Returning (Glen)

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Packing Up

Julie and I just completed our suitcase packing trial-run. We came to Spain with one suitcase each, and yes, we’re heading home with one suitcase each. A lot has been acquired, and a lot has been left behind (literally and figuratively). This year has given us so much more than can be packed into a hard-shell suitcase. There’s no way to summarize our experiences: extravagant, varied, challenging, delightful…in short, they exceed the capacity of simple words to describe them accurately.

I think the best I can do is summed up by an elderly woman we met at The Royal Albert Hall in London. As Julie and I were waiting for the concert to begin, she came up to us and said, “Aren’t we fortunate to be here?” Our answer was, “Yes, yes we are.” The same sentiment applies to this year. We know that we are incredibly fortunate to have been here.

What’s Next

We’re flying back to the States this week, and will spend a little while re-acclimating to the time zone and culture. I’ve already started networking and have had some good conversations with very good firms. While we’ll initially land in Columbus, Julie and I are open to other locations. Our next, and most likely last On the Journey blog will be letting you know where we finally end up.

Thank you

 First, thank you to Carly, Connor, and Clinton. Our gracious children were partners in this adventure. They not only surrendered easy access to their parents for a year, but they also came over to visit and shared in our excitement. We’re anxious to see them again.

Second, thank you all for following along in our journey. Julie and I enjoyed your comments, encouragement, and active participation in this year.

Third, thank you Spain. It seems like every week gave us something new. There was always a festival or celebration to enjoy. Check out the dragon dance of San Jordi (Saint George).

Bitter and Sweet (Glen)

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Barcelona on August 20, 2017.

IMG_6033When terrorism happens, it’s scary, heartbreaking, traumatic, confusing, and angering. Julie and I were not in Barcelona when a man drove a van down Las Ramblas; we were visiting London. Las Ramblas is the famous street that leads down to the Mediterranean Sea. It is always packed with people. Watching the news coverage about the event was very surreal. The area where the attack began was Plaza Catalunya. We walk through this plaza on a daily basis. It’s a central point in Barcelona, and a lovely place. People feed the pigeons there. Las Ramblas begins its journey down to the port from Plaza Catalunya.

IMG_6039Last night, we were in the airport in London. Our plane back to Barcelona was delayed for two hours. With each minute that passed, a bit of nervousness crept in. We wondered, What will it feel like to be in Barcelona so soon after the attack? After a short flight, the wheels touched down, and we were in a taxi back to our apartment. As we rode through the city, it sunk in…this has been our home for the past year.

This morning, I got up. The sun was shining, and I walked a few steps to the little market behind my building to buy milk and bread. Later, Julie and I walked to Las Ramblas. Understandably, people were more somber than typical for a Sunday afternoon.

Over the past few days, family, friends and work colleagues have reached out to us to make sure we were safe.  We felt your love and concern. Thank you so much.

London.

Julie and I love this city. We have visited London many times, and I’m confident we’ll return. On this occasion, it was a safe harbor during the Barcelona attack. It’s strange that we could have so much fun in London, while people in Barcelona were experiencing such different emotions.  Perhaps, that’s the way life works…there is both bitter and sweet. Often, they are mixed together.

Here’s a snapshot of our time in London:

