Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Back to Montgrony

It was a sunny warm day so we decided to head back up to Montgrony for some more climbing. We warmed up on some easy routes and then spent the rest of the day getting beat up on the hardest 7a I have ever done. Tufa climbing is not my favorite and it's so hard, a full body workout.  I got beat up, but it was a great workout.  Santa brought me a new climbing harness for Christmas, so I had to break in it.  Fits good, but I'm not psyched about the purple.

Sporting my new harness

This is what we worked on after warming up.

When we went the first time with Howard and Kate it was so busy, tons of people.  But it was a Sunday so expected.   Today, it was only Bruce and I.

getting ready

Bruce ready to climb
 We had a great day climbing.  I'm sure I'm going to be sore tomorrow.


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A visit to El Lleó marketplace in Girona.

"El Lleó marketplace is the city's centre of distribution for fresh quality produce. It houses a total of 60 stalls selling diverse products: meat, fish, fruit and vegetables, groceries… The market is a vital destination for many of the city's chefs who shop there for their restaurants, and is a daily meeting point for the citizens of Girona."

That's what we read online.  So we decided to give it a go.  It was pretty cool and so much to offer.  We decided to get some cheese (sheep) and also some calamari and chicken. The fish monger was really nice and we picked up some amazing, fresh calamari.  We both love calamari but we have never cooked it at home.  Time to try.  The chicken stand was crowded and I don't read catalan, but I figured it out. Ordered some chicken legs and drumsticks. They were sold out of a lot of stuff, I guess we got there a bit late (at 11:00 am). I was looking for fresh eggs, it seems that the supermarkets only sell eggs from the factory farms, which seem to be all over Spain.  I have no desire to eat those eggs and want ones that are organic and free-range, and by free-range I mean really free-range.  I couldn't find any, maybe I was there too late, or maybe it's not the place to find them.  My search continues.

We cooked up our calamari and it was fantastic.  Could be a once a week meal for us.  We are pretty boring with our food. Some type of protein (chicken, pork, fish) and veggies or a salad.  But this night we mixed it up and actually had some rice and lentils. It was a nice change and so easy, fast, fresh and inexpensive.

I'm getting to know the area, but I'm sure there are better places to get certain things.  I just need to ask around and get the inside scoop on where to shop.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Ikea again, but with Barcelona thrown in too.

As you might have read, last week we had to drive down to Barcelona and visit Ikea for our new couch, bed, mattress and miscellaneous stuff.  Well, we were putting our new bed together and realized that we needed 6 feet instead of the 4 that we bought.  Argh!  Why couldn't they tell us that? What that meant was, we needed to drive down to Barcelona again to visit Ikea to buy 2 more legs for the bed.  We decided that we'd make an adventure out of it.  We'd go to a different Ikea, closer to Barcelona.  Then we'd park the car near the metro and take it into the city for dinner.  The last time we were in Barcelona was 15 years ago.  Bruce's first trip to Europe.  It was our 1 month trip to Spain.  4 days in Barcelona and then 3.5 weeks on the island of Mallorca for climbing.

Bruce at IKEA

15 years ago we ate at an amazing restaurant called Les Quinze Nits, we decided it would be fun to go back.  Sounds like a good plan, yes?  Well, actually it wasn't.  Once we left Ikea we couldn't find public parking and we couldn't find the metro that we were told was across from Ikea.  So we drove around and around, not really knowing where we were or where we were going.  I had a tiny metro map and finally we saw a metro station, yay!  So now we needed to find parking. Parking that didn't close at 10 pm, as it was now 7 pm.  We found a great place to park, underground, that was open 24 hours.  It was a bit pricey, but we decided to go for it.

We easily found the metro station from the underground parking and off we went to the restaurant. We got off a bit early and wandered down Las Ramblas.  15 years ago it was very different.  There were no Starbucks, Urban Outfitters or other chain stores, I was a bit disappointed with all the changes, it didn't look at all like the Las Ramblas I was on 15 years ago.  But, things change, get over it.

Crazy Las Ramblas

We found the restaurant and easily got a table for 2.  And then we sat there, and sat there, and sat there.  Nobody came over, nothing.  It's not like we were hidden in a corner either.  15 minutes go by, nothing.  I said to Bruce "5 more minutes and that's it, I'm out of here".  5 minutes go by and still nothing.  We didn't have water, wine, menus, nothing.  So, we left.

Me outside of Les quintze nitz 

We walked around a bit and finally found a great restaurant where we settled in, had great service, and a great meal.  It wasn't the "same" place from 15 years back, but we had a great time.  Then we jumped on the metro again and headed back to the car.  1 hour later, we were home.  It was 12:30 am....way too late for me.

