It was mid April. We were cruising along an uninspiring stretch of the I-5, on our way home from an impromptu trip to Santa Barbara and Palm Springs where we escaped for sun, wine, and as it turns out, a surprise marriage proposal. As official new “fiances,” we were doing what most couples do: talking about our life together (which included a move to Spain four weeks later), and, naturally, a wedding. As firm believers in the importance of experiences over things, there was never a question that we wanted to gather our family and friends together for a kickass party. It was just a matter of where, when, and how it would all come together. Below are the details of how we pulled off our wedding (and the most amazing week of our lives) in a 17th century Italian villa.
Well shit. Having just spent the majority of our combined savings traveling around the world, an upcoming move abroad (without jobs on the other side), and our business in the beginning stages, we instantly realized that some financial creativity would be necessary. Even with a generous gift from each of our parents, when we pulled together all our funds, the budget didn’t hold a candle to the pretty shocking site fees and overall cost of a wedding, let alone one in pricey Northern California or Colorado. So, without wanting to cut anyone off the invite list, we quickly started to look elsewhere.
It was a crazy idea, but we’ve made a lot of bold moves together and they’ve always paid off big. Neither of us had a clue how to plan a wedding in Italy, but we couldn’t dismiss the idea of getting married in a country where Megan’s family had roots and we’d shared some seriously incredible memories. After a good week of Internet research, we found that villas in Tuscany are shockingly inexpensive (especially compared to just about every location in Boulder or the Bay Area), and don’t require an additional site fee for weddings. There were further discounts for “off season” reservations - any time after October first - which was perfect considering we and had zero interest in a two year engagement and were not opposed to getting married in the next six months (people do that, right?).
The trick was to find a villa big enough to accommodate our entire group (requiring a very early guest commitment), but not too big that we would pay to rent out the entire place with empty rooms. We were looking for a place that could sleep all of our 45-65 guests comfortably (en suite bathrooms, kitchens, etc), with proximity to a city or town, some sort of guest reviews and space outdoors for the ceremony. Harder than you’d think. After many, many emails and some help from Google Translate, we landed on Villa Catignano, which happened to have availability the week of October 10th due to a recent cancellation. Transferring a large sum of money as a deposit was a tiny bit terrifying, sight unseen and trusting that our guests would actually come to Italy and pay a nightly rate to help pay for the villa.
Once we decided on a destination wedding, we had to face the stone cold reality that not everyone we would love to attend our wedding could hop on a plane and travel halfway around the world to see us get married. Our initial fear was that hardly anyone would make it and we’d be flat broke, rattling around a beautiful villa with no one but our parents for a week (no offense, Mike, Tim, and Daphne!). But, while many of our favorite people couldn’t realistically pull off a trip to Europe with less than six months notice, we were completely shocked that in the end, 53 people (including 8 from Hawaii!) RSVP’d ‘YES.’ Amazing.
The Other Wedding Details
A few weeks after our move to Spain, we planned a trip to Italy to check out the villa, meet with some caterers and, well, hang out in Italy. In true Italian nature, we were welcomed warmly. The villa was even more beautiful than in the photos and we were stuffed silly at tastings with caterers and wineries. The prices for a 5-course plated dinner were again shockingly inexpensive compared to the U.S. (around 65 euros per person, including wine and cake!), giving us the flexibility to plan an incredible menu which included Ryan’s burrata and Megan’s pumpkin ravioli courses. Taking advantage of Spain’s inexpensive designer clothing, we purchased Megan’s wedding dress (a Rosa Clara dress from the 2015 line) and Ryan’s Massimo Dutti custom-made tailored suit for at least half (maybe even ⅔?) the cost of a comparable dress and suit purchased in the states. The financial savings turned out to be well worth the cultural differences and language barriers. Then we got creative, ordering invites from a British artist on Etsy, hiring a very talented photography student who was studying abroad, and DIY’ing our place cards, welcome letters, dinner menus, and wedding programs. Maybe it was our relaxed Spanish lifestyle, but the planning was never stressful and we both strangely enjoyed figuring out how to create an incredible week without spending a fortune.
Our Wedding Week
Moving to Spain, growing our business, finding part-time jobs, learning Spanish and adapting to a new culture has been one of the biggest challenges either of us have ever faced. By the time we left for Italy, we were finally feeling settled and couldn’t wait to spend time with family and friends. One of the many benefits of a wedding, besides the obvious, is the once-in-a-lifetime moment of having a bunch of people who mean the world to you all in one place. And we got just that; with 53 of our favorite people for a whole week. It was overwhelmingly emotional (Megan cried daily) and we relished every single minute. From our closest friends popping by our room each morning for coffee, to wine tasting excursions, games of beer pong and late night dance parties, we were overtaken with gratitude.
