Search "Sundays in Spain"

Showing posts with label international travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label international travel. Show all posts

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Spain in the Past Tense

Today is Sunday, December 7, and my life in Spain is now in the past. We left at 8:00 this morning, on a plane flying out of Alicante to Copenhagen. It felt strange to realize that I can no longer be considered a resident of España; even though I still have a residencia card, I know that I am now, once again, a resident of the U.S.--after all, I voted in person at the election in November, we have a year's lease on an apartment, and we have been actively looking for a home to buy. On Friday we put a Se Vende (For Sale) sign on the iron gate to our property in Spain. We have spent hours and hours sorting, throwing out, and packing up possessions to send back, and then recreating a pleasant environment to greet potential buyers. If I can't live here any longer, I want someone else to come along and have a great adventure in this house, as I did.

Right now, though, we both feel sort of brain dead, as we are tired of physical labor, and tired of decision-making, and tired of the knowledge that we are saying goodbye. We will come back to Spain again, we know, but it will probably not be until the house sells, or until it becomes clear that we need to find another sales strategy.

This afternoon we have been walking around Copenhagen in a cold, light drizzle. Copenhagen is a city that we both know and feel comfortable in, and Copenhagen in the rain is not a new experience at all, nor Copenhagen in the cold. If the people we have spoken with here today knew that we have just emigrated from Spain, they would probably think we were crazy. Even if we told them the truth, which is that we just stopped off here for a few days before proceeding on to our new home in the U.S., they would assume that we were on our way to Florida or California or the Southwest, because they can't conceive of anyone voluntarily giving up daily sun for the type of weather we have experienced today and that we can expect to experience in Ohio.

Pop singer Tini's "You Can't Have it Both Ways (this time)"
We had a memorable evening last night in Torrellano, the town near the Alicante/Elche airport.where w have spent many a night preceding an early plane trip. We drove north at 5:00 in the afternoon; it was still light but by the time w had checked into the Doña Isabel hotel, it was beginning to get dark and cold, so at 7:00 we walked out and found a restaurant close by, a new one for us, where we could enjoy a hot meal. It was a Turkish restaurant, and we enjoyed chicken kebabs with rice  and roasted vegetables and a glass of wine--the red wine was undoubtedly more Spanish than Turkish, we agreed. Then we walked back to the hotel and fell asleep early, and woke up a couple times before our 4:30 wake-up call sounded. We had a final breakfast of ham and cheese tostadas and cafe con leche at the Valor chocolate shop after going through security, and a quick run through the Desigual store--it was a good thing that I had absolutely no more room in my carry-on and no more interest in purchasing clothing after the recent purges. Then we went to the gate and were soon on the plane. The Norwegian airline welcome music played "You Can't Have It Both Ways" as we waited for take-off.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Hasta la próxima!

Sundays in Spain will be taking a siesta for the next several months, as our life in Spain is also taking a rest. We have moved on to a new residence in the city of Cincinnati, state of Ohio, country of the United States of America. We will return to Spain for the winter, si diós quiere, and I will post here again at that time.

In the meantime I have started a successor blog, Sundays in Cincinnati, where I will continue to write weekly, usually on Sunday, but this time about my life in Cincinnati. Please join me there.

Hasta la próxima!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Changes in the neighborhood

We've experienced a number of life-changing events in our neighborhood here in Montebello over the past several weeks.

A lady who lived just a few doors down from us died. It was not unexpected: she had been battling brain cancer for over a year, and by the time the end came, it was probably a blessing for her, for her elderly husband, and for the daughter who had come from England--several times and for long periods--to care for them both. During the last trip the daughter stayed for a few days after the funeral, taking care of details and managing the house for some relatives who had come from abroad for the services and stayed a bit. Then at the end of the visit, she and her father drove a couple of the aunts to the airport so the aunts could return to their lives. And in one of those tragic but perhaps right life-changing events, her father dropped dead of a heart attack just minutes after the aunts had disappeared through the security gate. The poor daughter, certainly shocked, organized and went through the funeral of her father just days after the funeral of her mother.

A happier occasion in our little corner of Montebello was marked at the end of May. On an unusually dreary Monday (Memorial Day in the U.S, but not here, of course) we returned very early from a quick morning run to the post office to find a young man applying jumper cables to his car. Not a happy site except for the fact that the man in question was the husband of a neighbor, a young woman with two teenage sons. Because of the economic crisis,  the husband had been working and living in England for the past two years and visiting only occasionally.

In spite of a dead battery, the man was cheerful, albeit in a hurry. "Not surprising to have a dead battery after many months of not using this car," he said, "but wouldn't you know--I start a new job this morning!" "Here?" I asked in surprise, and he answered, "Yes."  He got the car started, and when I saw his wife a few days later, she confirmed that he had just gotten a new permanent job in Spain, and that the four of them were, once again, a family living under the same roof. I walked around for days feeling joy for them.

A different life change happened at the beginning of June, but it was a positive one, too. This was the start of a new business, or perhaps it is better to say a revitalized  business. When we moved into our neighborhood five years ago, there was an on-site bar and restaurant, Monty's. Then a second bar and restaurant opened. Two establishments were at least one more than the community of 160-some houses could support. The second one closed, and then, with the deepening and apparently never-ending financial crisis, the first one closed. For a couple months Montebello was without any on-site bar and restaurant at all.

Then we got word that new owners had purchased Monty's. They took a couple weeks to gut the kitchen and replace everything, paint the interior dining room, and do some much-needed cosmetic work on the exterior building. Then they opened the bar. Nice, but we are not the type of customer that can provide sufficient support to keep a bar in business. But then, two weeks later, they announced the opening of the kitchen.

