Category: Extended Study Leave

New page, new chapter…Blog #115

Do you remember your high school years? It seemed (to me anyways) the hours of boring classes, homework, exams, and tedious studying, would never end? (says the professor). But they did, and as I look back I realize they were just a tiny bleep in time. I feel a bit of deja vu these days–I can’t believe how quickly this year has passed! 

August 1 marked a year since I began my extended study leave (ESL); actually it marked the end of that ESL. Unbelievable! It was my main focus since beginning to prepare the proposal in Spring of 2019, and now it is becoming a distant memory. But what a memory! 

My blog posts have also been focused on preparing for, and living the adventure experienced with my husband, and as I now return to blogging, I’m having a hard time getting back in the groove. I’m still committed to writing about learning from life and travels, but feel like a new page has been turned in life, and I’m not sure what the next chapter is called, nor how to get there. 

Perhaps a bridge is needed. My last blog was posted mid-June, let’s start there.

June was basically spent getting back to being home, as in Kelowna, BC, Canada: wrapping up loose ends from my research, writing my Global Professional in Human Resources exam (which I passed…phew!), re-adjusting to life in Canada, catching up with friends, connecting with colleagues at work, and spending as much time as possible with our daughter and family. To be honest, June was a bit of a whirlwind (I did write a bit about it in my previous blog).  

July hit, and with the research and resulting papers etc. complete, it was time to let my mind and body rest before digging into preparing for another year of teaching HR and Management courses, and working with clients. July truly was back to basics…the 3-Rs, ok 4-Rs: reading, writing (not sure how this was labelled as an ‘R’), riding, and relaxing. The reading was light, mostly mysteries and the like; the writing was focused on my travel memoir from this past year (more about that to come); bike riding was a mix of both slow and pushing hard; and relaxing was well, relaxing. 

Enjoying wine and cream puffs at Arrowleaf Winery

The more we travel, the more I appreciate the beauty of the Okanagan Valley region in which we live. We are surrounded by mountains that house world class skiing, 30+ golf courses, approximately 182 wineries, and many lakes. The Okanagan Lake alone is 135 km long! So while we absolutely love to travel, we are fortunate to have a spectacular location to return to after each adventure.

But, my mind is already longing for more travel…yes, the more you travel, the more you realize how many more places you want to experience. Future travels will probably not be for such an extended time as this past adventure to Europe; however, there is still great value in a weekend away closer to home, taking a week or so to a drivable location, or a few weeks to more distant lands that call for a plane ride to jet you away to some new exploration. 

I have many memories and learnings from past travels sewn into the fabric of my heart and soul, and I invite you to reflect on them with me over the next weeks and months until the next yet unknown adventure presents itself.

A favourite spot to take in the Okanagan Lake.

Adjusting to ‘home’…Blog #114

Kelowna, our final destination on an amazing extended study leave. 

We’ve been home for just over a week. People ask how it feels to be back home and I’m not quite sure how to answer, yet. Yes, it’s amazing to be back with family and friends, and yes, it’s wonderful to be back in our own home. 

I went for my first bike ride yesterday, on what I affectionately call my ‘girlie’ bike. Riding along a close-by linear park, Mission Creek, it felt good to once again take in the sights, sounds, and smells that are so familiar and welcoming. In the afternoon, beach chairs slung on our backs, we took the short walk to the lake and simply took in the beauty that was before us. Back home, we sat on the deck with a glass of wine and olives, reliving the many afternoon wine sipping breaks we enjoyed in Portugal and Spain. It was wonderful to bask in the gratitude of the many wonderful lived experiences of the past 7 months living and working in Europe. 

That was yesterday. The week before was not so peaceful and tranquil. One thing we learned while travelling was that the first week in a new location was always wrought with unexpected challenges and a sense of total upheaval. Unpacking, setting up a new ‘home’, discovering what cooking utensils were in the cupboards, finding where to buy groceries, getting accustomed to a new language and culture, getting the lay of the land, locating medical facilities, figuring out when stores and restaurants were open, getting a grip on the local transportation system,  knowing when it was safe to cross the street…it all took time. While excited to embrace a new living location, we inevitably dealt with tension and stress until we could finally relax our breathing and appreciate all that was to be explored and experienced.

Arriving back in Kelowna felt somewhat the same. While it was familiar, it wasn’t yet ‘home’. Things changed. New buildings have been erected, prices of food and gas have skyrocketed, our grocery store no longer sells our favourite Sunday morning scones, our condo was a shell, void of our personal items, and pneumonia arrived home from Europe with my husband resulting in 2 days of emergency rooms in a hospital greatly suffering the effects of extremely low staffing. It felt like we had simply moved to our next location on our journey.

However, the settling in is happening. As I sit in my home office or on the deck, I look out at blue skies, vibrant green trees, our walls once again house the smiling pictures of adored kids and grand kids, books once again fill the shelves, and a cup of hot coffee accompanies my morning quietness.

It’s good to be home, truly home. Our time with family and friends is richer than ever, our appreciation of where we live has grown, gratitude for my husband’s amazing medical team is even stronger than before we left for Europe, and I have great anticipation for reconnecting with my work colleagues over the next 3 days. 

