Monday, November 22, 2010
When I was a young child it seemed as if there weren’t as many options as there are today for entertainment. We could read, which I loved, or we could play. Oh, we had TV back in those days; we just didn’t watch it much. I vividly recall the times my sisters and I would load up our little red wagon with snacks and water and all the things necessary for an adventure around the block. We would pretend we were traveling to far away places and for several hours be lost in our imaginations. We could be anywhere, be anyone we wanted to be and imagine life from a different perspective. I don’t think I have ever outgrown that fantasy. I now call it wanderlust and indulge in it as often as I can.
Today we are heading back home after several weeks in Spain and Portugal. We traveled over 5000km and met some wonderful people. We lived life differently than we do while at home, went to places we had never been and saw things that we will never forget. Bonds of friendship were established that will endure us a lifetime and changed us beyond what we could say. And, as always, we return different than when we left. Humbled, I think. Recognizing fully what a privilege we have had to go where we went and to do what we did. We fly courtesy of the US military and for that we are grateful. I thank my husband who dedicated thirty-seven years of his life to afford us this privilege. For those of you who cover for us while we are gone we thank you. And for our kids who keep the home fires burning and keep us up on the world we left behind, we thank you beyond what you can know.
I am always beset by a diversity of emotion when we travel. As we prepare, I am so excited I can hardly contain myself. I read, prepare, get life travel ready and daydream a million adventures. We work on our…language skills. I am lost for the several weeks we are gone, no longer who I used to be but now someone eager to live life fully and richly each and every moment. We miss our family deeply and each and every beautiful place we go and every beautiful thing we see, we think of those we love and wish they were with us. At the same time we revel in each other and the time we have with no other concerns but each other. We stay up late, get up even later and come or go as we please. We barely remember what day it is let alone what month it is.
So as we get ready to return, I again think of my compass. I am praying not to get lost in the busyness. To eagerly anticipate each day no matter where it takes me and to always look for the best in it. To live richly and love deeply and never to take my blessings for granted. To keep my priorities straight and in the right direction and to make necessary corrections readily along the way as needed. Happy to be heading home, struggling to give up the unencumbered life.
We are still in Rota Spain. We have been accepted on a C5 that is heading to the Artic Canada (New Foundland). We hope to continue to South Carolina and then to Dover, Delaware. From there, West towards Travis. So with N 36 44’ 40.91 and W 119 27’ 32.18 as our final destination, I see some potential for a little more adventure!
Monday, November 15, 2010
There are a few things that one traditionally thinks of when one thinks of Spain; bullfights and the matadors, beautifully colored tiles on everything, and flamenco dancers with wonderful guitarist. Bullfighting season is in the spring so that was something we didn’t get to see this time. We hear it is a real art form. The tiles are beautiful beyond what we can describe and we’ve thought of a hundred ways to remodel the whole house and yard to use all the tiles we’ve seen and fallen in love with. We did get to go to a Flamenco show last night in the town of Jerez de la Fontera. We had considered going while in Madrid but were told by the locals that these shows were “too commercial”. To really appreciate the history of Flamenco and Spain you needed to see an authentic show. These “shows” usually consist of a guitarist, a singer and dancers. It can be 2-6 people and is often a family group. Here is the advertisement for the group we went to see.“Parrilla’s Family has been for a long time full of artists. Beginning with the mythic singer Manuel Torres, following from Antonio Frijones, Uncle Juanichi “El Manijero”, Uncle Parilla of Jerez fromwich comes Parilla of Jerez awarded National guitar price in 1973. Ana Parilla exquisist dancer and Juan Parilla fundador.” With an advertisement like that who could refuse?
