Preguntas Ardientes: Can I Enjoy the Feria de Abril as a Tourist?

The azahar bloomed while I was away. Even in Valencia, home to the famous oranges of the same name, the smell was cinged off by firecrackers and smoke during Las Fallas. And as I watched a gigantic Merlin burn from a towering statue to a small pyre, marking the end of my first Fallas, my next thought was immediately on the next big event: the Feria de Sevilla.

Sunshine and Siestas at the Feria de Abril

I am a dedicated feriante – I try on my traje de gitana weeks before to ensure its fit, attend flamenco fashion shows and a sevillana was the third song played at my wedding. I wait for the alumbrado with as much nervous energy as I pine for the last day of school. Feria is my jam, and everyone knows it.

But what if you’re a tourist, or passing though Seville during the Most Wonderful Time of the Year? I get this question often, and not just from tourists, but from those living elsewhere in Spain. I may live the sevillana version of high life when it comes to horse carriages and caseta invitations on occasion, but I also freak out in the days leading up to the fair, thinking that I may not have a place to go, or I may be stuck wandering the Real while I wait for a friend to answer their GD phone. In no other moment do I feel as foreign as I do local.

Know Before You Go

Spain is definitely a country that, on the surface, seems welcoming. The sunshine! The fiestas! The people! But in Seville, lo señorío and el postureo run deep, meaning that anyone outside of posh social clubs, religious brotherhoods or the Duquesa de Alba’s inner circle can get left in the albero.

farolillos

Begun as a cattle fair several centuries ago, the Feria de Abril marks the first of Andalusia’s springtime fairs. It’s the largest, most popular, and the place to see and be seen. During one glorious week of the springtime, makeshift tents, called casetas, are erected on a patch of land that is unused for 51 weeks of the year. This is called the Real de la Feria, and in the weeks leading up to the event, workers log in hours setting up the casetas, stringing up lights and building an enormous main gate, called the portada.

The party starts on the third Monday following Resurrection Sunday with a socios-only fried fish dinner, known at the pescaíto. At midnight, the mayor turns on the lights of the entire fairgrounds, ending with the portada, and sevillanas immediately tumble out of the tents. The Feria continues every day from about 1pm until the wee hours of the morning, officially shuttered on Sunday night with a fireworks display at dusk.

alumbrado feria de sevilla 2010

The casetas are owned by religious groups, social clubs, political parties and groups of wealthy friends. A whopping 90% of them are privately owned and run, so you’ll usually see someone guarding the entrance and asking for proof that you’re in association with the tent’s dwellers that week. And the list for securing your own caseta is over a decade long, so it’s best to make friends before the fair starts.

Making the most of Seville’s most exclusive party

Feria is an expensive party – from the horse carriage rentals to the tent memberships to the clothing – but it’s free to attend, and gawking doesn’t cost a cent. But to truly enjoy it, you may have to lower your expectations.

La Feria en Crisis

First, know that there are two sides to the fair: Feria de Día, and Feria de Noche. Daytime fair is far more demure, as this is when most socios spend their time at the fairgrounds; the fair at night becomes borderline hedonistic, where tent flaps are drawn and sevillanas disappear.

Should you choose to go in the daytime, you’ll be treated to carriage parades and striking Andalusian horses until dusk – not to mention the daily bullfights happening in La Maestranza, bringing in some of the biggest names in bullfighting. This is the fair at its purest, with flamenco music playing and castanets clapping. Be aware that this is also when it’s the most difficult to gain access to the private tents. I have a less-than-stellar reputation of inviting my friends to Los Sanotes, which means side eyes and a stiff greeting from a few of the more traditional socios. But once night falls, most of the older crowd has gone home, making it easier to pop in and out of the casetas.

Free Casetas  – the city operates a number of public access Distrito tents, which are larger and a bit more raucous than a traditional tent. Those also open to the general public are casetas belonging to political parties, labor unions and, in some cases, religious brotherhoods.

A Map of the Seville Fair fairground and free public casetas

If you know someone who is in the local police force or works for a large, locally-based company like Abengoa or ABC, ask them if you can buy entrances from them. These sorts of places don’t operate using cash, but rather tickets in various denominations for food and beverage.

