Archive for the 'Travels' Category

God Bless America… and Spain

Karie on Sep 17th 2008 05:44 pm

I can’t believe we’ve been back in the USA for almost 2 weeks now.  Sorry it’s taken me so long to send an update, but here are a few happenings since our return to American soil…

The discovery of STOK
We arrived in San Francisco on a Thursday evening, and my parents were flying out at 6:00am the next morning for my niece’s 2nd birthday party.  (I know, daughter’s homecoming from a year abroad vs. granddaughter’s birthday… I lose.  It’s cool though, if you saw my adorable niece you’d understand.)

We woke up well before our alarm (thanks to jetlag) to drop my parents off at the airport. On our way home we stopped at a gas station, where we discovered the following:

Coffee just isn’t enough?  Need a little extra kick in your Red Bull?
Like that shaky feeling when there’s more caffeine running through your veins than blood?
Don’t worry fellow Americans, we have found a solution for your sleep-deprived,
over-worked, high blood-pressured selves:

Based on warnings such as “Limit 2/day” and “Not for Those Under 18”, we opted not to test this liquid gold, but still had to take one from the gas station coffee stand, well, just because.

Meeting New People
Meet Davis James. His cuteness speaks for itself.

He met us at the airport with a sign that said, “Hola godparents. Nice to Meet You!” The next day we chowed on Taco Bell and went swimming before he had to catch his flight back to Denver, with mom & dad (Devon & Jason). We wuv him.

 “It’s a little slow going uphill, but downhill it’s great.”
These were the words spoken to us as we were departing for a test drive in a ‘92 Honda Civic that would soon become our new ride.  It’s a far cry from our parent’s cars, which we have been borrowing since returning back to the US, but it’s actually perfect for us right now.  We bought it from a family friend, who is its original owner and kept it in (mostly) great shape.  Except for this.  Oh yeah, and except for that.  Oh, and one more little thing…

Ok, so it’s nothing to brag about, but we’re still pretty excited about it.  It’s a car, it was only priced in the 3-digits, and it runs well.  That satisfies our checklist for now.  Who really needs a side view mirror anyway?

Homeless… again
This is our 3rd time to search for a new home in less than a year.  It will be our 7th move in 5 years of marriage…. Although that number could quickly jump to 12 if we count all the times we’ve bounced back and forth between friends & families’ guest rooms. (Thanks parents & Zellers!) 

The few items that we didn’t sell before moving to Spain were kept in a storage unit in Stockton.  After hanging out with my family for about a week, we packed up a U-Haul, the 3 of us (Scott, me, Penny Lane) crammed into the cab, and we headed south.  Talk about déjà vu.  From there we moved some things into a friend’s garage, and the rest into a storage unit in San Diego.  As soon as we find an apartment – which hopefully will be very soon – we’ll rent yet another U-Haul and move our stuff again.  I have a feeling we’re going to have even less stuff by the time we’re finished, because I might just throw entire boxes directly into the dumpster so that I don’t have to face moving them again.

Culture Shock?
Everyone asks us that, and I wish I could tell you exciting stories about being freaked out by SUVs, the cereal aisle, and general excess of American culture, but the truth is, every Metropolitan city in the world has its share.  While there are many aspects of the European lifestyle that we admire and plan to continue no matter where we live – and aspects of American culture that we vow never to fall prey to again – at the end of the day, both are wonderful cultures and people are people. 

So what did catch us off guard upon returning to the USA?  The size of the refrigerators.  Being able to have full length conversations with strangers.  My shoe collection (I forgot just how fabulous it is).  The fact that there’s a huge purple 5 on the back of the new $5 bill.  Penny Lane now grazes on her kibble throughout the morning rather than wolfing it all down in 2 seconds flat.  You can no longer hold a cell phone up to your ear while driving in CA, but it’s still ok to text.  A few other random things.

Overall, we’ve been having a great time!  We’ve had the pleasure of spending lots of time with family and friends, and continuing to postpone the reality of home chores, cubicles, rush hour, etc., as long as possible.  But yes, of course, we miss Spain, and all of our friends there.  What excites me the most is that I’ve confirmed how much I truly love both places.  Barcelona or San Diego are, in my opinion, two of the best cities in the world, and I’ve been blessed to call them both home.

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Homeward Bound (I promise this one isn’t even sentimental!)

Karie on Sep 3rd 2008 08:20 pm

Our last full day in Barcelona is upon us.  We’ve said goodbyes to friends and are mostly packed up.  I’ve already cried over the people & things I’m going to miss, and also lost sleep over the excitement of everything we have to look forward to at home.  So now, I leave you with raw data.  No emotions, deep thoughts or reflections… just the facts:

Time lived in Spain: 1 year
Pickpockets/purse snatchings we physically stopped while living in Barcelona: 4 (I’m pretty sure that’s more than the Policia)
Travel days (outside of Barcelona): 111
Countries visited: 20
Most searched word to get to our blog: “pooping” (I assume this search lead people to our blog because of this blog entry)
Total amount of money spent: You have to buy the book for that one!!!

