Where are the Property Brothers when you need them?

Yes, our house hunt continues, although because things don’t pop up in the market as often as in the states, it has slowed. Significantly. In any case, I’ll continue my rant about what kinds of places, and with what kind of quirks, you might find around here.

So…what’s out there? A little bit of everything.

  • You have new construction – as in built within the last 10 years. New, new, like recently finished – is a little more rare. There was a big real estate boom here followed by a grand economic flop, and people aren’t running around putting up new houses and new buildings like they did before.
  • Then you have old,  but (technically speaking…) livable. Perhaps smallish rooms, layouts that don’t make a whole lot of sense to this American girl, and just, I dunno, old. C sees these and they make him think of (fill-in-the-blank’s) house when he was young. I see these and I think, ummm…well, usually I just think. They are prime for ripping apart, tearing down walls, etc. Some of them are chock full of possibilities, truly. (This is why I need the Property Brothers!) It’s just a matter of how much work you want to do.
  • THEN you have old, but gutted and redone. Some of these are just wow. Beautifully renovated. Stone walls, high ceilings, gorgeous wood floors. Really just wow. But you also have the houses that fit into this category – with some of the same well-done components – but some really bad design/layout choices that leave you thinking really? You spent all that money and you didn’t (enter any number of things here) or you (same…for example, put an unusable fireplace in a smallish, rectangular shaped front hall space?). These make me crazy. A lot of money spent with very little thought. And a bummer to see, because then the price reflects renovation and not possibility.  A cool aspect in both of these cases, is that with the old homes, often they come with a large UNrenovated space – could have been a barn or storage, or whatever – that, if you close your eyes, you can see a Architectural Digest-worthy space. A grand, three story open living area, or a 4 BR, 4 BA bed and breakfast. Again, a cool feature depending on how much money and time you want to dedicate to it.
  • And THEN, you have the old, completely renovated and refurbished, owner-ran-out-of-money-it-was-taken-over-by-the-bank-and-owner-rips (vigorously)-out-everything-salvageable-and-leaves-house-a-sad-mess, once again purchased and once AGAIN partially renovated house. Snort. Okay, this was only one house, but it gives you a sense of the economy and what can happen when someone runs into trouble. To be honest, this is a cool option – you have old beautiful components, some things partially renovated (some gorgeous floors and doorways, for example), but a lot of possibility to finish it the way you want.

In all of these cases, I found two things surprising. One, is that they don’t all have heat. Not even the renovated ones! They have a coal oven in the kitchen. Seriously, I mean, this gives me instant visions of sleeping on a dog bed on the kitchen floor. And in some of the smaller, more remote towns, getting a gas line to your house is not easy, and not always even possible. Sure, the coal ovens can be very aesthetically pleasing…but no heat? ACK. (This, FYI, is not strange to C.) And because they have a coal oven, they have no regular oven. NO REGULAR OVEN. Whaaaaaaaat? How’m I ‘aposed to BAKE stuff? For the record, these are usually both fixable things. I’m just saying.

Another thing. Rentals, 99% of the time, are rented furnished. Fully furnished. So if you’ve got a house full of furniture (like us), this could present a challenge. Not an unsurmountable one, just a challenge. This part of the world is not littered with Public Storage facilities. But this point I think is representative of one of the biggest differences in the market – in the states, a lot of people move for any of the following reasons: new job/relocation, bigger family, made more money and just want a bigger place, better school systems. So it becomes sell a house, buy the next one, in a constant, dizzying motion. Here, that doesn’t happen. People move because they HAVE to more than because they WANT to. (At least that’s my perception – I am not a market analyst of course.)    People don’t change jobs with nearly the same frequency, and houses stay in the family for generations. They keep old Aunt Nilly’s house until they realize they don’t have the time/money to do anything with it and they try and sell it. Or they turn Grandma’s old place into their vacation home, they furnish it – then when they realize they don’t use it as much as they thought, they rent it. Furnished.

And so we press on. We were supposed to see a house this morning – our third attempt (the first two cancelled by the home owner) – which was this time cancelled by the agent because it snowed, like two inches maybe?? which is now cleared off the streets because of the rain that followed?? – and she was nervous about driving. My sis told me they just got 20 inches outside of Chicago, that would be enough to paralyze this area for months…

I think I’m gonna go email the Property Brothers and try and tempt them with a Northern Spain episode.

