It's almost 110 degrees F here in Arizona during the day. I rode Altivo out with friends at 5:30 am and schooled Ebro in dressage at 7 pm. Fantastic rides on both. So grateful for these two.
That's code for Ebro and Altivo are now in the U.S.A! I received an email that they are doing very well and have normal temperatures. They will be released to the ground transport company in 48 hours and will be hauled to Arizona within the next few days. I hope to see them by the weekend!
I have to thank my husband and my dear friend, German Lady (name withheld to protect her privacy), from the bottom of my heart for getting the horses on the lorry in Barcelona since I am now back in the United States. German Lady said Ebro and Altivo were like "Olympic Champions" who travel all the time, as they were so good about loading onto the lorry. They are headed to Amsterdam by for their flight to Los Angeles in a few days. Then they have a ride on another lorry (horse van in the U.S.) to their new home in Arizona. I am now in Washington, D.C. for work. The horses should arrive home about the time I return from my trip. I'll be a little nervous until then. Buen viaje, Ebro y Altivo! Hasta pronto! (Bon Voyage, Ebro and Altivo! See you soon!) Godspeed.
Getting ready to load. Ebro, AKA the Frequent Flyer, 16 year old Thoroughbred originally from Chile, imported to the U.S., lived in Virginia and Arizona then exported to Spain and now going back to the U.S.! Altivo, 5 year old PRE (Andalusian) is from Andalucia and will be flying to the U.S. for the first time.
"If you're brave enough to say 'goodbye', life will reward you with a 'hello.' "
I spent four days in Venice with my family and left with some great memories. Gorgeous city. Amazing food. Out-of-this-world shopping. Highly recommended. Pics below. It was back to reality when we returned to Barcelona, and the next task at hand for repatriation was to get Ebro a passport so the horses can get out of Dodge. Plan A was to have them shipped out this week before I move back to the U.S. next week. So much for plan A.
An actual conversation I had this week (translated to English) on the telephone with someone from the Spanish government:
Me: Hi, I'm returning a call that indicated that you need more information for the passport for my horse, Ebro.
Her: Yes, your passport is up. Yes, I need the vet to call me because I need some more details about the horse.
Me: Umm, ok, what do you need exactly?
Her: Oh, the color and age and these details.
Me: Isn't that already on the application?
Her: No it's missing. Let me check. (insert sounds of paper rustling here). Oh, it looks like the application is complete today. Yesterday it was missing some information but today it is complete. I can do the passport today. The application is marked as urgent.
Me: Ok, wow, great! When will I be able to pick it up?
Her: Oh, one...or maybe two months. More or less.
Me: Umm, well, you see, I'm moving back to the United States permanently on Monday and I really need to ship this horse back as soon as possible. It really is urgent.
Her: (bless her heart) Well, it is possible. You might be able to pick it up this week. It is possible.
Me: Oh, fantastic! When should I pick it up then?
Her: Oh, maybe tomorrow...or Thursday...or Friday. But, it is a short week. It is Semana Santa. But it is possible.
Me: Umm, ok, so how will I know when to pick it up?
Her: You need to call Jordi Puig (name changed) at the Generalitat and arrange to pick it up in Barcelona. But first you need to go pay the taxes for the passport in Sabadell at the Generalitat.
Me: Ok, thank you so much.
Her: Ok, good bye.
We felt like a detective figuring out where the hell in Sabadell and Barcelona we were supposed to go to do this stuff. Somehow we figured it out and actually made it to the right places. Mind you there are about 15 different offices (all on different streets) for the Generalitat in Sabadell and in Barcelona. How we found the right ones I do not know. I did have help from my husband, so he gets a lot of credit.
