Thursday, March 15, 2012

Spring (Primavera)

Fresh tulips from Holland
Spring has arrived although it still drops down to the mid-30's at night. But this means the afternoons are starting to get quite warm in the sun and we already have lovely daffodils blooming in our garden. With it, the tourists have also started to arrive, in hordes, and it is rare to not see large groups when you walk through our local squares. This means that the Segway guys are also back out in full force although they never disappeared over the winter like some other things, including our favorite gelato stand which just opened its doors again.
Tapas tour
Still figuring things out
Over six months in Spain and we just figured out how to check our voicemail! Let me start off by saying I didn’t even know we had an answering machine. It is built in to the phone but our landlord never told us. Then one day I heard my step-mother’s voice talking to me and when I figured out she wasn’t on the other end of the line I suspected something was up. I emailed our landlord and she told me to just leave the phone off the hook for one minute and I could hear my messages. So I tried that, but couldn’t understand the rapid Spanish voice afterwards telling me what to do next. So I had Clark’s new tutor translate for me on Friday and voila, 26 messages dating all the way back to our arrival in August. So sorry we didn’t get back to you sooner.

Clark's bus to the ski area
One lovely perk of the boys school is that the 5th graders get to go skiing up at the local ski area for a week and because they didn’t get enough people they opened it up to Clark’s 6th grade class as well. It’s a long day; bus leaves at 8am, returning at 5:30 but he is the most excited he’s been all year. Another little communication problem led me to run around in a panic on Friday as Clark was told he wouldn’t be able to ski on Monday as he didn’t provide his health card information (I had left that blank on the form since our insurance is from another country). Again, with the help of his tutor, I printed out copies of our insurance coverage, proof of insurance that we had to provide for our VISA application and copies of our residency cards and hiked back up to the school late on Friday. Not finding anyone there and worried that Clark wouldn’t be able t ski on Monday if this didn’t get resolved, we wandered over to the local bar where we found the secretary and the principal enjoying a glass of wine and a meal. We meekly interrupted and handed over said information with an explanation of the problem and it was explained that things would be fine.

Colin the Elder

Colin cooks for the masses

Hike at Hueto Sierra
Nat’s older brother Colin is in town, visiting from Amsterdam, Holland where he has lived for the past 25 years. One of the perks of having Colin visit is that he loves to cook and is damn good at it. We’ve eaten the best food we’ve had all year and he even cooked up an elegant Sunday lunch for our friends and neighbors. We’ve enjoyed showing him around the local area and took him on a great hike at nearby Huetor de Sierra and biked over to Pinos Genil on Monday along the Genil River.

Ccocinad con Esther de Botanico Café
A friend of a friend runs a local restaurant here in Granada, the Botanico Cafe, and she offers cooking classes on the side. Although they don't really need it, I signed Colin the Elder and Nat up to take a class at her house and they happily learned to cook sopa, risotta and creme brulees.  I was a total scammer and only showed up to sample the wares. Era una mañana agradable de diversión y comida.
Bike path along the Rio Genil

Fabulous flamenco at La Chumberra
After 6 weeks of flamenco classes, I finally asked my teacher for a recommendation on where to go and see the real deal. I have learned quite a bit about flamenco and now understand that the women in fancy dresses are a very small part of the process. Authentic flamenco is usually sung by men and is all about spontaneous emotion. Thus she recommended La Chumberra which is in nearby Sacromonte but is not one of the tourist caves where the masses end up. With Nat’s brother in town, we were finally motivated to arrange a babysitter and buy tickets. After a few drinks/tapas we walked over to the venue as the show started at 9:30 but we barely made it in time as although the building is large and roomy, it was impossible to find in the dark and there were absolutely no signs helping direct us there. The performance started with one man playing several pieces on an acoustic guitar, with very spectacular fingering. He was soon joined by 6 other men who played either guitar, drums, clarinet and or clapped. The one dancer in the crowd turned out to be a man in a white/silver suit with very long hair (think John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever) who turned out to do some spectacular moves, particularly with his feet. The music was very moving and the scenery behind the perfomers spectacular, a glass wall looking out over the Alhambra at night.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Cádiz and Portugal

Vejer de la Frontera
Park in Cadiz
Vejer de la Frontera
La semana pasada nuestra familia fue a un viaje en coche. El viernes por la tarde recogimos a nuestros niños de la escuela y empezamos a conducir hacia el pueblo Vejer de la Frontera cerca Cádiz. Fueron muchas horas en coche y nos perdimos una vez. Cuando llegamos a Vejer casi a las 20:00. Nat ya habia concinando salsa de spaghetti pero olvidamos la pasta. Afortunadamente encontramos alguna que estaba en la casa. Las casa tenia 500 años tenia y era muy grande con 4 dormitorios pero no tenia calefacción y poco agua caliente porque era una casa de verano.

