If a Tree Falls in the Woods…

The good news is I’m upright! Actually standing and almost totally vertical. Sure, there is still a little pain but I’m going to take a short walk today because I’m going stir crazy in the house and we’re going to Madrid tomorrow. No one ever accused me of being a patient person. And on that same note, now that I’ve decided it’s time to get my driving license, allowing grass to grow under my feet isn’t an option.

I’ve already read two novels this week. And watched another royal wedding on my phone. If I read one more thing about the political situation back in the US I’ll scream. So I gladly kicked off my journey onto Spanish carriageways and the reglas de la calle.

The encouragement from everyone here has inspired me. And while I can’t take the intensive course until December, in the mean time, I’ve decided to sign up for an online course that gives me practice tests and access to the manual in English. It also tailors some of the tests for my ‘weaknesses in learning’. I laughed when I read it. Their algorithm has no idea who they’re dealing with yet. My weakness in learning is going to break this thing.

The website made it sound so easy and the stock photos gave me confidence that soon, I too will be leaning out of my car window smiling and waving when I drive down the Spanish highways and bi-ways. Except I found out that this is total bullshit because it’s actually illegal to lean out of the car smiling while driving. Driving here is serious business.

In the US, each state has their own manual and traffic laws that are governed by that state. If you move to another state, depending on their rules, sometimes you have to take a test to get your driving license switched out. I had to do this when moving from Oregon to California. Here, the laws are national and the test is a national test. The autonomous regions are not autonomous when it comes to traffic laws. Seems pretty smart, actually.

Well, the first thing I learned is that I know almost nothing. You’d think after driving for 30 years I would just be able to hop in a car and strap myself in, turn the key and head out. But there you would be sadly mistaken. The signs here are different. They have minimum posted speeds in little blue circles. They have ‘Yield’ signs with a big black X through them. Do I yield at that. Is it telling me not to Yield? And the rules are not so straightforward.

The signs for entering towns and cities tell you what kind of town it is and that should tell you how fast you can ‘generally drive’. And they require road worthiness inspections that the US should definitely implement. Some of the stuff I saw flying down the road in Arizona should have been scrapped long ago. So it makes sense. It’s not all a foreign concept to me. Well, maybe it is, but a lot of it is logical. Then there’s the stuff that is simply unbelievable.

We live in Valencia but I’ve walked for weeks through rural Spain. The majority of the country is small towns or villages and farmland, so it make sense that a good portion of their manual is devoted to things like ‘On what side of the road may you herd your animals?’. Or ‘How fast can a tractor go on a highway if it doesn’t have brake lights?’. Stuff like that.

And we’ve ridden the bike out to places in the mountains to the west. There are many one lane bridges with funny signs that we were unclear about. And many narrow roads with no striping so it would be easy to get it wrong. Since I have been on these roads I took the practice test without even studying that section. I’m a pro – I know.

Yeah, NO! Turns out there is a long hierarchy for these types of situations and I was naive in thinking I had a smidgen of understanding that a)there even was a hierarchy and b) what it might actually be. Here’s how it goes.

If the one lane road or bridge is flat then it’s the first vehicle to reach it that will have the right of way, unless it’s harder for the other car to back up – they have a greater distance to go. And if there is a dispute about who entered the area first, there is a law that governs this hierarchy and goes thusly:

1 Special vehicles providing special transport

2 Articulated vehicles and tractive units

3 Vehicles pulled by animals

4 Passenger Car with trailer up to 750kg and motorhomes/RVs

5 Collective passenger transport vehicles

6 Lorries/trucks, tractor-trailers and vans

7 Passenger cars and derivative of cars

8 Special vehicles that do not exceed the established mass, quadricycles and light quadricycles

9 Tricycles, motorcycles with sidecar and 3-wheel mopeds

10 Motorcycles, 2-wheel mopeds and bicycles

So when I get my license I’ll be carrying a scale and a measuring stick because so many of the rules of the road require me to know the weight of someone else’s vehicle or trailer or the length of it.

I looked at this list and I pondered. ‘What if a special vehicle breaks down that doesn’t exceed the established mass and a team of donkeys comes by and gives them a tow through the stretch of one lane road where I’m traveling, and while I’m there first it would be harder for them to back up, would I have the right of way?’ I love a good story problem. And then I took the test and there are questions that look similar to my cooped up musings and I got worried. But I read on.

If this stretch of road is not flat, then everything remaining equal, the vehicle traveling up hill has the right of way, unless it’s too hard for the one coming down to back up. Then we’re right back where we started.

Finally, last night I just had to shut it down. I needed a drink. But then I read the section on how much alcohol you can consume while driving. No alcohol should be the answer but it turns out that in Spain, if you’re a new driver you can consumer less than if you’re experienced. Experienced drivers can consumer 70% more alcohol and still drive. I don’t really understand what the litre ratio means yet, but this seems very curious to me. It seems like the more experienced you were would result in the knowledge that drinking and driving is just stupid.

Well, since I’m upright and dressed I’m going for a walk to mull all this over. Jeff’s going to have a field day with it when he starts his lessons. I can just see him turning it all into ‘If, Then’ statements. There will be swearing. But I still don’t know what that triangle with the black X means.

