Spring in Amsterdam

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Amsterdam, Netherlands

This post is a long time coming. So long, in fact, that it’s almost like when you hide money for yourself, but forget you hid it and find it again three months later. Which makes it more exciting, right?

At the end of March, Lauren and I spent a weekend in Amsterdam. It was a rainy and chilly most of the weekend, but I fell in love anyway. The city is young, vibrant, modern and full of life. It’s full of artsy shops, interesting restaurants and beautiful museums. And I’ve never seen a city that’s so bike-friendly, although joining that biking throng ourselves was a bit nerve-wracking. (Trams + cars + pedestrians + other cyclists = a lot to navigate. I banshee-screamed through intersections more than once.)

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How could you not love it here?

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Me and my yellow bike.

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The 10 Commandments of Apartment Hunting in Spain

Gorgeous illustration of Madrid's barrios by Helena Ecija. See more of her work here.

Gorgeous illustration of Madrid’s barrios by Helena Ecija. Original photo and more of her work here.

I once spent a summer combing through apartment listing websites. Those were a simpler times, when a grainy photo of a terraza or the phrase “gastos incluidos” was enough to get my heart racing. My research quickly turned into an obsession. My friends nearly staged an intervention.

I’d been sending out general interest emails since June, which was completely fruitless. Rooms move so quickly here that I typically received responses to the effect of “Sorry, the room has been taken,” or “Move-in in October? We’re looking for someone for next week.” In fact, 80% of my emails went unanswered.

Compared with a few of my friends, who spent about two weeks in hotels and Airbnbs before they found rooms, my apartment hunt in Madrid was relatively painless. I owe about 70% of that to my trusty planning skills and 30% of that to luck. I arrived in Madrid on a Friday and had three apartment visits scheduled for that afternoon/evening. We had two more the next day, and one on Sunday.

I visited my current apartment on my first day in Spain. We returned the next day to meet the two housemates, and, after an hour-long chat with the girls, I called the landlady to rent the rooms. By Sunday I was settled in my new piso. I’ve spent 10 happy months in my apartment. We’ve had relatively few roommate issues (see number 6) and my neighborhood is perfect for me (see number 5). We have a huge terraza, a large living room, central heat, and two bathrooms. See, you can have it all!

This process can be really stressful, so I’ve put together some tips on finding an apartment. Without further ado, I give you the 10 Commandments of Apartment-Hunting in Spain.

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Small Curiosities of Everyday Life in Spain

Persianas in Spain

Persianas, the typical Spanish blinds. Source.

They aren’t necessarily good, and they aren’t necessarily bad. They’re just curious.

Persianas

What are these big metal things outside my window? Storm shutters? No, friends, those are persianas, the typical Spanish metal blinds that double as blackout shades. They’re in almost every home, apartment and building, including my school.

Want to protect your window from wind and weather? Lower the persianas. Want to block out all sunlight as you regret the previous night’s activities/eat chips in your bed? Persianas are your new best friend.

I’m personally not a huge fan of them — they make the room too dark for my taste. However, almost all my neighbors put them down at night. Either they’re afraid of people peeking in, or they really, really hate being woken up by the sun. I would sleep till 12 if I used my persianas, but hey, everyone’s different. And you really can’t beat them for blocking out that notorious Spanish sun and heat, which is going to be very important come June.

Side note: The rattle of persianas being raised in the morning is, oddly, a sound that will always remind me of Spain.

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The Concise Spain Survival Guide

Guide to living in Spain, Spain Survival Guide
Spain Lesson 1:

Even though you purchased them, you cannot take glass water bottles with you.  Everyone will get mad.

That’s right, folks. Not only do you have to pay €2-3 for your bottle of water, but you have to give the bottle back. This is precisely why I always order wine.

Spain Lesson 2:

Cheap restaurants like 100 Montaditos, Lizarrán, and La Sureña are the poor man’s (or woman’s) friend. Want to drink a huge mug of tinto de verano for €1.50? (Or €1 on Wednesdays/Sundays?) 100 Montaditos is your place. Want to get 5 bottles of beer for €3? Go to La Sureña.

You can even get Chipotle-style burritos at Tierra Burrito Bar (pictured below; metros Alonso Martínez and Guzmán el Bueno) for a reasonable €6.

I like to eat, so I really like this about Madrid.

Spain Lesson 3:

All fruit you wish to purchase must be weighed by the Official Fruit-Weigher. They don’t always have scales at the cash registers, so the fruit-buying process looks like this:

  • Step 1: Put on the plastic gloves that are provided for you. (You’ll know to do this because there are 30 million “POR FAVOR, USAD LAS GUANTES” signs everywhere.)
  • Step 2: Pick out the fruit/vegetables you want and put them in separate bags.
  • Step 3: Bring all fruit/vegetables to the Official Fruit-Weigher. He’ll weigh them and put a barcode sticker on each bag.
  • Step 4: Walk away with your produce.
  • Step 5: Congratulate yourself because you know how to do yet another Spain thing.

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Step-by-Step: Spain Packing List & Packing Tips

packing for a move abroad
I have been dreading this moment ever since I decided to move to Madrid. “Oh my God I have to pack,” has become my angst-filled mantra, which I usually follow with a lot of grumbling and paralyzing waves of anxiety.

Seriously. How am I supposed to pack for a year in Spain? How is anyone supposed to do it? Can it be done?

I put off packing as long as I could, but I’m leaving on Saturday to visit my family in New Jersey from August 31 to September 10. My flight to Madrid leaves from Minneapolis on September 12. So, it will make my life 100x easier if I at least try to pack my Spain suitcase before I leave.

So, last Sunday, that’s exactly how I spent my afternoon. And let the bells ring out over the plains of America because I did it. I packed everything into my one giant suitcase and two carry-ons. (Or, one carry-on and one personal item for the technical folk out there.)

I went from this:

(Shoes, toiletries, and purses not pictured.)

To this:

Y anímate, because you can do it too! Here’s how.

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Notes on Moving to Spain from 19-Year-Old Olivia

Journal Photo Blog

Sorry for my long absence, everyone. I honestly haven’t had much to write about, and I’m not convinced the world needs another “10 Things I’m Excited to Do in Spain” list. Not that there’s anything wrong with them — rest assured I’ve read every single “goals for Spain” post I can find. Also, my list would have a lot to do with eating jamón and manchego for every meal, so it wouldn’t be anything new. (Joke.)

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve mostly been preparing for my move to Madrid. I’ve practiced packing, and I bought a new RyanAir-friendly backpack. I’ve also been cleaning my room. One of the many struggles of moving back home is trying to fit all your “grown-up life” stuff into your old space. I’m a neat person by nature, so I can’t live (at least, not happily) in a messy space for long. I’ve been trying to downsize by donating old clothes and cleaning out drawers, but it seems like a never-ending task I have to do every. single. time. I come home.

On the bright side, I sometimes stumble across really funny things from middle school and high school. A box of notes from old friends (remember when we used to pass notes?), a short story I wrote in 9th grade, awards and trophies that once meant something. It’s all there — fragments of my painfully awkward child- and teenage-hood, buried in the forgotten corners of my room.

It was on one of my cleaning sprees that I unearthed my Alicante journal. And I’m going to share it with you.

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