We had a pleasant evening dinner at Monty's at the beginning of June, celebrating our not-so-recent triumph in the neighborhood petanca tournament with friends, who happened to also be observing their 44th wedding anniversary. As it turned out, we realized, they had gotten married just two days earlier and two years later than we had. So we had a nice, relaxed dinner luxuriating in our neighborhood, supporting its revitalization and hoping for stability, and being able to walk to and from without getting into a car.

And now we are ourselves engaged in a major life change.  We are planning to reestablish our residence in the U.S. this summer. I will leave shortly and travel to Cincinnati to take possession of an apartment--and attend my customary summer conference of the American Library Association. Johannes will join me later, after his visa papers are in order. Once we are together in the U.S. again, we will stay there for six months.

We are not leaving Spain forever. For now we are keeping our car and our house here, and we know that we will be very glad to get back to the Costa Blanca when it turns cold and dark in the Midwest next winter. But we are going to be gone for a long time, and that means we have been having some sad good-byes. Or some hasta la proxima's, because (the good lord willing and the creek don't rise) we will return in February.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Back Home in Spain

After an absence of more than two months, we arrived back home in Spain this past Wednesday. Considering the 20-year record frigid temperatures (below zero Fahrenheit) in Cincinnati, my home in the United States, the warmth we encountered was shocking and very pleasant. Previously I had thought, and even written, about the strange cold in Spain during the winter, when the temperature dips inside the non-centrally heated houses, and you go outside in mid-day to catch the warmth of the sun. Your body adjusts, apparently. I had forgotten what real cold is (I had learned it in New Hampshire), but I experienced it on this trip in Ohio, and again in Philadelphia for the week prior to our leaving. Shoot, I had even experienced temperatures somewhat colder than I had expected in November in Florida, but that was nothing compared to the temperatures that rolled through the north in December and January.

So I was uncomfortably warm when we landed in Alicante, in my black winter fleece shirt and pants, which covered one under layer on my legs and two up above, plus the high winter boots that I had to have on even though I knew it would be a pain to take them off at airport security. But that was what was necessary to get through snowy and slushy Philadelphia, and there was no room in my suitcase to pack the extra layers before getting on the plane home. But I didn't complain. It felt good to feel the sun and a gentle breeze, and the nicest surprise of all as we rode away from the airport parking lot was the sight of flowering almond trees. They don't usually blossom until February, but of course it was almost February then, and now is, and I realize I have missed most of the winter season in Spain.

Yesterday I spent time packing away the summer(!) clothing that I had worn up until leaving in November, and getting out the winter clothes that have migrated here via January trips from Ohio over the years, and I wondered as I did this how many weeks it would be before I made the switch again. But this morning we took a breezy walk through the Sunday outdoor market and even decided to forgo our usual sit-down for a cup of coffee, on the grounds that we needed to move to keep warm. That little walk--in 3/4 length pants and shoes with no socks--helped me decide not to wear the short skirt that I had been thinking about for an afternoon party today, and to go with the long black one instead. The body adjusts, apparently, and rather quickly, to the heat or lack of it wherever you are.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


The city of Elche is home to a number of interesting attractions (think thousands of palm trees) but yesterday, its most important attraction for me was shopping. Elche is home to the closest El Corte Inglés, Spain's premier department store, and I had to buy a gift. I was looking for something of high quality, even luxurious, and "typically Spanish," though I had not defined exactly what that might be, other than perhaps it would be something in leather. This was not the sort of thing that I would look for at the Sunday market or the Chinese discount stores or even at one of the nice shopping malls with a range of Spanish and English stores nearby, because I was not looking for clothing or household furnishings.

It took awhile. I spent a long time looking at nicely bound blank books, some in leather, but as it turned out, they were made in Canada. We browsed through the decoración area, and I was not inspired for this particular purpose, although I did find several items of slight passing interest for myself. But I realized how foreign to my current life modern international department stores are, since I am no longer furnishing a new house and my closets are full to overflowing with items that I have little opportunity to wear anyway and cannot locate on the rare occasions when I do.

Eventually I stumbled across what I think is the perfect item, from a Spanish designer, with a touch of  luxury, but I'm not talking about that until after the gift is given. And then we decided we needed a cup of coffee, or perhaps more than a cup of coffee.

We got out of the city first, but decided to stop at a fairly new camping "resort" that we have been driving by for a year or so without stopping in. Camping is one of those activities that the participants in this marriage do not agree on. I had too much tent camping as a child, and while I appreciated the extensive travel that camping afforded our family, I did not like the disruption and extra mealtime chores and toiletry/sleeping discomfort that it entailed. Johannes, on the other hand, camped by himself on many trips through Europe as a student and was free to ignore any chores that he didn't feel like doing and to decide totally by himself on anything he wanted in terms of eating and sleeping. European campgrounds, I have discovered during the course of our marriage, are somewhat more luxurious than any of the ones I stayed in as a child. I daresay that U.S. campgrounds have gotten more luxurious in the decades since my youthful camping trips, too, but fortunately, I have not had to find out.

When we lived in Roquetas and biked to Aguadulce we often stopped at a campground on the beach in between the two towns and enjoyed a coffee at the full-service restaurant. We had also stumbled on a rather elegant restaurant at a campground in Guardamar when we biked there a couple times. So I had no doubt that this campground that I had seen opening to great fanfare in the past couple years would have a restaurant that would be at least adequate and perhaps much better. After all, this campground was advertised as a four-star eco camping resort.

The Marjal restaurant did not disappoint us. Actually, we did not get in to the restaurant; we only were in the bar and cafe. But there was a sign stating the Saturday special of a tapa and a drink for 2 euros, so we made our selections from the platters on the bar and carried them out to one of 50 or so tables outside. We had a pleasant time enjoying the sun and the fresh breeze and watching the other visitors: a Swedish family close by with two small children, a couple of pensioners like ourselves, seated farther away, so we couldn't hear them, some Spanish women enjoying a drink together. Then a large group of young children pranced through the open plaza carrying colored pictures, and I realized they must have been to an art class or some group activity, and we speculated that this must be fall vacation week in some countries of Europe and we hadn't even noticed.

