Monday, April 23, 2012

The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain

Buen amigos (good friends)
Hiking Los Cahorres near Monachil
Best buddies
Our dear friends from Seattle just paid us a visit and it was wonderful to be surrounded by people who know us so well. We've known these folks for over 20 years and were fortunate enough to have kids at the same time, thus our youngest is 3 months older than their oldest and they are all best of friends. It was wonderful to share all we have learned with someone back home and we had fun dining out, showing them the local sites, spending a day on the beach and just hanging out. 

Kid-friendly meal

Karb and Brooke
Mala suerte (bad luck)
They came to us via Barcelona where they had a string of bad luck. First off, getting sick on the flight over (all four of them,  adults as well as kids) which led them to miss Geo's beloved Barcelona futbol match, the bribery item his wife had used to get him over to Spain in the first place. Then an ATM machine ate their one and only cash card after withdrawing a measly 50 euros so no more access to cash for the rest of their trip. Then, when checking out of their Barcelona hotel to catch the night train down to Granada, the hotel "misplaced" one of their bags (still a mystery - either stolen or given to the wrong family) which happened to contain their eldest child's favorite stuffed animals from birth. Ugh. Then the rain started..... and continued for most of their visit which is truly a rarity here. 

Clark injures himself
on Friday the 13th
After school treats
They arrived at our house on the morning of Friday the 13th and mere hours after happily reporting that we had not yet needed to use the Spanish healthcare system, we got a call from the PE teacher from the boys new school who said that Clark had most likely fractured his wrist* and could we please pick him up to take him to hospital. Thankfully the pain wasn't too bad and the school's insurance was able to cover everything in full. After hours at the hospital and his first cast he returned home to a houseful of his buddies and we spent a rainy weekend at home catching up. Nat did tons of amazing cooking and the kids took over the house building forts in almost every room.

The Heynens on top of the Alcazaba
The next day, our friends spent a rainy morning at the Alhambra and with good fortune we happened to touch base by phone right when they were on top of the tower that looks directly at our house so they were able to get a great video of our house and we took their picture as well (see photo at left).

We later walked around town, kicking a muddy soccer/futbol around wherever possible (avoiding dog poop was the biggest challenge).

* Injury happened as he was playing goalie in futbol and he made the save. Fortunately 4 days later, the bone doctor confirmed that it wasn't a true break and he got his cast off.
Brooke fit perfectly in our mini

Catheral in Granada

Girl time

The rest of the week we spent showing them our favorite hikes, restaurants and walking around town. I got some much needed "girl time" with Michelle (I finally bought some Spanish clothes at my favorite store Desigual) and we hit the Arabic baths for some soaking and massage. We also took Brooke shopping for flamenco clothes, to the local Teteria for mint tea and crepes and she even tried out our child-sized tub. And Michelle got me and her kids to visit the local Cathedral which was just amazing, covered in gold leaf and apparently the second largest iglesia in Spain. It is also where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella are buried.

American kids picking up recycle
on the beach

Fresh fish
We pulled the boys from school on Wednesday and drove 40 minutes to the Mediterrenean and one of our favorite spots, Salobreña, where we were luckier with the weather although it was truly blowing a gale. (We saw a kite boarder which is a treat for this windsurfing crowd). We had lunch at a beachside restaurant and then drove to nearby Almuñécar in search of helado.

Dining on the beach
Adios amigos
Brooke with flamenco poster
After a week filled with treats, friendship and catching up, we said our goodbyes on Friday as they returned via night train to Barcelona for one more day before heading back to Seattle via London. We've already heard that it is sunny and warm there after their very rainy visit to Spain.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Semana Santa (Holy Week)

Girl makes ball of wax from candle
This past week was Easter Week here in Spain, a holiday much bigger than Christmas, and here in Granada (Andalusia) we are lucky enough to witness the full regalia of this Catholic festival by watching multiple processions every day as they wind around town.

