Sunday, October 16, 2011

Moving On...

It is such a cliché, but I really cannot believe how fast time is going by!!!  The kids and I left California six months ago (next weekend) to begin our journey to the United Kingdom.  And next weekend, we will be making our first trip home, almost exactly six months later.

David and I spent the weekend working as a team to A) entertain the kids (because that always comes first!) B) pack up the house and C) take our things to storage.  AGAIN.  Although this time the storage unit is right down the street.  David was able to take 5 or 6 loads in our itty bitty Prius today in less than two hours.  Wouldn't that have been nice back in April...
Anyway, packing up our things and getting ready to move out of the Abbey Road house has been making me think a lot about what my first impression of this house were.  Talking to my grandma and grandpa on the phone yesterday, I told them that the little things about this house that bothered me when we first got here (no dryer/fighting rain to dry clothes on the line,  no plug in the bathroom for hair dryer, the closed off feeling of the rooms) I rarely even pay attention to anymore.  We've got our routine down, and I have learned how to do my job:  UK Style.  I was even able to do eight loads of laundry when we got back from Spain, all drying either throughout the house or on the line!

I am so grateful that we found this house.  We are so close to the city centre, to the community centre, the train station...we have made great friends with our neighbors and learned so much from them.  I have made some mommy friends and Maxwell and Darian are both involved in activities and classes (and of course Maxwell has started pre-school).  David is doing well at work and he has been running again all summer, even running a half marathon the day after we returned from Spain!

We have made a lot of great memories to start off our adventure abroad, right here on Abbey Road, and I will be sad to say goodbye to this house.  But when the kids and I leave for California on Thursday morning, goodbye it will be.  When we return, we set up shop in our new place (where we will be for a year..whew!).

We'll have lots of tales of how the tails wiggle about in California (WE GET TO SEE THE OTHER TWO TAILS!!!  WE MISS YOU GRIFFIN AND TUCKER!!) and when we return in a few weeks, we'll be able to share all the fun of setting up a new routine in our new house and neighborhood.

For all our friends and family in CA:  we'll see you soon!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

El Final...the end.

David and I decided to do something on our last day in Barcelona that we probably should have done on day one.  We took a city bus tour around to learn about all the buildings and neighborhoods we had been walking through all week!

We started the day off with breakfast in the room, and then took our time heading out to sit at the cafe on the corner for some yummy cafe con leche and enseimadas.  One of the things that I love about the restaurants in Barcelona is that the outdoor eating area is right on the sidewalk outside the front entrance.  So it is the perfect place to people watch, relax, and for me, look at people's shoes!  (If you haven't read my other blogs, this comment might confuse you; go get caught up!)
The first bus we came to was all filled up on the top, so we had to ride on the lower level.  Maxwell liked playing with the earplugs and listening to the music.  The first time we got off the bus we had a bit of a hiccup. Our bags were heavy and packed for lunch, we didn't have the stroller, Darian was already getting heavy in the Ergo...I did NOT want to be out walking around.  Plus it was pretty hot out, at least compared to what we've been living in in England!  We stopped to get our bearings and then hopped back on the next bus that came by.  We enjoyed the sights and got off at our first destination:  the aerial at Montjuic.  The kids loved going "way up in the sky in the buckets," and David and I oohed and aahed at the view.

Once we made it to the top of the hill, we were able to walk through the castle and eat a nice lunch.  The views from the top of Montjuic were incredible, and I am so glad that we decided to take the aerial up.  What a great last minute decision!!

Back on the bus, we circled around a good part of the city, learning about the architecture and artwork that is scattered throughout Barcelona.  Maxwell sat so nicely next to me on the bus, with his earphones in place, enjoying the view.  Only did I realize he was actually listening to the tour guide when he shouted out, "The guy in my ear just said Barcelona!"

