Airport From Hell, 24+ Hour Travel Day, Family, and Ready To Do It Again

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To begin, i would like to reitterate, with great emphasis, that both arrivals to and departure from Heathrow was holy hell. Point made.

We left our Alfama apartment in Lisbon and caught a cab almost immediately. After the cab driver tried to convince us, unsuccessfully, that his fare to the airport would be less than the bus Christopher and Kelly had figured out for us, he dropped us off in another part of town I hadn’t seen yet. It didn’t take long before we boarded a comfortable bus, with luggage holders, to the airport.

The ride was interesting as I saw how large a city Lisbon is and how beautiful with magnificent statues, parks, boulevards, and a ritzy shopping district. Hard to fathom that all this acreage was leveled by earthquake, fire, and/or tsunami in 1755.

After getting to our gate, Christopher found us coffee somewhere (weird there were so very few places for any refreshments, but if you needed perfume, they had that covered), I had satiated Jordan with some sort of Bugle chip mix, we boarded BA bound for Heathrow. Jordan and I did ok on the 2 hour flight to Heathrow, but, of course she mentioned she was hungry. We landed, and luckily because of The Kids having Business Class seats, Jordan and I tagged along with them bypassing the humongous lines other travelers had to endure. It was awful to see the backlogs and I was so grateful not to be standing in them.

We had had to transfer from terminal 1 to terminal 5 and after sailing to the main floor (with Christopher held up in security because of a bottle of Portuguese hot sauce he had bought in Lisbon’s airport. We then parted ways as they were allowed in the elite lounge and we were not (I have experienced lounges so I was a tad remorseful we couldn’t tag along). We had about a two hour layover but by then, I am wagering that 45 minutes was already eaten alive.

Jordan and I ventured into the Giraffe Lounge and placed an order of yogurt and fruit, which was what Jordan asked for and barely ate. I drank a cappuccino. Fast. The service was sooo slow that before I knew it, it was time to make our way to the boarding gate. Not the server’s fault as he was going as fast as he could. The place was busy and understaffed.

We started heading to the boarding gate at about the same time as 600,000 other pushy, harried, rude, and overtired passengers. The lines for the trains and escalators were ridiculously overcrowded. I had never seen anything like it. In fact, I acted out of character when I grabbed the jacket arm of a young (maybe 12 years old) boy who was about to trample Jordan in order to get on the escalator ahead of us. I spoke to Jordan, as we were elevating, in a voice the boy could hear, that people needed better manners when traveling and that pushing and shoving was not only rude, but also dangerous with little 3 year olds walking in the same crowd. Then I wondered if he and his family were from New Delhi, or somewhere that it is so crowded, where this behavior is the only way to survive and get anywhere.

Walking to the boarding gate took forever. We actually stopped to rest (Jordan’s idea) on these nice chairs that had leg rests. Jordan took them to be full body rests.

We got to the gate with more “I’m hungry.” and “I have to go potty.” declarations and just in time for our boarding call. I didn’t see The Kids anywhere. Jordan and I started boarding and as we crossed the threshold into the plane, I asked the attendant if my son and daughter-in-law had boarded so after first grumbling how she wouldn’t know that, she saw I was concerned so she asked us to step into the galley so she could check the manifest. She saw they had checked in previously but not whether they had gotten on the plane. I had to just take my chances. I also hoped there would be no passenger next to us in our 3 seater space. (I later learned that an attendant The Kids had spoken to (after they barely made the flight) promised to tell me they had arrived and were on the plane. That never happened.)

Our 3 seats were looking good to hold the 2 of us until the last minute when a hip woman about my age came aboard and went to settle in. At first I was a little worried as she was pretty frazzled and also complained about Heathrow’s lack of good management.

But, Linda was very cool. She had just been to Africa to visit a friend who volunteers. Then she spent a week in London before now returning to her job as a psychiatric nurse at a VA hospital in Denver. She lived in there to be close to her kids and grandkids although she had a condo in a warmer climate which she rents out.

Our little Jordan had a rough ride. In turn, this meant our not-so-little Grammie also had an even rougher ride. Although our flight was in late afternoon, after dinner, playing on the iPad, eating, and reading, there was nothing to calm her from wanting her mom. Linda turned out to be a godsend. She cajoled the attendants to give up some milk and biscuits for Jordan, and was supportive to me with whatever I needed. We turned into the “Pacify Jordan Squad.” Jordan finally fell asleep for a little while but i made the big mistake of adjusting her body a bit so she was more comfy, while talking to Linda, which woke her. It was then a hell trip from about Greenland to Denver. That is a long way.

Of course we barely slept but when we landed, she happily reunited with her parents, we sailed through DIA’s Customs, and started the process of parting ways with kisses and hugs. Jordan then started crying and hanging onto me that she didn’t want me to go back to Seattle. I got teary, too. And it was from sadness, not tears of joy to be traveling solo the rest of the way, really!