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My Version of International House Hunters

We have to move. Le sigh. We found out about a month ago, a day or two before C left for the states for the holidays, that the owner of our place would like to actually live in her own place. Time for a crash course in looking for a place to live in our neck of the woods.

I’ll admit, I am a miserable mover. Really. Ask my mother. I don’t know what it is, but the whole physical aspect of packing and organizing and leaving turns me into a monster. I have (literally) already apologized to C for my future behavior. It’s not that I have ever, including now, had any great attachment to the places I’ve lived, nor have I ever been unhappy once I was moved into a new place. But it happens anyway. So there’s that.

The physical moving part aside, I actually loooove looking at houses. I might have even made a good realtor in some other lifetime. And on top of that, the whole thing works just a weeee bit little differently here, which is not only interesting, but to me, sometimes flat out funny. So I thought I’d share some of my observations. First, about the people.

1. When you are looking at, or just looking for a house in a super small town like the ones we live near, the WHOLE town takes note. There is no such thing as inconspicuous. As soon as you park, you start to see curtain corners turning up, pairs of eyes poking out…and the best part is the “casual stroll.” Suddenly those pairs of eyes have found an excuse to take a lil walk. In their slippers and robes. With frost on the ground. Snort. Suddenly it’s time to, uh, take out the trash, or wave a kitchen pan around (kitchen pans need fresh air too). Or the dog has to pee. And the outside patio, shoot, that could always use a sweep. And you just KNOW that Slipper Lady, Pan Waver and Porch Sweeper will TOTALLY be over-the-fence gossiping about you that day. HiLARious.

2. If you want to know something about a house, ask a neighbor. We showed up (with a realtor) to see a house, and she said she had to pick up the house key from the next door neighbor (yeah, I know…). So, knock-knock-knock, lovely little old house-frock wearing neighbor lady comes out. The key? No I don’t have the key. The niece had the key. You didn’t know? Yeah, she supposedly bought the house and was going to move in, but then (in a more whispery tone) had trouble with the bank. Yes, yes, so, the bank might even have the house now. But if you talk to the owner DONT TELL HIM I TOLD YOU.

3. Realtors will be realtors. And independent sellers will be independent sellers. And I appreciate that. Realtors are, after all, sales people. “It only has one bathroom, but of COURSE it would be easy to put in another!” “Yes, just take this cabinet out and install the oven right here! Easy peasy!” “And the best part? The MAYOR lives next door! What better neighbor to have than the mayor!” And for those people who are just trying to get mom’s/grandma’s house off their hands? “Oh, you looked at one like this? How much was it? We really have no idea, we’re just sort of guessing at the price.” Appraisal, shmaisal. Just take your best guess.

4. And then there’s the “OH, you live in Corrales? My cousin/girlfriend/aunt/ex-lover/grandparents live/used to live/are from there. Do you know…?/Ask your uncle, he would definitely know her/him…” Reaffirmation that in Cantabria everyone knows everyone. You gotta watch what you say around here, geez Louise.

5. Owners (if they are living in the house) are usually present when you go to look. No lockbox thing, or giving realtors the keys in many cases. Which also means at the very last minute (like 45 minutes before you’re supposed to be there), said owner can cancel for God only knows what reason. Grrrrrr. Annoying.

All this, to say nothing yet of the houses themselves! More on that to come.

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My Annual Thanksgiving Post

I have no excuses for being blog-less for so long. Life is crazy.

But our Fourth Annual Corrales Thanksgiving was the perfect reason to get back on here. One, because I like to stop at least once a year to really think about how lucky I am and how thankful I am for so many things. But also, because I realized this year that if I don’t document this day, how’m I sposed to remember what I made and who was there??? Durh.

This year I managed to lure 20 folks to come together to celebrate this very American holiday. (Although all the stores here have Black Friday sales…but, what is Black Friday without Thanksgiving?? I don’t get it. But anyhoo.) And it was extra special because 12.5% of the group was actually American, thanks to one of my very dearest friends who made the trip for a long weekend to join us.

