Just another Monday…or is it…?

Just another Monday…or is it…?

It’s a Monday here in Madrid. No big deal, right? Well, it may be just an ordinary weekday for some, but not for me! As a teacher, I’m privileged to have the day off (woot woot!). Easter Monday. That means a number of things. I got to visit my favorite and only embassy (Canadian) this morning, go to my city hall and get some info regarding parking in my neighborhood, and well that’s it. In terms of getting errands done that is. Do you know how useful it is to have a day off during the week? An unfortunate thing as a teacher is that I’ve got to wait for days like these to run essential errands. I need to go to the bank? Well too bad, I gotta wait till the next “reading day” when teachers get the day off. Need my passport renewed? Guess what? Gotta wait for that weekday and get myself over there before the office closes midday. Same goes for banks. I find it unbelievable that they close as early as 2:30pm. Hey I’m no Einstein but I am positively sure that they can afford to stay open till at least 6. We mere civil servants don’t got the time to leave our work in the middle of the day and go to a bank. Anyway, it’s not my favorite thing to do if you know what I mean. Unless I’m cashing in.

Besides running errands I’m reminded by the beating sun on my head this very minute that I can spend the rest of my day off enjoying my day off at coffee shops. Sitting outside on the terrace of one coffee shop makes me remember all the good things life has to offer.

As I’ve stressed in previous posts sunny days all round has made everything worth moving to Spain. ūüôā

3 Canadians in Valencia

3 Canadians in Valencia

Where would 2 Haligonians and a Quebecois go for a 3 day vacation? My cousins and I decided to meet up in Valencia to have a good time at the beach and see the city. Two of us live in Spain- Barcelona and Madrid. The other came down from Halifax, NS, to cover some soccer games in Madrid (he’s a sports journalist). Read my post for a larger than life experience.

A tip: DO rent bicycles if you like cycling. We got to see the entire boardwalk from coast to coast, the marina full of boats and even some country/farm life outside the touristy parts of the city. There are bike trails and the scenery is amazing, plus it felt exhilarating to let go of my hair and cycle away without a worry in the world. We rented our bicycles from a kiosk at the beach, which is the only bike agency there. 9 Euros/ day or 7 Euros/ 4 hours. We chose the day. We hauled our bikes up the tiny elevator in our Airbnb to leave overnight. Soooo worth the bike rental.

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Our Airbnb was cheap and point on value because of its central location. We would have paid at least 20 Euros more had we gone to a cheap hotel in a similar type of location.

For food we ate at Casa Monta√Īa. Typical Spanish food – good – and the service our waiter gave us was much better than any other Spanish restaurant we’ve been to and he spoke good English. It’s the type of place where you pay a little bit more than average in exchange for slightly small portions of food, but it was good quality food and since it was rated high with many reviewers on Yelp we let it go. The potatoes were quite fresh and from a “good” farm. The bar is located in a nook a few minutes walk from the beach.

The other place we liked is called Restaurante Alma. It’s located on calle Franca 58. We Yelped “paella” and we found that restaurant. It’s known as L’azud on Yelp. We telephoned them and ordered 3 paellas for takeout. When we arrived we had to wait 15 minutes longer than expected, but when they brought us our food, to our surprise they added real knives and forks because they didn’t have plastic ones. Our host also gave us free cans of Coke. The hospitality was out of this world. I’ve never experienced such detailed attention to costumers in Spain, ever. We took our paellas to the train, and after our knives were confiscated from us at the police control, we scarfed down the grub. It was delicious.

There’s an ice cream shop called Grasol on Calle de Mediterr√°neo next to the beach. I haven’t had ice cream this good as far as I can remember! The two flavors I asked for were Banana split and chocolate.

We didn’t forget to go to the City of Arts and Sciences on the last day. It’s worth going there if only to see the exterior part of the buildings.

