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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Finding a Spanish Home

Hello out there,
Before I get started on today's post, I would like to thank everyone who has left a comment or sent me an email commenting on the blog (or/and sharing your own stories). It can be quite disconcerting to have an entirely invisible audience, so it is great to get at least a brief check in. In case you do not have it, my email is .

Okay, so back to finding our Spanish home. For those with really poor knowledge of geography, now you don’t have to embarrass yourselves asking – where is Spain anyway, or Italy? Follow the little white lines to where Claire went and the rest of us:

And here is where Madrid is. Yes, yes, of course, the capital of Spain. (And Claire is in Grottaferatta, just outside of Rome, the capital of ITALY!)

And, of course we all know that Madrid is derived from the Muslim name, dating back to at least the 9th century AD, al-Majrit, or in Arabic, المجريط, “source of water”. That water is little evident aside from a surprising number of trees, and a yet more surprising number of swimming pools. Even the most modest apartment is almost sure to have a pool associated with it. Though it could be about the size of a dining room table.

So, here we are in Madrid, cuz of that fabulous airport that will fly Matt all about Europe, but how to decide where to live in or around a city that we don’t know?

PLEASE! Do not attempt to drive with this map.

The first simplifying factor was choosing the girls’ school. (If you are curious about why we chose the American School of Madrid, send me an email. I would be happy to elaborate but don’t want to force everyone through my tortured process.)

On the map, the school is the X. The airport is the funny looking triangle with a line going down, and Matt’s office is the crushed circle in the upper left. The sort of yellowy green stuff is parks and reserves. Not my most successful bit of art work.

Matt and I were tempted to live in the city, somewhere near Retiro Park and El Prada. Iris and Adele were decidedly against the city life. We looked at some homes in the outer suburbs, Boadilla and Majadahnda, but they looked too much like American suburbs. We have ended up focusing in on two towns, close to the city and the school, Pozuela de Alarcon and Aravaca.

Chris is the real estate agent who has been helping us. She is an American, but has lived here many years. The head of the American School later said we are very fortunate to have her as she is “muy enchufe”, (literally a plug, or plugged in), and that in Spain it is otherwise hard to get things to happen. In fact, without our plugged in realtor this is as much as we could see of houses and apartments:

 In Spain walls and gates across driveways are typical. Houses, yards and gardens are surrounded by 8 or 10 foot high fences and hedges. Gated communities are common, but even within a gated community each house is hidden from the others. We had read that there is much less crime in Spain than in the States, and the security surrounding housing is perplexing to us. This is a mystery that may take some time to unravel.

Just this past Saturday we saw a house in Pozuelo de Alarcon, which we like very much and are considering renting:

Here are Matt and the girls with the owner of the house behind them. He is a lovely Spanish man. When we were introduced to him, he knew that as Americans we expect to shake hands but keep a distance, but as a friendly, warm Spaniard he could not be satisfied to not do the usual kisses on each cheek with the females, and an enthusiastic handshake with a grasping of the shoulder for the man. 

 The house does not look like much from the outside, but it is quite comfortable and has a good feeling to it.

In the kitchen looking at the eat-in area

View into the kitchen
To understand how happy this kitchen made me, you have to imagine that all the other houses we have seen have had a more traditional Spanish set up, which is to have a small kitchen set apart from the rest of the house, where the woman who is employed to cook and clean would work.

Iris on the back porch

Much as I would like to experience this new culture, I have quickly realized that there are many aspects of my life and our family’s that I am actually not willing to alter for any long period of time, like having a kitchen that is the heart of the house, and eating dinner before 9:00 at night.

And here is the obligatory pool, shared with the other houses on the street. Oddly enough, as warm as it is here, the pools are only open between May and the end of September, as they are uncovered and unheated and the nights get cold.

Here is the view from the end of the street, Calle Urano. You can see it is a bit urban. The red dot, almost in the center is a bus stop that can get you to Madrid pretty easily. So, if you visit, you may not be able to use that pool, but you can get yourself into the city.

Till Later! Hasta Ahora!


  1. Hey, Margot, this looks great! I want to hear the story once you unravel the mystery of the gates! How far "walking distance" will you be from downtown???

  2. I hate to think it, or even write it...but maybe there is so little crime because of the gates. I was once told that all Swiss men serve in the army their whole lives, and each of them has a rifle in their house, and so there are few house robberies....I love seeing the photo of the kids and Matt - somehow it makes it more real to me that you guys are in Spain -and not in Concord! Are you still coming home in October? sending you lots of love, ellen

  3. Hi Marlowe,
    I guess I have to learn to respond to comments before I publish the next post or you may never notice this. How does this stuff work anyway? I have learned from a Spanish friend that the high walls are a very long standing tradition but that the gates across driveways if relatively new, or at least they were not so common until the past 10 years or so when there has been more problems from Eastern European maffias. Yikes.

  4. Hi Ellen,
    That thought occured to me as well. Still, I think there are some cultural aspects to this that are more subtle and I look forward to discovering. For example, we went swimming at a club where there is a gaurd at the gate who carefully screens people coming in, but at the large and busy pool, there is no life gaurd. So different than safety precautions in the US.