Wednesday, January 28, 2009

La Hacienda - Sotogrande

We've had a great time in Spain. Not only have we seen lots of interesting places and experienced great food, we have had time to spend with family - which has been priceless. It's been fun to play with Sylvia and Savanna and experience life with David and Loretta in their new surroundings.

The HOLT home in Sotogrande is in a wonderful location with beautiful homes, stores, restaurants, schools, golf and marinas in close proximity. David only has to drive about 15-20 minutes to the port of Algeciras to work, which is nice. Their community is gated with security personal at the entrance point and it's so pretty with the hills and lush vegetation everywhere. I enjoyed this excerpt from an article about Sotogrande in a local magazine...... "Sotogrande's diversity and exclusivity deems this to be a mini paradise. Mansions, villas and apartments with their private moorings set a colourful and luxurious backdrop and exude an enviable way of life."

The house, itself, is also amazing!! They have 4 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms, 3 living areas, a playroom, an office, a huge pool (complete with statues, electric awnings and a large yard), 4 separate decks, lemon trees, avocado trees, a spacious dining room, and a very large, very Spanish kitchen!! They also have a gated parking area for their cars and a front garden with plants and landscaping galore.

I am most impressed with the views from the house, which are spectacular!! You can even see the Mediterranean and the Rock of Gibraltar on clear days. I think I would begin every morning on the deck with cafe' con leche! What a wonderful setting to begin their new life!!
While we have enjoyed our trip to Spain, we are headed back in the morning - very early!! We need to leave the house by 4am to make our 7am flight. My route goes through Paris and Charles is on a different flight through Madrid and Miami. We should arrive home just hours apart. We carry with us fond memories of Spain, Gibraltar and Morocco and wish our best to David, Loretta and the girls. Buena suerte a mi familia. Hasta Luego, Espana!

Mi familia en Espana....

My brother and family are taking on the world - literally. I am so proud of them and know that they have worked hard, sacrificed much and planned for this move to Spain. However, with great privileges come many challenges and they are just at the beginning of a wonderful adventure. After the honeymoon period, reality will set in.......and then it's time to learn to adapt in a new land, a new language and with new rules. It's difficult, yet it is so very exciting to begin life in a new country. I love this quote:
We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
Joseph Campbell, Author
To leave the past behind, and to open ourselves up to the potential in the future takes great courage and determination. It requires the rare ability to truly adapt to new situations, to step WAY out of our comfort zone and to create a new "normal" for ourselves. As hurdles are overcome, the benefits and the rewards are tremendous!! As a family with young children, they will be teaching flexibility, adaptability, life skills and the ability to relate to a wide range of people. We live in a global society where the world is getting flatter and smaller (The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman), so what a privilege that they are giving to little Sylvia and Savanna!!

As they make this transition, I'd like to share some things that we have learned through our many moves:
1. Embrace the differences of life in your new country. As Americans, we do things well, but we have much to learn from other countries. Becoming a multi-cultural citizen requires that you take the best of all worlds and make it your own.
2. Keep your sense of humor! There will be times that you can either laugh or cry - Always choose to laugh!
3. Communicate - Communicate - Communicate! Moving is tough. The more you talk, the easier you deal with the stresses of life in another country and the challenges of moving. Your best "compadre" is the one that is sharing the experience with you.
4. Travel and enjoy!! Be a visitor as well as a resident and take the time to explore and learn your new land together.
5. Study the language seriously....and don't stop till you "dream" in Spanish!!
6. Keep the memories - Don't forget to take pictures and write about your experiences, both good and bad. Writing about them can be therapeutic and allows others to share your life.
7. Keep in touch! Call, email, blog, write, visit facebook and send pictures.......Soon your network will span the globe.
8. Keep things in perspective.....Don't stress over the little things. Just say - Today, is a "SPAIN" day...........
9. Be Like a Duck - For some reason, moving can make us tougher on the outside and more tender on the inside. Be like a duck ....and let it all roll off!!
10. Remember that God has a plan and a purpose....."The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave or forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." Deut 31:8
As you embark on this journey, may God bless you and protect you as you learn to live a new life in Spain. Our prayers, our thoughts and our love go with you. Vaya con Dios!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Couscous, Camels and the Casbah - Part TWO

