Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Good, The Bad, The Crazy

The Good:

My heart smiles when I watch Lochlan (13 months) absorb the sights and sounds of city life. She waves to everyone and will cry if no one is in view. When I look back on all the traveling and schlepping we have done over the past two weeks, I am reminded of her stamina and strength, and that makes me proud. Saca said she walked across the plaza yesterday (Plaza de San Miguel Bajo) and commented on not being able to recall the last time she saw her crawl for any distance. I think it's special to be able to, one day, tell her she learned to walk in Granada, Spain.

Making new friends and building structures in the Francesco Tonucci exhibit.
Playing soccer in the plaza.
Determined to add her ball to this contraption at the Science Park.
Pretending she's the bull and Keller is the matador.
My dangerous attempt at keeping her safe on a bus ride to Ronda.
I will bring a carseat on our next excursion.

For Keller, this has been a coming of age story. Yes, he just turned four but for some reason the jump from three to four has felt very significant - like we are leaving the era of little kid-ness. Of course there are still times when I push him too hard, when his (inherited) stubbornness rears its ugly head, and when exhaustion takes over and results in a complete melt down... But for the most part, it has been amazing to watch him step up to the challenge. He helps me push the pram up the grueling cobblestone streets. He tries to help taxi drivers put our things into the trunks of their cars. He is starting to order ice cream in Spanish and he says "hola" to just about everyone we pass along our quiet neighborhood streets. And I think it is really good for him to see me encountering new obstacles daily (language, transportation, entertainment, etc.) and for him to have the opportunity to help me work through many of those challenges.

I am treasuring our walks down to the dried fruit market, taking the trash out at night, and dribbling the soccer ball up to get a gatorade at the tiny grocery store before bed. During siesta time, and in an effort to avoid the scorching mid-day heat, we play inside. The walls of our little apartment are starting to fill with his paintings and papers that come home from spanish class, reminding me yet again that you need very little to make a strange place feel like home.

Doing some number work.
The annual soccer ball picture taken on his fourth birthday.
From inside the theatre as we watched Mi Amigo el Gigante.
After Spanish class with his "man bag."

Finding activities out of the house has been a challenge, which I will write more about below. But sticking to the good, our discovery of the Parque de las Ciencias has been a godsend. We go just about every day and spend hours building structures, learning about disaster relief, and playing with various puzzles and contraptions.

I think this could entertain him for an hour.
Playing with, building with, and eating the dominoes.
One of the many soccer fields Keller has constructed during our time at the Park.
Learning about tsunamis.
P.S. He is now fascinated with the sinking of the Titanic!

The Bad:

I was 22 the last time I was in Granada - hardly a time in my life when I was surveying the surroundings to assess how child friendly they would be. Well it turns out this city does not rank very high on that chart. I am not kidding when I say there is NO GRASS here. Playgrounds are few and far between, which would be okay if the play structures were not also made of metal and fully exposed to the elements. On the 100 degree days we are having, they scream skin cancer and second degree burns. Surely the moms here do something with their kids in the summer! I've scoured the internet, I stop people with kids in the street and ask for suggestions, we quiz the local librarian and shopkeepers... Two weeks in to living here and the playbook has yet to surface. During a conversation with the librarian yesterday, he said we needed to go to the next town to find grass - I kid you not!

The little green you do see near the Alhambra is trees.
We are living in an urban desert!

A Glimpse Into The Crazy:

Everyone warned me about Lochlan walking, but so far the walking has not been a problem. The game changer has been the climbing. She can lift that little leg up to her shoulder and hoist herself up on just about anything. We go to the library, I turn around and she's on top of a chair. I turn my back for a second while trying to get ready for the day and she's literally climbing up to the top bunk. (Yes - she can make it all the way up there by herself. Thankfully it has not happened without me or Saca being there.) She climbs the pram. She climbs shelving… And just about everywhere here has tiled or stone flooring. Prayers for this little monkey's safety. Her lack of fear and desire to do and see everything is both awesome and crazy!

