December 30, 2018

Granada, Spain


Granada was one of the major landmarks of our journey. Friends who'd visited the previous year said it was a must-see, and every Spaniard we told we were heading Granada-direction kissed their fingertips and said, "Bueno."

For the first two days, we stayed 2km south of the city center. We walked around, played on parks and ate good food. We were in the neighborhood called Zaidin and it was a clean, nice area, and walking up into the city was easy.

Then we moved for the next 4 nights up smack dab in city center, just across the river from the Alhambra.



The Alhambra is the major draw of Granada.

The fortress was built in the 9th century, but King Fancy Pants Muhammad Ibn al-Ahmar fixed it up to his standards and moved his residence there in the year of our lord 1238. The Kings of the Nazari dynasty continued adding to the compound until 1492, when Ferdinand and Isabella, Christian monarchs of Spain, conquered the Alhambra and transformation of the palace for the Christian Kings began.



You could spend all day wandering the grounds of the Alhambra, Alcazar, Generalife and the gardens. (Bring snacks or you'll be eating out of vending machines.) We didn't even get over to the Generalife, and we spent several hours there. If you want entrance into the Nasrid Palaces (the truly spectacular architecture-- like lace carved into stone), you pay 14 euro per ticket and you have a specific time of entrance.

Book online ahead of time if you're visiting on the weekend or during peak tourist months. For us, on a weekday in early December, we were fine buying our tickets on site.


Note: it takes about 15 minutes to walk to the palaces from the main entrance, so keep that in mind when booking.


We walked up to the Alhambra via the path that starts at Cuesta del Rey Chico, just on the other side of the river from our Airbnb and highly recommend it for its quiet charm. The other walk up to the site, via Cuesta de Gomerez, is more populated, though it takes you through the Puerta de Granada and along a lane populated by shops and old buildings, which is cool too.

The history of the entire central Granada area is gorgeous. Tiny cobblestone lanes where cars share space with the dominant pedestrian traffic, looming churches and incredible architecture. Perhaps unfortunately, that history is what makes the area a bustling tourist destination. We heard more tourists speaking English here than anywhere else we've traveled. The narrow lanes were clustered with tour groups and lost tourists clutching their maps, cameras and cellphones.

Our Airbnb listing led me to believe we were staying in a room in a cute couple's home, but alas, it was a hostal. The building was lovely, a historic building actually protected by law from renovations. Our private space was a room, most of which was taken up by the double bed. The bathroom and kitchenette were shared spaces, accessed across the open-air patio (a bit of a chilly dozen steps in December).

The view of the Alhambra from our window was lovely, though:



Then my poor daughter had a UTI. She had a fever and had to pee every 15 minutes. Every time her fever went down we thought we were in the clear and drug her out for a day of walking around, enjoying the history. By the afternoon, she'd be glassy-eyed and sleeping on her dad's shoulder.

We plied her with orange juice (cranberries have no special powers against UTIs) and any liquids we could get her to drink to flush the bacteria out. Liquid Tylenol to keep her fever down (in Spain acetamenophine is called paracetamol) and in three or four days she was alright.

While we appreciated the history of the Alhambra, our favorite things to do in Granada were a bit more humble. There's an archaeological museum (free), on Carrera del Darro that doesn't show up on Google Maps, but it was pleasant and interesting.


By the Granada Cathedral is the Centro de Arte de Jose Guerrero, a modern art exhibit that is also free and a lovely stop for warming up on chilly December days and taking a break from the bustling traffic.

The UTI, the cramped conditions in the surprise hostal and the commercialized feel of the main city areas (and the horrific 6E haircut I got at the hairdressing school) dampened our stay in Granada somewhat. But we had an excellent time and it was undoubtedly spectacular. Though by the end of our six nights in and around the city, we were excited for our next destination: the 1,200-person town of Galera, pet-sitting in a cave-dwelling.

More on THAT adventure in the next post. Hasta luego.



December 22, 2018

Guadix Caves & Traveling by Alsa Bus in Spain


After Baza, we took an Alsa bus 40 minutes down the road to Guadix. (Gwah-deeks)



A village of 19,000 people rather inland, without much to distinguish itself other than the picturesque views and historic cave dwellings in the hills, they don't see many foreign tourists. All the tourism that goes through Guadix is other Spaniards. It's a nice little village, clean and friendly-feeling. Though it was here we began to suspect that the 'beer + free tapa' thing doesn't apply to annoying tourists who ask a lot of questions.


It was a quiet, warm walk up the hill to the cave neighborhood. The cave museum we flagged cost 2,50/person so we declined to enter and went to plan B: just walk around. Up the hill across the street from a souvenir shop, the proprietor told us her husband ran a free cave tour so we poked our heads in for about 30 seconds. Turns out there's not much to see in a cave house. It's about what you would expect. They paint the rough-hewn stone walls white so it feels less like a cave. We were about to go spend a week pet sitting in a cave, anyway (more on THAT adventure in another post) so we didn't linger.

