Two sides of the Spanish coin – part 1

When Joe and I decided to move to Spain, we knew we wanted to live in the country and were determined to leave the rat-race behind. We wanted mountain views, wildlife, big open spaces and the experience of fitting into Spanish village life. So, for us, El Hoyo was the perfect choice, if full of surprises…

Karen McCann is a fellow expat living in Spain and author of a very witty, engaging book called Dancing in the Fountain. Unlike Joe and I, she and her husband chose city life and are extremely happy in Seville. This is how they found their house…

“We have three main criteria,” I told the rental agent in Seville. “We need a terrace, so Rich can grow his plants. We want to be near the river or a park, because we’re bringing our dog over. And we absolutely do not want to live around Plaza Alfalfa, because of the botellones.” These were impromptu outdoor drinking parties in which young Sevillanos gathered to share bottles (hence the name) of various alcoholic beverages, often until dawn. Amongst the largest were the ones crowding the Alfalfa neighbourhood’s narrow side streets, and – call me crazy – I didn’t care much for the idea of having five or six hundred drunken youths partying on my doorstep night after night.

Our real estate agent took us to cramped and dingy rooftop apartments with vast terraces; suites in old palaces ripe with history and mold; furnished apartments that came with gruesome old couches and, in one case, a live-in landlady; and starkly modern places with hideous, liver-coloured floors. There was always a deal breaker. The one thing the agent assured us we didn’t have to worry about was the dog – all apartments allow pets, she explained; you don’t even have to ask. That was great news, but we still had to find the right place to call home.

Finally the agent made one last suggestion: an apartment in an old, renovated palacio. Granted, it didn’t have a terrace or nearby park, and it was in the Alfalfa barrio, although on a quiet back street. Would we like to see it? Before I could get “No” past my lips, Rich said “Sure, why not?”

The apartment was roomy, with twelve-foot ceilings and shuttered French windows overlooking the roof of a two-hundred-year-old church. And the price, a little above what our Spanish friends quoted us but well below what most foreigners were paying, seemed more than reasonable.

“What about the terrace?” I asked Rich, struggling to keep my head. “What about the park? What about the botellones?”

He waved it all aside. “I’ll put in some window boxes. We’ll walk the dog in the neighbourhood. The botellones are streets away.”

He was a goner all right.

We said we’d take it.

When I told a Spanish friend about the apartment she said, “Great! You’ll never have to worry about coming home late at night, because with all the botellones, there will always be people around.” And here I had been thinking that hundreds of youths might be a security problem!

We finally got our hands on a copy of the lease the day before we were supposed to sign it and take possession of the keys. The dense Spanish legalese wasn’t easy to decipher, but one phrase jumped out with hideous clarity: “No pets allowed”.

We called an emergency meeting, and the landlord explained the previous renter owned a dog that so annoyed everyone with its pestilential behaviour that he’d decided to ban pets from now on. Then he grew crafty. He said he’d allow our dog here if, and only if, we got all the other tenants to sign a document giving up their right to have pets in their apartments.

Why would anyone give up rights to help strangers? But as one neighbour explained, “Sure I’ll sign”. This document means nothing. If I want an elephant in my apartment I’ll have one. It’s my right.” We soon had all their signatures and finalized our lease.

Rich, the dog and I had a home in Spain at last.

Curious how this compares to house hunting in Spain? Check out Victoria’s guest blog on Karen’s site