A day in the life.

I’m on a roll – two posts in one day! Had some thoughts so going somewhat stream of consciousness on my Wednesday. Had class from 9 – 1. Four hours is a lot each day but still loving it thanks to an amazingly patient, kind, dedicated and talented teacher. I have a long way to go, but you can’t say I’m not trying. Point of reference – school is about 3 blocks from home. I pass by the beautiful campus of the University of Barcelona every day.

Came home for a quick change and walked the two blocks to the bus stop so I can make my way across town to meet a friend for our regular Wednesday singles game. Those who know me well, know that I’m better at doubles than singles, nevertheless we have great games every week. I walk in the door around 4:00 and head off immediately with Lilly – there are errands to be run.

The goal of this day’s excursion was to find some Rice Krispies. We did that at our first stop – a nice grocery store about 5 blocks from the house. You should know that there is another one closer (a lot are closer) but they don’t carry Rice Krispies. Off to Fruteca, our favorite little fruteria. We get the usuals – fresh milk, yogurt, fresh juices, clementines (oh, how we eat so many clementines), limes, blood oranges, and pre-packaged ibérico ham and fresh eggs. Net door is a bakery that we normally find with a line snaking down the block. We were in luck and walked right in. Bought a couple fresh loaves of bread, a tasty chocolate muffin and seasonal, delicious, sugary small donuts. With all the groceries and now fruit and milk weighing down our shoulders and filling our canvas bags, maybe we should make our way home. Then I remember the cute little spot for coffee on the way home – ODD KIOSK. Picture the cutest little pink kiosk, serving the best coffee brand in the city, stocked with curated and curious gay art. It’s amazing. And the owner in his adorable pink apron and awesome spectacles. I introduced myself (yes, in Spanish) and explained that we were soon to be neighbors! It’s actually just one block from what will be our new apartment in a few weeks! More on that later.

Queer Coffee is their mantra!

Coffee in hand, the bags were starting to get heavy. Dropped our haul off at the apartment with plans to go right. back. out. I had more errands. Again with canvas bags in hand we headed out for the liquor store (3 blocks from home). Got what I needed, even asking in Spanish for the ginger beer that was not in its usually spot on the shelf. The gracious employees knew just where it was in back, explaining that the shipment had arrived but it was not yet out. I feel more and more like a local every week. I promised Lilly that she could grab an A&W from Taste of America on the same block. It’s just what it sounds like – mostly American food imported and sold at ridiculous prices. I couldn’t pass up the bag of marshmallows though – I mean, we had a fresh box of Rice Krispies….we needed to make treats! Ok. Doubled back down the block, popped in the cooking store to do some recon on a soda siphon and French press. Didn’t need to buy anything but always fun to stop in. OK. Now around the corner to the gourmet store owned by the same people as the liquor store. These guys are total pros. I wasn’t sure how to describe them to you all – so I found this sweet picture online. Although the product line is slightly more updated than shown to included hand-carved jamón, cheeses, foie gras, the fanciest water I’ve ever seen, and a curated wine shop, this picture perfectly represents the space. The men all wear the same style uniform. It’s 2021 not 1960 and I love it so much! All I needed was a bit more ham (we ALWAYS have local ham in the house) and cheese and we were out the door. Walking back the few blocks to home I was reminded just how close everything is for us. And just how beautiful the surrounding architecture. Every day I notice something new and beautiful.

So, that’s a bit of a day in the life here. News from home is that our dads have both had their first vaccine shots…could it mean that travel is going to open up in the coming months? We feel like there is a light at the end of what has been a dark and lonely tunnel for them. We want to share all of this with our dads and whoever else can make their way over. Eventually.

Oh – and we are changing apartments! This apartment has served us well and was a great place to start our Barcelona life…but it is a bit small and has too many problems to overcome (still don’t have a fridge in its proper place, just one sitting near where it belongs in our tiny, tiny kitchen). We are sad to leave our kind, helpful doorman, Hugo. He’s the bright spot here! We will still come back and bring him sweets. Will post pictures when we get in our new place in a couple weeks. It’s 3 blocks up the street. That’s all for know. Love to you all.

Climbing Tibidabo! A nice little Sunday.

I realize the reason I don’t post on a regular basis is that uploading photos isn’t intuitive, and it’s a bit clunky. I want to share what we are doing so I am throwing up my hands on the photos for now. Too many days have passed where I have something fun or silly to share, so here goes…

We’ve been meaning to hike around Tibidabo since we arrived and finally carved out the time this past Sunday to explore. After I played a great game of doubles with a friend and new acquantances, we hopped a cab which brought us to one side of the “mountain,” dropping us along the side of the road. We walked along the road on a well-travelled foot path wondering where the actual hiking and nature was that we wanted. After a few minutes we saw the group in front of us cross the road and jump on a gravel path. We followed behind. Success at finding a steep and rocky and shaded path! After a about 10 minutes we were united with the main trail finding ourselves among others out to enjoy a perfect Sunday. The path was wide enough for mountain bikers and walkers and adorable dogs. We followed along and found ourselves at the top surrounded by spectacular views. Along the way we were wowed by clear views to the Mediterranean and vistas up and down the coast. We could see nearly all of Barcelona. We spotted the field where Lilly plays lacrosse each week too. At the very top we were treated to views of snow-capped Pyrenees – but when we twisted our heads we saw the Mediterranean and the beach. Really, really good stuff!

Wandering to the foot of the famous church, we snapped off a quick photo or two and set off towards the bottom. Oh – at the top there is also a fun little amusement park. Electing to head down the other side of the mountain, we decided to walk and see just what this side had to offer. We had other grand views of the coast and could see straight to our neighborhood. We cut in and out of gravel paths and the side of the one road leading to the top. The cable car station was abandoned and is not currently run (sad, no tourists). We carried on, winding through a beautiful shady park. When we eventually found ourselves at the bottom we toyed with the idea of grabbing a bus back home, but because we hadn’t meandered in this part of the city we hoofed it back home. It is literally ONE long, lovely street from the base of the mountain to our apartment about 3 miles away. Hunger set in at some point so we grabbed hot dogs and fries, sat on a nearby park bench and recharged. With full bellies we carried on to home.