I managed to wait the 2 1/2 hrs at the Denver International Airport for my next flight without nodding off, but on the way to Seattle it was becoming increasingly more difficult to keep my eyes open, so I didn’t. It had been over 24 hours of travel by the time I landed close to 11 p.m. and then there was a longer than usual wait for the airporter. Put toothpicks in my eyes for the hour ride home and had no problems getting to sleep once my head hit the pillow. Thinking back on it, the memory is a little like trying to remember labor before giving birth. They say if women were able to remember labor, they’d never have more children and civilization would cease to exist. I find there are time periods that have all but vanished. How did we survive and how did everyone else on the plane bear it? Must not have been as bad as I imagined since they didn’t land the plane in Greenland and dump us out on an ice floe.

Our 22 day European Odyssey, as one cousin rightly labeled it, was an amazing multi-generational trip with palaces, fortresses, ferias, bird and cat ladies, flamenco and fado, spectacular views, sunsets and sunrises, custard tarts and orange cake, hills and stairs, ferries, cable cars, boats, trains, buses, planes, and cars, bullfight, and the gift of sharing those experiences with my family. What more could a girl ask for?

I have been ruminating about how just last summer and fall, we lost 5 family members within 3 months, my dear mom included, and barely 3 months later, we gained over a dozen new family members whom we had been looking for all my life in one form or another. They had been looking, too, and only found us through my mother’s obituary. Unfortunately, mom wasn’t on earth to experience meeting her father’s side of the family, but I think she had an astral hand with orchestrating the connection. Wonderfully, I have already met my first cousin (my grandfather’s niece) when she came to visit us in spring, right before I left on this journey. I have emailed with her son, and Skyped with her brother. And, now, I have recently learned they have found the offspring of two other uncles and are now working on meeting them. The plan is that I return to England in April of 2013 to have a proper introduction to everyone who still lives in the UK. We are to take a Heritage Trail to see where my grandfather was raised before he moved to work in Shanghai in the 20’s, where my mom was born to he and my Russian grandmother. His life was tragically ended in 1941 in Shanghai, and when WWII broke out, my mom and grandmother were taken into custody by the Japanese and put into an internment camp for over 4 years not far from Shanghai. Those were my mom’s teenage years. It was after their release when the war ended that they moved to San Francisco, and through all that turmoil they had unfortunately lost track of my grandfather’s family in England. Then I was later born in San Francisco, first generation U.S. citizen.

I can hardly wait to meet everyone!

(And I can only hope Heathrow has straightened their “little” problems out by then! I do not envy those thousands of people arriving for the Olympics in August if they haven’t fixed the issues with their staffing and time management.)

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“Help Me Ronda” and Monkey Poop

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The day after my “experience” with the bullfight, we picked up the rental car from Styxx and headed out of the city of Seville towards the countryside. The drive was filled with lush green hills, rock cliffs, and white washed villages cropping up out of nowhere. The occasional medieval fortress popped up, too.

Jordan dozed and I took the opportunity to write quietly looking up from time to time at the scenery.

Finding our apartment in Ronda was hysterically stressful. We ended up driving too far into the town’s castle walls and could barely get back out with our mini-van between two enormous pillars. A local man, probably my age, guided Christopher telling him “Picco Picco!” which meant to only turn the wheel a very little bit to guide our way through (and this was after collapsing the side mirrors to make the car smaller).

Not long after, Christopher doubled back as he and Kelly said some other walled area had to be where we should go but having learned our lesson from up above, my son parked in an area outside the city walls and we walked in. The apartment we found would be our new home. (How did people ever find anything without GPS devices?)

Although the weather was damp, our too-few days in Ronda were a delight. Jordan went to a playground across the road to play with other young girls some in their school uniforms, and with all of us trying to communicate in our respective languages telling one another our names and ages and making ourselves giggle trying to repeat them.

Behind our old city walls, a man had just opened a new restaurant in “our town” and we all became quite friendly having dinner there two nights in a row. He was generous, spoke English (lived in San Diego for a couple of years studying culinary, and was a great chef. I think he’ll do well there.

Christopher and Kelly dropped Jordan and I off in town on our second day so they could explore some caves in an area not far from Ronda . Just so happened there was a medieval fair in town which Jordan and I visited and she was the first customer on the little bicycle leg powered ferris wheel, such a contrast in size from the one we all rode in Seville, and she had a pony ride which she loved.

Soon after, her whining about the wet and cold meant finding a restaurant pronto for lunch and to dry off. Jordan wanted spaghetti which was pictured on the menu. After an exhaustingly long wait showing her the art of preparing a cup of tea, the large plate arrived, which we shared. She hated the sauce. I agree, it wasn’t the best, but please, just eat it. Although she ate very little, we shared a chocolate treat, and had warmed up for our walk home.

We walked to the overlook of the Ronda gorge, which was amazing. Jordan and a baby girl (just learning to walk) from Germany befriended one another giggling and chasing each other around the railed landing while causing me more heart palpitations as I needlessly worried she would slip and go flying off the edge.

We stopped in a souvenir shop along the way where the young Spanish woman working behind the counter thought my dear little overly energetic bull-in-a-china-shop granddaughter had such a cute voice she insisted in mimicking her ad nauseum. Then she tried selling us everything we already had explained ewe had, such as the Feria dress, fan, shawl. The highlight was when she showed us the castanets saying she taught classes in their use. She demonstrated and had us mesmerized for a few minutes until the added anxiety of Jordan breaking something got me to hurry up buying us each a little snow globe (hers had a flamenco dancer and mine the cliffs of Ronda), and a fridge magnet (which is one of my collectibles on every trip to new places).

