Spanish Traditions..

We are slowly catching on to some of the Spanish traditions… or maybe they aren’t traditions, but things they just do.. just because.  One of them happens to be this… when you get your hair cut here, you get to live through the next day getting hit on the head by all who notice.. kind of like getting pinched on St. Patrick’s Day for not wearing green.  So here’s Owen.. 

And here’s Owen on his way to school the next day..

Another thing the Spanish people discourage you from doing is putting your purse on the ground.  Aside from it possibly being stolen, they believe that when you put your purse on the ground, the money will fall out of it… So many restaurants have hooks on their tables..

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We have Valentine’s Day.. they have Sant Jordi Day..

I think I prefer their to ours.  On Sant Jordi Day (at least in Catalunya) the girls are to give the boys books and the boys are to give the girls red roses.  So everywhere on every street corner are single red roses for sale.  And there are book stands lining the streets.  It’s beautiful and simple.  It reminded me once again of (forgive me for mentioning this yet AGAIN).. the Flower Man.  If you haven’t purchased it by now… well… I don’t know what to say.  Anyway, there’s nothing better than seeing people giving flowers to each other.  
The women, on the other hand, have to do a bit more work.. as selecting a book is slightly more thoughtful (and challenging) than purchasing a flower on the street corner.  But I think both are more magical than how out of hand Valentine’s Day gets in the US.

So Doug and I both went up to school to see the traditional Sant Jordi’s Day celebration with all of the kids dancing in costume to traditional Catalan Music…

And afterwards, while the kids headed home, Doug and I headed to Plaza Catalunya to sit and watch the celebration….  If I were Barnes and Noble.. or a flower store in the US.. this is one holiday I would most certainly adopt!

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Petri Dishes.

While our life here has slowed down substantially.  There are some conveniences I really miss.  Like Amazon for example.  Do you realize Amazon is new to Spain as of last fall?  And the choices of things (cosas) are rather slim pickings.  BUT there is Amazon UK.. however, there are some things you can’t have shipped from the UK because of weight or whatever (i.e. the vacuum cleaner I ordered).  Anyway, for us (like many of you)… it’s “that time of the year”.

It’s that time of the year when science projects are due.  In fact, not only one, but two!  As both kids have science projects due.  Emma, because of her affinity for animals, decided to do an experiment with her friend Jessica.  Their goal was to test to see if dogs really do have cleaner mouths than people.  But to broaden it even more, they wanted to throw in a rabbit, a hamster, a cat, and a pig in the park.  It seemed like a relatively easy project to embrace.  All we would need for the experiment would be prepared petri dishes and willing subjects.

While you can order petri dishes online in the US.. you cannot in Spain.  So while Doug was home (in the US) I put him on this task.. and he put my mom on the task.. and she was able to find petri kits at Hobby Lobby…

Only the $1.99 petri dish kits didn’t work.  The kit included a plastic dish (which if  you sterilize properly… i.e. putting in boiling water) melt.  And the agar (the key component of making the petri dish) didn’t dissolve as it should have.. so we ended up with a glumpy yellow mess.  So off I went to find petri dish kits in Spain.  Nothing on Amazon Spain.. nothing online locallly available… but I was able to find Agar (also used as a cooking ingredient) at the local El Corte Ingles (grocery/department store… picture Macy’s with Kroger in the basement).  Anyway, with our new Agar in hand, we mixed up our petri dish batch… and once again… nothing. It looked better, but nothing was growing after we swabbed all of the above listed animals.

Clearly our agar wasn’t working.. or perhaps my lack of ability to do anything that involves cooking or stirring was the problem… so I decided while I was at Owen’s doctor appointment to ask in my limited Spanish if the doctor by chance had any petri dishes I could purchase.  She didn’t, but happily wrote me a prescription for petri dishes and told me to take it to a nearby pharmacy.  Which I did.  The dishes would be ready “manana”.

So the next day I took the train to go pick them up…and they weren’t ready.  But they would be ready “manana”.  So the next day I went and they were closed (not open on Sundays).  The next day I went and sadly, they could’t get the dishes, but they did have agar I could purchase!

So I wrote the teacher a letter explaining our issue with our science fair project and she happily hooked the girls up with the head of the science department who had some agar that they could use (possibly different than the cooking agar?  I don’t know)… but that agar seems to be causing something nasty to grow in the petri dishes.  The only bad part is.. we started growing things in the dishes before we’d even sampled the animals a third time…which goes back to the sterilizing…  and so the saga continues.  Ugh!