On the way back there was a train strike which meant the cafeteria was closed and the tv nor music was working. So, I happened to have extra water and an extra can of coke with me. When one of my seat mates found out about the strike she almost dropped her jaw to the floor and didn’t know what she’d do with her life without water. I offered her my extra water bottle and she took it gratefully. I also gave my extra coke to what looked to be a university student and he opened it and took a sip in an instant. Glad I could be of some service during this untimely train strike!

All in all, us 3 Canadians enjoyed our stay in Valencia. Everyone needs a little vacation at some point!

Signing off –

Shamim Sobhani

A Canadian’s experience at a Madrid Derby football match, VIP style

A Canadian’s experience at a Madrid Derby football match, VIP style

I always wondered what the point of going to a football match was if you can’t see the players’ faces or even just be able to read their jersey number to make out who they are. It pretty much doesn’t matter where you sit because all you’re going to see is heads with what may be their bodies attached, running after a ball, which looks like a speck in the field. I don’t even know what my eyes are following most of the time when watching a match because it’s all so far. I’ve been to several football matches thus far and this is the experience I get in exchange for big bucks, rather, big Euros, since I live in Spain.

However, yesterday¬†something out of the ordinary happened. My husband and I got to sit not two meters from the main level of the football field and enjoyed seeing larger than life players and actually keep track of the ball. I could clearly see their expressions whenever they came to¬†wards us.¬†Even the press was as clear as the sun sitting right there on the border of the field snapping their cameras away. If I wanted to I could have jumped and made it into the field in one swoop (and then also made it to prison just as quickly). We also had the perk of having food and drinks in the VIP lounge, which, if you’ve ever been on a tour of the Santiago Bernabeu stadium you’d recognize it, because it’s one of the rooms¬†where some of Real Madrid’s trophies are kept.

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We were ever so fortunate to be offered two VIP tickets¬†to see the big Derby match, which doesn’t happen often. A “Derby football match” is referred to two teams that happen to both be from Madrid which play against each other. They’re called Real Madrid and Atletico de Madrid. Why these tickets¬†happened to reach our hands is beyond me. Anyway, the real story¬†it¬†that my cousin, Kiyan Sobhani, who is a Canadian sports journalist from Halifax, asked me if we wanted these tix¬†because one of his friends¬†offered them to him because he wouldn’t be able to make use of them. As I’m married to a Real Madrid fan and I pretend to call myself a fan just to be a participant in the fun craze of football, we immediately accepted them. The master behind the tickets is¬†Anton Hakberg. Thank you, Anton, for being such a nice person, for letting us appreciate your star seat tickets for you.

The featured image is courtesy of Shamim Sobhani. I took the photo myself from our seats. We were so close to them I could smell their b.o.

Signing off-

Shamim Sobhani

What’s it like living in Spain…

What’s it like living in Spain…

I’ve got to follow up on my recent post, Expat Coffee Talk – these are the days of our L.I.V.E.S.¬†mainly because I promised you I would. But you have to read the post above, otherwise you won’t get any of what I’m about to share with you.

So what I can tell you is that the style of life in Spain is pretty much a completely different experience than that of Canada. I’m going to throw in the United States of America just because. I also happen to like the US (minus a few things to obvious to mention); it’s our sister nation so I don’t want to leave it out.

Before I continue, let me just say that I’ve been assumed to be American too many a time because people here me speaking English here. Because of that, too, I’ll be including the US in this post as well.

I’d also like to say that when I’m talking about Spain in this post, it’s always going to be about Madrid the city, unless I say otherwise. I live in Madrid, so I figure it makes sense.

One thing that pretty much differentiates Spain from Canada and most American cities are the beautiful¬†palm trees. Need I continue? I could stop right there because that’s a big difference in alone. I live in a city, a pretty big one, and there are actual palm trees here. It’s so nice to see them. I, as a “cold” Canadian, think it’s pretty cool.

