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Home seems like an inconceivable concept to me now as I face the end of this incredible journey in Spain. I can’t quite wrap my head around the prospect of home and all that it entails. One one hand, I am so, so excited to get back to everything and everyone that I love and miss–I feel like I could cry at once again owning my own car and having the independence to go anywhere I please. I can’t wait to be able to get back to my city of Philadelphia and explore how it’s changed and how it’s exactly the same. I’m eagerly looking forward to being able to eat Indian one night, sushi the next, and perhaps Ethiopian the night after if we so choose. I am ecstatic to get back to a place where I can communicate and express myself effectively.

But of course, while I am very excited to get back to familiarity, I am so, so sad to be leaving this slightly more exotic and interesting life behind. Telling people that I live in Spain has been something to be proud of–it says that I have challenged myself, I have stepped outside of the expected norms and I am learning new things and new ways of life every day. Living in Spain also had the benefit of a mind-boggling amount of opportunities to travel and experience even more in the past 10 months than I have for the first 25 years of life.

I am not the same person as I was 10 months ago. I feel like everything inside of me has been woken up and shaken to the core.

The life that I thought I wanted and the path I was sure I would follow has changed completely. I now question everything that I have ever wanted–was I conditioned to want these things because of my environment, upbringing and peers, or do I really want something based upon the people my husband and I now are? Do I really need the things that American Marketing says I need? Sometimes, the answer is “yes, absolutely” while other times, I am repulsed at the compulsive, needy creature that I can be and instead crave the simplicity I’ve experienced abroad.

Living in Spain meant that I was free to explore myself–who I am and who I want to become. Living within another culture and in another place forced me to do some serious self-reflective thinking about my life personally, professionally and emotionally. I was pushed to dissect very dark spaces in my mind as I struggled to adjust to a new life.

As I was alone without friends and frustrated with people and a language I didn’t understand, I couldn’t help but be either constantly angry at myself for not appreciating everything, being too stupid to learn a language, or being too stubborn and hating certain aspects of living abroad. And if I wasn’t angry at myself, I was angry at others for simply being different and unfamiliar or just plain unaccommodating. I learned that the anger was mostly just fear–fear of making the wrong choice, fear of being lonely, fear of change and fear of the real person I was without the comfortable bubble I was so used to. Looking at the world I lived in as an outsider helped me hold a mirror up to my own life and ask myself some very difficult, philosophical questions about who I am.

Asking those questions and getting over my fear and anger was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. It took about three months to get over the bewildering shock of it all. And when I realized that I was actually just fine (imagine that), my worldview shifted entirely.

I saw people outside of myself. Of course, I always understood that there are people outside of myself, but I started to really see what people in the rest of the world were experiencing. I realized that life is more meaningful when you seek to understand and appreciate those outside of yourself and others like you. I realized that life is more satisfying when you accept diversity and differences instead of push back at them with fear and anger. This worldview tells me that while my personal experiences in life are important (i.e. I want to live my life in a way that is exciting and fulfilling to me), understanding and empathizing with people who are not like me is essential to living a good life.

As soon as that clicked, I was fascinated rather than frustrated by the differences I saw in others around me. The opportunities to travel and see more excited me and made me utterly ecstatic to be experiencing life in Spain. Suddenly, I couldn’t imagine living my life any other way. I couldn’t imagine living without cultural enrichment in my life.

Now, I return home as a slightly different version of myself. I am more mature, more patient, and more understanding of the world, though I know I still have a long way to go. I am going home with a fire lit in my heart to experience everything I can in this world with a passion to never stop learning.

I know that home will be difficult for me, and perhaps just as much of a culture shock as I experienced as I first entered Spain. Everything and everyone will be loud because suddenly, I will understand what they are saying–the good, the bad and the annoying. I will be thrust back into the commercial America that made me eager to leave in the first place. I will be back in the homeland of t-shirts and sweatsuits and the Jersey Shore cast. I shudder at the thought.

