Marriages in Spain

Yesterday, after a few months, we went out for drinks after work. However, it wasn’t a normal drinking session; we were drinking to celebrate the upcoming marriage of one of our colleagues. In fact, he is probably getting hitched as I write this. We visited the same bar we used to earlier, and there was quite a turnout-close to 10 people. The occasion got me thinking about the concept of marriage in Spain and how it is different from other parts of the world.

My colleague decided not to host a grand wedding. Instead, he chose to get married in a simple 10 minute civil ceremony with no more than 2 guests, although the truth is they are witnesses and are legally required to be there. There was also another “grander” 30 minute option also available. I asked him about why he chose to forgo the traditional wedding ceremonies and the answer was straightforward and simple: to save his money, and avoid the emotional stress and chaos.

Somehow, the traditional concept of marriage and weddings is fast losing momentum in Spain, even though it is a predominantly Catholic country. Increasingly, Spaniards simply co-habitate or opt for the pareja de hecho option, meaning domestic or common law partnership. It is a recognition by the state of the stable relationship between 2 individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation. It does not bestow all the same rights as marriage, but does give a certain level of legal recognition and protection to the relationship and the persons involved. The increasingly popularity of forgoing marriage is evident in the statistics. In the year 2011, the number of consensual unions stood at close to 15%, more than double the 6% of 2001.

According to Eurostat, the Official Statistical Organization of the EU, the incidence of marriage in Spain has reduced over the past 30 years, going from 5.3 marriages for every 1,000 inhabitants in 1981 to 3.3 in 2013. In fact, it goes on to point out that “the average age at first marriage has increased by 8 years from 1981 to 2013, going from 25.2 to 33.2 years.” In the same vein, the average number of children per woman has dropped down from 2.03 in 1981 to 1.27 in 2013, and the average age of motherhood in Spain has increased from 25.2 years in 1981 to 30.4 years in 2013.

Another interesting fact is that although people are not getting married, or getting married much later in life, the laws are still playing catch up. Believe it or not, until very recently Spain had the lowest marriage age in Europe. Boys and girls could get married as early as 14, with the consent of a judge. The age has now been raised to 16, and is on par with most European countries. You can read more about it here.

Back to the topic at hand, there are still those that do go the traditional route of getting married and maybe even have a wedding ceremony. Even here, something really impressed me for its forward thinking. The traditional wedding registry/gift list is going out of fashion, and it is becoming increasingly common (even expected) to gift money to help the couple start out their lives together. In fact, couples now even include their bank account number on the invitation cards so that attendees can conveniently transfer the gift amount online!

I’ll keep this post short and end here, leaving you to digest this food for thought.

Have a great weekend!

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The Magic of Protein

In April of this year, I embarked upon a journey. It’s a journey I’ve embarked upon countless times in the last few years. The only difference is that this time, I completed it. I set my mind to reaching a target weight and thanks to a dedicated morning gym routine and some help from a serious case of the flu, I achieved that goal.

Having achieved that goal, and frankly having gotten bored with running, I found myself less inclined to visit the gym. I’d wake up every morning trying to drag myself out of bed to go workout, but laziness got the best of me. I needed something- a new goal to work towards. After some thought, I decided I might go back to working out with weights to tone and build some muscle mass; something I used to be very active with years back, but ended up dropping to focus on other things.

One of the biggest problems I’ve had with working with weights is the inevitable soreness that follows. Depending on the intensity of the workout, howsore often you work out, etc. this soreness can start right away, and last for up 2-3 days. It’s a dreadful and painful soreness that makes you not want to get out of bed and severely limits your ability to perform even the most basic physical tasks.

Some desktop research told me the technical term is DOMS, which is short for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.  Wikipedia tells me that the soreness is “attributed to the increased tension force and muscle lengthening” from certain types of exercises. I also learned it is the result of micro trauma, essentially tiny tears in your muscle. Now that I had figured out the reason for the soreness, the next logical step was to figure out how to prevent, or at least minimize it so that I could get back to visiting the gym often.

In doing research and talking to my extremely fit little brother, I discovered that consuming dietary protein might help alleviate or even prevent the soreness. Apparently, whey protein contains large amounts of proteins and amino acids, something the body needs and uses to repair the micro tears. Ideally consumed right after the workout, whey is a fast digesting source of protein that boosts muscle recovery after an intense workout. Experts recommend taking it with carbohydrates to facilitate faster delivery to the muscles. Apart from preventing soreness, it is also said to have numerous other benefits like boosting immunity, promoting heart health, preventing cancer, and more.

