Spain, Part One - The First Four Months

June 2016 - the idea to move to Spain

I was living in an apartment on Soniat Street with my friend Kayla, juggling a few part time jobs as a nanny, at the New Orleans JCC, and freelancing in photography. My long time on and off ex-boyfriend decided to move away from New Orleans, and I got this feeling that maybe I needed to try something different and move somewhere else too. I had never really considered moving anywhere else because I love New Orleans so much, but I became open to it.

I started researching “how to live and work abroad” and began looking into being an au pair in Australia. I even contacted some families and FaceTimed them. I got settled on the idea of living in Australia and came close to buying a plane ticket. But I also kept coming across blogs and articles about teaching English in a foreign country. I considered going back to Costa Rica to teach and I researched programs there. But then I found out about being this thing called an “auxiliar de conversación” (literally “conversation assistant”), but commonly Language and Culture Assistant, in Spain. I was intrigued. I already knew a little Spanish from taking it in high school and college. I found out you could either apply through the Spanish government at no cost, or there were a couple of programs you could apply through for a fee and they would help you with transitioning to living in Spain, getting all the necessary documents, giving advice on how to find an apartment, etc. I discovered CIEE, which guaranteed placement in Madrid, whereas you could select your top three cities in Spain when applying through the government, but it wasn’t a guarantee you’d be placed in your preferred city. Unfortunately, I had missed the deadline to apply through the government, but I applied to CIEE in late June. The start time was in September, a little less than 3 months away.

I got the acceptance letter on the 4th of July and it was time to get all my shit together. I had to get out of my lease and luckily my cousin was moving to New Orleans at the exact same time, so she took my place (couldn’t have been more perfect). I moved in with the parents for a couple months to save money before I took off. I had to drive to Houston to take care of some paperwork that was required. I had to go to Baton Rouge to complete a background check and other important stuff that I don’t exactly remember right now, but it was a lot to do in a little amount of time. I thought I might not get everything done before it was time to leave, which was September 8. But I was committed. I got all of it done and bought a plane ticket just a few weeks before the departure date.

I left with two jam packed suitcases and a tote bag.

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I got to Madrid on September 9, 2016. When I got to my hostel (The Hat - highly recommend), I was tired and jet lagged, but tried fighting the exhaustion and left my luggage at the hostel’s front desk and went exploring. I remember feeling homesick for a second and feeling alone, and wondering if I had made a good decision. This was going to be hard. I had to find an apartment on my own, I wasn’t fluent in Spanish, and I didn’t know anyone. I had to set up a bank account, get a Spanish phone number, get a Spanish ID and background check, figure out how to use the public transportation system and how to get to the school I would be teaching at, and more. CIEE was very helpful with all of this though! We had an orientation for the first few days, and that’s where I met most of the friends I ended up making over there.

The day came where we all had to get out of the hotel room that CIEE provided for us. As soon as I got to Spain I had been searching for apartments on Idealista and through Facebook groups because people had said that it’s super competitive and difficult to secure a good one. I probably went to see about 5 apartments on my own, and one afternoon while we were still in orientation, I responded to an ad for an apartment by a woman named Nidia. She didn’t speak any English so I was nervous about communicating with her. (Side note, Nidia was extremely sweet and she felt almost like my Spanish mom). I got there, and Nidia and two lovely young women answered the door, and they spoke some English! I immediately knew I liked the place. It was small, and the bedroom available had no window and was super tiny, only fitting a twin size bed and an armoire. I had read and heard from people that this living situation was pretty common for “students” in the city center and it was a busy time of year because other people were seeking housing too, so if you even remotely liked the place, you should take it immediately! So I did, I told Nidia I wanted the apartment. My roommates’ names were Valentina and Laura, and they were from Bogota, Columbia. They were studying in Madrid. I gave Nidia my fianza (deposit) and left excited and so relieved that I had locked down an apartment. It was stressful trying to hurry and find one before I had to leave the hotel, and I knew a few people who were not having any luck finding one. I had called my dad one day and cried because I was already homesick and wanted to give up on looking for an apartment.

I moved my stuff in and it was so great getting to unpack my suitcase into a dresser. My roommates were so nice and invited me to go tour the Real Madrid soccer stadium with them.

My friend Harlin Miller, who is a very talented photographer here in New Orleans, came to visit me the day or two after I moved into the apartment! We had planned a trip to Barcelona and Paris back in New Orleans before I left for Spain. We met in Barcelona and stayed at a really charming Airbnb in the El Born neighborhood. Barcelona and Paris deserve their own separate post which will come later, but we had a lot of fun and they’re both stunning cities.

We got back to Madrid and spent a couple days exploring, hanging out with a group of girls I had met in the orientation. We went to the Royal Palace of Madrid, El Parque de Retiro (Retiro Park), Mercado de San Miguel, and just walked around a ton, familiarizing ourselves with the city.

Above: photos I took of Madrid on the very first day I got there. (Sol, Malasaña, and La Latina areas)

I bonded with two of the girls quickly, my friends Kayla and Caroline. We instantly became Las Tres Amigas, and they were some of the people I hung out the most with in Madrid. (Love y’all if you’re reading this). Kayla is from Syracuse, NY and Caroline from D.C. And we met Raúl, someone that Kayla’s friend knew from doing this program before. He’s so much fun and adorable and hysterical. The four of us were collectively “Fuego.”

Anyways, I had to start teaching on October 4, and I foolishly didn’t go visit my school and figure out how to get there until the first day. I didn’t know there was construction on the metro line close to the school, so long story short, I was 30 minutes late the first day, but my boss Águeda (“Ah-guh-da”), the Bilingual Coordinator, was totally understanding and nice about it.