Here are some good photos of what we saw – taken by someone else. 🙂 Click and Scroll

I don’t know that I’ve explained the latest lockdown/restrictions here in Barcelona, and they are worth noting. Restaurants are only allowed to offer in person dining between the hours of 8-9:30 am and 1:00 – 3:30 pm, and takeout can carry on throughout the day, ending at 10:00. There is a 10:00 curfew. We are also not allowed to leave Barcelona proper – AT ALL. Oh, and retail stores that are non-essential must close on Saturday and Sunday. And any stores over 400M can’t be open at all (shopping malls, large department stores, bookstore, etc.). It’s all so strange and surreal. In order to work around things we have developed a bit of a new “routine.” I have class from 9-1 Monday through Friday so David and the kids hang out then. Because we are up late that usually means the kid sleep in and get rolling later than they probably should. We typically make reservations for lunch about 2-3 days a week, taking advantage of the only time we are all available for a meal. David starts his work day around 3:00 and we start school. Dinners have changed since we can’t do late night dining like we so enjoyed early on. Now it’s takeout or a simple home cooked meal.

The sun was shining and all was right in the world for us. Even though the stores and restaurants were shuttered we had a full day. The view from our corner straight up to the top of Tibidabo we are gifted each day is grand (the road we walked home). Fun to finally climb to the top and see what all the fuss was about! We are grateful for all this beautiful city gives us every day.

*edit- I spent another 30 minutes fighting my phone, texting myself pictures from David’s phone and uploading to this post. This is not in my strike zone.

Residency Card Experience

This is the strange story of how I sort-of got my Spanish residency card (it still isn’t ready to be picked up).

When I went to go apply for my residency card, all my papers were good but the passport-style pictures we had taken at Walgreens in the US were apparently unacceptable. When my mom and brother went through the same process a couple weeks before, (it took a long time to get an appointment for me) the employee who approved them was baffled by the size of their photos. After much struggle, they just cut off the sides to make it smaller (they were very dramatic about it). The same thing happened to my dad. I, which I thought was lucky, had two photos that were taken on different occasions, one is in my current passport and the other is a backup. Because I had two that were pretty similar, we cut off the size of one of the photos to match it to the size my dad’s photo which had been cut down.

When we went to the appointment, the size of the photo was not the issue, it was the background color. I do not speak spanish so all I heard the employee say to my mom was blanco (white). I assumed that it was because the background of my photo was too white. For one of my two photos I thought there was no way to argue that the background wasn’t white, because it definitely is. For the other photo I thought there was a little brown so we might be able to use it as a non white background, even though I would still qualify it as a white. Turns out, he was flustered that the photo (according to him) did not have a white enough background. So he made us leave and go across the street to get a new photo. I was not ready at all because I had no idea that I was going to have my picture taken for a government document that day. We walked in, I sat down in front of the white screen, the lady there picked up her camera, I took off my mask for no more than five seconds, she took my picture, I put on my mask, and four copies of my picture were printed out (because they only come in four packs, obviously). We went back across the street and it all worked out, but it was still an aggravating process. Since you are given your picture back, because apparently only a scanned version of your is needed, I now have four copies of a really medicare picture of myself. Because I don’t have in person school this year, I thought it would be funny to send them to family members back in the U.S. as my school picture for this year. So, if you receive a copy in the mail, enjoy! You can totally frame it, though it is only about 1×1 inches big.

Surf’s Up!

This is yet another post I drafted weeks ago. Busy days continue.  Not sure if I mentioned it in an earlier post, but Lilly has started practicing with the only lacrosse team in all of Cataluña, the Barcelona Dracs.  She is the youngest player out there but totally crushing it in practice.  Most of the women are bilingual, native Spanish speakers.  David and I are both so proud of her for just jumping in to join the team when she doesn’t speak the language, knows absolutely no-one and is so young.  Most of the girls learned the game while studying in the United States, fell in love with the sport and came back to a country that doesn’t even know lacrosse!  We have been told that basically every woman in the area who plays is on the field with this team…all 16 of them.  Several girls have never even picked up a stick and are trying it for the first time.  It’s amazing to see their energy and enthusiasm.  We take the metro to the field they share with the men’s team twice a week.  On Tuesdays practice runs until after 10:30 pm when the women, without Lilly, head to grab a beer. *November update – sports practices are cancelled, bugger.

Lilly leads the way as we go to practice – soon she’ll be able to ride by herself.

Kids are doing great with our crazy, unpredictable schedule.  We know that if we want to travel we need to double up on schoolwork some days.  This means Cameron and I spend extra time side by side working through math and grammar, among other subjects.  We have fun linking together the topics of world history with landmarks here and in France.  I think his exposure to architecture, world history, art and geography are proving rewarding and interesting.  Maybe more so for me… but Cameron seems rather engaged. We’ve also watched movies and travel shows set in cities we’ve visited – cracks us all up to see so much look familiar on the tv.

September 17 – 20:

We made good on a promise to get Cameron his first surfing lesson – in San Sebastian. Man, I had not been there since college and it was so much better to explore and dine when you aren’t a broke college student.  Cameron had the good fortune of an awesome instructor, Borja, who gave Cameron a few minutes of pointers on the beach and within 15 minutes they were in the water.  Cameron caught the first wave and was up like a champ.  It was amazing!!!! We sat on shore watching two dudes chatting and reading waves.  To see Cam have such success so quickly was an added bonus.  I don’t think Cameron stopped smiling for hours.  He did such a great job and had so much fun we got him another lesson the next day.  As luck would have it, they had slightly bigger waves that were just right for Cameron to try.  Sitting on the beach I knew Cameron was completely safe out there; Borja was always nearby, coaching him on which waves to take and which to pass on.  It was another great morning.

