The Expat Dilemma Part 2

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I recently wrote a post called The Expat Dilemma that seemed to resonate with several other expats. We’re an interesting group us expats–we debate where home is (if we have one at all), we teeter on the line between outsider and local, we bond over the idiosyncrasies of our adopted cultures, the things we miss back “home”, and try our darndest to steer clear of the “grass is always greener” mindset.

The Expat Dilemma that I wrote of is, essentially, this quote in more words. We want a life that seems to evade us. We want to be here AND there. We feel the heaviness of homesickness, we miss birthdays and life-long friends’ weddings and holidays with the fam–but pluck us from our expat life and put us back home, and we’ll be feeling stir-crazy and craving our next adventure in no time.

My question is; does an expat ever stop feeling “a nostalgia for the familiar and the urge for the foreign and strange” as Carson McCullers suggests, or are we constantly in limbo between the two?

I say yes to being in limbo.

I know that as long as I’m in Spain, I’ll be nostalgic for home, despite the fact that the longer I’m here the less “familiar” home is. I also know that as much as I was born with roots, I was born with wings and my wanderlust will never subside. Whether I’m appreciating a new culture within a country (like I’m doing now with the recent move) or acquainting myself with a new culture entirely, I’ll always, always, always crave what’s foreign.

Expats, what do you think? Non-expats, can you relate to this quote?

What To Do in Vitoria, Spain: Basque Country’s Capital

I’ve been to both Bilbao and San Sebastián countless times, but  up until recently, I’d never been to Vitoria, the capital of Basque Country. Of Basque Country’s three main cities, Bilbao, San Sebastián and Vitoria, you’ll hear lots of Bilbao’s transformation from an industrialized city to a modern metropolis, and of San Sebastián’s stunning natural beauty and incredible food. What you won’t hear much of, however, is Vitoria.

If Basque Country is relatively untouched by tourism compared to other places in Spain, Vitoria is even further off-track. While there are a few Michelin-starred restaurants to be found in the area, there’s no Guggenheim, no UNESCO-Heritage sites, seemingly nothing to draw in outside visitors–at first glance.

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Church of San Miguel Arcángel

Architecture in Vitoria, Spain

Architecture in Vitoria, Spain

Off-The-Beaten-Path

The only thing I had heard about Vitoria before coming was that it was considered one of the cleaner cities in Spain, well-known for its potatoes, and became populated with a lot of commuters who work in Bilbao but didn’t want to pay the high prices to live there. Doesn’t exactly spark your interest, does it?

Vitoria turned out to be a nice surprise. It’s a sprawling city with a small town feel: full of parks (which lead to it being named the European Green Capital of 2012!), pubs crowded with locals and an old quarter packed with historical treasures; like the Cathedral of Santa María or the Plaza de la Virgen Blanca. It can easily be seen in a day and is less than an hour away from Bilbao.

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Sunshine in a plaza in Vitoria, Spain

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Church of San Miguel Arcángel at sunset in Vitoria, Spain

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Sunset settles over the city

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A peek of another bell-tower.

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Modern meets present in Vitoria with escalators in the city’s old quarter.

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Twilight in Vitoria, Spain

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Vitoria, Spain was the European Green Capital of 2012

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Old medieval walls

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The sun sets on the San Pedro Apóstol church in Vitoria

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Vitoria-Gasteiz found in Plaza de la Virgen Blanca

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Downtown Vitoria: Plaza de la Virgen Blanca

What to Do in Vitoria:

Explore the medieval old quarter

Vitoria’s old quarter dates back to more than eight centuries ago, and is full of extravagant palaces (some of which have been converted into museums), pretty plazas, historic churches, winding streets, cozy cafés, and more. The city has a past of craftsmanship, and many of the streets are named after traditional craftwork like Zapetería (shoemaker), Herrería (blacksmith), Pintorería (painter) and more. Here’s a cool map from the tourist office that follows a route through these streets, passing by shops that still practice these crafts to this day. Here’s a number of other routes available focusing on the history of Vitoria, sure to enrich your time visiting the city.

Admire the street art

Stay tuned as I’ll be writing about the street art in Vitoria soon–I was definitely taken by surprise by it!

Relax in a park

Since Vitoria was named the European Green Capital of 2012, checking out one of its urban green spaces is a must. According to the European Commission’s website, every resident in Vitoria lives within 300m from a park!

For more on Vitoria–check out this great photo essay focusing on the city’s commitment to being environmentally friendly.

 

 

Living Like a Local in Santander

A tree-lined avenue in Santander

A tree-lined avenue in Santander

I’m getting tired of hostels. There, I said it. The shared bathrooms, the stinky dorm rooms, those ubiquitous snorers. Though all hostels are certainly not created equal, I’m more of a boutique hotel kind-of-girl–I could easily be persuaded to be a Four Seasons kind-of-girl, but alas, my pocketbook wouldn’t agree!

After a great experience booking a shabby chic apartment when I traveled to Paris, I discovered that renting an apartment while you’re traveling may be the best option of them all. Nothing beats the ability to live where the locals do, save a few bucks by cooking out of your own kitchen and have the peace and quiet of not sharing your space with a bunch of drunken Aussies/Germans/Americans/Fill in the Blank.

So, when Wimdu asked me to try out their vacation rental website, I booked a room in Santander about as central as you can get: right behind the town hall. Booking a hotel in downtown Santander would have been hard to find for the same price. Though I didn’t spend much time in the apartment itself, it met all of my basic needs: budget-friendly, centrally located, secure, clean.

Wimdu.com's homepage

Wimdu.com’s homepage

What I Loved About Using Wimdu:

Wimdu’s website has a huge variety of properties available: I found not only apartments, but villas, cottages, farmhouses, boats and more. Since Wimdu seems to be just picking up in popularity in Spain, there weren’t too many properties to choose from that fit my needs, and while I really wanted an entire apartment, I opted to book a room in a large apartment. While not my preference, for a quick weekend getaway it worked out just fine.

Another thing I loved about Wimdu is its slick, user-friendly interface. Within minutes, you can set up a free account and start browsing for properties to rent across the world. You can easily narrow down your perfect place by neighborhood, amenities (like pet-friendly/hot-tub/WiFi, etc.) and check out the apartment’s surroundings on a map. When you’ve narrowed down your choice, your request will then be sent to your host, who can accept or reject it. You’ll also be able to message your host (before or after booking) with any questions you have.

What to Keep in Mind

Every property is different, and different hosts will have different rules. Some require a deposit in addition to what you pay to Wimdu, others don’t. Before booking, be sure you read the rules completely and follow them during your stay.

Wimdu verifies the hosts and handle all monetary transactions (excluding a deposit, if requested by the host.)

Users are encouraged to leave reviews of their experience. Though I had my doubts about renting out a room from a stranger, I read fellow traveler’s reviews and felt much more at ease. I’d recommend booking a place with positive reviews, so you know what to expect.

Would I Use Wimdu Again?

In a word, yes–but with some exceptions. I wouldn’t book a private room again as I really prefer not sharing my space. But with so many tempting properties out there, and more everyday as the site expands, I’m sure I’ll be looking to Wimdu again in the near-future for accommodation.

Would you be open to booking a vacation rental?

While Wimdu graciously hosted me, all opinions expressed here are my own.