Siena had a cold front blow in the weekend before, so the week was dreary, with chilly temps, sideways rain, and some seriously intense thunderstorms. But it didn’t touch how happy everyone seemed to be, especially once we figured out how to turn the heat on. In a week filled with clouds, one day was forecasted to have clear, sunny skies, so we did the unimaginable and changed the day of our wedding. Deciding to move the wedding up a day was a luxury only afforded by having all our guests under one roof for the week, as well as some very flexible local suppliers.
Our Wedding Day
Everyone probably says their wedding day was perfect, but our’s really was. The sun was shining, our family and friends gathered in the garden looking out over the Tuscan hills. We exchanged personal vows and our parents spoke, providing blessings and words of advice. We took photos in a setting so beautiful that we felt like fashion models while our guests ate bruschetta under string lights. We ate a delicious meal, shed more tears as our friends and family toasted our marriage, and cut our traditional Italian wedding cake (which is delicious, turns out). We danced till 2am, and stayed up laughing with our friends until who-knows-when. It was, as it turns out, the perfect wedding.
Post Wedding Reflections
The truth is, the two of us didn’t need any of it. We’ve been committed to one another for a long time; sure of our future together since date #2. And while it’s definitely fun to get glammed up and reach Italian fashion model status, it isn’t at all representative of our lifestyle and what’s important to us. Our wedding was perfect because of the people in our lives, their inconsequential support and unwavering love. It may sound like a greeting card, but it’s true. Because as we get older, move further away, and realize what’s important, we’ve concluded that our family, and friends who are like family, have a colossal impact on our lives. The memories that we’ll have from one week in Tuscany, celebrating our marriage with the people we love, were well-worth every penny.
Ah, Belgium. The tiny country, somewhere beside, above and between France, Germany, and the Netherlands. But when measuring awesomeness, size doesn’t matter. Texas is nearly 23 times bigger than Belgium, but it ain’t got nothing on the history, food, and BEER from this quirky little place.
Divided into two distinctly different regions, Belgium feels like a mish mash of Northern France and The Netherlands. And that’s probably because it is. The southern region of Wallonia is home to adorable little French-speaking towns scattered across the hilly Ardennes with the flat plains, with the more urbanized, and Dutch-speaking Flanders to the north.
The train drops us off in Liege, where we spend our first three nights in Belgium. It’s the largest city in Wallonia, and although that only means about 200,000 people, it feels much bigger. Home to the Liege-style, deliciously doughy waffle, the city has some interesting sights. But overall, we’re unimpressed. It’s city vibes don’t feel cozy and the old town is a solid “average” on the interesting scale. A day trip to Spa, which kindly gave its name to those thermal hot baths we like to sit in, is a nice escape. Atop a small hill overlooking town is the Les Thermes de Spa, is a unique, cool, and slightly strange complex of thermal pools, saunas, and more relaxation inspired activities. After a few hours, we’re ready to roll, with Belgian beers and frites on the train back to our hotel.
At this point we’re feeling pretty disappointed in Liege, and our next stop, Brussels, certainly doesn’t promise to increase the cozy factor. We’d even been warned by the blank-faced, questioning tone of our Dutch friend in Valencia when we’d mentioned we were going to Brussels. “Hmm. Brussels?” she’d said. We’d quickly shifted the conversation to our next stop, Ghent, and she brightened up, saying, “Ghent is very nice!”. So, what to do when trip plans go awry? Switch it up.
We cancel our reservations for big, uncozy Brussels, rent a little red Fiat 500, and take off for Dinant, stopping first at Abbaye du Val Dieu.
Val Dieu claims to be the only true Abbey beer in Belgium, since they brew on-site (compared to other abbeys who apparently brew somewhere else). The abbey itself is awesome, the brasserie tour, strictly in French, not so much. Sure, it’s interesting, but it’s also freezing and we’re thirsty. Thankfully our tour guide seems to understand this and, ‘feeling the room,’ brings us to the tour’s big finale… tasting! We sip on the delicious Belgian blonde and strong brown while eating some super tasty abbey cheese (also made on-site) and chatting with a British/Maltese couple about the lack of English speaking tours in Wallonia and current sea temperatures off Malta. Tempted to spend the rest of the afternoon in the Abbey restaurant, drinking their boozy tripel and hard-to-find Grand Cru, a moment of maturity quickly takes over and we exit graciously, purchasing copious amounts of beer and Abbey cheese at the gift shop before making our way to Dinant.
Dinant is a spectacular town, set against the Meuse river and backed by steep cliffs that dangle over the Gothic Church of our Lady. It’s also the birthplace of Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone, and proud of it. Saxophone sculptures are scattered just about everywhere in this little village. In all sizes and colors, it’s… a lot. We spend only one night here, stopping by the Maison du Leffe, a museum and tasting room for the classic Belgian Leffe brewery, but skipping the tour (Ryan’s a bit snobby about Leffe, when, as he says “there are so many other, smaller, better breweries in Belgium”).
