Words of wisdom

Words of wisdom

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Peaceful Repose.....

Taking a break in an 18th Century bathtub - as deep as my shoulders and plenty long enough!  Solid steel and original copper fixture - why can't they make tubs like these any more?  And look at those claw feet!

I just spent the past 3 1/2 days relaxing in a quintessential French farmhouse in the tiny village of St. Ost at the largess of friend Simon, fellow Anglo and teacher at Pueblo Ingles.  In exchange for help with chores around the house and garden, Simon invites travelers to stay with him.




One of the most glorious parts of being invited was the drive from Madrid up and over the Pyrenees and into Simon's part of southern France.  The views and mountains were jaw-dropping and just couldn't be caught on camera.



When not dusting or washing glasses and 'bits and bobs' which hadn't seen clean for at least a few years, I had time to think about my first 2 full months of travel and why am I doing this crazy thing.

• Was it wrong to leave everything behind - selfish, not normal or fulfilling and adventurous? All 4!   
• Am I having fun?  Yes
• Do I miss my friends and family? Yes!  
• Have I met some amazing and extraordinary people and made some great new friends? Yes
• Have I seen places I have always dreamed of seeing?  Yes!  
• Do I get lonely? Yes!
• Do I want to quit? Sometimes
• Do I have one thing I miss most?  Alone time.  I know that sounds weird, but so far I have been with people - either in a dorm hostel, with or visiting friends or teaching in a group situation - that I really haven't had any time to myself since leaving Chicago.  I am really looking forward to house sitting (just got a new one for October in Wales!) when it will just be me, 2-3 weeks in a house with a dog or two, or a cat, and time to read, watch TV (haven't seen a thing since leaving the States!) take long walks into the nearest village, or just sit, contemplate and count the stars in the night sky. 
•  What upsets me most? Plane travel and airport security!  It's no fun to travel by plane any more!  Airports are crowed, security people and travelers are rude, planes are so crowded and rows are so narrow you can barely squeeze into your seat.  Extra charges for any and everything!  I'll take a train or bus any day - and in Europe these are really the best, must luxurious, nicest and cheapest way to travel.
• Add to the upsetting list - getting robbed in Athens (though you will be glad and amazed to know that I actually got an email from the US Embassy in Athens this week telling me that the local police had found my document folder with documents in the trash  and had returned it to the Embassy.  Even the €90 which was zipped in a little pocket was there.  They asked if I would like it returned? Told them of course, but would destroy everything when it arrived as had replaced every thing in it!   Dropped and broke my camera.  Since I NEED to have a view finder to actually see what I'm taking photos of, having a difficult time finding a replacement, as the new digital's don't have view finders as part of the newer models!  The TSA in Basel, Switzerland lost the lock the iPad pocket of my backpack.  Coming down with a cold!!

Other than that, life is good.  Sitting in Georgenborn, Germany in the most fab home of good friends enjoying a cup of delicious coffee and looking out into their beautiful gardens.  Slept under a summer-weight duvet last night without any bugs flying around the room.  Did I forget to mention that French farmhouses don't have screens?  And you must leave the windows wide open if you want any air inside.  They have lots of cobwebs and spiders and flying things - large and small. Really yuck!  One evening, thankfully after I was asleep, Simon could be heard down below making lots of noise.  The next morning learned that a bat had flown in and he was chasing it back out!

I also forgot to tell you that Simon's friend Mark (a Reformed Swiss Pastor) came in to visit and house hunt for a French summer retreat.  I got to tag along with! (Now you know where I found the bathtub!  Houses are quite reasonable, by American standards and include lots of land with beautiful views.

They are big - have ceilings that are at least 30' high and need SO work to make them livable - by American standards!  The one I loved had no kitchen, 1 toilet for a 12-room home, and needed every room replastered, painted and new ceilings!  But the charm just poured out and off the walls!

                                         1790 Convent/Finishing School for Young Ladies

                                     1880's Mill with new Gete for guests. (7 bedrooms and 7 bathrooms!)
         The size of the rooms were HUGE
Did I mention that all 3 houses that we saw came with chickens?!

Will start my German teaching assignment on Sunday and will try to report on that before returning home for the wedding!

Until next time......


Saturday, June 20, 2015


It's been an interesting 12 days since arriving in Spain.  I think I shared with you the mix-up at the Lisbon airport and the 9-hour wait, midnight arrival, an exhausted start to the Spanish part of my trip.
Well, you'll be happy to know that everything worked out perfectly.


