At a certain point, visiting a country slowly turns into living there. Especially in a country like Spain where connecting to people is easier, compared to other places in Europe, you are very likely to end up with new friends, some of them being close even after a short amount of time. It still takes a lot of patience though and so far, staying in a place for more than two weeks in a row was definitely worth it. In the end, being location-independent doesn’t mean that you’re moving all the time. Actually it’s the opposite and it allows you to take your time, get a feel of a city’s rhythm and find your favorite place.
In my case, that place is Madrid right now. It’s a village, or rather a bunch of villages connected to each other via a vast network of parks, roads and public transport routes. Being in the center of Spain, it features a desert environment and a lot of water literally being pumped into the city makes you forget that fact. That city is alive, welcoming, has a huge international community and it starts feeling like a temporary home.
First, some random statistics. During the last three months I:
- lived in 5 different cities for more than a week (Madrid: 6 weeks in total, with two longer interruptions): Valencia, Castellon, Granada, Sevilla
- met around 80 people (“meeting” as in: having more than just small talk) and approached around 1000
- slept in 33 places, 18 of them not being a hostel or a beach, 3 of the latter via Couchsurfing
- added around twice as much people in WhatsApp as in Facebook
- didn’t visit Barcelona and the interior of Alhambra
- never had a strong sunburn
- did the laundry exactly once a week
- ate about 50 ready-made salads (pollo con rucola, que delicioso)
- took a bath at the beach 4 times
- lost my sweater once (and retrieved it five weeks later just for the sake of completeness)
Most younger people I met in Spain were either not satisfied with their current work or about to leave the country. A lot of those people don’t want to do that because they would miss their friends and family. Also, Spain is a transit hub for south/central american people and because those people usually need a working visa to stay here, they are being exploited quite a lot. In general, employers cheat a lot with the contracts they offer (total working hours for instance) to save taxes. As you might imagine, that doesn’t improve anything. After talking to some older people who are working in bigger companies, I got an impression that it’s easier to find jobs here being a foreigner because employers are looking for workers with more (international) experience. That doesn’t help locals with finding a job. On the other hand, Spain is in Europe and thus, more safe than a lot of other places. Many people prefer the mix of warm weather, vivid nightlife and safe countryside or suburban family life, having enough money to survive. And if you like to dance in clubs, do it in Spain. All bars (as most other buildings) have air conditioning, keeping you cool enough to sustain prolonged dancing sessions at temperatures below those of most Central European clubs.
Most of the time, my daily rhythm is quite regular. Getting up early and sleeping early allows me to taste everyday life in a place. Although I don’t care for the weekday, I particularly enjoy working days because you meet a lot of people who have settled down in a place and who are pursuing their everyday activities, for instance having lunch in a cafeteria or walking the park after work. Because of the weather in Spain, people do a siesta during summer. At first, I tried to not do a siesta … then I (or rather: the sun) changed my mind. Above 40 degrees Celsius and medium humidity it’s almost impossible to do anything purposeful besides resting. That’s why I’m doing a siesta every second day on average, with varying duration, allowing me to enjoy day and night life at the same time. Getting to know new people disturbs any regular rhythm but since I prefer to always accept invitations, I end up with a lot of good conversation and probably new acquaintances or friendships. Anyway, hostels are really good for connecting to people around the globe and finding entry points into different cultures. For now, I find myself in a very unique situation, being able to freely choose between observation, interaction and isolation, keeping my nervous system at full load.
After about two or three days in a new place I usually find my favorite coffee place in a city. On many days I’m sitting there, drawing, listening to music or talking. So far, I never (!) saw someone else with a laptop in a public space in Spain. Maybe because a lot of people think that using a computer outside means having stress or they are afraid of getting robbed. Of course, most people wouldn’t want to or couldn’t work in a café anyway. Especially for drawing, such places are a perfect fit for me. It’s easier for me to focus when everything around me is moving and as soon as I like to talk to people, I just hit up the person next to me. Marvelous!
Couchsurfing (using the official webpage) didn’t really work for me in Spain so far, with some very unique exceptions. Most people either didn’t respond, were travelling themselves or were busy with studying. I don’t dislike hostels but to really get to know a place, I’d like to get in touch with locals. Instead of sending more requests on Couchsurfing, I went into bars and asked people directly for a place to sleep, with surprising results! Most of those people never did Couchsurfing before and had a lot of struggles in their everyday life but still offered a place to stay for a day, some days or even a week. That amount of curiosity and empathy literally shines on the outside and I practiced to subconsciously detect that kind of people in any environment, eventually connecting to a lot of interesting, deep, inspiring and kind people. There is one huge exception to that: Sevilla, a medium sized city in southern Spain. There’s a cliche about that part of Spain, namely that people are most open there. From my experience, they are friendly and seem to enjoy their night life but as soon as it comes to actually connecting, a barrier appears. After a few days of trial-and-error I started meeting more and more people from Spain who moved to Sevilla. Without specifically asking them, they validated that impression. Besides 700.000 people, Sevilla has a very diverse and pretty city layout, inviting a lot of people from anywhere across the globe for a short stay. I probably accidentally photo-bombed a few hundred vacation selfies in the process of strolling the city center. If you’re aiming for a beautiful city, go there! If you like to settle down there, be prepared.
(A very interesting bridge in Sevilla. It is a perfect slide, but for some reason, I have been the only one sliding down there. Even the kids looked a bit puzzled … OPM – Fish out of Water)
Learning the language is fun and challenging, especially because I dig the sound of Spanish. Due to my accent, a lot of people here think that I’m from South America, at least until I run out of correct sentences. Talking to random locals improved my vocabulary and added some phrases to my inventory. To finally find out when to use which tense, I attended intense Spanish lessons for two weeks after manually practicing the language in everyday life for about 2.5 months and having a few lessons before arriving in Spain. It has been very effective. In terms of grammar and vocabulary, English and Spanish are not too far apart and both are a bit simpler than German. My head is full of words and very rarely, I end up mixing three languages in a single sentence. I like that state of mind. Still, it’s hard sometimes to understand even simple phrases because of the sheer amount of dialects and accents in the Spanish language across the globe. It keeps being interesting, that’s for sure.
Dating as a nomad is horrible. Horrible, but interesting. Since I’m honest about me leaving quite soon, most girls are not willing to consider any serious romantic connection, even if I’m totally free to stay wherever I want to. In general, more experienced girls understand better that this is an issue. On top of mostly being pleasant, all of those encounters are a perfect way to practice the local language in a comfortable environment, slightly extending emotional vocabulary and adding words for body parts. Things from instant sex to a mature friendship with benefits happened and I enjoy that a lot of girls here are a bit less anxious, at the same time more authentic and able to read signs single-handedly. During the World Pride I got approached by guys as well, which was quite refreshing and I definitely met interesting people. They only paid the first beer though. By the way, the line “Would you like to travel to [insert random place here] with me?” doesn’t work. Girls don’t believe that … A ver, a ver!
(Rooftops at night are my favorite places to retreat … this one is in Castellón)
I arrived at a point in time where I’m able to press all Rewind buttons at once, based purely on instinct. There are many Honeymoon-Frustration-Adaption cycles ongoing simultaneously at the moment and they happen to be in sync during those very days. It’s a breeze … or rather the wind of change. The initial decision to live in Spain for a while was spontaneous, so was the next one. Based on my experiences with south american people and their open expression of empathy, I decided to spend some time there. I’m leaving and definitely going to visit Spain again. This time, I already know about the intricacies of detachment. That doesn’t make it easier even just a bit, but much more enjoyable and energizing. I’m going to keep moving until I find my home, for the next 60 years if necessary.