 

 

Nou d’Octubre – The Day of Valencia

Every October 9th, since King James the I of Aragon sent the Moors packing south, Valencian’s have celebrated their freedom. OK, well as much freedom as people who still lived under a feudal system for 100’s of years following this conquest could. But the Spanish population, who were mostly Christians (Catholics) went from being the low men on the totem pole to those in power.

There is no debate here about the role of Charlemagne or Roland in freeing Spain from the Moors, like there is in Navarra. The Valencia’s are pretty sure it was this one guy and his lucky bat, who showed up right as his victory was clinched, that did the trick. You can see the Valencian bat festooned on manhole covers and futbol jersey’s. The Bat is the thing here.

Nearly 800 years later they’re still pretty happy about it. And like most celebrations we’ve encountered in Spain, if one day of partying is good, six days is just that much better. Nou d’Octubre is the biggest celebration of Valencian pride, and that is saying something since they have a month-long Fallas celebration in March, too.  But Fallas is an internationally renowned party celebrating the art of satirical street sculpture that attracts visitors (and pyromaniacs) from far and wide. This celebration is for the people of the region.

We had some friends in town this weekend – who brought more friends with them – so our group pf 10 dove in and we got a bit of the flavor of the festivities that actually started on Thursday the 4th. Like all fiestas, there will be people dressed in traditional dress. Women dressed like they were as Fallera, and men in both traditional peasant and in Moorish inspired costumes performing or just walking the streets.

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There was a Medieval Market on the Serranos bridge leading to the towers of the same name, selling traditional locally made foods, jewelry, soaps and oils and hand made candies. October 9th is also St. Denis’ Day in Spain. It’s the equivalent of St. Valentines Day. Here men give their lady loves a kerchief full of marzipan sweets to signify their affection. Knowing Jeff would forget his clear obligations to me on St. Denis’ Day, I bought myself a beautiful kimono in the old city. When I showed it to him I explained how I’d helped him dodge a bullet on this most important of holidays. He appeared unmoved at my generosity.

During these celebrations, old palaces that are mostly government buildings now, are opened to the public for just 2 days. Valencian’s like their bureaucracy so they need a lot of places to house them and the old palaces are the perfect spots. Large, open and with big rooms that once might have been used to house men-at-arms, but now hold large conference tables or councils. A gentleman working in one of them explained the hierarchy to us.

In Spain, there are 17 autonomous regions (like states in the US). Ours is the Valencia Communidad (Community) – a collection of essentially 3 counties (Valencia, Alicante and Castello) – who have their congress in one palace here in the old city. This is like a state legislature. Then there is the Valencia county (I’m not using the right words but that’s what it is) – that has it’s own council. Kind of like a county council back home. Then there is Valencia, the city (Ayuntamiento) – which has it’s own city council and mayor.

It’s a little confusing since the name ‘Valencia’ is a loaded one, but you get used to it. In terms of Palaces, each one of these government bodies is housed in palaces that are usually closed to the public, unless you have official business before that particular body. But one time per year, they open them up so that the average person can enjoy the architecture and the stunning art that is housed in them. Sculpture, centuries old paintings and architecture is on full display. It’s easy to see how the aristocracy showed off their wealth and power using their homes as canvasses.

There was music in the square and, of course, fireworks – both during the day and at night. I swear, if someone invaded this country the inhabitants would think any gun shots they heard were associated to a wedding, baptism or a fiesta they forgot about. You think I’m kidding but you almost don’t even hear them anymore when they go off.

My favorite place we visited, although it’s open nearly every day so it’s not part of this celebration, was the Church of St. Nicholas. I had seen it before but never ventured in. Yesterday, we were walking by it between Palace tours and decided to pop in. For 6 euros (kids are free), we got to see something that was truly amazing. It’s called ‘The Sistine Chapel of Valencia’. And ironically, the restorer of the Sistine Chapel restored it recently so it was visible in all it’s glory.  Pictures don’t do it justice and it’s worth the visit.

Parishioners, or anyone in Valencia who needs help with a problem, will leave their home on 3 consecutive Mondays, walking in silence to the church to pray to the effigy of St. Nicholas for assistance. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of charity. The legend has it that he used to anonymously give assistance to many in his community during his lifetime. The precursor to Santa Claus. Promoting the ‘charity is its own reward’ type of approach. This appeals to me on so  many levels and the church is clearly a masterwork in celebrating his life.

Finally, last evening we were just enjoying a quiet time at home when we heard a procession go by. We barely get up and go to the window anymore when we hear a marching band in the neighborhood but it went on for awhile. So random. And the fireworks went off shortly there after.

So we’re not actually to the real holiday yet and we’ve fully celebrated it. Now we’ll enjoy a few days of no grocery stores being open until we get a brief reprieve before Spain Day on Friday. It will be interesting to see what that is like here in Valencia. Will the inhabitants be fiesta’d out after a week of celebrating Nou d’Octubre? Something tells me there’s a fat chance of that! More music, fireworks and processions coming up!

