Life happens. Plans change. If you would have told us three months ago that today we would be in Europe, we wouldn’t have believed it.
But here we are in our fourth country on our second continent and what a relaxing change of pace it has been! We couldn’t be happier that our route led us to beautiful Spain, nine months before we had anticipated. We have been so lucky to have two amazing, long-term housesit opportunities here, one in Madrid and one outside of Barcelona, allowing us to explore Spain’s two largest cities.
Before arriving in this amazing country, however, we had yet another bump in the road that challenged our patience and our problem-solving skills. Once again, our one-way plane tickets turned out to be a problem. But this time it was the airline that was requiring proof of onward travel at our country of departure, rather than an immigration requirement at our country of arrival.
After our first immigration scare arriving in Costa Rica, we had done our homework and while researching Spanish and European laws, became aware that we might run into this problem. So this time we were prepared and arrived at the airport extra early to allow ourselves time to make the necessary arrangements. Sure enough, the second question we were asked (after showing our passports) was to show proof of our return tickets from Europe to our home country. Not only did we need to prove our onward travel from Spain, but we also needed to prove our return to the US… neither of which we had.
We told the Iberia attendant that we would be right back. We quickly stepped aside, pulled out our laptop, connected to Wifi and purchased the first flight from Madrid to NYC that we could find on a random date, within 90 days. But of course, we had to make sure that the tickets were refundable so that when we landed in Madrid we could cancel the tickets and not be charged the $1200 for a flight that we had no intentions of taking.
In the end, we were able to give the airline what they needed in order for us to board the plane and upon arrival in Spain, successfully canceled the flights to get our money back. And while it may seem that we were cheating the system (we kind of were!), it was still all legal and legit and believe it or not, many travelers do it every day. There is even an entire business dedicated to helping travelers with proof of onward travel where you can essentially rent a valid, verified plane ticket for 48 hours for just $12. After considering this option, we decided to just “rent” our own tickets for 24 hours for FREE!
We have discovered that in order to travel the way we are, you must get creative to get past policies that would otherwise prohibit world travel, without the purchase of RTW (round the world) tickets which for us, was never an option. There are just too many regulations and restrictions that you must follow that did not align with our travel plans.
Despite all of this, the capital city of Spain welcomed us with open arms and within an hour we were in love. As our Cabify driver took us from the airport to our first housesit in the heart of Madrid, we were looking out the windows, admiring the beauty of the city in complete awe, and in agreement, we both thought, this looks nothing like the first three countries we’ve visited! It truly felt like we were on another planet.
We continued to enjoy the blue skies, green parks and unforgettable surroundings that Madrid has to offer for the next week while kitty sitting for two beautiful Bengals. We were amazed that we did not see one single piece of trash in the streets or on the subways or in the parks. The subway even had air conditioning and was very modern and surprisingly clean for public transportation. We explored much of the city on foot, walking up to ten miles every day. After experiencing Madrid for ourselves, we both agreed that if we were ever to live in Europe, this is where you would find us!
During our five days here we walked La Gran Vía, one of the main avenues very similar to Times Square, saw the Royal Palace, admired famous sculptures, explored the beautiful Parque del Retiro and toured the Santiago Bernabéu, giving us lasting memories that we will cherish forever.
Our next housesit brought us to a small town outside Barcelona called Cerdanyola del Valles. With a population of only 50,000 people, we definitely got a feel for small-town life in Spain, especially since we spent a month there. With cobblestone brick roads, a quaint town square, tons of sidewalk cafes and a daily schedule based around afternoon siesta, it was the perfect place for us to slow things down and focus on working.
We were able to tour the entire town over the course of a month by getting out and jogging every day. We never ran the same route twice and I’m pretty sure we covered every single neighborhood and side street on the map. We added up our daily runs tracked by our phones and it came up to 71 miles! So yeah, I think it’s safe to say we explored Cerdanyola del Valles, Spain.
Each week we would take the 25-minute train into Barcelona to experience the city. During our four trips we visited historic cathedrals and monuments, got lost in the narrow, charming alleys of the Gothic Corridor, saw a flamenco show, rode a funicular up the side of a mountain, toured the famous Montjuic castle overlooking the city, walked the world-known La Rambla, stood in awe in front of La Sagrada Familia, drank delicious sangria, visited Gaudi’s houses and Park Güell and swam in the Mediterranean. I would say that we have had an amazing time in this country and have been fortunate enough to do everything we could have imagined. I was especially grateful that I got to celebrate my birthday in beautiful Barcelona while counting my blessings for all that is to come in this next year of adventures.
And now, here are some random observations we have made during our visit:
- -Drinking beer for breakfast at sidewalk cafes is absolutely acceptable… and very common.
- -Everyone smokes. Literally, everyone. There are even cigarette vending machines all over the country.
- Air conditioning is not common, even in the heat of the summer (surviving 97 degrees with one small fan has made us fully appreciate this luxury)
- Doorknobs are in the middle of doors, not on the side.
- Olives. Every day, every meal. Olives everywhere.
- Pedestrian bridges over highways have no fences, no guardrails, no nothing. We find this odd.
- Peeing on the sidewalk, in public, in the middle of the day is apparently acceptable. We saw this often with children but also witnessed a grown man stop in the middle of the street and shamelessly take care of business.
- Angry women on cell phones. Shouting, cussing, throwing their hands up in the air. We saw this everywhere.
- 5-10 percent gratuity is the norm and it must be in cash (credit card receipts do not include lines for tipping)
- Animal legs hanging in every restaurant and grocery store, hooves and all.
- Africans on subways selling pirated merchandise constantly having to roll up their laid out goods into their sacks to run from police. We saw this often.
- All men wearing shoes in the style of a slipper/flat/sandal that is by far the most feminine looking thing we have ever seen a man wear.
- Good Spanish wine costs 1 Euro a bottle! ($1.17)
- If you piss off the people that live in the apartments above you, expect to have them throw bleach on your hanging laundry (happened to our hosts) or black pepper on your dog (happened to our neighbor).
- Gazpacho! No Spanish diet is complete without this tasty cold soup that you can drink straight out of the carton.
As we move on to our next country and next exciting experience, we are also sad to say goodbye to this cute, little town and adorable kitties that we have come to love. We will never forget Cerdanyola or Gus and Turtle, the two furbabies who stole our hearts.