Tuesday, April 23, 2013


We take a break from our regularly scheduled programming of painfully-slow-cruise-recap to bring you up to snuff on the latest happenings.

Namely, La Primavera

Spring, glorious Spring. Me encanta.

Don't be hatin' the italicized Spanish. Yes, it's a bit pretentious, but I'm surrounded by it.

Spanish, not pretentiousness.

Oh, is spring ever gorgeous here in Madrid! Although to be fair, I love spring everywhere. It brings out the best of any location, don't you think?
It's still a bit nippy in the mornings, but perfectly warm and sunny in the afternoons.
Today after school we changed out of uniforms and took popsicles to the park. Madrid's most famous park is just 2 blocks from our piso, which is wonderful.

Derek is into fútbol now, like any good Spanish lad, and so he and Josh have a great time kicking the ball around. There's a nice playground right where we enter the park, and everything is just so green and pretty now.
I've heard about how hot it gets here in July and August, so I'm guessing we'll be spending some time in the shade there, and playing in the fountains.

Tomorrow we have a meeting with Derek's teachers again (they do parent conferences 4 times a school year!) and we're looking forward to hearing how sweet and loveable he is.
What? It's true. And I'm only slightly biased because he's a mama's boy. ;)

And I think he's handsome even with bedhead.

He bounds down the steps at school every day with a huge smile, waving to everyone he knows, even though he just left their sides. "Hola Carlos! Hola Pablo! Hola Maria! Hola Paula!"
(I'm not being stereotypical, those really are the names of his classmates. There are several Marias, actually. The Spanish are traditional with their names.)

Things I love about 5 year old Derek
Everything makes him happy.
A fruit snack is the greatest surprise ever.
His Spanish accent is really good.
He lives to find a seat on the Metro. When someone vacates theirs, he will let nothing stop him from being the first to squeeze his little toosh into it, forget about it old lady-- you're too slow.
Then he will grin at me and announce his victory.
Then he will forgive me for making him give his seat to the old lady.
He has never been an "I have to do it myself" kind of kid, which is often convenient. And often not.
But he is now, reliably and successfully, wiping his own bottom. (Angel choir sings hallelujah.)

There are many, many more things to add to the list, but I'll save it for another time. 
And quite frankly, it's hard to top that last one when you have a kid who is prone to early-morning bowel movements on Saturday mornings.
I mean, really, who does that?

We had a busy, fun weekend. On Saturday we tried out the zoo for the first time. It was really nice, and it even has a small aquarium which just about rocked Derek's world. You might recall he is a bit of an ocean-animal enthusiast.
It also has the most prolific baboon area I have ever seen. We saw lots of disgusting things going on.
Baboons are kind of gross. Entertaining, but gross.
Then, since we live on the wild side, we walked from the zoo over to the Parque de Atracciones (the amusement park) for just a couple of rides.
I will have to bring a camera next time to show you the crazy things that my 7 year old enjoys. Things that make me nauseous just to watch. And things that make me fear for her life. She totally surprises me with that! She can often be so cautious, but I guess roller coasters are just her thing. Brave girl!

Then on Sunday afternoon, we tried out the Teleférico, which is the last thing on the passes we bought that we hadn't tried yet. (They're also good for a much-reduced entry to the local waterpark, but that's not open yet.)
The Teleférico is an aerial cable car that takes you over the western part of the city, including Casa de Campo park. There's a playground and restaurant at the top of the ride, and pretty views along the way.

We could see the Palacio and Almudena Catedral in the distance.

Josh getting some love from his girl.

Da boys.

Josh appears to be the only one capable of giving proper enthusiasm to my picture taking.

At the playground...

When we headed out for our outing, the metro was empty, as is often the case on weekend days. When we headed home, it was a miserable mass of humanity. Must have been some fútbol going on.

You'd be amazed how many people can fit in that space. You really get to know each other well. I can even tell what people just ate for lunch.

Personal space in Europe-- I'm still adjusting.

Pues, bien.
Overall, we are totally thrilled with this opportunity and are enjoying it as much as possible. We know this is just a short season in our lives and we are grateful to have it and are making many happy memories.

I am also capable of see the cup as half-empty: It's all downhill from here.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Famous Tower and What Not

Let's begin with the What Not.

I realize that this is the slowest vacation recap known to mankind. By the time I finish it, we'll probably have gone on another vacation.

