Fuente del Conde
In part one of this second part interview, we meet Marijke who has just embarked on a year-long adventure of living in the Spanish countryside with her husband. As someone who loves city life and being around people, moving in to the middle of nowhere is a challenge. But it’s certainly worth trying. We uncover their motivations of living in Fuente del Conde, remote working and her blog about the adventure.
- [3:40] where first idea came from
- [5:39] her love of writing and engaging with people
- [7:20] the power of guidance and advice
- [8:31] her experience of documenting her year on the blog
- [11:50] how they prepared for the big move
- [15:05] Being a freelancer abroad
- [21:10] What Marijke would change if she started again with the move
- [23:57] Using Citizens Advice Bureau
- [25:56] what to expect in the second part of this interview
- Welcome to the Kyero.com Spanish Property podcast where we interview people who recently purchased their dream home in Spain.
- They tell us what worked, what didn’t and what they’d do differently next time.
- I’m Beth Davison and today I’m speaking with Marijke, originally from Holland. Along with her husband, Hilary, she purchased her dream home in Spain in Puente del Conde, amidst the beautiful Andalucían countryside
- Keen listeners of the podcast might remember this purchase from Hilary's episode, which was number twenty-four. Feel free to listen back if you'd like to hear that chat, but this episode is a little bit different for a number of reasons. Marijke and Hilary weren't purchasing a holiday home. They were looking to move to Spain for a year or longer. They also weren't going to sell their home in the U.K. but decided to rent it out while they were away.
- So, what does it take to move your whole life to another country? Well, Marijke can tell us step-by-step because she's been keeping a blog of the whole process. We were also lucky enough to hear this story exactly as it unfolded. Part One was recorded before they arrived in Spain, and focuses on the logistics and planning of moving abroad.
- Check out the show notes at kyero.com/podcast to find links and resources mentioned in this episode.
Body of Transcript
Marijke: Hello, my name is Marijke Kasmire. I'm a Dutch national and I'm married to a Brit. I have lived in the U.K. for thirty-nine years and also in Switzerland for a few years in between. I am a freelance H.R. and Change Consultant. I've also done permanent jobs and interim jobs and, currently, that's what I do.
My husband Hilary and I bought a house, a farm house, in Fuente del Conde, Iznájar in Southern Spain, in Andalucía.
Why did we do that?
Well, it was slightly impromptu, slightly, I guess, on the whim. We just had this sense of adventure and we wanted to experience something a bit different. Seeing and being part of a very different culture really appealed to us. So, we decided, last year, at some point, to move to Spain, from the U.K., but just for one year, not for longer.
And there's a really good reason for that because I actually really like city life and being part of a bigger community, and our house, in Spain, in Fuente del Conde, it's a farm house. It's in the middle of el campo, in nature, and it's beautiful But, I'm not quite sure, 'A' if I'm ready to give up work full time and never work ever again. I certainly want to continue doing some work; and 'B', I just need people around me. So, this is a bit of an experiment for me, in particular, to see what it's like to be totally thrown into something that is entirely different from what I'm normally used to.
Beth: Incredible, and what a way to do that. You say, "Just for one year." But that's a huge move; that's a long time. I really love that we're going to be able to get to know you over all different stages of your journey. If we dial it back to the first conversation that you had about this, whose idea was it? How did that suggestion go down?
Marijke: Well, my husband Hilary loves Spain and has always loved Spain. It's something in his blood, I think. He's a typical Brit but he has always loved Spain. So, he has done Spanish lessons, on and off for the last thirty years. So, that's how much he really enjoys being there and engaging with people in Spain.
I liked Spain very much, and buying a house there, as a holiday home, was just a great first step. But I have always thought, I cannot possibly live there because it's in the middle of nowhere, I need a bit of buzz around me, I want people around me, I' very much a communicator. My husband, Hilary, has a lot of really good hobbies and I just kind of flit about much more. So, it was a difficult decision.
Then, at some point, a friend of mine said to me, "But you don't have to commit for the rest of your life. You don't have to retire there, or make a big decision for evermore. You could just go for a year." So, I thought, "Wow, that's interesting." Because that gives me my sense of adventure, my sense of excitement, trying to do something entirely new and it will help me understand more about myself, and reflecting, and living in a very different country and being thrown back on yourself. But it's not forever more. It's not a critical forevermore. So, I went to Hilary and said, "What about?" He was blown away. He thought I would never suggest anything like that. So, it didn't' take anything at all. He said, "Yeah, let's do it."
