EsCrazy

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

Archive for the tag “travel”

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.

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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.

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.

My 28th Year

As promised, here’s my personal goals for the upcoming year, my 28th.  In no particular order, these are the top 20 things I want to accomplish in the next 365ish days.  All of these things are possible! I’ve accumulated tons of bookmarks and resources to make it happen. Check out the links for more info about where I got all these crazy ideas from.

  1. Travel to at least 8 different countries, wear my adventure hat.  My man, Rick Steves, will show us the way.
  2. Budget our money to make room for travel and put $xxx/month into our savings account ($x/year).  It’s been done.
  3. Spend money on experiences more than things.
  4. Become completely debt-free, and live debt-free with the exception of my student loan by March 2013. Dave Ramsey knows how.
  5. Get on the show House Hunters International when we move to a different apartment in the spring. My mom would FLIP.
  6. Exercise regularly toward a goal weight of xxx. (Yeah right, like I’m going to tell you here.)
  7. Eat well. Appreciate good food.
  8. Enjoy time with friends and family. Use skype and gchat to stay in touch with those far away.
  9. Make 4 new real friends in Madrid. Join Meetup groups.
  10. Write in my journal weekly. Finish reading Writing Away for inspiration and guidance.
  11. Begin learning German using Rosetta Stone and local language classes at the library.
  12. Practice Spanish with Margaux every day.
  13. Read 4 adult novels in Spanish.
  14. Start an online business to generate extra income.
  15. Stay in touch with contacts by sending 3 emails a week to people I haven’t heard from in a while.
  16. Identify and get involved with a job, volunteer position or activity that is meaningful to me and build a professional network of people in Madrid.
  17. Maintain EsCrazy and get at least one article published on Bootsnall, Matador Network or as a guest post on another blog.
  18. Complete NaNoWriMo 2012.
  19. Get to know the city of Madrid. Learn about Spanish art, history, literature, culture and food.
  20. Drink wine sometimes, laugh a lot, take pictures.

Adventure awaits!

I am so excited to get going on these! Let the adventures begin!

OMG

MY VISA WAS APPROVED!!!!!!!!!!! Hello one-way ticket to Madrid!!!!!!!

OMG I am so excited. It has been 9 long weeks apart, and an excruciatingly long 5 month wait for this visa. I’m out of here, with no return date, on October 22. See you later in a few years, America!

 

My New England Adventures

Since pictures are worth a thousand words, here’s about 25,000.

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Not pictured:  Diana and fam, making a salad, basement bedroom, Cousin Kate, some tequila, the hipsters at the flea market, Chinatown, $8 Tecate, a rainbow thong and its owner, Ange, Rob, Baby Dom, Bella, some drinking game, root beer floats, a cigar, some dentists, a yellow motorcycle, Mar, Alma, a tiny library, some rain, a missing key, a missing phone, Dharma and Fat Cat.  Damn broken camera!

The Back Story

For all of our readers, I believe its only fair to share the back-story of how living in Madrid happened. A few years ago, shortly after my father in law passed away, my wife, Jean began talking about how much she wanted to travel the world, go new places and explore new things.  We both realized that life is too short to put off these adventures, and if we waited until it was the “right time” or until we had “enough money” then we might never achieve our dream. The world is such a great big place to explore.

Needless to say, Jean and I had many conversations about how to make our dream of seeing the world possible. We discussed how much money to save, where  to go first, what our  goals will be, and of course the fun experience of doing it together.  Our travel plans were going to start in Latin America somewhere since Jean had studied in central Mexico and truly wanted to explore more of the Latin American culture. She began making budgets, fantasy itineraries, and planning our “escape”. We were going to see how much money we could save for one full year and go from there. We even discussed the date when we were both going to quit our jobs so we could travel full time for a while!

However, the only worrisome problems for me were that I love my job, its super flexible, and I work with great people.  The thought of me quitting was taking a huge toll on me mentally and emotionally. Do I put my career first or do I put my relationship first?  This was a very difficult decision as you can imagine. With the economy tanking, and the job market taking a nosedive, the very idea of quitting a GOOD SOLID position was just not happening for me. Of course on the flip side, the idea of being single again was also just not happening. I finally had a beautiful girlfriend (at the time) who is smart as hell with a great sense of humor, why would I ever give that up?

As time passed on, I realized that I had to have both,  the awesome job with the awesome girl, no matter what!  I couldn’t take it anymore, so I had to explain to Jean.  The next time we talked about it, I made it obvious that I was becoming more and more uncomfortable with the whole plan. Clearly, Jean was unhappy, but we have an honest relationship and telling her was the best thing I could have done for the both of us!  We needed to find a different plan and although we did save a good amount of money,  it was crucial for us to start thinking out of the box.

