Our Month in Spain - A Recap


Well, our housesitting assignment and therefore our time in Spain has come to an end. So, time for a recap! It's been an...interesting 4 weeks with great and not so great experiences. But overall we gained a love for Spain, and the feeling that we did a great job of seeing so much in the Region of Murcia. Due to an urgent family need, Jon boarded a flight early this morning to Madrid and then on to Seattle, Washington. He'll be gone for 10 days while I'm working my way up the Mediterranean coast to meet him when he returns in Frankfurt on the 29th of August.  It's weird - we haven't been apart for more than 3 days since June 2012! But that's a different blog post. We're moving from housesitting to try our hand at a work exchange and will be traveling to Todi, Italy in Tuscany from September 2-17 to tend a vineyard and help build a cantina. But anyway, on to the recap. The Beaches of Costa Calida in August

Although our 'home' for the month is basically in the middle of nowhere, we couldn't miss out on taking advantage of our region, aptly called "Home of the Sun." We made a point to visit the beach as often as we could. The beaches of Mar Menor are about 45 minutes from our housesit, but we decided to spend our time on the Mediterranean, which took us further south towards Cartegena and down the coast.

By far our favorite beaches became those at the Parque Regional de Calblanque. The water is crystal clear, the perfect temperature and not too rough. It's a bit of a drive, but so so beautiful. It's also nice that it's... 'naturalist' friendly because I discovered that I really do NOT enjoy tan lines...

We visited the town of Aguilas, south of Cartagena, a beautiful town right on the water, surrounded by coves and rocky cliffs. Aguilas, like La Union, has a great arts scene and there was a beautiful modern performing arts center just opened in 2011. It's so clear that everything inland really does close in August and that Spaniards head to the coast. Where Murcia and the town centers are like ghost towns, the coast is hopping - with multiple cultural and sporting events almost every night of the week.

We drove past Aguilas to try and find a spot in one of the many beautiful little cove beaches. We drove out of town and down a little road and were shocked at what we saw. Not just umbrellas and towels - but tiny little beaches packed with camping tents, tables, chairs stacks of coolers and people everywhere. These people come prepared to spend all hours of the day, with multiple meals and plenty of beverages. This was in the middle of the week! It wasn't just a case of a crowded beach - this is beach culture in its essence.

You know how guidebooks give you advice on when to go to a place and when not to because "beaches are crowded?" Yeah, they don't really tell you just how crowded they can be. When we arrived in late July, the beaches were occupied but not dominated. It's crazy to think that in about 8 days the beaches will probably be empty again.

Anyway. Note: do not go to the beach in August in Spain (except that it's awesome and beautiful and I actually have a tan, yipee).

Valle de Ricote Towns

Driving north out of Murcia, we drove up into the Valle de Ricote along the Rio Segura. A completely different setting from the wide flat valley of Murcia, the Valle de Ricote is complete with dramatic jagged rocky mountains, a green narrow river valley, and adorable little hill towns with small plazas and flags hanging between buildings over the street. Each little town has it's own specialty: Archena for  traditional sausages; Ojos for sweet sugary poundcakes; wine in Ricote; water wheels and bullfighting in Blanca and so on. It felt worlds away from the busy highways, industrial centers and urbanization near where we've been staying. Definitely worth a visit!

Driving in Spain

Speaking of driving - doing it in Spain sucks. It's like transportation planners tried to think of every contingency situation and overcompensated with every kind of sign on top of one another. Add roundabouts with lights in the middle of them, highway merge lanes where cars just come to a complete stop before entering traffic that's going 70mph and signs that tell you a town name, but have no directions (as in north, sound, east, west) and you've got a complete cluster f*!k.


It can't be understated how fortunate we feel for being able to spend 7 weeks overseas with free accommodations because of the housesitting assignments we've taken. That's pretty awesome. I do think that doing this for a vacation and having a home somewhere would be an amazing and inexpensive way to travel for the future. For us, it didn't quite deliver on what we hoped for.

First, we have yet to meet a single Spaniard. That's really sad since Jon is already gone and I'm leaving Wednesday. The two assignments we've taken were both very rural and therefore very isolated. Because of tourist season and the increased chance of non-Spaniards being stopped on the road, going out at night and even having one drink is out of the question. It makes us really love our 3 days in Alicante, when we stayed right in town and could be part of the action.

I've also learned that 5 dogs in a small space and 5 indoor cats in a one bedroom house is a recipe for disaster a less than desirable situation. We've scooped more kitty litter and cleaned up more animal mess than I ever want to. Uck. Really, this whole assignment would have been fine if we had a pool :)

Regardless, I'm incredibly grateful for our time here, and I love Spain more than ever. I love the sun, the food, the pace of life. And even though I spent years learning to speak French, I really enjoy speaking Spanish. I look forward to sharing the next 10 days of adventure with you.


