Viva la France

We arrived in Dijon! It was a rather long ride from Strasbourg but we did it. We rode thru the picturesque town of Colmar, ‘Little Venice’ they call it, with their canals and centuries-old architecture.

We had a long way to go so we set off to go over the nearby mountains through a National nature preserve. Before our climb started, we made a pit stop to see the main square in the village of Munster. I think cheese is a big deal to the Munsters (not the same ones from 60’s American TV) because they have attractions around it.

But what I really wanted to see were the storks nesting on the peaks of the Hotel de Ville and the church. It’s pretty amazing how they build such huge nests on the top of nothing.

We rode twisty mountain roads for 150 km. A lot of ski areas I’d like to come back to one of these days. And I got to see my first alpine ski jump, sans the snow. But it was still cool.

About 30 minutes outside of Dijon we came upon a very old Chateau in the village of Gy. It was built over the course of six centuries and is in a state of delapidated charm. The roof could use some work. I loved it!

Finally, we made it to Dijon. We are staying in the nicest hotel here. Not because I made the selection. I walked the Camino and slept pallets in churches and bunk houses with 50 other sweaty people for 6 straight weeks in the heat of a Spanish summer. As long as I’m horizontal, I can sleep in the top of a flagpole. Jeff? Yeah, not so much. He’s a bedding snob. If the sheets aren’t a minimum of 600 tc he develops a rash.

So, when I was reading off potential hotels at our last stop on the way to Dijon, he nixed anything that didn’t have the word ‘Grand’ in it. That left one possibility and he knew it. It is weird. He’s not picky about much, but of the few things he is, hotels are at the top.

The concierge ran out when we pulled up. To help with the luggage – such as it was – strapped to our bike. Then he escorted Jeff and Precious to the underground garage, where they locked her up safe and sound in an actual cage. I think Jeff felt vindicated for choosing this hotel because of that alone.

Tomorrow is May 8. It’s the anniversary of the end of WWII and the French flags are flying around town. Stunning walk around the old town.

In some places, the building looked very Diagon Alley, rather than Burgundy. But that’s just my own bias.

Next Stop: Toulouse!

The New World

It’s funny. My whole life I’ve been taught that the US is the great experiment. My country is where the term ‘Melting Pot’ was first coined. Mass immigration in the late 19th and early 20th century from the rest of the world – namely from Europe and Central Asia filled the US with new blood, new ideas, new traditions. And the cultures that were landed on our shores are what made us who we are today. Here in Spain, I feel the same way.

I walk down these streets and I see people from all over the world. I hear languages and smell food cooking that is distinctly not Spanish. The people here seem to embrace or certainly tolerate those from other countries. I’m not saying there is not skepticism. Certainly, me being from the US has caused some people to pause. I see them look at me like ‘Why are you moving here?’ and sometimes it requires me to provide additional documents. Some assume it’s because of our current political situation in the US, and they tell me so. But overall, the people I’ve met that are both Spanish, and from other countries, have been welcoming and hospitable. They just want to get to know me. And I find I want to get to know them.

The Schengen agreement in the EU means that there are people in Valencia from all over Europe. The PA I hired is Latvian. She speaks many languages but her Spanish has been invaluable in helping me navigate. I’ve looked at apartments that are owned by Iranians and others who are not from here. All of this is the international soup that makes me feel like we could make this home. We won’t be the odd man out, because so many are from other places around the world.

It is interesting, though. I’ve traveled all over the world. But I was always going to go back to the US – that was home. So even if I was in a country for an extended period of time, I knew that the US is where I would return, eventually. But it will be different now. We will be the ones coming to a new place – to build our lives. Living with people whose language we are terrible at speaking. Trying to navigate a system we don’t really understand.

It makes me stop and think back. Have I always been patient with others who have come to my own country from the outside? Have I had expectations that they ‘Should just know’ how our system and culture works? That they should be able to communicate effectively and jump into the flow at the same pace as the rest of us who were born into it?

Coming here has held up a mirror for me, and given me a different perspective on how we treat outsiders in the US. Maybe we could be more patient. Maybe we could allow those who seek a different life amongst us, to reshape us and make us better, more compassionate people. Maybe the New World isn’t a place, but a state of being. The State of Kindness.

Shall we Dance?

DATELINE VALENCIA – In the last 36 hours, I have hired a lawyer, a Personal Assistant, opened a bank account, secured a second round of insurance that covers pre-existing conditions – because the first one didn’t, and toured 7 apartments. I’m a little bushed. But I have learned a lot about how things work. The biggest thing I’ve learned is how to dance. And not the Flamenco. There is a cadence to how things work here and I am starting to appreciate the pace and elegance of it. But it requires stamina.


ME: ‘I need a xyz – elephant, rental car, health insurance. Can you help me get any of these things?’

OTHER GUY: ‘No No No – this is impossible. There is no way we can do that. No way.’

ME: I look dismayed but am undaunted. I need this guy.

We talk a little. I explain who I am and that I have kids – this is real grease in Spain. I found this to be true in Greece and Lebanon too – so I pulled it out and used it liberally. I asked about his children or grand children, and thanked him profusely for even agreeing to meet me; expressing how sad I am that I won’t be able to do business with them. But I appreciate him taking the time.

THE OTHER GUY: ‘Well, maybe we could do something – but I don’t know.’

ME: ‘No, I don’t want to put you out. I totally understand you don’t want to take the risk with Americans. Even though we must prove financial stability to get a visa to live here, but of course, you have to protect yourself and your family.’

THE OTHER GUY: ‘No, I think I know someone who can help you. He has a xyz- elephant, rents cars and sells health insurance. I will call him.’

He gets on the phone. I recognize some of the words ‘Elefante’ and ‘coche’. Lots of rapid long conversation. He hangs up.

THE OTHER GUY: ‘He can’t come for 3 hours. Can you wait?’

ME: ‘Of course I can wait. You’re doing me a huge favor in helping me. I’ll stand right here. I won’t move.’

THE OTHER GUY: He frowns and sighs heavily. ‘Let me call him again.’

More rapid Spanish. Some walking around while gesturing. He hangs up.

THE OTHER GUY: ‘He is coming now.’

OK, maybe I don’t need to rent a car, and the elephant is a bit of a stretch, but you get the idea. Everything in the world is done based on relationships. But I have never lived anywhere that is as important as it is in Spain. Building a network, not just of other expats, but of Spaniards from every walk of life, will be key to living here and being happy. Good thing I like to dance.