Like many British living in Spain, this summer I made the journey back home – together with my Anglo-Spanish children - to see much-missed family. This was a complicated undertaking, with various forms to be filled in, multiple tests to be booked, ordered, paid for, and taken, in both countries, and quarantine to be endured.
We wanted to make up for the cancelled visit last year, when travel was almost impossible due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and also for only the second Christmas I have ever spent away from my mum (and I’m the wrong side of 50). The children could spend plenty of quality time (screens allowing) with their grandmother, uncle and cousins.
As the mercury soared here in Andalucia, up to a staggering 47 degrees C, once allowed out we luxuriated in temperate days of cloud, sun, and light rain. The countryside was incredibly green, with verdant lawns and plants blooming everywhere. What the English summer lacked in warmth and sunshine, it made up for in zero sweating or need for air-cooling – and being able to watch the Euros, Wimbledon, and the Olympics on English TV was a major bonus!
As the end of August approached, we geared ourselves up, both practically and psychologically, for the return. Stifling heat, sure, but the flipside is lightweight clothing, pretty summer dresses, never having to check the weather forecast, rarely being cold, and always having simple wardrobe choices, without having to remember to grab a jumper or raincoat.
As our departure date drew closer, we did the children’s COVID tests – they’re experts by now, after countless self-administered PCRs and LFTs, and have the technique down pat - and sent them off (I’m double-jabbed, so didn’t need to).
I filled in our Spanish FCSs (formulario control de salud, or health control forms), printing out all our documentation - seven items in total, and also saving everything to both phone and cloud storage. In addition, we uploaded the relevant certificates (vaccination, test results, FCS) to our boarding passes on the airline’s app.
Post-Brexit, Brits are not permitted to board the plane with a digital pass only, so we had paper versions too – quite a folder in all.
At the airport, once we had shown the airline staff all the digital documents, we were given a slip of paper which released us from having to repeat the endless scrolling, tapping and enlarging of the phone screen at each airport and airline check point. We were good to go.
The terminal at Stansted was emptier than I have ever seen it, especially in late August when families are grabbing a final holiday before school starts. Unusually, there were groups of seats available together in the departure lounge, with USB sockets provided (though these didn’t even work, unlike those in Seville airport – San Pablo SVQ I, Stansted STN 0).
So the queues for the electronic passport gates, security control, and boarding, were all almost non-existent. Our plane was about half full, compared to 20% on the way out – you had to be truly dedicated to travel to the UK while the 10-day quarantine was still in force. We arrived at the spanking new arrivals hall in Seville airport, inaugurated in July, complete with (not yet working) electronic passport gates.
It always takes a few days to get used to the heat again, alleviated by dips in the swimming pool. What have we missed the most? Our animals (dogs, cats and birds), the aforementioned reliable sunshine, and eating tapas locally – cooling summer favourites include salpicon de mariscos (seafood salad) and salmorejo - for just a few euros, with a glass of manzanilla sherry for a fraction of what you’d pay in the UK. After all, it doesn’t exactly have far to travel, being made just an hour away, in the Sherry Triangle of Cadiz province.
Now the children are back in school, the work rhythm is intensifying, and normal life has resumed, with meals eaten outdoors in the balmy evening air; trips to the beach; drinks with friends, again al fresco. Being able to spend so much of our time outside, all year round, has always been a key part of living in southern Spain, but with COVID/19, the climate is now an important extra health advantage.
As any expat will tell you, the concept of "Where is home?" becomes confused when you travel back to your birth country - or the one where you spent most time before moving to a new land. I live in Spain, but a large chunk of my heart belongs back in England's green pastures and cosy pubs, and with my family. That is the inevitable situation of those who decide to move to another land of our own volition - we are immigrants by choice, not through necessity.
But that doesn't mean we miss our "own" country any less. After nearly 20 years of living in Andalucia, I wouldn't be anywhere else - as long as I can still go back to England regularly for a welcome dose of familiarity and drizzle (though preferably without nasal swabs).