The show and dinner began at 10:30 at night so we had an easy day in preparation for the late night. We drove through the cobblestone streets and past the plaza and church and parked on a quiet little street in the middle of nowhere. The only sound was music coming from down the street so we followed the sound until we found the bodega we were looking for. We felt as if we had gone back in time at least a hundred years. It looked like an old Spanish saloon and we were seated at a wooden table with wooden chairs. We had some sangria and tapas until our dinner arrived. There wasan eclectic group of people gathered waiting for the show to begin. As it was a family group their families were present; from babies on up. It was so fun to watch. They are very serious about this and it easy to feel the intensity of the performers. Our friend Luis from the Minerva said that the music originated during the Moorish times and that the poor and working Spain used this as cadence for manual work.
We arrived home at about 1:00 in the morning happy to have been a part of Spanish culture. It really is one of those things you need to see in order to appreciate fully.
We are still in Cadiz enjoying unusually warm weather. We hear a rainstorm is approaching and we are snug and secure no matter what. Our plan is to be here about a week and then start home. We think of you each and every time we see or do something wonderful, wishing you were here to share it with us! Instead we will have to bore you with a million stories and some funny pictures! See you soon.
It’s funny how we found out about this place. For those of you who know us well, you know that we are not particularly computer-savvy. We know enough to get us by and if we had more time we would probably use the computer more and be up with the rest of the world. Tom was on an on-line chat on the Space-A website (his first ever) with a guy named Tony from Puerto Rico and he recommended this place. Now, in military travel there is a network where SPAT’s (space- a travelers) blog and pass along information to other travelers. We have found this inside information to be very helpful and a new process for us. So on the advice of Tony, we contacted Michael Moore whose father was once the flight surgeon for NAS Rota and asked if we could stay in one of his apartments.
He calls them beachfront chalets but all we know is that we are staying in a beautiful three-bedroom apartment that overlooks the beach in Puerto Santa Maria near the town of Cadiz. It is warm and wonderful and we have settled in.
We went to the market and while we have enjoyed having meals prepared for us we have missed cooking together in the kitchen. We bought a huge jar of olives and olive oil, some cervesa and wine, bread, potatoes, sausage, eggs, …well all the things we have been eating for the last several weeks and our making ourselves comfortable.
Listening to waves as they hit they shore, the warm sun on our skin gives us time to reflect. We recalled an event in Valencia during lunch. We were sitting in a lovely cafe on the Mediterranean when a man in business attire took all his clothes off in the middle of the day and lay on the warm sand just to enjoy the warm sun. We are not sure we could get away with that during our lunch breaks but we had to admit it was a lovely way to enjoy the middle of the day.
And so, we too, are enjoying the middle of our days. Neither of us are wearing a watch, we have no TV or radio, we eat when we are hungry, rest when we are tired, walk on the beach when it strikes us, soaking in the sunshine, and enjoying the stillness and just being together. No plans for much of anything yet…just being.
When we set out for our drive to Cadiz we knew we had about ten hours of travel ahead of us. We had decided, because we have no timetable or deadlines, to drive until we were ready to stop and then move on when we were ready to move on. And, while these trips are really an exercise in flexibility and rolling with the flow of things, we do have a computer and when we have wireless we do research the places where we might be interested in staying. When we headed out this time it would be different because we had no idea where we would stop. We looked at our map (we still enjoy this even though we have a wonderful GPS system) and picked a general area for our first stop.
It was rainy and cold as we left and from a passenger’s standpoint a delightful way to travel. Cozy in our car with a few snacks and a cup of coffee (it is very hard to find a to-go cup of coffee unless it comes from a vending machine) off we went. We chat and enjoy the changing scenery stopping in small towns along the way to walk and stretch a bit. We had decided to stop after we got through Madrid so when we saw the signs for Palsencia we thought we would check here for lodging. Although we had never heard of it before it seemed a nice enough town.
We asked Betty (our nickname for our GPS) for the nearest place to stay and she gave us the coordinates. Imagine our surprise when she directed us to the convent of St Vincente, which now is a beautiful Parador.