But there’s a change, I can feel it. In me. I can’t explain it yet, but I am aware of it and look forward to digging deeper and reflecting on it, to discover that part of Europe that has taken route in my soul. Travel changes a person…it’s inevitable. We don’t always know how, but it does. You bring a bit of each place you visit home with you. Travel feeds your curiosity, grows your appreciation for other cultures and people, broadens your desire for new tastes in the foods consumed, forces you to reflect on why you do the things you do, broadens your perspective, and nourishes a deep love and expectancy for life. It’s addictive!

It is great to be home, and we are excited to revisit favourite locations, always enjoyed best with family and friends, and look forward to discovering new things about this fantastic place we get to call home. Until the next travel experience…

Until that next, new experience, I plan to take time to think back on all the amazing places in the world we have been blessed to visit, and reflect on what learnings from those experiences have taken root in my soul.

And you, what places have taken root in your soul? 

Madrid, then farewell Europe…Blog #113

Madrid…what an amazing city! Two days is not enough to really get to know a place, but certainly enough to leave an impression. The architecture is incredible — the buildings, the balconies, and the most spectacular statues everywhere you look. 

We stayed at the Iberostar which, by the way, provided some of the best customer service we have ever experienced. From there we walked, and walked, and absorbed all that is Madrid. 

The first day we just wandered, coming first to the Plaza Mayor then took in the San Miguel Market, offering the most amazing display of tapas I have ever seen! Next we headed to Almudena Cathedral and were awed by its majesty. One aspect I really appreciated was the colour in the ceilings and stained glass windows, beautiful. Fun fact, Real Madrid CF won the EUFA Champions League final the day before we arrived. The following day had them offering the trophy to the Virgin of Almudena, along with a beautiful bouquet of flowers. On our visit, I climbed to the platform where the flowers had been laid…a part of Madrid history. 

Day 2 was a very different experience…though still amazing. We ended the day at the Museo Del Prado . If you have time for only one museum, this is the one. The art is exquisite as are the many statues throughout the museum. We were even treated to a young woman playing classical piano as we wandered the many rooms.  

As terrific as the Prado was, the majority of our second day was spent strolling around one of the most peaceful, beautiful parks I have encountered, Parque de El Retiro If someone were just dropped into El Retiro, they’d never guess they were in the middle of a city hosting a population of 6,714,000 people! So much to appreciate about this UNESCO World Heritage Site: a lovely lake with row boats, over 128 hectares of green space, 15,000 trees, the colourful and fragrant La Rosaleda Garden (with over 4,000 roses), countless majestic statues that tell much of the history of Madrid, and, the park even even boasts it’s own Palacio de Cristal (Glass Palace). What an experience walking through this glass and iron building dating back to 1887. 

The name Parque de El Retiro means Pleasant Retreat Park, a perfect description of a perfect oasis that provided a memorable experience for our final days in Europe.

As I write this post, we are waiting for our final leg home. We’ve already flown from Madrid to Toronto, Canada, then on to Vancouver. In less than an hour, we take the short 1 hour flight to Kelowna…back home. It truly has been an amazing seven month journey, an unforgettable life experience that will take some time to fully process…time to reflect on the ups, downs, joys, tears, surprises, memories created, and life lessons that still come along no matter your age. I have always believed, and now even more so…travel opens our eyes to an amazingly, fantastic world that, once experienced, will change you forever.

For now, we look forward to arriving at the Kelowna airport to the open arms of our daughter and grand daughter…such joy awaits.    

Retreat in Ibiza…Blog #112

We opened the curtains only to be awestruck by the most breathtaking view from our hotel balcony. This is what we would feast our eyes on for the next six mornings!

We return to Canada in less than two weeks. While in Europe our plan was to set times aside, step away from the research and writing, and be on holiday. Last week was one of those set aside times. Ibiza, Spain. One of the Balearic Islands. Growing up, our family never missed a vacation…my parents highly valued these times away, just the five of us. While in Ireland, most vacations were to the South or to England and Scotland. However, Ibiza was our first family tropical vacation. They say that memories over exaggerate things, not this memory. Ibiza was every bit as beautiful as I remembered.

When laying out our schedule for Europe, Ibiza was not on the list. Bilbao and San Sebastian were strong contenders; however, after a few longs days of driving between Portugal and Spain, we decided to find something closer. It was only then that Ibiza came into the picture.

For six days we lazed by the pool, read and listened to audio books, walked the promenade, explored Dalt Vila (Old Town), ate delicious meals, drank excellent Spanish wines, and treated ourselves to a three hour sunset cruise on a 35’ sailboat while enjoying a lovely charcuterie served with Cava. That’s it. No tight schedule, no rushing, just relaxation.

At one point, my husband asked, “So what have you been reflecting on or thinking about while sitting out here?” “Nothing, absolutely nothing” was my immediate response! Now, if you know me, you’ll know that’s a totally uncharacteristic reality for my mind…for it to be so at peace, so quiet, so…present, is a rare happening. Not until the question was posed did I fully realize how completely relaxed and free of concern I actually was. We needed this down time, and our six hour overnight ferry ride from Valencia to Ibiza transported us to the perfect retreat.

