Lago Ercina, The Higher of the Covadonga Lakes.
Playa de Cuevas del Mar (Map)
Asturias is still as green and majestic as ever (as if it would have changed!) Where else in the world can you leave such a stunning coastline and in under an hour be high up in mountains so impressive that they even look down on other slightly smaller mountain ranges below! Thank goodness it rains so much in Asturias, to keep it all so deep green, and to keep the developers at bay!
We stayed at the extremely nice, exceptionally friendly La Rondita. And it didn’t rain once!
We went to look at a house to rent recently. It was great, lovely parquet floor in the big salon, plenty of light.
Then we went upstairs and found dirty, stained carptets.
This is odd. Spanish people, in general do not like carpet. Trying to rent a house with carpet in Madrid is practically insane. The chances of getting the rental agreement signed are near impossible!
In a cold country carpet is nice, it keeps your feet warm in winter, but in a climate like Madrid’s that tops out regularly at 35-40ºC in summer? Carpet? Madness.
And a stained carpet to boot!
The funny thing is that the owners had just repainted the whole house and re-varnished the parquet downstairs.
“Do you think they’ll change the carpet?” we asked the agent.
“I doubt it,” she said, “they’ve just spent a fortune painting and redoing the floor in the salon.”
That’s like going on a date in filthy clothes, and saying, ‘it’s OK, I just washed my hair’ – chances of success = zero.
There’s one house that’s never going to go off the market.
(Reminds me of trying to rent a flat in Spain years ago, and being attacked by a savage Siamese cat – another flat that probably never got rented! Full story in Errant in Iberia!)
According to the press, Amazon is due to open in Spain on Sept. 15th. [Update: Amazon.es is now open.] This is hardly surprising – all over Madrid you see MRW vans delivering Amazon packages every day, and it isn’t just expats like me buying English books. Many Spanish people have been turning to Amazon for some time to ship better priced electronics to Spain with the minimum of fuss and good guarantees: cameras etc are generally cheaper on Amazon than from major retailers here. Apparently one million Spaniards already visit Amazon websites every month.
Importantly, Amazon opening in Spain could have huge implications for the Spanish on- and off-line market.
First of all e-commerce is way behind in Spain, and one of the reasons I’ve always posited for this is that Spain never had Amazon. I believe that Amazon.co.uk/.com/.fr/.de has had a huge role in fostering trust in ecommerce in those countries. Buying on-line in the US or the UK is largely considered normal, safe, and reliable thanks to Amazon, whereas here in Spain it is still not considered a normal way to shop amongst large sectors of the population.
Spain sits about 3 times behind the UK in terms of ecommerce. Online sales accounted for only 3% of all retail sales in Spain in 2010, whereas in the UK online sales accounted for 10% of all sales in the same year.
First quarter online retail sales in Spain were up 23.1% this year with respect to 2010 first quarter sales, but Spain still lags a long way behind. Amazon opening in Spain could change that in the same way it helped develop ecommerce in countries like the UK – by doing things well, efficiently, and offering generally great customer service.
The question is, if Amazon Spain brings these same important retail values to Spain (good customer service, efficient product delivery etc), could it have a knock on effect for off-line retailers as well, as Amazon sets new higher standards (e.g. in returns policies and customer service) not always seen here before?
Who knows, but one thing is for sure, I would be worried if I ran any kind of books/electronics/household goods ecommerce site in Spain right now – the bar is about to be lifted significantly, and Amazon is going to make other online operators who aren’t providing an immaculate service already, look pretty bad, very quickly.
Personally I think this is great news, I hope Amazon does in Spain everything it’s been able to do elsewhere – offering the same range of products, good customer service, and guarantees. We’ll find out what they have in store for us on September 15th.
Update: As mentioned above, Amazon.es in now open, and will thrive.
We just finished a 6,500 Km drive from Madrid, via San Sebastian (above) to the North of France, across to the UK, over the channel to Germany via Belgium, and back to Madrid via France and Catalonia again.
Here are some thoughts from the trip…
Every neighbourhood, town, region, city, and country, has it’s own feeling, a collective consciousness, based on many factors like standard of living, wellbeing of the population, employment levels, government, economic optimism and more…
Of all the countries we passed through this summer, including Spain, Germany far and away had the best street-level feeling about it. There was a sort of optimism in the air that you couldn’t help but notice, that wasn’t nearly as present in the other countries we visited.
In fact Germany seemed to be streaks ahead of the rest of Europe on many levels – prosperity, recycling, eco-friendliness, organic food, city streets clean enough to eat off! There was a palpable sense of industry, of forward motion.
After 5 days we were ready to abandon Spain and move there! But when we drove back across France, and finally crossed the huge mountainous divide at the Catalan border with Spain, the moment we passed the blue ‘España’ sign on the motorway, we smiled, and said ‘Home, at last!’
