Dublin flight to Spain

Trip Start Jun 25, 2008
Trip End Sep 01, 2008

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Saturday's plans were pretty straight forward. Wake up at 9am to pack our bags and hit the street at 10am, catch a bus to the airport, and be en route to Spain at 12:30pm. Now that I'd met Chris Crowley, we simply needed to wake up one hour earlier to add a quick stop by his place for tea. By 8:45am, we were walking the empty streets of Dublin ... about five minutes worth of walking put us at the Whitefriar Street Church, home to St. Valentine's bones. We arrived, and rang for Chris.

We'd met Chris out and about town in normal civilian clothes, but this morning he rounded the corner of the hallway wearing brown monks' robes. If you take a look at the photo by the St. Valentine's display, you can see that Chris looks spot on what you'd imagine an Irish friar to look like. Pale skin, balding, a bit of belly, short, with a humble, yet confident presence. He showed us around the church, giving us a quick guided tour with some interesting tidbits of info about the various keepsakes of the church ... he told us about the solid oak Virgin Mary, how St. Valentine had come to rest here (a gift from the higher-ups to show appreciation), and about a boy who had been sainted after his death based primarily on his reputation for kindness. I had plenty of questions for Chris. Why the monks robes? What are friars? What was his official title? When and how had he chosen this life?
Having just read The Pillars of the Earth last year (a book about monastery life surrounding the building of a cathedral), I was fascinated to learn about Chris' life. Turns out that his father was the head lighthouse keeper of the beautiful lighthouse we had seen at Houth. A fairly well off family, Chris' parents identified a keen intellect in Chris and sent him to the church for education purposes. Chris fell in love with the friar's life and at graduation (age 18), decided to become a friar himself. Apparently there are four main types of friars in the Roman Catholic church, all of which work autonomously of one another and had lots of freedom from the Diocese. Chris hails from the Carmelite friary, tracing their roots to one of the original friaries ... located on Mt. Carmel in Israel. Also lending reason for the CA trip Chris is making this August. He will visit the city of Carmel, CA to attend a special service at the mission there. Anyhow, I could write for pages and pages of all that Chris educated us on. From his life at a friary to their relationship to the Diocese to Ireland's history of violence between Catholic and Protestant. ... As we talked, Chris took us to the private eating quarters of the friars and served us tea (similar to an English Breakfast Tea) and toast. He asked about our flight. We told him it left at 12:30pm. We looked at the clock and it was five till ten. A look of stress flashed on his face and he graciously offered to drive us to the hotel for our luggage, and shuttle us to the airport. We took him up on the offer and talked some more. ... Funny note, half way to the airport Chris says something to the affect of, "You know, here in Ireland its normally the ladies who do the talkin'. But you are quite the chatterbox." ... We enjoyed a good laugh at that. Raining by the time we get to the airport, Chris stops off and takes off running, returning a minute later wet as can be with two luggage trollies in hand. Hugs and handshakes ... and we are off to Bilbao, Spain.
The plane is a couple of hours late. I'm nervous about our home exchange people even showing up. We grab our bags, and sure enough we look up and see four Spaniards welcoming us to their motherland with smiles ear to ear. I think to myself, "This is awesome."
We chat a bit with Martin and Lali (owners of the home we are exchanging) and their niece and boyfriend ... then hop in the cars to the grocery store en route to our temporary home in Spain. Martin speaks some English, so me and the kids ride together with him. He loves practicing his English, and I get a chance to try out my Spanish. (Its a tough thing here in Spain, much more difficult than Mexico.) Martin is awesome. He is loving the fact that he is hosting us. Pointing to me with a huge grin on his face, he keeps saying things like "One hour and half to YOUR house." ... and "We are coming up to YOUR valley." ... "YOUR car is no automatic.". Its not a linguistic mistake. He is making me feel at home. He is loving it. And so do I.

