El Sexto Mes

I can’t believe I’m typing these words:  we have reached the halfway point in our Spanish adventure.  This realization has made me a bit anxious lately.  I’ve started to feel a certain urgency about things.  I want to study Spanish more intensely, I want to spend more time with the new friends we’ve made here in Granada, I want to explore the city more, I want to just sit at a café, drink some café con leche and soak up my surroundings. For now though, I am taking a very deep breath and reflecting on the amazing month we’ve just had.

The temporada de Navidad kicked off with a fabulous party hosted by our friends, the McKendry family.  It was a wonderful mix of Granadinos  and extrañeros, with good food, lots of conversation in both English and Spanish and a crazy white elephant gift exchange.

The following week brought an extra special holiday gift.  Our friends from Avon, CT who we hadn’t seen since we moved to Seattle in 2011 were visiting Spain, and came to Granada for the day.  We were able to have a nice dinner with the Huber family and catch up on the past six years.

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Good food, great friends!

The very next day, our family set off on our own trip, this time leaving Spain and exploring Europe over Christmas and into the New Year.  I have to give a big “thank you” to Jason who planned the itinerary (airline tickets, bus tickets, train tickets, AirBNBs and hotels), made dinner reservations and scouted out activities for us at each destination.  I supposed if all else fails, he can get a job as a travel agent when we return to Seattle.

Venice was magical.

Our first stop was Venice, Italy.  We flew from Granada and arrived in Venice after dark.  We chose to take the water bus from the airport to our rental apartment, and we are pretty sure the language barrier caused us to be dropped off about a thirty minute walk from where we needed to be.  Walking through the “streets” of Venice at night was an experience we won’t soon forget.  It was dark, a little creepy and reminded me in no small way of a setting in an Edgar Allen Poe story.  Daytime, however, was a different story.  I could not get enough of the canals, the bridges, the architecture, and the Venetian glass.  Oh, and the food! It’s our family tradition to make our own pizza on Christmas Eve, but this year, we went to the source and let the Italians make it for us.  Christmas day in Venice was wonderful.  The owner of our rental made sure we had a Christmas tree (with three gifts already under it for our three children no less).   Santa had no problem finding a place to put the kids’ gifts (right in the new slippers they had received as part of their Christmas Eve pajamas).  We made a really good breakfast, but unfortunately no one really liked the traditional “yule log” cake that Jason and I bought to replace our usual monkey bread that we have on Christmas morning.  Ice skating, feeding the pigeons in St. Mark’s square and a gondola ride were some of the memorable activities from our stay in Venice.

From Venice we took the train to Milan, Italy and spent just a couple days there indulging in even more Italian food and wine.  We did get the chance to see Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, which was pretty amazing.

The kids got the hang of train travel very quickly!

Another (ok, three) train ride(s) took us to Wengen, Switzerland for the New Year.  Jason and Robbie spent three days skiing in the Alps, but surprisingly (or perhaps not, thanks to global warming?) all the snow there was manmade, so the runs were a little too advanced for Matthew, Gabi and me, who prefer nice wide runs that we can ski across, rather than the narrow runs that require much tighter skiing and snowboarding.  But there was enough snow for snowball fights, more ice skating and a train trip up to the glacier of Jungfraujoch to more than make up for any missed skiing.  The food in Switzerland was pretty delicious and we enjoyed a fondue dinner on New Year’s Eve.

We couldn’t go to Switzerland without having fondue.

Our last stop on this particular adventure was Paris, France.  I was looking forward to seeing Paris, but I didn’t expect to fall in love with it as much as I actually did.  We took an electric bike tour the first day (electric bikes are awesome, and I highly recommend trying one out), and were able to familiarize ourselves with the city’s layout in a few hours.  Over the next few days, we spent an evening at the Louvre, an afternoon in the Montfortre neighborhood, visited the Eiffel Tower, and Lori took the kids to Disneyland Paris.  (Looking back on the food poisoning experience Lori had at Disneyland, Jason definitely made the right decision by staying in the city center and exploring more of Paris’ charms!) Paris is a beautiful city and we are so glad we were able to visit.