Back in Madrid things look very different to Germany. Apart from the grubby state of the pavements in our barrio, at least one more shop (a perfumería) has closed on our street since July, to add to the two (the photolab and the printers) that shut down for good at the end of June, knowing that with things as bad as they already were, they just couldn’t afford to make it across the empty summer divide to September.
The ‘feeling’ in our barrio though is still good. People seem to be happy. It’s nice to be back in a country where people hang out to chat on the street, where kids can make as much noise as they like and stay out late at night.
Where you can buy just one drink at a bar terrace table but sit there all night to chat to a friend if you want to, long after the waiter has taken your empty glass.
It’s nice to feel the hot afternoon air at the end of August, and the cool breeze at night. It’s nice to eat croquettas and tortilla, olives, calamaris, to not feel weird about ordering cerveza sin alcohol…
I arrived in Spain exactly 13 years ago. After our long haul around Europe, it’s good to be back.
The Kindle Experiment, update: Since publishing my book Errant in Iberia to the Kindle platform in June, it’s selling around 100 Kindle copies a month, about ten times more than it had previously been selling as a paperback. Some great new reviews on Amazon.co.uk too!
Above, another picture from our recent trip to El Boca del Asno. When you get down to rock and water level, nature is quite endlessly surprising!
Right, what I want to talk about: In the Boca del Asno post, I wrote the following…
…as usual so many people stick close to the car park, that within a few minutes walk up the river, you find yourself with plenty of riverside space…
But what I nearly wrote quite automatically was “as usual the locals stick close to the carpark”… until I suddenly realised how totally ‘us and them’ the locals sounds.
Hang on, I thought, I’ve been living here for nearly 13 years, I’m married to a Spanish woman, most days I’m fluent in Spanish, I eat, live, and pay taxes in Spain, hang out with Spanish people all day long, my son is going to a Spanish school… how on earth can I keep on talking about ‘the locals’ when I am one!
I may not be Spanish, but I certainly can’t continue to set myself apart from the Spanish by using language like that anymore, that much became totally clear in the instant I was about to write about ‘the locals’ again.
Maybe it’s just that I’ve become a local after all this time, or, more importantly, allowed myself to feel like one.
Perhaps the key question then is ‘How long does it take to really feel like one of the locals?’… and in my case, despite the fact I’ve been totally happy and integrated here in Spain for so long, the answer to that exact questions looks ridiculously long at ‘about 12 and a half years’!
Do you feel like a ‘local’, if you aren’t living where you originally came from, did it take you long to become one, will you ever become one? Answers welcome in the comments!
It’s hot. 38º Celsius (100ºF) hot. No one can sleep hot.
It shouldn’t be a surprise, after all, this happens every year in Madrid, and every year I swear it’ll be my last summer living in the capital. Oh well, perhaps we’ll all get used to it in a week or two!
Luckily we’ve discovered the most perfect escape, just an hour and a bit from the city, high up in the Sierra de Guadarrama.
La Boca del Asno is a vast area of pine-covered mountainside, with a freezing, shallow mountain river, and a huge number of fellow picnicers. In fact, when I arrived at the already overflowing car park at midday last Saturday, my first thought was to run a mile – it seemed like the whole city had followed us up the hill! (N.B. Get there before midday if you want a spot in said carpark!)
But there is so much space, and as usual so many people stick close to the car park, that within a few minutes walk up the river, you find yourself with plenty of riverside space to sit down for a picnic and a long day’s paddling.
The trick is to cross over the river at the bridge below the bar, and keep heading up stream until you feel you have enough room between fellow picnicers to really relax.
It’s 8 degrees cooler than Madrid, (being about 800 meters higher), and if you wander up the hill away from the river, you really can escape humanity completely, lie back in the long grass under the pines, and contemplate the wonders of nature. Like this, for example – any ideas as to what it is, gratefully received:
To get to the Boca del Asno, drive up to Puerto de Navacerrada from Madrid, head over the top and down the hill towards San Ildefonso, wind down the 5 or 6 hair pins, then look for the big ‘Boca del Asno’ sign and car park:
View Boca del Asno in a larger map
Someone recently mentioned in a comment that I should self-publish my book, Errant in Iberia, to the Kindle, and after a week of investigation, I have a) Done just that, and b) Become fascinated by what’s happening in the publishing world.
First: How I got Errant in Iberia onto the Kindle.
1. I signed up for a Kindle publishing account at kdp.amazon.com
2. I edited the original .doc document of the book to take out all the blank pages real books have near the beginning (opposite dedication pages etc), and all the headers, page numbers etc (Kindle doesn’t like these) that you find in a document for a paper book. Amazon had help pages to guide me through this.
