The Second Month

*Author’s note:  Because this is first and foremost a personal journal of our family’s experience, I’m trying to record events as accurately as possible, including the difficult or boring stuff.  Thanks to those of you who read this blog, but I won’t be offended if you decided to skip around or stop reading all together!!! LLW

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I feel like this second month in Spain has been all about building…building resilience, building relationships, building memories.

While Granada, and specifically our neighborhood of the Albayzín is still magical, this month we have had to become more resilient in the face of various challenges.

Challenge number one:  the language.  If we were to go back and do something different about learning Spanish, one thing I would have done was NOT take a week off between classes, and possibly not changed language schools quite so quickly.  After our week’s vacation at the end of our first month, we returned to Granada and began classes at another local language school, Castila.  While the school itself was great, having a week off between classes made it hard to get back on track, especially because Castila had a different way of teaching Spanish than our previous school, and, for Jason and I, they didn’t have a class that was right at our level, so we were put in a B1 class that was pretty challenging.  Those of you who know Jason can understand that he took this challenge and ran with it, while I floundered and became overwhelmed.  The kids had mixed experiences.  They all felt they had learned more at Delengua, but Matthew and Gabi enjoyed Castila much more because there were more kids their age taking Spanish with them. After that first week of our two week session, I was able to move down to a different class, but I still didn’t progress as much as I’d hoped.  After the two week session and because we’d already scheduled it, we took a break to go to the Canary Islands, tried to come back to classes for the last week before school started for the kids, but ended up just keeping Matthew and Gabi in language class that week. Now that the kids have all started regular school, Jason and I have decided to start private lessons, three days a week for 1.5 hours per day.  We’ve also been told about free language exchanges that we can do with locals…you meet for an hour or so and talk to someone who wants to practice their English while you practice your Spanish.  Resilience lesson number one:  keep plugging along with Spanish.

Challenge number two:  health concerns.  During our first week of lessons at Castila, I ended up experiencing severe back spasms, which made it extremely painful to sit through the language classes and may have had a little bit to do with my difficulty concentrating. Because of the language barrier, I didn’t feel like trying to find a doctor or physical therapist. Luckily, my niece Holly who is a chiropractor in Kansas City, gave me advice on some stretches, the local farmacia gave me some meds and I started to feel better after a few days.  I think the absolute cure though, was an afternoon that Jason and I spent in the Arab baths at Hamman Al Andalus.  Experiencing various baths at different temperatures, plus a steam room and a massage at the end seemed to be the magic bullet for healing.  The following week, Jason ended up with a painful canker sore that made it painful for him to talk, eat and drink.  Pretty frustrating when you are trying to learn a new language and when you are surrounded by amazing and cheap food and beer!  Lastly, just as we were both feeling better, we ended up getting food poisoning or some type of gastrointestinal virus on our trip to the Canary Islands.  It took a good 10 days for us to feel normal again.  Resilience lesson number two:  this too shall pass.

Challenge number three: school.  Poor Robbie.  While Matthew and Gabi’s school Gomez Moreno had us register them back in March, IES Albayzín told us to wait until we arrived.  Through various emails and my attempts at translating their website, we were under the impression that Robbie would be able to take most of his classes in English and even do some film work as an extra curricular activity.  Well, when the school office reopened after the August break, we went to visit and register.  From that visit, we gathered that classes were taught in English maybe once a week, and a student had to be 16 in order to work with the film program.  There was also some confusion as to whether or not Robbie would be able to take any math or science classes that he needed in order to graduate on time from Ballard High School when we return to Seattle.  We spoke with our landlord and another family we’d met whose children go to Granada College, a private international school about 25 minutes outside of Granada City and decided to look into that option.  With just a few days to go before school started we visited it.  While it was going to cost us some money, it would be a super long day, and various other challenges, it seemed to be an easier way to transition Robbie into school in a foreign country.  As of this writing we are only a couple days in, so the verdict is still out.  Gabi and Matthew also started school last Monday, and overall have had a good experience, but I’m sure after a full month in, we will have a better grasp of what the year ahead holds for all of them.  Resilience lesson number three: go with the flow, and don’t be afraid to change your plans.