Can you pick out the tourists in the picture below??
Answer: The tourists are the ones not wearing their pajamas!! :)
One of the things that we really enjoy while traveling is experiencing local cuisine. We had requested a typical Moroccan meal in a local restaurant and Said (Cy-eed) did not disappoint us!! The exterior of the restaurant looked just like all the other entrances around, but once we stepped inside, it was a different world!! We took Said's recommendation to order our food and we enjoyed all of it!! Our lunch started with the same soup that Muslims use to break their fast during Ramadhan - made with vegetables and broth. Our salad (pictured) was a mixture of cooked vegetables, including beets, tomatoes, cabbage and carrots. We had two entrees - a chicken with vegetables and couscous, and a meat pie in pastry covered with powdered sugar and cinnamon - both incredibly tasty!! For dessert, we had the best tangerines ever!! Lunch was fabulous, and fun too!! We were enjoying typical music while waiting on our meal and one of the musicians asked me to come play the drums with them. I couldn't resist!! How often would I get THAT chance?? While Charles was laughing and taking pictures, they motioned for him to join us too!! What fun!! We look pretty silly, but we enjoyed participating!
After our lunch, we explored more of the medina (old city) inside the casbah. We walked up and down the narrow streets full of activity where most of the people really live. The majority of these areas are communal living where there is a central water fountain, a community bathhouse (Turkish baths) and a community bread oven. The man who cooks the bread is paid by the piece and people just bring him bread all day. He cooks it, then the family returns to pick it up. We thought it was interesting that each family marks the bread with a different symbol, so they can distinguish their bread from the rest. When he saw us with a camera, he motioned me inside and was proud to show his oven (open flamed!!) and suggested we take a picture together.
It was nice to have Said (Cy-eed) for many reasons. One, we would have been very lost and would have still been looking for our way out of the medina. Second, he was able to answer all the many questions we had about things that we saw in front of us. One example was the sheep skin hanging out the window. He explained that each Muslim family would have just purchased a sheep for the recent holiday, Eid al-Adha (or the Festival of Sacrifice). This religious practice required the sheep to be slaughtered to commemorate the sacrifice that Abraham made to God. While as Christians, we believe that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, Issac before God provided a sheep, the Muslims believe that the son was Ishmael. Said also told us that the price of sheep go WAY up during December to $400-$600 each - requiring many poorer families to need credit to purchase the sheep. He also told us that many families (Said included) didn't want to kill the sheep, so it was the butchers busiest day of the year as he traveled from house to house!! The sheep skin was hung outside since it needed the fresh air before it could be used.

We also asked questions about the different dress. The national dress is the hooded robe for both men and women. If men don't use the hood, they tend to use a fez like the man pictured. We also saw women with pom-poms on their hats and we were told that these were the indigenous people called Berbers (think Berber carpet). We learned that the head covering for women was religious, but the face coverings (not seem much in Morocco) was required by the husband, not the church.
The sights, the sounds, the smells were all so foreign to us, and we enjoyed just walking the streets and observing. We learned so much that we wished we would have had a tape recorder to help us remember....
We enjoyed our time in Morocco and would love to come back someday. -

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Couscous, Camels and the Casbah - Part ONE

We made it to Africa!! :) Early this morning, we drove back to Tarifa, Spain in hopes of catching the 9am ferry to Tangier, Morocco. It was a 50/50 chance when we arrived due to high seas, but the captain decided to go ahead and we boarded the 35 minute high speed ride across the Strait of Gibraltar into Africa.

We had determined last night that we may be best to hire a guide in Tangier, so I checked some of the forums, got a recommendation and contacted Said (Cy-eed) via email to set it up. He was waiting on the dock with our name on a sign ready to show us the inner parts of the city.....the parts that tourists without a guide couldn't see. We have hired lots of guides through our travels, but Said (Cy-eed) was one of the best!!

We began our journey by driving on the outskirts of the city to the famous Hercules Cave. This site contains the symbol of Tangier.......The shape of the opening of the rock viewed from the inside of the cave appears to be the shape of a man laughing. Viewed from the ocean side, it is shaped like the continent of Africa.

As we were driving around the coast, we stopped to see the camels. We jumped at the chance to take a ride and it was so exciting!! Just the process of getting on and having the camels stand up, made me laugh - it was so high up!! We enjoyed riding along the coastline and seeing the area from the camel's view!! It was certainly one of the highlights of the day!! :) We thanked the owners and they were willing to pose for a picture. They kept wanting to wave, so I found this picture hysterical - especially in their "western" dress!! :)
We toured the general city passing the summer "cottage" for the Saudi Arabian royal family, the Tangier home for the Moroccan royal family and the Tangier Governors home -all spectacular! We then began our walking tour by going inside of the Casbah, through one of the 7 gates to the old city. The original town of Tangier was surrounded by a stone fortress called the Casbah (which means fortress in Arabic) in order to protect the city. (Remember the song by Clash - "Rock the Casbah"?). On the inside of the walls (inside the Casbah) is the ancient town, the medina, now filled with residental communities and souks. One of the things that we really enjoyed about Said, is that he was very knowledgeable about Morocco as well as the history. We enjoyed learning about the old and the new cities and the Arab/Muslim perspective. We found it ironic that the second tallest building in Morocco is the Catholic Church - of course the tallest is the Muslim Mosque.

Said took us to the local Souk - the open air market filled with fresh chicken, lamb, goats and kosher beef along with lots of fruits, vegetables and olives. This is where everyone does their shopping. (No grocery stores here!)

