Friday, August 31, 2012

Barcelona, Spain; Vacation 2012 part 14

Barcelona is the city of both our arrival and now departure, so in some ways it hasn't had a fair chance to be appreciated. We didn't stay long upon arriving, but went straight to Lleida. As a departure city we got to explore it a bit more, but were just tired of traveling by this part of the trip. However, we did see some cool things like:
Walking down a side street to a middle eastern food place (which had the best food I had the entire time I was in Spain, ironically) we passed all sorts of ordinary buildings and then *bam* there was a castle.

Ben checked out the American school  in Barcelona (for future reference of course.)

We went through the huge market on Las Ramblas, the most famous part of the city. Wow... introvert overload, but amazing amount of variety of just about anything!

One of the many fountains on Las Ramblas had a ton of pigeons. Talia seriously wanted to take one home, but I'm sure customs wouldn't have appreciated that.

In Barcelona the leaves were already changing colors and starting to fall. It made me wonder if the leaves were changing in Texas yet.

The plane rides back to Abu Dhabi went well and were, thankfully, boring and uneventful. Abu Dhabi is, seemingly, just as hot and muggy and full of wonderful people as we left it. We are glad to be back.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Tassels in a Small World

While visiting the Homestead Heritage in Texas I met one of the girls who worked at the fiber crafts shop. When she found out we were moving to Abu Dhabi, she told me that a representative for an Emirate in Abu Dhabi had flown there specifically to order custom tassels for some sort of decoration. Now, every time I see a tassel, I wonder if it came from Texas.

Who would have thought?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Basque Country to Pamplona, Spain; Vacation 2012 part 13

Driving through Basque country was interesting, especially trying to read the signs written in the Basque language. Lots of k's, x's and z's seemed to be used. Benjamin admitted that next to Galicia, the Basque language and country would be his favorite in Spain. Maybe he just likes k's, x's and z's. According to some, Basque is the language from before the tower of Babel, "since only God could create such a perfect language." I bet you can figure out where that opinion originated. ;) However, it does have mysterious origins and a people who are proud of their language and culture.

Driving from the coast of Galicia, the landscape begins rocky and mountainous with amazing greenery and gradually becomes flatter and browner as we move east. The temperature also seems to go up, perhaps due to lower elevation. Our stopping point between Galicia and Barcelona was in Pamplona.

Pamplona is famous for its "running of the bulls," but we liked it more for the El Corte Inglès store that had super deals on kid's clothes, much cheaper than what I've seen in Abu Dhabi. We also saw some interesting architecture in Pamplona and on the road outside of it.

Next, Barcelona before we fly home!

Spanish Galician Coast; Vacation 2012 part 12

Ben has always loved the Galician part of Spain, so this part of our trip was spent along the Galician coast visiting capes, bluffs and lighthouses.

On the way to the coast we stopped at a lookout spot high in the mountains. It had rocks supposedly brought for religious purposes from a pre-Roman time. A herd of horses were grazing and Talia really enjoyed watching them. The grass growing there was very short and thick and felt like we were walking on a carpet. While we were exploring, the fog started creeping up the mountain. By the time we left, we could barely see to drive.

We made it down the mountain to a lighthouse on the coast at Cabo Ortegal. We could see way down to the crashing waves and it was a long way down. The ocean was dark blue except where the rocks peeked out making the water swirl and hiss white with bubbles. The lighthouse looked abandoned, with graffiti over it and I wondered if it still worked or if all boats use GPS now.

After the lighthouse we stopped at the sea bluffs in Lubia. The beach was huge; we could see it from our lookout on the bluff. Being so high, we also got hit by the strong wind and it got chilly fast!

Next, we leave Galicia, slowly making our way back to the airport in Barcelona. Ben may shed some man tears...

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Coruña, Spain and the Aquarium; Vacation 2012 part 11

On our way up the coast we stopped at A Coruña to visit the aquarium. This aquarium was big enough that we spent almost 4 hours just trying to see everything.

Galicia's coastal region has many sea-related legends and cultural aspects. It was interesting to see they had a part in the museum with a well done section for songs about the sea, a big picture book of common sea legends from Galicia and interactive games.

One of Talia's (and Ben's) favorite parts was the toy boats you could steer around a tank. Elias tried to get in on that too.

A section dedicated to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was made to look like you were in a submarine and had actual gear from that first production. Since this part of the museum was underground with a huge tank, Talia liked the big shark best.

There were many microscopes and science-friendly stops all over the museum, which I liked.

