Just like the saying, “there’s an app for that,” there should be one that says, “there’s a way to accomplish just about anything.”
So, to remind you; we did not get our visas immediately approved because we did not have our FBI clearance apostilled by the US State Department. Here we are in Arizona and our paperwork must be hand-delivered in DC.
Rather than expect my colleague in DC to drop everything she is doing to schlep across town at 8am (yes, the State Department only accepts walk-ins between 8-9 am!) I found the saving grace—Help Me Rhonda concierge service http://www.hmrconcierge.com. Rhonda was quick to respond to my request, professional and even knew the State Department drill. Drop off one day, set an appointment to return three days later to pick up the docs. Within 11 days of returning from the Consulate, our FBI apostilled clearance docs are on their way to LA!
We continue to post our stuff on Craig’s List and whittle things down. It is our goal to put one 10×20 container in storage, sell all of our belongings, cars and home and relocate to a 1400 square foot (if we are lucky) furnished apartment in central Valencia. We’ll be walking, using mass transit and hopefully purchase two of those cool, folding bikes to get us around town.
Are we scared? Yes. Are we crazy? Hell yes! Eight weeks until we take the leap!
Preparing our documents to apply for Spanish non-lucrative visas was a three-month process. We followed the Los Angeles’ Consulates instructions to a T, or at least we thought we had, but missed a couple of important steps.
Here’s a blow-by-blow of our process—
At the end of December we visited a local business that takes fingerprints. These must be sent to the FBI for a background check/clearance. The FBI office that handles this was very helpful, actually, darn nice! And that doesn’t happen too often when dealing with bureaucracy. We were told that average turn around was 10-12 weeks, but fortunately, they were at a lull and were expecting 9-10 weeks. Yippee!
In the meantime, we downloaded directions and every form necessary. Note: each consulate office has its own “rules,” so make sure you are gathering info from the office you are required to visit. Living in Phoenix, ours is LA.
During this time we started seeking out a person to translate the necessary documents—our marriage certificate, birth certificates (didn’t actually need), our proof of funds (we are applying for a non-lucrative visa, so must show income requirements), FBI clearance (there’s a whole other story about this later), medical certificate (clearance from our doctor). It took us a number of emails and calls to find someone who was pretty knowledgeable. Grace is very versed in this type of work and despite a couple of glitches, our experience worked out pretty well. Grace assured us that she could have all documents apostilled for us at the Arizona Secretary of State, which was true. However, we learned upon our visit to the LA Consulate that our FBI fingerprint clearance had to be apostilled by the State Department in Washington DC.
For those of you unfamiliar, apostille is similar to a notary, which is accepted by all countries based on an international treaty drafted by the Hague Conference on Private International Law in 1961. It specifies the modalities through which a document issued in one of the signatory countries can be certified for legal purposes in all the other signatory states.
Down to the wire…just four days before our departure we received our translated/apostilled documents and it was a nail biter. Grace did everything within her power to get our document apostilled, but learned that you must apostille the document from its origination. Therefore, our birth certificates, which we didn’t end up needing, were supposed to be apostilled in our states of birth.
We went through the Consulate checklist and believed we had everything in order and took off on Sunday morning to LA for our Monday morning appointment. We stayed a few miles away from the Consulate off of Wilshire in Korea Town, in an old, refurbished hotel, The Normandie. A very accommodating staff and comfortable surroundings made for a nice stay. Ubering around LA is quite easy…we just have to figure out which corner is which when ordering a car. Sunday was fun-day with a quick trip to LACMA for an outstanding Picasso-Rivera exhibit.
Arriving early at the Consulate, the woman assisting us was very professional…however, I was a nervous wreck. The few things we learned:
1) Make an appointment for every person in your family – we had only made one, but had arrived early enough to be accommodated.
2) Make copies of EVERYTHING. While I had followed directions, the Consulate reviewed the original documents and wanted to keep copies of every document submitted with the visa applications. We had to find a copy shop nearby to make the appropriate copies.
3) Have the FBI clearance apostilled by the State Department in Washington, DC BEFORE you arrive at your appointment.
4) If you are applying for a non-lucrative visa, you must return to the Consulate to pick up your visas in person.
