EsCrazy

The story of how I quit my job and went to play in Madrid

Escrazy Zombie Blog!

Like a zombie, this blog is coming back from the dead. Watch out! After a wonderful trip to California, and many requests to blog more, I realized that some people actually do read this! We will be back shortly with updates from our crazy lives in Madrid.

I’d love to hear from our sweet readers about what you think!

Have a happy Halloween!

Basque Country Times

San Sebastián has got to be one of the most beautiful places on earth. The scenery was breathtaking, the air was fresh, the town was amazingly cute with tons of shops, restaurants, markets and bars running up and down all the streets. The main taste for food are called pintxos and, boy, were they heavenly. We could have just spent the days going from place to place eating pintxos (pintxo is a snack, typically eaten in bars). The variety of toppings were impressive: jams, fried veggies, fish, meats, sauces, you name it, we saw it, maybe ate it. The eating part is always the most interesting for us mainly because of the flavors and new tastes, but the presentations easily convinced us to dive right in and fill our stomachs just enough before walking around the block to the next pintxos tasting.

The best part about our travels to San Sebastián was meeting up with Jean’s Aunt Judy and Uncle Steve. They are a wicked good time and certainly made our trip that much more worthwhile.  The four of us decided to drive north to a tiny town called Arantzazu  where we had an amazing homemade lunch and then we drove up a windy road to the top of the mountain where we visited the modern art church and took in the views. It was the most uniquely designed church I think we all have ever seen. In addition, the drive to both towns were gorgeous with luscious greenery surrounding the wooded areas, the freshest air you can imagine and the most adorable houses you’d want to live in. It was a real special treat to have family with us in Spain. Me gusta mucho!

Although it rained 97% of the time, we made the best of it and did it well. After returning from our adventure, we went out for dinner recommended by Aunt Judy called Txulotxo and WOW the food was awesome (to say the least). Thank goodness we took pictures of each plate. The scenery was just about perfect minus the rain clouds; our view from the table looking out into the Portua de Pasaia Bay was stunning, you could see the houses set up right on the edges over looking the bay, all the cool boats docked, it was a fantastic night. I don’t think there were any complaints.

http://www.restaurantetxulotxo.com/restaurante_txulotxo_informacion.html

The next day, we decided to take a trip up the cable car (funicular) because supposedly there is a grand view of La Concha beach and its surrounding area. The cable car was actually quite interesting and thanks to Uncle Steve, we learned about how the mechanics of it takes groups of tourists less than 10 minutes to get to the top. Once we got to the top, we could not believe the view and the amount of pictures we had to take to absorb this beauty was many. We probably spent around 2 hours at the top because it was just that beautiful and then, the fog starting rolling in, the rain drops began to fall and within minutes rain was pouring like crazy. I swear we timed it perfectly because it was just about that time to leave anyway to eat some more pinxtos, we already had our 200 pics of this view.

This was a wonderful trip with great family and awesome memories! I would recommend adding San Sebastián to your bucket list!

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Our Friend Julieta

Earlier this month, we went to see one of my favorite artists, who holds a special little place in my Spanish-learning heart. Julieta Venegas surprised us with tickets to her concert! Ok, we bought the tickets, but details aren’t so important.

The show was at a famous little theater-turned-disco, Joy Esclava. We arrived early, grabbed an insanely priced beer and scoped a perfect spot.  We negotiated ourselves onto an elevated step that gave us a view of the whole stage, even without me having to hoist Margaux over the crowd to catch a glimpse.

The concert blew us away. Our girl, Juli, was rocking her iconic accordion and playing some of her fabulous new songs. Of course, when she busted out her classics, the crowd went nuts. Margaux proudly sang all the words to “Me Voy;” she’d been practicing for weeks. All of the new songs are soon to be classics.

After the show, I convinced Margaux to stick around for an hour or so to see if we could say hi to our buddy. There were only three or four other loyal fans who waited with us, everyone else bounced to go find some more modestly priced drinks, I imagine. Finally, our girl came out and we got all nervous and nerdy. Lucky for us, Julieta is gracious and lovely. We asked to take a photo, and she chatted with us for a few minutes about our city, San Diego, and learning Spanish. Margaux is convinced that now her Spanish will be improved because, “Julieta said I can do it!”

