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This week’s guest post for the ‘Day-to-Day’ series comes from Kate Turner a Brit who’s currently working and living in Madrid. If you’re an expat and interested in sharing the day-to-day details of your city, shoot me a message at thepaperplanesblog @ gmail.com.
An average Madrid day starts with a 7am wake-up call, a shower and a cup of tea (some home habits are hard to break) before I leave my apartment for work. When I moved back to the Spanish capital for the second time, I deliberately chose to live within walking distance of my office: a crowded commute just isn’t for me. I love the head space and extra waking-up time the twenty-minute walk gives me as I witness the city start another day. My route takes me through my barrio (neighbourhood) of Cuatro Caminos in north-western Madrid over to the business district surrounding the Real Madrid stadium, the Santiago Bernabéu. On my journey I pass old men sipping their morning coffees and puffing on their first cigarettes of the day; fruit and vegetable shops opening their shutters; overall-clad caretakers sweeping the front steps of their apartment buildings.
I work at an international publishing company, which means my office experience is probably less Spanish than most. Most employees in the Madrid office are Spanish, but my department works on English language teaching materials, so most of us are native English speakers. Although it’s great to have a ready supply of expats to share the ups and downs of life in Spain, the fact I predominantly work in English can be frustrating at times as I feel as though my hard-won Spanish is actually getting worse. We work closely with the London office, but our hours are longer – I work from 8.30–6 but can finish at 3 on Friday, which is really helpful when you’re taking a weekend break. I also get to travel most months with work, usually to London, Barcelona and a couple of other cities around Spain.
If I’m in the Madrid office, my working day begins with breakfast – but unlike my Spanish colleagues, I tuck into porridge and fruit rather than toast with olive oil. I check and reply to my emails before getting on with the business of the day: evaluating author’s manuscripts, sending feedback, checking how the books my team are working on are progressing and usually attending one or two meetings. The day is punctuated by lunch: in Spain, companies over a certain size are obliged to offer their employees either a subsidised dining room or a daily food allowance. We get €9 on a card, which is usually spent on a menú del día (lunchtime set menu) at a nearby restaurant. I enjoy the social side of this and getting out of the office for a proper break, but I admit I don’t really want to eat a three-course meal every day. I usually opt for soup or salad followed by fish, and dessert will be a decaf coffee or fruit. Quite often I get a takeaway salad which I eat back at my desk: Spaniards in the office never do this, it’s just us guiris (foreigners). I really miss the range of healthy (and meat-free) options available back in the UK: I’d kill for a Marks & Spencers food hall or even a Pret a Manger.
After work, I head home via my local fruit and veg shop. The owner’s really friendly and I enjoy chatting with him as I choose my purchases. Cities can be unfriendly places to live, which is another reason why I chose to live in a barrio rather than the centre. I enjoy having so many local shops and services on my doorstep, and the fact that many of the workers recognise me and we exchange a few words – this was something that was hard to establish in Oxford even though I lived there for years. It’s the chats with my fruit and veg man I enjoy most though: he’s from Morocco, so we sometimes discuss visits home and what it’s like to live in another country.
I go for a run in a local park several times a week, and after that I’ll usually cook something at home and do some writing or chat to my family on FaceTime. Work can be pretty intense so I like to relax more here – I probably socialised more when I was living in Oxford and was lucky enough to have friends on my doorstep. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I take beginner-level Catalan classes in central Madrid: I love learning languages, and thought this would be useful for building relationships with my company’s Barcelona office. The classes take place in a Catalan cultural centre on one of Madrid’s main streets, Calle Alcalá. There’s a cute bookshop downstairs which I love to browse, although I can’t understand much yet! Back home I invited friends round to my place, but that’s less common here, so one or two evenings a week I’ll head out to meet a friend in the centre for a catch up and something to eat: I enjoy exploring new places around the city, but my favourite area to head is Malasaña, which has some quirky bars and restaurants such as Kikekeller and La Musa. I haven’t adjusted to the Spanish timetable this time around; starting work at 8.30 and needing at least seven hours’ sleep means the late nights just aren’t for me during the week.
Weekends in Madrid are a different matter, though. In addition to catching up on mundane errands like cleaning and grocery shopping, I spend time with friends, whether they be people I’ve met here or friends from back home who are visiting for the weekend. Madrid’s just a two-hour flight from London, which means it’s easy to take short trips. I like to explore the city’s parks, museums and markets, especially vintage clothing market El Mercado de Motores, which is held in a train museum. There’s always something to discover in Madrid, which is one of the reasons I love living here. I also love heading to a rooftop bar such as La Azotea at the Círculo de Bellas Artes for a glass of wine or a cocktail – that’s something I definitely couldn’t do at home for fear of rain!