A Tranqui, Tranqui Year

Good intentions are sometimes not enough. But thankfully, the wonders of technology will aide me in distributing my late holiday letter before the new year is ushered in. I love living in the future...

2007 was an incredible year for us, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. But, another year like just might kill me.

The year started with moving everything out of our apartment and into storage in Minnesota in January (something that I wouldn't recommend). We managed to pull it off only because of the generous efforts of our family and friends. The final days of January saw us lugging hundreds of pounds (or kilos if you prefer) of luggage through the streets of Barcelona searching for an apartment where we would live while Eric studied law at a Spanish university over the next 6 months. After trying on a few, we finally found one that was perfect. Okay, so it didn't have a sink in the kitchen and the hot water had some serious work effort issues that took some getting used to, but it ended up being perfect for us.

Over the next few months, Eric studied while I worked online for my job back home, learned Spanish, became a gourmet tapas chef, and generally roamed the streets of Barcelona. We met some amazing people, fell in love with 'jamon' (salted pig's leg), and learned how to light the oven/water heater/stove. The word 'butano' (Spanish for butane) hollered very early in the morning is something one must experience for oneself. We viewed our six-month stint in Europe as a pull-out-all-the-stops opportunity to experience and see the world from our home base in Barcelona. And I think we did quite well.

Our travels, some planned, some spontaneous, took us all over Spain, Italy (Rome, Naples, Capri), Morocco (Tangier), Paris, Amsterdam, Czech Republic (Prague, Olomouc), London, Belgium (Brussels, Leuven, Brugge, Ostend, Gooik), Switzerland (Geneva, Bern, Sankt Gallen, some Alps), Germany (Lindau) and Liechtenstein (the whole country!!). Sometimes we traveled with friends, sometimes by ourselves. We traveled on planes, trains, buses, boats, subways, cars and on foot. We stayed at nice hotels, sketchy hostels, in friend's guestrooms, in lodges, in train cabins and everything in between. We saw museums, mountains, concerts, restaurants, cathedrals and mosques, big cities and tiny villages. We conquered fears (Patty's ascent of the Eiffel Tower) and saw things we'd only dreamed of (Eric and the Pantheon in Rome). We had the time of our lives.

After our tour of Europe, Eric and I embarked on a "Getting Reacquainted with America Tour" to pick up Harper, who was long since convinced that we had left him for dead. Following that glorious reunion, we once again counted on the help of family (plus Jay) to move us back into an apartment, this one with hot water, a cloths dryer and a parking spot for our car. We had lovely visits from family and friends, who traveled from near and far to spend time with us. And to fill in the rest of our time, Eric studied law for 90 hours a week and worked as a barista, and I returned to her old job in addition to a part time job taking scores and stats for the sports department of a local newspaper.

With Eric finishing law school and finding a job, and me searching for what comes next, 2008 is sure to be an exciting year with many life changes and experiences as well. We can't wait.


Nothing but Net

Tonight I got to spend some quality time with my rad parents. My husband was able to go out to eat with us, but then sadly we had to part ways as it is that wonderful and magical time of year once again: Law School Finals.

After dinner, we found ourselves at a Timberwolves game at the Target Center in some excellent seats howling at the Spur's players during free throws, yelling at the refs and showing up on the jumbotron. My dad, the one person who would actually have loved to strut his stuff on the jumbotron, missed it as he was off buying us ice cream.

In addition to the cool shots of the basketball swishing throw the net and my mom and I hiding behind the people in front of us, the jumbotron also played various movie clips during the night to rally the troops. One such clip was that of Christopher Walken truly strutting his stuff in the Fatboy Slim Video from a few years ago. It brought me such happiness to remember Walken leaping through a hotel lobby that I thought I'd share it with you. For old times sake. Here it is:


A Little Place I Call Home

When my husband and I first moved to the cities, as it's called in Minnesota, it was a lonely time for me. Living in a city filled with 3 million people, but knowing no one. I took my comfort zone and threw it out of the car window going 90 miles per hour. The people were different, the food was different, the weather was...well, the weather was pretty frightening.
Now that we've returned from our six month adventure, as my mother calls it, I find the city comforting and friendly. People speak to me as if they're old friends. I know all the great hole-in-the-wall restaurants. I keep a wide assortment of coats and tank tops in the closet to be ready at a moment's notice.
We've been lucky to have a slew of people visit over the last month or two and we've been thrilled to show them "our city." Our apartment has been messy, boxes still piled up in the corner, and our lives a frenetic race from one thing to the next. But I want to thank all those who visited us and extend an invitation to those who haven't yet been able to. When you get to share the place you've come to call home with the people that you truly care about, life is good.


Mr. Harper Day

Today I came home from a long day at one job, followed by a one hour break, then a 4 hour shift at my second job to relax for a minute before bed, when my husband brings the mail to my attention.
"There is something you'll want to see," he said.
I think to myself, "I'm so tired, there is absolutely nothing I want to see - especially not from the mail."
I say, "Alright."
My husband hands me a postcard. I look at the front:

" Okay," I think. "Weird, but why is he showing me this?" Then I turn it over.