Toasting our new life

What did we learn?  Many things.  First, don't visit Las Ramblas - it's just tourists and pricey stores.    Second, we need to do some research and find the best neighborhoods in Barcelona, get off the tourist route.  Third, research the restaurant you're planning on going to, before you go to it....we found out that Les Quinze Nits was sold a while back, to a Chinese company that also has 10 other restaurants and many office buildings in Barcelona.  It's not the original owners and they don't care about customer service, just feeding the masses.

We need to visit Barcelona a few more times to get our bearings and to figure out the best areas to visit and some of the best (local) restaurants.  It's a beautiful city and I'm looking forward to getting to know her a bit better.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

We should have stayed home and unpacked.

But...we've been packing, loading and unloading.  Driving to Spain, back to France and back to Spain. We are tired but when we arrived here in Catalunya, but it was sunny and warm, a big change from the cold and wet 2 weeks we had in France.  We decided to go climbing instead of unpacking. We needed to get outside and feel the rock.

We headed west past Olat to Santuari de Montgrony, where is an old monastary.  This is a fantastic place to climb, so many routes and so beautiful.  In France we were spoiled, there were 4 great climbing cliffs within 10-15 minutes of us, here we have to drive a bit further, but it's worth it.

K climbing hard
We met our friends K and H, they are from the states too, but live in France.  We met them last year here in Spain, climbing.  They are closer to us now, only 1.5 hours away.  And they know this area very well.  We had a great day of climbing and feeling the sun on our faces.  It was worth the break from unpacking.

Since we don't have family here, we'll probably go climbing on Christmas day.  We did that last year in France.  I think we were the only ones at the cliff.  We'll see how it is this year in Spain.

Friday, December 19, 2014

France to Spain and back to France

I love moving, but I don't like packing and unloading a big moving truck.  We rented a truck that we hoped would be big enough for all our stuff.  Fingers-crossed.  On Saturday, we picked up the truck and drove it back to our house here in France.  We spent the afternoon loading it up.  And everything fit, even the ping-pong table!  We went out to dinner, since we didn't really have anything else in the house and I had no desire to cook.  We headed down to Gaillac and our little bistro and had a lovely dinner.
It all fit!

Sunday morning we were up at 5:30 because we had to leave the house by 7.  We had a meeting scheduled with the agency that helped us find our house at 11:30 to sign the contract.  They were nice enough to come in on a Sunday to do this for us.  Something that would never happen in France. Bruce drown the big truck and I followed him in the car (with the dogs).  It's about a 3.5 hour drive, but it took us 4 with the big truck.  We signed the contract, got the keys to the house and headed over to start unloading.

We decided to unload everything into the garage and then take stuff as we needed it into the house. That way we can be sure where we want everything and we won't be surrounded by tons of boxes. It only took us about 2.5 hours to unload, compared to 6 to load. We finished at dusk. We then headed into Girona to our favorite pintxo bar for dinner.  It was so so good and we toasted our new life in Spain.
These are only the cold pintxos, the hot ones are amazing too.

Monday it rained all day. The only rain in the forecast for the next 10 days. We had some errands to run and we had lunch out and then spent the rest of the day unpacking. We had a nice quiet dinner in our new home. On Tuesday we headed down towards Barcelona to visit IKEA.  I love IKEA but hate the IKEA fatigue.  We had to take the big truck because we were buying a new couch, chair, mattress and bed frame and of course we bought tons of little things.  On our way back, I mentioned that it was the 16th and Bruce said "What, I thought it was the 15th?" We then realized that our rental truck was due back an hour ago - mind you, we were 5 hours away from where we rented it.  So we rushed back home, packed up a few things and headed back to France.  Again, Bruce in the big truck and me following with the dogs.  9:00 pm, we got back home, exhausted.  They rental company was so nice, they didn't even charge us extra for bringing it back late.
Dashell not really understanding why we are at an empty house.
We are now back in our empty house in France.  It's cold and wet here.  We have had a fire going all day.  We don't have any heat, except for the fire, because we don't have oil in our tank.  We sold my beautiful range, that I'm sad to see go, but our new house had one almost just like it.  I'm going to take the money and buy a pottery wheel.  I haven't thrown in years and our new home has a great studio space for Bruce and I.  So I'll be back at it soon.  Tonight we are going to see our good friends C&T and R&T for dinner.  It will be sad to say goodbye, but we hope that they'll come and see us and we'll be back here for climbing too.  Tomorrow we'll finish cleaning the house and meet with our landlords to turn over the keys.  Depending on how we feel, we might head down to Spain tomorrow afternoon with the dogs and this time the 2 cats.  I'm ready to get into our new warm cozy home and start unpacking and getting settled. Exciting things coming our way.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Back to "the office" one last time.

