“Everyone returns to Granada…”

This was the mantra retold to me continually by my Granadino friends while we were living in Granada. “You’ll see” they followed in response to my quizzical look.

As I contemplated the Herculean effort to transport our family of four across the oceans and continents from Australia to Spain, I wasn’t so convinced that we would be able to return any time in the near future.

“Are you sure this sentiment applies to antipodeans from the Southern hemisphere?”, I replied. “Yes, you will see, EVERYONE returns to Granada, it has a magic spell” came the unequivocal response tempered by an Andalusian, square-jawed conviction.

And so it is that exactly one year after our tearful departure from Granada, my feet are padding the ancient cobbled streets of the Albaicin once again. How exactly did they know I would be back so soon? I didn’t even know.

The cobbled streets and plazas of the Albaicin

The cobbled streets of the Albaicin

Well, I guess the only way to describe it is that the Albaicin and Granada have a magical quality that effectively seeps into your being and compels you to return. I felt the magic while we lived here and returning now a year later it is even more apparent.

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Mirador de San Nicolas

How to put into words that magic quality?

For me it is the humanity of the people, a desire to live life well and to be part of an active community. Then there’s the rich history that oozes from the ancient cobbled streets and lime wash walls of the houses and Carmens of the Albaicin. You could very well imagine yourself living in the time of the Nasrids, Caliphs and Sephardi Jews of the great Al-Andalus empire who walked these very streets. The only sign of modernity today are the electricity wires dangling haphazardly between the buildings and the clothes worn by the typically alternative and creative inhabitants of the neighbourhood.

A wonderful book ‘Granada: The Light of Andalusia’ (also called ‘Granada: A Pomegranate in the Hand of God’ in other countries) which delves deep into the magical history of this area has recently been published by author and poet, Steven Nightingale, whose house is a few doors down from where we lived in the Albaicin. In his homage to Granada and the Albaicin, Steven uncovers the often brutal yet incredible stories of the people who lived in this city for centuries while also revealing his own personal fascination with the place. I recommend anyone travelling to Granada to read this book prior to your arrival.

There is another quality to life in these parts. It is the  pervasive element of spontaneity that has long gone from other western countries and large metropolises where much is meticulously planned and executed in advance. In the Albaicin, when you leave your house you often have little idea of what might occur that day, who you may see or where you will end up. The famous Granadino lunch that starts at 2pm and could last until dinner and then on to midnight or 1am as all are swept away by the good humour and vibe of the moment.

Another long and late lunch

Another long and late lunch

I have just completed a two-week visit to Granada and I was amazed by how much I was fortunate to experience in that time. Very little of it was planned in advance of course. I was lucky to escape the blistering heat of the city and venture into the Sierra Nevada mountains for a weekend excursion with my friend Teresa who runs guided tours of the surrounding nature and mountains via her business Sierra y Sol. She is a biologist and she brought along a local geologist who interpreted for us all that we saw on our hike in terms of flora, fauna and rock formations. And of course after the 5 hours of trekking up and down the spectacular mountains at an altitude of 2,800 metres, we all went for a late and long lunch in a nearby local restaurant. It just wouldn’t be right to end a mountain trek without a cold beer and patatas a la pobre (a local dish of fried potatoes and green peppers/capsicums).

Theresa our guide and her family

Teresa our guide and her family

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Spectacular views from the Sierra Nevada

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Our group reaches the summit

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Climbing over ancient rock formations shaped by extinct glaciers

The night before the mountain trek I was fortunate to attend a performance at the annual Granada International Festival of Music and Dance that attracts some amazing international acts. I went to see a performance of the Spanish National Ballet which I thought would be a classical ballet performance but there was not one tutu or ballet slipper to be seen. Instead it was a fusion of modern dance and traditional flamenco with extraordinary costumes and technical brilliance. Not only were the performers and music mesmerizing but the whole event was set in the beautiful and exotic gardens of the famous Alhambra Palace (the Generalife Gardens). The sounds of the water that runs through the fountains of the gardens, the smell of the summer flowers and the sight of the sun setting over the Alhambra Palace while watching these spectacular dancers was quite a cathartic experience for a gal from Australia.

Granada international Festival of Music and Dance at the Generalife Gardens of the Alhambra

Granada International Festival of Music and Dance at the Generalife Gardens of the Alhambra

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Sunset from the Generalife Gardens at the Alhambra Palace

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Granada sparkles at sunset

And in between trekking and dance performances, I swam in local rivers, dined at my friends’ tables and talked of music, culture, history, politics, love and life. Ah, the humanity of it all. It is the word that comes to me when I am in Granada: HUMANITY. A love of life, people, ideas, food, drink and creativity….not the chasing of the dollar, power and status as I am accustomed in the international metropolises of the world.

And that is why I will keep returning to Granada, to experience its humanity and passion.

Hasta la proxima! See you next time!

la nube3

Opening night of a new rooftop venue called La Nube with my friends from castila.es

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Opening night of La Nube at the Palacio de los Congresos in Granada

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Full moon over the Alhambra

Living your dream and inspiring others

Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country. Anais Nin

The desire to create a meaningful, cultural experience for our family inspired us to make a seemingly unusual plan: to pull up our roots and embark on a one-year Spanish adventure. When doubts emerged about how we could achieve this dream or whether we may regret taking the risk, we kept coming back to our vision and desire to experience something different as a family; to open our perspective to another way of living and being. Our Year in Spain turned out to be more than we had hoped it would be. Each of us had our struggles and achievements, we experienced excitement, adventure and learned new ways of seeing. Through each stage, the four of us were bonded together as a unit with no extended family to lean on. As daunting as that might seem, living in this way was incredibly liberating and rewarding.

The sky is the limit

The sky is the limit

Documenting the experience via this blog became a personal reflection of our hopes, expectations and plans in the lead up to and during the year. It also served as a place to share our repatriation experience, which was far more significant than we had anticipated. We learnt all about reverse culture shock during that period. We never imagined so many people would actually read our story and feel inspired to act on their own dreams. Since we returned to Australia, I have come to know many wonderful families from all over the world who have sought my counsel for their year in Spain. It feels like a privilege to help them and it is my genuine passion.