I will also have so many more choices than I’ve learned to live with during my time abroad, which can be a good but overwhelming prospect. I will be amazed or completely bewildered by television since I’ve missed almost a year of it. I will be surprised to realize that my once-favorite snacks are either as amazing as I remember or just not as great as I’ve hyped them up to be over 10 months of missing them. I will be more firm in my decision to be organic as the choices are much more available. I will go back to my beloved farmer’s market in Philadelphia, which I have missed desperately. I’ll be back on the job market and back in a much smaller house with much much closer neighbors and no ocean view to speak of.

There is definitely another transition ahead. As much as I’ve learned about myself while abroad, my journey is far from over as I reenter the life I left behind and reevaluate the values and possessions I held dear just 10 months ago.

I am sad to see Spain go. I am sad that this incredible, wild, amazing, wonderful, life-changing moment in my life has come to an end. I leave Spain with a hunger for more of the world and to go, do, see everything, but there is a new reality to contend with and now I must learn more about balance.

There is no doubt in my mind that I am a better person due to my travels. I am happier, more fulfilled and more ready than ever to tackle the next phase of my life. I am so excited to get back into the workforce and make new strides in that part of my life. I am also excited to rediscover everything I love about Philadelphia and what I missed so much about it. Most of all, I’m excited to see where the next chapter in my marriage goes as Mike and I have grown so much as a couple in the last year.

Home. It’s going to be another adventure, another adjustment, another opportunity to learn even more about myself and what lies ahead.

Living it up

Living it up

With the final time that we have here, I’ve been so busy living it up that my poor blog has been suffering!!

Here’s an update of all that happened:

  1. My cousin Rachel came to visit us for three weeks. Here in Galicia, we went to Coruña, Lugo, Santiago and Pontedeume. We stopped in Porto, Portugal as well so Rachel could taste some Port wines. We also went to Girona and Barcelona for a week. We got Rachel to try an incredible amount of new foods including oysters, shrimp heads, gooseneck barnacles, mussels, and oh, about a million other things. In Barcelona, I met one of my chef idols, Albert Adria.
  2. We had an outrageously fun barbeque with some friends where we proceeded to drink a few too many wines, beers and shots (!!) during the afternoon into the late evening.
  3. We went to a local (insane) holiday here called La Noche de San Xoan (the night of St. John) where the locals all bring wood, cardboard, doors, window frames, and anything else that will burn to the beach and set it on fire. It looked like the world was ending and it was the most insane and incredible sight we have seen since seeing lions kill that buffalo.
  4. Mike and I just got back from a long weekend in San Sebastian where we ate at the 3rd, 8th, and 31st best restaurants in the world, as well as stuffed our faces with some incredible tapas. There is SO much to say about these restaurants.
  5. We have been packing up our things this week as the movers come on Friday to take our stuff.
  6. I’ve been working my ass off to get my resumes and online portfolio together so I can find a job when I get home.
  7. On Tuesday, we are leaving for a last-minute trip to IRELAND and NORTH IRELAND
  8. When we get back, we have two days before we leave for Madrid with our puppy dogs to stay for the weekend before…
  9. On the 31st, we hand our puppies off to their airport transfer and we get on a plane and go back home where we will eat an insane amount of pizza, sushi, Indian food and Mexican food.
  10. In September, we head to Las Vegas to spend time with my family for 5 days and then we head to Denver for 3 days on our way back home.

Whew!!

AND I still have a few things from May and June to recap for you guys! There just aren’t enough hours in the day to live and then write about it.

So I hope you guys are still with me because I have a LOT to say, but I’m just not sure how frequently I’ll be able to post in the next few weeks as we have our trip to IRELAND and then we have Madrid and then we’re home.

I’ve made a few videos recently that I’ll post up here in the next few days to catch you up with some of the above happenings.

Just to leave you with a teaser of what’s to come, here was the beach in Coruña on la noche de San Xoan when some of the fires (not even all of them) had already been lit!

You can see the fires all along the coastline, and in the background, fireworks are going off while thousands and thousands of kids drink and take hallucinogens way too close to these homemade fire teepees. Spain amazes me.

 

Running Out of Time

Running Out of Time

Well folks, we’ve known for quite some time that it was likely, but now we know for sure: our time here in Spain will be cut short.

We were supposed to be here for a year, but unfortunately it just didn’t work out that way and our final date here will be July 31st. That’s only about 9.5 months abroad!! I feel like it’s been much too short and I’m very very sad that I will have to leave Spain behind.