I poked around on Amazon and found it wasn’t cheap. I visited Decathlon, my favorite sports store chain, and found it was still expensive (almost € 25 for a kilo), but surprisingly a bit cheaper than Amazon. During my visit to the store, I also found there are different types of proteins, each with its own benefits.  I found a chart that I have recreated below that proved to be very useful in helping me choose the right type of protein.

PT

Getting to the point, I have been performing short medium intensity workouts for the last 2 days, and consuming the recommended 30g of whey protein isolate powder with milk within 30 minutes of my workout. The result: an awesome feeling of positivity and well-being thanks to the workout, with little to no soreness, thanks to the protein.

Boo-Yah!

Summer Travels Part 2: Austria & Germany

Continued from Part 1…

After a wonderful time in Croatia and Slovenia, we took a short flight into Munich. We landed in Munich an hour later, after a surprisingly peaceful and calm flight. We rented cars at the airport, and drove straight to the hotel.

Third stop: Austria

We started early the next morning. After getting a heavy breakfast, we settled in for the long drive to Hallstatt. A small (Really small! The population in the year 2014 was 788) and picturesque town, it is settled along the banks of the Hallstätter See lake.

Upon arriving, we went straight to the Hallstatt salt mine. Following a very steep funicular ride which boasted breath-taking views (pictured below: first from left), followed by a 15 minute uphill walk, a 20-30 minute standing wait and another 5-10 minute steep uphill walk, our tour began. We were given colorful overalls to wear, which served to protect our clothes from water droplets containing mineral deposits that might stain our clothes. The tour started with a 15 minute walk deep into the mountain.

hmAs we went deeper, the temperature dropped drastically. It was also interesting to note the changing materials and forms of the support structures of the mines (pictured above: second from left). We walked through the mine, learning about the deposits, and how they came to be since the formation of the earth. We also learned about the so-called Hallstatt Era when the importance of salt (or white gold, as they referred to it) made this place very significant.

Apart from the educational aspect, there were also a couple of fun elements mixed in. For example, we rode Europe’s longest underground slide (pictured above: top right). At 210 feet long, this wooden monster shoots you through the cave, breathless and screaming. Once it’s over, you only wish you could do it again. The entire experience probably lasted an hour and a half, and culminated in a fast mini-train ride that leaves you freezing because of the cold winds, and then deposits you just outside the mine under the scorching sun.

After the mines, we went back down to Hallstatt. This quaint town seems miles away from any worries or bothers, nestled comfortably between mountains. We sat by the lake, dipping our feet in its cool waters, watching the fish and duck swim by. We lay in the grass, and enjoyed the tranquility of the lake. We also enjoyed walking through this old-world town, taking in the charming pedestrian-only streets, rustic houses and the endearing city center (pictured below: first from right).

HC1.jpgFourth Stop: Germany

The next morning we only had a few hours in Munich before our flight back home. Due to the short amount of time we had on hand, we weren’t able to get in any sight-seeing, but we didn’t waste our time lazing around either. There was absolutely no way we were leaving Germany without downing some local beer. So, we headed straight to a nearby beer garden, where we enjoyed great beers in the famous Maßkrugs, magnificent 1 liter mugs, and munched down on delicious German pretzels.

Over cold beers on a hot day, we bid adieu to this great little summer family vacation.

BGProst!
(Cheers in German)

Food for thought: The Hamster Wheel & You

Yesterday, the world celebrated a relatively new phenomenon: Prime Day. Or, as I like to call it, another excuse to entice people into spending their hard-earned money on things they don’t really need day.

This leads me to a subject that the Honey Bee and I have discussed on various occasions.

Growing up as a child, you understandably want things. That new toy in the market, that cool new remote-controlled car, or that hot new video game that all your friends have. As a child, you can’t really be expected to filter your wants based on whether it is something you really need. As an adult however, you can and that’s what parents are for. That being said, not all adults are able to distinguish their own wants from their needs.

Think about it…how many times have you been to the mall, or been browsing Amazon’s website and you see something that you’ve never seen before and suddenly, you really want it. You want it more than anything, even though you’ve never really ever felt the need for it, until this very moment. What happens next? Consider two scenarios:

WMScenario 1: You give in to your impulses, and spend your hard-earned money on a whim. You receive the article in a few days (or hours) and play with it for a Couple of days. Then you forget about it. The next time you see it is when you’re decluttering your home. You probably don’t even remember buying it and it eventually ends up in the trash.