SO. The FOOD. They say the fourth time’s the charm right? Hm. Maybe not. But ours was. Let’s start with the turkeys. Yes, plural. We had two “smaller” ones – one at 4 kilos and the other at 5. And considering the matchbox size of our ovens here, we decided to spatchcock the turkeys – essentially breaking the breast bone and flattening them out a bit – and cook them in the pizzeria ovens. They were deLISH (thanks to my hubby, he’s always in charge of the birds). They take 90 minutes to cook and come out juicy and yummy.

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The spatchcocked turkeys. Doesn’t the one on the left look like he’s chillin out in a lounge chair? A relaxed turkey is a good turkey. Snort.

Can we take one second to talk about the supreme awesomeness of the word “spatchcock?” I mean, helloooo. It’s my favorite word now. I taught it to all my students. Snicker. It might even be a better word when a Spaniard says it. Seriously. I’ve also found it  very flexible, as in “You better get out of here before I spatchcock you!” Heeeeehehehe. Flexible and fabulous. But I digress.

For side dishes, I did two of the standards – stuffing, and my mom’s broccoli casserole. And two new additions which were both pretty big hits – these Roasted Squash and Onion Turnovers (which I made and froze a whole week in advance – and they cooked brilliantly right out of the freezer!!) and the Pioneer Woman’s Twice Baked Potatoes. I luff her long time. She uses lots of butter and bacon, shamelessly. She can do no wrong. Desserts were carrot cake and key lime bars. Easy peasy.

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In any case, the day was a huge success. Everyone loved it, and I love that everyone loved it. I could watch people ooh and ahh and yummmm at my food all day.

Happiness is.

Happiness is.

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And hellooooo, how freakin cute are these?? We made these. Some people should not be working in an office, they should own a store full of cute stuff. Just saying.

And now, some of the many things I’m thankful for, in addition to my hubby and my friends and family, who always, always, always top my list.

1. Whatsapp. My lifeline. My favorite public transportation pastime, because what else am I supposed to do at 10:00 at night on the bus for 45 minutes?? Clearly that time is for catching up. I am thankful for the technology that keeps me connected and for my favorite people in the states who use it.

2. Bob Harper. Yes, for real. His yoga videos keep me sane and flexy bendy. C even does it with me sometimes, as do my ninnies. It’s like family yoga hour.

3. iTunes and the silly shows that I still watch. Yes, I could hack and download them for free, illegally, like the rest of the country does. But that makes me feel bad. And I do love my shows. In English.

4. My adult students, some of whom provide me the most intriguing conversations of my week. For example, I now know an awful lot about the intelligence of ravens and how to perform a kidney transplant. And I’m in-the-know when it comes to new little baking shops or restaurants or bakeries in the city.

5. The pretty flowers in our garden. I heart lilies and the passionfruit flowers are fantabulous.

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6. Travel, and the beautiful things you see when you leave your little world behind.

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And now Christmas is right around the corner, and New Years…and it’ll be time to do this again before I can even blink.

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Ethiopia – Part III (Gonder, Bahir Dar, and a few final words)

We were late getting off the mountain, delayed by the tire experience, and by the time we got back to Gonder, only had like an hour and a half to see what we wanted to see.

Gonder. Gonder is a city of around 400,000 people. Like the other cities, it had that odd mix of unending, partially finished new construction, and goats in the street; the blend of old and new. We didn’t get a really good feel for it and it didn’t leave much of an impression on me, just because we were so rushed for time. But we at least hit some of the highlights.

One of the palaces inside the Royal Enclosure, a 70,000 square meter compound with a number of palaces and castles dating back to the 1600s.

One of the palaces inside the Royal Enclosure, a 70,000 square meter compound with a number of palaces and castles dating back to the 1600s.

Fasilada's Bath - 100,000 people descend on Timket. Priests line the edges of the pool, and everyone jumps in!

Fasilada’s Bath – 100,000 people descend here for the celebration of Timket, on January 17th. Priests line the edges of the pool, spectators fill the bleachers, and many people jump in. They were filling it up when we were there in preparation.

That evening was New Year’s Eve. We had some dinner in a place that apparently every other traveler in the city had read about, and saw some pretty wild Eskesta dancing – this is the traditional dance of Northern Ethiopia. My pictures were dark and didn’t do it much justice anyway…these women shook their shoulders and spun their head like, well, like they were possessed or something. Check this out to get an idea. In any case, we were in bed by 10:30. Oops.

Bright and early the next morning (another theme…we had a LOT of early mornings) we were up and out for our three hour drive to Bahir Dar.