We also walked past many jewelry souks. We learned that when women marry, their groom buys them a gold belt made of solid gold with inserted gems (which really look like wrestling belts). Said told us that they always want skinny wives so they don't have to buy additional gold for their belt! :)

At noon, the 4 minute call to prayer came through the city with a loudspeaker from the mosque. It is a reminder to the Muslims 5 times during the day to pray. So Said headed over to the mosque for his noon prayers while we enjoyed a Moroccan lunch.
Part Two will start with lunch...There's just so much to write about Morocco!! :)
One more thing....I thought you might enjoy the Coca-Cola sign in Arabic. :)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Spanish Food - La experiencia!

Today, we went to visit another school for the girls, and then went to exchange Loretta's new cell phone, which wasn't working properly. Simple things are more difficult to accomplish in a foreign country until you learn the system in place (not to mention the language issue). After speaking with numerous people, moving around the store to different locations and a full hour of time, we were finally successful!! Yea!!
In the afternoon, we headed to Algeciras and the port. Charles met David for a guided tour of the massive terminal and David's work environment. It's a very impressive facility and it was obvious that David has already make a difference in many areas of the operation. Charles really enjoyed spending time talking with David about his new job and some of the challenges that he has already encountered. We are proud of his work and know that it's a great move for him!!

Loretta and I (and the girls) went to explore the local shopping at El Corte Ingles, just minutes away from the APM Terminal where David works. I was impressed with the availability of merchandise from clothing to shoes to decorative items. Loretta had some chances to practice her Spanish (I was very impressed with her fast progress!) while we enjoyed the stores.

Afterwards, we all met for a 4:00 pm late lunch at La Cabana - a Spanish restaurant with great local flavor. It was very authentic with a casual rustic decor, just like you would expect it to be in Spain. We did the entire spread - a luxurious 3 hour lunch!! To me, food in a new country is really interesting and I love to try most of it. However, David mentioned that I needed to put a retraction in the blog about the iberico ham, so here it is....Yes, after trying it on Wed, again on Thursday and now on Friday - I have tasted 3 different cuts and styles of the famous Spanish ham. The first two were just terrible, but I have to admit at La Cabana, they did it right. It was actually good....... or maybe I am beginning to acquire a taste for gamey meat!! I enjoyed the variety of food tonight, some of which just happened to show up on the table. We began with bread, olive oil and ham pate', which was good. Then we had some type of stew with beans/seafood/spices and ham, which was eaten with bread. The next course included a wonderful potato dish (potato/egg/cheese with iberico ham.) The following plate contained our appetizer - croquettes with cheese and ham (does anyone see a pattern here?) and then stuffed mushrooms with cream sauce (which were good, but I think there may have been tiny pieces of ham in the stuffed part?). As our entree', we all had different cuts of beef and pork grilled over an open grill, which was wonderful. Then on to dessert - Between the chocolate crepe and ice cream that Loretta had (yum!) and the chocolate torte that Charles ordered (rich!), we had a nice selection. David and I ordered limon sorbet, which was served with cava (champagne) poured over it. The restaurant itself was incredible and our waiter was excellent!!
To me, I don't just want to SEE another county - I want to experience it to the fullest!! The sights, the smells, the tastes are all such an intregral part of the grand experience of travel. Spain truly has so much to offer and we are fortunate to be able to try it all.....Eating our way through Spain has been fun! :)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Castles and Cork

Today, we visited the International School of Sotogrande, where Sylvia may attend when she turns three years old. It's only about 5 minutes from their house and she loved it!! The school reminds me of the schools which our boys attended when we lived in Mexico City, especially. The school has an enrollment of approximately 700 with predominately British and Spanish students. We went on a tour of the school and Sylvia was infatuated with the other children and the activity centers. I think that she is very lucky to have such a great school available to her. She will grow up as a global citizen with strong bilingual skills. She and Savanna are so fortunate!

When the girls settled in for naps, Charles and I decided to brave the rainy weather to visit a castle about 30 minutes away. The drive was beautiful with twists and turns and incredible views - even through the clouds. We walked all around the castle grounds and saw the little village which was attched. We even found a home for sale just a few kilometers away from the castle!!

Along the drive, we also stopped to see a Cork Oak grove. I guess I have never thought about where cork came from, but this was interesting to me. The Cork Oak is native to southern Spain and can only be found in southwest Europe and northern Africa. The tree forms a thick, rugged and corky bark, which is harvested every 10-12 years. The harvesting does not harm the tree and a new layer of cork regrows. Cork Oaks live around 200 years and a tree can be harvested 12 times in its lifetime. We also drove past a cork factory, where the cork is gathered, cut and bundled for usage.

Afterwards, we drove through some local communities and ended up back in Sotogrande near the yacht club. We stopped for another cafe' con leche before heading home. Hay rico! :)