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 renegged on her promise to let us go month to month, when she was fully aware of our situation. So, we’re essentially homeless now. 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. So thankful for friends.

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 am sure I am forgetting other things we have to do.

I’m also sure 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.

Fate

Major life changes happened recently. I met someone, lightning struck, we got married, and now my husband and I are both moving overseas together this Fall. We’re looking at houses and planning our future. What a year!

ir a vivir a españa

It’s not official yet, but most likely happening this summer/fall. Waiting on many moving bureaucratic parts to align before I have concrete details and can make an official announcement & start planning and saying goodbyes.

What else has happened lately? I’m fully vaccinated now, achieved my immunity 😎 Life is good, though mentally and emotionally it’s been a hard past 12-13 months with the pandemic. I’ve been even more isolated and alone than usual. A friend of friends died last year and I didn’t even find out until this week.

HOWEVER. I have gotten better at guitar. I still suck, but I suck less now thanks to my very patient and talented teacher. I played G blues on the amp last night (because I can, because I live in a whole house with no shared walls now, god bless america) and today I’m picking the metronome back up to practice chord switching. The things I’m doing with my Jackson are starting to sound vaguely like music. It’s exciting. I can play with a bit of intent now. I’m learning to speak with the guitar, and my fingers are getting smarter. Got a horrible hand cramp the other night though. Getting old sucks.

One of the great things about moving is that I’ll be a short, cheap plane ride away from all of Western Europe. So I can fuck off to Paris for a weekend if I feel like it. I will feel like it at least once, I promise. And I promise to post the photos here.

Paris at night

So hang tight. I started a travel blog at a really terrible time. I will pick it back up in earnest when I actually start traveling again. Meanwhile, go get your vaccine, drink water, love your friends and delete Facebook.

Long overdue update goes here

Wow so what a year, amirite? Fucking hell. I can’t wait to get my Google trip report for 2020. You went zero new places this year! No shit, thanks Google. Thanks for the reminder.

Since I last wrote, I have landed in possibly the best work position of my life thus far. It’s been amazing and promises to only get more interesting and exciting. And it looks like I’ll be moving in 2021. I can’t say exactly where yet, but it’s not the US and it’s not for just a little while. I’m crash coursing a new language on Duolingo. I’ve been hearing a duration frame of 2-3 years. So, that’s happening. All of my stuff is coming with me and I’m giving up my apartment, selling my car. It’s a proper transatlantic move. I will make a real announcement once it is official. It’s a dream come true and I am beyond excited (and ready!). I feel like I’ve won the lottery.

In the meantime I’ve stopped and started smoking twice and started learning how to play guitar. I’m having much more success with the guitar than with cigarettes.

So that’s my travel and not-travel news for now. I have relaunched this blog to be public again. I had an issue with cyberstalking. I probably still do, but I’m done caring. The person in question is a sad, boring, bitter old lady. If she wants to creep on my life via this site, go for it.

News on the employment front

Last week after some negotiation, I accepted an employment offer with a company on the east coast. I was entertaining a possible role at a startup on the west coast, but east coast ultimately won the battle. I start soon, pending all the background checks, etc.

With this new role, there is a good possibility I’ll be working overseas at least some of the time, on trips – not a permanent move, I don’t think, though I would not be opposed to moving to Europe especially if the orange turd somehow manages to hold onto office. In the meantime I’ll work remotely from my house with some domestic travel to east coast. It’s an exciting new trajectory with a great deal of promise. I needed this.

I may be making updates to this site from Spain or Poland or both in the future. And, depending on when I can take personal travel, other countries.

I looked up whether the US Customs and Border Patrol offices for trusted traveler programs are open, and they are not. Not til September. When they do finally open, I plan to interview for a Global Entry pass. You sail through customs with that pass. I saw people do it while I was stuck waiting with the hordes at the regular customs check in Prague. Takes 5 mins instead of an hour or more. Customs calls for anyone with Global Entry, and a handful of people peel off and are out the door and free to roam while the rest of us wait and wait and wait. It’s worth it if you travel out of the country more than once a year.