Our hearts were racing! It’s so exciting to meet someone you admire so much. Thanks Julieta, for being a cool famous person. ImageImageImageImageImage

Language Learning

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Why do I feel this way sometimes?

Margaux here, and I thought I would give you a little update about my experience of learning Spanish so far.  Although my experience of learning a language has been positive and uplifting, I’m finding studying extremely hard. There are a thousand ways to practice a new language, but I’m not very good about self-discipline, and studying has never been my strong point. I do know however, that once I can put what I’ve learned into practice, its amazing! It’s what keeps me motivated.

I’ve never truly realized (until I put myself in the same situation) just how difficult it is to be an immigrant; not knowing the language, not really understanding the culture, and just trying to fit in has been a challenge. I mean, the language barrier alone could make anyone give up. I now have a new found respect for anyone immigrating to a new country.

Learning a language has been a very interesting challenge for me because I love to talk a lot and I can’t exactly do that yet. I am wicked ‘out of my comfort zone’, I have never felt so insecure before. It’s quite strange actually, but I’m realizing as I observe, listen and watch everyday that this experience is changing me. It’s changing the way I think and I think I like it. The biggest challenge is fitting Spanish into my daily routine. It’s more tricky than you might think. I work all day with my coworkers who are wonderful and speak English in order to get business done, then come home and speak English with Jean, and on the weekends, spend time with our new friends from all over England, Ireland, and the US. I know that it will take more time and effort to practice my Spanish, but it’s frustrating to not be at the level I want yet.

I’ve signed up for a second round of language classes, and am determined to keep at it until I can get by on my own. Meeting new friends at language school and practicing in class is my favorite part. Soon, I will be able to have real conversations!  In another week or so, I will be at pre-intermediate level, A2, which I am really proud of! I am just starting to learn how to speak in the past tense!

The positive side of my learning Spanish is however, that I fortunately have the best wife in the world. Although, she can’t teach me Spanish very well, she has been proactively immersing herself here.  She’s been wonderful with our landlord Miguel and amazingly great with all the bureaucratic issues we’ve had to deal with here. I’m so incredibly grateful my wife speaks Spanish and definitely could not be here without her. Thanks again Jean!

madrid living

Today marks our one year anniversary of moving to Madrid. I can’t believe how fast the time has gone by, and I am eager for the next year to be filled with Spanish success!

Adventures in Morocco Part 1: Marrakech

For Christmas this year, we decided to skip Christmas. Margaux had some days off and we booked the cheapest flight we could find, which happened to be Marrakech, Morocco. I can’t say that Marrakech was at the top of either of our travel lists, but then again, we don’t really have travel lists yet. Anyway, we arrived in Marrakech knowing next to nothing. It’s not a very good way to travel, because it makes the learning curve a little too steep, plus it makes us look like ignorant American jerks. But there we were, with the only page about the entire country of Morocco torn out of our “Europe on a Shoestring” book. (It is a book about Europe, after all.) Lesson learned.

We caught the bus to the center of the old town. J’ma el Fna. I had seen it on an episode of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern and was eager to see all the action.

Snake charmers and cobras, monkeys, orange juice vendors, drummers, story tellers, henna painters, horses, donkeys pulling carts, motorcycles and cars all whizzing around without any semblance of order. Not to mention the smell. Use your imagination.

It was a lot to take in. I was eager to dump our bags at the hostel so we could explore without the obvious, “I just got here”-look that declares, “Please ask me for money!”  We wandered down a small alley as directed by the hostel’s directions we had printed the night before. There are not many street signs, and using directions like “take the third left” and “on the corner” are impossible when streets wind and bend in every direction. Our directions told us to go through two arches and then follow the alley to our right until it bends to the left. We managed to find it!