Yup, that was a plug.  The first draft of my book is nearly complete, although it will take more time for the editing, design & publishing processes.  The book is more or less the story of our experiences, how we did what we did, and what we’ve learned from it.  More details to come, so stay tuned.

As for this blog, it will continue once we are home, but will likely be restructured to separate topics on home life & travel.  You will definitely hear from us a few more times while we do our “homecoming tour” and learn how to reacquaint ourselves with the American Dream.  Then, once life returns to “normal” (whatever that is), we will stop the automated emails from going out every time we post a blog entry (for those of you who are subscribers), unless it’s something really important.  But if you - like Scott - think that everything I have to say is important, you can always RSS our site, or just check back whenever you think of us (which hopefully will be often).

Now, I’m going back on what I said above about keeping this blog to raw data (c’mon, did you really think I’m capable of that?), as I close with a quote.  Although I probably won’t fully realize how much this year has impacted me for months or years to come, I have a feeling this is will be a good summary:

“Absence lessens the minor passions and increases the great ones, as the wind douses a candle and kindles a fire.”  - Francois de La Rochefoucauld

I think it’s good to extinguish a few minor candles now & then, as long as the important passions in life are en fuego!!!  Hasta California…

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Fooood Fiiiiight!!!!

Karie on Aug 28th 2008 07:11 pm

So Scott’s brother Jeff is here to hang out with us for our final full week in Spain.  We were so glad to see him that we promptly put our guest on a train down the coast, so we could throw tomatoes at him. Oddly enough, this is one of the reasons he came.

La Tomatina is the world’s largest food fight, in which nearly 140 tons of tomatoes are dumped into the tiny streets of Buñol, so 40,000 people can throw them at each other… the only rule is to squish before you throw.  Buñol has almost no accommodations, and this event is their only attraction, so most people stay in Valencia (about 45 minutes away), and take the train in for the big day.

We figured it would be best to get ahead of the crowds by taking the first train of the day into Buñol.  We arrived at the Metro station at 6:15am to discover that the train schedule had changed.  That’s when we met Wendy & Thomo, two Aussies who pulled us onto the correct train in the nick of time, and ended up becoming our new best friends for the next 21 hours.

We arrived in Buñol at 7:45am, even though the tomato fight doesn’t begin until 11:00am, so the five of us had plenty of time to get acquainted.  The streets were already pretty full when we arrived, and there was still over 3 hours and many more train-fulls of people yet to come.

We situated ourselves in a good spot, close enough to the center of the action, but near a side street which we determined would be our escape route if things got too crazy.  We happily staked our ground until about 30 minutes before the food fight was about to begin. That’s when it got so crowded that at one point I think my feet were lifted off the ground as I was suspended in the air by the shoulders.  We decided to use our escape route before the food fight even began, so we moved down the side street a bit… which quickly became just as crowded as the main road.

Traditionally, the fight is supposed to begin when someone climbs up a greased pole and cuts off the ham attached to the top.  However, it’s rare that anyone ever makes it, so the impatient food throwers just start chucking tomatoes when the rocket is fired at 11:00am.

At first we were wondering if we would even see many tomatoes down our side street, but before too long, smashed bits & pieces of tomato started making its way our direction.  Scott was the first to get a tomato in hand, which he immediately smashed on top of my head.  Oooh… now it’s on.

After a while, Scott decided that he could no longer take being so far from the center of action, and he was going to brave the crowds to get to the thick of it.  Jeff, Wendy, Thomo & I decided to stick together, which worked out great because Scott never would have left me alone to go into battle if we didn’t have our other friends around.

Scott navigated through the crowds with reasonable ease, so a few minutes later the rest of us decided to follow suit.  However, we made the unfortunate mistake of timing our invasion with the crossing of one of the tomato supply trucks.  Ever wonder what happens when a street is already completely packed and then a huge truck tries to drive down the center?  People get pushed out of the way.  As we were attempting to make our way from the side street back onto the main street, hundreds of other people were attempting the opposite.  The side street was at a slight incline, and being pushed around on a slippery incline is not good.  With Scott long gone, the four of us hung onto each other tightly and eventually called off the invasion and turned around to go back down the side street.  It was actually difficult to move in any direction, and there were a couple of moments when I was sure we were about to become human dominos.

