US Expats Living in Spain - Meet Nancy & Regina

Published: 15 Jan at 11 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Spain
Nancy Todd and Regina Winkle-Bryan are co-editors of The Spain Scoop (see listing here), a savvy, fun guide to Spain. The Spain Scoop includes guest writers from different locations in Spain to lend their expertise regarding food, festivals, fun, and the good life. With thousands of photos, The Scoop has over 580 posts and counting. From different sides of the USA, Regina and Nancy met in Barcelona and began their site in 2008. They have both published on travel websites and in magazines. They continue to share a love of tapas and wine, the perfect dinner combo and can't wait for the next wild Spanish festival.

Meet Nancy & Regina - US Expats in Spain
Meet Nancy & Regina - US Expats in Spain

Here's the interview with Nancy & Regina...


Where are you originally from?
Nancy: The mountains of North Carolina were my home in the booming city of Asheville.
Regina: Portland, Oregon, in the United States. There are a few similarities between Spain and Oregon: good wine, awesome beaches, laid-back people....but Spain is sunny (mostly), and Oregon not so much. I need sun.

In which country and city are you living now?
Nancy: I live in two cities, Barcelona and Toulouse.
Regina: In the center of Barcelona, Spain.

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
Nancy: Having lived away from the states for more than 6 years, I don't plan on returning soon. I love my lifestyle of not having a car, walking everywhere, shopping at the small stores, an endless array of seasonally fresh food, the care and time people take with preparing their meals. What I really love is the ease at which people hang out. They are not driven by their calendar, can sit for hours at a cafe, dreaming, laughing, catching up. I tell people who visit to throw away their watches.
Regina: I’ve been here seven years and don’t plan on leaving soon, although certainly many people have recently left Spain. The economy is rough here, to put it mildly. And yet perhaps this is a more interesting era to be in Barcelona, when the businesses that do flourish will be especially good, creative, original. There are times when I miss Oregon and of course my family and friends, but for the moment I am happily settled here.

Regina Winkle-Bryan and Nancy Todd in Girona, Spain 2012
Regina Winkle-Bryan and Nancy Todd in Girona, Spain 2012
Why did you move and what do you do?
Nancy: I moved because adventure called. It is that simple. I had lived in one country with one language all my life. Time to experience the world. I am a writer and one of my big projects is a travel website, The Spain Scoop, a fun, expert travel guide to Spain.
Regina: I had been living in Costa Rica and Guatemala and felt the need for a change. I spoke Spanish and wanted to live on the Mediterranean. Even though I had never been to Spain, it called to me and I decided to give life in Barcelona a shot. I love Barcelona and though I’ve traveled all over Europe Barcelona I’ve not been to another city that offers what I define as ‘quality of life’ the way this city can. In other words, I made the right choice when I took a chance and came here in 2005 (which is not to say that it was easy!). I am a freelance writer and translator. I work for international magazines writing mostly on travel, culture, design and food (www.regwb.com). In addition I write short stories (fiction) and edit The Spain Scoop along with Nancy.

Did you bring family with you?
Nancy: No, I am single.
Regina: Like Nancy, I came alone. I didn’t even know anyone in Barcelona. People are often surprised by this, but it wasn’t a big deal. It’s easy enough to meet people if you put yourself out there and engage. I now have a partner and a dog (The Blog Dog) and an extended Spanish/Catalan family!

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
Nancy: There are times it is exhilarating. I love being with the Art Nouveau architecture in Barcelona, walking down dark medieval lanes at night that are hundreds of years old. Hearing a different language. Being apart of the detail that is paid to food, flowers, and wine. And there are challenges. Figuring out how to get a cell phone, electricity hooked up, etc when I didn't know the language. The health care system can be a mystery. Figuring out a rental agreement. Just damn finding an apartment was challenging. I lived in hotels for three weeks. Dryers are not common here. Hanging clothes out and having my best panties blow away never to be seen again.
Regina: Well, there are many adjustments that happen. In Spain a big one is the time people eat. It took me quite a while to feel comfortable eating dinner at 10pm. Honestly, even after all these years trying I usually eat at 8:30pm or 9pm. I’m just too hungry! There are a million other little differences, like accepting that here yogurt is a dessert where in Oregon it’s a breakfast food. Day-to-day stuff. And then there are larger issues like language. In Barcelona it is necessary to know Spanish but also Catalan. My Catalan is not stellar, but I have taken a few courses and can survive.