Zahara de los Atunes
Digging on the beach
A la playa
Al día siguiente fuimos a la playa que se llama El Palmer. A los niños les encantó jugar en la playa y nadaron en los olas, especialamente hicieron surf. El domingo condujimos al parque de Doñana cerca del pueblo de Sanlúcar. Desafortunatamente no vimos mucho porque no habiamos organizado una excursión de antemano. La mejor parte del día fue ayudar a inflar un castillo de aire y después jugaron en éste. Tambien condujimos a través de Cádiz y jugaron en el parque en el centro. El lunes fuimos invitados a una barbacoa en la playa Zahara de los Atunes en la casa que unos amigos habian alquilado. Este fue un día maravillosa completo con dos comidas y una presentación de una playa privado sin gente.
Castelo dos Mouros
Pena Palace
Sintra, Portugal
Al día siguiente condujimos en el coche a Portugal y comimos en el pueblo de Tavirra. El tiempo no era bueno por eso no visitamos la playa. Por la noche nos quedamos en Sintra, un pueblo bonito en una colina cerda de Lisboa. Este pueblo estaba lleno de muchos castillos que eran muy antiguos, grandes y asombrosos. Al día siguiente, fuimos a una excursión de varios castillos pero yo creo que los niños prefirieron escuchar sus ipods. Después condujimos adémas al norte via la costa. Nos detuvimos en la playa cerca de Figueira da Foz pero el tiempo era demasiado frío para nadar. Condujimos a lo largo de la costa que era muy bonita. Después de muchas horas en el coche seguimos GPS y nos perdimos en un pueblo pequeño en la oscuridad. Esta fue una aventura grande preguntamos instrucciónes en un tranquilo pueblo pequeño en Portugal pero no comprendimos portugués.
Exploring the vineyard
Valle do Douro
Finalmente llegamos a una Quinta a las 21:00. Era mucho mejor de lo que esperábamos pero mejor para adultos que para niños. Al día siguiente montamos en kayacs en río de Tedo que era muy tranquilo y relajante. Visitamos el pueblo Peso da Régua que era muy pequeño y Porto que era muy grande. Muchas horas en coche pero un viaje interesante sin embargo.
(The above was a recent homework assignment for my Spanish tutor. The following is not a direct translation although somewhat similar).
Cliffs of Cascais
Pena Palace in Sintra
Road trip to Portugal
We just returned from spending 8 days touring the Cádiz area of Spain as well as Portugal. It was a lot of kilometers but included many beautiful sights and experiences. We spent a long weekend with friends in the white town of Vejer de la Frontera in a beautiful 500 year old house and spent several days visiting the local beaches, drove to Doñana National Park and through the city of Cádiz. The highlight for the kids was helping put up the “bouncy castle” on the beach of Saluzar and a BBQ with friends in the beach town of Zahara de los Atunes and the remote beach near by that they introduced us to.

Helping blow up the bouncy castle

Bridge in to Portugal
Yo-yos at Castelo dos Mouros
We then headed west to Portugal and drove the amazing highways to find ourselves in Sintra, a beautiful hillside town on the outskirts of Lisbon, a magical area filled with amazing castles and buildings of various eras. We started out at the local toy museum where we saw a large toy collection belonging to a local Portuguese man and then headed uphill to Pena Palace where we admired glorious handiwork and vistas as well as Castelo dos Mouros where we toured ancient Moorish ruins.

Cork tree
Quinta do Tedo in the Douro Valley
After 2 nights there, we drove up the coast to Port and then east to the Douro Valley to check out Quinta do Tedo, a winery owned by a friend of a friend. Using our handy GPS we incorrectly input the address and found ourselves very lost in a very small, very remote village in the dark of night. Thankfully we quickly found a gas station where 3 different men tried hard to direct us to our desired destination in spanish (our only common language). Fortunately we did find our way (it wasn’t easy – required several other stops) and ended up at a lovely winery where we relaxed and enjoyed kayaking on the Tedo River (right where it joins the Douro) and some mellow walks around the property. After that it was a very long drive back to Granada but the boys took it in stride listening to Harry Potter books on their ipods for the hundredth time.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Visitors, Valentines and Visions

We've run across 2 different Valentines lately. One is the cheesy, commercial American holiday and the other is the name of the tutor that we've discovered to help Clark out. Valentine's day is a non-existant holiday here in Spain although I did see a few people walking around with red flowers (mostly kids). Just for fun, I made the kids cards and gave them chocolates (who can resist?) and Nat bought me flowers as I have been feeling down lately. I also got a funny e-card from my step-dad and a care package from a dear friend in California.

We’re looking forward to having some visitors in the coming months including Nat's brother who hails from Amsterdam, followed shortly by some fellow Seattle friends who are currently living in Cambridge (UK). Then Nat's parents, my brother and possibly some other friends from Seattle.

Master chef and musician
Beef, prunes and raisons
Moroccan Cooking Class
A fellow Granadian who hails from Rabat (the capital of Morocco) teaches cooking classes on the side while his real passion is that of a musician. The other night we had him over to teach 4 hombres (men) to cook a few Moroccan dishes and it was a festive evening of sampling various soups, salads and specialities of his culture. But I especially enjoyed listening to his CD of Spanish guitar music.

Back to the beach
Nat and his moules
they were pretty bland)

Watching the fishermen 
Since the weather is starting to warm up a bit, we headed back to our local beach of Salobrena on the Mediterreanean (only 30 minutes away by car). We spent a lazy Sunday afternoon hanging out on the beach playing hide-n-seek among the rowboats parked on the beach, had a leisurely lunch of mussels, paella and calamaris and watched some local fisherman catch five pezes (fish) straight from the sea. We even saw a windsurfer checking out the February surf!

Coming up next: just back from an 8 day road trip around the Cadiz area and on to Portugal.