Life is crazy.

The relocation chaos has mostly settled. We went to Barcelona for three days over Easter break and had a blast. I’m learning Spanish now for real. Life is getting easier here in Espana. And the other day, when I went to exchange my rental car, Avis gave me a 2021 M-series BMW that I can keep until August. I just. What. I’m in love with the car and now I think I need to get one when we return to the US? Yes.

Camping this weekend because the weather is perfect. We’re doing the famous “settling in.” The new Beemer and our stuff arriving in a week or so helps.

If I were a person who was into socials and cared about followers, I could probably make a Spain Pimp Life account on Insta or whatever and brag incessantly for likes. But that’s not me. (I do have an Insta for this blog but I never remember to update it. I will post one pic below just for proof, ha.) Trust me, we’re very fortunate! 🙂 It feels unreal. Sometimes my husband and I just pause, look at each other and laugh because how is this even our life? But it is.

The reservoir

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I went to a reservoir park.

We spent an hour hiking around. There is a quartz line running down toward the beach about 30 ft long, and big chunks of white and rose quartz all over the ground.

Great spot for rock hounds like us.

Great spot in general. I’m looking forward to going when it gets a bit warmer.

Burnout

This thing has a name: expat burnout.

It helps to put a name to it. And it helps to know this is common. Even expected.

Today I had a chat with a friend/work associate of sorts in Barcelona that made me feel somewhat human again. I needed that social interaction. We’ve been hermiting probably too much and it’s time to go out into this world, meet some people and practice our Spanish.

And, whoa, this afternoon I gave this favorite a listen. It’s been a dream of mine since I was in high school and heard about Miles Davis and specifically this album (on vinyl, still have it, in the shipping container in Louisiana) to listen to it while in Spain. So here we are. 🙂 Dreams do come true.

Writing down the worst of how I feel – it helps me to name it, then drag it out like a thrashing, recalcitrant demon into open daylight, examine it dispassionately and then let it go. Acknowledging that yes, this shituation is pretty fucked up and yes, I feel sort of lost and my husband and I have been through a prolonged ordeal together throughout this move, and yes, we haven’t been our best selves all the time like when I burst into tears at the grocery store because I didn’t know we had to weigh our own produce and put the little sticker on the bag for the checkout lady but it will get better, it has to get better, let’s make sure it gets better for us by supporting each other and taking some risks and meeting some new friends and BE here, really try to be here.

It helps.

What I haven’t told you

It’s time to get real.

I’ve been trying to make the best of this relocation despite daily set-backs, complications, mistakes, miscommunications, the language barrier and various other difficulties but I am done pretending now that I’m ok. I am not ok and have not been for some time. This has been a complete disaster.

Traveling is one thing. Tearing your life to pieces and then trying to rebuild a brand new life in a foreign country is something quite different.

Yesterday – let’s just start with the latest crappy surprise – I found out that I have to get a Spanish driver’s license. This will cost anywhere from 830-2300 USD (each). I have to take driving school classes. I have to get a physical and mental check-up and also petition the DMV in Louisiana to provide written confirmation that I have no blocks on my driver’s license. If you’re at all familiar with the Kafkaesque nightmare that is the Louisiana DMV you will understand that this may take months if they ever even provide it, and I guarantee they will not mail it overseas so I have no idea how I am going to receive this proof since, in my experience here in Spain, every government office wants printed hard copies with wet signatures.

I am not entirely convinced I would pass a mental check-up right now in any language. Of course the written “theoretical” test as well as the practical tests are all in Spanish. The fees are not reimbursable – I have to pay out of pocket. The test is notoriously difficult to pass, even for native Spaniards. I will likely have to take driving classes on my weekends. Oh, and while lying awake in bed at 3AM stressing out over this and other problems with the relocation, dimly wondering if this relocation will give me a heart attack and actually kill me, I realized it will almost definitely be on a manual transmission car, which I cannot drive. And I have to have this license by the end of June or else my company will not allow me to lease a car any longer. I found out about this requirement yesterday on accident while chatting with a work associate. My HR did not relay this info to me; the relocation company that is supposed to be helping us get settled in here did not tell me. I found out by accident, nearly two full months after we moved here.