Regina Winkle-Bryan in Catalonia, Spain 2012
Regina Winkle-Bryan in Catalonia, Spain 2012
Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
Nancy: Yes it is easy and one has to put themselves out to do it. No one is going to come knocking at your door and say, "Oh, I hear you are new in town." I have been active in Democrats Abroad, joined expat groups like the Barcelona Women's Network. Regina and I met at a writer's group.
Regina: Yes and no. Catalans have a reputation of being closed. I am not sure if this is actually true or if it is just difficult to meet people in a big city. I would say that it is easy to meet expats, but it takes more work to meet locals. Of course you also need to have language skills to meet Spaniards and Catalans (unless they speak English). That said, there are a plethora of groups and meetups to help people connect. If you want to make friends in this town, you will.

What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
Nancy: Be open to change. Go with the flow of the culture you are in. You have to pay for water in a restaurant? So pay. Don't complain. You don't get served butter? Don't let it bother you. People smell on the Metro? That is life. You get to sit at a cafe for three hours with one cup of coffee? Enjoy. The Picasso Museum is down the street? Not a problem. You have to ask the head of the chicken you buy at the market be cut off before you take it home? Smile. 89 kinds of cheese to choose from? Enjoy. Cry when you miss your friends and family. Normal.
Regina: ‘Best’ is subjective, but I’d recommend getting out of the city and into wine country. Penedès is about an hour by train from Barcelona and produces many fine cavas and white wines. Nancy and I both adore the Roman city Tarragona to the south of Barcelona for its ruins and beaches as well as the medieval city of Girona to the north for its history and charm. There’s a lot to see here in Catalonia to say nothing of the rest of mainland Spain and all the islands.

Regina Winkle-Bryan in Jerez de La Frontera, Spain
Regina Winkle-Bryan in Jerez de La Frontera, Spain
How does the cost of living compare to home?
Nancy: It is higher but it isn’t. I don’t have a car, pay car insurance, get the tires rotated. I don't pay to have the gutters cleaned as I live in an apartment. I really don't think about it. I am buying a lifestyle. I want this lifestyle and don't think about the price difference.
Regina: Barcelona is expensive, and then again, it’s not compared to other Euro metropolises. Some of my income comes from the US in dollars and the conversion hurts! If you plan to come to Spain on another currency, do the conversion first.

What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
Nancy:I miss my family and friends. Many have come to visit and I go to the States once a year. We Skype. And I miss them. Few really understand or 'get' my lifestyle. I wish we could be together more and just hang out.
Regina: I agree with Nancy. I miss my family, friends, Oregon nature and salad dressing selection.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
Regina: In Spain there is an unspoken rule, and I pass it on now to all of you who are planning to either move here or visit: it will always cost more than you think and take longer than you predicted. You budgeted $50 a day in gas for your Spanish road-trip? There will inevitably be tolls or tax or some other cost to bring that up to $70. Google maps says your drive from Barcelona to the French border is an hour and a half? Better add on another 20 minutes or so for getting lost and who knows what else. The same rule is applied to renting an apartment, banking and even food. Hidden costs show up in tax on your dinner, or a charge for silverware or an extra couple bucks for those olives you thought we complimentary. Service at lunch may be fast and efficient, or it may last three hours, causing you to ponder if they had to milk the cow and make the cheese for that Manchego tapa you ordered.

Barcelona, Spain, by Regina Winkle-Bryan 2012
Barcelona, Spain, by Regina Winkle-Bryan 2012
What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
Nancy:
  1. Keep your eye on your initial vision. For me, it was about newness and adventure. And this reigns on every Art Nouveau door in my neighborhood, hot cup of coffee, wandering skinny medieval lanes at night, and continuing to explore the strangeness and wonderment of Spain. Love the small stuff.
  2. Treasure the new whether it is a squirming octopus in the market or a cranky old lady.
  3. Don't compare prices between your home country and Spain. It is what it is. You are paying for a rare life experience. In the end, it isn't about the money.
  4. Be flexible. You have to pay for water in a restaurant? No problem. No bus schedule? Roll with it. Trains delayed? Find something good in the experience. No butter? Olive oil works.
  5. Make friends and share - basic and true.


Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
Nancy: The Spain Scoop is a fun, expert travel guide for Spain. The Scoop offers practical info such as where to stay, cool museums, and where to eat. Regina and I also share our personal experiences like how we spent Thanksgiving, hiking the El Camino, or occasional rants like getting robbed in Barcelona.. Our guest writers lend their wisdom, humor, and savvy. We are open to questions from people traveling or wanting to move to Spain.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
Via Twitter: @TheSpainScoop and via Facebook.

Nancy & Regina blog at http://www.thespainscoop.com/ which we recommend a quick visit if you haven't been already. The Spain Scoop has an ExpatsBlog.com listing here so add a comment there if you like their site! If you liked this interview with Nancy & Regina, please also drop them a quick comment below.

Sailing in the Mediterranean Regina Winkle-Bryan 2012
Sailing in the Mediterranean Regina Winkle-Bryan 2012
Regina Bio: Co-Editor with Nancy, Regina began the Scoop in 2008. For the last seven years, Regina has been learning that Spain is more than bulls and flamenco. Did you know they have five national languages in Spain? Five! Or that Llivia is a small Spanish village inserted in France? Yep. These small peculiarities have been the driving force behind her non-stop travel across the Iberian Peninsula and all its sweet little Islands. Spain; it’s different. Regina both writes to travel and travels to write, and has contributed to Afar, Adbusters, Spa, Islands, Transitions Abroad, Robb Report, Conde Nast Traveller, Shareable.net, and many other publications. She blogs at Eurocheapo and Travel Hoppers. Also a short story writer, Regina has participated in two short story collections in 2011 and 2012. See her portfolio here: http://regwb.com/.
Nancy Bio: As Co-editor and writer for the on line travel guide, The Spain Scoop, Nancy Todd also writes for Lonely Planet Magazine, Metropolitan Magazine, Barcelona Connect, Ceramics Technical Review, etc., and travel web sites such as Madador Travel.   She combines her years of travel and background in art to weave both humorous and serious articles about life, architecture, and the weird stuff of travel.  Her first serious writing endeavor was in fourth grade as a playwright.  She wrote and produced “Balls Under The Christmas Tree.”  Performed in the family dining room, Daisy the Cat gave it two yawns. Nancy splits her time between Toulouse and Barcelona and now, with three languages to spin,  her brain continues to be language challenged.
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Comments » There are 4 comments

Mark wrote 1 year ago:

I enjoyed the nice interview – both entertaining and informative. It's good to know that more folks travel to Spain and choose to live there who are a bit older than the twenty-something demographic (glad that the twenty-something’s are there too). I plan to return soon to Spain myself. Who knows? I may stay a while longer this time. I love Spain for its many "countries within a country culture". I like the idea of “flexibility.” It keeps you alive and thinking. Thank you for the article and a big thank you to Nancy and Regina. I'll check out the Spain Scoop. Mark (Marcos) at Hispanic Globe.

AlwaysAnchoredL wrote 1 year ago:

Fantastic article from ladies providing a invaluable resource for students and travelers alike! I currently studying in Salamanca and their comments are "spot on "! Walking safely and alone in the evening along with the locals,the spotless streets and restaurants not to mention much cheaper wine and food prices than I expected are just a few reasons I am glad I came. Great to have the Spain Scoop to refer to now and my future trips!

Peter wrote 1 year ago:

Great article and well done Expatsblog for finding and promoting quality blogs like Spain Scoop among the many useless Barcelona blogs that companies have outsourced to production line bloggers, underpaid summer interns or unoriginal copypasters. Travellers looking for accurate and informative information about Barcelona are also welcome to visit www.barcelonayellow.com which is a travel portal dedicated to Barcelona.

Diane wrote 3 months ago:

Thank you for the excellent advice. My husband and I are retirees who have just moved to a city about 30 minutes from Barcelona. I am eager to check Spain Scoop for expat info.

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