Beth: Amazing. Now, you say that you don't have a hobby, or perhaps as many hobbies as Hilary, but the blog is quite clearly... I would say that you are a writer. Do you view that as more as a profession, perhaps? Or would you say that's a hobby or extracurricular activity?
Marijke: You know, in my job as an H.R. Consulant you do a lot of writing. It's not just boring H.R. policy. In fact, that's the last thing that I ever want to do is boring H.R. writing. Whatever I write is about making it accessible to people - whatever the topic is. It can be something as obtuse as talent management and succession planning, or whether it's actually something about writing a blog on how to go to Spain and prepare for that. To me it's all about making your experiences accessible to lots of other people. So, that's important to me.
So, I really like writing, but that's only a little bit of one of my hobbies. I like reading, and really what I like most of all, of anything else, is engaging with people. That could be through writing; it could be through speaking; it could be through joining clubs. There's all sorts of different ways of doing that. That's my main reason for existence, if you like.
Beth: Yeah, I completely understand that. Do you think that a large part of the reason why you decided to write the blog is to provide information and guidance to other people, or is it that you wanted to document your journey so that you could look back on it, in years to come? Where did the impetus come from? Because, actually, adding a task to an already very long "to do" list, when you decide to leave for a year isn't it?
Marijke: You know Beth, it's probably a combination of two things. One is that this guidance and advice is so useful if you read about things or hear about things of other people who have done it before. I've had so much benefit from hearing from other people, "Oh, we did it like this," or, "This is what it was like for us." So, I think that is certainly part of it.
The other thing is that about five years ago Hilary and I travelled around South America for two months, and Hilary wrote a blog at that time. It wasn't about guiding and advising, it was really to record our journey so that we can look back and still remember the things, and the thought processes, and the learning that you did about the culture and the environment and the people you met and so on. It remains fresh and it remains alive in your memory, so that's part of it as well.
Beth: And have you done anything like this before? A lot of people think, "Oh, you not what, yes, I'll do a blog." But actually having the discipline to plan those blog posts, write those blog posts, drive traffic to it, all of this stuff. It's a lot of work. Have you done anything like it before? If not, how have you found this process?
Marijke: You know, Beth, I don't think, in looking back, that I've done a lot of writing but I've never done a blog post before. I've done intranet writing before for companies where you write bits. And free communication, actually, isn't so different, except instead of an organization you have the world to address. It's a slightly bigger task, I guess.
I think the difference with the blog is that it's more because I really want to do it. I'm really enjoying writing it. I enjoy reliving some of the moments; I enjoy thinking back to how it was; I love looking at all of our photographs and thinking, "What photograph, or what cartoon, or what little thing would really go well with this blog?" And [I enjoy] coming up with this story. It just really appeals to my sense of creativity. I'm really enjoying doing it.
Beth: Yeah, absolutely, well, I've loved reading it and we've chatted prior to this conversation, just a little bit, about your experiences. You mentioned that your posts are non-linear, which i think is really nice. You just dip in and out of topics. How do you decide what to write about?
Marijke: It's very impromptu. It depends a bit on my state of mind. So, I do blog every two weeks, and I have to do it every two weeks because if I don't I lose the discipline. So, you have to set yourself the task and say, "That's when I do it." Because if you don't it will drift. So, for me that's quite an important part of doing it.
I've got a blog and it goes live on the Monday and the next week I don't even think about doing a blog anymore, and then the following week, from about Monday, I think, "Oh my goodness, next Monday's my deadline, what am I going to do? What am I going to write about?"
Sometimes it's very clear because stuff happens in your life and you think, "That's useful. That's a good theme." So, you first will come up with a theme and then you're setting it up and you're, "Ah, I can add this bit to the theme," or, "I can add that bit to it." So, there's always bits you can link into the theme. Once you've got your theme, you're done.
Then it's about the photograph. But, you know, sometimes I actually go through my photograph library, and Hilary is great about having everything very structured so I can go through every month of the time we've been in Spain, or whatever. I can see the photograph, and I suddenly think, "Ah, now I really fancy writing about that." It's something that suddenly inspires me and then it grows and it develops.
Beth: Fantastic, and I think that moment when you have an idea and you know what you're going to write about is great for writer, because you need inspiration and once that hits you can just sit.
Marijke: You do.
