Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Back again...

I'll start this off by being honest, when my then Girlfriend - now Wife - and I left Malgrat de Mar, just north of the Cosmopolitan city of Barcelona, back in November 2009, I never thought we'd be back, at least, not quite as quickly as our return has been.

We decided, then, to go back to Ireland as our first child was on the way. At the time we were both working in the Tourist Industry on the Costa Maresme, and we felt that working a max of 7 months a year was not an ideal lifestyle to bring up a child. It's all well and good when you're single or child free, but when you're working up to 14+ hours a day, and nearly always seven days a week, you don't want to have the added pressure of looking after a little one. Needless to say, although the decision was fairly easy to make at the time, it was still a wrench for me, as I'd graced (ha) this part of Catalunya since 2002, when I'd arrived as a fresh-faced (double ha) 19 year old, and most/all of my friends lived here.

Anyway, fast forward two and a half years, two kids, a years unemployment spent as a stay-at-home Dad, and a year and a half working in one of the largest companies in Ireland, during which I rose fairly quickly through the ranks, plus a wedding, and we're back. We decided sometime back in June that we would start looking for jobs in Barcelona with a view to returning, or at least, the better half decided (I kept schtum for the time we spent in Ireland, but she knew I wanted to come back, so I played that well ;-P). We also knew that we were getting hitched at the start of July, so it had to be after that.

Now, I'll be honest, I was also keeping a beady eye on Economic reports in the Papers with regards to Spain, as we'd been lucky enough to arrive back in Ireland a few months before Brian Cowens "Read my Lips" moment, and I felt that showing up in a country about to receive the "Troika"treatment as Ireland had was not unlucky, but just plain dumb. As the saying goes, "fool me once...". Things seem to be looking up at the moment, and hopefully Ms. Merkel might just lighten up enough to do things that will be helpful to the Eurozone. She might just crack a smile too.....

Now we set out with the idea that while our recently acquired experience in a more mainstream Industry (Run-of-the-Mill Customer Service for myself, IT Helpdesk for the missus) would give us more opportunities, jobs-wise, than our Tourism experience had at the beginning of 2009, when we both searched for, and found, to varying degrees of (un)success, "Office"Jobs in Barcelona. I ended up doing a two week stint in a dodgy "Forward thinking Travel Agency" - Not Time-Share, we promise, just selling a possibly non-existent product to people who were "stupid" enough (Their words, not mine) to have invested in Time-Shares ("They'll fall for - i.e. buy - anything that sounds too good to be true"). The B-H got a Job in a big Multinational, as a Sales agent, turned out to be a freelance position, and it was cold calling, something which you really need to have a hybrid of Rhino & Elephant Skin to put up with the abuse you recieve from "Clients" on the other side of the phone line. We also felt that our language skills - She speaks Dutch & English, myself English & Spanish - would give us more options again.

Again, fast forward a couple of weeks, numerous CV's sent out, a couple of Skype interviews for herself, nothing concrete, some "please re-apply when you're in the country" emails in my inbox, and out of the blue, she gets a call from a reputable IT company in BCN. "We've seen your CV on LinkedIn, possible position, interested?". A couple of Phone interviews later, and she had a job!, earning more, gross, than she was in Ireland. I say Gross, cos the income Tax rate is slightly higher in Spain, and more so in Catalunya. Still, no complaints, there are ways around that, and being married with two kids is certain to give some breaks. Now came the dilemma, do we let this opportunity go and leave when we both have jobs, or do we chance it and go out anyway?

In the end we decided that, career-wise, this was too good an opportunity to pass on, after all, who knows if it'll ever come round again? I felt, and feel, pretty confident, that the experience gleaned and cajoled, and the Team Leaders that I annoyed and pushed for more authority in my most recent job would and will allow me to find a job pretty soon. As I write this, I have a final group interview for a Customer Service position in a large international Bank coming up, so fingers crossed.

So, Notice handed in at work by both of us. We knew that one of us had to go out earlier to sort out living quarters and the like. We eventually decided that I should go, as I had a bit more leeway with the amount of Notice I could give, whereas she had to give a full four weeks. I also speak Spanish fairly fluently, so this would help in the search for Apartments. Luckily, too, we had my Best-Man Costa-side, so after trawling through all the Online Letting agencies we were able to send him on some numbers and he started calling trying to arrange appointments, find out the Deposit system, which I'll get on to in a bit. However, before I arrived back, we had only managed to arrange viewings for two apartments.

