a bit of southern France

a bit of southern France

Our experience of France had been limited to a weekend in Paris, so for the Great Road Trip of 2018, we opted to head from Barcelona across southern France into Andorra.

Our first stop was Coilloure, which had been recommended by a friend.



Despite a lovely street market and waterfront area, it was not what we expected, so we moved on to Carcassone, where we stayed at Domaine de Marseillens, a B&B in a former winery. It was charming – meaning a small, too-soft bed and uneven, creaky wood floors. But the proprietors were lovely, and the building and grounds were delightful and inviting. 


Thursday we toured the medieval city of Carcassone. A nice morning of exploration in the 19th-century recreation of the medieval city. Like most places, it would have been better without so many tourists…


From Carcassone, we headed to Mazamet for the Cathar Museum, which wasn’t open. Turns out, it was a national holiday in France: Ascension Day. We only found three restaurants and one café open. We opted for lunch at Le Grand Balcon. When I ordered the French onion soup with a salad, the waiter kindly explained to me that the portions were huge, so I should order one and have dessert later. I chose the French onion soup, and it was, indeed, huge. The crème brulee for dessert was certainly worth giving up the salad.


Thwarted in our attempt to see the Cathar Museum, we continued on to Albi and the Toulouse-Lautrac Museum and the Cathedral.



Albi is definitely on our list of places to revisit, and I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Then, on to Andorra…


a taste of Barcelona

a taste of Barcelona

Our Great Driving Adventure began with a crazy good deal on a car rental: around 100 Euros for 2 weeks!

So we started off for Barcelona – a 5 ½ hour drive. Easy enough. A friend had warned us about tolls, but he didn’t really WARN us about tolls: 60 Euros worth between Alicante and Barcelona!

Sunday evening we met up with our friends and kept it simple by having dinner on the promenade across from the port. MASSIVE seafood platters, with at least one of everything, and at least two of most!

On Monday morning we gathered with the rest of the tourists at the Palau de la Musica Catalana for a bus tour to Montserrat, followed by a cava tour and tasting. The Palau de Musica was beautiful on the outside – we can’t wait to return and explore all that it has to offer inside:


Once we arrived at Montserrat, we explored the grounds, then divided up. I opted to explore the museum, while they rode the funicular to the top for the views.


The museum is a treasure, with paintings by the Old Masters (including El Greco), modern paintings and sculpture, religious artifacts and icons, and, of course, works related to the Black Madonna. A little something for everyone.


But the funicular…and the views from the top!


A quick lunch, then to the cathedral to hear the boys choir.


Back on the bus to Cavas Codorniu, where we toured the 32 miles of cellars on a Disney-like train. And who doesn’t love a cava tasting?


Tuesday, we headed to the Picasso Museum (no photos allowed).

Then, the ultimate tourist experience: Carrefour so our friends could buy assorted canned fish and wine to take back home for tastings with their friends.

Lunch at the port, where we saw the vendors scramble to pack up their wares, then get annoyed because the police actually didn’t show up.

Tuesday evening we headed out to sample tapas. We started with menu tapas at El Xampanyet, which was already standing room only 15 minutes after opening. Then, by popular demand, toothpick tapas at Euskal Etxea Taberna.


And we stumbled onto El Chigre, where we sampled vermouth and were treated to random tastings from the chef.


El Chigre is definitely on our return-to list – dinner there would be awesome! After a lovely evening, we said goodbye to our friends.

And I’m pleased to report that I finally got my bearings of this fabulous city!



renewing our residency

renewing our residency

I would like to apologize upfront for this text-heavy post. I just couldn’t figure out how to get sexy photos of red-tape procedures!

As with everything else here, I did much online research before we started the residency renewal process, especially after all of our false starts with the original residency. I found out that you can apply starting 60 days before the current card expires, and up to 90 days after it expires. Knowing how things work here, we started at the early end of that timeline, although we didn’t get paperwork filed until September 28, and our visa expired October 12. No problem, as long as you can show that you are in the process.

