Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Spain...The Post You've All Been Waiting For

Before I left, I told you that I may not get anything written while we were gone. I don't know if I'm prescient or practical, but writing didn't happen.

For many reasons.

Primarily though-everything we experienced was so amazing and I was in sensory overload. I find it very hard to write about my experiences as I am going through them. I have to think and process and then I can write and share. So, I did little FB blips but that was about all.

Plus, I was on vacation and writing takes time, and my vacation time needed to be focused on my family and friends and what we were doing. Not on writing, editing and watermarking photos. (in the words of Jack Sparrow) Savvy?

Even now, the idea of telling you the even just the essence of the whole trip is rather daunting. I don't think it will fit into one post. At least, not into a post of coherence and reasonable length.

Here's some thoughts....

-We were gone for 16 days, 3 of which were spent solely in travel. We flew from Chicago to Istanbul and then on to Madrid the first day of travel. We spent one day traveling from Jumilla to Barcelona. And we spent our last day traveling from Barcelona to New York City (first time I've ever been to NYC!!) and then to Chicago. We were supposed to fly back through Istanbul, but our flight got cancelled. It was much shorter flying to NYC, and I think this is the only reason we aren't completely trashed right now. Moral of the takes time, and it is good to figure that in when you are planning trips.

-We planned this trip to visit our friends in Jumilla, but we figured it would be a shame to visit Spain without seeing Madrid and Barcelona. So, we spent our first 4 days in Spain in Madrid-including a day trip to Segovia, then went to Jumilla for a week, and finished up with 2 whole days exploring Barcelona.

-Because our time was limited, we decided to go wide and big picture instead of deep. We did city tours instead of visiting specific sites. I mean, we saw the outside of a whole lot of museums and sites, but only went into a few. This approach gave us a good idea of what exactly each city holds and an overview of the culture and history. It also whetted our appetites. We keep talking in terms of when we go back-not if-and what we will do the next time.

-I was convicted about my lack of Spanish. Sigh. And motivated to get my butt in gear and learn more than gracias, hola, si, haste leugo, and moy bueno. Mr. Hippie has a bit more vocabulary than I do, but I think we both will be hitting the Spanish lessons (more) faithfully. The kids did okay, but I also think they were encouraged to keep applying themselves. Which is the outcome I was hoping for.

-I mentioned before we left that we were packing light, and only packing backpacks. This worked very well. We did laundry in Madrid and Jumilla, and had plenty of clothes to not have to do laundry everyday. I think I did do laundry a lot of the days because the washers take over 2 hours to wash one load, and everything has to dry on the line-which takes plenty of time. But, getting back to the backpacks. Having a limited amount of stuff allowed us to pack and repack quickly as we moved from location to location. And we kept our souvenir purchases to a minimum because we knew we had to carry them on our backs the remainder of the trip.

-Okay, so Madrid...we rented an apartment via AirBnB. It had 3 bedrooms, plus a kitchen, bathroom, living room. It was located in downtown Madrid near one of the hub underground stations, which made getting around very convenient. The apartment was also 1/2 mile from the Prado museum, and the Park De Retiro. We spent our first afternoon at the Prado museum seeing the Goya exhibits. The next day we went on a free walking tour (Sandeman's New Europe tours) of the historical districts of Madrid. We saw churches, castles, walls, monuments, old restaurants, etc.  And we finished up that day at a Flamenco show. People recommended flamenco to us, but I can't say that it was the favorite activity for any of us. I think the music, yodeling and dancing is supposed to tell a story, but I didn't get it. Our last day in Madrid we spent eating a nice lunch at Plaza Major and on another walking tour-this time focusing on the literary and art background of Madrid. A lot of authors lived and wrote there. Several famous artists were from there. We finished up our afternoon wandering the Park de Retiro. We hung out at the fountain, and wandered the pathways. We realized after we got home that we missed the Crystal Palace in the park. Next time... Mr. Hippie also went back to the Prado for another hour or so. We loved Madrid and left wondering why everyone was all about Barcelona.