I could write a laundry list of the multiple failures of the eight or so entities that are involved in this move and various acts of god that have made this year-long effort to relocate me to Spain during covid a complete clusterfuck nightmare. All of my personal belongings from my old home (before we were made homeless for three months in the US by this relocation) are still sitting in a humid warehouse in a Louisiana swamp, waiting on a ship. I suspect all of my books, paintings and anything cloth are ruined by now, covered in mildew or mold and stinking to hell.

It’s my great great grandmother’s bone china. It’s my Canon DSLR. It’s all of my original artwork (30+ pieces of original work) that’s been exhibited in various art shows in New Orleans. It’s my library of 2,000+ books that has taken me decades to build. It’s my grandfather’s coin collection. It’s irreplaceable items I have obtained and cherished from around the world. It’s the rest of my clothes, my shoes, my record player and records, my furniture, my kitchenware, small appliances, linens, bath towels, almost everything material that is dear to me and everything that makes a house a home. It’s my husband’s things, his grandmother’s quilts, his tools, his clothes. It’s our stuff. We need our stuff.

This relocation, by my estimate, has cost me roughly 10,000 USD out of pocket so far. My husband thinks it is more. My savings are completely wiped out. We are broke. And more expenses, such as these Spanish driver licenses, keep popping up with no warning. I had to pay 850 USD last week to refill the oil in our water heater in order for us to have heat and hot water. We went without showers for 4 days until I got paid so I could buy the fuel. The house has heated flooring – no HVAC. And that will happen roughly every 3 months, that expense, if we want consistent hot water. My husband discovered that the underground rain basin for garden irrigation has a giant hole busted in the bottom, so it looks like I’ll be paying for whatever water the gardener (we don’t want a gardener but were told we have no choice) will use when he does the yard. At peak rates during the summer. It’s going to cost a fortune.

One of the major attractions of this move was living in a country with a low cost of living on an American salary. Our hope, our main goal, is to save money here while we live in Spain so that we can buy a house when we return to the US. At this rate, we will never be able to save money for a house. I was also hoping to pay down a lot of debt. Instead we are increasing our debt by being here and drowning in this money pit of a house we don’t even own. With no recourse, no way to break the lease that we know of since we don’t know renters law in Spain, because despite asking repeatedly for legal help from our relocation company for the past two months as we watch this house fall down around us and the bills skyrocket, we have still been given none. In short, we’ve been ripped off and are being made to eat the cost personally.

This situation is mentally exhausting. Keeping up with the latest legal requirements, tax requirements, bills and utility issues is a full-time job. I started smoking again, I’ve gained three pounds and I am drinking way too much Rioja. We have no support system on the ground. We are scared to drive anywhere in case we get pulled over and ticketed again. We are outside the city and nothing is in walking distance. We are together 24/7 and my husband is so bored, he needs his machinist shop set up so he can start work but again, that takes money and I am hemorrhaging cash every time I turn around. We have lost water, power and internet all in one week due to inadequate power supply, random water cuts no one told us about, and a mistake our consultant made – putting our internet under her personal phone number. We receive our power bills in PDF attachments over WhatsApp. No one can tell me when the water bill is going to autodraft. It took us a month to get our Spain debit cards. Meanwhile we had no access to the 1000.00 USD in the account. They simply forgot to mail them. For a month.

I have learned that this area is prone to home invasions, which now explains why everyone in our neighborhood has huge dogs that bark constantly. The fun thing (not actually fun) about home invasions here in Spain is that once someone breaks into your house it is very difficult to legally remove them. They can squat in your home, using your kitchen, your bathroom, taking your stuff, doing whatever, for weeks, and if you forcibly remove them from your home you can get arrested if they get hurt or even claim to get hurt. It is absolute insanity. So that’s something I live in fear of every day now. Fun.