The passion of Spain

The passion of Spain

By living our own dream we have inspired others and discovered a niche to help them create their family experience. I clearly recall, as the plane approached Sydney after our year away, my husband and I turned to each other and said: “What’s next? We’ve lived this great experience but what do we do with it now?” I wasn’t sure, however one thing was clear: I wanted to somehow remain connected to Spain and Europe despite the enormous tyranny of distance that exists between Australia and everywhere.

How far is far? It's far...and yet the world can still be your oyster

How far is far? It’s far…and yet the world can still be your oyster

Little did I know that my hopes would become a reality. As the winter months ambled along, I moped and moaned about the return to normal life after a year of adventure, yet the emails kept arriving in my inbox from people who had read my blog and wanted advice on how they too could live in Spain for a year…..and so I decided to create Your Year in Spain – a tailored service to help families move to Spain. I have since worked with many families, and while they say that my story has inspired them, it is they who now inspire me. They inspire me with their openness, sense of adventure and appreciation. It has been an absolute joy to help each family create their own year in Spain, to understand their vision and hopes and to share what I know.They confirm to me that when you live your dreams, the universe works to break down walls.

 “Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.”  Rumi

By working with so many wonderful and adventurous families (from the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the UK), our own experience remains alive.  I have met many like-minded people and also maintain regular contact with people in Spain who will welcome these families when they arrive. It has helped me to stay in touch with what it means to step away from the day to day, do something different, and grow as a family. What has resulted from this is that in six weeks I will return to Spain to see my dear Spanish friends and expand on what Your Year in Spain offers. I am really looking forward to reconnecting face to face with the first group of families I helped move to Spain whose year is coming to an end in July. I am also excited to hear their stories. It has been 18 months since we first began brainstorming their dreams. These are families whose experiences this past year I have thoroughly enjoyed following via facebook or their blogs. Another bonus of this trip is that I will be able to greet some of the new families I have worked with who will be arriving in Spain this European summer. To think that all the work we have done together to obtain visas, find homes to rent, enrol children in school and much more, will result in the start of their own journeys. I am so excited for them.

live your dream

When you really live your dream and share it genuinely…inspiration abounds. It is a like a boomerang. In sending my story out to the world, wonderful people have been inspired to embark on their journey and in turn they have inspired me to keep sharing my knowledge and experience. I love that this new business organically found me and I am grateful for the unknown wonders that lurk just around the corner…

cabo de gata3

So you want to live in Spain! What next?

Cordoba, Andalucia

Cordoba, Andalucia

It sounded like a grand and impossible idea: moving to Spain for a year. Strangely and luckily, it wasn’t as hard as we imagined it would be, and since pulling off our great dream, we’ve become evangelical in our enthusiasm to help others take the leap and live their own Spanish adventure.

I have learned that each family arrives at their decision to spend a year in Spain for different reasons however one thing is certain: once you take the leap, there is so much wonderful learning to experience, you will never look back.

For our family, the aim of our year was to experience a Spanish way of life, learn the language and integrate into a local community. We wanted to understand the customs and traditions of Spain as well as explore other parts of Europe and our European heritage. We managed to achieve all this and much more which made it difficult to leave when the year ended.

Instead of wallowing in self-pity for our dream year being over (well, ok I have definitely done my fair share of that these past 7 months since our return) I have begun to live vicariously through other families by helping them to move to Spain for their own experience. After writing this blog about our preparations and year in Spain, people from all over the world began contacting me for advice on how they too could move to Spain. I have found that the success of a year away is often determined by the planning and preparation you do before you go.

Moving to Spain?

Moving to Spain?

The questions we had to answer to make the year happen are the same ones I now ask the families I work with to help them create an unforgettable time in Spain. Here are some for you to consider..


WHY do you want to go to Spain?

  • Is it to spend time as a family and step away from your fast-paced life?
  • Are you looking for a sea change?
  • Is it work related or purely leisure?
  • Is it to experience a new culture, learn a new language?

Our family’s answer to this was to spend a year as a family immersed in a new and different culture, learning the local ways and the language.

WHAT do you want your year to look like?

  • What are the main objectives that you want to fulfill in your year?
  • Do you want to be with other expats or local Spaniards or both?
  • Do you want to study, work or teach?
  • Do you think you will be happiest in a big, medium, small city, country area, mountains or coast?
  • Is access to cultural and sporting activities important?
  • What sort of school do you want your children to attend?

Our family wanted to to experience a local Spanish life so we chose a city with a mostly Spanish population and sent our kids to the local school. In addition to this we wanted to travel and explore as much of our European cultural heritage and family connections as we could during the school holidays or long weekends.

HOW are you going to make this happen?

  • How do you plan to finance your time away?
  • How will you get the time away from your work and life in your home country?
  • Will you work remotely from Spain?
  • Do you have an EU passport or do you need to apply for a long stay visa?

Each family achieves the ‘how’ differently. Most apply for non-lucrative visas that allow them to live in Spain long term without working and therefore must prove sufficient funds to support themselves. Many work remotely back to their home country or come to Spain with sufficient savings for a year. Spain is quite affordable compared to many other countries and is considered the most affordable country in Western Europe. We were lucky enough to have European passports so avoided the visa process and my husband had accrued long service leave that gave us an income.

WHERE do you want to live in Spain?

  • A large city, medium city, small city, or a small town?
  • Is climate important to you? What sort of climate appeals to you? Spain has several climate zones, all very different.
  • A house or an apartment?
  • What sort of amenities do you require where you live?
  • What sort of schools are you looking for?
  • Are you more into culture and fine food, nature and rural areas?
  • Do you like mountains or beaches or the tablelands?

For us, although we are big city people, we wanted to experience something different and chose to live in a small city: Granada. We were really happy with our choice as it is a manageable, walkable city with many cultural and sporting activities to keep one busy and engaged. Granadinos were welcoming and warm and had time to get to know us.

The view from our house in Granada

The view of the Alhambra from our house in Granada

WHEN are you planning to go and for how long?

  • When is the best time to arrive and depart?
  • When can you leave and return to your homeland?
  • When can you get away from your commitments?
  • Do you want to arrive in a particular season?