While we were disappointed we did not make it through with flying colors—we were not turned away. We returned home to figure out how to get our FBI clearance documents to Washington in a timely manner to make our scheduled trip by June 4.
Countdown. . .eight weeks away from our move to Valencia. Since returning from Spain last fall we have been on a mission to make this dream a reality. The past three months have been spent cleaning and clearing things out of our 3000 sq ft home to get it ready to put on the market that was listed in mid-Feb.
Getting prepared for our trip to the Consulate in LA on March 27 to apply for our non-lucrative visas consists of a ton of hoops to jump through, paperwork and translation services. We are hoping that we will receive approval quickly and easily as we feel we have dotted our i’s and crossed our t’s on every item they are requesting.
Our departure date is June 4 with arrival in Barcelona for a night’s sleep before heading to Valencia. We have a short-term rental for the first 30 days, with hopes of getting our National ID card, bank account and apartment rented by mid-June. Our relocation expert, Linda Svilane of Moving to Valencia http://movingtovalencia.lbiz.es/ has been a huge help!
Now that we are getting closer, it is apparent that everything seems to be moving like clockwork… and believe this move is meant to be!
By noon Sunday we headed to Valencia to begin our weeklong Spanish immersion classes and investigative journey. We zipped into Valencia only to get lost multiple times—first, trying to find our AirBnB, which fortunately, Google Maps had no trouble locating and routing us. Having to park illegally, again, bothered me immensely, but it was the only way we could drop off our belongings (and boxes of wine and oil) before returning our rental car at the central train station!
Our hosts recommended heading down to the beach to join all the Valencian families who dine at the local beachfront restaurants for Sunday lunch. The restaurants, boardwalk and beach were packed with locals. We chose the restaurant of our host’s recommendation. Enjoying our first paella of the trip, we delighted in watching the huge Valencian families having a joyous time together—three and four generations gathered at long tables filled with laughter and joy. Family is a big deal here and Sunday is the day to gather and enjoy breaking bread.
After our meal, we quickly dipped our toes into the Mediterranean Sea and headed back to our rental car to return it at the Norte train station. But quick note to self and others—mark your car’s position on Google maps BEFORE you leave it parked! Always trying to enjoy our journey, we discovered a few extra areas before arriving back at our car.
Sunday at the Beach
Dipping Our Toes in the Mediterranean
This sandcastle was over 5 foot high!
Our experience with EuroCar had been great, with the gentleman who checked us in days ago in Barcelona quite helpful. Unfortunately, finding our way into the rental car area at the train station was a different story! After six attempts (I am not kidding…six!) we finally entered the proper area. Mind you, if you miss an entrance, you must follow the main artery down and around numerous roundabouts to try again. My guess is we added an extra 20 km just trying to find the drop off point!
We mapped our way home and decided it would be great to walk back to get the lay of the land. Unfortunately, Sunday evenings are barren wastelands of questionable streets, although we felt a bit uncomfortable, we never felt threatened.
From the outside, our AirBnB wasn’t much to write home about. Our “penthouse” apartment was however modern and clean with a beautiful terrace. While the weather was perfect, our first night in Valencia was not very restful. With families gathering for their Sunday dinner well into the morning, there was lots of noise…open windows makes it feel like the entire neighborhood is in our bedroom! We decided that moving forward we would use the A/C for a few hours, then after things quieted down after 1am, we would turn it off and open the windows. We enjoyed beautiful sunrises and sunsets across the rooftops dotted with antennas.
We headed into to VilaFranc to experience the town market to find great photos and so much more—chickens, families and food. The town was bustling with thousands of people—the plaça was filled with a swap meet of such—clothing, housewares, tools…anything you could imagine. Just around the corner we found the market extending for blocks! Fresh fruit and vegetables, olives, olive oils, cheese, meat and chickens! Yes, live chickens, roosters, chicks, ducks and ducklings. The Chicken Man chatted with every shopper, showing his pride. When a customer picked a chicken, he swooped into the cage, grabbed it by the wings and proceeded to hold it, prepare a box for the customer to take home the newest addition to his/her farm or dinner table. It was a blast to watch him and the children who were fascinated by the chicks and ducklings.