Or, you can always use the, “My friend is back at the bar and not answering my phone calls” trick to sneak into a crowded tent! Not that I ever have.

Dressing Up – On my first Feria, the Novio invited me to his best friend’s family’s tent (a rather estrecha relationship for Feria) for the Alumbrado. Knowing that the fairgrounds were full of albero, a chalky dirt than lends well to both bullfights and horse poop, I dressed as if I were doing housework – ratty jeans and tennis shoes.

I may never live that or the baby-sized complementos down (ugh, not to mention both a mantoncillo and a gargantilla wrapped into one outfit):

Vamanos a la Feria Carino Mio!

Remember that this is an event where you’re to see and be seen. Even if you’re not planning on donning a pricey traje de gitana, women should wear a dress or dress trousers. I don’t know how, but heels are a must. Men, in many private casetas, are required to wear a suit and tie after 9pm, regardless of the heat.

And please none of those souvenir-shop dresses or hair clips – that screams guiri more than getting too drunk off of rebujito!

Etiquette – That brings me to my next point, or fairground etiquette. On Seville’s biggest stage, you’ll notice that despite the abundance of alcohol and atmosphere, no one is outwardly drunk until nighttime. I was once kicked out of a caseta for being with a friend who’d imbibed a little too much!

spanish american girls at the feria de sevilla

If you receive an invitation to a private caseta, don’t bring 10 more of your friends without asking. It’s customary to buy the first round of drinks, though you’ll more than likely be turned down. If the tent is crowded, don’t immediately take a seat, as it’s an unwritten rule that those tables are reserved for paying members. Instead, make friends with the bartender – just don’t forget to pay your tab or overstay your welcome!

Some casetas will simply ask you who you’re with, as it is up to that socio or family to split the bill at the end of the week.

Spanish and Flamenco dancing – I’m often asked how necessary it is to dance sevillanas to enjoy the fair. While it’s definitely my favorite part of the whole experience, you do not have to know this four-part dance. Sitting and watching is fun, and people will often break into the dance on the streets, as well.

Should you be in Seville for a few weeks and want to learn, dance studios and gyms have intensive courses for 10-15€/hr. Check out Cuesta Sport, Látidos or Helena Pachón to learn how to coger la manzana, la comes, la tiras.

Flamencas on a horse carriage

As for knowing Spanish – it’s helpful. How else will you insist upon buying a whole round of montaditos de lomo for your generous hosts?

Fairground Tours – if you’re a little freaked out for a first-timer, find the information booth just under the main gate on Antonio Bienvenida. The city’s tourism board offers tours around the fairgrounds, culminating in a drink in a public caseta. Let the rebujito flow!

My advice for a Feria first-timer

I was completely unprepared for my first Feria, from my lack of proper clothing to not saving enough money to truly enjoy it. If you’re visiting Seville for the first time, don’t let the Feria be your only plans – since the fairgrounds aren’t in the city center, you’ll find that it’s less intrusive than Semana Santa.

Portada de la Feria 2013

Take one day out to go to the Real after lunchtime and a siesta. Dress up nicely – long, dangly earrings and a shawl are fine, but don’t overdo it if you don’t have a traje de gitana, ladies. Walk across the Puente de San Telmo and the entire length of Calle Asuncion, which leads right to the main gate. Take a stroll around the Real to marvel at the horses and the elegant costumes before popping into a public caseta – the Fiestas Mayores (Costillares, 10) and Partido Popular (Pascual Márquez, 66) tents are a bit pricier for food and drink, but often have live music from 8pm or 10pm on. If you can’t score a private tent invitation and sweet talking gets you nowhere, skip dinner and have hot chocolate and fried donuts on Calle Manolo Vázquez.

How To (3)

Read more of my posts on the Feria de Abril, Seville’s most flamboyant celebration, from how to dress and dress up your dress, a list of vocabulary you’ll encounter and the Dos and Dont’s.

Have you been to the Feria de Sevilla as a tourist? What were you thoughts – I would love to hear the negative!

Preguntas Ardientes: What kind of health cover do I need for living abroad in Spain?