It’s now New Year’s Eve and what better place to go but the Smallest City in the World. At least that’s the self-proclaimed title Durbuy has given itself. We arrive to a little town bustling with people and *gasp/WTF!* another Christmas Market. Of course, it’s no German Christmas Market, but this, the tiniest of cities, still does a pretty good job. It even has it’s own ice skating rink! While we decide to take a raincheck on ice skating, we do venture out for NYE, seeking adventure and stumbling upon a few pretty interesting hotel parties. We dance the night away with our newly found Belgian friends as midnight strikes and the rest becomes a little blurry, proud of ourselves for uncovering our inner 20-something selves for this annual celebration.
With the new year comes our next destination, dropping off our rental car and taking the train to Ghent, a wonderful city just north of Brussels, in East Flanders. Like the massively popular tourist town of Bruges slightly further north, Ghent’s a beautiful little town straddling the Leie and Scheldt rivers. Less touristy than Bruges, Ghent benefits from a mostly pedestrian-only old town and centuries of impressive architecture. In addition to offering the Belgian classics (chocolate, frites, waffles, and beer), Ghent is vegetarian mecca. Not only do restaurants across the city offer a long list of vegetarian eats, the whole city goes veggie every Thursday in order to be healthy and save the planet (not so fun fact: animal agriculture is the world’s single biggest contributor to climate change).
We stroll the cobblestone streets of Patershol, Graslei, and Korenlei eating as many veggie burgers, waffles, chocolate, and cuberdons (delicious little nose-shaped fruit candies) we can handle. We learn more about Trappist beers, brewed by monks for centuries at their Trappist Cistercian monasteries. Six of ten in the world are located in Belgium and we happily drink to our heart’s content. Among our favorites, the Westmalle dubbel, Rochefort 10 (quad), and Westvleteren 12 (affectionately referred to as ‘Westy’), widely considered the best beer in the world. The latter of which we shared at Trollekelder, an incredible Belgian beer bar with more character than any bar we’ve ever been to and as long a beer list as we’ve ever seen. Though all of the Trappist monasteries are closed to the public, we did visit Gruut Brewery in old town Ghent. What makes Gruut so interesting is that they don’t use hops to flavor their beer, instead opting for a mix of spices (gruit). There’s some fascinating history behind this beer, so if you’re interested you should definitely read more.
We leave Belgium with a slightly better understanding of this curious little country with the friendly, flat, architecturally rich Dutch-speaking/feeling Flanders to the north and the quaint, hilly, French-speaking/feeling Wallonia in the south. It’s a history/beer/food lover’s paradise and we’ll be back for sure, but next time, in the summer.
‘Tis the holiday season. Our first in Spain and our first outside the U.S., thousands of miles from our families and the celebrations that normally come with this time of year. Seeking the holiday spirit and that feeling of coziness that doesn’t seem to come with winter in Valencia (no offense, Spain!) we took off for (cue drumroll), Germany! But why Germany, you ask? Well, Germany just happens to be the king of the Christmas Market.
First stop, Nuremberg, a Franconian city in northern Bavaria of about 500,000 people with a small village, rather than big city, feel. Shortly after landing, we realize that our fears of freezing our asses off weren’t unfounded. It’s cold, grey, and dark. No snow to be found, just a stiff wind that feels like a slap in the face to any exposed areas of skin. But before we start sounding all gloom and doom, it’s important to point out that we chose this. We thought, “Okay, let’s go somewhere cold and cozy for Christmas. That sounds like a great idea. Let’s do it!” Well, we did it. Now we’re strolling the city streets two blocks at a time, before ducking into whatever store, shop, or cafe we happen to walk past just to get out of the cold. You see, we are, collectively, two of the most cold intolerant people you will ever meet. Living in Spain, growing up in California, years spent living in Hawaii, and an 8-month trip around the world that largely avoided any aspect of winter, has led us to a serious place of weakness when it comes to intemperate climates.
But, we digress. You see, as we mentioned, Germany has an answer for this cold+grey+dark combination. It’s called gluhwein. I mean, Christmas Markets, but gluhwein (mulled wine, in German) is really the key ingredient. And Nuremberg’s Chriskindlesmarkt (as it’s called in German) is widely considered one of the best in a country which has the best Christmas Markets in the world. The Nuremberg Christmas Market is held in the Hauptmarkt, the central square of the city’s old town area. Set in the shadow of the spectacular Frauenkirche Church, the market is a wonderland of candy-striped, wooden booths selling everything from the city’s famous gingerbread to ornaments to gluhwein and hot chocolate. There are plenty of other crafts for sale as well as famous Nurnberger sausages (sadly, not many vegetarian options here). Somehow, the thousands of people perusing the market and sipping gluhwein bring a warmth to the market we’d been so desperately missing. Our bellies warmed by this sugary concoction, we wander through the aisles of the Christmas Market snacking on pretzels and shopping for ornaments.
