The Writing’s On The Wall…

When I got back from Key West a couple of weeks ago, I found this wedged into my bathroom window:

"For Sale or For Rent"

“For Sale or For Rent”

Although I didn’t know the sign was going to be there, it wasn’t exactly a huge surprise. While we were on our Christmas break together in Lisbon, I told (my landlady) Sofía that I was planning on leaving Toledo this spring. She said she would put up the place for sale very soon, because it would probably take ages to shift it.

Ever since Spain’s construction bubble burst its overbloated, bribe-infested guts in 2008, selling property has become extremely difficult. The same goes for finding tenants. With a youth unemployment rate of around 55%, young people have little choice but to keep living with their parents. Forever.

The local housing situation is probably worst in Toledo old town, which, although of overwhelming rustic beauty, is very inconvenient for daily living, to put it mildly. Car access is restricted, parking (even a bike) is virtually impossible, the internet is excruciatingly slow, noise travels like through a megaphone, burst water pipes are a monthly occurrence. And let’s not talk about the horrors of cockroach season. In its glorious past as Spain’s capital, Toledo’s historic centre was home to 30,000 people. The present headcount is around 9,000 and dwindling.

When I moved here in 2011, I knew that Toledo wasn’t going to be my home forever. I was reluctant to move to a big city first off, because I didn’t want to get sucked into the parallel universe that is the expat community. My prime objective for moving to Spain was (and is) to learn Spanish, a feat more easily achieved in a small-ish town with few foreigners skipping about. And this strategy has, on the whole, worked quite well for me.

My linguistic obsessions aside, I’ve been finding it hard to build a satisfying life for myself in Toledo. Having said that, I’ve made a bunch of lovely friends here, I certainly don’t want to poo-poo that.

Essentially, what it boils down to, is this: I miss London. Or maybe not London per se, but what it represents: A bustling capital, where the whole world is at home. I miss having an extensive array of cultural and educational offerings and, even more importantly, convenient access to food from all over the planet right on my doorstep. Toledo may have the most succulent tortillas, the tastiest hams, the most flavoursome of (Manchego) cheeses, the smokiest of picante chorizo….

…but every once in a while, all I want is  some decent sushi. Or proper Chinese food from northern China, not that generic gloopy pap that is served up in Chinese restaurants all over the world (except in China). I want a curry that’s actually HOT. I want grocery shops that sell coconut milk, brown basmati rice, soba noodles, rice crackers, pitch-black German wholegrain bread. I want a cake that’s not a flippin’ muffin or a brownie.

Also, I feel the need to connect with a small handful of expats like myself. The blogs are great, but they only go so far. I miss speaking German with people who are not my family. I want to speak REAL English with a Brit who shares my set of cultural (UK) references and unsanitary vocab. I need people who understand, on an emotional as well as on a practical level, what it’s like to move countries.

Some of you may vaguely remember a post I wrote almost a year ago, contemplating Barcelona as my next destination. Well, after a lot of umming and ahing, I decided against it. Why? Because it’s not compatible with The Prime Directive, i.e. getting to grips with Spanish good and proper. Although Castilian Spanish is, according to what I’ve been told, sufficient for navigating Barcelona, it is the capital of Catalonia, and the official language there is Catalan. If you’ve been watching the news, you will know that the whole issue is politically very sensitive. I might well encounter situations where people in Barcelona will reply to me in English rather than in Castilian. I’ve consulted with my besieged brain, and it threatened me,  in no uncertain terms, with a permanent nervous breakdown if assaulted by yet another language.

To be honest, I simply lack the motivation right now to pour tons of effort into learning a “boutique” language spoken by so few people, but it would bug me no end if I couldn’t understand the signs and conversations around me, and if, when out with a group of local friends, they’d be forced to switch languages in order to include me in their conversation. It would make me feel like I was right back at square one, and after having worked so hard at it over the past couple of years.

So, Madrid it is. It may not be as beautiful as Barcelona, and there’s not a beach in sight, but it offers a number of advantages, besides speaking the right language. For instance:

  • It is close to Toledo (just 80km away), so I will still be able to see my friends fairly regularly. They like going to Madrid for things like exhibitions, food, cinema.
  • My Portuguese teacher, who I’m growing rather fond of, also teaches in Madrid, so I can keep up my lessons with her. Besides, I shouldn’t have any trouble finding some willing Portuguese bods in Madrid for language intercambios. I’ve not managed to find anyone in Toledo.
  • Most of my friends in Toledo have lived in Madrid and some are actually from there, so I can tap them for local knowledge and contacts.
  • Madrid has excellent public transport connections to the rest of Spain (and, of course, the rest of the world). I don’t have a car, and I detest driving, so this is a huge plus point.