Living in Norway - First Thoughts

We've been in living in Norway now for about 6 days now and thought I'd share our initial observations on this beautiful northern country. For those catching up, we're here until July 16th or so on a housesitting assignment. It's an arrangement where we stay for free in someone's home while they're on holiday and take care of the house and pets. We're caring for 2 cats, Rimi and Poesje (pronounced pozya), and Bryan, a german sheep/terrier mix. Sweet animals! It's working out pretty well so far! Scenery

Flying over Norway

I don't know about you, but when I think of Norway, I think of incredible natural landscape, like fjords. Well, to be honest, we haven't seen that side of Norway...yet. We did see a little fjord flying in; but the south end of the country isn't where the spectacular-post-card-worthy views are. Our housesit is basically smack dab in the center of the country in a river valley 25km north of Lillehammer. It's beautifully green, foresty and lush. Honestly, my first impression of Norway was, "it looks like the Upper Peninsula of Michigan." Rocky inlets, super green land, lakes dotting the landscape - just like Michigan.

We'd like to take a little road trip at the end of our stay with a nice gentleman with whom we couchsurfed our first night here that would take us to the west coast, past some of the famous and outstanding fjords and mountains. Cross your fingers for that. In the meantime, we've been enjoying living in a quaint rural home with spectacular views of the valley below. The 6 hectares (or about 14 acres) of land on which our homeowners live is both field and forest and completely isolated. There is literally not another home within direct view of our house. It's a new feeling to not have to close shades and worry about privacy. The driveway gate is a good 1/2 - 3/4 miles from the house. I like it.

View from the deck


I have no knowledge whatsoever of Norwegian. None. Ok, well now I know how to say thank you (Takk!) but other than that, it's completely foreign. This makes reading signs and trying to pronounce things really fun. Like this word: Havrekli oppskrifter. Say that. It meas "oatbran recipe". Or the word: hovmeister. It means, "butler." One phrase we do really enjoy is something along the line of: Vash de go, which means, "here you go" as in, here, eat this, bon appetit. There are a lot of similar sounding words which does make it easier. It's very fun though.

Money & Economics

It's no secret that Norway is expensive. Having been in Mali, Senegal and Morocco I'm used to experiencing what an underdeveloped country is like. In the UK we got used to being somewhere that had a stronger currency and was therefore more expensive. However, I have never been in what I would consider an overdeveloped country. Everything is at least 30% more expensive here than on the mainland of Europe. For every US dollar we spend, we go through 6 NOK (Norwegian Kroner). To give you an idea, the 1.5L bottle of Coca-Cola we bought today to go with our duty free rum was 29 NOK, just under $5. Petrol, or regular gas for the car, was 15.3 NOK per litre, that would be 56.61 NOK per gallon (roughly) or $9.4/gallon! I will never again complain about things being expensive in the US!

But why is it like this? My question was, if prices keep rising, and everyone complains about the cost of living, why are costs rising? Can't it be controlled? I still don't have an answer, but did read this interesting Reuters Article on Norway that gave a good overview of the situation. There's also this one, which explains that Norway is the second largest producer of oil in the world after Saudia Arabia (didn't know that!!). In short, this is a super rich country. High taxes equal strong social services, but also a high cost of living. Everything is pristine and efficient.  Ironic that the power in the entire valley went out our first day here; and since there's no natural gas lines in the country, everything is run on electricity. Everything.

Groceries & Living

Expensive living to us means lots of homey time doing homey things. Baking, cooking, walking the dog, etc. And since we have nothing but time and the sun never goes down our extra long days make for a perfect lifestyle of productivity, relaxation, nature-loving hikes and eating. No wonder the quality of life here is so good! We're making all our bread, cooking tons and we even bought a whole salmon which Jon impressively gutted, fileted and cut up - without the benefit of having a filet knife! Tomorrow = bread baking plus the great salmon cook-off as we prepare our 9-10 portions of beautiful salmon.

The grocery store was a fun experience, despite everything being 3-4 times more expensive than in the states. That salmon was by far the best deal of all - 117 NOK for 3 kilos! That's $20 for a whole 26" salmon! However, if you want to buy 250g of ground beef (about 8oz) you'll pay $6. Iceberg lettuce (isbergsalat) was $2.25 while a 1/2 gallon of milk (lett), and not fancy organic special milk, was $4. We were price hunting too and finding the cheapest products that also looked good.

We did treat ourselves though, because why travel if you're not going to branch out and try new things?? So our splurges included local sweet cheese (geitost ekte) and reindeer sausage (spekepolse reinsdy). Mmm I'm looking forward to it!