I thought I would be inspired to do some writing, to dream of future plans, but no…all I wanted to do was take in the peace, tranquility, and beauty around us.

As a side note, Ibiza has the reputation for being a party Island. That’s true, to a certain extent, but not where we were. The most rowdy noise makers were the birds…and their song was most welcome.

It’s curious…Ibiza has always been a special place for me. Wonderful childhood memories I have spoken of fondly with family and friends. Never did I expect to add to those memories by spending time there with my husband. Such serendipitous events are really quite wonderful. I remember another such time while flying from our home in British Columbia, Canada to Florida, US to meet up with my brother and his family. Severe weather caused us to touch down overnight in Denver, Colorado, biting into our precious holiday time. No luggage, no toothbrush, just what we had in our carry-on. It was February, and we were dressed for Florida, not Colorado. I was not a happy journeyer. It was then my husband reminded me of a restaurant I had often talked about whilst visiting Denver. Casa Bonita. Mexican food, mariachi bands, cliff divers, and the best sopapillas I had ever tasted! Why not look it up and go visit? Car rented, and we were off to add a family memory to one experienced when I was eighteen! Serendipitous indeed.

Impromptu activities, serendipitous events, interruptions, unforeseen experiences, out of the blue happenings — all things that aren’t planned, and at times, totally out of our control. Some interruptions are immediately delightful, but not all. However, we get to choose how we respond. I’m great with the impromptu things, especially when they are my idea 🙂 My husband, on the other hand, handles those unforeseen experiences with grace and optimism, me not so much. I need time to get my head around the disruption before embracing it.

What about you? What serendipitous events have you experienced that turned out to be a gift greater than anything you could have anticipated, or even planned?

Views and life perspective…Blog #111

As I start to write this blog, I’m sitting in the lounge of Hotel Centre, Cordova, Spain, a very lovely hotel with excellent access to the older part of town…and the view from the rooftop terrace is spectacular. 

I’m into views…rooftop views over the city (like this one taken from the roof of our Cordova hotel), views from the top of cliffs looking over the ocean or Mediterranean Sea. Then there’s balcony views over the goings on of life on the sidewalks and streets below. We’ve marvelled at views from the top of the Duomo in Florence, or Miguelete Bell Tower in Valencia, and will never forget standing on Mars Hill overlooking the impressive city of Athens. Views give you a much different perspective, they remind you to take a step back and see the bigger picture. 

For me personally, being with family can also give you that fresh perspective; it reminds you that you’re not alone in the world, that the children you raised have grown into adults who reflect the values instilled through their growing up years, and have acquired wisdom beyond anything we as parents passed to them. Then there’s the grandkids…oh my! Seeing your offspring and their spouses raise their own children, is the moment we parents can step back and know the future is in good hands. A beautiful perspective.

We are enroute back to Valencia from a 10 day visit to the Algarve in Portugal. Ten days of having emotional tanks filled, and new memories created with both of our children and their families. Our family has been split all over the globe for some time, so this was a treasured time to be together; time for European Uncle and Auntie to meet their new niece, and cousins to meet their Canadian cousin for the first time…it was mutual love at first sight all around. There’s nothing like relaxing on a beautiful Algarve beach, sun shining, water sparkling, while grandkids and Papa try to build a sandcastle, laughter all around…basking in the simple joys of life. Quite a view to behold.

As you’ll know from former blogs, my husband and I spent December through February in Albufeira before moving on to Valencia for another three months. For this visit back we stayed in Carvoeiro. We discovered Carvoeiro while staying in Albufeira, and found it such a delightful place. Now, after staying there for 10 days, we absolutely love it! The views are spectacular, the cafés and restaurants plentiful, and while most are Spanish speaking, their level of English communication really helps when your non-existing Portuguese language skills amount to bom Dia and obrigada! Carvoeiro is a central location for many day trips to many more amazing beaches, and offers incredible hiking along cliff tops. The views over the Atlantic are truly breathtaking. Just to give you a glimpse of what I mean, this is the view from across the quiet street at our vacation rental. We will be back!

I was thinking, what other places have we visited whose views so impressed that, when recalled, can transport one back to that special moment in time. The place that immediately comes to mind is Santorini, one of the Greek Islands. We visited there in 2013 with some friends. Incredibly beautiful. Now, we are really fortunate to travel with friends who love to plan travel. On this particular Greek Island holiday, Mr. W. chose and booked all our accommodations. Each location, Athens, Samos, Mykonos, Naxos, Santorini, and Nafplio were spectacular, but when we arrived at our cave house in Santorini, walked out to our private balcony, the view took our breath away. The Mediterranean had never looked so majestic, and we could sit out on our large balcony and take it all in. A close second was the view from our private balcony in Naxos overlooking the same sea, the town itself quaint beyond words with locally owned shops, cafés and restaurants tucked around every corner. And the wine! How can such inexpensive wine be so extraordinarily delicious (this was true throughout Greece)?