Living abroad changed so much about me. It broke me down and pushed me to really figure out how to live a life so different from the one I had left behind in New Jersey. It wasn’t easy. The first three months were hell. It took about 5 months for me to really like it here, and of course, now that I’ve been here for 7 months, I love it and don’t want to leave so soon.

But we always knew that the fantasy life would have to come to an end, and that’s why we’ve been cramming so many trips in lately: we wanted to seize every opportunity we could to travel and explore. We still have a little bit of time to do even more: my trip to Barcelona with my cousin is coming up and we have a trip to San Sebastian planned after that. We’ve already been to both cities, but it will be nice to see them more thoroughly a second time around.

And other than that, we’ll take a few day trips to cities near us and try to enjoy our last months here.

I am so, so grateful that I got this opportunity though. Even if it is only 9 months, it was absolutely life-changing and I feel like a much better person for having experienced so much in so little time. I feel more independent, more confident, and even more addicted to travel than ever before.

I have much more to say on the subject of how this experience has changed me in specific ways, but I’ll save that for another day.

For now, I’m just grateful and amazed and happy. And quite sad that this experience is coming to an end.

Mom & Dad’s Visit to Spain

Mom & Dad’s Visit to Spain

Apologies for my absence last week, but I had a good reason! My parents came to town!!

We were so busy bouncing around and showing them everything we could that I just didn’t have a lot of time to sit down and write.

I have my latest video here to recap Mom & Dad’s visit!

Today, my younger cousin is coming to town and she’ll be with us for a longer stay–nearly 2 weeks with us here at our house, and then I will travel with her to Barcelona for nearly a week before she heads back home. I am nervous because I have never traveled without Mike, but I’m also excited because it gives me the opportunity to prove to myself that I am capable of navigating an unfamiliar city just as well.

I know that I’ll be taking Rachel on quite a few adventures in the coming weeks, but hopefully I’ll have some time to sit and write more since we don’t have to be nearly as fast-paced with all the time we have.

How was your week? Have you ever traveled internationally with your parents? How did it go?

Torre de Hercules Picnic

Torre de Hercules Picnic

In Coruña, about a half an hour away from our house, is the Torre de Hercules, or Tower of Hercules. You might remember my post about it back in November.

It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and for good reason: it’s gorgeous. Well, that and it’s home to a lighthouse that was built in the 2nd century, which is pretty impressive. So back in March (ha! It was nicer weather in March than it is now. Go figure) we went for a picnic. We brought two bottles of wine, got a little tipsy and took a nap right by the ocean. A pretty perfect day.

I made this video to test out Final Cut HD when I first bought it, and made it mostly just for the two of us. But today I figured I’d share since it’s Friday and it’s kind of fun.

Music: Feel the Love/Cut Copy
Shot with my Flip Cam

Watching it makes me so glad that we upgraded our camera! The Panasonic HDC TM-900’s quality is incredibly superior.

I’ll be introducing a whole bunch of guest bloggers on Monday to keep you company while we’re in South Africa! Have a good two weeks!

Recent Adventures Around the House

Recent Adventures Around the House

I haven’t been updating much on day-to-day life around here since it doesn’t seem quite as glamorous as traveling, but I thought I’d do a lump post of a few adventures we’ve had in the past few months that have stuck out in my mind, as well as a couple of pictures I like. 🙂

European Spiny Crab

These crabs are fascinating and terrifying at the same time. I was afraid to buy them at the market, but I know that there are only so many opportunities in my life to cook European Spiny Crab for myself, so I eventually grew a pair and then bought a pair. They were good crabs, but the bodies didn’t have quite as much meat in them as I anticipated, and surprisingly enough I like the blue claw crabs easily found in NJ better.

The dogs were THRILLED though and thought that they were special treats for them. Sorry, guys.

We didn’t put that poor crab through too much torture, but the dogs were intensely hungry for curious about it.

Lagavulin Scotch

If you’re a Parks & Recreation fan, you might recognize this bottle of scotch. Ron Swanson loves his Lagavulin with his steak.