More information on the back. But wait! Who is this piece of mail addressed to?

The dog. He's getting mail now. And I always wondered what he did at home while we were gone during the day. I guess now we know. Or do we?


Breathing Deep

I've been missing Spain lately. Even though I hardly have time to think anymore, what with working two jobs, coordinating with my husband who has returned to law school, walking our dog and keeping up with my demanding social schedule.

But we had a wonderful guest from a little known European country come visit us this last weekend and it brought back the spirit of Barcelona for me. That's what I think I loved and what I miss. The experience and the friendships that we made in Spain. It was a peculiar time for all of us. Not exactly real life, but a sort of existence that was unlike any other time, where we played and talked and experienced with no thought of what lie before us. We only lived in the here and now and embraced the gift that it was.

Sometimes when I am nostalgic for it I picture a dimly lit courtyard at night in a cafe with friends after a long day at the lake. Sometimes a friend's temporary apartment with tapas and music. Sometimes just walking around the city with no particular destination.

The thought of it makes me breathe in deep and slow. It takes away the urgency and frantic rush of the world I live in. And somehow, in that moment everything is alright.


A Bad Blogger

The latest happenings in the world of this blogger:
- A "getting reacquainted with America" road trip to Utah and back to pick up Harper, our dog
- Moving into the apartment and finding stuff in boxes that we wish we'd forgotten to pack in the first place
- Starting full-time employment
- Getting a part-time "fun" job at the newspaper for the sports section (something which I know nothing about)
- Eric starting his part-time "fun" job making coffee and trying not to spill the milk
- Getting rained on in immense proportions, resulting in those we care about to send us messages that read, "We hope you didn't drown."
- Family coming and going = one non-stop party


Ready or Not

Well, I finally made it home. Life has been a crazy whirl of readjusting to life in America, picking up our big brown dog in Utah, finding a new apartment and moving in, although we can't quite move around in the apartment yet. Rebuilding everything from the ground up takes a little while.

During the midst of it all a major bridge in my city, Minneapolis, collapsed. A bridge I used to drive on everyday. Living in transition means that you aren't in touch with real world, so I found out about the calamity from the worried and sweet phone call from my Mom. I feel grateful that so many people cared enough to check on us. Thank you.

So now the fun part. Rebuilding and readjusting and regrouping. Sorting and organizing and working. I think I'm ready to get started.

P.S. Since I was remiss in recounting the wonderful experiences I had while overseas, I will attempt to share more photos and memories of my time in Europe on this blog over the next little while. It should be fun.


Quaint Cordoba

Here's my attempt to redeem myself for the lack of blogging along the trail...

Cordoba was the second stop on our most recent voyage, this one with a focus on Andalusia (southern Spain). It was small, it wasn't run over with tourists, it was charming. We stayed at a great family-run hostel managed by an older gentleman who called himself Fernando El Guapo (translation: Fernando the Handsome) and performed a series of parlor tricks for Eric's younger brother (who is 23 years old).

We fell in love with this little town that is home to La Mezquita, which we saw in the early morning hours before the tour buses arrived. We ate fresh churros, enjoyed a beautiful sunset on the river overlooking the giant mosque/cathedral and strolled along the narrow whitewashed alleyways peeking in doors and gardens.

We'll definitely be back.

P.S. For a larger view of our trip there, just click on the photos below.

Coming Tomorrow: Madrid


Volando voy, Volando vengo

Eric and I just got back from a 10 day tour of Spain where we visited Madrid, Cordoba, Granada, Sevilla, Tarifa and even made it across the Straight of Gibralter to the African continent to visit Tangier, Morocco. Highlights include:
* Buying a bunch of great crap I don't need in Europe's largest flea market, El Rastro, in Madrid
* Watching locals dance the flamenco with reckless abandon in Sevilla, Granada and Tarifa
* Visiting the Alhambra at night with only a few other tourists in whispering voices
* Seeing the sun set on the Alhambra from Saint Nicolas' viewpoint on another mountain (okay, hill) with some spirited impromptu flamenco guitar
* Two words: Arab Bath
* Visiting the Roman temple turned Christian church turned Muslim mosque turned Catholic cathedral - La Mezquita
* Standing 10 feet from Picasso's "Guernica," Velazquez's "Las Meninas," Goya's "Third of May" and Hieronymus Bosch's "Garden of Earthly Delights," among others
* Riding a camel in Tangier, even if only for a minute
* Other stuff


Prague and Olomouc...

Life has been a frantic rush from one thing to the next lately, so I thought I´d try and redeem myself for lack of blogging by giving you a sample of where we´ve been photo style. We´re off for a new whirlwind adventure tonight. More to come.
P.S. That photo of Eric and the fork is of him eating the purportedly stinkiest cheese in the world in Olomouc, Czech Republic.