Soon after we were descending the hill, where Jordan made mad dashes, giving my heart to skip beats, to either the sides of cliffs or the small cobblestoned roads intersecting at every turn, a weird exotic hunter museum appeared, which, when I peeked in, had the heads of trophy animals stuck sadly on the walls of this centuries old building. How very weird. Why in the world would anyone have this kind of a museum in such a beautiful old Spanish hill town? I’ll have to Google that one of these days.

We found the back entrance to our walled city (I made a lucky guess on that pathway) where there was a church with a memorial to St. Francis (“San Francisco”) in a glass caged nook outside. The church bells from here are what we heard in our apartment.

It always gives me a wonderful sense of relief, after any of the excursions Jordan and I take on our own, to turn the old key in the apartment door keyhole knowing she was safe and unscathed by the adventure.

The next day, reluctantly for all of us, we left Ronda behind.

A couple of hours later, after driving and walking in the deluge of rain, we finally found parking in the old decidedly British section of Gibraltar for lunch at the recommended “The Clipper” restaurant. (Both Rick Steves and Lonely Planet recommended the place.) For some reason, finding this section of the real town of Gibraltar (“Gib”) was such a hassle but the lunch of fish ‘n chips was fabulous as the fish was trout sized. Jordan was happy to be out of the car and the Clipper provided colored pencils and a drawing menu for her boring her within seconds until her dad diverted his full attention to coloring with her. Taming a restless 3 3/4 year old is getting more difficult by the day.

Refreshed, we were off to “The Rock.” The little cable car up the mountain crams in a full load of tourists for every dime they can get. It had stopped raining by now as they smartly don’t operate the car during inclement weather (suddenly heard myself talking as if in my former position of college administrator sending out instructions to faculty, staff and students on how to find out if the school has to close because of ‘inclement’ weather.).

After landing safely on The Rock and walking out onto The Terrace, Monkey No. 1 was spotted.

Jordan, the brave girl that she is, used her mom and dad’s camera to take a photo of the wild little beast. Soon after they wandered off, I was “followed” by this creature to a quiet balcony area with a great view. I swear he was watching my every move for the rustle of a junk food package (which I didn’t have). I took a couple of photos of him and then when he saw I wasn’t going to come up with any bounty, he wandered back to the terrace. It was then that I heard a terrifying scream and went to see what was up. Sure enough, there was a young woman who had carried in a plastic bag (even though there are a multitude of signs saying “NO PLASTIC BAGS!”) and Monkey No. 1 was shredding it to pieces off her arm and taking off to a quiet corner to chomp down on the candy bar she had in the bag. (I’m embarrassed to say she was American.) Her comment, when reminded of the signs, was “But I didn’t think they’d come over HERE!!” Ummm…WTH did she think “here” would be?

During the 2 hours we spent wandering around the rock, I saw another kid (young man, this time, nationality unknown) get accosted, and by that time, it was Monkey No. 720 (they were rapidly multiplying). Now another gaggle of young people were screaming from one very aggressive monkey which raised enough of my concern to call over the seemingly bored looking Red Coats (my term, not theirs) who were there to protect the humans from the owners of this rock (obviously the monkeys). The Red Coat boy grabbed a broom handle and went running when I pantomimed the “attack.” It wasn’t as serious as it could have been but I thought it gave these bored young men a good sample of what their call to action looked like which they obviously needed for their seemingly run-of-the-mill workday. Not so lucky to have excitement end there, just after the attacks, I saw an ambulance arrive for what turned out to be a woman who slipped on the stairs (rain water or monkey poop?) hurting her back, then there was a man who fell on the road up, or down, hurting his leg and another ambulance was waiting down below, as we later saw after the cable car ride down the hill.

During all the time we were up on The Rock the critters were swinging from tree branches, roofs, banisters, cars, half walls, and each other. Babies, adolescents, mid-lifers, and the elderly alike, all having a great time with the dumb tourists who bring them junk food because heaven forbid we go without for an hour or two.

We left town satisfied by the short experience in Gibraltar and headed for the kitesurfing capital of the world: Tarifa.

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Feria, Plaza de Espana, and Dead Bulls

Jordan jumped into her feria dress as soon as breakfast was over and we were then on our way to the annual Sevilla feria. We walked quite a long while (for me at least) and arrived to the fairgrounds earlier than most people. The grounds were amazing with all the casetas (individual family tents) decorated in various fashions designed to make visitors feel at home, especially with kids, the elderly family members, and for later, the excessive drinking involved, from what I’ve heard. At €2.50 a ride, we became very discriminate buyers. The first ride was the only ride including all of us. It was a ferris wheel with individual 4 person cabs and since Jordan and Kelly are such lightweights, and Christopher and I aren’t, we had to be rearranged to be properly balanced for the fastest ferris wheel ride I’ve ever been on. Fun but unnerving. Jordan was having the time of her life on her first carnival ride. However, the meltdowns were beginning to rear their naughty little heads. We should have seen the signs that this little almost 4 year old was burning out.

We bought a couple of other ride tickets and balloons for her and we were off the grounds by 1 p.m. when throngs of people began to arrive. I’ve never seen anything like it. Horse drawn carriages pulling lovely señoritas dressed to the hilt, and the sedate well groomed elders in proper dress with suits and bolero ties.