I lucked out and got a great school and schedule, and became really good friends with the other 4 auxiliares (all American). One of them, Caroline, is from New Jersey but went to college at Tulane, so we always talked about loving and missing New Orleans.

Most auxiliares have 3 day weekends every weekend, so the first weekend trip I went on was to Toledo, about a 30 minute train ride from Madrid (below).

I went by myself and loved it; it was a great day trip.

My girl friends and I started planning a trip to Salamanca for a long weekend. We went the last weekend in October, and it was so beautiful. (See photos)

In November I went to Granada and Sevilla by myself, in southern Spain. I’ll be honest, it was a mostly shitty trip. Parts of it were nice and both are gorgeous places, but I had a few frustrating moments. The hostel I stayed at in Sevilla was super loud (don’t stay at Oasis Backpackers) and I was getting a sore throat, so I hardly slept while I was there. My phone randomly wouldn’t turn on the night before I was returning to Madrid. I had to reset my phone when I got back, and I lost all of my pictures from Granada and Sevilla (except three that I had posted so I pulled them from Facebook- see below). I was also going through emotional stuff regarding my then on-off again ex-boyfriend who was all the way back in L.A., so I was thinking about that the whole time.

I loved walking around both places even though it rained in Granada the whole time I was there. I loved Plaza de España in Sevilla, and going to the top of a church and seeing a view of the whole city (ugh, I wish I had the photo). The Alcázar de Sevilla and Museo de Bellas Artes de Sevilla (Seville Museum of Fine Arts) were stunning - again, I wish I had the photos. In Granada, I went to the Alhambra which was also incredible, but didn’t know I had to go to this certain part (probably the most photographed part of it) at the specific time on my ticket, so I didn’t get to see that because I didn’t want to spend money on another ticket. So, there were lots of frustrations on this trip, but they had nothing to do with the places themselves. It was just the travel hiccups that happen that you don’t see posted on social media.

Back to Madrid. I was enjoying the school I was teaching at and tutoring two second graders after school. I was finding all the good coffee and food and going out and getting to know Madrid. By the way, I lived on Calle de Leganitos in the Palacio neighborhood which was close to the Royal Palace. It was a great location, close to Malasaña and Sol which is where all the cool things are happening. (All photos below were near my apartment)

And let’s take a moment to talk about my favorite spots, the spots where I was a regular at. Toma Café, HanSo Café, Hola Coffee, Ruda Café, Pum Pum Café, and Angélica Café are the best coffee shops in Madrid (they had cold brew, thank god). I would mostly go to Toma or Hola (Hola not only had fantastic coffee but a cute barista/owner too - what up Pablo if you ever happen to read this). My favorite bars/clubs were Bogui Jazz, ThunderCat, Space Monkey, Ochoymedio, the rooftop of Círculo de Bellas Artes, and Pez Tortilla (such good Spanish tortilla), and restaurants: Café Federal, Café de la Luz, La Hummuseria, Casa Julio (best croquetas), Tacos Chapultepec, Takos Al Pastor (1 euro tacos!!), Restaurante Malquerida, Mercado de San Miguel, tapas bars in La Latina (Calle Cava Baja), Egeo Suvlakeria, Ramen Kagura, and probably others I’m forgetting. I loved going to Retiro Park - great place to run or walk, and we had a few picnics in there.

December 2016:

Brussels and Bruges, Belgium - more to come in a separate post!

Grand-Place de Bruxelles, Belgium during Christmas time - December 2016

Grand-Place de Bruxelles, Belgium during Christmas time - December 2016

Before I went back home for Christmas, I took a day trip to Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial (a Royal Monastery) with a Spaniard I was seeing over there. It’s a beautiful building about an hour train ride outside of Madrid.

Madrid at Christmas time:

Next post: The next five months featuring more Madrid, Lisbon, Cercedilla, Alcalá de Henares, Canary Islands, and the Costa Brava

Intro

Hello! I’m Laura Steffan (“Steff-in,” not “Steff-ON).” I love to travel, and I love New Orleans with my whole heart. I’m very grateful that I was born and raised in Louisiana, just outside of New Orleans in a city called Mandeville. I had a great childhood, spending lots of time along the Gulf Coast. My grandparents had a house on the west end of Dauphin Island, Alabama where we’d go every summer. My family still goes there every summer, but ever since my grandparents sold their house 14 years ago, we’ve rented a condo right on the beach. The times spent on Dauphin Island have been some of the best times of my life and have produced truly great and special memories.

Anyways, about this blog. I’ve traveled a pretty good bit so far in my 26 years of life, but have yet to start writing about it. I hope to inspire others to travel, to get outside of their comfort zone and travel alone, or to simply learn more about another place through my writing and photos. Also, I’ve relied on countless reviews, articles, blogs, and threads in order to research for my travels, so I want to give back to like-minded people that are seeking this information.

So far I’ve traveled to just 12 countries (including the U.S.) and only 2 continents (North America and Europe). Those 12 are the U.S., Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Spain, France, Italy, Croatia, Portugal, and Belgium. I’ve traveled alone in 6 of those countries (Costa Rica and Western Europe). I lived in Madrid, Spain for 9 months from September 2016 - May 2017. My first taste of Europe was my trip to Italy in 2015 and man, what a fantastic introduction to Europe. More on that in another post. I knew I had to go back to Europe and so a year later, I moved to Spain. Again, more on that in a post exclusively about Spain.

Platja de Sa Riera - Begur, Spain. April 2017

Platja de Sa Riera - Begur, Spain. April 2017

I will also write about life in New Orleans and hopefully inspire others to travel here! I’ll be sharing my favorite spots in the city, and keep up with the constant happenings, festivals, new restaurants, and all that fun stuff.

Comments and feedback are welcome!

Cheers,

Laura