Scenario 2: You behave like a responsible adult and separate your needs from your wants. You are able to discern that this is not something you have ever wanted before. In a couple of days, or even hours, your life goes back to being the way it was before you saw the article and you probably forget about ever having wanted it.

Note that both scenarios end in the same way: with you not having the article anymore. The only difference is that the first is the more expensive route.

Throughout our lives we spend so much on accumulating useless stuff which maybe give us a few fleeting seconds of “happiness” and then eventually gets thrown away. Imagine instead:

  • spending it on trips & holidays making memories you will relish forever
  • saving it and being able to afford to quit your job and dedicate yourself entirely to doing something that you really love and that really matters to you
  • paying down your debt with it and working your way towards a financially stable and debt-free life

These are just a few examples off the top of my head, but imagine all the possibilities if you save that money, or better yet invest it.

“I make myself rich by making my wants few.”
–Henry David Thoreau

It’s funny but every day I see people complaining about how much and how long they have to work, but I just don’t get it.

People’s expenses increase because they spend on things they don’t necessarily want or need. Consequentially, they have to work harder to support that more expensive lifestyle.
Or vice-versa, lifestyle inflation occurs: People make more money, and then the expenses go up. Nonetheless, the end result is the same: you work harder and longer, make more money, and at the end of it all save less. And, all you have to show for it is a bunch of useless stuff cluttering up your life.

It’s an endless cycle that results in you running faster and faster just trying to keep up. Doesn’t it instead make more sense to simply get off the hamster wheel, or at least slow it down? If you want less, you will spend less. If you spend less, you will need less and consequently won’t waste your whole life exhausted from running after some senseless and irrational goal.

HW

Instead, you can be richer (in every sense of the word) and have more free time to spend doing the things you love and with the people who matter to you.

“The less you want, the richer you are. The more you need in order to be happy, the more miserable you’ll be.”
–Yanni

Think about it. Henry D. Thoreau and Yanni certainly did.

 

 

Revisiting Tossa de Mar (Pictures)

Recently, we had more family visiting and that gave us an excuse to revisit the beautiful Tossa de Mar, that I talked about earlier.

We had such a great time the last time we went, we repeated everything, including the restaurant, our spot on the beach, etc.

Only this time, we ensured we took a lot of pictures to share here. So, here’s Tossa in all its splendor and glory for you to enjoy.

Summer Travels Part 1: Croatia & Slovenia

This summer we traveled to Croatia, Slovenia, Austria and Germany over an 8 day period. We traveled with family and were blessed with good weather for the most part. Since the trip spanned so many places, I will try to crystallize the experiences and focus on the highlights. Instead of wasting space with paragraphs of text, I will include numerous images and as you will see, each image speaks volumes for itself.

We had a lot of fun on this trip and returned home more tired than we were before we left. We did a lot of wonderful sight-seeing, but definitely were not able to get in as much rest and family time as I’d have liked.

Let’s jump right into it:

First stop: Croatia. We spent 3 nights here. We spent 2 days in the capital Zagreb, taking in the sights and sounds of the city. It’s a medium-sized city where people are very friendly and things are much cheaper than Western Europe. Most of the main tourist attractions were pretty concentrated around the center. It’s easy (and fun) to get lost strolling around the quaint cobbled streets, grabbing a beer in one the many street side cafes, stopping by the main farmers’ market, and hopping in and out of esoteric museums. We tried the museum of torture, which I’d recommend if you’re not faint of hearted, and the museum of broken relationships, which I thought was a complete waste of time and money and would advise you to avoid at all costs. Croatia’s old school communist provenance is also fairly visible in the older buildings and tramcars that dot the city.

Day 2 we visited the Plitvice Lakes National Park. This place’s fame was the entire reason Croatia even made it on to our itinerary. A beautiful almost 300 sq. km. park, it consists of 16 large lakes, at different heights, connected by waterfalls. There are numerous excursions that can be undertaken following the various marked trails. We chose the longest that lasted 6 hours and was probably around 9 kilometers. There are numerous walkways and trails crisscrossing the lakes and also a combination of bus and boat rides that need to be taken to complete the excursion.

To say it was beautiful doesn’t do justice to the marvel of this place. Crystal clear waters through which you can see the bottom, a plethora of waterfalls of all heights, a wide variety of flora, plentiful fish and wonderfully designed walkways all let you immerse yourself into the natural experience without damaging this stunning wonderland. I couldn’t help but want to jump into the water and unwind, but the Honey Bee maintained a tight grip. 😛

A side note: I was highly surprised to learn that most people across Croatia, not just in the capital, are fairly proficient in English. Quite a surprise given the wide gulf in the quality of education and wealth between Croatia and most of its non-English speaking European counterparts.