Climbing the ladder.
At the top!
Climbing the pram.

After long days of trying to find our way, I enjoy a good laugh over some of the things that get lost in translation. This advert was slipped under our apartment door one afternoon. Take out anyone?

An advert slipped under the apartment door. 

Getting groceries from a real grocery store, is half a day's work and looks something like this:
- I load the kids into the stroller and ski down into town (think sledding behind a ~70 box on wheels).
- Walk another mile or so to the Corte Engles, continually going out of my way to stay in the shade because it is so insanely hot outside.
- Once inside Corte Engles, we maneuver through the narrow, crowded isles to the elevators located in the back corner of the store and head to the basement level.
- Although shopping carts are available, they are like micro-trolleys, which means I can either ditch the stroller somewhere (which as I type this may be a strategy I try next time), or have Keller jump out and let his side of the double stroller serve as the shopping cart.
- In this scenario, we typically make it about half way through our list before Lochlan begins (a) trying to eat whatever is within reach (raw meats and cleaning supplies are always stored overheard), and (b) kicking and throwing things out of the stroller which Keller then turns into an "absolutely hilarious" game of catch.
- Around this point the phrase "this is a disaster" starts rolling off the tongue at every turn. We manage to grab the last of the "must have" items before squeezing into the very narrow checkout isle where I attempt to unload and reload our purchases (no bag boys here) while keeping an eye on Keller and preventing Loch from an absolute meltdown.
- Then it's Keller back into the pram, the 4 or so packed shopping bags slipped onto the stroller handles, and back to the elevators where I am now positioned to maneuver an even larger load through the store and back outside.
- We make it outside and hail a cab. Thankfully, the drivers here are pretty amenable and usually hop out to help me load the kids, groceries, and stroller into their tiny car.
- We try to entertain Lochlan (who is not in a car seat) to prevent her from screaming the entire way and/or taking a dive inside or (worse) outside of the moving car.
- Finally we arrive home, unload, and squeeze back through the door of our little apartment.

Snapped a picture at the end of a shopping trip yesterday.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Life in Granada

We are living in the Albaicin district of Granada, a place rich in history dating back to the 11th century. The cobblestone streets are steep, winding, and narrow - so narrow in some places you have to slip into a door frame just to let a small car pass by. These streets create a maze of motion: locals going to market, tourists coming to see the many landmarks hidden in these hills, and the random person (me) pushing a double stroller nearly the size of the small cars mentioned above as she tries to make her way from point A to point B. 

The tight squeeze of the roads in the Albaicín

Part of the maze.

The church at the top of our street. 

Another view from our roof.

For those who don't know, I spent a few months studying in Granada 13 years ago. I fell in love with the charm, the people, and the challenge of the city. It's not much bigger than my hometown of Greensboro, but the fact that it's urban and people walk everywhere makes it feel three or four times bigger. The Sierra Nevada Mountains line the horizon. The summer days are hot, the wine is cheap, and the local olives and olive oils are endless.

Our apartment has just about everything I could have hoped for. One aircon unit on the second floor (much better than none in 100+ degree weather). There is a small, well-stocked kitchen, a quaint living area, two bedrooms, and two baths. The terrace on the third floor is where we hang our clothes out to dry during the day and where we look for stars, sip on Spanish wine, and share stories at night. I had to pinch myself the other night when I looked up and saw Keller working on his writing with the Alhambra in the background. When I asked Mike to promise me that we could spend one year of our lives in Spain, this was everything I had imagined and more. If only he were here, it would be perfect.

Keller working on the roof terrace. 

Our dryer.

The large grocery store is a 20-minute walk from the apartment (down those steep and windy alleyways), but there's a tiny little market at the top of our street with some basics and, best of all, homemade ice cream. Just down from us, there is an Arab market with spices and dried fruit that we frequent as well.

Some of the dried fruit we like to purchase.