As tends to be the case, we then wandered the town and hit up a few local shops and restaurants.  San Sebastian is known for their pintxos

https://www.euskoguide.com/food-drink-basque-country/pintxos-pinchos/

and the world-renowned food scene did not disappoint.  We didn’t book any fancy pants spots or Michelin starred establishments but rather stuck to the tried and true pintxos bars where we would pop in, grab a few bites from the bar, enjoy a glass of local txakoli

and then would move on.  One night we let the kids have pizza in the room while we barhopped (think spaced tables, no one actually at the counters, and mostly snacking outside).  It gave us the chance to sample some local delicacies and catch up.  David continues to work on our excursions so we hit the town after his workday is done after about 10:00/10:30.

We left San Sebastian behind and headed up the coast of the Bay of Biscay to enjoy lunch in the sweet little town of Saint-Jean-de-Luz.  Rick Steves, my favorite guidebook author, told us about free parking and it was right where he promised.  Found one of many restaurant-lined streets, plopped down and lunched.  Wandering the town for a few minutes after lunch was nice, but the rain rolled in so we took our leave.  Next stop: Biarritz, France.

I understand why the rich and famous like to vacation there – it is absolutely stunning.  Our hotel was centrally located so we dropped our bags, grabbed the map and walked the striking promenade for a long time.  Cameron gleefully watched the hundreds of surfers braving the much bigger waves, explaining which waves were good and which would break short.  He’s hooked.  It was breezy and a bit chilly and rain was sputtering, but it didn’t dampen our spirits or our drive to be outside and watch the waves crash into the shore.  The old town offered more shops, food, drink and shelter from the now pouring rain.  Sampling the local craft brews under a portico where we could watch the world pass by was a treat.  The hotel suggested a nice little spot for dinner.  The place was buzzing, and a couple of small birthday celebrations at neighboring tables told me this was a place for locals.  We took our lead from the owner who picked the perfect meal, including some tasty squid that the kids surprisingly liked.  *note:  I just read this to Lilly and her quote about the squid was that she “more or less tolerated it!” Another full day was behind us and our beds were calling.  We had another “family” room where our bed and the pullout for the kids were side by side with almost no room to squeeze over to the bathroom. Chatting is easy when you’re inches apart as we fall asleep and reminisce about our day’s adventures.  My brother, Quinn, can probably recall all the silliness and laughter we shared as a family on our European adventures in our tight quarters.  We would have been close to the same ages as Lilly and Cameron on one such memorable trip! 

OK. So that brings us up to around September 21. I know, I know. I’m on it.

*Covid update from Barcelona (as I type this on November 9): restaurants have been closed for in-person service for a little over 2 weeks. They are allowed to offer take-out and delivery. Shops are restricted to lower numbers but still open. Malls are closed (doesn’t matter to us). Sports teams cancelled for now – no tennis lessons or lacrosse. This one stings. We were traveling for the first couple weeks of the restrictions in Italy (another post coming when I get to it) so we were not too affected. Now that we are back we still do our wandering and shopping and takeout. On the plus side, I have more time to get these posts done.

Weekend in the Pyrenees!

Time continues to fly by for us here in Spain. Can’t believe it will be a month on Monday that we’ve been here.

UPDATE: This is all old news. It is now NOVEMBER 6. This story happened weeks ago! We snuck away to the Pyrenees to see another part of the region. It was most definitely cooler, mountainous, gorgeous and we loved our 4.5 mile hike along a beautiful gorge – Ruta de las Gorges Carança.


Cameron had been asking for a good hike – and he got one. It was challenging, stunning scenery, a little dicey, dangerous and Cameron approved. David took a couple videos as we clung to the safety rope along the cliffs. At maybe three to five feet across at points, this mama was grateful the kids had something to hold on to. At the highest I am guessing we were probably 300 feet above the gorge. The whole thing seemed a bit surreal. As we hit what we assumed was the halfway point (yeah, no helpful maps or blazes along the way) David, ever the responsible dad and husband, reminded us that rain was predicted and we needed to pick up the pace. When it was safe to do so and we were not perilously clinging to the side of the mountain to avoid plunging into the gorge, we jogged and tried to make double time. And…just as we finished putting our pack in the truck and climbed in the car the rain began to fall. We would NOT have wanted to spend any time on a rain-soaked trail.

Tiny ledges….very high above the gorge.


David navigated the switchbacks in the rain like a champ. We also used the time to teach the children an important life skill….how to use an atlas. A-T-L-A-S. We bought one the second day in the city for a couple of reasons. First – you never know when your signal is going to drop and your mapping app quits on you. Second – google maps doesn’t make it easy to spot what might be a cute little mountain village or a town you should quickly research and visit. Grateful that our car had awesome navigation, but we did notice what looked like a neat mountain town off in the distance – the atlas helped identify said adorable town so we headed over to Font-Romeu-Odeillo-Via.

A tuckered Cameron zonked almost before we were out of the parking lot after the hike. Lilly and David volunteered to do the reconnoissance mission in the cold, pouring rain while I selflessly stayed in the dry, warm car so Cam could continue to snooze. Mission accomplished. A rain-soaked Lilly returned to lead us to a cute, warm restaurant. The waffles, crepes, cappuccino and hot chocolate with whipped cream warmed our innards and fueled us for a walkabout. The town was virtually void of all visitors, but we were grateful for the few enterprising shop owners who kept their doors open. Forgot to mention that we were in France. We actually kept jumping the border from Spain into France all weekend, mostly because of a funny little island city of Spain surrounded by France. Click the article to learn about that!