 

 

 

 

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I think he paid me a compliment. (UPDATED)

I’ve had a rough morning.  Got up late to take the kids to school thinking we were perfectly on time… but it would have been on time for our lives in Terrace Park, not here.  Anyway, I told the kids I would drive them to school.  Upon exiting our building and trying to hurry onto the narrow street out of our narrow garage (think right angles here with little to no room.. and no, Doug, you are not allowed to comment on this).. I hit the curb and popped the tire.  After like 5 seconds of driving, I realized there was a problem.  So the kids hopped out of the car and took the Metro to school.  I called Christian our answer to everything and he had our car towed and the tire replaced.

It is now 12:30… I picked the car up at 12.  All repaired.  But it was the cab ride to getting the car that made my day… until I realized what the cab driver might be saying.  So here’s the dialogue.. all happening, of course, in Spanish…

Me:  Hi!  Can you please take me to blah blah blah.

Him:  Are you from Madrid?

Me:  (Inside totally smiling from ear to ear because I’ve often wondered if and when I speak Spanish fluently enough, what part of Spain my accent will sound like or will it be Mexico?)  So I ask him if my accent sounds like I’m from Madrid (again I asked in Spanish… yay me!)

Him:  or Sevilla.  But the girls here are all dark skinned, dark eyes, dark hair, skinny, etc.

Me:  (Thinking… hmmm… so it’s how I look… and I’m none of those things.. except for the dark eyes).

And then he starts talking about how all of the women work out here UNTIL they get married.  Then AFTER they get married, they really only go to the gym to shower.. they don’t work out.  Which made me laugh because Michelle and I have to shield our eyes every time we enter the bathroom at the gym for fear of well.. you know… and more often than not, there aren’t that many people working out!

I have no idea what he thought… but for today, I have an accent from Madrid or Sevilla.. and I completely look like I am not married and am one of “those” girls that actually goes to the gym to work out.  And BTW, the tips are much nicer with compliments.  I’ll bribe if I have to.

UPDATE:  I talked to my Spanish teacher, who then had me write, in Spanish about this whole experience.  She also told me that she thinks I might sound like I am from Seville because I pronounce my “jota’s” or “j”‘s in Spanish very “suave”.  And she agreed.  However, when I talked to the trainer at the gym about this.. his response was that people from Seville are hard to understand and don’t speak very clearly.  So I’m back to square one.  I have no idea what people are saying to me really, but I’ll just pretend they are loaded with compliments and go on my merry way.

 

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Christmas Eve…

You would think we might decide to spend our Christmas in this gorgeous town in Switzerland for the rest of our Christmas break.  But staying true to our promises, we piled in the car Christmas Eve morning to drive back over that treacherous road to head home to Barcelona.  A good 12 hour drive… as the kids wanted to wake up to Christmas here in Barcelona.

The only problem.. it had snowed a foot or so overnight in Saanen and was still coming down.  So when we woke up… we had no idea what kinds of roads we would have to deal with.. again without snow tires or chains…

Our hotel..

All I can say, is that the drive was scary.. icy roads, few cars, white out conditions, and me worrying about us running out of gas.. and getting caught in a blizzard.  It took us several hours to make it over the mountain.. and thankfully, upon exiting the mountain, we saw people stopped putting on their snow chains.  If I were to do it again, we would have taken the train.  Driving was a bit too scary.  And we made it back to BCN, in time to pick Boo up from the the dog sitters and watch Elf.

We made it through the mountains.. to no snow…




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We forgot to share one small piece of information…

…about our adventure in Switzerland.  And you’ll find out very soon.

After leaving Pete and Erika’s we hopped in the car and headed towards Saanen which for people who regularly ski in Switzerland might recognize Gstaad even more.  It’s high in the Alps and has a treacherous (in my eyes) road .. akin to driving Independence Pass in to Aspen in the winter (of which it’s closed!).  So without snow tires, or chains for our tires, but with four wheel drive, we left rainy Vevey for snowy Saanen.  The drive started off nicely, and as we got higher, we drove through clouds, saw rainbows, hit some snow and arrived just in time for lunch at the gondola (and ski shop) in Rougemont.

Not much snow for us.. but a portent of what we were heading in to...

It was there that Kara and family met us and patiently waited for us to get our ski equipment sized and ready to go.

We all hopped on the gondola for one of the most breathtaking rides of my life.. up..up…up…up…up…up… above tree line up…  to the top of the mountain for lunch.  The sky was crystal clear.. blue, blue, blue.. and the air was warm.  So no need for the hand warmers and feet warmers or even the additional layer of clothes I would typically throw on.  It was perfect!!!  Except for one small thing..