Our internet was out for nearly two weeks last month before we managed to get it restored. And only then because our landlord, a native Spanish speaker, helped us. It took three phone calls and a few transfers to different departments to even get the right person to do the order. Customer service here is abysmal. It’s a joke. Service people show up whenever they feel like it, early or late or the next day (the famous “manana”). This (expensive) house is falling apart. Curtain rods and shelves fall off the walls and the place is furnished with crappy IKEA bedframes and cabinets. There is a disgusting sewage smell that comes from the upstairs bathroom randomly, usually when it rains, that we cannot get fixed. So the whole house occasionally smells like raw shit.

Most of this may be culture shock. But for now, I am not happy with this relocation experience and most of it has to do with how horribly it’s been mishandled before, during and especially after the move. We are so, so unprepared and I feel like we’ve been set up to fail. We should have been taking language lessons as soon as our belongings were packed and taken away last year. We should have been given resources to meet other expats, legal information on driving, renting, utilities information, all of the practical matters we need to know. Instead I have been told to “use Google” and “be more resourceful.”

So, with Google translate, hand gestures, broken Spanish and French and the kindness of strangers, we are getting by.

I hope I will have a happier update in a few months. I hope then I will look back at this and say “Wow, I was so sad and stressed in March during the rough adjustment period. Things are much better now! I love Espana! Also check out my new Spanish driver’s license, woo!” Right now, that feels impossible. It has been impossible to relax and truly enjoy this country so far. What was supposed to be a happy, exciting time was instead a complete ordeal of hurricanes, homelessness, constant moving, drama, incompetence, setbacks, paperwork and chasing people all over the place, forcing them to do their jobs on a weekly basis. It was completely exhausting and demoralizing. We are still exhausted and demoralized and the constant badgering, lack of help, miscommunication and lack of support persists in new, daily, frustrating, expensive and confusing forms. I truly DO want to love it here, we both do. We have been looking forward to this move for so long, looking forward to living in Europe and experiencing a different way of life.

Peine forte et dure (French for “hard and forceful punishment”) was a method of torture formerly used in the common law legal system, in which a defendant who refused to plead (“stood mute”) would be subjected to having heavier and heavier stones placed upon his or her chest until a plea was entered, or death.

I feel like stones are piling on my chest, each one representing a unique problem with this move over the course of the last fifteen months. I feel like I have a mountain of rocks on my sternum that I’ve been carrying around and it’s starting to crush me. I am one or two stones away from pleading. That said, I am determined to stick it out. We both are. We are neither one of us quitters.

I wrote this post in part because I could not find anything else like it on the internet, on expat blogs, etc. No one talks about this. It all seems so very glamorous, moving overseas, starting a different sort of life, the interesting little towns, the scenery, the history and magic of old Europe. And it is interesting and beautiful here, no doubt. But it’s not all castle ruins, excellent food and Insta posts. It’s fucking hard. Let’s not pretend otherwise.

I desperately want to fall in love with Spain. I think that I will, in time. Learning the language is helping. There are things about this country that I like quite a lot. Most of this isn’t Spain’s fault; the fault lies partly with me for not taking more initiative, for being naïve enough to think the help we were promised would be adequate. Once it became clear that was not the case, I should have tried something else.

I accept some blame. Now I will try something else, starting today. I am resourceful, it turns out. Watch me resource.

fun times shopping on amazon.es

Dawn dish soap is ungettable in Spain. Instead, we have soap called Fairy.

If you want grits, be prepared to pay. And wait.

That’s 50 Euro, not dollars.

And if you like Sweet Pea body lotion from Bath and Body Works, I have bad news.

hey, but free shipping!

I could post more examples, such as how it took us a solid month to find baking soda in the grocery stores. Also, forget Uber Eats or pizza delivery if you’re outside the city. We have one restaurant that delivers to the house, a very good Indian place 30 minutes away. Minimum order is 75 euro and it takes 2.5 hours with no updates or tracking, you just have to hope it shows up.

It’s an adjustment.

File this one under culture shock.

Lo siento, no hablo Espanol :(

My mantra. My refrain. My go-to phrase whenever I am not home. It’s so rote now it’s almost a lie. I can speak Spanish well enough to tell people I am an American (Soy Americana), and I cannot speak Spanish.