There are several viewpoints constructed, but we just walked up on top of the roof of one of the caves and took a panorama.

The view was spectacular. The historical landmarks were beautiful. But two nights in Guadix was the perfect amount of time to explore what the little city has to offer.

From Guadix, we took another Alsa bus.

An Aside RE: Alsa

We've been taking public transportation around Spain for 1.5 months and managed to avoid renting a car (after the first hike from Madrid to Albir on our first day). The benefits of this are plentiful. It's cheaper (though if you can drive a stick, doyouspain.com might work for you), less hassle re: parking and reading road signs, plus Mr. Go gets to enjoy the scenery or read a book instead of white-knuckle the wheel.

Plus, not having a car forces us to walk or figure out the transportation system. Sometimes it's a challenge, but challenges are good for you! If we had a car, we would undoubtedly find excuses to use it, both incurring gas costs and robbing our bodies of exercise.

But for journeys too long to walk, there has been one clear hero in Spain these past weeks: Alsa.

Renfe runs trains between major cities, but Alsa has always been cheaper. They've had routes running wherever we wanted to go, even tiny little cave towns, for dirt cheap. Kids under 3 are free and kids 4-13ish (I think?) are half price.

Only one driver gave me a hard time about my (very reasonably sized) backpack, trying to make me put it in the luggage compartment under the bus. The rest have been apathetically indifferent.

Don't buy tickets online and incur a processing fee. Just go to the station just before your bus arrives and buy a ticket. Never has a bus been full (yet). I've been told you can also buy tickets from the driver, if the town doesn't have an Alsa station or point of sale. We've seen people buying tickets from the driver, but tbh I have no idea if it works all the time.

At least one Alsa bus I've ridden had a bathroom (though idk, it was labeled 'WC', but we didn't look inside). The time we needed a bathroom, on a 3-hour direct bus from Granada to Seville, the spot in the back where the WC was on the other bus was simply a locked door, so *shrug emoji*


Anyway, we took an Alsa bus to Granada; more on that in the next post!



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December 17, 2018

Three Days in Baza, Spain

Before you get it into your head that it's pronounced Buhzah, it's actually Bah-tha.


We arrived in Baza on a bank holiday. They seem to have a lot of those around here, and sometimes even Spaniards are surprised by them.

Our Airbnb was 2km north of the city, so we grabbed some groceries at the only 'grocery store' that was open on a holiday, an alimentaciĆ³n (aka a 'chino', as the Spanish call them). Most alimentaciĆ³ns stock the bare-bones essentials and candy, but this one even had 'fresh' vegetables, though it was a sad collage of cabbage, onions, carrots and potatoes.

Our Airbnb host was kind enough to give us a lift home for our first day. This Airbnb was a cortijo, basically a farmhouse, on 13 hectares (1 hectare = 2.5 acres) of olive and almond trees.

This English family's ranch included an 8-year-old daughter, chickens, a turkey, a duck, a donkey, three dogs, at least one cat that I could see, and also their friend's horse. It. Was. Amazing. Our apartment, adjoining their 200-year-old farmhouse, had a woodstove and that charming ranch house feel with its stucco walls and wood beam ceiling.


We sat on the patio in the sun and had coffee with our hosts in the morning, then after our excursions in the town, had a beer with them in the evenings before dinner.

On recommendation from our hosts, we went to restaurante Kaliskka, worth a 5-star Google review and a paragraph here. The menu del dia (13,50/person) included two plates for each of us, a drink and a dessert, and absolutely everything was good. Though they don't bake it themselves, they had gluten free bread to give us, and were kind enough to make one of my dishes with rice instead of noodles.


We didn't aggressively explore Baza, simply because hanging out at the cortijo was so much fun (Babs spent our last evening watching T.V. and playing Spanish twister in her new friend's room), but we did stumble upon a fiesta in the central plaza with dancing and free food.


The Wednesday market is held over by the old train station, and its many stalls offered candy, cheese, cured meats and lots of clothing, not that we bought anything. Baza was cute, it has some historic points of interest, like the Arabic baths, which we never did make it to, and of course all the churches and plazas. But you can get that history in many other little Spanish towns. No, the best part about Baza was our Airbnb experience on the cortijo because it was so different from anything we'd done up to that point.


Babs was not afraid of the horse, so much so that she didn't get out of its way and when it knocked her over got a bloody nose. Nose not broken, but now she snores, should I be worried?!

She was over the moon to have met a dog small enough that she could carry in her arms and toted this poor, patient dog around all over the place.


Since we toy with the idea of being ranchers ourselves, we were giddy to stay on a farm with an actual donkey and pick our hosts's brains. Mr. Go tried to go to work for them, but an ice storm had ravaged the olive trees weeks ago, and they'd decided to delay the harvest.

