A señora in Utrecht

We welcome Belén from Barcelona, to our pages today. She is a 36-year-old writer and content developer. She has been crafting written stories for more than ten years. In Barcelona, she used to work as a TV scriptwriter, journalist and copywriter. In 2016 she published Tiempo de Breitner, a novel selected by Amazon for its 2017 Indie month. Nowadays, she writes as a freelancer (ZZpr) for Spanish clients through her company Looping the loop.

What brought you to Utrecht?

When my partner and I turned thirty, we started thinking about moving abroad. It was a kind of Erasmus “last-call” and it felt like if it was the right moment to do so. Even though we were both working in Barcelona, we started looking for job options within Europe. Suddenly, my partner found an interesting opportunity at the KNMI in De Bilt and, a couple of months later, we moved to Utrecht for what was supposed to be a year. Next January it will be our fifth!

Where is your favourite place in Utrecht?

In Binnenstad, I love the Oudegracht by night, when there’s nobody on the streets and the lights bling over the water of the canal. The jingling ­­of the bikes over the cobblestones and the Dom peering over the rooftops and observing everything feels like a fairy tale scene. I also love the view of the Watertoren at the Lauwerhoff emerging from the narrow streets behind Voorstraat. Out of the city, my favorite place is the Theehuis Rhijnauwen. It’s my personal hideout!

Does Utrecht inspire you?

A lot! Utrecht happened to become the place where I wrote my first novel “Tiempo de Breitner”, a story about a Spanish girl who moves to The Netherlands.

What is the main difference between the Spanish and the Dutch?
The biggest difference between us is that Spaniards tend to focus more in the “here and now” while Dutch people are more long-term planners (even when they are just trying to meet for a coffee). At the same time, I also feel there’s quite a lot in common between us. Both Dutchies and Spaniards are great enjoyers (what I would call “disfrutones”): we like to make the most of life by enjoying small things such as sipping a nice glass of beer or wine under the sun. Both give great importance to their own traditions (from Sinterklass to Reyes Magos or Koningsdag). And both love going into bars!

Do you miss anything about Spain?
Besides family and friends, what I miss the most are Spanish food markets. The opportunity to cross the street and walk into this big feast of extremely fresh ingredients in the greatest variety you could imagine. I specially miss fish shops where you can buy any kind of fish you want, so then your options at the kitchen multiply exponentially. Even though I have already included in my everyday life some Dutch recipes like ewrtensoep, I still miss some ingredients which I was able to get more easily there. As you may guess, I love cooking and even more eating!

Do you think there is a Dutch way of life?

I do think so. As far as I know, there’s no other place in the world where life happens over a bike and, actually, I think that makes the Dutch way of life the way it is. Relaxed, sporty, outdoors loving, informal, straight-ahead, enjoyable, unique. Coming from a place like Barcelona, mobility here becomes a pleasure instead of an annoying invest of your time. You go from A to B while you have time for yourself to think or to socialize with your kids, your partner or your colleagues. Physical activity is naturally included in your everyday life while the air (or the sun or the rain) touches your face and car horns become bike bells. Over two wheels, you bring your baby to the daycare, do your groceries, go partying. You can even carry plants or chairs or ladders! All of that makes everything funnier and empowers you while reminding you how free and self-sufficient you can be just on two wheels.

Do you know many expats in Utrecht or do you make friends with the Dutch?
Some of my friends are Dutch and others are expats from different countries including Spain. I tend to relate to people who I find interesting and, luckily, this fits with all nationalities.

Do you think you fit in to the Dutch way of life?

I can tell you I feel at home here. I am not Dutch and there’s a whole Spanish background in me which will always be there but, still, “dutchness” keeps leaving its print in my personality creating a kind of SpansDutch hybrid identity, and I love that!!!

Do you think the Dutch could learn anything from the Spanish?

Of course! Everyone can learn stuff from the others! But it is the one who learns who decides what it’s best to learn!

Will you be staying in the Netherlands?

My partner and I ask ourselves that same question every two years more or less so I don’t even know beyond then. By now, a yearlong experience has already become a five-years-life which even includes an Utrechter baby so… who knows what will happen?

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Jon Wilkins

Jon Wilkins is Welsh and lives in England. He is a writer. A Europhile and Remainer, he is a regular visitor to Utrecht and has set his crime novel series in the city.

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