The Mole Diaries: Valladolid
First things first: Despite it being the administrative capital of Castilla y León, saying you’re spending your year abroad in Valladolid often leads to confused glances, so learn to grin and bear it and answer with the standard response of 'it's north of Madrid, about an hour from Salamanca' which tends to work well. As one Spanish lecturer said to me 'Good luck going there, you'll be the only English person!' She wasn't far off, but hey it was good for my Spanish and will be good for yours too!
I spent my months in Valladolid doing a marketing internship and so I can’t properly comment on the University, but my friends who were studying there were happy and they always seemed to be going out to ESN -Erasmus Student Network- Valladolid nights and other National ESN events! I still took part in ESN tandems and did some activities with them and although the Erasmus population isn't huge here, it’s definitely big enough and you will meet lots of great people and actually get to know them really well as you'll bump into the same people all the time.
So what do I wish I'd known before I arrived in Valladolid? Quite a lot actually! I couldn't find much info online so I hope this compilation of tips and advice will be useful for you if you're going to Valladolid!
There are plenty of flats available, so take your time choosing and don't rush into anything, especially not online if you’re not 100% sure. Because the Spanish way of doing things is much more relaxed flats can be viewed, taken and signed for on the same day if you like (I signed my contract in the park!) so don’t stress. Most places in Valladolid are very safe, but a local friend did give me the piece of advice not to cross the railway line (i.e. stay central which you'd probably want to do anyway to make you close to clubs/bars and Uni.) If you go into the old law building of the University at Plaza Universidad which is open to everyone there are always loads of adverts for flats pinned up on the notice-board.
Getting AroundThe quickest way to get to Valladolid is to fly to Madrid then catch the Cercanias from T4 to Charmartín and then get the AVE train. This will cost though, a return Vall-Madrid AVE ticket is about 58 euro depending on the time of day. There is also a direct ALSA bus from T4 at the airport to Valladolid bus station so try not to stress, this is very easy and cheaper :) At Madrid there are shuttle buses between terminals. Most things are very easy to walk to, but young person's bus passes are FREE so worth applying for one at Caja Duero, Plaza Zorilla, as they make a single trip about a third of the normal price. Have the courage to wander without a map and explore (in daylight) you will most likely end up somewhere new or find a shortcut. The city really isn't big enough to get lost down a side street and never be seen again. Take out bikes from the stand by Plaza Zorrilla one weekend. We went in Autumn all along the River Pisuerga, it was beautiful and we stopped and got fresh baguettes and put them in our baskets. It was great fun, good for exploring, something different and felt like we were in a film! They cost about 20 euro for 24 hours and if you don't use your whole time in one go, the owner is flexible about using the rest of the time another day.
MoneyTutoring is in high demand. Both in academies and privately. Pop up an advert in one of the supermarkets or at a school and you are bound to be flooded with requests as native English speakers are very rare here. Thursday is cheap Tapas night! Most bars have one tapa and a drink deal for a couple of euro (I think it’s an initiative run by the Ayuntamiento)
Linguistic and cultural differencesAll Vallisoletanos are very proud to tell you that they speak 'the purest' type of Spanish, this makes them quite picky sometimes but will also have you speaking with a great accent! When you first arrive carry a pocket dictionary or have an app definitely, especially for eating out and shopping. There's very little English spoken here and so it can lead to awkward moments/ stare-outs when you can’t get your point across and no one will meet you halfway with Spanglish. (E.g the time I went out for a meal with work and didn't know any fish names in Spanish except octopus so ended up opting for this thinking at least I knew what it was and I ended up with just octopus, octopus and more octopus that was meant to be shared between 4 people. Awkward.) The vast majority of the shops do work on traditional Spanish timetable, so don't leave buying your Sangria or Calimocho ingredients until 10pm because everywhere will be shut. This is the same for food on Sundays, Carrefour is the only place that is sometimes open on a Sunday. Also, be wary of viewing opening hours on the internet, they are often unreliable as we well discovered when we trekked to IKEA on a Sunday as the website said it was open, only to find that it wasn’t. Don’t be surprised if you hear the words ‘Pucela’ or ‘Pucelano’ as alternatives to Valladolid/Vallisoletano. If you arrive at the end of August you will witness the city’s festival of San Lorenzo - it’s a great week but an initiation of fire in terms of viewing first hand local traditions such as throwing calimocho (take old clothes!) Everything returns to normal the week after, so make the most of the concerts, the parades, the services etc. The Christmas markets are also really worth a look, although they’re not very big they provide a much needed festive fix those long last few days before you head home for the holidays! If you’re going in winter- take warm clothes!