Hiking up to Amiel, one last time.

When we first moved to France back in 2008 we had stopped climbing.  If you've read this blog for a while you know that we stopped climbing and started road biking.  In fact, our first year here we road almost every day.  It was a great way to see the area, but sometimes it was so cold I couldn't feel my hands or feet.  I met Bruce climbing and we had climbed in some amazing places, but one day we decided to try something different, so we first started surfing, then I started doing triathlons and then we started road biking.  But when we came back to France in 2010 we looked around and realized there was so much amazing limestone just minutes from us, we had to start climbing again.

Nellie lounging at the cliff.

It was hard to get back on the horse.  I was afraid of falling, afraid of leading and we started out on the easiest climbs we could find.  But we were both hooked again, we put our bikes away and spent 3-4 days a week climbing on the most beautiful limestone.  That was 4 years ago, and we are still climbing as much as we can.  I'm not so much afraid of falling or leading anymore and I'm not doing the easiest climbs either.  In fact, this year I did my hardest route ever.  Not bad for 51.

When we first started climbing again, the perfect place for us was Amiel.  It's 10 minutes from our house and has great climbing.  Easy stuff to hard stuff and lots in the middle.  We'd call it "the office".  It's a 30 minutes hike up and you get the most beautiful view of a tiny village call Penne.  If it's during the week, it's usually just Bruce and I.

Looking down towards Penne.

The last 2 weeks we haven't seen the sun.  It's been cold, wet, gloomy and cloudy.  Nothing makes me more depressed.  But today it was sunny and perfect climbing temps.  Mid 40's and blue skies. It was a perfect day to go to Amiel and get one last day in at the office before moving to Spain.  I would have been sad to leave this area without saying goodbye to Amiel.

So today we hiked up and spent 4 hours climbing.  It was great.  I said goodbye to Amiel and told her I'd see her again one day (which I'm sure I will), I also thanked her for bringing me back to climbing.
She's been good to us and we'll miss her.  But I'm sure we'll be finding some new amazing places to climb in Spain.

And this was the sunset today from our yard.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

And the house we chose is....

Fantastic.  First we narrowed our picks down to two.  And then finally to one.  It was a hard decision, we loved both houses, but they were very different.  One was basically a villa, seriously a villa, but once we spoke with the agent about all the other "fees" to keeping the house (gardener, pool cleaning, etc...) the rent basically doubled.  Too expensive for us.  The house we chose is perfect for us and we loved it the minute we walked in. Big fenced in backyard, 5 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms, studio for Bruce and me, lovely back terrace, great kitchen and lots of light.   It's in a tiny village of about 100 people (no commerce) about 15 minutes north of Girona.  It's also part of a 1,000 year old castle.  It doesn't connect, but is right next door to the castle, which has been restored and it stunning.  The owners of the house and castle are super nice people too.  He was a michelin star chef, who then sold his restaurant and then bought the castle, restored it and opened a restaurant in the castle.  But this year due to health reasons, the restaurant is closed.  She is a famous potter throughout Spain.  They love art and are lovely people.

I'll post some pictures once we move in and get settled.

So excited about our new adventure!

Our landlord was so nice and took us up to the village that our village is part of to get our census. She thought it would be easier for us if she was there.  We got the letter we needed (to show the police for our NEE).  Then we headed into Girona to visit the Police, who give us our NEE card.  We ended up being there for 2 hours, not because of long lines, but because everyone was so nice.  A few of them spoke english and they loved that we were originally from California.  They told us where they were from in Spain and showed us pictures of their home towns.  I swear, everyone is so nice in Spain. We have to return to the Police in 30 days to pick up our card, but we got our number, so that's a good sign.

So we have a house, we have our NEE card, we have a checking account in Spain.  It's all coming together.  We rented a truck and will be taking our stuff down to Spain on the 15th, then we'll come back up to France to clean our house here and then we'll turn around and pack up the dogs and the cats and move into our new home in Spain.  Can't wait.

Monday, December 15, 2014

But's only been 2 weeks!

8-12 weeks.  That's what the Spanish Consulate told us.  But we were in Spain, again, and we got an email from the Spanish Consulate telling us that our VISA was approved and we had 30 days to come and get it.  WHAT?

