A Travellerspoint blog

The Road Trip Begins

Last days in Plasencia -- heading north

overcast 28 °C

School ended with a lot of tests and a bit of a fizzle for the girls. It's not like in the US where there are year book signing parties, end-of-year parties and both jubilation and sadness at the year's end. However, for Andy and me, the end-of-year kept getting more and more bittersweet. Several days after the end of our teaching, Andy went back to his school, IES Gabriel y Galan, to take a class photograph of his 4 de ESO (this is equivalent to 10th grade in the USA). When he arrived, only the teacher and one student were in the classroom. Andy asked: "Piedad, where are all the students?" Piedad just shrugged her head and said "Huh, I don't know...they're supposed to be here..." And then it happened...Andy had his own personal...


Andy was supposed to pick up our niece, Eden, on Friday, the girls' last day of school, but she missed her flight, so the pick-up got pushed to Saturday. Just as well, as the rear window of the rental car (a 2012 Peugeot Partner Tepee) spontaneously crumbled on Friday afternoon. Several phone calls later to the Auto France car leasing company and we had ourselves an appointment at an auto glass repair shop in Madrid (for the next morning).


On Saturday, June 16th (Happy 17th birthday to Ansley!!) we woke up at 4:30 am and drove the Peugeot Partner Tepee rental car, sans a rear window to the airport. Other than the wafting odor of horse manure and the "whooshing" noise of passing cars, we scarcely noticed the absence of the rear window. We arrived at the Madrid airport, contacted Eden (she had our other phone) and got ourselves to the shop in the center of Madrid. While the glass was being repaired, we took a bus to the Atocha train station and walked around.


We returned to Plasencia about 4:00 pm and poor Eden went right to sleep! We woke her up a few hours later and after eating walked down to the Plaza Mayor. Sunday, June 17th was all about packing and cleaning and cleaning and packing and making preparations for a birthday/end of year party. To those who came by, thanks for helping to celebrate Ansley's birthday and the end of an amazing year!


And so while one phase ends, another begins. A time for us to travel through some different countries in Europe; countries we only know by name or by their historical context. Our first stop brings us to our wonderful friends in Duenas, who provided us with our first ever couchsurfing "surf" experience. Everytime time we visit, we share stories, food and wonderful times. This time they surprised us with a wonderful birthday cake for Ansley and a present for her. Nos encanta a esta familia!

Posted by farmgirl 02:37 Archived in Spain Tagged plasencia auxiliar flashmob Comments (0)

Ya terminamos

... But the girls still have two more weeks

sunny 34 °C

In mid-May we had the opportunity to participate in the "2012 SPAINWISE TEFL Fair", in Cordoba. This was a one-day conference for people who either are currently teaching English as a foreign language (otherwise known as TEFL), or who are hoping to get into the field. For us, it was interesting to be on the other side of job descrimination fence. As soon as we said: "We're American and we don't currently have a work visa...but..." most of the representatives from the various language schools did not really want to give us the time of day. However, we did manage to have some wonderful conversations with a few language schools and we went to some very interesting teaching workshops. I say, any excuse to spend the weekend in the magnificent city of Cordoba is worthwhile.


The girls found an amazing yogurt place (can you say "I want some DAM yogurt"?) Turn your head sideways please ...


And...Ansley found her 'dream ride' (once again turn your head -- she's in love with Vespas and we must now have a thousand photos of all the Vespas we've seen during our travels!


Thursday, May 31st, was our last day of teaching at the Institutos in Plasencia, Extremadura, Spain. I think my Haiku of departure says it best:

"When the day arrives
Signaling it's time to go
I can't find the words"

"Cuando el día llegue
Indicando es el tiempo para partir
No puedo encontrar las palabras"

Although the girls are still having to bear a couple more weeks of school - and I do believe the word "bear" is correct to describe their remaining time here, Andy and I finished up our teaching responsibilities. The year for us all started with its share of difficulties and truly ended on a bittersweet note.

The English teachers that Andy worked with at IES Gabriel y Galan took him out for an amazing meal and gave him some lovely parting gifts. Then, on his last day, in his last class, his 2da de ESO (similar to 8th grade) threw him a suprise party...