At night, Keller enjoys dribbling a soccer ball up to the square. We play pass and steal in front of a church that dates back to the 13th century, which is completely surreal. Tonight he slipped on one of the cobblestones and cut his head open. The blood was enough to freak me out a bit. I took him up to the next square with hopes the little town doctor would still be open. No luck, so we settled for some hydrogen peroxide, frozen peas, and a chupa-chupa (lollipop). I will take him back to the doctor in the morning to make sure everything is okay. I sent up some big prayers for my little guy. Thankfully, he was back in good spirits within the hour and lively enough to still want to help with the nightly duties before bed. 

Keller taking the garbage out.

We celebrated the fourth of July yesterday with as much festivity as seemed safe and possible. Part of the group grabbed burgers from burger king and some of us pretended with falafels and schwarmas. Saca designed handmade American flags and we enjoyed a close game of American citizenship trivia with our new friends from Utah. Seeing everyone's pictures on Facebook made me miss home a bit. 

July 4th celebrations with our new pals from Utah.

Ice cream on the 4th.
Even Loch Loch got a cone. 
Tomorrow we are traveling south to seek out a few new adventures before Joan heads back to the US – Ronda and Gibraltar, here we come!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Finding our Stride - el Prado and Spanish Life

I woke up feeling much more prepared today. After doing a little research on how to tackle museums with children, I bought tickets to the Prado in advance, made sure we were out the door as close to opening time as possible, and had a scavenger hunt waiting for Keller when we arrived. It all worked like a charm.

A snapshot of some of Keller's scavenger hunt finds. 

Keller had a blast searching through the galleries for Velázquez, Goya’s, and more. Some of my favorite comments of his are included as captions with the relevant works of art below.

"I think that one is called the upside down Jesus."
The Apparition of the Apostle St Peter to St Peter Nolasco
"Mom, I found the naked lady!"
The Naked Maja
"Why is that a monster eating a baby that looks like an ice cream cone?
He looks like the Bloodgottler from the BFG."
Saturn Devouring his child

After the Prado we strolled down Paseo del Prado to check out the fountains where Madrid’s biggest soccer teams celebrate victories (Fuente de Neptuno - Atletico and Cibeles – Real). Since we pull for neither of these teams, I did not feel compelled to cross the busy street and let the kids take a dip for themselves. Instead we opted for a smaller splash garden just off the road and then headed to Puerta del Sol for a quick picture and then into El Retiro park for a play. It always amazes me how quickly kids can mix and mingle. Lochlan, in particular, made herself at home. These types of moments are exactly what I was hoping for when I planned this trip; there’s just no way to beat immersing yourself in a community and interacting with the locals.

Lochlan's happy place.
The obligatory photo at Puerto del Sol.
Loch Loch jumping right in with the kids at the park.

For dinner we headed to an area of town recommend by a friend called La Latina. And what a great recommendation this was! It is close to everything but just far enough off the beaten path to be away from the tourists. We spent the evening bar hopping our way down the quaint little street. As Keller and Lochlan chased pigeons in the plaza nearby, we enjoyed mojitos, tapas, wine, and dessert. It was indulgent and delightful.

One of the stops along our gastronomy tour.
I had forgotten about these meat shops.
Keller, by the way, is now claiming to be a vegetarian.
Salud mojitos.
Loch enamored with the birds.
Keller terrifying the birds.

Tomorrow we are off to Granada. Madrid, once again you have been absolutely wonderful to me! Until next time…

P.S. You know it's been a good day when your kid's feet look like this. And I washed them before his nap! So this is just a half-a-day's work. 

Spanish tattoos.

Mom travel notes:
- Check to see if where you are going allows backpacks. It’s so much easier to re-arrange your “war chest” ahead of time and opt for a smaller bag than it is to pull things you think you might need out on-site and store the rest in a locker.