While walking the 2km into town, we saw the harvest of surrounding huertas (orchards) in progress. An 'ancient method' as described by our host: you beat the tree with a stick and the olives fall off.

Charming.



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December 16, 2018

Moana Kid's Bedtime Story

I get it. I know how to read my Blogger Stats. I'll blog about Spanish adventures for my mom to read, but for everyone else, here's another Bedtime Story to entertain the wee ones.

Don't forget, here's the FrozenBeauty & the BeastCinderella, Little Mermaid, Mulan and Rapunzel stories too.


In the beginning, there was nothing but darkness. Then Te'Fiti, the mother island, brought life into the world using the magic of her heart. But after time, many sought to steal Te'Fiti's heart for themselves. The demi-God Maui finally succeeded, but was quickly struck from the sky by Te'ka, the lava monster. The heart of Te'Fiti was lost and a curse spread slowly across the ocean from island to island.

Many years later, a girl named Moana grew up on the island of Motunui. One day when she was very young, the ocean gave her a gift: a glowing green stone. Little Moana lost the stone, but her Gramma Tala kept it safe for her as Moana grew.

Moana's father, Chief Tui, taught Moana what would be expected of her as the village's new Chief: to respect their ancient traditions and most of all, do not go beyond the reef out into the open ocean. But the ocean seemed to call to Moana and she always wondered what was beyond the horizon.

One day, the curse of Te'Fiti finally reached Motunui, poisoning the coconut trees and driving the fish away. Moana felt sure the answer to their problem was beyond the reef, but her father still wouldn't let anyone leave the safety of the bay. Then, Gramma Tala showed Moana the cave where her ancestors had put away their boats. Their people had been voyagers! They'd stopped sailing long ago, to protect their people from the monsters that roamed the ocean in search of the lost heart of Te'Fiti.

Gramma Tala returned the heart of Te'Fiti to Moana and reminded her that the ocean chose her to find Maui and restore the heart to its rightful place.

So, even though Gramma Tala was very sick, she encouraged Moana to take a boat from the cave and go in search of Maui.

Gramma Tala said, "Go. Find Maui. When you do, you grab him by the ear and say, 'I am Moana of Motunui, you will board my boat, sail across the sea and restore the heart of Te'Fiti.'"

Moana had no idea how to sail and, thanks to her surprise stowaway, the chicken HeiHei, she had some setbacks, including a violent storm that tipped her boat over. But the ocean helped guide her to the island where Maui had been stranded for the last 1000 years.

But Maui didn't want to help Moana. All he wanted to do was get his magic fishhook back from Tamatoa and go back to being awesome. He tricked Moana and locked her in a cave, then stole her boat! But Moana was clever. She escaped the cave and with the ocean's help, got back on her boat with Maui.

Just then, they were attacked by the Kakamora, vicious little pirates in coconut armor. They were after the heart of Te'Fiti! HeiHei swallowed the heart and the Kakamora grabbed the chicken. Maui pulled some tricky maneuvers with the boat to help them escape without the heart, but Moana went back for it. She batted the coconuts out of the way, grabbed the chicken, swung back onto her boat, then Maui sailed them to safety.

Maui and Moana struck a deal: she'd help him get his fishhook, then they'd restore the heart so he could be a hero again.

Tamatoa's lair was in Lalotai, the realm of monsters. Maui jumped down the tunnel, not expecting Moana to follow, but she did. They found Tamatoa, a giant crab covered in golden treasure, with Maui's fishhook on his back. Moana distracted the crab while Maui grabbed his hook. But after 1000 years without it, he'd forgotten how to use it, and Tamatoa almost defeated him. But Moana thought quickly and created a diversion using a barnacle covered in bio-luminescent algae to help them escape.

Back up on land, Maui thanked Moana for her help, but he was sure they'd never be able to defeat Te'Ka if he couldn't use his hook. Moana encouraged him to keep trying and eventually he got the hang of it again and was able to transform himself into anything he wanted.

Along their journey to Te'Fiti, Maui showed Moana the ancient art of wayfinding. He taught her, "It's knowing where you're going, by knowing where you've been."

When they reached Te'Fiti, Te'Ka emerged to block their path. Maui warned Moana to turn back, but Moana thought she could sail past the lava monster. But she wasn't fast enough. Maui used his hook to protect her from the monster's blow, which cracked it. One more hit and it would be gone forever. Maui was upset Moana hadn't listened to him and left.

Moana begged the ocean to choose someone else for this task. She thought she couldn't do it. But then she was visited by the spirit of her Gramma Tala, and Moana realized she had the courage to try again. She fixed up her boat and sailed back to Te'Fiti to face Te'Ka by herself.

Using the sailing tricks she'd learned from Maui, Moana was able to trick Te'Ka and sail past the barrier islands. But a flying lava ball knocked her boat over. Just as Te'Ka was about to smash Moana with a fiery fist, Maui flew in as a giant hawk and saved her!

