Isn’t it amazing how we humans always want what we don’t have and not what we do? It’s the reason for the invention of hair straighteners, plastic surgery and tanning salons. It surely plays a big part in the reason why we travel. We find our own little world unbearably dull and ordinary at times and so go off in search of some more exotic place.
I come from Salisbury, a small medieval town in England which boasts a beautiful cathedral and is five minutes from the world heritage site of Stonehenge. Thousands of tourists flock here each year, yet because I live here, I find it ordinary and boring. So it is really no surprise that when I was offered the opportunity to live abroad for a while, I jumped at the chance. I ended up in Asturias, a region of Northern Spain, in a city called Oviedo. An utterly charming but slightly loony place, at first I thought it seemed deliciously, almost unbearably, exotic and interesting.
I was in my element; everything was a ‘new’ experience. Bells ring out across the city every hour playing the Asturian anthem, with shorter bursts every quarter of an hour. It provides a tuneful backdrop to daily life, while bagpipe players, an unexpected sign of the region’s Celtic origins, parade on festival days and play a longer version of the same song.
It is a region famed for its cheeses and cider. The latter is an experience more than a drink, you have it insidrerias where the floor is covered with sawdust. The waiters pour a small amount of the cider – or sidra – from a bottle into your glass to aerate it and you down it in one gulp, discarding the remnants onto the floor and await the next round. I thought it was disgusting the first few times I tried it, , but it was a fun experience nonetheless!
Even everyday things were novelties; I delighted in going to the supermarket to hear the babble of Spanish all around, see the live crabs on the seafood display and nonchalantly add olives and calamari rings to my basket. The first time I ever answered the intercom in my flat was thrilling as I used the Spanish expression, a questioning ‘Si?’ before buzzing someone in. Even the fact that it rained a lot – in that respect very much like England – was something to be marvelled at because this was Spain!
Most places we visit merely offer the chance to flirt with them, to be blinded by their exoticism and leave before the spark goes. However, when you commit to a place for a while, when you settle in, the lust may wear off but it is replaced with love.
But slowly I began to settle in, and Oviedo began to feel like home. The bells became the bane of my life (Do they really need to play the regional anthem every hour, for goodness’ sake? There’s never a moment of peace in this city!) The bagpipe players became a usual sight. Going to the supermarket was a chore, as it is anywhere. The rain was plain annoying, just like in England.
I must admit I became nostalgic for England. I searched the biggest hypermarket for a tiny kettle and a box of teabags and had to try and explain to my bemused Spanish landlords the importance of a cup of tea. I got fed up of being tongue-tied so often, unable to fully express myself in Spanish, because of both linguistic and cultural barriers. A combination of the national laid-back attitude and incomprehension of queuing meant that it was hard to get even the simplest of tasks done. Siestas, which had seemed so wonderful at first, were now just a couple of hours when everything was inconveniently closed. I began to yearn for Salisbury, my simple English town with its order, punctuality and tea. I wanted to go home.
But now that I am back, I miss Oviedo! I feel the same nostalgic pining for it that I felt for England while I was there. Crazy as it sounds I am homesick for a foreign land. I now scour markets and delicatessens for Spanish cheeses; I listen to the Asturian anthem on a regular basis and watch Spanish TV shows online – the same ones I derided when I lived there. I long for siestas during the day and I still often have my meals at ‘Spanish time,’ several hours later than is the norm in Britain. Maybe we should just be grateful for what we have and not indulge in nostalgia or fantasies of the exotic, but then where would that leave us?
Travel – and especially living in another country – has given me a whole new perspective on the world. I have always had a sense of wanderlust, a desire for adventure. If wanting to see what the grass is really like on the other side of the fence makes us get out there and experience the vast diversity of the world, then that is surely not a bad thing. There is also something to be said for settling in somewhere for a while, getting under the skin of a place.
While a new, exciting place does not stay new and exciting for very long, the understanding you gain of a place and the fondness you feel for it is something even more special. Most places we visit merely offer the chance to flirt with them, to be blinded by their exoticism and leave before the spark goes.
However, when you commit to a place for a while, when you settle in, the lust may wear off but it is replaced with love. Then a place becomes home. And what’s so bad about having several places across the globe that you can call home? To me, that’s a wonderful thing.