If you’re planning to move to a new country like Spain where healthcare isn’t free for or guaranteed for all, it’s important to understand that travel insurance isn’t going to protect you if you fall ill. These policies are cheap for a reason – they cover things like lost suitcases and are only for return trips, explain the independent health insurance brokers at Medibroker.

Buying expat health cover is one of the most important, and most complicated, things you need to do before relocating abroad. Nobody is invincible, and medical bills for even routine operations can land expats in hot water if they don’t have the right insurance.

andalusian health card

Spain’s two-tier healthcare system includes both private and public doctors. If you’re working with a social security plan, you’ll be entered into the public Social Security; if you’re on a long-stay visa or self-employed, you’ll be required to get private health insurance. Several big companies exist, but not all plans are created the same.

Medical insurance is a confusing product – it’s something you have in reserve and it’s not tangible, so you have to shop around. Plans offer varying levels of cover and there’s a multitude of add-ons and jargon to wrap your head around.

When it comes to something as important as your health and finances; you can’t afford to buy a plan that isn’t right for your specific needs.

Maybe you think you’re healthy, but that doesn’t matter – nobody is too careful or too healthy to need good medical insurance. Accidents happen, and they have an annoying way of popping up when you haven’t planned for them.

Things to consider when buying expat medical cover

Your health

If you already have a health issue, getting cover is going to be more complicated. Pesky pre-existing conditions affect your choices when it comes to buying insurance, so it’s useful to ask an expert which of the 100s of plans on the market will be flexible enough to accommodate you.

Do you need a global plan?

It’s often tempting to save money by buying a local health plan. However, you should think carefully about this so-called ‘saving’. Local cover in Spain only pays out for medical treatment received within the country and access to some hospitals is restricted. There’s also a level of risk attached to buying a foreign language policy – the small print may not translate.

Ambulatorio Spain

An international plan means you’re covered wherever you go, meaning it’s a lot more comprehensive. It’s increasingly important for Brits living abroad to get international health insurance because changes to NHS rules in the UK means they may no longer be entitled to free healthcare when they return home.

Visa Regulations

It’s important to research the specific country’s rules regarding health insurance requirements for expatriates. How can you be sure that a medical plan you’ve selected is compliant? Speak to an insurance professional and be sure to add repatriation to the plan – it’s required for visas issued from outside the EU for Spain.

Budget

Your budget for health insurance will affect the level of cover you purchase. Plans from UK-based insurers are designed to control costs by limiting geographic cover. An excess or deductible will reduce your premiums, though the higher the excess the more you may have to pay when you come to claim.

Health Insurance is a complex, expensive product because plans try to meet your needs.

hospital care in Spain

The level of cover you need will depend on your individual circumstances. Even if your employer provides you with cover, you should always question its suitability. Your age, health and future plans are all factors to take into consideration and you will also have to think about whether you will need add-ons like maternity or dental cover.

You’re a person, not a category, so a comparison site can’t fully assess your requirements. Understandably, insurance providers are only going to recommend their own plans – even if there’s a better one on the market.

About the author: Medibroker can guide you through choosing a health insurance plan for your time in Spain. A personal advisor calls you to chat about your needs then recommends a plan tailored to you. It’s a completely impartial, 100% free service, regulated in the UK by the FCA.

Why I enjoyed the Auxiliar Program and how you can, too

About a year ago, I was invited to attend the “Helicheville” Bilingual Day in the school I worked at during my first three years in Spain. Emilio met me at the door with a, “SABORILLA! Te han dejado salir a la calle sin bozal?” Only someone like him would ask if I was allowed to be out without a muzzle. The day was a blur of hugs, of recounting what I’d been up to the last few years and asking if I could return to work in Olivares.

Ojalá – it was the most fun job I’ve ever had.

The North American Language and Culture Assistants program (NALCAP), or auxiliar program, has gotten a bad rep, and with some razón. Assistants say they’ve not been paid on time, or they’re left to their own devices in the classroom (or even underused), not having any idea about what their job really entails or the ability to prepare lessons and try to help the English language instruction.

