Spain – Cases Rising, Again

Covid cases are rising in Spain. Its worse in Catalunya and Aragon but its rising in Valencia too. Young people at the beach and in night clubs are taking it from family transmissions to the more deadly community transmissions.

Today we woke up and headed to Bauhaus (Home Depot) for boxes. We want to be packed up when the times comes. Ready for a moving company. And we discovered that the police checkpoints are back.

Masks are mandatory in nearly all provinces of Spain when ever you leave your home. Only a few exceptions. Even eating on a terrace you can only take the mask off to put food or drink in your mouth. Driving, you must wear a mask if all people in the car are not living in the same household. And can prove it. It worked before, it can work again.

So the police are stopping cars and checking. This includes work trucks, vans and autoescuelas. So we will both be prepared to show ID to the cops who will inevitably pull us over to check.

When we got back from our house hunting trip we sat on the bench out front and watched the world go by. Half of people had stopped wearing masks. Three British 20 somethings walked by mask-less as though it were 2019. For dinner that night I ordered a pizza and we went to pick it up. Not one person sitting in that restaurant were wearing masks. And the staff at the counter wasn’t either. Its as though half the city lost their collective memory on what we all lived through this Spring. Never mind, they likely never had it. The whole city was locked in their homes. Nay, the entire country.

We are hoping the new cases won’t stop us from getting our house. If they close the border (Valencian or Portugal) we are toast. But more than that, we are hoping that people will wake up and realize that wearing a mask saves everyone. That we have a duty to each other. Yes, its hot and sweaty. I hate it. In the extreme heat and humidity of the Mediterranean its almost unbearable some days. But we will do it every time until there is a vaccine. So we can stay open. So the economy can tick forward. And so we can all remain healthy. Its quite literally the least we can do.

The Impossible Mission

Our offer on the house was accepted. Contracts have been exchanged. Whew! But then the fun of buying a house in another country in a pandemic began. Come. Join me on this journey.

The last week was like pulling out my eyelashes one by one. After I complained of tooth pain Jeff laughed. ‘You’ve been grinding your teeth so loud you woke me up.’

Its true, I have been doing that but its no wonder. It all began on Monday when I first reached out to our large bank in the US to learn about initiating an international wire to a country, and a person, I’ve never wired money to before. It might surprise you to learn I don’t usually do this as we aren’t high rollers on the international real estate purchasing scene, so I needed a little guidance. Turns out, advice was thin on the ground.

They gave me the answer we all hear, all day long now. ‘Just go online or use the app on your phone.’ As though speaking to a real person is sooo 2000. Ugh. So I went online. Funny how their FAQ’s online aren’t so comprehensive. But I followed the steps then fired off the wire. Got up off the couch to make a coffee. Came back. Email arrives telling me they’re processing said wire. I drink my coffee and congratulate myself for figuring it out with no help from a real person. I shower and check one last time. Email ‘Wire is cancelled for security reasons. Please call this number 24/7 for assistance.’ I go online and my account is locked down. Wait, what?

Here is where the fun started and I missed every appointment I had last week. Turns out, the number to call in the email was ‘no longer in service’. And the number on the ‘We’ve locked your account screen’ was now only working reduced hours ‘due to Covid’ and they only take calls starting at 3pm CET. So I sat there for 5 hours trying other numbers but to no avail.

Finally, at 3pm sharp I call. The ‘just go online/use the app’ crowd was now telling me I should ‘go into my local Chase branch ‘where you opened your account. The manager can then call us after he’s validated your identity.’ Wait, what?!

I explained that I’m in Europe buying a house, there is a pandemic raging, and I can’t fly to the US to visit ‘my local branch’ and by the way I checked and that branch has been ‘temporarily closed’ due to the pandemic. However, were it open I haven’t seen that bank manager in the 10 years since we opened the account. (Online banking) He/she doesn’t know me from a hole in the ground. Ugh.

Somehow, after holding for ‘just another 5 minutes’ four subsequent times, they find a way to validate me. They unlock my account. Make furious notes and tell me they ‘see nothing that will stop you from completing the wire.’ So I try again. I get an immediate email telling me its in process. The person on the phone congratulates herself for a job well done. And tells me I’ll get a survey on her excellent service. Where anything less than a 10 is complete failure.

I go put a load of laundry in the washer and come back to see if the wire has completed. Email: ‘For your own protection we have cancelled this wire and locked your account. Please call xyz to speak to ‘Customer Service.’ Wait, what?! I just spoke to them.

