Friday, May 31, 2013

Barcelona Apartment Rentals

There are very good reasons why it took me so long to finally rent an apartment in Barcelona.  The thought of it still makes me sigh because it was like pulling teeth.  The exception might be ultra high end places ie villas where you are dealing with foreign owners.  But if you are trying to rent from locals, be prepared:

  • To be asked for your passport number
  • To have to wire money for the deposit.  An amazing amount of people do not use PayPal
  • To be asked for a damage deposit even for a basic apartment
  • To not be emailed a contract in advance to sign
  • To find out upon arrival the money you were paying towards cleaning did not actually include full final cleaning...
  • To not have any communication re: location of the apartment or contact number should you be running late
  • To have to feel like you are trying to pull teeth to get what ought to be basic information
  • To be asked for your credit card over email
  • To not have total sound proofing, even in a new build
  • To not be able to rent the apartment you saw pictures of
  • To not know when check in and check out times are
  • To read time and time again, reviews that are in stark contrast to the pictures, even on the nicest of rental sites

It was not all difficult.  On the flip side:

  • I didn't have any issues with timers on the hot water heater as I've had previously in France
  • Windows have electric external metal blinds that shield from the strong sun as well as provide a dark sleeping environment
  • The design of the apartments are very ingenious.  My terrace was very private considering it was in an inner courtyard
  • Didn't have any issues with drinking tap water contrary to what you will read  
  • Very usable kitchen, smart appliances
  • Got a washer and dryer -- Dryers are rare in Europe
  • Loved how large shiny rectangular porcelain (?) tiles are used for flooring
  • Good water pressure
  • Very well lit
  • Good security
  • AC!  A must for Barcelona 
  • Friendly neighbours
  • Owners were very keen to rent to you
  • My apartment rep did allow me to walk him through the Paypal route when I refused to pay my deposit via bank transfer

Now that I have an "in", it will be easier next time as I'm definitely going to return in the future.  I felt giddy en route from the airport to Placa de Catalunya.  Considering just how little time I've spent in the city in the past (3 days), it even surprised me just how much it continues to capture my heart. 

Before I arrived, I wasn't sure as I had taken more risk with my private info than I've ever had with a stranger.  Hotels in Europe will ask for your passport but never a rental until now.  It was a difficult decision as I'm very protective of my passport.  I remember thinking, if they stop me at Schipol passport control because I apparently shouldn't be there, that would suck but I'll deal with it then.

Their explanation for needing your pp number was because the police apparently needed a copy of the rental document.  When no rental document was ever can understand what would have been going through my head.  Documents were finally signed at check in and I did get an official copy.

What a contrast to our previous experiences where we were emailed a contract to sign, receipts given for the deposit, confirmation of rental to bring to check in, requests for flight information to coordinate meeting times, maps & neighbourhood info given in advance, booklet at the apartment detailing how appliances work etc. etc.

Just a different way of doing things.  I'd recommend staying in a hotel first.  Then decide if it is worth it to you to wade into their rental market.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Interesting People: Greenland & Iceland

Of all the people I had the pleasure of meeting this trip, four stood out. 

I had lunch with a couple in Greenland.  A French Woman who used to be pretty high up with the WWF and a Danish Man who currently works for an oil company, preparing patents for maps of the ice fields in the Arctic. 

Turns out the WWF used the Danish's Man's company info yearly to show and prove their point that the ice fields are shrinking at an alarming rate.  And ironically diminishing ice means higher accessibility to off shore oil fields...

His company has high interest in Greenland's untapped resources.  Even he had to admit when you compare the last 10 years of maps, it obviously pointed to non reversing shrinkage.  In the March issue of  Greenland Today, a significant amount of the magazine was dedicated to how Greenland will deal with all the worldwide companies wanting in on their resource development.  And how their new government, elected a couple of days before I arrived will handle things.

Then the topic turned to travel.  Whoa, did I feel like a small player compared to those two.  The French Lady had been pretty much everywhere, couldn't speak more highly of Africa, especially Serengeti and Botswana and encouraged me to go there ASAP. 

The Danish follow is an experienced trekker and his current favourite areas to hike were Annapurna (Nepal) and the Atlas Mountains (Morocco), having done Kilimanjaro twice and base camp Everest once and most of everywhere else you could think of.  Their combined knowledge base of the world is downright stunning.  Felt like I wasn't thinking big enough, that I lived a very sheltered life.

