A Travellerspoint blog

Puente Uno....Puente Dos....Feliz Navidad!!

(Pero donde esta el dinero?)

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Yes, a puente is a bridge, but it is also used in the context of a 'bridge day' between short holidays. It seems like a lot of holidays here fall on a Tuesday and the Monday before is a 'bridge day' or puente. We had two such short holidays a couple of weeks ago.

We all appreciate having a bit of time off from school and work – and so we very much enjoyed ourselves during the puentes. Tuesday, December 6th, was ‘Constitution Day’ and here in Plasencia, Monday was also a day off – a ‘puente’ or bridge day. Then, on Thursday, December 8th was another holiday – ‘Immaculate Conception’ day. The girls had school on Wednesday and Friday, but we opted to take Friday off.

For the first ‘puente’ holiday (Saturday, December 3rd until Monday, December 5th) we decided to visit Segovia. We came back to Plasencia on Monday, as the girls had school on Wednesday and had to study all day on Tuesday for the Wednesday exams (Let's have a holiday and make sure that the students have exams to study before between the two puentes, just so that they have something to do to keep themselves busy).

About Segovia: "Segovia is Spain and Castile at its best - twisting alleyways, the highest concentration of Romanesque churches in all of Europe, pedestrian streets where no cars are allowed, the aroma of roast suckling pig around every corner - all surrounded by the city's medieval wall which itself is bordered by two rivers. On the north-west extreme of the wall is the famous Alcazár castle, source of inspiration to Walt Disney, and where Queen Isabel promised Columbus the financial backing he needed to discover America. On the south-east extreme is the world renowned Roman Aqueduct, the largest and best preserved of its kind anywhere. The tallest building in Segovia is the 16th-century Cathedral, a prominent landmark as one approaches from any direction."

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We stayed in a lovely hostal called Hostal Fornos in the Plaza Mayor. Everyone warned us that it was ‘muy frio’ en Segovia and boy was it cold!
The air was damp and hovered around freezing, and was filled with the smell of Cochinillo Asado, or roast suckling pig. Yes, there were 'little piggies' in every window, and not very happy 'little piggies' either.

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In just about every restaurant window, this is what we saw. To us, it was difficult to look at; one because we're vegetarians and two, because we're just not used to looking at our food looking back at us. But to the Spaniards, this is like looking at heaven -- el cielo.


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After two+ days back in Plasencia (Monday night, Tuesday and Wednesday), we opted for another excursion, this time to the west and south – to Lisbon, Portugal!! The drive to Lisbon, from Plasencia, was about four hours long. But -- then trying to navigate our way through the city to get to our destination, without a city map (not that it would have mattered as the names of the streets are so tiny, so black and up so high that one has to be a special detective!

We stayed in the neighborhood of Estefania, in two different hotels. The hotels were amazingly cheap (60 euros/night including a breakfast for us all!). We found this little Portuguese restaurant, very non-touristy (no English spoken), with inexpensive and wonderful food. The best was the local, no-name vino tinto, 375 ml for 1.40 euros. Lisbon is huge and vibrant. Unfortunately it was foggy, misty and then rainy, which made it difficult to walk and enjoy the city. We had hoped to make it to the district of Belem…well – perhaps there’ll be another time.

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The Christmas holidays are quickly gaining on us. We are down to days of school left, followed by nearly a three week holiday break. For the last two weeks of school, as the students are slammed with end of term exams, I’ve decided to bring in a little holiday cheer into the classroom. I made a ‘Christmas Time’ powerpoint, replete with Christmas songs and videos embedded into the show. It’s by no means a masterpiece, but each time I’ve showed it to teachers and students, they applaud at the end….really. And the huge highlight of the presentation is when I hand out a piece of holiday candy to each student. I’m pretty sure that otherwise they’re not only NOT allowed to eat candy in the classroom. It has been interesting and a pleasure to learn about Christmas/New Year’s customs in Spain…Los Reyes Magos, eating 12 grapes on New Year’s Eve, and lots of other traditions.