Sun. Say the word¬†out loud, nay, merely think it, and you’ll have the sun at the back of your hands for days on end. You know what the even cooler thing is? That I’m not even talking about summer. In winter there is sun for what seems forever, day after day after day. Why call the season winter even, when my cold Canadian heart knows what real winter means in Canada? You want to talk about sun in the summer in Spain? Please, brace yourself because what I’m about to say is going to make you want to drop everything in North America and come here: The sun is around for weeks, weeks, and weeks on end. What does that look like? Come 8am, say good morning to the sun and expect it to stick around until the wee hours of night. I feel like it’s 5pm, as I’m originally from¬†Halifax, but when I look at my watch it’s actually 10:30pm Spain time. It makes me feel like there’s something wrong with that picture. Let’s give it up for the Spanish dictator “_______” for doing something interesting in a positive way. You know what they about sun: less seasonal depression in Spain because we see the sun all year round. I just made that up, but it’s got to be true.

The list goes on, quite well, I may add. Stay tuned.

Palm trees and sunny days. This is the Spanish craze.

Signing off-

Shamim Sobhani

 

 

 

Expat Coffee Talk – these are the days of our L.I.V.E.S.

Expat Coffee Talk – these are the days of our L.I.V.E.S.

This post has been brought to you by the Chronicles of LIVES – Living in Very Entertaining Situations.

I’m a Canadian who lives¬†in Spain. Forget about the “Canadian” part for a moment. I’m an expat who has chosen to live in a land far, far away that isn’t my home country. Are you American, Australian or from another part of the world and have always wondered why people like me leave their country of origin to go live somewhere else?

Maybe you’re that person that only travels to¬†other countries to spend time on the¬†beaches, a.k.a. all inclusive resorts. If you are then perhaps¬†you’ve¬†asked your expat friends when they’re planning on returning to their country of origin, because surely, they don’t plan on being away from “home” forever….right? “What about being close to your family?” “Raising your kids?” No? Ok, ok, well, I hope I’m wrong. One thing is someone¬†growing up with the same friends all their¬†life, getting married in the same town, having kids in the same town, and having the same job in the same town, but another thing is being presumptuous and expecting everyone else to do all that. There are friends who grow up in the same city and travel to places like Punta Cana and Riviera Maya, and believe that they’ve seen the country, or *cough* *cough* the world.

I digress.

It could be that our expat friends who live away from their country of their upbringing call their new residence “home”. Thank goodness for the existence of diversity of thoughts because I’m an expat and do not call my country of residence “home”. I’m fortunate to be able to call both Canada AND Spain my home. What, you think that just because I’ve left my native land I don’t think of it as “home” anymore? Or just because I’m a foreigner in Spain means that I can’t¬†call it “home”? I actually feel comfortable calling two completely different countries “home” because I’ve been lead to feel that way. Plus, it’s a complicated way of life and I like it ūüôā

Maybe you have expat friends who believe that there are no such thing as borders along countries, that if they feel like living elsewhere then they will go do it.

I always wondered how expats do it. Do they just wake up one day and say that they feel like picking up their stuff and moving to a foreign country? What if they don’t even speak the language? What then?

Do expats move to be adventurous? Or because they are adventurous? If by adventurous they mean that they’ve been treated differently because they’re not from that country, or misunderstood because it’s not their native language, then I’ve been there! Like I said, my way of living is complicated but I always feel like it was worth the move.

So, what’s it like living in Spain? I’ll have to leave that topic for another time now, so feel free to stay tuned.

Signing off,

Shamim Sobhani

 

Photo courtesy of Utomo Hendra Saputra

 

How I found a job in Spain in 5 steps

How I found a job in Spain in 5 steps

As an expat, I¬īve been asked how I managed to find a permanent job as a teacher in Madrid. It¬īs tough landing a job if you¬īre not from any of the countries that belong to the European Union.