Kara pre-dealing with us.

Emma all geared up and ready to go.

 

I think this is Eli teaching Emma how to ski..

Jeff who so magically could not only ski backwards down the mountain, but ski with Owen on one of his knees as he hauled ski poles and all of us as well.

I neglected to mention to Kara that our kids had only skiied one other time in their lives.  And here we were at the top of what appeared to me to be a black diamond.. or two… or three..

..and off went Owen…

…and off went Jeff (Kara’s husband) after Owen.  It was SCARY!  A wrong turn would land you down a couple hundred feet.  And Kara’s kids were old pros at it!  So the Worple family (sans Doug because of his bad knee).. pizza pie sliced it down the mountain.. while Kara and family carried all ski poles.. and kids (at at times).  It was tough.. and we were definitely baggage for Kara and family to contend with.. but we had fun.  And the kids are eager to get back on skis and figure it all out.  However, we can’t thank our hosts enough.. who so spontaneously put up with us..

At the end of the day, I can honestly say, that I was the last person off of the mountain and none too soon. In fact, the only ski patrol person I saw the entire day, was the guy clearing the mountain of skiiers.  Where had he been all day?  I was hoping he would have found me sooner and given me a ride to the bottom on his snow mobile.  But to no avail..

So we made it down.. all in one piece and headed out to dinner with Kara and family (including her mom who also was in for a visit)..

 

After dinner we walked back to our hotel.. but on the way, the kids were all swinging on what looked to be a big disk… only Owen fell off face first into the snow, the pendulum swung back (with 3 kids on it) and hit Owen in the head just as he was getting up.   So off we went to the Emergency Room… a quick x-ray later the diagnosis was good.. but that he’d have quite a nugget on his head.. and need his molars pulled.  It was awful.. and painful.. and thankfully Kara and Co. made it all so much better.  

 

 

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We Ausfahrted!

Humor on the road in Germany…when you want to exit you…

And if you are exiting a parking garage, you might see a sign that says Gute Fahrt.  You can only imagine the jokes in our car as we fahrted our way through Germany… it almost tops the puns inspired by the Focking Gin that the Dinnick’s left us.  Anyway, we Ausfahrted out of Germany right in to Switzerland… with a little 3 minute interlude in Austria… we ended up in Lucerne… to a very grey, very rainy, cold, wet evening.  We stayed at a gorgeous hotel called the Hotel Montana that had beautiful views over Lake Lucerne.

A view from our room of Lake Lucerne.

A brave person rowing on the chilly day on Lake Lucerne. I can only imagine what the Lake looks like during the summer!

The Hotel even had a funicular you could ride from the hotel down to the street.  We spent a quick night here and then moved on to Vevey to visit our friends Pete and Erika (who moved to Switzerland this year from Mt. Adams in Cincinnati).  We arrived just in time to head out to dinner with their family and Erika’s sister (her family) and her mom.  And in true Swiss fashion, we went for fondue!

Now I’ve never officially been to a fondue restaurant, and I’m not a huge cheese fan, so you can only imagine the smell that greeted us at the door.  The kids and I all took a deep breath and politely breathed in through our mouths for the duration of dinner.  But it was all well worth the evening of dining… as the restaurant, upon delivering the next pot of fondue to the table, played the Swiss national anthem… and had Owen wave the giant Swiss flag as the fondue was placed in the middle of the table.  Then next came the massive, oversized, people sized pepper shaker to spice up your ‘due.

Erika's mom, sister and Erika... love these ladies!

 

Owen isn't a cheese fan... so he ordered a burger (Doug edit: All true, this just happened about 8 hours earlier at a truck stop in Switzerland - which wasn't anything like the massive I-80 truck stops you encounter in Iowa. Good eats though).

We had an amazing time with our buddies, crashing at their house, and then headed on the next morning to Saanen.. where once again, we would meet up with yet another set of great friends… only this time from Canada… :)

Kara's daughter on the left and one of Erika's on the right.

The amazing piece of artwork Pete and Erika got. The artists name is Charlie Adams.. so cool!

Here’s a link to other stuff done by Charlie Adams.

