Just because you are living in another country, doesn't mean you can ignore the mundane things that make up life. After about a month, this reality hits and you have to begin addressing challenges such as getting your hair cut, filling prescriptions, getting a new battery put in your watch, buying a new pair of glasses, etc. These are the things that are easy in America, but take quite a bit of research in Spain. In Puzol, most businesses don't have websites, so we haven't quite figured out how to find out about the places to go. We spend half of our "research" time just walking the streets until we find a place that meets our needs.
It's one thing to imagine your child being immersed in a new culture for a year, it's another to actually see it happening. To leave the comforts of friends they have known for the entirety of their short lives, a system they understand, sports they have chosen and practiced, and an identity they have developed is a big step. Luckily, both of our kids were excited about the challenge, so we didn't have to force them to do it. That is an important place to start because reality is never the same as expectations. After a month into a new school and way of life, I still feel we have made the right decision. It may be hard at times, but even the difficulty is helping them to develop several major life skills: self assuredness, flexibility, compassion, and a global perspective. However, to achieve these, both have their own unique paths to follow.
As I sit at a cafe writing this blog post, I listen to groups of women around me talking. At 10:00, women come together to smoke, drink coffee, and talk about their lives. This is the best time to subtly practice language comprehension. Their gestures are animated and their words are fast and loud, often overlapping each other. As I strain to comprehend the conversations around me, it is a stark reminder of how difficult it actually is to speak and understand another language.
The quest for a rigorous and satisfying sports experience in Spain has led my son, Carson, down an unexpected path. Because of the circumstances outlined below, he is now a proud member of the only American Football team in Valencia: the mighty Fire Bats!
One of my main goals while in Spain was to visit the Pyrenees. Unlike the rest of Spain, which stays mild throughout the year, northern Spain receives a real winter. For hiking, it is recommended that August is the last month to visit the Pyrenees for warm, hikable weather. So, we headed to the nearest national park, Parc Nacional d'Aiguestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici, and the village of Taull.
Costa Brava is the area along the northern coast of Spain that is known for its beautiful (but crowded) beaches and rocky coves. August is essentially vacation time in Spain. Many of the shops and restaurants in Puzol have signs on them saying "closed for vacation - back in September." So, we decided to join the throngs of vacationers and do a loop through Costa Brava and the Pyrenees before the weather got too cold.
Our town, Puzol, is not a tourist destination. This isn't to say that tourists don't come here, especially from other European countries looking for a nice beach. But, the town itself is not maintained in a way that presents any contrived picture to outsiders. It is what it is - a town that normal people live and work in. Almost nobody speaks English, they don't have their church set up as an historical destination, there are no overpriced shops and cafes, and there are no hotels. Most people know each other, as demonstrated by two-cheek kissing that is seen everywhere, and the spontaneous street gatherings that happen in the evenings. One place on the edge of town we have named "the hang out" looks like a homeless camp, yet on numerous evenings old ladies in dresses set up plastic chairs to talk, and old men bring their bottles of beer. Uses for space are often unclear until they have been observed for a while. In fact, I have already learned not to assume what may be behind a door.
Holy Toledo!! Supposedly, this saying came into being because of Toledo, Spain. And, after choosing it as our first sightseeing trip outside of Valencia, I can certainly see why. Toledo was Spain's religious and political capital until 1561, when King Phillip changed the capital to the middle of newly formed Spain, attempting to also create more separation between church and state. In the eyes of early Spanish catholics, kings and queens were ordained by God, so their rule was holy. They appointed archbishops and priests to carry out their will. So, the Church was tied to the State and generated funds for the State. Subjects were required to make payments to the Church, hence to the State. Each monarch tried to increase the opulence of cathedrals and holy spaces during their reign to demonstrate their power and remind citizens of their connection to God. The cathedral in Toledo is a perfect example of this propensity for grandeur.
Sally and her family moved to Spain for a year from July 2017 - July 2018. They lived in a little town called Puzol, which is about 20km north of Valencia. Her kids, Carson and Celia, attended the American School of Valencia, an International School located in Puzol. The goal for the whole family was to experience another way of life, and learn Spanish.