Category: Spain

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…