On the hardened plains of Spain’s outback, Extremadura, lay several small cities that were once the pride and joy of Spain during the conquer of the New World. Mérida, the capital city of the Badajóz province, has Roman ruins galore and is a great base for anyone living in the region sandwiched between Portugal, Madrid and Andalucía.
Chelsea, now in her fourth year in Spain and back in the Cádiz province, spills on what it’s like to live in Emerita Augusta:
Name: Chelsea Alventosa
City and Comunidad: Mérida, Extremadura
School: I was placed at two elementary schools, where I worked alternating weeks at each school (as opposed to alternating days).
Your living situation? I lived in an apartment with my boyfriend and our cat. It technically had three bedrooms, but one of them was windowless and closet-sized. It had one teeny tiny bathroom.
How did you find your flat? We found it by looking online at websites like Idealista and Fotocasa. I tried hard to find a piso through a private “particular” ad, but practically everything in Mérida was through a real estate agency so we ended up having to go that route and pay the agency ½ a month’s rent for their services.
Rent: Our rent was 300/month to be deposited into the landlord’s bank account (who I never met once).
What did you spend on utilities? Water was included in our rent, and our water heater was electric so we didn’t have to deal with bombonas. Our electricity in that apartment was a nightmare. Everything was all on the same circuit (all kitchen appliances, TV, etc.) so we couldn’t use the microwave at the same time as the stove, etc. I paid anywhere from 100-160E every two months.
You cell phone company and plan? I brought my unlocked iPhone and I originally had Simyo. I paid 24E a month for 2 GB of data, 300 minutes and 10 cent text messages. I found I was never using all the data or minutes and 24E was expensive so I switched to Tuenti Movil. Now I pay 10.75E a month for 1GB of data, 150 minutes and 10 cent text messages.
What do you pay for internet? I paid 30E per month for internet through a local extremeño company called WiWave. There was no contract and no mandatory landline. I was happy with them.
What did you spend on groceries? I’d say I spent about 30-35E per week on groceries for 1 person.
Did you have any other sources of income? I worked at an academy and also gave private lessons. I was hustlin’! I worked at the academy 8-10 hours per week and gave 4 hours of private lessons per week. At the academy I was paid 10E/hour, one of my private lessons paid me 10E/hour and the other private lesson paid me 12E/hour.
Were you able to save any money? Since I was providing for both myself and my unemployed boyfriend, I was only able to save about 1,000E by the end of the year. That was with really strict budgeting, NO travel, and hardly ever eating out. One person working as much as I was who only had to support themselves would be able to save a good amount, in my opinion.
Your favorite tapas bar? My favorite tapas place in Mérida was Entrecañas. They have a large menu with typical tapas and also more modern variations. My favorite was the tartaleta de queso de cabra. It’s like a mini pie with sweet crunchy dough filled with goat cheese and caramelized onions. YUM. We always ordered beers to drink there, I think the tubos cost around 1,20E. Tapas were also well priced, like 2-3,5o for a tapa.
Your breakfast and coffee bars suggestions: My favorite afternoon coffee place was one of the mini bars in the Plaza de España. Great people watching and lots of sunshine! There are four of those mini/kiosco-like bars in the corners of the plaza, but one of them (the one closest to c/ Valverde) only charged 1E for coffee (others charged 1,20). I always ordered a café con leche.
Nightlife in Mérida: When we went out for drinks (very rarely) we went to a bar where a friend of ours worked called the Plaza Pub in the Plaza de España. A drink there cost 5E (I think, if my memory doesn’t fail me). Another fun place for dancing was Bow. There wasn’t an entrance fee that I recall because it’s not a huge discoteca.
How did you get around? I walked pretty much everywhere, but I did take the bus once to go to the movies in the winter. It was about 90 cents per ride, but I do think there was the option of buying some sort of bono. Mérida’s very walkable so I much preferred walking to figuring out bus schedules.
What you loved about living in Mérida? I really loved all of the Roman ruins that the city is built around. Gorgeous structures are seemingly just plunked down all over the city and it’s really breath taking. The thing I miss the most about Mérida was the awesome park it has. I got into running while I was there and the park was the perfect 5k loop with lots of green spaces and it was just super peaceful and always full of lots of people doing active things.
And your dislikes? There wasn’t much I disliked about Mérida. Had we been living in a different apartment and had my boyfriend had a job, we would have been super happy there. The city itself is awesome. I was used to living in a small pueblo so living in a capital city (even though it’s not very big) was a nice change because there were more things to do.
How easy was it to travel around Spain and Europe from Mérida? The nearest airports were Lisbon and Seville. Madrid was also a bus ride away. Mérida’s also got a Renfe train station so getting around probably wasn’t too difficult. I personally never traveled while I was there but I had friends who traveled a lot and they never seemed to have problems.
Your guilty pleasure purchases: Going to the movies was probably my favorite guilty pleasure, as well as getting FroYo. My boyfriend’s hometown (where I lived from 2011-2013 and where I’m currently living) doesn’t have a cinema or a frozen yogurt place so I really loved having those around.
What are the top attractions in Mérida? The Roman theatre is the biggest attraction probably, and the ticket for that (12E) includes four other Roman ruin sites, like the Alcazaba, an old Roman house, and a few others things. There are also lots of free attractions (the Roman bridge, the aqueduct of miracles, the temple of Diana) that are just spread around the city for you to stumble across.
Something you wish someone had told you before moving to Spain: I wish someone had told me that you can’t plan everything. Lots of Spaniards I know are very spontaneous which I had a hard time adjusting to, but also in the larger sense, I only planned on being her 1-2 years max, and here I am entering into my fourth year. You’ve just got to roll with the punches and see where life takes you!
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