Living Abroad in Spain
True Expatriate Stories
© Nikki Weinstein, from Living Abroad in Spain, 1st Edition.
Used by permission of Avalon Travel Publishing. All rights reserved.
The moment I set foot into Spain, I was enamored with the place. The ham was to-die-for good, the streets were twisted, cobbled, and charming, and the museums were some of the best I’d seen—but what really got me were the people. On my first morning in Spain, the friend with whom I was traveling and I emerged from a metro station, bewildered and squinting at a city map. Strangers helped us with directions and people engaged us in conversation, praising our weak Spanish skills and offering tips on what to see while we were in the city. After a few days filled with such experiences, I was hooked on the country.
That first trip was nearly a decade ago, and in the following years I’d loudly insist to people that I’d move to Madrid . . . eventually, but the truth is I never really thought that I would. However, when I quit my job at a magazine to begin freelance writing fulltime, I realized that if I was going to make a move, I’d have to do it then or I likely never would. Looking at it that way, the decision wasn’t so hard, and within months I was set up in Madrid.
While moving to Spain was one of the best decisions I’ve made, it wasn’t as easy as I had expected—especially in the beginning. My language mix-ups ranged from the hilarious to the frustrating, and it was a few months before I felt comfortable leaving home without a translation dictionary. Contrary to the image some people have of living overseas, I didn’t land in some movie-set version of Spain in which I spend my days wandering through sun-dappled olive groves. I ended up in a real place that’s now full of friends and neighborhoods that I’ve come to know well. It’s a place where I’ve grown to know by name the guy who sells me a newspaper every morning, where I spend summer evenings over beers and tapas in local plazas, and where I find myself staying out until dawn more often than I ever had before.
Today, my map of Madrid no longer looks like the one I pulled out when I first arrived in the city. Mine is far more personal and it’s constantly changing. Its landmarks are beloved restaurants, favorite hangouts, and friends’ homes rather than historical monuments and museums. Madrid’s layout no longer bewilders me because it’s now my city. It’s where I live. It’s finally home. And as I’ve settled into life in Spain, I’ve discovered something I didn’t expect. Living abroad, when you come right down to it, is life as usual—it just happens somewhere else.
Nikki first went to Spain when she was 20 years old. She arrived in the country on an overnight train and as soon as she bit into her first jamón sandwich, she knew she was home.
Against her instincts, Nikki returned to the United States, graduated from Kenyon College, and moved to New York City. She made multiple trips back to Spain, and at 28, decided to move to Madrid. Once she settled in, Nikki made a valiant attempt to try every restaurant in town and practice yoga in Spanish (note: the word om remains the same) and was witness to a traditional pig slaughter.
She enjoyed spinning her lunches into lengthy, multi-course affairs and leaving town for weekend trips whenever she could. On past excursions, she skied Sierra Nevada, took in the Semana Santa procession in Seville, discovered Basque Country’s incredible surf, and experienced sheer terror when she learned to drive a stick shift car on a winding, hilly road outside Madrid.
Nikki started her career at CBS News and has contributed written pieces and commentary to NPR. She’s written on everything from mock rockers to real rockers, travel to urban bird watching. She now divides her time between Madrid and New York City and continues to write about Spain.