Outside we had fun at the seal habitat. Talia especially liked it when they jumped in and out of the water. There was some weird looking plants here, they are in one of the pictures.

Aside from the Aquarium Finnisterae. Talia and i were able to try churros for the first time. The southern U.S. description of churros would be fried doughnut sticks that you dip in hot chocolate that is thick enough to be chocolate gravy. They were delicious, but I was also glad to hear that the hotel we found that night had a gym!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Santiago de Compostela, Spain; Vacation 2012 part 10

Santiago de Compostela has a very extensive museum on the history of culture in Galicia set up in what once was a large convent. Inside we got to see how many things were done in the past in this region, such as:

 -how houses were made with granite stones
-hand made shoes
-the process to make a boat
-basket weaving
-hundreds of versions of lace
-how to cut stones
-old musical instruments

These things were demonstrated with hundreds of miniature examples alongside real relics. A staircase with four stairways leading up in an intricate looking twist was a dramatic piece of architecture along with the carvings found in the center of the church.

A huge cathedral (that wasn't a museum) was not far from where we were staying, so we walked there after lunch. There were huge lines of people waiting to take mass and communion in this cathedral of Santiago. Around the edge of the cathedral were confession booths with signs advertising confessions able to be heard in almost any European language. Outside were booths full of souvenirs, a garden, fountains and a guy painted completely white impersonating Ghandi.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Pontevedra and coastal Spain; Vacation 2012 part 9

Leaving Portugal behind, we traveled north back along the Spanish coast in the region of Galicia. Our first stop was near Pontevedra in a suburb called Granja. We could see sailboats in the ocean from the balcony of the hotel.

The next day we took a boat out to the island of Ons and hiked the island all day. We saw the lighthouse, a tree with fuzzy green things all over it, lots of sea gulls, boats and awesome coastline. And Elias really liked riding on the boat, especially when the spray would get them every once in a while.

The next day we took a road trip to the westernmost part of Spain, spelled two ways Fisterra or Finisterre; both mean "land's end." Here is also where a famous pilgrimage, the camino de Santiago ends. Supposedly Santiago, also known as the apostle James, after being put to death in Palestine (according to the guidebook) was put on a stone boat where his body floated all the way to the shores of Galicia. This coincided with a need for Spanish patriotism... so this and other miraculous rumors inspired a pilgrim path beginning in several places around Europe and ending in Finisterre. Supposedly it is customary for pilgrims to burn the dirty socks the traveled in at Finisterre.

The city Santiago de Compostela is named after James as well, but it's not at the end of the trail. It is considered the capital of Galicia, though, so I wonder if the pilgrims come through there, too. We'll be checking that out next.

Montalegre, Portugal and la ponte romana; Vacation 2012 part 7

Montalegre, Portugal isn't far from where we stayed in the national park so we visited two days to check it out. Since we are in Portugal during summer vacation, we get to see a lot of fairs and markets: one of which we enjoyed at Montalegre.

Another cool sight is the castle built on a high enough spot that you can see it from most places around town, making every moment feel like it's taking place in the past.

 On the way back we saw a sign saying there was a Roman bridge not far off of the main road, do we decided to see what it was like. We drove down a paved road by fields that then narrowed into an unpaved lane that kept getting narrower and rockier. When it dead ended at what looked like a puddle we thought we had missed it or the trail hadn't been kept up... But then we saw a tiny bridge made out of rocks:

Things I Miss

No matter how many times you move, there are still things you miss. For me, some of these have changed since moving from Guatemala. For example, Guatemala was full of green, growing vegetation and while Abu Dhabi does an admirable job of trying to sustain gardens and trees along the roads and parks, there's still a drastic contrast to the amount of growing things. However, family and friends are always missed the most. These are some things I miss:

1. Family, friends
2. Natural green
3. Spanish
4. Natural food stores
5. Jalapenos, Mexican food
6. An easier place to exercise
7. Rain

 For everything I miss I have things that I am thankful for: new friends, new languages to learn, new foods to appreciate and the gulf right by our apartment. Life is a balancing act of growing and moving through stages. While I miss many things about the stage we just left, I see many ways to grow in this new one.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Vigo, Spain; Vacation 2012 part 6

One weekend in Portugal we took a weekend to go celebrate our 7 year anniversary (with to kids to keep it real) and to check out a church in Vigo, Spain about a 2 hour drive. It felt odd that crossing borders between countries was as simple as state lines in the States. The checkpoints between countries reminded you that Europe was in a new era.

Vigo is a port city with lots of beach tourism. Every crosswalk was full of people coming back from the beaches and each beach was lined with cars for miles. Seagulls swooped down in front of the car a few times and Talia thought it was funny that they sounded like they were laughing. Beach murals lined the streets.

