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The Girl with the Daffodil Tattoo

A Welsh girl let loose in a wild world

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Spain

A Weekend in Bilbao

Thinking of spending a few nights in Bilbao? Here’s a quick run down of some essentials for your trip.

Practical Stuff

>Bilbao is very green, which means it rains a lot. Bring waterproof shoes and a waterproof coat. The city is very informal, and you can wear hiking boots, trainers, or sneakers on a night out without anyone batting an eyelid.

>If you like to walk, you will adore Bilbao. Things are reasonably close together, and there are lots of nice buildings, bridges and bars/coffee shops. If you’re too tired (or it’s started to drizzle) the metro is cheap and well designed.

>The airport is just 20 mins from the city centre. (There is nothing I hate more than a long arduous journey to catch a plane)

>People here are the friendliest in the world and will always try to help you, whether they speak English or not.

Guggenheim Museum

If you don’t fancy paying 13e to see the exhibition, the building itself is well worth a look. Designed by Frank Gehry, and inspired by the sea, the building is controversial due to the way it contrasts with the surrounding architecture. Personally, I 100% love it, although I never experienced the city without it.

Guggenheim Bilbao

Casco Viejo

The old part of the city is nicknamed “The Seven Streets”, but don’t be fooled. It’s basically a labyrinth, but there are so many excellent bars, you desire to leave won’t be a problem.

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Pintxos

Have you ever eaten tapas, and thought, I wish this food was on a small piece of bread, with a stick in it, and with a complete rainbow variety of tastes and textures? Then you are going to have some sort of food orgasm over “pintxos”, which is Basque for “cocktail sticks”.

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San Mamés Stadium

If you’re a football fan, you might like to take a look at Athletic’s stadium.

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Walk along the River

Prosperity, and the subsequent rejuvenation of Bilbao (from an industrial port town) since the 90s has been nicknamed “the Gugghenheim Effect” by the press. If (and that’s a big “if”) it’s not raining, you can take a wonderful stroll by the river.

paseoMaritimoRVictoria

Not Climbing Artxanda

Basques know how to organise stuff well, and as you walk around the Bilbao, you will see that although there are a some steep hills, there are also easy ways to get around climbing them.

A “funicular” is a small train that goes up a hill. A great thing to do (on a clear day) is catch this tiny train from the centre, up Artxanda, which offers a great view for the whole city. They you can walk back down, or take the train back.

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Day out to San Sebastián

San Sebastián is just an hour by bus from Bilbao, and although it is said to be a bit more expensive, it is also famous for it’s culinary offerings. If you like to pack in as much as possible on your weekends away, this nearby city on the coast might be a nice change from the big smoke.

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Tip for EU People Moving/Travelling to the UK

To get around the UK plug annoyance, use something plastic in the top hole of the UK socket to open the safety shutter.

plug

I like to use a biro lid.

biro

 

Happy travels!

Technology: Phones, Apps, Contracts, and Companies

Going to Spain for a while? Here are some technotips.

  1. Install Whatsapp on your phone

(Almost) everyone uses it here, as many people don’t have phone contracts. It’s also great for keep in contact with your friends at home

2. Get a YOIGO sim

I tried various pay as you go sims, and I like Yoigo because calls are too expensive, their phones are unlocked and relatively cheap (you can buy a two sim card phone NEW for 140e), and their customer service is not completely terrible. You can also pay 7e a month for 3G, which is really useful if you move to a place where internet takes a thousand years to install.

Don’t forget to bring your passport to buy whatever sim card you end up getting; it’s an anti-terror measure here that you can’t buy a phone sim without ID.

3. Bring an extender cable from your country

You can buy travel plugs in Spain, but instead of buying 5 or 6 individual ones for your phone, laptop, hairdryer etc, why not bring an extension cable with you from your country?

Wall>>>travel plug>>>extender cable

>phone

>laptop

>hairdryer

Also, for UK travellers, remember that if you buy electronics in other European countries, you can (usually) shove them in to a British socket by sticking something plastic into the top hole of the plug socket, like this:

plug

I like to use a good old biro lid. It’s the perfect size for opening the safety shutter.