Most families arrive at the end of August in time for the commencement of the school year in September. This is also when many rental properties turn over and become available after the summer high season. Other families from Australia and New Zealand prefer to arrive in January to follow the southern hemisphere school year. There are of course many other detailed questions to be answered however these are the first broad questions to set you on your path to a year in Spain or anywhere really. If you are thinking of moving overseas for a year, and in particular to Spain, maybe I can help. Check out Your Year in Spain – Happy adventures!!

Feria Andalucia style

Feria Andalucia style

Caught between two worlds – repatriation

For years I have listened to stories of people displaced from their homelands for various reasons. I listened with interest without fully understanding what it would be like to constantly wonder about a life, land and culture elsewhere.

Now I have finally come to understand, in my own ‘lite’ version, the concept of living between two worlds. I am fortunate to have a safe place to call home although after voluntarily moving our family to Spain and creating a new life for a year, it has put into question where and what home is.

We are torn between two equally wonderful and different places. One place represents the familiarity, safety and security of a long-term relationship (Australia) while the other boasts the excitement and novelty of new romance (Spain).

Having lived a dream-like year in Spain, Australia now feels like a well worn blanket; comforting and familiar but a bit dull. Meanwhile, Spain holds all our memories of new and exciting adventures. We were just getting to know each other when we had to part. All those romantic clichés of absence making the heart grow fonder are applicable as we pine for that existence once again.

The view from our house in Granada

The view of the Alhambra from our house in Granada

Our local beach in Sydney, Australia

Our local Bondi beach in Sydney, Australia

We have been back in Australia for three months and our fond memories of Spain, while real, are prone to hyperbole due to our geographic distance and the dream being over. Our memories tend to focus on the wonderful and overlook many of the daily realities we experienced while living there. Similarly our perception of Australia since our return has been tainted by our romantic memories of Europe.

Adjusting back to the rhythms of Australian life, we are grateful for the ease of familiarity, interesting work, networks of friends, family and acquaintances. On the other hand, staying in touch with our friends in Spain highlights what we are missing as they continue their lives on the other side of the planet.

Yes, these are first world problems borne of the privilege of travel. They are however real issues for an increasing number of people who have chosen or been forced to live far from their place of birth and have friends or family spread across the globe.

In my mind, the affordability of modern travel and hyper-globalisation have created opportunities for cross-cultural understanding, economic advancement as well as creating individual challenges of cultural identity and sense of place: being caught between two or more worlds.

This has made me think of the waves of migration throughout history due to war, poverty and various upheavals. For centuries and beyond, people, including my grandparents and parents, have moved and adapted to new places and cultures usually for basic survival. For many in the developed world, today’s movements are a personal choice in the pursuit of career advancement, love, family reunions or cultural experiences. What I find different about today’s global movement from previous times is the element of individual choice.

That choice can be both a gift of opportunity and a burden. While broadening and enriching one’s perspective and experience, straddling two or more countries can also breed discontent: always comparing one to the other.

As the 19th century philosopher Emile Durkheim noted, the birth of the industrial revolution, and growth of individual wealth and choice corresponded exactly with the increase in depression. So much individual choice became overwhelming.

Emile Durkheim tried to explain why people had become so unhappy in modern societies, even though they had more opportunities and access to goods in quantities that their ancestors could never have dreamt of. He wrote:

“Under Capitalism, it is the individual (rather than the clan, or ‘society’ or the nation) that now chooses everything: what job to take, what religion to follow, who to marry… This ‘individualism’ forces us to be the authors of our own destinies. How our lives pan out becomes a reflection of our unique merits, skills and persistence.

If things go well, we can take all the credit. But if things go badly, it is crueller than ever before, for it means there is no one else to blame. We have to shoulder the full responsibility. We aren’t just unlucky any more, we have chosen and have messed up. Individualism ushers in a disinclination to admit to any sort of role for luck or chance in life. Failure becomes a terrible judgement upon oneself. This is the particular burden of life in modern Capitalism.”

And so, as we weather the ups and downs of our choice to move to Spain for a year then return to Australia, we remain grateful for for the opportunity to experience another life and culture. For it is only through the challenges and inquiry that we learn and grow as people.


As a postscript: One thing that currently keeps me connected to life in Spain is helping other families from around the world realize their dream of living in Spain. I have launched a new service called youryearinspain.com that provides a relocation service specifically for families and couples who want to spend an extended period of time living in Spain as we did.

Breakfast in Spain

Breakfast in Spain at 4 Gatos, Albaicin neighbourhood of Granada

Breakfast in Australia

Breakfast in Australia –  Crabbe Hole Cafe at the Icebergs

The history that makes us

We have been back in Australia for just over six weeks and we are beginning to wonder whether Our Year in Spain actually occurred or if it was just a long and fantastic dream. The experience will always live on inside each of us somewhere and as we reintegrate to life in Australia, there are indications that we have indeed changed, at the very least in terms of perspective on the world.

Questions about identity and what it means to be Australian or European are now an ongoing inquiry for us. My own journey of identity has highlighted the growing importance of history and heritage, and ever more so since our year away. While living in Europe we had the opportunity to spend time in the birth countries of our parents, speak languages other than English, live and travel freely across the continent with our inherited European passports.

As a child, my colourful family history seemed like some imaginary story that had no grounding in Australian life. My father would tell my sister and I bedtime stories about his dangerous escape from communist Hungary as a 14 year-old in 1956. There were adventurous tales of crossing freezing rivers, crawling through fields and over barbed wire fences while avoiding searchlights, bribing farmers and border guards with diamond jewellery that had to be swallowed then found again at the other end of the digestive tract.

First year in Australia, my Dad and his family arrive from Hungary

First year in Australia, my dad (far right) and his family arrive in Bondi from Hungary, 1957

These were far more exciting stories than The Famous Five books I was used to reading because they were told by my dad. As exciting as they were however, I couldn’t relate to much of it. Where were these mythical places from another era? To spend extended time as an adult in the actual places that give those stories meaning was a powerful experience and even more so to be able to share it with my husband and two children.