I’m in no immediate rush to move, but I’d like to be out of here before the beginning of July. I need to do my research… I’m looking for an affordable neighbourhood which has character, but isn’t too grubby.

Do any of you happen to know any Madrid-based bloggers I could cyber-stalk?

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92 thoughts on “The Writing’s On The Wall…

  1. Expat Eye

    Madrid is SO much more beautiful than Barcelona – one of the most over-rated cities in Europe, if not THE WORLD! You’ve reasoned everything out perfectly well – I’m sure you’ll be happy there! Nice German thinking in deciding which Spanish city to move to 🙂 I thought they were selling your apartment out from under you when I first saw the sign!! At least you’ll have a bit of time to faff 🙂

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      I know you’re a Madrid fan… I’m not 100% sold on it as a city, but I felt like that about London before I moved there. I think it deserves a chance. I’ll probably be whining about it endlessly in my blog posts 😉

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  2. Anna

    I dont know any Madrid bloggers but I lived there and loved it. There is a great Chinese restaurant uptown near an excellent movie theater that plays all the international releases. OMG I cannot WAAAAIT till you move there 🙂 Also, I might be popping to Barcelona at some point this year or next…

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      1. Jennifer Avventura

        It’s not easy for my Italian husband however. It was SO much easier for me to get regulated in Italy! All we had to do was get married. In Canada they want photographic proof, billions of documents and applications and they even want to know if my husband has ever bought me gifts!

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      2. ladyofthecakes Post author

        Ah, I didn’t realise your husband was Italian.

        Nosy authorities 😦 I’ve always wondered how that works… they seem to be out for ‘proof’ that a romantic relationship exists. But what if you had a different cultural background, your marriage was arranged, you didn’t know each other before you got married, and gift-giving just wasn’t part of your culture? A different set of procedural/approval guidelines must exist….

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  3. June

    Have you considered Seville at all? We didn’t get to Madrid on our travels but we both loved Seville. It has a large university which attracts international students and so it has quite a cosmopolitan vibe. It has an absolute ton of restaurants. It’s close to Portugal, has amazing weather and is really stunningly beautiful. Best of luck, wherever you choose!

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    1. tobyo

      teveoenmadrid.wordpress.com

      she’s from Murcia originally but has lived in Madrid a while and knows lots. if you don’t know of this blog already. you’re welcome 🙂

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      1. tobyo

        while not a pastry per se, I ADORED trufas! not sure if they’re sold all over Spain but I ate them regularly when I was in Madrid. chocolatey yumminess 😉

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  4. tobyo

    well that was an interesting read!! when you said you wanted a big city my first thought was “why not Madrid?” but hey, London is alright too and I was thinking that’s where you were going to move. and then BOOM! at the end you said you’ve moving to Madrid. YIPPEE!!! one of my favorite cities in the world!! I know that Kaley of ymuchomas.com lives in Madrid if you don’t know of her already. although she is fairly new to Madrid, she still might have ideas for you. I think you made a good choice. yay!!!

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  5. pollyheath

    That’s so exciting! Congrats on making the decision to go on to bigger and better places. (May I request you get a two bedroom so you’ll have a nice bed for me to sleep in when I come visit ;)?)

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  6. Claire Duffy

    I don’t know anything about Madrid at all, but wanted to commend you on a great post which really hit home with me. Being an ex pat is a double sided coin at times, it’s incredible to have the opportunity to build a life somewhere that really suits us, but on the other hand can be scary when nowhere is perfect and you can tie yourself up in knots. So I think you’re being really brave to have thought through exactly what you want out of life at the moment and figured out where might best provide it – good luck!!

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Hi there and thanks for your kind comment 🙂
      I wish I had it all figured out, lol, all I know is that I’ve come to the end of this particular piece of the path, where I’m finding the experience slightly more draining than rewarding. Madrid won’t be perfect, and it’ll be very hard work in the beginning. I’m scared of that… more than a little…

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      1. Andean

        When a path is more draining than not isn’t it time to start anew…? And there ain’t nothing wrong with
        baby steps… I’m watching for an escape route to Barcelona and that’s only for some much needed sun, warmth and NO precipitation. !Nada!

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  7. con jamón spain

    Your journey continues and we’ll keep reading. It brought a lump to our throats – the London bit – but as long as one can keep flying back and forth it all works out in the end, doesn’t it?

    Madrid is great (and agree about Barcelona being over-rated by Expat Eye) so look forward to the next adventure. Truly one of the best blogs around – that doesn’t have plugs for mates’ businesses masquerading as ‘posts’ (not that we’ve spotted anyway!).