This second month hasn’t ONLY been about challenges however. This month we found ourselves building relationships as well, and that has been a wonderful thing.  In just the past few weeks we have met a number of families with kids the same age as our children, embarking on the same or a similar adventure.  We’ve met people from all over the U.S. (including TWO families from Washington), Australia and Canada.  We have had dinners together, pool parties, “mom walks” through the grounds of the Alhambra, traded childcare and basketball practice duties and are slowly building that “village” that is necessary when raising kids, no matter where one is living.

Building relationships and continuing to explore this country we live in has allowed us to also build memories.  Our trip to Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands was just one of the highlights of this second month.  We won’t forget the fun we had parasailing over the bluest ocean we’ve ever seen, or the torturous hike across the burning hot sand dunes, only to end up on a nude beach (yes, many women go topless at beaches in Spain, but this was actually a completely clothing optional beach – I think we may have scarred Robbie for life!).  Little memories of tapas nights, discovering favorite helado shops, hanging laundry to dry on our terrace, chasing strange cats out of our house, and finally picking up our residency cards are all part of building this life of ours here in Granada.

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The First Month

Hard to believe we’ve already been in Spain for a month. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind. Our first weeks in Granada entailed a lot of just figuring out day to day living and getting to know our new city.

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A view of the Granada Cathedral from the Albayzin neighborhood.

When we first got to Granada, our landlord, Carmen, met our taxis near the Mirador San Nicolas, a few “blocks” from our house. I say “blocks” because the streets in our neighborhood of the Albayzin are in no way straight or grid-like. It truly is a labyrinth of narrow cobblestone streets and high white-washed walls. Therefore, many of the streets are just small paths or even staircases and there is no way to get any kind of vehicle to our house, let alone two taxis holding a family of five and ten pieces of luggage. So, Carmen met us and we walked down the hill towards our home.

We settled in over the weekend, finding our way to various markets, restaurants and just getting our bearings. Our landlords had us over for dinner (paella!) and gave us all kinds of tips and tricks for living in this unique neighborhood. (For example, the grocery store with on-line shopping that delivers to your front door! After using our backpacks twice to haul groceries back up the hill, this was welcome news!)

Our first priority was applying for our residence cards. It only took three trips to our local Oficina de Extranjería to be given our NIE numbers which are extremely important here in Spain, because you can’t open a bank account, get a mobil phone or (usually) register the kids for school without them. One funny example of how things work in Spain: we needed a bank account to get local cell service. However, when we went to open our bank account, we were told we needed to provide them with a mobile telephone number in order to open an account. Apparently this type of conundrum is quite common in Spain!

Our second week in Granada found us attending a half of a Mass at the Granada Cathedral (apparently Mass times listed on websites aren’t always accurate). It was nice to feel some familiarity in church, since Roman Catholic Masses are the same all over the world and even if we couldn’t recite the Lord’s Prayer in Spanish (yet!), we could at least follow along. That Sunday was a big Spanish immersion day for us as we also spent the afternoon at one of the local movie theaters watching Mi Amigo Gigante (The BFG). Since it was also Robbie’s 15th birthday, we let him pick our lunch spot, and we ended up at Burger King, enjoying a taste from home. (Although we never actually go to Burger King in Seattle!)
The following day we started two weeks of Spanish language classes at Escuela Delengua, just a short walk from our house. Matthew and Gabi were in a private class together, Robbie was in a beginner adult class, and Jason and I squeaked into an A2 level class where we focused a lot on verb tenses and grammar. We had classmates from Holland, England and Mauritania in West Africa. I’m amazed at the language teachers and how they can teach Spanish to people who speak all different languages. Language classes are intense, three hours a day, with a 30 minute break in the middle. We all were mentally exhausted after the first week, but I’m really proud of the kids for all their hard work.

The following week brought our first visitor!  Ciara works as a nanny in Seattle for our friends and is spending the majority of the summer traveling solo around Europe. She stopped by (if traveling by bus for 14 hours can be considered “stopping by”) Granada a little over halfway through her trip, and it was great having her with us! We still had classes during the mornings, but had a fun time in the evenings, bar-hopping for tapas, attending a flamenco show with our language school and introducing her to Game Night in a Can during one of our nights “in.” Gabi especially bonded with her since they were roomies for the week, and she really missed Ciara when she left. You can check out Ciara’s adventures at her blog Willfully Wandering.