Anyway – we had success finding a few tasty French cheeses, a bottle of local beer and another bottle of local liquor from a lovely French woman who graciously helped us. She didn’t speak English and I don’t speak French. She just kept telling us to use google translate when her French didn’t quite translate for me. It wasn’t until 20 minutes into the conversation that it occurred to me that we were minutes from the Spanish border and she might just speak Spanish. Yep. We had a good chuckle since we could have simply been chatting in Spanish the whole time. Our conversation continued and turns out that when two people speak broken Spanish to one another you can communicate pretty well – and no one judges the grammatical errors or conjugation flaws!



The next day we headed back to Girona and showed the kids the church and old town. We previously visited this area with our dads (see Octogenarians in Spain blog) and used it as a chance to recreate some photos. The kids stood in for Lou and Denny. As we climbed and wandered the kids appreciated that their grandfathers made it up the dozens of steep, stone stairs and around the hilly city! I’ll try to upload a split shot of our recreations later – poor David has been tasked with that one.

Girona


Today, September 11, is a Catalan holiday. (remember I said I drafted this long ago, just roll with it). We wandered a bit just to see what the locals would do to commemorate the day. Typically there would be upwards of one million residents filling the streets to show their support for an independent Cataluña, but the pandemic curbed most of the big plans. Keenly aware that we didn’t want to find ourselves in a huge crowd or near any sort of riots (we haven’t heard of any) we wandered different neighborhoods to observe how folks were showing their Catalan pride. Lots of folks wearing their flags as capes, one small, very orderly and spaced out march (pro-Communist I might add). Here are a couple of interesting articles about the significance of the day in this region of Spain and an explanation about the different flags flown here in Cataluña. We spent a good amount of time at a local coffee shop reading to the kids and discussing what it means for Barcelona, Cataluña and Spain as a whole. Interesting stuff.

https://www.barcelonas.com/la-diada.html


https://www.barcelonas.com/catalan-flags.html


OK. So that has you caught up through September 11, nearly seven weeks ago. I’ll try to catch up again on our next adventures. But, know this: our days are filled with exploring, schoolwork, coffee shops, people watching, researching cities near to us, road tripping (when and where it’s safe), checking out markets, eating on sidewalks and late night walks to the best darn gelato shop in the city.

More coming. I promise. – I am racing to play catch up. Writing the blogs is the easy part – uploading the right pictures is really dragging me down and causing all the delay.


Rome and Stuff

While many people stay at home or go to school in this crazy pandemic, we instead went to a couple places in Italy. It has been my dream since the 6th grade to travel to Rome and see the ancient ruins. We drove 12 hours to Florence on a Wednesday and as we were driving into the city, we passed a street that led directly to the Duomo. Only my mom and I saw it as we were passing and my dad and brother were confused by our gasps. Our apartment was on the top floor (a lot of steps) and there was a giant porch that looked directly onto the Duomo and the main square.

We went to a couple museums where there were absolutely no tourists, a line that would usually take 3 hours took us 10 minutes. We went to see Michelangelo’s David and there were only 10(ish) people in there. Our Rick Steves audio guide warned us about crowds and how to book for tickets months in advance; we booked two days before. We also took a paper marbling class. To marble paper there were trays with water where we sprinkled a fancy type of paint using a certain brush. There are a bunch of different techniques that you use for the paper like swirling and using a comb. We didn’t get to pick our own colors but it was cool to see the different versions of each style that we all did. You set the paper on top of the water and peel it out. We were in Florence for four days and then drove to Rome for another four.

Our first night in Rome we went out to dinner because it was the last night in Italy where restaurants would be open past 6pm (due to COVID). After dinner we stumbled across the Pantheon, no tourists, and went to the Trevi Fountain to throw in the obligatory coins. We went on a food tour near the Colosseum and later a tour of the Vatican Museum. It was just us on the tour which was really nice because we could learn more about the art and when we were in the Sistine Chapel there were only 20 other people. We went to the Roman Forum and learned about archeological  discoveries that our guide had made. We also went to the Colosseum which was amazing, that is the part of Rome that I wanted to see the most. I think it is so interesting how so much of it has been destroyed but it is still intact and gigantic. There used to be pieces of metal holding the structure together but they have been removed and turned into other things, so now it is standing on its own and is still in one piece.

Before we left the city my dad and I decided to go back to the Vatican and climb to the top. There was no one in line when we had our temperatures taken and only three groups in front of us when we went through security. I think we were the only people who used the stairs because we didn’t hear any voices when we were going up but at the top there was a decent number of people who I think took the elevator. It was a lot of fun and an insane amount of stairs but the view into the Vatican was amazing and we could see all the artwork that looked like paintings from far away but were actually made of countless small tiles. We have been to many other places since we last blogged but Italy has been my favorite. More updates on other subjects coming soon…

This is a time-lapse of the stairs going down from the top of the Vatican, it was a lot of stairs.

Guess what I just found!

I can’t believe we’ve been here almost a month already! Wow, it is speeding by faster than I even imagined. We don’t even have a well working shower yet—ours is like a combination of getting hit with a fire hose while someone simultaneously spits on you. But other than some upkeep issues, our apartment is ideal, and in the PERFECT location. All part of the experience—especially the shower, which is a true adventure.

Thank God Kate & Lilly have been on top of the blog. I did have good intentions—do have good intentions—but there is so much to do here. I haven’t written and I’ve barely read. When I do have free time I prefer to just set out (hopefully with Kate or the kiddos) in some new direction and discover more of what this amazing city has to offer. And it is so packed full that even the same route reveals new gems on each and every excursion.