On Christmas Eve Eve we take the train to nearby Bamberg, an incredibly preserved historic city and university town. A short walk from the train station and we find the old town, home to buildings that date all the way back to the 11th century. Bamberg is where the Regnitz and Main rivers meet, but also where the German Christmas Market becomes smaller, more quaint, and significantly more local. Across the rivers and past the incredible, muraled Altes Rathaus is the impressive Bamberg Cathedral and while we’re not the most religious of couples, this cathedral certainly inspires awe. Construction started in the 11th century and its location atop one of the city’s seven hills gives ensures the cathedral’s towers and stone carvings impart their fullest effect.
Bamberg’s also known for its rauchbier and no one does rauchbier better than Schlenkerla, a historic brewpub just a block or so from the river in the city’s old town. Schlenkerla offers a nearly perfect German beer hall experience, full of ancient wood furniture, coved ceilings, and a myriad of different rooms to drink its beer. And while the experience here is not to be missed, rauchbier, which is a smoked beer made by drying malted barley over an open flame, certainly isn’t for everyone. The smell is almost overwhelming and the first sip is a little intense. But once you get used to it, the stuff goes down easy. Still, as we compare the flavor to the sausages we smelt earlier, our feelings remain mixed.
Later in the evening we share a mug of feuerzangenbowle, which is similar to gluhwein but with more citrus (and rum!) before discovering the most unbelievable thing of all time. This, friends, is the quarkballchen, a racquetball-sized donut made of dough mixed with quark (German yogurt-like fresh cheese), fried, then rolled in cinnamon and sugar. We ordered one to start, then quickly realized our ignorance to the majesty of this impeccable creation and went home with four dozen. (In our dreams at least. In reality, we left with four).
Drunk and satisfied, we returned to Nuremberg for Christmas Eve, a day of more gluhwein in the cozy lobby of our boutique Hotel Elch. And for Christmas itself, we relax in our room, peering out over the rooftops of the city’s old town. We head out for an afternoon stroll up to the Imperial (Nuremberg) castle, but that’s all before leaving early the next day for Koblenz and a visit to Marksburg Castle, resting along the Rhine. Although Koblenz isn’t much to write home about, Marksburg, one of the best preserved castles in the region, definitely is. Winter tours are solely in German, but the experience is still pretty rad. Even more, while exploring the castle ‘keep,’ the sun peeks through the clouds and our hearts instantly become full.
Next up, a 7am train ride to Belgium where we continue our marathon of eating, drinking, eating, and drinking some more. Stay tuned!
Ahhh, the New Year. A time to reflect on all that was the previous year and compensate with resolutions for the year ahead.
We’re firm believers in living big - making bold moves, no matter how risky they feel in order to create the life we want to live. So, we’re wrapping up 2016 with nothing but love! After all, we got to spend time with both of our families in California and Colorado, drove the entire West Coast from LA to Vancouver, moved to Spain and have started to learn Spanish, evolved our website to a real, money-making (not much, but still) business, got married in a Tuscan villa, and spent the holidays in Germany and Belgium. No complaints here.
But like everyone else out there, we’re looking forward to 2017. Namely, all the places we want to visit in the year ahead. Let’s see how many we can check off in the next 12 months:
As one of the world’s smallest countries, the island archipelago of Malta is sandwiched between southern Italy and northern Africa. It’s rich with history, nearly always sunny and warm, and home to beautiful beaches. Plus, the entire country has committed to an Eco Certification system to “ensure the environmental, socioeconomic, and cultural sustainability of hotels,” which we think is pretty cool. Oh, and they filmed Game of Thrones there, to be complete nerds about it.
2. Italy (yes, again)
We can’t stop. And why should we? With flights from Spain under 2 hours and 25 euros, there’s no reason why we wouldn’t go back to Italy in 2017. After all, it’s where we got married, mini-mooned, and have some seriously amazing memories. That, and we all know it’s worth the trip for the gelato alone.
3. The Canary Islands
Spain offers frequent and low cost tickets to Islas Canarias, aka the Canary Islands. Located 100 miles off the coast of Morocco, “the Canaries” are among the outermost regions of the European Union. With summertime temperatures all year round, long beaches, and Spanish pricing it may be the perfect winter getaway. Now if we could only decide which island to visit first...
4. The U.S!
We haven’t been back to the states since we moved last May, and we could seriously use some time with friends and family. Hoping to potentially include an East coast tour, swinging by Boston, New York, and North Carolina (at a minimum) before heading west to see our families. Anyone with a vacant guestroom, holla!
5. Portugal and the Azores
It’s honestly somewhat shocking that we’ve been living in Spain but haven’t yet made it to Portugal. Especially considering we’ve heard nothing but amazing things. To commemorate our first year of marriage, we would love to strap on our backpacks and hike (at least some of) the Camino Portugués, a 520-kilometer stretch from Lisbon to Santiago De Compostela in Spain.
Oh, and the Azores. What might possibly be one of our dream travel destinations. Often considered the Hawaiian Islands of the Atlantic, the Azores are characterized by dramatic landscapes, fishing villages, green pastures and blue hydrangeas. Everything we’ve heard and read about this destination is damn near perfect. Paradise.
