Hello ENGAGEMENT!

I have never written anything about my boyfriend on this website…call me old fashioned, but I´m not a blogger who divulges all my most personal information on my website. However, considering recent events and the mass appeal for more information, I present to you the story of my engagement to a Sexy Spaniard (or Dirty European…you pick).

Two folding bikes on a mountain path

Who says folding bikes can't conquer mountain paths?

Sexy Spaniard had been working crazy hours and decided he needed a weekend away in the mountains with our bikes. As it is not uncommon for us to explore some new nearby town for a day or two, I suspected nothing. We decided to head to the Catalan Pyrenees in France, only about 2 hours away from where I live, just across the French border. There we stayed in a tiny village called Sahorre. The landscape was beautiful…complete with snow capped mountains, sunny valleys, cascading streams, and budding flowers. We set out to explore the mountain area of Canigou by bike.

Yes, my same little folding bike that took me across Northern Spain on the Camino de Santiago now accompanied me through the French Pyrenees. We wove through cute villages and rugged mountain bike paths as we found our way to a mountain peak (sans snow of course). I obliviously continue snapping pictures and finally sit down to have a snack of French pastries and water that Sexy Spaniard brought me. I notice though that when he sits down, he is totally nervous and has tears in his eyes.

Yes!

I immediately suspect what may be getting read to happen, and sure enough, he produces a blue gift bag and asks in his broken English, “Do you want to get married to me?” I pause and although I´m totally stunned, I can´t imagine saying no, so I kiss him. “But what’s your answer”? Ha! Forgot that minor detail of actually saying yes. So I say yes, and unwrap the ring box to find a very beautiful and unique ring awaiting me. I was very proud of Sexy Spaniard for pulling off an “American style engagement” for me like they see in the movies…here in Spain, they don’t really do big proposal moments and I was grateful for the effort to adapt to my culture. :)

Not your average Saturday...french pastries, biking in the Pyrenees, and getting engaged!

The ring was doubly meaningful as it looks like switchbacks up a mountain, similar to what we had just conquered on our bikes. I busted out in tears as he explained the ring’s symbolism of all the twists and turns we will experience in life as a couple, but that the path continues on infinitely and we will have each other through all those good and bad times. The whole thing was perfectly sentimental, romantic, and very much done in a style that suits us. Sigh. I am so excited. I have the best fiancé ever.

If you want to see pictures of and read more about the Catalan Pyrenees where we got engaged, click here….

POST ENGAGEMENT:

We are already working our way through some of those twists and turns, as we are now immersed in trying to figure out how to pull off a wedding in the USA, a second reception in his hometown in Spain, what country we will live in next, what we will do for work, sorting through the tons of paperwork required to get a visa and residency for Juan if we end up in the USA, meanwhile I am starting a new job next week. There are some great options for us in the works, but I will wait to comment on that until we know for sure what will pan out.
Categories: Fun Things/Events, Personal Updates | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

The Catalan Pyrenees, France

If you happen to live in the Barcelona or the Costa Brava area and are looking for a great weekend getaway, try the Catalan Pyrenees, just across the border in France. There are great national parks and reserves throughout the Pyrenees mountains on both the French and Spanish side. We chose to go here simply because it was a closer drive for us, and we were not disappointed.

Depending on where you say within this part of France you can have the beach, snow skiing, and beautiful valleys and trails all within your reach. We did not want to be cold, so we opted to just look at the snow from afar, and use our bikes to explore the mountain area around the Canigou mountain.

We also chose to stay in a very small village called Sahorre, which has a few quaint streets and homes, one bar/restaurant, and a couple of shops selling fresh local apple juice, meats, and cheeses.The true gem here was Beau Vallon Accommodations. You can find my comments about it on the testimonial page of their website if you’re interested, but just coming to this place alone made the trip worth it. They don’t even know I’m writing this about them, so you can be sure I get nothing out of writing that I would highly recommend this place to anyone wanting a tranquil getaway.

Although we were just a stone’s throw from Spain, this area is still definitely French, and also very Catalan. The Catalan flag is everwhere, and most of the people spoke Catalan. I was happy to dust off a bit of my French and try to use a bit of the Catalan I’ve been learning in class. If you do come from Spain, be aware that France is apparently much more boring in the evening. Hahaha. Everything seemed to close and be a ghost town by 4 pm. So keep in mind that if you need to go grocery shopping or if you want to enjoy people-watching in a plaza, do it mid-day!

It was a great weekend, and there was still much more to be seen. For me, the highlight was my boyfriend asking me to marry him at the top of a peak near Canigou! You can read more about that by clicking here. Otherwise, just enjoy the pics of the Catalan Pyrenees!

Here are some pics of the area, and below that you can find more detailed information on some of the towns and attractions if you’re interested. Enjoy!

Villefranche-de-Conflent is incredibly picturesque fortified town, and therefore also super touristy. Nonetheless, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and worth a stop in. You can take a tour of some of the grottos/caves in the mountain, hire canyoning and rafting tours from here, and it’s the start and end of the famous little yellow train (Le petite train jaune) that runs deeper into the Pyrenees and is supposed to be incredibly scenic. Check the schedule to make sure it’s running when you go because we hit it on off season. Next time!

