Posts Tagged With: accommodation

Cuban Homestays

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Alright, you’re probably wondering why I’m blogging about Cuba when I’m currently in Poland. I meant to blog about this earlier in the year, but life happened, and I didn’t have the time. But now I do.

As winter is on the way, it’s time to start planning vacations in the tropics. For a lot of fellow Canadians, you’ve likely got Cuba on the radar. But instead of doing the traditional route of package holidays at resorts, why not consider doing a homestay in Cuba? I’m not suggesting foregoing the resorts, but rather include a homestay before or after your resort stay.

Myself and a good friend from Spain traveled to Cuba last Christmas and we stayed in three different homestays in Havana, Viñales, and Pinar del Rio. We absolutely loved it, and we felt as if we were experiencing authentic Cuban life! We experienced authentic culture, and discovered places we wouldn’t have otherwise. For example, our family in Havana introduced us to this dive bar serving the cheapest beer in town!

Cuban homestays?

In Cuba, they are known as Casas Particulares. The idea is you stay with a family that is officially registered with the government. The family can range from a traditional family or a single, divorced or widowed home owner. They provide daily breakfast and your own room with shared or private bathroom. The Casas are typically found away from the resorts. Since they are registered with the government, their homes are labelled with the surname of the family, family members, and the services they offer. Every casa also has a logo on their homes which looks like weird anchor in either red or blue. Blue means the house allows foreign guests to stay, while red means only Cubas can stay there. Very important to be aware of this!

So you say you get breakfast?

Yes. Now, breakfast is called desayuno in Spanish. Families will serve coffee or juice. Tea and milk is available upon request. Don’t expect bacon, eggs and waffles. A Cuban breakfast usually consists of mangoes, guava, bread with butter, montaditos with ham and cheese, and pineapples. Montaditos are small sandwiches. I actually enjoyed having a selection of fruit every morning.

Do the families speak English or other languages?

This depends on the family you end up staying with, but generally no. Having said this, it is a good idea to learn a few basics in Spanish before staying with them. If the language barrier becomes an obstacle, you can always use gestures to get the message across.

Will the families socialize with me?

Again, this depends on the family. However, you should not expect this. While they will be more than happy to help make your stay pleasant, they have their own lives to attend to. I found the families I stayed with to be cautious with foreigners for fear of saying something that might land them in legal trouble. While I’m on this subject, refrain from discussing politics with Cuban families. Cubans revere the Castros, Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos.

Sounds great! So how I find a Casa?

This is not an easy task, simply due to the Internet situation, which is very difficult for ordinary Cubans to get. You could do a Google search, but be prepared to spend a lot of time researching. I recommend going with an organized tour to Cuba such as G Adventures. Tours such as these arrange stays in Casas, removing the labor work of finding them yourself. If tours are not your thing, I would suggest searching for a Casa in Havana since there they are plentiful there.

Cuba is truly a fascinating and beautiful country. One should go there at least once in their lifetime. And a stay in a Casa will be an experience you will never forget – in a good way!

 

Categories: My Travels | Tags: , , , , ,

What You Need to Know About Spanish Home-stays

Planning to spend the summer studying in Spain? Are you going to live with a home-stay? You are in for a rewarding experience. Being a home-stay veteran, I can tell you it will be an experience like no other. I learned Spanish in Spain several times, and lived with six Spanish home-stays during those times. From day one, you feel as if you are living as a local. Not only can you practise the language, but you are living someone who knows the city or town that you are studying in, which can save you precious time. But before you get too excited, I want to share with you somethings about home-stays that are often overlooked.

When you think of living with a Spanish family or home-stay, you may think it is like living with any ordinary family. This is not the case in Spain. A Spanish family maybe a family with one or two children. The rest and the most common are divorced/widowed middle-aged women who live in an apartment. They agree to host international students to make extra money, have some companionship and/or are interested in other cultures. Because of the economic situation in Spain, many people take on international students for extra money, since it is difficult to get a regular job.