Thankfully we got out ok and moved down the hill for safety.  The next thing we know, a rush of tomatoes came out of nowhere, and we suddenly felt like we might as well have been on the main road after all.  About the time we finished getting sufficiently dirty, Scott shows up again with a huge smile on his face, completely covered in tomatoes & holding his t-shirt, which had been shredded.  Apparently any sort of protection (shirt, hat, etc.) makes you a prime target, so when Scott started getting mixed up in the middle, he heard someone shout “Una camiseta!” (a shirt!), and that was the end of that.  We knew this could happen, so he was mentally prepared to deal with it.  (While I was pleasantly surprised that we did not see any such assaults on women, it is advised for women to wear a one-piece bathing suit or a secure sports bra underneath your shirt, just in case!)

Anyhow, the five of us are now reunited, so we take a quick break from chucking tomatoes to take a few pictures with our underwater disposable cameras (don’t dare take a real camera because it WILL be ruined!).  Then, suddenly without warning, our street became a river!  They must’ve started hosing the people or street above, which literally washed a sea of tomatoes over our feet.

Next thing I know, Scott is doing a full on dive – Slip N’ Slide style – down the street, not stopping until he reached the pool at the bottom.  I knew one of Scott’s goals for this trip was to make “tomato angels” (like snow angels, where you lay in the tomatoes and flap your arms & legs around), so for some reason I joined him.  At this point… why not?

This is officially the most out of character thing I have ever done in my life:

The fight lasts for an hour (which I thought sounded like a long time to throw food, but ended up going by really fast).  So at 12:00 sharp, another rocket is fired and people mostly respect that the event is over and stop throwing tomatoes.  All the locals then come out onto the streets and start hosing people off, or dumping buckets of water onto the crowds from the balconies above.   This is helpful, but by no means a way to get satisfactorily clean.  There are a few showers setup around the city, and thankfully we found an area with several showers that were not yet discovered by the masses.

So now, we were (mostly) tomato free but sopping wet, so we all bought the official La Tomatina 2008 t-shirt so at least one part of us was clean & dry.  We wandered around the city a bit longer then boarded the train back to Valencia, along with every single one of the 40,000 people - possibly all in one train car.  At least that’s what it felt like.  It was almost as crowded as it was in the thick of the food fight, and even hotter.  Believe it or not, I would have rather had people throw tomatoes at me all day long than to stand on that train for one more minute.  It was by far more miserable than having tomato in my ear.

Anyhow, it turned out that Wendy & Thomo were staying near our hotel in Valencia, so we made plans to meet up again later that night, after we all had a nice shower & siesta.  They were great company, and the conversation flowed until 3:00am, like we were all old friends.  We all had an absolute blast.  Jeff even said that if this was the only thing he did on his entire trip, it would’ve been worth it all.  It was also the perfect finale trip for our year in Spain, as it summed up everything we like about travel… seeing new places, meeting new people, and doing something a little adventurous that would never fly in the U.S.  I think we’re ending this year with a bang big enough to shoot us ½-way across the world and crash-land in California!

Now we have about a week to show Jeff around Barcelona, say hasta luego (not adios!) to the friends we’ve made here, and get packed up and ready to go………!

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The Break-In

Karie on Aug 23rd 2008 09:23 pm

Tonight we had an interesting adventure.  We were on our way to the market when Scott suddenly stopped and reached for his pockets.

“Forget your wallet?”
“No.”  (super long pause)  “The keys.”
We stop and stare at each other for about 5 minutes.
(cricket, cricket)
What are we going to do?

It just so happens that our landlord, who has the only other set of keys, left for vacation earlier this week.  Also, in case you didn’t know, we live on the 5th floor, so no chance of crawling in through a window.

We tried calling our friend who’s a handyman, but couldn’t reach him. Tried calling another friend who could at least call a locksmith for us, but no luck.  As we were standing outside of our door trying to figure out who else was in town and could help us, Scott noticed a sticker on a nearby pole that said “Cerrajeria: 24 Horas” with a phone number. I took a guess that that meant locksmith, so we called.

The lady told me she’d be here in 30 minutes. 50 minutes later she called again and said it would be another hour.  Oh, and she couldn’t even estimate how much this was going to cost, but I have a feeling it would’ve included a “foreigners tax” (i.e., overcharging just because they know we’re not from around here).  I have never felt so helpless.

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Myth Busting in Granada, Spain

Karie on Aug 23rd 2008 10:09 am

Our desire for getting the best deals on everything has really taught us to be flexible.  Budget airlines are budget-friendly for a reason – meaning that what you save in money, you usually pay for in some other way (time, leg room, sanity, etc.).  So, in order to get the best price on getting to Granada, our flight left at 6:30am, and returned at 11:30pm the following night.  This was even cheaper (and much faster) than taking a train or bus.  So we had 2 completely full days in Granada, but only 1 night of hotel, which further helps the budget.  Instead we paid in lack of sleep.