Before going back to the car we took a little walk through the "pitches" to see how the locals lived. We saw camping "caravans" of every size and shape--all with outdoor seating and eating areas and at least one canvas awning to give shade, many with more. The only tents I saw were small auxiliaries on the same pitch as a metal caravan--apparently providing guest quarters, or perhaps just an alternative place to sleep if one didn't feel like sleeping in the RV itself. Clearly no one was undergoing much hardship in the way of bathroom and cooking facilities. I saw one person coming back from a communal shower building, but I am sure very unit had indoor plumbing, refrigerator, and cook stove, if not more. Plus there is a bar and a restaurant just a short walk away.

We cut back through a smaller area with wooden bungalows, and it was here that we happened upon a Dutch couple sitting on their veranda with two glasses of white wine and a tray of hors d'oeuvres. We only asked one question, "Does your little bungalow have a kitchen?" and they invited us in for the grand tour. Two bedrooms, each with closets and an air conditioning/heating unit, a bathroom with shower, a living room and dining area (also with a/c), and an "American kitchen." "American kitchen in Spain means open to the dining and/or living area, but this particular American kitchen met my standards, too. In addition to the fridge, freezer, range, oven, and microwave, there was a dishwasher. Luxury in camping.

This was the third winter season that this couple had spent at this campground, and they told us that this year they had asked for the same bungalow they had last year. Clearly they were satisfied. As the Dutch lady said to me, "This is not camping."

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Summer Again in Spain

Last Sunday I was packing up a very heavy suitcase--heavy enough so I had to pay extra at the airport check-in and too heavy for the TSA to want to fuss with it, I concluded later--and headed back to Spain. I arrived in Madrid Wednesday morning early, and after waiting a few hours there, I continued to Alicante, where I was picked up and delivered by car to the house. It was good to get back "home" and to my regular routines. The weather, I discovered, was not much different from the heat and humidity that I had left in Cincinnati and Chicago, although there is a notable absence of air-conditioning here.

Since then I have been doing the things that I always do to get back into life in Spain. One of the first, and the most fun, was to meet friends in my book group for a discussion of The Angel's Game, which I had finished on the long airplane ride between O'Hare and Barajas. I also cleaned out several science experiments from the refrigerator and in the last several days have gone to three of my favorite grocery stores to replenish the refrigerator, freezer, and cupboards. That meant, of course, that we had a café con leche and half of a tostada at the outdoor café in front of the Benijófar Consum, and when we went the next day to Ciudad Quesada on an errand, we had to have another café at the Halfway House, our usual haunt close to the post office.

I've also completely emptied--in record time--the large suitcase I brought with me, and have put the books, medicines. toiletries, clothing, and paperwork in their proper places, and actually dealt with some of the paperwork (and all of the laundry). I've caught up on some work that was pending, suffering the trauma of transferring files that are supposed to be compatible but aren't always, back to my regular computer. This morning we went to the Zoco outdoor market to buy almonds, prunes and raisins for breakfast, and whatever fruits and vegetables looked good for the coming week, or at least the coming days, because the heat now means that fresh produce doesn't keep as fresh as it does during the cooler months. Strawberry season has definitely gone by, so I was glad that I had had strawberries in Cincinnati,, and though raspberries and blueberries are available here at high prices for tiny portions, they don't taste as good as the ones I enjoyed while away. We sat this morning in a bit of shade with another café con leche and listened to the various languages around us and watched the people all dressed to withstand heat in various ways, while still enjoying their holiday or daily lives.

I am moving slowly and the days seem long because, well, they are. It always takes a few nights to adjust to six hours' time difference between Eastern U.S. time and Spanish time. It's even harder this year, because it's time for the Benijófar summer festival, and that means that just as I am ready to settle down to try to sleep through the night at 11:00 PM or so, the thumping music of a fiesta in action starts up, and it continues into the wee hours--until 7:00 this morning, according to Johannes, but I had finally dropped off to sleep some time after 3:30 and slept peacefully until 9:00.

Tomorrow I will see my Spanish teacher/book discussion partner and Tuesday I will go to play petanca, and by then I hope to be back in this time zone and back into the regular routine of summer, which often involves staying inside in air-conditioned comfort (not central, but effective and quiet on a room-by-room basis) and generally taking it easy and not moving too fast. We have a few weeks before leaving again for a summer vacation together, and I intend to enjoy them in a suitably leisurely fashion.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

International Living

This Sunday marks a week that we have been back in Spain since returning last Sunday from a short week's trip to Copenhagen. We had an even better time in Denmark than we usually do, for the weather was glorious--sunny every day, from before 6:00 AM or earlier, and it was light to well after 9:30 PM. We had to remember to close the curtain in our top-floor hotel room so as not to be awakened too early when the sun made its appearance. All in all the weather was as good as, and maybe even better than, what we had left behind in Spain that week.

There wasn't a lot to write about Spain while in Denmark. We heard a few Spanish voices as we came into town from the airport (the plane, after all, had brought us--and others--directly from Alicante) and as we walked through the city for the next four days. Once we happened upon two couples in animated Spanish discussion about which direction they should go in, and without much conversation we gave them one of our maps and left them to come to some sort of agreement among themselves.