We narrowly avoided getting hit with a Category 4 hurricane here last week. Yesterday was the anniversary of Katrina. It’s been a stressful time. And two more systems are en route to the Gulf.

I’m ready for Fall.

updates (such as they can be)

Here is a handy list of where Americans can currently travel. The page may take a while to load and also freeze up; give it a second. That page is current as of 17 hours ago. Notable on the list: Belize, French Polynesia, Barbados, Maldives, Dominica, Mexico — and a slew of others that aren’t Botswana. Nothing against Botswana, it’s just not high on my list of places to see in the next few years.

Now, the ethics of traveling right now, especially as an American, are another matter, as is the very real possibility of being stuck overseas or quarantined upon your return/at a foreign airport or city. As the article states, we’re under a Level 4 – avoid all nonessential travel travel warning from the State department, but no one is stopping you if you want to go to the Bahamas on a vacation. Airports have cleaning procedures in place, as well as airlines, so if you do decide to go, factor that in to your arrival and departure times.

I completely sympathize with the lure of getting away: away from your house, from this fucked up country right now, from life as we know it in Covid-19 America. Because this sucks. It has sucked for over 100 days now with no end in sight, sucking more every day, as the rest of the world is nearly or already back to normal and Europeans are traveling freely pretty much wherever they want to go while Americans, thanks to our moronic, narcissistic, game show host, fascist, sex-offending, disgusting lecherous woman-hating racist xenophobic lying garbage piece of shit sorry excuse for a president, are dying more by the day. THANKS A LOT MAN.

See this other link for airports that are allowing Americans to transit through, because that’s another concern. Can you even switch planes in Europe? Most of the airports are letting us through, but not all.

As far as personal updates, I’m waiting on some news. When/if it becomes official, then I’ll announce. IF the thing I am hoping for comes true, then I know where I am going next. Not sure when exactly because the place I have in mind is currently having their monsoon season (hint hint) and obviously because of Covid travel concerns, but I think by the end of this year, gods and election results willing, I’ll be there. At least for a week, most likely longer. My target is 9 nights, two days of travel on either end, so about 2 weeks total away.

It’s been high on my list since I learned of its existence, a dream really, this impossibly gorgeous tiny part of the world. Somewhere I never thought I’d be able to experience. But if this thing comes through, I am going. And it will be my first live update situation while on travel! Plenty of Wi-Fi there. So, stay tuned.

P.S.: Did some unrelated digging out of curiosity, thinking Hawaii may be a possibility, and it’s actually easier to go to Barbados right now than Hawaii. Hawaii is requiring a 14-day quarantine for US Citizens, or else a negative Covid-19 test result obtained no more than 72 hours before landing. Also, Barbados has opened applications up for their Welcome Stamp Visa. If accepted, you can work remotely from Barbados for up to 12 months from entry. !!! Something to think about.

a tiny silver lining

Hey remember  Hotel Duus in Keflavik? They finally refunded me my money 4 months later.

Monday was my original fly date for Oslo. To commemorate/mourn, I wore the red and white knit snow cap I bought for my trip for a few minutes at night, right around the time my plane was scheduled to take off.

We’ve been under excessive heat warnings the past three days, with heat indexes in the 110-120 range. 90s in the evening, and very high humidity. You can’t hardly breathe outside. Couple that with the covid mask mandate, and I almost passed out at the grocery store the other day. I was hyperventilating and my ears were ringing, I felt dizzy and lightheaded and was having a hard time putting thoughts together. Had to lie down and drink water when I got home. I was built for colder climes. Every summer I swear I’m going to move north.

general update & what’s what

No travel plans in sight. I looked into flying to the Yucatan for the 4th of July weekend, but I probably won’t. Several considerations: 1) the pandemic is ongoing 2) if the Mexican border opens for American travel in June as planned, then airports, hotels and sites will be beyond crowded; 3) due to various ongoing issues, I’m considering saving all my extra $ this year for a down payment on a house to escape apartment living.