Many people come over from North America through an exchange program. Here¬īs how I did it:

  1. I wanted to move to Spain to receive more education, so I¬†applied to a Master¬īs program at¬†a University in Spain.
  2. After I was accepted I applied for a student visa (this was mandatory).
  3. I realized I didn¬īt want to move out of Spain after I would finish my Master¬īs, so halfway through the program I applied to an exchange program to teach English at a private bilingual school. As I already possessed a student visa, I didn¬īt need to return to Canada and apply again.
  4. My exchange program was a maximum commitment of two years. Halfway through the year, the school I worked at expressed interest and asked me to work for the them full-time after my two years would be concluded.
  5. My residency status changed from ¨student¨ to ¨married to a Spaniard¨ because I got married at this point, so I was granted a residency permit. If I had not gotten married my school would have sponsored me to get a work visa.

A timeline of the steps goes like this:

Master¬īs program was 1 year long.

Teaching exchange program was 2 years long.

I was hired by the same school right after that. I¬īve been teaching there for a total of 5 years so far.

While it¬īs usually not difficult to get accepted into an exchange program to teach, you should like teaching or¬†have the desire to teach, otherwise, you¬īll be doing something you don¬īt like doing.

Signing off –

Shamim Sobhani

Photo courtesy of photo-nic.co.uk nic

A Discourse on Coffee Break

A Discourse on Coffee Break

In a follow-up to my latest post¬†From Canada to Europe. Reflections of an expat,¬†I wanted to share¬†an anecdote about a cultural experience. Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you weren’t sure how to act? Living in Spain, I’ve witnessed that Spanish people¬†appreciate time spent with friends. It’s appreciated even more¬†when you’re a foreigner and you try to include yourself in social gatherings. It shows that you care about getting to know them. In my case it hasn’t been any different. I work at a job in Spain where my co-workers appreciate it when I spend¬†my coffee break with them, especially if they invite me. It’s almost a rule of thumb to not refuse an offer like that. “Coffee break” isn’t limited to coffee only. It’s more about drinking something or having a snack with them. To me this means that the Spanish value “people” time. Coffee breaks also provide a space for building and strengthening relationships. I’m all for that. However, I’ve come to face a small dilemma:¬†I’m a busy body and have recently been working on several projects simultaneously (and I enjoy all of them), and so¬†I like to take advantage of the little free time I have and work on them during my breaks. This doesn’t mean that I don’t like spending time with my co-workers; it just means that I like to be efficient. This is a¬†difference I’ve noticed between the Canadian/American culture and the Spanish culture. I’m aware that my¬†co-workers may¬†notice when¬†I¬īm not around during our breaks, so I thought a temporary solution would be to divide my free time or coffee breaks between my co-workers and my projects. I also thought of getting more data so that I could be around my co-workers¬†while working on my cell phone instead of having to use a computer in a separate office. I wouldn’t want to push anyone’s sensitive button! Is there anyone out there who feels like there could be a better solution? Do you agree with me? Your opinions are welcome!

Singing off –

Shamim Sobhani

 

The featured image is courtesy of Daria Nepriakhina.

Modelling! – uhh, who, me? (a short and fun read)

Modelling! – uhh, who, me? (a short and fun read)

I was recently asked to model for a terrific artist, who’s name I’ll disclose in a minute. I was a bit shocked, truth be told, because I’ve never considered myself a model. Anyone seen Sex and the City where Carrie Bradshaw was asked to model on a catwalk, but she did it as a writer and not an actual professional runway model? Well, that’s me, except I’m not a professional writer, but I’m no runway model either. What I’m trying to say is that anyone¬†can be considered a model, in terms of who¬†you are inside and out. I’m not the so-called appropriate height to be a runway model, and as for the rest of me, well, judge for yourself in the photos below.¬†I was¬†named¬†“model of the month” and the photos were put up for display in the window of a hair salon,¬†which is in one of the hippest and happening neighbourhoods in Madrid, during the month of December in 2016.¬†A¬†copy of one of the photos sits on the wall in that very salon.¬†Who is this mysterious person artist who put on my makeup, styled my hair, made me look like a fabulous Christmas ornament, and finally, snapped pictures of me all day? His name is Shimada Kemp, and he’s the owner of his hair salon, Shimada Kemp. All I’m going to say for now is that he’s the most professional hair stylist and makeup artist I’ve ever met and he does a darn good job of everything involved in his work.

