that student at a college fair, set up a campus visit, helped them choose classes, and given them a hug at orientation.

As schools begin to look abroad (Fall 2019’s cohort was born the same year as 9-11, eh, meaning less kids to go around), many universities are amping up recruitment efforts abroad. Even in Spain, think beyond study abroad!

What is your favorite post on your blog?

Sometimes when I hit publish, I am excited to see how my readers react. Most times, I’m like, “cool, cross that off my todoist app” because of the amount of work that goes into a post. Editing photos, choosing the right words and kinda caring about SEO. I can mull for days over how to frame a post – often choosing to wait a year so that it’s timely.

Asking me to choose my favorite post depends on what I have a craving for reading.

doris shoes

From itchy feet to firmly planted in Spain

Perhaps one of the posts I find myself going back and reading the most is The Guiri Complex (Or, why I Can’t Have it All). Pounded out on a keyboard shortly after an American food store opened in the same storefront where I’d bought a flamenco dress, I was wrestling with more than just an overpriced box of Cheerios and whether or not I wanted it: it was a moment where I was torn between the life I had built in Sevilla, and the life I thought I could have in the U.S.

Curious: do you guys have any posts you particularly like? I’d love to hear them!

What is the Novio’s real name?

I recently met up for a beer (well, like a dozen) with Joy of @joyofmadrid. As soon as we’d sat down, she said, “I’m so glad we can skip over the basics because we already know one another.”

..and the other one. Believe it or not, Kike is Madrileño! But still Bético.

Ah, youth. This was eight years ago.

I’m not exactly a public figure, but I realize that people know who I am, what I do and where I like to have a caña. But my husband is an extremely private person and someone who is not into social media, internet cookies (or regular cookies, actually) or sharing his personal life. I can respect that, and for this reason he shall remain nameless.

And, no, I did not move here for the Novio. But he’s part of the reason I stayed.

Will you ever return to the U.S.?

Great question. While I don’t want to close the door to returning to live in the land of cooking with butter, I don’t see it happening. Where would the Novio get his hueso salao for puchero? How could I ever go back to not having health insurance? It’s not impossible, but I think it’s unlikely.

It's trite, but Chicago really is my kind of town.

Still my favorite place in the world.

Truthfully, moving to the US freaks me out – the staggering cost of living on meager savings, starting a job search from abroad, letting go of my Spanish lifestyle. The dream would be an American salary in Spain, but everyone makes sacrifices, right?

Cruzcampo is not one of those sacrifices.

If you didn’t live in Seville, where would you live? Where should I live?

te quiero sevilla

I always said that if I didn’t live in Seville, I’d live in Madrid. And now that the Spanish capital is “home,” I’d choose Seville again. It truly is la ciudad de mi arma, even with its faults (and that reminds me – I really love my break up post).

When I announced via Facebook that I’d be leaving Seville for Madrid, one commenter warned me of how soulless Madrid felt to her. My friend Lindsay, who has lived in both cities put it best (and I love her for it): Cat can find her people and her home anywhere.

Visit Lastres Asturias

But if I must choose – I really love Asturias and could see myself up north with a bouganvilla-covered house in a little fishing village near where the Novio summered. Send rebujito if this ever happens.

What are your tips for making friends abroad?

spanish american girls at the feria de sevilla

Currently in Sevilla, Denver, San Francisco, New York, Madrid, Sevilla and Jakarta, but forever in Calle Bombita

Saying that the friends I made in Spain are half of my Spanish world would be an understatement. There’s an affinity that we have, as Americans, that extends beyond our shared language and culture. My group and I have left home for Spain – sometimes for the adventure, sometimes for a novio. Most of them had studied abroad in Sevilla (everyone in the photo but me, in fact!) and most of us arrived in 2007.

Had I not met the women I call my Spain Dream Team, there’s a fairly large probability that I wouldn’t have stuck around. The Novio often traveled for work abroad for long stretches of time, so I wizened up and found a group of women about my age who planned on Spain long-term. Little by little, my small circle of sevillamericanas has grown (but not without a few hard bajas).

Remember how your parents told you to leave your dorm room door open during your first week of college? I did that, too, but figuratively. I never turned down an invitation, but in an age where social media was as creeperific, I spent a lot of time at home with a box of Magnum bars.

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I solemnly swear that we are up to no good.