I’ve always been someone who relishes the unopened gift on Christmas (I never tried to sneak a peek)—Whatever could be in there?? BCN is like a city of unopened Christmas gifts. Each night… or day… or Thursday… I don’t know, schedules aren’t really a thing… the gates and doors are closed on businesses, often covering their sign and any clues about what’s inside. You walk by some small, closed door without ever questioning what is behind the gate and graffiti art. Then one pass you see it open and discover some amazing cocktail bar or craft beer shop, a giant, multi-level bookstore, a store that sells nothing but rubber ducks, an art gallery, a barreled vermouth bar, a giant bike shop, and of course endless markets, cafes, and restaurants. I literally just saw a hotel across the street from us I hadn’t noticed until yesterday. Seriously.

And that’s just here in our neighborhood.

Speaking of our neighborhood, for those familiar, we are in Central Eixample which is just West of Plaça de Catalunya (away from the water). The Plaça divides four sections of Barcelona: El Raval, The Gòtic Quarter (+ El Born) and Left & Right Eixample—so we are close to all the action! Rambla de Catalunya divides the two sides, so officially we are are on the left, or “Gayxample.” It’s got a ton of energy and a great vibe! Just beyond the quarters are Barceloneta (the beach) and Gracia, La Sagrada Familia & other Gaudi creations and I guess other things too… we have a lot more exploring to do!

These are just some of our finds on our “Been There Done That” and “Want to Go” Google Maps lists. When friends and family are finally able to visit, we have a long and growing list of great places for you to discover.

One find not too exciting for everyone else, but great for me is the WeWork on Passeig de Gràcia. It has been a quick and easy place to go work rooftop, use a printer, and get away for calls where I need privacy. It is just one block away, in-between a huge FC Barcelona store and a Gaudi building, and open late. The time difference has had a few challenges, but honestly been a pretty easy transition. I LOVE having my mornings free to go for a walk, hang with the family, then start working in the afternoon. We may sneak out occasionally at 10pm for a dinner (totally normal time here), but that’s 4pm back home, so really able to keep US hours for the most part. And for travel it works great because we can take our time Monday morning—or any morning. Have I had a conference call end at midnight? Yes, but totally worth it. Oh, also WeWork has free coffee and beer.

Fractional Petsolt

Those of you I work with know I try to work in new places as often as possible… why not!? Here are my daily snapshots of a work location and view on Instagram @FractionalPetsolt

(COVID did make this a bit challenging back in SOP, but I did my best to keep it going)

I have so much more to share, but that’s it for now. Please read the blogs from Kate & Lilly about all the details and much better writing—I will try to do a better job of memorializing my thoughts about this adventure and share some stories too. I promise!

Salud

The More the Merrier the More We Rice

So, based on this being a blog post about living in Spain, it is now safe to assume that I live in Spain. The day we moved was the day that most people were starting up school so people were posting on Instagram about how they went to school or whatever and my thought was, that’s cool too but I moved to Spain today (not that it’s a competition or anything). Here are some small stories that have happened since we’ve moved. 


Tiny Cactus Smuggling

Last Christmas I got three tiny cactuses, and by tiny I mean none of them were bigger than my thumb. Anyway, when you travel internationally you are not allowed to bring over any living things in your luggage. Since the cactuses were so small, I just put them in an empty retainer case in the middle of my suitcase with the hope they would not be destroyed. They made it to the apartment completely fine but I forgot to open them for a while so one of the cactuses is now almost dead(oops). 


The Climb

They say that, at most, only 891 have made it to the summit of Everest in one year so we had reason to be afraid. As we approached we could barely see the top through the glaring sun, but we knew we had to keep going. The first day we made it three levels, it was amazing how different the landscape was and how it reached further than the eye could see. A few days later, we passed through three and on to four, five, and six. By then, you could tell that the air was getting thinner as you wound through the pathways up, up, up. Every level provided some reward that you were not expecting to see. Another day went by and we reached the eighth stage but we couldn’t go any further, it was too much to tackle. Finally the day came where we again reached the eighth stage but this time, we were prepared to press on. There was no turning back as we stepped on the escalator and up to the 9th floor of El Corte Ingles. Awaiting us were treasures beyond imaginable, the cafeteria. It was filled with pastas and sandwiches and burgers and churros, oh the churros so covered in sugar and with a side of chocolate for dipping. At this point it was confirmed that everything we had gone through was worth it and that there were no regrets about what we ordered. 


Eau de Q

The other weekend we went to the French Riviera. We were visiting a couple of cities and one of them (we didn’t know this until after we had already picked to go there) was my Grandma’s favorite town. The town is called Eze and it is a little medieval  town with small winding streets going up and down with beautiful vistas hidden in gaps between buildings. The day we were there the Tour de France was passing through so we went and saw that, as you do. Before the bikes came through a parade with cars came through that threw random merchandise into the crowd such as random smallish and long paper banners that were for some a random car company that was in no way related to the Tour de France. We waited for the bikes to come for a while but when they did, they came in waves. That was pretty awesome except the kid in front of me when the bikes were passing by was waving his arms around making it impossible to take a clear picture. He also had one of those banners that were given out and he was waving it up and down in a circle which made it nearly impossible to take a picture let alone see. Enough about that, the next day we came back to Eze for a perfume experience. We went to a workshop and my mom and I created our own perfumes. Cameron helped my mom and my dad helped me but he claims that all the scents smelled good which wasn’t helpful but did make me feel good about my choices. After 2 ½ hours of perfume mixing our scents were ready for us to take home in a fancy bottle. They then had to ferment (I know that’s not the correct word but it is relatively funny when referring to a good smelling perfume) for two weeks. The car ride back was an absolute nightmare because everyone but me decided to try on the already crafted perfumes and cologne in the store which made the car a collage of those scents along with the ones we had been intentionally smelling for hours. That being said, we all smell very delightful now. 