We left the fairgrounds as most of Sevilla were arriving and found a restaurant advertised as Tex-Mex, something new for me as I only know Mexican food restaurants as Mexican food restaurants. This one had decor of guns, bullets, and Mexican hats (some very beautiful ones), along with old style photos of old style Wild West shots from Mexico. We also were serenaded by a guitar player all dressed up in A-typical Mexico garb as he visited each table. Instead of tortilla chips and salsa on the table, there were potato chips, which made Jordan very happy. Food is becoming a focal point in her need to get attention, and maybe a way of saying she wants to slow down to eat and rest.

Instead of going back to the apartment after the feria and lunch to rest up for my big night out, which would have been the wise thing to do, Christopher knew of an area which was recommended as a must see. We started to walk into a beautiful public park which smelled like flowers. This walk had not only the scent of jasmine and the peace of an uncrowded public park but also buildings in the Plaza de Espanal which were gorgeous. Even as wiped out as I already was, and knowing I had a long night ahead of me, I was happy to have taken on this detour.

As we began the walk back into town, the fatigue hit me like a bull ramming a horse (you’ll understand this soon) so with great relief, we stopped for espresso (cafe leche, which is what I should of said because without leche is without milk – horrors!). My son, with some urging from us, went ahead to an archeology museum as Kelly, Jordan and I started out for the long walk to town without him for the first time as just The Girls. We had become such a quad-team, that it seemed off balance but soon was just fine.

The Kids went to a bullfight the night before, and since taking a young child was not recommended, they bought me a ticket for the night after. I saw the photos they took and found them disturbing, but also knew that this was probably going to be the only chance to see for myself what the fascination has been for others over the centuries to see a bullfight. Like Ernest Hemingway, for instance.

It was becoming quite apparent that I wasn’t going to get any rest before hand and had to walk directly to the arena. We had been out walking and exploring since 10 a.m. and it was now close to 6 p.m. When I get tired, so does Jordan and vice versa. I hit the invisible and proverbial wall of sheer exhaustion which meant thanking Kelly for walking me this far to the bullring to let her and Jordan continue on to the apartment for dinner as I could find my way from there thanks to the other thousands of people going to the bullring who weren’t now at the Feria. I sat on a sidewalk bench and gathered strength and wits for about 10 minutes while watching hundreds of people walking along with colorful little cushions carried in sacks.

As I entered the perimeter of the ring, hawkers and bullfight paraphernalia were everywhere. Women were very dressed up, I noticed, and I was a far cry from that. I took Kelly’s advice to use the restroom beforehand as she said it was near to impossible to move once seated. She was so right. The stone bleachers were high, steep, and packed tight. Just climbing over the rows was difficult to navigate and required a hand of help now and then as I had to make my way slowly and deliberately to row 9, seat 36 with eventual success.

As I arrived, asking to confirm where I was supposed to sit with the guy behind me, I met a young man who was from Columbia who started asking me questions about this being my first bullfight, how I had come alone, where I was from, and to stick with them. The invitation proved to be helpful as I had a couple of questions during the fight. He also was impressed with what he called my “open mind” for even attending a bullfight in the first place as it was so much of a cultural thing in only 5 countries in the world.

First off, as I am an animal lover, the whole idea of this so-called sport or dance with death, is as appalling to me as the idea of the Romans putting the Christians in the Roman Coliseum with lions. Although the Christians were far less armed than either a matador or a bull therefore at a greater disadvantage.

Secondly, watching some poor animal die is less than appealing to me as would possibly watching the matador meet a similar fate. The Columbian man told me that someone would die tonight, either the man or the animal. He said this was a battle of minds and someone being the stronger of the two would overcome the opponent in death.

I found that the pomp and circumstance was impressive as the matadors entered the ring to 14,000 people (sold out show) who were cheering as enthusiastically as if at a rock star’s concert. The matadors costumes were brilliant with glittered sequins and the capes had hot pink linings with the matadors wearing pink hosiery to match. There were huge horses walking in blindfolded with heavily padded back and side coverings led by less flashy costumed men. Then the fighting began.

I’m one of those people who can see blood by way of an accident, say with one of my kids getting stitched up after a fall when they were young, very clinically and stoically while the emergency is occurring. It is only after the ordeal is over that I view the circumstances more emotionally.

With that said, people are right to say children should not be in bullfighting arenas. I saw a child being carried over the bleachers who was about Jordan’s age and I could not imagine her being there without me putting my hand over her eyes for most of the 2 1/2 hours I was there.

The bull is made to become increasingly more exhausted with each tiptoed swirl of the cape, each pompadour’s stab of a spear, each ram the bull gives to the blindfolded padded horse, and each drop of blood that falls on the immaculately cleaned dirt grounds. The crowd almost whispers that word we have all heard at one time or another, “Ole” as the cape carefully and skillfully skims across the bull’s head. This traditionally fueled fight becomes much more one sided when the bull is only hanging on to life with his last thread of dignity knowing death is his alone.