When you’re looking to meet friends abroad, consider what you’re already into doing – there are meet ups for everything from hiking with kids to knitting. If there’s a local expat group, go to an outing or two, or at least tap into their resources. Of those pictured above, most of us met be being introduced by someone else – ask for introductions and don’t think it’s weird (we’re literally all in the same situation, or have been!). Don’t be afraid to invite people for a coffee – I used to drag my German roommate to a cuchitre bar on our street to practice Spanish, and a cook at one of the tapas bars near my house and I kept in touch (and he opened a new bar recently!).

Advice on when friends move? In the picture of us dressed in trajes de gitana – one of my favorites – only three of us are still in Spain, but we’ve seen one another at least once in the last two years. A part of me dies when one of my friends announces that she’s moving away from Spain and I have ZERO advice other than whatsapp.

Do you have any advice for someone moving to Spain?

After my first year in Spain, I returned to my summer job at an outlet mall in suburbia. Tasked with folding rows of chinos and steaming dress shirts at Banana Republic, I struck up a conversation with an American who had just returned from 17 years in Galicia. As I found her sizes and zipped up dresses, she reminded me, “Spain will change you. No vuelvas just yet.” Seventeen years seemed like an awful long time to be away from my family, my language and my culture, but I assured her I’d stay another year.

Dreamy.

I’ve never forgotten that milestone. By the time I’ve been here 17 years, I will have probably had another kid, maybe moved again and who knows what else. If someone had told me that I’d fall for a Spaniard when abroad, I would have believed them. Had someone told me I’d live my adult life here? I wouldn’t.

I’m often asked what I’d do differently. Truthfully, not too much. Maybe I would have tried harder on this blog, or tried harder to make more professional connections earlier. Maybe I would have saved more money. I probably would have paid a little more money for an apartment with air-con because, damn, Sevilla is hot. But in the grand scheme of things, I’m pleased with how things have gone – even those hours, sitting in the dark eating Magnum bars when I had no friends.

mercado de san miguel madrid

My advice? Remember that it’s not your home country, so nothing will be the same. Spanish customer service is pitiful, traffic is just as bad as in the US but with crappy radio. Life is life in Spain, but as they say: Spain is different. Not a good different of bad different, necessarily.

Just different – and fun, challenging, enriching and delicious. Here’s to 11 more!

Any other burning  questions for a long-term expat in Spain?

This post contains links to my residency blog, COMO Consulting Spain, including links to our online shop. Have a click on any of the links to learn more about how to move to and work in Spain. We were recently hacked, so every click makes a world of difference (and we put a humorous spin on Spanish red tape!).

Where to Live in Seville: The Best Neighborhoods in Andalusia’s Capital City

post updated: June 2018. Prices reflect availability and seasonality.

A complete guide on where to live in Seville, Spain. Whether you're visiting or planning a move, this post is a guide to cost, transportation and neighborhood personality.

So, you’ve gotten the visa, packed your bags and moved to Seville. The first order of business (after your cervecita and tapita, of course) is looking for a piso and a place to call home while you’re abroad. While living in the center of Seville can mean a long commute or blowing half of your salary on rent, it is undoubtedly one of the most liveable and lively cities in all of Spain.

This post is about where to live in Seville: from a neighborhood guide to the center of Sevilla to the median cost of a flat in Southern Spain’s flamboyant capital.

Let’s begin with the basics: Seville is a large city with an urban population of around 700,000. As the capital of Andalucía, it’s home to the regional government and a hub for transportation. Seville also boasts miles of bike lanes, enormous parks and passionate, traditional citizens.

Encompassing the left and right banks of the Guadalquivir River about 50 miles north of the Atlantic, the river splits the old town from Triana and Los Remedios; further west is the Aljarafe plain.

Where to Live in Seville Map

To the east lies a number of residential neighborhoods stretching to East Seville, a newer housing development that sprung up after the 1992 Iberoamerican Expo. South of the center are Bami, Reina Mercedes, Heliópolis, Los Bermejales and Bellavista, as well as the buildings erected for the 1929 Iberoamerican Exposition. Dos Hermanas, one of the province’s largest cities, is directly to the south; almost 1/3 of the population of the urban area lives in a village.

Seville’s city center is one of the largest in Europe, encompassing two square miles, and is extremely walkable.

Central Seville neighborhood map

Choosing a neighborhood that’s right for you is imperative for your experience in Seville. After all, you’ll be living as a local and skipping the well-developed tourist beat. Each has its own feel and character, and not every one is right for you and your needs. Ever walk in a neighborhood where you can see yourself – or not? Here’s a guide from an nine-year vet and homeowner to the most popular neighborhoods in Seville’s city center, from what to expect from housing to not-to-miss bars and barrio celebrations.