 

 

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Off to Neuschwanstein…

Just a few hours away from Munich, we drove to Neuschwanstein to see the castle and meet up with a childhood friend of mine and her family (as they are living abroad in Germany).  It couldn’t have been a better day!  The snow was falling as we were driving through beautiful countryside.. and the kids were digging through their bags to pull on their snow gear.   That’s one thing we miss here in BCN.. is the changing the weather.  I can’t complain about the weather being nice 90% of the time… but that odd rainy day, or snow day… I do miss.  Anyway, Neuschwanstein is a gorgeous castle built by King Ludwig II.   The name of the castle means, “New Swan Stone” and the swans can be seen throughout the castle. King Ludwig, however, only slept in the castle 11 nights.  And Neuschwanstein was the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle at Disneyland.

This is the castle, but with scaffolding around it as they were working on this side of the castle.

You can take horses up the mountain to the castle.. or walk.. we walked.. and had a few snowball fights along the way.

 

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It seemed a bit ironic…

…that I was reading The Book Thief (for our Book Club here in Barcelona) while we, as a family were staying in Munich. We arrived in Munich in time to visit their holiday market, but had a full day ahead of us, the next day, to explore the city.  So much to see and so little time!  There’s the BMW museum… there’s the Stadtmuseum that we could spend days in exploring… and there was Dachau.   So with one day, we took a vote and unanimously, we all agreed that we wanted to go to Dachau.  Emma had already read The Boy in The Striped Pajamas this summer.  Both kids had read Number the Stars and all have read The Diary of Anne Frank.  So naturally, there were lots of questions and a lot of curiousity. I cautiously was worried about what they might see and whether we would all leave having nightmares.

As Markus Zusak’s main character/narrator says, “I am haunted by Humans.”

“It is 1939, Nazi Germany.  The country is holding its breath.  Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.”

It was an ominous day.  The sky was overcast and a dingy grey, much like the wall surrounding Dachau.  We arrived and spent a good 4 hours watching a movie and taking a guided tour through the camp.  We heard stories of the many, many, many people who were brought to Dachau and killed.  We saw pictures, heard about the torture.. saw the gas chambers, the fireplaces.. the bunkbeds… it was all so horrendously awful.  It amazes me how one person can influence so many people.  And Hitler never even visited any of the concentration camps!  He just influenced others to do what they were doing!  Hungering for power and control, gypsies, Jewish people, political dissidents, were rounded up and sent to concentration camps all over Europe.

The approach to Dachau. Just 10 miles away from Munich. At its peak, the camp held 10,000 prisoners. Dachau was the first Nazi concentration camp to open (March 22, 1933.)

On either side of these trees would have been bunkhousees.. everything would have been immaculately kept.

In front of this in the Spring and Summer would have been beautiful flower beds. But in this building was where the victims were tortured.

 

 

Over 30,000 prisoners died at Dachau.

 

 

 

This is the gas chamber and crematorium. They would have the victims enter in one side and then they would undress, step in to the showers and then be cremated. Dachau is the only concentration camp to still have the showers intact. Although many arugue whether they were ever put to use at Dachau.

 

 

If you haven’t read The Book Thief, I encourage you to do so. It’s so beautifully written.  While I get chills going through these images again, I want to conclude this post with another book, The Flower Man.  I know, I talk about this too much with those of you who know me.. but if we can spread kindness and love, hopefully we can squelch out the horror that existed in Nazi Germany.

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Topline Tourism – Castles, Christmas Markets and Concentration Camps (Part One)

We took a family vacation the week before Christmas. A driving vacation – one like we used to take when we were kids. Journeys where we would load up the family vehicle (Galaxy 500 or Pacer as the case may be), and head to points West. Both my and Becca’s families took these trips. I think in the course of my childhood, I probably drove through 30+ states of the lower 48.

I never thought of vacationing by automobile as a uniquely American thing to do, but judging by the look on people’s faces here when I tell stories of our recent trip, it’s definitely not a very European thing to do. Perhaps because it is so cheap to fly elsewhere, or so easy to take the train. In doing so though I think you miss the opportunity for the unplanned, the spontaneous – the flexibility for whim (or weather) to take you to a place not planned. Thus, we wanted to drive. And so drive we did. 3500km worth of driving.  We left Saturday night (12/17) after Owen’s futbol game.  Our goal was to first drive to the furthest point on our trip and then gradually work our way back to Barcelona.

The first night’s drive was really just designed to give us a bit of a head start on the next day’s journey.  We drove 4 hours to Nimes, France. Nimes is famous for a lot of things. The Roman ampitheatre, Pont du Gard, and my favorite – a very durable textile – serge de nimes. Which most of us shorthand to denims – or blue jeans – first made famous in America by Levi Strauss.