The More the Merrier the More We Rice

One night when we were in France we were trying to find a place to eat. Since none of us speak French we used the google translate app where you can hold up the camera up some words (like a road sign or menu) and it switches what it says to English. Anyway, we held up the app on my phone to the image of the menu on my mom’s phone and it translated. The translation was very off with the craziest menu item called “the more the merrier the more we rice.” We decided to turn the translated menu items into a poem, please read the picture and try and read it as a poem. 

Tour de France! What?

Our first road trip in Europe did not disappoint. Note: long post ahead – these blogs are to fill in family and friends and will serve as a bit of a journal for us so will include many details. We are most certainly counting our blessings that we can safely travel by car and explore nearby France. David was at the rental agency Friday morning when they opened and we were out the door by about 7:45. First stop Aix-en-Provence, maybe a 4.5 hour drive from home. Checked in early to our hotel so we could drop our things and park the car. It all came flooding back – the tiny, tiny parking garages. I mean, there was about 2 inches of clearance on either side of the car as we snaked down into the garage. And while David to me seems somewhat absent-minded when he is behind the wheel in Southern Pines, when we are on switchbacks, small roads and trying to navigate a parking space made for a Mini Cooper, there is no one I would rather have behind the wheel. He is the master. Anyway – set off on foot to see what this little old town had to offer. Lunch outdoors under giant umbrellas with a carafe of local rosé and a gorgeous and delicious salad with the biggest piece of burrata on top seemed like a pretty good way to kick off the weekend. Bliss. As is our way, we wandered down cobblestone streets, doubled back on ourselves because we didn’t know where we were, hit a few local shops, walked some more. David scooted back to work from the hotel while the kids and I walked and walked and walked some more. Grabbed David for a bite to eat across town. More rosé, more delicious (not fancy) French food, more catching up and laughing at the dinner table. One observation for our 2 weeks here in Europe – I have maybe heard five different groups of people we have passed speaking English. Normally I feel like there’s English all around. This is a nice change. Oh, another observation is that the French smoke so, so much. In Barcelona proper we see folks smoking outside at restaurants and occasionally on the street, but in France it seemed like EVERYONE was ALWAYS smoking. Gag.

We originally made plans for a free wine tasting at a local vineyard and then decided it might be more fun to just scoot over to the next town where we had a hotel booked. This meant a drive down into Nice where I wanted to catch the Grand Corniche – the beautiful elevated roadway overlooking the Côte d’Azur (French Riviera). Fortunate to have been on many scenic drives but this one takes the cake for me! Every turn presented a grand view, and overlooking Monaco from high above was a treat. Cameron pointed out the luxury yachts moored in the bays. I don’t know what those people do (or don’t do) to have such opulent boats.

Menton is the citrus capital of the area so everything is lemons. Our check in at the hotel included fresh squeezed lemonade – a nice touch on a hot day. The hotel was situated on the Lower Corniche (basically Ocean Boulevard) and our room overlooked the mountains out back. Normally I might be disappointed to not face the water, but the view out back with enormous windows open all night offered a glimpse into life in this sweet town. You’ll see a theme emerging…. we set out for town, map in hand, and wandered the colorful and steep streets to the cemetery at the top of the old town. What a view! We then meandered back a different way, got lost (not really, but we did do more doubling back), and found our way to the more commercial district. The highlight this afternoon was the kids getting into the Mediterranean and bobbing around. We found a beachfront Italian restaurant (we were about 2 kilometers from the French/Italian border still on the French side) where we were covered with giant umbrellas when the rain began to fall. The kids, undeterred, kept swimming and enjoying the water. We shared a couple of pizzas, David and I had more rosé (told you there was a trend) and we waited out the rain. Kids dried off, threw their clothes back on, shared some tiramisu and a lemon tart, and we were off. We picked up some tasty and locally made limoncello, honey, soaps and art. We think Menton is a great little town and enjoyed the colored buildings and contrasting shutters. We considered surprising Lilly by walking on the promenade over to Italy but – COVID. Another time, kid. We freshened up and had a late dinner at a hopping spot a few minutes from the hotel then back to bed.

I failed to mention that while driving the Grand Corniche we saw signs indicating it was part of the route for the Tour de France which got us wondering how and where we might catch a glimpse. Or was that totally wishful thinking? Our hotel was able to clue us in, explaining it would be passing through Èze the next afternoon. We tend to have pretty good luck when traveling and this day proved no different – we were already booked to stay in Èze the next night. The tour schedule had all been changed thanks to COVID so we were in luck. We got up early and made our way down to the medieval town, parked our car (this time in what I might even call a full sized parking lot which was awesome), and made our way to the pool. Our room wasn’t ready so we lounged, swam, read and took a bazillion selfies from the infinity pool overlooking the Mediterranean. I would argue this was one of the prettiest views I’ve ever had from a hotel. Since our room still wasn’t ready and we wanted to hit the town and see about those bikers coming through, we changed back and set out for town. This was a dicey situation as we walked 25 minutes down the same beautiful roads we had been driving… BLIND CORNERS, SPEEDING DRIVERS, NO SHOULDERS. David was our brave leader in his bright pink shirt ready to take one for the team, you know, if a car should come too close and pluck him off! We made it without incident to the cobblestoned, hilly old town. We learned a little bit earlier that this town was my mother-in-law’s favorite town on the French Riviera, making it especially meaningful as we explored. We could all picture her going in all the little shops and enjoying her wine at a picturesque little restaurant. Our lunch was a trip…. everything was pretty much shut down because the Tour was passing through. I know what you might be thinking – that would be a opportunity to stay open because of the large crowds. Me too. As it turns out there were not all that many people there to see the Tour so there were only 2 restaurants open. One was fully booked and the hostess shook her finger and head at David when he held up 4 fingers looking for a table. No go. He did manage to secure the only indoor table at a crepe and pasta and pizza restaurant. The table was literally in the kitchen. The 3 other tables outside were full and besides, they only sat two people each. The waiter was also the host and the chef. Since we were not in a hurry it was fun to watch him work, preparing one meal at a time for the other customers. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before, but I would not say that David has a grasp for picking up languages and today showcased this point to the children. The only options on the menu were 5 pizzas, 4 pastas, and 4 crepes. David picked what he assumed was some sort of Sicilian pizza thinking that meant some spicy meats and cheese. Turns out that whatever he ordered was in fact NOT a meat and cheese pizza but rather one covered in olives and anchovies. Out of curtesy and to assure our waiter/host/chef/owner that we liked his pizza when we asked several times, David ate about half. The kids and I do not do anchovies (I tried but couldn’t do it) so David plowed through. The sweet, older gentleman seemed genuinely concerned about us liking his pizza and pleased that we did (or so it appeared).