Our AirBnB host, Ferren, helped us make reservations at a nearby winery for a tasting. This region of Catalon is known for its Cava—a delightfully refreshing sparkling wine Spain called Cava after the cellars in which the wine is produced. Created by a Catalunyan, Josep Raventãs, in 1872, Cava has played a central role in the everyday life of Spaniards ever since. Cava is very fresh, light and clean. It’s very easy to drink. It’s perfect for the Spanish climate. Cava is not as alcoholic as red or white wine, so it’s perfect – you can drink it all afternoon long. Bottles are popped at baptisms, weddings and other celebrations, but Cava is also drunk more casually at family meals or after work drinks.
After 45 minutes of driving in circles, we finally came upon our winery, Parés Balta, founded in 1790. Now an organic winery, our host Gisela provided us a delightful tasting of Cava, red and white blends and fresh, bright olive oil. So excited, I now realize I may have shopped a bit too much, having selected six bottles of Cava and wine and four bottles of olive oil. How we are ever going to schlep this over the next two weeks, I have no idea. So for now, I will enjoy great wine every night!
From our winery, we drove to Peñiscola (not pronounced the way we say the city in Florida, we were quickly taught). While it is great to “wing it,” from place to place, when you are hunting for a great place and are having difficulty finding something suitable it can make one nervous. Hopping around from AirBnB to Expedia to Booking, I finally found a top-rated B&B, Luz de Azahar that offered us a junior suite for $114. The room and bathroom were gigantic with a huge soaking tub (oh, how I missed mine back home!).
The property was home to a charming couple, immaculate lodgings, 200 orange trees and a sprinkling of the most delightful smelling jasmine. The entire B&B experience was lovely, but unfortunately the town was absolutely nothing to write home about. The beachfront was filled with thousands of people, hundreds of vendors selling junk and dozens of bikers and Porsche drivers zooming up and down the avenue. After a mediocre dinner we rushed back to the serenity of Luz for a very restful night’s sleep.
Our drive to Girona was relatively uneventful—only missing a few roundabouts. But getting into old town Girona and our hotel was a completely different story! We ended up G-d knows where, on a one-way dirt road that was extremely steep and narrow and appeared to go nowhere. Somehow, we made it down the steep hill to where we thought our hotel might be located. “Ah-ha,” Craig exclaimed, “a parking spot!” While it wasn’t painted red, it did look like an entrance to a shop door and I was very concerned. Nonetheless, we traipsed into the old town and found our hotel literally right around the corner where we had started!
Girona lies in northeast Catalonia, just 99 km (62 mi) from Barcelona. One of the most historic sites in Spain, it was originally founded by Romans, the city later was taken over by Moors and Franks before finally falling under the rule of Barcelona. Influenced by different cultures and religions, the city beckons visitors with beautiful architecture. The Jewish Museum provides an in-depth history of the Jewish community before they were expelled during the Inquisition.
Our hotel, Museu Llegendes de Girona is TripAdvisor’s #2 hotel in Girona and wasexceptional. While touting that Mark Zuckerberg and his wife stayed in room 302, it was the room and the service that wowed us. While in a 400-year-old building, our room was ultra-modern with a fully encased glass bathroom. Luckily, the glass was frosted, so the shower was not so intimidating.
Once we checked in we headed out to explore old town Girona, and for the next three+ hours we had an opportunity to visit Arab baths from the 4th century, cathedrals from to 12th and 13th centuries and much more.
As we headed back to the hotel I got a sinking feeling we should check on the car and low and behold, there was a ticket Upon returning to the hotel I told Craig I simply wanted to move the car into the $23E hotel parking area and know that I could sleep well at night. Good thing I did! When I returned to move the car the policia and tow truck operator were trying to figure out how to tow our rental car. “Los seintos, señor,” I exclaimed!
I quickly moved the car and brought it to the hotel where I had to squeeze—and I do mean squeeze, into an underground garage and pay a mere $23 Euro. Every corner of the garage was chipped. I had never been so nervous parking in my life!
We had tried months earlier to get a reservation at the number one-rated restaurant in the world, El Celler de Can Roca, with no luck. Fortunately, the hotel staff had another great recommendation, Arros |Peix. I’ve never selected live seafood for my dinner, but that’s exactly what we did! While the restaurant wasn’t fancy, it was certainly the best seafood I’ve ever had. The owner had us select each course including scallops, prawns, razor clams grilled octopus – the most amazing EVER with red potatoes soaked in the octopus brine. Then, for our main course we had a huge turbo filleted at our table!