So I dial the one good number I have, but now that we are 45 minutes into when the call center opened its a 45 minute wait to speak to an agent. 45 minutes on a US cell phone from Europe. So I wait and wait. Finally 1 hour and 30 minutes later I get an agent. We do the same dance. And I try the wire again. After 45 minute they cancel the wire and lock my account again. Then I have no choice but to call back. This time it quotes me a time ‘greater than 1 hour’. So I put it on speaker and do other things while TMobile racks up my mobile charges. 2+ hours later I get an agent who unlocks my account but now tells me I’m over my daily wire limit and will have to wait until tomorrow to try it again. What?!? I’ve yet to wire one penny. Over my limit? For stress? Yes! For sending € to Portugal? Not even close.

After a restless night, I awake the next day. And try again. Can you guess what happened? I bet you can. Now I have the agent in Portugal calling. Why have we not sent the money? The home owners are asking if we still want the house. Ugh. I explain. He says ‘sometimes this is normal.’ Not a sentence I would ever use.

I wait until 3 pm and start again. The wait times will just get longer so being the first to call is essential. I explain the situation. The person says its because my daily limit for online wires is $25k. The first I’ve heard of this. If I go into the branch I can send as much as I need to after the manager who doesnt know me, at the branch that is now closed, validates my identity and I sign a piece of paper. She says this is the trouble. ‘You must send the money in smaller daily amounts.’ Whatever.

So I call the agent to tell the homeowners the new plan. He promptly gifts me with his usual wisdom ‘sometimes this is completely normal’ and I initiate another, smaller wire. Bet you can guess what happened and how I spent the rest of the day until they closed their call center at 11 pm CET.

Each time I called I learned something new. About my bank and myself. As to the bank – they have no clue what they’re doing. They have agents that work in every timezone. The first agents will be in the Philippines – I call these the ‘front line’. The next, starting at 5pm CET will be in India – these I call ‘the peace makers’. Their voices will calm me down. Finally, after I’m at full 9pm-on-hold-for-2-hours, I’ll get Americans. I have a name for them but we only speak it in el Compartemento. I swear to you that two of them sounded drunk or high. One called me ‘dude’. Yes, these are the American customer service agents that survived the Covid downsizing at a large US bank. Unbelievable.

The Indian agents would usually be more tech savvy in our multiple conversations and would give me more information than their counterparts in the Philippines . And the American agents just sounded pissed off or super chill – aka stoned. Like my problem was no problem at all. Queue glass chewing.

Finally on Wednesday, after maximum teeth grinding and not sleeping, I got a guy in India who told me some semblance of what might be going on. And it made an ounce of sense.

‘It seems you are an ‘orphan record.’ My parents would confirm this if I told them. ‘You need to wait more than 24 hours to let the batch run so the clean up jobs clear your orphan record. Then I think you can complete your first wire,’.

This makes total sense to me. Processing transactions out of sequence is a big problem. I came from tech. I get it. But it was sooo hard. Jeff thought the guy was probably right and he watched me closely. ‘Don’t push the button.’

When the realtor gave me the owner’s son’s phone – because he speaks English – I called to explain it all – not like I understood why it had all happened. But we agreed to talking throughout the day as we inched towards getting them some money. ‘Do not worry, Kelli. We will do this together,’

I had my laptop open when Jeff came into the room. ‘Do not tell me you’re trying to send that wire. I recommend waiting 36 hours. Let two full cleanup jobs run. Who knows what time zone they kick it off in.’ Ugh. More teeth grinding.

Finally, the bell rings. I log in and initiate the wire. I wait. And wait. No rejection. Could it be?They like me!?! They really like me?! I’m afraid to stop looking at the screen. After 5 days I do a little dance in the living room, and some personal care, then call Pedro – The Son. They’ve received nothing. Wait, what?!

I call my bank. It seems the owner’s bank in Portugal rejected it because it wasn’t in a format they are used to. Know what SEPA is? Me neither. But I do now. And so does Pedro.

I asked the bank to try again. ‘Please DO NOT tell me to go online or in that fucking app! Just send it through – AGAIN!’ And surprise! They did and it posted to the correct account. I don’t think the people at NASA were as happy as I was when Apollo 13 landed safely back to earth. I’m very sure of that.

So, now I’ll spend my next week + sending small wires through, and the upside is I’ve made a new friend. ‘I will look forward to meeting you one day. Kelli’ And I’ll look forward to meeting Pedro. We’ll hug and cheer. Because we landed this impossible mission. Together. And I have an appointment on Thursday morning to get my cracked tooth fixed.