I’ll be signing off now but this won’t be the end of hearing about Shimada, as I’ll be writing more posts about him in the near future. For now, indulge your eyes in his glamorous artwork he did on me. There’s also a video on the “making of” which you can watch and¬†an interesting article written by Traneka Ren√©, who interviewed me. Traneka founded a unique and amazing¬†group called¬†Melanin Madrid¬†(click on the group name to follow the link).

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La Modelo del Mes December 2016La Modelo del Mes December 2016La Modelo del Mes December 2016La Modelo del Mes December 2016

To watch the “making of” video, go to¬†https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZsnMA4QotLM#action=share.

To read the interview about being model of the month, go to https://lamodelodelmes.wordpress.com/2017/01/09/making-of-la-modelo-del-mes-december-2016/.

There’s also a translation of the interview in Spanish.

Signing off –

Shamim Sobhani

 

 

 

 

How to validate a foreigner’s Spanish driver¬īs license in 9 steps

How to validate a foreigner’s Spanish driver¬īs license in 9 steps

Are you Canadian, or better yet, Nova Scotian? Even if you¬īre not, believe me, this post will be useful to you to some extent. If you are from somewhere in the world and you live in Spain, keep reading. This is a sequel to my last post, “10 steps to make the process of obtaining a Spanish driver’s license easier for foreigners”.

After acquiring your Spanish driver’s license, you now have the option of validating it. What does that mean and why would you want to do that?¬†A¬†validated license recognizes and respects that you already have a driver’s license from your home country. If you do not validate it, the government recognizes you as a¬†novice¬†driver. So, if you want to avoid excessive insurance prices when you purchase a car, or you want to rent a car within the first three years of having your new license, you must validate your Spanish license. This process can only be done¬†after¬†obtaining your Spanish driver¬īs license (going through the written and driving tests).

Step 1: You will have to contact¬†the Canadian Embassy¬†by email which is¬†on its website¬†here. The embassy is located a 2 minute walk from Bego√Īa metro (Madrid). This¬†link¬†will direct you the¬†“consular services” fees for the services I outline below. Before you¬†email¬†the embassy, read the rest of the steps¬†below to see what you’re getting yourself into.

Step 2: The embassy will tell you to request a “driving abstract“, or otherwise known as a “client record abstract” from your province, which outlines your driving history.¬†It costs 18.65 Canadian dollars. Note: Specifically request that the letter date the day, month and year that¬†you obtained your Canadian license (not when you renewed it), because that’s the whole point of giving that letter to DGT, which is equivalent to the Registry¬†of Motor Vehicles in Canada. DGT wants to know the day you obtained your Canadian license (the day you passed your driving test). The¬†embassy will write up a letter for you explaining the classification of the vehicle(s) which you are permitted to drive. The embassy will need your Canadian license to attach it to the back of the letter as an annex. They will also write another letter. These two documents are for the DGT.

Step 3: The¬†embassy will issue¬†two letters for¬†you: a “statuary declaration”and a “statement letter”. The former is a statuary declaration regarding your Canadian license, and the latter explains the information indicated on that¬†license, which is the classification of the vehicles which you are permitted to drive. DGT needs to see these two letters in order to validate your license. I got away with not obtaining a client record abstract. Instead, I just gave my current Nova Scotian license (yes, the actual card and no, not a photocopy of it) to the embassy, which attached it to both its¬†letters as an annex. My Nova Scotian license was going to expire 5 months and I was heading back to¬†Nova Scotia¬†the following month anyway.

Step 4: Pay around 100 Euros to the Embassy for the issuance of those two letters. Refer to the embassy website again.