We were so excited and thrilled, but we just got back from Chicago, what happened to 8-12 weeks? We do have 30 days to get it, so it's not like we have to go back tomorrow.  Now comes the tricky part.  Once you pick up your VISA and return to the EU, you have 30 days to get your empadronamiento (basically a census) and your NEE card (like a social security card in the states - and you need that card to do anything in Spain - rent a house, get a phone, open a bank account, etc.) and show that you have accommodation set up (lease or deed) for Spain.  Since we are already living in France, we'd return there, so the clock would start immediately.

So, 3 weeks later we were back on a plane to Chicago to pick up our VISA.  Not much to report here, it went very smooth.  I didn't have any pages left in my passport and it expired in 2016, so I needed a new one.  Because of the timing I had to use an agency and get it in 2 days.  That was very easy too, we used an agency in Chicago and everything worked out great.  We went to consulate and picked up our VISA and headed back to France.  Now we'll be heading back to Spain (thank goodness it's only 3.5 hours from our house to Girona) to register and make a decision on a house.  We did give notice to our landlord here in France.  We'll be moving Christmas in Spain!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Family Visit & Spanish Consulate Visit

Of course, the time we decide to visit the states, Air France goes on strike and of course, we are flying Air France for part of our flight.  We had to keep an eye on flights the week prior to our departure and every day the flight from Toulouse to Paris had been cancelled.  I checked taking the train up to Paris the day before and it looked like it might be a good option as our flight from Paris to the states was on Delta, so it wasn't going to be cancelled.  We just needed to get to Paris.  On Friday, I called Air France/Delta and asked if the flight was going to be cancelled on Sunday, they told me that it would NOT be cancelled.  That they were going to open it up, because it had been cancelled all week.  Well that's good news, until Saturday morning when I received a text from Air France telling me that our flight on Sunday was cancelled.  It was now too late to take the train to Paris.  We needed to get to the states, as we had things to do to get our Visa application ready in Michigan and then we had an appointment at the Spanish Consulate in Chicago.

So we decided to rent a car and drive to Paris, as it's only 6 hours away.  We'd stay at the airport and then get our flight the next day to Detroit.  So that's what we did.  We made it to Paris and then made our flight from Paris to Detroit on Sunday.  Whew.

We stayed with my sister, her husband, their 2 kids and their fantastic bulldog.  I haven't seen my sister in almost 3 years, which is crazy.  I speak to her at least once a week, sometimes more though, but it was so good to see her, she's my best friend.  We always have such good laughs.

Bruce very happy at the Taco Truck in Michigan

Me, Bruce and my 15 year old nephew

Bruce and Kumar (the coolest Bulldog)

We had dinner with my brother, his wife, their 2 kids and my Mom.  Then dinner with my Mom again another night.  But mostly we hung out with my sister, who was such a great help with getting everything for our VISA.  I won't go into all the things we needed, but it's extensive.

We spent 3 nights in Michigan and then took the Amtrak to Chicago.  Bruce had never been to Chicago, so he was pretty excited.  We rented an apartment in the Gold Coast area, super close to everything.  The weather was also warm and sunny, which was really nice.

Our appointment at the Spanish Consulate was nothing like our experience at the French Consulate. They were friendly, nice, they smiled, they spoke to us, asked us questions about our life, why Spain, etc....the French, not so much.  They told us that it would be 8-12 weeks before we got an answer - but our guy did tell us that our application looked incredible and he didn't see any problem with us getting a Visa.  We left the consulate feeling pretty good.

We had a great time in Chicago, we ate sushi 3 nights out of the 4.  Seriously.  It was so amazing and good.  We went for runs along Lakeshore Drive, visited the museum, and did some serious shopping. We left Chicago, feeling pretty confident that in 8-12 weeks we'd be back to pick up our Visa.

We didn't bring our camera to Chicago so no pictures of that.  Thanks to my sisters iphone we at least have a few shots of our visit in Michigan.

I will report that Delta/Air France has taken very good care of us and the inconvenience that the strike had on us.  They reimbursed us for 1/4 of our flight - to cover the Toulouse-Paris flight and reimbursed us for our rental car, hotel at the airport and dinner that night.  Very pleased with that!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Back to Catalunya

Old Town - Girona

We took a trip back down to Catalunya to look at some rental houses.  We saw a total of 5 houses. We loved two, liked two and didn't like the 5th.  Now the decision.

We had the dogs with us and decided to take them to the beach one afternoon.  Then we stopped in L'Escala for a great lunch of fresh seafood. We also went to visit a local climbing area, and they came along that day too.

Dashell loving the stream

Happy Dog

The Med.

