Howdy folks, John here. Hope you’re all doing well. I thought I would take another swing at the blog….
Leaving NYC was exciting for all of us as we were going to a new continent and finally getting on to the ever elusive Spain portion of the trip! Our plan was to fly into to Barcelona, spend 3 days there checking out the city, then hop a train heading south to Alicante, where we had rented an apartment for 2 months.
New York City is a tough act to follow, but Barcelona is clearly up to the task. We stayed in a great hotel right in the Gothic section of town, where everything is close by. We arrived in the morning eager to check out the city but quickly realized the main task at hand was to stay awake, through the day and well into the evening, to try and push off some of the effects of the impending jet lag. We did set out for a great walk getting “lost” in the winding gothic mini streets, checking out the Ramblas, looking around an amazing marketplace called Mercado de la Boqueria, then Parque de la Ciutadella (Barcelona’s Central Park) to play around, look at the fountains and see what the locals were up to. Shortly after we got there we were all so tired, I laid down and fell asleep! Ellie and Francesca were done at the park and wanted to take a nap, while Isla (of course) was raring to go. So Francesca and Ellie went back to the hotel, Isla and I continued walking around town and found a guy near the Arc de Triunfo who was making these huge bubbles and Isla was in heaven chasing them with all the other kids. We stayed there for a long time-chasing bubbles and people watching. After that we went back, woke up Ellie and Francesca and headed out for an early dinner. While the words early dinner and Spain do not really have any business in the same sentence, with some looking, it can be had. The normal dinner time in Spain starts around 10.
The next day we woke up at the crack of 11:00, refreshed, rested and ready to go look for the best Churros and Chocolate in Barcelona. As always, Francesca had researched the best spot and we headed right over, fueled up and set out for a day on the town. We bought tix for the hop on hop off bus around town which was a new experience for all of us. It was a great way to see a fair amount of the city pretty quickly. The first stop we got off at was the Sagrada Familgilia. The Gaudi church was everything it was cracked up to be and more - the detail work, wild design and commitment to seeing this HUGE project through were mind boggling. Looking at it, I could not help but feel small and under accomplished.
We then walked over to Parque Guell- the other main Gaudi attraction in the city. On the way we stopped at a small play park and the kids quickly made friends with a 9 yr old girl there. As always, the lack of being able to communicate after the first few minutes had no effect on the running, laughing and playing tag, hide and seek - called escondido in Spanish. Once at Parque Guell we had a great time listening to a Flamenco street band, walking around, seeing the fun, quirky Gaudi buildings.
We all started to get “museum” tired after a while and got back on the bus and went back to our hotel. We had a quick turn around at the room, grabbed a snack and headed over to Camp Nou (Barcelona Stadium) on the subway to go see the Barcelona pro soccer (Futbol) team play in a play off game!. On our BT list was go to a pro sports game, and seeing Barcelona F.C. surely fit the bill! It was amazing luck to have a game being played in the 3 days we were there. Both francesca and I have always wanted to see a big European soccer game and to get to see Messi play was awesome!
The next day we were way less ambitious, slept in and just goofed around. In the late afternoon/early evening the girls were into playing in the room and Francesca and I headed over to a bar down the block and had a great time drinking wine/beer together. Time for just the 2 of us has been pretty rare, and when we get it- it is Great! The girls have become so brave and confident they were comfortable walking out to find us, not exactly sure where we were, in a big new city and not really speaking the language. Seeing their confidence, resilience and sense of adventure develop on this trip has been truly amazing for both Francesca and I!!
All of the food, restaurants, outdoor seating, people having beer/wine with lunch, before lunch, after lunch, before tapas, with tapas, bakeries on every corner with the most amazing looking treats, awesome cafes, pubs, pizzerias, ice cream shops 3 per block it is amazing the Spaniards are so thin and healthy looking! Perhaps it’s all the cigarettes?
Then next morning we packed up and set out for the train station. Traveling by train is so easy, fun and relaxing- I definitely wish the USA had a better train network!! Our train ride to Alicante was 5 hours and it zipped by. It was really fun coming into Alicante having rented an apartment in a town we knew almost nothing about. We met our landlords and they were great. They showed us all about the apartment, gave us some shopping, gym and restaurant recommendations. Our apartment was perfect.! It is on the 8th floor (Penthouse baby!!) of a downtown apartment building. The girls have a room with a bunk bed, we have a guest room, big living room and a kitchen with a table in it to eat, tons of natural light and a nice rooftop deck to hangout on. Our plan in Alicante was pretty simple. Get a good school routine going for the girls, exercise, settle into a new town, make a few friends if possible, discover the nooks and crannies of town, cook, go to the beach a lot and most importantly- spend a lot of time together and have fun!
While getting settled in Oaxaca took us quite a while, we learned a lot from that experience and got settled here in Alicante really fast. We found dance classes for the girls, a swim program too, a gym for Francesca and I ( yes, I joined a gym), spanish classes for all of us, markets and our local cafe all in walking distance from our apartment.
Alicante is a super lively town on the Mediterranean coast. While probably most famous for the summer beach tourism, it has tons going on. There are universities, theater, industry, a large port, pro sports, and a disproportionately large number of pedestrian streets that lend to a great vibe while walking around town and the beachfront palm tree lined promenade with all the outdoor restaurants and cafes is always packed. There is a huge castle on top of the mountain in the center of town as well as castles/forts on the other high points in town- life here sounded pretty rough 1,000 years ago having to fend off pirates and other invaders. Now a days the only real threats seem to be sunburn and/or perhaps too many beers.