Bahir Dar. This was like a little slice of heaven. Much more plush because it sits right on Ethiopia’s biggest lake, Lake Tana, 3500 square kilometers and the source of the Blue Nile (and sporting by FAR the nicest place we stayed the whole time), it was a perfect way to wrap up the trip.

Typical on our drives to see something like this. Pardon the bad, through-the-window shot.

I was always trying to pull the nonchalant picture thing, but it was difficult at our speed (cough, cough) and with the reflection on the window. Nonetheless, just to give you an idea, it was typical to see something like this. Pardon the bad, through-the-window shot.

A typical boat, not for fishing but for transporting grasses, sugar cane, etc.

A typical boat, not for fishing but for transporting grasses, sugar cane, etc, that we saw on our ride out to the lake monasteries.

Paintings on the outside window of one of the lake monasteries - the monasteries date back to the 14th century, the paintings, the 17th.

Paintings on the outside window of one of the lake monasteries – the monasteries date back to the 14th century, the paintings, the 17th. Note also the typical mud and straw construction of the walls.

Early morning sunrise on Lake Tana.

Early morning sunrise on Lake Tana.

Farming the old fashioned way, on our way to see the Blue Nile Falls.

Farming the old fashioned way, on our way to see the Blue Nile Falls.

Blue Nile Falls, second biggest in Africa to Victoria Falls. Really beautiful.

Blue Nile Falls, second biggest in Africa to Victoria Falls. Really beautiful…and we were really lucky. Normally at this time of year it is just a trickle – we were expecting more like the Blue Nasal Drip – but the dam was open.

Sugar cane harvest time.

Sugar cane harvest time.

And a few more thoughts on our trip. Some of the things that struck me the most, I couldn’t or didn’t even capture in pictures. C is a better “nonchalant photographer” than I am and has some great shots, but that’s the only way to capture some of these moments because otherwise you feel very intrusive, or like you’re the Great American Supergawker. Which maybe you are, but in my mind there was a line of respect you didn’t want to cross.

One was the warmth of the people. I felt like everyone was always smiling and laughing, they greet each other warmly by pressing their heads and cheeks together two or three times (changing sides), and even as teens and young adults – and boys – walk down the street literally hand in hand, and they are so, so, so very responsive and grateful when you make as small an attempt as to say “hello” or “thank you” in their native language of Amharic. I never saw one fussy child (and we saw a LOT of children). You might look at them and think they have very little, but maybe the thing is that we all have so much?

The other is that you’ll never see harder workers. Some people still have to walk 5 or 6 kilometers for water, and the women do it and carry 40+ pounds of it all the way home, often in bare feet. One of the clearest visions I have in my head is of a mother walking up a big hill, water container on her back, her hands underneath it, and by her side, a little girl who was maybe 3, carrying a little baby sized one. She will carry water her whole life and will never know anything different. And who is handling the cattle during the day, bringing them out and back in, and watching over them all the while? 6 year old boys. What a huge responsibility.

I am still struggling for the best one-word response when someone asks me how my trip was. A word that infers it was more of a ten-day experience than it was a vacation, that it was travel with the intent to learn and to have my eyes opened, a trip that will leave me more things to think about than I have pictures of. Amazing? Incredible? Maybe the best bet is unforgettable.

The End. (Thank goodness, right?)

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Ethiopia – Part II (Aksum and the Simien Mountains)

Moving along.

Aksum. The morning after our day in Lalibela, we hopped a short flight to Aksum. Aksum was one of the biggest surprises for me on the trip. All I knew (or all that I really heard maybe…hey, I’ve got selective hearing sometimes too) is that we were going to see some stelae (or obelisks) – which, after having seen some speckled throughout Spain, fascinate C but leave me bewildered (translation: yawning) and thinking they just look like, well, big phallic symbols. The ones in Aksum were totally different.

They date back to the 3rd and 4th century, range from 1 to 33 meters in height, and lie on a field of tombs only very partially excavated – meaning most archeologists believe you are basically walking around on top of a field of real, honest-to-goodness treasure. COOL. In fact our guide told us that is the case practically throughout the entire town, that there is a world waiting to be discovered at every turn. Sorta made me want to grab a shovel, ya know?