On alternate Tuesdays I start work late. When I can, I go to the ‘mercado de ropa’ (clothing market) down the street from us. Lots and lots and lots of very cheap clothing, accessories and general household items – all from China. Nonetheless, it’s always very interesting. I put together a short video of the market. Later on in the day it gets quite busy, but hopefully you can get a sense of the atmosphere there.

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We had big, BIG plans to drive all around Spain during the long break – but very recently decided that we just can’t pull it off. While we received our 700 euros each for our work in October, we’ve not received payment for November nor December. The 1400 euros only goes so far and our Spanish bank account, along with everyone else in this program (well…practically everyone else in Spain for that matter!), is nearly empty. We are very fortunate that we have some financial resources to pull from back in the USA, but those resources are earmarked for our USA domestic expenses. Now they’re also being earmarked for our daily expenses here in Spain and most likely for our return flights home. Most folks here are not as fortunate as us and are having to beg and borrow their way through, as they wait for their money to come from the local Spanish government. We realize that Spain is in dire financial straits, as is much of the rest of Europe. But, to offer up grants to foreigners, to promise them money (but a promise is not a contract and we don’t have contracts….lesson learned) and then to hold out payment is very difficult.

Nonetheless, we’re determined to make the best of whatever situation we’re in. We’ll make our way to Sevilla, Granada and probably spend the majority of time, during the Christmas holiday break in Andalucia. We’re looking for other couchsurfing opportunities and folks to show us their part of Spain.

We really enjoy Plasencia, our neighbors, the people we’re meeting, and the overall customs. We’re approaching the four month mark of being/living in Spain and are nicely settled into Plasencia. We love being able to walk everywhere and love the little tiendas on every street corner. The school experience for us all is fascinating. We can't help but compare schools here (in every which way) to schools back where we live. Andy took some photos of his high school (IES Gabriel y Galan) -- and in particular with his ESO #1 (roughly 6th grade equivalent).

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Even four months into our stay, we all miss our family and friends and our animals and we’ll be looking forward to seeing everyone next summer. When we’re not travelling, we’d love to have some more courageous folks come and visit us. Come February, come March, May or June, or come and travel Europe with us in July. Come and we’ll take you to our tiendas favoritas, los parques, monumentos, ruinas y mas.

And we want to end this blog with a special Holiday cheer........ Feliz Navidad a todos!

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Posted by farmgirl 07:37 Archived in Spain Tagged spanish lisbon portugal pig segovia catedral puente suckling alkazar Comments (0)

HAVE YOU GOT YOUR PAGOS (MONEY) YET?

Fun with the English Language

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It’s a bit of a running joke amongst (or is that amoungst?) the Americans here teaching English. Whilst the British and Americans proclaim to speak the same language, lest you be mistaken that we Americans tend to take a more lackadaisical approach to this thing we call “English”. One area that continues to cause us Americans to giggle is the use of the word “got” in asking questions with the verb ‘have’…as in:

“Have you got any brothers or sisters?” “Yes, I have got one brother and one sister.” In the US, we replace the word ‘got’ with the helping word ‘do’, to form the question: “Do you have any brothers or sisters?” and with the answer, we simply don’t use ‘got’ and say: “Yes, I have one brother and one sister.” What’s the big deal? - you may ask. Well, if a student is used to being asked a question with: “Have you got….” and we come along and ask “Do you have…” this is enough confusion to have the students scrunch up their eyebrows with a : “No entiendo….” As well, our poor daughters are having to use this “Have you got…” and “I have got…” sentence structure in their English classes…much to the chagrin of their English teachers in the United States.

I could write an entire blog on the humorous differences between British English and American English, but suffice it to say…”We have got our money” and just in time to celebrate the good old tradition of Black Friday, which is NOT celebrated in Spain. Nonetheless, the streets are filled with shoppers, shoppers mostly buying fresh fruit and veg - but in spite of the terrible European economy there is a sense of holiday spirit in the air, with the traditional Spanish products on the shelves.

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Black Friday isn’t celebrated in Spain, and of course neither is Thanksgiving. Just as it felt odd to not really go out in the full spirit of Halloweening – it felt really, really odd to not have the usual Thanksgiving gathering and even odder to not have the Thanksgiving holiday off. We all talked turkey in our English classes all week and some of the Americanos here in Plasencia decided to put together a bit of a friendship gathering.