The third person was a young man from Switzerland.  I remembered him from the departures area at Reykjavik airport, looking just spent.  I found out later it was because he had gotten "Air Iceland" mixed up with "Icelandair".  So he thought his flight to Greenland left from Keflavik...Which is at least an hour away...and he only had 1hr 45 min layover...

He spent his time couchsurfing with a local in Ilulisaat.  Talked of how his host cooked whale -- Wrapped in bacon and in a slow cooker for the day -- Was unbelievably tender.  He had a couple of great pictures of the Northern Lights.  And was offered a job as a summer guide with the company I used.  He too was disappointed that dogsledding was unavailable.

He was on the last leg of a 1 1/2 year backpacking adventure that took him to Asia and South America.  His current favourite place was Kathmandu because of the locals.  From Reykjavik, he was heading to the Faroe Islands, then Copenhagen, then hitchhiking all the way back home.

We spent the duration of the flight back to Reykjavik (3 hr) talking about his adventures.  I told him how I longed for an extended period of time off (1 yr+) and how I cannot see how that could be possible without retiring completely, which I was not quite ready to do just yet.  That I couldn't imagine even a month off whereas he cannot imagine taking a trip that was less than a month's duration.

He was ready to go home and start on his next phase of life, which will consist of further education as he wasn't interested in going back to his previous career.  He encouraged me to go sooner than later (especially to China for the pollution is only getting worse) and to rent my house for the duration.

That after even a year, my thinking would change so much, nothing I was clinging to or worried about right now would really matter.  Perception of obstacles will shrink.  That's how much growth I would experience.  It was his mindset and conviction I was most fascinated with. 

Interestingly enough, he felt very strongly that keeping hold of a home base or core possessions was important.  Without it, he would have high difficulty mentally, knowing he had nothing to come back to. 

I had a difficult time understanding what he really meant by that as I see coming back to a clean slate incredibly exciting.  A chance to create.  If I was going house hunting right now, I would not chose the house we're living in because I've changed in the last 6 1/2 years we've been living here.  The only thing holding me back is inertia, not wanting another mortgage or other related costs.

Last and certainly not least, our guide and superjeep driver in Reykjavik.  He had some real interesting stories having been a commercial fisherman (tough job!) and as a driver for a high end private tour company.

His favourite celebrity was Roger Moore, described as incredibly polite, gracious and completely "Bond" all the way.  Least favourite was Jude Law, whom he found to be very full of himself.  He also had a chance to meet Kirsten Dunst (found her to be really shy) right after Spiderman 2 premiered as well as Angelina Jolie and her children. 

This summer, he is taking a superjeep for a couple weeks to tour northern Iceland.  He also listed a bunch of movies that were filmed in Iceland and confirmed that the beginning of the movie "Prometheus" was indeed Iceland! 

When D and I went to see it (I had no idea it was the prequel to the Aliens franchise...otherwise I would have never gone...don't like anything that resembles horror), I leaned over and said to D, "That has to be Iceland!  No other place on Earth looks like that...". 

Icelanders, like the Norwegians,  love their country and cannot wait till summer to explore it themselves.  It's in their blood.  Looking forward to the day I stand at Dettifoss myself.  He told me the sound and power of it is unbelievable...I was ready to go right then and there...

***Forgot to mention in my last post that should you wish to do away with all the planning and gear that comes with cold weather travel, just go in the summer like what over 80% of visitors to Greenland do.  You will have to bring some serious bug protection though ie.  bug suit as I hear they are rampant and will eat you alive...Personally, I would take the cold over bug bites or bug suits any day but then again, I'm a mosquito magnet.***

Friday, May 24, 2013

Travel Tips: Greenland & Iceland

People I met in Greenland thought it was really easy and convenient for me, a Canadian, to get there.  If you look at a map, the west coast of Greenland is indeed much closer to Canada than Europe.  They were appalled to hear I had to go to Reykjavik or Copenhagen first, just to fly back west again. 

If you are determined to fly from Canada, (where it is often much more expensive to explore our own country than to go to Europe...) you will have to make your way to Ottawa (our Capital) during the summer months to catch a flight to Greenland for probably close to $2500+. 

