Castillo San Marcos

Castillo San Marcos
13th-century castle, El Puerto de Santa Maria. That WAS our house to the left and behind the tree!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Settling In: Daily Life in Spain

The boxes are gone, the clothes unpacked, the kitchen is organized, beds are put together and made, drawers reorganized, we bought a TV.  The girls are in school, Todd did his first abdominal case, the cats have adjusted well and no longer try to bolt out the front door, and I…well, I am trying to find my routine, my rhythm.

Spain is becoming familiar.  There are so many wonderful day trips to make from Puerto, we look forward to the weekends.  Back in August we traveled about 45 minutes to Caña de Meca, a steep beach with turquoise water and a lighthouse on a point of land that can supposedly rival Santa Barbara’s Rincon Point for perfectly formed waves in the winter.  The beach was busy, and Tia and Sasha were fascinated with the people digging up black clay and smearing it on themselves from head to foot—of course they followed suit!  We went to Arcos de la Frontera the following weekend, a lovely pueblo blanco also about 45 minutes away.  Situated on a hill with the white houses cascading down the side, you can look out across the countryside of dried sunflowers and plowed fields to the next pueblo blanco.  Next we will tackle Sevilla, a short 90-minute drive from Puerto.

But before the girls started school, I just had to get my Germany fix.  Over the past few years, my yearning for Germany, a place I’d lived for a year when I was 16, and again when I was 23, had grown stronger and stronger.  With the girls’ vacations looking a lot more like the US traditional school calendar than the German one with short summers and ample breaks during the school year (rats), I was not willing to wait until next spring to go back to Germany.  So we booked Ryan Air, the European counterpart to Southwest, and flew off to Germany to visit Sophie, my cousin who had lived with us all last year.

Ah, Germany!  Land of Green Forests and Sparkling Meadows!  Land of Good Things to Eat!  Land of Cleanliness and Order, Land of On-Time Trains, Land of Do-Not-Touch-The-Toys-Even-Though-You-Are-In-A-Toy-Store!  We had five wonderful days there, enjoying the bread, cheesecake, wursts, cheese, fruits, pastries, chocolate, and did I mention the bread?  Sophie’s parents, Hans and Paige, took us all around to the Wiesbaden marketplace, to their secret garden house, to castles and churches and steep Rheinland vineyards. With Sophie we went shopping through the pedestrian zone and stopped for snacks in the two cafes she works at.  My cousin Fiona, who took me under her wing when I was 16 and newly arrived in Germany, drove out from Frankfurt to have dinner with us.  It was all so achingly familiar, I wondered how it had only been two years that I had lived there, and 17 years since I had last visited, and yet the German countryside with its leafy forests, street signs, and villages nestled in little valleys every few kilometers were so much a part of me.  How could I feel so at home?  

As a final adventure, we took the train down to Baden-Baden, about 2 hours from Wiesbaden.  Baden-Baden is the ritzy-est of the Roman Bath towns that lie along the border with France.  Hot-water upwellings were first exploited widely by the Romans, and have been a source of kur (healing) since at least that long.  My friend Arzu, a doctor I befriended in Tübingen when we were both students there, lives and works in this old, elegant, picturesque city tucked into a valley and rising up onto the hillsides.  While we waited for Arzu to be done with work for the day, we visited the baths.  And what baths!  Think of the fanciest pool you know, then multiply by at least 9.  That’s how many different pools and swimming areas there were, from the wedding-cake-lookalike of the main pool, which had successively higher smaller pools stacked inside of it, to the hot pool (with waterfall), the cold pool (also with waterfall), the steam room, the brine steam room (cures anything), and that was just inside!  Outside was another series of pools and cascades connected together so you never had to leave the water.  My personal favorite was the bubble blast pool in the center of the largest outdoor pool—each time the bubbles came on, Tia and Sasha were  swept out of this little pool by the ensuing current, and I had to haul them back in, kicking and laughing. 

We left green, wet, cold, rainy, beautiful Germany and flew back to Spain to heat and summer.  We continue to explore our adopted town—the bakery just around the corner with the smell of fresh bread every morning, Pizza Jerry’s with its delightful oven and authentic thin-crust Italian pizzas, the second-hand feria dress shop (Feria Dresses! Album, click on "slideshow"), the pedestrian zone with its shops.  I even went into a bank and two hours later emerged with a Spanish bank account.  I work on balancing my day, from writing this blog to performing my pool-girl duties, to cleaning and shopping and cooking, to exploring and meeting new friends for coffee.  I try not to feel guilty! 

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