Spain is infamous for it’s Paradors. They are historical sites and monuments/castles that the government has restored and now rents out a few select rooms. They do this for a couple of reasons. From the visitors standpoint you get to stay in a beautiful place of history and imagine life as it was 500 years ago. From Spain’s standpoint you raise the revenues to keep these grand monuments maintained for historical purposes. It is a win-win situation. We had researched the Paradors before leaving and while relatively inexpensive for what you get, the usually run no less than 200E each night. On a whim we went in and asked if there were any availabilities.
We knew that if you booked in advance, stayed a minimum of two nights, were in the right age group you could get a discount. Too our advantage we figured that even though we had not met any of these requirements if they had any rooms and because it was slightly after 3:00 p.m. they might just be happy to rent the room. And they were. We got the most beautiful suite for 81 E and it was like heaven staying in it. The old city is walled and our Parador is part of the wall so we had access to the city all night long. We meandered the streets, saw the sites, ate dinner at a lovely family run restaurant that the knife maker had recommended to us and then sat on our balcony and enjoyed the moon and stars. It was luxurious and we enjoyed it so very much.
It was a perfect rest stop. Our GPS is set and we are off to our apartment on the beach of Cadiz and excited to live life there for awhile.
Looking forward to our next adventure!
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Spain is divided into four regions. The South is the Andalusia region, the North is Basque country and the mid-west is the Extremadura, and the mid-east is the Catalan area. We began to recognize the subtle changes from area to area after awhile. Food is different, language is different, and the area specialties are different. For instance, Andalusia is infamous for their olives and olive oil. When you are in that region and you say that you are going to Barcelona you would say “Bar-thay- lon-a” and Valencia would be “Ba-len-the-a”. We practiced this along the way and imagine our surprise when we got to Valencia and said it as the Andalusian’s do and were told in Valencia they just say Valencia. I guess they knew we were from the South.
We were told that the Basque country is beautiful and very different from the other region of Spain. I have always been fascinated by this area so when it was our time to move on this is the direction we chose. It lies on the Bay of Biscay and borders France. The drive was exquisite. Gone were the seas of olive trees to be replaced by an area that looked like New Hampshire in the fall. The weather was cool and the landscape mountainous and perfect. We rented a room in a Basque farmhouse just outside the city of Bilboa. They were the kindest and most helpful people and gave us input on so many things to do and see.
Bilboa is a port city filled with nautical life. At the same time, within fifteen to twenty minute drive you are in hills on the outskirts of town. For us this was a perfect combination.
We could leave our car and take the funicular to town where we could walk for hours, take a tram, or the metro and get any and everywhere we wanted to go. Although small and historical it has quite a metropolitan flare.
The language is completely different here. It is called Euskara and is thought to be the survivor of a language family that once extended across Europe and sounds so very different than anything we had heard. We practiced a few basic words and the people we met along the way really appreciated our efforts. They are infamous for their wines and apple ciders here. In fact, after our meals we were given a glass of sparkling cider from a large vat in the middle of the restaurant. It is probably five feet high and they stand back about five feet before they fill your glass. They don’t spill a drop and it is fascinating to watch them pour it into our glasses.
It was lovely to be by the sea again. As always, something about the ocean breeze, the cool air, the warm food filled our hearts and souls. We had contemplated crossing the border to France but instead elected to head south down toward the beaches of Cadiz where we could soak up the sun and live life in a beach house a friend of ours recommended. This would be a cross-country drive so we packed up our stuff and headed out with no particular timetable of arriving in the South.
We will see how this works out and let you know!
We find there is this reoccurring theme in our travels. Just about the time we are really comfortable where we are it is time to move on. We both have a sense of when this is supposed to happen and have been together on all the decisions of when and where to go. We look at this as a God thing and both know this is how this time is supposed to be. We know that each place is very special and our absolute favorite while we are there and that this promise holds true for the next place. So when it came time to move on, we changed our direction from Barcelona to Madrid. We were excited to see Gabriella and spend some time with her.