Beth: One of the ones that I loved was the planning, the lists, the pictures of the Excel spreadsheets you had going on. I thought that since we're focusing this episode on the logistics of what it means to move your life abroad, it would be nice to talk about those lists. So, what was the first thing that you thought, "OK, wow, we're moving for a whole year to a different country. I need to make a list?"
Marijke: So, the list maker in our family is most definitely Hilary. In huge format, Excel is his baby. We decided to move for a year, probably, about a year ago. And then in January it we started to take it really seriously. So, in January I said, "OK, Hilary, we need to start thinking about what we're going to do."
"Yes," he said, "Yes, I've already set up this massive Excel spreadsheet."
Beth, I opened it up and I saw it and it was just amazing. There must have been two hundred lines in the spreadsheet already, and that was before my inputs.
So, I guess one of the most logistically difficult thing was the fact that all our stuff, of twenty-four years, had to be put in different piles, [sorting] different things. We had to put stuff to our attic, which is staying. We're letting our house in the U.K. Our attic space stays our own and we put a lock on it and we can put a load of stuff in there. So, attic was one. The tip definitely after twenty-four years; charity shops, hugely so because we had a load of stuff that we didn't necessarily want to keep, but some people would find it useful. EBay was another that I thought, "Oh, this is so nice. I think I'd be able to sell on that, and to try out what that was like." Then there was a quantity of stuff that we wanted to get to Spain (to transport to Spain). Then, there was the stuff that we wanted to take with us to Holland, which was part of our journey, and then on our journey into Spain, which is kind of our travel stuff (can I just say, two hundred pounds - anyway, that's a separate story).
One of Hilary's hobbies is gardening, in a major way. Every time we go from Holland or England to Spain we tend to take one hundred to two hundred pounds with us.
Marijke: I know. So, anyway, that's also on spreadsheets, every single pound. Every single pound was on spreadsheets and all driven by Hilary. What he loved to do was actually analyzing it all, and having graphs. He'd say, "You know that twenty percent of our stuff is now in the right place before our big move... Oh, it's now thirty-five percent...Look at this graph and look what we've done in the last month," and so on. So, it was very much more Hilary than me.
Beth: Amazing, you've got someone to quantify your progress. That sounds brilliant.
Marijke: You're absolutely right. But you know, what I did to contribute to it because, although he does all the lists, I tend to be more pragmatic and practical. So, for some of things I'll say, "Well no, it doesn't make sense to do it like that. Let's do it differently." I'm also a bit less detailed and bigger picture. So, I think we complement each other very well.
Beth: I was going to say, it needs to be a partnership, doesn't it? It sounds like that you guys worked brilliantly together to make this happen. You have mentioned your freelance work continues. So, that's a fairly straightforward thing to be able to travel with I suppose.
Marijke: Yes, and no.
Beth: OK, have you worked remotely then?
Marijke: I have, over the last five years or so, I've always had assignments that I could do some work remotely. But now that I'm permanently in Spain it's going to be quite different. Because, if you work remotely for a week and then go back to an office, that's a very different thing than if you are remote all the time, and only very occasionally, maybe once every three months, go back to the U.K. or the Netherlands, or wherever the main office is.
Some of my work, I think, requires face to face contact. It is all about organizational developments and design and you need to be part of an organization. So, I'm still working on exactly how I can work remotely more full time. I can do more writing. That's certainly none element. I can do some online coaching, as long as Skype works. So, there is stuff I can do, but I'm still working through exactly how that is going to manifest itself.
Beth: Yeah, that makes sense. So, when you were planning this, were you planning this thinking, "OK, I'm going to take a year off - a year's sabbatical," or were you thinking, "I will make sure that the place has good internet, that I'm able to work in Holland on route." Was that more the plan?
Marijke: It has always been my plan to continue to do some work in whatever way. It's just that finally knowing exactly how that's going to work, in reality, I still need to work through that. You know how it is when you freelance, you do always have four, or five, or six little irons in the fire and you don't know what's going to come of it. That's the state I'm in at the moment. I've got five or six different things that might or might not come off, and we'll see. That's a part of being freelance.
Beth: Exactly, that's the difference as well for people who love freelance work and people who need a little bit more of a safety net than that. I think it's really interesting and I think what this makes really clear is the freedom that certain types of work give you. If you had a desk job or an office job you wouldn't necessarily be able to leave for a whole year. So, it's really interesting to just learn about different people's lifestyles, I think. Now, you were letting your house in the U.K. How did you find that process? Then, comparatively, what were you finding in Holland, was it an Airbnb, were you renting?