At the start of our year away, we spent a month in Hungary with my father and extended family and another month in Finland with my husband’s family as a way to reconnect with our histories and introduce our children to their lineage. My father took us to see the house where he grew up in Budapest, the apartment where, as a toddler he was hidden by a Catholic family for two years to avoid being sent to a concentration camp. We visited the Shoes on the Danube Promenade, a memorial to Jews who were killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen during World War II. The shoes commemorate the place where my Great Grandmother, Elsa (among thousands of others), was ordered to remove her shoes before being shot into the Danube River. Remarkably she survived and managed to save a 15-year-old boy who had been rounded up with her.

She was one of the fortunate survivors who eventually made it to Australia circa 1960 where she ended her days in peace.

Shoes on the Danube Memorial, Budapest

Shoes on the Danube Memorial symbolises those killed here during the Second World War.

I had heard this story previously however it wasn’t until we were physically standing at the location where it took place that it felt real. My son who was nine at the time said to me: “I am so glad we live in a country where they don’t hate Jewish people”.

Growing up in a predominantly Anglo area of Sydney, I felt a bit different to the mainstream but I usually just got on with the job of being a kid who wants to fit in with one’s peers. This was the world I had inherited when my parents and grandparents fled war-torn Europe and it was the only world I knew.

Now as an adult, having spent three separate years living in different parts of Europe, it is hard to describe the connection I genuinely have to that place. It is not one European country that I belong to but a way of being in general and an understanding that the stories of my ancestors were lived on that land for hundreds of years.

My dad visiting the graves of his great grandparents for the first time

My dad visiting the graves of his great grandparents for the first time


We had to bring secateurs to cut away the trees that had overgrown our ancestors’ graves as there is no family left in Hungary to maintain them.

The Great Dohany St Synagogue in Budapest where my Grandparents married in 1939

The Great Dohany Street Synagogue in Budapest where my Grandparents married in 1938

I love the nature, climate, freedom and opportunities in Australia while in Europe I find myself reflected back in the faces, culture and ways of being of many of the people. The Mediterranean openness that involves chatting to anyone and inserting yourself in other people’s business whether on the street, bus, train or plane suits me. The vibrancy and interactions of daily life and the languages all resonate with me. Of course there was adjustment to the noise and intensity of Spain when we initially arrived but I genuinely grew to love and revel in it. Every time we were on a plane I was one of the first to applaud and holler upon landing, something I learned to do only while living in southern Europe. Finally my passion and emotion had an outlet!

It’s fascinating that despite many trips to Europe with my parents when I was a child, it has taken until now to understand the significance of that history and now we are passing it onto our children – passing the baton of history so to speak.

In the European Summer of 2013 we spent a month with my husband’s family in Finland (where his mother is from) learning about their history and culture. We were surrounded by a sea of people and places that have meaning for my husband and have contributed to our family lineage but were completely new to me and our children. Being in Finland reminded us of the powerful genetic link our children have to this place.

Three generations of the Finnish family gather at their mother/grandmother/great gran mother's grave in Helsinki

Three generations of the Finnish family gather at their mother/grandmother/great grandmother’s grave in Helsinki

So often we have been asked about why our children look so different to us as they are fair and blue-eyed while my husband and I are dark with brown eyes. When we boarded the flight from Copenhagen to Helsinki and were surrounded by Finns, our children finally looked like the crowd around them. In France we were frequently asked about our children’s unusually bright blue eyes but in Finland nobody even noticed.

Our children physically fit into a country where they know not a word of their grandmother’s Finnish tongue nor any of the customs. I wondered what it was like for them to be hugged and kissed and showered with gifts by people who seemed to know them yet whom my children had never met before. They were old enough to understand that the vast groups of people we were visiting were related to our family so there was an inherent trust. Although, at the ages of 9 and 7 years, they hadn’t really known anything different than a family spread across three continents and four countries. Our children speak Australian English and Andalusian Spanish, and partake in many Mexican, Jewish, Finnish and Australian customs. Aye currumba! What a fruit salad!

My husband as a child with his Finnish cousins

My husband (second from right) and his brother (second left) with their Finnish cousins, 1975

Nearly 40 years later the cousins gather again with the next generation of cousins

The next generation of cousins meet at the same lake house in Finland several decades later, 2013

As we adjust back to life in Australia I often contemplate how we as a family landed here from such far-flung places as Finland, Hungary, Spain, Mexico and the USA. Having found ourselves reflected in the faces and mannerisms of people across Europe in addition to the knowledge that our ancestors lived exciting and tragic lives on that very land, Europe has touched us deeply and lives on inside us.

Adding fuel to the fire of this search for history, in a few months I will celebrate my 40th birthday… There’s nothing like a search for cultural identity in the midst of a mid-life transition…let’s go for it I say. Que sera, sera!

Family of adventurers at the end of our month in Finland

Family of adventurers at the end of our month in Finland


Visiting our longtime friends in Budapest. My sister and I used to play on that same floor as children when we visited in 1982, 1985 and 1990

The Return…Week 1

It’s surreal to think that just a few short weeks ago we were toasting the arrival of summer and the end of the school year with our Spanish community in Granada. There were school concerts, end of year parties and dinners that went into the wee hours, especially as the sun didn’t set until 10.30pm. We shared our reflections on the year with our new friends followed by teary farewells….and then we were gone.

We spent a year planning and another year living ‘Our Year in Spain’ then one week ago we arrived back in Sydney and suddenly the dream was over.  All the shiny new experiences and aliveness that comes with being in a different environment became things of the past and the colours of our hometown are muted by familiarity. As I walk or drive down the same streets I have known for years, I no longer see the detail and I am on autopilot once again.

We have landed in the middle of a Sydney Winter, back to the same house and area in which we have lived for 14 years but everything feels strange – we are aliens in a familiar setting. The cells of my body remember these places that I have known since childhood but my mind and spirit can’t quite relate or absorb it.

Arriving at Sydney Airport on 13th July 2015

Arriving at Sydney Airport on 13th July 2014

During our year away we became practiced at adapting to different places and situations, testing ourselves in new environments, speaking different languages and learning new customs. I thought returning home would be another experience that we would easily flow with, so as the plane drew closer to Sydney, I had no inkling that the return home would, in fact, be so daunting.