"Maui, you came back!" Moana exclaimed. "But, your hook," she said uncertainly.

Along their journey together, Moana had taught Maui that what makes him special isn't what he has, but rather what's in his heart. So Maui shrugged, "Hook or no hook, I'm still Maui. I got your back, Chosen One. Go save the world."

He told her to return the heart to the spiral. As Maui battled Te'Ka to distract the monster from Moana, his hook shattered. Moana climbed the mountain, but once at the top, she found Te'Fiti was gone! But she noticed a spiral on the chest of Te'Ka and realized Te'Ka was Te'Fiti!

Moana said to the ocean, "Let her come to me." The ocean parted to allow the fiery lava monster to cross the distance to Moana. Moana sang a song about all that she'd learned about herself since she set out on her journey and reminded Te'Ka of who she really was.

"This is not who you are. You know who you are. Who you truly are." Te'Ka stopped fighting and allowed Moana to place the glowing green stone in the center of the spiral on her chest. The hard lava stone cracked and fell away, revealing the lush, green Goddess of Life underneath: Te'Fiti.

Te'Fiti scooped Moana and Maui up in her hand. Maui very humbly apologized for stealing her heart and Te'Fiti gifted him with a new hook. She gave Moana a boat to sail home on, then took her place as the mother mountain again.

Moana invited Maui to come back to Motunui with her.

"My people are going to need a master wayfinder," she said. Maui smiled at her and said, "They already have one." He showed her the new tattoo that appeared on his chest: of Moana and her boat! Moana gave him a big hug goodbye and he transformed into a giant hawk and flew away.

Moana sailed home to find her island bountiful again; the curse had been broken. Her parents were so happy to have her back again, and Moana taught her people all that she'd learned about wayfinding. They started voyaging across the sea again, to explore and find new islands. Moana got to sail the sea as she'd always dreamed, and she and her family were happy.

The End

December 14, 2018

Three Days in Murcia, Spain

Leaving Albir was a little nerve-wracking for me. We'd been there for a month, it was our home base and we were setting off to the mostly unknown; I had a few nights booked at Airbnbs and home sitting down the road, but the large holes in our schedule were giving me palpitations. But in a good way. It felt like we were finally getting into the real adventure.

From Albir, we took the tram to Alicante Luceros station. (Tramalicante.es you can find the timetables, it was super easy to use.) Then it was a short walk to the Alsa Bus Station, where we hopped a bus to Murcia. Renfe trains also run along the coast and between major cities, but tickets were more expensive and times were not ideal.



Murcia, though the 7th largest city in Spain by population with 436,000 people, still feels like a smallish city. It's completely walkable, even from an Airbnb 3km north of city center, where we stayed in a woman's apartment for three nights.

Our Airbnb host, Elena, was super sweet and inviting. She spoke very little English, but her partner, a Cuban named Fidel (who we did not know would also be living in the apartment), spoke a bit more English and we were able to communicate just fine.

Elena was immediately taken with Babs, holding her hand and pinching her cheeks like everyone here does. Babs in turn was fascinated by Elena's big golden lab Kiba, and her two cats, all of whom we also did not realize would be in the apartment with us. (Elena's son and his girlfriend were also there.) It was delightful. And $12/night.

Murcia was having its tree lighting ceremony and a big party at the Plaza Circular while we were there, and town was hopping. Murcia city center was charming, with all the history of its cobblestone Old Town, the Cathedral de Murcia and Santo Domingo. In the big plazas, tapas restaurants have chairs and tables set outside under canopies and people sit and drink beer and get free tapa plates.

The Museo de Bellas Artes de Murcia was one of the highlights, showcasing beautiful paintings dating back to the 16th century, and more modern exhibits. The Museo de Santa Clara, an old convent turned into a museum was nifty, and also free.


The last night of our stay, we took our hosts out for dinner at El Favorito, a gourmet burger joint just down the street. When they ask you how you want your burger cooked, what they're really asking is how bloody do you want it. My 'mediano' was almost cold in the middle it was so pink. But we'd been eating paella and seafood nonstop, so a burger really hit the spot. We went twice during our 3-day stay.

Speaking of restaurants, Emboka is north of the city and a bit pricey (by vagabonding standards--we spent $50some), but I'll be dreaming about the tuna tartar for months.

Down by the river, the Museo de la Ciencia y el Agua was only 1,50E/adult and 1E for Babs. Interactive, educational and they had a kid's water table and playroom. We drag that child all over creation, it was good to give her a few hours to just play. They had a temporary exhibit about Houdini, of all things.

We kept thinking we needed to seek out parks for her to play at, but around every other street corner there's a slide and a swingset, or a trampoline built into the ground. As well as these weird outdoor workout areas with little pedal bikes and chest presses.