For some reason, I had it in my mind, it was only a short 1 hr 45 min flight to Ilulissat from Reykjavik (much cheaper to go from there by the way) on Air Iceland, when it was actually 4 hrs.  When I realized my error, I felt instantly tired as it was going to be almost as long as the flight we take to go skiing out west.  So I flew 5 hrs, to fly 4 hrs back. 

Should you prefer to go via Copenhagen, you'll have to connect via Kangerlussuaq on Air Greenland.  Connecting times can be less than 1 hour so make sure you have a Plan B.  From what I've read and heard from a Danish Guy I met, it is quite common to be stranded there due to weather.  That was my number one concern.  I had a 4 day window post Greenland trip, just in case.  Was lucky I didn't need it.

I don't think it will come as a complete surprise that the cost of living in remote places is much higher.  One thing Greenlanders take very seriously is warmth -- Staying warm and shielding from wind.  Their homes, as simple as they may appear, are built to withstand significant snow and wind loads.  The gear and clothing you find there are serious, expensive and understandably so. 

It made me so proud to see Canada Goose being one of the most prominent outfitters for the Greenlandic people.  It also didn't surprise me that the big Norwegian brands -- Bergans of Norway (D's current favourite) and Dale of Norway (one of my favourites) were well represented.  Made total sense to me.

Even though I experienced much warmer than usual temperatures during my visit, when you are out on the water, the wind and water temperature can make you very uncomfortable in a hurry.  After all, you are sailing towards giant hunks and massive fields of ice. 

A French Lady I met, after our first day on the water, showed up the second day clad in head to toe Canada Goose.  Her jacket alone would have cost $800, much less the pants, hat and mittens.  She had suffered a lot over the 5 hr out.  Don't ever underestimate the power of wind nor the energy you expend trying to keep warm while standing mostly still on a small boat.

Here's what I wore for the days I was on the water where it was a handful of degrees below 0 C.  Not at all cold by my standards and never would I dress like this at home.  We ski and walk at -24 C before wind chill in altitude with less on than half of what I have listed below.  After 5 hr, my core was comfortable but I was just starting to feel some coolness in the tips of my fingers, ears and elbow seams.  My face felt cold but not enough to pull anything up over my nose.
  • Helly Hansen 50% merino base layer top and bottom. 
  • mid weight thin low pile fleece pants
  • McKinley ski pants with suspenders and bib
  • 320 g/m2 Icebreaker 100% Merino mid layer with hood (think speed skating) and thumb loops
  • Descente soft shell (neoprene like) wind proof outer layer (what I would normally wear under my ski jacket or for après ski), lined with fine fleece
  • Helly Hansen down coat, 550 fill, goes down to almost knees
  • heavy duty water and windproof leather ski mittens over thumb loops
  • 100% wool hat over Icebreaker hood, hood of Helly Hansen coat over, tension toggles pulled tight
  • Turtle Fur neck warmer
  • 100% wool ski socks pulled over my tights
  • Columbia winter boots rated for - 25C
Because all the layers I had on were lightweight, I did not resemble the Michelin Man, like you may have thought.  My coat is size XS and is what I wear to the office.  The newer gear available in stores there would have kept me as warm, if not warmer with even less weight.  I saw a 800 fill jacket that weighed 4 oz!!  Expedition mindset, remember?

Within the first minute of boat movement, you get to feel whether your preparations were sound.  Cold wind will find its way into every open fold and non windproof seam.  That's why I chose to wear a longer coat as well as ski pants that went higher than waist.  There is nothing worse than a cold back.  I'm sure the captain and crew were amused and probably used to seeing people quickly shuffling to adjust things like little marionettes. 

Here's what I would do differently.  I would spend more time playing around with the toggles of my coat hood to make sure they were even.  There was a tiny stream of air that kept getting in between my hood and icebreaker hood (which was skin tight).  Not enough to make me cold but the sound of it was irritating.  I'd also spend more time adjusting the closure of my coat sleeves.  Same idea.  Ideally your gloves or mitts would go over the end of your sleeves.

I brought ski goggles (mainly for the dog sledding to shield from wind and potential flying dog poop...) but didn't use them.  There were people who wore them on the ship but I just wore my sunglasses and they worked just fine.  Wear sun block.  The amount of sun/UV reflecting off of ice, snow and water is significant.  I used a SPF 45 with zinc oxide, titanium dioxide and octinoxate and still managed to get some colour.