  • Viewing an exhibition about the versatility of plywood at the Victoria and Albert IMG_5961Museum. You have no idea how incredible this product is. It has been incorporated into planes, cars, mid modern chairs…you name it.
  • Seeing the musical, The Wind in the Willows, at the London Palladium theatre. A classic story that was charming, funny, and filled with catchy tunes with insightful lyrics.
  • Walking along the Thames from Pimlico to Westminster and hearing Big Ben chime…they are talking about silencing the bells for four years as restoration work is being undertaken. (See video below)IMG_5984
  • Eating Fish and Chips at the Anchor pub with a pint of Guinness. Yummy.
  • Visiting the National Portrait Gallery. It’s mind blowing to see the actual portraits of these great British women and men that I’ve seen only in textbooks.
  • Experiencing the Tate Modern. This museum pushed us to think about art in new ways. We viewed the very moving exhibition: Soul of a Nation (Art in the age of Black Power). Also, ask us about the gigantic installation made of human hair and car bumpers.
  • Enjoying an incredible dinner with the retired AnglicanIMG_8667 Bishop (Michael) and his wife (Cynthia) in their lovely home in Kensington. How did it happen? Cool story; too long to fill you in here. It requires a beverage and conversation.
  • Eating delicious Indian food: Chicken Tikka Masala and Saag Paneer.
  • Getting a cool hair cut at a hipster barbershop in Southwark. I felt a little weird not having a beard, but I got over it.
  • Browsing around, and buying a few books, from Hatchards – a venerable bookstore that has been around since 1797.
  • IMG_5989Attending evensong at St. Paul’s Cathedral and then doing a job networking call, right outside, in small, hidden corner of the cathedral.
  • Being overwhelmed by Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony at The Royal Albert Hall. As we were sitting in our seats before the concert, an older British woman chatted with us. She began the conversation, “Aren’t we fortunate to be here?”  We replied, “Yes. Yes we are.”
  • Watching the news about Barcelona and shaking our heads in disbelief.

And so, this was our week.

Castellers in Barcelona (Glen)

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Julie and I were walking out in the main square in front of the Barcelona Cathedral this morning and came upon a classic Catalan tradition: castlellers.

Check out the video: the stronger and more stable lift up the smaller and weaker, and together they reach great heights. It makes me think that this could be a great illustration of how society should work.

 

Morocco is Everything

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Why Morocco? 

We’ve been asked by several folks, “Why are you going to Morocco?”.  There are many reasons:

  • We’ve never been to Africa and we’ve always wanted to go
  • We had heard about Morocco from many different people, and everyone who’s been there highly recommends it
  • Morocco is right on Spain’s doorstep
  • And, as we are experiencing Spain, going to Morocco makes sense. After all, Morocco is the home to the Berbers (once called “Moors”), and historically they had a huge influence on Spain

So, we’ve now been in Morocco for the last three weeks.  We’ve used Marrakech as our home base, and have visited Casablanca (on the Atlantic), the Atlas Mountains, and the Sahara Dessert.

How do we describe Morocco? 

Morocco is everything. That’s how we describe it. We’re not alone in this opinion. We’ve met a number of Moroccans who describe it exactly the same way. Morocco is everything. It’s a country possessing contradictions and harmony at the same time. It is a marvel.

Our blog can’t do it justice, but here are a few of our observations of Morocco along with a few pics.

  • Ocean, and Desert, and Mountains – within a day drive.
  • Muslim, and Christian, and Jew – living together.
  • Arabic, and Berber, and French – spoken interchangeably.
  • Modern cities, and ancient medinas, and tiny villages – each with its own charm
  • Colossal minarets, city minarets, very small village minarets – calling for prayer at the same time every day.
  • Children playing the in park and working and begging – alongside adults who are doing the same.
  • Donkeys, and bicycles, and scooters, and luxury cars—all driving down the same road
  • Being scrubbed in a Hamman baths, and then massages, and then drinking mint tea – a practice we could get used to!
  • Shopping malls, and souks in narrow passageways, and market day in the city square
  • Mountain waterfalls, and dry river beds, and oases in the desert.
  • Date palm trees, and olive trees, and cypress forests
  • Luxurious Riads, and collapsing sandcastle kasbahs, and golf-course condos
  • Camels, and goats, and sheep
  • Prickly pear cactus fruit, and melon, and grapes
  • Tajine, and couscous, and Moroccan salad
  • Mint tea, and bottled water, and pricey cocktails
  • Monarchy, and civil government, and citizens who love both equally
  • Spices of every color, and rugs of every color, and people of every color
  • Women covered from head to toe, and women covered with very little, and both walking side by side talking
  • New roads, and new building everywhere – much of which is happening in anticipation of future demand.
  • Tourist gimmicks (monkey photo opportunities), and big movie studios, and cultured museums
  • Haggling for prices, not knowing how much to tip, and being greeting with a smile no matter what.

And all of that seems to fit perfectly into this small country. I’m sure we haven’t done it justice, but we have truly enjoyed the experience.