I gathered all of our paperwork:

      • EX-01 form.
      • Passport valid for 1 year more.
      • Complete copy of all pages of the passport. One posting suggested including a summary sheet listing the dates when you entered and left Spain, to make it easier for them to see that you resided in Spain at least 180 days in previous year. I did that with our original application, but not with the final application.
      • Current residency card and copy.
      • Proof of financial support – translated into Spanish by a Spain-based official translator.
      • Proof of health insurance.
      • It was also suggested that you include a current copy of your padron, to show that your address hasn’t changed. I did that with our original application, but not with the final application.
      • Tasa form 790 052 in the amount of 15.92 paid for each of us

We took all of our paperwork to our local extranjero office on September 28 – no appointment necessary. The clerk, who spoke excellent English, was very impressed with my organizational skills: I had paperclipped each section. We mentioned to him that we were returning to Texas in November for a visit, and he gave us the paperwork (Ex-13 and tasa 790 052 in the amount of 10.40) to apply for a temporary authorization to return: autorizacion de regreso. That application was a 2-day turnaround, and would allow us to travel in and out of Spain for 90 days. We returned several days later to turn in that paperwork, and we were able to pay the fee there at the extranjero office. With the authorization of regresso in hand, we felt like we had some breathing room.

A few weeks later, we were notified that our application was not approved. We went to the extranjero office for an explanation. Seems my uber-organization had resulted in a less-than-thorough review of our paperwork, and we had some issues:

  • We had renewed the medical insurance we had taken out for our initial visa, which provided for repatriation. What they wanted this time, we finally understood, was “real” Spanish medical insurance.
  • Our financial documents had to be translated into Spanish. Most of the postings I had read had mentioned that, but some people were able to get approved without having the translations done. I had gambled, and we lost.

So – we scrambled to take care of the medical insurance. After several false starts, we got insurance through Adeslas through our Caixa bank. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to cancel the year-long policy we had already purchased through World Nomads.

With our trip home looming, I decided to use the translator in Dallas that I had used with our initial visa application.

We returned from our Thanksgiving visit ready to resubmit the paperwork.

Back to the extranjero office December 11 with the new insurance and translations, as well as an official cover sheet listing what we were submitting. The non-English-speaking clerk scanned of all of our paperwork and gave us a receipt listing the submissions.

THEN we received notice December 27 that our translations had to be done in Spain. We were told that we had to get everything refiled by January 12 to fall within the 90 days after expiration. We scrambled, it being the middle of the Christmas holidays, got the translations done, and got the paperwork resubmitted. For some reason, this time they wanted us to submit the complete packages all over again, including repaying the fee. So, we did.

And we waited – again.

My approval letter arrived in the mail February 18…

We looked every day, but no approval letter for Todd. I went online and finally saw his approval and immediately booked our appointments for fingerprints. (Your NIE/passport number has to be tagged as approved in the system before you can make an appointment.) This was the end of February, and we couldn’t get in until the end of April!

Todd’s official letter finally arrived March 1.

Then, appointments were made to be fingerprinted and submit photos.

Then, another wait.

Finally we were able to pick our cards up at the end of May – 7 months after our original residency cards “expired”! So…we’re good for another year and a half!

A Spring Break day in Barcelona

A Spring Break day in Barcelona

Spring break. When students tour.

I met some former colleagues and former students for a day in Barcelona, toward the end of their week-long tour of France and Spain.

My main purpose was to spend time with friends, but they were heavy touring, so I joined in.

We stopped at La Boqueria at Mercat St. Josep for a 30-minute visit – certainly not enough time to do it justice, but any time you can spend there is time well spent.


Then on to the La Pedrera, the Gaudi House. The tour of the house itself was meh, but the rooftop – oh, the rooftop!


And the city of Barcelona


Definitely worth any time you can spend there!


Welcoming family to our home

Welcoming family to our home

Todd is the youngest of three brothers, and the first to retire. When his oldest brother made plans to come visit, he made it clear that they didn’t want to sight-see; they wanted to see how we live. Four days wasn’t enough, but we managed to jigsaw together some of our favorite places.

We met them at the airport and rode the bus back into town. They immediately got a taste of life in Alicante: the day they arrived was a holiday, which meant a parade through the main square by our apartment, so the bus couldn’t run its regular route. Todd talked to the driver, and he actually managed to get us to our corner before he reached the police blockade. We still aren’t sure how the got through—or if the driver had back up a block to take a side street.