On our way to the Alsa station to exit Murcia, we stopped at the Club, Museo y Meson Taurino, a restaurant/bar/bullfighting museum, which was free and actually very interesting. Despite finding it barbarically cruel and being wholeheartedly opposed to bullfighting, Spanish history is steeped in it, and seeing a real suit of lights was cool, from a seamstress' standpoint.


Murcia was only 40km or so from the beach, but many tourists pass it by in favor of the coast, or one of the larger or more famed cities. But we loved it, we wandered around looking at old buildings, ate great food, blundered our way through conversations and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

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December 9, 2018

Little People International Nursery, Albir, Valencia, Spain


Babs attended preschool at Little People International in Spain for the month of November. Mr. Go and I were more apprehensive about it than the child was. Would she be able to understand the other kids? Would she fit in and have fun?? Communication between myself and the director of the school hadn't been real great, but, as per the norm, we needn't have worried.

The school was great. Turns out it was a good thing the director didn't let me pre-pay, because the "registration fee" that the application spoke of, simply didn't occur. And--after living two days in Albir, we realized we didn't want to stay put in one town for the full 2 months, and paid only for 1 month. A whole 410 euro (390/month plus 20 euro supply fee= $465 USD).

The school is located on a nice, quiet side street with a locked front gate. There are three classrooms, one for infants, one for 3 years and up, and one for older children (10ish years old). The kids all get to eat together and play outside together, and according to the director, the middle class kids love to babysit the infants. It was all very cozy and familiar inside.

The majority of the kids are international, from Norway and the Netherlands, but there were several Spanish kids whose families lived in the area. The school focuses on bilingual education, helping the kids all learn Spanish. And all of the teachers also spoke English.

We felt welcomed immediately. Snacks and lunch were provided. They have food catered in, and Babs' teacher also eats gluten-free, so there were no problems there.

We chose this school because it had a website and we were able to communicate with them (sort of) before we arrived in Spain and ensure Babs would be able to attend. But once we arrived in Spain and started exploring these small towns all along the coast, we noticed a million pre-schools and nurseries. We didn't pop in to talk to them, but I imagine one of them might have had room for Babs for a month. So we probably didn't really need to limit ourselves to only what we could find online.



The weekend before we left Albir, the school director had organized a trip for the class to what we in the states would call a Children's Museum or like a children's farm. And I use the term 'organized' loosely. We had asked her if anyone might be able to give us a lift up there, since it was 50km north and we have no car, but then wound up figuring out public transportation anyway. So she definitely didn't think we were going to make it, and so Babs' name was not on the list of children at check-in. It turned out fine, they just added her name to the list, but it just illustrates the level of organization and communication.

Attendance to the Granja Escuela de Baladre cost us 32E, which also was never mentioned to us in any of the conversations prior to arriving there. But it ended up only costing 30, because we paid with a 50 and the guy only had a 20 for change. That seemed to happen sometimes with giving change, people just round down with a shrug.

The day was fun, though I wouldn't say it was worth 30E. They had a 'baking demonstration' where all the kids got to add ingredients for cookies into a bowl and take turns stirring, then kneading the dough and adding chocolate chips. Then the garden visit, where a man ate weeds off the ground to illustrate that everything was edible, but seemed to only encourage kids to put random things from the ground in their mouth. The kids made mud/seed balls, which apparently they use to fertilize the ground? He was speaking Spanish so I only caught about 25% of it.



Then there was a paella lunch (which included a beer), followed by a farm visit, where Babs got to pet a 20-year-old pig. The farm, very admirably, rescued wayward animals, such as 3 pigs, some chickens and a raccoon.

We got a chance to meet some of the families whose kids attended school with ours, and one Spanish family gave great reasons for why she chose to pay to put her kid in this school rather than opt for a public school (which would have been closer to her home and free). Class sizes are smaller, and the focus is really heavy on bilingual education.

Overall we were very happy with the school, and it made living in Albir for a month mostly worth it. Though we laughed at ourselves when we started to complain about living in a tourist town for a month. We escaped the frigid midwestern winter for a while to enjoy the sunshine in Spain... It's all good.


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December 3, 2018

Albir, Valencia, Spain


We've been booked in an apartment in Albir for the month of November while Babs attends school at an international nursery.

Albir is a coastal town. The climate and views are amazing, therefore, the tourism is high. There's a remarkable population of Dutch and English in this tiny village. The beach isn't sandy, but pebbly with medium to small, smooth sea-tumbled rocks. (Not very comfortable to lay on.)



We booked our apartment on Airbnb, since 'holiday rentals' were crazy expensive, and 'short term' rentals are 6 months at the least. We were on the 2nd floor with a balcony that has a view of mountains and the village. It has two bedrooms, a lovely little kitchen and a super sweet host named Ange. He was really nice and helpful, and like most Spanish-speaking people who also speak some English, spoke it very well but was super apologetic about it.