Talk about fresh seafood…they were still moving!
Our first course, scallops
Ode to Mama Lola
The Spanish are known for being late diners. So when we went to our 8:30 reservation, we were surprised to see the place packed. But it was packed with Swiss, French, German, British and us! Apparently the rest of Europe dines earlier than the Spaniards! Seated next to a charming Swiss couple, we dove into great conversation about food, travel and even a little politics.
We strolled back to the hotel under the stars, along the cobblestone streets, back to our hotel for one of the best night’s sleep one the trip. However, students partying outside our window woke us in the middle of the night…ode to a college town!
Day 2 – oops, slept in again. Craig should have woken me, but finally crawled out of bed for a lovely late breakfast at a nearby bakery. I chose a spinach quiche. But far from ordinary, it was both sweet and savory with golden raisins and pine nuts in the quiche.
Should have purchased passes/reservations for Sangrada Familia….the lines!
Headed down to the Born area where we visited the Cathedral de Santa Maria. Built in 1600’s its stained glass, especially the rose window was extraordinary. Flying buttresses everywhere! We found a winding stairwell—comparable to a nautilus shell, where we were able to look down upon the cathedral and appreciate its grandeur.
Worked our way over to the Picasso Museum but not willing to wait on queue for an hour. Maybe next trip. Worked our way down towards the port and saw the striking monolith of Christopher Columbus. Of course, we had to walk Las Ramblas, just to say we had done it. Filled with tourists and locals, the walkways spilled out with street artists, performance artists, tzatche shops, bars, restaurants and lots of interesting people to enjoy.
Entering the Mercat de Boqueria, every sense was explored—the smells of fine chocolate and spices were amazing. Viewing all the fresh seafood, I was blown away at the number of different sizes and types of prawns…there are some major big prawns! The sounds of hungry locals and tourists ordering tapas at small lunch counters. Stall after stall of fruits and vegetables, much fresher and more beautiful than anything you see in the states, sans a farmers market with abundantly more. Seven miles so far and another walk to and from dinner to come.
Dinner tonight: Etapes…amazing! A prix fix menu, truly a five-star meal:
Scallops with pork belly
Lamb shank with potato foam – I haven’t eaten lamb for probably 50 years, but if I am going to eat it, it should taste like this.
Tiramisu to melt in your mouth
Note to self: Spaniards dine al fresco, but also smoke 😦
Arrived in Barcelona at midnight and hopped a cab to our apartment. Our host Juan Luis met us here to go over everything in the place AND provide dozens of recommendations. Who does that?
Slept until 11:30! Major jet lag, but proceeded to two Barcelona highlights, Gaudi’s La Padrera – the apartment building was outstanding. The highlight was the rooftop with its people-like chimneys and arches in which you would view La Sagrada Familia through an arch.
Next stop was another Gaudi favorite, Casa Batlló—this home is unlike anything you have ever seen—truly Gaudi-esque. The woodwork followed soft curves, with each room designed to capture outside light. Raised tiles that were situated throughout were another Gaudi detail. We were able to see how people lived in this apartment in the early 1900’s complete with nursery, maid’s quarters and kitchen. My favorite detail—vents that were finished wood that opened and closed to provide unique ventilation.
Lots of walking. Rather than get lost on the bus or subway, we figured we needed the exercise. Day one about five miles.
We stumbled around looking for a good place for dinner. Constantly getting lost, but discovering great photo and people watching opportunities. Headed to Vigo only to find it closed for vacation. Luckily, we fell upon another place just a few doors down that offered fine Barcelona tapas.
Our dinner started with the region’s famous “tomato bread” y jamón. They create a spread or jam of fresh tomatoes on their wonderful crusty, fresh bread. We followed with another Barcelona favorite, an egg dish with potato pasta of sorts. It had a nice kick to it, but not too spicy. Last, we had skewers of prawns and calamari—so fresh tasting…nothing like back home. We returned to our modern apartment to plan the next part of our journey to Girona.