When we had gone full circle on the bus and were close to our hotel, we got off and started back to rest and put the kids down for naps.  We walked past Casa Mila/La Pedrera, one of Antoni Gaudi's buildings that we had walked by almost every day.  I decided I wanted to see the inside, so David took the kids back to the hotel and I took the tour by myself.  The camera battery had died so I didn't get any good pictures, but the rooftop terrace and the flat that I toured were so awesome.  Gaudi was inspired by nature, and rarely (if ever?) used right angles in his designs.  There was a display with things found that exemplified parts of his building:  corncobs, a beehive, the waves of the ocean.  My minimal description and any pictures I would have taken of this amazing piece of art just wouldn't do it justice.

That night, my wonderful cousin Marie came to the hotel to get the kids in bed and stay with them so that David and I could see the city at night.  Since our City Bus Tour tickets were good for the entire day, we took the bus again and rode on the top of the double decker to experience the city at night.  Then we made our way over to the fountain at Montjuic, where the amazing fountains were set to music and light.  Unfortunately, there was also a huge concert in the plaza in front of it, Merce, so the choreographed music for the fountains was drowned out.  But the show was cool, and it was really neat that we stumbled across a concert in the middle of the city, too.  There were food stalls and beer stalls and hundreds of people in front of the stage.

By this point it was pretty late, so we found a restaurant for dinner.  David had been wanting Paella all week, but every place we stopped only served it for a minimum of two diners.  I couldn't eat it because of all the seafood, and David didn't want to either waste or eat an extra portion of food! We still had a great dinner (with Sangria, of course!) and a nice night out in the city.

We didn't have much time for anything on Saturday before we had to head to the airport, so we had our cafe con leches at the cafe on the corner again.  The kids were ready to go home.  I was out of clean clothes.  And David had to run a half marathon in less than 24 hours.  Back to England...

Impressions of Barcelona/Spain
     * What a beautiful country with so much history
     * The artistic value of everything you see is incredible.  It was a modern city like any other, but so much more beautiful and sleek than I was expecting.
     *  The food.  Oh my goodness.  I wish I had a month to just stay and eat and try it all.  We barely got a glimpse because the kids are so picky, but what we did try was fantastic!
     *  The people are busy and focused, but still smile and look you in the eye.  They seemed to like watching the kids and the dynamic between us.  We got a lot of smiles on the trains, and on several metro rides, people would talk to Maxwell or say how beautiful Darian is.
     *  The people also seem to savour things. They take long lunches, siestas in the afternoon, and have long dinners with good food, wine and friends until late, late at night.
     *  The public transportation is awesome.  Very family friendly and so accessible.  Yet with amazing weather, there were so many people on bikes and walking.  I want a bike.  :o)

Things I learned about traveling with toddlers, okay..MY PICKY TODDLERS
     * Pack lighter and figure in a laundry day.
     * Bring more food they will eat from home to be prepared. Then find a grocery store to get fruit, bread, etc on the first day.
     * Either figure in the naptime or always have the stroller so they can sleep in there; Darian is getting big for the Ergo for extended amounts of time, and Maxwell literally was falling asleep on Dave's shoulders as we were walking back to the hotel one day!!
     * Lower my expectations of the touristy things that I would like to do versus what is realistic.  The kids would have been happy at the pool and/or beach everyday.  We are lucky that they were so easy going with everything else that we forced them to do!!!

All in all, we had a fantastic holiday in Spain.  We only saw a tiny, minuscule part of what I am sure is an amazing and culturally diverse country.  After all, we were in the heart of Catalunya....I am sure cities like Madrid, Seville, and other little towns throughout the country have a completely different vibe and atmosphere than Barcelona.  LA and NY are different, right?   Hopefully we will be able to return and see other cities someday.  Who wants to come along next time??

To see the rest of the photos from the last few days of our trip, view my online album here.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A la playa!


After living in mild England all summer, I was really looking forward to a day at the beach!  We don't go to the beach often, as living in Burbank it isn't exactly right around the corner.  But we do enjoy the sun and swimming pools on a hot day, so I was excited to spend a day soaking up some much needed Vitamin D!

