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Spanish Adventures: Day 4

Spanish Adventures: Day 4

Word of the day: Shop. Two girls and a deluge of rain = shop. It appears that the little research I did before embarking on this trip was not 100% accurate. The claim of a year-round sunny destination spot is misleading and well, possibly out right false advertising. This was no more apparent as we roamed the streets of Marbella and Spanishlocals decked themselves out in standard issue rain gear: black rain boots and a mosaic of colorful umbrellas. Stores welcommed you with an umbrella stand and a big mat to wipe your feet before stepping onto the marble floors where I’m positive many tourists have busted their ass. Fortunately, I was not one of them.

It’s been raining buckets for upwards of 12 hours straight. Like the day we arrived, this is not the Florida-type rain where 2 inches of rain are dumped in 10 minutes, this is non-stop, hours on end, soaking down pours. Nevertheless, we trek out during one of the coveted times of the day when the rain subsided to non-hurrican e levels.

Umbrellas, rain coats and hats, we’re in the grey Fiat headed to “centro ciudad” where for 3 hours before siesta the cobblestone streets and narrow alleyways come alive with shop owners eager to sell shoes, vintage, designer gowns, ceramic wears and yes, even a few “Made in China” stores. I had nothing on my “to buy” list except maybe some soap and a new pair of Lucky jeans. I had forgotten soap and due to the rain situation I was desperate for a new pair of jeans that would allow me to wear my boots on top of my pants. After a stop at Zara where Michelle had found and purchased a sexy pair of over the knee boots, we discovered “Utopia”-a European consignment store, where the sign over the cash register read, “prices may vary according to customer attitude.” Genius, I thought, if only Starbucks would adopt such a model, I may be able to get a cappuccino for $2.00 rather than the standard $4.00. From there, my attention was quickly drawn to the full rack of fur coats. At my consignment store at home, in DC, there are typically one or two furs that line the back wall and never move from season to season. Here, the furs were categorized by short, stole, and full length–not only was there enough of a selection to keep a Russian ballet troupe warm, but they were neatly categorized by length, aniimal and color. Now let me preface, I have never desired a fur coat. Even through the brutality of Michigan winters 8 years ago, I never entertained the idea. Yet, here I was at a beach location on the coasat of Spain sifting through rabbit and squirel furs. With minimal contemplation, I decided on a medium brown rabbit tagged for 50 Euro. However, the shop keeper liked my attitude and offerred it to me for 45. And so the southern-raised, DC-adopated,international wanderer girl walked out with her first rabbit fur coat.

Spanish Adventures: Day 3

Spanish Adventures: Day 3

1105Word of the day: Liberation. After two days of cabs and walking endlessely through zig-zags of Spanish roads, Michelle and I snuck through the fortress gates of the Marriott Vacation Club to find anyone who could speak enough English to direct us to the nearest rental car company. Although the staff was lessed than pleased that we were not Marriott guests, in the spirit of the Marriott culture they still helped us without me having to pull the “Marriott” card. An hour and half later, the car company delivered to us a 5-speed, grey Fiat. We were liberated and free to roam the Spanish highways.

Michelle was driving as I attempted to read a Spanish map. “Just keep going down A-7,” I explained. Note, I’m not the best map reader, but it really was that simple. We weren’t sure where we were going, but we thought the wine museum in Ojen would be a good option. However, when the exit for Ojen never appeared, we ditched that plan for a new one. We were driving south, which if we never got off the road would take us directly to Gibraltar. Now, the Rock of Gilbratar wasn’t on my “bucket list” but I said, “let’s go.” This trip wasn’t about planned exursions and being on a schedule, it was about adventure and finding my way through a foreign country without the benefit of an English-speaking tour guide who catered to my demanding American ways.  Thirty minutes driving on A7, we see the “rock.” “I guess that’s it,” I said. I ditched the map and said, “follow the rock.” And like the American tourists that we are, we followed the crowds, or rather the line of cars waiting to enter the parking lot where we were sure we’d park get out, take some photos and learn a small history lesson about the rock.

We waited our turn to reach the gate, where a Spanish woman wearing some sort of authorative uniform said, “passports.” My stomach dropped to the bottom of the floorboard. I had left my passport at the condo as a security measure. I didn’t want to roam the streets of Spain with the only form of identification that guaranteed I was indeed an American citizen and could freely leave Spain in time for New Year’s. Michelle pulls her out and I rummage through my purse for my VA driver’s license. “Why do they need our passports?” I asked Michelle. Flustered, the woman yells back, “No go.” “Okay,” we said and kindly asked the woman, “turn around?” She pointed in the opposite direction and Michelle quickly put the car in 1st gear headed to the exit gate while avoiding hitting the pedestrians who were freely going back and forth with their luggage and bags of goods. “What in the hell?” was that I said.