The Fun Stuff

As we wrap up our whirlwind week of house hunting, I thought I’d post some other pictures from our adventures. It wasn’t all heavy lifting and viewings. We took some moments to see other things and to take a deep breath. I’m in love with the house we chose but it’s not in Spain – which feels weird right about now. I really did think we’d end up somewhere in Galicia – and more specifically Pontevedra or Vigo areas. Both are stunning places where I’d have been happy to settle if the right house had come along.

We spent a couple of days in Oia on the coast south of Vigo. It’s right on the Camino Portuguese – the route from Porto to Santiago de Compostela that Emilie and I were slated to walk this summer. Surprisingly, even in a pandemic there were loads of Peregrinos walking the trail and the roads along the coast.

We took the tour for the Real Mostreiro de Oia (the Royal Monastery of Oia. It’s been there a very long time and seen its share of conquests. Even Napoleon held it for awhile. And it was used as a concentration camp during the Spanish Civil War. 4500 people were held there and the etchings they made on the walls to mark time and to leave messages for loved ones were in evidence.

While monks occupied it for centuries it had fallen into private hands after they were expelled for the final time and the building had fallen into disrepair. Finally, a group banded together and bought it from the private owners and they are slowly restoring the building with the hopes of opening a hotel there to support further restoration.It’s right on the quay in the main part of Oia and the grounds are extensive. But while we were touring – we came upon sheep and goats inside the walls who had decided to visit on their own and use the shady interior on a hot summer day.

Of course, we headed south again to stake our claim on our dream house. Here are some pics from the area. The little town near by is ‘A chocolate box’ village – as the Brits say. Yes, there are tourists in the season. But it’s retained it’s charm as it’s mostly Portuguese people who live there or have holiday homes in the village. Most Brits and American’s seem to favor other places so it has this feeling of being untouched.

We drove home to Valencia on a different route than we arrived from the north. Straight across over the mountains that separate Portugal and Spain. WOW! We had never been to this area of either country. On the Portuguese side, it was like driving through Northern California on the 101. Miles and miles of mountains and pine trees. On the Spanish side it was like driving through Nebraska or Minnesota on I-80 or I-90. Miles of fields of wheat or corn.

Growing up in the NW, we would see logging trucks regularly. Passing these on the freeway, it’s very scary because if the logs break free from their cables it will crush your car. I’ve been on a freeway when this happened to another car and it’s deadly. But in Portugal you see trucks carrying loads of cork. I imagine they weight a lot less than Douglas fir logs. Yes, cork comes from the bark of cork trees but they’re dried in piles to release any moisture. This makes them much lighter. And the trees are protected. Portugal loves their cork. I stopped and took a couple of photos.

Some of the mountain towns we drove through were like postcards. I didn’t get a photo of it perched on the hillside but if you’re ever in Western Portugal on the N246-1 you should check ou Castelo de Vide. It’s a town with a castle on the top of the hill and the whitewashed red-roofed houses clutching the hillside below it. Based on what I saw the town makes it’s living on the cork piled up drying, the olive groves by the mile and wine grapes. It was over 100 degrees out – but it’s a dry heat. Ha! While it was a warm day, the vegetation gave it a lush feeling. And there was plenty of shade to enjoy a cold drink on a hot summer day.

We are home now. Tomorrow we begin gathering the documents we’ll need to continue the purchasing process. We were sad to leave the area where our new home sits waiting for us. But we’ll be back there very soon. Ready to write the next chapter. I can’t wait to see where it leads.

Higgly Piggly in Portugal

When I was a little girl, my Mom used to call me ‘Pippy Longstockings’. I was an independent fearless soul – it’s true. But I also had long braids and freckles by the mile just like Pippi in the books. My grandfather used to say I had the ‘map of Ireland written all over your face.’ Pippi lived in a higgly piggly house on the coast of a Scandinavian county where she spent a lot of time looking through a spyglass waiting for her Dad to return from the sea. And she had grand adventures. So it’s no wonder I was instantly attracted to a house on the coast of Portugal the moment we saw it. Jeff says houses need names. But what to name it. This house is a montage of construction. It’s not the most gorgeous from the outside but what it lacks in beauty it make up for in guts. Kind of like me – maybe.

After 2 years and 4 months, it finally happened. Today we put in an offer on a home. A real home of our very own. It’s not an apartment but a house with a garden where – even if they lock down again – we will be turning over dirt and making something. Growing stuff. Jeff was the one who said it. ‘Imagine if we were here during those three months. Even if it was just a little each day we would have turned this into something amazing.’