So what is it about views that provide such opportunity for reflection and refreshment for overwhelmed souls? Perhaps it’s simply the way such vistas, and time with family, cause us to slow down, stop, take in our surroundings, marvel at what we see, ‘bracket’ whatever is happening in our day to day lives, and cause us to whisper a prayer of thanksgiving to the Creator for what has unfolded before our eyes. Often, these moments come unexpectedly, just waiting to fill us with amazement and wonder. They certainly prompt me to pause, probe, and ponder! 

What is it that creates these moments for you?

Tourists in our city: Valencia…Blog #109

Mercat Central Valencia

They say it never rains in Valencia, they haven’t lived in Valencia for the past 4 weeks! When friends ask what the weather is like here, I compare it to growing up in Ireland, or being in Vancouver, Canada in the Fall. We never expected Spain to be this bone chilling, windy, or grey. But…there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it looks like a big, beautiful ball of fire in the sky. At least for most of the days to come.  

While it’s yet another rainy day in Valencia, we did have some lovely days this past week, and we enjoyed them to the fullest! In my last post you would have heard me describe the effects and impact of culture shock. Well, this past week we also had a welcome reprieve from that challenging state of existence…four of our good friends came to visit! Seeing them was like a breath of fresh air, like new life being breathed into us. For a week I closed my lap top, put aside the research and studying, put aside our effort to be ‘locals’, and fully embraced being tourists…and did we ever enjoy it. If you have never taken on the challenge of being a ‘tourist in your own town’, I highly encourage it. You see things through different eyes, and experience things so much taken for granted. Even though we are still temporary newbies in Valencia, it did feel like we were, in a way, welcoming our friends to our place, our city. However, along with what has become familiar to us, like taking busses, trams, foot power, and favourite eateries, we explored our as yet uncharted Valencia together. 

Our first meal together was at Boa Beach restaurant in Cabanyal, close to our flat, and to where our friends were staying. We celebrated being together again with laughter, great food, excellent wine and beer, and catching up with each other’s lives. Boa Beach provided the perfect environment for our reunion.

Experiencing the gastronomy of a location is important…so much culture is reflected in the food enjoyed. Paella is a rice dish originating in Valencia, and is so delicious. The traditional Paella is made with chicken and rabbit, while an authentic alternative features seafood. We discovered that the best way to enjoy it is to actually take a Paella cooking class (a no-brainer after the Carbonara cooking class my hubby and I took a couple of weeks previous). Monday morning, we hopped on the bus to a not yet explored Mercat de Russafa where we met our Paella chef and hostess. After shopping for the ingredients in the market, we headed to our culinary classroom for an experience not to be forgotten. First lesson…make Sangria and enjoy chef prepared tapas. We were off to an amazing start. The chefs then took us step by step through the preparation process, explaining the history of Paella, along with the essentials that go into creating an authentic Paella…and the best part came when we all sat at tables and relished the fruits of our labour. This is a Valencia experience I highly recommend!

The next day we found ourselves wandering around Old Town, taking in the sights and sounds unique to this area. Lunch was enjoyed in a small tapa’s restaurant, prepared in a kitchen so small, no one could have imagined the delicious food served from it. One of the treasures we found among the narrow streets and ornate balcony lined buildings was a silk artisan. Her work was stunning, so much so we just had to make some purchases; the pièce de résistance for our delightful and talented artisan – we were the first Canadian customers to purchase her work. What an honour for us to show off her work back home!  The remainder of the day gave us an opportunity to introduce our friends to some of our own cool discoveries, like the river that’s now a linear park – Jardí del Túria. So how did the river Turia become a beautiful, nine kilometre long park? The amazing story is all here for you to read and appreciate.

Many people had strongly suggested we visit the City of Arts and Science, which we decided to do mid-week. Tickets purchased, we arrived at our first stop, the Oceanografic, just in time for opening. I realise that some folks take issue with animals being captive in such places…I respect that. However, I have to say that from our perspective, this is an amazing place to visit. We were in awe of the beauty of the animals whose habitat was this carefully and thoughtfully designed structure of buildings, pools, averies…all created for visibility, interaction where appropriate, and immense beauty to behold. If you are having a bad day, I would challenge you to walk around and take in these amazing creations; I guarantee you will soon find yourself smiling, laughing, or simply being in awe of all you are experiencing. Next step…follow up your Oceanografic adventure with a visit to The Hemisfèric. We chose to see the Blue Ocean, and once more were in awe. This IMAX Cinema boasts a digital 3D screen measuring about 22 x11 metres. It was huge! The chairs were in a semi-lying position, enabling the guests to view the most spectacular under, and above, water life imaginable. And, the message of preserving our oceans came across loud and clear! Our visit to the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias was completed by time spent in the Arts and Science Centre. While we all enjoyed the exhibits as adults, we couldn’t help thinking how much our grandchildren would be enthralled with all the hands-on activities the attraction offered. 

By this time…we were exhausted, ready to head back to Cabanyal for dinner at another of our favourite eateries, La Princesa Restaurante. Once more the food was amazing, great conversation about the joys and wonders we had just experienced, and of course, the ever present challenge of ordering food in an area where the English language is rarely understood. The confusion was such that we ended up paying for four desserts rather than two, five sangria (which were amazing), rather than three, had a delicious dish of venison cheeks delivered that we didn’t order. And, we turned away another two plates of food not requested. The overcharges on the bill weren’t noticed until the next day; still, when our friends approached Princesa’s the next day, they immediately righted the mistake, and all was well.  

