Having spent the first 24 years of my life living in Bonnie Scotland, the time eventually came for me to leave the nest. Growing up near Edinburgh, Scotland certainly has its perks but the miserable weather, the somewhat problematic drinking problem and the familiarity in itself soon became tiresome. So with that in mind, off to sunny Spain I went with no understanding of the language, no knowledge of the culture and without ‘Moving to Spain’ ever being on my to-do list. Luckily, I was moving there with my girlfriend who happened to be the polar opposite on all three of those points. So without further ado, here is my summary of my life in Spain so far!
The Language Barrier…
As I already mentioned, my grasp of Spanish didn’t extend particularly far past “Hola” before I moved out here. I’d always wanted to learn another language but had always lacked the motivation and the aptitude for picking one up. I had studied French for most of my high school life and had barely learned anything. One thing I commonly heard people say before I left Scotland was “It’s always easier to pick up a language when you live in the country”. Of course, this may very well be the case for anyone who socialises at a normal level but for someone who deals with social anxiety 24/7; it’s a little trickier than that.
…with a Scottish Accent
That being said, I’ve started to learn the basics. Duolingo and Rosetta Stone have been useful enough for a basic understanding. I have the good fortunate of living with my girlfriend who speaks Spanish practically fluently. So whenever I encounter something that just doesn’t make sense to me, she’s only an elbow’s nudge away! Of course, that isn’t the only language barrier. In Pamplona, most people who do speak English have learned it in school but even when they’ve had real world experience with the English language; it’s usually accompanied by an English accent. My Scottish accent isn’t even that strong as far as I’m aware. Yet many people have told me my accent is impossible to understand. One hilarious moment was having a group of American’s question whether I was speaking German or English.
Since finishing university, it had always been my plan to do a TEFL course and go to China or Japan or just somewhere far away from the UK to teach English. So with only a month or two between me deciding to move to Spain and actually moving, I managed to squash in a TEFL weekend. The weekend itself was incredibly helpful but I went all out and paid for the 140+ hour course. Meaning I still had 120 hours online stuff to complete. My plan for work was to spend the first couple of months living off my savings while I complete the TEFL course and then give private English lessons after my initially optimistic teaching assistant application was turned down on multiple occasions.
Of course it’s one thing to have a plan in your head and it’s an entirely different thing to act on it. As much as I want to eventually get around to finishing my TEFL course, I stumbled across a different way to earn money that would also not require a grasp of the Spanish language: freelance writing. I won’t go into huge detail about that as I’ve written another post on it already. However, what started off as hugely unsuccessful and extremely frustrating turned out to be my pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I’d always wanted to write and I am now earning more than I was working part-time with Costco in Scotland.
The only real issue with this is that the work isn’t necessarily steady. I have two projects for this month that will earn me enough to cover my time so far in Spain but what about next month or the month after that? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Things to Do
Pamplona itself is a decent size with what would seem like a relatively large student population. I just moved here from a small town which basically comprised of retirement homes, charity shops, churches and pubs. So anything near to a club would be an improvement. I was shocked to discover that actually Pamplona doesn’t have a great deal to do. We’ve been to numerous bars and a couple of the clubs and it just seems a little dull if I’m honest. One of the clubs did show potential but in order to get to the good music (in my opinion) you have to worm your way through a sweaty, testosterone-oozing mass of “lads, lads, lads”. You step outside and there is vomit left, right and centre.
I mean maybe this is the point in my life where I just put the drink down, forget the clubs, buy a pipe and do my crossword puzzles in a rocking chair. While the pipe part doesn’t sound so bad, I’m not quite ready for the rest. I guess I had the impression that Pamplona would be a bit more ‘hustle and bustle’. I mean this is the city where once a year people literally get chased by bulls down the street.
There certainly seems to be plenty to do in Spain itself. My girlfriend has repeatedly suggested we go to Barcelona for a weekend. We have plans to go skiing after Christmas in the nearby mountains bordering with France. As well as that, I’ve been dying to see some cave art, like that mentioned by Graham Hancock in his book Supernatural: Meetings with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind. It just so happens that the Cave of El Castillo is only a 3 hour drive away from here. So I definitely want to get around to doing that at some stage. We’re also not that far from the North Coast of Spain so there are a huge number of sea-side towns to visit.
