The week we found a house

Actually, it’s a flat. Un piso. Not quite the orange orchard we dreamily aimed for on arrival, but we love it. The four (!) balconies look out across a winding pedestrian street that is currently full of fairy lights, and the rooms are warm enough, furnished and comfortable.

Four of those balconies are ours!

Renting a place in Spain has been a good introduction to the people here. Everyone we’ve spoken to has given us the number of a real estate agent they know, or a friend who might be able to help. We’ve had landlords and agents drive us from our hotel to check out apartments, meet us with a smile and try patiently to communicate, even though our Spanish is still woeful.

It’s also been an interesting interaction with the economic times in the country. I don’t pretend to know anything about it really, but there are hundreds and hundreds of places for sale here; ‘En Venda’ signs (for sale in Catalan) cover many of the balconies. To cover costs in the meantime many of the flats are also available for rent. Our apartment falls into this category. Goodness knows what will happen if the flat sells while we are here.

Given the level of bureaucracy associated with many other aspects of Spanish life, the turn-around time from finding our apartment to getting the keys was surprisingly quick. On Tuesday morning we looked at it – we liked it, tried (unsuccessfully) to bargain the rent down, and got the keys at 6pm on Wednesday afternoon. Easy! To sign the contract all we needed our NIE (those all important National Identity Numbers we waited for in Australia), a bank account, and the cash…

If you do not rent directly from the owner you need to pay a commission to the agent who helped you out. This is normally one month’s rent. That, plus a month’s rent for bond and the rest of the month’s rent in advance meant that we shelled out almost 900 euro in half an hour. BUT, considering that our monthly rent here is similar to a week’s rent in Melbourne, I can’t really complain.

A big long pillowcase for a big long nap.

Now comes the filling of the house. We have done three junk shop and supermarket runs in the last three days and have got all the essentials: tomato sauce, wine, cutlery and sheets. Did you know that pillows and pillow cases in Spain are sold as one long pillow slip, the same length as the bed? The lovely sheet salesman across the road got his mamá to cut ours in half, to fit our two pillows meant for single beds! The more you learn…


The week we arrived

I hope to write every week about our experiences here in Tortosa, highlighting the key event that happened over the previous seven days. You know, like on Friends, where each episode is ‘The One where Ross did something something’. But on this, our first week in Spain, I could write a post for every day. So much has happened and everything seems momentous!
It’s the week we said goodbye to our loved ones and spent 26 hours travelling to get to Tortosa, a little town on the Ebro River and our home for the next year. We bore the travel quite well really, considering we left blistering Melbourne heat and went straight from the pub to the airport. The movies we watched were a credit to the airline, and we even got a bit of sleep. The internet makes the world seem very small sometimes but travelling by plane for 23 hours, and then 3 hours on a train makes you realise that it is still pretty big. I find that somehow reassuring.
My view on the walk home. Not too shabby!
We are yet to find a house at the time of writing, but we both feel pretty comfortable here. The people are amazingly friendly (and patient with our lack of language), the views are incredible and even though the water tastes rotten (thanks for spoiling us Melbourne), we are getting used to it (or cutting it with juice). The Spanish attitude towards food is very real here – today I googled ‘how to eat like a Spanish person’ and yep, it’s exactly like that. Chatty morning tea, lunch from 2 until 4, dinner from 10. We are yet to stay awake until 10:30…
Some delicious whitebait treats to get us through to Spanish dinner time
This week also marks the week I started my new job as a climate researcher for UERRA at Catalonia’s Universitat Rovira i Virgili. Some would argue that starting a new job 42 hours after arriving in a new country is a bit foolish and I would agree with them. My jet lag made it pretty hard for me to take on any new information about the job or the tasks that lie ahead. However, I did get a bit of admin done, including a swipe card and a bank account. That last one required us to sign no less than 13 forms!
We were in purgatory for months in Australia before our arrival, waiting for our Spanish visas and all important NIEs (National Identification Numbers) to be sorted. More on that at another time, when we can look back and laugh. Already I’m so glad we got to wait at home, rather than going through that process here. There are a few more steps before we can call ourselves legit Spanish residents, and I’m sure there will be more on that later too.
For now, we will force ourselves to stay awake until it is a respectable teatime like 9:30pm, and get ready for the long weekend! Monday is a holiday across Spain, and Tortosa is celebrating with a sunny forecast, a Christmas market and a poultry exhibition. Obviously. Hopefully we’ll make the most of all three. Hasta luego!

28 June 1836: Snowfall in Sydney

My PhD was on the past climate of southeastern Australia. This involved looking at lots of different sources of old weather data from the 1800s. Newspapers, government records and farmer’s diaries: each source an important clue to the history of Australia’s climate.

While my work focussed mainly on quantitative data (numbers) rather than qualitative descriptions of what happened (words), using both sources of information can improve our understanding of the weather of the past. Plus, much like music and lyrics (great film), they tell a much better story together.

I want to share some of the more exciting events in the archives of Australia’s weather. Everyone loves talking about the weather, and extreme events, woah! Can we talk about anything else? So let’s start with an easy one. A classic. Sunday 28 June, 1836: snowfall in old Sydney town.Continue reading “28 June 1836: Snowfall in Sydney”