I have to say that I got really lucky with my placement – wonderful coworkers who treated me as an equal, a three-day schedule with interested students and a school that always paid me on time. We even had music in the hallways during passing periods and kids rarely vandalized the school.

This utopia is not always the case, of course. I recognize that my experience was far different from that of many other friends, like Liz of Young Adventuress (who worked in Córdoba and La Rioja) or Lauren of Spanish Sabores (who spent two years in Andalucía). Their experiences are two of a myriad of them, and every experience differs. When I began teaching in Olivares, I had no idea it would lead to a career in EFL education.

And here’s the kicker: I actually LIKE teaching! It’s a profession I promised myself I’d never do, but I enjoy working with teens and the babies and find it to be a job that never gets boring. I initially planned to stay for a year and give teaching a try, and I’m still at it eight years and three jobs later.

So, with all of the rumors floating around about not getting paid on time, about indifferent coworkers and kids who could pasar tres kilos when it came to English. Believe me, I had a few issues with other teachers or students, but the day the envelope arrived telling me “Thanks for your time, but get the F out and let someone else have a turn,” my boss and I had a few tears as I realized I’d be jobless in a matter of weeks with no student visa.

Really, now could not be a better time to consider teaching in Spain, and those who have the government backing with visas and health insurance will come to Iberia with everything figured out but where to live and how to get their NIE (which is why I wrote an ebook about it!). 

I have wonderful memories of IES Heliche, despite the long commutes, the desperation of putting up noisy teenagers and those moments of feeling really, crazily poor. But I firmly believe that you take whatever you put into the experience. Here’s my advice to incoming auxiliares:

Try and get to know the other teachers, whether or not they’re involved with the auxiliar program.

Yes, there will be teachers at your school who are indifferent, who don’t understand what exactly you do, or even tell you you’re better off not coming to class. After all, your fun lessons involving drawing hand turkeys on Thanksgiving cuts into their teaching time, too.

But there were will others who are curious or realize that you’re far from home, and even a simple hola can help tremendously when you’re missing ground beef actually made of beef and TV in English. My coworkers, for the most part, looked out for me and treated me with a lot of respect.

If you stand in the back of the classroom, you won’t enjoy yourself. Remember: you’re the fun teacher who doesn’t give homework or exams or demerits, so the battle is half won.

And then there’s the feeling of spending a year doing little else than explaining the difference between present perfect and past simple or enunciating words.

Believe me, I had the idea that I was going to make my student bilingual. Naive and overly optimistic, yes, but when I learned to let go of that idea and work to engage my students in classes, I got the sense of fulfillment I was looking for. 

Be clear about your preferences and needs, but recognize that not everything is possible.

Eager to now my schedule my first year in Olivares, my boss came back with a four-day, twelve-hour schedule. I was crestfallen, at first, as my day off was Tuesday. While my friends were falling into bed after a night at the discos at 7am on Fridays, I was waking up to get to work.

During my second year, I was scheduled to work on a day in the middle of the week for only two classes. In fact, I’d spend more time on the bus than giving class.

After a few weeks of grinning and bearing it, I approached my boss. I didn’t threaten or get whiny (as is my style), but instead had already looked at possibilities in the schedule for swapping class hours, as well as talked to other teachers about the possibilities. I politely told my boss that this would maximize my time in the classroom and make my commute loads easier, and she agreed.

To be clear, there are things that suck that you probably can’t change – a long commute with weird and inconvenient bus or train times, working with an age group that could be difficult or the terrible money handling (which ensures you won’t be paid on time). You may have to work four days a week or split your time between two schools, or even 1000 students.

But if there is something that could be improved – be it a better classroom switch, more planning hours with teachers or even a suggestion that can streamline your work – tell your boss politely and give reasons why. Because there’s no catch-all description of your job, only you can put limits on what you do, or recommend ways to improve the program.

Relax. It’s likely not personal.

In my mission to try to please everyone (character flaw), I grew upset and angry when teachers flat-out told me I was useless to them, or barely grumbled a hello in the morning. But I’m the language assistant! You need me! I’m friendly and bake cookies on occasion! Don’t hate on me just because I’m a guiri!