It seems like the good deals at the grocery stores include yarn (there's a very large yarn section), hot dogs (called grillposer- don't know why, but they're a good deal), and frozen fish (salmon is orret rund).

Anyway I know I've talked about the cost of things here, but that's the way it is. And it's not just us, everyone we've met is focused on money and the cost of living - and also of course living a good life. Makes me really appreciate our daily sauna time. Yay.

Don't forget you can see all our pics on our Seeking Fireflies Flickr page!

Observations on English Culture


Now that we’ve signed out of England and are in Scotland for a few days, I thought I’d give a few observations on English culture as we’ve experienced it. To our English friends – feel free to dispute or corroborate any of these claims! Even though England may not seem as foreign or different as some of the places we’ve been (hello Mauritania and Morocco), it offered us insights into another culture – and that’s worth something. Be Specific!

Something you never really think about is how people in different countries handle the idea of getting a product the most economical way. For example, in the US we will often ask service providers what the best solution is, whether that be suggestions on meals or which combination of services are the cheapest.

Here, that interaction simply does not happen. It took us three bus rides to figure out which ticket option was the cheapest – simply because in England you have to TELL the driver exactly what you want, not ask for which is best. It did not work (twice) when we asked; “We’re trying to go from here to Newcastle and back. What’s the best way to do that?” We ended up just paying too much for all day tickets to places we didn’t need.

This also happens in restaurants. Generally if you ask a server what they like best or which they recommend, there’s a bit of a blank stare accompanied by a, “I don’t know, they’re both fine.”  Samples of beers in pubs are plentiful however, which is a similarity I appreciate!

Photos from England

Pedestrians Beware

As much as the ‘pedestrians have the right of way no matter what’ rule drives me crazy in Portland, the polar opposite isn’t so desirable either. English roads are riddled with roundabouts. It’s like a transportation planner put one and thought it was pure genius so every intersection in the entire country should have one. This means that it takes hours to go somewhere quite close. For pedestrians it means a similar fear of going near the road as I had walking along the streets of Marrakesh and Cairo. It’s a fear that says, “stick one toe in that road and a car could do anything at any moment!!” The added challenges of the roundabout plus a dirth of drivers that signal (not that you would know which way they’re going even if they did signal), plus the fact that they’re driving on the wrong side of the road (yes English friends I did say wrong) all leads to really having no clue as to how to cross the road at a roundabout.

Another observation on the transportation side of things is that people are really concerned with who got to the bus stop or queue first, and if you got there before, they will always step aside and let you board. Hmm.

Accents & Greetings

An interesting observation we’ve made is how focused people seem to be on the different regional accents here. England isn’t that big, but people seem to be able to identify a slightly different English accent at first mention of any words. Certainly we have different regional accents in the States, but America is HUGE. Just an interesting thought.

I do really enjoy, however, being greeted with a cheery, “Hiya!” or “You alright there?” instead of, “Hello, how are you?” Folks in the service industry also ask, “Can I help?” As opposed to, “Can I help the next person?” Little things here and there that we notice…

We’re also Similar

Aside from a few differences, some listed above, and a seemingly insatiable like of black tea and biscuits (that would be crackers in American English), our two cultures are very similar. Jon and I were both surprised at many of the societal similarities – being politics, social construct and lifestyle similarities.  It’s pretty easy to be in England – if you take away the death-a-bouts and the cost of living.

Moving On

It was an enjoyable few weeks in England, we saw so many castles, beautiful green countryside, laughed over plenty a pint and been astounded by the history here. It’s off to Edinburgh for 5 days now. During our time in England we’ve spent an enormous amount of effort working on our next adventure, which hasn’t come without struggle. Apparently when you can go anywhere, making choices becomes kinda overwhelming. We’ve finally had to realize that no matter where we go we will see something new, have a unique experience and probably enjoy ourselves. That’s nice.

First Photos of Scotland

Jon and I have ventured into the world of housesitting. It’s a way to see a new place, yet have a home (i.e. free accommodations). We’ve secured a job in Norway and will be flying to Oslo on June 26th and then up to a town called Follebu about 30km outside of Lillehammer. We’re hoping for a laid back, yet scenic 2 weeks in the countryside.

We also just secured a second housesitting gig in Murcia, Spain from the end of July through August! Murcia looks lovely, and is close to Alicante and Cartegena. This = jess beach time. Yay.

See ya’ll on the other side of the North Sea!

PS: If you want to catch up on our latest photos, visit our Seeking Fireflies Flickr page! We're also uploading more videos on our Seeking Fireflies YouTube channel. You can subscribe! Ok that's my only commercial :)