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March 24, 2011


I don't really think that using the word "busy" is accurate these days... It's not that I don't have time to blog... it just seems that whenever I think to sit down and actually write, I'm preoccupied with something else seemingly more important.  So it goes.

Recently, most of my days began here...

photo credit: Trek Earth
photo credit: Open Travel

photo credit: flickr

The University of Coimbra, 6th oldest university in all of Europe.  Even before I walked through the doors on the first day of my intensive Portuguese class, my sweet husband proudly reminded me, "You know what?  That building is older than the United States." 

As my dad would say, "How do you like them apples?"

Well, I like them fine... but just not intensively!  If anyone out there is contemplating taking any course with the word "intensive" in the title, I would recommend walking away.  Or running.  Quickly. This could possibly be motivation for you to run:  intensive class = intensive verbs.

Though I was excited to learn and really enjoyed being back in an environment with students (even though it did make me feel pretty old!), I was a bit overwhelmed by the class.  The material was on track with my level of study, but as the only student out of 16 that didn't understand Spanish, the Portuguese that came out of the professor's mouth at lightning speed flew pretty high over my head!  (Since Spanish is simliar to Portuguese, it is easier for Spanish speakers to comprehend Portuguese being taught in Portuguese). Overall, I'm glad I invested the time, and the material I received will be great to study as I continue to learn this insanely difficult language, so it was definitely an investment worth making... not to mention I had a lot of springy afternoons to scavenge around the old, historic streets of the city and get lost in the maze that makes up downtown Coimbra, which is exactly my idea of a good time!

Speaking of good times, Luis Miguel and I have thankfully been enjoying a bit more free time here and have been able to spend a few weekends in various cities around Portugal... the overnight stays graciously gifted to us by friends and family at our Portuguese wedding reception.  There is a great company called Smart Box that offers, in a sense, a vacation in a box.  Portugal has caught on to the trend big time and there are "boxes" available at most major malls and shopping centers.  Each box comes with a booklet of specific hotels, historic bed & breakfasts, entertainment, spas, etc, and the recipient can choose one to reserve for a getaway of sorts.  I have a few more blogs in the works detailing the trips we took, but again, I must follow up with the ´preoccupation´ referenced specifically in this post's subject.... for it truly has seemed to take over our lives!

While preparing for a weekend away in the mountains of northern Portugal, we had been given a hand drawn map by one of Luis's colleagues with lots of notes of things to check out along the way, as the little mountain roads wind through many beautiful areas.  I had gotten a stomach bug two days before, but without being able to cancel, we headed north anyway.  I was feeling well enough to hike around to find a waterfall we had been told was fairly hidden but fairly spectacular at the same time.  We parked our car in the only place we could, on a bridge over the river that eventually turned into the waterfall.  It ended up being a bust, as the side of the river we hiked didn't offer a clear view of the falls at all -- you can see a bit of the bottom of it below) and the water was too cold to allow us to cross the river.  Big fat bust.

 Not as big and fat as the bust into our car, though...

We returned from our hike not even 30 minutes later and found this window smashed and my purse and computer bag stolen.  I have criticized myself enough already about that stupid computer... who brings a computer on vacation??  We were, however, in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do for the night since it was pretty cold and pretty remote, so I thought we could watch a movie at our hotel.  Please note:  it's almost always a bad idea to bring your computer on vacation.  Also, it's always a good idea to leave your bags at the courtesy counter at the front desk if your room isn't ready when you check in and they ask if you want to leave your bags.  Lesson learned.

Another bad idea (or three or four) is to have unnecessary documents with you:  passport or driver's license, not both; American credit cards that you don't need while hiking in the mountains; the list goes on.  We were seriously in the middle of nowhere, proven by the few cars that drove by the entire time we were there and the reason the other hikers couldn't hear our car alarm - the river was too loud.  Unfortunately, I always think it's important to have a book and some music while on vacation, so I had my ipod and Kindle in that bag too, along with my wallet and permanent residency card.  After discussing the break-in with the other hikers and calling the police/National Guard there, we went back to the hotel and tried to rest, then grabbed a dinner at one of the few restaurants available and watched a soccer game and CNN, all the while frantically trying to get a hold of Citibank and Bank of America to cancel my credit cards.  Many thanks and three cheers go out to Jessica, private eye disguised as a new mom, who willingly called Bank of America on my behalf and after gushing about how much she enjoyed being a newly married girl married to a Portuguese man (i.e. me), arranged for a new debit card to be sent to my parents house.  Now that's a friend!

