Over 2015 Bianca and I have slowly been introducing ourselves and Pura Vida to the blogging world. Better slowly than not at all. Am I right, or am I right? We knew that with both of us having new jobs, moving, travels and everyday life to deal with, we couldn’t spend as much time as we would like to on our little Pura Vida website.
Then we had some server and website problems and in the end we were hacked too. Over all the difficulties, finally we are moving every day a bit closer to our goals and hopefully by the beginning of 2016 I will reach the "present" Pura Vida time, as I have been writing about my past travels and the countries I’ve lived in. I think it is very important to understand where someone is coming from before you can actually understand who they have become.
So here it is - the 3rd part of my ‘Living in Spain’ series - A funny and real look at being an Estonian in Spain… or, anyone moving to a new country, with a strange new lifestyle to adapt to! I have just too many nostalgic photos from Spain to share, so difficult to choose... and as always, here is some background music to accompany your read.
It was the spring of 2010 and I was still travelling between Spain and Estonia, thinking I would continue like this forever. I had a boyfriend, school, a job, a flat in Tallinn and a nice holiday escape in Altea, so I thought that it was quite a good situation I had created for myself… until...
One day suddenly (ok, not SO suddenly maybe) we decided to go our separate ways with the guy of that time, and I had quite a big drama going on... As you would, being 21 and all. So over many bottles of wine with my lovely girlies I decided (read with a slurred voice) yes, it is time for a big change. No more comfort zone, no more reasonable thinking, instead I'm going to move to Spain. Who cares that I don't know anyone there, I don't speak the language and I have no idea what I will do there. It sounds like a good plan.
Eminem style, with all my life in black bags, I ordered a van, sent it to Spain. Done. One good night of drinking wine and all life’s decisions are made.
It wasn't really like going on an adventure, I had my family there and I had been there many times before, but something still felt very different, because I was leaving FOR GOOD!
It felt sad to leave all my friends behind, but I knew that the good ones would stay and random ones would disappear (and I was right).
Another thing that felt really strange was that I wouldn’t have a home in Estonia anymore. I know many people who move to different countries, but are still leaving a house/flat behind, or have a family place to come and visit, but for me it was final. Nothing stayed behind.
I remember going to the airport, juggling with the 'should I put my straighteners in the check-in suitcase or hand luggage' question... And I thought it wouldn’t feel any different at the airport, but oh was I wrong. A one way ticket was a totally different story! I even had a little cry… Not a river, maybe just a tiny puddle. But I was happy and free.
Having a couple of encouraging gin tonics on the plane helped with the anxiety and the sore head from the leaving drinks with girls after Erki Fashion Show the night before – my first, but hopefully not last.
Arriving at Alicante airport. People working in the airport were so friendly and careless – not used to it, everyone in Estonia is so grumpy."Hola" here, and "Hola" there. I didn’t know many other words. ‘It will be so awkward' I was thinking... My parents and Ranko (my brother) came to pick me up and it was official - no turning back, I lived in Spain now.
My clothes had arrived a week earlier and my mum had sorted it all out in my wardrobe already (wow, how I missed living with mum haha). The house was lovely. Newly built semi-detached house on a mountain with a stunning sea view (a CV like the Spanish with not-so-great English describe it). Three floors and two terraces, all interior and exterior design by my mum. Can't complain, not at all.
The first two weeks I felt sick all the time since the house was so high in the mountains, it was a bit strange to breathe and driving along the curvy roads made my stomach twirl.
Then there was the heat. The average summer in Estonia is kind of like a bad skiing weather. The average summer in Altea feels like you have been sent to hell with a fur coat on. It took some time to get used to it. During summer time I would sleep with the bedroom terrace door open about 20 cm to get some air and so that my cat Beta could go in and out... Until one night, at around 3am (me, still awake watching Friends in bed, as you do) suddenly the door started slowly sliding open… I thought 'wow Beta is getting fatter and fatter', she can’t even fit through the door anymore. But when I looked up from Rachel and Ross definitely not being on a break, it was some dude staring at me in my bedroom! I jumped up, being all shocked, he turned around and ran away, while LAUGHING OUT LOUD. I don’t know why (Maria the Terminator), but I was running after him, he jumped down from the terrace like it was nothing (it was about 4m high). It was soooo scary. I ran and woke Ranko up telling him what had happened and we went to investigate. Everything seemed fine so we didn’t think about it much more that night. Ranko also gave me the nickname of Marianorld Schwarzenmets after my chashing after robbers, hahaaa.