Every year when we go to Denmark we try to do something a little different, and this year it was a canal tour. Amazingly I had never been on one, although I have walked by the canal tour boats in Copenhagen's Nyhavn (the New Harbor) countless times. This one was a guided tour of an hour and a half, and the brochure said it would be narrated in three languages: Danish, English, and "another" language. I wondered how they would choose the third language and what it would be--German, perhaps, or French, or maybe Russian or Polish or another east European language, for there has been much immigration from eastern Europe all over western Europe, including to Denmark. Maybe even one of the Middle Eastern languages, though the immigrants from that part of the world have done a wonderful job of learning Danish, it seems to me. It was none of those languages, though, for as the narration started we were welcomed first with Velkommen, then Welcome, and then Bienvenidos! The first, and maybe the only time in my life when an official tour is conducted in the three languages that I understand. I felt right at home.

The evening before we left on our trip we were in Torrellano at our favorite hotel there, where we often stay when we have a flight leaving or arriving at some ungodly hour (this one left at 6:30 the next morning). A couple that we have gotten to know in Spain came out to join us for a light and early supper, so we could get back to the hotel for a little sleep before getting up at 4:00. It turned out to be a farewell dinner of sorts. We were, of course, off on our annual or (lately) semi-annual one-week trip to Denmark; they were scheduled to leave the following day for two months of touring in the cities and along the rivers of Europe, something they have done every summer that we have known them. But they also noted that this year, they would not be returning to Spain at the end of the summer to live.

Our friends' marriage, somewhat like ours, involves two nations, but they have lived in Spain more years than we have, in three different parts of the country. They are not the only people we know who have made a decision to move on because of new financial reporting requirements that have gone into effect in Spain, but they are the closest to us. The new "declaration of foreign assets" requirements put in place by Spain, or the European Union, or just by the fact of modern international living in a post 9/11, post-Economic Crisis of 2008 world, have been making life difficult and uncomfortable for almost everyone in the various expat communities, but especially for those who are living off investment income earned and/or maintained outside of Spain. Which would be most retired people, of course.

 I won't tell you exactly what the financial declaration requirements are, because I don't have a prayer of stating them correctly. Every newspaper and advice column, every financial adviser, and  every government official gives you a different interpretation, and that is a large part of what makes this new reality difficult and uncomfortable.

So the four of us sat together for a couple hours and enjoyed dinner (I had a wonderful salmorejo with jamón serrano) and talked about life and change and travel, and speculated about what country we might be in when next we saw each other.

This morning the two of us made our usual Sunday morning trip to the outdoor market to get fruit and vegetables and frutos secos (almonds, raisins, and prunes) for the coming week. We had missed the market last Sunday, since our plane had not brought us back to Spain until the afternoon.  As usual, we stopped for a café con leche, this time at a different little coffee shop, where we were delighted to discover that we could still get a good cup of coffee--and a big one, though it came in a glass instead of a cup--for just one euro. So we sat in a shaded area with a front-row view of all the shoppers strolling by, and enjoyed watching the different people, residents and visitors--you can often tell the difference by their clothing. We listened to the Spanish bread stall owner next door calling out pan del pueblo, pan de leña, and just buenos días, quieres pan? and to the stream of other voices in many languages. We felt at home.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Settling In Again

It has now been just a little over a week that I have been back in Spain, and during that time I have been doing slowly the things I customarily do when I return from my jaunts to the U.S. It wasn't until today that I could get up and say that I had had a normal night's rest--I went to sleep at 11:00 and woke up naturally at 7:00. Every other night in the week I had been awake long into the night, and often took a sleep-inducing PM medication at 2:00 or 3:00 AM, before sleeping until 9:00 AM--unheard of for me normally.

I unpacked two suitcases and received the usual greetings from the TSA, who I have now figured out are not particularly interested in the vitamins, Triscuits, and other curiosities I bring back from home, but do take account of the computer that I pack in the middle of a suitcase so as not to have to display it at various security checkpoints. I managed to get things out of my luggage and move the suitcases to storage a lot earlier than I usually do, though not everything got put away in its proper place until today, and there are still some papers to go through.

I washed clothing. I did not come home with a lot of dirty laundry but a bunch had certainly accumulated in my absence. Fortunately we have been blessed with mostly sunny and surprisingly warm days this week, so hanging clothes out to dry has been a pleasure.

I visited the Sunday outdoor market and my two favorite grocery stores and replenished the refrigerator and freezer with fruits and vegetables for our lunches, and the few frozen dinner items I keep on hand for the evenings when I do not feel like cooking. And I used two of those dinner items (San Jacobos and bollas de patata) last night.

I went to my group Spanish class on Monday and to petanca with the Danes on Tuesday, and our book group held its regular monthly meeting on Wednesday, so in a single week I saw almost all the people in my face-to-face social network. Still remaining is my Danish Spanish teacher, who was under the weather with a recurring cold, but I will see her tomorrow. The small American group also awaits the "Fourth Friday" coffee, but that will be this coming Friday.

I also saw my hairdresser and the optician, to cut off the hair that had grown in the last six weeks and partially replace the eyeglasses I had inadvertently left at my sister's in Cincinnati. I had had it on my agenda to replace those glasses, so this "emergency" made me do it a little quicker than I would have otherwise, and now I am trying to get used to new distance glasses--I gave up on the dream of "three-in-one" distance/reading/sun glasses, which after a year did not do any function really well.

Somehow I also managed to get some professional work done, putting in several hours on the web and with editing, and writing and sending an overdue article that my ever-patient editor greeted with the words "Worth the wait"!

And then I spent all day yesterday reading travel books, chasing down websites, and then making airline reservations for a combined business-vacation trip in August this year! I would have liked to delay this activity and not even think about going off again until I was more settled, but half the world has vacation in August, so it was imperative to get the reservations nailed down while they were still available. But now I can put those notations away and not be concerned with them for another few months, except when I may begin to sense that it has been too long since I had a little adventure outside the routine.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Tale of Two Cities

The two cities are Copenhagen and Barcelona. We visited both in December--each just for a long weekend--and both were fantastic.