Carrying the gilded cross

Things got started on Palm Sunday. At the first “parade” I viewed I was surprised to discover the large amount of people involved and logistics that need to be arranged to put on this spectacle. The streets were just packed with people (locals and tourists alike) and policia were used to help control the crowds and keep the processions on track. There were people (men, women, children) in colorful hooded robes (think Ku Klux Klan), folks carrying special ceremonial items (crosses, septors, floats, etc…), and enormous lit candles dripping wax (we saw one girl creating a large wax ball from the drippings of those passing by). There is an unbelievable dedication to the ceremony and pageantry of it all. Most faces were somber and bands playing music were serious and dedicated. And the processions moved slowly; lots of stops for crowds, traffic, etc…. No one was in a hurry.   
Ornate statue of Jesus
Not the Ku Klux Klan
Each procession is represented by a different church and some date as far back as 1561 (no joke). The “parade” typically exits said church, moves in a circle around town and then returns to where it started.  There are always musicians (lots of brass instruments), people dressed in hooded robes, children included and a float with a statue of Jesus Christ that is carried by 20 or so unseen people, followed by another carrying a representation of the Virgin Mary. Some processions last until the wee hours of the morning, the printed schedule stating 3:15am (although I’ve heard they go much later). There are up to 5 processions a day and they start in the later afternoon, post 4pm. At one of the processions I witnessed today, we noticed one “float” being carried by women only, definitely a unique occurrence in this still fairly male oriented place.

Marching band
 In the evening, the central core is a very festive place, with vendors selling, candy, drums and balloons. People of all ages are milling about and everyone is chatting happily but it is not a party atmosphere per se (no drinking). Best part for Clark was the booths set up selling baked potatoes out of enormous kettles drums. For 3.50 euros you get an enormous spud with multiple topping options (cheese, ham, olives, corn, carrots, mustard and ketchup).

Corte de pelo (Haircut)

Haircut at home

Calcetines gets her milk

We’ve found a wonderful, local hairdresser who will come to the house on a moment’s notice and cut the boys hair for 5 euros. Last time she even brought her 1 month old kitten “Calcetines” or “Socks” who she couldn’t leave at home with her dog and whom she was still bottle feeding (no mama cat around to take care of her).

Easter hike

Fun Easter hike with the boys

Mountain goat
After a week of hanging around the house, and with a nice break in the weather (it has been raining a lot this week which is very unusual), we decided to get out and about and re-did a lovely hike we took a few weeks ago with the group from school. Afterwards, we enjoyed a fun Easter lunch at an outdoor restaurant overlooking the Sierra Nevada.

First Day of School (Round 2)
On Monday morning, I walked the boys down to their new bus stop on Gran Via (5 minutes downhill instead of 5 minutes uphill) and they got on a very swanky "airplane bus" which took them 20 minutes across town to their new school, Granada College. The first few days have gone well. Clark comes home happy and Colin is already off with his friend Xavi on a 3 day/2 night school excusion to la Sierra de Baza for a 4th grade camp** event (first time away from friends and family overnight and in a foreign country no less).

Clark opted not to attend the 6th grade camp as he wanted time to adjust to the new school and have some time alone at home without his brother. Worst part of Clark's first day was having to eat the tomatoes at lunch time so I'll deem it a success (it's quite formal and apparently you have to raise your hand when you finish each course). Colin spent his second day teaching his english class Clark's version to a Beatle's song "We all live in a yellow submarine. I hate the stupid thing. I want to paint it green." The days are longer and include many more activities including all kinds of sports (hockey, bike riding, there's even a pool) and obligatory Chinese (!).  But so far, both kids have not looked back.

** 4th grade camp, spanish style:
Nos ponemos en contacto con vosotros para comunicaros que este año los alumnos/as de 4º de Primaria van a tener tres días de convivencia con sus profesores y compañeros en el Centro de Educación Ambiental "El Cortijo Narváez", situado a 85 Km de Granada en el Parque Natural de la Sierra de Baza.