We think Romania is up-and-coming. From the Black Sea, to the medieval cities to the castles and the Carpathian Mountains, it seems to be varied, beautiful and historically interesting. And who doesn’t want to explore Transylvania? We might just make the trip and check it out.
We tried to incorporate Budapest into our 2015 World Tour, but alas, it didn’t fit into the itinerary. The city comes highly recommended from trusted traveling friends and we’re dying to take a dip in the city’s thermal baths.
Did we miss anywhere? What are your travel goals for 2017? (we can help you plan and book!)
A few days ago, we were walking down our street in the El Carmen neighborhood of historical Valencia, Spain and found ourselves stopped in front of this door. It's one of many, incredible, unique, and MASSIVE doors that we walk past every day but rarely pause to appreciate. We started thinking of all the cool doors we've come across over the past 18 months. Evidently we have a thing for doors because we've stopped and photographed them all over the world. They say when one door closes, another one opens. We're not sure how that applies here, but these are 29 of the best, most beautiful doors we've found, in no particular order.
Check out the best doors of Italy, Thailand, Vietnam, and Bali, for yourself with one of our super amazing Experiential Travel Packages.
“Mate. WHAT is going on in your country?”
“I’m so sorry. My condolences.” (hug)
“Honestly it’s kind of funny to watch the U.S. f*** up this big.”
“I think he’s funny. We need more leaders like that here that can just laugh it off.”
“This is totally like Brexit. The conservative right is taking over the world. France is next.”
“How did this happen in your country? It must be because people are just really pissed off?”
In the last eight days, we’ve heard it all. Sympathy, bewilderment, gloating, confusion, and like many Americans, uncertainty. We’ve tried to avoid it, but working with an eclectic mix of Spaniards, Dutch, Brits, Scots and Irish, leaves us as the token Americans (and spokespeople, in this case) for our country’s recent decision to elect Donald Trump as the next president of the United States.
Let’s back up. Even before the presidential campaigns began, politics wasn’t a new topic of conversation while living (and traveling) abroad. As soon as the word “American” leaves our mouth, we’re peppered with questions, thoughts, and opinions about everything U.S.A., especially our elected officials. Like it or not, this is the result of being an international leader. America’s economy, military, sociopolitical movements, and especially popular culture, often pervade the daily lives of much of the rest of the world.
As college students back in the day, our friends would slap Canadian flags on their backpacks and we’d hear the moans and groans about George W. from just about everyone we encountered. But thankfully, over the past few years, the tone has changed. We regularly hear that people like Obama. They think he’s doing some good things and represents the U.S. well. But they’re also tell us that they’re freaked out about safety following the increase of mass shootings over the past decade (“so, do I need a gun to go on vacation, haha?”). The point is, the rest of the world is, and always has been, watching.
The international news covered the election like the drama-fueled soap opera it was; and much like in the U.S., the candidate’s scandals made the headlines far more often than their policies. Before the election, people in Spain knew about Hillary’s email server and Donald’s racist, sexist and xenophobic remarks. Sadly, like many Americans, they didn’t know much about either of their stances on the economy, social issues, or even foreign policy (or lack thereof). They saw Hillary as a typical politician and Donald Trump as a crass celebrity. Most people here didn’t think Donald Trump would win. It was a joke that he was running at all.
Obviously we didn’t either. Like most of the world, we went to bed on Tuesday, November 8th expecting to wake up to a very different headline. Our alarm was set for 6am (9pm in CA); and we started streaming CNN shortly after Florida had been given to Trump. We all know how the next 24-hours unfolded (enter shock, tears, confusion, anger…).
On Thursday afternoon, Megan walked into her class of 11-year old Spanish kids, and was immediately greeted with questions about the American election (yes, 11-year old Spanish kids were 100% aware). One student said: “Donald Trump is your president now?” When she replied that yes, he will be in January, he said, “but he is not good.” Another student chimed in and added: “not kind.” The class has been working on the difference between kind, nice and friendly, and in this case, she nailed it. Pretty perceptive coming from kids (or even their parents), halfway around the world. This idea of kindness got us thinking...
While everyone is entitled to their own values and political beliefs, we, as environmentalists, progressives, feminists, and generally compassionate people, believe that our leader should not be viewed as “unkind” around the world. Think about it. Put all your political views aside; all messaging about the role of government and “taking America back” aside. And think about what you look for in a leader. The basic human quality of kindness is probably a good place to start.
America is known internationally as a place that has a lot to offer. It’s an incredible and safe place to visit. A place where international students - from Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East - often choose to attend college. A place that is on the forefront of technology, arts and sciences, attracting the most brilliant minds and creative individuals from around the world. If our leadership continues to spew this scary and unwelcoming rhetoric (aka bullsh*t), or worse, implement some of the legislation that has been discussed along the campaign trail, we may miss out on the next inventor, the next engineer or the next doctor that helps to keep our country great.