I have lost track of the number of times I have been in Copenhagen, but for most of the past 45 years I have spent a few days or a week each year in Denmark. Most of those trips involved some time in its capital city. Through the years I have observed many changes but also watched with wonder that some things remain constant, or renew themselves to keep up with the times--and quite often that is done in an agreeable manner. In many ways, Copenhagen has become my barometer of change and constancy.

Lyngby Storcenter - a shopping center's Christmas village. ©Johannes Bjorner 2012
Surgery and rehabilitation kept us from travel earlier this year, so we decided to do the Denmark trip in early December, to celebrate a birthday and get into the Christmas spirit. It was a very quick trip. We took an early Friday morning flight from Alicante and were in Copenhagen before lunchtime, and we were scheduled to return late Sunday evening. There was a time--and not too many years ago--when all the stores would have been closed Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday. That would have left us precious little time to scour the shops for books and DVDs and Christmas decorations and pass through the department stores to catch up with the trends. Fortunately times have changed and we had no trouble finding places to spend our money every hour that we were able to be out of our hotel.

Tivoli at Christmas, ©Johannes Bjorner 2012.
It was cold, and it snowed on Sunday, but that didn't stop us. We came back with suitcases filled with 30 or more DVDs in the original English or Danish--something we cannot find in Spain, where films are routinely dubbed into Spanish in the cinemas, on TV, and on DVD. We went to at least four big bookstores and even waited in line for almost an hour for an author signing at one. We saw two current films in the theater--something we never do in Spain. We ate in our long-time favorite restaurant where we almost always  enjoy a meal--usually the same kro-platte selection of open-faced sandwiches, though the sandwiches change over the years and are as good a barometer of fiscal conditions as the McDonald's index. And of course we went to Tivoli. There it was frightfully cold, and the masses of people (we really should not have left this until Saturday evening) made us realize that we have turned into country bumpkins, unused to throngs of humanity in one place.


I don't have enough years left to get to know Barcelona the way I know Copenhagen. This--three days over Christmas--was my second trip and I recognized some of the places from my first trip to Barcelona. That had been for a professional conference, however, and this trip was purely for pleasure.

Christmas Lights at Plaza Catalunya, ©Johannes Bjorner 2012
Did we think that we had left Christmas decorations behind us in Copenhagen? Not on your life! There may not be as many pine trees in Spain as there are in Scandinavia, but nowhere can there be more lights. We sat in the restaurant at the top of El Cortes Inglés department store Christmas Eve as the day turned to dusk and saw the colorful street lights coming on all over Plaza Catalunya at the top of the Rambla. We also spied the fairly new Apple store on the other side of the plaza, so of course we had to walk in that direction when we moved on our way. On Christmas Eve at 8:00 PM the place was jumping. Though there were people playing at all 20 of the large tables with various devices arranged in the room, we had no trouble finding a geek to answer a few questions we had.

Looking Up at Sagrada Familia, ©Johannes Bjorner 2012
Earlier on Christmas Eve day we had made the pilgrimage to Sagrada Familia cathedral, which we had first seen in 2009. At that time there was scaffolding in the sanctuary and construction dust all around. Since then, the Pope has been to Barcelona to consecrate the cathedral and while it is not done--and will not be done in my lifetime, probably--the scaffolding is gone and during the Christmas season, at least, there were no signs of construction. Work on the Sagrada Familia began in 1882. There is something very nice about now having seen it twice, with construction workers, and with signs of progress. It provides a connection with the millions of people who, over the centuries, built other mammoth cathedrals in Europe. This one is extraordinarily beautiful and inspiring, regardless of your faith or lack of it.

Gaudi Tiled Bench in Park Guëll, ©Johannes Bjorner 2012
Christmas Day itself we had reserved for the Park Guëll, since most everything else would be closed on a public holiday, but, we reasoned, a park would not. The artist Gaudi lived in a house in the park for 20 years while he was designing the public park space; Guëll was his employer-benefactor. The weather had turned hazy and so we did not have the spectacular views of Barcelona that this high-elevation park normally provides, but we still enjoyed the walk through its winding and climbing pathways and the varied vegetation. We entered from a back entrance, we discovered (we had followed the directions of the information person at the Metro and Metro is not the best way to go, we now know) and we had to walk all the way to the front entrance before finding the famed fountains and buildings and park benches with Gaudi's colored tiles.

We enjoyed many other things in Barcelona: the gorgeous displays of food at La Boqueria market, just across from where we stayed on the Rambla, and the best steak that I have had in nine years in Spain at Restaurante Ferran, which is better known for tapas and Spanish cuisine--so we shared an appetizer of tomato bread with  jamón ibérico de bellota (which means that the contributing pigs have eaten only chestnuts). I walked to the end of the Rambla and saw the Columbus statue and some Christmas market stalls, but I didn't buy anything, because enough is enough. We had a delightful interchange with a young Danish woman of Afghan-Indian heritage and her Indian novio, who happened to be our host at the hostal in which we stayed. They are going to India once her exams are over for this season--her first time in India--and we gave them Danish Christmas decorations we had brought with us and wish them the best of luck in their future life.