Second stop: Slovenia. We spent 2 nights in the capital: Ljubljana (liub-lee-yana). We visited the Postojna Caves, a massive cave system carved out by the Pivka River. Following a mini-train ride that takes you deep into the caves, you walk for around an hour in the depths of the earth, alternating between small connecting passageways and massive cavernous halls; the enormity of this cave system is mind-boggling. Seeing the grand calcium stalactites (the ones that grow downwards from the ceiling), stalagmites (the ones that grow upwards from the ground), and the rare instance when they fused to form columns was a truly unforgettable experience. It’s humbling to be witness to these grand structures that have grown over centuries. FYI: The average stalactite grows at the rate of 0.13 mm/year.

Here, we were also fortunate to witness the Olm, popularly known as the Human Fish. These cave dwelling amphibians live in the range of 60-100 years, are capable of surviving 7-10 years without food and are blind owing to their underdeveloped eyes. The Postojna Caves are a must visit for anyone visiting Europe.

Close by, we also paid a quick visit to the Predjama Castle, a large full-on renaissance era castle built flawlessly inside a cave’s mouth, complete with moat, drawbridge, torture
chamber and secret tunnels. Walking around outside and inside, it is hard to tell where the castle ends and the cave begins.

On day 2, we visited the ominous sounding Bled. A small town built around a glacial lake, this picturesque getaway boasts of a small island with a rustic church and a café in the middle of the lake. To get to the island, you can take a ride in one of the charming little boats that ferry passengers back and forth. Or, if you want to do something more interesting you can rent a boat and row the 10-15 minutes to the island. I’m glad to report I safely rowed the entire family all the way to the island, all the while enjoying the uplifting beats of Volare.  A great way to wrap up the first half of our trip.

…to be continued in Part 2

Coffee, anyone?

I never was a coffee person. The only time in my life I consumed coffee was when I spent late nights studying in the library as an undergrad, and that was only a couple of times a year. Apart from that I’d avoid coffee like the plague, even on the rare occasion we were socializing at a coffee shop. Apart from the horrible taste, I was disgusted by the amount of sugar that goes into these drinks to make them palatable.

It is interesting to note that my lack of affection for hot caffeinated beverages is not cultural. India, where I have spent more than half my life is a tea addicted nation, courtesy of the British occupation.  Europe and the US, where I have spent the rest of my life are heavy coffee drinkers. Spain, where I currently reside, is a coffee loving country. According to data from a study in 2013, Spain, on average, consumes 3 kilograms of coffee per capita annually, putting it in the top 25 coffee consuming countries in the world. Topping that list is Finland, with 9.6 kilograms per capita.

In any case, my point is I have never been much of a coffee drinker. Neither in my personal life, nor my professional life. I considered it a good thing, and even a matter of pride, that I was not addicted to these drinks. But recently, I came to discover a dirty little secret. After years of turning down colleagues’ invitations to join them for a morning coffee, one day I said: “Okay, why not?”

Since that day, I haven’t looked back and have made it a point to incorporate myself into the morning coffee ritual at the office. Why, you must be wondering. What is this dirty little secret I stumbled upon that has made me change something that I haven’t changed in over 30 years?

OCWhat I discovered is that drinking coffee is about much more than just drinking coffee. It is about starting off your day together with your colleagues. It is about catching up on what is going on, not just in your colleagues’ lives, but also at work. It is about finding out about the goings-on of the office. Sometimes it even results in unexpected conversations with people in the office you don’t normally see, or as in my case, with teams you formally worked with but don’t anymore. It makes you feel like a part of the office and to a certain extent even cements that feeling of camaraderie and belonging.

In conclusion, I still don’t like caffeinated drinks, but I have started to consume them in modicum, more so for everything they represent, than for the drinks themselves.

 

P.S.

I’d like to clarify that the coffee I drink is without adding sugar, and in a very small cup (that I rarely finish). It’s really more about simply being part of the ritual.

 

 

The secrets to saving on air travel

One of the most expensive elements of any vacation is the travel. Specifically, the flights. According to ValuePenguin, “The typical vacationing U.S. family spends about 44% of their travel funds getting to, from, and around their destinations.”  Instead of breaking the bank trying to get to where you want to go, why not save on travel costs and put a part of that saved money towards entertainment on your trip?

