Monday, June 30, 2008

Our Next Visitor?

As we drive north on the highway, just a few miles from Aveiro we pass by a half mile section of stork nesting grounds. You can see close to 20 nests, most of which are on the support structures for the highway signs, a few of which have 3 or 4 nests on a single structure. It has been really neat to watch the transition the last few months from nest building and incubating through the fuzzy chick stage, and now it is starting to get difficult to tell the adults from the babies, as they seem to have all molted and I imagine it is getting close to time to leave the nest.

So, since we are expecting a delivery from a stork in September, I have found myself asking if one of these guys be our next visitor.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Friendly Faces

We’ve been lucky to meet many new friends here in Portugal, but when living so far from home it is very nice to see some familiar faces again. We’ve recently been able to host several friends and family over the last month. The first arrivals were Laura, Katrin’s cousin from Oregon, and her boyfriend Hunter. They stopped here for a few days after spending a semester abroad in Cyprus. They were able to stay for a few days, and their visit overlapped with that of Karen, Katrin’s mom, and her husband Kevin. The six of us spent a cold day (a common theme for all of our visitors, unfortunately) exploring the mountains of Serra da Freite and the town of Arouca.

Laura and Hunter then had to leave for the US, but we had Karen and Kevin for a few more days. We decided to go to the Galicia region of Spain for a long weekend. We found a great B&B outside the town of Santiago de Compostela, and from there explored the coast out to Cabo Finisterre and up to A Coruna. It was a beautiful area, kind of like Vermont but with an ocean, although we did have to brave some pretty strong hailstorms to enjoy it. Karen and Kevin were good sports and we all managed to have fun, especially at mealtime. Whether it was Katrin’s homemade stuffed squid, seafood rice at our local neighborhood restaurant, or tapas in Spain, we had some great food. This marked the end of Karen and Kevin’s round-the-world trip, but they’ll be back when our little girl is born and liked our hometown of Aveiro enough to put a deposit on an apartment for the winter so they can be closer to their granddaughter.

Soon after we got to see our friends Val and Bryan from Burlington. Val’s work took her to England so they were nice enough to add us into their plans. We only had a few days with them before they were off to see the rest of Europe, but we did have a lot of fun doing a port wine tour in Porto, exploring a nearby castle, and experiencing the local dessert of ovos moles (sweet eggs). Mostly we enjoyed catching up with some old friends again.

Our most recent visitors were my parents, Mary and Pierre, who also included Portugal in a European vacation. We picked them up at the airport in Lisbon and went straight to Sintra, a town up on a hilltop where the Portuguese royalty used to go to escape the summer heat. There we explored a Moorish castle from the 11th century, many fabulous gardens, and a Portuguese palace that seems straight out of Disneyland but without the rides. Coming back to Aveiro, we joined some friends for a typical Portuguese sardine barbecue, which is a tradition at this time of year. It was a nice opportunity to give them a taste of Portuguese culture with some locals, and the language barrier wasn’t too bad with my Dad getting by with his Spanish and Katrin and I doing some translating from Portuguese. Finally, we capped off their visit with a sunny boat ride down the Douro River, in the heart of port wine vineyard country.

We are expecting a couple more visitors in July and August, and then we’ll probably lay low for a few months after our little girl is born. But to the rest of you, we would love to see you in Portugal. And for all of you who have come to visit recently, thank you so much. It’s a wonderful way for Katrin and I to stay close to everyone and still feel connected to home.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Euro Cup 2008

We've spoken to you about the importance of soccer in Europe before, but it ramped up several notches recently. This country pays attention to Formula One and the French Open, but it's passionate about soccer. And the Euro Cup 2008 was Portugal's chance to show the world that it's a country to be reckoned with. However, it didn't turn out that way, despite the fact that Portugal had one of the more talented teams in the tournament.

In the first round we watched the first game in town with some friends at a bar. Portugal beat Turkey 2-0 and you would have thought they had won the championship with the way the celebration was carried on in the street. There was flag waving and crowds gathered outside yelling, honking, and celebrating long after the game was over. With their second win over Czech Republic, Portugal ensured their group win and a place in the quarterfinals, so they played their B squad in a 0-2 loss to the Swiss in the final game of the pool play. They were expected to beat Germany in the quarter final game, so the 2-3 loss Thursday night was taken particularly hard.

We woke up Friday morning to a very depressed country. It is hard to imagine an entire country being so affected by a single game, but the last few weeks it has been all-consuming here. Nearly every house has a Portuguese flag hanging on it, and expectations were very high. We watched the game with friends at a local Brazilian restaurant and the blood drained out of their faces with each German goal. We've since learned that they don't care about Olympic soccer around here, so the 2010 World Cup will be Portugal's next chance to prove to the world that it can be among the elite.

Belly Update

Seems like I am getting bigger daily, and it is hard to imagine that it is going to keep trending in this direction for a while still. Today marks 30 weeks, 10 more to go. I'm very lucky to have such wonderful friends and family who braved the high shipping costs and managed to get me a great maternity wardrobe, and a whole library of books to prepare us!