©Johannes Bjorner 2012
And all this was made easier because we had a hostal in a very central position on the Rambla--just opposite the Liceu Metro exit. I had never stayed in an hostal before, wary that it was a little too basic for my mature tastes, and thinking of bunk beds in dormitories. Our hostal, however, was less than a year old and was quite modern, with comfortable beds and northern European comforters, a clean and functional toilet and shower, with the usual amenities, and the best lighting on both sides of the double bed that I have experienced in awhile. Yes, it was in an old building with a very narrow stairway that you had to go up even to get to the tiny elevator, certainly the smallest I have ever seen, and remember--I have been in Denmark. The elevator (which required a key) was limited to 150 kg., so balancing two pieces of luggage (even carry-on) and two people meant that inevitably one (or more) got left out. But most of the time, there were just two of us going up and down in the elevator, and all we had to remember to do in the tiny space was, as Johannes said, "Assume intimate position" and up (or down) we would go. All this was quite appropriate since we shared a building (but not the same entrance) with the Erotic Museum.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Home Again in Spain

Given the fact that I had just returned from a trip home to the U.S., it doesn't make sense that I have now spent the past week in Denmark. But this trip was planned some time ago as just a quick visit to Danish-American friends of long standing. We left on Monday and returned on Friday very shortly before midnight, which was fortunate because, we were told, the new airport in Alicante closes at midnight and if your plane hasn't landed by that time, it will be diverted to Valencia and you get a free bus ride lasting a couple hours back to the outside, presumably, of the Alicante airport. Even though the Ryanair flight was late in leaving Billund, we made it in to Alicante under the wire, and I have never had checked baggage delivered as quickly as I did Friday night.

Denmark was lovely with Christmas decorations and leisurely shopping--not the rat race of Black Friday sales, as there are few sales in Denmark and no Thanksgiving to mark the beginning of the shopping frenzy. We did not have bad weather. This is the most positive statement that one can hope to make about weather when one travels to Denmark from Spain in the month of November. Gray days, but mostly dry, and cold enough for two layers on your legs and three up above when you are out and about. What Denmark lacks in sun at this time of year it makes up for with that lovely notion of central heat, and the luxury of underfloor heating in the bathroom. I am still wondering whether I will succumb to the temptation of having the tiles I love in our bathroom dug up to install heating fixtures below.

It didn't rain until Friday, and then it was indeed cold and dark and damp. Even though we had left Spain on Monday after an unusual rainy weekend--but we seldom complain because we always need the rain here--we looked forward to arriving back to warmer temperatures and sunnier skies. There are many good reasons for visiting Denmark, but one of them is that it will probably make you appreciate the weather in Spain more.

Warmer temperatures and sunnier skies did appear on Saturday morning when I finally woke up at almost 10:00. I've been unpacking, and doing laundry and grocery shopping ever since, and just generally getting back to normal after my two trips. Since I have had the privilege of enjoying Christmas decorations in the stores of two countries in the last month, I am inspired to get started with my Christmas preparations now. I'll be able to pull out the decorations from storage pretty soon--but first I need to pack away the cotton summer clothes that were perfectly appropriate when I left a month ago, and which I could still wear most days now in the sunny afternoons.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Seasons of Life

It has been a long time since I wrote, and that usually means that I have been out of Spain. This time was an unscheduled trip, because I have been home in the U.S. with my birth family as my mother, Mary, passed from this life, and for two weeks afterwards. Those several days that we (four sisters) spent together reliving our earlier lives growing up and renewing our commitment to each other as a family were precious.

Part of the reason I first started this blog was to share my experiences here in Spain with my mother. She was nearing 80 when she "got onto the computer" in order to keep in touch by email with her wide-spread family and good friends from across several decades of her life. She learned to use many functions, even though she never distinguished between the hardware, software, email, and the Web--it was all "the computer." Later as her eyesight diminished she had to stop using the computer herself, but in the early days of Sundays in Spain, I tried to keep posts short enough so they could be printed out on a single page by one of my sisters and read to her. I have gotten rather lax, I am afraid.

In 2005 when I had to tell my mother that I was selling my house, which I had recently bought in Indianapolis in order to be within a couple hours' drive of my parents, and moving to Spain full-time, I was distressed and scared. My mother at that time was facing the daily challenges of living with the increasing effects of the Alzheimer's with which my father had been diagnosed a few years earlier. I felt guilty leaving them to be so far away "just" because my husband was ready to return to Europe during his retirement years.

My mother fully supported my move. I was near tears as I struggled to tell her that we would no longer be coming home to the U.S. for half the year, but she immediately said, "Oh! It's just like when your father and I went to Florida!" Indeed, they had left Ohio and moved to Florida for their retirement years at a time when she was just about the same age as I was moving to Spain. They spent 20 years there before returning to Cincinnati for the last years of their lives. Never in all those last years did she ever express displeasure or encourage guilt that I had moved to Spain. She even made a trip alone to our home in Roquetas de Mar in 2006 at Christmas time to see how we lived.

In some ways my life here in one of the "Floridas of Europe" is like my mother's life during the happy time my parents spent in a retirement village in Orlando. In many ways it is different. I try to write about the similarities and the differences, and I try to live each day happily.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

An Eventful Trip Home

I've been out of Spain for several weeks, off to Washington, DC to participate in the annual conference of the American Library Association, and then on to Cincinnati for family visits and taking care of the many little things necessary to maintaining a bit of my life in the U.S. while I live in Spain: banking, driver's license, IRS, retirement funds, and renewing my acquaintance with American television, culture, politics, and shopping.

Since I had flown directly to DC for the conference (directly, that is, from Alicante to Madrid to JFK to National/Reagan airport), I was going to reverse that itinerary going back. We drove from Cincinnati to Washington in ten hours on Wednesday, through some beautiful countryside over the top of Maryland, and spent the night pleasantly visiting with more family in Silver Spring. Thursday noon we set off for Reagan National Airport to drop me off, while the others continued on for an excursion to the Spy Museum.

I was glad that I had observed the "three hours in advance" arrival time for international flights, even though the first leg of my journey was only a short hop to JFK in New York. When I entered the terminal, there were lines snaking around the entire floor at American Airlines. Not a square foot was vacant, and I couldn't even see where I was supposed to check in. But the person in front of me assured me that I was in the line to check in for American. Although I had confirmed all three flights the previous day and had seat assignments, I had been unable to print boarding passes due to the complications of my itinerary, with its cooperating airlines but non-cooperating websites.