Before going to sleep I pushed my desk in front of the terrace door and left it there for a while haha, no sleeping with the door open anymore. In the morning, we discovered that the guy had punctured all my mum’s car tyres – all 4 tyres had 11 holes in them. Exactly 11... OCD much?
The police thought it was a hate crime, as it was supposed to be quite usual there with “these stupid tourists move here, let’s ruin their cars, scare them and try to steal something”. There were a lot of cases of “keying the car” and spray painting "TOURISTS GO HOME OR DIE!" etc. around the Altea Hills area. Hopefully these people at least feel better after doing these stupid things (I hear things are much worse in Barcelona area!).
Everything with the weather was extreme in Spain – summer was extremely hot and winter was mild outside, but extremely cold indoors. Coming from a country where it can easily be -20 degrees outside on a winter’s day I couldn’t understand how can it can be SO COLD inside the house, when outside was 15-20 degrees (later I discovered the same in London)? And it wasn’t just us, “the stupid tourists”, the Spanish local people as well, it was freezing in their homes too. Everyone thinks it’s normal wearing a coat and gloves inside, and sometimes even a hat? Most of the houses have no heating at all, or if you have air con like we did – we experimented! We tried to get 21 degrees inside, I think we got to 20 degrees and received an 800 euro electricity bill as a bonus. It was impossible to keep warm, you can feel the wind inside the house when all doors and windows are closed. In the end, we discovered electrical blankets heat up our bed at least. And then I just spent most of the winter in bed because it was the only warm place to be – as I said I have never felt so cold in my life, even in Estonia.
One of the first official things you must do when moving to Spain is getting a NIE number (Número de Identidad de Extranjero), it is like a NI (National Insurance) in the UK. For tax purposes, you will need it to sort out most things. And it wasn’t easy I can tell you. I can’t remember, was it 4 or 5 times we had to go back to their office since there was always something wrong? I mean the NUMBER itself was fine. But mine said I’m from Lithuania, not Estonia. On my dad’s one, they put that he is a girl, and that he is 23 years old. All the time something, in the beginning all these things annoyed me so much I thought I’m going to explode! After three years I had adapted and didn’t care… Let’s think about it tomorrow, it is how it is and it doesn’t matter.
I thought that in Spain it was difficult getting a bank card – oh was I wrong! It was a piece of cake next to the UK banking jungle (so lucky to have Monese now). But still, all the systems are so old. This is where all the trees of the world go (this, and Bianca's notes) – you open an account and you get so many papers it’s heavy like a dictionary. Many banks still give you some weird cheque books, you don’t even get a card in the beginning. It is so crazy for me I can’t even handle writing about it. I joined Bancaja since it seemed that they were the most modern of all the banks. But for everything in Spain you must go to some office and queue. I know it’s like a joke that British love queuing too, but Estonians don’t.
It’s the 21st century, you should be able to pay your bills, not only online but also on your mobile. No wonder everything takes forever if everyone is queuing in banks, post offices and electricity companies every week for hours. I just found that everything that could be simple had been made so difficult and slow.
Another thing was buying a computer or a phone… it took ages, required a million different papers, then they were out of stock, then the next delivery would be next month… Then they need more papers (again!), then they couldn’t find my address in their system, then there was a problem at the bank then they didn't have internet at THE COMPANY THAT PROVIDES YOU WITH INTERNET.... I thought I was going to lose it.
I didn’t even live in Estonia anymore, but I bought a Mac Air online, signed my lease online, flew to Estonia, walked into Mac, said my name, got a big bag straight away ready behind the counter. I wasn’t in the store longer than 20 seconds. I’m afraid to think how much money all these companies in Spain are losing just because of all of the bureaucracy.
But to leave aside my complaining about the weirdness of how things work there... My biggest change was the oppurtunity of being outside.