We've been very comfortable. A little too comfortable. The area is super tourist-oriented, with signs in English and "English breakfast" on many sidewalk chalkboard menus. Many Norwegian folks have set up businesses here to cater to the Norwegian tourists. (We got the most amazing bratwurst at delicatessen 'Delicioso' from a Norse Goddess of a woman, who very impressively spoke Spanish, English and whatever Nordic language was her native tongue.)

But at least four times I embarrassed myself by speaking Spanish to a waiter or waitress who looked at me blankly and confessed they didn't speak Spanish. Mr. Go and I agreed after two nights in Albir to spend only one month in the area instead of two, as we'd originally planned. And even then, a month there was tough for us. To be fair, a month anywhere while traveling would be hard for us, but here even more so.

Along the main street heading toward the beach, second-hand stores run by Dutch immigrants and English tattoo parlors offered some diversion, but nothing I would call authentic. There's no real 'downtown' area. It's all new developments. Between Albir and the larger city of Benidorm there's nothing but camping and restaurants that cater to tourists. We were disappointed in every paella we ordered.



L'alfas del Pi, 3 km inland and Old Town Benidorm 7km down the coast has offered the best glimpse of the windy-streets and hidden plazas that I love so much about Spain. L'alfas del Pi is a tiny blip of a town, but they were having a fiesta the weekend we visited and the street decorations and parade of reinas y damas in their fancy dresses was charming to the max.



In Benidorm, along the bigger road and along the (nice, sandy) beach there are plenty of 'things' to do, eat and see, but save your lunch for tapas alley. Old Town is at the Southern end of the beach, and the windy pedestrian-only roads with patio chairs crammed in for tapas restaurants are a lively hangout for Spaniards.



Babs has been having a blast. Of course waiters and waitresses love her, pinch her cheeks and give her extra candies and stickers. She loves school, too, and comes home with new Spanish words every day. (More on the school in another post.)

A LA MERCADO

There are five grocery stores within a short walk from our apartment. Aldi, Lidl, Consum, Mercadona and a more regional Supermercado. Mercadona has the best prices and selection. The seafood counter is prodigious, it being a coastal town and all. They're no Super Walmart, their beauty/bath/pharmacy section is small, because there are Farmacias on every other street corner, recognizable by their green plus symbols.

PS: Thank goodness for the big-box Aldi, because everything else was closed for some holiday on our second day in town. All the grocery stores are closed on Sundays, too, except the Lidl and probably the Aldi too.

When you purchase some seafood, such as a lubina (seabass) or calamar (squid), they may ask you if you want them to clean it for you ("Limpia?"). I always said yes, and they used enormous shears to clip off the head, tail and open the belly. PS the squid was really good, despite my overcooking.

Pro Tip: For buying groceries from a deli counter, it's important to know your numbers. It took three deli experiences for me to figure out how to say a quarter kilo. (Doscientos cincuenta = 250 gramos)

Sunday Markets

On Sunday, there's a market in Albir along the main drag. It's like a little canopy city that pops up in a big parking lot and it's filled with clothing, bags, a couple fresh veggie stalls, coffee trucks and even a roast chicken truck. Though the only thing we bought from the Albir market was a pair of 1E sunglasses. Every town seems to have these little pop-up stalls, though not always on Sundays.

Life in Spain has a different pace and vibe to it than America. Most things don't get going until later in the morning. Stores, restaurants and even Babs' school seemed to open later than in America.

Spaniards enjoy their breakfast of croissants, bocadillos or tostadas around 9-10. They have a beer or another coffee and a snack around 11, then their big meal, "comida," at 1:30-2pm. Then it's siesta time. Some stores and restaurants even have signage on their doors to say they will be closed for an hour or two in the middle of the day for siesta.

Around 5pm it's snack time, aka merienda. Dinner, "cena," is typically more like a light snack which occurs around 9-10pm. We've been out for cena only once or twice so far, and even then it's been on the early end of it. This post (and her entire blog) offers great info on Spain.

Serra Gelada Nature Park

The best thing we found in Albir was a beautiful hike along the coast from Albir to Benidorm. There are lots of little trails in this green space. One trail goes up to a lighthouse (one of the busiest routes, as it is paved and easy). The longer hike through the entire park was populated by 3 other hikers when we did the route. It took us almost 3 hours traversing over peaks and saddles, stopping occasionally to snap a breathtaking photo of the coastline and mountain ridges, each more beautiful than the last. There were even some rocky parts that got a little technical.



The trail ends at a janky cross in Benidorm, then there's a bit of a walk into Benidorm proper. Make sure you bring snacks and water.

We took the #10 bus back home.

Bottom line on Albir: I wouldn't go back. It was commercialized and a sea of silver-haired Norwegian retirees. We were almost bowled over by a pensioner on a motor scooter more than once. As of this writing, we are 4 days out from Albir and inland is quieter, smaller, and much more our speed.