When we typically travel (and we travel a lot), we try to book as far in advance as possible. I’m talking about 4-8 months in advance. Not just that, we monitor flight costs on a weekly basis. This way if prices suddenly drop for any reason, you’re ready to jump in. Certain websites even allow you to set up price alerts and receive the notifications direct to your inbox. Timing our purchases has allowed us to save close to 40-50% on long haul flights.

Apart from booking early, the airline you choose to fly will also make a difference. I’m not saying you should fly low-cost on 8 hour flights (although that might be worth considering depending on the price). I’m saying it’s worth flying for relatively shorter flights in the 1-5
hour range).

WLow cost flights seem to have gained a bad reputation, but that is undeserved. People’s biggest complaints are that they get nickel and dimed by these airlines. But, that is just not true. If you read and follow the instructions and go well prepared this never happens. Here are some of the most common complaints people have about low-cost airlines and my solution to each:

1. The airline charged me for checking in at the airport: I have seen people crying about this at the airport on multiple occasions. It’s just silly that people don’t read the instructions that they are supposed to check in online. I think it’s entirely fair to charge passengers € 45 to check in at the airport.

The entire idea is that if you check in online before coming to the airport, the airline needs to hire less staff, which translates into lower expenses and more savings, part of which the airline passes onto you in the form of cheaper tickets. So stop complaining! You booked that flight because it was cheap.

2. The airline charged me for printing my boarding pass at the airport: The logic remains the same. If you print your boarding pass in advance, everyone saves money, including you. So if you don’t want to print it at home, be prepared to shell out an additional € 15.

3. How can they charge me for checking in 1 piece of luggage: Most low-cost airlines
allow one free carry-on item. Some even charge for that. The idea is that a lighter plane burns less fuel. Also, lesser luggage implies fewer baggage handlers and logistics. All of which generate significant savings and result in more ka-ching in your pocket.

CB.jpgIf you absolutely have to check in luggage, notify the airline in advance. Luggage allowances purchased in advance (before arriving at the airport) tend to be significantly cheaper than at the airport. For example, Ryanair charges € 15 for a 15 kg bag on a flight of less than 2 hours if purchased online. At the airport, that will cost you € 25. That’s a direct 40% savings on the total price you would have paid had you not purchased in advance.

4. My carry on won’t fit and they want to charge me for checking it in OR my check-in is too heavy and now they want to charge me more: It is ridiculous the amount of money airlines make through oversized/overweight bags.

There is a simple answer to both problems: fit.jpgBefore leaving home, simply check the dimensions on the airline’s website and measure your bags. Also check the weight restrictions and weigh your bag before you leave to avoid an unpleasant shock at the airport. For the return flight, you may not have access to a weighing scale. And chances are your bags might be overweight due to all the shopping you indulged in while on vacation. The solution: A simple portable weighing scale. Amazon has hundreds of options. Investing € 10 today could save you hundreds (or even thousands) over the next few years.

5. No free food or drink? Nope! Less food means lower expenses, which translates into more savings. Apart from the cost of the food itself, it means lower logistical costs of getting the food to the airport, and onto the plane, and keeping it fresh on the plane. Less food also implies a lighter plane and you know what that means: less fuel burnt= more savings.

On a personal note, I love airplane food. Even on low-cost airlines, if you pick the right items they’re not half bad. I’ve also discovered that buying a meal on board actually turns out marginally cheaper than buying it at the airport.

6. Randomly assigned seats? Wtf?! It’s actually not such a big deal. But if it matters to you, you can shell out an extra € 5-10 for your choice of seats. And if you’re traveling with others, nothing to worry about. Passengers booked on the same ticket are usually assigned seats together.

7. No in-flight entertainment? Nope! No free headphones, no music and no personal or common entertainment screen. But that’s an easy one to solve. Just carry a book or a tablet.

We always carry a tablet loaded with movies and TV shows. When you’re at cruising altitude, IFE.jpgsimply power it on, plug-in your headphones, and watch your favorite show at 35,000 feet. The best part, the entertainment doesn’t pause for in-flight announcements. Since there are 2 of us traveling together, we bought an audio splitter (less than € 5) that allows for 2 headphones to be connected at the same time. And when we get bored with watching shows, the tablet doubles up as an e-reader.

With all the money you’ll save following these tips, you won’t mind the non-reclining seats and the occasional advertisements announced through the in-flight system.

Now go ahead, and enjoy your vacation! Happy travels!