First sightings of Australia after a year away

First sightings of Australia after a year away – the beautiful wilderness


Seeing Sydney for the first time in a year

On my first day back and most days since, I have been stunned by the randomness and frequency of the tears that fall from my eyes. Although there were definitely hard days and sad days during ‘Our Year in Spain’, I do not recall ever shedding a tear. Why all this emotion now?

My hunch is that I am not only mourning the end of the dream that has been lived, but also finding my place and identity once again. How do we fit back into this old/new life that seems familiar and alien all at once? Added to that is the fresh perspective. Viewing our homeland differently after experiencing another way of life holds both positive and negative aspects.

There is much to be celebrated and just as much that is jarring. We are grateful for our loving and patient friends and family in Australia who have embraced our return and understand our mixed feelings around being back. They understand for now that it’s a difficult transition and that it is not personal to them or Australia. I do sometimes feel guilty though that my sunny disposition has gone, left behind on another continent for now, and that I may have given my best self to new friends in Spain while my loyal Australian friends receive the morose me. I’m waiting for my mojo to come back.

There are many things we re-appreciate here like Australian friendliness and efficiency and equally, there are the aspects we no longer relate to…the rush, rush of the city, the car culture and the constant chasing of the dollar to buy the latest and greatest house, product or experience. It’s jarring after living in a small city in southern Spain. Not that any place is perfect and Granada definitely had its own issues, these are just the things that I observe now with my fresh perspective.


Happy things to rediscover at home: Parks and beaches that are not crowded. My Bondi Beach!


Italian style coffee just how we like it…this was my husband’s first coffee straight after landing

Happy things from home: Italian style coffee just as we like

Happy things to find at home:  Asian food and convenient sushi everywhere


Not so happy things: Over regulated, too many rules and too rushed – seriously, what does this sign actually mean?


Not so happy things: Out of season, expensive fresh produce.

I notice our children’s wide eyes as they listen to their Australian friends talk about the latest trends and TV shows like ‘The Voice’ or Disney characters from movies. It’s a catch up crash course in popular culture. We didn’t have television for a year which was not some politically correct statement, just that with the very late sunsets in Spain there is no time to watch TV so we cancelled the satellite subscription. I observe my kids trying to describe to their Australian friends where we lived in Spain. How to describe a one thousand year-old neighbourhood of steep, winding, river stone laneways and walled Arabic Carmens? The ancient streets of the Albaicin are perhaps just too different to comprehend from this reality and the conversation quickly gravitates back to what is real and immediate here.


The streets of the Albaicin, Granada


Some of the things you see on the streets of Granada


Our neighbourhood in Granada during siesta time

I understand that children tend to live in the present moment and I am grateful as it is that quality that has made our kids such incredible adventurers this year. In fact, witnessing how ecstatic our children are to be back and re-embraced by their community has softened our landing. Our daughter is like a proud peacock, head held high, carrying her confidence and new independence. Our son is straight back to his friends and soccer team as if no time has passed.

Meanwhile, my husband and I are slowly processing all that we have learned and experienced during our year away. We are thinking about how to bridge the two worlds and keep the best of both. How lucky we are to have two homes, both wonderful and different in their own way but we are in no doubt that it will take time to readjust.

World Cup Fever

What happens when you travel the world during the “World Cup”?

It means you see how each country celebrates or mourns their teams’ wins and losses. It also involves witnessing the varying degrees of football madness in each country with outdoor screens, crowded bars, terraces and colour-coordinated patriotic paraphernalia of flags, banners and more….

Our whirlwind farewell tour of Europe and Thailand coincides with the World Cup and every location we have visited has had crowds supporting, celebrating and mourning their home teams or others.

World Cup fever involves connecting with people from all over the world over the idea of a ball, a pitch, some goals and talented footballers. It isn’t called the “world game” for nothing. Conversation starters are assured as people from all walks of life proffer their opinions to anyone prepared to listen, about who will win the match, group rounds or the whole tournament.

We have also witnessed foreigners who would normally try to blend in to their surrounds, loudly displaying their patriotic colours and frequenting the local venues that screen the matches. I met one brave Dutch man who came to a local Mexican restaurant in Paris to watch the Mexico-Holland match. I say ‘brave’ because Mexico was winning until the 88th minute when Holland was awarded a controversial penalty that dealt the sickening blow to Mexico’s world cup chances. There was pure devastation in the room and this Dutch man was in the corner of the bar eating an enchilada and apologizing profusely to anyone who approached.


Hanging with Mexican supporters in Paris during the Mexican-Holland match.

Mexican supporters in Paris - witnessing the devastating loss to Holland

Mexican supporters in Paris – witnessing the devastating loss to Holland

For a family like us with four nationalities and a new adopted home of Spain, our allegiances have been split in several directions. All our countries have now been eliminated (Spain, Australia and Mexico). We started to wonder if we had jinxed all the countries we visited as each time we arrived that country would lose. In Granada we watched Spain and Australia lose their first two group matches. The day we arrived in Lisbon, Portugal was eliminated from the tournament. It wasn’t until our arrival in Paris that the spell was broken. On our second evening in Paris, France won their round of 16 match against Nigeria and finally there were joyous celebrations on the streets instead of the quiet disbelief we had experienced until that point.

French supporters revelling on the Rue Fauberg-Monmatre in Paris

French supporters revelling on the Rue Fauberg-Montmartre in Paris

There is something unifying about sport on a global scale. As I watched the various games, I would think about my friends in those countries knowing that they would be watching also. I would send messages to them and communicate about the game despite being in completely different time zones. It was nice to connect over football even though I am ultimately not a big fan of competitive sport. I don’t like that for someone to win, someone else loses. Call me a new-age softy but I always feel for the losing side rather than the winners.