Terminals B and C at Reagan were experiencing a power outage--the third such outage this year, I learned much later after I was home. What happens when an air terminal doesn't have power? Not much of anything except the accumulation of long lines of people and baggage. The automatic boarding pass kiosks don't work; desk attendants cannot check you in; baggage tickets cannot be printed; baggage can´t be scanned; you can't go through security machines; and even many shops and restaurants are closed. The public address system did seem to work and so, thank goodness, did some air conditioning. Numerous times the PA system carried an announcement about the temporary nature of this disruption and "thanks for your continued cooperation." Numerous times human attendants came through the line and called the few flights that were getting out--I don't know how. They also advised people that they could check in on their cell phones--not laptops, but cell phones. Several people around me took advantage of this ability, but clearly they were not the ones who were embarking on transcontinental journeys  and who had baggage to check.

Surprisingly it took only an hour and a half for me to reach the front of my lines and get checked in. I left my two bags with a prayer in a tremendously backed-up pile in front of the baggage scanning station, and proceeded downstairs to the security gate. I held out my hand when an official asked if anyone was willing to carry a piece of paper to the beginning of the line--the paper was time-stamped and they were checking to see how long it would take to get through security.

Forty-five minutes later I had made it through the security scan and handed the paper to the TSA official. He was shocked at the time required to get through, but I wasn't. And even though I had just begun to realize that it was getting uncomfortably close to my boarding time, I didn't need to worry or hurry. Several flights were backed up, and mine was delayed an hour. But even with the delay I still had two hours in JFK to find my way between terminals and buy books at the Hudson Booksellers that seem to have sprung up in many airports with their buy-three-books-and-get-a-carryall-bag to tempt my carry-on limits.

The flight from New York to Madrid, now on Iberia, was accompanied by a very unhappy crying baby and no audio in the row in which I was seated. These problems did not seem serious, however,  after the call for a doctor on board, which came just a few minutes before we were ready to land in Madrid. Though sympathetic, I was relieved that the aid was rushed to the back of the plane rather than the cockpit. Again, our departure from the plane was delayed while the ill person was ushered out, but I still had plenty of time to find my way through the immense Barrajas terminal 4--especially since my flight to Alicante was delayed due to "intense air traffic."

It was only delayed an hour, and in less than 45 minutes we were ready to land in Alicante. But Alicante was not ready for us, it appeared. The pilot came on the PA system to tell us that "intense air traffic" required that we fly another 15 minutes before landing. Then he courteously informed us that we had enough fuel to fly for 25 minutes.

Twenty-five minutes later, or maybe it was a half hour, we were down, thank goodness, and I had finished my last plane trip for awhile. Miraculously, when I got to the customs-controlled baggage return, so had both my suitcases. When I opened them later at home, the usual greetings from the TSA were nowhere in evidence. What with the limited electricity and all the disruption at Reagan the day before, I guess they had been too busy to inspect the contents. Somehow I was sad that no one had had the chance to sift through my eclectic collection of new clothing, over-the-counter drugs, books, clever conference freebies, and USA-only food items that I had carefully assembled until the next time.

Friday, April 23, 2010

El hombre propone...

Life was not as expected this week, even in Spain, which is relatively removed from the effects of the ash released by the volcano in Iceland. Our airports were not closed; domestic flights continued as normal. External flights, of course, were a different matter. The first time I realized there was a  problem was on Sunday morning, when we heard reports that John Cleese, needing to make it from Oslo to Belgium, had chartered a taxi to drive him! Three drivers were required to comply with EU travel regulations, and it cost $5000.

Here's a little list of travel disruptions and the rippling consequences they have had on people closer to me than Mr. Cleese:
  • The Sunday market, even though rain threatened and did eventually fulfill its promise, was far busier than usual, with many people on an extended holiday and still enjoying it at this early stage. But we shared a table at the hotdog stand with a lone woman who was supposed to be here with family from Norway--they had been unable to get out before the planes stopped flying.
  • On Monday I heard the chatter of young English children on our street, who had been here the week before, as usual, on Easter holiday. They were obviously still here, past the time when they should have been home and in school, and I mentally pictured schoolrooms across northern Europe graphically revealing which families had done some foreign travel during spring break, and which had stayed home. By midweek the chatter stopped. Perhaps they were part of the coach convoys that were formed to drive holiday-makers to the north of Spain and then be transported by ferry over to Britain?
  • Weekend visitors from Almería, who had been planning to proceed farther up the coast to see a sister on Tuesday, got a text message saying not to come--the sister was in England and unable to get to Spain.
  • An older woman living alone in our neighborhood experienced a break-in and was assisted in her police report by our resident translator. Although her daughter wanted to come for a visit and to help out in this stressful situation, the lady remained alone because of the travel ban.
  • Danish cousins, vacationing in Turkey over the Easter holiday, were stranded abroad, eventually returning by air to Stockholm and then by rail to Copenhagen--a long (an undoubtedly expensive) overnight train trip.
  • I wondered about my Spanish class, canceled last week because my teacher had house guests from the north. Did she still have house guests several days after they had been due to leave? Yes, but nevertheless we met for the lesson--perhaps she appreciated a short hour of normalcy in what had become a longer visit than planned.
  • Johannes canceled his scheduled trip to Berlin on Thursday and further to Copenhagen for his engineering school reunion--travel connections and air quality in the north still too uncertain. This means that I will surely get less work done this coming week than I had planned.
  • And I am writing this Friday morning, missing the scheduled pétanque tournament that started two weeks ago, because this week's match has been postponed--the opposing team has four members stranded in the UK.
  • I am also hoping, this Friday morning, that one regular reader of this blog is having an uneventful return to the U.S. from an otherwise eventful trip to Greece.
As the week wore on, newspaper and TV news reports began to concentrate less on the inconvenience and more on the costs of the fallout. Spain alone is said to have lost €450 million due to the volcano. And how does this unscheduled time away from work get charted, anyway? Does it go to vacation time, sick time, or act of God?