Our first stop was to see the excavated palace of Queen of Sheba, dating back to 3,000 BC. Wild, right?

Our first stop was to see the excavated palace of Queen of Sheba, dating back to 3,000 BC. Apparently she was quite the lady. Wild, right?

The stelae field. The tallest one toppled, they just weren't set up deep enough or with enough balance to stay up forever. You can see some of the others have support.

The stelae field. The tallest one toppled, they just weren’t set up deep enough or with enough balance to stay up forever. You can see some of the others have support.

Our guide here was awesome. All our guides were great really, but he not only knew a ton, he also walked us through the market, took us to a very local place for lunch, and showed us what felt like a very insider view of the city.

One of the market vendors.

One of the market vendors. Few things say more about the way a city works than its market. We always go no matter where we are.

A market shot. Few things say more about the way a city works than its market. We always go no matter where we are.

Another market shot. Mules are a STAPLE in Ethiopia.

Lunch, Ethiopian style. This is how they serve injera - the teff based pancake like "bread" - on a big plate for sharing, topped with little mounds of different things. They were in a period of fasting when we were there - 40 days before their Christmas celebration, called Timket. So these are all veggie based. Looks odd, but was REALLY good. Yum.

Lunch, Ethiopian style. This is how they serve injera – the teff based pancake like “bread” – on a big plate for sharing, topped with little mounds of different things. They were in a period of fasting when we were there – 40 days before their Christmas celebration, called Timket, on January 17. So these are all veggie based. Looks odd, but was REALLY good. Yum.

Ethiopians are very proud of their coffee, and coffee rituals. The way they make it is pretty cool, and we stopped for some nearby the stelae. They start with the green coffee beans (yeah, I didn’t know they were green to start either), roast them in a little pan – which is when they start to smell and look like the coffee beans we are all used to seeing, grind the beans by hand with a big mortar and pestle, then begin the process of adding water and boiling and mixing until it turns into coffee. It is a bit thicker and stronger than most coffee drinkers, but it is less bitter and actually has a very good taste. And no, they don’t drink it with milk.

Roasting the beans. And that other hand is fanning the fire. Starbucks Shmarbucks.

Roasting the beans. And that other hand is fanning the fire. Starbucks Shmarbucks.

After a great day and a really nice evening having dinner at a restaurant owned by the nicest couple, an American man and his wife who was Ethiopian (interesting to get the perspective of a US Military dude from Virginia Beach living in Aksum!), the next morning we hopped on a flight to Gonder, dropped our non-camping stuff off at our hotel, and made our way straight to the mountains.

Simien Mountains. The park itself is a World Heritage site (BTW, notice a theme here…we saw ALL of Ethiopia’s UNESCO sites!) and is one of Africa’s principal mountain ranges. It was an adventure.

To go to the mountains, you are required to have a guide and a scout (a guy who carries an AK-47 or something along those lines). In our case, we also had a cook and two mule drivers, though they didn’t walk with us. They carried all the stuff we didn’t need during the day, the tents, food, etc., and met us at camp each day. We started our journey in Gonder, picked up our cook and headed to Debark to get our park licenses and pick up our guide and scout. So, off we went…all seven of us, in a not-so-new 4X4 vehicle bouncing along those gravel roads I mentioned until….OOPS…that axle came out. Like I mentioned in Part I, the driver tried unsuccessfully to fix it, so we ended up losing some time to that and eventually waiting for a new car, and arrived up at camp at dark.

Bright and early the next morning, we set out for a 15k hike. Our guide was like a little Morgan Freeman – his name was Get and he had been a guide for 20 years. He was FABulous. Knew every plant, bird, animal, where to stop to look for things – plus was an excellent judge of our (translation: MY) capabilities and pace, even better than I was of my own. More on that in a sec. We hiked, climbing from about 11,000 to 12,000 feet. It was gorgeous. And considering that’s not my normal elevation (snort), I wasn’t sure how I’d respond. Turns out I made it through the day brilliantly and then suddenly at night, I turned into little Miss Pukey Pants. OOOPS. The next day – feeling pretty much like dookie birds – we did 20km+ more. I had a terrible time catching my breath, didn’t want to eat, and basically decided an hour into the hike that I would rather live the rest of my life without teeth and eyebrows than continue. BUT dear, sweet, darling Get gauged me better…and even threw out the “well, if you really can’t go any farther, we can always get a horse.” Over. My. Dead. Body. So, the long and short of it was that I made it, SO glad I did, and overall, we really had an amazing three nights in the mountains. I’ll try and put some details into the story with some pics, so here ya go.