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November 8, 2018

Three Days in Alicante, Spain


Alicante is a smallish city on the southeastern coast of Spain. We stayed in a cheap Airbnb 2km north of city-center in an awesome area. The closer you get to city-center and to the coast, the more touristy it feels. It's busier, the shops and cafes are more modern and the wait staff speak some English. *thumbs down emoji*


In our area, at the corner of Carrer Colombia y Avinguda Novelda, at the end of a shady-looking alley, we were in prime authentic location. Google Street View tells the story better than I ever could.


With a welcoming front like this, how is the place not booked solid? Even with no hand towels, no paper towels and being given 1.5 rolls of toilet paper by our generous host, we couldn't really complain at $26/night.


On the whole, Spaniards were friendly enough, especially with Babs, pinching her cheeks and waving at her.

There was no shortage of places to eat. Every other shop is a cafeteria or coffee shop. But far and away our favorite place was El Mosquito.

Let me wax poetic about El Mosquito for a moment. It's small and cozy inside, but not crowded. Bathrooms are upstairs. The wait staff were all incredibly friendly and welcoming without being overbearing. They spoke no English. As the waitress was trying to explain menu del dia to us, other customers were chiming in with the handful of English words in their repertoire to help us all out.

We inquired, in a general way, if the entrees were gluten-free ("sin gluten"), which launched an in-depth conversation that no one involved understood. In an effort to be sure we were satisfied, I suspect they may have gone to the mercado next door to purchase a package of sin gluten breadsticks to serve us. We never felt they resented us for being difficult on so many levels, and the waitresses kept pinching Babs' cheeks and even gave us the rest of the package of sin gluten breadsticks to take home with us.

Find El Mosquito here. Maybe there are better places to go in Alicante, but this was the absolute best, most authentic, charming, delicioso restaurante we visited. Five stars, 10/10 would recommend.



What Not To Do:

Being right on the water, Alicante is a popular destination for tourists. We saw two enormous cruise ships dock at the marina and an influx of English and Dutch retirees and young families disembark for a daily venture through the city.

Castell De San Fernando was not much more than a platform on top of a small hill. Castilla de Santa Barbara, however, was a tourist trap.


Sure, it was cool that the castle was built in the 700s, but what wasn't cool was the crowds of people milling around. Some people are into it, it just happens that the Go Family is not.

You could step inside the "castle" proper into smallish chambers housing old pottery and other exhibits. The view of the ocean and the city was nice, though. The Internets said it would cost us money, but everywhere we walked around was free. Maybe we didn't find the paid portion, maybe it was a free day, who knows? My recommendation: Just Don't Do It.

When ready to depart to our next destination, Albir, about 50 km up the coast, we went to the Luceros train station, situated in central Alicante. The L1 tram goes north until it ends at Benidorm, then simply disembark the tram, go to the other side of the rail, where the L9 begins. The L9 goes further north, to Albir, where we are currently sitting pretty in a sweet Airbnb for the next month. The tram journey cost us 9.70 Euro (Babs was free).

More on Albir in the next post!

November 5, 2018

International Travel with Kids: Spain Edition

Well, we're at it again. We liked the southeastern coast of Spain so much last year, we decided to return this year...for two and a half months.

Only time will tell if that was a good idea or not. We might get homesick a month in, we might hate it and want to call it quits. I don't think we will, but if we're to spend, say, six months living in a different location next year, we wanted to get our feet wet with a "small" trip first.

For best prices and options, we drove to Chicago to fly out of O'Hare.

ProTip #1: For the long, over-sea leg of your international journey, make it an overnight flight.



We boarded at 6pm, right around bedtime, and with Babs' teeth brushed and jammies on, she stretched out across 2 1/2 seats and zonked for roughly 6 hours. It was only slightly more difficult for the larger versions of her to get some shut-eye, but we managed a few hours at least.

ProTip #2: BRING SNACKS

We loaded up at Meijer outside of Chicago with packaged foods. They make single-packs of olives without liquid, presumably just so you can take them through airport security! What will they think of next??



We focused on protein snacks, like those grass-fed EPIC brand beef, bison and venison jerky packs, and I made up trail mix of roasted almonds and dark chocolate chips to bring from home.

Especially on budget airline (we took Norwegian air this year, after months of ticket-price-tracking, 3 round-trip tickets totaling 1400 USD), where they charge you for e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g., being prepared with snacks is important if you want to travel on the cheap.

ProTip #3: Get a credit card with no international fees. Like an Amazon Prime credit card, which you can then use for extra cash back on all your Amazon purchases, like the boss you are.