Gabriella is Liviu’s next to youngest sister and to put it mildly a real spitfire.At twenty-four years of age she has lived and worked in numerous countries to better her life. She currently is working towards becoming a law enforcement officer. No easy task in Spain but nonetheless, her goal. I suspect she could do anything she set her mind and heart on. To say that she is a hard worker would be an understatement. She too, has had a hard life and has worked very hard to get where she is now. She never complains and feels as if she has been extraordinarily blessed. She is amazingly kind and extremely generous.
So when she sent us this e-mail there was no doubt that we would go to Madrid and visit with her. “Desiree mama and father, please come to my house. We see Toledo and Madrid and I show you everything. Be prepared to walk your feet off J J J! My house is our house and you stay as long as you can. I will cook for you and take you to Chino food-no cat or dog I promise” well, with a deal like that who could say no!
Gabriella is a lovely woman and we have grown to love her immensely. Her brother Lorenzo (that’s how he spells it now that he is in Spain) was there also. They did walk our feet off. We would head out the door by 9:00 a.m. often having dinner at midnight somewhere in the city.
We had a blast! Different than our life in Zuherios but very real Spain. We ate octopus (they had told us it was porpoise so we were pleasantly surprised), Argentinean food (Gabi’s boyfriend is from Argentina) and a variety of all of their favorites. We would stop and have a cup of coffee late into the night so we could continue with the night activities. It was awesome. We took the double decker bus tour through Madrid late at night and it was fabulous. We had walked the streets for hours and this gave us a different perspective. It can best be described as a cross between San Francisco and New York and it comes to life at night.Madrid is beautiful and we loved being there with these two young people.
To say that our time their was lovely would be an understatement. It was hard to leave; forever imprinted in our hearts is the kindness and generosity of these young people who showed us life in Madrid.
I think were heading off to Basque country…will let you know how that goes!
We had extended our time at the Hacienda and after the seventh day Luis said we were no longer guests but family. This would make the leaving even harder. We would miss the familiarity of our surroundings and the easy way in which we interacted with the people we met along the way. We now knew the ladies at the market in Dona Mencia and they were eager to help us find the things we needed often taking our dictionary and finding the words for us. Life was easy and very comfortable.
When Luis asked why we had chosen the Minerva for our stay the answer was easy. We wanted to live life. We wanted to live life here in rural Spain and get lost in the way it was for those who lived in Zuherios. We don’t for one minute think they all had it as easy as we did but for a moment we got to look into their lives and even be a part of it. This was a time we will never forget. Nor do we think that all Spain lives this simple, uncomplicated life that we had been a part of.
We really had no idea as to where we would go next but one morning we woke up and said it was off to Valencia and then maybe Barcelona. Our son-in-law Liviu has family in Valencia so we thought we might stop by and visit.
To our delight Liviu’s mom invited us to stay in her home while we were there. His sister Gabriella who lives in Madrid also extended an invitation to us if we cared to come her way. What I write about next is the hardest to put into words but probably one of the best things that will have come out of this trip.
There is much in this life we have seen and lived and to this day I thank God that I can still be caught of guard and moved by the simplest acts of kindness. We had never met Livius mother Ana as she had left Romania about a year before our daughter Desiree married Liviu. We had gone over a few times but she had already left for Spain where she took a job as a caregiver to help support her family. This has always seemed a difficult decision to me as she left seven children behind, Liviu being the oldest at twenty-one. She missed their wedding and I am sure many events in her family’s lives. Some times I think we don’t fully appreciate the depth of love until we understand the depth of sacrifice one makes. On our way over we talked about a small gift to bring to Ana to thank her for letting us stay with her. Our daughter Desiree said she always liked a little chocolate with coffee so we picked up a 10E box along the way. When we arrived she was waiting for us at the door and although she is my age I felt as if I were coming home. She welcomed us with open arms and with a mixture of Romanian and Spanish we chatted away. We had brought our computer and showed her the pictures of our families over the years. One very poignant moment was when we both watched the video of Liviu and Gabriel on Mother’s Day about two years ago.