My Brain Re-Boot (Glen)

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My personal life lessons from leaving a great job to live a year abroad.

 

About two years ago…I decided that I needed to quit a great job at a great company and take an “adult gap year”. Risky? You bet. What could have possibly compelled me to take such a gamble? It’s best summarized by this idea:IMG_2195

If you want something you’ve never had before, you must do something you’ve never done before.

I’ve seen this quote attributed to different people, so whoever put it out into the collective universe…thank you! You inspired me. I wanted something different and I believed the only way to get it was by breaking the old mental loops and scripts in my brain and re-booting. For me, re-booting involved pausing my career for a brief period, downloading some new skills, and then re-entering the work force.

I pitched the “brain re-booting” scheme to my wife. Guess what? She jumped on board the crazy train. We spent a year planning and then in September 2016, we said good bye to family, friends, and work colleagues and got on a jet to Spain.

Fast forward…Now that I’ve entered the home-stretch of my self-imposed sabbatical, I find myself reflecting about this re-booting experiment. Did it work? How will it inform my thinking? Three personal life lessons keep surfacing:

Personal Life Lesson 1Living abroad made me feel vulnerable – I felt vulnerable, because I needed to rely on others – Relying on others gave me an appreciation for new perspectives and alternative processes.

After getting a temporary visa and arriving in Spain, I needed to: open a Spanish bank account, wire money internationally, find an apartment, sign a lease, obtain a residency card, and much more. How did I handle these tasks? I fell into my old mental traps and Identity Cardhandled them like they were work projects. I invested energy into gathering data, identifying potential risks, solving problems, and thinking through contingencies. In summary, I transferred my “work mindset” to tasks that needed to be accomplished in my personal life—not the best start for my re-boot.

As those of you who have travelled internationally are aware, being in another country, without command of the native language thrusts upon you a feeling of vulnerability. This became particularly clear with my Spanish Residency Card. To obtain my card, I needed to interact with numerous governmental agencies, including: the Spanish Consulate in the U.S., the local town hall, the foreigner office, my local bank, and the police department. I need to stress that there is nothing wrong with Spain’s requirements for obtaining an identity card; I simply felt very exposed as I tried to navigate the process.

This helped me understand the value of feeling vulnerable…relying on others. Their insights gave me a deeper appreciation for new perspectives and alternative processes. That has made me challenge my assumptions and broaden my thinking. Throughout this year, I’ve been exposed to many different (and yes better) ways of doing things, like: mobile banking, collecting trash, saving energy, caring for the elderly, and securing one’s home.

Personal Life Lesson 2: I made mistakes as I tried to learn new skills – Making mistakes, especially in public, is embarrassing – I’ve learned to make peace with that.

In November, I began taking drawing and oil painting lessons from George Segura Nunez. George, an 84-year-old artist, is a fascinating man. He did a stint in the Spanish UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_756Navy. He lived in Paris and worked in advertising. He illustrated over 1000 pulp fiction novel covers— using himself as a model for most of them; back in the day he looked like a young Gregory Peck. He won commissions from the Spanish government, and his paintings are exhibited in art museums in Glasgow and Barcelona. George is also a very demanding art teacher. He has a specific technique for painting. There were many times when he would watch me paint and then, without warning, snatch the brush out of my hand and show me how to do it properly.

At the same time, I also began to take Spanish language classes. The instructors stressed the need to practice my new language skills in public. As a beginner, I was limited to present-tense verbs and possessed little vocabulary. So, if waiter asked me how I liked my meal, I responded with something that sounded like, “I eat fish. I drink white wine. I very much like fish and wine.” The waiter smiled and nodded, but I knew that I sounded like a child. I wanted to talk to him about the citrus notes in the wine and how it paired well with the perfectly cooked sea bass.

Learning art and Spanish revealed my irrational fear of potential embarrassment from making a mistake—not actual embarrassment mind you, merely potential. The problem is, when I practice new skills, I will make mistakes. Mistakes are a natural part of learning. It is essential for acquiring new skills. This year has helped me to make peace with that.

