I have decided that I would like to move to Spain for six months or so to learn Spanish (and to avoid the Belgian winter). As I am planning to move back to Australia in mid-2011 I am running out of time for more European experiences. Therefore, the plan is to move to Spain in January 2011, but I was unsure exactly where to go.
As you will see from previous posts I have been to Barcelona a couple of times and I really do love it. It is a great combination of old medieval centre and modern city. It’s not too big and not too small. It’s also by the beach and has great weather. But the fly in the ointment is that they speak Catalan rather than Spanish. Of course everyone can speak spanish as well but it’s not what you hear on the street and I think that will be detrimental to the immersion learning experience. So I ruled out Barcelona which basically left Seville and Madrid. And here I am on holiday for a week to check them both out.
I’ve already had a couple of days in Seville and I can report that it is a very pretty city with an unusual mixture of Islamic and Catholic architecture, often bizarrely intertwined. The main cathedral has a Moslem minaret from the time of the Moors but it is now a catholic cathedral and the minaret has a new bell tower on top. If only religions themselves could coexist so harmoniously.
Seville is supposedly the warmest place in Europe and it didn’t disappoint. I was out in a tee shirt with just a light jacket and it was sunny and warm. The city is completely flat so the best way to see it all is by using the city bicycle scheme which I did. Once you have joined you can take a bicycle from any of the hundreds of depots and then return it to another one. If you take the bicycle for less than half an hour it doesn’t even cost anything. I used this extensively and it saved my poor feet.
After a day and a half I think I had seen most of what there was to see. It isn’t a large city after all. So I bid adieu and boarded an AVE train to Madrid, 550kms to the northeast, in the centre of Spain. These trains are wonderful, smooth highspeed trains complete with movies like an airplane and the trip took only 2 hours and 30 minutes. I was also impressed that it departed and arrived on time to the second. Not consistent with my mental image of Spain at all! Japan yes, Germany maybe, but not Spain. I stand corrected.
The central plateau of Spain is very arid and there is almost no vegetation or features. It is, as scenery goes, quite boring. Luckily i had the movie and my iPad to entertain myself.
Madrid pops out of the desert quite suddenly. Unlike most cities, particularly in the US and Australia, there are no sprawling suburbs of McMansions. Instead it is featureless desert and then, right on the outskirts, high-rise apartments. I’m told that Madrid has virtually no detached housing. As a result the city is quite compact and it took only a few minutes to travel from the edge to the centre.
Immediately I could tell that this was a much bigger city than Seville. It has large boulevards and a lot of traffic all going very fast. It also surprised me with the size and grandeur of the buildings. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Spain did have an empire after all but I had always thought of it as a poor cousin to France and Germany. Not so. The buildings along Gran Via would rival and in some cases surpass what Paris or Berlin can offer. I will post photos in a future blog when I am back at my PC #iPadlimitation.
I’ve spent a few days in Madrid now and I have walked miles. It doesn’t seem to have a bike scheme and it is quite hilly anyway. There is an excellent metro but i haven’t used it much because you can’t see anything down there. I’m staying very centrally in the bohemian Chueca area which is convenient, and delicious, lots of little restaurants.
I think it is safe to say that Madrid has won. There is a lot more to see and do here compared to Seville and it also seems to be a little easier for the non-Spanish speaker to get by. I even have the potential to pick up some work here.
So there’s the verdict. Madrid in January. I hope it doesn’t snow…