I will spare you the details of the hours we have spent at the National Guard's office then and since then, and will just share the hilarity of the situation the day after... The NG gave us a big piece of rolled up contact paper to use to sweep all the glass up off the floor of the car (why contact paper?  no idea.) and Luis kindly gave it back, thinking there is no way this will work as a tool to clean up glass.  Thankfully, though, he married an event planner, who kindly snatched the contact paper back out of the officer's hands and told him in not so clear Portuguese that we will, in fact, take it, and thank you for the lovely gift.... which was almost the exact size of the broken window!  With a little bit of clear packaging tape from the hotel, we had ourselves a window that didn't sound like blowing plastic bags the entire way home!

Since the incident, we have been doing our best to be grateful for the things we still do have and the way that it all happened.  Neither one of us had ever been robbed before, so at first we sulked and blamed ourselves for being unwise travelers.   Being encouraged from a blog of thankfulness from my friend Emily, we decided to list the things that we were thankful for, instead of sharing our gripes and the number of offices that we've called and whose hold music we've memorized in the process of rebuilding a few parts of our life.  We'd rather share with you the things that we're thankful for in all of this!

1) While downloading some photos a few days before we left, I chose to back up my entire computer system onto a portable hard drive
2)  My super brilliant computer prompted me to do so
3)  It was my computer that was stolen and not Luis's, which is not backed up
4)  It was my wallet and not Luis's, which would have been so much more difficult to recover... and which had 100€ more cash than mine did 
5)  It was my phone and not Luis's, which would have been so much more serious considering I barely have any numbers in my phone, and neither of us have many numbers memorized 
6)  The police found my bag close to the river where the theives threw it over a bridge about 4 miles up the mountain, so at least I have that (it's my fave! :)) and my glasses, which were in there so I could sleep in the car (potentially an expensive replacement!)
7) They also found half of my permanent residency card stuck to a rock in the river (it was ripped in half since it's just cardstock)... thankfully the half that had the card number on it! (stupid theives!) Having that number will make it much easier to get a replacement printed instead of an entire new process to get a card from scratch
8)  They also left a favorite scarf, a devotional book, and my house keys in my bag... taking the keys would have meant our front door and our main apartment entrance would have had to be changed, resulting in all 8 apartments needing to get a new entrance key.
9)  They didn't steal the car!
10)  We weren't hurt or injured in any way as a result of the break in.

Additionally, with all of the political unrest and natural disaster tragedy around the world, we are currently counting our blessings and realizing that physical, monetary loss is pretty insignificant compared to the excruciating loss of lives in Japan.  We count this all joy and know that it is building gratefulness and patience within us, teaching us to find less value in the physical and to depend on God even more deeply for our true needs, knowing that He cares about them and will provide for us!  Furthermore, we are thankful for my generous parents who have helped with taxes, giving me one less office to have to call and form to fill out, and for a brother who speaks computer better than anyone and has volunteered to help me recover what I lost electronically on my laptop. Thankfully it wasn't much!

With all that said, we are grateful for all these things and more... and I, specifically and selfishly, am thankful that I have this permanently recorded so that the entire world doesn't think I'm lazy or wasting away on the other side of the ocean instead of blogging.  Or that I'm at the beach every day.  Preoccupied, friends... just preoccupied.

We'll leave you with a photo that made the whole thing worthwhile...(well, almost...) a view from the terrace of our hotel.  I would strongly encourage anyone visiting the north of Portugal to stay here, and would also recommend marrying a patient man if you plan ahead of time to bring your tripod and use 30 minutes of your morning setting up the perfect shot.