Personal Life Lesson 3: Walking 500 miles across Spain is a challenge – Challenges stretch me – Being stretched shows me that I can reach beyond my preconceived limits.

Before leaving the U.S., and after arriving in Spain, people told me about the Camino de Santiago. It didn’t take a lot of persuasion for my wife and I to decide to do it. After all, when would we have the time to walk 500 miles again? This walk, or pilgrimage, has IMG_8083been happening since the Middle Ages. Today, people walk the Camino for many reasons: spiritual, cultural, fitness, you name it. The route my wife and I took began in France, crossed over the Pyrenees, and spanned the entire north of Spain.

Most days, the hiking was wonderful and I felt like I could have walked farther. That said, 34 days of walking will take a toll on anyone. As each mile accumulated, I felt the wear on my body. All of that pain seemed to vanish however, as I entered the public square in Santiago de Compostella. I realized that I’d done something I never dreamed possible…walk across the country of Spain!

This experience made me think about the times in my career when I was given a stretch goal. Every time my director “raised the bar”, I dreaded it. But, walking more than 500 miles through Spain has help me think differently about being stretched. Instead of seeing it as a vehicle for failure, I see it as a chance to exceed my preconceived mental and physical limits. That doesn’t mean stretch goals are fun…but I know it’s good to be stretched.

Re-entering the Workforce… Soon, I’ll begin to reach out to my network and look for a job. My year abroad delivered personal life lessons I couldn’t have imagined. It makes me excited to re-engage my career and apply the things I’ve learned. Of course, there will be times when I will feel a little vulnerable, or embarrassed, or stretched. That’s why I’m thankful I took this opportunity to re-boot.

Costa Brava – Continuing to Fall in Love with Spain (Glen)

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Just when we thought Spain couldn’t get any better, we traveled from Finisterre to Tamariu on the Costa Brava. Tamariu is by the bay of Roses, just south of France.

This past week has been filled with:

  • The sparkling, clear, blue-green water of the Mediterranean
  • Families playing and enjoying the sunny sea-side
  • Rocky cliffs hiding coves with small sandy beaches
  • Sunshine
  • Great meals and great conversations
  • Long walks on trails surrounded by pine and cypress trees
  • Getting caught in a sudden rainstorm
  • Small villages with cafes and shops
  • Touring a cava vineyard that dates back to the late 1400s
  • Castles on hilltops
  • Ancient city walls covered with purple bougainvillea
  • Snorkeling and seeing schools of silvery fish
  • The Greek and Roman ruins of two (once bustling) port cities in Empuries
  • Lush botanical gardens
  • And, great friends to share it with!

What’s not to love, right?

We enjoyed a week with our good friends Dale and Sarah Gooding from Wales. Wow!  What an incredible experience.

Next week, Julie and I head to Marrakech, Morocco for three weeks.

The Camino de Santiago. We did it!

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We’re happy to say, hand on heart, that we have walked more than 500 miles (800 kilometers) from France across northern Spain—including some extra recommended side trips to see unique and fun things.

We took a couple of pictures on our first day and our last day, but Julie and I decided to not “curate” our Camino with photos or blog about our experiences. We would be very happy to personally share our adventure with you over a cup of coffee, glass of wine or beverage of your choice.

As we walked for 36 days, we were surprised and delighted over and over again. In fact, this was the highlight of the Camino: each day brought us something new and unexpected. We fell in love with Northern Spain: the landscape, the people living there, and the people walking on the Camino. A special shout out to Jason Erwin from Australia who walked many miles with us and became a very good friend.

In light of our 36 days on the road, we have decided to list 36 things that we will remember, treasure, and enjoy about our Camino de Santiago.