Then someone gave me an emotional slap in the face (I’m sure it was Asun, and I’m thanking her for it) and told me to calm the hell down and not take it personally. Many teachers felt that they couldn’t use me effectively in the classroom because they were preparing for seniors’ exit exams, or because two days in English was simply too much. Some teachers are extremely old school, so respect it and move on.

Once I got over myself, I enjoyed my classes and team teaching non-lingusitics courses.

Remember that it’s a job that you’re doing part-time, and you’re getting paid far more than you should be getting paid.

Just to give you an idea – a teacher at many language schools in Seville work 20-24 hours a week and earn between 800€ and 1,200€ a month after taxes. Twelve hours for 700€? Casi regalao! Enjoy it, and all of the free time you have after you’re done working.

Once you have a full-time job, you’ll miss finishing work at noon and getting to take a siesta every day. Just saying.

WHY I ENJOYED THE

Interested in more posts about my experience working at a rural high school in Andalucía? Check out these posts: How to Apply to the Auxiliar Program // Alternatives to the Auxiliar Program // Saying Goodbye to IES Heliche

If you are getting ready for the program and have questions or doubts  leave me a message in the comments – I’d love to hear from you!

 

Preguntas Ardientes: Is an International Bank Account Right for Me?

I get loads of questions from you guys about moving to Spain and settling in, how to handle money and how to learn Spanish (and what to eat, duh). Up and moving to any country has its own set of headaches – both before and after – and I try and answer as best I can when readers ask questions on everything to how to work in Spain to how to deal with homesickness. That’s where Preguntas Ardientes comes in – a series dedicated to the ins and outs of expat life in Iberia. If you’re curious or have a burning question, email me at sunshineandsiestas [at] gmail [dot] com – I’d love to hear from you!

Recently, the Novio and I were at a gala for his squadron’s anniversary. Most of his coworkers are aware that his partner is foreign with a flair for sevillanía, so I often become the center of attention during cocktail hour when they shoot a million questions at me (and I’m really more interested in the canapés, jerks).

The most common? What was the hardest part about moving abroad? After adapting to the language and finding friends, the most challenging part of daily life was money (and it’s something you guys ask me about often, too!).

I had and still maintain an income in Spain, whereas as all of my bills were linked to accounts back in the US. I had no idea how to pay taxes in either country (or if I even needed to), and transferring money between euros and dollars soon began to eat into my savings account. Having one foot in two places can be difficult – but then again, I expected to be in Spain for just one year.

While I have kept three bank accounts in two different countries, I never considered offshore banking or international accounts. No, this isn’t the stuff of international spies or crime rings, but a convenient way to handle your money while abroad thanks to flexible options and lower costs of account maintenance.

Let’s face it – Spain is a country that has a high international population, and these people often have ties to their home country – both mentally and financially. For expats who still receive payments of benefits from their home country (such as retirement or payouts, or even freelance work), considering this type of service is one of the biggest benefits of an offshore savings account. You don’t need to worry about converting dollars to euros to pounds and back in your head, nor deal with spending more money to make transfers between bank accounts, as an international account will allow you to do this all for a small monthly fee.
Is an international bank account right for you? If you’ve still got one foot in each bucket, then it’s worth considering. If you’re looking for extra perks, such as travel insurance to cover you wherever you go, then you should more than consider it. Sometimes, you can get more financial benefits from having your assets in just one account, rather than splitting them up between different institutions. Doing your research really does pay off (I love puns and you should, too).
Do you have an international bank account? How does it work for you?

Preguntas Ardientes: Should I open a bank account in my home country?

Six years ago, I was facing the uncertainty of up and leaving for Spain and starting a new life in Seville. Even with the visa and job sorted out for me, I spent hours scouring the Internet for information about renting a flat, getting a mobile phone and setting up a bank account, perhaps the most important factor to take care of before leaving Chicago. Tripping between local banking institutions, I spoke with countless tellers to see whether it was worth my while to keep an account open at home.

In short: it was, and it continues to be.

While I did open a resident bank account in Spain to receive my paychecks and be able to take out money while around Iberia, having a separate savings and checking account at home has allowed me to keep my money matters at bay and makes my mom to have her own card for any transactions she needs to complete for me! I cannot stress enough how at ease I feel knowing that I have an emergency stash of cash in the United States.