And then the trip starts to suck. We pull up to a crowded parking lot. Its the uber-market of the area and we are there on Saturday evening, ... every shop in the area closes for Sunday, including this one ... so everybody and their madre is out getting some last minute shopping done. Think Costco. On grand opening day. In a foreign language. With prices in a strange currency. With aisles and organization that make no logical sense whatsoever. With products you've never seen before. ... And you are working on 5 hours sleep. ... NOT FUN. I was seriously starting to get bummed out. What the heck was I doing half way across the world? What was I trying to accomplish? Did I really expect to relax and enjoy myself when I can't even manage to ask for help finding the bagels? (we never did find them by the way)... An hour later, we were back in the cars again ... now headed for the house.
The lush rolling hills ... the seven mile beaches ... the cliffs ... the cows, sheep, horses ... the green belt of Spain ... BAH. I was not feeling well. I was stressed. Martin kept talking about how everything was so stinking expensive in Spain. The gas cost double he said. A low rate meal at a restaurant would run 35 euros per person, 50 for midrange, and 100 for a fancy place. That was more than triple my budget. And ugh, I was sooo tired. As I looked at the landscape from the car, I was starting to get skeptical. This is the exact same as the states, I thought. Same cars, same stores, same everything. What a waste this trip was. ... And then, before I knew it, we were turning off the main highway and everything started to change. The familiar buildings and powerlines and traffic began to be replaced with an odd silence, and corner stores, and villages. ... Five more miles, and we reached Barcena de Pie de Concha. "Your village", Martin said.
The sun was beginning to set as we pulled in to the village. Imagine a village like the opening scene from Beauty and the Beast ... change the language to Spanish ... add about 6 restaurants and 4 bars ... internet access ... and surround the place with huge hills filled with animals of all types ... and you've got Pie de Concha. Martin pointed out the local swimming pool, ten minute walk from MY house. He pointed out the town center where he had arranged for me to use the internet for free. To the left, a festival that was in full swing with a band, nearly fifty Spaniards, and a portable churro stand ... twinkling white lights strung about the trees. ... Another minute or two and we pulled in to the driveway of our home. I was radiating with happiness. We had definitely, without a doubt, traded up.
The rest of the night we were shown the ins and outs of the place. How to water the yard, lock up, meet the neighbors, etc. After Martin and Lali left, we were STARVING and in no mood to cook, so we headed down to a local restaurant and splurged on a steak feast. I have to tell you I am very worried that I might be turning in to one of those people you share an experience with and they always say something like, "Oh ... if you really want the best alfredo sauce you simply must try this restaurant in Italy." I mean, Martin had told me the beef in Cantabria was always top quality and always fresh. The steak in this place showed me he wasn't exaggerating. Great food. Oh, one other thing I tried and loved. Drinking wine the Spanish way. Agua con gas y vino. Yes, that would be one half glass full of bubbly mineral water, and the rest of the glass filled with wine. I've never liked wine. I've had some of the best, and hated it every time. This way, the Spanish way ... was an enjoyable experience. Janice loved it too. I expect I'll have it at every meal while here. But I was worried. Martin had told me that we'd spend a fortune every time we'd eat out. And here we ordered two steak plates, a salad, wine, bottled water. I was thinking big bucks. The bill came. Only 41 euros. Not too bad at all. Turns out Martin didn't know what he was talking about. Or perhaps I don't understand the Spanish language as well as I think I do. Either way ... I was a happy man when I saw that bill. I think we will be able to stay pretty darn close to budget. Side note, through four days, we are under budget by 20 euros. Woo hoo!

Ok. One thing I've almost forgotten to write about: Apparently all towns throughout Spain have a patron saint. Each year, a festival is held in honor of that saint. We just happened to arrive on the first night of festivities for MY town's patron saint (St. Peter) and so were greeted by singing, a local band, lights strung up and local Spaniards having a great time at the local park. As we unpacked our bags, the sound of music echoed through the valley. And as the kids settled down for bed, they were awakened by a chorus of explosions in the valley. FIREWORKS! We opened up the balcony in Ella's bedroom and all watched as the black night sky lit up. The valley's silence let us hear each firework as it sailed through the sky ... WHOOSH ... and then BOOM! ... It was magical.
As I got in bed I thought to myself , "Maybe I won't take photos of this place. I'm no photographer ... and I know I won't be able to capture the beauty and magic of this little village." ... I'm still undecided. It really is so surreal being here.

Tomorrow's agenda: Chillax and get settled in until 9pm ... At which point I will meander across the street to the bar to watch the Euro2008 Finals (soccer). Spain vs. Russia. You know who I will be rooting for.
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