It's trickier taking pictures with ski mitts on but I managed.  No way was I going to take them off for photos!  If I had to, you wouldn't have seen any.  Also, the cold will drain your camera battery much faster than you'd expect.  I had more trouble starting up the camera as well.

Otherwise I was quite pleased with my selection of layers.  I spent a lot of time experimenting with different combinations, especially when the weather warmed up prior to my departure.  To the point where D wanted to forbid me from going on the trip because my scurrying around to re-pack was driving him crazy.

Here's what I would have done had the weather been "normal" for that time of year:
  • Substitute Descente layer with Dale of Norway sweater
  • Substitute Helly Hansen leggings with Icebreaker 220 g/m2 100 % Merino ones
  • Wear silk glove liners under ski mitts
  • Wear wool scarf over zipped up coat hood
  • Substitute Helly Hansen down coat with The North Face waterproof and windproof mid length down coat or Marmot 700 fill down waist length jacket -- A toss up, pros and cons for either
  • Wear Icebreaker 150 g/m2 100% Merino camisole under Helly Hansen base layer top
  • Wear silk sock liner under 100% wool ski socks
I've tried the above on and can still move and squat.  Won't know if it would be a winning combination until the opportunity arises to return and test it.  Part of what I had hoped to learn was whether my dog sledding guide would have found my preparation adequate compared to seal skin clothing.  They will ask you to rent them if they didn't feel you can make it with what you have.

There were a few people I saw from warmer climates who had on what I consider to be slightly more padding than a spring jacket.  They were allowed to go inside because they got so cold.  I realize that real winter clothing may not be available to those from warmer countries.  But they persevered and showed up the next day dressed the same, looking more apprehensive.  And there was one guy who went all out and purchased a seal skin coat and pants.  It was beautifully made.  I later found out that the purchase would have cost him close to 12000 Euro!

You can imagine that no one really knew what each another looked like until we got rid of our layers.  So it was like we were meeting one other for the first time when we finally had a chance to sit down for a meal after. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Food & Travel Update

I'm pleased to report that my food allergies did not impede my ability to enjoy my time in Barcelona.

My food emotions hit bottom in Venice last summer when everywhere I looked there were things I should not eat.  It was getting out of hand because I was turning every bite of food into a life or death thing when I was not anaphylactic to anything.  It was turning me into a freak.

To the point where I would almost starve myself instead of buying something to eat because there weren't any "good" choices.   I remember finally breaking down and buying something from a bakery in Riomaggiore at about 2:30 pm having not had lunch, knowing if I didn't, I wouldn't be able to eat until past 6 pm with all the ferries I was supposed to catch. 

I came home and told D that my travelling days were numbered if I could not see around the negativity.  I was questioning why I would continue to spend money and time to go when I could not eat the local specialties.  Sights alone didn't feel enough then. 

Even last Dec, when it came close to the time for our return to Munich, I was on the fence about whether I'd just ditch the trip.  D would have been fine going solo as he loved the city.  I just didn't need another reminder of what I couldn't do anymore.  I saw it becoming a lifelong disability.  When it is something you do on average 3 times a day for as long as you live, it's a big part of living.  And I felt myself denying its existence and fighting it mentally. 

We are nine months later (2 years since diagnosis) and I feel much more at ease mentally about the whole thing.  Part of it because we've had 9 more months of our new reality eating and feeling the cumulative benefits of staying away from certain foods.  It is also acceptance of what is.  Hard for me.  But incredibly healing when I am able to.  It took a lot of work to get myself to a better place emotionally as I saw it massively shrinking the enjoyment of the rest of my life. 

D has shown great progress with his allergies.  He can eat eggs again but not dairy, which he wouldn't if he could anyways having learning all he has about the stuff.  I seem to be able to tolerate small doses of wheat but still get stuffed up and itchy when I eat something with egg or dairy in it a few times.  I will enjoy an ice cream or a pastry when I'm away without being harsh with myself.   

Only had to take an antihistamine twice while away -- A record.  So I'm slowly starting to believe maybe I'm actually healing too -- A wonderful thing if it is true. 

Ironically the first meal I had upon arriving home set me off.  We stayed in the city that night as I flew in later than usual.  So we had a late dinner at an area restaurant.  I thought I ordered something safe but stuffed right up worst than after anything I ate in Barcelona (2 ice creams and 4 pastries). 