Marie had warned us that the local beaches in Barcelona weren't that great.  In fact, she got some things stolen out of her bag there.  So she suggested we hop on the train and go down the coast to Sitges, a small town about 40 minutes South(west?) from the city.  The train was really easy to get to and get onto, and of course, the kids were free which is always a nice added bonus.  Plus it is entertaining for them.  That is one of the main things about buses and trains in Europe that I like.  They get bored in their carseats; they ride in those everyday.  So getting to sit in a seat like a grown up on a train is fun for an almost 2 and 3 1/2 year old kid!

Sitges was a lovely little town, and it was so beautiful that day.  It was your average, run of the mill beach day.    The kids played in the sand, David got burned because he refuses to use sunscreen...what else is new?  I went to the restaurant on the beach and got sandwiches for David and I to eat.  I tried the local version of grilled cheese, called a Bikini (grilled ham and cheese), and got Dave a pork sandwich.  Maxwell was a little nervous about the waves and water at first, but he ended up loving it.  Darian not so much.  The water in the sea seemed so salty and it made me wonder if it was indeed saltier than the Pacific Ocean.  Something to look up on Wikipedia later, I suppose.  Oh, and it was a topless beach, and since it was the middle of September and most kids are in school, there weren't many children or families.  Mostly older men in speedos and older women in bikinis.  In my one piece, full coverage bathing suit, I was definitely out of place!!

As we were walking back towards the train, Maxwell needed to use the potty so we stopped at a gelato place and had a yummy treat.  I had a nice conversation with the gelato guy about the menu and the differences between Catalan, Spanish and French (see my last blog!).

That night since we got home so late and the kids didn't nap, we decided to just do something easy for dinner.  I went to the restaurant next to our hotel to get a couple pizzas, while David got the kids cleaned up and ready for bed.  I thought I would sit at one of the tables on the sidewalk and wait for Marie to walk by, since she was going to come by out hotel room that night and have a drink with us before going out with her friends.  I ordered "un Sangria, por favor" while I waited for the pizzas.  The bartender said, "Grande?" and I said, "No, no.  Pequeno."  I then proceded to watch him make a PITCHER of Sangria that consisted of sugar, whiskey, vodka, gin and red wine.  A few other things splished and splashed in there that I didn't catch.  Um...okaaaay.  I figured I better get something in my stomach if I was going to drink this concoction, so I ordered a tortilla espanol, which was like an omlette:  eggs and potatoes.  So yummy!  Anyway, I took it all to my table with two glasses and waited for Marie to walk by.  Two glasses later, she still hadn't.  Weird.  She is so punctual.  As I was pouring my third glass, the pizzas came.  I paid the bill.  No Marie.  Now I had been gone for over a half an hour and I knew that the kids were tired and hungry and that David was probably wondering where I was.  I finished off the pitcher, gathered my things, and made my way up to the room.  Wobbly.  I was drunk!  I haven't had enough to drink to feel more than a bit tipsy in ages!

I got up to the room and Marie was sitting on the floor doing a puzzle with Maxwell.  She had gotten to the hotel from the opposite corner, so she never walked by my little Sangria cave.  Oh well.  I felt great and I was on vacation!!!

On Thursday morning I definitely felt my age.  No more pitchers of Sangria for me!

We met Marie at the train station and got our tickets to ride out to Montserrat.  I looked this up on Wikipedia, but Montserrat literally means "jagged mountain" in Catalan.  Perhaps this is why-->>>  The peaks of the mountain were these jagged piece of rock, which created quite a stunning view.  We had a beautiful, clear day up on the mountain and got lots of pretty pictures of the views.  To get up to the part of the mountain that housed the monestary, we took an aerial, which to Maxwell and Darian was the big bucket.  :o)  Strange that I get car/bus/plane/train sickness now, but going up in the aerial I was totally fine.

