Day 31! One month. One quarter of the trip behind us. And so far not one day of rain and in Spain, sunny skies with temperatures 65-70 most of the time. Hard to complain about that.
So the question has come up from readers, “I sort of understand Home Exchange, but what did you and Embry actually do every day.”
Actually Home Exchange is a great idea and you should consider it. It will save you a lot of money but more important changing homes with somebody in another country gives you the opportunity to experience life there in a different way from what you experience as a typical tourist, which we will start being tomorrow when we go to Madrid and stay in a tourist hotel.
We are staying in a neighborhood where there are no tourists and no hotels of any type. We have not heard any English spoken the entire time we have been here except when someone is talking to us. So when we have a pastry in one of the coffee shops or tapas at a sidewalk café or even dinner at a local restaurant we are something of an anomaly. While our poor Spanish has been a detriment, people have made a heroic effort to be friendly and accommodating, and it is always remarkable how far sign language can take you. Embry’s idea of paying for a coffee and croissant is to go up to the person at the cash register and put all her coins in her palm, asking the person to take the correct amount. That often brings pleasant smiles.
Our daily schedule has been to take on one major activity a day and have one meal out and one at the apartment (usually dinner, which enables us to eat at something closer to a normal dinner time). Major activities include museums, parks, cathedrals and old buildings, hop-on, hop-off bus tours, and people watching while having an espresso at an outdoor cafe –the usual sort of thing. We have done a lot of walking (health app says our average is over five miles a day) including three or four walks from the apartment to the downtown historical area, which it turns out is about an hour away on foot, about the same distance as Metro Center is from our house in Washington. Yesterday we rented bikes allowing us to cover a lot more ground, hitting the port and the beach area (really crowded with families since it was a holiday) and a bunch of neighborhoods we had not been to before. And we have used buses more than a dozen times. After a while you sort of get into the swing of things and find yourself just hanging out. No time commitments, no forced marches, nothing you have to do. This, of course, is all going to change in a day or two, but for the last two weeks it has been just what the doctor ordered.
Does this kind of tourism provide more insight or “authenticity”? Is it more “real”? My conclusion is that it is simply different and that there is a room for a whole bunch of ways to visit and explore a country. I am reminded of the elderly Brit I met in India a dozen years ago, who had lived in the country for a number of years. “You know,” he said, “you can come to India for a long weekend, two or three days, and conclude that this is a pretty nice and interesting country and move on to the next country thinking you know India. Or you can stay two or three weeks and conclude that while you ‘know India,’ it is probably a little more complicated than you used to think. If you stay two or three years, then you have real doubts as to what is going on; and if you stay a decade as I have, you know damn well you do not have a clue.” While India is perhaps the most complicated country on the planet, the wisdom of the old man applies to all countries to a certain extent. You do get a feel for the country and its people and that is why we all travel in the first place. And a home exchange gives you a new and different perspective. But as to true understanding or authentic experiences, you do the best you can, realizing at the end of the day, you probably don’t have a clue.