3. I saved the .doc in word in html format
4. I used a free program for the Mac called Calibre to convert my .html book file into a .mobi file – Amazon tells you what the PC software you need is. (This took a while as I had to check the .mobi file on the Kindle for Mac and Kindle previewer software to make sure it looked right, and make a few tweaks to the original .doc file a few times, going back to stage 2 and tweaking the formatting about 5 times in total, which was a bit of a pain…)
5. I uploaded my final .mobi file to the kdp.amazon.com site, and bingo, 24 hours later my book was live on Amazon.com, .co.uk, and .de
That’s it, took maybe 6 hours in total of investigating, and mostly formating and reformating, but pretty easy all in all.
Now for what I discovered about the self publishing world….
Wow, loads of people are doing it for themselves nowadays! Frustrated writers who couldn’t get a book deal are putting their stuff out in paperback and Kindle/Nook/ebook format and making a living – and most of it is coming from the Kindle!
The star case is that of Amanda Hocking, a 20-something from Minnesota, who writes young adult fiction in the vampire, paranormal romance and other similar niche genres, and has made over 2 million dollars in just over a year! You have to read her Epic tale of how it all happened…
No publisher would touch her originally, until they all found out how she made 2 million on her Kindle etc sales, then they all went into a bidding war, and now she has another 2 million in the bank from a recently signed contract with a real publisher (to publish 4 books with them).
Amanda was inspired by the tales of one Joe Konrath, a murder mystery writer who used to put real publishers first, until he started selling 1000 books a day on the Kindle, and decided to take matters into his hands from then on. His post on why you should go it alone and ignore the shackles of traditional publishing is very convincing. (He now also has a real publisher deal again, but it’s with a publisher run by Amazon that is apparently very forward thinking…)
I found this post by James Altucher useful too, another advocate of self-publishing from now on.
So will all the big publishers die out?
They’ll certainly have to change their game. Soon enough a really big name author will take this route, just as Radiohead have in the music world, and that will really stir things up…
Should you do it? Look carefully at all the extra work Amanda Hocking put in to get her books out into the hands of readers, especially things like getting involved with the book bloggers (all in her Epic tale post)…
Her work is obviously very tailored to her readers desires as well… and she had a few of them ready to launch in quick succession after a lot of very hard work writing and researching markets.
Plus she’s clever with her pricing. Several of her works form part of trilogies – she prices the first at 99 cents (“the new free”), and subsequent books in the series at 2.99 – still cheap enough to be an impulse buy, but a bit more for her, and at 70% Royalty a lot more than a real publisher might give her. Her first big success, Switched, has already been optioned for a Hollywood film. Quite a success story.
As for my book, Errant in Iberia, I wrote it many years ago, self published it in print format via lulu.com about 5 years ago, and it has sold about 2,000 copies over the years via Lulu – a bit of tapas money. It nearly got published by Lonely Planet, but then the editor in charge of the project moved on, and that project got scrapped.
So I self-published it, which made me happy. At the time it seemed like a cop out – only crap authors had to resort to self-publishing, right? Funny how things have changed. Now it’s a brave, forward thinking way to go! I don’t expect to make a living from putting the book out on the Kindle, but it’s a fun experiment, and it might give me an extra tiny bit of inspiration to write another book one day, now I know there are so few hurdles to getting it into the hands of readers.
As for self-publishing, for us it has definitely been the way to go. I suddenly realised during this whole process that we’ve actually been making a living from “self-publishing” for years via our work at www.notesinspanish.com – if all our Spanish teaching materials had been going through the hands of a big publisher instead of being designed, created, published and marketed by ourselves, I don’t think we’d have both been able to give up our day jobs so long ago, if at all. There is a huge amount of work involved, of course, but a huge amount of freedom as well.
After a great suggestion in a recent blog comment, my book Errant in Iberia is now available on the Kindle at amazon.com and on amazon.co.uk (you can read Kindle books on laptops, iPhones, iPads Android etc too with the kindle app)
Errant in Iberia as described on Amazon:
This is the inspirational story of moving to a new country with nothing, then really living your dreams.
Turning up in Madrid without a word of Spanish, Ben soon finds a job, beautiful language exchanges, amazing journeys to the depths of Spain, and wild fiestas.
Then he meets Marina, buys a scarily run-down flat in Madrid’s wild Lavapies neighbourhood, and really takes the cultural plunge….
…Errant in Iberia is a complete picture of the troubles and delights of a new life abroad, of Spain as it enters the 21st Century, and of Spain’s most intriguing travel destinations.
(P.S. I’ll write soon about the amazing things I’ve found out this week about the ebook and self-publishing world.)