Friday — The parks remained open as the first couple of inches of snow fell, and quite a number of people were out enjoying an unusual sight.
Saturday, at least a foot later…
The city was at a standstill following the most snow it has received in 40 or 50 years. It was beautiful in all sorts of ways, but emergency services were hampered and many trees in our neighborhood suffered damage that will take years to heal. But that did not stop the locals (and us) from coming out again in force, some sporting snow shoes or skis.
Did you ever wonder what Spaniards do as the equivalent to watching the ball drop over Times Square on New Year’s Eve?
Neither did we — but it turns out it’s pretty quirky and multi-generational.
As the clock counts down to midnight, you eat a grape during each of the last twelve chimes…one for each month of the coming year for good luck. The history of the tradition is a bit cloudy, but apparently it has been going on for nearly 150 years.
Here’s a very short look at “Las doce uvas” (the twelve grapes), one of the most endearing local customs (and you don’t need to understand Spanish to appreciate its charm).
Robert and I embrace the supreme spirituality of nature. To us, the shortest day of the year is the reason for this seasonal celebration that dates to prehistoric times. Just as the physical world turns darkest is when it is most important to introduce nature and light into the home — green shrubs, candles, holly berries — to help us look forward to the inevitable seasonal renewal as the days once again start to lengthen, and the cycle of life begins anew.
Attached are a few pictures of the always-festive holiday displays featured throughout central Madrid.
Despite the insanity of much of this year, we are very thankful for everything we have — mostly our loving families and friends. Of course, we remain hopeful for global improvement in 2021, and wish love, health, and happiness to all.
Hi everyone, here’s a quick overview of recent events, but warning you upfront it’s not terribly exciting, so we won’t blame you if you stop reading now 🙂
Life largely continues in its recent holding pattern, which we know is pretty darned good in the grand scheme of things. One noteworthy event was the installation of the new HVAC system in our flat. When we signed the lease 11 months ago, the landlords of the newly rehabbed unit duly informed us that there had been a holdup in the permitting process and the new cooling units hadn’t been installed. They assured us this would be done by spring and that the installation should take a half day or so. In Madrid, most A/C units are installed on a wall outside a window or on a Juliet balcony, so we figured they would just need to drag in a new box and hang it where the old one was.
Wrong. Covid-related logistics issues delayed the equipment delivery. Moreover, the installation itself turned out to be a three-day project that involved cutting into the ceilings of both bathrooms.
Dust, equipment, tools, and building materials were scattered and stacked throughout the flat the entire time. Once we had confirmed the actual construction schedule, we elected to take an AirBnb to have some place to go during the day, at least. This involved schlepping the cat and a backpack full of electronics and important paperwork nearly a kilometer back and forth everyday. The AirBnb was pleasant enough with an appealing view, but it smelled kind of like a Motel 6 between the disinfectant (a good thing) and the vague scent of tobacco (not a good thing). And the weather was chilly and showery that week, so we could only open the windows for so long to air the place out.
Dani, the contractor, was very considerate of our desire to spend nights at home, so he and his crew organized the equipment and tools at the end of the work day so we could maneuver around them.
They left the place pretty clean, all things considered, but managed to damage two radiator connections by setting the heavy A/C units on them, or kneeling on them. Oh well, we don’t own the place, so I simply sent pictures to the management company to make them aware of the damage (which isn’t very noticeable if you aren’t looking for it), and that’s all we need to worry about. I sure don’t miss the responsibility of owning property!
The other (relative) excitement was the renewal process for our resident permits. Our initial cards expired on 4 November (our Spaniversary), but the renewals will be good for two years. This process involves (i) submitting paperwork and a payment receipt in person at a government office (the payment must be done separately at a bank, not where you submit the paperwork); (ii) waiting about a month for approval of the initial paperwork and then taking that paperwork plus some more paperwork and another payment receipt (which also must be done separately at a bank) to a police station that issues the cards (nearest one is 8 km away) and getting fingerprinted; and finally (iii) returning to the same police station six weeks later to pick up the actual card.
Step One was easy because we hired our relo consultant to manage it for us, and it went off without a hitch (thanks, Arcelia!) Step Two was a bit more complicated because the on-line appointment booking system is grossly inadequate to handle the volume — it can take scores of input attempts to get an appointment. Despite her best efforts, Arcelia could only obtain an appointment for me, but not Robert; however, we all figured that since we are married, one appointment would suffice. When we arrived on Thursday, it was much busier than last year, and we stood in three different lines for nearly two hours (thankfully it was a sunny and pleasant afternoon, and most of the waiting was outside).
