Foreign Correspondence: Stories from a Spanish Semester

Ann Rehemaa shares her experience of Madrid amidst the Catalan Independence Campaign

Spain – home to some of the most amazing artists in the world but also vicious bull-fighting… Wonderful flamenco dancing and a horrible housing market, brilliantly cheap alcohol and horrendous levels of youth unemployment. Alongside, the good and the bad is the ugly… the caganer. I am still torn as to whether it’s hilarious or just hideous (I suggest you look it up).



For a brief while Spain has been my home. I am a Falmouth Interior Design student doing a semester in Architecture and Design at the Universidad Europea de Madrid, a multilingual, multicultural, multidisciplinary university just on the outskirts of the city. And if you thought finding a decent place to live in Falmouth was a nightmare… It seems in Madrid there is more demand than can ever be supplied, and, like in Falmouth, the number of students keeps increasing every year. As I was sitting on the plane, and the wheels touched down on the runway, I still hadn’t found a place to live.

Courtyard Clothes


Luckily, I did manage to find a nice apartment after a few weeks and only a couple of depressing viewings. It is not in a central location but by living in a quiet residential area, where nobody speaks English, I’ve had the proper Spanish experience. Balconies and windows are solely for drying clothes. The streets are full of old people out for a stroll. And there is no point in going anywhere between 1pm and 4pm, apparently siesta is still a thing even in the winter.

Lavapies neighbourhood, Madrid


You might think supermarkets would be open through the afternoon siesta, but there are none, rather tiny little shops for everything. If you need bananas you go to a fruteria, for ham to a carniceria, bread comes from panaderia and everything else you will find in a chino… tiny corner-shops, usually run by Chinese families, (hence, the dubious name) and absolute wonderlands. I once needed eggs, white yarn, contact lens containers and a Halloween costume and found them all in one tiny chino.

Vintage Market, Latin Quarter


Rather than of chinos, when most people think of Spain at the moment their minds probably go to the tension with Catalonia. A ‘potential civil war’ might have been predicted, but I have to say that, with the exception of the police driving people out of polling stations with water cannons, the situation has seemed quite calm and civilized. I was in Barcelona the day before the vote. All I saw were some Catalonian flags and around fifteen people with slogans on Plaza de la Libertad, mainly smoking and chatting, only occasionally shouting ‘Viva Catalunya!’ This made me all the more astonished when I read the next day that the Spanish government had ordered rubber bullets to be fired at pro-independence activists.
In Madrid there were some pro-unity demonstrations, and an unusually high number of Spanish flags hanging from the balconies, but when I talked to locals about the issue I found that if discussions start to get a little heated, many just resort to beer and tapas to cool things down again.

Octopus Carpaccio


Because when it comes to food, all other disagreements are forgotten. Food is holy, Spaniards eat at least five times a day. And I don’t blame them when the food here is oh-so-good. Big juicy olives, the most tender serrano ham, steaming plates of paella followed by fresh crispy churros and chocolate. All of which are usually accompanied by ridiculous amounts of wine, the not-so-secret ingredient in their carefree ‘mañana’ approach to life.