 

Interactive Tapas

Last evening was all about Tapas! I”m not an expert on Spanish food and since we’re surrounded by tapas everywhere, it was time to get educated. Our friends, Nick and Tatiana, organized the evening for us all.  The chef at Ahuevos, Jose’ Simon, and his lovely wife hosted a night of ‘Interactive Tapas’. It was basically like a Tapas Nursery School for those that are Spanishly challenged and yet love yummy food.

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My friend, Pete and Ryan joined the group. They just moved here from Seattle a month ago, and they are also in the infancy stages of learning about everything Valencia has to offer and widening their circle of friends. This was a great opportunity to do both and we had alot of fun.

We started out learning to make Sangria. It’s a pretty simple recipe and was actually the signature drink at our wedding all those years ago. We made it in buckets for all our guests (but we served it in lovely glass wine jars). And I screwed up and instead of putting sugar in them, I grabbed a salt container and our first batches were so bad they’re legendary amongst our friends. My friend Curt laughs every time he tells that story.

Well, if I had used the recipe I learned last evening, I wouldn’t have had that problem because you make a simple syrup in advance and pour that into the mixture. It dissolves faster and helps to masurate the fruit quicker. And we were very pleased with our results. Ryan did all the chopping, Pete did all the selecting of ingredients. And Me? Well, I supervised from afar – or not at all and took some notes.

We also learned how to make seasoned olives of our own creation, and the different types of olives for eating. Jose’ is from Leon and likes a different type of spice than his wife, who is from Valencia. At our table, we liked a lot of the pink pepper, juniper berries, garlic, red pepper, bay leaf and cloves. Jose’ thoroughly approved of our choices. They were so good and like any good cooking class, we got to take some home so in two weeks I’ll let you know how they turned out.

Then it was on to the Aioli. I’ve made it before with just garlic, salt and olive oil. But I learned some new things last night. Jose’ uses an egg yoke in his (I couldn’t eat it) and he doesn’t use olive oil, but sunflower oil. He says that the olive oil in Aioli causes it to break. I did the mixing and the pounding of the garlic and then the egg separation. Even though I can’t eat them, I still know how to separate egg yokes and work a mortar and pestle, for goodness stake.

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Finally, we finished off the night with some horchata ice cream. I’ve been clear on my thoughts about horchata in the past, but this was different. It was wonderful! and with a little dark chocolate sauce it was heavenly. Everyone else got a slice of bread under theirs. It was made from day old bread that they soaked in booze and did some other stuff to, but I didn’t pay that much attention because I can’t eat the bread and I was took enamored of my new found love of horchata ice cream.

It was a fun night and we ended it with drinking from a ‘botijo’. It’s a jug that usually contains wine or water. Last night, the one they offered contained water. Pete braved drinking from it and was rewarded, like me, with water down the front. Ryan drank from it like a Spanish fisherman who has never drank from another vessel other than a botijo, in his entire life. He spilled not a drop.

After our tapas night we are looking forward to learning more Spanish cooking. Jose’ is organizing something out on the farm in Alboraya where they grow the food for their restaurant. I’m really looking forward to cooking food in the field where it’s grown. And Tati is looking to organize a trip back out to Manisis – think Fiesta de la Ceramica – where we can learn how to make a Botijo of our own and perhaps I can sign up for a ceramics course.

A great evening with good friend, old and new, good food and the promise of more to come. It doesn’t get better than that!

 

 

 

A Teenage Wasteland

Moving to a new country has a been exciting and challenging in many ways. I’ve chronicled many of them here. But none has been quite the riddle that is moving across the world with a teenager. Yes, Emilie is only here on school breaks, but a 3 month stretch with her parents in a strange location, without friends, without her US cell phone and the daily (moment by moment) hits of technology, (Snapchat) is about more than she can stand.

Sure, she talks to her boyfriend back in the US via WhatsApp on wifi, but it’s not enough. When I venture to ask ‘What’s up?’ I get blank expressionless stares and Spinx-like answers that give me almost no information beyond ‘I’m bored.’ At this point, my head usually spins around and I think, incredulous, ‘How can anyone be bored in Valencia?. There is so much to do and see.’

OK, perhaps me dragging her thru museums in most of the major European capitals when she was small, didn’t endear the experience to her. This past weekend, Jeff and I went to the ceramics museum but gave her a pass to stay home. It’s very cool, btw. A must see and it was free – we aren’t sure why on a Saturday at high season (3 Euros usually). Its in the mansion of a former duke. They have his carriages and the litter they used to carry him around in. And eclectic mix of this and that, to be sure.

But on Sunday, we trekked up to the Pre-History Museum of Valencia and she was made to accompany us. I was in heaven. I absolutely adore museums. History, art, music. It was a museum specifically about the Valenciana region and, well,  I’ll go to anything with the word ‘Museum’ over the door. I enjoy seeing how people lived, what they valued, how they evolved, what they created out of nothing. So I like to take my time.

Emilie was climbing the walls, looking my way with glares vacillating between wanting to kill me with an ancient spear (luckily contained behind shatter proof glass) or falling asleep in one of the many benches. Afterwards, ice cream helped. Like chocolate reviving her after a dementor attack at Hogwarts.