When we finally arrived at the window, they would accept my paperwork but not Robert’s because he didn’t have an appointment. Arcelia pleaded our case admirably, but the civil servant would have none of it — quite the disappointment.
Afterward, it took nearly 24 hours of all three of us independently working the barely functioning computer system to obtain a separate appointment for Robert so we can go back and stand in line for another couple hours on 14 January. Step Three will involve making another appointment to pick up our cards, but thankfully those appointments are more accessible. Good thing we’re retired and have nothing better to do than fill in paperwork, make copies, shuttle via Uber back and forth, etc. Are we complaining? Mildly, of course — the process is nonsense. Just the price to pay to live where we live, and we’re happy to do it.
We hope everyone remains well, and wish all love and a fulfilling holiday season.
With the exception of a couple rainy days, the weather here during the last three weeks has been flawless — highs in the 70s, lows in the 50s, with clear air and refreshing breezes. Perfect for more urban adventures!
Here is a compilation of Ray´s two most recent outings. Same general direction to Casa de Campo, but different routes to get there.
One fun twist last Sunday was taking the Teleférico for 1 1/2 miles of the journey. This is a cable car that whisks you from Parque del Oeste, glides smoothly over the Río Manzanares and the M-30 highway, and deposits you smack in the middle of Casa de Campo. Great views from 150 feet or so in the air.
It has been nearly a year since my last real hike, and I have missed filling my Camelbak and tossing my backback over my shoulders. While there is some great hiking surrounding Madrid, we are still avoiding public transportation, so I figured I´d do the next best thing — a hike through the city.
We love Parque del Retiro, but that is only about a four-mile loop. However if you head directly west from the flat, in about 3 km you´ll reach the border of Casa de Campo. This huge park is more than 4,250 acres, about five times the size of Central Park. It was created in the early 16th century for use by the royal family as a hunting ground and was only opened to the public in 1931.
Today you can find a zoo, an amusement park, and a large artificial lake in the southern part of the park. But much of the vast space remains unrefined, criss-crossed by bike paths and hiking trails through hills studded with tall pine and oak trees. It´s a perfect spot to log some miles, get a little fresh air, and not see too many people.
There are numerous lovely sights between our flat and the park, so on Saturday afternoon I headed out with plenty of water, a tuna sandwich, and a bottle of Coppertone Sport and spent four and a half hours roaming through the city. Apple Health says I logged nearly ten miles and over 24,000 steps during my outing. As the weather cools a bit in the coming weeks, I foresee more adventures like this!
Robert and I needed to make a decision about returning to Spain. After continuing to pay rent on our vacant flat, it was time to head back or pull the plug. If we selected the latter option and gave up the apartment (along with our winter clothes, Robert’s musical equipment, and a bunch of other personal items we left behind), it would have required significant emotional and logistical effort to eventually redo the heavy lifting we had already accomplished.
Additionally, our visas must be renewed by 4 November, and there was considerable uncertainty about the Spanish government’s willingness to do so (despite the ongoing health crisis) had we only spent four and a half months in the country.
After evaluating the numerous pros and cons of coming back, the decision was actually pretty easy. Our resident cards enabled us to reenter the EU despite the travel ban. And Spain is so much more affordable than the US; the Europeans have seemingly learned hard lessons from their recent experiences with public health; and, most important, we missed Madrid (I mean, where else — besides Italy, perhaps — can you find blue cheese gelato?) Having been back for four days now, I understand that I missed it more than I had realized.
My crystal ball has never been very accurate, and no one knows what the future holds. We remain cautious in our neighborhood ventures, but practically everyone here wears a mask (whether required or not), and appropriate social distancing has appeared universal in our nearby outings so far.
As always, the tremendous love and support from family and friends have been instrumental in advancing our adventure. We simply cannot thank you all enough.
Hi everyone! Robert here. Long story short, on March 19 we made a last minute decision to return to the US. We realized this was definitely a time to be close to loved ones. It was hard to leave Madrid as we had fallen so in love with our new home. Our hearts go out to all the wonderful people we met during our few months there.