So spring has sprung in Madrid! We took a turn for the warmer on Sunday, and it looks as if the 70's are here to stay. I'll take it! And hope it lasts for awhile before summer makes its appearance.

The kids made the switch to their spring uniforms-- ditched the sweaters, short sleeved polos in place of the blouses/oxfords, switch from tights to knee socks for Alex, and shorts for Derek.

Well, maybe they would be better described as culottes. Or capris. They are quite long.
I would have gotten them hemmed, but then he might outgrow them and I would be forced to buy another pair next year and that cannot be allowed to occur.

Forty euro people. For shorts/culottes/call-them-what-you-will-they-are-ugly.
That would be $52.28.

I do not own a pair of pants that cost that much.

But we'll let that go. Because now he's starting to speak Spanish and if it isn't the most adorable thing in the world then I don't know what is.
Right now it's just a couple of words here and there, but once he starts speaking in sentences I will be sure to post a video clip so we can all share in the cuteness.

I believe it was sometime on our cruise that he made the switch from "Okay" to the Spanish equivalent of "Vale."

Me: Derek, stop picking your nose.
Derek: Vale.

Now isn't that just precious? ;)

Alex isn't saying quite as much as her brother (it's harder the older you are), but she is definitely understanding more and more. Josh and I used to be able to get away with talking over their heads in Spanish and it isn't flying anymore.

We had a surprise for them on Saturday, and naturally they were asking about it every 5 minutes, trying to figure it out.
Finally I told Alex, "Déjame en paz, no está abierto hasta mediodia!" (Leave me alone, it's not open until noon.)
Then she causally walks over to her brother to report, "Mom said it's not open yet, so it must be someplace we are going."
They are definitely making progress.

Oh, and the surprise was a visit to the amusement park here in Madrid. We bought a pass that will get us in to the amusement park, the zoo, and some other local attractions for the rest of the year. We were quite impressed with the park-- it was like a Six Flags with lots of kids attractions for Derek and plenty of terrifying nausea-inducing rides for Alex.
Which she rides with her father, por supuesto.

We had a great time-- there's a metro line that takes us right there, and since we have the passes we can go and spend a few hours and leave before everyone's exhausted and cranky. I foresee a lot of time there in the months to come. 

In other news, I signed up for a Spanish class with a Groupon I found here. It was a really good deal for 12 weeks of classes, twice a week.
But as it turns out, I'm a Spanish class misfit. The school uses the levels for the DELE exam, which is a Spanish as a foreign language diploma program.
Of course, I'm not interested in testing for a diploma, I just want to be able to communicate better. So I took the placement test and enrolled.
The levels go A-1, A-2, B-1, B-2, C-1, and finally C-2

And the placement test was an online written test.

Folks, I studied The Grammar. Recuerdas?
When I was in Monterey I done studied The Grammar.

And so I did okay on the written test. With no speaking or listening component.

And they put me in level C-1. With all the smarty-pants folks who can essentially speak Spanish.
And I am the worst speaker in the whole class. And I would happily wave my white flag of surrender and ask to be moved back a level, but the grammar that the teacher is covering in class is right at my level. It's interesting and challenging, and I've decided to just stay put and be the worst speaker in the class.

So there you have it.
My kids will soon be talking circles around me, but I will be able to tell them that they should have used the subjunctive in such and such scenario.

We've had a couple extra family members here starting on Saturday night. We're watching the children of another American couple we met here. The kids are in Alex's and Derek's classes, and so the excitement level of a 4 night sleepover is running high.

So far everyone is alive and well, no one has fallen into a metro track, been hit by one of the motorcycles that like to drive on the sidewalks here, or left for school without brushing their teeth, so I'd say we're getting by.
Their parents left us some adult beverages with which to unwind in the evenings. ;)

Okay, now we shall leave the What Not and return to the Famous Tower segment.
After our rainy day in Rome, we were thrilled to find some sun in Pisa.

Derek took a moment to soak it in.

Pisa was about a 20 minute train ride from the port, and by then we felt like Italian train experts.
Except not really.
But we did get everywhere we needed to go, so that's something.

Crossing the river, and hoping we're heading the right way.

Yes! A reassuring sign. We will find the tower and we will take cheesy photos.

Check. Check.

Yes, I'm wearing gym sneakers like any uncool tourist.
It was a lot of walking.

But let me assure you that the Spaniards would not have been caught dead in them. I was the only woman getting off the ship in anything less than heeled boots.