Girona was having it's Les Fires de Sant Narcís Girona, a week-long festival.  The city was full of vendors, music, people and great food.  It was so much fun to have a city near that is so lively. Where we are now Toulouse is the closest lively city and it's over an hour away.  Girona is 15 minutes from all the houses we looked at.

Music everywhere


Placa de Independencia, Girona

Brebis Cheese

Walking over one of the bridges to old town Girona

Our next trip will be to the states.  We haven't been back in over a year, last time to Los Angeles to see Bruce's family.  This time it will be to Michigan to see my family and then to Chicago to apply for our Spanish Visa.  All that will be in the next post.  We've had 2 French long-stay Visas,  it will be interesting to see if Spanish is any different.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Not another one?

the day after we found Mr. Man - such a skinny little bit

If you've read this blog before, you know that almost a year ago we were outside, heard a crying kitten and found our lovely Colette (who was 4 weeks old at that time).  She's now over a year, healthy, happy and such a love.  Well, it happened again.  But Dashell found this one.  He was barking at a tree on our property and we went over to it, looked up and there was this little kitten.  We couldn't climb up the tree, so I got a rake and got him down.  He was so skinny, his hip bones were sticking out and you could see his ribs.  It was in the evening, so we had to wait until the next morning to take him to the vet.

The vet told us he was probably 2 months old, but because he's feral he's not developing.  He also told us that if he was left outside, he probably would have died.  Not that we need another animal, but cats are pretty easy and Colette could use a friend.

just a funny shot of Colette

Here's Mr. Man now - what a difference a warm friend and food makes
His name is Mr. Man.  He's now 5 months old, fixed and getting bigger and stronger (although his legs are really short, maybe stunted growth or something).  He's not interested in going outside at all - Colette couldn't wait to go out and hunt.  He'd rather curl up with us, or in front of the fire, or with his friend Dashell.  He's now a happy member of our pack.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Big Changes....they are a coming.

We've been here in France for 5 years and we love it.  But, both of us have been thinking, is this it? Luckily we have always been on the same page when it comes to our lives.  It would be so hard if I wanted to go back to the states and Bruce wanted to stay here.  We love Spain, have been many times and continue to visit.  We love  San Sebastian and Bilbao (The Basque Country), but we also love Catalunya.

Our landlords want to sell the house we are in.  We could buy it if we wanted, but it makes us a bit nervous.  What if this area of France isn't it.  What if we bought and then in 5 years we wanted to sell and try something else.  Houses in this area don't sell super fast.  We don't want to be stuck with a 7 bedroom farmhouse in rural France.  We were talking to our landlord the other day and he mentioned that they really want to market the selling of the house, there are things they want to do to the house and then they want to find a buyer.  Because of that, we got to thinking about moving.  If the house sold we'd have to move, but would we stay here or try something else.  After many discussions, we decided that we aren't going to wait for the house to sell and then make a decision....we are making it now.  So, we have decided to move to Spain.  Catalunya to be exact.  Why Catalunya you ask?

Well, we love the area.  The rock-climbing is world class, the Mediterranean is beautiful, the people are so friendly, Girona is a fun,  lively city, Barcelona is cool and the food is amazing.  So, we took a trip down to check out areas.  We stayed in Girona and spent a few days looking around.  We have decided to focus on the area just north of Girona.  That makes climbing only 20-30 minutes away, the beaches of Costa Brava 20 minutes away, Girona 20 minutes away and Barcelona less than an hour away (faster if you take the train from Girona).  We'll be heading back down to look at some houses, stay tuned.

Bruce took this shot and I just love it "open your eyes"

Monday, December 8, 2014

It's been over 35 years

I'm's been forever and I know I've written before that I'm going to get back to blogging.  But things always come up and I get busy and then I don't think that what I'm doing is very interesting to others.  But this time I'm going to stick with it.  I've had this blog for way too long to just let it go dry.

We had a visitor....a person I haven't seen in over 35 years.  Thanks to Facebook, we've reconnected. My friend Janice came to visit to our lovely rural area of France.

here we are at the top of Cordes-sur-Ciel

At the castle in Najac


Walking around the beautiful village of Bruniquel

Finally getting a crepe

I knew what she looked like, basically the same as high school, but we hadn't hung out or really talked, besides pm'ing on Facebook.  I was super excited to see her.  She only stayed a week, which really wasn't long enough, but had such a great time.  We took her to all the amazing medieval villages in our area (Cordes-sur-Ciel, Albi, St. Antonin Noble Val, etc...) we drank great wine, cooked excellent meals together and had a really great time.  I was sad to see her leave but I know she'll be back!