Glen and Julie’s Camino Surprise and Delights

  1. Walking. Believe it or not, the walking wasn’t laborious. We loved the daily routine of walking long distances. They say you can “walk yourself fit” on the Camino…it’s true.
  2. Talking. Chatting with interesting and wonderful people from all over the world, what’s not to love, right?
  3. Stopping. Each day we would walk for a few hours and then stop and get a cup of coffee at a small village café; walk a few hours more and stop for a beer with lemon…very civilized indeed.
  4. Sellos (Pilgrim Stamps). Pilgrims are required to collect these in a special pilgrim passport to mark your progress on the journey and receive a special certificate.
  5. Pilgrim Dinners. Three courses of home-cooked food and a bottle of wine for about $10.
  6. Storks. We were completely caught off guard by all of the storks and their huge nests.
  7. Poppies. Beautiful splashes of red in the green wheat fields.
  8. Crunching Gravel. The crunch of the gravel underneath our feet became a musical rhythm.
  9. Architecture. Roman, Medieval, Gothic, Romanesque, Baroque, Neoclassical, modern… jaw dropping and amazing.
  10. Church Bells. The clocks of medieval life. They still ring out the hour; helpful and we didn’t wear a watch.
  11. Statues and Monuments. Reminders and tributes to others that have gone before us…some of them endured incredible things, some of them achieved incredible things.
  12. Vineyards. Small vineyards scattered throughout, producing great wine. We’ll struggle when we have to pay more than $4 a bottle when we return home.
  13. Roses. Roses are everywhere: wild, cultivated – in all colors. We stopped to smell them.
  14. Museums. Incredible works of art, yet often uncrowded. In Leon, they locked us inside their museum and let us wander around. We had it to ourselves.
  15. Hemingway. Earnest Hemingway lived in the Navarra area of Spain and wrote a number of his books in Pamplona’s famed Café Iruna. We ate there and stayed on the street where they run the bulls.
  16. Symbols. Ancient and mysterious symbols and figures carved into churches and stone monuments. Curious and enchanting.
  17. The Holy Grail. It’s in a monastery in Leon. Who knew? We saw it. Pretty cool.
  18. Fuentes. Fountains along the way with cold and safe water to drink. They are a real lifesaver. In one town, there was even a “wine fountain” connected to a winery.
  19. Crazy Legends. The cathedral in Santo Domingo de Calzada has live chickens kept inside. Ask us about the crazy story.
  20. Charming Hotels. Small hotels full of character with owners that go out of their way to be gracious and welcoming. We’d stay at these over a larger chain hotel any day.
  21. Cathedrals. Whether you’re religious or not, these are gothic wonders to behold…Burgos, Leon, Santiago. You should see them.
  22. Celtic Spain. Galicia is a region with bagpipes and Celtic customs. Eat the octopus (pulpo) when you are there…very delicious.
  23. Mountains. We began by hiking across the Pyrenees, but it seemed like we were surrounded by mountains most of the way to Santiago.
  24. MesetaDusty, dry, and fields of wheat for as far as your eye can see. Beautiful in their own way.
  25. Small Villages. Charming little farm villages spring up out of nowhere when you turn a corner of the trail.
  26. Breakfast. Coffee, fresh squeezed orange juice, toast, meat, cheese, and more. Waking up hungry is a treat!
  27. Templars. The Templars were the builders of octagonal chapels, odd little churches, huge castles and the first international banking system.
  28. Trees. Olive, Cherry, Almond, Eucalyptus, and Poplar with white fuzzy pollen.
  29. Animals (all sorts). Trout swimming in the streams, snails and slugs on the trail; mice, horses, donkeys, cows, goat and sheep in the fields, and dogs and cats in the villages. We enjoyed all of the creatures.
  30. Town Squares. Sitting out in the town square in the evening…we watch families eat, socialize, children play…in one big community.
  31. Bird Song. We would often stand and watch the birds sing to one another. Little beaks fluttering and making amazing sounds.
  32. Local Foods. Each town seemed to have its’ own special dish of cheeses, meats, fruits, vegetables…and we loved eating every yummy bit of it.
  33. Hawks. They look majestic as they swoop and soar high in the wind; looking for a small animal below. Circle of life.
  34. Sketching and Journaling. Every day, Julie journaled and I drew a sketch of something that caught our attention.
  35. Ancient Paths. Well worn, trod upon for nearly a thousand years. We added our footsteps too.
  36. Chacos. Julie stopped wearing her boots early on and switched to Chacos. Her feet felt better and she finished the rest of the walk in her sandles.

