Things Not to Expect in your Spanish Flat

“Oh, yeah, amigdalitis isn’t strep, Cat, it’s tonsilitis.” Immediately visions of guy Rimbey’s tonsil operation in the fourth grade had me queasy again. I asked Kelly what to do.

“So you just need to heat a glass of water in the microwave and then…” Stop right there, chiquilla. I don’t have a microwave. Come to think of it, I have very few appliances, save my olla express, miniprimer hand blender and the unused flatiron grill I got Kike for Christmas last year.
I thought back to arriving at my apartment in Triana not four years ago. Eager to meet my roommates in 1ºD, I didn’t bother to look around the flat to see what it had to offer me. After all, I found it on the Internet and Melissa, who was to become a good amiga, didn’t go into much detail about what we had – or what we didn’t. I just rolled with the punches, you could say.

Taking stock of the appliances and kitchen supplies later, there were: random cutlery, unmatched pots and pans, a paella maker, a low-power microwave, a broken iron and a hot water heater. The TV was a mystery to turn on, but the gas-lit water tank took the cake. Literally, because I had no oven to bake one in.

My piso when I arrived, circa September 2007
Gas tanks, or bombonas, are ugly orange excuses for hot showers or boiling water. Buy one of these suckers and you’re guaranteed four minutes of hot water (we had a shower schedule) if it’s full. We learned to turn off the water while shampooing, respect our shower hours or wash our hair in the biday, use the teeny water heater for soups and tea and deal with lighting the stove.

I came to love that house on C/Numancia, even with all of the broken things and heavy wooden furniture. Our landlords gave us permission to paint, gave us money for new pots and pans and Sanne’s boyfriend brought over a toaster. We even got a sandwich maker, which was used seldomly because it was a PAIN to clean.

Enjoying a lighter and cuter painted salón

Moving into Kike’s house was a treat. He has an oven and an electric water tank heater, so I can take long showers right after he does. But where’s the microwave? And the dryer? I’ve had to make toast in the oven, fry hot dogs and follow the weather forecast in order to have my clothes hang dry on the line outside my fourth-floor apartment.

If you’re thinking of coming to Southern Spain and expect to find everything in condition like your house back home, think again. Here are four things you’d be lucky to find in an older house:

Central Heating

When I tell people I’m from Chicago, they usually remark, “Ooooh, it must be so cold there!” Yeah, sure, it’s a frozen tundra in the winter, but at least we have sensible coats and heat our homes. Because Andalucía gets so warm in the summer, the houses are more equipped for the hot months. this means white walls, tile floors and a thing called a brasero under your living room table. You’re better off buying a big rug and extra throw blanket from IKEA, along with a small space heater. Just don’t leave it on when you’re not around or at night!


When my host mother had to deal with my vegetarian roommate who hated fish, she asked one question: Well, what do I make? Emily suggested simply buying a frozen pizza, but poor Aurora couldn’t even figure out how to turn on the oven! even my boyfriend, a born and bred Spaniard, uses the oven for very few things, relying instead on the stove top.

Automatic Stove top

Yeah, that’s the other thing. As I mentioned above, the whole stove thing is tricky. You need to find the nearest dollar store, buy a bit box of matches and turn on the bombona tank. Then, careful enough not to singe your hair or burn off your fingers, turn the stove dials and throw the match on it. At least, that’s how this anti-pyro did it. These oven are practical to save gas, but they sure suck. I am happy to clean and re-clean my vitro ceramica!

Clothes Dryer
Ains, the crux of my existence. I hate that my underwear gets hung out the balcony for all the neighbors to see, and I hate that line that I have to iron out of shirts. After four years, I’ve mastered how to adequately hang things so that they’ll dry, but I hate the fit and missing that the out-of-the-dryer feeling. My requirement for our next house? You guessed it – a dryer.
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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living amongst pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she works in higher education at an American university in Madrid and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.


  1. […] myself, not knowing what to expect or what to do? For better or for worse, I found a way to get an old but sweet apartment, get to work on time, teach English, travel on the cheap, etc., etc. Ok, so I did some looking […]

  2. […] Being a journalist by college degree, I delved into my research about neighborhoods, pricing and what to not expect in my new casa dulce casa in Spain. But you never know when a few strangers are picked to live in a house, work […]

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