El objetivo de las actividades y talleres que van a realizar es conocer la gran diversidad floral y paisajística de la Sierra de Baza, además, ayudará a que desarrollen su autonomía personal, así como los hábitos de convivencia democráticos y solidarios en grupo.

El entorno de este parque natural, ofrece numerosas posibilidades para que los alumnos/as puedan realizar circuitos de multiaventura: rocódromo, bicicletas de montaña, tiro con arco, escalada, tirolina, juegos deportivos y cooperativos y gymkhanas de orientación. Además harán senderismo guiado por el parque Natural de la Sierra de Baza.

We get in touch with you to announce that this year the alumni / ae of 4th grade primary school will have three days together with their teachers and classmates in the Environmental Education Center "El Cortijo Narvaez", located 85 km from Granada Natural Park of Sierra de Baza.

The aim of the workshops and activities to be performed to know the diverse floral and landscape of the Sierra de Baza, also help to develop personal autonomy and democratic habits of coexistence and solidarity groups.

The environment of this park offers many opportunities for alumni / ae can perform multi-activity circuits: climbing, mountain biking, archery, climbing, flying, sports and cooperative games and gymkhanas guidance. Besides hiking will guided by the natural park of Sierra de Baza.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Cabo de Gata

San Jose

Playa de San Jose

Overlooking San Jose
The beachside town of San Jose, in the National Park known as Cabo de Gata, is my new favorite pueblo in Spain. This perfect-sized village with a central square with playground, surrounded by restaurants, coffee shops and gelatarias has access to some incredible beaches and amazing nearby hikes. Although we were there in the low-season, so things might be very different during the summer, the laid back pace was heavenly and the amount of commercial services (pescateria, panaderia, markets, gift shops, above mentioned establishments) was just right.

Abandoned gold mine
Restaurante La Isleta del Moro
Armed with a list of recommendations from friends we drove to the lighthouse at the end of Cabo de Gata and checked out the amazing vistas and spectacular waterfront. We even saw a windsurfer attempting to sail along Playa Cabo de Gata. We later drove north to the town of Rodalquilar to check out an abandoned gold mine (with no warning signs or fences mind you, so we could truly explore at will). And we ended the day at a well-known beach front seafood restaurant in La Isleta del Moro for dinner. Clark tried the grilled artichokes while the rest of us shared a seafood paella.

Margarita piza

Indiana Jones beach

We also discovered a lovely pizza/pasta bar where we had our best family-friendly meal in Spain (Italian I’m afraid) and went back several days later to repeat the exact same order. We spent our first full day at the beach, enjoying a remote area only a short drive from town but completely empty of people (we did meet a nice family with a 12 year old boy who was half English/half Spanish and enjoyed splashing in the waves and digging in the sand with our boys for a few hours). This particular beach, called Playa del Monsul, is also the backdrop to quite a few movies including one Indiana Jones film starring Sean Connery and Harrison Ford.

Wild West town

Yes, we this is in southern Spain
The next day we drove about an hour away to visit an Old Wild West town/movie set near the town of Tabernas used for quite a few films and shows over the years. It was strange to walk around an authentic western town complete with fake restaurants, banks, shops, corrals, and a horse drawn carriage and to watch a “show” in the local saloon acted by western cowboys and bar maids (speaking Spanish of course).
Caving in Sorbas
We then stopped at a local restaurant in the small village of Sorbas where we had a pub lunch and the boys tried their hands at pinball. Afterwards, we drove to Cuevas de Sorbas where we took an underground tour of some pretty spectacular caves that extend throughout the area. Thankfully our German tour guide was fluent in English and Spanish as well.  