The next two days were consumed with a trip to Sabadell to pay the 5 euro tax, a trip to Barcelona to pick up the passport (which consisted of 3 significant pages and about 50 blank pages), and a trip back to Sabadell to drop off the passports (Altivo already had one as he was born in Spain) to the transport agent. We met at Ikea and this time I felt like an international spy handing over secret documents in the Ikea cafeteria. I actually got an endorphin rush when it was all over from having accomplished the impossible. You have know idea what a big deal it is to get a government-issued document in Spain in less than two weeks time...it's a frickin' miracle, people. The crazy part is that the passport is only needed to get Ebro from Barcelona to Amsterdam and actually has nothing to do with getting him back to the United States. Go figure.
Now that we have overcome this huge hurdle, the next steps will happen very quickly. The horses will be picked up next Thursday or Friday, hauled on a van to Amsterdam where they will stay for a few days before flying to Los Angeles, followed by a few days there, and finally hauled in a van to their final destination.
I return to the U.S. on Monday, start my new job on Tuesday, travel for work on Friday and return the following week. The horses should arrive about that time. I have an endless list of people to thank who will help get the horses shipped; my husband, German lady at the hipica, the transport agent in Spain, the shipping company in the Netherlands, and the shipping company in California. This is no small task. I will be so happy once my boys are on U.S. soil.
I will spend the next 3 days in a packing frenzy and spending time with my family. Everyday something reminds me that these are my last days as a resident in Spain and that I won't be with my husband or kids for the next three months, and I get a little teary-eyed. But I know there are more great things to come, and I can always come back to visit. I've been snapping as many pictures as I can and trying to take it all in so I never forget what a beautiful place I got to live in, and how fortunate I am.
Note: I have decided that the clouds in Barcelona are officially the most beautiful clouds on the planet
“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
I took a taxi at 4:00 am on my way to the airport for a flight to Germany on Thursday. It was pitch black out. The song Airplanes was playing on the radio. As I had nothing better to do, I really listened -for the first time ever - to the lyrics. I was sort of chuckling to myself about what a nice verse it was while I watched the white lights of airplanes take off ahead of my taxi. I started really thinking about the idea of airplanes as shooting stars and making wishes. I looked out the window to my right and watched in disbelief as a blue-green shooting star fell from the sky. It was surreal. And I was most definitely awake! I seized the opportunity to make a wish. Why not? It can't hurt. It's a wish I have made often. That night, it came true. And it was no small thing.
I came home Friday at midnight. I woke up exhausted yesterday and after spending the morning with my family, I thought about not riding. I knew if I could just get myself to the hipica and get on one horse it would be worth it. I was right. My exhaustion melted away and I ended up riding both horses. Ebro did the big hill route followed by some schooling in the ring. He's going very well in the French link snaffle, seems happy in it and is very light. No bucking at all. I tried him in the bitless last weekend on a hack and he was a bit of a bull in it, so we went back to the French link. He definitely hates single jointed snaffles but goes nearly perfectly in the French link and even lowers his head to put it on like he did with the bitess, so we'll stick with it for a while.
Altivo went next on a medium length route that goes on the edge of a big field. We were both startled by some loud rustling behind us and were blessed by the hilarious sight of a huge wild pig running like a Kentucky Derby racehorse across the field. Altivo was alert, for sure, but maintained his composure quite well. Good times! I only wish I had a camera to capture the beast.
What we leave behind and what we look forward to...top of post Horse and other stuff...bottom of post (lots of pictures)
Catalan casteller. We love it when a group of castellers spontaneously forms while we're out walking through our village! The youngest kids go on top. Sometimes the top kid is only about 6 years old and crying the whole way up. But once they reach the top you'd think they were the king of the jungle!
Now that we're heading back home to the U.S. after living in Barcelona for the past two and a half years, we find ourselves noting the things we'll miss and the things we look forward to. It is with immense gratitude that we look at our time here as truly some of the best times of our lives. It is an irreplaceable experience that has changed us forever. We are different people that when we arrived. More adventurous. More open-minded. More flexible. More able to understand and appreciate different ways of doing things. More comfortable, capable and confident in new and challenging situations. Less fearful. Less us vs. them. Never prouder to be Americans. If you ever have the opportunity to live abroad, I urge you to take it. You will never regret it. It is an education for your children that will trump one at Harvard.