The matador is on display for his skill in how long it takes to cleanly end this dance of death and If he does this well, the president of the bullfight, who is sitting in a special stone boxed area dead center of the ring, waves a flag that he is pleased with the performance. When this is the case, the audience members then also all wave their own flags which are small white handkerchiefs fluttering throughout the stands. The matador can then, and only then, take a ceremonial walk around the interior circle of the ring bowing as he picks up items the audience throws on the ground beside him, kisses it, and tosses it back to the owner of the item. Great cheers ensue if the item’s owner catches it on the fly.

If no flag is raised, the crowd murmurs discontent and the shamed matador walks out of the ring shamed by his poor performance. The bull is very dead one way or the other.

This went on six times, with seven bulls, and only one matador was given a standing ovation with thousands of white kerchiefs waving. The odd bull out was the first bull, (who was a tan color when all the rest were black), and whose front legs kept buckling in the very first few cape swirls causing interruptions in the flow of things and great sympathetic sighs from the fans of the bull. After an unsuccessful attempt to remove the poor little guy by ushering him out, they sent in a whole herd of black and white bulls whom he eventually followed out of the ring as they were pushed to stampede from the ring. I wonder if he was “put out to pasture” like “Ferdinand the Bull” or was he met by some other dastardly fate for having failed to die a so-called quick death.

The Columbian man asked me what I thought about the fight as we all started to leave and I told him, “I have now experienced it, and there is no need for me to ever do it again.”

Kinda like other things in life we don’t like and wish to never to experience again, eh? Ole…

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Meltdowns and Jackhammers

The news reports that bribery doesn’t work for “Corporate America” but it certainly can work for a 3 1/2 year old. We are sorry to resort to such base copouts, but if it works, we’ll do it at this point. “If you (do this or that) you can have ice cream later.” usually works like a charm.

Traveling on a compact 3 week vacation schedule, with several short stops, is much different than one with only two houses to settle into. Costa Rica last year provided kiddie play each day in a low stress environment. Beach or the pool were the primary choices and our little, then 2 1/2 year old, was in heaven (as were we). This year, we are now in location number 3 in a little over 1 week. Hard enough for us adults to fit in all we want to see and do let alone a kid who only wants ferris wheels, food, and playgrounds. Not necessarily in that order. “I’m hungry.” is a favorite refrain even 15 minutes after a full course meal when she really just needs to do something fun as a kid.

Meltdowns have come and gone and will continue to come and go, of this I am sure. However, I have learned to call her bluff with my own fake crying fit which reduces her to hysterical laughter. Sometimes I just have a hard time taking her seriously when there is some attention-getting stunt she’s trying to pull off and she knows it.

Since we left the Sevilla train station (the train ride went well with the Leapfrog, crayons, stickers and journal in tow and laid out on our 4 top table between us). Our trip has been non-stop of more adult-themed activities like forts (Alcazabars) and cathedrals. I had another flippin’ fall the first night we were meandering down the back cobblestone streets in Seville. I think my problem is that with bifocals I can’t always see the gradation of the cobblestones and then the tip of my fisherman sandals catch in the edge of a step or a stone, which, in this particular case, landed me flat on the ground face forward. A small crowd gathered, along with my ego, and although The Kids thought I had cracked open my head from the sound of it, and looked very worried, I was able to stand, brush myself off, and continue onward. I am now very aware of every step I take and purposely lifting my feet higher than I would normally. Do I sound like an old person or what?!?

On this leg of the journey, I vowed to rest with Jordan in the afternoons so neither of us got so burnt out that meltdowns would be commonplace for both of us. Problem was that after finishing one or more activities, naps ended up being at 4:30 in the afternoon keeping us up until close to midnight later on. The cool apartment we were staying in had some work being done in the basement (we were in a mansion which had been converted to several apartments). This meant jackhammering waking us up at 9 a.m. (no one seems to start work early like the Americans). Our location was on a prime street (Mateo Gato) and just steps from the 3rd largest gothic cathedral in the world. The sounds I didn’t mind were church bells sounding on the hour and the clopping of horse hooves pulling carriages.

Sevilla was filled with the excitement of the Spring Feria (Fair) with locals preparing a year in advance designing their colorful flamenco dresses and casetas (individually owned party tents at the fairgrounds). Women of every age (including kids in strollers) dressed in their spring feria outfits, including Jordan. Oh, how she loved shopping with me to find her dress, fan, and special headband with a fake flower in the middle. All in pink, of course. She wanted to not only sleep in it (took some creative talking to change her mind) but also put it on as soon as she woke up (again with the creative reasoning that after breakfast and teeth brushing was best).

One morning we visited the beautiful palace and gardens of the Alcazabar which also brought Jordan and I up close and personal with one duck and two noisy peacocks strutting and wiggling their rear end feathers with all the panache of a strip tease show. Whether its a bird or a bug, bring some element into a tour that appeals to a kid. I’m also saying the word ‘architecture’ and pointing out gorgeous buildings. Anything to pique her interest even for a minute to ward off another “I’m hungry.” statement coming from her 3 1/2 year old head.

We were one of the first in line to see the inside of this massive cathedral, the world’s 3rd largest gothic with St, Peter’s in Rome as 1st and St. Paul’s in London the 2nd. The choir area was beautiful with carvings of mythical and symbolic creatures on arms of dozens of chairs in bleacher-type rows. Chistopher Coumbus’ remains in a casket (allegedly) are on display looking small in comparison to the 4 giant pallbearers flanking the sides of his simple wooden box held on their shoulders.

