The call came as I was running out the door, late, to my summer waitressing
job in London. Bollocks, I remember thinking to myself, as I did a couple of
swivels and made a grab for the phone. And so it all began.
"Amanda, it's Professor Mckay". My history teacher at Edinburgh University.
Oh dear. What could he want with me mid summer and how on earth had he
tracked me down to my brother's sofa? "I'm calling to tell you that you are
going to Salamanca next year on some new EU wheeze called Erasmus. I forgot
to pick anyone last term. Going to take the first three I find who speak
Spanish. ¿Tú hablas español, no?
Not really, would have been the honest answer to that. My parents were
living in Chile at the time and I'd worked in a sandwich bar in a ski resort there
the previous summer. But from "hamburguesa con fritas" to "Renacimiento y
Baroque" was quite a leap.
"Salamanca. Is that in South America?" I asked hopefully. "No, Spain,
middle of nowhere" came the reply. "You're number 3. Have a nice summer".
So it was I landed in Salamanca, didn't study very much history at all,
contrary to eager expectation fell not for a macho ibérico but a German 10
years my senior and set up ISLA with him.
Salamanca blew me away from the first moment. The soaring golden buildings
and leafy gardens; the cafes on every corner heaving with tapas and shouty
people at all hours; and the fact that here I was a "rubia" - blonde at
last! - rather than British mouse with a few highlights.
It is my not very original view that this being out in the street
contributes largely to Southern European cheeriness. As no one is ever at
home anyway, there's little time to agonize about home furnishings ... or
loll around in sweat pants, for that matter. Spaniards groom with care ...
but let their hair down with gusto.
My dear dad gave up asking me if I'd be coming back to find a proper job
after the first 5 years, we moved to Barcelona to do a second ISLA after
rather more than 10, married after 15 years and came back to Salamanca after
just under 20.
My favourite place of all is the Sierra de Francia mountain range south of Salamanca
where I enjoy swimming holes with my nephews, the shade of cherry trees with
a chilled glass of white wine, open fires with a good book and long walks
with the legendary Loren, the retired school master from one of the tiny
Though I've lived in Spain far longer than I lived in the UK, in some things
I'll be forever British: the Sunday newspapers, pubs, M&S food, golden
retrievers, Mock the Week, men without gel in their hair. So these are
treats, when I get at them.
But I suppose I am so very fortunate and hope not to sound smug when I say
that life in Spain feels like a treat much of the time too. So if Spain
seems to be "calling" you, as it did me, take a grab at it!
3 other favourite places in Spain: Vejer de la Frontera, Cadaqués and Balmaseda
3 places for lunch: Quim de la Boqueria, Barcelona, los Cocederos de Puerto
de Santa María, Mirasierra, Sierra de Francia
3 heroes: Greg Mortensen (Three cups of tea) John Rebus (Ian Rankin´s
series) Chuck Bass (Gossip Girl)