There is simply no consistent privacy or quiet enjoyment to be had where I am, and given that I’m working from home indefinitely and therefore on calls and in meetings every day, my current living situation is not sustainable for the long haul. I can’t keep getting disrupted by the floor-shaking techno music next door or the neighbor’s boyfriend randomly appearing outside my office window in the shared alleyway. Or the impromptu gatherings on the shared porch with loud conversation that goes on for hours, day and night. I’ve had multiple conversations with the neighbors about noise. The landlord is useless. I won’t call the cops for what I hope are now obvious reasons. I know I sound like a grump. Maybe I am.

In the meantime, I wear headphones and dream of Kungsleden, and I wait out my lease. Last night I dreamed of Iceland, of a roaring fire in a fireplace, piles of fluffy blankets, hot mead and snow outside the window. It was a good dream.

I went to a protest last week. I’m writing a piece about it. Maybe I’ll publish it here.

I hope everyone is doing as well as they can. I’m taking a news break today to mentally recover from last week and from the stress of the first hurricane scare. Between work obligations, I’m doing some writing and other tasks unrelated to social media or the news.

I encourage anyone reading this to take time to care for yourself. The news will still be there when you’re ready to get back to it.

Atlas of Remote Islands: Rapa Iti, French Polynesia

Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky is a curious, imaginative work on the world’s most remote islands, one I am in love with as a kindred writer, atlas-studier and seeker of wild remote places, specifically islands.

Easter Island is on my list. Also Hawaii, soon. French Polynesia? Definitely in the queue, along with Fiji and Micronesia.

The impossibly beautiful Bora Bora, French Polynesia

I have a recurring dream of island-hopping in Micronesia in old fishing boats with Vietnamese fishermen, flotillas strung together with rough rope to drift when we rest, fish scales, vinegar and saltwater smells permeating the long days, black velvet blankets of stars above. Fishing boats strung with brightly colored lanterns swaying on their lines in tandem with wave action. Swimming in tidal pools, learning to spear fish, sailing through the night to the next lively stop. You know how fish scales smell? They smell like they look; flaky, iridescent, dangerous. Like almost-blood. Like fishy barnacles.

From Micronesia to French Polynesia, by way of Samoa and Fiji

In my dream, I’m fishing for months on end. Danger is a mercurial top-note flavor, and we dance often, the fishermen and danger and me.

One day I’ll get there.

Meanwhile, here is the story about Rapa Iti, French Polynesia, as imagined into life by Judith Schalansky. Thank you, Judith. This book is a continuous source of joy. Readers: buy it here. You will not regret it.

Rapa Iti

the future

In the future, I will be back in Iceland.

In the meantime, though, I have canceled all reservations. Only one place is refusing me a refund. Hotel Duus, in Keflavik. They refuse to budge, so I am out 172.00 USD. As far as I am concerned, that is theft. I can’t physically get into the country due to no fault of my own – Iceland has closed its borders to non-EU and non-Schengen Area tourists indefinitely. It is sickening that some hotels are making money off of a pandemic, hiding behind their No Refund policies. I have requested a voucher and will update here if/when I hear back from them. Happily, they are the exception.

  • United refunded my entire plane ticket cost this morning. It only took two days. I didn’t expect to see that money until May.
  • AirBnB issued refunds to my credit cards same-day and sent me receipts. My hosts were totally understanding of the situation. My refunds should show up as credit in a day or two.
  • Apparently my domestic flight to Akureyri was never paid for. Chase put a stop on the charge because it was an international charge that had to be re-confirmed. I thought I did, but I checked my statements and the charge never cleared. Whoops.
  • Rental car reservations were held with a card to be charged at the counter, so no money out.
  • A Circle Air pilot wrote me back this morning/last night and was very sweet. He canceled my reservation with no issues. I can’ t recommend them enough – those guys are amazing, fun pilots and solid people of integrity overall. Can’t wait to go adventuring with them again 🙂

With this post, I am done complaining like a privileged brat about my canceled European vacation. There is much to be thankful for, and this too shall pass.