Flights home (and Christmas: BUY FLIGHTS IN AUGUST)

If you’re planning on going home at Christmas… BUY YOUR FLIGHTS NOW, in August, or else pay double.

A) Buy your flights 6 months before (yes, in August)

B) Fly on the 23rd of December at the latest

If there are random volcanoes, strikes, or ice, you won’t get marooned somewhere (there are no trains/buses on Christmas day)

C) Tell your school in your first month when you’re flights are. Offer to make it up.

I worked in a really difficult, uptight school, where we were told that Christmas wasn’t a Spanish holiday and… Basically, be assertive. Don’t let anyone mess with your Christmas with your family.

Best place to buy US flights:

STA travel

If you’re under 26, you can get great deals using this site.

Things you can’t get in Spain (or are expensive/low quality)

Good peanut butter

Stationary (coloured flashcards, thank you cards)

Shampoo and conditioner (there is little tax on wine, beer, and cigarettes, but cosmetic items are more expensive)

Socks

Anti-histamines (only on prescription)

Teriyaki Sauce

Hamburger Helper

Spice blends (Chinese Five Spice) Note: You may be able to find spices in specific neighbourhoods where non-Spanish people live. In Madrid, many corner shops have a great range of spices for South Asian food.

 

Women:

Hair cuts (Spanish hair dressers tend to chop a lot off)

Sport’s bras (buy an extra at Target/New Look)

 

Things that may be cheaper:

Fruit and veg

Contraceptive pill/merina ring/nuva ring/IUD (some are 4e a month, others are 15e a month)

Care Packages from Outside of the EU

Make sure the sender fills out the customs form properly, or you will have to pay 40e at your end 😦

Banks

  1. Find the best credit card for travel

Getting charged for withdrawals from your home bank is a big pain in the butt, and your Spanish paperwork will take a while, meaning it might be a few months before you have a bank here.

UK:

http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/credit-cards/travel-credit-cards

I use a Halifax Clarity. It’s the top rated card on the above article, and I was already with Halifax anyway.

US:

??????????????????? LET ME KNOW WHAT THE BEST BANK FOR AMERICANS TRAVELLING IS IN THE COMMENTS BELOW OR EMAIL Humphries.sarah@gmail.com

Spanish Banks

Sabadell allowed me to have an account without a NIE (Spanish resident number).

I changed from them to ING as Sabadell have two types of account (depending on how much you get paid each month), whereas ING offer free transfers no matter what. They also have this nifty friend invite thing where if your friend is already with them, you both get 32.50e (they say more, but that’s not including the tax) to change to them.

The Marshlands (La isla mínima)

Director: Alberto Rodríguez
Writers: Rafael Cabos, Alberto Rodríguez

One of the most well made films I’ve seen in Spanish. A police drama rich in sociopolitical commentary, reminiscent of True Detective.

The ending is bitter sweet; some criminals walk free.

Director: Alberto Rodríguez
Escritores: Rafael Cabos, Alberto Rodríguez

Una de las mejores hechas películas en castellano. Una drama policiaca que recuerda de True Detective.

Eo final es agridulce; algunos criminales están libres.

Library fines

I love books, but one of the sacrifices a nomad must make is not to buy these sweet smelling travel weights, or if you buy them, be prepared to pass them on to others (parting is sweet sorrow, indeed).

My library card is my most cherished possession. In the UK, in the US, in Spain, wherever I’m living, I’m a library geek, and I am not ashamed to say it.

I love the libraries in Milwaukee, Wisconsin USA. You can take out 99 books, you can renew online, and you can drop any book at any library within the system, and it is *returned*. You can even put it through a handy wee letter box doodad if the library is closed. How neat is that?

Spain on the other hand is a different story. I remember the first day I returned my library books a late to the library in Madrid. I tried to take out more books, and the (very impatient) woman explained to me that I couldn’t take out books for a month. It was my first month in Madrid, and I was living in a not-knowing-Spanish-nightmare, so I just couldn’t really get what she was saying, so she wrote down the date when I could next take out books, and shoved it in my face, before turning abruptly to serve another customer.