Do wish I could capture some photos of the fabulous AirBnB apartment we stayed in just off Plaza Mayor in the very center of Madrid.  Except for being on the 4th floor (in Europe that means the 5th and no lift!) it was perfect.  Alberto, the very gay owner (who's invisible wife Consuelo we not once saw) was amazing!  Not only was he standing in the rain at midnight waiting for us when we arrived, he lugged Nancy's XL suitcase up and down the stairs not once, but twice, as we returned to the same place after we finished our teaching gig in La Alberca.  

The apartment could have been an ad for Ikea.  Everything was from there, including the pillows.  The colors were lime, orange, red and yellow - and it all worked!  Floor to ceiling doors opened to a view of a small cafe,  several coffee shops, bakery plus Alberto's Curiosity Shop on the walking-only street below.  In the evening, when the late-dining and partying Madrid residents got a little too noisy, we could just turn on the air-conditioner and shut the doors.  Did you know that dinnertime in Madrid is normally 10 PM?  They are just getting warmed up and ready to have fun at midnight!  But the noise level was no where near to what we had in Lisboa - thank goodness.

Madrid Centro is filled with fabulous and very old buildings dating back to the 1400's.  Many are massive and 'gingerbread' abounds not only in the stone details but the iron-work as well.

Statues, large and small can be found towering over a plaza or sitting on a column gazing peacefully at all who pass by.


Museums of every size and kind are also plentiful in this city of art and music lovers.  Spaniards are passionate people and embrace the arts with great fever and love.  Of course, Madrid is the home of the magnificent Prado where Picasso reigns, along with many of the old masters.  The Sophia though is the home of his Guernica masterpiece, painted during the reign of Franco.  



King Phillippe has his own cute, little Palace that he doesn't even live in.  Just uses it for State occasions.  They must get enough money to keep the lights burning from all the tourists that walk through every day.

Nancy and I spent 3 days just wandering all over El Centro, getting lost and loving it.  We enjoyed eating tapis and drinking lots of roja and stumbling upon the Mercardo San Miguel - a marketplace filled with vendors, each selling their own 'small bites' and libations to tempt your tummy.  We were tempted and succumbed!



Last Thursday afternoon we met our fellow 'teachers' who the next day would begin the 8-day English language program near Salamaca in the small village of La Alberca.  We had a great lunch followed by a demonstration of flamneca dancing.


Twenty-two Anglos (native English speakers) volunteered for this program.  We came from the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Ireland, Spain and France. The company, DIVERBO, has been running these programs for over 20 years and they are extremely successful.  They hold them in several locations in both Spain and Germany.  This week the clients are adults needing or wanting to improve their conversational English, but they also offer classes for teens and youngsters.

Our group of Spanish adults worked for large corporations or were business owners themselves.  We had several  Masters and Doctoral students, plus a few teachers.  Our group of 22 Spaniards ranged in ages from their mid-20's to a senior airline pilot who was 60.  

We all hopped on a huge coach for the 4-hour ride up to La Alberca early Friday morning.  After a short stop overlooking the historical town of Alvila for coffee and a potty-break, we arrived at our home for the next 8 days.


We were housed in lovely villas. There was one Anglo and one Spaniard to a villa, each with our own en suite rooms, each with a  breathtaking view of the surrounding mountains.  



Our days began at 9:00 a.m with breakfast in the dining hall.  Seating was alternating two Anglos to 2 Spaniards at each table.  Breakfast would last until 9:45, with a 15-minute break and then the really hard work began.

From 10:00 a.m. until 3:15 p.m. we talked.  We sat, we walked, but we were always talking. We had hour-long, one-to-ones with each attendee during the week.  We then had hour-long two-to-two discussion groups, entire group hour-long activities (games, presentations (both Anglos and Spaniards), round table discussion groups of 6 or 8 and finally we had lunch at 2:00 p.m.  By the 2nd day everyone was hoarse!  We all praised the courage and dedication of the Spaniards who were not allowed one word of Spanish the entire 8 days!  

We did get a siesta from 3:15 p.m. till 5:00 p.m. and yes, I took a nap most days. Then, from 5:00 p.m until 10:30 p.m. we talked some more.  Again, one-to-ones, groups of 4 or 6, total group activities, including plays and musical presentations.  Dinner was served from 9:00 until 10:30.  Did I mention that red and white wine was severed with both lunch and dinner and there never was a full bottle left on any table.  The bar opened at 10:30 and stayed open until 1:00 a.m. for those who could stay awake!  Tuesday night we had a dress-up dinner and dance that went on, for some, until 5:00 a.m.!    There were many red eyes the next day when were got to go into the village for a tour and lunch.