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Aw, thanks for your lovely words – they sure brought a lump to my throat 😉

      Re. plugs…. I just had an email from a well-known pizza company, asking if I would put a link to them on my blog. And it wasn’t traditional spam, but a one-off email in response to a post where I had mentioned them. Why the hell would I give a multimillion dollar company free advertising?!? Baffling, this…

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  8. Karolyn Cooper

    Never been to Madrid, but it sounds great. And I know what you mean about being in an international city. I loved the feeling in Shanghai that I was in the centre of things. Bangalore felt like a place on the edge of the room where you couldn’t quite hear what was being said at the front.
    London of course is still wonderful. I did two of the things you mention today – bought coconut milk in the morning, ate an authentic lunch in a Chinese restaurant. Yesterday I bought cakes from a new French patisserie on Marylebone High Street to eat after my walk round Regent’s Park. Am I tempting you back?

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  9. wannabe polyglot

    Yay for staying in Spain! I think it’s a good call all around. The bigger city will be nice and still close enough to your friends. Sounds perfect.
    Funny about us expats though, isn’t it? Never settled and while we want local, native friends we still crave a fellow expat who truly gets us. My best friend here is South African and we just get each other. I can honestly say I didn’t really feel settled until I met her. I’ve made friends pretty quickly and while I love them dearly, I have a hard time relating to someone who has only managed to travel as far as LA for a weekend.

    Also why is there a CD hanging of your bathroom bars?

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Totally agree. I think if you’re a complex being with many facets, you need a good mix of friends to find all of them reflected somewhere and to satisfy your innate need to be understood. Glad to hear you found someone you really click with 🙂

      I think it’s to put the damn pigeons off nesting…

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  10. Bernard O'Shea

    Hi, this was a very interesting piece. You have done wonders as a tourist ambassador for Toledo! I notice the real estate agent’s numbers on your window are mostly obliterated by the burglar bars, so it will take even longer to sell. Your bathroom must be quite dark with that sign on the window now. It is hard in any country, I think, to find the right balance between parochial and cosmopolitan. Small towns and big cities have their pros and cons, it’s rare to find the best of both worlds in one place. But all your thoughts sounded very sensible, so go for it. No self-doubts now, OK! All the best for the big changes ahead. Cheers, Bernardo 🙂

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  11. TBM

    Dang I thought you were going to say you were coming back to London and I thought we could pursue the spotted dick together. Haven’t been to Madrid, but here it’s lovely. And I could only imagine its much more cosmopolitan than Toledo. Best of luck wit everything.

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  12. Lynda

    I have no opinions here, as I know nothing about it. I will say that I look forward to seeing where you land, and and enjoying all of your fun and interesting photographs. 🙂

    Loved your visit here, even if we never actually got to meet each other, your posts were delightful!

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      The head knows… now I just need to follow through… that’s the hard part!

      I already speak one boutique language, but seeing as it’s my mother tongue, I wasn’t conscious of all the effort that went into it….

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  13. barbedwords

    Madrid Moaner sounds great, I hope you go with that one. Good luck finding accommodation/work etc in Madrid, sounds like it could be lots of fun. It’s so interesting reading about your decision making process about where to live as we’re going through the same at the moment thinking about when we leave Italy next year. Although, after ten minutes of going around in circles, getting very stressed and confused, we usually just give up and open a bottle of wine…

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      1. barbedwords

        I think it will be UK, although probably not to where we lived before as several friends have been flooded over the last week! Our main source of stress is schools. A couple of friends are home-schooling to get around this problem but I don’t think I have the right disposition for that!!

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  14. Kathleen

    My dear Toledana friend! I am just getting back to blogging and am beyond thrilled that you have chosen Madrid… we will be neighbors again at last!! I can’t wait to read more! 🙂 Madrid will fill the voids that you are seeking!! And I don’t know who told you Madrid is expensive but I pay less in rent (by 10euros/month) and and less in gastos (sobre todo luz… by almost 300euros/month or more particularly in the winter) I know that sounds crazy but I am being 100% serious… My electricity bills were outrageously high in Toledo and I thought it was a Spanish thing but no… just a Toledo thing. I do miss the casco antiguo though… I will have to come back for a lunch at La Malquerida with a cafe at La Pepa…. Hope all is well… I’m catching up with you via blog poco a poco! Can’t wait to read more and look forward to having you in Madrid!

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Oh my, you are alive!!! And, even better, getting back to blogging – I’m delighted 😉

      Well, that sounds terribly encouraging re. gastos and alquiler, let’s hope I’ll find a barrio I like and I can afford, which isn’t too far out. Any tips welcome.

      We might actually manage to meet up one of those days. Once I get to Madrid for sure!

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