Friday, January 30, 2009


Farewells from Pueblo Ingles involved a lot of tears. After all the hour long on-on-one sessions, two-on-two, group activities, dancing, sharing meals, performing skits and more serious presentations, we grew close. My email list has grown by almost 50 people and I expect that I will continue to communicate regularly with at least a dozen, perhaps more. Who writes, and how often is highly variable with things like this.

I do know from Anglos who have taken part before, that some strong friendships develope, communications are regular, and visites between countries occur.

We arrived back in Madrid about 7:30 last night. I checked back into my hostel, finding a pair of trousers (in England, pants are underwear) which Kate left here and my slippers. Managed to get myself lost walking about. Found the small, Chinese-Spanish run grocery store where I bought yougurt and bananas when I was here last. Then I wandered to one of the squares. Streets angle all over and although I knew which direction to head, I could not find the streets I wanted. When I finally arrived at the palace I had a pretty good idea of where to head. The quick errand ended up being a long, long walk, but after all the eating I did at Pueblo Ingles, it was probably a good thing.

Madrid streets are lively and friendly at night. This is a country of night owls, where socializing continues late, particularly in summer. But last night was mild, and folks were out in large numbers, on their way to restaurant dinners.

Today I head to Toledo. I haven´t decided if I will go by bus or train yet. I am headed upstairs to put last nights things back in my pack and head out. After a couple days in Toledo, I am headed to a small town, wine and olive country, for a couple quiet days. Cities are fun, but I can only do so many days before I long for small towns, rural settings.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Snow and Queimada

I expected Spain to be sunny, even after looking at the latitude (the same as the mid US) and reports of Madrid snow just before my arrival. So I should not have been surprised at today´s snow in La Alberca, near Salamanca. Some of you may have heard or read of the high winds that killed 14 people in northern Spain in the Gallecia and Basque areas. We had winds here too, but just some small debris from the oak trees.

This will be short. By Spanish standards it is not late, but 1:00 am is far past my normal bedtime. Half the folks are still going strong. But I will finish this and head to my room.

The process here is intense but fascinating. I spent several hours today, one-on-one with Spaniards, talking about whatever we wanted, as long as it was entirely in English. The things I am learning I would never learn as a tourist. I now know how people prepare tortilla....which is nothing like the Mexican tortilla. I learned that Gallecia culture and language is distinct from Castillian and the music and customs are Celtic. And that bit of information leads to our gathering after our 9:pm dinner (standard in Spain). I also know how sugar beets are processed and some of the issues in Human Resources, and public transportation communications and safety systems. As each Spaniard must make a five minute presentation on their job, and they like to practice ahead of time, I am becoming quite well informed. Other conversations have been with a Basque woman about the political issues in that region, the election of Barack Obama, immigration in Spain, hiking, typical Sunday afternoons with the family.

I am also having fun with the differences in English as the Anglo contingent here includes English, Australian, New Zealand, Scots, Welch, Canadian and American accents. I´ve learned not to refer to my pants as such. They are trousers. Pants are underpants to the Brits. Besides representing different countries, our ages run from early twenties to about 80. What we have in common is a love of travel, interest in other people, outgoing personalities. Part of the time is in one-on-one discussions, part of the time with presentations, part of the time with conversations over meals, part of the time is in skits and group activities. But there are also informal social times, like the evening shot here where Spaniards and Anglos mix and talk. The next two photos show one of the skits and a human knot. Those are ways, particularly the later, the organizers get everyone loosened up.

Tonight's after dinner activity was a Queimada (pronounce Queue matha). This is a Gallecian tradition to drive off bad spirits, to bring luck, to share times with friends. The roots are clearly Celtic. In a large pot they have poured a wine, orujo, like grappa, which is made from the dregs left from the wine making process. To that, they add some fruits. There was a lot of debate here among Gallecians about what fruits are the ¨right¨ones. Ours had orange, apple, lemon. After heating the alcohol, they light it. As it flames the person in charge of the pot, uses a ladle to lift some of the liquid and allows it to stream down in flaming cascades. While that occurs, ancient words are recited. We heard it in Gallecian, Spanish, and translated to English for us Anglos. This was the only time this week Spanish will be spoken on the grounds.

Finally as the flames turn from orange to blue, the stirrer added a few coffee beans to the concoction. He scooped out a large ladle full and each of us dipped a finger in the flaming alcohol, then put the flaming finger in our mouth, making a wish as we did so. Only after all that did we get to drink it. It is guarenteed to have all Spaniards speaking perfect English after two cups, and speaking Russian and Chinese as well after three. I stopped at one, but know I could have done a perfect flaminco with three.