Living abroad gives you perspective. We’re immigrants living in a foreign place, struggling to learn a language, contribute to the economy and understand the unique and very different culture that surrounds us. We’re taking advantage of Spain’s government benefits, including an efficient socialized healthcare system and generous paid vacation policy (we recently received two weeks pay just for getting married!). If we were to have children here, we’d receive paid leave for that too. As immigrants, the day-to-day can be challenging, but there are certainly many ways that Spain, and many other countries, are effectively taking care of its residents.
Like many people, this election has left us with feelings of confusion, fear and uncertainty. We try to create distance from the overwhelming amount of news and political commentary, but somehow still end up discussing it each night. In the end, as international citizens, we sincerely hope that the people in our country - minorities, immigrants, women, LBGTQ - can feel not only safe, but celebrated, for contributing to the beautiful diversity of the U.S. We hope the (likely) damage to the environment over the next four years is as minimal as possible. And we hope that at some point, the conversation will shift; away from scandals, bigotry and hate, and toward policies that support basic human rights, education, the environment, and equality.
One of Ryan’s students, a high-ranking member of the Valencia Chamber of Commerce, had this to offer:
"Trump is now a role model for the rest of the world’s leaders and he needs to take that seriously. As he does, many of the world’s leaders will do. So, he must consider his words and his actions very carefully. This is very important."
We hope that President Elect Trump will consider this Spaniard's sound advice. One thing’s for sure - everyone is watching.
We’ve now officially lived in Valencia for over five months. As official residents of Spain, we can both finally work legally and have access to state benefits, like free health care and paid time off. We ride our cool, Dutch-style bikes across town to teach English (Megan, kiddos ages 7-9 and 10-12, and Ryan, professional adults) for about 12-15 hours each week. The rest of our workday is spent developing experiential and sustainable travel packages for Cohica (we’re not just a blog, folks) and planning ways to grow our business so we can fulfill our dream of working full-time, independently, from anywhere. Otherwise, our days are spent cooking, running in the park, occasionally hitting the beach, and drinking too much Spanish wine. We stay up too late, sleep in too late, and still have enough time to do things like roast tomatoes and pickle red onions. Everything is going according to plan.
Yes. We know it sounds awesome, and on most days it totally is. But living abroad isn’t always easy. The truth is, sometimes, it’s really hard.
It’s very easy to feel isolated; almost like we live on an island (a smaller, and much more foreign island than Maui), far away from the people, language, culture and system that is familiar. Every day, we each come home (from the gym, grocery store, work, shopping, anything...) with a tale of frustration. Not knowing how a system or process works and not having the vocab or recalling the verb to ask; having someone literally run into us on the street because they expect us to move, or having a finger wagged at us for doing something wrong.
We recently read a blog that said “being an expat is like being an infant in a new culture.” It’s true. Everything about the world around us is different than what we’re used to (good or bad) and it will likely take a very long time to really understand how it all works. We walk into a crowded restaurant and no one speaks to us for 20 minutes while we awkwardly seat ourselves and continue to wait until we finally give up and leave. Is it because we’re foreign or because we’re supposed to say something to someone? Someone smiles and we’re not sure if they’re being friendly, feeling bad for us, or thinking we’re idiots. Even with our Spanish improving every day, it’s proven with every interaction that we’re absolutely on the outside. It’s tough.
Then, as life goes, there are some days when we step out onto the sun-drenched cobblestone streets, through the 20-foot door of a 200-year-old building, into mid-October 70-something temps to what seems to be the entire city sitting at a streetside cafe sipping a cold beer. And we think, F*&% YES. This is exactly what we wanted… the relaxed lifestyle, the new culture, the challenge of a new language, the history, the food, the experience of living in the oldest section of a vibrant young city. Yes! And we are stoked. Without fail, Valencia always seems to reward us with some serious ups to our downs.
So, we’ve decided that over the next few months, we’re going to do our best to treat life in Valencia like an awesome 30-something study abroad program. We’re going to settle in to our relaxed routine, work on Cohica, and put some serious energy into having FUN in Valencia. We chose a Spanish city first so we could experience all the best city things in Europe - futbol matches, concerts, runs, shows, restaurants/bars… communication and cultural idiosyncrasies be damned! So, if you need us, we’ll be living it up and holding on as we ride the ups and downs of the expat roller coaster.
We’ve packed away our three giant suitcases, made two agonizing trips to IKEA, purchased the wrong size sheets for our bigger-than-a-full-but-smaller-than-a-queen mattress, and successfully planted a mini herb garden. Just now, about a month after moving in, we’re starting to realize (holy s$*#!), we actually live here. Like, we have refrigerator magnets and own furniture and pay electricity bills and everything. This is happening.
It’s no wonder it has taken so long for this obvious fact to settle in. We moved into our new apartment right before the beginning of August, the mother of all Spain shutdowns. Move over siesta, step aside, Sundays. For four weeks each summer, Spaniards (and many other European nationalities) shut down their businesses, close up their apartments, and go on vacation.