In every country we visited during the World Cup, it was fascinating to experience the differences in World Cup Fever:


The Dutch and their football fanaticism - a street in Scheveningen

The Dutch and their football fanaticism – a street in Scheveningen

The Dutch and their football fanaticism - a street in Scheveningen

The Dutch and their football fanaticism – a street in Scheveningen

Just a couple of weeks prior to the tournament commencement I visited Holland where whole streets were decorated in orange flags, Dutch flags and orange carpet to boot. Although initially the Dutch were not hopeful of anything great this tournament given that they were ranked outside the top nine, the national fervor and pride for their team could be seen everywhere. Supermarkets had entire sections devoted to fan paraphernalia: orange flags to decorate your house, Dutch flags, oversized orange sunglasses and orange t-shirts. Following Holland’s stunning thrashing of Spain in their first game, the nation’s hopes for further wins piqued and has been rewarded up to this point (even though I believe Mexico should have won against Holland in the Round of 16 match – yes, I am biased!.


Celebrating Spain's first goal against Holland before they lost 1-5

Celebrating Spain’s first goal against Holland before they lost 1-5

Coming into the tournament as World Champions and having dominated the European Champions League final just weeks before (Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid played in the final), Spain’s hopes were sky high for a repeat win as in South Africa. Alas, Spain failed to make it past the group stages losing to both Holland and Chile and winning only against Australia. It was all bitterness for me given that my two teams were Australia and Spain and both were eliminated from the same group.


Just one of several enormous screens erected in Lisbon for public viewing of the World Cup. This one in Praia Commerciao

Just one of several enormous screens erected in Lisbon for public viewing of the World Cup. This one in Praia Commercao

Portugal is a soccer-crazed country, even more so than Spain based on what we saw. The day we arrived in Lisbon, Portugal was fighting to stay in the World Cup. They had to pull off a massive win against Ghana to move beyond the group stage and as we drove through Lisbon’s wide boulevards, we could see enormous screens erected in parks, plazas and streets as well as TV screens in most bars and cafes. Crowds gathered around and cheered as Ronaldo scored a goal. Although Portugal rallied to win 2-1, it wasn’t quite enough to qualify to the next round. Portugal was out and we were treated to another nation’s disappointment. It wasn’t until the following day when Brazil beat Chile in the knockout rounds that the Portuguese, honouring their historical links to Brazil, decided it was worth celebrating. As Brazil won by an inch in a penalty shoot out, Lisbon exploded into celebration. Saturday night in Lisbon became one large heaving party of Brazilian colours and music. So glad I had earplugs to sleep that night.


Different viewing spots in LIsbon

Different viewing spots in Lisbon

The day we arrived in Paris my husband’s Mexican team took on Holland (not them again!!). We happened to be staying in an airbnb apartment in the 9th arrondissement just above a funky Mexican restaurant, which had an enormous screen erected for the world cup. We crowded in with some very excited Mexicans who celebrated in style (unlimited sangria from the restaurant) the whole way until the 88th minute when Holland stole victory from their clutches in a controversial penalty. It was all down hill from there as the Mexicans slunk into the night with their heads bowed in disappointment.

The following evening France played Nigeria and we had the feeling the whole city was watching the game. When France won, the streets filled with singing, cheering Parisians. Finally our jinx was broken and we felt like celebrating with our host country.

As we move further east towards Australia, the time zone for watching matches deteriorates significantly. Semi final viewing will take place at 11pm and 3am whereas in Europe matches were screened at the civilized hours of 6pm and 9pm. This evening my husband and son will go to a local Thai village Bar with a French family we met here, to watch France play Germany. We are staying on a small traditional Thai Island (Koh Yao Noi) in Phang Nga Bay so there are limited options for watching the match.

On a side note, the French family we met happens to be on their way home to Paris after a year of travelling in Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands and South East Asia. Fancy that! We cross paths in Thailand on our way home from each other’s countries. As you can imagine we have shared so many stories and our 10-year-old boys have not stopped playing soccer since they met. No common language required, only a soccer ball and some grass.

Watching France lose to Germany on a very old TV in a mosquito- ridden bar on a small island in Thailand

Watching France lose to Germany on a very old TV in a mosquito-ridden bar on a small island in Thailand

Now, back to the main game of the World Cup…. although Thailand is not in the world cup, they are just as crazy about football. On this tiny island we have already counted at least four soccer pitches and check out this gorgeous video that recently went viral about a team of young soccer players from a floating village very close by to where we are currently staying in Phang Nga Bay. I am hoping to take my son to this village to see the floating soccer pitch in real life. Maybe he can even have a game on the pitch with the Southern Thailand soccer champions!


As it so happens, after more than a year away, we land in Australia on the day of the World Cup grand final match. Given that the final will screen in Australia at 6am on a Monday morning, we are hoping the jetlag might work in our favour. Who knows who will be in the final, I just hope it won’t be Holland who single handedly eliminated my three teams (Spain, Australia and Mexico). Am I bitter? YES!


365 days…

365 days ago we untethered ourselves from life in Australia and took a leap of faith into the unknown. We boarded a plane that carried the four of us across continents and oceans.

The only known was that we would spend a year living in Granada, Spain. The remaining pieces of the journey were a mystery and required us to surrender to whatever came our way.  None of us had ever been to Granada previously so we had to trust our decision-making process that consisted of a bit of research, gut instinct and a large portion of luck.

Taking the leap... Departing Sydney 365 days ago - 23 June 2013

Taking the leap… departing Sydney – 23 June 2013

We were full of hope and excitement for whatever awaited us. Today, 365 days later, as the train pulls out of Granada station and we bid farewell to a wonderful life and community in Spain, all those unknowns have now been lived. What an incredible year this has been!

All too often the unknown, ‘the other’, ‘out there’ can seem frightening or inspire comparisons of better or worse or just too different.  The experience of this year has shown us that there is little to fear ‘out there’ just lots to be learned and gained. We have found exceptional people and places everywhere we have been. Reflecting back on this year one of the most outstanding elements has been the diversity and kindness of people.

There were our family and friends in France, Switzerland, Hungary and Finland who welcomed us and shared stories of our families’ history and identity; the Berber villagers in Morocco who guided us through the Atlas mountains and fed us tagines; our friends in Israel who included us at their Seder and Shabbat tables and showed us their ancient land; the friendly strangers in Italy who showered our children with food, gifts and attention. And of course our wonderful new friends and community in Granada who guided and supported us in the Spanish way of life. Every person has been exceptional in their own way and we are eternally grateful.