Later that afternoon, while The Kids were at a bull fight, Jordan and I caught a taxi to to the Macarena church where the famous Weeping Madonna was housed when not the center of attention in some religious parade or ceremony. I find my Catholic childhood bubbling up in the oddest ways by going out of my way to see things like this, but the statue was one of the prettiest madonnas I’ve seen and one of the most beautiful little churches. (It was also much more reverent than, say, the big cathedrals so the little missy had to really tone it down, which she did, all the while being a smart &@# by sshhhing me.)

From there we caught another taxi with Mr. Grumpy Pants the Taximan. What an unpleasant man! I shouldn’t have even tipped him, although that did seem to soften him up a little. Maybe he is one of those “good old boys” who think women and children make for cheap fares and/or tips. These guys need to wisen up to the 21st century to understand women could be their most generous advocate.

Anyway, he dropped us off at the Flamenco Museum where we saw an hour long flamenco show for €20. This was a bargain in comparison to what I had seen advertised so far. Jordan was dressed in her new pink polka dotted feria dress along with some Moroccan accessories I had bought for her in Granada. Wow, for a little kid, she did remarkably well during the captivating performance except for one very audible yawn during a soulful guitar solo and a little jangle of her Moroccan coin-like laden pink shawl. I managed to escape with her about 5 minutes before the performance ended thus eliminating any embarrassing moments from the particularly uptight fellow sitting in the row in front of us (which even had an aisle space between our rows, so it wasn’t like we were on top of him.).

From there we walked the side streets and found a playground (where for 2 terrifying minutes I thought I had “lost” Jordan) on the way to dinner at an interesting bodega (casual restaurant) where the motif was photos and paintings of every pose possible showing Jesus with his crown of thorns. A bit over the top but the food was decent. Jordan behaved well except when her suddenly shoeless feet perched on her chair; I quickly corrected her posture. Some tapas for us and a sherry for me, and we were off again.

We found our way back to the apartment by asking people where the cathedral was, which was all we needed to say to be pointed the way. One young guy walked towards us asking me something in Spanish and I gave the patent answer of “No habla Espanol.” He replied in American English, “Neither do I! Do you know where Alfalfa is?” It just so happened that was where we had just been so I was able to tell him the general direction of how he needed to snake his way through the calles. I asked him where the cathedral was and he had to laugh saying he had no clue. Jordan reassured me (not that I was nervous, as I knew we were going in the right general direction) that although it was dark now, we would find our door if we only kept our eyes open and kept moving forward. Kind of like life sometimes, isn’t it?

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The Alhambra, Frozen Pizza, and Bathing the Arab Way

Traveling tends to blur the days together. Hard to believe a week has already passed since my family and I left the U.S. for Spain. Already Malaga is a distant memory and Granada is a fresh memory fading slowly.

The last couple of days in Granada were very full. The Alhambra was an amazing fortress which took 6 hours to get through, but no one ever seems to mention that when you ask. The start was a bit rocky as Christopher couldn’t find his ticket and couldn’t come in with us. Then, Kelly had trouble getting in as the scanner said her ticket wasn’t valid. Later, another entry point scanner claimed my ticket wasn’t valid and that I had already entered 5 minutes beforehand. We had duplicate numbers issued which only became more convoluted after Christopher managed to get reprints of his ticket. But, at least he got in. I wasn’t able to see the palace, but they saw it at night and vouched for its beauty. And what I did manage to see was impressive even without the palace. The artisans of this place were meticulous in the details, designs, and extraordinary workmanship in general.

But, it was much larger than I had anticipated so when I found out that the white structure on a neighboring hill wasn’t a monastery that other tourists were paying to visit, but was the other palace included in the tour we were on, I was already too exhausted and sore to really comprehend how much further I still had to walk. The look on my face as Kelly said’ “Ummm…I think that’s where we’re heading and is part of the tour.” probably was an all inclusive look of terror.

Jordan kept saying she and I were one “team” and her parents were the other “team.” Probably had something to do with how slow we were in comparison to them. The tortoise and the hare story comes to mind, for some reason.

We took a less traveled hill to get back to level ground in Granada-proper, which was an excursion in itself. It was steep, dry, with gravel and dust. There were a couple of times I had to sit on an old stone wall to take photos of flowers while I waited for strength to return. I’m a bit ticked off that the pedometer i bought from Groupon only seems to work if I’m doing jump ups, so, in effect, is worthless. I was looking forward to great rewards to myself for walking over 10,000 steps a day. (I rewarded myself anyway.) We stopped at a little cafe over a medieval bridge at the bottom, and talk about ticked off. Christopher was none too pleased that the pizza we ordered had to have been a frozen one from a supermarket with a couple of fresh sliced olives tossed on for show. No wonder they couldn’t deviate from the toppings listed! Jordan liked it just fine (although when prompted agreed her dad’s homemade pizza was much better, which is true.). The beer was great, nonetheless, after such a long 6 hours of walking. Pilgrimage, anyone?