Really bothers me that food here can have so many things that have nothing to do with what it is.  Next time, I sticking with sashimi.  Other than the obvious soy sauce, it ought to be clean of milk, dairy, egg, wheat, nuts etc, right?!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Kind Sentiments & Funny Stories

I returned home from Barcelona to find a couple of nice messages waiting for me.  In a world where I'm often confronted with pain and negativity, they were welcomed surprises.

  • A colleague of D's told him to tell me that he would like to travel with us one day.  That he wanted to hang out with me during the day so we could hit some galleries together (he is quite artistic) or just follow me around if I needed my space and then spend time with D in the evenings to drink at all the beer gardens (was referring to Munich but would be open to any location of our choice).   And apparently, he'd like me to help them with their finances because he couldn't believe we had accounts for stuff like roofs and cars etc.  That came out after he kept telling D how sorry he was when D told him we had just gotten our roof done at home.  He assumed it was a traumatic incident financially.  D finally had to tell him I had it saved for it in one of my accounts long ago.  Ditto for the cottage roof we had done a couple of years ago.  And there is money saved for a future air conditioning unit at home and septic system up north -- The next 2 biggest things that could go wrong.  He couldn't believe people do that.  They are expecting their 2nd child and are completely unprepared.  So if I could help out asap, that would be great.  The funny thing?  He's never met me!  How would he know we'd even get along, just based on what he's heard?  I was flattered nonetheless.  I think we'll start with having them over for dinner first. 
  • Since signing in only once into the machine that is Facebook, I've been getting all these messages.  There must have an area that announces who is back because I've done nothing with my profile other than answered some long outstanding emails.  Anyway, I received a message from an old friend of D's from his university days.  We only met once, 7 years ago at a Christmas party and bonded over Bourbon (to D's disgust) of all things.  When I do drink, it tends to be the hard stuff.  No fruity mixed drink for me.  Well, he sent me an email asking if we were wanted fugitives because we had been keeping such a low profile?  That he really missed my travel photos but was sure there was a reason behind the change and to say Hi to D.   His message really touched me because out of all D's friends, I would consider him to have the most balanced family life (super Dad), the most "manly" job (coast guard), but not much of a talker.  So for someone like him to send a message was a big deal and I didn't miss catching that.  He's turning 50 along with some of D's other buddies and one the wives has approached D to help organize a guy's trip to Europe (probably Munich) as a birthday celebration.  None of the wives have ever been to Europe nor wished to go, which really surprised me.    
  • This happened in Barcelona -- I was trolling around my favourite seafood bar, looking for an open seat when I finally found one.  This was my 2nd attempt, 4th day at it -- Hadn't had much luck.  Unbeknownst to me, spring hours were different from summer hours (opposite of what made sense).  So feeling pretty proud of myself, I hunkered down and was going over my order in my head in Spanish when the waiter came over and told me they were closed.  I had missed last call.  I must have looked appropriatedly shattered because the Gentleman beside me said a bunch of things (in Catalan so no entiendo here) and gestured at me but to no avail.  He then leaned over and said in English,  "I told him to please, give her some food!"  I burst out laughing and thanked him profusely.  That made my day. 
  • This requires some background info -- One of our neighbours at the cottage is a single middle age woman who had her eyes set on D from the day she arrived.  I'm used to D getting a certain amount of female attention but this was ridiculous.  In fact, the first time she had us over for drinks, she leaned over to tell me she gave D double the amount of alcohol in his margarita and proceeded to look him up and down while I was sitting beside her!  Completely inappropriate.  I can tell you we've kept our distance after that evening.  D said he felt like he needed a shower after.  But often she would elicit D's help to move things etc.  He being a helpful soul, would always say yes.  Meanwhile, I'd wonder where he had gone for 45 min.  It's a good thing I'm not the jealous type nor am I one ounce threatened (I'd like to think if D was going to cheat, he'd at least pick someone I'd actually be jealous of...) but really?!  Makes us women look bad.  Even our other neighbours (mentioned in next story) have offered to set her up with potential long term mates... There is a consistent stream of new men invited to her cottage and she seems to be able to sniff out when I'm not around.  In the last couple of years I haven't been up much due to my travelling.  D would come up here when I'm away.  It wasn't until my last trip that it all made sense.  She invited D over for a bonfire since his "girlfriend" wasn't up.  D answered "I'm not sure about any girlfriends but MW my wife is in Barcelona and I'm sure she wouldn't want to hear about any girlfriends...".  To which she replied "Oh, wife?!".  It's been peaceful ever since... (I know I've referred to D as my husband more than once over the 9 years we've been neighbours.)  On this same topic, the only time I've ever felt longer than usual stares were in Reykjavik.  The women and men there stare with intensity (non blinking) way longer than we've ever experienced.  To the point where we'd turn around just to see and still find them staring.  Normally we're pretty oblivious to attention like that but it was impossible to ignore.  Intense geology, intense culture we're thinking. 
  • Final cottage story -- Our other neighbour is Italian.  Sometimes we have difficulty understanding what they are saying because of heavy accents.  So D and I were heading out on our walk yesterday and L, (the wife) came running out to the road to ask me how I was.  I replied with "Great, L, how about you?  How was your winter in Florida?".  So she filled me in and asked why we didn't buy in Florida.  To which I said I preferred Europe.  "But you cannot go all the time..", to which I just smiled and nodded...  She continued with, "So how are you?", "So you OK?", "So you are good?".  It finally came out that because she hadn't seen me for a while, only D mostly, she thought I had taken ill.  I assured her I was really fine.  To which she told us that they had recently lost some old friends and now there weren't really anyone around from their group so that is why they started going to Florida for a couple months, next year for 3 months.  Life is too short to wait.  We agreed.  I really appreciated her concern.  D complained that he never gets to experience those types of conversations.  I told him if you don't give, you don't get back. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Expedition Mindset