A Year in Granada

Granada is a small city surrounded by much natural beauty and history. It has mountains, rivers, lakes and is relatively close to the Mediterranean beaches, as well as many historical cities (Cordoba, Ubeda, Baeza, Sevilla, Cadiz) and let’s not forget the famous Alhambra Palace. Living in Granada provided many opportunities to explore beyond the city limits and travel throughout Europe.

In addition, certain activities that are difficult to do in Sydney became very accessible in Granada. My daughter and I were able to go horse riding regularly with little effort or cost compared to home. We could go for hikes in the mountains directly from our house without having to drive anywhere. Skiing in winter was just a 40-minute drive away and adventure abseiling, mountain biking etc.. were also very accessible. Arts and cultural events were also numerous and affordable and rarely did events sell out like they consistently do in Sydney. No need to buy tickets in advance or queue, just turn up on the day for the various theatre, dance, music and arts events and enjoy great performances.

The history and culture that is maintained with passion in Southern Spain was eye opening for us coming from such a young country as Australia. Every few weeks there was a procession or festival to mark another Saint or holy day. There was never a shortage of participants or spectators with young and old and in between filling the streets time and time again. The commitment to celebrating these cultural rituals is very strong in Granada and is a memory we will take back to Australia.

Our kids did complain that there weren’t more entertainment options like at home but that was an important adjustment to make, to wean them off big-city entertainment and help them become more creative by transforming their boredom.

In our little Albaicin neighbourhood of Granada, we had the opportunity to integrate into a vibrant and diverse community that welcomed us with open arms from the very beginning.

Through our neighbours, families from our children’s school, our son’s tennis and soccer teams as well as my language school, we were gently guided through the vicissitudes of Spanish life and culture. Many of the people in our neighbourhood are Spaniards married to foreigners so they had an empathetic ear however we also knew several proud Granadino families who go back generations and were excited to share their culture with us.

Although initially there was a lot of hard work for the children and I to improve our Spanish before we could thoroughly enjoy the life in Granada, we knew we were supported by people who were happy to speak to us in English when we really needed it. Through the initial hardships and subsequent rewards and achievements, I can see how our children have grown in confidence and have opened their eyes beyond the world they had known.

Particularly in the last months I derived such pleasure watching our children playing, laughing, taking risks and blabbing away with their friends in fluent Spanish. They have become well versed in European history and have learned so much at school.  I am proud of how they adjusted to and accepted their new environment and culture as if it was a just another usual occurrence. Even when there were sad days not once did either of them say they wanted to go back to Australia. They just accepted this is what we were doing.


First day of school jitters – Sept 2013


Last day of school farewells – June 2014


Last day of school with Josefina, their amazing Spanish teacher – June 2014

And so after a year of new and wondrous experiences, we bid farewell to our second home in Granada to begin the journey back to our other home in Sydney. We have three weeks of adventure and travel remaining before transitioning back to life as we knew it…but will it be the same? or more to the point…are we the same people?


A family of adventurers


Leaving Spain as a Spaniard


Living on Spanish time

The organisation of time in Spain is a fascinating topic and one that for historical, geographic and political reasons puts Spain on its own unique schedule compared to the rest of the world.

We knew before we came to live here that Spaniards had a unique relationship with time. We have since come to adapt and appreciate it with ease but what surprised us was the reasons behind why Spaniards do everything about two hours later than the rest of the world.

Here’s why: Spain’s clock time is effectively two hours ahead of its natural solar time zone and the reason for this is World War II. Prior to 1940 Western Europe had it’s own time zone (Greenwich mean time) which was one hour behind Central European time. With German occupation of Western Europe and, in the case of Spain, Franco’s allegiance to Germany, the clocks were changed to central European time to align with the German Reich. After the war none of the countries returned to their natural time zone except for Portugal and the UK who remained unoccupied during the war and therefore retained their time zone as they still do today.


Pre WWII European time zones

Current European time zones

Current European time zones. Look how far west Spain is but still in the same time zone as Poland

It is widely accepted that the relatively late sunrises and sunsets in Spain shift the average Spaniard’s day later than it otherwise would be. In practical terms living two hours outside of solar time means that going to bed at a normal time is hard as it is still light outside. That natural instinct to go home and rest at nightfall does not take place until much later in Spain including in winter when it doesn’t get dark until just before 7pm.

When we arrived in Spain in August 2013 on a flight from Budapest to Malaga, I had my hand poised to change the time on my watch. Surely, a distance of nearly 3,000kms in a Westerly direction required a time change? (I mean, that is the equivalent distance from Sydney to Perth or LA to New York) But no, the clocks remained the same, which meant going to bed 2 hours later on clock time (for me that meant 1am instead of 11pm and 10pm instead of 8pm for the children). As much as we thought we would transition slowly to Spanish time, it happened much faster than we anticipated, as our bodies did not want to be indoors getting ready for bed when the sun was still high in the sky at 9pm.

And where in most places the hottest time of the day would be around 2-3pm, in Spain it is at 4-5pm hence the need for a siesta in Southern Spain. People do not tend to head back out on the street until 8pm for a stroll and a 9pm or 10pm dinner.

Sunset at 9.30pm - time for dinner

Sunset at 9.30pm – time for dinner

We have adjusted well to this lifestyle and revelled in it, well except for the sleep deficit of about 1-2 hours per night that our children have accumulated. Although they don’t fall asleep until it is dark at 10.30pm they still have to be at school at 9am (clock time). They don’t seem too affected by the new routine although I wonder if they may have stunted growth! But it was all worth it!

We hope we can bring some of this new routine back to Australia. I wonder if we may be the last ones at Bondi Beach on summer week nights rather than participate in the communal mad dash home at 7pm. When we would normally get that feeling to head home to start the night routine, we now realise that there is a whole life that can be lived between 7pm and 10pm and the kids can still get up for school the next day. Note to my Sydney friends: who’s up for 9pm tapas on weeknights? You may however need to skip your 6am run!!

While I will be trying to export the Spanish way of time to Australia, it seems there is a movement in Spain pushing to return to its original time zone under the premise of boosting productivity and bringing family and work rhythms into better balance.