- Bring a double stroller to Europe – even if you think your older child will have no problem walking! Over the past 48 hours I have stacked, carried, and dragged a second child through the streets of Madrid. Finally, I gave in. Keller and I dropped the (single) BOB at the hotel we will be staying at on our way home and bought a double pram. Mike, I know you will cringe over this. Sorry in advance! The good news is that I don’t think we will need to rent a car. So I kind of saw it as a wash. :)

The schlepping in action.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Reina Sofa, el Mercado de San Miguel, & El Rey Leon

We slept in a bit this morning before heading over to the Reina Sofia. While there, we made it to two traveling exhibitions. The first was a selection from Wifredo Lam’s work, which I loved. His style was modern meets tribal and seemed to be inspired by global issues. The second was called Campo Cerrado and it was a collection that told the story of Spanish art during the complex and controversial 1940’s. I could have spent hours in this exhibit, but it required a lot of attention and there was just no way to do it with two small kiddos in tow. My visit in this gallery was brief, but if you happen to be in Madrid anytime soon, both of these are worth the look!

Joan, Saca, and Keller outside the Reina Sofia.

We also made it to several Dalí pieces and Saca and Joan made it to the Picassos, which I saw last time I was here. By the time we hit our “Picasso point” Keller and Lochlan had hit their breaking points, so the three of us headed out in search of a café while the girls kept looking.

Although the Reina Sofia building itself and the art displayed there are spectacular, my highlight from our visit had to be Lochlan dribbling her Swiss soccer ball through the halls. (Note: she dribbled through the halls, not the galleries themselves! Still questionable museum behavior, no doubt, but what do you do when a 12-month-old starts shouting “out” and “ball” over and over. And let’s not forget, the Reina Sofia used to be a hospital. In some ways, I feel like its original architects would be quite proud to know that a little American girl is learning to walk, and dribble, in their grand hallways.)   

She shoots…
And she scores!

Post museum meant siesta time, so while the gals went shopping my duo went down for a much-needed rest. I am quickly realizing that their schedules are going to have to change in Spain. It is impossible to eat dinner at 5:00pm when the restaurants don’t open until 8:00pm. When in Spain, do as the Spaniards do, right? I guess I will worry about the aftermath of 10pm bedtimes once we return home.

After naps and shopping we headed back towards Plaza Mayor to the Mercado de San Miguel. The place was bustling with people from all over the world. It is a fantastic spot to grab a bite and a drink, but bring cash; most of the vendors do not accept credit cards. Also watch for pick pockets and people selling their wares. One guy kept trying to put a bracelet on Keller’s wrist. The look of confusion on Keller’s sweet little face… I could just see his mind racing, trying to process what was going on. “Who is this strange man? Why is he giving me a present? I like presents. But my mom clearly doesn’t seem to like this man. Now my mom is yelling at me to come with her and get away from him. What in the world is going on?!?!”

A quick photo outside the main market entrance.
What beats a mango sangria with a side of olives?
At the el Martín fish company stall.

Speaking of living like the Spaniards, Joan and I took Keller to the late showing of El Rey Leon at the Teatro Lope De Vega. (Thank you Saca for watching Loch.) This was Joan’s first time seeing the musical and even though she does not speak a lick of Spanish, she thought it was spectacular – and it was! I have seen the show three times now and I am telling you this was the best. And my little dude did not miss a beat. He bounced up and down in his chair at the start of the show, clapping his hands, and squealing, “This is so exciting! This is so exciting!”

Waiting for the show to begin.

Making friends and starting to speak a little spanish.

Looking back on our first full day in a Spanish city, here are a few reflections from a mom traveling with littlies. I'm sure there are many more to be learned in the coming days. 
- Bring a bike lock so you can lock your stroller/pram downstairs and avoid lugging it up and down (in our case 4 flights of) stairs ten times a day. No elevators in this apartment.
- Check to see if you need to weigh your produce before you spend 20 minutes waiting in line to check out at the corner grocery. (I should have remembered this from shopping in Switzerland!)
- Inserting a quick park visit between adult activities works wonders.
- There's a lot you can do with a pack of diapers… including rigging up a computer cord and adaptor. :)

My jerry-rigged adaptor and cord - only a mom could do this!