Summer Update

I have largely abandoned my blog since moving home from Spain in March, and I don’t really have anything to say about this, except … Oops! I never imagined how fast life could change. We left Spain on March 10, with two overloaded suitcases apiece and crossed our fingers we’d get a nice ticketing agent, which—miracle of miracles—indeed we did! There were no extra fees for out slightly overweight suitcases, and we arrived safely on U.S. soil, full of hopes and expectations and uncertain ideas of how our lives would pan out. Okay, we were really just anxious about the next month or so and if it would take forever to find a job. For the moment, we’d be living with my parents.

It’s interesting to think about the whole “living with your parents” thing, because Spaniards would not blink at an eye at this scenario. It’s only natural, of course, that we would choose to shack up with my mom and dad until we find jobs and, subsequently, a place of our own! Claro! But, upon talking to a former-classmate-turned-restaurant-server at a local watering hole, I found that my fellow Americans (ahem) were far more likely to reassure us that, yeah, it’s odd and it kind of sucks, but we’d find something soon, and we’d be out of there quick! It was almost as if they expected us to feel ashamed of living with my parents, when I felt nothing of the sort, having just lugged my whole life in four suitcases, two backpacks that weighed as though we’d packed them with bricks, and a pair of “personal items” that were frankly too large to be considered personal by anyone’s standards. I brushed off this condescension (unintentional as it might have been) and tried to think positive thoughts.

As our luck and gumption would have it, Mario soon found a job in Indiana’s capital, not far from my hometown. Once we ascertained where we’d be living, I started to look for jobs in the area … And again, I was lucky enough to find a position within a few weeks! I have to admit that it felt, again, like nothing short of a miracle.

By June, we were moved into a new apartment, and it felt as though we’d had a joint midlife crisis, as we purchased new everything: a sofa, a dining room table, a computer, a desk, a bookshelf, a king-size lovely comfortable bed set, and even a new car.

New Car Kaley MarioAnd life the last few weeks (how it it August already?!) has been full of summer fun: outdoor concerts, picnics, beer drinking under the stars, trying new restaurants, and just generally enjoying all the things Indiana summers have to offer, mosquitoes included. Some pictures for the two of you still reading … Oh yeah, and a visit to see our good Spanish-American couple friends in Chicago!

Kaley Mario Sears Tower Willis Tower Chicago Hilary Kaley Union Brewing Company Carmel Kaley Mario Conner Prairie Symphony on the PrairieAs you can see, Mario has adapted quite well to the culture, though we failed at getting him the traditional Old Navy American Flag shirt. The Target knockoff had to do in a pinch.

How are your summers? If you’re in Spain, please refrain from talking about tinto de verano or tapas or anything of the sort, and don’t even think the words jamón or salchichón, okay?

Visa Woes—Part 3

When we last left off my tale of our struggle to get Mario a green card, we had sent in all our documents to the NVC (National Visa Center), and we were waiting. Again. The NVC tells you that you will have to wait at least 60 days. If there is any error in the mountains of paperwork, you will have to fix them, and wait for another 60 days. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.

I decided to call the NVC on December 13, after about 90 days, to get an update on Mario’s status. I was dreading the phone call, in a way, because I knew there was a chance they would tell me I had committed some mistake, and there would be another 60-day waiting period. So it was with a bit of trepidation that I punched in the number and put the phone to my ear. I had a chance to calm myself, though, due to the 40-minute wait I went through! Is there anything worse than the music when you’re waiting to speak to someone at a call center? I wish there would just be … well, anything besides what they normally put out! The worst are the repeated messages that your call is important to them, blah, blah, blah. I get it!

Finally, though, a nice lady picked up the phone. I gave her our Case Number, and she informed that it was, and I quote, “Done.” Done? What did that mean, done? Complete? Everything’s okay? I think my rapid-fire style of questioning made her laugh, because she told me that, yes, we were approved.

We did it!

I asked her about the next step, the interview with a consular officer at the embassy. She told me that Mario would be scheduled for his interview in January, meaning the interview would be in February.

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Out West, Visiting Nevada and Tahoe

Before Mario got a job (update on that soon, and yes, he is amazing!), we decided to head out west to visit my brother and sister-in-law, who live in Nevada, close to Lake Tahoe, wine country, and Yosemite National Park. You know, no big deal. It’s not gorgeous out there or anything.

Mario was excited, as he’d never ventured farther west than Chicago. So naturally, he asked me if we would be flying over the Grand Canyon (known as El Cañon de Colorado, The Canyon of Colorado, in Spanish). We were flying to Reno, with a layover in Dallas, so naturallyl I had no idea. I’m not as terrible as the average person at geography, but still. The U.S. is a big place. We never got a clear-cut answer, but is this or is this not it?

Grand Canyon InstagramInstagram

On our way home from Reno, we stopped in Virginia City, a 19th-century boomtown that is now as touristy as a town can get, but it was fun to take Mario there. At one time, the town had 25,000 residents, but nowadays there are only about 855.

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How to See Venice on a Budget

Before I dive into it, thanks to Kaley for featuring me here on her blog! I was laughing pretty hard at her post about things that are different about her life in Spain—I love when things differ in those unexpected ways, but yeah, whenever I go to a gym abroad, I definitely still find greeting people in the locker room to be so awkward! So glad to hear I’m not the only one.