When we went in, we were invited to sit for tea. We had tea, and looked at the map. A little while later a woman came over to tell us about the hostel. I guess that was our check in. We were led to our room, which was on the roof of a building behind the original hostel, and dumped our bags. I was excited to go back out to the square and look at everything.

By dinner time, we were caught up in the maze of food vendors who set up shop every night and try to persuade every person who walks by to come eat. Every food stand has a beautiful display of raw meats, veggies, salads and breads. It’s basically a health inspector’s worst nightmare. And an adventurous eater’s dream. We chose stall #117. “Number 117, to heaven,” the waiter says. We sit at a picnic table covered with plastic and tell the waiter that we want to try a little bit of everything, except fish and couscous. Tiny plates, one after another, are served to our delight. Everything is fucking delicious. Olives, lamb skewers, roasted eggplant, stewed veggies and lamb, lemon chicken, spicy bright red sauce in a little dish that I basically drank right up. The lady next to us was eating a sheep’s head, right off the skull complete with teeth and eyes. Cool!!!

The next morning, we spend time wandering through the tiny streets filled with millions of things and very eager salespeople (souks are the little shops lining tiny streets). This was something we had seriously underestimated in our prep for the trip. The constant, relentless, and persuasive chatter from every single shopkeeper and street vendor. It was, at first, too intense for either of us to handle. The first night, we had gotten carried away by a pair of women hawking henna tattoos and ended up getting half-rate henna at quintuple the price. Not because we wanted to get ripped off, but because we didn’t know what we were doing. So wandering through the souks was overwhelming for both of us, especially with the sting of being ripped off fresh in our mind. Still, it’s hard to be unimpressed with the hustle and bustle of the streets.

We ate more delicious food, bought some knitted hats, dodged mopeds, donkey carts and running kids. We drank some coffee. Mostly we just stared at everything, trying to take it all in. We realized how very little we know and understand about this city, culture and its customs. I have never been more aware of the fact that I am a woman. We walked past a cafe looking to get some coffee and realized there was not a single woman inside, despite the crowded streets, then we noticed ALL the cafes had only men. Confused and uncomfortable, we found a tourist-y cafe instead.  It is strange to be so aware of social rules and not understand them at the same time.

By the end of our first full day, our minds were exhausted. We headed back to the hostel, and were pleasantly surprised with the lovely company that had gathered on the hostel rooftop to smoke shisha (hookah) and swap travel stories. We joined them, had a few beers and laughed about our cultural blunders and misinformation. Everyone seemed to have traveled much more extensively than Margaux and me. We ate up their stories of traveling, asked lots of questions and got too many recommendations about other places to go and top 3 must-sees. The other travelers also sympathized with our confusion in Marrakech and helped us understand some of the cultural differences.

We learned that the constant pressure to “come look!” “you will like this, good price” that is relentless in the city is just the way it is. We can’t change it, and if we wanted a comfortable experience, we should have just gone to Target or Starbucks.  I realized that the reason we were uncomfortable is because we have never experienced this before. Duh. This IS travel. To be uncomfortable and gain experiences. Uncomfortable means you are doing something new! Of course, uncomfortable is different than unsafe. We were uncomfortable, but not unsafe. With this realization, I was ecstatic. This is what I signed up for! Hell yes.

Maybe one day I’ll tell you about the local hammam (bath house), where we got a naked scrub down in a steamy room full of other people. No pics of that. Obviously. Talk about being uncomfortable!  Or when you have some free time, I’ll tell you about the pharmacy we went to, or the adventure it was to get some wine in this dry town! Or about the tea that had some vicks vaporub in it, I think. Good times.

Read about our Camel Trek in Part 2!

Here’s the pics, click on one photo for the slideshow.

Adventures in Morocco Part 2: Camel Trek

The next morning, we were off on the excursion of a lifetime. We met our tour guide and driver, Omar, and four other folks who we were about to spend a very long road trip with and set off to the desert. This excursion took us through tiny berber villages, along very windy roads, breathtaking viewpoints, over snow-capped mountains, rocky desert, scrubby desert, to ancient kasbahs, to the largest film studio in Morocco, oasis and ruins, and deep gorges.  I know you want to know about the camels, so I’ll spare you the details on all this. Really, we saw so much. Anyway, on to the camels.  If you missed Part One, click here.