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And a great little video...
Andy's Surprise Party at IES Gabriel y Galan on Thursday, May 31st

For me, at IES Virgen del Puerto, the bilingual section 1ra de ESO (similar to 7th grade) presented me with some cards and a lovely photograph. The teachers gave me a parting gift and then...in the 4to de ESO (similar to 10th grade) gave me the most amazing bouquet of flores. I don't have photos of these yet...but when I do I'll add them to the next blog.

The profesora de ingles for these clases managed to sneakily takes lots of photos of me during the year teaching....

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Just when we think that what we've been doing all year hasn't made a difference or impact in the lives of the teenagers we've been teaching WOW-WEE!!! Children, especially teenagers, are brutally honest and so when they smile and say "Hello Shari...Hello Andy" and provide us with cards and flowers and presents, it's absolutely incredible.

Andy and I are truly humbled and honored and so moved by this outpouring of emotion for us. For us, it's been an amazing year and we've learned so much...we've learned about Spain and Spanish culture, about the region of Extremadura, Plasencia, about the Spanish language and more. I wrote a farewell letter to send out to teachers and friends and I'd like to put an excerpt in the blog...it is in Spanish.... but just like we've worked hard to find language intercambios...if you need help deciphering...find a friend and look at it together..

A todos de nuestros amigos aquí,

Algunos de nosotros somos artistas, otros fotógrafos, y otros profesores. Yo soy – en el alma -- una escritora; siempre ha sido más fácil expresarme en la forma escrita que en la forma oral. Por eso, quiero escribiros ‘una carta de despedida’. Cuando era pequeña, siempre tenía ganas de viajar. Quería saber “el mundo entero” y visitar lugares exóticos y famosos por la curiosidad y el conocimiento.

Es obvio que todavía me gusta viajar. Pero el motivo ha cambiado. Sí, me gusta visitar sitios exóticos y entender las civilizaciones antiguas. Pero, lo que ha cambiado es eso – Estoy encantada para conocer a la gente más que el sitio físico. O sea, para conocer un sitio no es el mismo como visitar monumentos conocidos. No, para conocer un sitio es comer juntos y hablar sobre nuestras vidas personales.

Este año ha pasado muy rápido. Al principio, todo estaba duro y difícil. No sabíamos el ritmo de cada día, por ejemplo - que las tiendas cierran a las 14:00 y abren (otra vez) a las 17:30…que es normal para andar a todos partes para comprar lo que necesitamos…que las familias se reúnen en el parque hasta las 22:00, o más tarde. También, no sabíamos como deberíamos trabajar con los alumnos. Al mismo tiempo nuestras hijas no conocían a nadie, ni sabían el sistema de educación, ni el idioma. Al principio nos parecía como si la vida fuera una prueba. Pero poco a poco todo mejoraba y encontramos un ritmo nuevo en nuestras vidas.

Es casi la hora para despedirnos. La verdad es que no quiero irme de la vida española. Por supuesto, echo de menos a mi familia, a mis amigos, mi hogar y mis mascotas. Y por claro mis hijas quieran volver a sus propias escuelas. Su felicitad es lo más importante de todo. Pero lo que ha pasado es que nuestra vida no solo ha cambiado por esta experiencia sino que se está entrelazando con vuestras vidas. Esta experiencia nos ha cambiado para siempre; cada uno de vosotros nos habéis afectado. La verdad es que estoy enamorada con el ritmo y la cultura. Pero cada historia de amor tiene que terminar… Entonces --

• Quiero decir un mil y uno gracias a cada persona que nos ha ayudado y nos ha aceptado en su vida.
• Quiero decir muchas gracias a todos los profesores, la administración, y al IES Virgen del Puerto y El Pilar por todo lo que han hecho para mis hijas.
• Quiero decir gracias a las profesoras de inglés que he trabajado.
• Quiero decir gracias a los profesores y a los amigos que hemos habido intercambios.
• Quiero decir gracias a todos nuestros amigos aquí que en este momento me parecen como miembros de mi familia.

Uno – Acordaos que nuestra casa es vuestra casa. Ya sé que vivimos un montón de kilómetros de aquí. Ya sé que cuesta mucho dinero para volar de España a Oregón. Ya sé que es muy difícil para salir de vuestro trabajo, familia o cosas e ir a un sitio tan diferente como vuestros propios…pero si o cuando – queremos que recordéis que tenemos espacio amplio y que nos gustaría enseñaros nuestro hogar y la cuidad.