Venice is a beautiful city with a fascinating layout. It’s full of impressive buildings, delightful museums, and wonderful food. Unfortunately for most travelers, it’s a very expensive city to visit, and it often gets a reputation for being out of the reach of budget-minded tourists. But there are definitely plenty of ways to get into the culture without breaking the bank. Here are our top ten tips for doing Venice on a budget:

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  1. Be smart about your flights. Depending on where you’re coming from, flying directly into Venice may not be your cheapest option. Instead, look for flights into larger European cities like Rome or Paris and then figure out how to get to Venice from there. A word of warning: it used to be that the train was generally cheaper to get around Europe, but with so many budget airlines these days, you’ll likely find that flying is not only faster but cheaper!
  2. Take a free walking tour. The spread of free walking tours is definitely a boon to the budget-minded traveler. It used to be that if you wanted to take a city tour, you would have to pay a ton of money for a tour that might or might not be decent. With a free walking tour, though, you pay the guide a tip according to what you can afford and what you think the tour was worth. Looking to travel with fewer people or more flexibility? Grab the Venice Map and Walks app for your smartphone and you can be your own guide.
  3. Get that canal experience for less. Most people planning to go to Venice dream of taking a scenic cruise along the canals, but an hour’s gondola ride could set you back €80-100! Instead, catch the traghetti across the Grand Canal or one of the vaporetti (water buses) to travel along the canals. At €0.50 for a single ride on the former or €7/single on the latter, you’ll find they’re much cheaper. In fact, even a week’s ticket for the vaporetti is usually cheaper than an hour’s ride on a gondola!Venice2
  4. Think about getting a tourist card. Seeing the sights in Venice can get pricey. Many of the churches and most of the museums charge entrance fees—and if you plan to see a lot of them, it’s all going to add up fast. Of course, there are always the free exceptions: for example, you can see the historic St. Mark’s Basilica for free, although not the museum or the bell tower. But if you plan to see a lot of the churches or museums, you’ll probably find it’s much cheaper to spring for the Chorus Pass or Museum Pass.
  5. Get out of the city. Venice is one of the most-visited cities in Italy, and this fact is reflected in the prices. Although the city is undeniably a very attractive place to spend time, heading out into the countryside or to smaller towns is just going to show you more of Italy’s magic. Near Venice, you have a number of other beautiful and history-rich places like Padua, Treviso, Verona, and Bassano del Grappa, all of which are easily accessible by car or train.Venice3
  6. Hit the beach. You could also take a day out to the beach for an alternative to the city. Take a day relaxing on the Adriatic and scoping out all those hot Italian bods or working on your own gorgeous tan. There are plenty of options for beaches in the area, many of which are easy enough to get to using public transportation.
  7. Enjoy Italian cuisine. Italian food is often considered some of the best food in the world—with pizza, pasta, Paninis, pastries, and plenty more. Of course, eating out for every meal can get expensive, but with a little savvy and some planning, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy a little bit of everything at budget restaurants. Look for places a bit outside of the normal tourist area and you’ll generally find much better prices—and remember that many restaurants will charge you a little extra for sitting at a table rather than standing at the counter. When in doubt, follow the students: they’ll usually lead you to some good, cheap food.Venice4
  8. Don’t be afraid to be a tourist…in moderation. There are a ton of debates out there about the virtues of being a traveler rather than a tourist, but there’s nothing wrong with being a tourist—after all, there’s a reason places like St. Mark’s Basilica or the Doge’s Palace are famous! That said, don’t feel like you have to be doing something cultural at every minute; its fine to take a night to relax and catch up on your favorite shows. (But remember that you’ll need to use a virtual private network when you’re travelling abroad: usually sites like Netflix or Hulu have certain geo-restrictions, but a VPN will hide your true location and get you access to those sites as though you were back home.)
  9. Don’t spend all your money on accommodation. One of the most expensive parts of your trip will likely be your accommodation. Especially during peak tourist season, you’ll find that hotels in Venice aren’t cheap. But rather than blow all your money on a fancy hotel, you might look at hostels instead—they don’t just offer dorm rooms anymore! Instead, you can likely find a small private room for much cheaper than at a hotel. Or if you’re really looking for a budget place to stay, try AirBnB or Couchsurfing.
  10. Don’t pinch pennies. Travelling on a budget is one thing, but missing all the important sights and activities in a city is another thing entirely. You’re going in Venice to get the true Venetian experience; don’t spend your whole trip worrying about how much things cost. Sure, even the museum pass is expensive—but do you really want to only see the exteriors of all the buildings? Find a balance between cutting costs and getting immersed in the culture and history.

Although it is entirely possible to spend fortunes on a trip to Italy, it is equally possible to do the country on a budget without losing out on all the charm. From the plazas to the canals, Venice is a lovely city, of equal interest to the romantic, the photographer, the historian, the ethnographer, the family, or whoever else. Your time in Venice will absolutely be worth the cost—but better if you do a little prior planning and minimize that cost!

Jane

Hi, my name is Jess Signet. My parents were travelers since before I was born. Even in the womb, I was able to travel all over the place! Boy, did things NOT change as I grew older!
Knowing there’s more to the world than the bubble I live in made me want to travel even further. Traveling is my drug and I’m addicted. (Please, no intervention!)