But should you choose a place to live before you make the move?

In retrospect, it probably wasn’t smart for me to pay a deposit on a house I’d never seen. I hadn’t met my roommates or staked out the nearest supermarket. While I lived in Triana happily for three years, I’d suggest renting a bed or room in or near the neighborhoods you’re interested in before making a decision about where you want to live for a year.

If you’re hoping to lock something down before coming here, consider Spotahome. This venture pre-checks all properties, essentially cutting out those awkward conversations with landlords. You can rent entire apartments, or a single room, and have peace of mind so you can focus on exploring your barrio and meeting amigos.

Colorful facades in Cuenca Spain

How long will it take to find me a flat?

Ah, the big question. You may get lucky or be searching off-season, but you’ll need at least two weeks – perhaps even longer if you’re coming to town in September with a surplus of language teachers, Erasmus students and Spanish universitarios.

Additionally, many places are being turned into holiday lets, which drive out locals and mean that the market is shrinking. Be prepared to let that adorable duplex across from the Giralda be a pipe dream as you schlep to El Plantío (it’s not that far – Seville is a small, manageable city!).

Any advice as I search for an apartment in Seville?

One big one – while it’s tempting to just whatsapp (especially if you’re shaky on your Spanish), it’s way more productive to call.

Also, check out groups on Facebook like TEFL Teachers in Seville, Erasmus Sevilla and Auxiliares de Conversación. People often rent apartments and look for others to fill the rooms. You may even be able to inherit a great place!

You may also want to read my guide on 8 Questions to Ask Your Landlord – everything from paying bills to house guests to that pesky “do I have a contract since I need to be empadronado?”

Which neighborhood is right for me?

I get this question more often than any other, and it’s a difficult one to answer. Some neighborhoods are oozing with charm – but that may also mean no American-style kitchen, no air conditioning and no way to have a taxi drop you off in the middle of the night.

Not all neighborhoods in Seville are listed on this post, and I’ve generalized some larger areas, like the Center, Macarena and Nervión. Consider more than just price or location: think about your commute to work, ease of public transportation, noise and the people you’ll live with. After all, a bad living situation can make or break your experience in Spain.

El Centro

el centro

Seville’s beating heart is the most centric neighborhood, El Centro. Standing high above it is the Giralda tower, the once-minaret that guards the northeast corner of the third-largest Gothic cathedral in the world. This, along with the Alcazar Royal Palace and Archivo de Indias, forms a UNESCO World Heritage Site (whose status was threatened by the controversial Torre Pelli recently).

Life buzzes in these parts, from the public meeting point in Puerta Jerez to Plaza Nueva’s Town Hall, the Triana Bridge to the cathedral.

What’s great: Because you’re in the center, you’re close to all of the wonderful things that Seville has to offer, and you can move around on foot. The shopping, the nightlife and everything in between is never too far off.

What’s not so great: Keep in mind that many apartment rentals clog apartment blocks, and that many properties are offered by inmobiliarias, or real estate agencies. This means you’ll have to forfeit a month’s rent as an agency fee. It’s also difficult to park, the supermarkets are further away, and there seem to be a lack of recycling bins.

Average price: Housing costs tend to reflect the fact that you’re smack in the center of it all, hence the apt name. Because it’s such an extensive area, you can find a shared room for 250€ a month, or you may be forking over closer to 400€. Studios can run up to 500€, and you may sacrifice space and natural sunlight.

Not to miss: having a drink at Hotel Los Seises next to the Cathedral or in Plaza del Salvador, the interior patios of Salvador which was once home to a mosque, the winding Calle de Siete Revueltos, cheap and oversized tapas at Los Coloniales, the fine Museo de Bellas Artes and the art market out front on Sunday mornings, Holy Week processions, having a pastry at La Campana Confiteria, the view from Las Setas.

Santa Cruz

The traditional Jewish neighborhood of Seville borders the historic Center and oozes charm. That is, if you like Disneyland-like charm. The narrow alleyways are now lined with tourist shops, overpriced bars with lamentable food and hardly a native sevillano in sight. For a first-time tourist, it’s breathtaking, with its flamenco music echoing though the cobbled streets. For the rest of us, it’s to be avoided as much as possible.