The first night, we stopped in the middle of nowhere at a little inn for dinner and to spend the night. Our tour group was awesome, and we shared dinner out of a big clay pot and laughed and told stories about being an expat. Everyone in our group was living in a different place than their home country: An couple from Seattle  living in Geneva, an Indonesian woman working for her embassy in Berlin, and her German friend studying chemistry in New York.

We camel trekked into the Sahara Desert the next afternoon at sunset. There aren’t really adequate words to describe the entire experience, really I can only tell small parts to give you the general gist. Like this:

  • Camels are weird. They have terrible breath, are very awkward to ride, make gross noises that sound like gagging and burping and don’t bite or spit. Their feet are huge round soft pads that are obviously better at walking in sand than human feet.
  • We left the camels and climbed a giant sand dune right before sunset. The sand was so incredible. Imagine a very fine powder, now imagine it burnt orange color, and imagine the largest amount of it you can, multiply by 1000. That’s the dune. This sand fills your shoes and is impossible to climb. Like climbing water. When we go to the top, and, I’ll admit, I was quite winded from the exertion, the view took my breath away again.
  • The sky goes for as far as you can see, 360 degrees. I swear, I could see the earth bend on the horizon. It’s hard to describe. If you’ve ever taken a picture during that “golden hour” when everything is just glow-y and perfect, it’s like that. The sunset on the dunes turned them from sand to huge orange tidal waves agains the almost-purple sky. This moment, and it was only a few minutes, was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.
  • After the sun dropped, the temperature did too. We ran down the dune, filling our shoes, pants and hair with fine powdery sand. I’m telling you, it’s not that annoying sand that you try to leave at the beach. This is the sand that you should lay on with no towel, that you should ski down, roll in, jump in.  It really feels good in your shoes.
  • We rode the camels further into the desert until we arrived at the camp. It’s a permanent camp that consists of a handful of big tents made of camel hide/fur. We had dinner in one of them. Delicious.
  • We went out under the stars and sat around the campfire. Our hosts played drums, sang, told jokes. They let us try the drums, we sang a Christmas carol, and couldn’t come up with any jokes of our own. The moon was out, and almost full. It was so bright, or maybe because we were so far away from any other light, the moon was enough to see by. Margaux and I climbed the dune behind the camp after the campfire staring at the stars. Even with the moon, there were more stars than I’ve seen anywhere.
  • The next morning, we woke before sunrise. I walked out of the tent, looked up, and almost fell down. The sky. The moon had gone, and the stars. Oh my lord. The stars. I almost broke my neck looking at them. I’ve been places where you can see stars, Southern Utah, Big Bear, the middle of Maine, camping places, you know. But this. Incredible. BILLIONS…   This lasted only 15 minutes or so, because as soon as the sun was thinking about coming up, the stars began to disappear. The pre-pre-pre-dawn slowly erased the starts one by one from the sky.
  • We watched the sunrise from the top of another dune. We rode the camels in silence. The quiet is almost deafening. The sunrise was exactly the sunset in reverse, just mindblowing. We watched as the sun gently kissed the top of every dune in sight until the entire sun-side of the dune was lit up for the day.
  • We said goodbye to the camels and packed in for a long 10 hour ride back to Marrakech. Though the ride was long, the views of desert, mountains, towns, cities, people, rivers, and all the animals and plants we passed kept me staring out the window the whole way. Poor Margaux, the windy roads were a little much for her, but we made it!

I know I’ve been a little over the top with this description, but seriously, I’m not adequately prepared to explain it in any other way. Just look at these pictures.

All We Want for Christmas

Is for all children to have an adult in their lives who loves them.

For Christmas, or whatever holiday we celebrate, we made a donation to a cause we care about deeply. Please take a few minutes to learn about this fabulous organization that Margaux dedicated her time and love to for three years.

