For the past 6 weeks, a lot of my time in Barcelona has been spent studying Spanish and simultaneously neglecting this blog. I attend class 5 days a week, 4 hours a day and have been supplementing with Duolingo, podcasts, reading basic Spanish books on my Kindle, watching TV in Spanish and attending language exchanges I find on Meetup. After 6 weeks, my vocabulary has improved and I can read and write a little better and say basic sentences but once someone talks to me too fast I’m lost. It’s been fun though and I’m really enjoying it.
For my first break (for Easter weekend we had Friday and Monday off) I went to Malta. My friend Sarah from the US, who currently lives in Amsterdam, and I had planned a long weekend trip to Malta a couple of months before I had left the US.
To be honest, like many other North Americans, I hadn’t heard of Malta before. Malta is a fascinating island. It is actually a group of islands, the primary one being Malta itself. They speak two official languages, Maltese and English. Many signs are in English. And in case you were wondering, yes this is where the Maltese dog is believed to have originated from.
- It is about 200 miles south of Sicily
- They use the Euro
- They are an independent country, having gained independence from Britain in 1964. They drive on the left and you can still find red phone booths around
- They have some of the oldest buildings in the world
There is a direct flight to Malta from Barcelona on Vueling, offered a few times a week in the evening. I left at 9:45pm Thursday evening and arrived in Malta close to midnight. The hotel we reserved was on The Strand which is a street facing the harbor. The hotel itself was directly above a crowded bar and there was a separate entrance for guests.
The first morning I had a few hours on my own before Sarah would arrive. After finding a delicious sandwich and juice at and organic juice bar, I made my way to Independence Gardens which was listed as one of the top 10 “Things To Do” for Sliema on TripAdvisor. It mentioned a cat sanctuary and statue. My inner crazy cat lady was sold. In total it was about a mile walk through Sliema, and every so often I stopped to take pictures of the old buildings, painted windows and the traces of British influence. Once at the gardens, I admired the giant cat statue and the views of the bay with a latte and a couple of cats.
Back at the hotel, Sarah arrived and we walked down the Strand intending to take the ferry to Valletta, which is 1.50€ and about a 10 minute trip. On our way, one of the tour guide operators asked us if we were interested in a tour of Gozo and Comino for the following day. We skeptically listened to his spiel until he mentioned that the ferry had an open bar, and then we immediately handed over our credit cards.
Day 2 – Gozo and Comino Island Tour
After an evening exploring Valletta and taking a packed bus back to Sliema, we went to sleep and the next morning at 9:30am we boarded the ferry for a 10am departure. 1.5 hours and a few plastic cups of wine later, we were in Gozo and were instructed to get on a bus, which would be the next part of the tour. Neither of us watch Game of Thrones but we were still little disappointed we wouldn’t get to see the Azure Window. We took pictures of where people seemed to think it used to be, I’m still not entirely sure we were looking in the right direction.
Back on the bus and to the next destination, Victoria, which is the capital of Gozo. In typical “organized tour” fashion, we were ushered to a particular place to eat lunch and encouraged to grab something to go so we would have enough time to check out the city. We ordered sandwiches and ate them at a small table in the middle of the street.
The next part of the tour was Comino Island so back on the boat we went. The Blue Lagoon has amazingly clear and beautiful water. The water was a little chilly and the small beach was pretty crowded with tourists but it was so beautiful.
That night we had dinner at Zeri’s, in the St. Julian’s/Paceville area. I liked this area of Sliema, to me it felt less “Miami touristy” than the Strand. We didn’t make reservations but they were able to seat us at the bar. The whole experience was great, the food was good and the service was excellent.
The following day, Easter Sunday, we took a tour of Sicily that we had booked through Malta Travel Net. This required waking up in the middle of the night at the insane hour of 4:00am to be on the ferry at 5:30am per the instructions. However, the ferry didn’t actually leave until 6:30am. The ferry had a small selection of food and drinks, and a small gift shop.
Once arriving in Pollazzo, Sicily we boarded a coach bus and the first part of the trip was an approximately 90 minute drive up through the province of Catania. I tried to stay awake but after miles and miles of the same view I fell asleep.
Finally, we stopped in a little town called Nicolosi and sampled delicious pastries and drank coffee.
From there we headed up to Mt. Etna which is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. We were given a little over an hour at Mt. Etna, with the option to purchase a gondola ride to the peak of Mt. Etna.