Once we reached the "level," if you will, with the monestary, we ate lunch and explored a bit.  We waited in line to walk through the basilica, or church.  It was beautiful and our kids were so great waiting in line.  Maxwell kept asking what we were waiting for and we answered that we were waiting to see things.  He looked around and seemed okay with that, which shocked the pants off the Americans (probably in their late 60s) in front of us in line.  They were quite impressed with both kids' behaviour in line and complemented us several times.

There he is, waving from the top!
After the church, we got in another aerial that took us even higher up the mountain.  Here you can hike and rock climb and go to the very top!  We didn't quite do that, but David was the most adventurous of us all (and the only one of us wearing tennis shoes!)

That night, we once again got home late and the kids didn't nap, so we needed something easy (again!) for dinner that we knew the kids would eat.  We stopped at a small bar on the corner by the hotel and I asked the bartender, "Necessito algo para mis ninos a comer. Tiene algo?"  The only thing we saw on the menu was Frankfurt, and when he responded that is what he said, so we went with it.  :o)  That is a huge part of my problem.  Even if I can spit out a question or sentence, there is no way I can catch enough words in the response to know what the heck they are talking about!  But we got a hotdog for the kids.  Dave took them to the hotel to bathe and get in their pjs while I waited for the food.  I felt pretty proud of myself, and David was SERIOUSLY impressed.  ha ha

Another great couple of days in Spain.  If you would like to see more pictures, please do check them out here.

Mas de Barcelona

I learned right away at the airport that there really is a big difference between Spanish and Catalan, the language that is spoken in Barcelona.  Dave likes to joke around that I speak both Spanish AND French, because of that one year of French that I took in high school.  He is seriously mistaken.  However, in Barcelona, I did start to notice the similarities between Catalan and French.  If I remember correctly, in French there were more Ts and in Spanish Ds. Or the Catalan words would just be shortened.  For example, in Spanish, the word city is ciudad.  In Catalan, it is ciutat.  At the gelato place, a large was gran (Catalan) where in Spanish it would be grande. In Spanish, a grocery store is un supermercado.  In Catalan, un mercat.  Or as David liked to say, "the meerkat.  Why do they have stores here that sell meerkats?"  He is a dip.  But the best example of the French connection was "please:"  In Spanish, por favor.  In French, si'l vous plait.  In Catalan?  Si us plau.

Back to our holiday adventures...
On Monday we woke at our leisure, had breakfast at the hotel buffet, and made our way out to explore again.  We ended up at La Place de Catalunya, which I believe is the city centre.  It was a large square with a pretty fountain and lots of tourists about.  And plenty of pigeons looking for a meal, which gave Maxwell and Darian a fun way to release some energy!
     The Placa de Catalunya was also the beginning of La Rambla, the street that we had tried to get to on Sunday before we got trapped in the monsoon.  La Rambla is a beautiful street, filled with stalls and merchants, sidewalk setups for the restaurants and cafes, and street performers.  It is also a place that is known for pick pocketing, so we were forewarned and very careful.  But even when we sat down at a cafe to rest and get something to drink, the waiter warned me to keep an eye on the stroller and the diaper bag I had hanging from it at all times.

We went into La Boqueria, which is a huge open market.  There were hundreds of people milling about, so it was really hard to get in with the stroller, but we made our way through to look at all the meat, fish, and fresh fruit stands.   We bought some fruit for the kids to munch on, and David and I got an adult beverage.  One guess what I got!

La Rambla was pretty typical of a tourist market.  Stalls with your everyday souvenirs--magnets, maps, coffee mugs.  We didn't see anything that we would want to buy, and we were lucky enough that the kids were pretty content to sit back and people watch and enjoy the day out.

That night we started to realize one of the challenges of traveling with toddlers abroad.  Food.  It seems like that should be easy, but with two picky toddlers it was quite a challenge.  We ended up at the restaurant on the corner by our hotel.  The kids ate some pasta and David and I shared a pizza, which was delicious, but still not giving us the taste of local Catalan food that we wanted to experience.  Next trip?  We will find a market right away and get food for the kids for the week.  They can survive for a week on fruit, sandwiches and normal picnic style food that I can pack in the bag for them, and that way David and I will be able to go to whatever restaurant we want and really take in the local cuisine!