He had done this at church as a tribute to his wife and to his mother and the two of them sang a very special song about mothers in Romanian. As we watched this video (yes, over and over) we both began to cry. I for what I had gained and she for what she had missed. The depth of our emotion was the same and we shared such a special bond. The language was irrelevant the love was significant.
There was a flurry of phone calls the whole time we were there.
Everyone was happy that we were here and they all came by to visit. Ana cooked the most spectacular meals and cared for us beyond what I could ever put into words. She is a caregiver for a ninety-year-old man who has suffered a stroke. She works so very hard and yet we felt as if we were the most important people in her world. I think everyone feels like that around Ana. Most of Liviu’s family is now in Spain and we had the opportunity to see them all except Livius dad and youngest sister Andrea.
It was very hard to leave. We had wanted to purchase a phone card for her so she could call her family but none were to be found. Our 10E box of chocolate seemed so small now and I felt as if nothing I could give her would ever equal what I had received. I pondered over this all night and decided I would give her something of mine, something personal, to keep. I always travel with a few scarves so I decided to leave one with her. I fretted a few times about this, as it seemed so small. Not only was I leaving someone I loved but also she had packed us up with Iberian ham and twelve pounds of Spain’s best chocolate! In the morning I looked for my scarves and none could be found. Now I really felt bad. We left amid tears and hugs and hopes and promises to see each other again. She called the next day to say she had found my scarf and that she would send it. With the help of Gabriella I told her to keep it. That she could wear it when she was cold and that it would warm her as thoughts of her would do me. And that she could recall that I had once worn this scarf and it would remind her that we both were loving the same children. I think she knows all she needs to know…and I know that I do.
Thoughts of Spain often conjure the images of the Alhambra Place in Grenada. It is known as the Red Palace and was declared an UNESCO heritage site in 1984 and is considered to be one of the most beautiful palace/gardens in the world. We can attest that this is true. It has a great history beginning in the 13th century with the rule of the Nasrid dynasty. The Arabic design is still so very visual today. It wasn’t until the 15th and 16th century that the Catholic monarchs-Isabella and Ferdinand conducted extensive repairs and made the alterations that are still present today and give it some of it’s Spainish flare. It is breath taking and it is easy for one to meander the grounds and get lost in time.
Our friend Luis suggested that we take the walk the locals take called the Cuesta de los Chinos. This is a trail that takes you around the periphery of the Palace and gardens and allows you tosee a bit more of the history of Grenada. We have never been lead astray by his recommendation so away we went. With nothing more than a hand written map we set out to explore the old city. It was breath taking and quaint to say the least. We meandered the quiet streets stopping to look at the history along the way. There are still the old Arab markets that have a feel and sound that is different than anything else you see in Spain; bright colorful fabrics, jewelry, music, and spices galore.
To mix the old with the new, Luis told us about a couple of Bodegas/Tapa bars where you can bring your own bottle and they will fill it up with the local wine for one Euro. The Tapas are free at these places when you have a glass of vino or a cervesa. So, away we went trying not to look like foreigners. We went into the Casa Julio and walked up to the bar and in our very practiced Espana ordered our drinks. And with that came our first order of fried sardines. They were awesome. Next we had…well, I’m not quite sure but I think it might have been a vegetable dish. These places get quite full during siesta time and people line up for a chance to squeeze up to the bar. Luis tells us that the working people often stop here for a drink and snack before heading home for lunch and rest before the evening gets under way. Sounds like a good deal to me. They get very crowded and noisy so when I say we were holding our own here that really is quite an accomplishment.
The pictures do not really do the grounds justice nor trying to explain the feelings of peace and tranquility one feels here while meandering between the 13th and 21st centuries.
Suffice to say that each time we recall the Alhambra a smile will come across our face and stay a very long time.