What’s great: Santa Cruz is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Seville, and its squares and orange trees are beautiful. It’s sandwiched between the Alcázar palace and Jardines de Murillo, and thus close to the Prado de San Sebastián bus station.

What’s not so great: Like El Centro, the novelty likely wears off when you realize that many of your neighbors are tourists and that you can’t park your car. If you look for a place a bit further from the sites, you’ll find peace and quiet.

Average price: Rents here are typically not cheap. For a studio or one bedroom, expect to pay 450-700€. For a shared apartment, you’ll pay 300 – 400€.

Not to miss: chowing down a pringa sandwich at Las Columnas or a chato of orange wine at Peregil, Las Cruces festival in May, the Jardines de Murillo and its fountains, free entrance for students to the Alcazar and its gardens, the beautiful Virgen del Candelaria church (one of my favorites in all of Seville), having a beer at La Fesquita surrounded by photos of Christ crucified.

El Arenal

The neighborhood, named for its sandy banks on the Guadalquivir where ships were once contracted, boasts a number of gorgeous chapels, the bullring and the Torre del Oro, as well as the gintoncito crowd sipping on G&Ts at seemingly every hour. Wedged in between the Center and the Guadalquivir River, the houses and apartments here tend to be cramped and pricey, having belonged to families for years. Still, the neighborhood is lively and the taurino crowd ever-present.

What’s great: This is the place for you if you’re too lazy to walk elsewhere and are attracted by the nightlife, which is as varied as old man bars and discos.

What’s not so great: Is it bad to say there’s nothing I don’t like?

Average price: For a studio or one bedroom, expect to pay 350-500€. For a shared apartment, you’ll pay 250 – 350€.

Not to miss: the café con leche and tostadas at La Esquina del Arfe, a bullfight at the Maestranza (or at least a view of those trajes de luces along C/Adriano), the tranquility of Plaza El Cabildo with its stamp stores and turnstile sweets, the 4,50€ copas at Capone.

Triana

Disclaimer: I’m 100% biased that Triana is the best place to live – I even bought a house here. Trianeros believe that the district west of the Guadalquivir should be its own mini-nation, and with good reason: everything you could ever need is here.

view of Triana and the Guadalquivir from Puente de Triana

Once home to the Inquisition Castle (Castillo San Jorge, at the foot of the Triana Bridge) and the poor fisherman and gypsy of Seville, Triana is emblematic. Quaint homes, tile for miles and churches are Triana’s crown jewels, and it’s become a favorite among foreigners because of its bustling market and charm.

What’s great:  While it boasts few historic sites, Triana is all about ambiente – walk around and let it seep in, listening to the quick cadence of the feet tapping in its many flamenco schools. Some of the city’s most beloved bars, shops and even pasos are here, and the view from the river-flanked Calle Betis is gorgeous. Here’s my guide to how to spend a day in Triana.

What’s not so great: The homes here are a bit older and a bit more rundown, though Calle Betis has some of Andalucía’s most expensive property values. It’s also difficult to park, especially when you get closer to the river.

Average price: Typically, if you opt for El Tardón or the northern section of the neighborhood, prices are more economical. For a studio or one bedroom, expect to pay 350-400€. For a shared apartment, you’ll pay 250 – 350€. Our mortgage in Barrio del León is less than we’d pay for rent across the street!

Not to miss: Calle Pureza’s temples and hole-in-the-wall bars, slurping down caracoles at Bar Ruperto (or try the fried quail), the Santa Ana festival along Calle Betis in late July, the ceramics shops on Antillano Campos, Las Golodrinas’s punto-pinchi-chipi-champi meal, the afternoon paseo that the trianeros love so dearly, typical markets at Triana and San Gonzalo.

Los Remedios

Triana’s neighbor to the south is Los Remedios, where streets are named for Virgens. While there’s not much nightlife, save trendy gin tonic bars, the barrio is located along the city’s fairgrounds and comes alive in April, two weeks after Easter. If you’re looking for private classes, this neighborhood is where a lot of the money is (so ask up!), and the many schools and families mean there’s no shortage of alumnos.

What’s great: Huge, newer apartments with elevators, two metro stops and proximity to the fairgrounds.

What’s not so great: Los Remedios is home to many families and was built as a housing development, meaning there are few green spaces or quaint squares.

Average price: Remedios is considered posh, with wide avenues and small boutiques. The apartments are enormous and suitable for families, so don’t be surprised if you have three other roommates.