Dos – Para el año que viene, pensamos que la mejor opción es que volvamos a Oregón. Ansley necesita terminar sus estudios en su instituto y Marleigh necesita reunir con sus amiguitas. Andy y yo necesitamos pensar más sobre podemos volver a España en el futuro. Nos encanta la vida aquí. Nos gusta mucho enseñar inglés y si existiera una manera legal para enseñar, nos gustaría trabajar en España, enseñando inglés. Entonces, si le conocéis a alguien que necesite unos profesores de inglés de los estados unidos del estado de Oregón de la ciudad de Bend, dadles nuestros CVs y cartas de recomendación.

Un beso y abrazo muy fuerte-
Shari, Andy, Ansley y Marleigh


I suppose the million dollar question that you all have is: "When are you returning to Spain?" Well...we haven't left yet and we also have a wonderful summer adventure awaiting us. When the girls finish up their studies (phwew -- what an accomplishment that will be!), we'll have nearly two months to tour portions of Europe. We managed to sell our lovely little Ford Fiesta and we'll be leasing a Partner Tepee to use, from June 5th through August 20th.

No, we haven't quite figured out our 'tour of Europe'. We plan to do a lot of CouchSurfing and have received invitations from families all over Europe. We have more-or-less figured out the details from June 18th through the first week in July and once we have more information to share, we'll provide a blog update with our anticipated itinerary. Also, on June 15th, we'll be picking up our niece in Madrid (she's from Philadelphia, PA) and she'll be spending the summer with us, adventuring our way through Europe.

Stay tuned as we plan our Europe adventure... and join us virtually for a summer of fun!

I want to end this blog with one more written piece. You know that Andy and I have been methodically working on improving our Spanish and have met so many wonderful people here. We have developed friendships with people of all ages and from all professions. One day I was reflecting on the breadth of our friendships. I was reflecting on this in light of all the recent venom being spewed about people of different ethnicities, racial heritages and sexual orientation. And so I penned a poem, trying to use my emergent Spanish. Go find a friend and read it together. I hope you you enjoy it.


Cerrad los ojos y abrid la mente
Quitad los prejuicios para conocer la gente

No importa la raza, ni el color de la piel
Ni la edad, sexo o con quien sois el fiel

Ni el país, región ni ciudad
Ni el nivel de la universidad

Lo más importante del todo el mundo
Lo más importante y lo más profundo

Es la amistad
Entre humanidad
La verdad y
La sinceridad

Eso es todo… no hay nada más
Tú, mí y los demás
Tenemos la responsabilidad
Y la habilidad

Amistad, Humanidad, Verdad, Sinceridad

No hay nada más
Es sencillo decir nunca jamás

A los prejuicios que nos dividen
Y les pido que no se olviden

Amistad, Humanidad, Verdad, Sinceridad

Un abrazo y beso a todos -
Shari, Andy, Ansley and Marleigh

Hasta la proxima vez

Posted by farmgirl 05:45 Archived in Spain Tagged plasencia instituto beca Comments (0)

The End is Near

...Well almost...not quite...or is the end the beginning?

semi-overcast 14 °C

Un mil disculpas. I've been meaning to sit down and get another blog entry out, but somehow life keeps getting in the way. My last blog entry ended with Carnval - the end of February. Now here we are and as I start this blog, it's the end of April (oops, beginning of May!) and nearing the end of our teaching grant and time in Spain. Of course from then until now, lots of things have been happening with our lives.

Let's start with the most important! April 30th...Marleigh's 11th birthday! At the moment, we're in the beautiful (although rainy) city of Oviedo, in the region of Asturias. We have yet another 'puente' (short holiday) and we decided to take advantage of the time and drive to northern Spain. Northern Spain (at least the part we're seeing) might as well be a different country than southern Spain, much like the difference in topography and people in Oregon.

We pulled the girls out of school for a day to create a 5-day holiday. We left Plasencia on Thursday, April 26th and headed north. We spent a night with our CouchSurf friends in the village of Duenas. This family was our first CouchSurf experience and every time we stay with them, it's like we've known them all our lives. How is it that one can meet someone, converse in another language (as best as we can) and become instant close friends? I don't reall know -- but it's happened and we feel blessed.