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We have been living in Spain for three months now. We are settled into our new routines and rhythms. Teaching and schooling has become a bit more comfortable for us all. Our ears are tuning into and out of Spanish on a daily basis – I know the girls are improving their Spanish at lightning speed. Our improvement is more like mud flowing. We have several language intercambios and a handful (a growing handful) of English lessons. With the continued downturn of the European economy, and Spain in the number three position of worst western economies, everyone is scrambling to improve their English conversation skills, so they will become more eligible for better work opportunities. I never realized how advantaged we are in the United States to have English as our mother tongue. Neither did I realize how much of a demand there is in the world to learn English. And – just because one can speak English, doesn’t mean one can teach English. This language of ours is immensely complicated and cumbersome to teach.

A few weeks ago, Andy and I (and other Assistants from the US and around the English speaking world) were invited to participate in "English Day" in the lovely village of Hervas. The students consisted of adults that were/had been studying at the 'Escuela de Idiomas' here in Plasencia and who are at a conversant level. It was a very interesting experience for us all, and we really enjoyed working with adult 'students'.

We are always thinking of interesting and creative ways to present information to the students we help. What may seem simple and ordinary to us is nothing of the sort. Why do we say: does (as in duz) and goes (as in goze)? Why do we say of (as in uv) and off (as in awf)? Why are ‘one’ and ‘won’ pronounced the same? Why is ‘laugh’ pronounced like ‘laff’? Why do we say ‘walk’t’ and ‘talk’t’, but rested, nested – but there’s no bested? Beats the heck out of me!

With all that complication going on, plus the fact that the students don’t have much – don’t have hardly any opportunities to converse in English, it’s understandable why they are so reticent to speak. I am experimenting with using songs and short videos to introduce vocabulary and create a more relaxed atmosphere. I still need to work more on the timing and the use of the lyrics and all of that, but needless to say, the idea of bringing in music, or short English speaking videos into the classroom is very successful. So – name your favorite songs for me and I’ll see what I can about using them in the classes!

Next week is a bit of a breather for us all…there are a couple of holidays and so we’ll be heading out and exploring a bit. The first part of the holiday we plan to travel to Segovia and for the second, we are working on putting together a trip to Lisbon, Portugal. Our little used car is serving us very well and we are very happy to have it. It is quite economical, which is super important, considering gasoline/diesel costs about 1.40 euro/liter…that works out to about 5.60 euros/imperial gallon. Last weekend we explored the ruins of an ancient Roman city called Cáparra. The ruins of the ancient city and tower were incredible, but the girls were much more fascinated by a ‘stray’ pup that followed us everywhere. We decided to name him ‘Buddy, the olive eater’, as he picked ripe olives off the nearby trees and ate them (whole!)

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So – this blog post is ‘short and sweet’ as we say in the USA – before you know it, it will be Christmas holiday break. We’re planning to take an extensive driving tour of Spain, starting in the South. We’ll have close to 3-weeks and have plans to first head south to Sevilla, then Grenada, then up the coast and to Barcelona. From there…who knows…everyone keeps telling us about the country of Andorra and how wonderful the skiing is…there will be so much to see and so much to write about and so much fun to be had. We look forward to have a nice break from the teaching and studying.

Con abrazos a todos - La Familia Dunning

Posted by farmgirl 00:48 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

WET...WET...WET...FALL IS HERE!!

Portugal, Couchsurfing, Holidays

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Abrazos –

Posted by farmgirl 10:22 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Birthdays! Visitors from Oregon!! Fall is in the air -

Feliz Cumpleanos

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With the celebration of my birthday comes a reconfiguration of my blog…lo siento…I needed to make some upgrades and revisions. Feliz Cumpleaños to a nueva pagina.

Celebrating birthdays is a universal event, but how we feel about our birthdays seems to be age dependent. When we are young, we can’t wait to have our birthday; we can’t wait to be one year older; we can’t wait to ‘grow up’. Then, once we are ‘grown up’, at some point the sentiment shifts we hope that time will slow down and we will not get any older.