Life goes on. Our household goods might leave the US this week on their months-long journey to us. Might. Hopefully, by summer, we will have our stuff. We have internet again now, after being down 11 days and with nearly no help, despite a person being paid expressly TO help us. She kept telling us to call the internet company. Phone calls, not texts that I can manually type into Google Translate, not emails that automatically translate, not even an online form that Chrome can translate. Nope, just phone calls. No other way to do it. “Just call them.”

Lo siento, no hablo Espanol!

Thankfully, finally, we have reached a calmer point in our “settling in” that everyone keeps asking about.

“How are you settling in?”

“Well we’ve been down with no internet for a week and a half, Kelly is working off her mobile hot spot every day from home and racking up a fortune in data fees but we can’t view our bill because the 2factorAuth code to register online for the account goes to a German consultant who won’t write us back, we can’t get anyone to help us with it who speaks English, our water intermittently gets shut off with no warning every week, usually while in the shower or doing dishes, our 60 amp main breaker trips if we run the dishwasher and the dryer at the same time, and we’re about to run out of hot water and heating because the oil that runs the water heater is very low and it’s going to cost about 700.00 USD to fill it just halfway and it’s in the 30s at night here still. HOW ARE YOU DOING.”

Settling in, though, yes. The power has been upgraded. Internet is back. We get more fuel for the water heater in two days. We have given up entirely on the consultant and are doing everything ourselves now with Google Translate.

Celia

This morning, I woke up to a golden sky, golden air, golden dust all over everything. A sandstorm from the Sahara called Storm Celia blew over the country last night and brought us a thick, widespread coating of orange sand. Worst sandstorm in decades, the news says. I didn’t even know that happened here. Our little VW Golf is so dirty it’s undriveable. The magical golden hour, but all day. I thought it was pollen from the almond trees. No, a massive Saharan dust storm.

Another day in Spain.

Ahora estamos viviendo en España.

We are now living in Spain.

Without our stuff. That’s a whole different story. Stuff should be on the way soon. We’ve been here three weeks. It’s starting to feel more familiar, like it could feel like home. The first week we were in the house, we slept on a blow-up bed in the living room and our 9 suitcases lay exploded all over the living and dining rooms. We felt like squatters. Now we have a couch and a real mattress, not our actual bed but a mattress on the bedframe that came with the house. It’s an improvement.

Getting settled and back on some sort of schedule is priority right now.

But I am happy to report, yes, we are living in Spain now 🙂 The sunsets are spectacular. The sky was on fire last night as we drove into Madrid for a business dinner. Lenticular clouds are common out here by the mountains. They get hung up on the range just beyond the ridge in front of our house. We watch them from the upstairs terrace sometimes. Strange land. Bright, stark, arid, colorful, warm people, a relaxed way of living. I think we will thrive here.

We! Got! Our! Visas!

We will be living in Madrid by the end of the month.

I am writing a book or novella or something – I’m writing something, I have to – on our journey from meeting each other on Beltane to getting married to Hurricane Ida evacuation this summer to becoming homeless and waiting and roaming from place to place living out of suitcases for 3.5 months to, most recently, our plane tickets being issued this past Friday while we wait out this last stretch in a clean, bright, private hotel room that is more like a studio apartment than a room. This journey has been a doozy. I feel like sleeping for three days, but I can’t. Too much to do before we leave. We leave in two weeks!

Our Casablanca Christmas

And wait and wait...
and wait. and wait. and wait.

We are still waiting on the Spanish embassy to issue visas. This process started in January and the visas are the last step. First I was told I would be in Spain by June, then it was Fall (per the last post) and now it’s looking like we’ll be there in mid January at the earliest.