Still, there’s also a university faculty located in this area, so cheaper student housing can be found in the area just south of República Argentina. For a studio or one bedroom, expect to pay 350-500€. For a shared apartment, you’ll pay 200 – 300€.

Not to miss: Asuncion’s pedestrian shopping haven, Parque de los Principes’s lush knolls, the ambience in the surrounding bars during the Feria, Colette’s French pastries.

Alameda

source: ABC online

My host mother once warned me not to go into the Alameda, convinced I’d be robbed by the neighborhood’s hippies. While dreads and guitars are Alameda staples,  the barrio is, in fact, one of the trendiest and most sought after places to live in Seville. By day, families commune on the plaza’s pavement park and fountains. By night, botellones gather around the hip bars and vegetarian restaurants.

What’s great: The pros are obvious: close to nightlife (and most of the city’s GLBT scene, too) and the center, and well-communicated (especially for the northern part of the city).

What’s not so great: From the center, it’s a nice ten-minute walk. This does, however, lend to litter and noise. It’s also becoming more and more gentrified.

Average price: For a studio or one bedroom, expect to pay 350-500€. For a shared apartment, you’ll pay 200 – 300€.

Not to miss: Viriato’s gourmet hamburger, the cute shops on nearby Calle Regina, Cafe Central on a Friday night, Teatro Alameda’s offerings, El Jueves morning flea market, the Feria market and its hidden fish restaurant. 

Macarena Sur

source: Dominó por España blog

Ever heard that famous song by Los del Río? Yep, it was named for Seville’s famous life-sized statue of the Virgen Mary, whose basilica and procession in the early hours of Holy Friday draw crowds and shout of “¡GUAPA!” Rent prices here are lower, bars more authentic and fewer tourists make it out this way. The markets bustle, and the winding roads beneath plant-infested balconies are breathtaking. It’s also not uncommon to see processions or stumble upon a new boutique or pop-up bar. It’s also located just steps away from Alameda and encompasses Feria and San Julián, making it easy to get to the center, Nervión and Santa Justa.

What’s great: Apart from being close to the center and well-connected, Macarena is a barrio de verdad. It’s working class but typical, and the neighborhood is experiencing a bit of gentrification, bringing with it cool shops and restaurants.

What’s not so great: From what I’ve heard, there are some scary and not well-lit areas, and parking is nearly impossible on the small streets.

Average price: Studios and one bedrooms run about 350 – 500€, whereas a bedroom in a shared apartment are about 200 – 350€.

Not to miss: Plaza de los Botellines, Calle Feria and its market (and the freshest Cruzcampo I’ve encountered is at Casa Vizcaína!), numerous kebab shops for a late-night snack, the Macarena basilica and old city fortress walls.

Nervión

The city’s business center is located in Nervión, where houses are meant more for families.  Still, Nervión is well-connected to the center,  San Pablo airport and Triana, is sandwiched between the central train stations, and boasts a shopping mall and the Sevilla Fútbol Club stadium. This area also bumps up to La Buhaíra, which is a bit more upscale.

This area is enormous – it stretches essentially from the first to second ring road in the area due east of the center.

What’s great: Many students choose to live here because of its proximity to several university faculties, like business, education and travel. The apartments tend to be newer, larger and come unfurnished if they’re not meant to be housing for young people. Nervión has great shopping and dining and is well-connected to all other neighborhoods of Seville (and still within walking distance of Santa Cruz!).

What’s not so great: Nervión doesn’t have much by way of Gothic architecture or quaint cobblestone streets, though it more than makes up in better digs and connectivity.

Average price: Studios and one bedrooms are not common and expensive (think closer to 500€), and sharing a flat will run you between 275 and 400€.

Not to miss: n’Ice Cream cake and ice cream shop, the Cruzcampo factory, El Cafetal’s live music on weekends, Nervión Plaza Mall and original version films, Parque La Buhaíra’s summer concert series.

new house

I lived in a shared flat in Triana for three years before moving to Cerro de Águila to live rent-free with the Novio. We bought a house in Triana last summer, and while I love having a place to park and going everywhere on foot, I really miss my places in Cerro – my dry cleaner, David at the cervecería, my neighbors. Where you live in Seville is really about making the street your living room!

Where are you planning on living, or live already? What do you like (or not) about it? What is your rent like?

Read more:  Five Strange Things You’ll Find in Your Spanish Flat | I Bought a House! | What They Don’t Tell You About Finding an Apartment in Spain

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