Our scout on the right, some children from mountain villages, and the spectacular scenery.

Our scout on the right, some children from mountain villages, and the spectacular scenery.

A mountain village we passed through.

A mountain village we passed through.

Camp, in the distance...we took a bit of a walk for a cool view after we got in that day.

Camp, in the distance…we took a bit of a walk for a cool view after we got in that day.

This eagle was amazing. We got so close and he didn't even budge.

This eagle was amazing. We got so close and he didn’t even budge.

C and Get on the lookout for wildlife.

C and Get on the lookout for wildlife.

From our highest point of just about 14,000 feet.

From our highest point of just about 14,000 feet.

There are between 5,000 - 6,000 Gelada monkeys in the park. They are awesome. They are also called lion monkeys because when they run, the the wind blows their hair and they look just like lions.

There are between 5,000 – 6,000 Gelada monkeys in the park. They are awesome. They are also called lion monkeys because when they run, the the wind blows their hair and they look just like lions.

It’s worth a chuckle to say that on our way back from the mountains, I prayed like 50% (okay fine, 80%) of the time. Our driver was tearing up and down these cliff edge roads, bumpy and gravelly and dusty, and all I could think was thank heavens my mother doesn’t know where I am right this moment. Holy Mary Mother of God. AND? And we got another flat on the way down.

We had to stop at the "tire store" to change it on the way back to Gonder. Yep, that's the tire store.

We had to stop at the “tire store” to change it on the way back to Gonder. Yep, that’s the tire store.

So, overall our mountain experience was nothing short of stellar. Covered head to toe in dust, and most certainly smelling like the four days we had gone unshowered, we made it back to Gonder for a whirlwind tour.

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Ethiopia – Part I (Some thoughts, Addis and Lalibela)

This was going to be such an epically long post, that I had to break it into three.

We just got back from Ethiopia. Yeah, I know, I would have said the same thing if someone told me they were going. We got reactions like “Seriously?” Or “What? Why?” And to be quite honest, C did nearly all the planning for the trip, so even I had a hard time answering that. I had sort of an idea, lots of history, mountains, UNESCO World Heritage sites…but not much more than that. Which is why, after being there for ten days, I am so looking forward to writing about it.

Let me begin by saying this is NOT a trip for luxury travelers. It is not a culinary mecca – though eating injera, the Ethiopian staple fermented pancake made of teff flour, is a very worthwhile experience – nor the next up and coming wine region. In the “nicest and newest” hotels,  you find things like ducktaped framework around elevators, a rather abysmal level of service, showers that go drippy-drip, and even the occasional flea issue (yeah, that was a fun one). To get from one place to another, you are often on unpaved and very rocky and bumpy roads – so much so that they call it the African massage – and riding in rather rickety vans that are clearly not built for the beating they take, and that you are nearly 100% sure are going to start dropping parts along the way (in our time there, in different vehicles, we got two flat tires and on one occasion almost lost the axle and hub from the wheel – which the driver promptly tried to fix by jerry-rigging a piece of canvas strap that he cut from the top of the van and nailing holes through it – and no, that didn’t even come close to working). Oh, and did I mention the speed they drive is as if they are riding on paved highway? Our driver even got a ticket once – talk about bizzareville, in the middle of nothing there was a guy with a radar! Go figure.

Having said all that…if you travel because you are interested in history, in seeing excavated ruins from 3,000 BC, massive rock churches carved from one piece of stone, mountains with spectacular scenery and cool wildlife, in observing a farming culture that still uses oxen, wooden plows and good ole human effort, in seeing a way of life so vastly different from your own…in other words, if you want to step into the pages of a feature article in National Geographic? Ehthiopia. Is. Amazing.

There is a LOAD of history to be read about the country – and interesting history at that, especially because of its recency. But because it is so easy to read about, I’ll stick to writing about my experience and suggest reading something like this or this. And if/when you do, or based on what you remember from the news, it’s easy to see how all this and the accompanying media coverage from that time has shaped people’s impression – they think Ethiopia and think famine, death and skinny cows. Not the case.