Now to the Tour de France. Seriously, the Tour de France. The barricades were set up and a small crowd began to gather. David and Lilly found a quiet little spot near the bridge (no one was allowed on the bridge for good reason) where we could catch the riders taking the turn at the bottom of a long, fast hill. There were so few people we were able to spread out. Really. After anxiously waiting about 45 minutes the riders began to come. Oh, let me back up. While we waited at a little bar about 100 feet from the barricades the merchandise trucks came by selling official gear, followed by advertising vans chucking gear and samples into the small crowd making it festive. Note: the photo of David in the bright yellow bucket hat was just him modeling; that hat is going to straight to Chuck Schirmer when we return! Then we watched about 20-40 support vehicles, maybe more, come in advance of the riders. Police, official TDF vehicles, motorcycles, ambulances, street sweepers. Yep, there was a giant street sweeper that came through and picked up most of the pine straw that had been blowing onto the course. He was preceded by a man with a blower pushing the pine straw to the curbs. And then he was followed by the same blower guy working briskly to keep up with the pace of the mess blowing onto the road. Made me think of Moore County with all the pine straw falling. Ok. Now here come the riders. They are FAST. And after the lead peloton came, all of their support vehicles careening around the bend with about half a dozen bikes on each roof rack. They were barely managing the turns – it was crazy. The bikers were cruising, the sun was shining and those around us were cheering. We waited for a few more groups to come through, including all of the support vehicles. *For those of you who know me well, you won’t be surprised to learn that I cried when the first racers came by. I mean, I saw the Tour de France!

Less exciting that afternoon was our first family game of Pétanque, a game much like the bocce we play in our backyard, except this time we are overlooking the Mediterranean. Here’s a link to a short video about the game. Despite the very simple rules we still had several disagreements about certain aspects – NO, we aren’t competitive! 🙂

I’m surprised they didn’t go find a tape measure!

After breakfast the next day Cameron, David and I squeezed in an hour of really fun, grass court tennis. While we did that, Lilly was dutifully at work on the terrace since school is officially in session. She’s so disciplined. I think she was pretty content with her set-up anyway!

We had to check out and head to town for our private perfume workshop, complete with Champagne and guidance from Caroline, Galimard’s chief perfumer. Three hours was how long it took to whittle down our favorite selections from the 127 jars in front of us. We selected from base notes, heart notes and top notes. Depending on which layer they are from (base, heart, top) the scents will linger different lengths of time. It was overwhelming and educational. Lilly’s creation is perfect for her – fresh, lovely, light. I would gladly wear it. Mine is slightly heavier but still light and just my vibe. We were told to wait two weeks for them to macerate and mature before wearing. Since that was the case, I felt like picking out another bottle at Galimard made perfect sense. Caroline walked by and told the saleslady which one I would like – not surprising, she was spot on! Our handsome gentlemen were by our sides the whole time. Cameron was especially helpful when it came time to measure each fragrance into the beaker. The formula was tweaked by Caroline who at each of four phases had us choose our favorite scents from a batch of her choosing. Once we had narrowed it down she wrote down how many millimeters of each would added to strike the right notes. Now our formulas are on file and should we want to reorder, we can. Or we can add it to lotion or body wash. Grasse, just a few miles from where we were in Èze, is the perfume capital with over 40 factories. I think Cameron was relieved to be served gummy bears, chocolates and Orangina during the workshop rather than touring multiple factories!

And just like that it was time to head home. We really packed it in and saw some beautiful scenery. We covered a lot of ground on our first “vacation” and feel like we learned a lot. I forgot to mention that prior to our trip I tasked Lilly with doing some research on the region – foods, customs, etc. In true, adorable, perfectionist, creative Lilly style she created a beautiful list, complete with pictures to share. I can say without a doubt that given more time and with safety ensured, we will head back and explore the region again.

You won’t get it right if you do it wrong!

I’m totally behind on posts so this is from a few days ago and trying to catch up to today…

MONDAY: We seem to have trouble getting the kids up and moving in the mornings here so David set off to a nearby coffee shop to get some emails sent and gear up for the week. I was not long behind since the kids were zonked out. I had the most delicious açaí bowl at Juice Dudes across from the university (a block or so from our apartment). What I really needed to do was set a lesson plan for Cameron – school is starting for us. Sure, those veteran homeschool parents already have their weeks, months or even year planned out. Not me. I’m like a day by day person. Time for me to dig in and get to work so I can make it a great year for the kids academically.

Juice Dudes! And my “lesson planner.”

Let’s back up a little bit. Remember those sleepyhead kiddos? Yeah, had to get them moving because we were hoping to show them the beach. We ambled our way down to the water after taking a little pitstop in the marina to gawk at the luxury yachts. I pulled one up online to see what the story was – on sale for 4.1 million euro. Outside our budget but fun to look. Cameron was loving it all. Anyway….to the beach. We weren’t dressed for a dip or basking in the sun but we did pack the frisbee. Cameron and David played for a while, Lilly read and I watched the people go by. It is quite pleasant, yet at the same time sort of eerie, how few people are out and about. We did notice a large police presence – huge pick pocket and petty theft area. We always have our guard up. David and Cameron dipped their toes in the water and on the way Cameron saw more topless old ladies than he wanted. I guess one was too many. Welcome to Spain, kid. Found a delightful little beach shack and sat a spell to enjoy a cold drink and a few tapas. We could not ask for a better view. Pinch me. This is just a Monday in Barcelona.