Ray found affordable one-way flights for the next day. Going to Madrid with few material possessions made it easy to leave quickly. Parker Kitty (now a world traveler) handled the trip perfectly. (Purrfectly?) Ray was his normal stoic solid self. Not gonna lie, I was popping 5mg Valium like PEZ and chasing them down with vino and my OCD brain was still going a mile a minute. It took 24 hours but everything actually went smoothly. A friend of ours had a sudden vacancy on an adorable furnished place and graciously offered it to us for the time being. It is the perfect place for us to land and figure things out. Even Parker kitty settled right in!
We are extremely thankful for the invaluable support of our friends and family. The blog will probably be static for a while. Got a few things to work out.
Robert and I love Spanish food: jamón iberco, pimientos padrón, croquetas, gazpacho, tortilla de patatas, paella (well, I like paella anyway). There is nothing better to feast upon when dining out at restaurants whose chefs know what they are doing.
But once we moved to the flat and started to cook in more often, I had to dust off my recipes. There are a number of healthy and tasty go-to dinners in my repertoire, which are all very simple (frequently involving only a single pot or pan). In fact some of them adapted very easily to locally available ingredients (got a liter of ready-made gazpacho in the frig? You’ve got a great base for a light pasta sauce!)
But the spice/comdiment section of our local supermarket is on the thin side — pretty much the zestiest item on shelf is soy sauce. I found myself longing for my favorite hot sauce, Cholula.
Some friends who are coming to visit asked if there is anything they can bring from the states. It didn’t occur to me at first to have them drag along a couple bottles of Cholula Chipotle or Chili Lime, but that got me thinking: Madrid is a big city. Surely there must be some place that imports Mexican treats.
Hopping on Google I found a store called 100% Mexico (https://www.100porcienmexico.es/) about 350 meters from the flat. They feature clothing, arts, and most importantly, food direct from Mexico. While I could have stocked up on tortilla chips and salsa, my goal was Cholula, and there was an entire shelf of the stuff. Surprisingly, it was priced at 4 euros a bottle, which is only slightly more than I paid at the Safeway in Bisbee.
I selected my two favorite flavors and headed home to toss together a big batch of fresh elote.
Parker turns 15 in a few weeks, and she has always been in very robust health. But about three months ago, she started developing small scaly patches on her skin. Not apparently painful, and not to the point she would scratch her skin bare or raw — just little scabby areas mostly on her face and neck.
I wrote it off as a food allergy, or perhaps a delayed reaction to the stress of the move, and changed her brand of food. The symptoms subsided for a few weeks, but never completely resolved. Then over the next few weeks she started vomiting every few days, with gradually increasing frequency (and Parker has never been much of a barfer).
Since there tended to be some fur present when that happened, I figured it was hairballs. Out came the comb and digestive gel to help mitigate the symptoms, but those didn’t do the job. However, since she still exhibited a healthy appetite and readily took food, I wasn’t overly concerned.
All along I had been closely watching the catbox for any changes to her “output.” Nothing was unusual — regular amounts of liquid and solid waste, with no blood or anything runny. Nevertheless, two weeks ago when she threw up twice in one day, I realized it was time for a trip to the vet.
But where to go in Madrid?
A quick search located Clínica Veterinaria Antón Martín right around the corner (https://www.facebook.com/cvantonmartin/). The on-line reviews are stellar and several mentioned the vet even speaks English. It was 18:00 on a Friday and the clinic was open until 20:00.
When I called for an appointment and reverted to English, the assistant responded fluently. After I explained the problem, she told me they didn’t have any appointments available but that given the symptoms they needed to see Parker right away. She asked when I could come in and I told her I could be there in 20 minutes, to which she responded, “Perfect, see you soon.”
When I arrived at the spotless and odorless clinic, Camila immediately greeted me, took my information, and set up my file. Then she said, “Let me find a doctor.” Three or four minutes later Parker and I were in the exam room with an English-speaking vet, Miguel. He asked about the symptoms, patiently examined Parker, commented that “she is a very calm cat,” and concluded it was likely a food allergy.
Miguel recommended special food, pepcid, and an anti-nausea medication, with a follow-up appointment a few days later. He gave Parker two injections to provide immediate relief and sent me home with two trial packets of food (hypo-allergenic and digestive support) and ten days of medication.
This was one of the best vet experiences I have ever had. The sincere care and concern displayed by the entire staff was unmistakable. Remarkably, the bill for two office visits (initial and first follow-up), two shots, food samples, and oral meds totaled US $50. Sheesh…
After two weeks, Parker has not thrown up once and displays more energy. When I went back for a third office visit, they only charged me for another 20 days of medication (US $16) — the check-up was free.