207 spiraling stairs up this tower

A walking tour of Old Town on Thursday was capped with a trip to the Valencia Central Market where our friends purchased what was reputed to be the best olive oil in Spain (recommended by our paella chefs). Following another superb gastronomical treat, three of us climbed the 207 steps of the MIguelete Bell Tower of Valencia’s Cathedral and were rewarded with a spectacular view of the city of Valencia, and the four PM chime of the bells! Two euros well spent!

One thing you need to know about our friends, music is a shared passion. Not just music observers, but performers, composers, music teachers, orchestra members, pianists extraordinaire, and vocalists. Needless to say, when we learned that renowned oboe player Francois Leleux was performing with the Valencia Orchestra under the direction of Conductor and Artistic Director Alexander Liebreich, purchasing tickets was a must. The concert was inspiring, uplifting, and memorable. The Auditori can seat 1.490 spectators, and is truly spectacular. It can be found in the same area as La Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències.

Our friends left at the end of the week to explore more of Spain, but in that short, but packed week, we created more wonderful memories to add to our many adventures together. There is no doubt it’s difficult to be away from family and friends as we sojourn in Europe, making us all the more thankful for these times when we can share our journey with them – they are part of our story. 

As far as our culture shock experience, it is diminishing; however, we are accepting the reality that we will continue to work it through until we leave, and that’s just the way it is. That’s what living and learning through travel is all about.

Culture shock…Blog #108

House is 6 floors high, 107cm wide. In La Seu, Valencia

I’ve heard about it, been aware of it, down played it, and now experienced it…culture shock! Shock is a great descriptor.

When I was 11, still living in Ireland, my dad, was recognized as the top sales person in his company and thus won an all expense trip for the family to a location of his choosing; my parents decided on Ibiza, Spain. It was truly amazing, very different from our home country. The language was different and the food was not quite the same as we were accustomed to. I remember one particular dinner at the hotel in which we were staying. I can’t recall what was on the menu, but whatever it was, we thought, called for ketchup. Admittedly, ketchup was like a side dish for us. Once the food was served my brother naturally asked for ketchup. The look on the server’s face removed any doubt that this was not customary for our dish…or any dish served in this establishment. Still, he returned with the requested condiment, and with the chef. They stood by my brother and watched what he was going to do with the ketchup, then shook their heads and walked away. We thought this was funny, continued on with our delicious meal, and decided that the Spanish people had strange ideas about food, and easily accepted it as being a cultural thing. No big deal. The language barrier was overcome with non-verbal hand descriptions aptly demonstrated by my dad, and learning very basic, and important, words and phrases: baño, por favor, Cuánto cuesta este?, Muchas gracias, and, Podemos tener más papel higiénico? (can we have more toilet paper?). For 2 weeks we were able to get by. 

We observed another very strange thing…around 2pm, everyone seemed to disappear, leaving the pool at the full disposal of our family! We were so excited, and enjoyed our choice of deck chairs, servers, and of course, no one to worry about when splashing to our heart’s content. Later that evening, we learned of our error. 2pm marked the time when the sun was at its hottest, and the smart people of Ibiza knew to escape to the cool of their rooms. So here we were with our virgin Irish skin, washing off what little sun tan lotion we had applied by jumping into the chlorinated pool, towelling off…repeat. By bedtime we were in such pain! Our red scorched skin replaced the need for any lights being turned on that night! Again, we learned, and quickly mimicked the practice honoured by everyone around us on the resort. For 2 weeks we were able to get by.

A few decades later I am once again in Spain; it’s not so easy, and we are not on vacation, and it’s not just about the sun or getting more toilet paper, and we are not in the comfort of a resort. We are living in the old fisherman’s quarter of El Barrio del Cabanyal. The area is steeped in history; a walk around reveals glimpses of a turbulent past. It truly is a neighbourhood, not a tourist attraction. And, English is not spoken by, well, anyone! For this we were not prepared. It’s not just the language, we feel like outsiders, like we don’t belong. We’re not the ‘longed for welcomed guests’…we are trying to insert ourselves into someone else’s home, and it is hard! Not only is the language different, but the non-verbal actions are challenging to interpret. It’s almost a feeling of indifference that we are getting. Please don’t misunderstand me, this is what we are seeing and feeling…it is not an exposé on the character or hospitality of the Spanish people. When we do find someone who can speak English, they are more than happy to help, the challenge is finding those people.

One of the Fallas monuments in Valencia El Carme

Another surprise awaiting us was the constant setting off of fireworks. According to Mario, our amazing tour guide, Spaniards love fireworks; the noise, the smoke, the smell of gunpowder, everything about them. And, it is early March…time for Las Fallas. Officially, the festival runs from March 15th -19th, with Noche de la Cremà  finishing off the celebration. However, the locals start celebrating March 1, with firecrackers going off every few seconds…be still my heart! For those who enjoy an elevated BOOM, a thunderous firecracker show called a mascletà is held every day at 2 p.m. in Plaza del Ayuntamiento. My husband attended while I remained as far away as possible…by the Central Market. It was unbelievable…the ground literally shook under my feet! I know I can’t do justice to describing this event, so please visit this Fallas site to get a better sense of what this celebration is all about.

