An astonishing amount of auxiliares end up in Galicia, the relatively unknown region on the northwest corner of Spain. To be honest, we’re kind of jealous – cheap rent, sumptuous seafood and Celtic traditions. Located in the Lugo province, Sarria is a mere 102 kilometers from Santiago de Compostela and a popular starting point for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago.
Amy, now exploring Madrid bite by bite, shares details on living in rural Galicia:
Name: Amy Bingham
City and Comunidad: Sarria (Lugo), Galicia
Your living situation? I shared a 3 bedroom, 2 full bathroom furnished apartment with the auxiliar who was working at the high school in town.
How did you find your flat? The language coordinator at my school was unbelievably helpful in helping me find housing and set up all the things I needed to live in rural Spain. She put me in touch with one of the English teachers at the school who had an apartment available along with helping me find other people in town who were renting apartments.
Rent: I had the large bedroom, so my rent was 125 euro per month. My roommate paid 100 euro.
What did you spend on utilities? This was rural Spain, so our heat came in the form of plug-in electric radiators in the bedrooms and an “estufa”- basically a stove that burned olive-pit pellets to heat the living room, dining room, kitchen and hallways. Our stove and hot water ran on propane tanks called “bombonas”. Our utilities varied immensely with the weather. In the dead of winter we were paying between 50-70 euro each per month. When we didn’t have to use the heat as much we paid between 35-40 euro per month.
You cell phone company and plan? In Galicia I used movistar. I have now lived and learned and now use Tuenti. I pay about 8 euro per month for 1G of data. Calls are 12 cents. It’s an amazingly cheap way to use an iPhone in Spain!
What do you pay for internet? We didn’t have a landline. I believe we paid about 35-40 euro per month for internet, which we split between the two of us.
What did you spend on groceries? Food in Galicia is amazingly cheap. I paid about 50 euro per month on groceries and ate like a queen!
Did you have any other sources of income? I did quite a few private classes. In the pueblos of Galicia the going rate was 10 euro per hour. But trust me, 10 euro in Sarria goes much farther than the 15-20 I’m now charging in Madrid!
Were you able to save any money? I traveled a LOT during my year in Galicia and still managed to have a couple hundred euro in my account at the end of the year.
Your favorite tapas bar? Bar España, a typical Galician neighborhood bar about two blocks from my piso. I always ordered a glass of red wine which comes with a free tapa. In Sarria (and in most of Galicia) the waiter or waitress will read you a list of the available tapas that day and you choose. At Bar España they just stopped asking me after a while. I always went for the Raxo, chunks of amazingly deliciously marinated pork over homemade french fries. The wine was 1.20 and the tapa was free! Needless to say I had to stop by two or three times per week!
For something a bit different, I would go to the old part of town, which was almost always filled with pilgrims on the last stretch of their Camino de Santiago. Near Sarria’s church was a fabulous Italian restaurant run by the nicest Italian man and his wife.
Your breakfast and coffee bars suggestions: In the old part of Sarria, or the “part arriba” as they say in town, was a fabulous Italian restaurant run by the nieces Italian man and his wife. Matias Locanda Italiana made, hand down, the best cafe con leche in town and had a chocolate mousse that was so good that the owner, Matias, told me it had saved his marriage!
Nightlife in Sarria: Sarria had two discos in town, but I can’t say I’d recommend either. We usually partied at one of my friend’s boyfriend’s house out in the countryside. We would go to Eroski, one of the grocery stores in town, and buy bottles of rum and vodka for about 12 euro each, pick up some mixers and have a house party!
How did you get around? To get around Sarria I walked. From one end of town to the other was about a 15 minute walk. To get into Lugo, the closest big city, I took a bus. It took about an hour and cost less than 4 euro each way. To get the the airport was a bit of an adventure.
There are three airports in Galicia, all of which are a complete pain to get to from Sarria. You almost always have to connect through Madrid to get anywhere (except Paris – there are direct flights from A Coruña!) To get to the airport in Vigo I took a bus from Sarria to Monforte de Lemos (about an hour), then a train from Monforte to Vigo (about 3 hours). To get to Santiago de Compostela I took a bus from Sarria to Lugo, then a bus from Lugo to Santiago (about 2 hours). To get to the airport in A Coruña there was a train that left directly from Sarria! But it took about 3.5 hours.
What you loved about living in Sarria? The people and the food. People in Sarria were unbelievably welcoming. They were more than willing to help me with things I didn’t understand (like how to set up a bank account) and welcomed me into their community and often into their homes for a weekend meal. And those meals were amazing! Galicia is known for both their seafood and their beef. Everything here was extremely fresh and delicious!
And your dislikes? I am definitely a big city girl. While living in a town of 4,000 was an eye-opening and amazing experience, it was tough at times not to have any of the conveniences of a big city or the vibrance and life of a city. That being said, I never would have learned Spanish living in Madrid my first year. In Sarria, only my roommate and I spoke English so I was forced to either learn Spanish or stay mute! Needless to say I learned a ton in the eight months I was there.
How easy was it to travel around Spain and Europe from Sarria? As I mentioned above, getting to the airport was quite a challenge. The up side of that was that it forced me to really explore the region I was in! Galicia has amazing history (Roman bridges, Celtic village ruins that are thousands of years old), beautiful beaches and heavenly gastronomy! They also have a pretty good bus system to get to just about any city or village in the region. I would avoid the trains, though. They are ridiculously slow. For example, the train from Sarria to Madrid was nine hours even though you can drive it in five (By 2017, Santiago and Coruña will be connected by a high speed train!)
Your guilty pleasure purchases: Steak. There is a restaurant in Sarria called La Roma that may just be the most spectacular steakhouse I have ever been to. It serves the best of the best of Galician beef (which in itself is the best in Spain!). Lunch there will set you back about 40 euro but it is worth EVERY CENT!
What are the top attractions in Sarria? Sarria is the last official starting point for the Camino de Santiago. As such the old part of town is always full of pilgrims, giving it a life far more vibrant than you’d expect in this tiny rural pueblo. The old part of town is not only a beautiful place to stroll around but is also packed with great restaurants and bars. I always loved strolling around up there!
Another thing I would never miss was the bi-monthly feria. Two days per month vendors from all over the region would set up their tents in the fair grounds and sell everything from artisanal cheese to smoked sausages to winter coats. The real gems of the feria, though, were the octopus tents. Long benches were strewn under big white tents. At one end was a huge copper pot of boiling Galician-style octopus. Eating at one of these tents is definitely a must-do experience!
Something you wish someone had told you before moving to Spain: Learn more Spanish!! The first few months were challenging living in a town where no one spoke any English considering my Spanish was pretty atrocious. I highly recommend having an intercambio or two if you don’t want to pay for formal Spanish classes. Spain is infinitely more amazing now that I can properly communicate with people!
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