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
We woke up this morning with the recollection of where we were last year at this time. Beirut, Lebanon enroute to Baskinta, Lebanon to spend a few days with long lost family. It was a most memorable birthday for Tom and I so when his birthday approached this year I wanted it to be another unforgettable day. We had planned to be in the Alhambra museum/palace in Grenada but had a slight difficulty getting our tickets because of the holidays here in Spain. We will go another day. Our friend Luis had a few suggestions but there was one that really piqued our interest. He suggested we drive into a small Andalusian village, Fuente Alhama, and have lunch in the house/restaurant of the only eatery in the area. This is a family run operation where mama does all the cooking and papa and his son do all the serving and clearing. It is in their home and they have two small eating areas inside and a big porch out the front door.
There is no easy way to get there…you just follow the map that Luis draws for you. We were given a note that introduced us and Luis said no need to worry about what to order, “You get whatever mama cooks”. We were excited to see what that would be.
We were given the table by the fireplace and near the opened front door. Here we could see the coming and going of the entire town. Numerous people came and went, often times on horseback. It was awesome to watch them ride up and tie up their horse before coming in.
We were given a couple cans of beer and then a plate of something we had never seen or tasted before.It looked like a small pickled fig and it was delicious. We met a couple of men who sat across the table from us and they explained a few of the dishes. These were capers and they were huge! They would offer us some of their food, asking us to try something that had just been brought to them with an explanation of what it was. It was like family. We then got a plate of something that looked like bread dressing from Thanksgiving Day. It was very tasty and it was just thick, soft bread fried in olive oil. The main course was a plate of large fried potatoes with six fresh fried eggs on top of it. Along with that were blood sausages and chorizo.
We rested a few moments before that brought us an old coke bottle filed with homemade anise. We thought of our daughter-in-law Liz and wished we could bring this bottle back home for her. There was no lid on the bottle so that would have made it difficult. There is a city, Rute, south of here that is infamous for it’s anise. This was homemade and the best we had ever tasted.They brought it along with four individually wrapped pastries, which I had to slip into my purse.
We sat for a while and while with hope that our food would digest, but we remained full for the rest of the day. It was unforgettable!
And by the way, I know what were going to have for Sunday lunch when we return!
Most of us have been the recipients of bulk e-mails and while I find I don’t always have the time to read them there was something that caught my eye in one I received yesterday. First, it was from a friend and fellow traveler of ours named Martin and second, it was about violins. For those of you who know me, you know that I have a passion for violin music. There is something about the music that can move me to tears and, as my friend Lois can attest, I listen to it everyday.
This e-mail article was about an experiment done at the Metro station in Washington DC in 2007. Early one morning the renowned violinist Joshua Bell dressed in ordinary clothes and a baseball cap began to play his Stratavarius violin. He played some of the most beautiful and complicated Bach concertos. Over the period of one hour twenty people stopped walking to listen to him play and $32.00 was dropped in his violin case. It was a study about perception. The questions that were raised were these: In a commonplace environment and at inopportune moment do we perceive beauty? If so do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent and beauty in an unexpected content? It made me stop and think. Being a devout violin fan I believe I would have stopped and listened to the music. But, how many things do we miss by being preoccupied and in a hurry and can we find beauty in the unexpected?
Today after lunch Tom and drove to a beautiful little town called Priego de Cordoba. We had heard that they had the most beautiful fountains in small piatsa at the end of town.It was a beautiful and sunny day and so we walked the several blocks to get a glimpse of them. The locals will tell you that these are historical monuments and that in the summer this area is swamped with tourist.
We turned the corner and in the middle of a small park were three beautiful and very small fountains. For a moment I was surprised by their size, expecting to see something like the Trevi fountains in Rome. We sat there for a few moments on a bench with a cool breeze and the warm sun and the most incredible thing began to happen. The fountains are a series of three small fountains interconnected by the flow of water. The first one was built in the 16th century and the last in the 19th century. They were at slightly different levels and as the water flowed over a series of rocks from one pool to another it made the most beautiful sound. And, while the fountains were nice, the sound of the water was exquisite.
We sat mesmerized for the longest time just listening. It was well worth the effort to have come. We held hands in silence and sat in the warm sun. We’re sure we heard violins playing.