Fortunately, we didn’t have to take jet lag into account: they came to us from a week in Paris.

We dropped bags and headed through town to the beach and our favorite summer hangout: Xiringuito. As always, the staff welcomed us with hugs, and they welcomed our family as family, too. A pleasant afternoon of sangria for the girls and beer for the boys and lunch from the kitchen, and all was right with the world:

us with Giaccomo

Score: Little Brother – 1

On Wednesday morning, we headed to the Mercado. With Tuesday being a holiday, there wasn’t much seafood, but everything else was as beautiful as always:


We ended the visit with lunch at Katana, creating our own sampling menu:

Katana - us

Score: Little Brother – 2

Wednesday evening, we invited friends to join us for a jamon tasting. Todd put together a beautiful spread of jamon, cheese, and fruit, and we opened several bottles of wine.

Score: Little Brother – 3

Thursday morning, they walked up to Castle Santa Barbara to explore and enjoy the views.

Score: Little Brother – 4

After they returned to the apartment, we headed back toward the Mercado for the tasting menu lunch at To-Bar with the locals.

Score: Little Brother – 5

Dinner Thursday was in Old Town at Taberna San Pascual, where we visited with some visitors from Ireland who were in town looking at properties to buy for a vacation home. Just another evening in Alicante.

Score: Little Brother – 6

Friday we opted for something different and took the tram up the coast to El Campello. Even though it was May, the town was still quiet. We walked the beach and window-shopped, stopping to admire a sand castle, then stopped for lunch on the promenade:

sand castle

Score: Little Brother – 7

We finished their visit with dinner at Casa Mia Italia, where Andrea put on his usual great show and directed us on what to eat and drink.

Score: Little Brother – 8

Saturday came too soon, and we walked them to the train station to head to Madrid, where they had a few hours to explore before the day ended and they took their flight home to Texas the next morning.

They’re already working on plans for a return visit later this year.



Rome: the infernal Eternal City

Rome: the infernal Eternal City

It took me a while to get this post up – this trip was, in many ways, a disappointment for us. The negatives were pretty much user error on our part, I think, so we confirmed some things about ourselves as travelers. Herewith, our journey to Rome:

Sunday – arrival

When we arrived at the Rome airport, we checked into taking a train into the city, but at 18 euro apiece and several metro/bus transfers, we figured we were just as well off with a cab for 48 euro total. So, off we went. It was dark, and we really didn’t get a good look at anything. So we woke up Monday with no real sense of the city.


Not feeling Rome yet. Maybe it was the rain and cold. Maybe it was getting off several bus stops too early returning to the hotel. Maybe it was staying in the ‘burbs rather than in the city center. Maybe it was right after a trip to Barcelona to meet a high school group, with the 5-hour train trip back home before the flight to Rome. In any case, Monday wasn’t our best travel day ever.

We slept in, had breakfast at the hotel, then headed toward the city center. After a false start, we finally figured out the instructions to get to the bus stop: the hard part was getting off the hotel property; from there, it was a matter of just a few blocks. We hoped the rain was over, but it started up again just after we got off the bus at the Piazza Venenzia:

We proceeded with our plan to do the hop-on/hop-off tour bus to get our bearings. And the rain blew in. And it was cold. Even with the awning up and sitting behind the windshield. But we persevered for the whole loop plus another stop. And we got some good pictures:

We managed to have lunch (really good pizza with a restaurant full of American students on spring break – we opted not to speak to them) and do some window shopping with no rain. We wandered for a bit in search of fountains and churches:

We ended up at Piazza Navona, where we got some great pics:

The bus ride back to the hotel was crowded, but the sun was shining.


Another cold, rainy day. Another late start.

We decided to save the Colosseum for later in the week. After picking up our Roma Passes, we headed to the Capitoline Museum, where we spent several hours wandering. We kept finding rooms we hadn’t seen before. Husband focused on faces, feet and hands of statues. Generally, I prefer ceilings.

A magnificent lunch at a beautiful restaurant: Ristorante Vecchia Roma: a lovely red table wine; roasted Jerusalem artichoke; mixed salad with a fabulous simple dressing of lemon, oil, and vinegar; pork chop with rosemary and balsamic vinegar (pork chop doesn’t do it justice); risotto with pistachio and parmesan; crème brulee; and Italian coffee.

