Expat tales: Badajoz, Spain
Hayley Koorts is experiencing life off the tourist trail.
Why did you move to Badajoz?
I was quite ignorant of its existence until I received my placement letter. I knew I wanted to move to Spain and as I had already spent a year in the north, I chose a random selection of southern regions and this is where I was sent.
What do you do there?
I am an English assistant in a high school here, so I provide support to the English teachers in the school and prepare additional class material. I also give private lessons.
What do you like or dislike about life in Spain?
Badajoz is never mentioned on any tourist's itinerary. It is considered to be quite a neglected and uninteresting city - words even used by the locals themselves. I beg to differ. It may not measure up to some of the more popular and culturally rich Spanish cities such as Barcelona or Seville, but Badajoz is in the poorest region of Spain, Extremadura, so it is hardly a fair comparison. In saying this, there are many advantages in avoiding "Tourist Spain".
In a big city, you waste two hours a day commuting, it's a lot more difficult to meet people, you get served a commercial plate of "Spanish culture" and a good portion of your pay cheque goes on your shoebox apartment. You also end up speaking a lot of English because other expats are the easiest to befriend.
Here, my commute is a total of seven minutes on foot. Everything is within walking distance. People are incredibly friendly. You'll be hard-pressed to find someone who speaks English, so learning Spanish is inevitable. Free of tourists and bus tours, this is "real" Spain. I pay less rent than I ever have and I live comfortably in the middle of town.
How does the cost of living compare to New Zealand?
It's ridiculous. Every time I ask for the bill, I'm tempted to ask whether the waiter's calculator is broken. Rent seems laughable, even in the larger cities. I can't believe that I paid more for my mouldy student flat in Auckland than some people here pay in the centre of Madrid. Eating out is sometimes cheaper than cooking at home, thanks to the tapas culture, where every drink you buy comes with a complimentary side dish. It is true that everything is relative and people do earn lower salaries here, but even on my government-funded stipend, I get by easily and still have money left over for exploring Europe.
What do you do on weekends?
I spend a lot of my weekends travelling. I work Monday to Thursday, so I have a lot of time over the weekend. Badajoz is in an excellent position. It is right on the Portuguese border and the nearest Portuguese town is a 10-minute drive away. Growing up in an island nation makes the idea of border-hopping rather a novelty. Lisbon is a two-hour drive west, Seville is two hours southeast and the Mediterranean can be reached in less than three hours.
What do you think of the food?
Spanish food is amazing! Extremadura is famous for producing the most delicious Iberian ham in Spain. The secret is the strict diet of acorns the pigs are raised on, giving the meat a succulently sweet taste. Cheese is also very popular, with too many types to name. My favourite dish is the staple Spanish tortilla (omelette). It may be a very simple dish, made from only eggs, potatoes and onion, but it proves a winning combination.
What's the best way to get around?
On foot. There are a few buses, but with no hills and questionable Spanish punctuality, walking is the best bet to arrive on time.
What's the shopping like?
The Spanish are impeccable dressers. Fashion is very important, regardless of age, so there are countless clothing boutiques, jewellers and shoe shops. I do miss op-shopping though. Here, the idea of used clothing is far from acceptable.
What's the nightlife like?
People here like to live in excess. They like to drink, eat well and be merry, so the nightlife does not disappoint. I usually struggle to keep up with the pace as nobody goes out before 1am - and calling it a night before 6am is considered to be "taking it easy".
What is your favourite part of the city?
I love the old Arabic fortress, La Alcazaba. It was built 1000 years ago atop the highest point of the city. Later it was converted into a strategic watchtower, as it was an excellent place to spot any pesky Portuguese invaders crossing the border. Badajoz, like nearly every inch of Spanish soil, is steeped in history. From prehistoric settlers and cave painters, to Arabs, Roman ruins and medieval cathedrals - it has seen it all.
What time of year is best to visit and why?
September/October or May. At the moment, I am melting my way through a 45 degree Celsius summer, which really doesn't allow you to leave the house until night-time.
What's your must-do thing for visitors?
Definitely a stroll around the old town and Alcazaba, capped off with a dinner of tapas and a drink at one of the many charming bars.
What are your top tips for tourists?
It´s really rewarding to veer off the beaten track and discover something truly authentic. Badajoz is definitely void of pretence - no-one here is trying to sell you the Spain you see in travel brochures.
How easy is it for you to get back to New Zealand?
Not that easy at all. It's a 30-hour journey at best and does not come cheap so while I am over here, I am making the most of exploring this side of the world.
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Sunday Star Times