Mike wanted to learn a little bit more about scotch, and so he bought a bottle of Lagavulin. It has an incredibly strong, smoky flavor and it was very interesting. Mike drinks his neat (without water or ice) and I just had a little splash to try. I can’t say that I’ll be a regular scotch drinker, but I could appreciate it for what it was.

Spanish Sidra

First of all, I know my husband looks like Where’s Waldo. Second of all, stop being so jealous. 😉

Dry Spanish cider is not very commonly found in the States. Cider found in the States is usually cloyingly sweet with carbonation. Dry Spanish cider, or Sidra, is not sweet and only has slight carbonation when you pour it from up high.

Mike has stated to me on multiple occasions that he wants us to make our own Spanish-style cider one day when we have a farm and orchards of our own. I’m having a bit of a hard time picturing it at the moment, but whatever makes you happy, Waldo honey.

Sad, but Beautiful Sunset

Remember the Fragas do Eume adventure we went on in the woods? Well, someone set fire to part of the woods not too long ago and since it had been so dry here, the fire spread quickly. The whole sky was filled with smoke and it was so heavy that we could smell the burning from inside the house.

As the sun set that evening, it looked like the Apocolypse. The sky burned bright orange-red, and while it was very beautiful, it was sad to know that someone had set out to destroy a pristine piece of nature. I believe the Fragas is open again and it will recover, but many people in this region are still very sad about the incident since they had all grown up around the Fragas and all have very dear memories there.

But, so I don’t end this post on a sad note…

The Dogs’ Favorite Spot

It isn’t often that our dogs can get a good look at the top of our heads, so they love to stand on the landing of the stairs right above our kitchen table and look down on us while we eat dinner. There is also a window right next to them that they can look out of, so it’s really an ideal spot for two dogs that need to be “in the know” about everything in the house.

So those are a few of our recent little adventures! Are you a scotch drinker? Have you tried Spanish Cider? What did you think?

A Sea Feast

A Sea Feast

I’m getting very close to finishing up our Portugal video, so hopefully I’ll have that for you guys this week.

This past Friday, Mike and I decided to cook two new things: squid and gooseneck barnacles. We also decided to include two of our favorite standbys, mussels and oysters, in case of an inept disaster.

The squid could have turned out to be a disaster. I bought little ones and thought that in order to play it safe, I’d batter and fry them. Instead of doing any research whatsoever on what I was doing, I decided to dunk the whole squid in the egg, (head, eyes, insides, skin, “backbone” and all) then the flour, and lo and behold, the flour didn’t stick. And Mike was giving me the side-eye while asking if we’re really supposed to eat the whole thing.

So he had the brilliant plan to look up how to actually prepare squid. This video is short and helpful if you’re interested.

Here’s what we did.

The squid was delicious. And really, it was nice because I learned something new about cleaning and preparing seafood, which is always a good thing. No, scooping goo out of the squid wasn’t pleasant, but the feeling was immediately replaced with, “Wow, this is really cool that I can do this myself.” There’s really nothing like the feeling of learning something new.

Besides the squid, we also tried a new creature in the kitchen that was also new to our tastebuds: Gooseneck Barnacles.

Gooseneck barnacles are teeny tiny little things that grow in clusters. In my opinion, the taste is very similar to crab with the texture of a clam. The flesh is sweet and very delicious, but they definitely took some work to get to. Since we boiled them in a little bit of saltwater (enough to steam, not enough to cover), they were filled with steaming hot liquid that would squirt out everywhere if we weren’t careful. I thought they were very very good, but I think that we’ll really only buy them again if we have guests since they’re a bit of a novelty.

Mike shucked our oysters. We had nice, cold Leinenkugel beers. I made garlic bread. And as always, the mussels here are absolutely divine.

The mussels here in Galicia are unlike any other mussels I’ve had. They are so, so, SO good and probably the cheapest thing you can buy at the market. A win-win all around. The oysters are also very good, but difficult to find. The small oysters are a very decent size though (I wouldn’t call them small) and are about €0.50 each.

Overall, our sea feast was a success. We’ve been slowly making our way though all sorts of new and fun creatures, and it’s been very rewarding (and delicious) to try all of them.