Remember earlier how I said Jean is smart as hell?

It was 100% her idea for me to ask my work if there was any chance of opportunities to live and work in a Spanish speaking country.  Opportunely, I asked the CEO about it on March 17th, 2011 at a St. Patrick’s Day work event and almost exactly one year later, Jean and I were living in Madrid!!

Now, yes I want to fill in our readers with the back-story, but there is a funny twist! We came to Madrid on March 12th, 2012 on our tourist visa (passport only) which is only good for 90 days. As a result, we needed to be out of Spain (do the math) by June 12th more or less. Naturally, on May 28th (my 33rd birthday) we leave the country and fly back to California to finish up my work visa and continue Jean’s resident visa process (not fun in the least bit)!

On July 5th, my work visa was ready for pick at the Los Angeles consulate. Wow, a success for me, I can now officially work in the country of Spain for at least 2yrs. YAY, my dreams to have both the great job and the great girl are coming true, holy snap fish!! Just one more requirement left, shouldn’t be too difficult as we’ve come this far.

Nope, Jean’s resident visa paperwork has now been submitted for about three months now, which means she is stuck in the USA while I am here in Spain.  Keep in mind, remember how I told you earlier, this was 100% her idea?  Well, here I am, by myself and it’s been oh maybe 35 days or so. Damn, I’ve never been all by myself before; it’s a bit scary, but surprisingly I kind of like it, kind of. I guess, in hindsight, I forgot this was also part of the challenge I was asking for.  The good news, I am on my way to starting Spanish classes and I also joined a meetup for expats (meetup.com). Life is certainly interesting and this is really our life, circa 2012…….Jean stuck in California while I’m here working and living our dreams.  Go figure! EsCrazy!

Oceans Apart

Good News: Margaux went swimming today in the pool at our apartment complex in Madrid after she got home from work.

Bad News: I didn’t.

Currently, I am in Salem, Witch Headquarters dog sitting for Elizabeth’s two basset hounds, aka billy goats who eat everything, Flash and Daisy.  It’s been a nice relaxing time, for the first time in 12 weeks, I am by myself.  I’ve read some books (that I accidentally bought at the Used Book Superstore, Flash was finished reading them), walked around a lot, visited Boston, looked at a lot of witch stuff and considered becoming Wiccan, eaten a little ice cream, fed the dogs and picked up a lot of poop. Note: Always make sure the poop bag has no holes. Lesson learned.

This is Flash giving me a stack of books. He’s so nice.

I’m looking forward to visiting my friends and family in DC, Philadelphia, NYC and Hartford in the next few weeks. I have had a blast playing with the kids, getting to know the in-law side of my family, eating blueberries with my grandma, riding the bus with my mom, dancing and karoke-ing, sleeping on various couches and eating lobstah way to many times.  All of these have been wonderful, irreplaceable moments that have made this the best summer ever. I will never forget this crazy period of time in our lives.

I can’t believe that this summer is almost over and that this visa process is not. To be honest, I am starting to get a little road weary and I just want to go home to Margaux so we can get on with our lives in Madrid. It was hard to say goodbye to Margaux at the airport last week because we don’t know when the next time we will see each other. A week? A month? More? Living out of a suitcase is only an adventure for so long.  Hey, the grass is always greener, right?

So here’s the deal.

Option A:  I am waiting here around the east coast for another week or two to see if my visa miraculously arrives, at which point I would drop everything and hop on the next flight back to my other half in Madrid.

Option B:  If Labor Day comes and goes and still no visa, I’ll be heading back to LA to wait some more, and do some odd jobs/see if I can get more clients/earn money.

Option C:  If the end of September  comes and all I get for my birthday is the finger from the Spanish Consulate, I will go get my passport from said consulate and go back to visit Madrid for another 3 months. While I am in Madrid, hopefully, someone will wave a magic wand and grant my visa. Of course, they don’t issue long-term visas IN the country of Spain, so I would have to come all the way back to LA to get the stupid stamp in my passport. In person. And then turn around and go back to Madrid.

If any of you happen to be Wiccan, or know some magic spells, could you please make a potion or something? What’s the spell that makes visas process faster? Since I’m in Salem, and there are disproportionate numbers of psychics and witches per capita, I might just consult a Psychic to see if she knows what is going on with this crazy process. To support local businesses, you know?

Neve Campbell is the best witch.

ES CRAZY

An adventure is never an adventure when it’s happening.
Challenging experiences need time to ferment, and an adventure is simply physical and emotional discomfort recollected in tranquility.

Tim Cahill.  

This is exactly how I feel about our moving to Spain. It’s not easy or fun all the time, but it definitely is an adventure! 

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