Marijke: OK, so in the U.K. letting a house out was actually relatively straight forward once you find the right letting agents. So, we spoke with three letting agents. They came round. They gave us some quotes. They told us about their processes and we chose one. Once you choose one, they will actually help you saying, "And now you need to do this, and now you need to do that." It's all quite straightforward, really.
I think the most harrowing thing of the last six months has been the amount of cleaning, packing, tidying, painting, decorating, more painting, more decorating, more tidying, more cleaning - that whole process with a big house, huge twenty-four years worth of stuff, that really was an enormous amount of effort. I'll tell you that when we came to Holland we just did nothing for a week.
Beth: Very sensible. Did you need to go to the effort, again you blogged about this, but the effort of redecorating and painting? You committed to this, presumably, would the house have been able to be let in the state it was in once all of your stuff was in the attic?
Marijke: I think probably yes, but you know, if you've lived somewhere for twenty-four years and then suddenly you take the pictures off the wall, and you think, "Oh my goodness, oh my goodness, I had no idea that the sun was shining so brightly that the whole wall was discoloured apart from where the picture was."
I thought that I needed to do something, I can't leave it like this. Was it pristine? No, but some stuff really had to be done. At some point, when you let your house, you have to have it professionally cleaned. And the cleaners came round, a really nice chap, and I showed him all the different rooms and I showed him the spare room and I said, "I don't know what to do about this carpet, this looks terrible."
He looked, and he said, "No, there's nothing you can do. You just have to get it replaced."
So, there was a lot of stuff, in the last month, that we had to do to just make it acceptable after twenty-four years living somewhere.
Beth: Totally, I can understand that. So, did you find the process of letting in the U.K. easier, or kind of the same level of difficulty as the process of finding somewhere in Holland for the interim? How long are you spending in Holland?
Marijke: We are just spending two and a half weeks in Holland.
Beth: OK, so, that's a holiday type stay.
Marijke: It's a holiday and I'm from the Netherlands. I have a load of friends here. I had my birthday here, yesterday. We had a big drinks party.
Beth: Oh! Happy Birthday! Happy Belated Birthday.
Marijke: I have family here, of course. So, to me, Holland is a bit of a home away from home and we have a little pieta here. So, that's why it's very easy for us to be in Holland, always.
Beth: Yeah, lovely. So, just thinking about, if you were going to do any part differently, so far... I know you're not yet at the end of your adventure, you haven't reached Spain yet, but if you were going to do anything differently about the process of readying yourself to leave home for a whole year, would you do anything differently?
Marijke: I'll tell you one thing... I have two things I would do differently. One is a very practical one. You know where you can buy these cardboard boxes in shops, and there's different sizes and we always go for the big size because they're really useful. Actually, you can never lift them. They're way too heavy, so smaller is better. So, that's a very small, practical point.
The other thing is, although I have thrown out loads, and loads, and loads, and loads, of stuff and have been to the rubbish-tip incessantly, I think that I've not done enough. If I think of all the stuff we're sending to Spain, and I think of our lives in Spain, I'll probably need to sort through it again. It's amazing, it's surprising, it's a bit scary the amount of stuff that you gather over a lifetime. Do you really need twenty white t-shirts that are all in various stages of disrepair? You know, you just need to really move things on.
I think the other thing that it's taught me is to buy less. We are in a very throwaway society where it's very easily done to go out and think, "Oh, I'd like a new this. Oh, isn't that nice, I'd like to buy that." But, actually, it's not the right thing to do. It's environmentally not right. It's taught me that. Don't buy so much - live with less.
Beth: Yeah, I think that's great advice. How has the logistics worked? So, have you shipped your stuff to Spain?
Marijke: Yes, we have, yes. Over the years we've done it two or three times, actually, once in the Netherlands and twice from the U.K. We found some people who do that. A man with a van type of thing, big vans. And that's what they do for a living. They drive back and forth to Spain and Portugal and France.
On the whole they've been very, very good, very professional. If you have a mirror they make sure it's wrapped up properly and so on, protected against breakages. It's not too costly and they've been a pleasure to deal with, actually. Because, for instance, the guys who came this time, they picked everything up, just at the right time, then they said it's now summer in the U.K. and it's in one of their warehouses, and we said that we're going to be in Spain from the 13th of September and they're going to deliver it the first week we're there. So, it's all really good people.