What does this mean for all the newbie expats who didn’t get the memo and can’t afford to vacation for a month at a time? It means everything is closed. Even more so than the regular Spanish everything-is-closed schedule. All of those things we’ve been putting off until our summer work was finished and we were settled in the new apartment… closed. Even the swimming pool is closed for the month. Of August. Go figure.
And the good ‘ol lack of efficiency is brought to a new level. Nothing can be accomplished in August. Government buildings and post offices have “summer hours,” meaning they leave early for siesta and just don’t come back. We have tried to go out to a few restaurants that we’ve been meaning to try, only to be faced with a “closed for August” sign. Our refrigerator is running at sub-arctic temperatures and our landlord told us it can be fixed in September. Evidently this is par for the course.
So, here we are. The people who haven’t had a normal life - home, routine, etc. - in over a year, in somewhat of a forced vacation scenario. We’ve taken our 5-day vacation to the Costa Del Sol (a perfectly reasonable vacation length by American standards) and have returned home ready to get our daily life on. For the past three weeks, we’ve been somewhat successful at setting our own routine: working from cafes, running in the park (no laps in the pool, it’s closed), squeezing in a little beachtime, planning our upcoming wedding, and cooking at home. We can’t lie, the August shutdown forces us to relax and not feel obligated to figure out how to go to the dentist, schedule residency meetings, and attend Spanish class. But we’re also hyper aware that all of these things will need to happen, all at once, in about one week. Then there’s a slight chance that we may go from laid back to a frazzled all at once.
Now that it’s the last week of August, the city is starting to wake up. The park is full of landscapers, workers wading in the fountains cleaning out the August beer bottles, and teams wearing orange vests painting bridges. It’s very much like those last few days of summer before school starts when you’re a kid. We think we want it to happen, but we’re not entirely sure.
Moving to a new country halfway across the world is anything but boring. We’re constantly discovering new things, many of which we love and others that, well, maybe we don’t love so much. Being so far from home sparks some intense reflection and often, a good deal of nostalgia over seemingly insignificant parts of our former lives. Today we’re reflecting on our new home; what we love, what we like, and what we’re still getting accustomed to. We’re also reminiscing on the small things we miss.
We LOVE the sunshine that radiates over Valencia on a daily basis. If the weather along the Valencian Coast, nestled against the Balearic Sea, isn’t perfect, we’re really not sure what is.
We MISS our personal space. Maybe it’s a product of growing up in the new world, where freeways connect us to our jobs, homes, friends, parks, stores, and pretty much everything, but we do occasionally yearn for those few inches of oxygen which separate us from our closest neighbor. But since the personal bubble, in any form, doesn’t seem to exist in Spain, or most of Europe for that matter, we’ll just have to adjust. But people, please remember… showers and deodorant are both beautiful things that god/motherearth/scientologyaliens truly wanted us to use.
We LOVE Spanish wine. Yes, Ryan is from Sonoma, the epicenter of great California wine. But there’s something different about Spanish wines. Maybe it’s the 2 euro price tag that accompanies bottles from 2014 and 2009, either of which can stand up to any $12 California bottle. Maybe it’s because the Spanish chill red wines so that they can be drunk comfortably at a corner cafe in the 90 degree heat. Or maybe it’s because they seem to lack pretension. Wine is drunk by all in Spain. Out of short, regularly-sized glasses instead of fish bowls perched atop an 18 inch stem. Whatever it is, we like it. Check that, we LOVE it.
We MISS communicating and having things make sense. Sure, we’re learning Spanish. Sure, a few Valencianos speak English. But the reality is the far majority don’t and our Spanish still isn’t good enough for a long, thoughtful conversation. There’s an ease that comes with understanding how things work, what people are saying, and what to expect. In Spain, and much of Europe, that ease is missing. And in its place is the slightest level of anxiety, created by the difficulty in doing just about anything. To be fair, this anxiety too is disappearing over time. Until it’s gone completely though, we’ll miss communication.
We LOVE the relaxed lifestyle of Spain. The “no pasa nada” life is real here. Nothing really happens, or matters, too much. Don’t be worried, or stressed, or concerned, the Spanish might say. It’s a goal of ours to become more relaxed, have fun, and find the many pleasures in the small things the way the Spanish (and Italians, Portuguese, French, etc., etc.) do. Until we get to that point, we will continue to have a...
LOVE/HATE relationship with siestas and the Sunday shutdown. Sure, both are incredible ideas in theory. But when you’re a product of American society and want to go shopping on a Sunday, get a haircut in the afternoon, or do just about anything between the hours of 2pm and 5pm, it gets a little frustrating. But is it really that important to get those things done right then? Probably not. The Spanish certainly don’t think so. They’ll tell you to try in the afternoon, which we’re quite certain they consider to be the period of time between 6pm and midnight.
We MISS Mac ‘N Cheese. And if you don’t understand, try living somewhere without easy access to Mac ‘N Cheese. You’ll get it.