Getting the chicken ready for paella

As we walk around our neighbourhood we see large groups of people celebrating and enjoying being together; it’s like multiple block parties with paella being cooked on open fires in the middle of the road, lots of laughter, and drinking. We walk by, watching, observing, but not joining. We are outsiders, not part of their history, or present, or future. It really is lovely to see the community created by these folks, it makes me miss home.

One of my projects while on extended study leave, is to study for and write the exam for my GPHR (Global Professional in Human Resources) designation. The module I am currently studying relates to culture, in particular culture shock. The context relates to organisations supporting expatriates as they go on assignments to other countries. As I read through the general ‘symptoms’ I was amazed at how many I was personally experiencing. The list includes: irritation, homesickness, loneliness, nervousness, loss of appetite (no, not in my case!), sleeplessness, feeling tired, extreme pride in one’s home culture, hypersensitivity, confusion. Pretty significant, and relevant. The good news is that, according to my study material, “culture shock is temporary, and everybody goes through it to some extent in the process of cultural adaptation.

Good to know. What struck me about all this when considering the desire of many to work from anywhere, to mix work with travel, to relocate to a different country while working from your home country, is the lack of dialogue I’m hearing about the potential for culture shock when making these big life decisions. Organisations, when sending employees to work abroad, need to take the responsibility to support and adequately prepare their people for such tasks. However, who prepares individuals and families for such undertakings? Let me strongly suggest those of you considering such a move to do your homework, take time to make informed decisions, learn the language, make connections in your host country, and don’t underestimate the impact of culture shock.   

For us? In the 2½  months until we return to Canada, we are going to continue using our on-line programs to learn Spanish, dig into understanding as much of this unique culture as possible, watch bonfires, admire ninots that make up the Fallas monuments, find the best paella valencia around, learn to make paella, spend as much time as possible at the sea, watch and observe and respect and take in all the Spanish culture has to offer. And we will be richer for it.

El Cabanyal beach on the beautiful Mediterranean Sea, a mere 5 minutes walk from our flat

Welcome to Spain…Blog #107

Seville, Spain

From the peaceful, natural beauty of Portugal’s Algarve to Spain’s 3rd largest city, Valencia. What a change! The Algarve provided rest for my soul and a visual buffet for my senses. Everywhere you turned there was another picture to take…and I did! I really do miss those views. (Check out past blogs for a glimpse of what I’m talking about.)

However, before coming to Valencia, many folks told us it was one of their favourite places to visit, and live. I never asked why. It’s on the Mediterranean Sea, how could it not be as spectacular as the Algarve’s coastline? It’s different…so different. We also set out on this trip to experience new cultures, but never did I expect the culture shock that hit once we arrived in Spain. But, I get ahead of myself.

Since leaving Albufeira just over a week ago, we drove to Seville, Spain, stayed for one night, drove to Torremolinos, stayed one night, and then drove to Valencia, all in a beast of a Mercedes Van! Now, those of you living in North America may not fully get the magnitude of this task…let me paint a picture for you.

Two Canadians, used to driving a small SUV, are driving a massive, seven person Mercedes Van in small, narrow, people laden streets of Old Town Seville, all the while depending on a GPS that keeps getting lost; this is not a task for the faint at heart! Infact, it is downright stressful. A fact to keep in mind, these narrow streets are one way only, so if you happen to miss the ‘obvious’ turn Siri is sure you need to take, the recalculations take so much time that you have also missed two or three more turns that should get you back to where you got lost in the first place! Once you have finally reached your destination there’s no place to park the ‘beast’. But…thank goodness, you spot a space that says something we decide to interpret as, ‘only park here if you are checking into the Hotel Las Casas de la Juderia’. We park, and nonchalauntly walk about 50 metres back to our hotel. (By the way, our interpretation was pretty accurate!). We got checked in, and took advantage of valet parking for an additional fee…money well spent I might add. The wonderful valet whisked our car away and helped us with our mega heavy luggage and medical supplies. 

A note about the hotel…it was amazing! The most unique one we have ever stayed in. Hotel Las Casas de la Juderia consists of 22 buildings that have been restored from the 18th century, all the while preserving its culture, furniture, and maze of hallways to navigate. Awesome! And, it is located right in the middle of Barrio Santa Cruz – Seville Old Town . We only had a short time to spend in this amazing town, so to make the most of it we did a bit of walking, had a wine and tapa break, engaged a horse drawn buggy to show us the sights, indulged ourselves with delicacies from a Patisserie, treated ourselves to a fantastic Flamenco Show, out for more tapas for dinner where we were serenaded by a talented young man while we FaceTimed our daughter back home, then collapsed into bed! Wow…it was all fantastic, but we had only scratched the surface of incredible place.