A stroll to the Trevi Fountain, where we made our way through the crowd down to the bottom of the fountain area:

Then a taxi ride to St. Patrick’s to pick up our tickets for Wednesday’s papal audience. Between us, we managed to leave a backpack in the taxi. Note to travelers: ALWAYS make note of the taxi number. We’ve since started snapping pics of them. It may help prevent gouging, too.

Then a taxi back to the hotel, where we crashed for the evening and did our research for tomorrow’s visit to the Vatican.


We’re not Catholic, but, man, I love this pope! We were worried about the rain, but it cleared early. We had been advised to get to St. Peter’s Square at least 2 hours early for the 10:00 papal audience, but we didn’t quite make that. Still, we managed to get seats in the first section, maybe 15 rows back. Lots of young kids from all over the world. Francis made his appearance about 9:40 and circled the square several times before approaching the dais. It was like a pep rally: a youth choir singing, band playing, jumbotron focused on the Pope. Lots of joy!

Listening to him speak was like hanging out with a favorite uncle. He joined the crowd in laughing when his cap blew off – that later made the American news. Lots of official translations: English, French, German, and more. He did his own translation into Spanish. Flags everywhere for him to bless. We didn’t even think to take our Texas flag, so it remains unblessed.

We didn’t get to appreciate the Swiss Guard uniforms: they were bundled into coats.

As wonderful as the morning was, the afternoon was the worst travel experience we’ve ever had.

We returned to the Vatican to tour the Vatican Museums. The week before Holy Week, spring break, the day of the papal audience: BIG MISTAKE. It started out crowded, then quickly became unmanageable. Shoulder-to-shoulder and elbow-to-elbow through the whole place, and we could only move forward. No stopping to admire. No moving ahead to the things we really wanted to see. No joy in the Sistine Chapel – guards yelling the whole time to keep moving and no photos – not that we could move our arms to take any had we been so inclined. It soured the whole Rome experience for us. They offer an evening after-hours tour, and if we were to return, I think we would check that out.

3 buses later, we were back at the hotel. At the second bus stop, we ran into a group from Husband’s family’s home area in Kansas. Small world, indeed!


Finally, the Colosseum! It was all that we expected! Truly a marvel… Great views inside and outside, and not as crowded as we had expected.

We took the Metro to the Borghese Museum, but the second metro line was closed, maybe due to a strike? So – so much for that idea! We ended up walking from the bus station to the Borghese. Stopped for pasta on the way, of course.

The Borghese is run like a museum should be – the antithesis of the Vatican Museum! We had a 3:00 admission and got there about 2:00. No early entry, so we wandered the grounds and watched dogs playing in the park area. Limited number of admissions, admitted every 2 hours, half sent to the second floor, half starting on the first floor. No rush, no crowd, plenty of time to admire and take photos. We lingered for an hour and a half or so, and left feeling much better about Rome.

After the metro fiasco, we taxied back to the hotel. The driver fussed about how much it would cost, but we insisted he run the meter. It cost less than half what he had wanted to charge, but we tipped him extra because he had to fight traffic back to the city center. Note to self: we are city center people – no more staying in the suburbs!


With an early evening flight out, we were able to pay 20 euro for a really late checkout. We headed to the Pantheon and window shopped for a bit. Lunch at a fabulous family-run restaurant. A lovely low-key last day in Rome.


best of 2017

best of 2017

Our first year in Spain has been all that we expected – and more.

We saw London dressed in her best for the Christmas season:

We wandered through Christmas markets in Germany:

We admired the snow-topped Alps from our hotel window in Murren:

We watched our oldest propose to his girlfriend at Sagrada Familia:

We explored the Alhambramore than once:

We roamed the Mezquita and the old quarter of Cordoba:

We enjoyed seafood on Mallorca:


We immersed ourselves in culture in Italy:

We investigated the past in Cartagena:

We revisited Prague, one of our favorite cities:

We tasted wine and tapas throughout Spain:

We spent the weekend in Paris:

We became regulars at Xiringito:

We shared our new home with friends from home:

Best of all, we made really good friends in our new home: