12 Jan 2013

Second Christmas in Madrid

So, we decided that since our first European Christmas failed to deliver a much anticipated “white” Christmas, that as true Southern Hempisherians, we require sun. A lot of sun. Otherwise we get grumpy, annoyed, irritated and generally peeved off with everything and everyone...wait, I did say “we” and not “I” right?

In any event, we therefore jumped on a plane, clad in arctic wear (referred to as winter clothes here, however, I always seem to look like the Michelin man) and before we could click our heels, we arrived in sunny paradise, or as the locals call it, Gran Canaria. Now, for those who do not live in the northern hemisphere, winter is what I would call Chinese torture. It is long, just sufficient enough to drive you crazy beyond belief, and right when you think you cannot deal with it any more...it gets worse. So in order for sanity to prevail, the logical answer was GET SUN.

Two weeks of exquisite weather, long sunny days, beautiful countryside, walks along the beach, driving insanely curvy roads along cliffs and on top of mountains, taking ferries and establishing that I am the worst travelling partner in the world, I suffer from severe motion sickness, spending time trying to turn a less horrendous shade of luminous white, friendly people, tasty food and drinks with umbrellas ensued...what bliss. 

Not only could almost every Canario (local person living in the Canary Islands) speak English (what a relief, sometimes you just run out of Spanish words!), we could enjoy some international activities which we are unable to get in Madrid. Stop laughing, I am not talking about crazy things like the Russians putting people in enormous plastic balls and pushing them off cliffs, I am talking about being able to enjoy an English breakfast whenever you want. And drinking Appletizer like water. And buying any English magazine you can think of without having to commute into town to get it. And being able to choose between Spanish food and other food, not that I dislike Spanish food, but it is nice to have a variety of choices. Did I mention Appletizer? Yes I admit I am a fan.

My fondest memory? There are so many... in northern Gran Canaria we visited a small town called Teror, and we had the pleasure of being served by a woman who, as soon as she heard we could speak some Spanish, proceeded to not only order our food for us (all traditional dishes like pappas con mago, ropa de viejo and the like) but also to dish up for us all whilst singing “Feliz Navidad”. Without her bottom teeth. As we were leaving, she told us that Christmas 2012 was the first year she was spending without her brother who had died the previous year around the same time, and she had, that morning, gone to put flowers on his grave, and as such, she was very low, however, meeting us and talking to us had made her happy. It could be sales talk, however, she made that day memorable for us.

In Tenerife, we for the first time ever saw (and spent time on) volcanic sand beaches. Yes, we were the tourists who took thousands of photos and are now disgusted we did not take more photos.

We were also lucky enough to have the most exquisite views from where we stayed, which we loved since our urban jungle view can drive you too drink, and we spent many a hour sipping Ron Miel (rum with honey, trust me, another great Spanish invention) and gazing at the sunsets.

And as such, we are back in Madrid, planning many more such trips in the future. And as 2013 kicked off with a bang, here are our two cents worth: give it horns and enjoy the ride this year!

13 Sep 2012

Where can I buy my licence?

And so, the time has come for another blog about the adventures of the Engelas. This blog actually amplifies an earlier blog about our drivers’ licenses which are not recognized in this country. Don't ask me why, I cannot explain, however I can tell you that these EU drivers’ licenses are more difficult to get that a passport. So the aim of this blog is to warn unsuspecting foreigners to think very carefully before you jump on the next plane out of your own country, you will be surprised about the things you have to do just to live in another country, and learning a possible third language is the least of your problems. Also, the trials and tribulations this has caused in casa Engela has had the red dogs hiding in their bedroom.

The male Engela has been extremely pro-active (possibly because I was lighting a fire under his butt everyday) and has actually obtained his license.

He and I both attended mandatory classes (which reminded me of university, I actually fell asleep). Then after some great confusion, we realized that we actually could not go for our licenses, since our residency cards had expired. This in plain English means that when your card expires, the Government issues you with bobbly gook paper work to say your new card is coming, which everyone recognizes, expect the Traffic department. Words still fail me, I mean surely these official departments work together? Apparently not. So the wait for our cards began. 

About two months ago, my sweet beloved received his residency card. And so, he went off for a "medical exam" (in Spanish) to determine that he is fit to drive. Since his Spanish is about as good as their English, the examination was about 5 minutes and apparently he is fit to drive. I do have a couple of questions, for example, should they not do an eye test? Apparently not.

So, the next step (and by step I mean a hurdle with a capital H)... writing the theory exam. Well, theoretically the theory exam should be easy. Not so. The theory book has been translated from Spanish to English by I think someone who speaks Hungarian. So some of the explanations make no sense at all and seem to relate to parking a donkey on the moon. Of course the male (read "nerd") Engela decided to study the book. Again, in theory, good idea, however, the questions about the book refers to the answers in the Spanish book. Which we don't have. By this time I was losing my patience with my sweetheart husband, so we rationally discussed the problem he was experiencing with the literary phenomenon entitled "How to Drive" and eventually, after what seemed like an eternity, the male Engela agreed to rather do online tests. This plan (MY plan) worked very well, and he passed with flying colours. It could also be due to the fact that there appears to only be about 30 English tests. But, nevertheless, one hurdle was over.

So of course we then faced The Driving Test. This caused further disruption in the Engela household, since the lucky he is still alive husband of mine was convinced he was going to fail. Mostly this was due to the terrible stories we have heard about people who go for their test 3 or 4 times, and the fact that the test is in Spanish. After further serious and calm discussions, we drove to the test area and practiced driving round and round and round the test grounds and surrounding area, trying to spot potential hazards, tricks and anything that could possibly cause him to fail, you know, like flying monkeys disco dancing across pedestrian crossings. Of course on the way back we nearly got arrested because my darling other half tried to take a short cut across a double white line and was stopped by the Guardia Civil (the descendants of the Spanish Inquisition).  Now, I have to place on record that I have many, many times told the male Engela not to do that, only to have him shake his head and laugh like a crazy madman at me. HA the joke was on him. However, our lack of Spanish suddenly got 30000 times worse, and we were luckily let off with a warning.

So it was early Christmas in our house on Thursday, since on his first attempt, my darling better half passed the driving test. Joy to casa Engela.

In conclusion, I have a couple of thoughts. Firstly, the logic of recognizing Algerian driver's licenses still fails me. Yes they were a colony thousands of years ago but really, have the Traffic department seen Algeria? You may as well acknowledge sleigh riding in Alaska as a legitimate driver’s license in Spain. Secondly, the idea of me now going through the same torturous procedure fills me with horror and heart palpitations, and as such, I shall keep my blogging mouth shut about this topic until that damn EU driver’s license is in my grubby little hands.

30 Jul 2012

More crazy adventures with the red dogs…

Since summer has struck with a vengeance in our part of the world, the red dogs and I have to go walking at the crack of dawn; otherwise all three of us would die of heat stroke, or spontaneously com-bust, whichever comes first.

This however means that the red dogs now expect to be taken out every morning early, and I cannot even move in bed without them trying to jump on top of me. Not a pretty sight for my white bedding, or my heart or health. So usually our walks start with jumping up and down (the dogs) and me swearing a blue streak and grumbling at them. For the record, future visitors may want to stay in their room during this time. I think I am at that time very close kin to Cruella de Ville.

We have, luckily, found some paths where we can take the dogs of leash and they can run like crazy chickens everywhere. However, this has led to some seriously unexpected behaviour by the red dogs.

Alex has suddenly developed the habit that as soon as she is off leash, she refuses to walk in close proximity to me, Cleo or the road we are on – she walks / runs / causes shit about fifteen meters into the field, parallel with me. This continues for the whole walk. Furthermore, she now has started chasing birds and rabbits. Now normally its fine, since she has next to zero chance of catching either (she is still a bit slow and too big to hide behind the corn and bushes), however a couple of weeks ago she did in fact catch a very small rabbit. I am not sure how the heck this happened, I suspect the poor rabbit got stuck in a bush, could not get out and got such a fright its heart gave in when it saw Alex reaching in to smell. The one second she was running, disappeared and the next she appeared with a rabbit in her mouth. Of course I don’t want to react, but hello, one cannot walk with a dog which has a rabbit in its mouth. I don’t also don’t want to acknowledge the presence of the rabbit; it could be considered as praise and I don’t want my dog to be a hunter! This then caused me to having to pry her jaws open to let go, and let me tell you, she is damn strong. I am sure I was not a pretty sight, talking softly to Alex whilst basically pushing her to the ground, trapping her, getting the rabbit out and still keeping an eye on where Cleo was. (Yes, I do sometimes envy people with smaller dogs who can fit in handbags. I am sure you have beautiful long painted nails, and I am sure your dogs don’t try to catch rabbits nor do you ever have to be stuck on the ground with your knees on your dog trying to get a dead animal out of its jaws) As such, we now avoid that area where the rabbits cannot get away, if all else fails I am a believer in a fair fight, at least. Furthermore, I now tend to, if I see her head go down to smell, shout at her to stop whatever she is doing, since who knows what the heck she is up to. Second note for future visitors: I could be seen to be a fishwife on these walks. I suggest, still, that you stay in the safety of your own room. Also, I still feel so guilty about the poor rabbit. I am now 1000 % sure I can never ever hunt.

Cleo on the other hand has turned into a watcher. Unless the rabbit runs and stops right in front of her, she will not run after it. I think she is quite clever, since obviously the rabbits are faster. She does however plonk herself down on every hill to keep an eye on the fields…you never know if someone wants to bring her food or pet her which you are of course born to do. She further has a nasty habit of walking on my little path, right on front of me, and stopping wherever she pleases to glare at things. This normally would not bother me, but some of the little paths are next to a cliff or huge bushes full of thorns. So Cleo does get a “soft” butt kick every now and again.

So, since living in Spain, the red dogs’ horizons have broadened somewhat, but for the record I would sometimes like to lie in just for a bit. Please!

14 Jul 2012

Dentist Smentist ... easy peasy? Maybe...

So after pondering what feels like a life time (which in reality was only really about one year, which, I am sure most people will agree is nothing), I decided I have no choice but to visit the dentist. 

Mostly this was due to the fact that I was developing facial spasm due to only drinking and chewing on the left hand side of my face, since I had pinching pains on the right hand side.

Now, firstly, I have an ungodly fear of dentists. I think wearing braces for a million years have something to do with it. Secondly, how the hell do I speak to a dentist in Spanish? The amount of vocabulary required is just beyond my brain. Yes, normally easy tasks such as making an appointment with a dentist, and having treatment, would not set your heart pacing. Try doing it in a language you are not comfortable with.

After some searching and a rather interesting experience with a dentist who did some whitening of my teeth (I recall photos being taken whilst I was lying on the chair, with cotton wool stuffed in my mouth and ultra violet lights shining on my teeth which he only later asked if that was ok - hello creep), I eventually e-mailed a dentist close to our house. Now most people will think this is insane. Normally I will agree, why don’t I just phone? I’ll tell you why. I turn into a stumbling idiot who cannot even say hello never mind ask for an appointment. As such, I prepare this e-mail, check my iffy translation and send it off into the sunset, not knowing what to expect. To my utmost surprise, I received a reply. This is one thing I can say about this country, I always receive e-mail replies. It never seizes to amaze me. After some backwards and forwarding, I eventually get an appointment.

And so my panic levels start increasing. I attempt to study vocabulary, learn phrases, memorise how to say “you’re hurting me”.

However, to my utmost surprise, the day before my appointment, I got an e-mail from the dental clinic – one of the owners speaks English and he will treat me. What a relief! We had some confusion when he told me he did not need to inject me because the hole was too deep. I had a heart attack then, of course.

This experience has given me enough courage to venture into the arena of going on my own for a haircut, without a willing friend in tow to translate for me. And to my utmost surprise, the salon had one senior Bulgarian hairdresser who actually spoke English.

To say that I feel empowered is an understatement!

But other than that, I learned a very important lesson. The people of this country will always try to assist and help you. All you need to do is try. If that fails, ensure you have Google translate.

4 Jun 2012

Fiesta in our sleepy village

We live in a village that for all intents and purposes can be defined as “sleepy”. Yes it’s quiet (such a thing is possible in busy Madrid) and for at least three months a year, the entire village stops working at two in the afternoon. However, once a year, our village has a local festival, where this sleepy village turns into a carnival hell, or heaven, depending on your point of view.

This past week during our morning meanders, the red dogs and I spotted trucks loaded with tents and strange looking carnival rides being installed being set up in an open filed area close to our house. Glaring at these strangers and strange things suspiciously (I, because I can spot noise a mile away, the red dogs obviously because they don’t know what carnival people taste like).

As such, last Friday night, our village was invaded by the most visitors that have been here, probably since the festival last year. We had no alternative but to investigate the festivities, and I must admit, I don’t think I have ever seen anything quite like it – the rides, the blinking shining lights, the smell of fast food Spanish style, and the noise…I don’t know enough English adjectives (or Afrikaans or Spanish ones for that matter) to describe the experience. I think to state that it is similar to a Carnival which we knew as children, on steroids, with rides for adults is probably the only way in which I can describe it, however, it has some Spanish twists, for example, I did not know that music can be at that volume. And they complain about vuvuzelas? Secondly, I have never seen bull rides quite like this. 

The male Engela in this marriage was left drooling after the go carts. The things you did not know about your spouse boggles the mind.

So, for our first village fiesta, it was interesting, but I can honestly say that I am thankful the fiesta is only once a year. I don’t think my hearing is quite normal, yet.

13 May 2012

Spring...thy name is in fact Summer

I have experienced our first Spring in Madrid. I had envisaged lovely blooming trees, fresh winds with sunny skies for a couple of weeks until the dreaded heat of summer. Now, I recall from a previous blog questioning where Winter was. When it came, it lasted for about 6 months, but really, we were, it appears, blessed with not too freezing weather. I however decided to tempt fate twice, you know Karma is and her wicked ways.

Spring arrived and stayed for 28 hours.

This past Monday, we were at a maximum of sixteen degrees, nice jeans and warm tops weather. Tuesday morning was a bit chilly, but by lunch time it was thirty five degrees. To say that I was a pool of ungainliness in boots and jeans is an understatement. Luckily it appears that most Spanish people also missed the 28 hour “Spring is here” warning, and were caught unaware as well. So this is seemingly not written in the Spanish manual somewhere.

Now, spring in South Africa was always my favourite time of the year, where we lived we had some nice thunderstorms, blooming Jacaranda trees and generally just nice warming up weather.

In Madrid, I am now (in Summer I assume) being assaulted by a plague of mosquitos, weird flying black bug things that suspiciously look like small birds, creepy crawlies with weird hook looking bits at their front (or their back, who knows, I don’t take time to examine them before I squash them), flying (drifting?) white fluffy things that look to be the pollen of a very odd tree but which is causing me to cough like a chain smoker and birds who seems to think it is a national sport to screech the entire day.

In addition hereto, the red dogs are really suffering with this weather change. Now, they are, within 100 meters from Casa Engela dragging their feet, their tongues lolling on the boiling sidewalk. It’s not their fault their crazy human parents insisted they move the northern hemisphere, where their red bodies are thinking it’s now winter and as such their winter coats are growing.

So, whilst I am grumbling up and down the steaming sidewalks with two not too over excited red dogs, I am not noticing the beautiful red, purple and yellow flowers, nor the amazing shades of green everywhere, nor the interesting wildlife that suddenly are appearing on our farm – walk roads. Oh who am I kidding, of course I am. Damn this country which is becoming my second home, I am not even afforded the opportunity of being overly irritated…wait, I see a killer mosquito…

8 May 2012

The days are just packed

Yes, for those of you who know Calvin and Hobbes, I am guilty of plagiarism since I stole this title from one of Mr Watterson’s books, sorry Mr Watterson. For those of you who do not know what the heck I am on about…Google it.

So the Engelas set of on their very first adventure into the Spanish northern countryside, on our own, with a little help from our Tom-Tom and our dictionaries. The red dogs also went on a holiday, to the best dog hotel in the world. I however think that we may have had a better time than they did, although maybe only a little.

As such, months of planning, buying books and reading maps, culminated in our short getaway. We went to Cantabria, an area which it appears quite a number of Spanish people have not visited before.  To say that it is a wonderful part of the country is a serious understatement, it is truly beautiful, beautiful countryside, beaches and snow-capped mountains. Best of all worlds to my mind. 

To give you an idea of what the area looks like, I, of course, include some photographs.

This is Comillas. I can only state that I will willingly live there.

One of the beaches on the way to Santander.

Another beach, one is spoilt for choice here.

In Santander, on one of the piers, these statutes are dedicated the young girls and boys who dived into the ocean to catch coins that people threw at them. I think it is a bit sad really.

Santona harbour, which is an old working harbour and still has seamstresses on the docks fixing the fishing nets!

On the way to Picos de Europa, Iglesia de Santa Maria in LebaƱa. This beautiful church is still in use by the local people. Love the Arabic influence.

And then Picos de Euorpa, a view from Patos, where we not only fell in love with this town, but also encountered our first cow sale.

We did however encounter a couple of things which, ever after just over a year, we seem to forget. Many tourist sites close at 2PM, for lunch of course or, for some unbeknownst reason, are only open Mondays to Wednesdays. Why, I have no idea. I am beginning to think that either these places are part of some cult group of employees / employers who refuse to work, or somehow I again missed that part of the Spanish manual. Many restaurants and bars only start serving food after 8PM. 

Also, for the first time, we saw strange things being done to trees, as you will see on the picture below. You will agree it is beautiful, but, admittedly, weird.

So, based on our adventure, I can say that my host country has so much to offer in terms of tourism, places to visit and places to fall in love with, it will awake the travelling bug in all of us!