American Amigos

Last week we had a lovely time visiting with friends from home, showing them all the colorful sides of Barcelona while our European friends had a wonderful time listening to the great Minnesota accents. Especially our friend Swiss Jonas (Or as Jen would say Yawn-us).
P.S. Happy birthday Jonas.


He's Baaaaaack!

On an afternoon run the other day, Eric ran into Barcelona's most infamous resident. (At least in my eyes.) That's right, the Bare Barcelonian has not fled the city with the current pick-up in tourist activity.

Instead, he was making the rounds to local tourist attractions, sporting only a pair of sneakers and a practical visor, chatting up the crowds and posing for a slew of cell phone cameras. Eric reported that he was as comfortable as ever, gracious and polite to the group of tourists surrounding him.

It's like "Where's Waldo" but instead of desparately looking for the iconic man, you're running from him.

The only question is, if I run into him with a camera, do I shoot?


Happy Mother's Day Mom

"My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it."
- Mark Twain


American Tape

While running errands the other day, Eric and I passed a Ferreteria, a Spanish sort of hardware store marked by a large black and yellow sign, and remembering that we needed to replace a light bulb in our apartment, stepped inside.

Once we communicated our need for said light bulb to the extremely helpful clerk, he proceeded to discuss the benefits and virtues of choosing an energy efficient light bulb, which as it turns out is much better for the environment and lasts on average 8 years, though more expensive. We explained that as renters for only a couple of more months, we would decline the obviously superior bulb and instead go for the cheapest and crappiest bulb they had to offer.

Light bulb procured, we looked around the Ferreteria for anything else we might need, and remembered that we were in the market for some duct tape. One of our suitcases is falling apart and what better way to whip it into shape than to use the greatest invention ever to grace the planet Earth. So, naturally, we asked the clerk for tape to which the responded by leading us to the glue isle.

"No," I said. "We need tape. The really strong kind. You know, duct tape."

"For sticking something together?" he asked.

"Exactly," I responded.

"Then may I suggest this fine glue," he continued, and began a dissertation on the different uses and types of glue as well as the efficaciousness of each type the store carried.

"No, we really would just like some duct tape," I repeated.

"What for?" he asked. "What do you need it to fix?"

Eric and I turned to each other and almost simultaneously responded, "Everything."

The poor clerk couldn't understand what kind of tape we could be talking about that would fix everything, and when we explained our intentions I'm sure he pictured a large piece of luggage flimsily held together by standard scotch tape. Finally, I picked up a cloth belt wrapped in circle that was lying next to the glue and held it up to the clerk and simply said, "It's like this."

You could see the energy efficient light bulb go off in his head and he smiled knowingly. "Cinta Americana," he said. American Tape. He then led us around the corner to where the light bulbs were kept and pointed to a row containing many different sizes and colors of glorious duct tape.

Cinta Americana. American Tape. Mission accomplished.


May Day

We were at the grocery store the other day, the one two blocks from our apartment that we frequent several times a week and at which the clerks know us as "the Americans," when the teller at the checkout began asking us about May Day.

"Do you celebrate the first of May?" he asked, in Spanish of course.

"Um, not really," replied Eric.

"You don't have a day to celebrate the worker?" asked the clerk incredulously.

"Of course," replied Eric. "It's during the first week of September."

"But why not May Day?" he asked, as the line of people behind us continued to grow steadily.

Eric began trying to explain to the clerk how for a long time in the United States May Day was seen as a communist holiday, therefore prompting the government to distance itself from it, but it began to seem very complicated. Finally the clerk just waved a friendly "Hasta Luego" to us and we gathered our groceries to head out to the street.

Happy May Day everyone.


The Blue Grotto

As part of our wonderful visit to Capri, an island off the coast of Itay, we made the obligatory trip to the Blue Grotto. To get there, we took an hour long boat tour of the island (best 12 euros I've spent so far) and hired a native Caprisian with a rowboat to take us into the grotto.
We laid on the floor because the entrance is only tall enough for a small boat to enter and when we sat up we were awestruck. The water was suddenly bright blue due to the refracted underwater sunlight and every noise echoed off the cave walls. Our guide broke into a gloriously Italian melody, quickly joined by the other guides, only too happy to please the jaw dropped tourists.

A once in a lifetime experience. A perfect day.

A photo essay:

Leaving the island

Lover's arch (halfway to the Blue Grotto)
Our guide, Vincenzo
The entrance
Eric and I in the grotto

And finally, the Blue Grotto


Euskadi and Back

We've returned home from the Basque Country (País Vasco) where we saw Bilbao, San Sebastian (Donostia) and all the gorgeous country in between there and Barcelona on our 6 hour roadtrip with four other exchange students.

It rained. It rained a lot. But it was amazing and filled with amazing art, good food, long wet walks and great friends. More details to follow.