I want to write a piece on the country itself. I went there only for four months so it’s hard to experience a lot in that time. However, this country certainly makes an impression and is one of the most popular destinations amongst Europeans, for a holiday and even for a more permanent move.
I went there for an Erasmus and found out that there are some advantages aswell as some things you have to be careful with when away from home.
It is hard enough getting all your papers in order but for students from abroad who require visas and cannot go back to see their parents at Christmas for example due to the high plane-flight costs, it can be very mentally challenging. I’m not trying to dissuade anyone from going to Spain as it is a very nice destination and I definitely fell in love with some aspects of it, but it is always good to consider if you are good at adapting to foreign environments. If you’re going alone as I did, it can be socially challenging trying to make new friends and I met a few people who struggled with mental health problems while abroad. For us Europeans, it’s perhaps a little bit easier living in the land of the bull.
Let’s discuss the weather. Having been to Spain before, I knew what to expect but the south is indeed hotter than you can imagine, especially in summer. I went in the winter period and I found I didn’t really need a jumper very much until about December. Sometimes it would rain but this was nice because it made a change – still the temperature outside would be warm when this happened. Overall, the weather is perhaps the best part of being in Spain.
I found Spanish people to have a lot of traditions and to be quite certain of themselves. They had a good sense of fashion but could also have a wild streak whereby they could dress very casually. I felt quite at home with this as it is a known fact that British people like Spain very much and I have spent the majority of my life in England. Of course, there is more behind the surface of this nation, but the love of uniform, kings & queens, and protocol is well understood by us Brits. What the Spanish people have, that the British don’t, is a looser sense of time. They can be several hours late and this is quite acceptable. It must be the hot climate that makes them so blasé and that attracts Italian Erasmus students, who must see it as an easy way to travel without a significant change in the climate or happy-go-lucky attitude that the two countries share.
I managed to find a graph that was released by ESN (Erasmus Student Network) in Cordoba. It shows that in the first semester it had 222 Italian registrations, 71 German, 45 French, 29 Poles, 16 from the United Kingdom (which would have included me although they mistakenly put me down as Irish!), 14 from Argentina, 12 from Turkey, 10 from South Korea and the Netherlands, 9 form Belgium, 8 from Slovakia and Mexico, 5 from Denmark and Brazil, and 4 from the Czech Republic and USA. So you can see just from this organisation’s statistics, where Erasmus students came from. I had a few Colombian friends aswell.
I tried the local Cordobese delicacy, cow’s tongues, as a tapas and it was surprisingly tasty – a little chewy with a distinct meaty texture. I accidentally bought it one day in a can whilst shopping and didn’t realise what I was eating but got used to its taste. Supermarkets sell fruit very cheaply as opposed to Poland for example who import a lot. I found the prices of food and drink to be similar to England’s and eating out was possible due to reasonable prices. With every drink you bought, it is traditional in most of Spain, to receive a snack on a plate (tapas) which you can choose off a menu. It ties in with Spanish love of going out in the evening to eat with friends and talk about life. In fact, you will often see entire families sitting outside on road-side tables after 9pm. This is made possible by the pleasant temperatures at that time as well as the long-held siesta tradition. At 2pm most shops, banks, and some supermarkets close until 6pm. This allows workers to have a rest during the hottest time of the day but afterwards daily life continues as normal. I am used to going sleep late so this culture very much suited me and I loved going out late sometimes for a breath of air and seeing all the Spaniards enjoying a meal.
In some ways Spain is a strange country. It doesn’t seem to care that the economy is not the best, nor that unemployment levels are at some of the highest in decades – they just want to have a good time like the fun-loving nation they are but currently they are undergoing a crisis. When I was there they were holding the fourth election in four years because their politicians simply cannot agree on a majority government. Surprisingly, I saw protests concerning the Catalonian region which is very far from Córdoba and this is an issue which at some point will have to be resolved by them, hopefully through dialogue and compromise rather than through force.
I myself was lucky enough to register online to make a vote towards the parliamentary elections taking part in Poland on the 13th October 2019 and I chose to do so in Málaga as there was no polling stations in Córdoba. Málaga is a charming city by the sea. It has all the joy one would want from a sea-side abode – where the sun seems brighter, and the Spanish spirit seems stronger, maybe because in our consciousness we westerners think of chilling out by the ocean on a Spanish holiday. Here I met one Polish lady who had moved to Spain and was living in Granada with her Moroccan husband and children. I imagine there are quite a few Poles living in Spain, and I must admit to thinking about this idea myself – it’s got history, romance and promises the simple life (although surely it can’t be as easy as that!). In Málaga I visited the ancient castle from where you can take great photos. You can also wander along the promenade of the port until you get to the stony beach. Or you can go the opposite direction and get to a sandy beach as night sets in. There’s nothing quite like it.
Spanish streets are filled with little corners, stairs to unknown destinations, and sometimes a doorway barred off through which you can peek into someone’s shadowy and cool courtyard where are laid out many plants and flowers of vibrant green and red colours. Often, Muslim influence is noticeable and is a vital part of the architecture. The arches and patterns of the Moors, who once controlled most of Spain, remain and this style is embraced by the Spanish (especially in the south) who have that blood running in their veins. Their dark complexions and dark hair all point towards a mixture of European and Arab bloodlines which makes their women particularly beautiful and adds a hint of mystery to them – a quality of foreignness perhaps or a spark, which fuels their passion and power, and which have made them a very proud people. They do not fight who they are but this doesn’t mean they do not fight among themselves. The country is continuously fighting an internal struggle probably since the fall of its mighty empire which was one of the biggest in human history thanks to their colonising South America. Although the good times have gone, you feel that the Spanish will never allow anyone to completely defeat them.
I would have never thought I’d be going on Erasmus to España, to the heart of Andalucia, a place already close to my heart as I have been several times to Granada and the Sierra Nevada mountains in the past. This time, I also had the pleasure of visiting the Leon region north-west of the capital Madrid (which is on my bucket list) where we explored the Gothic-renniasiance city of Salamanca. I found it to hold so many stories that I gave up documenting everything by camera and instead tried to enjoy the town. It might be compared a little bit to Kraków as it has tourists as well as a lot of students and plenty of little shops and old buildings.
Spain is a place that cannot be written about in two pages. I have just put down what I could remember from my short 4-month stay. I visited for example the town of Ronda on a hilltop, where the Romero family developed the art of bull-fighting to what it is today. The famous German poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote „I have sought everywhere the city of my dreams, and I have finally found it in Ronda” and „Nothing is more startling in Spain than this wild and mountainous city.” Every place had its tales and unique story. In Setenil, we found restaurants made from caves, in Cádiz, a wind battered city located on an island almost on the edge of Spain, but which was thousands of years old. And there is life in it yet. Spain is undergoing something of a Christian revival with two new churches opening every three weeks, and there are now 4,045 houses of worship, according to an article from 2018. Young people need the gospel, having given themselves over to postmodern materialism and hedonism. They distrust organized religion. Their lifestyle is based more on experience. Pope Benedict XVI visited Spain three times and had some of the biggest crowds in his entire papacy there. This says a lot. Spanish people may not have a very good church attendance but they will happily turn out to see a Christian procession especially in Holy Week. I saw a few of these in Córdoba, with roads blocked off with Police and more than 10 figures of the Virgin Mary carried by very smartly-dressed Spaniards.
I know I will definitely come back again as there is still so much to see…Madrid, Seville, Santiago de Compostela, Bilbao, Toledo, Avila, Zaragoza…the list is so long and, what’s more, I plan to better comprehend the second most spoken language (by 6% of the world’s population) when I do!
by Anthony Brodowski