Because of the layout of the country, and accessibility of travel and roads, normally people choose to either do north or south Ethiopia. We did north.

Addis Abbaba. Our first stop, after a fun layover day in Istanbul (what a cool city, definitely must go back there!), was Addis. It is the capital of Ethiopia with a population of about 4,000,000 people…who appear to ALL be on the same street at the same time as you are no matter where you go. In one word? CHAOS. There is construction EVERYwhere, big cement buildings with hopes of being hotels or apartments (we were told by our guide that there is a huge housing shortage in the city), covered in scaffolding made of what appears to be very long and skinny tree trunks (OSHA would have a HEYday here). And at the same time, in front of those buildings, are lines of tin shack or mud and straw stores and houses, wandering goats, throngs and throngs of people going I don’t know where, and people washing themselves out of buckets. Traffic is INSANE. There are big traffic circles, but with no circles. Cars coming in from five or six different ways crossing haphazardly to exit on the other side somewhere. But yet, it’s all sort of controlled chaos – I imagine from above it might look like a beehive.

Addis was the only city we navigated on our own (at least for a day – in the rest of the cities we visited we had local guides), we simply hired a taxi to take us to the places we wanted to see. We visited some interesting museums – including the requisite stop to see Lucy at the National Museum, the Red Terror Museum, and the St. George Cathedral.

Pardon me for a minute while I channel my inner Ricky Ricardo. "LUUUUUUUUUUUUCYYYYYYYYYYY!" Snicker.

Pardon me for a minute while I channel my inner Ricky Ricardo. “LUUUUUUUUUUUUCYYYYYYYYYYY!” Snicker.

I will state strongly and firmly at this point that one day is Addis is PLENTY. It is crowded and overwhelming, and not the kind of city you can stroll around on your own. Thanks to a cancelled flight the following day, we were forced to extend our time in Addis but headed out of the city to see Tiya.

The stellae at Tiya, a World Heritage site, mark the graves of individuals who died 700 years ago.

The stellae at Tiya, a World Heritage site, mark the graves of individuals who died 700 years ago. The carvings represented number of killings – of animals, robbers, what have you – and therefore were an indication of status.

Advisory: 80’s flashback. Remember the fine words of Notorious B.I.G? “Goin back to Cali…I don’t think so.” Yeah, well, we changed that to “Goin back to Addis….I don’t want to.” So there’s that.

Lalibela. The next day – thank heavens – we hopped a flight through Gonder to Lalibela. The primary draw to Lalibela is its famous rock hewn churches. Dating from around 1181 – 1221, these magnificent churches (and you will rarely find me using “magnificent” and “churches” so close together in the same sentence unless I am saying it was magnificent to get a break from seeing so many of them…which was NOT the case here) are carved out of stone and each one is like it’s own piece of art. Legend says the construction was completed in 23 years because of a nighttime “angelic workforce” lending a hand to the daytime workers.

Walking down to see the first church - a good shot to see the massiveness of it. The rooves on several were built for protection, you can imagine the stone takes a beating from the weather.

Walking down to see the first church – a good shot to see the massiveness of it. The roofs on several were built for protection, you can imagine the stone takes a beating from the weather.

A priest reading prayer next to another church. You might notice the swastika looking symbol - hard to believe that before it represented something evil, it had religious representation instead.

A priest reading prayer next to another church. You might notice the swastika looking symbol – hard to believe that before it represented something evil, it had religious meaning instead.

One of the coolest churches in the group - again, note the size. Really amazing.

One of the coolest churches in the group – again, note the size. Really amazing.

A village nearby.

A village nearby.

After seeing the churches, we had some time so we found someone to take us up to see the Asheton Maryam monastery, high atop a hill with spectacular views.

The monastery, C in the distance, our guide on the right, and a fantastic view.

The monastery, C in the distance, our guide on the right, and a fantastic view.

One of the resident monks showing us a collection of crosses.

One of the resident monks showing us a collection of crosses.

We got up early the next morning (before sunrise) to go to see a daily worship service at one of the churches. We were basically the only whiteys (also known as “farangi” to the locals) in there for most of the time, so it was sort of a lovely and very local and natural experience. It was so interesting to watch the prayer rituals, and see the people come and go as a very basic part of their daily life.

The town waking up at dusk - such a great time to see everything come to life in any city.