So finding things for Emilie to do has become important. So I did and Voila! Beach Volleyball. Today she starts Beach Volleyball lessons on Tuesdays and Thursdays with other kids her age on Malvarossa Beach. I know she’s excited about it (you couldn’t tell if you saw her in person) except it’s 1 pm and she’s spent an hour in the bathroom getting ready and we aren’t leaving here for 3 hours. Whew! Something she might enjoy, just in time.

To jump start with my project of helping her meet kids her age, I reached out to some of my expat friends. I’ve spent 3 months developing a network here. People from all over the world that we have lunches, dinners, wine, and attend processions with. And they know a lot of people, apparently. People who have teenagers.

So, tomorrow afternoon, Emilie will take her first Metro ride alone to the station downtown and meet a friend of mine who is taking her to meet a couple of girls in their late teens. One is Spanish, and wants to meet someone she can have coffee with to improve her English for college. The other is English, and like Emilie, is bored out of her gourd. So they should be the perfect disgruntled pair. They can have coffee and moan and groan about their lame parents and their difficult, boring lives. That sounds like teenage heaven to me!

And moi, you might wonder? What will I be doing while she is otherwise occupied? Well, this evening the Royal Ballet is in town and I’ll be seeing Swan Lake with friends while she’s taking the tram back from the beach after her class. And later this week, I’m going to see an Opera. Neither of these activities are Emilie-approved, but now I won’t need to be concerned with that. Everyone will be doing what they like doing and I get to be as lame as I want going forward – which will involve a glass of something refreshing. Summer is shaping up to be just perfect!

Good Wine, Good Friends & a Little Kindness

The days seems longer here. I think it’s because they’re so packed with things we’ve never done before. Navigating, learning how to do things and seeing stuff that leaves us in awe.

My day started with grabbing a Valenbisi bike (the best bike service anywhere) and riding 25 minutes to the city center to meet up with some friends, to go out to an area east of the city about 60 miles away. We were going to go for a full day of wine tasting and then lunch – or very late lunch by American standards. I am learning so I ate a very heavy breakfast.

Our first stop was at a winery called Chozas Carrascal.

http://www.chozascarrascal.com/en/la-bodega/our-vineyards.html

It sits on a plateau about 700 meters above the sea. When it’s cold in Valencia, it can be snowing up there. They have 100 hectres of grapes and 20 hectres of olive groves. A hectre is about 2.5 acres, for those of us unfamiliar with this measurement. They make wonderful wine and excellent olive oil. Both of which, I bought. The wines made at this amazing vineyard are unique in that they have varying special designations (Designation of Origin) as all the grapes in their wines are grown on those 100 hectres of land.

It reminded me so much of Napa Valley or even Eastern Washington state that I was homesick for about a minute. The gentleman who took us around asked me where I was from. I told him I had lived in California wine country for several years. He said he had never been there but had hoped to go someday. I told him he was wrong.

‘Look around. This is exactly like Napa Valley used to be 25 years ago. No crowds and a more simple feel. You have the best of Napa Valley right here. You don’t need to go there, you have this.’

They were lovely people and the tasting and tour were generous. At one point after we left, I broke the bottle of olive oil I bought from them (I won’t go into how), they heard about it and they saw that another bottle was brought to me to the village where we had lunch. I was so touched by their generosity and thoughtfulness.

Then we went to the town of Requena. Of course, it has it’s own castle. But we went to taste some wines and to take a walk into the past – the distant past. To the time when the Moors were ruling all of Spain and they utilized the caves below to store grain, (they weren’t drinkers) before the Spanish were storing wine in them. We all know the Moors are no longer running the show so the caves were converted to wine cellars and the rest is, literally, history. On some of the walls, you could see the finger prints of the people who had lined them with mortar centuries ago. Some of it was chipping off but most of it was still there.

In the winery we went to, the caves go back to times when they stored the wine in large terra-cotta vessels, so large we have no idea how they could ever have gotten them down there. We watched a video of donkey’s pulling them in 100 year old photos, but the stairs I went down couldn’t have been traversed by donkeys and there wasn’t an opening large enough to accommodate the immense size of the cisterns. But there they were, the vessels are still down there and you can see them in the pictures. The wine was great too and Anna, who showed us around, was very nice and while she said here English wasn’t good, it was excellent.

Our lunch at Los Cubillos Gastrobar, ( https://restauranteloscubillos.com/ ) right below the castle walls, was a Menu del Dia – of the usual 3 courses, but the food was local and one of the tastiest I’ve had since arriving here in March. The staff was really nice too. And spending two hours to eat lunch isn’t half bad. But if I get asked about American politics one more time I’ll jump off a castle. And here I can make good on that threat!

As lunch ended and it was time to go back to Valencia, my replacement olive oil arrived. I was so surprised. There was no reason for them to do this for me and yet they had – unbidden. I’ll enjoy it that much more every time I drizzle on something or dip something in it. A taste from a special day, with new friends in a place I’ve never been. I’m smiling thinking about it again already.