I think the one type of sea creature that I simply do not like very much is shrimp. Even though they are good here and Mike loves them, I’ve just never been a big fan. I’ll still eat them when we’re out if Mike wants them, but don’t cook them very often at home. I keep eating shrimp in hopes that one day I’ll *get* it. Hasn’t happened yet, which is odd to me because I can recognize “oh, this is a very good shrimp” and still just not really like it. I don’t think I feel that way about any other foods, and it bothers me that I am like that with shrimp!! I just want to like it, for goodness sakes!

What’s your favorite type of seafood? What can you just NOT get into?

5 Months in Spain

5 Months in Spain

We’ve been in Spain a little over 5 months now, and I have to say…my perspective has changed quite a lot since we first got here. I talked a little about my expat depression and how hard it was for me to adjust to life here, but even in the couple of months since I wrote that post, things have been getting better and better.

I really really like living here. I could even see that “like” becoming a “love” eventually if we’re here long enough (still no word on how long we’ll really be here). The fact that we’ve had more opportunities to travel than I ever thought I would in my LIFE is especially amazing. Aaand I have to admit, a little addicting.

This job will end sometime this year and Mike and I are already trying our best to think ahead. Yes, we’ll go back to New Jersey when we’re finished here, but we’ve been increasingly talking about how we might want to continue on this international path with other opportunities through his company if they should arise.

To help us think critically about it, I’ve come up with a list of pros and cons for this lifestyle after 5 months of expat life and being generally happy with our experience thus far.

Pros:

  • Money. It might sound superficial, but money is important to us and just during the time we’ve been here, we’ve paid off my student loans (with help from my parents, but it’s still a HUGE burden off of our shoulders). We’ve also saved up enough money to do some decent-sized renovations to our house to make it more attractive/liveable (or sellable, depending). We’re also working toward saving for our future children, paying more down on our mortgage and putting more toward our e-trade investments. Those strides toward financial security make a huge difference in our lives, making us feel happier and more accomplished. Continuing to save toward our future is a very attractive aspect of living internationally.
  • Travel. Mike and I always had high ambitions to travel and see the world, but between my lack of vacation time and the sheer cost of flights from Philly, taking an international vacation just couldn’t have been in the cards every year, much less multiple times a year. Living internationally takes away the frustration of a lack of vacation days and gives us a better launching point to the rest of the world. We will absolutely get to see parts of the world that we never thought we would see otherwise.
  • The ability to live an extraordinary life. We have one life. We have a limited time on this planet. We want to learn and see and experience so many things, and being in the position to actually get to do it is rare.  A part of me feels like…who am I to pass up these opportunities? When I look back on my life (hopefully) as an old woman, wouldn’t I be proud of the extraordinary things I was able to do?
  • Personal Challenge. I have no doubt that the months I spend here will shape who I become as a person. They already have. Living away from the familiar and challenging myself every day to find happiness and meaning in a foreign country have made me stronger. I can only imagine that more experience in this world will further push me to become a better & more well-rounded person.

Cons:

  • Family. The biggest, biggest, BIGGEST thing holding me back from going all in with this lifestyle is the fact that I wouldn’t see my family very often. Mike and I will eventually have a family of our own, and I would love my parents and my sister & BIL to have a part in that family. I would be interrupting that relationship by moving away, especially while my children are young and before my parents have retired away from New Jersey. No matter what, money and travel can’t replace quality time spent with family. Will we be missing the point of life? While we only have one life, my parents do too, so does that mean we should do what we can to spend as much time as possible with them? Will I actually look back on life and say I should have stayed with family more than travel the world? They’re heavy questions, and we’re not sure if there is an easy answer.
  • Loneliness. Living away from people who share a common language with us is lonely at times. It’s frustrating to not have people who we could call up and get together with for drinks or dinner. This gets easier the longer we stay, but if we moved someplace like Romania or Poland where we don’t know anything about the language or culture, how would we fare making friends?
  • Missing familiar luxuries. This has become easier to deal with, but I still miss some of my favorite American treats and rituals. I pine for some decent Asian cuisine. I miss Indian food and Mexican food and variety. I miss Nordstrom and TJ Maxx and DSW. I miss a normal 6-7 o’clock dinner schedule when eating out. Getting used to things that aren’t what I grew up knowing aren’t as easy as I thought they would be. If we happened to move somewhere that isn’t even as modern as Spain, would we have rather lived with less money but more of the things we know and love than something weird and scary like…pig head and tripe stew? (omg, I’m totally making that up, but it’s a fear of mine)
  • Family again. I very very much don’t want to completely miss out on family, but I know that we would definitely fly back to visit for holidays and welcome them to visit us anytime. Is that enough?