Everywhere we go, the locals are so nice and we have felt so welcome here. Not a day went by when we did not say how this person or that person could not have possibly been any nicer- we sounded like a broken record for sure, but if so, it’s is a good track to be stuck on! The Spanish lifestyle seems to leave the locals plenty of free time to exercise, hang out with their families, go to cafes, eat ice cream, go to bars, did I mention go to cafes - no one here seems to be in too much of a rush.
In late February we were treated to Alicante’s version of Carnival! There were 10’s of thousands of people on the streets, most with costumes of all types, big stages built on the main streets which had been closed to cars with tons of kids activities on the closed streets by day and rock bands and beer gardens by night.
We managed to make a few friends in Alicante- a family at a park we would go to in the afternoons for “P.E. Class”, an Italian guy who lives there who’s son is in the girls swim group, an English family that lives there with a 9yr daughter who the girls love, and the owners of our Spanish School. We have made a pretty nice life for ourselves here.
Our daily ( Monday-Thursday) routine starts around the crack of 8:00-8:30 with breakfast and then school which is supposed to start at 9:00- but 9:30 is more like it. Francesca does Monday and Weds and I do Tuesday & Thursday-usually (sometimes Francesca does one of my shifts). The girls have done great at “school”. They mostly have a great attitude and much to my surprise, getting to work with them in this capacity has been one of my favorite parts of the trip. It has been so great to get to know each of the girls better and see how they like to learn things-a great reminder that in a good learning environment both the “teacher” and “student” have a lot to teach and a lot to learn from each other. Often in the afternoons I take the girls out for “PE class”. We head over to a nearby park at the base of a castle. I make up courses through the jungle gym, around trees, over benches, and time the girls (yes they still do stuff if I time them!!). Then we play for a while, run up the hill to the castle, do a few random laps up and down stairs, over draw bridges, etc (regular castle things). Then we run through a huge sports complex, through the skate park, and then down a bunch of slides and stair cases back to our apartment. Always a fun outing and gives Francesca some time for herself. Between going to the markets for food, school, exercising, goofing around, playing the uke on our deck, doing laundry, etc. our days were always full (in a good way).
While we have checked out most of the city, we haven’t ventured to far outside of the city. We had plans to go all over the surrounding area, as there are lots of great towns and super easy public transportation, our days seem to fill up quite easily in town. We did manage to take the Tram (local subway) up to the next beach called San Juan Beach. This is a huge beautiful beach, with tons of play structures built right on the beach where the girls met several kids and had a great time playing. The subway in Alicante has got to be the cleanest public transport in the world. We also took the train up to Valencia, about 2 hours north for Ellie’s birthday weekend- (her blog post about that will follow).
We have been out on a few geo cache adventures and had a lot of fun with that as it gets us to different parts of town as well (Geo caching is basically a community of people world wide who interact through an App to hide small registers and then give hints/clues and locations of said registers for others to go and find)- Completely useless, but really fun if you like to search for treasure. Our weekly aimless “death marches” (as I like to call them) to all corners of the city help us to get a feel for the area and see different parts of town- these are usually followed by ice cream or gelato.
So basically, in a nutshell, we have done our best to sample the various gelato/ice cream shops and the girls have narrowed them down to the 2 best. We have “stormed” the main castle over town (Santa Barbara Castle) several times and it is always a great hike and the views from the top are worth it! The girls loved to find our apartment from the telescopes at the castle. The beach is right downtown next to the harbor and was always fun, although we didn’t seem to go as often as we did when we first got there. Isla and I tried to go to the beach every day, but our longest streak was 5 consecutive days. We have swum in the Mediterranean several times, but the water is pretty much freezing! The weather has been amazing, 60-75 in the day, 50-60 at night and pretty much always sunny, but as you can see in most of the photos, a jacket us usually required. Alicante was a great place for us to get grounded and we all feel lucky to have been able to call it home for a few months.
When we were planning the BT each of us had the opportunity to choose a country to go to on the trip and Francesca selected Morocco. We left for Morocco on the 27th of March for 18 days- (read all about it in Francesca upcoming post). I chose Israel where we are right now and Isla and Ellie chose France and Ireland respectively, where we will spend June. As our time on the BT is winding down, we are all both happy and sad. Happy to see our family and friends back home, sad to break up our little 4 person party.
When Francesca and I were planning this trip, we considered several ways of doing it. The first was how we have done it, and the second was picking a place, settling down for a year, and putting the girls in school so they would become fluent in Spanish, and living a daily life similar to ours in Durango - albeit in a different country. While the second option had it’s appeal as it seems much easier and more of a known quantity, the former prevailed and I could not be happier about our choice. Both Francesca and I have felt so lucky to have this time with each other and with the girls. We have learned so much from, and about each other, I can’t really believe it. Due to the fact that we had never done anything like this, it was a real leap of faith and so far we have landed on our feet! Every single day I am truly thankful for this time with these 3 beautiful humans, who are nice enough to keep me around! As always, the thoughts of our family and friends keeps us happy while on the road in foreign lands. We hope you all are enjoying a great spring!