Sarah and I opted to sit in one of the restaurants and drink wine instead. Since we were in Sicily I decided I should order spaghetti which was decent, considering we were at a tourist trap.
While we were at lunch it had started raining and had gotten windy. As we walked back to the coach we were both regretting our outfits of sundresses and sandals and given that neither of us had read the description of the tour (or the weather report apparently), we were not sure what to expect next, and were not particularly hopeful. But it didn’t really matter, I mean, we were in Sicily and there was wine, what else could we ask for?
That question had an answer, and the answer was Modico. We boarded the coach and it headed back down towards Pollazzo to our last and final stop, the small city of Modico. Miraculously the sun came out. Modico was a pleasant surprise with its beautiful churches and narrow streets and staircases to explore.
Sarah had a friend we had met up with that had recommended visiting Marsaxlokk, so our last day we took the bus to this quaint fishing village for lunch. We first had to take the bus to Valletta and then transfer to another bus for Marsaxlokk, the whole trip took about an hour. We had lunch at a delicious seafood restaurant near the water, and then walked around and admired the colorful boats.
All in all, it was a great trip to a beautiful and interesting place. Grazzi Malta!
It’s been so long since I’ve posted that I almost forgot how to update my blog. Thank goodness for Google. 😂
So 4 weeks after I had applied for my visa, the consulate e-mailed me and told me it was ready and that I would have to bring my passport along with my travel itinerary for them to issue the visa. I scheduled to pick up the visa February 6th and back to San Francisco I went with my passport and a print out of my flight details. It took just a few minutes and I walked out with a visa affixed to my passport with the date I was entering Spain.
Now that I’m actually in Spain, I’m discovering that the next part of the process, obtaining my NIE card (an ID card for foreigners, which also permits my residency for up to a year), is also no easy task. The visa in my passport is actually only good for 3 months, you have to obtain the NIE card as well as part of the process. But that’s a blog post for another day.
I’ve been here for 9 days now and am staying in a small 1 bedroom flat I booked on Airbnb. My mom flew out with me and stayed for 6 days. We had a great time exploring the city, doing the touristy things, visiting the sights, shopping, eating tapas, and visiting family. Unfortunately the last day she was here, when we were supposed to go shopping and to Sagrada Familia, we were both sick from some bad seafood we had eaten at my aunt’s house the night before. Aunt was also sick, so we knew it was something we all ate. After sleeping until 3pm, I woke up feeling a little better, but then homesickness kicked in and I half-thought about flying home with my mom (there’s no way I would have done that, but the thought did cross my mind). Luckily, after a good night’s sleep I felt much better in all respects.
After my mom left on Wednesday, I spent the next couple of days recovering, fighting a cold, organizing my apartment, doing some shopping for necessities and food, and watching Big Bang Theory (dubbed in Spanish for practice) on Netflix. I also spent some time with my family who live outside of the city. Today is Saturday, and it was pouring down rain most of the day, but I had some more errands to run. My big task of the day was to find a notebook to bring to Spanish classes that start on Monday. They had a small selection at Servei Estació (which is a decent-sized, 7-level hardware/electronics/home goods store, that sells many things, although a bit pricey), but I wanted to see if I could find an actual office supply store, somewhere that sold notebooks that were not only more reasonably priced but had lined paper instead of grid paper, which is apparently a thing here. So I used my trusty Google Maps and searched for some places, and decided to go check out Folder Papelerías which is about 2 km away. If it hadn’t been raining I probably would have walked there, but instead I grabbed my umbrella and took the metro. It was about 4pm when I got there and the streets were empty (probably due to siesta time, or the rain, or both) and it was quite peaceful. My route took me up Carrer de Corint, which is not actually a street but a pleasant pedestrian pathway.
On my way back to the flat, I found another little store called Wolala that reminded me of a combination of two aisles of Target and a RadioShack, it had some of the things you could find at Servei Estació but at cheaper prices, I bought a small bamboo cutting board for 2€.
Tomorrow should be a clear day and I’m thinking of renting a bike to explore the city some more. Pics to come! Follow my insta @wineandpassports!
