How have we found our houses when living abroad? Choosing a country and a city was a challenge, but choosing a house wasn’t really hard at all. It was much less dramatic than the tv show.
House Hunting: Ecuador
We were very adventurous when we moved to Ecuador. We didn’t find a house or school until we arrived, though we had researched schools and neighborhoods. We’d never even been to Ecuador, so we were really hoping we’d like the city and want to stay.
The first two weeks in Cuenca, we stayed in an Airbnb as we got to know the city and decided where we wanted to live. Once we knew that, we contacted a language school to see if they had anyone who was renting a furnished apartment. They did, and it was in a fantastic location, just one block from a well-stocked grocery store and had four parks within a half-mile.
I didn’t love the two bedroom, three bathroom apartment with a 9 square foot balcony, but Chad was ready to settle. It ended up working out perfectly. There was a restaurant and produce stand right across the street, a hospital two blocks away, and a pub on the way to the laundromat down the street. And, we found the sweetest preschool for Ali just five blocks away. The location of Serena’s school was not important since she took a bus to and from school.
House Hunting: Spain
We did things differently for our move to Spain. Christine with YourYearInSpain, who helps foreigners move to Spain, was extremely knowledgeable and helpful about neighborhoods and schools. After we told her our criteria and our interests, she recommended three central walkable neighborhoods with good schools nearby.
She had some apartment and house listings from local owners that we could choose from in those areas. Some were smallish apartments without much comfortable sitting space. Another house had a fantastic view of the Alhambra, but we decided not to rent that one because the layout was awkward and the kitchen was small.
One house with a wrap-around terrace with a great view of the mountains nearby, a comfortable-looking family room, a piano (Ali could keep playing!), and a spacious kitchen caught our eye. It was in the Albaicín neighborhood, which is the historic Muslim quarter of Granada. In the 11th century, it was the center of the Zirid Kingdom of Granada and was one of the most important cities of Al-Andalus, the Islamic state that controlled most of the Iberian peninsula (current day Spain and Portugal) from 711 until 1492.
In our 2009 travels in Spain with Chad’s parents, we loved visiting the Albaicin’s winding medieval pedestrian streets, white-washed buildings, location on a hillside, and fantastic views of La Alhambra. We were excited about the prospect of living there.
Signing a Lease?
I was reluctant to sign a lease to secure this house. We’d never seen it in person or walked through the nearby streets to get a feel for the area and the neighbors. However, in order to register the girls for school, we needed to have proof that we lived in the neighborhood. So, we signed a lease to rent the house.
A few weeks after we signed the lease, I woke up one morning very worried. I remembered that people in Spain smoke a lot, and I was afraid that the house would smell like cigarette smoke. Uh oh! I hadn’t even thought about it until that moment. You can’t see the stink of cigarette smoke in pictures, and it was something I couldn’t live with. Yikes! Was this house going to work out for us?
The Big Reveal
We were so excited to finally see our home when we arrived to Granada on a hot 107℉ (42 ℃) evening. The uncle of the landlords (who live out of town) was waiting for us with our key.
The house is painted white, has a clay tile roof, and has charming wooden doors. It is adjacent to a small parking area surrounded by other houses. It looked well-kept from the outside with pretty flower boxes.
My first impression of the house was that it was just like the pictures we saw when we signed the contract. Inside the house, it was warm, though thankfully not hot. We already knew there was no air conditioning in most of the house.
And, to my tremendous relief, it did not smell like cigarettes.
Compared to our apartment in Ecuador, the house is very spacious. It has three-stories with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and an office with a futon.
The house has an interesting mix of Arabic and Austrian influences.
The art on the walls is in Arabic (see above), and the pictures look like they’re from Egypt. Correct me in the comments section below if you know better or can tell me what the wall hangings say.
It is weird to have these women looking at me when I go to sleep at night. Hmmm… maybe I should just move the pictures 🙂
Room by Room
We’ll share some pictures from our house for your virtual visit.
First Floor (or the Ground Floor)
Here’s the sitting area you see right when you walk in.
The kitchen is spacious. It has all of the dishes, pans, plates and utensils that we will need. We are missing having a dishwasher and a microwave. I’ve spent many hours trying to sort through the cabinets to see what there is and to make room for our groceries.
We do have a washing machine, though no dryer, which I understand is the norm here in Spain. The air is so dry that it takes no time at all to dry our clothes.
The living room is on the second floor. We’ve enjoyed cuddling up on the couch while streaming Disney+. We just finished up Ms. Marvel, which was a fun series. I don’t have a picture of us on the couch, but I do have this fantastic picture of Ali playing the piano.
Our bedroom is rather unremarkable. There’s a bed, a small window, and a small closet. Half of the closet is used for hanging clothes, and the other half has four shelves and four drawers for Chad and my clothes. Thank good we didn’t pack too much! Our winter clothes are still in our suitcases since there’s no space for them in the closet. (Plus, I can’t bear to even look at them in this heat!)
The girls’ bedroom has more space. They have bunk beds, bookshelves, a desk, an armoire, a dresser, and two windows. When we moved in, half of the drawers were full of stuff, including dinosaurs, swords, games, and random mismatched articles of clothing.
Serena and Ali got busy right away making making the room their own. They emptied the drawers, packed away unwanted toys into a box, and arranged their bookshelves and drawers just the way they wanted them.
After discovering the house’s stash of art supplies, the girls spent hours painting, drawing, cutting, tying, and gluing decorations for their room.
They also made a room for Jade, their American girl doll, complete with bed, desk, and photos for her walls.
The bathrooms are fine. One has a small bathtub and a bidet. We did some research to learn how to use it :). The other bathroom has a tiny shower. Every time I bend over to wash my legs, I bump into the faucet and turn the water off. And, the showerhead doesn’t reach Chad’s shoulders, so thankfully it’s the sprayer hose type that we can take off and move. And we thought our shower back home was small!
Right now, the third floor is our favorite. It has air conditioning!
The third floor is an office with a futon. We moved the girls’ mattresses up for now, and we are all camping up there to stay cool. We tidy up each morning before starting work.
There’s also a fantastic wrap-around terrace with fantastic views of the hillside. You can also see the green lush gardens of the Generalife (the 14th century summer palace of the Nasrid rulers of the Emirate of Granada in Al-Andalus) and the slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Our house is in a great location with lots of nearby restaurants, a grocery a block away, and a bakery around the corner (I’m blaming their croissants if we come back heavier than we left :). There are historic monuments everywhere you turn, like the gate to the 11th century fortress that was once here.
The girls’ school is a five minute walk. It’s a 15ish minute walk downhill to get to the centro (downtown) and 25 minutes to a big grocery store. We’ve taken a 5 euro taxi from downtown once, and there’s also a bus we’ve yet to take. The uphill trek always gets our heart rate up, and we welcome the little bit of exercise returning from downtown since the trip often includes an ice cream cone.
So that’s it. Now you can feel like you’ve stopped by for a quick visit. We hope you enjoyed your tour!
Photo credit: El Albayzín Panorama – By Bert K. – originally posted to Flickr as Granada, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11941637