As I write this next-to-last blog entry of this amazing family adventure of ours, I’m sitting in an airplane, 36,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean, heading towards “home.” It will be a few more weeks before we actually get back to Seattle, but our year in Spain and Europe is now behind us. I thought I’d be crying a lot more at this moment, but I think the tears I’ve been crying on and off as we enjoyed our last weeks in Granada as well as when our boat departed Spain for the UK have left me dry.
It was a phenomenal last week in Granada. Jason and I tried to pack in every last bit we could, including a bull fight and a concert with Elsa Bhör. And then there were the dinners with friends and the tears, and the graduation ceremony for Matthew and the tears, and then the locking ourselves out of our house for the first time ever this year (a huge accomplishment given our door would lock automatically behind us as soon as it shut) and the tears, and I can’t forget the last day of school and the tears (granted Robbie’s were tears of joy!), and finally, the hardest part of all, the saying goodbye to our friends and the tears, tears and more tears.
I don’t think I can accurately describe the closeness of the friendships we made this year, but I suppose it’s a little like going off to college, only this time you are bringing your family along and everything is in a different language. You meet this group of people who are from all different backgrounds and cultures and yet you all have certain things in common: a desire to see the world, step out of your comfort zone, learn something new, and especially, to teach your kids resiliency in difficult situations. You share in the excitement of living in a new place, discovering places to shop, places to eat, places to see. You give each other tips and advice on how to navigate Spanish bureaucracy, or about your favorite Spanish language school, or even just how to play a new card game. You realize that the people you have met this particular year will actually be part of your life for a long, long time because of your shared experiences, good and bad. You are so very thankful for the “sophomores,” the people who have already been there a while, who are ready and willing to share what they know and to take you under their wings. You are grateful that you are not the only “freshman” and there are others who are going through the exact same feelings and frustrations you are, who will watch your kids when you need help, who will come with 7UP when the stomach virus runs through your house for the umpteenth time, who will host poker nights and pool parties and just let you vent. And you will know you are not alone.
That’s just our fellow expats. We cannot be more in debt to the local families we met, who accepted us into their neighborhood and homes, who helped us navigate certain Spanish customs and sticky situations, and who sat with us for hours listening to our very poor Spanish. We hope to be able to repay them in kind someday!
Yeah, so those tears I thought were all dried up…guess not. But, moving on. Once we were actually packed and ready to go, we didn’t leave Spain immediately. We flew to Bilbao from Granada and stayed there for three nights, taking day trips to San Sebastian and Santander. (One of our Granada families, the Whitteds were also visiting that area at the same time, and we all wondered why we hadn’t considered living in San Sebastian for a year instead of Granada, it was that beautiful! It was definitely my favorite of the three northern cities we saw.) On Wednesday evening of that week, our family boarded a ferry (that looked more like a cruise ship) from Santander to Plymouth, England. The trip took about 20 hours, and the sea was so rough that they wouldn’t let anyone out on deck for the first few hours and while we were watching Guardians of the Galaxy 2 in the ship’s movie theater, we felt like we were in a 4D film during the flying scenes. Luckily the Dramamine we bought before the trip worked well and none of us “fed the fishes!”
From Plymouth we took the train to Bath and enjoyed visiting the Roman Baths (thus the name). Bath is also where we picked up our rental car and Jason figured out how to drive on the
wrong left side of the road. It was a little hairy at first, but he soon got the hang of it and was able to drive us to Stonehenge and Stratford-Upon-Avon the first day. Stratford was lovely, especially for me, as a former English teacher and Shakespeare lover. I dragged everyone through his birthplace and the church where he was both baptized and buried, but we also took time out to attend a small fair right on the banks of the Avon River.
We left Stratford and drove to what I think might be my favorite place the UK (and probably spoiled Scotland for me as well), the Lakes District in England. We stayed near a village called Ambleside. If you have ever read or watched The Lord of the Ring series, the Lakes District must be where Tolkien got his inspiration for the Shire where the hobbits live. Sweet stone houses, low stone walls separating the greenest fields you can imagine, and clear blue lakes. We had some drizzly weather, but not enough to keep us indoors and we really enjoyed exploring the area.
From the Lakes District we drove north into Scotland and stayed for a couple days near Loch Lomond, about an hour outside of Glasgow. It was great fun to get out on the Loch and explore a tiny island that was the site of a ruined abbey. We discovered what a really small world it is when the other family on the ferry with us was not only from Seattle, but from our neighborhood of Magnolia. We took a quick break from the hiking one day and went in to Glasgow for a movie and some amazing Indian food. Robbie is now addicted to masala. After Loch Lomond we drove to Edinburgh where Jason finally got to drop off the car and recover from all the driving. We stayed in an apartment in the old city and were close to everything. We took a hop-on, hop-off tour of the city which gave us a nice overview and a great look at the beautiful architecture of Edinburgh. We didn’t go inside Edinburgh Castle, but could see it from many parts of the city and it reminded us a bit of the Alhambra back in Granada, towering over the area as it does. We also discovered a few sites in the city that were important to JK Rowling when she was writing the first Harry Potter book, which Robbie thought was pretty cool.
Before we knew it, we were on the train to London, our last stop before leaving Europe. We were disappointed that we missed our friends from Seattle, the Bilgers, who had been living in London this past year, but because they were on a visit back to Seattle, we were able to stay their lovely home. London was a great way to end our time in Europe: a ride on the London Eye, a show in the West End and a fantastic day at the Warner Brothers London Studios where they filmed all of the Harry Potter movies. Since the tour included everything a Harry Potter fan and budding filmmaker would want to see, Robbie was in heaven, and the rest of us really enjoyed it as well. Gabi wasn’t really a HP fan before the tour, but she’s now a proud Gryffindor and reading the first of the books on her Kindle app. The cherry on the top of this trip for Jason and I was the U2 Joshua Tree concert that we attended with our friends from Granada, Julie and Michael Whitted. (Yes, the same family we bumped into in Northern Spain…we’re not sure who is stalking who?)
All in all, these past weeks have helped ease us into the transition from living in Southern Spain to returning to life in the States. The English language, the climate and landscapes, and the “big city” feel of Edinburg and London reminded us a lot of Seattle. With the few stops in Chicago, Iowa and California ahead of us, I’m sure we will be even more “re-acclimated” by the time we actually make it home in August. But for now, the adventures continue!