Wow, I just re-read my last blog post and it was super boring. I almost fell asleep reading it. Sorry about that. Luckily, I did everything correct for the Apostille crap because about 2 weeks later (mid-December) I received my self addressed stamped envelope back from Sacramento in the mail with the Apostille on my document. So with that, I had pretty much everything I needed except for the passport photos and the 3 forms filled out (Visa application, EX-01 and Authorization Form M790 C052), and the notarized document explaining why I wanted to go to Spain, which I had kind of forgotten about. Luckily that was something that could be whipped up in a matter of minutes, no need to wait on a government office. I wrote in the letter how I wanted to immerse myself in the Spanish culture and spend time with family, and summarized some of the requirements and what I had provided to meet those requirements.
The appointment itself was the next day on Monday, January 9th. I got to San Francisco 45 minutes early and found a parking spot close by. I went by Starbucks and used the restroom and ordered a chestnut praline latte (I’m gonna miss the holiday flavors) and walked around a bit. Then 10 minutes before my appointment I went inside. When I first envisioned the consulate I envisioned something like the passport office in downtown SF, but looking it up on Google street view a few weeks prior showed me otherwise, it’s actually a smallish building on a fairly quiet street. The door was locked but I was buzzed in.
Note: The U.S. Department of State will not issue an Apostille for state-issued documents.
State issued documents destined for use in Hague Apostille countries may be authenticated by the Competent Authority in the state where the document was executed. A list of these authorities can be found on the Hague website.
I clicked the link for the Hague website and found my way to this page http://www.sos.ca.gov/notary/authentication/
“Please find attached a document from the State of California Department of Justice that requires an Apostille certificate for the country of Spain, for visa/immigration purposes.”
“The California Secretary of State authenticates signatures only on documents issued in the State of California signed by a notary public or the following public officials and their deputies”
(If you just want to get to the Visa requirements, scroll down)
Updates highlighted below 1/13/17. Please also refer to the instructions from the SF consulate or from your local consulate.
- Application Form – The main application form for the Spanish residence visa, downloadable from consulate website.
- Notarized Document – I left this off the original post. I also needed a letter explaining why I am requesting this visa to go to Spain, the purpose, where I plan to stay, etc.
- Passport Photos – Two passport photos will need to be sent in with the application.
- Passport – I’ll need to provide my passport and I think they keep it during processing. Which means I won’t be able to travel internationally while my visa is getting approved.
- Residence Form – Separate application (EX-01), for Spain residence permit which is separate from the residence visa. Also downloadable from the consulate website.
- Medical Certificate – Medical certificate from a doctor stating I am in good health and don’t suffer any illnesses that would threaten public health. The certificate needs to be signed and on a doctor’s letterhead and needs to be issued in the current place of residence. It needs to specifically state “the patient has been examined and been found free of any contagious diseases according to the International Health Regulation 2005″. My doctor had no problem doing this.
- Criminal Record History – Criminal Record History from either my home state (California) or the FBI (if California didn’t issue background checks, but it looks like they do). This can take 30-60 days to process. Then, I will have to get the document legalized by something called the “Apostille of the Hague” stamp. This process can take another 1-2 weeks. And then, the final document has to be translated into Spanish. This was quicker than I thought, likely because I could go through the state and not the FBI. The next two blog posts cover this in more details.
- Health Insurance –Travel/health insurance which covers emergency medical expenses and repatriation services with minimum coverage of 30.000€. The blog I read used World Nomads so I will check them out. I did end up going with World Nomads which was accepted.
- Proof of Sufficient Funds – I will have to show my monthly income or savings account to prove I have enough money to live on in Spain. I showed the last 3 months of my savings account and my stock plan from work.
- Proof of Accommodation – A rental, lease or ownership agreement to prove I have a place to stay in Spain. Or a letter from my family saying I can stay with them. Oddly enough, this isn’t a requirement according to the San Francisco consulate, but is required at other consulates. However, I included it anyway just to be safe. Since I have family there, it was easy for me to ask for a letter from them inviting me to stay. My cousin also included a copy of her ID and a recent bill in her name. I have read on other blogs that an Airbnb or other type of reservation, even if not for the entire year, is acceptable as well.
- Visa Fee – Visa fee is $140, payable by cash or a money order.
- Authorization for residence M790 C052 – I also missed this the first time. This is another form downloadable from the consulate website. There is also an authorization fee associated with this. In my case it was $11, on top of the $140 visa fee. I brought $200 cash to my appointment (for both the visa and this fee) because I wasn’t sure how much this would be.
- US Residency – If you’re a US resident but not a citizen, you have to prove your valid immigration into the US.
- Spouse/Family – If you have a spouse or family you will have to repeat the above steps for each of them.