Written by Elle
1) The slow pace of life: I cannot express just how much I love this aspect of Spanish culture. It suits my tendencies perfectly, as I often felt that I was playing catch-up in the U.S.; running from work, to the gym, to the store, and negotiating the many to-do lists that occupied my desk, fridge, and the back of my hand. The clock ruled all, and we were slaves to her tick-tock reminder not to be a minute late, even if you have to go 10 over the speed limit to make that 1:45 appointment.
Here in Spain, it feels more relaxed. Like I can just breathe and take my time. I don’t constantly check the clock here (in fact, our apartment has exactly zero clocks in it! Though I do of course check my phone). Granted, I know that I only work 12 hours a week, but with the extra private lessons I’ve picked up, and my Spanish classes, I do have a fairly full Mon-Thurs by Spanish standards. However, I never feel overwhelmed. This is not only due to my three-day weekends, but the collective ideology here that “it can wait”. We get things done here, don’t get me wrong, but if you arrive 15 minutes late to lunch because you took the long way there through the park to see the changing leaves, or let the coffee date go an extra hour, no one bats an eye or thinks of it negatively. Happiness and leisure rule here—and I’m a big fan.
2) The helpful people: In these first two months of living in Logroño, I’ve had to rely on the help of others almost daily. From buying produce at the supermarket (who knew you had to weigh the produce on a scale and stick the price on before going to the register?), to getting heat for our apartment (thank you fellow teacher for telling me to appeal to the landlord and not just assume, as I did, that I would need to go buy a ton of space heaters), and everything in between—the Spaniards I’ve encountered have been as kind as old friends, and as patient as preschool teachers. I can now order my coffee and juice properly, find my way into my schools (a very sneaky buzzer/gate system), know which stores are open for groceries on Sundays, and countless other little things that make a big difference in daily life here thanks to the friendly people who put up with my rudimentary Spanish and are quick to help this sometimes hapless foreigner.
3) The art and architecture: Massive cathedrals with ornate carvings and decorative spires dot my neighborhood. Fountains and rose gardens line my walk to work, and brass statues decorate the immaculate trails I run. The history of this city blends perfectly with modern conveniences without losing its captivating charm. Whether I’m walking to buy our daily baguette, or exploring a set of narrow streets in search of a new café, Logroño offers the most picturesque scenes at every turn. I’m still in “I can’t believe I get to live here” mode, and won’t be shaken from this childlike wonder of my new home anytime soon.
4) The cleanliness: I come from the suburbs of Seattle, a very clean and well-kept area of the U.S. I didn’t often see trash piled on the streets, or too much litter on the sidewalks. But Logroño takes this cleanliness thing to a whole new level. Every day as I walk to work, there are “limpiezas” in their blue and yellow uniforms doing everything from sweeping up cigarette butts, to raking leaves, to washing the sidewalks with giant hoses. Every. Single. Day. Seriously! When walking home late on a Saturday night, we sometimes see beer bottles and other trash on the streets and sidewalks, but by the time we go out for Sunday coffee, it’s like a magic fairy as made it all beautiful again (limpiezas=magic fairies).
In addition to this being the cleanest city I’ve ever spent time in, there is also constant restoration happening throughout every neighborhood to keep things looking and working well while maintaining the old European look that we love so much. Whether it’s renovating a store front, to fixing that one cracked brick in the sidewalk, there are always projects going on that keep this place looking tip-top!
5) The language: In all honesty, I can see how this could be considered one of the “worst” things about living here, as it of course has made it difficult to truly “assimilate” into the Spanish culture and connect with the people. However, I stand by my decision to place it in the “best” category for many reasons. Reason #1: Spanish is an absolutely gorgeous language to listen to. I can sit at an outdoor cafe for hours listening to the musical conversations around me, and giggle quietly at the strong “H’s” for “G’s”, and the “TH’s” for “Z’s and C’s” that I’m still getting used to. Even when I can’t properly eavesdrop due to my limited understanding, I appreciate every voice that joins in the soundtrack of my life here.
Reason #2: It offers me the privilege to learn a new language in a setting that is truly authentic. La Rioja is home to the oldest written evidence of the Spanish language, and the two monasteries in the mountains where the manuscripts were found now serve as a European Heritage Sites, which we hope to visit soon! Because La Rioja is considered to be the “cradle of the Spanish language”, it is believed by many Spaniards that the Spanish here is some of the most traditional and easy to understand. Though the variances and dialects of Spanish in Galicia, Andalucía, and other regions are unique and beautiful, I am happy to be learning the language here.