On Friday, we left Duenas and headed north to the region of Asturias. We climbed up the mountain pass (the Cantabrian mountain range, similar to the Alps) and the view was breathtaking...absolutely breathtaking.


And the villages, tucked into the mountainside were equally as enchanting..


From there we headed down the windy pass toward the city of Oviedo. First we had a meeting with the director of the Oviedo TEFL Centre to learn more about English teaching in the region (can you tell that we're falling in love with Spain???...sigh...sigh) and then we met up with another language auxiliar (from Maryland). We stayed with her for two days as we explored the amazing city of Oviedo. In spite of the continuous drizzle and rain (it's a lot like the Pacific Northwest), the city and historic monuments were enchanting.

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We visited pre-Romanic monuments...

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and stopped by the infamous statue of Woody Allen

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Woody Allen has been called the Prince of Oviedo and rumor has it that he visits a couple of times a year. We're in agreement that Oviedo is like a fairy tale; an enchanted and enchanting city that smells of sidra. We rank it as one of our favorite cities and we'd love to spend more time there.

From Oviedo, we headed north to our next CouchSurfing host, who lives in a tiny village half-way between Oviedo and coast. Before heading to her village (near Pravia), we went to the coastal village of Cudillero. This is one of the most picturesque and interesting coastal villages. It's located in a protected cove and rather than build out the city goes up - and up - and up. There is an expression that goes something like this "La gente de Cudillera tiene piernas como piedras" (The people in Cudillero have legs like rocks). Why? Because of all the walking up and up and up and down and down and down makes sturdy and strong legs (and I suppose over time shaped like pillars/rocks).


From Cudillero, we drove to this tiny village of Santeseso. If you've ever had one of those experiences that causes you to ask "Are there really any coincidences in life?" you'll understand our experience in this tiny village. We're wondering how these things happen. We were to be the first Couchsurfers for Ascen and her three lovely boys. She then told us that at the last minute she accepted this group of five and two of the five were from Oregon (HUH?). When they showed up, one of them told us that he used to live in Bend (HUH? HUH??) Furthermore, he is the son of a well-known person, a well-known rabbi...okay -- the only rabbi, but who's counting...and of course we have mutual friends and spent time talking about Bend, Sparrow Bakery and all other things Bend. Really??? really! You have to understand that this village is literally in the middle of nowhere...I love the expression in Spanish: "El mundo es un panuelo" the world is a hankerchief...

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It was such a fantastic experience and ended on Marleigh's birthday. To close out the trip, we headed back to Duenas to spend another night, as it's the half-way point between the North and our home in Plasencia. Maria bought a beautiful birthday cake for Marleigh and bought her a fantastic book on Origami. Muchisimo gracias por todo!!


What a lovely trip we had...meeting wonderful people and seeing incredible sights. We hope to return to northern Spain when we begin our summer travel. But in the meantime, we still have about a month of teaching left, and the girls have about 6-weeks of school. We will have a short trip to Cordoba in the middle of May and then a trip to Sevilla the first week of June (Ansley will be taking her ACTs) before the end of the school year.

So -- things are winding down and we're trying to slowly detach. We have a car to sell, pounds of papers to sort through and have to do some serious zen work prior to figuring out how to pack up our Spanish lives, put it all in our suitcases and take it all back to Oregon. The girls are more than ready to return to their schools and their friends and have been amazing troopers through this year.

In general, it's been very, very good -- but it's also been very, very difficult at the same time. I won't even try to put my words or sentiments in their mouths and bodies, but I think I can say that it's been stressful. Having the coursework in Spanish is not the root of the stress...the girls are well-versed in Spanish and while they don't think they're fluent, they're accomplished in Spanish. They can manage their way around and although they search for vocabulary words and mix up tenses (as we all do), it's an ongoing process and takes time and practice and mistakes are all part of it. But the system of education is very, very different than the United States. In general it's more difficult, more theoretical, more rote, more tests and a different/more difficult grading system. Still, through it all Ansley and Marleigh have wonderful attitudes and will have tons to share with their friends back home.