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Voices For Children

Voices For Children, serving foster children in San Diego County

Merry Holidays to all of you.

Christmas Vacation!

Christmas Vacation!

Guess where we are going next?

We’re gearing up for an adventure! We’re out of here on Thursday and can’t wait to take our non-traditional Christmas tradition to a whole new level.

We’re going to Marrakech, Morocco! Our plans include a trek to the Sahara desert on camels to spend the night under the stars.

Have a wonderful holiday, no matter how you celebrate.

Roma!

Oh my god. Rome was amazing. I can’t really adequately put it in words. I’ll try though.

Going to Rome was our first trip together outside of Spain. Knowing that we had the GOLD, and the permission to re-enter the country was the most relieving and exciting thing ever.

We arrived in Rome  and were immediately blown away by the Rome-ness. This is the reason we moved to Madrid. We want to be able to go anywhere, any time, for not that much money. We chose Rome only because it was the cheapest flight that weekend, not really because we had Rome at the top of our travel list. Anyway, it was amazing. I hate touristy things, but Rome’s tourist traps are well-deserved. The Colosseum was spectacular  I can’t even tell you how beautiful St. Peter’s Basilica is, and the Panteon is a feat of engineering genius  The things we saw on postcards and on wikipedia before we left were there, in real life. So much beauty, age, importance, and history that we couldn’t properly take it all in.

We had a fabulous time. Both of us will tell you that our favorite part was the food tour that we took. With my previous experience working at Buca’s and the Mac Shack, I never considered the idea that Italian food was anything better than frozen ravioli. The moment that I tasted what brushetta is supposed to be, I literally, for real, cried a little bit. We had cannoli out of a picture book, ate gorgeous pizza, and learned about all the things we were missing in our previous lives. Black truffle, pecorino, out of this world tomatoes, tiramisu, hand made pasta, cheese!, and gelato that blew my mind. If you head to Rome, we highly recommend Eating Italy Food Tour.

I am thrilled that we had the opportunity to learn, see, do and be in Rome. I can’t wait to go back.

Highlights:

1) Colosseum- Margaux says it would be the world’s best place to play hide-and-seek. She’s right.

2) Some huge random church we went into- I say, “I could really go for a glass of the blood of Christ right now.” Margaux looks at me in shock and says, “Babe! You can’t fuckin’ say that! We are in church!”

3) Roman Ruins- Instead of being impressed, Margaux is pissed that our camera won’t take a good picture.

4) Trevi Fountain- RAD! Way bigger in real life.

5) The Vatican Museums- 2 hours in, and we had to take a break. Too many people, too many pieces of art. The Sistine Chapel (and Rick Steves’ podcast description of it) breaks our necks to look at and really is jaw-dropping.

6) St. Peter’s Basilica- We almost skipped it because we were tired and overwhelmed by amazing things already. But now I am SO glad we went in, it was my favorite thing. Gold, marble-y, Jesus-y and we even went into the crypts below to see the Popes’ tombs.

7) Hostels/B&B – We had a roommate in our hostel, and he was a Ph.D student from South Africa who was researching elephant fossils and elephant evolution. Huh. Bet you’ve never met an elephantologist before.  At our B&B, we had a lovely time having breakfast in bed and chatting with the owner.

8) Lots of Americans. Including one woman who said to us, “Houston, Texas!” and then told us how great it was to finally hear someone speak English. Huh?  We were at the Colosseum. At least half of the tourists there were speaking English.

9) Rick Steves. I’m in love. We took our Rick Steves Italian phrasebook, which was a big hit. He told us everything we needed to know: how to get around, what time dinner should be, how to ask for the right beverages, etc.  Our waiter/new BFF loved it when we loved the food and said, “Meglio della cucina di mia mamma.” Better than my mom’s cooking. (Sorry Mom.) He cracked up when we said, “Cosi buono che mi sono leccato anche i baffi.” So good I even licked my moustache.

10) Wandering around a little neighborhood finding cute little bars and restaurants to try out. The Christmas lights were out and there was a little frost in the air. Super romantic.