Man, one day the kids are going to look at this picture and think, Boy are my parents cool for setting this one up.

Or not.
They probably wont even appreciate that we took them to see Europe.

But they did appreciate having gelato in Italy.
Derek said it was the best ice cream he ever had in his whole life.

Of course, he's never actually had ice cream. But I'll take his word that it was the best dairy-free ice cream imitation he's ever had.

This one loves all ice cream indiscriminately. She gets it from her mother. And helado is one word she is definitely familiar with.

Vale. Enough for now.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Friends, Romans, Countrymen; lend me your...


And so we continue with our cruise recap. When last we left off, we had boarded our cruise ship in Barcelona. The next day was an "at sea" day, and we explored the ship, enjoying the food, drinks, and kids clubs. 

The next day's schedule called for a stop in Tunis, Tunisia. I was excited to get my first glimpse of Africa, although due to military personnel restrictions we weren't able to get off the ship.
But early in the morning they made the announcement that due to high winds, it wasn't safe to dock and the ship would be skipping the port.
We weren't super disappointed since we had no plans to get off the ship, but a lot of the other folks were let down.
And then things got worse.

When they made the announcement, the seas were seemingly calm. Fast forward another hour and the wind started to pick up, and the boat started rockin'.
Really rockin'.

I've experienced a few rough sea days on cruises, but this was by far the worst. Since I have a slight tendency to motion sickness, I spent the afternoon in my bed. Horizontal felt much better, and I was able to nap away the hours of rough seas.
Josh, fighter pilot with stomach like tank, had taken the kids to the club and then went down to reception to pick up some anti-nausea medicine for me.
When he came to deliver it, he told me that I should not go out there.

It was like a zombie apocolypse. Seasick people were everywhere, looking half dead on their feet and vomiting with reckless abandon.
He said they were all laid out on the floor in the reception area, moaning and groaning.

Let us discuss this.
I think we needed a few ground rules.

1) If you are an adult, and you are feeling nauseus, STAY IN YOUR ROOM. You know, near your toilet.
2) If you are an adult, and you are feeling nauseas, and you have no other recourse than to leave your room for whatever the reason may be, BRING SOMETHING WITH YOU WITH WHICH TO CATCH YOUR BODILY FLUIDS.
Nobody wants to see that. Or hear that. Or smell that.

We felt so bad for the crew that day, having to work with the ship pitching back and forth, and having to clean up after humans acting like animals.

Josh went up to the kids' club to check on Alex & Derek. Eight of the 12 kids in Alex's room had vomited, including her.
She wasn't feeling very seasick, but it turns out when 7 other kids are puking all around you it becomes somewhat hard to avoid it.
Double ew.

Josh brought them back to the other cabin (we had 2) and they watched a movie while I napped.
When I woke up the seas were much calmer and we were able to enjoy the evening despite the rough day.

The next morning, we got off the ship in the port of Civitavecchia, which is about a 45-minute train ride from Rome. We tried to be fairly adventurous and explore on our own at the ports versus pay the high prices for the ship excursions. I did a lot of research beforehand on how to get around.
We found public transportation in Italy to be much less user-friendly than France, but both countries had many more English speakers than what we experience in Spain.

Here we are riding a train through the Italian countryside.

Rome was the the place we were probably the most excited to see. Alex and I had studied it quite a bit in our homeschooling time, so even she was interested to see some of the things we'd learned about.

Unfortunately, it rained on our parade.

The first thing we did when we arrived was see the Colosseum, which we all enjoyed. It was still dry at that point in time.

It was a bit surreal to be inside of something so old. To know that from where we were standing, people watched as gladiators fought to the death, and Christians were fed to the lions for the crime of confessing Christ.
We had a good talk about how far we as humans can go in the name of entertainment and doing what seems right to ourselves with no outside frame of reference.
Seven and five are just about the right ages for a lighthearted discussion on the depravity of mankind, no?

And cue the rain.

It started to come down fairly hard, so we ducked into a restaurant and had some overpriced pasta and pizza.
Then we headed back out to see what we could see...

...And we came to the realization that no matter what we had hoped to see, when you're cold and wet it's just not fun.

We managed to find the Trevi fountain and snap a quick picture by the Spanish steps.

 We were smiling in that last one because we could see the metro stop and knew we'd be on a dry train soon.

It was a little disappointing, but at least we weren't being fed to the lions.

Our next day was a definite improvement. Next up, Pisa!