Why are we all technology obsessed in Estonia? Because we are all the time indoors, it is freakin' cold outside!!! Now in Spain, I started spending every second of my day in fresh air, I even had my siestas outside. And I discovered how suddenly I didn't have time for social media or watching TV series’ on the computer. There was always something to do, somewhere to go - everyone is always outside not online. Now in London I'm back to the online life, as you may have noticed from this blog :)
Finally, I managed to sort out my paperwork and tech issues…But now what? ‘What am I supposed to do now’? I kept thinking. I was in a weird situation. I didn't drive. Never have, never will. I’ve been "lucky" to have been in countless accidents (okay, 7) caused by the other car, bus or taxi or animal or a drunk driver driving into mine (I was a passenger) that I’m terrified of other cars now. I can drive if everyone else promises to stay home that day...
And now I was living on top of a f-ing mountain. There was no way of walking that road and the taxis never made their way up there (and were as expensive as London's black cabs). Should I just start herding goats on the mountain top? And then there is this tiny issue of not speaking Spanish...
In the beginning, luckily I had saved a bit of money for the Spanish "intern" period of exploring and going out. I had three of my Estonian girlfriends working at a bar called La Bocana in a cute little Greenwich port in Altea. That was a good start for my professional bar hopper 'career'. It didn’t take long to make friends and... I wouldn’t call it blending in, but maybe having the feeling of being accepted by the locals.
I met so many interesting people from all over the world in those three years... From strippers to war veterans; from refugees to politicians; from musicians to engineers… The Alicante area was full of different nationalities and personalities. One of my friends had a very interesting question on a drunken hot summer night chilling in a hammock, sipping on some mojitos– 'all these foreigners together in one place, moved here, left their homes and families behind to start a new life… what are they running from? Why here? What’s the connection?'
It really made me think, and the same about my family and myself… why there and what was it all about?
I think it obviously has a lot to do with the climate and the lifestyle. A lot of people in Altea were from big metropolitan cities, like Moscow, London, New York, Buenos Aires etc. They all used to be so stressed, running around in the circle of life – work, home, work, home, work, home. I guess they (we) wanted something more from life, than just living to work. We wanted adventures and the Pura Vida lifestyle, we went looking for it, we didn’t just keep wishing and dreaming. That was what connected us all, that’s why it was so easy to make friends – everyone had gone through the same things as you when leaving home and coming to a place where they didn’t know anyone.
We went through good and bad with so many lovely people and I still stay in touch with many of them... I can count the best amigos on one hand, though. It seems to be a rule that from every country I get 5 close friends.
Many of our friends were also foreigners but had studied and worked in Spain for many years already, so most of them were fluent in Spanish by the time we met them and no one really understood why we weren't.
For me, it was a bit bizarre, where did they think that this Español will magically come from? I spoke Estonian with my family and only started speaking English with my new friends when I moved there, even English was new to me, and sleeping with the Spanish dictionary under my pillow didn’t work – I tried.
Since Ranko moved to Spain six months before me, he went to a Spanish school for some intense courses, a couple of months everyday for six hours. And they were just constantly talking in Spanish for the whole day. So he got the ear for it and since he already spoke five languages before, it wasn’t too difficult for him to understand it.
But my only practice was saying, “hi”, “goodbye” and “thank you”. I did also know how to order food in a restaurant and important and emergency words, but that was it. And all my Spanish friends used me more for teaching them English than the other way around. In the beginning, I did go to classes twice a week. But with having no practice in the meanwhile, it was totally useless. Yes, after three years, I understood most of it, when I read or watched a movie, but I have never had a proper conversation in Spanish. Where and with whom? Knowing how to talk about your neighbour walking his dog and what did you do on the weekend (what they teach you in the classes) is not really enough for nailing a job interview or having a conversation with a stranger or a newly made friend, is it!?
So more about work...Being in the website and digital marketing business with the slow Spanish internet did not help! If you come from Estonia, chances are you are a tech head and you are used to things being sorted out, fast and efficiently. Coming down from the usual Estonian speed of at least 200mbps was like the strongest punch in the stomach, I felt like I was in internet rehab. I started to feel sorry for the Spanish who have to deal with the paperwork that I was complaining about, if they needed to upload or download something it will REALLY take until mañana.