Tonight the whole family was invited to our first ever "pica pica" (like h'devours or tapas) party where everyone spoke only in Spanish the whole night. And we did really well! It was actually fun! The other guests were from Spain, France, UK and Poland. We will really miss these kinds of opportunities. I think we will make an effort to find some international friends in our hometown once we return.
Here are are few things we'll miss, not miss, and look forward to (not necessarily in order)...
Some of the things we'll miss:
1. Iberian ham. There is nothing else on the planet like it. Prosciutto...bah, not even close.
3. The spirit of the Catalan people.
4. The Collserola forest.
5. Spanish tortilla (like a fritata or an omelette.)
6. Pan con tomate.
7. European bread and bakeries...we will never find the same thing in the US.
8. European coffee...we will never find or recreate it in the U.S., even with the European machine we plan to buy. We love cafe con leche in the morning and cortados in the afternoon.
9. European and Spanish food in general.
10. European cheeses.
11. Catalan traditions like the Caga Tio, Caganer, and Castellers. There is nothing else like them! We will keep up with the traditions of the Cago Tio and Caganer for sure.
12. The Mediterranean.
13. Being able to travel to so many different countries on a short flight.
14. The Spanish spirit.
15. Barcelona itself. What a beautiful, amazing, endearing city. One of the best.
16. Our village. It is honestly the best place we've ever lived. It's charming, definitely has it's own local flavor, is close to the heart of Barcelona, the airport, the Costa Brava, the Pyrenees mountains, and the French border. It's a short walk from our house to the beautiful village center. Everything we need is here. The hipica is less than a 10 minute drive or bike ride from our house. The Collserola forest is literally in our backyard.
17. The house we've lived in. It is modern, minimalist and has been the perfect place to call home during our stay here.
18. The laid back attitude of "don't worry".
19. The higher quality of personal life in Europe than the U.S. There, I said it. You might not like it, but in my opinion, the Europeans enjoy life WAY more than Americans, are less stressed, and less OCD about everything. People don't carry around hand sanatizer everywhere (the majority of them don't even wash their hands after going to the bathroom and somehow the population is thriving), they don't mind waiting, and they don't get aggravated about things that would drive Americans nuts. Mind you, that with this comes lots of the things we won't miss.
20. The idea of walking as much as possible.
21. The idea of driving less.
22. The opportunity to travel so easily.
23. Skiing in the Pyrenees.
24. Hiking and riding in the Collserola.
25. Meeting so many new international friends.
26. The fruits and vegetables that clearly don't have any preservatives or whatever crap in them like they do in the US. A fresh fruit or vegetable bought here is good for 1-2 days tops. They don't last for 3 weeks like they do in the US. That is not natural.
27. Barcelona sunsets.
28. Being able to speak Spanish in our daily lives. And being exposed to so many other languages in general.
29. European/real Italian pizza.
30. Bocadillos (baguette with jamon iberico or some other kind of cured meat)
31. Spanish chorizo (like a hard sausage)
32. Spanish green melons with and without jamon iberico. These are green football shaped melons that look like honeydew on the inside but taste 100X better. They don't have a special name. They're just called melons.
33. Fresh seafood from the Mediterranean.
34. Eating lunch at 2pm and dinner at 9 pm. We've definitely gotten used to this and it seems normal now.
35. Alioli. Garlic mayo...it is delicious on everything. This is one we can get in the U.S.!!!!
36. Patatas bravas. These are French fried potatoes with a sauce made of mayo and spicy red sauce. De-lic-ious.
39. Fantastic, inexpensive Spanish and French wine.
Some of the things we will not miss:
1. The local business hours of 10 am - 2 pm and 5pm-8pm. Closed on Sundays. Good grief. Try to get some errands done with that schedule. Good luck.