For all my stay at home mom friends, you know this.  But when your full time job is being home with your kids, traveling with them is not really a vacation.  It is more of a business trip.  I was starting to feel that after dinner on Monday night when Maxwell was being picky about his food, Darian wouldn't settle down and sit in the chair (no high chairs...we ended up tying her to the chair with the Ergo!!)  I was frustrated and tired and in desperate need of either A) a two hour massage B) a stiff drink or C) some serious alone time.  Luckily, I have the BEST husband in the world, so I got both B and C!!  And if our hotel had a spa I probably would have gotten the massage the next day, too!  David took the kids up to bed, and I stayed behind to enjoy the rest of our pitcher of Sangria and a lovely flan.  I sat and drank my wine, taking tiny bites of my dessert, and watching the city come to life around me.  It was WONDERFUL!

Main Entrance...this was actually where we exited after our hike.
On Tuesday morning we met up with MarieB again and went to visit another Gaudi work of art:  Parc Guell.   It is basically a garden complex, that we had to walk up very steep sidewalks, stairways, and even escalators to get to!  But it was worth the climb, because once at the top we saw breathtaking views of the city below and the amazing architectural components designed by Gaudi that were sprinkled throughout.

That night for dinner we found a diner style restaurant that had nuggets de pollo on the menu. :o)  The kids were happy, David and I had yummy burgers and beer, and I even got a chance to try something that I hope was more of a local dish:  meatballs.  They were delicious!  We didn't go to a Tapas restaurant this week (the horror!!) but I got to taste these lovelies and I could have had them as a main dish.  SO GOOD!   After dinner we walked around and took the long way back to the hotel, finding some markets and stalls that were set up selling homemade items like jewellry, clothing and handbags.  I bought a new bag that I just love.  We also found a shop that had foods from around the globe, and I was able to get a special treat for our local tour guide, my cousin Marie:  Resee's Peanut Butter Cups!!!

To see more photos from these spectacular two days in Spain, visit here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Barcelona! (part one)

I have wanted to visit Spain since I was a freshman in high school. My first day of Spanish, my zaney teacher taught us a song that I still remember to this day:

Yo soy de Cuba
Tu eres de Aruba
El, Ella, Usted es de Vancouver
Nosotros somos de Chile
Vosotros os de Milli Vanilli?
Ellos, Ellas, Ustedes son de...Really?

It makes absolutely NO sense, but nineteen years later, I still remember that stupid song! And I didn't realize how much of my Spanish I would remember until I was actually faced with the challenge of NEEDING it. Granted, I am sure I made lots of mistakes, but I am glad that I did have some knowledge of the language for our first holiday while living abroad. But more importantly, I am glad that we went to Barcelona and were able to hang out and visit with my wonderful cousin, Marie!

I have already written about my impressions of the air travel and public transportation for our trip, so I will try to limit those comments. My first impression of Spain, by the look of the airport in Barcelona was how modern it is. It looked so shiny and new, and was so filled with shops and cafes that I felt like I was in a mall. Our first communication challenge came when we wanted to get some cash from the ATM. There was an icon to get instructions in English, but it still asked a strange question that made David cancel his request and wait in line at the currency exchange instead.

It was dark when we landed, so we didn't get to see much of the city that night. After arriving at the hotel we settled in for the night and all got a much needed rest after our day of traveling. On Sunday morning, Marie met us at our hotel and we went to the cafe on the corner to get our bearings and figure out what we wanted to do with our week. Goodbye English tea, hello Cafe con leche! I was hooked!! And the enseimada (pastry) Marie suggested was DELISH!