We LOVE olives. Holy moly, olives are f*cking incredible in Spain. We even eat the kind with pits now, because *gasp* they’re better that way. If we weren’t positive they are part of the formula for a long, happy, and healthy life, we might worry that we’re eating too many. But no, that’s actually not possible.
We MISS having options. America is the land of options and we can’t lie, we love the option of having so many options. Valencia has Spanish food, a bit of Italian food, some sushi, and most of the things you find in the U.S. and the stores have plenty of food items, so we really don’t want to complain. But coming from the states, where every grocery store presents you with 17 different types of mustard, 22 different varieties of craft beer, and an aisle dedicated to every ethnic group that ever set foot in the U.S.A., Spain can feel a bit limited. But still, we’re trying hard not to complain. So the next time we go to the store, or out to eat, we’ll keep the great words of Aziz Ansari close in mind and remember that “All of my options, are still options.”
We LOVE eating tapas outside. Again, eating outside is something the near perfect Valencian weather affords us and we simply cannot get enough. Olives or potato chips come with every drink and delicious Spanish tapas are cheap and tasty. Having this experience on the patio of a restaurant in a 500 year old plaza just makes it that much sweeter.
We LOVE the fun, vibrant and generally friendly, people.
We MISS the guarantee of a quiet night’s sleep. Having drunk people (Spaniards and tourists alike) turn our tiny downstairs street corner into a late night gathering place seems to be an all too often occurrence. We’ve practiced saying “go home” and “be quiet” in Spanish and have fantasies of pouring a bucket of water out the window disguised as some late night plant watering. We’ll see how this unfolds over time.
We MISS efficiency. In any form. Like, seriously Spain. Do you even know what efficiency is?
We LOVE how inexpensive Spain is. Dollar for dollar. Ahem, Euro for Euro, there cannot be a better formula for location and quality of life for so cheap. We’ll talk more about this later, but everything from rent, to groceries, to dinner and drinks, to travel, is extremely cost effective here. It’s truly the reason we’ve been able to start our own business and focus our time on the things we love most.
Okay, that’s it… for now. We’ll surely have more to share soon and fully expect some of those “Miss” items to go away and find plenty of new things we “Love” as we venture through this adjustment period.
A couple years ago we were living what some would consider the “American Dream.” We both had great jobs (like the kind people dream of landing), solid professional networks and careers that were moving along an upward trajectory. We were making the salaries necessary to support living in two of the most expensive places in the U.S., with solid benefit plans, health care coverage, and 401k contributions. Life was good and we felt secure.
When we met and decided to move in together, we could have combined our savings to buy a (somewhat) nice (tiny) apartment in SF, or a newish home near the beach on Maui. But instead, an inspired, lovestruck craziness set in and we saved enough to circle the globe, visit 21 countries, and come back with a little nest egg to start something new. Even though this was the option with more risk, less security and less long-term investment, we felt the investment in experiences and memories was well worth the cost.
There’s something equally crazy and magical that happens when you travel for a long period of time. Maybe it’s the realization that you can be happy and comfortable without many things. Or how you define “home” and what (or who) you need to find it. Or it could be seeing how other people in different parts of the world live and what they value most. Or maybe it’s just as simple as assessing how our precious time and hard earned money are used. But, with the risk of sounding completely cliche, travel changed our perspective.
We decided early on that our next career move required two things: 1) the freedom to live the kind of life that brings us happiness and 2) a contribution to something bigger. So as we were traveling, we started a website focused on sustainable and socially responsible travel. We worked along the way, telling stories, seeking out the best, most responsible (environmental and social) hotels and activities. Building a website and writing stories gave us routine and a purpose on the road. Not surprisingly, it also led to connections with some very cool business owners, employees and philanthropists. Without even realizing it, our professional network had expanded around the world and we found that this - helping people experience the same freedom of travel and satisfaction of making a contribution to the places they visit - was really, really rewarding.
Earlier this year, in safe little Sonoma, CA, we spent hours on the business plan for Cohica 2.0 - evolving our previous passion project into a real, money-making business. We became officially accredited by IATA, meaning we can book travel to those amazing places we visited at rates that are not accessible to the public. We reached out to our network of sustainable hotels, voluntourism, and responsible tour operators throughout the world. And now, half way through the year, we’re proud to offer both experiential travel packages and custom/curated trips that are unlike anything you can find online.
Oh yea, and we moved to Spain. The low-cost of living and public benefits (virtually free, high quality health care!) here provide less financial pressure than we would have starting a business in the US. Living in Valencia still does require a regular income (we need to support all that wine drinking, after all), so while we’re getting Cohica up and running, we’ll each be teaching English for about 15 hours a week starting in September.
If we can make this work, then we will really be living the American, um, expat dream. We will be working on something we believe in, offering experiences that are both inspiring and responsible. We’ll have time with one another, time to travel and have the incredible gift of feeling challenged, humbled, scared and alive. It’s not for everyone, but it’s our dream. And, with time, effort and patience, we’re slowly getting there.