One extra for good measure:

  1. Saying Buen Camino. There’s a greeting that one peregrino (pilgrim) says to another, “Buen Camino!” We loved saying and it, and really loved getting it from the locals.

So, wherever you are on your life journey…Buen Camino!

A Salute to Barcelona (Glen)

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Seven months ago, prior to moving to Spain, Julie and I published a “Salute to Columbus, Ohio”.  If you’re interested, you can check it out by clicking on the “September 2016” link below. And, seeing that we are departing Barcelona, we thought it appropriate to give the same tip-of-the-cap to this lovely city.

Why leave Barcelona?

With living in Spain, Julie and I felt that we had to take advantage of the opportunity to experience the Camino de Santiago. May and June are particularly good months for the walk because of the weather. The Camino is a 500-mile trek from St. Jean Pied de Port (France), over the Pyrenees, and across the entire north of Spain to Santiago de Compostela. This pilgrimage has a rich heritage that began in the Middle Ages. In fact, some historians have credited the development of modern Europe from pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela, Rome and other holy sites. Julie and I will finish our 40-day journey in Finisterre. The literal translation of Finisterre is “end of the earth” since this is the western most part of the European mainland. Finisterre is a little peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean.

Will we blog while on the Camino?

After much thought, Julie and I have decided not to curate our experiences during our Camino de Santiago. That means you won’t be hearing from us for a couple of months. Happy birthday and anniversary in advance to all of our family and friends who celebrate in May or June. We are choosing not to have access to text, email or internet during this time—we’re going off the grid! We’ll be using this time to determine our next step. If you want to learn more about the Camino de Santiago, there are lots of videos on YouTube, and here is a link which will give you a little more information http://www.santiagoturismo.com/camino-de-santiago

Without further ado, here is Glen and Julie’s “Best of Barcelona”. 

Our favorite neighborhood: Barcelona is filled with distinctive and charming neighborhoods:  Born, Gotico, El Ravel, Gracia, Sant Antoni…Our tiny apartment was in the barrio of Barceloneta. It was perfect for us. It was on the main road (Passeig Joan de Borbo) with a fantastic southwestern exposure, which gave lots of light and incredible views. The sunsets over Port Vell are spectacular! Barceloneta is on the doorstep of the city and the sea.  We feel very fortunate to have found this apartment.

Our favorite specialty grocery store: SPAR…OK, OK, we know SPAR isn’t a specialty store- it’s actually a very small grocery store, but it’s in our neighborhood, the folks working there know us, and it is literally less than a minute walk from our apartment. Caelum is a “specialty” store of sorts – we’ve bought cookies made from nuns and liquor distilled from monks in this store. But, if you want real specialty foods, neither of these can rival St. Catherine’s market which is packed with merchants selling their fresh fish, meat, cheese, fruit, vegetables, olives and more.

Our favorite activity: Walking. Barcelona in designed for walking. Getting out into the streets lets you enjoy all of the fantastic art in this city…Museums abound. For about $30 you can buy a museum passport which gets you into the six big museums. (If you can only view one, the Picasso Museum is a must do). That said, you don’t have to go to a museum to see art. This city is filled with great art:  sculptures, cathedrals, architecture, gardens, housing developments, security doors, and even the sidewalks…Art is everywhere in Barcelona. It definitely is one of the things that I believe differentiates Barcelona from other world cities.

And, as I said, even the security doors are art! Here are just a few…

Our favorite people watching area:  Barcelona Beaches. People of all nationalities are walking, jogging, riding bikes, skateboarding, sunbathing, paddle-boarding, and on and on…There are plenty of benches and it’s never boring.

Festivals or Celebrations:  There seems to be some festival or celebration each month that involves costumes, food, parades and a lot of fun.  Just this past Monday (May 1), Labor Day was celebrated. Julie and I happened upon this street fair by the Barcelona Sants Rail station. Check out the video clip of the swing dancing. If you have the opportunity to get to Barcelona in early January, you would not be disappointed with the Tres Reyes Cavalcade (Three Kings Parade). I believe it’s in the league of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the States.

Our favorite bakery: We visited this bakery a few times each week for bread. OK, seriously, we went almost every day for fresh bread. Come on, it’s warm bread after all.