Rome was amazing.

The GOLD

Close your eyes and think back to what you were doing at 7 am on Thanksgiving morning. Sleeping, right? (Well, those of you with tiny kids, probably not.) Anyway, we were riding the metro to the Foreigner’s Office for our appointment to get the GOLD, our residency cards.

We show up, wait in the usual random line out front while we watch the sun rise. It wasn’t so bad this time, since we knew what we were getting into, and both of us were wearing two pairs of pants in order to ward off the chill.

The line begins to move and we even got in the right line this time. “We have an appointment, and we know what to do!” We kept high fiving each other, getting a little nervous that somehow this would go wrong again.

It’s our turn. A Santa-man points to the next available agent. We sit, and it’s the SAME lady from last time. Obviously, she doesn’t remember us. I proudly hand her all the documents that her colleague told us to bring. My heart stops, imagining that she will tell us no again. She casually flips through Margaux’s papers and then looks at us. “Do you have the Social Security papers?”  Without losing my cool, I remind her that last time, it was decided that Margaux didn’t need those. She held a finger in the air, and then nodded, like she remembered. (Maybe she didn’t remember, and was just testing us?) Maybe they never needed that anyway, all I said was that we didn’t need them and she believed me. Weird. Anyway, before we knew it, the lady was handing Margaux a tiny stamped receipt.  Five seconds later, after quickly “verifying” my papers, I received the same strip of paper and the instruction, “You. No work. Ok?”  Great.

We go to the next booth and a handsome young guy takes our fingerprints.  I ask him if the receipt we have will be good enough to travel with, as we are heading out of the country for a vacation soon. He says no, but you can get the permission to reenter Spain upstairs.

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The receipts that will get the gold!

So there we have it. These tiny receipts are the GOLD. A little underwhelming, sure. But they can be redeemed in 40 days for the real thing, a bona fide residency cards.

Now, for the dumb/funny part. Remember, we had to cancel our trip to Barcelona because of all this mess in early November. Now, we had planned an awesome trip to Rome over Thanksgiving, and had to change a few things around so we could get this receipt.  The guy who took our fingerprints told us we had to go upstairs to ask for a paper that would allow us to come back into Spain, since we didn’t have the real resident cards yet. Sounds pretty easy.

We go upstairs, wait in line for a bit, and then ask a guy sitting behind a computer for a paper that will allow us to leave.  I bet you can guess what he said: “Do you have an appointment?”  D’OH!  I’ll cut to the chase and spare you all the anxiety-ridden details. Basically, he said we could come back in 2 hours with the following things:

1. A print-out of an appointment confirmation. Even if the appointment says January, he said he’ll take it. He can’t see us without this paper.  So you need an appointment, but you can just come in this afternoon.

2. Copies of our newly printed receipts.

3. Copies of our passports.

4. Printouts of our boarding passes, to prove that we actually have a flight.

5. Pay a fee, at the bank, with this specific form. (Hurry though, the banks close in 1 hour and not all of them will accept this form.)

We run around the city looking for an internet place that also has printing capabilities. Not so easy to find, surprisingly. We run around, yell at each other to hurry up to 3 different banks to find one that accepts this form, or accepts us as non-customers. The day warms up and we curse ourselves for wearing two pairs of pants, because now it’s uncomfortable. In order to maintain our bloodsugar, therefore our sanity, we order breakfast. I accidentally order porkchops and eggs for breakfast. An old lady walking by stops and points at my breakfast and makes fun of it. Pointing, she says to her friend, “Mira! Que desayuno tiene!” (Look, what a breakfast she has!) Then tells me, “Tienes hambre, eh!?” (You must be hungry, huh?) Nice. Embarrassed, sweaty and a little stressed that we might not be able to go to Rome, we hurry up and bring everything back to the guy at the Yellow Building.

He looks at our morning’s work and prints off our permission to return to the country. Sweet!

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Permission slip from the government.

With these papers, we are free to go wherever we want! Thanks, Spain.

The next morning, we caught a flight to ROME!

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