Now, to anyone searching for an apartment in Spain, a bit of advice. If there's no photos online, there's a damn good reason for it. Not that the apartment would be uninhabitable - this would be illegal, and Landlords in Spain are subject to very strict guidelines - just very badly planned out, like the first one we saw. TV unit in the Dining area, no view of said unit from the "Living" Area, kitchen big enough for half a person at a time, oh, and most importantly, 4th Floor, no lift. No Thank You. Second one? Better planned out, 5th Floor, NO LIFT! once again, No thank you.
That was the Sunday, I'd arrived the day before, and then came Monday. Lets phone a couple of Agencies, see what they have.

Oh, that sounds nice, how much?...
ok, sounds good, now, about the deposit?.......
Thanks, see you later.

Now, I feel there needs to be an explanation made regarding the penultimate line above....
Apparently, the Spanish Letting Agencies haven't cottoned on to the fact that the country is, allegedley, smack bang in the middle of an Economic Crisis. Where, Irish Agents have realised that, fundamentally, if you want to rent a property, ask for a payable deposit, i.e. one month. More people will be able to afford it, ergo, more houses/apartments leased. The Spanish ones have obviously decided to go with the "Can't see you, can't see me" approach, flatly deny any possibility that any phrase with the words "Economic" & "Crisis" exists, and ask people to fork out One months rent up front (Reasonable and Normal), Two Months rent as deposit for the Landlord (Slightly Excessive, if not downright greedy) plus an EXTRA MONTH as their Commission (Taking the Piss). Some even had - and have - the gall to ask for FIVE Months up front. 

In the end though, we had to go with an Agency. Luckily we had the savings to be able to afford 4 months rent up front (A big plus to the EC is the fact that Rents have dropped by almost 50% since 2009) but damn, it still hurt. On the upside, we now have an apartment that can't be more than a decade old, has all the Mod-Cons, is 200 metres from the Beach - and the MED :-) -, an hour by Train from BCN (Public Transport goes like Clockwork, and, unlike Ireland where 2+ hours in a train will only get you from Cork to Dublin and relieve you of around Forty yoyos, the most you'll pay for a return trip to BCN is just under Nine Euros), and is far enough away from Touristy areas to be quiet at night.

Now, the owners were good enough to let me store our stuff in the Apartment until the day I needed the keys. Our stuff came from Ireland thanks to my Dad and Brother - although father dearest did all the driving, brother was apparently a capable Co-Pilot, apart from deciding that it was quicker to go through Paris (hahahaha) than around....My parents had decided that their Wedding present to us would be the transportation of all our stuff, by car and Ferry, from Cork, to Malgrat. This represented an Epic round trip of over 4000 Miles, which my father was able to complete in a total of five days, and for which he has our full respect, gratitude and appreciation, "thank you" not being enough to say to someone who has just completed half of said distance, has rested one day, and then gets behind the wheel to put up with another 2,000 Miles, exploding bottles of Wine, Customs Agents, my brother's annoying cheerfullness early in the mornig (plus navigational skills) & French Drivers.

So that was the first four days back in the country. Apartment and stuff sorted, beach seen (from a distance), just waiting for the ball &....sorry, wife and kids ;-P. They arrived safe and sound, with my mother in tow to help with the passage (and see a bit of Sun in 2012), with our eldest regaling me of the "ewoplane", the youngest quiet as a mouse, and everyone struggling with the heat (30+ Degrees most days, and we're coming up to the hottest part of the year).

It's still early days yet, now it's up to us to find an Au Pair, a Creche (prices considerably lower again, you pay in a month what you'd pay in a week in Ireland) sort out Mobile phones - preferably with a provider that doesn't request a deposit, even though you've contracted Internet and TV with them a week previously and nothing was required then (300.00 Euros please...Why? Because...) -, and sort myself out for a job. Should be fun, and hopefully I'll have enough energy to post regular updates.

Laterz :-)