We do have our flights back to Oregon, by way of Frankfurt and will be back in Oregon on August 20th and back in Bend on August 21st.

Hasta entonces, un beso y un abrazo - Shari, Andy, Ansley and Marleigh

Posted by farmgirl 13:27 Archived in Spain Tagged spain teaching asturias assistant plasencia intercambios Comments (0)



sunny 15 °C

A blink of an eyelash and February is ending. It’s a good thing we’re in a leap year, as we can use the extra day in our lives.

Shortly after we all went back to school (after the Christmas holidays), our house turned into the an infirmary. First Ansley got sick (again)…really sick. She didn’t move from her bed for one day and spent the next three days glued to the sofa. Then, just as she was starting to feel a little better, Marleigh got sick…and then as she was starting to recover Andy got sick. Me…I managed to escape that round of the ‘sickies’ but felt like I was in a really bad movie…not only was my family sick, but every other person on the street was hacking away. It felt like “last man (woman) standing” and sooner or later I was doomed to fall.

So far…so good..knock on something or other. Finally, things are more or less back to normal, whatever normalcy is in Spain. Sometimes normalcy is running out of butane in the middle of cooking or in the middle of taking a shower with a hair full of shampoo. Sometimes normalcy is forgetting that all the stores close at 2:00 pm and there’s little food in the house to eat (like bread or butter or eggs). Sometimes normalcy is remembering that we have to walk nearly 30-minutes one way to make photocopies and that opening at 10:00 am is really more of a suggestion. Sometimes normalcy is eating dinner at 10:00 pm and saying: “yeah...so?”


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Still, our lives have taken on a new rhythm. Andy and I continue to compare notes about our classes each week. Sometimes everything clicks and feels really good – like we’re making a difference and the students are becoming more confident in speaking English…and sometimes…well…sometimes….it’s still just very hard to make everything sync together. We come home exhausted and feeling a bit defeated and wonder what we can do to ‘make a difference’.

We have English/Spanish intercambios with teachers both inside of and outside of our school schedule. To me, this is a real highlight of the day and week. A way to connect with folks here, to learn more about their lives and to have fun together struggling with our respective languages we’re acquiring. And – it feels like some days we’re communicating (more or less) in Spanish and some days it’s all we can do to pull out a handful of words.

As I mentioned before in my not-quite-so-famous book (you know the egg and cigarette thing)…learning to communicate in a foreign language is an amazing experience for the head (I suppose I didn’t say it quite like that) and we often end up at the end of the week with headaches and find that not only can we NOT speak Spanish, but that our English is deteriorating at the same time. Really – it’s true – sometimes we struggle to find the word we want to say...in... ENGLISH! We could chalk it up to our age…but when Ansley and Marleigh have the same experience, all we can say is “Major Brain Overload”. (OMG…MBO). They are having their share of MBO....and then on top of that...Marleigh has French...of course in Spanish....and art...in English...so her brain is switching languages multi-times each day.

While all you Americans were out celebrating President’s Day, here in Spain and in Latin America, CARNAVAL was the holiday. Carnaval in Spain is celebrated quite differently than Carnaval in South America, but it is equally as wild. We decided to take our four-day holiday and go to the Andalucian city of Córdoba. It was nice to head out of Plasencia and see some other parts of Spain. The weather was fantastic (I think Spring is on its way!) and we enjoyed ourselves. Imagine halloween with a major twist of debauchery and you've more or less got CARNAVAL.

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Viewing the Mezquita was an amazing experience...but it also felt a little odd to me. It's now called a cathedral, when it fact it was built as a mosque. It's a true clash of religions and conquest...maybe not a 'clash' but it felt rather 'clashy' to me.

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The cherry blossoms in the south were already starting to emerge and my ‘profesora particular’ (Marta) told me today that her pollen allergies are starting, so indeed – Primavera – Spring – is on its way to Spain. We managed to escape most of the hellaciously cold weather in Europe...thank goodness.


We are more than half-way through our time here and through all the crazy difficulties we have had, or continue to have – one starts to get used to it…like an old pair of shoes. The girls are such troopers…they miss their friends dearly…they realize how lucky they are with respect to their education…and the fact of the matter is that they are anxious to go home….but at the same time, they are having the time of their lives. Their Spanish comprehension and conversation skills are fantastic (they have surpassed us) and they are having a cultural experience that I am sure they will never forget.