The village is famous for it's jambon and they even let a little pig roam from for several months, going from home to home and being fed and cuddled by the villagers.  You can see from the statue which has a place of honor just outside the church door, they love their pigs!


And they love to EAT their pigs.  Here is a photo of the inside of a jambon shop and we were all treated to a really yummy ham & local cheese & wine pre-lunch party.  The slicer of the jambon is a master.  They actually have contests on who can slice the thinnest slices in the most decorative pieces.



What was really interesting to me was that La Alberca is part of the Camino de Santiago.  Though hard to find, the sign of the Camino, the shell, could be found in several places throughout the village.


We returned to Madrid yesterday evening - exhausted but so proud of ourselves and our 'students', each of who's English had improved immeasurably.  They finally got to speak their own language on the bus ride back after over a 100 hours of total English immersion.

Nancy flew home to Raleigh this morning and I checked-out of the colorful apartment and moved around the corner into an extremely nice hostel.  I'm only here for one night so guess I can survive in a room with 5 other young women!  Tonight I had the great pleasure of having dinner with friend and fellow IWA member, Jill Brennan, who is in Madrid for a month-long Spanish class.  We met at the roof-top restaurant atop the Jardines du Sabitini which has a fabulous view of the Palicio Real.

Tomorrow morning I'm off once again to southern France - but this time a bit further north, near Toulouse.  One of my fellow 'teachers' has a rambling farmhouse that he generously invites travelers to stop by, do a load or two of laundry and swim in the pool in return to helping with his garden, doing some paperwork or helping around the house.  From there I will head to Germany where I will visit with dear friends just south of Frankfurt before going to Laubach where DIVERBO has one of their German locations.  I was thrilled to be asked to spend 6 more days teaching English  - to German execs! 

 The 4th of July will be spent with my friends before flying to Minnesota on the 5th for the wedding of my youngest and his beautiful bride-to-be, Melissa. 

So until next time......




Thursday, June 11, 2015


Portugal is a country of explorers.  Their history is so intertwined with ours. Where would the United States be without Christopher Columbus or Balboa or Magellan?  King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella sent these brave men off in wooden ships to find and explore the New World.  And though they thought they were going to China, they found America instead.


This large marble statue beside the sea in Lisbon (Lisboa) is a wonderful testimony to the many who braved the unknown to discover lands far from their home.  

Lisbon is an extremely hilly city!  My friend Nancy and I decided the best way to see it was via a tuk-tuk.  

This is a very strange, 3-wheeled vehicle that seats 3, is run on gas and goes about 20 miles an hour.  We hired one for 3 hours and Marco, our driver, was really a fabulous tour guide who took us all over, stopped in places we requested and took us to others only a local would know about.  Old fashioned cable cars wind up the steep hills and are packed with locals and tourists alike. 


The plazas are huge and filled with massive statues of long-deal hero's.  Beautiful tiles decorate and cover entire buildings, marble is used everywhere - even the streets and cobblestones are made of marble - really pretty but extremely slippery - even when not wet!


We took the train and spent a whole day in Sintra - home of a Moorish stronghold, an over-the-top Pena Place and a more reasonable place all nestled in the mountains.  Though it was just early June, the tourists had arrived by the bus loads but it was well worth the trip.

                              A truly unique banister!

From Lisbon we journeyed via coach 3 1/2 hours south to Lagoa in the heart of what is known as The Algarve - and fell in love.  The air, the breezes, the sea, the enormous beaches that stretch for miles, the people, the food and lots of castles with loads of history!  

I found a wee, little cottage (19th century) that sits atop a cliff overlooking the sea in the tiny village of Carvoeiro that I am seriously thinking of renting for the winter.  Their beach is right in the center of town.  There's an Irish pub just down the hill, and the Atlantic stretches out forever.  Buses run between all the little towns and classes in yoga, water aerobics, pottery, painting, etc. abound, along with an active music and theater scene.  A large British population live in the Algarve year-round but I was so happy to hear that high-season is July and August and the tourists depart in the winter.  With sun almost daily and temps in the winter months averaging between 55-65 with no snow or ice ever - what more could a girl from Chicago ask for?!  Will keep you posted if it all works out.


We returned to Lisbon to catch a flight to Madrid and had the first glitch in our travel plans.  Easy Jet bumped us off our flight and we had to book a full-fare flight  9 hours later to allow us to arrive in Madrid - at midnight! - and check into our AirBnB.  Nine hours in the Lisbon airport - not fun!  But the AirBnB owner waiting for us when we arrived and carrying Nancy heavy suitcase up 4 flights of stairs - wonderful!

More on Madrid and our fabulous little place later.

Until next time.....