With the end of our first month nearing and a week break in our Spanish lessons, we decided to head to a beach for some cooler weather and a change of scenery. Guess what?  So does every other family in Spain. We really wanted to head to the beach areas in Andalucia, as we had heard lovely things about Cadiz and liked the idea of a short car ride to the beaches near Marbella, but we could not find a suitable place to stay. We ended up about four hours away near Cartegena, which turned out to be pretty great. Not only did we find a nice resort with wonderful beaches nearby, Cartagena is an historically important city in Spain, full of Roman ruins and tons of history.  Highlights included a visit to the ruins of a Roman theater, era 5-1 BC, and the Spanish Civil War Museum, housed in a former bomb shelter.

On the drive home, we ended up finding “Texas Hollywood” near Almeria, which happens to be the location for numerous Spaghetti Westerns, including The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, and A Fistful of Dollars.

Overall, this first month has gone well.  It’s definitely challenging not being able to communicate easily with most people we come across, but we are figuring things out.  Everyone we have met (with the exception of Jason’s new “friend” at an internet cafe/copy place) has been super helpful and kind.  We are getting into a nice routine, but still have lots of time to explore and just enjoy Granada.  It’s pretty magical, and it’s still hard for me to believe that we actually LIVE here and we aren’t on vacation.


The House

So we’ve been in Granada a little over two weeks now and have settled well into our house.  I really can’t believe our luck in renting this little gem.  Again, so many thanks to Jed for getting us in contact with his landlord! The house has turned out to be the perfect size and in the perfect location for our family.

A little more detail:  the house is a traditional casa in the Albaicin neighborhood.  White-washed walls, tiled roof, heavily barred and shuttered windows.  It shares walls with a couple of other homes and is three stories tall.  The ground floor contains the kitchen, a half-bath, and a small dining/living room combination.  Up one flight of stairs are the bedrooms.  There is a master bedroom with a bathroom connected, and two other bedrooms and shared full bath on this floor.  Up one more flight of (very steep!) stairs is the best part of the house.  It is a “bonus” room with a terrace and a view of the Alhambra palace.  It’s a large enough room that all five of us can be in it comfortably, which is a good thing, since it is the only room in the house with air-conditioning.  Actually, the entire house, with its thick walls, stays pretty cool during even the hottest part of the day, as long was we remember to open all the windows up at night, and close them tightly by mid-morning.

Robbie and Matthew are surviving sharing a room so far. And while it’s not pleasant for anyone else to be in there if they haven’t opened their window in a while, neither of them seem to mind.  Gabi has her own, much smaller room, but it does include a trundle bed so we have at least one extra bed for visitors! Since she doesn’t have ALL her stuffed animals here, it’s not surprising that her room is staying quite neat.  Jason is little tall for the double bed in our room, but whatever sleep he’s been missing at night, he is making up for during his siesta time.  I’ve definitely had to consolidate my bathroom supplies, but it seems to be working for now.

One thing about the house that is quite different from what we are used to back in the States is that there is no clothes dryer.  Or rather, our clothes dryer is the hot Andalusian sun.  However, at least in the summer, I would say our clothes dry even quicker than in our dryer back home.  I’ll be curious to see how this works out in the winter.  (Do we dry our laundry inside?)  Right now we hang our clothes out on the little terrace off the third floor.  It’s the perfect spot to enjoy a coffee in the early morning, or a glass of wine late in the evening, when it’s cool.  Jason and I are looking forward to being out on the terrace more as the weather changes.

All in all, we are learning to live more simply, which was one of our goals for this move. For video Robbie took of the house, follow this link.

 

 


The Journey

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Leaving Seattle.

Our actual journey to Granada was a bit extended. On July 4th we took an early morning flight out of Seattle to Minneapolis and drove the three hours to Jason’s hometown of West Union, Iowa. We spent a great week there with Jason’s family, catching up with his mom, sister, brothers, and their spouses. Walks around the park behind Grandma’s house, daily visits to the town pool, and golfing on the “exclusive” course in town were highlights for all of us, but the best part was relaxing with family and catching our breath for the next big step.

On July 11th we drove back to MSP, and caught our flight headed to Madrid after a four hour layover in Frankfurt. We are a little concerned because we were supposed to enter Spain by July 15th, but since we ended up going through customs in Frankfurt on July 12th, our passports were only stamped there, not when we arrived in Spain.  We are hoping that because Germany is an EU country it will count (which is the very reason we didn’t have to go through customs again in Spain), but we will find out more this week when we apply for our residence cards.