As for Andy and me – of course we are looking forward to returning to the USA and Oregon and to our jobs and stability and sanity and family and friends….but I’m already thinking of the people we’ve gotten to know and how much we’ll miss them and how much we’ll miss all the walking we do. Somebody once told me that Spain ‘grows on you’ and indeed it does. I’m sure that once our lives resume normalcy (whatever that is!), we’ll look forward to when we can come here simply as tourists to see our friends and maintain some level of Spanish.

In the meantime….más intercambios, más clases, más viajes y ya está…vale…vale…venga.

Con abrazos y besos- Shari y familia

Posted by farmgirl 05:13 Archived in Spain Tagged carnaval cordoba extremadura plasencia Comments (0)

El Tiempo Vuela

Time Flies

sunny 13 °C

The Christmas holidays have come and gone and we had such an interesting time traveling throughout southern Spain. And now, we’re back at school, teaching and studying. As we enter the New Year and approach our half-way point of our time here, it’s time for ‘un poco de reflexión’.

First, the Christmas Vacation – Noche Buena (Christmas Eve), Navidad (Christmas) – Noche vieja (New Year’s Eve), El Año Nuevo (New Years), La Cabalgata de Los Reyos Magos (the three kings parade), El Día de Los Reyes Magos (the three king’s day), y lo demás (the rest).

Our last day of school was Thursday, December 22nd. As all of the grades (notas) had to be submitted by Wednesday, December 21st, Thursday was a particularly odd day. Many students didn’t bother to show up. I left early for my classes and was told that nobody was showing up, so I should just ‘vete’ (go).

The girls received their grades for all their courses and incredible!!! – they both passed all of their subjects. Considering that all the subjects are taught in Spanish, there are tests given every week and the teachers tend to grade on a very stiff scale, we were amazed and incredibly proud of the girls. First year bachillerato is no ‘cake walk’; it more than rivals the USA International Bachelor (IB) program in rigor. I honestly can’t imagine taking physics, literature española, philosophy, biology, contemporary sciences in Spanish – and doing well. What a great way to ‘kick-off’ the Christmas holiday.


On Saturday, December 24th (Noche Buena) we went to the village of our neighbors and friends, Gema, Alberto, Gema y Victor. Gema’s parents live in the village of Valdastillas and they insisted that we not be alone on Christmas Eve. Gema’s mother, Agustina, prepared a vegetarian meal for us, consisting of at least five different courses. Not to mention, she had spent all day in her kitchen preparing the typical Spanish comida for all of her family, which consisted of her three grown children, their spouses and their children. Muy bien – muy bien – muy bien!

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On Sunday, December 25th, we had a quiet Christmas celebration in our home. We had cartas y regalos from family and friends in the USA, along with some small family presents. After opening presents and cleaning up, we finished packing our bags, gathered our belongings and headed off for our road trip – throughout portions of Andalusia!

Our first destination was the incredibly beautiful city of Sevilla, where we had a couchsurfing stay set up. We arrived in Sevilla about 6:00 pm, but quickly realized (for the umpteenth time!) that the google map directions to the location we needed to get to was L-O-U-S-Y! Everyone told us that we needed to get GPS in order to drive around Spain/Europe – and you know…I think they’re right! After three telephone calls, we finally found our way to the cobblestone, one-way street in the Triana neighborhood.

We spent three wonderful days with Alfonso and his family and we were absolutely enchanted with Sevilla. We visited many of the ‘must see’ places, but what impressed me more than anything, including the cathedral, the tomb of Christopher Columbus or the Plaza de España, was the ‘ambiente’, the atmosphere of Sevilla…I don’t know…I just fell in love with Sevilla and the way it felt… and I could easily fantasize about living there…really. We left a piece of our hearts in Sevilla, but also made plans to return in June, when Ansley takes her College preparatory ACT exams (oh joy!).

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From Sevilla, we headed off to a small, typical white-washed village named ‘Vejer de la Frontera’. My good friend, Nancy, and her family had spent about a month there some years ago, studying Spanish, and suggested we visit. We were only there for one night, but easily fell into the feel and rhythm of the village.