Driving in the rain with an unhappy baby looking for the address for the church with barely marked roads and lots of one way streets wasn't the most fun part of this trip, but we found it! This made life much easier the next day, which was Sunday. The church, oddly enough, had no Spanish people that we noticed. We met people from the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Columbia and Guatemala, however, and really enjoyed speaking Spanish again.

Ben got me a beautiful bouquet of red non-roses. (Because roses are so cliche...) I can't believe we've been writing our saga for 7 years together.

In Vigo we enjoyed having wifi again so we could communicate with family and getting to know a new city. Not much longer in Portugal and we'll be going back through Spain.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ben's Portuguese Mouse Charade

Ben's attempt to find out where to get mousetraps...except conveying what a mouse was turned out to be the difficult part.

Fontainho, Portugal; Vacation 2012 part 5

Hello from Portugal, the land of beautiful mountains and 25 degrees Celcius vs. Abu Dhabi's 45 (and sometimes more.) We are currently in a Portuguese national park area, where people live and farm and have stores just like outside of the park area. I suppose mining and lumber are prohibited within this area. There are many hiking trails, river beaches, zip lines, and picnic areas.

To get wifi we have to go down the mountain about a mile to a little cafe. Since Talia and Elias get restless if we stay there long enough to update things; I usually just do most things offline and then let Ben take my phone with him and update it when he goes to town.

There are an orange, fig and a nectarine tree right outside of the cabin. Then, there is a fenced garden with grapes growing on it right behind the trees growing corn with bean vines growing up the stalks, squash, lettuce or cabbage and broccoli. I had never seen broccoli grow before, so I was surprised to see it made almost a small tree! I thought it grew more like lettuce does. All of the Portuguese gardens I've seen also have a sprinkler on a stand in the middle, or several if it's a larger field. Coming from the desert, this is so green!

The caretakers, Blino and Delfina, live up the road and work in the garden in the morning and evening. Those are also the hours Blino goes down the road hollering behind his huge cows with big horns either moving them to or from pasture. Talia likes to stand on our side of the gate and watch him.

Portuguese, while challenging, isn't as challenging as many languages would be since we know Spanish and a little French. If we can't get our point across in Spanish-sounding "Portuguese", many people also speak French. Occasionally, though, there's a word we just can't figure out. Ben's charades to express the word "mouse" had me rolling in laughter. And, yes, I took a video!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Porto, Portugal; Vacation 2012 part 8

Driving to Porto, (I was reading the map, Ben driving,) Ben tells me to open the photos on his iPad, as he's taken screenshots of the map with directions to get us there. So I do. And we make it all the way to the final destination before we realize we are following the directions to get to the church, not the hotel. This is when Ben enlightens me the he had created a different photo album for these directions... So we spent the next few hours driving in circles looking for barely marked roads, working with maps that were labeled wrong and one way streets. Ben's two favorite things to say in times like these are "at least we're together," and a not-too-sarcastic "good times!" Thankfully the kids were either sleeping or good humored throughout this whole adventure.

Porto, Portugal is famous for its wine, but we went there to visit a church. Listening to a sermon in Portuguese was amazing; we easily understood over 80% of it! To get to church we figured out how to use the metro, which the kids liked, and meant we didn't have to worry about parking.

We took another trip on the metro to a seafood restaurant, El Marinheiro. We ordered fish, but didn't know what kind we had ordered. When it came complete with bones and eyes we couldn't help but laugh... That doesn't get served much in Texas. (Another thing not found in Texas is the octopus in a can found on the tuna aisle at the supermarket.) When we got back to the hotel there was one of the most majestic sunsets I'd ever seen. Pictures can never do those justice.

Not far from Porto was a big Medieval fair that we went to. There were tons of booths and all sorts of languages flowing. We met people from Iran, Senegal, India, Ukraine and I'm sure there were more we didn't meet. A booth set up with homemade soap bars made me miss friends in Texas.

Going back through Spain next!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Arabic Appetizers

The appetizers that accompany Arabic food are very refreshing. If you are walking in very hot weather, the last thing that you want is something hot first thing in your stomach... so here is an example of a very typical arrangement:
Tomato, lettuce or cabbage, spearmint, cucumber, basil and carrots. These are usually accompanied by pita bread, sometimes hummus and usually a pickled selection like the one below:

Green and black olives, pickles, and spicy peppers.

Have I mentioned that Arabic food is one of my favorite parts of Abu Dhabi?