After a great buffet breakfast at the hotel, we were back in the beast, finding our way out of Old Town, through Seville, and on to Torremolinos. The terrain was beautiful, so varied and with an abundance of olive groves that spread out as far as the eye could see. It was pretty surreal when we started seeing directions for Africa as we approached Málaga. Africa will have to wait for another trip, another adventure.  

We finally made it to our destination where the GPS wrought havoc once more. When it says to turn right at the next turn, you figure it’s pretty safe to do so. Well, not when it is a dead end street that ends in an underground parking lot with no way to turn around without heading into the bowels of the parkade; a one floor, basement parkade, with maybe 15 parking spots fit for tiny cars and scooters. Not a Mercedes Van. Again, my husband’s driving skills were tested as I directed the inch by inch turnaround, inside the parkade, and back up the 12% grade, spiral type road to exit. (The exit was also the entrance…fortunately no other vehicles decided to enter while we were exiting). Phew! Nerves shot, pulse racing, marriage intact! GPS? No comment there!

Torremolinos is on the Mediterranean Sea, but sadly the weather was dull, overcast, and windy, so it did not show off its enticing beauty. However, the next morning it redeemed itself as the view from our hotel balcony provided a front row seat to the sun coming up over the sea. Lovely!

After the most delectable breakfast I’ve ever devoured, champagne and all, we hopped in the van for a long drive to Valencia where more challenges, learning, adventures, and discoveries awaited us. 

You’ll have to wait until next blog to hear more about the culture shock we are experiencing, until then…

Leaving Portugal, bitter sweet…Blog #106

It’s our last day here in Albufeira, Portugal – of course it can’t go by without one final walk along the incredible stretch of beach that has been our home for the past three months. There’s no wind blowing but still the waves are strutting their power for all to see. As I sit on the power tide created ridge on the beach, I see a big wave coming. I close my eyes and just listen…it’s still, like the calm before a storm, then comes the crash of the wave, followed by the soaking I get as the ocean splashes over the sand ledge where I’m perched. It got me, and a couple sitting a few meters away. We look at each other and laugh…what else can you do? As the water recedes I hear the sound of shells rolling and soft, bubbling water as the next wave gets ready to pound the beach. I could listen for hours! In those few moments the waterscape changes as it continues to do with every new wave. As we walked this beach on an almost daily basis, we’ve marvelled at how much the beach changes, while preserves its beauty.

These past four months have provided the opportunity to spend much quality time with our son, daughter-in-law and grandkids. We love each of them and cherish the new memories created. We’ll miss them terribly! However, being with our European kids means being away from our Canadian kids. We miss our Canada family and friends. No matter where in the world they are, family and friends are such an important part of our lives; too often we forget to stop and appreciate the blessings and joy they each bring to our lives. BUT, over the next four months we are excited to have all our kids and grandkids, EU and Canadian, together in Spain for a visit. AND welcome friends coming to visit as well…the adventure just keeps getting better.

Our time here in Portugal has been fantastic. As my husband and I travel to Valencia, via Seville and Torremolinos, we will have time to reflect on the many memories created. In a way it feels like we’re venturing out on a new trip: new locations, language, surroundings, culture, living accommodation, food…new everything. We are excited. 

Before I head out on the beach I stop at one of the cafés we have frequented to pick up a coffee and one last Pasta du Nada. You’d think after four months of having them more often than I should, the novelty would’ve worn off…not so! I still love these creamy custard treats, especially sprinkled with cinnamon, a spice that I’m actually not overly fond of.

We are leaving at a time when Albufiera is just starting to come alive again. When we arrived a few month back, we were told that March is when things start to fully open up…just as we leave. Restaurants that we had been longing to try just opened, a café on a side street in Old Town finally opened up; we treated ourselves two days in a row to their delicious offerings. I realize how perfect it would’ve been to work out of that café…oh well. The café on the beach that I did work from was amazing and so hospitable.

I love watching people as they take their first walk along the beach. The awe and wonder on their faces is undeniable. I want to go to them and say ‘isn’t it marvellous? Isn’t it breathtaking?’ But I don’t. With all the different languages we hear around us, chances are pretty strong that they wouldn’t understand anything I’ve said. Instead, we share the unspoken nods, glances, and smiles that seem to say everything without a single word being spoken.

When I look at all I have accomplished these past months for my research, I’m actually quite amazed. At times I have felt panicked thinking I should be doing more, forgetting that sitting thinking and reflecting on what I just read or just written is all part of learning. I’m a doer, and often need to be reminded that ‘doing’ isn’t the goal, but rather stopping to reflect on my learning, process it, and apply it is what really matters. 

As I sit soaking in this amazing creation, my mind wanders. I used to think of the ocean, or sea, as being my happy place… I’m not sure that’s the right word anymore. Don’t get me wrong I still absolutely love being by the water, but over these four months it’s become more than just my happy place. It’s become a place where my thoughts have had time to freely make themselves known, a place where I’ve been forced to acknowledge that life can be just plain shitty, but also filled with such joy. It’s a place where I’ve been forced to come to terms with how I’ve grown up viewing myself and where that negative thinking has come from; I’m finally seeing how its deep roots have infiltrated so much of my life. 