2. The cultural things that are perfectly acceptable to people here but that drive us nuts. I won't elaborate more, lest I insult our host country. No need for that. Plus, I've already done that in another recent post about the economic crisis.
3. The laid back attitude of "don't worry".
4. The beuracracy and slowness of things.
6. The bass ackwards way some things are done here, especially in stores or businesses. If it makes absolutely no sense and wastes tons of times, chances are they do it in some store or business here. Our little group of expats has a saying called "It's just Spain." When something makes no sense and you would normally get totally pissed off about it, you just shrug it off and say "It's just Spain" instead. Saves a lot of anguish.
7. Not fitting in with the Catalans.
8. Worrying about getting caught without a driver's license.
Things we look forward to:
1. American breakfast.
2. American barbecues.
3. Cottage cheese. This will be the first thing I run to the grocery store to buy. I'm not kidding.
4. English muffins.
6. Fitting in to our own culture.
7. The American spirit.
8. The convenience of everyday life...store hours, vast spectrum of available products.
9. Garbage disposals. They don't exist here and someone even told us they are banned. Why? I'm not sure. We buy a cheap strainer from the Chinese store every few months in place of a garbage disposal.
10. Dim sum.
11. Mexican food.
12. Arizona sunsets.
13. Shopping on Sundays. We didn't make it to the market today (Saturday) here in Spain. We're totally screwed for next week. The only option tomorrow will be a 24/7 store where there will be a line 100 people long.
14. Convenience stores.
15. Continuing to practice and use our Spanish. We will have to adapt our Castellano (Spain Spanish) a little to Latin American Spanish that is spoken in the U.S. But it won't be too difficult. We will have to drop the lisp for sure. No more Barthelona...it will become Barcelona.
16. Exploring the U.S. as much as we have explored Europe. We have a newfound appreciation for travel and new places and there are tons of places in U.S. we've never been to.
17. American style Chinese food.
18. Thai food.
19. Sandwiches. I am literally excited that we will be able to eat at Subway.
20. Mexican chorizo (like ground hamburger)
21. Making paella at home. My husband was taught by a Catalan and has mastered it!
It should go without saying that we look forward to being in closer proximity to our families.
HORSE AND OTHER STUFF:
It is freezing cold here in our village outside of Barcelona right now. Literally. We woke up to about 3 inches of snow on the ground this morning! The kids had a blast building snowmen and playing in it. The kids even went sledding in a paella pan...they're perfect for sledding as they have a handle on each side.
By midday most of the snow had melted but I took both horses out on hacks through the woods and got to enjoy what was left of it. Both horses were great. It was really muddy and Ebro didn't feel so sure of his feet so we stuck to a walk. He managed an unprecedented ENTIRE ride on a completely loose rein at the walk with minimal spooking. We practiced half halts, stopping and backing up throughout the ride and he came home very relaxed. Altvio, on the other hand, was completely comfortable in the muck and wanted to trot and canter. So we did. On the way back I passed another German rider from our hipica and told her how I was able to trot and canter on Altivo despite the mud, but had only been able to walk on Ebro. She said Altivo must be a "quatro y quatro"...a 4 X 4! :D After the rides both horses got bundled up in double blankets as it is set to be -4 degrees C tonight.
We just returned from our "pica pica" party and it's almost 1 am.
WHAT A FANTASTIC DAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Can't wait for tomorrow...I mean today (already). Must get to bed for at least a few hours. Have a great Sunday everyone!
There is truly no end to the amusement and wackiness that can be found in the Collserola forest outside of Barcelona where I frequently ride my horses. I had planned to school Altivo in the dressage pista tonight, but it was too muddy, so I headed out for a hack. I heard bells coming from somewhere in the trees to our right as we walked along the path.