It’s 5:00 Somewhere

Around here, we mostly notice the differences. The similarities don’t jump out at us, and there are less of those. Like obeying cross walk signs or driving on the right, the’re easy to dismiss. Some differences are subtle, like the fact that you can’t buy laundry detergent that is unscented. Everything is seriously perfumed. That’s not such a subtle difference since we seem to be allergic to every scented detergent and we’ve been itching in one form or another for quite some time now.

One of the biggest things we’ve noticed is that people drink beer at breakfast. Sometimes, on the weekend, we’ll go out to El Horno for a coffee, and a large portion of the patrons are drinking a cerveza.  We’ve taken to calling it ‘breakfast beer’ and Jeff, not one to scoff at another culture’s traditions and idiosyncrasies, has embraced it (on the weekends) to the fullest.

I liken it to the Bloody Mary or the Mimosa in the US. Brunch isn’t the same without them. Except its not like that at all. It’s just a bunch of old guys from the neighborhood smoking, and drinking beer, at 9 am on a Tuesday. It just feels strange.

Today, on our way to Day 3 Escuela de Espanol, I caught Jeff looking longingly at the guys in front of El Horno on our way to class. I sympathized. I could have used a stiff drink before entering the lion’s den. Something to smooth out the rough edges of the knives of incomprehension that were coming our way in mere minutos. But we walked on.

Two hours later and we walked out exhausted, frustrated and confused. We stopped at El Horno for a coffee and Coke on the way home. We needed a moment to review the experience and to come up with a strategy. The one we’ve been employing isn’t working for either of us.

‘Did you catch any of the lesson three?’ I asked him, while thumbing through my notebook.

‘Not a bit. But I figured I just sit that one out. I don’t get how she doesn’t teach us what things actually are. Car, Truck, our numbers, colors, days of the week, telling time. Like how they teach kids in pre-school. They don’t just shout at them. They have pictures and books and they sing songs to learn mnemonic devices. This moves so fast you get whiplash and you haven’t recovered before you’re on to the next thing. ‘

‘You’re lucky she didn’t call on you.’ I told him. ‘When I looked confused she just kept saying something else in Spanish. I don’t understand why we don’t have lists of vocabulary words or any clue what we’re trying to do. It seems like it would be a great idea if she told us the day before what the focus would be the next day, so we could prepare.’ I was whining but I didn’t care.

‘Yeah, that’s not going to happen.’ He had given up on that the first day. ‘I spend so much time flipping back and forth in my notes, I miss her mimes and when look up again, I’m lost.’ He took a drink of his Coke but was eyeing our neighbor’s pre-lunch cerveza.

‘I’m going to develop some cheat sheets. I need to have my basics at my finger tips. I’ll spend the afternoon typing up what I have and you can review it and add what I missed. Tomorrow we’ll be ready.’ I feel better with a battle plan.

So that’s what I did today. It’s 4 o’clock and we got home at noon after out El Horno bitch/strategy session. My notes are typed up. Tables for pronouns, verbs, adverbs are completed with what we’ve learned so far. I’ve got sections for ‘Compare and Contrast’ vocab, and just plain random vocabulary. Numbers from one to one thousand are also in there, and grammar rules that include a host of exceptions. ‘Measures of Time’ will now be at my finger tips so they can roll off my tongue. Days, Weeks, Months, Seasons. it’s all there.

When El Chino reopens after siesta, I’ll head down there to get some index cards and make us up some flash cards. Sure, I can’t just rattle that stuff off yet, but when she asks us to say something, I’ll be able to conjure something up. Wait! Who am I kidding? She’s goes so fast I’ll still be fumbling. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll embrace a ‘breakfast beer’. Honestly, it couldn’t hurt and maybe I wouldn’t care so much. Except I don’t love beer and I haven’t seen anyone drink wine for breakfast. Perhaps they have to draw the line somewhere.

Making Friends – the Hard Way

Today, I decided to take a tour. This is not my usual deal. I’m more of a ‘go-it-alone’, ‘lets-see-where-the-road-takes-us’ kind of person. But I signed up when I heard about it and I crawled out of bed at 6am.

Nooo! I don’t get up at 6am anymore. That was the old me. The Mom-me. The working me. But the bus was gonna leave Xativa with or without me. And I wanted to be on it. Jeff saw me off, like the first day of Kindergarten. He was going to enjoy a blissful day ALONE. I think he was looking forward to it as much as I was looking forward to seeing more of the area.

Sunrise Xativa

The big red bus traveled south with me and all my expat friends – Brits, Canadians, Americans and the like. It was for English speakers and I learned a lot about how others in my position do things here, the topography of the region, and the history. The rich history. Ahhh. I was in my element. It was like being back in history class in school, where they told you stories that brought it alive. I loved history.

So our first stop, after a very, very winding (get you super car sick, don’t look down) road – was Guadalest. It’s a hilltop town with a castle at the top – duh. With a lot to see. I walked through the old part and through the manse that the family who controlled the region for 300 years built, had an earth quake and rebuilt, and then lost it in some sort of conflict. I was a bit sketchy on those details.