Sitting by the water over these past months is where tough conversations have taken place, where words have been spoken from a place of hurt, words that were not totally seasoned with love and grace. It’s also a place where long walks have been enjoyed, hand in hand, with the person that I love more than life itself.

It’s place where I have paused to be vulnerable with myself, and am learning to be brave enough to be vulnerable with others.

As I relish being at ‘my ruminatting place’, I notice a deep sense of peace and contentment. I don’t want to leave, but yet know that without leaving and moving on I’ll never experience the new, wonderful and exciting adventures and lessons yet to be encountered on our journey.

Spain, here we come!

When Google Translate doesn’t help…Blog #105

Fado…a ‘must see’ Lisbon experience.

We first discovered Google Translate during our trip to Prague some years ago. It was amazing, and helped out in so many ways from reading menus to asking for directions. Our time in Portugal has also been aided by this helpful app. While most menus provide an English translation, we have had the need for language support in several other areas. Grocery shopping, for example, was an immediate area of challenge. The first day upon arrival in Lisbon we needed groceries. No car? No problem. Grocery stores were within close walking distance from our AirBnB. For the most part, buying meat, cheese, fruits, and vegetables was easy (as long as one could identify what the fruit or veggie was). What wasn’t so easy was knowing what kind of yogurt, oatmeal, milk, or even shampoo and conditioner was before us on the shelves. Open  Google Translate, use the camera feature, and we were good to go! 

In one instance while dining at a favourite eatery, Basilio, there was a sign hanging on the basket of ginger on the counter by our table. The symbol was a dog sitting, with a line across the picture. We have similar types of signage in Canada to indicate such things as no smoking, or no cell phones. You know the ones. Looking at the placement and context of where the sign was located, we were certain the message was clear.  My husband and I had a lengthy discussion around why ginger may be dangerous for dogs, and why a restaurant would need to provide signage to that effect. Being curious, and wanting to share this knowledge with family and friends, I took a picture. It wasn’t until we returned to our apartment that I actually asked Google to translate the words accompanying the picture; ‘Nao sentar’. 

Ok, those Portuguese speaking readers will immediately realize our mistake. The ginger basket was simply a vehicle on which the owners could hang the sign until needed to mark a table for incoming customers. For those of you, like us, not familiar with the language, Nao sentar means ‘don’t sit’. To be fair, had we used Google in the restaurant we would have learned this, but would have missed out on a very interesting conversation about the perils of ginger and our canine friends.

We recently had incident where we wished Google Translate could have helped. In preparing to leave Portugal to move to our new European location in Spain, we had to pick up a vehicle in Faro. After a rather frustrating experience (too long to get into here), we were upgraded to a Mercedes van (a little extreme for the two of us). However, it provides comfort, and plenty of room for us, our luggage, and other supplies we need to take along. We should have known we were in trouble when the customer service people told us the vehicle was from Spain, having been dropped off by one way travellers. 

My husband started the vehicle, and successfully drove out of the car lot, figured out where the gear changer was located, and headed back to Albufeira. Everything was good, until he touched something, causing the car to get stuck in first gear! Finding a place to pull over, he pushed, tapped, and pulled on every available lever and button (of which there were many). It began to feel like our youngest grand daughter pushing buttons, pulling levers, and turning wheels to make things happen on her Fisher Price car! To be fair, the car was trying to tell us what to do by way of information showing up on the control panel. The trouble was, all instructions were in Spanish! There is nothing in the basic Spanish lessons we are both taking that equipped us to know what should be done to get us out of this predicament, nor could our precious app get close enough to provide any kind of translation. Finally, after much random button and lever maneuvering, the gear changer was released…although my husband had no idea which was the magic move. 

Unsure of which road to take to get us home, rather than using my phone I decided to use the car GPS. You can guess what happened…Spanish! AND GPS gadgets that more resembled a gaming controller than a car GPS! For sanity sake, I used my phone. 🤷‍♀️

Knowing we only spoke English, why no-one at the rental place thought to introduce us to the foreign machine we had just rented remains a mystery. However, we did stop at one of their drop off locations once we made it back to Albufeira, where one of their service agents kindly switched the system to English, linked my phone via bluetooth, and introduced us to the various bells and whistles possessed by the van. We breathed a sigh of relief. 

My husband and I have both been driving for more years than I choose to mention. We have driven all kinds and sizes of cars, in various countries, but have never found ourselves in this kind of predicament. It’s interesting how inadequate and foolish you can feel, trying to do something you have done for years, but being completed lost and overwhelmed because what was once familiar, changed. I think many leaders are feeling like this. They have been leading teams, creating processes, fostering cultures successfully throughout their careers, but now find they have to re-think and re-learn everything. They knew how to be effective, but what was familiar has now changed. Learning how to lead and support their people in the fast changing contexts in which they find themselves can be like operating in an unfamiliar language. 

A word of advice? Seek out people who know this new environment, this exciting, yet overwhelming working environment, and ask for help. Believe me, you will learn to enjoy the ride once you do.    

Carvoeiro, one of our favourite places in the Algarve.