The last time I heard bells in the Collserola they belonged to a herd of about 600 sheep. I was actually kind of looking forward to seeing what was attached to the bells. My imagination ran wild because I have discovered that in the Collserola, virtually ANYTHING can happen. And I do mean anything. The prospects of what was attached to the bells were virtually endless...a herd of cows, a group of kids, a group of meditating hippies, a band of bell ringers, dogs with bells, people dancing with bells, people crafting bells...oh the possibilities!!!!
Just as I though whatever the bell-ringing thing was would emerge into view on our right, a very loud, crashing, scraping metal sound scared the bejesus out of me and Altivo. He leaped (leapt in British English???) sideways as we both spotted two guys "harvesting" large metal sheets from an old abandoned property to the left of the path. I pulled him up to keep him from taking off and he produced a lovely piaffe (looks like fancy prancing on the spot for you non-horse folks, takes years of training to properly achieve).
Hmm, turns out piaffe IS a natural movement for horses! I have never ridden piaffe before and wouldn't even know how to do it again, aside from scaring the crap of out Altivo. Probably not a good idea. He finally realized the guys weren't out to kill him, but was still a bit traumatized and transitioned into a lovely passage (looks like fancy prancing with some forward movement). We passaged - or were we sashaying? either way we had swagger - our way on down the path and never did get to see the bell ringing creatures...whatever they were.
"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Becasue almost everything - all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important." -Steve Jobs
First of all, I'm not dying. Yet. But eventually I will. And I know Steve Jobs was onto something when he said this. And what he said is relevant to me right now as my family and I just made the major life decision to head back to the U.S.A. in a few months. This is bittersweet because Barcelona is truly the best place - hands down - we've ever lived. It is about as perfect as perfect can get.
I know my last ranting post didn't make it sound like I'm in love with Spain or Catalunya, but really I am, and always will be. Barcelona is mine - it's ours - now, and forever. Despite the cultural differences, despite the economy, despite the little things that sometimes drive me nuts, it is a fantastic place and the past two years here have honestly been the very best of my entire life. I can feel tears forming in my eyes as I write this and think about really leaving. And yet I'm smiling, because I know when it's time to move on, it's time to move on.
The job that allows us to live here involves travel. Lots of glorious, amazing travel to incredible places I never dreamed I'd ever see, to meet and work with amazing people I never thought I'd ever meet. On the flip side though, it's exhausting and means I miss a lot of time with my husband and kids. We've all adapted very well and the latter issue really isn't so much of an issue. And lest you think it must be awful for me to be away from my kids a lot, recall that executive working dads are away from their kids just as much or more and no one gives this a second thought. Right now, my husband "holds down the fort" and my family is quite happy.
But I'm no longer enthusiastic about the travel. Work travel is far from glamorous and I am convinced it is aging me prematurely! When I came back from holiday vacation in the U.S. I realized I'm done. I returned on a Friday and had the first work trip of 2013 to the Netherlands. The trip that resulted in my ranting about the striking taxi drivers in my last post. When I finally got home that night It became crystal clear to me that this is el fin (the end). I am no longer willing or interested to travel for work the next year or more. And that's OK. We knew this would be a temporary overseas assignment and that eventually we would move on. The time has come.
The very next day I found out a good friend and colleague back in the states announced she was leaving for another opportunity. This opened and opportunity for me, and after talking with my family, a day later I had made the arrangements to take a position back home. I know I'm making the right decision as I have a sense of relief I wasn't expecting to feel. Before the holidays we thought we would be staying here another year as we have so enjoyed our time here.
Soooo, now everything it took to move overseas has now to be done in reverse, minus one cat (R.I.P. Audrey, who died during our stay here), plus one Russian tortoise (Lumpy) and a PRE horse (Altivo), and amazing experiences and memories that no one outside of my family will possibly begin to appreciate as much as we do.