The Spanish have a saying: El hombre propone y Dios dispone. Man proposes, and God decides.

Or, as John Cleese said:

"How do you get God to laugh?"

"Tell him your plans."

Monday, February 1, 2010

"And sorry I could not travel both..."

This Sunday, and indeed most of the Sundays in January, I am not in Spain. Instead, today I am traveling west from Cincinnati to Chicago, where I will overnight in a hotel near O'Hare and slowly accustom myself to a long flight back to Madrid and then to Alicante.

The sun shone brightly, but it was cold as we gathered at the MegaBus stop in downtown Cincinnati Sunday morning. and even though I hate to end what has been a comfortable and happy visit with my family, I began to look forward to the 65 degree weather that my husband assures me is waiting in Spain. The bus was not full and though only a single piece of luggage is permitted, the attendant kindly accommodated the second suitcase that I had carefully packed with valuables retrieved from the depths of boxes in one sister's walk-in closet, which help me to integrate my past lives with my current life in Spain.

I gazed out the window as we headed west on Interstate 74 toward Indianapolis, where I had lived for a short time, and enjoyed the view. The sun continued shining onto idle brown farmland, and hundreds of tall, straight deciduous trees spidered feathered branches over the clear blue sky. I shot fleeting glances at the Middle Eastern-looking man seated in front of me, who had jumped on board five minutes late, after the luggage door was sealed, and even after the front door was closed, carrying only a white plastic shopping bag, jolting me into realizing that there had been no security check at all in purchasing my ticket and boarding the bus. He had immediately taken out his cell phone upon seating and spoken so softly and briefly into it that I could not tell what language was spoken. Inter-city train rides that I have taken in Spain require a baggage and person check now, and I am sorry that regardless of where in the world I live, the wariness that I felt is normal now.

As we neared Indianapolis I saw street names and places that I remember from the six or seven years ago that I was there, but we came through a different route to central downtown than I, then living on the west side, knew. I understood where I was and where I was going, but I didn't really recognize the journey. Beyond the Indianapolis pick-up we turned north onto Interstate 65 to continue our diagonal trip across this narrow state, and I sent silent mental messages to friends I remembered  in Eagle Creek, Zionsville, and later, Lafayette, and even later, Munster, Indiana.

I-65 beyond Lafayette has got to be one of the most boring interstates in the U.S. Not ugly, but the road stretches on forever through long stretches of flat farmland that now have only tiny groves of trees near a farm house or to delineate borders of fields. A large windmill farm appeared near a town called Fowler, the individual mills spaced much farther apart from each other here than those I have seen in Spain and Denmark (we have so much space in the U.S.) and all today turning slowly. What keeps you awake on this boring road, though, are the hundreds of 18-wheeler trucks zipping by on their way to and from the central states distribution hub of Chicago.

Finally, after five hours,  one time zone change, and slightly ahead of schedule, we arrived near Union Station, Chicago, where I retrieved my two suitcases and found a taxi to take me out to my O'Hare hotel. This is proving to be an excellent place to harbor myself as I slowly take leave of the U.S. and move myself, my things, and my mind back to my home now in Spain.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Greetings from the TSA

Every time I return to Spain from the U.S. I bring two crammed-full suitcases. Every time when I open them on arrival, one bears a now-familiar Notice of Baggage Inspection from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). It is usually the larger of the two suitcases that has been inspected, and I never--until this time--have seen evidence that the second piece of luggage was inspected.

I've often wondered what the TSA officials think when they see the hidden treasures I choose to bring back. I know that some people think that placing dirty underwear at the top of the baggage will ensure privacy. I doubt that and anyway would not waste space and weight on such trivialities. My limited baggage space is reserved for small family mementos, work and personal records that cannot be sent digitally or trusted to postal systems, books in English, a mini drugstore, and the odd comfort item that cannot be bought easily in Spain, or at all. Here's a selection of what may have raised eyebrows at the TSA this time:
  • A box of Betty Crocker Dark Chocolate brownie mix, perhaps to be shared with dinner guests (and perhaps not)
  • Kroger brand Crunchy Peanut Butter, a brand presumably not on the recall list
  • Valentine candy hearts, from Necco, the New England Confectionary Company
  • A five-month supply of generic multivitamins, calcium, and vitamin C and E supplements--generics don't seem to exist as an economic alternative in Spain
  • A couple bottles of a vision supplement--Ocuvite can be purchased here, but at a much higher price
  • An incredible number of Tums peppermint antacids and Extra-Strength Excedrin, for the man who presumably finds it rather trying to live with me
  • A total of five 2009 calendars, three where the week starts on Sunday, and two (from OCLC and Wolters Kluwer) where it starts on Monday, as calendars do in Spain
  • The Book of Sent Sovi: Medieval Recipes from Catalonia, which I intend to give to an academic library in Catalonia
  • The New Spaniards, by John Hooper, a book I can't recall buying but I think it's time for me to read

The TSA looked at all my stuff this trip. My original flight was cancelled, and I had to collect my baggage and repair to an airport hotel before the next day's rescheduled flight. Even though my carry-on would have sufficed for the night, I couldn't keep myself from sneaking a peak at my bags at the hotel. Sure enough, the TSA notice was already in the larger one. I simply replaced it, resisting the temptation to add a clever note. And when I got home in Spain and opened the bags again, there they were: this time a TSA flyer in the small bag, too, and a second flyer right by the first in the larger bag. The TSA didn't pen any clever note to me, either.