Overlooking the Mediterrenean
Hike to lookout tower
On our last morning we hiked up to a medieval tower on a tall hilltop overlooking this beautiful coastal town. We had to do some steep climbing as there wasn’t a clear path but the hard work made our efforts all that more enjoyable.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Gardening, ziplining, hiking and changing schools

Antonio's Garden

Nat holds up our first head of lettuce
Nat has been a rock star keeping Antonio’s garden up to snuff. Besides trimming back the trees and grape vines, a few weeks back he planted lettuce starts that we are already enjoying and last week he added potatoes, onions, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, basil, sunflowers and mint. Just (remember) to add water and voila, we’ll be able to feed the neighborhood. He’s also been to the hardware store to get parts to fix the aljibe pump (very clever but finicky watering system located underneath the garden and created by our landlord to catch rainwater).

Excursión al canal de la Espartera
Clark walks along the path
With our friend Wolfgang
We enjoyed another group hike with the boys’ school, this time exploring an area not too far from town. About 25 people showed up (not bad given the early start time and the daylight savings time clock change made the night before). It was a lovely hike with beautiful vistas and great company but once again on the return trip, the "leader" lost his way (this seems to be a theme) so we freestyled our way back up a very challenging cliff to the trailhead. Lots of trips across a small river where many feet got wet and the kids were pretty worn out by the end, but it was adventurous for sure and we very much appreciated the always necessary stop for a cold beverage on the way home.

Paella and more paella

Adding the rice

Grilling the veggies
As part of a Spring celebration at the boys’ school, I signed Nat up to be sous chef (or pinchar in this case) to help cook a paella for 80 or so at a school fundraiser. Now Nat has cooked many a paella in his lifetime, but never in Spain, and never for so many Spaniards who know a thing or two about this very special rice dish. He went the night before to help prep the food (lots of chopping) and then several hours ahead to help create the dish overseen by a fellow dad who is a French chef. It turned out absolutely delicious although we didn’t tell the kids there was rabbit in there, even though I ended up with an entire head skeleton on my plate, teeth still intact.
Paella: ready to serve

Paella en nuestra casa
Friends from Malaga stopped by last weekend and Nat tried out his paella technique at home (see photo). These are fellow Americans who moved to Spain 7 years ago and are still awaiting their residance status (they've already built a house here). Although only
"friends of friends" they were very welcoming in getting us here, sharing lots of information and putting me up for 2 nights when I visited last May.

Colin on the ropes course
We’ve recently discovered Aventura Amazonia, a new zipline park located in the national park not too far from our home. With visitors in town recently, the boys really enjoyed the ropes course as well as trying out some new outdoor skills as they spent 3 hours climbing thru the "jungles" of Granada. Be sure and watch the video to get a better idea.

Time for a change

After several months of re-attempting to communicate with the boys’ school about Clark’s dyslexia issues (it appears to have been overlooked from day one as well as many subsequent communications thereafter), we really haven’t gotten Clark any help at school, or any changes in his routine there. He’s spent countless hours copying text from the board, had “hands-on help” trying to correct his script (the worst thing you can do for a kid like him) and has listened to hours upon hours of lectures he can’t understand. We even asked if he could skip English class and work with a private tutor which we’d pay for but they were not amenable to that either.
So we finally took some fellow American’s advice and went out to look at the local bi-lingual private school, Granada College, located across town, thinking it might be an option if we were to extend our stay. After being quite impressed on the tour (the facilities alone are amazing compared to any school our kids have ever been to) and quite frankly felt like a bit of a country club with the extensive campus, access to the arts and sciences (drawing, drama, science lab and best of all 2 hours of PE a day. And did I mention uniforms? Sheesh.).
Although we are very staunch democrats and big advocates for public education worldwide, things clearly haven’t been working for Clark. At the end of the tour, we were told that we would receive a call the next week if there was any room for next year, but one hour later we were contacted via our tutor/translator and were actually offered two spots, to start immediately. I’m guessing they are interested in having English speaking natives around. And of course the influx of cash doesn't hurt. Whatever the reason, we feel fortunate to get the opportunity but are also torn to be leaving a school community that welcomed us so warmly. They’ll start there the Monday following Easter. 
Coming up next, our trip to Cabo de Gata...