Vernet-les-Bains is another quaint town, right at the base of the Canigou mountain so is a great base for hiking etc. There is also a natural hot spring here, so you can enjoy a great spa treatments etc. We also hit missed getting to do this since the many of the services were closed on Sundays when we tried to go.

We thoroughly enjoyed riding our bikes from Sahorre up to Py and back. Py is one of those blink and you miss it places, but was really a gem tucked away in the mountain. We saw a group of tree-hugger/hippie foreigner families eating together on their terrace overlooking the valley. I found myself wanting to be them, living there (ok well maybe just for part of the year!). Py definitely has a tempting draw to just run away and hide out, nestled in the mountains, get back to nature and the simple life, and grow your own veggies and tend to your own chickens.

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I’m a Spaniard now!

My Spanish ID card!!

It´s official. I can hardly believe it, but it is finally official. I have both Spanish and US nationality thanks to my Spanish father. I have both passports and I don´t have to hide it! I finally got my birth registry from the Spanish Consulate in Texas, hopped on a plane back to Spain two days later and started working on getting my official documents here in Spain. Today, when I finally held my Spanish EU passport and Spanish ID in my hand, my heart literally skipped a beat and I just stared at them. I could hardly believe after months and months of visiting different offices all over Spain and the US, countless phone calls and hours spent digging up paperwork, that it´s over! I have wanted these ever since I was a teenager. Now I can do what I set out to do here last year…live and work (and get paid)!

I'm proud Spaniard, American, and EU member!

So what´s next? Well, it´s basically the worst time to ever try to work in Spain since unemployment is about 24%, but the next step is to get a job. The next most popular question I get from my American friends is: What kind of job do you want to do there? My answer is always the same: With this rate of unemployment, the question here is actually, “What job can you get.” Living here in the last year has simplified my aspirations. This is different from lowering my aspirations. I have come to a place in my life where I am content with different things. People here in general are just grateful to have ANY job and don’t nit-pick and stress over finding the perfect job like I think many American’s are prone to do. Priorities sharpen in the midst of difficulty, and the day to day becomes more about enjoying friends, family, food, drink, nature, God, and being able to to have something to do for work.

With that said, I am open to doing almost anything. I know in this type of economy I can’t be too picky. Additionally, my profession as a counselor doesn’t really exist here, and psychologists and social workers are mostly unemployed or barely paid either. I am going to at least try to find something that I’m interested in or can learn something useful from. So, since I’m living in a very toursity area, I’m going to capitalize on my language skills and past experience in property management and travel. I started passing out resumes yesterday to travel agencies and real estate offices. There are a ton of real estate offices in the little town I live, as many Europeans and Russians buy houses here. I already had two interviews the same day, and have another scheduled for tomorrow. I feel very blessed, as my Spanish friends tell me it is unheard of to get interviews so quickly. No real job offers have been made yet, but it’s encouraging to know I can at least get seasonal work for the summer. Whatever ends up happening, my goal is to just enjoy and appreciate what I do have, which is a lot. I am very fortunate to have this opportunity to live here, even if I am not on any illustrious career driven path.

My next upcoming adventures seem to be trying to learn Catalán, since that’s the predominant language here, and also madly brush up on the French I learned 15 years ago since I put that on my resume. HA! Now you know what I’m doing in most my free time!

 

Categories: Personal Updates | Tags: , | 6 Comments

Home for the Holidays

So sorry for no pics in this post…my laptop is in the repair shop!

After almost 5 months of getting the runaround in Spain regarding my paperwork process to stay in Spain legally, I was finally informed in October that they would not be reviewing my application until May 2012 (even though I turned it in June 2011) because they are just that backlogged. Got to love immigration offices! I then talked to the Spanish consulate in Houston, TX and they told me they could complete my application in 2-3 months, but…I had to apply in person. So after a few more weeks, I hopped on a plane back to the USA, loaded up the car with my sister, niece and nephew and took a road trip to Houston where she and I both applied to reclaim our Spanish nationality. Yay!

Once that excitement was over, I kind of turned into a hermit. I just hung out with my family through the holidays and didn’t let many people know that I was in town. No offense anyone. I just needed some time to decompress and catch up with my family after 6 months away.

I also had to make some money while I’ve been home so that I can get back to Spain. And yes, that is the plan: head back to Spain, this time with my paperwork so that I can actually look for a real paying job. Until then though, I needed to replenish my savings. Thanks to my sister, I was able to jump into a temporary job doing secret shopper phone calls. Basically, I called tire stores all over the US pretending to need tires and rating the workers on their answers. This was a very fortunate opportunity for me, but not going to lie, I wanted to bang my head on the wall after about the 50th tire call each week. I filled the rest of my time doing random side jobs doing anything from interpreting for a Hispanic family therapy session in a children’s psych unit, to helping my dad prepare his taxes, to child care for the transitional living program affiliated with my former employer (definitely nothing like working in the kid’s club at the resort last summer).