Reason #3: Spaniards here are very reluctant to use English (whether it is due to a lack of confidence or them truly not knowing the language), which forces me to use Spanish in almost every encounter. Though I muddle through and I’m sure make a complete fool of myself, I know this is the best way to learn, and I’m determined to keep learning and trying every day!
6) The low cost of living: I knew that Spain would be cheap compared to Seattle, and it was one of the many reasons we chose to settle here. However, it still surprises me when something costs so little! First of all, our beautiful apartment is only 400€/month. Amazing. Especially compared to the almost $1300 we were paying back home. Almost everything is cheaper here, with very few exceptions. Clothing is about the same, but we aren’t buying too much of that. We can go out for two lattes, two orange juices, and tortilla de patata (the most amazing breakfast food in my opinion) for less that 10€. We used to pay 11$ for two coffees at Starbucks! Yesterday I paid 2€ for four avocados. It blew my mind. Since I am the only one working, and part-time at that, the fact that we haven’t dipped into our savings for any living costs yet is pretty wonderful.
7) The food and WINE: I could not compile this list of the best things without mentioning the yummy food and amazing wine we get to enjoy here in Logroño. First, let’s talk about the food. Thanks to the history of agriculture here in La Rioja, the fruits and vegetables are incredible. I was lucky enough to have a huge garden growing up in Seattle full of carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, apples, and every type of berry. I was spoiled on fresh organic produce, and when I moved out, the stuff from Safeway just never compared. Well, I can safely say that the fruits and veggies here are just about as close to my childhood produce as you can get. You can just tell by looking at the misshapen bell peppers and bright orange carrots that they haven’t been f*cked with and steroid-ed like the majority of the produce I got at big grocery stores back at home. B and I have been eating way more veggies here because they taste so damn good!
And when we’re not eating at home, we go out for pinchos! In most of Spain, these are called “tapas”, but here they are “pinchos” (from the Basque word pintxos), and they are the most popular foods at the dozens of restaurants that we so luckily have just minutes from our door. Everything from meat skewers, to calamari sandwiches, to cheese croquettes, to roasted peppers are on display for these perfect small bites on a night out. It’s typical to visit 3-4 different pincho bars and grab a bite and a glass of wine from each as you make your way down the street. Our current favorite pincho is a tower of mushrooms on top of a piece of bread with a small shrimp on top, doused in garlic butter.
In addition to the many pincho bars, there are countless fancy restaurants here, and a big gastronomic culture that even landed La Rioja the title of ‘Spanish Capital of Gastronomy’ in 2012. (We have a lot more eating to do!)
As for the wine…YUM. I can safely say I am farrrr from a wine connoisseur. I just know what I like and what I don’t like! And I can honestly tell you that every wine I have tried, from 2€ bottles to 10€ bottles (yes, that’s the most I’ve spent on a bottle here) has been delicious! Vino tinto (red wine) has been my go-to drink here, and you can’t blame me when you can go out and get a glass for 0.80¢! The region here is known for wine, and I am all for it.
THE WORST (this list will be much shorter)
1) The food: Wait, you put food in the “best” category! Well, hear me out. The food here is truly delicious, and I love a night out of pinchos, but there are some major holes in the food culture here that I really miss from the States!
First of all, there are very few types of cuisine here. It’s almost exclusively Spanish restaurants here, with a few Italian mixed in. I long for good Mexican, sushi, and especially Thai food places. While Spanish food can be delightful, it is very heavy on carbs and meat, and as a “mostly vegetarian”, I find myself eating a lot of bread and potatoes when I go out!
There is also the issue of “spice”. I am hardly one who can handle a lot of spicy foods, but even I miss that kick from my pad thai or street taco. B has tried ordering things on menus that say “picante” (spicy), and has even been warned by waiters before ordering (¡Este es muy picante!), but we have yet to really get any heat on the food. Thankfully, we found one store with off-brand sriracha, which has been doused on many dishes we make here at home!
2) The smoking: Ugh. This is by far my least favorite thing about living here. Smoking is quite popular here, as it is in many European countries compared to the U.S. where it’s decline has been drastic in my lifetime. Though you cannot smoke cigarettes indoors (thank goodness), you can smoke them right outside the door, on the street, on the park path as I run by you, or sitting next to me at the outdoor cafe. Nothing ruins a perfect coffee date like a group of four plopping down at the table next to you and puffing out in your direction. I will count my blessings, however, that none of my neighbors smoke on their balconies, so we can safely open out windows and breathe the good stuff.
Andddd that’s all I have for “the worst”! As you can tell by the lengthy “the best” portion of this post, life here is Spain is everything we wanted and more. I can’t wait to see what more I can add to that list!