-Segovia. Segovia is an ancient town, about 100 kilometers from Madrid. It is a doable day trip from Madrid, which is how we decided to play it. There is an iconic aqueduct, cathedral, and castle. It is literally dripping in history. The aqueduct is from Roman times. You can climb up by the aqueduct. You can walk through tunnels under the aqueduct. You can visit the aqueduct museum. We climbed by it. We only did that because we wanted to visit the cathedral and castle too. The castle, Alcazar, is Isabel and Ferdinand's castle. It is where Isabel was crowned, where they were married, and where Christopher Columbus came to ask their permission and funding to go exploring the ocean. The cathedral dates from the 1500s. It's lines are clean on the outside, but it is very ornate on the inside. It was definitely worth seeing.

-Jumilla. This is the town where our friends live. It is rural. A town of olive and grape farmers. They are famous for their wine. In Jumilla we experienced everyday Spanish life. We lived Spanish schedule. Late nights, later mornings, big meal at 3:00. Our kids got to attend school with our friends' kids. LC joined their daughter in her class. The boys joined a class, but also spent at least half of every day teaching English in the English classes. The kids were celebrities, being blond Americanos. We visited the Jumilla market, and the Balneario (volcanic baths) in the nearby town of Archena. We climbed to their castle (twice), plus did some minor mountain climbing to see some ancient cave paintings. We also visited the local monastery. And walked a road that is 4000 years old. Jumilla also had a tapas competition happening. For 2,50 euro, you get a tapas and a drink. We hit the town hard several nights and got to enjoy each restaurant's best offering in the tapas department. It was fun. While in Jumilla we also got to experience some amazing Spanish home cooking. Our friend's mom is a phenomenal cook. Not only that, her sister and aunt also cooked for us. It was all delicious! We had a wonderful time in Jumilla with our friends. We talked and laughed and even cried. We went to church with them and did life with them. It was great.

-Barcelona. Sigh...people told us that you need at least 3 days to experience Barcelona. Alas, we only had two. But, we made the most of our time. We stayed a bit out of Barcelona with some friends of our Jumilla friends. Their apartment was conveniently located near the bus stop though, and from there we were able to get right into Barcelona. We walked our legs off in Barcelona. We did a 3 hour walking tour both days. One was historical (iconic buildings, etc) and one was focused on Gaudi. On our second day we climbed a mountain to see the Olympic stadium and the castle at the top. And to see the view from the castle. I loved Barcelona. It was warm, and the Mediterranean Sea was right there. I feel like we got a good taste of Barcelona, but there is much more to see. I loved the architecture.

-Also-Cataluna. Who knew? Not me. Barcelona is part of Cataluna. It is a region of Spain with its own language and flag, and its own desire for independence. Barcelona is fiercely Catalan. I had no idea. This Catalan thing threw me-especially the language. Some words are similar to their Spanish counterparts. Some are completely different. This made for some confusion.

-A whole bunch of random...The food was amazing. Both the home cooked food and the restaurant food. We loved the bread, and would have fresh baguette and ham sandwiches. Or baguette with olive oil and grated tomato. Also, wine is cheaper than water in Spain. Fun fact. I had hoped Meres would be able to walk, so I left our stroller at home. This proved to be wishful thinking, and we ended up purchasing a stroller in Madrid. Best decision of our trip. Also, Madrid and Barcelona both have lots of little playgrounds all over the place. This was fun for the kids. And, Spain is rather mountainous. I know I said this before, but this was a big surprise to me. Geography isn't my strong suit. Also, there are castles sprinkled around everywhere. All over the place.

We all loved Spain. We felt blessed to be able to visit, and to go as an entire family. Like pinch me, is this real... It is something we will never forget. Mr. Hippie said it may have been his favorite vacation ever. I might agree. We experienced so much, and got to hang out with good friends. That made it very memorable. It was fairly stress free-unlike our trip to Indonesia. We don't feel like we need a vacation from vacation. We just have to get back into real life...

I am ready to be home for a while, but I can't help thinking about the next trip. Where to explore? Italy? Greece? London? France? Scotland? Ireland?

Bon Voyage!