So, as I transition out of my role here, there's lots of work to be done over the next few months. I've already initiated the steps to get both Ebro and Altivo home. Ebro will earn double platinum Frequent Flyer status as this will be his third overseas flight. Altivo, will be a first time flyer. I have chosen John Parker International to transport my precious equines as they did a fantastic job getting Ebro to Barcelona from Amsterdam when he first arrived in Europe. They have years of experience moving some of the most expensive race and competition horses in the world. My horses are just my pride and joy and not worth millions of dollars. I really liked that I read in an article about John Parker that they treat all their customer's horses the same, whether they are dealing with a syndicated international racehorse or a backyard pet pony. I know my boys will be in good hands.
I'll definitely keep My Horse is a Frequent Flyer up and running through our move back to the U.S. After that, who knows? For sure, the blog will serve as a scrap book to remind us of all the great times we had here.
Many thanks for reading. I hope you have enjoyed the blog as much as I've enjoyed writing it.
Note: Race and competition horses are flown all over the planet every day and horses handle flying very well. It is a myth that they all have to be tranquilized and they go nuts while in the air. Keep in mind that some horses have to be tranquilized to even travel in a horse trailer for ground transport. This is no different. Of course there will be some horses that don't travel well, but most do just fine. They are accompanied by very experienced, professional grooms and have hay and water available. The grooms are experienced and trained how to deal with emergencies. The horses are shipped on cargo planes in large, bedded crates that can accommodate three horses side by side. If they're lucky enough to fly "first class", they get an entire crate to themselves. Ebro and Altivo will be flying "coach".
Altivo is simply fantastic. Since German lady reported that he had been a little bit shy in the pista (riding ring) one day while I was gone, I decided to start there, just to walk around and get used to things. He marched quietly around on a loose rein and didn't seem bothered by anything so we proceeded to school walk, trot and canter both ways. He was brilliant! And for the first time since he's been sick, he didn't cough at all. He was so good that we only schooled for about 20 minutes and then headed out to the forest for a nice hack. I rode him on a loose rein all the way to the buckle the whole time and he was a champ with bikes, dogs, kids, hikers and other horses sharing the trails. I was downright giddy the entire ride and just kept thinking about what an awesome horse I have found and telling him what a good boy he is! I particularly enjoy being able to just enjoy the scenery while riding Altivo because I don't have to be so "on guard" like I do with Ebro. It's also fun to get used to Altivo's very Spanish marching gate which is quite different from other breeds I have ridden. Spanish horses tend to step so powerfully, with their legs pounding up and down like giant pistons, that it's quite common for many of them to get quarter cracks in their hooves from the concussion and because their feet are often allowed to grow too long in between shoeings. They can also be prone to overreaching. Altivo doesn't have any active quarter cracks and I hope to keep it that way. The new treeless dressage saddle (Ansur Excel) was great and puts me in a perfect position. I though it might be a bit of a slippery ride until it gets broken in but it wasn't at all.
Ebro was spunkier than usual as it was a crisp, breezy day but he behaved very well on our hack. He was also particularly good with all of the forest "traffic". He is a "thinking rider's" horse as one always has to be paying attention while riding him. Yesterday, for example, we had a great ride on a loose rein (most of the time) and were almost home when he caught sight of a "new" boulder sitting next to the trail as the field had just been plowed. He spook resulted in all four of his legs splaying out such that his belly almost touched the ground. The good thing about him is that even with a huge spook like that, you can simply take hold of the reins to contain him. He is particularly gorgeous right now as all the extra feed has finally paid off and he is well muscled with a very shiny red coat. His left rear is very well developed (after a hip fracture about a year ago) and almost symmetric with the right side now.
I got about eight hours worth of horse time this weekend which is the best "therapy" on earth as far as I can tell. No riding tomorrow due to a work trip, but I will make it to the hipica in the evenings the rest of the week. German lady will take Altivo for a spin tomorrow since he's still kept in a box and needs daily exercise. My ideal life would include time to ride every single day. I'm on a serious mission to make this happen sometime very soon.