Beth: Amazing, and you also mentioned, just speaking of resources and people who have been very useful, the Citizen's Advice Bureau has been really helpful for you in your planning. Is that a kind of central resource that you've used?
Marijke: Ah yes, yes, you know I think they're excellent and I would highly recommend that people to just look at their website. It takes a bit to find your way around it, and to find the right... They've got a search engine and you just need to find a way of reasoning that. But there's so much useful stuff on there. It's not the final stuff, though.
So, for me, if I have a query, my first protocol is Citizen's Advice Bureau, I'll read up on it, and I'll think, "Ah, this is getting too complicated. I think I need a “Gestor”, which is an agent in Spain, to help me with my residency application for instance, or I might need a lawyer. So, you do need specialist advice sometimes, but they're just very good at having that broad amount of documentation where you can just dip in and out of.
If you put your own questions, I would also highly recommend that you pay a fee, like I think twenty Euros, or twenty-five Euros is the recommended amount. Then you can go directly to the people there and they will send you their responses directly for your own specific questions. And it's so quick. You write it and the next day you have your answer.
Beth: Lovely, yeah, that's fantastic and it's just a level of autonomy, being able to do all this by yourself. Yes, and you know when you need extra help. I think your great example of having the bravery and also the discipline to just really kind of make it all happen for yourself, which I think is amazing.
My last question is, over the last year, politically in the U.K., I'm not sure if you've noticed, but it has been a bit up and down, and you've been doing all of this with Brexit going on in the background, with talking about leaving the EU. It hasn't happened, but it has very much dominated the headlines for the past year. Has that impacted your choices at all? Is it something that you've talked about? Or has it really not made any difference to your plans?
Marijke: So, when we came here in Holland, some of our neighbours said, "Are you moving because of Brexit?" Because that's inevitably what people think. That's not quite true. Yes, it's a contributing factor. I have to say I've lived in the U.K. thirty-nine years. I've been totally at home there. I've done my degree studies there. I've had my career there. I've got tons of friends there. I love living in the U.K. but the last three or four years, ever since the referendum, I have felt just a tiny bit more alienated from the Brits, and from what's going on there.
I have to say the last few weeks have been a roller coaster ride with Boris Johnson and all of his shenanigans. We've been sitting here watching the TV, the BBC News, avidly, every night, saying, "What on earth is going on now?" I'm hoping that it's going in the right direction because, I have to say, if there is a no deal Brexit at the end of October or whenever, it's going to be really hard for people like us.
Marijke: I don't know precisely how or what. It's very hard to know, and the Citizen's Advice Bureau can't give you advice either. Nobody knows what it's going to be like. But having a mixed Dutch/British marriage, I haven't got British citizenship and my husband doesn't have Dutch citizenship and then you live in Spain, it's all going to be a little bit more complicated. I suspect, potentially, costly, bureaucratic, cumbersome, irritating... I don't know what other words to use. But I'm just hoping against hope (knocking on lots of wood) that it's going to be OK and there's either going to be a deal or there's going to be no Brexit.
Beth: Yeah, it's just about clarity I think, with most people I talked to about it, especially from a property buying perspective, because you don't know what the markets are going to do. You don't know what the economies are going to do.
Marijke: No, I have to say we are seeing the Pound, it's very interesting to see the Pound going down, and down, and down, and down, and down over the last three months, and particularly since Boris Johnson came onboard. It wouldn't surprise me if it goes on a par with the Euro, and that is a big, big disincentive for buying abroad. Especially if you have to have your mortgage in Euros. It will be almost too difficult to do. The cost of living, I found in the Netherlands, in particular, is incredibly high compared to the U.K. now. Spain will be a little bit easier. None the less, it's just much more expensive.
Beth: Yeah, well, I think what's going to be really interesting is that I get to talk to you again, which is very nice. I'll be catching up with you at various points in your journey. Maybe that is something we can talk about, the cost of living and how you're finding those exchange rates. The next time we talk we'll focus a little bit more on the property, how you feel about arriving there. Finally, I'm going to catch up with you a few months down the line, once you've settled into your new adventure.
Thank you so much for talking to me today. I feel like there's so much valuable information there, and I will talk to you again very soon.
Marijke: Talk to you soon, Beth. I'm looking forward to it. Bye.
- Thank you for listening and thanks to Marijke for sharing part one of her story.
- We'll bring you part two over the next few months, but if you can't wait that long you can check out Marijke's blog online at Kyero.com, just look in the Resource And Advice tab for "Finding our sunshine"
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