***Breaking News:  We just experienced a magnitude 4.8 earthquake!  Our Icelandic experience helped prepare us for sensation.***

The Greenland influence was all over this trip.  I couldn't help taking what I saw there, the expedition mindset and applying it to my life. 

If you haven't read the article The Executioner recommended, please do.  It is excellent.  What I wouldn't give to be that good.  I belong in the other camp, which favoured lightness and speed.

I've been travelling with just carry on for years (can you believe this last trip marked my 26th time to Europe?!  Me neither.  If D didn't ask me to tally it, I wouldn't have realized.) as I hate waiting for luggage especially after a long flight.  So how to improve?  By reducing weight further from a technology standpoint.  I went on this trip with a total carry on weight of 8 pounds, thanks to a new lighter pack that got delivered in the nick of time.

The last 3 years has seen the electronics part of my packing inflate with laptops, tablet (The initial attempt at improvement.  D has since hijacked the device.), phones, chargers, adapters. 

I decided on this trip to try using my Wi-Fi capabilities on my Blackberry for checking in for flights, email and for photography (5 mega pixel).  So, if you were wondering why all the photos looked chopped off and a bit boxy, there's your reason.  I wasn't able to get it to zoom or widen.  Likely just user error.  But the weight savings from not having D's camera or our tablet was worth it.

If you are considering doing the same, make sure you disable the roaming if you don't have an oversea data plan.  We've read horror stories of people coming home to thousands of dollars in charges. 

My phone didn't work well on the browser front at all.  It kept getting overwhelmed and conking out -- Blackberry Bold 9700, 3 years old.  Very slow and frustrating.  I had to ask D to check in for me for the flights home.  Trying to pull up weather took ages.  If you want to test your Mobile's browser capabilities, try pulling up the full sites of Delta, Air Canada or The Weather Network. Finally my Ipod is the original type so it weights a lot compared to the newer smaller styles.  

Because I was at the end of my 3 year cell phone contract, once I got home, we went to see what my options were for a device that could take the place of my phone, ipod, camera, and can function more like a computer. I opted for the Samsung Note II.  I can even edit my spreadsheets with it. 

Of course afterwards, I find out the next one may be coming out later this year...But so far so good.  We've both been very impressed.  It feels familiar because it runs on Android, just like our tablet plus I can write notes on it.  It is large so I use a headset to make calls. 

Guess this means I'm working another 3 years (This phone serves as my business line).  Signing this second contract wasn't as traumatic as the first one even though it is costing me $20 more per month.  I found out that the older Blackberrys compress data so they recommended upping my data plan to what "regular" smartphones use so I don't get dinged with extra charges.  And from what we are seeing so far (my new phone tracks data usage), they are correct. 