We found our way to a beach parked and got out to a nice beach where we admired  the rock, the breaking waves of the beach and the sun that was peering out from the clouds onto the rock. Away from the chaos of the entry gate, we concluded we were in line to board the ferry to Morrocco. Yes, kids, Morrocco–another country! Morrocco was not on our agenda and after a week and a hlaf in Egypt earlier this year was something neither of us wanted to do. I claimed success since  I was the one who had left my passport at the condo. In hindsight, we both agreed that if I had had my passport, we would have cluelessly given them to the agent and proceeded to the ferry without question. All I can say, that this would not have been good for two single females without a plan. I’m convinced God is in control on this one!

Spanish Adventures: Day 2

Spanish Adventures: Day 2

Word of the day: Explore. After the debacles of the rain-drenched arrival, Michelle and I had zero clue as to where we really were. Yes, we were on the Costa de Sol, but from the view of our first floor condo overlooking the pool, it felt as if we had stepped into a scene from I Am Legend and were the lone survivors. It was peaceful, but eerinly quiet.

021Michelle’s a map person. She studies them as if she’s going into the barre exam for the third time. Me on the other hand, I’m focused on just getting there in the most direct, efficient manner. So after a night of nine, uninterrupted hours of sleep, a couple of cups of coffee, shower and clean clothes, we made our way to the outdoors where the skies had finally parted and spots of blue began to peer out from the cloud-infested sky. The “sol” part of Costa de Sol was welcoming us to explore.

Michelle had determined from her map studies that we could walk the beach for a mile, maybe two, where we’d eventually be dumped into the city’s center or “ciudad centro.” My Spanish was finding it’s way from the archives of Ms. Proscia’s Spanish I class, 25 years earlier to the tongue of an American tourist clearly clueless to where she was going. Words I had long forgotten were rolling off my tongue “mercado” “pequeno” “mucho” “momento.” Although, I soon discovered that I had a block when it came to the spanish translation of right, left and stop. I have yet to find a strong, free Wi-Fi signal,so the translator on my iPhone is worthless. Neverthless, good sign language mixed with my limited spanish and Spaniards broken English typcially yields successful results.

Walking on the beach in Spain is not like walking the beaches of Hilton Head Island where the sand is packed so hard you can easily run a 10K from one side of the island to the other. Nope, the beaches in Spain are rocky with patches of mushy sand more akini to quick-sand than beach sand. With each step, you’re awarded extra exertion points that at the end added up to a strip of sweat down the back of my spine to the tail of my ass. The layers I had carefully adorned to avoid being cold were working against me in our “quick” two mile jaunt down the beach. Again, working on an empty stomach and skeptical on how this beach could ever get us to our ultimate destination of tapas and vino was not bringing the best out of me. I was getting whiny like a 5 year old kid that needs to go to the bathroom. Ultimately, we ditched the beach route and made our way to paved roads and sidewalks where we discovered a maze of resorts and private houses with security that rivaled the Pentagon. Survival mode kicks in and we follow the sounds of the highway humming in the distance, where 30 minutes later we landed on the main road and found a lifeline: a taxi stand.

And we were off! Escorted by a cabbie to “ciudad centro”, we soon discovered we hadn’t survived the apocolypse, but were still a part of a living world where people drank wine, ate tapaas and watched the sun over the Meditterrean. Ahhh….this is Spain.

Spanish Adventures: Day 1

Spanish Adventures: Day 1

Thirty hours of aiports, security scans, passport stamps and dragging heavy luggage,  Michelle and I finally arrive at our condo in Marbella, Spain. It wasn’t easy though. When I asked Michelle to summarize the day in one word, she said, “chaos.” I chose “adventure,” yet I struggled to commit to this term. One word just didn’t feel like enought, I felt more subject to “character-building.” Somewhere in between, the terms summarized our day.

Let me first say, that neither of us, put a lot of thought into this trip. This adds to the “adventure” part, but the “chaos” commenced from the time we landed in Rome to the time we walked through the door of our Marbella condo.  All we had was a plane ticket and a condo for a week. The rest we decided to figure out when we got there. Well, the “rest of it” put me over the edge near the 24th hour mark into the trip when n I’m sleep deprived, hungry, void of caffeinne and in a serious fugly state.

When you travel internationally, you’re quickly reminded that you are a spoiled American who expects good service and things to be on time. This adds to the character-building opportunity, which makes you a better American and more appreciative of what you have. However, I advise anyone to pack your American, we’re the best attitude at home, and you’ll be much better for it. Just ask me as we’re being led around Marbella with a cab driver that can’t read Spanish and speaks less English. There’s a reason Michelle and I travel well together. She has patience to deal with language barriers and to find our way around foreign cities. I’m much better in the planning stages and making sure we stick to the agenda, whatever that is. It’s a good partnership that has served us well in Egypt and China. And once again, Michelle came through and patiently worked with the cab driver to find our condo. I however, sat in the backseat bitching about “if we don’t get there soon, I’m gonna go postal.” Okay, so this is the PG version of what was really coming out of my mouth and let’s say it was not one of my better moments. However, throwing money at the situtaion seemed to appease the frustrated cab driver who I have no doubt that despite the language barriers knew I was bitching about his inadequacies to navigate Spanish roads.