Guadalest

But it was so fun to walk around the old ramparts, and what did I discover that surprised me? Oh yes, the making of an Indian music video. I wanted to be irritated that they were harshing my bliss, but I kind of liked the music and the choreography.  And the lead singer was easy on the eyes.

Indian Video

Then we were off to Altea. This is closer tot he water and simply lovely. We had a bit of lunch (wine) and a brief walk around the town. Gorgeous views and great shopping. But not as good as the shopping in Gata de Gorgos. It’s a little town with a series of shops where they sell hand woven wicker goods, bags and rugs that are wonderful! So I had to buy a bag, and then a throw for the couch. And then a rug for under our dining room table.

When I walked out of the last shop with the large rug slung over my shoulder my fellow travelers laughed. The wife of our tour guide especially.

Altea

‘I knew it. In that first shop, I saw the look in your eye and I knew. She’s on a mission.’

‘Well.’ I told her. ‘I generally spot what I want right away. And these little shops seems to have many of the items on my list.’

Altea to the South

I put my finds in the hold, below the bus and we made it back to Valencia. The bus dropped us off near the Xativa Metro stop so I hoisted my rug on my shoulder, consolidated a few bags and set off for the metro, leaving my new friends to watch me shaking their heads. Now, you might think they were the last people on my trek home to stare at me and consider my schlepping of a large rug on a subway to be totally inappropriate. But there you’d be wrong.

I was nearly stopped by the man in the booth as I barely squeaked through the electronic ticket stall, and not because he didn’t try, in his sound proof glass box. But I found pretending not to notice him waving his arms at me worked well, and seeing as how he couldn’t seem to find his key in time to open his booth, I just whizzed past and down the two escalators to the platform. The train was pulling in at that very moment, and I want to say I hopped on it but I was lugging a large rug, so I ambled, while balancing it on my shoulder.

The other passengers weren’t as enamored of my home home decor choices as you would think, but like most people here, they said nothing, and I had counted on that. Just stared. I smiled and made sure it didn’t fall on anyone. Getting out of the subway and then walking the half mile home through sidewalk cafes and crowds was quite a challenge, but eventually I made it.

I want to say Jeff was surprised to see me and my rug and the rest of my purchases, but he didn’t bat and eye when he opened the door. He just took it from me and asked me where I wanted it. People in my tour group had asked me ‘what is your husband going to say?’ and I stopped for a moment before answering.

‘He expects nothing else from me.’ I told them honestly. ‘In fact, if I don’t come home with a rug or some other large thing, like an armadillo or a pony; something that requires geometry to get home, he’ll be disappointed.’

I’m a challenge shopper. It’s in my blood. I had so much fun on this tour, I’m signing us up for the next one. The Olive Oil tour. Jeff is not getting out of this one. A whole day pressing olives. And you can buy olive products and the like. Hmmm. I wonder what we’ll be lugging home on the subway that day!

Working out the Kinks

Whenever you move – even if it was just in the US – you have kinks to work out. They’re are always issues and hiccups. But moving to Spain, with time differences, foreign banking and the like, it’s even more hiccupy.

We’re taking deep breaths. A lot of deep breaths. And it’s not just about how different things are here. We seemed to have worked out many of those. Sometimes it comes down to telling yourself it’s different and you just have to deal with it. Great – we can do that. But for things back in the US where there is a time difference, and it requires expensive phone calls at a $1 a minute, it’s incredibly frustrating.

We had put travel notices on our credit cards, but some of them have experienced denials and delays because of the sheer volume of purchases we’re making for things, and at stores we wouldn’t normally shop at if we were just tourists. How many people buy a refrigerator when they’re staying at a hotel on a beach for their spring break?

But now, Amazon doesn’t seem to like us since we’re shipping to a place we’ve never shipped to. And our billing address is also not something they’ve seen before. Discovering that .com and .es versions of their website are totally different and Prime in the US isn’t Prime in Spain. This was hard for Jeff to swallow as I heard swearing and heavy typing from his office.  Both our bank and Amazon want to send him a code via email to verify his identity. He’ll have 10 minutes to input it before it becomes invalid. But it takes them more than 15 to send the code. He is not happy.

I, on the other hand, got an email from American Airlines that they’ve bumped our daughter off her flight from school to Spain. And trying to fix this via email or chat? Yeah, not gong to happen. So I had to call them and racked up even more phone charges as I waded through the automated menu shouting ‘Customer Service!’ into their voice recognition software. I found that ironic.

Then the dealer where we sold our car before we left, hasn’t deposited our check. They said it would take two weeks and it’s been nearly 4. Ugh. Rattling cages in the US from a foreign country is an expensive, time-consuming, and frustrating business.  I’m just writing off this first month. It’s like being hazed at a fraternity or sorority in college. Sure none of it makes any sense. You’re dealing with unreasonable people, nonsense bullshit, but if you’re drunk, it makes it go down easier. Aha! I haven’t tried that. Note to self.

Oh well, it’s Fallas. Starting tomorrow we’ll be jumping into the festival of it all and embracing our new city. We’ve been here two weeks now. Only two more to go and I figure we’ll have been through one full billing cycle for all the loose ends back home and the new ones here. Then its smooth sailing. Yeah right.  Just kidding.

