Expat in Spain – Part 1

Just boarded. Ready to hit the high seas.


The Trans-Atlantic Crossing

In September 2014, we boarded a massive cruise ship – the largest of its kind (at the time) where we spent 12 nights on a trans-Atlantic voyage from Fort Lauderdale to Barcelona on a floating city called: Oasis of The Seas.

The 13 day-crossing was serene and calm. Barely a ripple on the sea for the entire cruise. And the ship was insane. It’s now a blur of ice skating, swimming, gyming, eating, drinking, games, surf simulators, zip lines, a diving show, and a Broadway show (Hairspray).  The boys were deposited at The Kid’s Club which was so cool that they never wanted to leave. Not even to sleep! A win for everyone.

Middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Trans-Atlantic crossing. September 2014
Out in the blue. Middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
Coming through Estrecho de Gibraltar. Lights of Tangiers, Morocco in the distance.
Strait of Gibraltar. Africa in the distance.

When we arrived on terra firma 11 days later in Málaga, Spain.  We were well-rested and antsy to explore. Maybe not the boys, they would’ve happily stayed on board and gone to Kids Club. Every few days the Captain would announce our entrance into a new time zone and the ships’ clocks would gain an hour.  The time change throughout the crossing was a subtle hour at a time as we slipped effortlessly into Central European Time.

I can remember walking around the Old City of Málaga. My first steps in Spain. Taking in the language, the cobblestoned pedestrian streets, and the giant legs of Pata Negra prominently displayed in the carnicerias and restaurants. I couldn’t know then that Málaga would become my main Spanish portal and that Andalucia would soon become my beloved home for eight years.

After a delicious Spanish lunch – a cultural Spanish practice that I would soon perfect. We boarded the monster ship again and headed to Barcelona. Our final destination and a city that was meant to be our home for the next ten months. We lasted five.

Màlaga Old Town
Old Town Màlaga


We moved to Barcelona, sight unseen. I’d never even been to Spain. My husband had been to Barcelona as a teen and his only memory was getting robbed on the beach in Barceloneta after a night of partying.

My sister-in-law had spent the last year there and found us an apartment in Turó Parc. An upscale apartment neighborhood nestled to the west of Gràcia and south of Sarrià. Just a jump off Avinguda Diagonal and within walking distance to most of the popular sites. Barcelona is an easy-walking city. You can effortlessly walk your way through the intricate barrios and find yourself on the edge of the city– depending on what your range is. Mine is typically about 3 Kilometres in one direction. So, I could walk almost everywhere, and take the metro or a taxi if I got lazy or wanted to venture further.  Which means, a taxi. If you’ve read other posts then you know that I hate the Metro – in any city. We also had a car which I used for school runs and after-school sports. Parking was a nightmare.

So, we arrive at our new flat in Turó Parc, it’s early. We’re all a bit cagey. The boys are 9, 7, and 6. Ethan is just a few days shy of his eighth birthday. He wants to go back to the ship. The kids are not in their best form. Rob and I are telepathically communicating through rapid glances and wide eyes at one another. We are in sync and we’re both wondering what the fuck we’ve done.

We’ve left our Caribbean paradise in the Bahamas and moved our three feral Island boys to a maniacally busy European city. We are in deep.

Ethan proceeds to march around the apartment. Which is surprisingly spacious considering where we are. It’s actually quite nice. But also disgustingly filthy. There is a deep blanket of dust on everything. Apparently, the cleaners messed up our arrival date. Our first of thousands of lost in-translation messages that we’d encounter over the next nine years.

Ethan finishes his inspection of the premises and announces:

This is the worst hotel we’ve ever been to.

At this point, I have no other choice but to shatter his little soul.

Honey, this isn’t a hotel. This is our new home.

E stares at me for a brief moment and then his sweet face crumples.  I force a half-assed smile and watch as he bursts into tears. Rob and I try not to laugh. We also feel a bit bad. The kids are so ill-prepared. It’s our fault.

Day One

Day one was definitely a shocker. We had been ex-pats for years at this stage. But this move to Barcelona was a bold undertaking. Our boys had never lived anywhere other than The Bahamas. They knew about Island life and summer holidays in Canada, in the woods. They were bubble wrapped and feral. Spoiled by infinite amounts of space. Use to large gardens where they chased lizards through the winter, and caught frogs in the summer. They were water babies. Little free divers from an early age who swam before they could walk. They were not city kids. They had zero street smarts and no comprehension of traffic.

All of this was beginning to dawn on us. Our typical no-plan plan needed some kind of plan. As this was all sinking in we realized we had no bedding or towels. My sister-in-law had nabbed some furniture for us from another ex-pat family. But we hadn’t thought about linens. We’d also hopped the pond light. Coming with only one suitcase each. There also wasn’t a scrap of tissue to be found anywhere in the flat. We needed to get our shit together. Literally. And start to hit the ground running.

We found one of many neighborhood cafes to feed the boys. We plied them with something called Cola Cao. Which is a Spanish toxic waste dump version of chocolate milk. They loved it — fabulous that kids are fickle like that. Found a market for some staples.

In our infinite wisdom, Rob and I decided to wait till the evening to go to IKEA.  Thinking it would be quieter. Of course, it was another clueless move and we learned a little something about Spanish people and the hours they keep –they like to do things in the evening. Shopping included. IKEA was heaving on a random Saturday night in September.

This new bit of frustration came after kicking it old school to find IKEA. Our rental car was basic. No GPS/SAT NAV and we didn’t have data on our phones. So I map read to get us there. Remember, when we had to read maps? Well, thank Christ, we don’t do that anymore. The map was outdated and I directed us down every dead-end street in the greater Barcelona area. We also got a refresher course in European street grids – they don’t exist. Europe is a flurry of one-way streets and roundabouts.

We succeeded in getting all our necessary linens and a bunch of other IKEA shit that nobody ever needs. I think we even ate the damn meatballs because weirdly they seemed familiar. Fish out of water is an understatement. Day one and we were already flailing. It was also becoming abundantly obvious that the Dominicana Street Spanish we learned from our amazing Dominican nanny, Jackie, was not going to get us far in our new Spanish (Catalan) city.

Still here? Expat in Spain will be a weekly feature at http://www.roamingmom.com

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