I was like “WhAt ThE fAk?” when I realised. “Que barbaridad!!!!! In Britain or the US, you just pay a little bit. But here they STOP you from taking out BOOKS? WHAAAAAAAT? Franco is actually DEAD, isn’t he? Christ on a fucking bike!”.

Maybe that was a slight overreaction on my part. Maybe it makes sense. If you want people to give back books on time, surely banning them from taking out more books for a specific amount of time makes more sense than fining them a small amount of money per item. But personally, I would much rather pay the fine (or “donation”, as I like to call it).

The Case of the Pillow Cases

There is nothing that makes my blood boil more than Spanish pillows. What can I say? It’s the little things in life.

Don’t know what I mean? Close your eyes, and picture a bed.

Does it look like this?

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Or maybe this?

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Well, if you move abroad, be very careful that you buy pillowcases that fit your pillows, because guess what: some countries have ANOTHER SIZE OF PILLOW. Observe:

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Longer and slimmer, it is no better or worse than the “standard” pillow that one can purchase in the dreaded Ikea. It’s just a very slightly different shape, enough to need a different sized pillow case.

Then, there’s the one pillow for two people idea.

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Staying in my friend’s mum’s house, I actually slept on a bed a bit like that (minus the chap with the beret). My partner and I were reticent about sharing a pillow, but to our surprise there was no tug of war in the night. Maybe this whole long pillow business is so crazy, it just might work!

When I first moved to Spain, I had no idea about the different pillow system. I bought one pillow case that was long enough for a 2 meter long pillow (sigh) and one that was for a single Spanish bed, but my ONE PILLOW I bought from  Ikea didn’t fit either of them (see fig. 1).

Pillow case

Then the supermarket told me there was no refund on pillow cases that had been opened, which I thought made sense, but I still pulled this face.

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4 years later, I was buying pillow cases for my pillows from a shop I’d stumbled upon in the neighbourhood. The other shop I had found was wickedly expensive, but this one was reasonably priced and the lady was nice. Finally, my three pillows, kindly donated by my landlord/friend, would be sheathed in pillow cases that ACTUALLY FITTED them. All three pillows were completely different sizes to each other, as well as the random selection of pillow cases my boyfriend had amassed in my several months of absence (one of which was SQUARE. A square pillow case. SQUARE. Don’t even get me started).

Pillow case 2

I had done it. Finally we had pillows with their very own pillow cases. I basked in my own glory in the Basque Country. In your face, annoying things that you never get used to when you live abroad!

Weeks later, my landlord/housemate/friend told me (via email) that he wouldn’t be reimbursing me for the pillow cases as he does for other things I buy for the flat, as they were “just” for our use, “not for the house”, and that we would “take them with us” when we left. I sighed.

In the last 5 years, I’ve moved house 23 times. I’ve lived in 5 different countries, on 3 continents. I have chronic back pain from carrying my minimalist possessions, leaving behind me a trail of clothes horses and home made spice racks (see fig. 2) in my previous apartments.

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(Fig. 2. “The Homemade Eco Spice Rack”)

Today, my most prized possession is my library card, as it saves me from buying books and so the inevitable wrench of saying goodbye to them. Packing, unpacking, repacking, tedious chores of the nomadic.

I know that there is absolutely no way in hell that I am bringing with me three random sized pillow cases with me to the next country I live in. I’ll have enough to transport; electronic cables for laptops, kindles, phones, and other “essential” electronicy doodads take up a surprising amount of space, and are actually quite expensive to replace.

I looked at my pillows, snug in their red and purple cases.

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They cost me around 18 euros. So if I use them for 12 months, they will have cost me about 1.50 euros a month. I’ll take that rental price.

Dear Pillow Cases,

When I leave Spain, I’m not taking you babies with me, but you were definitely worth spending 20 euros on.

Never change, my sweet cotton friends.

Never change.

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