Getting back to our terraces, and most importantly my bed for a little lie down, was a relief. And, although I would have paid top dollar for a day of rest, Kelly was good at talking me into going to the Arab bathhouse (Hammam Banos Arabes) for the next day and made reservations for 2 p.m. Sunday. Wow, such a beautiful place! It was lit with lanterns in niches, cavern-like walls, mosaic pools of hot, warm, and freezing cold water as well as a sauna and a sitting area to refresh oneself with warm sweet tea and interestingly tasting candies. Soft Arabic music floated throughout the facility and we thought the place was all ours, except for one young man, for about 15 minutes. Then the throngs of women, young, old, and in between, all chattering in Spanish and excited to be there. Our perspective was that these were local women fulfilling the tradition of Sunday baths and gossip. The baths were still absolutely worth the experience even with the clucking of all the hens.

Leaving the calle of the bathhouse relaxed, calm, happy, I tripped on one of those blasted little stone steps that jut up everywhere when least expected. Only this time, my flip flop slid on the one stone ramp and down I went right on my bum and the Arab baths were but a fleeting memory.

As we were on the way to the train station the next day in a taxi, having clopped down the cobblestone calles and stairs from the Albayzin with our wheelie luggage (except my son who is able to pack it all in a backpack), there in the same spot not far from where we saw him before, was the “baby-man” whom we are now thinking has a unique style to his panhandling method. As you can see from the photo, his grotesque clown-like features just burn an indelible imprint on the brain. Much better to think of the views of the Alhambra. Oh, and never accept sprigs of rosemary from the women milling about the churches in Spain. They will want compensation. Luckily I learned that from Rick Steves and not from experience. The other thing Rick was right about was that people not only let their dogs run loose, they don’t pick up after them, if you get my drift. Walk carefully to sidestep that and watch those little cobblestone steps. Other than those things and a certain man who dresses like a baby, it’s a beautiful town.

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Grandeur of Granada, New Shoes, and a Baby

Our apartment in Granada had two terraces both facing a massive fort which sprawled over the top of a nearby hill. At night it was beautifully lit highlighting the multi-shaped earthen colored towers and ramparts.

When my multigenerational family arrived in Granada, we caught a taxi from the bus station (the ALSA bus we rode from Malaga to Granada gave each passenger a bag of treats, earphones for the radio plug-in, and free Wi Fi which worked for most of the 2 hour ride), and were dropped off at a small shop in the Albayzin which is the oldest neighborhood in the city.  We waited a relatively short time for the owner of the VRBO apartment we were renting to arrive,  but it was long enough to feel the need to find ways to entertain my four year old granddaughter as we waited.

From there, the owner Christine walked us to the apartment over hilly, cobblestone alleys, and homes with white stucco facades, some of which had colorful plaques with the name of the casa. The was a view of the neighborhood peeking out here and there while we seemed to be walking in a never-ending maze from which we would never emerge from in this lifetime. It was good to learn, however, the heart of the city was in a different direction and not too far from our place.

After previewing the modest 3 level apartment and depositing luggage in respective bedrooms, we ventured back into the maze to find the children’s flamenco classes Christine told us would begin at 4 p.m. and anyone was welcome to watch. These were to be held in the Sacromonte neighborhood where gypsies have made their home for ages, building homes into the side of the hills above the Darro River. After traipsing up, up, and up through the neighborhood, we found an outdoor cafe for tapas and liquid refreshments and a view of the looming Alhambra. The only people we saw were several residents either strolling down the road or standing in their doorway smoking cigarettes wearing bathrobe and slippers. Siesta time was over and we were a novelty. Never found the flamenco school but we had a fascinating walk. There were no tourists, other than us.

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Back to the Albayzin we experimented with two bars serving tapas in our area. One was at the top of the Moorish bazaar who served olives in a bowl. A church next door was having evening matins sung by nuns in white habits. Jordan and I went inside quietly and stood very still listening as we glanced at one another with eyebrows raised in awe. The nun’s voices were crystal clear and quite lovely to hear.

We all walked down the steep narrow road to the other bar which served half loaves of bread and cheese in a medieval atmosphere of knights in shining armor, swords, and Madonna music videos playing too loud. Madonna’s music video did not hold the same allure as the nun’s voices.

I bought Jordan a belly dancer scarf in the bazaar as I could not resist the sweet pink color and glint of silver coins sewn into the fabric fringe. Her dad didn’t let her wear it around town the next day in fear of her either losing it or that it sent the wrong message, I’m still not quite sure which.

The following morning as everyone else slept in while I got up early, made coffee and caught up on my correspondence while sitting on the terrace facing the Alhambra. By noon we were heading into town with specific goals in mind. One was to print our Alhambra tickets at a recommended bookstore, I needed to buy a phone so we could keep in touch when in separate places, do some grocery shopping, exchange currency (and get robbed by the commission), plus see the main cathedral. We unknowingly passed by a couple of these understated storefronts and had to double back, also ended up at a supermarket at a greater distance than we had hoped, couldn’t find the cathedral easily, and I was building up a doozy of a blister from the new shoes.