“Squeezed between the sierras and the sea, Vejer de la Frontera is a labyrinth of white washed houses & winding cobbled streets.”

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From Vejer, we had another couchsurfing stay, and headed to Puerto de Santa Maria (near Cádiz). When we left Vejer, we unfortunately parked on a very steep hill (well, that’s not hard to do as Vejer is nothing but hills!) and somehow gasoline leaked out from the gas pipe and vapors came into the car. So – everything in the trunk, including our clothing – smelled like gasoline. Ugh!! When we arrived to our couchsurfing host, we emptied the car, took all our clothes out and threw as many as we could into her washing machine. Everything else went outside to air out.

We stayed with an American family; the mom taught science at the high school on the base in Rota and her two daughters (age 14 and 9) also went to school on the base. They purchased almost everything from the base and therefore, we felt like we had suddenly been whisked back to the USA. Marleigh LOVED it!! She made instant friends and was so excited to be understood (both in language and culture). I thoroughly enjoyed myself, but it felt a bit odd to be in Spain, but to feel like I wasn’t in Spain. My bigger problem was, between the gasoline vapors and the onset of getting sick, it was difficult for me to enjoy myself. Nonetheless, the beaches at Puerto de Santa María, Cádiz and Rota were absolutely beautiful. The air was warm and so was the water – so the girls found themselves, on December 30th with their pants rolled up, bare-feet, frolicking in the Atlantic Ocean.

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From Puerto de Santa María we headed east to Ronda. When we left, the gasoline odors had dissipated, but Ansley and I were feeling sicker. She started feeling ill when we left Sevilla, and I started feeling sick the second day at Puerto de Santa María. When we arrived in Ronda, we settled into our hotel and briefly thought about looking for New Year’s Eve festivities. But, as the evening wore on, I felt worse and worse and we all ended up spending New Year’s eve in the hotel, watching TV and resting…woo-hoo – Happy New Year!! In Spain, there are some very interesting New Year’s traditions:

Spanish New Year's Eve (Nochevieja or Fin de Año in Spanish) celebrations usually begin with a family dinner, traditionally including prawns and lamb. The actual countdown is primarily followed from the clock on top of the Casa de Correos building in Puerta del Sol in Madrid. It is traditional to eat twelve grapes, one on each chime of the clock.
Nowadays, the tradition is followed by almost every Spaniard, and the twelve grapes have become synonymous with the New Year. After the clock has finished striking twelve, people greet each other and toast with sparkling wine such as cava or champagne, or alternatively with cider.
After the family dinner and the grapes, many young people attend New Year parties at pubs or discothèques (these parties are called cotillones de nochevieja). Parties usually last until the next morning. Early next morning, party attendees usually gather to have the traditional winter breakfast of chocolate con churros, hot chocolate and fried pastry.

The next morning, when the streets were either empty, or filled with the borrochos, we went looking for the farmacias and for something to eat (and something to soothe my throat). We walked around the historic part of Ronda and were once again in awe.

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"Ronda retains much of its historic charm, particularly its old town. It is famous worldwide for its dramatic escarpments and views, and for the deep El Tajo gorge that carries the rio Guadalevín through its center. Ronda is also famous as the birthplace of modern bullfighting. Held at the beginning of September, here fighters and some of the audience dress in the manner of Goya. Across the bridge, where an elegant cloistered 16th century convent is now an art museum, old Ronda, La Ciudad, sidewinds off into cobbled streets hemmed by handsome town mansions, some still occupied by Ronda's titled families."

From Ronda, we headed to another couchsurfing family very near Granada (Huetor Vega). Once again, this family, who we had never met (but had had some email and telephone correspondence) opened up their home and heart to us. They fed us, fretted over our being sick and told us places to visit in Granada. Of course La Alhambra was high on the list and we had every intention of visiting it the next day. We took a bus to the city center of Granada and went to the Caixa to try to get tickets…but no go…we didn’t realize that we needed to buy our ‘entradas’ the day before. Just as well, I wasn’t really up for an excursion and well…we really did need another excuse to return to Granada and the nearby Sierra Nevada mountains. Therefore, we walked around La Alhamba grounds, had a lot of tea and decided to look forward to our return trip.

