Being Happy

Happy skating guy in the Retiro park

…is up to you, only up to you, and not up to anyone else. Look after yourself, do things you like, love yourself (and other people will love you more as a result)

…means being peaceful

..is about stopping a lot

…is about realising all the reasons you already have to be happy

…is about giving up ideas about things you don’t have or aren’t doing that you are convinced will make you happier when you are already actually quite happy as it is

…is about giving more to get more

…is living in the present, not the past, not the future

…is about positivity

…is getting out and about

…is getting unstuck

…is moving, but not striving

…is just relaxing and not trying too hard

…is saying, OK, why not, that should be interesting

…is letting go

…is realising all crises are impermanent (and so is everything else)

…is listening to the birds, or the wind in the trees

…is walking up a new hill

…is giving the person you are with all your attention

…is thinking I was writing this post on another secret (no longer secret) ‘in the works’ blog project of mine, then suddenly realising I am writing the draft post here on Notesfromspain.com by mistake instead, and deciding to publish it here anyway. I’ll add a pretty photo to the top too, of the super-happy guy who skates around the statue of the devil in the Retiro park. Hopefully the photo or the words will make someone happier. Maybe I’ll explain all the points one by one on my the new blog if anyone is interested. Or here. There are no mistakes after all! Un abrazo, Ben

What makes YOU happy?

Sunny Madrid

Madrid Retiro Park

Photo – Madrid’s Retiro Park

It’s still unseasonably sunny here – I mean it’s sunny every day, hardly a cloud in the sky – no snow this year. That was one of the things that most impressed me about Madrid when I first moved here 13 years ago, opening the curtains in the morning (or the shutters, to be more precise), and seeing bright blue skies, rather than the grey gloom I’d been used to for 3 years of London winters previously.

Still In Love With Asturias…

 Lago Ercina, Covadonga, Asturias

Lago Ercina, The Higher of the Covadonga Lakes.

Playa de Cuevas del Mar, Asturias

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!

Amazon To Open in Spain – Big Changes Ahead?

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.

Happy to be Home Again – Reflections from a Trans-European Road Trip

San Sebastian, Playa Gros

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…

Collective Conscienciousness…

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.

Other Things…

Read: The wonders of a downsized life in Asturias…