This scenario was all after waiting for an hour for our luggage to arrive at baggage claim. The flight attendant said carrousel, 32, the board said 36 and after 45 minutes the luggage was not on either. Finally, after an hour of runningn back and forth b/w the two, it arrived on carrousel 31. Note to self, avoid Italian airlines at all costs. There should have been a clue to the luggage debacle after going through a round of security in Rome. I love Italy but their concept of organization challenges me to no end.

Case in point, Italain security procedures.At first what appeared to be an orderly line with people zig-zaging through line ropes, turned into a battle of wills as over 300 people fought for a spot into one of the 3 lines where they’d impatiently wait for their turn to walk through the security keyhole that decided if you’d make your connection or not. Italian security procedures, haphazard by American standards, left me wondering why the terrorist were picking on the US. It seemed Italy was a much easier target, a terrosit playground, where no one in authority seemed concerned. Shoes and belts stayed on, computers stayed in bags, and people easily passed through the security arc without as much as a look from the security agent. They were too busy monitoring the mass of people pushcing and shoving each other because the Italian airport officials  were too stupid to implement any semblance of organization.

Finally, after a lot of sign lanugage and “si” we found our way to our condo. Have I mentioned it’s raining buckets. No, it’s not the kind of rain that comes in and blows out in an hour, it’s the kind that parks and dumps. Yep, we’ve decided to spend a week at the Costa de Sol where according to weather reports is sunny 360 days out of the year.  Clearly, I’m being punished for bucking Xmas traditions since it’s predicted to rain for the next 4 days. Rain or not, Michelle and I commit to having a good time and drinking lots of vino. So far, we’ve made friends with the security guard at the Marriott across the street and the cab driver who took us to the mercado for vino supplies. And after 2 bottles of wine and a confirmation that the pool outside is overflowing from so much rain, Michelle provides the quote of the day, “I brought condoms.”

Why I’m Happy to Call America Home

Why I’m Happy to Call America Home

International travel should be a requirement of all US-born Americans. There’s no better way to appreciate the privileges, rights and freedoms Americans have than to spend a week in a foreign country.  Even during a period of crazy Capitol Hill bickering and ram-it-down-our-throat legislation, the spirit of American rooted in ideals of freedom, tolerance, giving, caring and hard-work can not be denied.

So in my week long journey up the Nile and across the desert lands of Egypt, I made a list of the things I’m thankful for and why I’m so happy to call America home.

  1. Trash cans and landfills – Trash cans are in short-supply outside hotel rooms in Egypt. Even more so, landfills, as many throw trash on the ground or in the local rivers. Plastic bottles, food waste, paper and whatever is deemed unusable is thrown wherever one feels without any thought for Mother Earth or even for fellow countrymen. Simply, they don’t care.
  2. Traffic lanes and signals – Inefficiency and disorder make Egyptian streets a constant parking lot of beeping horns and swerving cars. Without defined yellow and white traffic lanes and minimal traffic lights, Egyptian streets are a free-for-all of who can get there quicker.  Dents and missing bumpers were seen as a  badge of honor.  Traffic laws are non-existent and though they claim to have driving school, driving on Egyptian streets could be classified as an Extreme Sport.
  3. Attendant free bathrooms – There is not one public bathroom in Egypt that doesn’t have an attendant in it attempting to hand you a few select panels of toilet paper. And then they want money for handing you something that you’d prefer to get yourself, and for a “service” I’d have to classify as non-sanitary. Drip-dry was a better alternative.  And Heaven forbid, if you had serious digestive problems(which fortunately I did not), but the mere thought of having company for this private moment is most annoying.
  4. Pet Control – I love animals and can’t even watch that Sarah McClaughin commercial without crying. But seriously, having dogs and cats roaming the streets and markets freely is not sanitary. And for the crazy Egyptian driving, its simply not safe for dogs or cats to be near the roads.
  5. Self-Service – American’s are programmed to get it yourself. We  pump our own gas, pour our own drinks at 7-11,  carry our own bags through the airport, and unless asked we take our grocery bags to the car ourselves. Nope, not in Egypt. Everywhere people want to “serve” you. But they’re being nice, you think? Nope, not that either. They want money to do all the things that we Americans are use to and want to do for ourselves. Sometimes in the States, we’ll run into someone who sees us struggling and helps us out, but they don’t ask for payment for doing it. They did it out of the goodness of their heart. This is a foreign concept in Egypt and one that was the root of much frustration for me. I can do a lot for myself and don’t expect to pay people to do things that I can clearly do myself.  And what happened to people doing things just to help out and be nice? It seems this too is a very American.
  6. To-Go – Maybe I should relax more, but I really could’ve used a few more to-go cups in Egypt. Having to wake up before my body says so requires a lot of coffee and sometimes that means on the run. Of course, this is problematic for the Egyptians given they have so few trash cans.

Like I said, Americans take a lot for granted. But I can assure you, this American will never take hands-free toilet paper for granted again!