As a partaker in the consumption of marijuana, I was relieved to hear that there exists a sort of loophole in Spain whereby it’s legal to own, smoke and even grow weed in the privacy of your own home. You’re not allowed to sell it or grow it where members of the public can see it but other than that you’re safe. To me, that translates as “it will be easy to get hold of weed” when in fact, it’s easier in Scotland! It doesn’t help that Pamplona is a very traditional city. Places like Barcelona have weed clubs where people go and smoke together whereas Pamplona still butchers bulls for sport and entertainment.
For starters, when I arrived here at the very end of September it was 29oC. To put that in perspective for anyone not from Scotland: the highest temperature EVER recorded in Scotland was 32.9oC and that was at the start of August. Average maximum temperatures for a Scottish summer are between 13oC-15oC. The weather in Pamplona stayed in the 20s up until about 2 weeks ago where it dropped to between 9oC and 12oC. Not to mention that the total number of days it has rained would fit into one week. While for Scotland the total number of days it rains per week is 7! So yeah, the weather is certainly a plus.
Another pro is the food. I’m somewhat of a fussy eater but going out for pinchos is great for me. There is always a meat option so I’d never go hungry. Following on from food is the drinks. I don’t mean soft drinks (we’ll get to that in the cons) but the alcoholic drinks. In Scotland, if you order a vodka and coke, you get this tiny measure that’s not even slightly more than what it’s supposed to be. They chuck a slice of lemon in and pour some semi-flat coke into the glass. When you’re at a club or bar here, each drink is like a work of art. The measures themselves are like twice that of Scotland, you get a lime rubbed round your glass and squeezed into it with some mint or other additions. I couldn’t believe how refreshing a drink could taste.
While it being a traditional city can be a downside, I love walking around old buildings. There are a lot of sights in Pamplona to explore such as The Citadel which is a huge fortress that was built in the 16th century. People also seem a lot more cheerful and friendly here. That could just be due to the weather, and I don’t think any place is free of its grumps or angry teens but certainly everyone I’ve met so far has been extremely welcoming and hospitable.
To keep things balanced, there is also a cons list. One of the few cons is one that’s very close to my heart: Irn-Bru is only brewed to its original recipe in Scotland. So even if it existed out here (which it doesn’t) I wouldn’t be drinking the same drink. I’m also an avid cinema goer which isn’t an option for me here as I don’t speak enough Spanish to watch the films I want to see. I recently watched a disturbingly poor quality version of Thor: Ragnarok just so I wouldn’t have to worry about spoilers (not that that ended up being an issue, you’ll probably see a blog post about it soon enough).
My Personal Goals
I guess the root of all my problems lies more with me than with Pamplona, Spain. Now that I have a taste for writing, it’s all my mind is really focussed on. So completing TEFL is on the shelf, learning Spanish is still on-going but has certainly stepped away from 1st position on my priorities list. I have so much that I want to accomplish and do, yet I can’t have time and money. So I need to either sacrifice time into work in order to fund trips to Barcelona, skiing, ETC. My other option is accepting that I can’t really afford to go anywhere but I’d then have more time to concentrate on my Spanish, focus on expanding my personal writing and creating some sort of following on that absolutely nonsensical social media platform they call Twitter, and perhaps pick up some extra skills along the way.
The simple option, of course, would be to get a job that involves learning and speaking Spanish. The issue with that being that my ability to socialise is about as high as my ability to speak Spanish: Meaning that the two combined together would lead only to disaster. Yes, I would probably learn as I went but until that point I’d be a flaming hot ball of anxiety, slowly melting into a puddle.
To sum it all up, Spain shows a lot of promise. It might not sound it from the content of this post but I’ve a realist and I’m only expressing myself in the way I feel is most honest. I’m not trying to sell the idea of moving to Spain but neither am I trying to convince people not to. While there are still things for me to see and do here, Spain has not been thoroughly enough explored yet.
I’m thinking of doing a post based on the idea of moving to Scotland. Not for myself of course but for those thinking of doing so. If that is something you think you’d be interested in then let me know!
Be sure to follow me here and on Twitter: @BakedHaggis
Alternatively, if you’d like to take a look at the work I’ve been doing on a Pompeii travel blog, you can check it out here: http://discoverpompeii.com/blog/
Similarly, if you want to see my first guest appearance on someone else’s blog, you can find that here: http://jerseygirlgonecaribbean.com/cambodia-temples-beaches-history-lessons-cameron-madden/