Our favorite guilty pleasures: (British Television).  We discovered that we FullSizeRendercould watch BBC television on our computer. This provided a very comforting language familiarity.   I got hooked on watching rugby (Six Nations) and Snooker – Crazy rules that I am not sure I fully understand for both sports. We also loved the vet and antiquing shows.

Our favorite Tapas:  A unique and wonderful fried food is found at Bombetta.  This restaurant invented the Bomba.  Addictively good.  Also, you must try patatas bravas with romesco sauce. Yummy.

  • Our favorite Community; George’s Anglican Church.  It was through this welcoming community of people that we not only met a lot of friends, but we were introduced to a lot of Catalan customs…like drinking wine from a traditional Catalan bottle, and eating calcetots.  It was also at an art fair at St. George’s that I met my art teacher (maestro), Jorge Segura Nunez.

In closing, we would like to say, thank you to Barcelona.  You are a wonderful city and you treated us very well.  Adios.

Experiencing Barcelona and the UK (Connor and Clinton Zehr)

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This week, we’re happy to welcome Connor and Clinton Zehr (our sons) as guest contributors for our blog.  We hope you enjoy.

IMG_5234Connor – I need to give a disclaimer about having cool parents. When you tell people that your parents have decided to take a year off to live abroad, the response is inevitably: “Why?” Most assume they have retired, or we have family or some kind of connections to Barcelona. Then you tell them that in actuality, they just sort of had a wild hair to take a year off of work to live in a foreign country, which in turn has led to a renaissance of sorts that includes, but is not limited to: Painting, 500-mile pilgrimage hikes, getting in shape, blogging, and various other mediums of “enlightenment”. Which is great, right?!

And then you look in the mirror. Next thing you know, you’ve got a couple of super cool parents, and you are just their lame, unenlightened child who still gets excited about a cheesy gordita crunch from Taco Bell. So to all those who think its sooooo cool to have hip parents, just be prepared to have to examine and cope with your own uneventful life!

In all seriousness, I feel extremely blessed to be able to see the example my parents have set in their recent adventures. I’ve been blessed with a great job out of college, but sometimes I have wondered if I should be out exploring and traveling in my youth. They have showed me that it’s not an either-or decision. Thanks Mom and Dad for facilitating this awesome trip!

Question #1:  You’ve both expressed that you enjoy traveling, why? 

Connor – For the last year and a half, with starting a new job and studying for my financial licenses, my life has been very structured.  This trip has been a great get away. Traveling really opens your horizons and shows you different ways of living. If you haven’t really experienced how other people live, you have nothing to compare your life to. I realize how easy it is to become engrained in doing things a certain way.

Clint – I agree. When our parents told us that they were moving to Barcelona, we were really happy for them. They said their goal was to re-charge and re-focus. Frankly, I wasn’t expecting anything like that for me, but I was surprised.  It’s amazing how traveling to a new country shakes you from your normal routines and re-focuses you on your goals.

Question #2:  Have you been surprised by anything you’ve experienced on this trip?

Clinton – I was surprised at how appealing the lifestyle and culture is in Spain. I could definitely see myself living here, or at least returning.  I love the beach. I love the type of food they eat. I was also surprised by the Picasso Museum.  It was really interesting to see how his art changed over time.

Connor I was surprised at how comfortable it is here. It’s been a while since I took high school Spanish, so I was a little worried about going to a country with another language. But, if you’re willing to feel little uncomfortable with communication, it is easy to traverse a city like Barcelona.  There was nothing that kept us from getting around. And, the Picasso Museum was great. I’d definitely go back to that again.

Question # 3:  What were some of your favorite foods?

Connor  Everything was great. I really liked the “Full English” breakfast we had in Wales:  Sausage, bacon, black pudding, eggs, mushrooms, beans, tomato, and fried toast.  The fried toast was something else. In Barcelona, the churros and chocolate were incredible.

Clinton – It was really fun to go to St. Catherine’s market in Barcelona. There were a lot of foods there that I had never seen before; it made me want to try all of it.  In England, my favorite was the different flavors of crisps (potato chips). My favorites were Marmite (tasted like soy sauce) and the flame grilled steak crisps.

Connor Yeah, the crisps were great… Walkers cheese and onion flavor is my favorite.

Question #4: You flew from Atlanta to Istanbul to Barcelona…and then we flew to London and took a train to Cardiff.  That’s a lot of time in travel.  Are you reading anything interesting? 

Clinton – I’m currently reading Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance.  Reading this book, and then traveling to Spain, England and Wales has made me realize that there are social classes that exist in every nation and there are pros and cons with every social class.

Connor I’m currently reading, The Intelligent Investor, by Benjamin GrahamIt will take me a while to get through it.  I’ve been told by many people that it is full of a lot of great insights. I am excited about learning some new perspectives as I want to continue to further my understanding on investing. 

Question #5:  What was it like for you to visiting Wales and seeing the places where you once lived and went to school?

Connor – It was really fun to see everything in Wales. A lot of memories came back: our town (Cowbridge), our home (Downs Farm), our school, Southerndown Beach and Ogmore Castle…and it was really fun to see some people that we knew when we lived there, like Graham Cooksey and the Goodings.

Clinton Yeah, we had a good time with Simon and Mel Gooding. It was fun to chat with them about the similarities and differences in our experiences growing up in Wales and the USA.

Question #6:  So, what are your thoughts on future travel…

Clinton I’m definitely coming back to Spain.

Connor I definitely want to do more travel. I would like to go to more places in the UK. I’d also like to go to Northern England, Scotland, Ireland…and I’d love to travel to Normandy.

Question #7: Any final thoughts?

Connor / Clinton – We had a lot of great conversations with a lot of people…That was one of the best parts of the trip.

Modern Medicine and the Middle Ages (Glen)

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Barcelona is rich with cathedrals, art museums, modernisme architecture, and incredible natural resources. Visiting these spots leaves you both with a feeling of awe, and sheer exhaustion from having to navigate through a massive number of people all wanting to get a glimpse of the same thing you want to see.

This week, Julie and I stumbled across a UNESCO World Heritage site that is just as awe inspiring as any other…but with no crush of tourists. It was the Sant Pau Hospital.

Here’s a brief history of this incredible place –

old hospital(Networking hospitals together – The Early 1400’s) At the start of the fifteenth century, Barcelona had a total of six small hospitals. Early in 1401, the financial difficulties besetting many of these small hospitals led to the construction of a single facility: The hospital of the Santa Creu (Holy Cross) and Sant Pau (Saint Paul).
The new center, one of the oldest in the world, was conceived as a large building with four rectangular two-story wings set around a central courtyard, following the model of an ecclesiastical cloister.

(Research and Teaching) The hospital made a crucial contribution to the evolution of medicine. Its medical work led to the founding of the Royal College of Surgery, the origin of the future School of Medicine. In fact, from the nineteenth century the hospital was engaged in the intense scientific and educational activity that established its reputation as a medical center of the first order.

IMG_5052(Cutting edge / functional design) During this period of Barcelona’s expansion, a rich Catalan banker, Pau Gil, died. Gil established in his will that his estate be devoted to building a new hospital in Barcelona, and made it clear that the new center should bring together the latest innovations in technology, architecture and medicine, and be dedicated to Saint Paul. The job of designing the new hospital was entrusted to Lluís Domènech i Montaner (1850-1923), one of the outstanding figures of Catalan Modernisme.

In drawing up his project, the great architect was inspired by the most modern hospitals in Europe. Embracing the latest thinking on sanitation and hygiene, he designed a hospital organized as a series of separate pavilions, surrounded by gardens and interconnected by a network of underground tunnels.

Each building was assigned to a different medical specialty. The natural lighting, the good ventilation and the restrained elegance of the décor made the new hospital a unique place in the world, a pioneering model hospital which affirmed the importance of open space and sunlight in the treatment of patients.

Julie and I were amazed and a bit humbled by the innovations launched in this incredible space. It was yet another reminder of why are so glad that we have traveled to other countries and experienced the contributions they have added to our world.

To learn more, check out… https://www.santpaubarcelona.org/en/history