What’s more, it’s far easier for me to save for other trips or big expenses when my money is not staring at me in my Spanish bank account!

What should you look for in a bank account back home? To be able to compare bank accounts effectively, there are several criteria to keep in mind:

Online Banking: This is perhaps the deal-breaker for many expats and digital nomads today. I was adamant on having free online banking to be able to make transfers, pay my credit card, and have a handle on how much money I had. And online banks don’t bow down to time zones, anyway. This should be at the top of your list if you’re planning on living abroad.

Card and Account Fees: If you’re trying to maximize your savings, the last thing you want to do is pay exorbitant fees for just maintaining an account. Check with your branch to see if there are discounts for young adults or recent grads, and you could have a few years’ fees in your pocket, rather than in a banker’s.

Interest Charges and Money Back: You should also take into account if your bank gives you anything back if you’re using it for bill pay. This is, after all, more dinerito for you!

ATM availability: Spain is a country that is not without bars, bulls or banks – it’s rare to go even three blocks without seeing one! When choosing a bank, be sure that there are cash points available throughout the world, especially if you want to travel.

Partnerships with other banks: Thankfully, my bank had a few branches in my home base of Seville, and this made taking out small quantities of money for everyday expenses not only easy, but also far less dangerous. They also have partnerships with other internationally banks, thus cutting down on pesky ATM fees, so ask about this possibility.

I don’t go home more than once a year, but when I do, I can roll up to the branch knowing that I’ve got money already, and that the same tellers who helped me open a account six years ago will greet me with an, ‘Hola!’ and know just how to help me. And the lines are far shorter!

Got any other burning questions about banking or moving to Spain? Get in touch with COMO Consulting Spain, a relocation company dedicated to helping you move to Spain.

 

Preguntas Ardientes: Airport Parking

I Facebooked the world about the news: I had finally bought tickets to attend Oktoberfest and visit my cousins in Germany! My cousin and one of my childhood best friends, Christyn, a traveler and adventurer in her own right, was excited to hear the news, but it turns out buying the airline tickets was the easiest part.

“Well, you practically travel for a living,” she said, “Why don’t you figure out the logistics? How to get there from Bann, where to stay, tent tickets…”

As it turns out, my logistical planning starts from the moment I get out of work on Thursday in late September, as I’ll have to drive to the Málaga airport and stay overnight before catching a flight early the next morning. What’s going to happen to my Pequeño Monty, my beloved new car? I remembered my dad, a travel hacker extraordinaire, always seeking out the best options for when it came time for our yearly trips out west to ski. Al ataque!

Airport Parking Options

When you’re heading off on holiday and you need to book airport car parking, whether it’s Stansted, Glasgow or perhaps Leeds Bradford Airport parking, there are a number of different parking options to consider. These can be loosely grouped into two main locations – on-and off-site parking.

On-Site Parking

You might think that on-site parking would be the most convenient option, as you’re closer to the terminal. This may be true if you book a car park that’s within walking distance of the terminal. But sometimes when you park in a remote long stay car park that requires a transfer service to reach the airport, it can often take a comparable amount of time to park off-site – and it might be cheaper too (see below for more information about off-site parking).

On-site parking can include transfers to help passengers get from one part of the airport grounds to the terminal, and when you have booked and paid for car parking, the shuttle cost is usually included. Other forms of on-site parking include Meet and Greet or Valet parking. This involves dropping your car off and having it parked for you while you walk to the terminal to catch your flight, and on your return, your car will be waiting just a short distance from the airport. It’s expensive, but it’s also convenient and quick.

Off-Site Parking

Similar to remote long stay car parks, off-site parking involves parking at a distance from the airport and using an inclusive shuttle service to transport you to and from the terminal. The main difference is that most off-site car park operators will park your car for you while you catch the shuttle, and it’s often one of the most affordable options too. So if cost is more important and you’re happy to take a short shuttle to the airport, this is usually the best option.

If you’re a traveler, what do you typically do for airport parking? Any great tips to add? PS This post was written by a third party, and I was compensated for it. No te preocupes – I fact checked!

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