Mopping Things Up

Whenever you move from one place to another, there is always a period of time where you straddle both places. Bills from the old place that need to be paid. Banking from one place to another. Stuff like that. We have a lot of that stuff and today is the day to knock a lot of it out.

Our old bank in the US had us sign a bunch of papers before we left. I won’t bore anyone with the details, but suffice to say, they screwed it up and we’ve had to buy a printer, scanner and fax machine so that we can go back and forth to fix it all. The first one we bought last week arrived broken. But today? Success! We are scanning, signing and faxing and we’re finally getting it all straightened out – I hope.

I learned how to use our bank’s ATM and change my PIN so I can use the card at the grocery store now. It seems like a stupid thing but it’s been hanging over me and I have been putting it off. Now I’m good to go.

I still can’t log into our bank online. We finally have Spanish cell phones but you have to log in online to to change our American cell #’s to our Spanish cell #’s and we can’t log in until we get those damn short codes that we can’t get on our American cell phones. Ugh. So I can’t change my phone number on my account, so I can log in and change my phone number. It may require a metro ride and a chat with my friendly banker, Ana.

We’ve ordered all our appliances and by Friday I am assured that our clothes will be spinning in our very own washer/dryer. We will be wearing clean clothes again! Who knew I’d feel so excited about that.

On Saturday, we ordered our dishwasher. It will take 3 weeks they say. But then they always under promise and over deliver here. Which I find I LOVE!

‘It will be 10 days for your cell phones to arrive.’

Heavy sigh. Then 24 hours later I get an email that I can pick them up at the store.

Jeff’s monitor arrived and it works and is now set up in his office. He’s happy again and I know this because his corny, and very obscure, jokes have surfaced. On our walk yesterday through the Jardin del Real we were looking at the different palm trees. Each is signed with the Genus, etc.

‘Soon you won’t even have to look at the signs to know which ones they are.’ He told me.

‘Yeah, why’s that.’ I asked

‘You’ll be a ‘palm reader.’

Yes, that’s Jeff in a nutshell. And he’s back to being him.

Today, I’ll be buying a shredder – yes, I’m a little addicted to seeing important papers with my identity numbers cut into infinitesimal pieces while I watch. It’s a hobby now.

And in a bit, I’ll be heading to ‘El Chino’ to pick up yet more household items. They’re closed for siesta right now, so I have to wait. I can’t quite see the store from our balcony so when I tried to go earlier I found the cage across the door way.

Oh well, I needed to go to the Mercadona anyway to buy some salt and pepper and garlic powder. Not that I’m cooking anything. We still can’t figure out how to turn on the stove top and the landlord has been busy. Yes, we’ve downloaded the Balay manual in English, but the people before us had little kids and this place is over-the-top childproofed. I think it requires a code they set up. Ugh. Any way – like I said, we aren’t cooking anything but I like to have spices.  It makes me feel better.

So I headed to the Mercadona and attacked their spice section. WOW! They had a lot. I held up Google translates photo app and decided to purchase one of each kind. I mean, when might I need sweet v. regular paprika? I have no idea, but when I do, I’ve got it! And the spices here are CHEAP. Garlic back home was like $5. Here it’s .55 euros. Crazy.

I’m used to being stared at now, so when I went up to the check out and put all my spices on the belt and heard others commenting on it behind me, I took it in stride. And then, just like everyone else, I put in my Spanish bank card and it worked. I feel almost like a local. Just like in every other instance, slowly but surely, it will all come together.

Online At Last!

Hola World! Remember us? Yes, we have INTERNET!!  At long last, after limping along on our T-mobile phones with crappy international service, we are online. And we have super fast fiber so we’re beating everyone on the internet, while surfing all our social sites and what not.

Shopping online will actually render photos of things we want to purchase. And looking up restaurants or viewing potential things to do in Valencia? Well, we are all over it now. No DSL sharing for us. No sir. We’re on a dedicated line that is all our own at 150mb.

Was it easy to get? NOOOO! Linda, our personal assistant/savior, had tried for weeks before we got here to get it set up. She did research and then reached out to Vodophone/Ono to get it ready for our arrival. But they wouldn’t do it without our NIE #. And after we got that, they wouldn’t do it until we got our Town Hall registry. And after that, they wouldn’t do it until we got our immigration registration. And after that they weren’t sure if they could do it until we got the actual card in 3 weeks.

Linda sent me this funny video that so accurately depicts what we’ve been through over the last 6 months – including setting up internet service – that I had to include the link here. I just wish the girl in the video had a mic to drop.

https://movingtovalencia.lbiz.es/this-is-spain/

About now you’re saying to yourself, ‘That’s crazy! Its just Internet.’ And you’d be correct. It is crazy. And it is just internet. But everything in Spain takes a lot of paperwork and patience. Finally, Linda and I just went to a local Mall and stood in line for the Vodophone store. The guy that helped us was nice but again – click, click, click and head shaking, eyeing me with a squint, and then head down for more typing. It starts to make you paranoid. You wonder what information they’re looking at? Can they see your medical records? School transcripts? Should I start trying to explain that lost weekend in college?