Because of the way David’s work day is arranged we spend the morning doing the fun exploring and family time and then follow it up with school/work. It’s totally flip-flopped from our routine back home but it is working out really well. Once we got back home it was high time to dig in. Lilly is pretty much on her own – too smart for me. Cameron on the other hand is stuck with Mrs. Petsolt for his first year. I would say it’s a hybrid of some online lessons and other curriculum we picked out together. English and grammar lessons were fun and easy. Math, Cameron’s long suit, was up next. I had a lesson plan and everything – remember that “extensive” planning from this morning? He took a couple shortcuts, did all the problems in his head and made 3 silly mistakes. Lilly was sitting across the table as I so wisely stated, “Cameron, you won’t get it right if you do it wrong.” The kids starting laughing hysterically at my pearl of wisdom and Captain Obvious statement. They wrote it down, put my initials by it as its author, and date stamped it. Maybe you had to be there, but I guess I need to work on my catchphrases and quips in the weeks to come. Tough crowd.

Cameron in class at our dining table – window to the courtyard open.

Charcuterie board for the grownups and Cameron’s lemon chicken, a crowd favorite, for the kids again outside. One thing we are finding a little strange – we have yet to see one other person in our neighborhood or within our view use their balcony. I don’t know why that is the case but we are on ours every day. There are many shuttered hotels around the city – one directly across from our place which explains a few of the empty balconies. In other, more dense areas of the city folks definitely take advantage of their outdoor spaces.

Lilly and I went in a used book store down the street and fortuitously found an English copy of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night which she needs to read. We also found some of Cam’s favorite graphic novels and left with 5 books for 10 euro, a good little find. Cameron ended the night catching up with a friend back home. Love that.

TUESDAY: I am embarrassed to say I am already forgetting what we have done day by day. We seem to be settling into an exploring routine and then schoolwork/work. Guessing day 2 of school was fine. Honestly, I already don’t know which end is up. Well, we did get our first delivery of groceries. The delivery man made his way up (the doorman buzzed our apartment and all of a sudden we learned our phone has a screen and it works!).

For all the packaging around the precious huevos (eggs), several were broken. What we do love – shelf stable food. Eggs on the counter that don’t take up precious refrigerator space. Using the on-line shopping as a teaching moment to show the kids words in Spanish.

Dinner with David’s former UNC professor was the highlight – we got to meet her family and catch up on so many things. Dinner started at 9:30 and we were kicked off the sidewalk at 12:00 – no one allowed in bars and restaurants after midnight. Happy to oblige, but we could have chatted for hours longer. Grateful to have a familiar and very friendly face here in our new city.

WEDNESDAY: Oh, right. I brought the kids to the Egyptian Museum (10 minute walk). Cameron had a world history lesson on Egypt and Mrs. Petsolt (that’s me) thought to tie it all together with a hands-on visit. Don’t panic – the place is not crowded on a normal day. There were a sum total 8 people. Pandemic safe. Sort of felt like I was crushing the home-school thing until the kids seemed utterly bored with all the plaques I was reading. Late night movie choice was The Imitation Game in honor of Lilly starting a heavy stats class. Again, David and I thought we were being pretty clever.

Egyptian Museum

THURSDAY: What a treat to meet up with Ashraf and Ayaan to play tennis. They met us at our apartment and we grabbed a bus to the courts – straight shot down Gran Via to a great little club. Cameron and I vs. Ashraf and Ayaan. We tied our set at 6-6. Awesome!! Pretty pumped to have found courts and a place we can take lessons. They also offer paddle ball which we might just try that as a family. I mean, why not, right? We are up for just about anything and outside sports are safe.

Tonight the kids wanted to show David the cafeteria at El Corte Inglés department store. Oh, now I remember. I brought the kids there on Tuesday for lunch. I’ll post those pictures because it was pretty epic. The view was amazing overlooking the city and they pour a VERY LARGE GLASS OF WINE for a very low price. And they serve chocolate y churros. What could be better? You could also catch a glimpse of the water. This is a beautiful city. Reminder – this is a 7 minute walk form our apartment. And we learned tonight they have sangria on tap. Have I said it before? I love this town!

Unrelated to anything – but this cracked me up – check out the picture of all the navy uniform shoes at the department store (there were two more full racks not in the frame). You really get an idea of how many Catholic kids are wearing uniforms. I had the option of like 2 pair that fit the bill for the kids when we chose back in NC – BLACK ONLINE. We opted this year to forgo the uniform – anything goes at BCN Academy.

THURSDAY PM: We are packing up for a quick getaway to Provence & the French Riviera. If all goes according to plan we shove off around 7:00 am in our rental car…. a short 4.5 hour drive and we will be in Aix-en-Provence, a first for three of us. Stay tuned for more on that. Putting to good use a book gifted to David from Sue – Epic Drives of the World. We are going to enjoy the views….

First road trip inspired by the book. Thanks, Sue! xo

The bottom line at this point – we love all things Barcelona. We love the urban setting, the proximity to markets and items we need (oh, I didn’t even mention that a brand new Aldi opened up YESTERDAY three blocks from us). I mean, could we get any luckier? There is much to see and do safely here. Finding our groove on the cadence of school will take a little bit of time but we are able to knock through a lot of material everyday. Cameron is attentive and good company. I might think differently in a month but for now I’m pretty damn content sitting next to my guy for several hours each day, learning together.