Step 5: You must get both¬†embassy-issued letters and your driver’s license (or the client record¬†abstract),¬†translated into Spanish, which costs around 115 Euros. The company I used has not given me the best¬†service (that’s an understatement, service was terrible), but they work for the ministry of justice department in Spain and they got the translation¬†done, even if it took them longer than anticipated. This is why I will not disclose the translation company name here. Working for the ministry of justice means that the translation company can officially translate legal documents and you would not need to have the translated documents certified by the ministry of justice. If you don¬īt understand this gibberish, it just means that it boils down to¬†less work for you to do.

Step 6: As I mentioned earlier, the Canadian embassy initially¬†told me that I needed to request for and receive the driving abstract in the mail from my province, which is Nova Scotia. I would have needed to take the abstract to the embassy myself and make a sworn declaration. I telephoned Access NS and they had no idea what I was talking about. I didn’t know that I was really supposed to ask for¬†a document to show my track record¬†driving history, so they printed out¬†something else. It was a waste of $20. Besides, someone had to go physically on my behalf and pick it up for me, send it to me (another $20 through registered mail). In the end, the document from the¬†Registry of Motor Vehicles which had printed out for me made no sense and was a bunch of numbers all over the place. As I explained earlier, the other option is to use your current Canadian driver’s license and the Canadian embassy attaches it to the two letters it issues. This was the most convenient and economical option for me, personally. When I gave those documents, including my newly obtained Spanish driver’s license, to DGT in Spain, it was sufficient. Spain loves seeing official and authorized Canadian stamps on papers handed into them. I thought DGT would keep that license for their records, but surprise, surprise,¬†they gave it back. There’s no way I could guarantee they would do the same to you, so be prepared to be detached (emotionally) from your license.

Here’s the¬†“client record abstract” I requested looks like so you know NOT to ask for it:

Driver's abstract touched up

I went to great lengths to hide my height as¬†I touched up on it in the picture above. Aside from that, as you can see¬†there’s not much going on in this document. It does not state the day I actually got my license. It’s very…abstract.

Step 7: Three weeks later you will receive a brand new Spanish license in the mail with the only difference being a code in tiny print on the back. When you rent or purchase a car that code is what will open up your options as opposed to the original Spanish license you received when you passed your driving test.

Step 8: Meanwhile, make the appointment with DGT online¬†here, because it the dates are usually booked up a couple of weeks in advance. On the website, in the drop-down button choose “Madrid” as the city and in the second button click on “Renovaci√≥n de premises¬†de conducci√≥n (solo UE/EEE)”. See box below. Book the appointment.

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Step 9: With the original (English) and translated documents, go to DGT, which is at this address: Calle de Arturo Soria, 125, 28043 Madrid, and fork over 25 Euros by credit or debit card only. No cash. Aside from the documents from the Embassy, you will need to show your NIE (ID card) and its photocopy and your Canadian driver’s license as well as its photocopy. In three weeks’ time you should receive your new Spanish driver’s license in the mail!

Question: Will you get your Canadian license back from DGT? I did, but there¬īs no guarantee that¬†everyone will. From first and second-hand experience, the way bureaucracy works in Spain is that there is no hard and fast rule. On the contrary, it usually depends on who the person working behind the desk is. Unfortunately.

The quote below from our distinguished Scottish philosopher, Thomas Carlyle, sums it up for me:

Permanence, perseverance and persistence in spite of all obstacles, discouragements, and impossibilities: It is this, that in all things distinguishes the strong soul from the weak

I wouldn’t say I have a strong soul now, and I admit,¬†perhaps it’s a little dramatic considering that I’m talking about something as mundane as a¬†driver’s license, but it’s more than that. It’s about putting in a whole lot of dedication, time and patience to figure it all out while running around in a big city, communicating in¬†a language and culture that isn’t mine.¬†It would have been less of a headache if I had steps like the ones listed above to serve as my guide. I now have a Spanish¬†driver¬īs licence and its validation to show for what I went through.

Signing off¬†–

Shamim Sobhani