I had no idea what all a transatlantic relocation entails until this started. It is an enormous, complex undertaking with at least 5 different agencies/companies involved on each side of the ocean, and the timing of the documentation VS when it is needed has been off by months. There has been so much red tape and bureaucratic hoop-jumping it makes the Dept. of Defense clearance process look like a cakewalk. It took me an entire day to assemble the (finally completed) documentation for our visa applications, and half of it was in Spanish and the files weren’t named correctly. One single residency permit held up the move for 6 weeks. It has taken so long to get through this, our lease ran out at our house, and the landlord went back on her promise to let us rent month to month – when she was fully aware of our situation – because she wanted to move in instead and play house with her boyfriend. So, we’re essentially homeless now thanks in part to her. We’ve been living out of suitcases at AirBnBs, hotels and now with friends in their guest room while we, you guessed it, WAIT.

We went to Madrid for a week in October and found a house. It’s up against the mountains north of the city and it is not so much a house as it is a real European villa. We have a villa! 🙂 And we’re paying rent for it right now while we wait on our visas, so we have a villa in Spain we can’t live in yet that’s been ours since November, sitting empty, waiting for us. It’s frustrating. It will all be worth it once we board that plane (business class this time) with one-way tickets. My hope is that we will get our visas by Christmas, but there is no telling. And people keep asking us when we are leaving. They have been asking us for months. I want to cry with frustration every time someone asks, because I REALLY WISH I KNEW! I wish I had a date to tell them! But we don’t.

It’s too bad – we’ve been looking forward to spending our first Christmas together as a married couple at our new house in Spain, but instead we will be spending it housesitting for friends who are going to NY for the holidays. It’s OK though, at least we are together and we have a place to stay.

As soon as we get our visas in hand, then we will book our flights 14 days out from the day they arrive. Per company policy, it must be at least 14 days. Of course we have more things to do as soon as the visas arrive, things that depend on the visas, such as arrange our air shipment, contact 5-6 people with the visa numbers for customs, taxes, etc. and get our cat situated for the flight. Sell the car.

I forgot things at our house when the movers left in October. I had to throw away 200+ coat hangers because they didn’t fit in the luggage and everything else was already packed. Coat hangers are replaceable and that’s not a big deal, but I also forgot to pack my practically brand-new Canon DSLR in our suitcases so now I have a $600 camera bouncing around in a shipping container somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. Hopefully it still works if/when we get it back. Dealing with Spanish customs is a whole new layer of red tape nightmare. We have to sign over power of attorney so the agent in Spain can get our things out of customs whenever they arrive, which is likely to be months from now due to the shipping delays from the pandemic.

This isn’t a vacation for us. This is a long-term relocation. We will both be working full time and acclimating to a new country. My husband is starting his own business in Spain and I will be adjusting to the commute and to working from an actual office again – something I am honestly looking forward to. I’ve spent two years in jogging shorts and t shirts working from home. I miss getting dressed for work. I miss going somewhere outside of my home to do work. (I miss having a home.) So that will be a welcome change.

We stayed at a hotel the night the old house was finally all packed up. I got the room through Travelocity without looking at the reviews. Big mistake. My poor husband drove through a monsoon that evening for nearly 2 hours with an uncovered trailer full of furniture, some of which got ruined by the rain, to try to save some of my stuff that wouldn’t fit in the shipping container. Then he drove back through the flood to stay with me at a gross interstate-adjacent hooker hotel so I wouldn’t be alone there that night. Drug dealers were pacing the 2nd floor balcony and eyeballing me every time I went outside the room, so I double locked myself in and watched Poltergeist until he made it back, too scared to go out again. It was an intense, emotional day and he is my hero. This past Saturday was our 6th month anniversary and every day I am more glad that I married him. It’s been the best decision of my life.

I will try to remember to update this site once the visas arrive. Once we are in Spain, I plan to keep it updated more regularly, as it was intended to be a travel blog. I guess now it’s an expat+travel blog. Hooray! We are planning our small European wedding ceremony for June 2022 (since we had to postpone our November wedding indefinitely due to the relocation delays) and then we are spending 10 days in Italy for a proper honeymoon since we didn’t really get one of those, either. Once we return to the US, then we’ll do a wedding ceremony for friends and family stateside. But for now, for the month of December, stuck in visas limbo, we live out of suitcases and we wait.