Portugal, Couchsurfing, Holidays
24.10.2011 - 14.11.2011 13 °C
As I begin this blog entry, the rain is coming down in sheets….Yes…sheets. So – we often will say “It’s raining cats and dogs” to express the sentiment of a lot of rain coming down. In Spain, one can say: “Está lloviendo a cántaros…a cubos…a chuzos…a mares…a torrentes” (which translates to “It’s raining in jugfuls….buckets…pikes…seas…torrents), or my favorite…”Estan lloviendo hasta maridos” (It’s even raining husbands). No, I haven’t seen any husbands falling from the sky, but we’ve certainly seen our share of umbrellas!
Who knew that there were so many different types of umbrellas. Different shapes, colors, sizes…manly umbrellas (yes, there is such a thing as we witnessed a man asking for an umbrella that would be suitable for him), family-size umbrellas, ornate umbrellas and umbrellas for children. But with the winds whipping up in all directions, even the best-of-best umbrellas are prone to that scene from Mary Poppins where the umbrellas flip inside out. Uh-huh…just about all of us have had the inside-out umbrella experience. So no…the rain in Spain DOES NOT fall mainly in the plains…it rains husbands all over.
Sadly, Halloween is not really celebrated in Spain. There is a half-hearted attempt to dress up the children and go around to some neighborhoods asking for candy, but I think that we need to bring this holiday to Spain. I believe that Halloween is the second most important (economic) holiday in the US, and with the ‘crisis’ in Spain, the Halloween economy of: costumes, candy, decorations, candy, pumpkins, candy, corn mazes, candy, pumpkin pie, candy, parties, candy, could help boost the economy. Marleigh did dress up a bit and went out trick-or-treating in a small neighborhood…but she feels a little deprived about missing the Halloween festivities back home.
In Spain, the day after Halloween (November 1st) is ‘Todos Los Santos’, or all Saints Day. Although the origins are rooted as a day of mourning for dead (therefore it is a sad holiday), most people spend the day either at home, or in the countryside roasting chestnuts. As we had a four-day weekend, we decided to take a trip. Originally we were going to go to the historic city of Toledo, but all the lodging was booked solid (well…all the cheap accommodations were taken). We decided to take a trip across the border to Portugal, and spent the weekend at a rural house that used to be a place for bandits to smuggle items from/to Spain/Portugal. This house is literally smack dab on the Spanish/Portugal border. We parked the car in Portugal and walked in the front door to Spain. As well, there is a 1-hour time different between Spain and Portugal, so we had a lot of fun putting ourselves in two different countries and two different time zones…at the same time.
We spent two days visiting some towns and small cities in Portugal and were so intrigued how different these two countries were – even just travelling a distance of 15 kilometers into Portugal. Most obvious is the language….people of Portugal speak Portuguese and English. While Spanish is spoken…it is not the preferred language. We did our absolute best to understand Portuguese and quickly came to the realization that it sounds like nothing we’ve never heard. Some words sounded a bit Spanish, many words sounded French, some sounded German. As the region of Extremadura is very close to Portugal (it borders Portugal to the east), I’m sure we’ll head back over in that direction soon.
To find our accommodations in Portugal visit, we used the VRBO (vacation rental by owner) website. We’d used this website a few years ago to find interesting accommodations in Washington D.C. For our next trip (the one after Portugal), we used a different website, one called Couchsurfing. About a year ago, we set up an account on Couchsurfing, and started hosting people. Up until the time we left for Spain, we hosted about eight or nine different sets of people, and each experience we had was incredible. Really – while each person either hosting or ‘surfing’ needs to do their due diligence, it is a reaffirmation of the kindness and goodness of humanity…really.
The weekend following our trip to Portugal, we had our first Couchsurfing ‘surfing’ experience. We headed north to Dueñas, a village near the city of Valladolid, in the region of Castile y Leon. We’d been having a very hectic and stressful week and our short weekend in Dueñas, with our Couchsurfing family was an absolutely amazing experience. Our host family shared their food with us – even going all out cooking vegetarian meals – showed us around the village and nearby sights. We are now truly hooked on Couchsurfing and are planning to Couchsurf our way across Spain during the Christmas holiday season.
Thanksgiving is just around the corner and once again is NOT celebrated in Spain. This is a purely American holiday and there are a bunch of us here trying to put together some kind of Thanksgiving celebration. I’m not sure how easy it will be to find all the traditional Thanksgiving foods…but in the very least we can share a meal together.
Here in the local hipermercados, Christmas is already in full swing. All the Christmas commercials are out, as are the Christmas toys, catalogues and holiday decorations. The girls have asked for some Christmas lights for our home – we’ll see what we can do.
There are a lot of things we’d like to buy – but as of this entry, we still haven’t been paid any of our grant money. We continue to draw down our US funds and are so thankful we have some funds from which to draw down. But, it does make it stressful for us all, especially as we enter the ‘Holiday Season’.
We are all continuing to adjust to life, work and study in Spain. We continue to realize how blessed we are to have English as our native language and are always in the search mode for good and fun conversational activities to do with the students. The girls are doing fairly well in their respective schools and their Spanish is zooming along. Andy and I continue to search for language intercambios and I’ve found a Spanish language teacher to do some private lessons with me. At the moment, it’s just 1-hr a week, but hopefully once the money starts coming in, and my Spanish teacher finishes up with stressful exams, I’ll have private lessons for a few hours/week. Our conversational Spanish is improving daily, but still there is a lot of complicated grammar to resolve. During my last two private lessons, we went over some of the uses of the pronoun “lo”…which can mean him or it or any number of other neutral pronoun combinations…depending on what follows…”lo de”…”lo que”. I like getting more into the nitty gritty of how to use language properly, but still…after all that…when I speak an awful lot of mistakes follow suit. Oh well, the joy of learning!
With that…until the next entry…whenever that may be. But with that -- the important things in life...that aren't things, but what we share amongst ourselves.