So there you have it. The person inside of me with a serious sense of adventure keeps telling me… “GO FOR IT!” while the person who has been seriously missing family during the loneliest days tugs at my heart and asks me what’s really important in life.

We can only decide what’s right for us. I know my parents would support us if we decided to keep traveling, but I’m sure it would be with some sadness as well that they would see us go. We will probably still spend the majority of our lives in the United States, but I don’t want them to miss out on important milestones for our future family.

If you had the opportunity to travel, make money, and experience new things for a few years during your young life, would you do it? Or would you want to stay closer to family? Fellow expats: how do you deal with being far away from family? Have you struggled with these questions as well?

Fragas do Eume

Fragas do Eume

Gosh, it’s probably been more than a month since we went to Fragas do Eume, but I absolutely love the photos we took from this adventure, so I wanted to share them with you. Apologies for two posts about my dogs back-to-back, but they’re so freakin’ cute that I’m sure you don’t mind.

Right?

Right???

Well, regardless, I think the photos are pretty cool. Fragas do Eume is a natural park about 10-15 minutes from our home, and it has the Eume river running through it. The North of Spain has some very different vegetation than the south, and is probably not what most people expect. We have pine trees, we have palm trees, we have rolling green hills and pastures…and we have eucalyptus. Lots and lots of eucalyptus trees.

Eucalyptus trees aren’t necessarily a good thing. They aren’t good for the soil as they require a lot of water, and so it can affect crops in the area if there are too many eucalyptus. And eucalyptus also affects the atmosphere…because of the oil the tree produces, it can give off a distinct blueish haze into the air, which looks like fog or steam. It also makes the Eume river BRIGHT turquiose because of this oil.

The forest itself is largely protected from the invasive eucalyptus, but since it surrounds the park, we still got to see the bright blue water.

I did not photoshop or enhance these photos in any way, so the colors really are that vivid!

Doesn’t really look like Spain, huh? All of the trees are covered in squishy, bright green moss. I almost felt like I was on another planet, especially with that turquoise river we hiked along. Also, if you look closely at the river, you’ll be able to see that it is still incredibly clear–We could see to the bottom even in the middle of the river when we were on the bank.

Why yes, I did make my dog sit on a tree stump just to get the right photo moment.

And yes, we have groomed their faces since these photos were taken, so we can see Zoe’s eyes now.

Annnd…

We’ll definitely be going back to Fragas do Eume–we had a great time and it was so beautiful. We’d love to explore more of the trails and maybe indulge in a picnic.

Speaking of picnics, we are very excited to be going on one tomorrow in another location!! I’ll be sure to write about that next week 🙂

Have a good weekend!

 

Neiiighbors

Neiiighbors

Okay, I know that was SO lame, but I really couldn’t resist.

I’m still editing through Wrigley and Zoe’s photos from their day at the beach, so I thought I’d give you guys some other animals to admire.

Next door to our house is an empty plot of grass, and one day we woke up to some strange noises on the other side of the fence. Upon investigation, we realized that three horses had been transferred to the field to cut and fertilize the area.

Of course, I needed a better look at the horses, so armed with my camera, Mike and I went out to the field to take some pictures, and eventually…make a friend.

The one closest to us was intensely curious about our presence and so he came over cautiously. I think he was under the impression that we were going to feed him, so I immediately regretted not bringing carrots or sugarcubes or something.

But I started petting his nose and he let me! Mike was freaking out a bit at this point, afraid that the horse might turn around and bite me.

But just the opposite occurred. The horse was very friendly and curious, and I was very happy to have been able to meet him. I still think he would have preferred a carrot or something.

The horses have since been moved to another pasture in the area, but the grass is getting a little long once again, so I hope to see my friends soon.

Do you like horses? Would you have gone up to a strange horse without knowing if it was friendly? Looking back on it, I suppose it was a little risky to get that close, but I guess throwing caution to the wind worked out this time. 😉