Several people here have told me that Granada is their favorite place in all of Spain.  However, as we were on the bus headed from the airport into the city, I found myself looking out the window at this beautiful city and daydreaming about anything but.  It occurred to me that the rose colored tint had worn off my glasses, and I wasn’t fully appreciating what I was about to see.  Sometimes – at least for some people – after doing a significant amount of travel, you can find yourself thinking things like, ‘oh yeah, another 400-year old Cathedral… these ancient ruins look just like the last ones we saw… how many royal palaces did they need anyway?’  I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I guess I started to take some things for granted.

We dropped our stuff off at the hotel and immediately headed out to find some breakfast, where I shared my jaded thoughts with Scott.  We made a commitment to try to see Granada as if it was the first time we set foot in Spain, and when the sleep deprivation started to reveal itself in the form of grouchiness, we were to remind each other (ok, he was to remind me) that we were having fun.  This actually worked, and we had a great time in Granada.  We were also able to test a few “myths” that we had heard for validity… a la MythBusters style (except not at all scientific and sans special effects):

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Fiesta Mayor de Grácia

Karie on Aug 17th 2008 05:18 pm

Each year the neighborhood of Grácia (where we lived our first few months in Barcelona) hosts a week long festival, complete with elaborately decorated streets, 15+ stages throughout the neighborhood, random competitions, and of course, food.  It’s hard to believe that an event of this magnitude is put on completely by volunteers in the neighborhood (with financial help from the local government and some serious fundraising efforts).

We had just missed the “Fiesta Mayor de Grácia” when we moved to Barcelona last year, so we’ve been anxiously waiting for it to come around again.  The street decorations and sets were so impressive that we decided to go twice so we could see them both at night and in the daytime – which are two completely different experiences.

We hung out for a few hours Saturday night, and planned to go back Sunday afternoon.  While we were wandering around Saturday night I had the good fortune of finding an event guide on the ground (which I later learned costs 5€). That’s when we realized that we were going to be able to check something off our “things to do while in Spain” list, that we thought we weren’t going to get to accomplish this year!

The “Castell,” or human castle, is a Catalan tradition where teams of people (Castellers) compete to build the most impressive tower.  It has a wide base made up of at least 20 men, and keeps building on itself with smaller people, until finally, a child (probably between 4-6 years old) climbs to the top of the tower and raises their hand with 4 fingers, symbolizing the Catalan flag.  Then they all shimmy back down.  It’s pretty amazing, and the good teams constructed and dismantled their 4-story “castle” in about 3-4 minutes.

Check it out:

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So What’s Your Favorite Place?

Karie on Aug 12th 2008 11:54 am

That’s a question we get all the time.  I try to answer it, but it’s not that simple.  It’s like asking me to pick my favorite pair of shoes!  We have loved (almost) every place we’ve been, for different reasons.  So, being the diplomatic, facilitative, terrible decision-maker that I am, I’ve categorized my favorites.  It’s not so much like gold, silver, and bronze; it’s more like best in its class. Think of it like an awards show, but instead of Emmy’s or Grammy’s, this will be… um, The Kaufy’s.

Without further adieu, ladies & gentlemen, we proudly present…

“The Kaufy Awards”
Hosted by: Me
Produced by: Scott
As Voted on by: Me & Scott

Best City to Learn a Ton of Interesting Stuff:
Berlin, Germany

Place I Wish Everyone Could See, but Without Needing an Overnight Bus:
Cappadocia, Turkey

Most Breath-Taking Views:
Croatia (all of it)

Most Incredible Architecture:

Best Place to Live it Up on a Tight Budget:
Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

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The Bitter and the Sweet

Karie on Aug 7th 2008 04:53 pm

With the date of our return to the U.S. being just under a month away, I’ve been doing a great deal of thinking.  Shocking, I know.  Anyhow, while I am excited to go home, I am also very sad to leave Barcelona.  I was finding it difficult to summarize the reasons why, so I went back to one of my favorite activities – I made lists.  I even solicited Scott’s help, which he eagerly gave, despite the fact that he does not share my passion for list-making.

These are by no means all-inclusive. In fact, we probably won’t even realize most of the things that we’ll miss until we’re gone, but here are a few things that quickly come to mind:

What We Will Miss About Living in Barcelona:

  • Friends we’ve made here
  • Traveling frequently
  • The markets
  • Bocadillos (a super cheap sandwich on a baguette; our favorite is chorizo and cheese)
  • Not needing a car (walking everywhere or taking the great public transit)
  • Bicing (a service for residents that gives you access to thousands of bicycles around town for 24€ for the whole year)
  • Hanging laundry outside to dry (I realize I could do this at home, but not without the neighbors thinking I’m weird)
  • The warm and beautiful Mediterranean Sea
  • Neighbors, whom we lovingly refer to as: Orange Peel Guy, Monochromatic Laundry Lady, Antoni The Catalan, Celia’s Friend, and Dog with the Funny Bark
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