Granada is situated at the foot of the Sierra Nevada between two hills, separated by the Darro Valley. Its panoramic views which include the white tipped Sierra Nevada mountain range, rolling green hills and numerous monuments with their rich history, make Granada magical. From 1238 to 1492, Granada acquired all its splendor both artistically as well as economically. It was in 1492 when the Catholic King, Fernando and the Queen, Isabel made King Boabdil surrender, but the city did not start to decline until 1609 when the Moorish people finally left. The Alhambra or Red Palace is without a doubt the most well-known monument in Granada, in Spain, and practically all over the world.

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We left Granada the morning of January 4, 2012 and drove all day to get back to Plasencia. We arrived late and tired, and it felt really good to get ‘home’. Yes, I say home in that Plasencia does feel like home to us now and our rental house feels like our home also.

On January 5th, throughout Spain, a very special parade is held. The parade is called the ‘Calbalgata de Los Reyes’ and what it is is more or less the idea of our Christmas parade with Santa Claus…but instead with the three wise men throwing candy to all the boys and girls in the street. The calbalgata ends up in the main square where the boys and girls can tell the reyes magos want gifts they want to receive on ‘El día de los reyes magos’.

On January 6, Spain celebrates El Dia De Reyes, the Epiphany, remembering the day when the Three Wise Men following the star to Bethlehem, arrived bearing their treasured gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the Baby Jesus. the children write their letters to the Wise Men, or to their favorite Rey Mago: Melchor, Gaspar, or Baltasar, asking for the presents they would like to receive. Children (and many adults) polish and leave their shoes ready for the Kings' presents before they go to bed on the eve of January 6. The next morning presents will appear under their shoes.


Well…for us, January 6th was just another day for us to rest and recuperate and start preparing for our return to school. But the following day(s) were the start of the major ‘rebajas’ or sales of all the stores. Ansley was clearly in her element on January 7th, when she went from store to store, in excitement over the 30%, 40%, 50% and more discounts.

School started on Monday, January 9th and YES, it was very hard to go back. I was still feeling ill and took a couple of days to recuperate. The first weeks back for me were all about “What did you do over your Christmas vacation?” a bit about Martin Luther King and New Year’s Resolutions.
The struggle to find relevant, interesting and easy-to-understand topics in English still eludes us. I’ve been relying on short videos to both present ideas and for the students to hear more ‘typical American accents’. It is…a continuing work in progress.

And so – some reflections. We’ve been here for five months and have settled into our routines. Andy and I are finding more and more language intercambios and so our Spanish language skills are slowly coming together. We thoroughly enjoy these conversations, whatever the topic. It is more about connecting with people and the sharing of ideas and information than anything else.

There is a big part of me that would like to stay here for a second year. As it has taken these five months to get adjusted, find the rhythm and feel more comfortable communicating in Spanish, I know that a second year would be ‘easier’. But given the circumstances of very low pay, not being able to pay our way through to sustain ourselves, not being EU citizens and therefore not being able to find legal work, our home and connections back in Oregon, my job, the girls desire to return to their friends, their schools and education, and the very real need to get back to financial stability – I/we just can’t do it. Perhaps, sometime in the distant future, perhaps after our daughters finish schooling, perhaps with (early) retirement options….perhaps there would be a way to return.

In the meantime, I cannot begin to express the gratitude I feel for being able to have this opportunity (thank you to mis jefas, mis compañeros, el departamento de medio ambiente de Oregón, nuestros familia y amigos) and for all of the wonderful friends we have been making here in Spain, especially to Gema and your family for adopting us as your own.

I don’t know whether this is a saying or not (but it ought to be if it isn’t): It is better to be culturally rich and financially poor, than culturally poor and financially rich. Es decir: Es mejor ser rico por la cultura y tener poco dinero mas bien que tener mucho dinero y tener poco cultura.

Remember: There are cheap flights in winter to Europe and we have a spare room in our house. We would be more than honored to show you around Plasencia, Extremadura and wherever our little car can go.

Hasta la próxima vez,
Shari y familia

Posted by farmgirl 11:29 Archived in Spain Tagged new granada christmas years sevilla andalucia cabalgata ronda auxiliar vejer Comments (0)

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