I’ll post pics when we officially close – I don’t want to jinx it. Usually, when ever we’ve bought real estate in the past I’ve been sick to my stomach. It’s not that we couldn’t afford it but I was raised by two Great Depression babies. Money is a thing in our family. You don’t spend it. You squirrel it away for a rainy day. So the last few days, knowing we were going to be spending a chunk of change, has had me out of sorts. But this time, not as much as you’d think.

Today I was calm throughout all of the reviewing – one last look before we made the official offer. Then there was all the ‘Do you have a copy of your marriage certificate handy?’ and ‘Do you have a Portuguese tax number?’ The answer to both of these questions was ‘No.’ I have every document I though they might need in my plastic Spanish folder where I keep all my important documents. But a US marriage certificate wasn’t one of them. And a Portuguese Tax ID number? What is that?

So right after we stopped for a lunch and raised a glass to making an offer – yet to be accepted – we met with the agent who took us to an office, where the person there agreed to lead us in our own car to a solicitor who would apply for the Portuguese Tax ID number on our behalf late on a Friday before we leave town. Were we sweating and sussed? Oh, yes we were. Then the owners wanted to meet us.

It turns out she is a painter and is very ill with breast cancer. He is the kindest old man I’ve ever met and he showed me dozens of her paintings on his phone. And other art work she’s created. He looked at her like she is a super model and not 70 something. He wants to sell to give her the best treatment available but also to take her on her dream trip. I teared up meeting them. But it didn’t end there. She said some things and then the real estate agent translated ‘This is where I get emotional.’ He said, and he took a moment to collect himself. ‘She says she wants me to tell you that she hopes you will be as happy in that house as they were for all those years. And that your home will be filled with good friends and family, just like they had.’

I wanted to cry. Selling this house wasn’t just about the money. They wanted to make sure that whomever was the next owner would take care of it. Jeff had already decided that he would buy them a card before we made the offer. To tell them that we would be good stewards. It meant a lot to him to do this. And when we met them he told her, again. ‘Don’t worry. We’ll make sure it’s maintained. And we’ll take care of it just like you did.’

The contracts were translated and we’re all reviewing them. But this purchase is the most emotional one of my life. There is seating in the sun room for 18 people. That’s a lot of friends and family. These people have been blessed to live in a place that can only be described as gorgeous.

When I was 8 months pregnant with my son, Nicholas, I saw the movie ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and I remember crying like a baby at the end when Private Ryan – as an old man at Normandy – asks his wife to tell him he’s ‘lived a good life’ and that he’s ‘been a good man’. I’ve never forgotten that scene. We all want to know that we’ve done just that at the end of our lives. And if this wonderful higgly piggly house is anything to go by – the number of chairs around the tables tell the story. These two people with the broad smiles have lived a very good life. I hope it rubs off on us.

Adventures in the Mundane

I’m sad to report that Jeff and I have divorced and I am now married to a Portuguese corn farmer and living in Northern Portugal with my 5 adorable children. Am I happy? Happiness is a relative term. I’m happy I’m no longer traveling on roads that make the bogs of the west of Ireland look like a motorway. I’m happy I’m out of the car. But let me start at the beginning.

Today I awoke in Oia after a hell-ish night of mosquitos, broken AC, and hotel construction that went on until midnight. I am deadly serious about all of it. Jeff was eaten alive and I am 10 lbs lighter through exactly no effort, except my own sweat yoga and rage. We awoke groggy and grumpy. It would not bode well for things to come. I was up before the sun rose, sitting on the terrace and watching these hearty souls collecting muscles on the rocks as the tide came in. In their wet suits they were cooler than me.

After a breakfast buffet, whose COVID procedures were so extensive we were issued our own personal tongs and serving spoons – I am not kidding – we got on the road. Happy to put the hotel/spa where we were staying behind us. I offered to drive. But we have been on the road for days and our car leaving Valencia was already covered in pandemic dust, having been in our parking garage for 4 month with only a few forays out into the nearby.

The sun on the windshield this morning was blinding and the dirt and bug carcasses of our recent travels made it nearly in navigable. So it was time to find our first car wash since purchasing the car in February. We haven’t had to attend to this particular procedure in Spain so we were both unsure of how it would go. But the man in front of us was sitting on a bench while his car was automatically washed so that tipped us off.

