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.
A vintage stand at El Mercado de Motores.
You probably don’t know this about me because it’s nerdy and I keep it to myself, but I like transportation. No, I don’t have elaborate model train sets in my basement or hundreds of hand-painted balsa wood airplanes. But I get a kick out of efficient transport systems, especially public transportation or high-speed trains.
So, imagine my happiness when I discovered that there’s a market in Madrid’s Museo del Ferrocarril. Trains and a market? Is this heaven?
On the first weekend of the month, artists and antiquarians set up their stands alongside centenarian steam trains and art deco train cars. They peddle their artisan, vintage and gourmet goods while live music plays on the terrace outside.
I wasn’t sure what to expect — I was picturing something more akin to El Rastro, which is fun, but in the same way junk-filled rummage sales are fun. Upon arrival to the Mercado de Motores, however, I was immediately impressed by all the beautiful things for sale. The museum’s main depot area hosts the hand-made and artisan goods, while the space outside the museum is filled with antique and vintage finds. You can even hop on a miniature steam train, but only if you’re accompanying a child. We learned that the hard way.
Persianas, the typical Spanish blinds. Source.
They aren’t necessarily good, and they aren’t necessarily bad. They’re just curious.
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.
El Parque del Retiro.
I’ve been struggling with the fact that I live in Madrid.
I don’t mean “struggle” in the negative, how-can-I-go-on sense of the word, but in the sense that I can’t quite believe I’m here. Even though I’ve been here for two months already, I still oscillate between random moments of Spain-fueled elation and a deepening sense of normalcy.
I realized the other day that I’ve been boxing the majority of my Spanish activities and purchases into this strange new “temporary” category of my life. Things you might typically hear me say include:
- “I’m not going to buy that because I can’t take it home in June.” (I’ve never been on a sadder trip to Ikea.)
- “I’ll just wait to replace my laptop battery until I go back to the States.” (My battery recently took a turn for the worse and now has less energy than Lana del Rey.)
- “I don’t need to get a coffee maker. I can survive on green tea.” (Hahaha who am I?)
Over the past two weeks, though, it’s dawned on me that maybe my life in Spain isn’t so temporary after all. I’ve started purchasing scented candles and tacking up posters with reckless abandon. I even bought a throw pillow. (Talk about putting down roots.)
My newfound sense of permanence made me start thinking about what it means to live abroad. It’s a fact that my days in Spain are numbered — I have a job contract and a visa to prove it — and I know I want to make the most of my time here. But it’s hard for me to decide what I’m supposed to be doing on a day-to-day basis. Is it okay to stay in and read a book on a Friday night, or is that “not taking advantage” of my time in Spain? Should I instead dedicate my free hours toward the quintessential expat quest for new tastes, new sights, and new sounds?
The bare-bones truth (drumroll, please) is that I’m doing many of the same things I’d be doing back home, just in a foreign country. Whether that’s what I’m supposed to be doing or not.
Which brings me to my first point:
It’s not all tapas and siestas, kids.
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.
Eating delicious burritos at Tierra.
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.
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.)
Y anímate, because you can do it too! Here’s how.
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.