Before leaving home in Seattle, I had changed my mind about bringing a pair of broken in shoes because they were too heavy.  I found the same brand in a lighter weight fishermen style sandal/shoe. They had been fine in Malaga but all the walking on this day and the day before did my feet no favors. It is another reminder to ALWAYS break in shoes BEFORE the trip, not during. I now had a bleeding blister which made the trek back to our apartment less than enjoyable. However, what a great excuse to stop for beverages and tapas twice in one long stretch of an afternoon. Three stops would have been better.

All the misery aside, this town is so vastly different from one neighborhood to the next that one really can feel the difference quite clearly. Here we were staying in a 1000 year old section of town walking into a city which teemed with protestors at one end and high-end shopping districts with ritzy hotels at the other end. Then add in all the churches and architecturally interesting building facades hundreds of years old in between. So much to see!

There were protestors not far from the cathedral as we arrived. As we waited for the light to change, my son Christopher indicated to look across the street. Kelly gasped and said she was totally “creeped out” and I laughed while going for my camera to get a shot of this once in a lifetime vision. A baby carriage by the protestors had a baby with a blue bonnet on waving its’ hands with a pacifier in his mouth. I looked a little closer and saw the baby is not what I expected.  Instead of a child, there was s a grown man whose body is somehow camouflaged by the carriage, with garish rouge on his cheeks and a mocking look about him. I quickly took the photo and later saw in the photo that he was looking straight at me giving me a thumbs up. Creepy is an understatement. The last thing we wanted was for Jordan to see this since the silver painted man pretending to be a statue outside another church was scary enough (even though he stayed very frozen in his pose, his eyes and mouth twitched mischievously at her as she scurried past).

Other than the occasional oddities seen on every adventure, one thing very noticeable to me during these few days in Spain was how friendly and warm the Spanish people appeared. The overall personality of this country is kind and inviting.

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Small World, Even in Malaga

From the cathedral, I ran into the Cambridge Couple but still hadn’t seen The Kids. Came across the Picasso Museum, waited in another queue (but not nearly as long as in Heathrow’s Immigration), and had a humorous hour and a half wandering through Picasso’s nutty life. Funny guy.

Outside again, the weather was sunny and warm. Almost passed by an ice cream stand but stopped in time to pick up a tiramisu and coffee double cone eating it on the way to somewhere.

The “somewhere” was a plaza where they were setting up for some event. I sat and rested from the walking throughout the 3 floors of the museum, and wondered what to do next. Took a couple of photos of the large Picasso mural on the wall nearby and the exterior of the yellow trim apartment building where he grew up. Malaga seems to be cashing in on Picasso’s fame as once he was old enough, he left Malaga never to return except for one brief visit.

As I rounded a corner, there was the Alcazabar on the hill nearby. I found the entrance after asking a nice British couple to take my photo in front of the ruins, and made the slow trek up the hill to the fort. Entry fees were only €.60 as a Senior, which was awesome.

Took photos as I crawled up to this massive fortress, sometimes waiting a few minutes for tourists to get out of the frame of the photo I was trying to take. Made it to the gardens, turned around, and there were The Kids. They had just arrived and apparently had overslept but did get to the bus station to buy our tickets for the next day’s 11 a.m. bus ride to Granada. Jordan was so happy to see me it was like it had been months and not just a few hours since we had last seen each other. We continued our trek up the several tiers of this gorgeous fort having fun with some of the photos we took.

Christopher and Kelly wanted to take the big hike to the upper regions of the fort which, although the views would be magnificent, did not enthuse me in the least. So Jordan and I went down to the outdoor cafe below and while she had chocolate ice cream, I had a glass of wine. It was at least 4p.m. by now. The Cambridge couple stopped by and since they had to leave early for The Rock (Gibraltar) the next morning, and after hearing a free breakfast wasn’t included in our room coast as it was there’s, Terry gave me their last name and room number telling me to feel free to use that for our breakfast the next morning. Very sweet of them.

From there Jordan and I walked back to the hotel stopping at a bright red playground near the harbor along the way. There was a little 1 1/2 year old girl, with her grandmother, struggling to get to the slide. The baby was dressed in a red thick fabric dress with black tights and maryjane shoes looking as Spanish as I would imagine a Spanish baby to look. I helped the grandmother get her granddaughter down the wavy slide and we did our best communicating with the language barrier. There really is very little barrier if you let humor into the picture.

After a brief rest in the hotel room, the adult kids returned, and we all crossed the street for dinner in a funky little corner deli with a slightly Arabesque feel to it. We were the only customers in the 2 hours we were there (uh oh), although a toothless goofy guy came in briefly to chat with the owners and tell us (in broken English) pointing out that the plastic bird in the birdcage was the real bird’s “girlfriend”, which now, of course, explained why the bird was humping the plastic one. (WTH?)

Kelly and I had chicken in a pita pocket which, after some trepidation, we found to be very tasty with the sauce it included. The highlight of dinner, however, was not the food or wine, but the entertainment.

On top of one of the high shelves was a birdcage which held the small parrot. When Jordan and I started paying attention to it, the woman who owned the place took the bird out. It flew around landing on our heads, fingers, shoulders, and Jordan was enthralled following the little guy around with a toothpick that the bird had no intention of mounting. This was better than watching a newly run kid’s movie. The owner was a crackup with her antics around this bird. Her closing act was showing us how she could put the poor bird’s head in her mouth and then pretending to chomp down.

Hope that really was chicken in that delicious sauce…

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