Monday, 21 March 2011

Tales of a Brit Abroad turns one today

When I started my blog a year ago today, I had certainly given the idea of blogging plenty of thought, but I can't claim that I was remotely prepared. Sitting in my bedroom in Madrid one Sunday evening, I finally decided to start a blog: half an hour later the first post was online. Vaguely conceived as a way to keep my friends and family in the UK informed of my expat life and an opportunity to delve further into travel writing, in the days that followed I was pleased to get some positive feedback and even a few followers.

One year on, thanks to promotion via Twitter and Travel Blog Exchange, my blog now reaches far more people than my long-suffering and kindly indulgent loved ones and has opened more doors than I could have imagined. I now write regularly for The Travel Belles, and have also contributed to the Manchester Evening News, East magazine, Trourist and mTrip, among other publications. My snap decision to record my travels online has proven a very rewarding one: my only regret is that I didn't begin sooner, describing my move from Oxford to Madrid and my first six months in the Spanish capital.

It's from a different bedroom that I write today's blog post: I'm now resident in Oxford again. After a year in Madrid, I returned to the UK in August 2010. Readjusting to life in my home country was harder than I had imagined; waking up to dull drizzle rather than the cloudless summer sky and scorching heat of Madrid was disheartening, the coffee was too weak and milky, the prices of public transport too high. My compatriots seemed less approachable, more stressed. Open air swimming pools, tapas crawls and terrazas de verano, the mainstays of my recent existence, were all a thing of the past. I had to remove my rose-tinted gafas and remind myself that the joys of my final months in Madrid weren't entirely reflective of the experience as a whole. Settling into a new job is always challenging, but when combined with an international move, it's even more daunting and takes far more time. Even tougher than getting used to longer working hours and my company's creative approach to forward planning, I was surprised to find it difficult to adjust to life in Madrid. Although I had only spent two weekends in the capital before emigrating, I had enjoyed every moment of my visits and naively imagined that, tiny teething problems aside, daily life would be a doddle and I'd soon slip back into the rhythms of Spain. I hadn't counted on Madrid moving at a rather different pace to my beloved Seville.

Never having lived in a capital before, I hadn't anticipated just how wearing the whirl of a big city's daily business can be sometimes. With my conception of Spanish life shaped in the considerably more laid-back south, the constant motion of Madrid came as a shock. Yes, lunches were still long and nights were still late, but this was not Spain as I knew it. The crowds around Sol and Gran Via frustrated me and sent me running for the metro home, the marcha of super clubs like Pacha and Joy was too much for me. The traffic seemed relentless and inescapable; pretty pedestrianized backstreets a rarity. After a few months, I was surprised to hear myself say 'I just don't like Madrid very much'. Where had my Spanish dream gone so wrong?

Each person's experience of living in the same city is completely different. While most of my fellow expat friends were revelling in Madrid's delights, I still felt lukewarm about it. In a bid to settle in to my surroundings and enjoy my time abroad, I set out on mission 'get to like Madrid'. Now that I had a blog on which to record my experiences and readers awaiting the next instalment of my adventures, I had no excuses not to experience everything the city has to offer. Evenings and weekends were spent exploring the city and its surroundings, testing out restaurants and bars, visiting its many barrios, its parks and its monuments. I can't pinpoint the moment my feelings changed, but gradually they did: Madrid began to grow on me. I slowly learned to love hanging out in the multicultural, gloss-free neighbourhood of Lavapies and its excellent curry houses, I enjoyed shaking up the stuffy atmosphere of barrio Salamanca over post-office drinks with my workmates, I delighted in escaping the weekend crowds by swapping the Retiro park for the wilder Casa de Campo. In short, I found my Madrid.

A Madrilenya of sorts

In the end, leaving wasn't easy. Throwing in the towel halfway through the year might have seemed like a good idea at one point, but I'm incredibly glad I persevered and grew to appreciate Madrid for what it is: a bustling, modern metropolis; a grand old city of famous art galleries and traditional tabernas; an international melting pot; a vibrant destination where the marcha never stops, it only has a siesta; a series of barrios with their own distinct identity but a thread of similarity. Madrid has many layers, and I'm pleased to say that my year there taught me to appreciate most of them. It may not be my first Spanish love, but our relationship certainly taught me plenty of lessons and left me with some lasting memories.

Enjoying Madrid's winter sun

Although I'm not a Brit abroad at the moment, I have no doubt my expat days are far from over. In the meantime, I hope to keep Tales of a Brit Abroad going with tales of my trips overseas, as well as the guest blogger series which has taught me and my readers about life in towns and cities as diverse as Singapore, Wellington and Cesky Krumlov. Thank you for reading and supporting my blog in its first year, and I hope you continue to enjoy it for years to come.


  1. Great post. It was great reading how hard it was to adjust to life in Oxford following your stint in Madrid. My husband and I have thought many times of returning to the UK (after 10 years in laid-back Seville) and your thoughts just confirmed all my fears; I'm sure it would be a painful adjustment. Maybe I will just hang out here a bit longer ;-)

  2. Thanks! I moved to London first, and it was just too much for me, even after getting used to living in a big city. Oxford's much more relaxed, but even so it's nothing like Seville! I imagine it would be very difficult after 10 years - definitely better to stay :)

  3. I just don't see how anyone can live away for so long from here then move back.

    The weather would but me on a constant downer.

  4. Well, I did it and I'm managing OK! The weather wasn't exactly perfect in Madrid, there were plenty of cold and rainy days in autumn, winter and even early spring. I am affected by the weather in the UK, but there were more important factors for me to consider when making the move.

  5. Fair point. I mean, apart the weather, we have a better standard of life in almost every department.


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