Depending on where in Spain you are living, most Spanish families live reasonably close to the school/university that you will be attending. I’m talking about 10 – 15 minute walk or 5 minutes by public transport. If you are going to be in Madrid or Barcelona, this will be different. You will likely have to take the metro to get to school, which can take up to 40 minutes each way. Unfortunately, some families in these cities are located in the suburbs since housing is cheaper in these parts. In any case, your family will be very close to supermarkets, restaurants, bars, etc. The nice thing about Spain is everything is so close to your home, so you don’t have to drive at all! But be forewarned: it is most likely that your family will live in an apartment. Most Europeans live in apartments.

So here are a few things you can expect from a home-stay:

  • access to the apartment: you will be given your own set of keys and so you can come and go as you wish. And don’t worry about coming home late. In Spain, people stay out until the wee hours of the morning on weekends and Spanish families know that you will be too.
  • meals. Depending on the agreement, you will get what is called half-board (breakfast and dinner) or full-board (all three meals). I personally recommend half-board because you will likely want to go out to lunch with your classmates. It sucks when you have to race home in order to get that extra meal you paid for.
  • your own room. You won’t have to share it with someone else. Depending on the family, you will either have an en-suite bathroom, or have to share the bathroom with everyone else. Just assume you’ll have to share it until you meet the family, so you don’t get disappointed.
  • linens and towels, which will be changed for you once a week.
  • laundry. Your family will do your laundry once a week only. Water and electricity is very expensive in Spain, so don’t expect laundry service every two days. Some families may not do the laundry, in which case they will show you how to use the washing machine and then you do the laundry yourself. Again, you’ll only be allowed to do it once a week.
  • opportunity to practise Spanish. The best way to practise is with a native speaker. I personally prefer this than speaking Spanish with another foreign student.
  • house mates. Don’t assume you will be the only student in the house, especially in the summer. You will likely have one or two other students living with the same host family. Spanish apartment have up to four bedrooms, so there is plenty of room for every one. If there is another student that speaks your language, it is up to you if you want to speak it or speak Spanish. Your host family will not be offended if you choose to speak your native tongue with that student.

What not to expect from a Spanish family:

  • meeting you at the airport/train station. Understand this right now. The family will be waiting for you at home, but they will not actually come to airport or train station to meet you. Most families do not own a car, and will assume that you will be making your own way to their home. If you want someone to meet you at the airport, your school can arrange someone to pick you up and take you to your home-stay for a fee.
  • including you in their social life. Are you expecting them to invite you out to dinner? Think they will invite you to hang out with their friends? Think again. Families assume that you will be going out every night with your own friends, so they won’t be including you in their own affairs. Do not take this personally, it’s just the way it is done. In fact, most students would rather hang out with other international students anyway.
  • allowing you to bring friends over. Your school usually tells you this in advance and the norm is you can’t have friends over. Respect this. Anyways, most people in Spain don’t invite friends over to their homes; they go out to cafes or restaurants. So the old saying, when in Rome, do as.
  • spectacular meals. Although you get meals, do not expect them to be the kind that you might find in five-star hotels or restaurants. Some home-stays are good cooks, while others have the cooking skills of a college freshman. Accept this. Generally, meals are hit-or-miss with home-stays. If you have dietary needs, let your school know this as far in advanced as possible. Another thing about meals is that dinner is served at 9 or 10 at night – The Spanish eat late.
  • attending to your every need. You’re not staying at the Hilton! While families want to make your stay as pleasant as possible, you have to remember that they have their own lives and are often very busy. So don’t treat them like they are your personal butler.
  • Knowledge of your own language. The majority of Spaniards don’t speak English, and if they do it’s just the basics. Some families might speak other languages like Portuguese, Italian or French since they are similar to Spanish. Families assume you want to practise speaking Spanish. If you want to speak your own language or your level is very low, you’d be better off sharing an apartment with other foreign students or living in a residence.

 

One other thing to know about families is that many of them have their own set of rules. When you first arrive, ask them what rules/norms they have about their home. They will appreciate this and you immediately get off to a great start. They will see that you are considerate, and may even be flexible with some of the rules.

So I hope this helps because I sure wish I had known all this when I first stayed with a family. I hope that you will have the same wonderful experience that I had.

Categories: Life | Tags: , , , , , ,

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