Best photobomb ever by our bike tour companion.  And just a few Paris icons.

When we got back to Granada after all of our travels, Robbie was the one who actually said, “I really feel like we live here now.” It only took about six months, but even Robbie is starting to feel like Granada is home.  It helped that shortly after we returned we visited with a family from Australia who had just recently moved to Granada, whose son is now in Robbie’s class at IES Albayzin.  I think it’s given Robbie some confidence to be able to show Cal around and to have someone with whom he can commiserate with as he navigates the rest of this crazy experience.

I’m a little sad that we’ve reached the halfway point in our year in Granada.  However knowing all that we have done and learned thus far, I’m terribly excited to see what the next six months hold.


El Quinto Mes

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So a few days after I published my last blog post I had what can only be described as a meltdown.  I can honestly say that I spent an entire day crying.  I told Jason that I was “done” and just wanted to go back to Seattle.  I don’t really know if it was homesickness, my frustration trying to learn a new language or missing the creature comforts of our  house in Seattle, but whatever it was, after a few days it passed and I was able to put things back in perspective (with a little help from Facebook messages and my fellow expat friends – thank you!!!). We didn’t move to Spain for a year because we expected it to be easy and fun all the time.  We did it to challenge ourselves, to live more simply and to learn about and experience a different culture, which is definitely happening.

Views from the 16k hike Jason and I took this month from the village of Beas de Granada all the way back to Granada city.

That being said, so much of this fifth month turned out to be just plain fun!  The first lively event was the Thanksgiving celebration planned by a fellow expat family at El Higo restaurant in the Upper Albayzín. With turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, great wine and even better company it really gave us all a taste of home here in Spain.

Thanksgiving with all the fixings, and really good friends!

After that it was off to the races, as Jason finally competed in the Spartan race he’s been training for over the last four months.  We travelled to Valencia the first weekend in December and the kids and I cheered Jason on as he pulled himself over walls, crawled under barbed wire, hauled logs uphill, climbed rope ladders, and jumped through a fire pit during a nine mile run. That night, since Valencia lays claim to being the originator of a certain famous Spanish dish, we celebrated by taking a paella cooking class as a family and had a great time and fabulous meal…with paella leftovers for days!  Valencia is a lovely city and we enjoyed our time there visiting the Aquarium and the city’s Central Market.

 After Jason competed he was able to enjoy all the amazing food Valencia has to offer.

Because the kids had two days off of school the following week, we decided to make it an extended trip and head from Valencia to Barcelona, a city that has stolen my heart again and again.  If you haven’t yet read Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruis Zafon I highly recommend it.  If you have, than you probably understand my fascination with the city of Barcelona.  Its variety of architectural styles, the dark, winding streets of the Gothic Quarter, the views from atop Mt. Tibadabo and its location on the Mediterranean combine to make it one of my favorite places in the world.  Luckily for me, after this visit, my family feels the same way.  We had a great time with the kids wandering the city streets, touring La Sagrada Familia and spinning our way through the amusement park.  We have already decided we will return once more before we leave Spain.

There is just something about Barcelona…

From Barcelona we traveled to Zaragoza, which was a winter-wonderland without the snow.  With its Christmas market in full swing the kids were able to sled and ice-skate in the plaza right in front of the Basílica del Pilar.  We were only there for one day, but enjoyed it immensely.

Zaragoza shows off her history and traditions.

The next day, after a quick stop in Calatayud to take some pictures for our friends in Connecticut, the Calatayud family, we ended up in Cuenca, a town know for its “hanging houses” built into the cliffside.  It is a stunning site, and the bridge that crosses the gorge from the old town is not for the faint of heart!

Cuenca: don’t bother visiting if you are afraid of heights!

We have been so lucky to be able to travel as much as we have, but we have also had good experiences in our hometown of Granada this month as well.  Robbie is happy at his new school and has already made some new friends.  He’s definitely learning more Spanish than he was before, but it’s still quite a challenge.  Matthew and Gabi have both started extra Spanish lessons after school, which are going well, and Jason and I are plugging along with our private lessons three days a week.  With the Christmas holidays coming up and making more travel plans for the two-week school break, Jason and I have been taking it a bit easy on the studying, but have plans to amp up our Spanish work even more after the first of the year.  I’ve promised my instructor that my very last blog post from Granada will be all in Spanish…I have quite a ways to go!

We are thinking a lot about our family and friends this time of year, and hope that everyone has a wonderful Holiday Season and that 2017 brings you much joy and happiness. ¡Feliz navidad y próspero año nuevo!

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El Cuarto Mes

I’ve been told by other expats that have started blogs about their adventures that around November they pretty much give up keeping track of their experiences. I can totally understand how that happens, but I’m determined to keep plugging along so that at the end of this journey, I will have a decent record of our life this year in Granada.  That being said, so much happened this month that this post is rather long!

The first notable adventure we had this month was a hike with students and parents of Matthew and Gabi’s school, Gomez Moreno.  AMPA, the school’s parents association coordinates hikes just about every month, and we joined the first one.  We were given information on the distance and where we would stop for lunch, but it was still pretty surprising to discover we hiked about 8 miles in six hours.  If Jason and I had tried to do it on our own with our kids, it would have been non-stop complaining, but with this big group, the kids rose to the challenge.  We had some amazing views along the way, and at one point we even had to “ford” a creek sans shoes!

As we have established more of a routine, Jason and I have decided Thursdays would be our day to explore Granada as a couple, while the kids are in school.  Often times, it just involves long walks around the city.  One day we walked all around the  Realejo neighborhood and discovered its unique graffiti and another day we found ourselves visiting the Casas del Chapiz, which houses the School of Arabic Studies here in Granada.

If you are wondering what the rest of our “schedule” looks like, currently Jason is training daily for a Spartan obstacle course race in Valencia on December 3rd, the two of us are taking Spanish classes three afternoons a week, and we volunteer at Gomez Moreno on Tuesdays helping the English teacher in one of the 6th grade classes. To help with our Spanish immersion we are both taking “continuing-ed” classes through the University of Granada at Casa de Porras. Lori is taking Pilates two mornings a week, and Jason is in a meditation and mindfulness class on Wednesdays.  Lori also meets once a week with a native Spanish speaker to practice her Spanish and help Mari practice her English.  We notice that things seem to take a bit longer in Spain as well, so our days fill up pretty quickly just running errands. Our grocery shopping here is completely unlike it is in Seattle.  In addition to the heavier items like beverages and cleaning supplies that we order online and have delivered, we shop at a local panaderia for fresh bread, salty rolls and pastries, and a spice shop for dried fruits, nuts and my favorite olives.  Another stop is the fruit and veggie vendor and usually a deli for speciality meats and cheeses.  Every once in a while we go to the large grocery and department store, El Corte Ingles for more familiar items like ranch dressing and tortilla chips!  Extra-curricular activities for Gabi have started as well; she is taking cooking, science and circus classes after school at Gomez.  Matthew continues to play basketball four days a week, so getting the kids to and from their activities also takes more time as we walk them everywhere.

This month the family also took a couple of quick trips.  The first was just Lori and Robbie taking the bus to Madrid to see a concert featuring the music from the video game Zelda. In addition to the fabulous symphony performance, Lori dragged Robbie to the modern art museum in Madrid, Reina Sophia. One of the best parts of the weekend was a last minute meet-up with a family from Seattle who is spending the year in Barcelona.  It was great to get Robbie together with kids his age and compare stories of life as an expat teen in Spain.

Our second trip as a family was a weekend spent in the beautiful city of Seville. We spent time walking around the city center, touring the Cathedral (the third largest in Europe) and taking a carriage ride through María Luisa Park and past the Plaza de España, built for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929.

 

While in Seville we all participated in The Color Run, a fun 5K where every so often people douse you with paint so that by the end of the run everybody is a walking rainbow.  Gabi enjoyed it so much she wants us to do it when it comes to Seattle after we return.

In between these two trips we celebrated Halloween in Granada.  While not nearly as big of a deal here as it is in the states (and especially in our neighborhood of Magnolia back home in Seattle), kids do dress up and go out to “truco o trato” but mostly to local businesses and a few neighborhood houses.  We made a plan with about a dozen expat families and created a map that showed all our houses where we would be handing out candy and then went out in various groups to trick or treat.  With our old neighborhood already a perfect “spooky” backdrop, it was a fun night of traipsing through our narrow streets to find the houses that were handing out candy.  Robbie stayed back at our house to pass out candy and we got word back from various families that he was perfectly scary as Samara from the movie The Ring.

Speaking of Robbie, he had a big change this month, as we ended up switching schools and putting him in our neighborhood secondary school, Instituto Albayzín (the school we had originally intended for him to attend when were planning this trip to Spain). I spoke with the director and clarified some of the questions we had had over the summer that had caused us to change our minds in the first place.  (The concept of “lost in translation” is a real thing!)  Our neighbors have a daughter that attends Instituto and was willing to let Robbie tag along with her for a day.  After that visit, Robbie decided it would be a good change.  While Granada College is a great school, it really caters to local families who want their children to learn English.  There was no way for Robbie to get the extra help in Spanish that he needed.  However, the kids at Granada College are great, and Robbie has enjoyed staying in touch with a few of them and spending time with them outside of school.  At Instituto he is being pulled out for extra help with Spanish, but is expected to do the same work as the rest of his class, so despite the shorter day he is actually getting more class and homework.  He walks to and from school and is home around 3 p.m. rather than 6 p.m.  There are actually more expats at Instituto, but not all from the States. At this point he is getting Spanish help alongside a boy from France and two sisters from Syria.  It looks like this is going to be a positive experience that will really broaden his world view.

The end of this fourth month found us visiting the Alhambra, the palace and fortress we have been viewing from our home every day since we moved to Granada.  I can’t do justice to the history and beauty of the buildings in this post or in pictures, but I wanted to note down that we finally visited.  We received free tickets as residents of Granada, but plan to go back one day for a detailed private tour because there is just so much to learn about the history of this city from the Alhambra alone.

This month has really solidified the fact that we truly live in this magical city.  It is wonderful to walk around and run into people we know, or to have Omar at my favorite heladería know exactly what ice cream I want without me having to tell him.  We are looking forward to celebrating Thanksgiving with some of our new friends and will be heading to Valencia and Barcelona next month to see some more of España.  There will be plenty more to share next month … I promise!


The Third Month

Jason and I started off the third month finally celebrating our 18th wedding anniversary about two weeks late.  We spent a lovely morning at the Arab baths (I think we will be visiting them often while we are here in Granada), and that evening had a fun and different fondue dinner at El Agua a restaurant just down the street from our house.

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The children have been in school for about a month now, and I have to say, I really expected more tears and frustration on all of our parts.  Robbie definitely doesn’t like the very long day he spends away from the house, but he’s pretty resigned to it now.  He leaves about 8:30 to catch the bus every morning, and arrives back home at 6 p.m.  It would be more of a problem if he then had a bunch of homework, but I’m not sure his school knows exactly what to do with him.  We had assumed they would just give him the same work that his classmates were doing, and we would need to struggle with him at night to

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Robbie’s school, Granada College on the outskirts of the city.

help him translate all the things he supposed to be doing, but that’s not the case.  He rarely brings home any work, and it sounds like he is being  given special assignments in most of his classes.  We’ve met with his tutor, and explained what we are hoping Robbie will get out of this year, but we will have to give it another month or two to see how it pans out.  He has made some friends at school, and is enjoying playing basketball during break times, but since he’s already a pretty shy kid, he’s definitely not experiencing a busy social life as yet.

Matthew seems to be taking everything in stride, and is the most “immersed” of our kiddos.  His teacher, Diego, doesn’t speak any English at all, so he is hearing Spanish non-stop for 5 hours a day (yes, it’s only a five hour day for Matthew and Gabi right now…more on that later!).  Three days a week after school, he heads across town to basketball practice at another school in Granada, Maristas. IMG_1702.JPG One of his coaches and a couple of the kids speak English, but overall, he is learning all the basketball terms in Spanish, and it’s pretty cool to watch him interact with the other players.  A benefit for Jason is that there are a group of dads who play basketball on Thursday nights, and he has enjoyed playing with them, and practicing his Spanish as well.

Gabi is doing well.  After the first day of school there were no more tears and she really loves her teacher, Laura.  She’s made friends with kids in her class, both fellow expats and locals, and has also been playing with other kids in the neighborhood.  Just last week she started some extra-curricular activities offered at her school including a cooking class and a circus class.

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Matthew and Gabi’s school, C.E.I.P Gomez Moreno

This is probably a good spot to jot down some of the big differences we’ve notice about schooling here in Granada.  First of all, all teachers are called by their first names.  Second, teachers are much more demonstrative in both positive and negative ways.  On the first day of school at Gomez Moreno we noticed lots of hugging between the students and teachers.  On the opposite side, Robbie has said that a couple times a teacher has pulled a kid by the ear or swatted him on the back of the head for doing something wrong.  We assume this is a cultural thing, and one we have told our kids to just get used to.  It’s not like in the states where teachers can’t comfort or welcome a child with a hug or a kiss on both cheeks (typical greeting here in Spain).  But, our kids report, the flip side is that  while there are teachers out on the playground during breaks, they often let kids “work it out” themselves, without getting involved. Not a bad thing in our opinion.  Finally, the actual school day schedule is quite different.  Matthew and Gabi start school at 9 a.m. and have classes until about noon, when they have a recess and a short break for a snack.  Lunch is served at 2:00 p.m. in the comedor, or students go home for lunch. If they eat at school, they then can stay until 4 p.m. with lunch and a long recess.  After that, there are optional extra-curricular activities from 4 until 6 p.m.  If they go home for lunch, they can come back to school for extra-curriculars.  Apparently the comedor at school is competitive and not everyone who wants to eat lunch at school is able to do so.  Priority is given to working parents, etc.  We have Matthew and Gabi on the waiting list, but aren’t holding out much hope that they will actually get spots, although we’ve been told usually everyone gets in by the end of October.  We’d like them to take lunch at school because, and this is the same at Robbie’s school, children are required to eat what is served to them, and finish each course before they are allowed to start on the next.  Robbie was NOT happy with this at first, but by the second week he realized that he can eat just about anything that is put in front of him, and it’s done wonders for one of our picky eaters.  Anyways, at this point in time, Matthew and Gabi come home from school at 2, have lunch with Jason and I and then go to their extra-curricular activities later in the day.  Robbie’s school schedule is similar to Matthew and Gabi’s, except that after his hour-long lunch at 2 p.m., he still has about 2 hours of class time to complete.

Most of this post seems to be about school, but that’s probably because that has occupied a lot of our time this month.  Getting into a routine, attending class meetings (all in Spanish, of course…I was afraid to raise my hand in case I accidentally volunteered for something!), and getting activities organized has been time consuming.  But we’ve still been able to explore a bit, make new friends and continue to practice our Spanish.

I have been hiking with a group of women a few times, and one of my favorite hikes was Los Cahorros just outside of Granada.  Hanging bridges over the river, rock faces jutting so far out onto the trail in places you need to use handholds to get past them and a great spot for a cerveza after! Liked it so much, I dragged my boys back two days later. Two weeks ago, Jason and I took Matthew and Gabi to the caves in Nerja and then drove to Salobreña where the two of us had spent a week five years ago.  Jason and I have enjoyed our latest set of Spanish classes with Susana at DeLengua, and we both have met locals for language exchanges, which I think is going to be the best way for us to improve our Spanish.

This coming month is going to be busy, with a couple of trips planned and organizing a Halloween event with many of the expats and few locals we know.  Those of you who know us know how much we love hosting for Halloween in Seattle, so we are going to keep the tradition up and share with our fellow Granadinos a little bit about Halloween in the states!


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.

 

 


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