While we were at it, we explored newer TurboHub options as well as providers as our contract for that ended recently as well.  It is still the best option for us while at the cottage and serves as back up when Internet at home isn't working.  D has to have reliable Internet to be able to work from home, cottage or out west.  We happily pay extra for that privilege. 

This post has been brought to you from our new RocketHub.  D's currently working and we have 2 laptops and both cell phone browsers running (for testing purposes) and it is working like we are at home.  The real test will be when everyone else comes up for the long weekend and are using their devices...Happy Victoria Day Long Weekend Fellow Canadians!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Long Awaited

D accepted the long awaited job offer the day I left for Barcelona.  There was a small signing bonus ($2500) as it was his first internal position.  By the time the tax man gets a hold of it, we'll have enough for a couple of new tires for my car so am happy with that.  Coincidentally we both started in new offices this week.  What are the chances?

He begins with one day a week at home and will work back up to 3 over time (hoping for 2 by the end of the year).  I miss not having him at home on the days I work, to see me off.  The tables have turned and now I'm up at 6 am cooking breakfast and seeing him off.  It is really important he starts the day well.  Hopefully we won't have to be concerned with job hunts or office moves for a while. 

My trip to Barcelona was exactly what I needed.  I rented an apartment in Gracia, a new area for me, which was an easy and scenic 45 min walk to Placa de Catalunya and another 15 min to La Boqueria.  It was so nice to be back for a longer stay than just a day or two.  I was excited to finally be able to explore the city.

I started off by spending the first few days hanging out in my hood.  Pleased with toning things down after all the stuff that had been going on.  Because my visit to Prague wasn't as relaxing as I had hoped, there was a build up of stuff I needed to work through on my own and I was anxious to get at it.  It is a luxury to be able to concern myself with only myself for a short while.  Upgraded to world business class on the way over to kick start things.

The vibe of the city really resonated with me.  People were busy, professional but relaxed.  That's kind of an oxymoron here at home.  The city is visually stunning.  Covered a bit of new ground each day.  Not a whole lot but that didn't bother me.  I haven't felt this laid back and open since Norway or Nice.  All the possibilities of the world opened up to me again.  The regimentation of everyday home life has a tendency to restrict my belief in what's possible.

Very happy I didn't buy tickets to concerts and games in advance as I was content letting things free flow for the duration versus living by a watch or calendar.  That was tough for me because I could have experienced a Bach Cello Concerto, a Spanish Guitar concert, a Baroque vocal concert and a Barca game.

My apartment was new, modern and had a private terrace.  It was wonderful sitting out there after a long day out, letting the late day sun or early evening warmth dry my hair while I wrote or listened to music before deciding what to do that evening.  The weather was in the mid 20s C all week.  The locals were still wearing long sleeves, scarves and pants. 

Got turned around a few times.  The final incident on the last day was the worst.  I broke down and had to ask for directions because I was so frustrated.  It was late, I was outside of my map zone and still needed to pack and get the apartment ready for check out.  To top it off, it was starting to drizzle.  That ended up helping as the rain tapped me out of my funk.

Made no effort to learn Catalan.  It is so different from Spanish I honestly didn't know where to start. People were friendly and would speak to you in Catalan and quickly got used to seeing my deer in the headlights look as I had zero idea what they were saying.  Thank goodness they would switch to Spanish after hearing my often pathetic attempts to explain myself.  I think it was cool they thought I could understand in the first place.

Each morning before I'd head out, I'd read over my language sheets.  It's amazing how helpless I felt when I couldn't remember how to say the word 'slice' or 'piece' or 'few' or 'it doesn't fit' or 'that one'' etc. etc.  It was glaringly obvious I need to study more. 

If you are going to stay outside of the core, don't expect anybody/many people to be able to speak English.  You will also have to make up your own maps as regular tourist maps didn't extend far enough.  D helped me out with that.  And I worked on memorizing them as I only pull maps out in public as last resort.

Enjoyed my area so much I didn't cover near the amount of ground I originally had in mind.  I was prepared for everything.  Each area of the city is self contained.  You will find at least one good market and pretty much everything you would need.  Mine had a small village feel.  It wasn't fancy or full of architectural gems but was simple and uncluttered.  Reflected how I wanted to feel inside.

 First purchase from my local market
Mercat de la Llibertat

How cool was this find?!  The owner is from Iceland

Sunday, May 12, 2013