I did finally emerge from my cave and re-connected with old friends, soaked up as much Argentine Tango dancing as I could, and went on “vacation” to Louisiana. Oh and I helped some Spaniards do market research on whether or not to open a Spanish tapas restaurant in Tulsa; at one point I was helping cook for 130 people and felt like I was on an episode of Top Chef!

So it’s been an eventful time home;  I’ve loved being at home with family  and friends, but I also love living in Spain, so I am excited to get back. I’m now in crunch time trying to tie up loose ends and prepare to head back on Feb. 10th. Granted, I still haven’t received the paperwork I’ve been waiting for, despite them re-assuring me many times I’d have it by the end of January (shocker!). SOOOOO, I may or may not have to delay my return to Spain. Your guess is as good as mine. I’m just going to end this post before I start venting about how much I love red-tape and lack of efficiency and customer service. To be continued…

Categories: Personal Updates, Preparing to Travel | 1 Comment

Day 11 & 12: Arrival in Santiago de Compostela

Pilgrims walking to Santiago de Compostela

More pilgrims along the Camino as I near Santiago de Compostela

So I’m back in the USA now, but I still wanted to finish off telling about the end of my trip! Enjoy!

My solo bike trip on the the Camino del Norte, Camino de Santiago

Sobrado dos Monxes to SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA!!! Approximately 55 km

[Video summary is at the bottom]

After a nice morning in the monastery where I stayed last night, I decided to take a shortcut and head all the way into Santiago de Compostela today. I stayed on the actual Camino the whole day and soaked up my last few stretches of solitude before I joined the continual stream of people on the Camino Frances. I saw my first girl bikers today, but they were with friends/boyfriends, so I finished the whole Camino and never saw any other solo female cyclists.

While pushing my bike uphill, I met two other Spaniards who were also pushing their mountain bikes. We gladly stopped for a refreshing drink at the top of the appropriately named Monte de Gozo (Mount of Joy) and enjoyed a view of our final destination: Santiago de Compostela! (see pics in the slideshow and in the video)

My cheesy "I made it!" picture

My new friends stuck with me even though I was slower, and I was so glad, because I seriously felt like everything started falling apart in the last 10 kilometers! My gears started making weird noises, I got really tired, and after bumping down a bunch of stairs, my backpack decided it was done being tied up and preferred to hang off the side of my bike. I had to keep stopping and re-adjusting everything…but I was so close! I just wanted to GET THERE! And get there I did. It was a glorious feeling to bike through the old town and arrive at the end of the Camino, right on the doorstep of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela! I made it!!

The "Compostela"--like a certificate of completion

After the requisite photo shoot (in slideshow), we went and showed our little pilgrims passports and got our “Compostela”(basically a certificate of completion) and then enjoyed some celebratory drinks and pulpo gallego (Galician octopus). Later on I ran into the group of cyclists I met in Gontán, so we celebrated together again with more yummy food.

Eating pulpo Gallego--yummy Galician style octopus!

The next day I got up and went to the noon“Pilgrim’s Mass” at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Drastically different from mass anywhere else in Spain, it turned out to be insanely packed with tourists from all over the world. Note to anyone who goes to this special mass…get there early if you want a seat! There was certainly a lot of pomp and circumstance, including an incredibly large silver incense burner swinging broadly across the front altar. This definitely elicited lots of oohs and ahhs from the crowd as the nave filled with smoke. Many pilgrims also line up to see the crypt where the apostle James is allegedly buried.

Inside the Cathedral including the swinging silver incense burner and altar

To do so, you have to pass by the giant gold statue of James built into the altar, which many people “hug” on their way by. Many of these rituals are so foreign to me, and this particular mass was in Portuguese, but I at least have a Protestant background to be able to appreciate some aspects of the service. I only hope that those pilgrims who have come truly on a spiritual search are able to still connect with God and find what they are looking for. (pics in slideshow below)

The rest of my time in Santiago de Compostela, I wandered around the town, went to a park (Parque Boneval–had good views of the city), and the Pilgrimage Museum, ran into more people that I had met earlier on the Camino, had more celebratory food and drinks and then headed out on my night train to Madrid. (pics of it all are in the slideshow)

Biking 11 days alone on The Camino was certainly one of the most significant and rewarding physical feats I have ever accomplished. It was definitely worth all the crazy pushing up hills and heaving my bike over stone steps to try to stay on the actual Camino de Santiago instead of just taking all the easier national highways. It made it more adventurous that way. I feel very proud and accomplished for what I did, but most importantly, I feel more calm and at peace with God, myself and with who I am. I would certainly recommend anyone to do the Camino de Santiago in whatever way they could and I hope to return to do more of the Camino again one day! I have so many more thoughts and tips, but it’s obviously taken me way too long just to get these few days up, so we’ll see if more makes it up eventually! Thanks for reading, and feel free to browse back through my earlier posts of other days if you missed fun stories like me getting pulled over on my bike by the cops!

Here’s my video summary of the last day:

Categories: Camino de Santiago, Food, Galicia | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments