Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Our new neighborhood: the Albayzin

The Albayzin 

"Wine Gate" entrance to the Alhambra
Our new neighborhood in Granada, the Albayzin (al-ba-theen), is a magical place full of crooked alleyways, secret passages, and a labyrinth of restaurants, shops and houses. It has a mixture of Spanish and Moroccan influences and a host of international characters. We’re figuring out how to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at the market up the hill, get fresh bread every morning, and shop at the local fish store and butcher. Believe it or not, it is also possible to buy groceries online (this makes sense because you can’t actually drive to our house, nearest drop-off is several blocks away) but we haven’t quite figured that out yet.

Biking to the Alhambra
We’ve been to the local pool (on the campus of the University of Granada), biked over to the Alhambra (http://www.alhambradegranada.org/), the beautiful Moorish Palace we can see from our house (it’s about a 15- 20 minute walk to the gardens and surrounds and is truly an amazing structure) and taken myriad walks out and around the town.

Colin with his favorite getato: chocolate
 The boys are making friends. The 2 Icelandic girls upstairs are very sweet and keep our rowdies calm. Gelato is our new obsession – favorite flavors thus far are “After Eight,” “Kit Kat,” “Oreo” and “Fresa“ (strawberry) and the boys are getting comfortable ordering in Spanish.

 They seem to be taking the changes in stride, and are open to exploring, trying new foods (hamburguesas are not the same here and were NOT a hit) but are a bit cranky at times, mostly for our benefit I'm sure.

Our house is in the background
We sent a small shipment to ourselves via FedEx but our winter clothes and computers are currently stuck in customs and I’m wondering if this may trigger a visa inquiry. Perhaps this is good in that we actually spent the time and money to do every damn step correctly and no one seems to care.

Setting up a Spanish bank account has been a little tricky. Although I set up an account in May when I was over on my own, my plan was to open a Citibank account in our town as soon as we arrived and in anticipation I spent a bunch of time opening a US account before my departure. As luck would have it, they are closing the Granada branch in a few months time so it now won't do us any good. Plan B is to use the account I opened in May and I wired myself some $$ as a test today. Hopefully it will get here and I will be able to access.

Skiing is only 40 minutes away
Our Spanish sucks. I guess we knew this coming in but it really makes a difference when most folks we need to communicate with don’t speak English. Yes, it is easy to get by without speaking Spanish here but that wasn’t the point. There are plenty of international folks living here and English is definitely a universal language but we clearly need to start hanging out with Spanish folks. Unfortunately we can’t communicate with them.  But we just started with a tutor who we plan to work with daily and have made arrangements to do several “intercambios” (trades or exchanges with people who speak Spanish and want to learn English).

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

We've arrived.

Climbing wall - Albaicin style
I can’t believe we’re finally here. After months of planning, fantasizing, plotting, stressing, scheming, fearing, organizing, dreaming and hoping, we are actually here in Spain, specifically in the Albaicin district in the city of Granada. It was a long 48 hours of travel including a 4 hour drive from Hood River, Oregon to Seattle to catch a plane, 3 flights including an overnight at a boring London airport hotel, several airport busses and a taxi ride. The kids have been absolutely terrific considering. They loved the hotel pool in London and have no problem with long distance flying (thank god for ipod’s). My "doesn't like change" son even surprised me tonight by stating that he liked the poor man’s potato dish I ordered him at the outdoor restaurant this evening.
New neighbors
Boys and neighor Eir clean the fish pond
Our wonderful new Icelandic neighbors made a lovely effort to welcome us warmly including meeting us at our taxi drop-off to escort us the 3 or so windy alleyways to our new house (they are renting the upstairs while we have the down). Their girls are the same ages as our boys and they will all go to school together. The girls speak little Spanish and not much English but I think they will get along well as Eir was already over this afternoon helping the boys clean-out the fish pond. They also brought over fresh squeezed lemonade and were lovely to visit with.
Tourist hell 
Best mojito ever - bought at local gelato stand

We have certainly already made a few dork moves – dining at 9:30pm (mind you, this is completely normal here) at a tourist hell restaurant and feeling like ugly Americans ordering in our best Spanish “dos cervesas por favor” (we left an earlier restaurant as we couldn’t figure out the wait time and had 2 restless kids). We’ve smelled pot, almost walked in dog poop, heard numerous street musicians, seen loads of Japanese tourists, gotten hit up for tips by flamenco guitarists, viewed the amazing scene of the Alhambra with Sierra Nevada behind it (spectacular). We've only been here 12 hours so far but I already feel I have a ton of new memories and experiences. Clark likes to take the lead in walking us around our new neighborhood and then figuring out our way back (he’s clearly got a better sense of direction than I do) and the boys have ordered gelato on their own as well as had lots of freedom to roam and play as active little boys should have. Now mind you, there has been plenty of sibling rivalry, poking and prodding, silliness and tiredness. It is not all perfect. But heck, they would be doing this at home and this is so much more fun. It will be fascinating to see how this year unfolds but we are off to a pretty good start. 

Leaving home, losing friends
The week before I left was a whirlwind – plenty of bad news in that my 79 year old step-dad ended up in the hospital with heart issues, I lost an old friend to a surprise heart attack (from my cross-country bike ride 17 years ago) and a fellow Mom at my kid’s school in Seattle succumbed to cancer. So I made an unexpected trip to Bellingham to have a lovely goodbye visit with my step-dad Jim and his wife Lou and attended another Jim’s funeral in North Seattle. So very sad as he was only 64, in great health and was such an inspiration to so many. It was an honor to be at his memorial service.
Not sure if it was a combination of these events or my hard work at yoga and meditation but after 2 months of stressing out this summer about visa’s (or lack thereof), my pitiful Spanish, and all the what-if’s that could go wrong this year, I finally reached a random sense of calm last Friday and have remained there ever since. Go figure.