Our internet was supposed to be 10mbps, but in reality barely reached 8mbps. And in the beginning we paid 40 euros a month for it, but after 6 months they punish you for being a good customer and put it up to 80 euros a month. In Estonia you pay 30.99 euros for 400mbps (it’s not a mistake the extra 0, really 400 for 30euros). So you try to get used to that downgrade and have an online business with archaic internet… Impossible.
I know, I should’ve just gotten a bar job like all young people (one of the things I regret the most from my Spanish period) and I would've been fluent in Spanish in a month as well. But being a spoiled little brat I didn't want to work in a bar… How could I work in a bar? The Queen would be appalled! And how could I even get a job? Would Ranko have to take me and pick me up twice a day or four times a day if there is siesta? Or should I spend 100% of my salary on the taxi? No thanks, I’ll rather sit and wait, and do my own little freelance gigs here and there. After one and a half years, I’d had enough. Something had to change. I was used to going where I wanted, when I wanted and doing whatever I pleased.
How had I suddenly become a prisoner on a mountain in Spain? Me? The mighty night runner? Since my mum’s vision was also getting very bad (this was before she went totally blind), she couldn’t drive either and we decided it was time to move to a more central location. It was really affecting our lives, being stuck away from everything all the time. It was sad to leave the house behind and move into a flat though.
Moving is not an easy process in Spain. Many of the houses don’t have mailboxes, many of the houses don’t even have addresses. They changed the street name twice for the house where we lived previously (without telling us – one day I went out and there was a brand new sign with a totally different street name on it, how bizarre!). Anything important that comes up, it is time for a siesta, or if it’s the evening already it can always be done mañana. After three years there, living the stress-free life I turned to be the same.
But some things were still shocking - when we just moved in to the previous house, once someone came and switched our electricity off. Why? Because the newly built area didn't have proper addresses, nor mailboxes, so they thought instead of knocking on the door with the first electricity bill, emailing or calling, this would be the best thing to do... Send someone all the way from the company to switch our electricity off. Eventhough we were assured when moving in that all the bills go by direct debit and all is sorted. Soon after they of course promised to come to switch it back on straight away after the siesta... no one came... we called again... then they promised someone will come soon, then tomorrow, then next week - and all this time they thought it's totally normal being without electricity for a week!?!? And we were in year 2011 in EUROPE. Obviously my father went and did a super illegal thing and broke the lock and turned it back on, hahaha. And we waited and waited, just to see when will they think it is reasonable to come and fix their mistake... We waited for a really long time... finally the property owners wife who is a lawyer called the electricity company and then they started moving. Without my dad, we would've easily been a month without electricity, I surely wouldn't know how to turn it back on...
We had decided to move more central we hired some British moving dudes, they were really helpful and STRONG. But not as strong to carry my mum’s special order handmade cupboard (very important to keep our China in – this is me being ironic). We had to order a crane for them to take it from the 3rd-floor living room and to put it in the third floor new flat. It was quite expensive and my dad was not happy about it. As moving is always stressful we went to the new flat with mum to unpack and left Ranko and my dad to deal with the moving guys and packing stuff into the van. My mum and I realised that it had been quite a while since we had heard anything from the guys, so mum called them and asked 'what are you up to !?' The answer was simple – we are playing ping pong with the moving guys :D I thought my mum’s eyes were going to pop out like in a cartoon!
My dad explained that he made a deal with the moving guys that if they win they can keep the ping pong table to themselves, but if my dad wins they take the special cupboard to the new place for free. One of the movers said that he was in prison in the UK and played ping pong for years every day so my dad had no chance. Long story short, my dad did have a chance and we got ourselves a big discount from the movers haha!
Amazing how the siesta and mañana had rubbed off on my father and Ranko already, playing ping pong in the middle of the busy moving day, hahaa. Would never happen in Estonia.
It was lovely finally moving somewhere more central! I felt like only then my real Spanish life started since I was able to go everywhere, anytime.
Next (and the final story in my Living in Spain series!) will be about the 'Finally released from the mountain prison' period!