Finally, he says we’re approved – and we even get a home phone and 3 SIM cards. All for 66 euros per month. Yes, you heard that right. Internet (150 mb fiber), three SIM cards and a home phone for 66 euros per month. It’s like free.

The guy came today and installed it. We’re set up and ready to go. Netflix and I are going to be spending a lovely evening together and I think I’ll go out and buy myself a nice bottle of something red from Rioja. I have no couch yet, but I can lay in bed and drink and watch something. Just like a lost weekend in college.

Moving Voo Doo

Ok – My international shippers are giving me acid reflux.  They gave me the estimated window for picking up our stuff about a month ago. Promising to refine the estimate to an actual day, and then further to an actual time. I have neither in my possession right now. I have emailed repeatedly. I’m trying to stay away from my inbox for a few hours to calm down.

Everything we’re shipping is stacked our dining room, so Jeff stops hitting his 6 foot 3 inch head on the light fixture. This includes our bicycles and our couch wrapped entirely in plastic. I lamented that we no longer have anything to sit on, other than our two air mattresses in the bedroom. Our last TV is on a cardboard box in the bedroom until the guy comes to get it on Sunday.

If I had actually met the ‘customer service’ people from our shippers, I would be crafting Voo Doo dolls of them with the old cat hair in our vacuum bag, and some paperclips and old string I found in a drawer. I have no straight pins left, but I found nails in the garage, so I figure this would work in a pinch. Their back pain and migraines would force them towards their inboxes to email the information I require.

Jeff has assured me that we can still use the couch.

‘It’s gonna be moist, but my grandma had her couch covered in plastic for like 40 years, so I”m pretty sure we could sit on it for a few days.’

I declined, since it’s pretty sweaty in Arizona and I’d like to keep the skin on the back of my thighs for later. My confidence in these people isn’t as high as I need it to be. They’re going to be in possession, of all our possessions, for up to 16 weeks. I think my favorite boots actually cried when I closed the box.

I’ve learned to trust strangers on two continents in the last 6 months. I have no choice, I have to. But I don’t have to like it. Those shippers better watch out. I’m a woman with ALOT of time on my hands, until that truck pulls up – please let it by by Friday. And I’m feeling particular crafty in my doll making skills.

Stress Eating for One

I’m usually incredibly disciplined. I only eat protein in the morning. I do my yoga after lunch a high protein lunch, and I walk at least 6 miles every night – if not more, and other work outs. But these last few days here, I’ve thrown my entire routine out the window.

I’ve peaked too soon. There isn’t enough to do while waiting for our international shippers to pick up our stuff. I don’t have a car, so I’m house bound with all the bad influences – daytime TV.

My favorite gluten-free short bread cookies (I can’t get them in Spain) have been nearly my constant companion. They literally melt when they come in contact with your tongue. I’m drinking more wine, because, well I need to get rid of it – wink wink. And since there is no real food in our house, except microwave popcorn and jello? They’ve become part of the 3 food groups I’m sticking to. Carbs, Carbs, Carbs.

What is wrong with me? I’m never like this. But I can’t seems to stay away from this stuff. I did try to ‘work out’ by wrapping all our boxes in Saran wrap. Who knows if they’ll get wet on a boat. The chances of that seem higher than in our living room.

It’s Saturday and Jeff’s home today. Sadly, he’s seen my pitiful new routine and suggested we might walk to the store and purchase something that didn’t start it’s life as sugar cane or on a corn stalk. He actually walked me through the store by the elbow, suggesting healthy food!

‘Hey – that’s my job.’ I said with a frown and dragging my feet like a toddler.

He just shook his head and put my ‘usual’ sustenance in the the basket. Walking back, he teased out some of what’s been bothering me.

‘I’ve moved on from the worries about getting the visa. Now I’m worried we won’t be able to access our banking from there and then what will happen?’

‘So you’re substituting your fears for the overarching fear of the unknown.’ he said calmly.

I stopped in the desert on the way home and stared at him.

‘Who are you? Dr. Phil?’

‘No. But I’ve known you a long time. You’re good at worrying about things you can control. The other stuff, you sort of push off until they come around into your orbit again. That’s how going to Spain is for you. You have no idea what to be worried about so you’re choosing something tangible.’

My mouth hung open. ‘Am I that transparent?’

He smiled and hesitated. ‘Uh. Yes.’

Damn it! I hate it when he does that.

‘OK smart guy. Why am I eating only popcorn, cookies, jello and wine?’

He laughed. ‘The wine I don’t get, cause I’m not a big wine drinker. But who doesn’t like jello, cookies and popcorn?’

He’s right, of course. I am stressing over things I’ve checked and rechecked. Things I’ve created back doors for and contingency plans. It’s going to be OK, but because I’ve peaked too soon and I’m home bound, I only obsess about stuff all day.

Jeff had a remedy and today I rented a car for all next week until we leave. I’ll have wheels again. I can go out into the world and avoid looking the four walls that have been closing in on me. As of today, the stress eating is officially over. Yoga classes and the gym are back in my schedule until we leave. 8 days until we fly out and I’ll avoid gaining 5lbs. before that.