Jeff hopped out and went to the machine. I put the side mirrors in and rolled down my windows in case he had a problem. Mostly, I just heard him talking to the screen. Reading out the menus in Spanish to the machine and then swearing loudly in Ingles. It was super fun to watch in my rear view mirror. It only took coins so he had to come back and open the hatch to retrieve the requisite euros from his back pack in the back. I heard the coins drop and we were good to go. But the machine roared to life when the final coin hit the metal tray so Jeff was stuck sitting on a bench watching me inside the car as the auto wash robot did it’s thing.

When it was all over – with a line of cars behind us – Jeff hopped in and I pushed the button to restart the car. But it wouldn’t start. I tried again and got a message on the dash. After 4 and a half months the key fob battery was dead. I have a spare so I got out and got that from the back and we tried again. But the cryptic message said we need to put it on ‘the plate’ to start the car. But where was ‘the plate’? The manual from the glove box – in Spanish – elicited more swearing from Jeff as we both frantically Googled ‘Key fob plate’ as the car washing rage built behind us.

I put my good key on every surface I could see. Nothing. We began opening all the compartments and holding the key up and trying to start the car. Nope. I’m very sure we looked like complete idiots to all those behind us. Finally, Jeff put on his new glasses and saw a weird symbol in the center console against one wall. We pressed the key to that and pushed the button. Voila! It worked. Thank God. We waved at our furious car washers waiting in the line that snaked down the street and quickly exited the area so as not to incur any more of their wrath. Then Jeff input our destination into the car’s GPS and we headed out to cross the border.

We knew where we wanted to go – we had an address – and we had plenty of time. But the GPS pulled an ‘Ireland’ on us and began routing us through a series of maneuvers that can only be achieved if you have the ‘Avoid Everything except Ferries and roads piled with manure smells’ box checked. It tried to take us to the 5 car ferry on the Mino River that creates the border between Spain and Portugal. But I was on to that trick and kept going to a bridge that crossed the river 15 minutes further on. It worked just fine. But that car wash thing where the ignition wouldn’t work without the plate thing had done something to the navigation settings. It would only get worse from there.

We drove down an ‘A’ motorway. That was fine. Then were directed off and onto a small road with stone walls on each side and a cobbled street surface that made both our cheeks shake like blood hounds. I’ve experienced this before so I promptly stopped at the first service station and asked Jeff to check the coordinates. He did and assured me we were on the right track. I drove on as my brains were scrambled more than they already are. The manure smells just got more pungent.

I made it to a small village where the GPS directed me to circle the round about – indefinitely. You think I’m kidding. It only took me two go-arounds before I was fed up as I watched a group of old men who were sitting on the steps at the base of the cross in the middle of the round about watch me go by for the second time. I waved and then came to a stop. One of them spoke English and this is where I learned that old men in small villages know infinitely more than the GPS systems of expensive German cars. By orders of magnitude. And the biggest piece of wisdom they possess is that El Corte Ingles never builds large department stores in the the middle of corn fields in freaking Portugal! Good info to have. And this is why I’m now married to a corn farmer in Portugal and why I have no idea where Jeff is and how he’s faring trying to get out of said corn field, because I am fed up!

We were attempting to get to Central Portugal to make an offer on a house – the house I fell in love with only a few days ago. But the Germans weren’t allowing us to get there. It was like WWII all over again! P.S I adore the Germans – Peter and Martina this means you.

At long last – after some harsh words (not just from me) we made it to the A17. But that’s where the tolls took their toll. The GPS began to work her black magic again, and in a decidedly British voice that liked pronouncing the city of Porto as ‘Portoooo’ told me to ‘Stay to the left’ when staying to the left meant I was going through a toll booth in the lanes reserved for the Via Verde automatic pass which I don’t have. Or ‘Stay to the right’ when doing so meant we didn’t go through the ‘foreigner’ area so that our next 10 electronic radar tolls were not exactly kosher. So I’m pretty sure I’m a fugitive from Portuguese toll-justice and I don’t even own a house here yet. I can’t wait to try to register my car or swap out my driving license. I’ll have to contact a lawyer in the nearest city, in advance to let them know to be prepared with bail money because I’l be taken to jail the moment I enter the Portuguese equivalent of the Jefatura de traffico.

We made it to our hotel after more GPS nonsense. Jeff says Garmin has a GPS that has the voice of Samuel L Jackson as an option. I’d rather have him yell at me all day than the polite British woman who lied to me for hours on end and apologized to me for every ‘wrong turn’ I made. Jeff is taking a nap from the day’s excitement. I’m just hoping the police don’t come knocking on our door as I lay here dreaming of the simple life of being the wife of a Portuguese corn farmer. Right now that sounds pretty good.