After a 3-hour layover at London Gatwick, we went on to Madrid. Instead of staying in an Airbnb in the city, or taking a taxi to the Atocha train station, then a 100 euro train to Alicante, we rented a car for 90 euro and drove to the coast that night. The last hour of the drive was pure misery, jetlagged and having to get my Airbnb key from my host's friend then drive across town and find the place, but then we arrived, took our stinky shoes off and slept for 11 hours.

We returned our car to the Alicante airport the next morning, and took the 3.85 C6 bus to Alicante city center. It departs from the 2nd floor (Departures level) of the Alicante airport.




Note: I watched Airbnb prices go down several dollars/night until I booked two days out from our arrival. If you know you have lots of options for lodging, sit on it and wait and you may get an even better deal.

More on living in Spain in another post. Hasta luego!

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October 30, 2018

DIY Kid's Avengers Black Widow Costume



She's been Hulk, she's been Thor, now Babs has chosen Black Widow for this year's costume. Maybe next year we'll branch out of the Avengers. Maybe not.

Widow Bites Bracelets

2 sheets Black construction paper
Elastic thread & hand sewing needle
Glue

Cut strips 2.5" x 4". (Sizes may vary depending on your child's wrist size.) 2.5" will be the length of the "bullets" and 4" ensures enough layers to be sturdy. Find a marker or glue stick that's the diameter you want the bullets to be. Wrap the strip around the marker and glue liberally.



Babs is 4.5 years old and I used 10 bullets for each bracelet. I should probably have done more, because when the elastic stretched, there were gaps.



Thread the elastic thread onto the needle and take a short stitch through the seam side of the bullet, about 1/2" from the short end. Stitch through each bullet. Cut the elastic with plenty extra. Repeat for the opposite short ends. Tie around your child's wrist, making sure it's tight enough to stay on, but not too tight! Keep in mind if they're going to be wearing multiple layers of clothing under the bracelet.



Black Widow Belt

Buckle
Elastic
Grey sheet of craft foam
Markers

Cut a length of 1"-wide elastic 2" longer than your child's waist. Thread one end through the female buckle end and stitch. Thread the opposite end through the male end.



I practiced my Black Widow hourglass on some paper, then used that as my template to trace onto the sheet of grey foam paper. I drew in the inner shapes and let Babs color them in red and black.



Glue the foam piece onto the front of the buckle.





A long-sleeved black shirt and black pants and she was doing parkour in the living room.



Happy Halloween!

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October 8, 2018

DIY Greek Yogurt Recipe

I LOVE greek yogurt. It's high in protein, great for your digestive and immune systems, plus it tastes delicious.

But a tub of that stuff runs $6 a pop at our hometown store. An expensive habit like Chobani really adds up. So the DIY-er in me wondered, Can I make that myself? Turns out you can!

Save 2-3 TBSP from your store-bought tub of Greek yogurt to use as your starter culture and incubate your own batch in the dehydrator.


Supplies:

  • Starter culture from store-bought Greek yogurt (straight-up, not the "blended" kind with sugar flavorings)
  • Candy thermometer or a meat thermometer
  • Sieve
  • Cheesecloth
  • Jars
  • Dehydrator (you can use other things for incubators, like an oven on low temp)

1: Heat 4 cups (1 pint) whole milk to 160 F. We're killing off any bad bacteria.


2: Cool it off to 120-115.


3: Scoop out 1 cup and add your 2-3 TBSP of starter culture. Stir it up real good, get those cultures allllll incorporated. Then add it back into the main pot and stir that up real good.

4: Transfer them all to heat-proof containers, cover (not airtight--simply to keep dust/bacteria out of the jars) and set in dehydrator at 110 F for 8-10 hours. Mine typically go more toward the 10-hour end to make sure it's completely set. (Try not to check on it, but to test if it's set, tilt the jar. If the yogurt comes off the side of the jar in one mass, it's done.)



5: Let cool for 2ish hours. This step is actually important. Impatient Me has skipped this before and been disappointed. Cooling allows the yogurt to firm up even more, otherwise if you pour fresh warm yogurt into your cheesecloth, you'll get a lot of white unformed yogurt in the whey.

6: Pour into cheesecloth-lined sieve, set over a pot to catch the whey. Let strain for 1-2 hours, depending on how thick you like your yogurt. (Check out this post on what to do with that liquid gold whey you strained out.)




The yogurt will come off the cheesecloth in one creamy lump of glorious nutrition.


Store in the fridge for a week or so, I guess; ours never lasts that long. Don't forget to save 2-3 TB for your next batch!

BONUS MUESLI "RECIPE"

Muesli is traditionally an oat-based granola/cereal, but use coconut flakes and nuts instead for a lower-carb option. A couple scoops add the perfect crunch to a big bowl of homemade yogurt.

1 cup roasted salted sunflower seeds
1 cup roasted salted pepitas (aka pumpkin seeds)
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup chopped almonds

Add in some sliced strawberries or bananas (and mayyyyybe a dollop of honey on special occasions) and enjoy.