In September 2013 the subcommittee tasked with studying the ‘Rationalisation of Hours, the Reconciliation of Personal, Family Life and Professional Life and Responsibility’ made a report to the Spanish Government proposing, among other things, a return to Greenwich Mean Time. The subcommittee considered that this time zone change “would have a favourable effect, allowing more time for family, leisure, and avoiding downtime during the workday.” The proposal was also aimed at improving Spanish labour productivity.

There are many people who are opposed to changes citing that the late sunsets lend themselves to more hours out of the house and in the world with friends and community, something that Spaniards delight in.

After 70 years in this current time zone though, I wonder whether it is possible or necessary to change the Spanish way of life and culture around time. And anyway, most people in the world get upset if you are late but a Spanish friend never finds out if you are late because they are always later than you…

The sun is still high at the beach at 7pm

The sun is still high at the beach at 7pm


Living within the walls of history

It was late on Friday night when we arrived at our apartment in the medieval Tuscan town of Lucca after a full day of travel. My son asked: “How come every place we visit, there’s a big wall around it? We live inside the walls of the Albaicin in Granada and every city we’ve stayed in has walls.” He proceeded to list them: “Tallin (Estonia), Cadiz (Spain), Jerusalem (Israel), Lucca (Italy), Marrakech (Morocco).”

How fantastic to travel with children whose view of the world allows one to see through a different prism; a long forgotten world dissolved by the responsibilities of adulthood.

I hadn’t noticed until that moment that all these places where we had been living and visiting bore their histories in the edifices and buildings huddled together within thick, ancient walls. The walls are a reminder of former barbaric times when marauding invaders engaged in power struggles that made and broke empires.


The wall surrounding the Albaicin, Granada. This is the ancient Arabic quarter


Outside the walls of Tallinn, Estonia

The stunning city walls of Tallinn, Estonia

The stunning city walls of Tallinn, Estonia



The Jaffa Gate of Jerusalem’s old City wall


Riding on Lucca’s city walls (Ramparts)


The outside walls of the Medina, Marrakesh

Lucca huddles within its walls

Lucca huddles within its walls

While the threat of invaders has long passed, these ancient walls continue to influence the way life is lived within them, a lifestyle that is strikingly different from the one I know in the sprawling modern city of Sydney, full of wide open spaces and….horrendous traffic.

Sprawling Sydney 60km long and 60 km wide

Sprawling Sydney 60km long and 60 km wide

The first difference is the use of space. There is little open space within walled cities and houses are crowded together around small squares (plazas). That means that much of life is lived in the intimate spaces of the streets, squares, bars and cafes where people gather. The distances between places are short therefore people walk which means a lot of incidental human contact.

Here in the Albaicin neighbourhood of Granada I constantly bump into my neighbours while going about my day. I often have to factor in more time to get anywhere because of the many conversations that take place along the way. I love this interactivity and vibrancy. People are out and about every day and often in the evenings. In summer it doesn’t get dark until 10.30pm so why not stay out to enjoy the evening. The only element from my Australian life that I do miss is the open spaces, parks, grass and beaches i.e. gathering with people in nature.


Our house and narrow street huddled within the walls of the Albaicin with the Alhambra in the background

One of the squares near our house where the children sold lemonade to tourists

One of the squares near our house where the children sold lemonade to tourists


Looking down upon the Albaicin from outside the walls


Plaza Larga, fruit and veg market by morning and eating and drinking terrace by afternoon


Mirador de San Nicolas. While awaiting the school pickup at 3:30pm, many parents have beer on the terrace outside the school


This is how we watch soccer matches in Granada


A spontaneous gathering of musicians and locals in the square near our house

In Australia, the vast sprawling cities provide large private spaces and gardens for their inhabitants but also mean that most people move around in cars rather than walk. There is far less incidental contact with neighbours and community and often people spend their time in their homes rather than out on the streets or in cafes. The one place where I do experience that convivial community feeling is in the numerous parks and beaches of my neighbourhood in Sydney. In Granada my community centres around urban spaces, while in Sydney it is in nature, particularly on the grassy knoll of North Bondi Beach. North Bondi is a place where we picnic after work in Summer, swim in the ocean and usually bump into our friends and community.


The grassy knoll of North Bondi Beach for post work dinner picnics in Summer


Quintessential Sydney, my daughter eating a Golden Gaytime at Shark Beach/Nielsen Park


PIcnic blankets, grass and friends

PIcnic blankets, grass and friends

My beach!

My neighbourhood beach!

My second observation is, in Europe people spend time maintaining their history through festivals, food, religious ceremonies, culture and education. It is wonderful to see the knowledge of forebears passed onto subsequent generations. There is a certain pleasure and obligation to remember where people came from by maintaining old practices.

In Spain, I appreciate the way people uphold their history, culture and family heritage because of a sense of duty and appreciation. I particularly like seeing young people fully engaged in this process, thinking about and participating in activities that serve others rather than only themselves. However innovation and creativity can be stifled by the attitude that the ancestors knew everything and therefore their way of doing things must be maintained as it has for generations.

Festivals every other weekend to celebrate a rich history - Las Fallas

Festivals every other weekend to celebrate a rich history – Las Fallas

Semana Santa (Easter Processions), Granada

Semana Santa (Easter Processions), Granada

In Australia, when the British colonised the land of the Aboriginal people and imported migrants (mostly white initially and later on from everywhere) to build a new nation, the view was squarely fixed towards the future. This attitude remains to this day. Migrants from across the world flock to Australia to start over and build a new life. Some want to forget the past while others choose to maintain their heritage privately or in minority community groups. Australian society is a fruit salad of mixed ethnicity and culture with the predominant view towards building future prospects.

Australians seem to be very interested in moving forward and can be quite taken with the latest fads. While I find this leads to innovation and creativity, it can also feed empty consumption, superficiality and a culture of selfishness.

I am privileged to have had the opportunity to experience a different way of living for a year in Spain. Neither way of living is better or worse just different and wonderful in its own way. I do wish though that I could cross-pollinate a little of each experience to the other place. I would love to create some green open spaces in my neighbourhood in Granada and to bring some of the street and café life to my suburb in Sydney. Equally I would love to bring some deep sense of history and duty to Australia and some freedom to break from the past to Spain.