The call came as I was running out the door, late, to my summer waitressing job in London. Bollocks, I remember thinking to myself, as I did a couple of swivels and made a grab for the phone. And so it all began.
"Amanda, it's Professor Mckay". My history teacher at Edinburgh University. Oh dear. What could he want with me mid summer and how on earth had he tracked me down to my brother's sofa? "I'm calling to tell you that you are going to Salamanca next year on some new EU wheeze called Erasmus. I forgot to pick anyone last term. Going to take the first three I find who speak Spanish. ¿Tú hablas español, no?
Not really, would have been the honest answer to that. My parents were living in Chile at the time and I'd worked in a sandwich bar in a ski resort there the previous summer. But from "hamburguesa con fritas" to "Renacimiento y Baroque" was quite a leap.
"Salamanca. Is that in South America?" I asked hopefully. "No, Spain, middle of nowhere" came the reply. "You're number 3. Have a nice summer".
So it was I landed in Salamanca, didn't study very much history at all, contrary to eager expectation fell not for a macho ibérico but a German 10 years my senior and set up ISLA with him.
Salamanca blew me away from the first moment. The soaring golden buildings and leafy gardens; the cafes on every corner heaving with tapas and shouty people at all hours; and the fact that here I was a "rubia" - blonde at last! - rather than British mouse with a few highlights.
It is my not very original view that this being out in the street contributes largely to Southern European cheeriness. As no one is ever at home anyway, there's little time to agonize about home furnishings ... or loll around in sweat pants, for that matter. Spaniards groom with care ... but let their hair down with gusto.
My dear dad gave up asking me if I'd be coming back to find a proper job after the first 5 years, we moved to Barcelona to do a second ISLA after rather more than 10, married after 15 years and came back to Salamanca after just under 20.
My favourite place of all is the Sierra de Francia mountain range south of Salamanca where I enjoy swimming holes with my nephews, the shade of cherry trees with a chilled glass of white wine, open fires with a good book and long walks with the legendary Loren, the retired school master from one of the tiny villages.
Though I've lived in Spain far longer than I lived in the UK, in some things I'll be forever British: the Sunday newspapers, pubs, M&S food, golden retrievers, Mock the Week, men without gel in their hair. So these are treats, when I get at them.
But I suppose I am so very fortunate and hope not to sound smug when I say that life in Spain feels like a treat much of the time too. So if Spain seems to be "calling" you, as it did me, take a grab at it!
3 other favourite places in Spain: Vejer de la Frontera, Cadaqués and Balmaseda
3 places for lunch: Quim de la Boqueria, Barcelona, los Cocederos de Puerto de Santa María, Mirasierra, Sierra de Francia
3 heroes: Greg Mortensen (Three cups of tea) John Rebus (Ian Rankin´s series) Chuck Bass (Gossip Girl)