There are bagpipes playing now...our Galecian goodnight fanfare. More another day.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


photo is of our conference facility at La Alberca

I am now in La Alberca, a small village near Salamanca for the Pueblo Ingles program. This is an English immersion program for Spaniards. Anglos come from the US, Canada, Australia, Wales, Scotland, England, New Zealand, etc. Our room, board, and transportation from Madrid is provided in exchange to speaking English with the Spaniards. It is an oppportunity to meet Spaniards and learn more about the country than one does as a normal tourist.

I have a break for an hour now, but others need the computer so this is short.

The facility is a delightful conference center. My accomodations are absolutely luxurious after a few nights in a youth hostel where 8 women shared a tiny room with bunk beds, a shower room with no hooks for clothes and a high, difficult shelf for belongings. Despite that, it was fun as I ended up exploring the city and eating with young people from Sweden, Canada, Australia, Peru.

Yesterday was mostly orientation with some fun ice breakers like a human bingo game, and each of us introducing and being introduced by a Spaniard. Meals we share tables, making the anglo--spaniard ration even.

In my first session, one on one this morning, my Spaniard, Oscar, was fun. He is one of the very profficient English speakers, having taught Spanish speaking children in the LA Unified schoool district for a couple years. What fun when he said his favorite place was Mammoth Lakes. I told him I worked at Bodie and he had been there. The world is small. (later edit: Very small world. I learned that Gabriela worked in the Concord School District which is in the city I lived in before hitting the road in my motorhome).

Not all the sessions will be as easy as some of the participants do not have his mastery of English. But they all have far more English than I have of any other language. The idea is to get them thinking in English during this week. No spanish is allowed.

The scene below is our group walking in the old town of LaAlberca which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Jan 20 from Madrid

I arrived in Madrid yesterday. At least I think it was yesterday. My sense of time is quite distorted. The inner courtyard of the backpacker hostel should help with its relaxing atmosphere. This was an old house in typical Moroccan style with a glass mosiac skylight, fountain (not working), and beautiful mosaic and ironwork.

The sleeping rooms however are utilitarian and crowded as you can see in the photo below.

I wasn't sure for awhile if I would make it to Madrid on the scheduled day. My airplane from Phoenix circled

Philadelphia for 45 minutes, then spent 45 minutes on the tarmac with word that my departing flight to Madrid was still leaving on time. The reality was that the plane to Madrid was also delayed so I made my connection. The trip from the airport to the hostel was easy, except all the flights of stairs between connecting trains. At 1 euro (about $1.36) it was cheap, easy to follow, and trains run frequently. The only negative was that I didn´t see scenery between airport and central city since it is all underground. Hauling luggage between levels in the metro station was a chore, but I made it the hostel quite easily.

Yesterday I joined a tapas tour from the hostel. At 8 euros, a bit over $10.00 we visited four tapas bars with a drink and tapa (appetizer) at each. Each bar specializes in a different tapa. They were excellent and very inexpensive. My traveling companions included three Australians, one English woman. All young. Very much like the travels in Mongolia and Russia.

Our guide for this inexpensive tour was delightful and the tour included a lot of Madrid history. WE discussed politics (and the rest of the world is excited about Obama....and I should have no trouble finding places to watch the inauguration). After Adrian left us, we went to dinner together at the oldest restuarant in Europe. Founded in 1725, it has operated at that site continously ever since. We ordered family style...roast suckliing pig is their specialty. Three great vegetable dishes with it, and delightful deserts.

Didn´t get home until 11,30. Then could not sleep until this morning. Almost missed breakfast at hostel. At roughly $22 U.S. dollars per night, I get continental breakfast, free internet, showers, interesting international crowd, mostly young and adventorous. There is a laundromat as well.Think this style will work well for me,although being accustomed to living alone,I may some night need a more private setting. Then again, this is fun and inexpensive.
Touchy keyboard with slightly different spacing than mine. Finding it hard to type quickly. Also, all instructions are in Spanish so this is testing me. And cannot find a colon sign for time. Ah well, you will all figure it out.

Hasta la vista

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Final Countdown

All my bags are packed.
I'm ready to go.
I'm standing here outside the door.

After those lines, my sentiments change from those of the song. I am eager to go. Is it any wonder, considering the folk and popular music I listened to in my teens and twenties, that I am filled with a nomadic spirit?

Next post from Spain.