Valladolid by Alejandro Polanco
After a very short time in Valladolid you're sure to know your way around. Despite the population of the city being quite big, the actual centre itself really isn't and as such is very manageable for Erasmus students. You can walk everywhere, get to know shortcuts and there's no expensive taxi rides to get to nights out. Just don't make the same mistake I did and use churches as landmarks; a lot of them look the same and it can lead to you getting very confused.
The town itself is very cultural and there are lots of beautiful buildings to see including the half completed Cathedral and the Casa de Cervantes. The famous 'Campo Grande' park is stunning in all seasons and the peacocks are also pretty famous it seems. The centre of the city is probably the Plaza Mayor which after having seen both, I would say Valladolid’s rivals Madrid's. The centre boasts several department stores including Carrefour and a huge Corte Ingles as well as Zara, Sfera and Kiko amongst other brands. Other shops tend to be independent which means if you want a 'proper' days shopping head to Vallsur (20 mins ALSA bus ride) or Rio (30 mins ‘Flecha’ bus ride but there's a Primark and Ikea) shopping centres.
All of my friends spending their Year Abroad in capital cities were so jealous when I told them about prices. In terms of rent I was told by a local student not to pay more than 250 Euro MAX for a month’s rent. As it happened I paid 160 Euro and had a nice room in a 4 bed flat with 2 bathrooms, a kitchen and lounge. If you measure expense by drinks:1 euro a shot, says it all really.
4. Great bars
There are lots of quirky bars in Valladolid, many of which (but not all) are centred around Plaza Universidad and La Antigua. For nice cocktails try Herminios Jazz bar at Plaza Universidad, for standard drinks with the added bonus of popcorn as a snack head down to La Antigua. In terms of food, both of these areas are full of eating bars too, but also head over to las Tres Bellotas tapas bar on Calle Industrias (about 10 mins from centre and 2 mins off Plaza Circular) the menu is full of different, quality tapas and also bigger meals like burgers or hot rolls. Each tapa is around 1euro50 (and they are huge). Arrive at 8 -armed with a pocket dictionary- or you won’t get in it's so popular with locals. If you want a bit of home comfort NYC Hells Burgers is a brand new American style diner that offers amazing burgers, fries etc. Here they always offer to speak in English too!
Yes, Valladolid has a beach. Moreras 'beach' is alongside the River Pisuerga, its really popular for bottelón. I personally wouldn't swim in the water, because it looks a bit grimy, but the sand is great for sunbathing and there's also a really chilled beach bar.
6. Good transport services
Both in the city and also to other cities Valladolid is quite well connected. You can be in Madrid in 1hour 5 minutes on the AVE and about 2.5 hours by bus. Salamanca, Valencia, León and Segovia are also easy to get to and do-able in a day and after a few weekends in the town to get to know it you will want to get out and about. There is also an airport but at the minute the only flights leaving it go to Barcelona.
7. Good accent
As mentioned above, you won’t have any issues with accent here. It makes it easier for you to pick up and settle in, and means that you won’t have to adjust your accent to standard Spanish when you get back to Uni.
The not-so-positives. Things to bear in mind.
It is practically the ‘Number One Year Abroad Rule’ not to generalise, and I did meet some absolutely lovely Spaniards during my stay, but Vallisoletanos do have a reputation, which they voluntarily admit is true of being a bit 'cerrado' or 'borde' as they like to put it. When I went to the South I was shocked at just how open people were to meeting new people compared to in the North. It’s fine when you are used to it, just don’t get put off.
In winter it's FREEZING. When I was flat hunting everyone kept rambling on about how essential good central heating was (believe it or not many of the flats did not have any, so make sure you ask!) Ahhh yes but I live in England, I'm used to the cold I would say. But no, this is a very different kind of cold. Towards November and December the icy wind hits in and it is such a 'dry' cold it did very nearly make me cry as I waited for the bus to work each morning. Saying that, in summer its BOILING. There’s a phrase “Nueve meses de invierno, tres de infierno.'' I’m pretty sure madrileños also use this nine months of winter, three of hell phrase, but like the English, the Spanish do love to have a good moan about the weather so just go with it. I'm also a strong believer in not picking your year abroad destination just for the weather because it can change drastically and if you’re working or teaching you're inside a lot of the time anyway!
Valladolid is no Madrid or Granada, and that’s absolutely fine, it still has plenty going for it. But if you want huge clubs, lots of young touristy attractions and really easy flights home this isn't the place for you! Saying that it is much safer, and there are all the other pluses listed above!