After a delay receiving our luggage and two subway rides later, we made it to the center of Madrid, with just about a kilometer walk left to arrive at our apartment, home for the next couple of days. Coming up out of the subway tunnel on to Puerta del Sol in Madrid was a great introduction to Spanish culture.  Gabi wanted to know if it was a holiday because there were so many people about and everyone seemed so happy.  It was just a regular Tuesday night.  Jason’s response was, “Welcome to Spain!”  We had no problem finding dinner that first night, even though it was 11 p.m. before we even began searching for something to eat.  Chocolate and churros the next morning, then a trip to the local waterpark, many meals, much helado, the Prado museum (kids could have skipped that one!), and dinner with a former co-worker of Jason’s and his family, kept us busy until it was time to leave for Granada on Friday morning.

Carting our luggage up and down subway tunnel stairs first thing in the morning was tough, but we were able to make our 8 a.m. bus to Granada.  It was actually a nice bus ride, with screens in the seat backs for entertainment, and with very few passengers on board we were able to spread out.  LOVELY views of endless olive tree orchards, then a winding road up into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains led us to the bus station in Granada.  It took two taxis to take us all and our luggage to the meeting place with our landlord, Carmen.  After leading us through some very narrow streets that don’t allow car access with each of us dragging our luggage and backpacks down numerous cobblestone stairs, Carmen showed us our home.  It’s as nice, if not better than we expected.  As I type I’m sitting in our third floor (air conditioned!!!!) bonus room looking straight across at the Alhambra Palace.

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Now that we’ve made it to Granada, we hope to spend the next week getting settled in our new home, learning the neighborhood, completing all the rest of the necessary paperwork and just enjoying our new city.

PS:  Robbie has created a YouTube channel to document our adventures on camera.  Search for Wilbur Travel Forum (WTF, get it?  Robbie’s dig at his parents and this whole adventure…).  You can find the first video at this link.


The Preparation – Part 2

Preparing for this trip has also meant saying a lot of goodbyes. This week has been especially emotional, saying goodbye to friends, delivering the pets to their new homes, and packing items away. Boating on Lake Union, watching our friend play drums at a pub, sleepovers for the kids, friends having us over for dinner because our cupboards are bare – all of these occasions have made leaving a bit harder, but have certainly made these last few days in Seattle memorable.

Since my last post, many of you have been asking if we found a home for our cat. Thanks to a wonderful school family, the Van Hollebekes, Raider was moved to his new home just this morning. He seemed to settle in nicely, and when I left he was being petted by four teenage girls all at once. I think he’ll get enough attention this year.

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With just two more days in Seattle we have pretty much packed up the house, and set aside what we plan to take with us to Spain.  We have limited everyone to one travel backpack and one suitcase each.  Gabi had a pretty tough time deciding which three of her stuffed animals she was going to take with her, but even that is settled at this point.  Robbie’s video camera is charged and ready to begin recording our adventure (whether Robbie is ready is a different story!).  Matthew’s favorite item, our Xbox One, is unfortunately staying in the States, so he’s had to satisfy himself by appropriating Jason’s old iPad, and downloading all the Harry Potter books.

These last few weeks have been a great reminder of the wonderful friends we have made here over the five years we have been in Seattle, and while we are a little sad to leave, we are happy knowing that we have so many wonderful people to return to.  Hoping to get a few of you visiting us in Spain too!


The Preparation – Part One

I wanted to jot down a few notes about all the preparation we’ve done so far for this move to Spain. We’ve accomplished a few of the biggest milestones, so it’s time to celebrate those achievements. It’s also a good way to help us remember what else is left to be done before we leave.

The biggest part of preparing for our year in Granada was putting together all the paperwork for our visas.  We must have done it correctly because our non-lucrative residential visas were approved last month and we flew down to San Francisco to pick them up in person.  Aside from the five-hour delay of our flight home, it went smoothly.  Once we get to Granada we will take them to our “town hall” and apply for our residence cards.  Visas – Check!

In order to pick up our visas we had to show proof of our flights to Spain, so we made our reservations.  We leave Seattle July 4th, stop in Iowa to see Jason’s family, and leave for Spain on July 11th.  We will spend three days in Madrid getting our bearings and recovering from jet lag before heading to our home in Granada on July 15th.  Fights to Spain – Check!

The most stressful aspect of this move was finding someone to rent our home for a year.  What could have been a difficult and time-consuming project was made so much easier with the help of our friend and realtor extraordinaire, Maura.  The second family to look at our home decided to rent it.  Bonus, they want it furnished, don’t need the garage so we can use that to store our personal items (no paying for a storage space) and, wait for it…they want to lease Jason’s truck while we are gone so we don’t have to worry about storing that either.  AND our new renters were kind enough to send us some wine as a thank you.  House rented to awesome people – Check!

With a little internet research and a lot of help from Google Translate, we have schools picked out for the kids. We have decided to go “all in” and put them in the local neighborhood schools.  Matthew and Gabi will be in grades 6 and 4 respectively, and will be attending CEIP Gomez Moreno, a public primary school in our neighborhood of the Albayzin.  We’ve registered them and have spoken with a couple expat families whose children have also attended there.  The school is used to hosting expats and has a specialist to help kids for whom Spanish is not their first language.  Robbie will be attending secondary school at IES Albayzin, also a public neighborhood school, but one that has a multi-lingual program.  He will be allowed to take some of his classes in English (or German or French if he prefers!).  Secondary school in Spain is a little different from the U.S.  Children are required to attend school until they are 16, what would be the end of 10th grade in the U.S.  After that they have the choice of getting a job, doing two years of a baccalaureate program and then attending university or attending a two-year vocational program.  Each of the secondary schools in Granada has different vocational programs.  IES Albayzin’s program is the academy of image and sound, and while Robbie won’t be able to take film classes during the school day, they offer after-school film classes for students in the compulsory grades and also host a film festival every year.  So, while he will be missing a year of Ballard High School’s digital film program, he still will be able to participate in movie-making to some degree in Spain.  Find schools for the kids – Check!

Our wonderful friends, the Bulsons have agreed to take our black lab, Rigby, while we are away.  He is going to have a great home with lots of attention and may even get some rides on a tugboat every once in a while.  And most importantly, they will let us have him back when we return. Home for dog – Check!

Today happens to be Jason’s last day of employment.  Hoping he’ll do a blog post soon about that.  It’s kind of a big deal.  Quit job – Check!

Lots of things still on our to-do list, but two of the big ones are selling my truck (2008 Yukon Denali XL in case anyone is interested!) and finding a home for this guy…

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Meet Raider, our nine-year-old tabby.

The Preparation – Part Two, coming soon.

 


The Uneasiness

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Our extended family is probably not going to enjoy reading this post, but I feel like I should address it.  Every once in a while, something happens that makes Jason and I stop and think differently about our decision to move overseas.  The terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13th are one example.  The on-going refugee crisis.  Today’s terrorist attacks in Brussels.  Europe in general feels much less safe at the moment.  Is it really a good time to be moving with our children to Spain for a year?

We are not big news addicts in this family.  Most of the information I get about the world comes from listening to NPR when I’m driving my kids to and from school.  I’d much rather watch House of Cards on Netflix, or read a novel than watch CNN or read a newspaper.  It’s probably a little irresponsible of me, but that’s the way I am.  My point is, we are not bombarded on an hourly basis with all the terror, sadness and pain that is going on in the world.  We are also not taking this move to Spain lightly.

The areas that are now known as Spain and Portugal were under Muslim rule for more than 700 years.  Granada, the city we are moving to was the last stronghold of Muslim rule on the Iberian Peninsula until  1492.  The beautiful Alhambra is a prime example of Moorish art and architecture.  The  Albayzin neighborhood where we will be living is described as the “Old Muslim Quarter.”  We will be surrounded by Muslim history, art and people.  But that’s OK.  We don’t equate Muslims with terrorists.  They are not the same.  And that’s what we hope to teach our children.

What does give me pause however, is how close we will be to Morocco and the ISIS terror cells located there.  The rumors that ISIS wants to control Spain by 2020.  Traveling to major cities in Europe while we are living there.  But then I get angry.  I will not give the terrorists a chance to win.  I will not stay locked in my house in Seattle, or allow my children to be afraid of the world.  We will be careful, we will be alert, but we will not let fear rule our lives.  This year will be a gift to our family, and we will take advantage of it.

*On a lighter note (I think), Matthew asked recently, “If Donald Trump becomes President, will he let us back in the country after we live in Spain?”


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