The view of Carrer Paris from our hotel room
We set off and walked through town. Our hotel was on Carrer de Paris, which was just a block or two from Avinguda Diagonal, which cuts through the city at a diagonal (imagine that) and stretches for over six miles. We set off in that direction and then turned down Passeig de Gracia. It was so cool to walk down the street and just SEE. To see the shops and buildings and architecture, the cyclists and motorcycles and cars, and the people. I love to people watch, and for some reason ever since I moved to England, I always look at people's shoes. I think it is because we walk so much more here. And I am always amazed at the shoes women are wearing while doing all that walking. I've never really been a "shoe girl" and I'm still not because I would rather spend money elsewhere. I just like to look at them in awe!!

Along Passeig de Gracia we came to several of Antoni Gaudi's amazing buildings. Gaudi was a Catalan architect whose famous works are scattered throughout the city. First we came to Casa Mila, or La Pedrera. This first day we just looked at the beauty of the building, but on our last day in the city I went in to take the tour. It was amazing!

A little further down the street was Casa Batllo. These buildings are so crazy and beautiful and modern; it's nuts to me to think that Gaudi designed these buildings when he did (he died in 1926).
The bright sun, bad angle and my mediocre camera just cannot show the true beauty of these buildings!!

We continued on while Darian napped and took a few turns to head in a different direction in order to get to La Sagrada Familia.  We only saw the outside of this massive architectural wonder, and now I wish I had gone back while the kids napped one day and gone inside.  The church began construction in the 1880s and at the time of Gaudi's death in 1926, the project was only 1/4 complete.  It was a slow process, as the funding was based on private donations.  I believe they are hoping to have it completed in 2026, the centennial anniversary of Gaudi's death.  Again, my pictures do not do it justice!!

There was a small playground right where we took this picture, so we let the kids run around and play for a while to let out that pent up stroller-induced energy.  Then we headed towards the metro to try out what the city had to offer for public transportation.  Most stations (at least all of the major ones) have elevators to help you get to the underground, so with the stroller, that was AWESOME.  We got on at La Sagrada Familia and headed towards Universitat so that Marie could show us where her school building was.
From there we were going to walk to La Rambla, a street lined with trees, shops, restaurants and plenty of people watching.
But when we emerged from the metro the sky opened up and it started absolutely POURING.
We got drenched and took cover, along with dozens of other people taken by surprise on the streets, under the very minimal awning of the nearest building. (Darian commandeered the only umbrella we had!)
The rain had stopped by the time we walked back to the hotel.  Marie left us to nap (which we ALL did!) and get cleaned up.  We tried out the metro again that night without our tour guide and made it successfully to Marie's apartment.  She lives in a nice neighborhood, in a modern, updated apartment.  I am so excited for her!!!

Marie's roommates suggested a nice restaurant for us all to go to that night.  Marie had mentioned that restaurants were easy, because all you had to do was read the menu.  She also told us that if people can tell you speak English, they will speak to you in English, give you English menus, etc.  This does pose a bit of a problem for a student like Marie, living in Barcelona to try and become fluent in the language.  All in all, we had a great dinner and end to a great day, especially when the waiter gave Marie and I roses on our way out!

More about Spain to come!!
If you would like to see more pictures of this awesome day, go to my online album!



For everyone who reads all of my blogs, I have to write a little disclaimer. If you have been reading, you already know that I am never at a loss for words. I write like I talk: TOO MUCH!!

I need everyone to understand that I do want to share our travels and experiences with you all, and I enjoy SO MUCH hearing about how you like to read about what we are up to, but that my blog is also for me. For my family. For us to remember all the little details of our trips and experiences and ups and downs. So I put in every little detail.

My plan is to make our blog of our three years in England into a book. Have you ever heard of Blurb? I am really excited to start using this software!! My friend Kate gave me a gift certificate for Blurb ages ago, so I am going to test it out soon by turning all of my blogs prior to our move into a book.

That being said, I just wrote the first part of my Barcelona blog. It's long and so far I only wrote about the first day. :o) Hopefully you will be inspired enough by my recollection of the trip to read it all!!!