The town waking up at dusk – such a great time to see everything come to life in any city.

The following day we headed to Aksum. On to Part II.

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My Annual Thanksgiving Post

I’ll skip the part where I say it’s been forever, because, well, that’s how I’ve started my last few posts. So I’m going with the assumption that it’s just a given. Moving on.

Today we had our Third Annual Corrales Thanksgiving. C is in the states this year, but I still love to celebrate it, and luckily my family and friends here are willing participants. And double lucky that the family chef is home to man the turkey and gravy side of things. The concept of large double ovens is so very lost on the Spaniards. Shame.

A little bit of the US at our Spanish Turkey Day. Love this shot.

A little bit of the US at our Spanish Turkey Day. Love this shot.

IMG_2576IMG_2577IMG_2578As always, I started yesterday…handled all the desserts (the crowd favorite, but also a lemony-cheesecakey experiment, and the requisite pumpkin component), chopped, boiled, and basically lined everything up for an easy day today. The awesome ladies in my life came over to help, which because I had all day and didn’t have too much to do, basically translated to hanging out with me in the kitchen. MY. FAVORITE. THING. EVER. Seriously. EVER.

We had 17 people this year, a combo of friends and family. All there just because I like to celebrate Thankgsiving. It’s awesome. Everything turned out great…and the turkey? The turkey was AWEsome. He got all fancy with it and was injecting it with Port and I don’t know what other crack magic, but it was the bomb.

About to cut into his work of art. We even had those little white turkey booties or whatever they're called. What are those called anyway? I don't even know what they are for. But they were fun.

About to cut into his work of art. We even had those little white turkey booties or whatever they’re called. What are those called anyway? I don’t even know what they are for. But they were fun.

Everyone, almost. Minus a few who were still brining in things from the kitchen. :-)

Everyone, almost. Minus a few who were still bringing in things from the kitchen.🙂

And besides family and good food, Thanksgiving is a good time to think about all the good stuff you’ve got in your life. So here is a partial list of things I’m thankful for:

1. Skype and FaceTime that let me see and talk to my family and friends in the states pretty much whenever I want. They make the ocean seem so much smaller.

2. The amazing people I am surrounded by here, friends and family, who love me like I’ve been a part of their world my whole life, take care of me, support me, humor me by participating in Thanksgiving every year, and who sit with me in the kitchen and drink wine.

3. My job. Not only because I have one (considering the situation in Spain) but because I totally dig it. I started a new job in October, teaching English for a national company in Santander. It seriously (ask C) has made me a much more pleasant person to be around. I mean it. I have a great variety of interesting adult students who have all kinds of interests and like to talk about different things, and who in general are just really nice, cool people. And my groups of kids I’d even go so far as to say are cute. I love going into the city every day, heck I even like taking the bus. Its just…it’s just GOOD.

4. My hubby. Cause he’s a good egg and he makes me laugh and he supports me and he deals with me when I get snarky (I know, it’s hard to believe a saint like myself gets snarky, I sometimes can’t believe it myself) and he is a little whacky sometimes and he buys me umbrellas that don’t flip inside out with the Cantabrian gusts of wind. All that and he likes my baking too.

5. My ninnies. Despite the fact that they wake me up before my alarm and they shed in a way that makes it impossible to feel like my house is ever totally clean AND that one of them thinks that pooping in the box is so not cool anymore, they are my little nuggets and they keep me company and are my little electric blankets in the winter.

"You're looking at me as though you'd like to use my bed, which isn't gonna happen, cause clearly I'm on it right now. Come back later."

“You’re looking at me as though you’d like to use my bed, which isn’t gonna happen, cause clearly I’m on it right now.”

"We're in your seat? I don't think we're totally clear on what you mean by that."

“We’re in your seat? I don’t think we’re totally clear on what you mean by that.”

6. I’m super happy this guy isn’t living under our house anymore.

Yeah. You should have seen my face before I composed myself enough to get my camera.

Yeah. You should have seen my face before I composed myself enough to get my camera. I think it’s blurry because I was shaking my head saying “That can’t be what I think it is.” But it was. So. There’s that.

7. And for newsy emails. I love newsy emails and my friends and family who like to write them. I eat them up, they make me feel very in-the-loop.

Like I said, it’s a partial list. I’m a lucky girl.

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