A few months before I was to turn 40-years old, I was feeling very depressed about hitting this monumental age…to me, it sounded rather old. Then September 11th, 2001 happened – and when my 40th birthday came 5-weeks later, I was overjoyed to be turning 40 and full of life.
Well, if I thought 40 sounded ‘oldish’, 50 sounds even older. I don’t feel 50, but then again I don’t know what that’s supposed to feel like. I only know that when I was 10 years old, the number 50 years old sounded like an old lady. Well, I don’t feel like an old lady and I don’t act like an old lady (whatever that’s supposed to be).

The Saturday before my 50th birthday, Andy and the girls put together a surprise birthday party. I knew that something was going on, but had no idea what they were up to. In the late afternoon, Andy took me to see the movie, “Johnny English Returns”, the second of this series starring Rowan Atkins. We were both very pleased with ourselves in that we could understand the dialogue (converted to Spanish). When the movie finished, we went to CarreFour, as Andy told me we needed to get some ice cream (right Andy)…and then walked home. Just as we were walking home, there were lots of neighbors in our house shouting “Happy Birthday Shari”. Andy had managed to contact the neighbors we’ve become friendly with and told them to bring a traditional Spanish dish to share (but vegetarian!). Someone made a cake and there were also some impromptu dance lessons. I must say…it was a FABULOUS way to kick of my 50th birthday. Thank you Andy…thank you Ans and Marls and to all of you who came to celebrate.

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Amigas de Oregon!!! Monday evening, October 17th, my dear friend Nancy, and her daughter arrived in Plasencia. They live in the same town we live in; Nancy lived in Spain many years ago and has a special place in her heart for this beautiful country. Her daughter and our youngest daughter are super good friends – so what a wonderful reunion we’re having. Nancy’s birthday was Tuesday, October 18th and for her – being in Spain on her birthday holds special meaning too.

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We are really enjoying Plasencia, but of course it is different than our lives in Oregon. And of course there are frustrations and things we don’t understand -- there’s the language barrier and cultural differences. It is easy to get overwhelmed; it is easy to get frustrated and lose focus and make judgments in the midst of our frustration. So – having our friends from Oregon here this week is like having a piece of Oregon come and visit us. It gives us a moment to relax, to re-connect and to rejuvenate. We know just how hard it is to make the effort to come here, especially from Oregon, so we THANK YOU SO MUCH for making the effort. We have a spare bedroom in our house and are always eager to show you around this lovely city and the surroundings.

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We are quickly realizing how blessed we are to have English as our primary language. I am working very hard to improve my Spanish and have several language intercambio partners. We are having a lot of fun meeting locals and each one brings a unique perspective. Trying to learn and improve another language makes me more aware of how we tend to take our language for granted. Generally we don’t think about how many people in this world want to learn English, nor do we really think about how important English is across ‘el mundo’. With ‘el crisis’ here in Spain and the global economy struggling to recuperate, more than ever people are looking to improve their skill set(s) to make themselves more marketable around the globe.

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Fall finally arrives - Tonight is the first rain we’ve had here in nearly two months. Fall is slowly arriving and Halloween is just around the corner. I am eager to learn about how Halloween is celebrated here and am eager to share a bit of Halloween in the USA. There is a bit of an extended holiday around the Halloween time – a four-day weekend. We hope to get out and do some sight-seeing during this holiday break.

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We have been here in Plasencia a bit over two months and it is feeling more like our home…but of course we miss Oregon, Bend and our home very, very much. We miss all of our animals and all our family and friends who look forward to hearing about our experiences here. We appreciate all your letters, postcards, emails and connections as we continue to adapt.

Andy and I have been teaching for a few weeks and hope that we resolve any final paperwork issues, so we can start getting our monthly grant soon. It has been very difficult for us to draw down our US savings to pay our monthly expenses here and cover incidental expenses back home. We understand that the local government is struggling with the economic crisis and it is more difficult than ever to -- as we say in the U.S. to “find the money”. And, we also understand that many Spanish people, under contracts, have also not yet received their salaries. Rightly so, they come first. So…we’re not sure when our first month’s stipend will get to our Spanish bank accounts.

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Until next time, una brinda -- una copa de vino o qualquiera bebida -- to good times, to good friends, un beso y un abrazo.

Posted by farmgirl 01:32 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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