After a quick overnight, and no sightseeing, we got on the road and made a 9-10 hour trek to Nuremberg, Germany which was the farthest point of our trip. On the latter part of this drive we had our first experience with the German autobahn.  We quickly learned the etiquette of the autobahn, which is for all intents and purposes to stay the hell out of the way.  You basically have 3 lanes.  The far right lane is the fast lane.  The middle lane is the really, really fast lane.  And the far left lane is the “Holy Crap! Did you see how fast that car was going?” lane. With Owen cheering me on the in the back seat, we hit a top speed of a 160KM/hour, and we were still spending most of our time in the far right lane. We did begin to run into bits of snow and ice on this part of the trip, which slowed everyone down. Some not quick enough, as one particular storm – call it an “Iceburst” – it was like a cloudburst, but instead of dropping rain, it dropped hail (or ice pellets). It coated the road in minutes (seconds maybe) with about an inch or two of ice pellets, and on the other side of the autobahn there were two bad accidents. One car slid off the road and flipped, and then as folks were braking, another accident occurred about 1/2 mile back with a 3 car accident and spin out.

We made it safely to Nuremberg around 7pm and quickly made our way to the old city and its famous Christmas Market. We walked around and marvelled at the beautiful lights and Christmas booths selling every sort of Christmas accessory possible. There were ornaments, foods, wooden nutcrackers, candle holders, creches, etc. All beautifully crafted and presented.

We tried the ”Glühwein,” which I’m sure on a cold enough winter’s night, could be quite addicting.  It’s worth adding that for us, recently arrived from Barcelona where it had been a sunny 60 degrees, that the near freezing temperature of Nuremberg was enough to make us addicts at first sip. We also tried multiple types of hard candies, ”brezels” (or pretzels), Nuremberg sausage sandwiches, chocolate covered ananas (pineapple), chocolate covered cayenne peppers, chocolate covered ginger snaps, and then set about looking for a chocolate covered antacid!

We woke the next morning and traversed the markets again and saw a bit more of the old town in daylight.  There are some beautiful old buildings, which if I understood it correctly, were all rebuilt after World War II, when 90% of the old town was destroyed by Allied bombing. I think many of these landmarks were rebuilt using the stones from the original buildings. After Nuremberg, we moved onto Munich, and part two of our trip.

Apparently no one told this German sausage purveyor (little Nuremberg sausages you see in the foreground - my favorites) that Movember was over. He can shave now. Anyone who lets Becca snap a photo is a good sport though, so he's on our team for next year.

Nuremberg Germany - Gluhwein Booth at the Christmas Market

Gluhwein Booth at Nuremberg Christmas Market. Seemingly addictive, as swarms of people were standing around soaking it up. It looked sort of like a college keg party. Gluhwein is a warm, mulled wine. Tastes like Sangria would if you heated it up. Not that I've ever had any Sangria - that's only for tourists!

 

Chocolate Covered Cayenne Pepper

This is one of those cases, where you should listen when the person asks you if you're sure you want to order it? But I ordered it anyway. I do love a little heat in my food, and if you cover it in chocolate, what could really be better? To be fair, I don't love hot peppers the way that Matt Sanchez or Kate Gossman do, but I definitely like venturing out to the far end of the Scoville scale every once in a while. Suffice it to say, this cayenne pepper was hot, and it got hotter with every bite. I finished it... well, maybe just the chocolate coating... but I did muscle through most of it.

Perhaps these were just for display, as the guy sort of looked at me like I was crazy when I ordered one.

Just your standard Christmas Market cookie booth - a bit of Nuremberg skyline in the background.

La Familia Worple trying to find more Gluhwein - any hints on where we might look? Looks like Owen might need a bathroom - actually I'm only publishing this so that he'll stop making faces when Becca wants to take a picture!

Happy faces everywhere (hyperbole for sure) as we buy Brezels for a morning snack. Not quite like Auntie Annes, but nobody was complaining.

This giant Christmas Pyramid, which I also call a giant candle thingy, is an oversized version of a typical German Christmas decoration. These decorations use the heat from candles to spin a propellor above which then causes a carrousel depicting various Christmas scenes on each level to spin around. This oversized version housed a bar in the base that served Gluhwein. Enough Gluhwein and you also start spinning, or so we were told.

 

Here I am posing with my cool souvenir mug. We've several of these as it took me a while to figure out they were refillable.

What could be more German than seeing Kris Kringle and his helper. Bear with me as I get all Cliff Claven on you. The name Kris Kringle is derived from the german Krist Kindl - or Christ Child! Santa Claus comes from the Dutch SinterClaas, which is the Dutch spelling and pronunciation of Saint Nicholas.

Apparently one of the most photographed buidings in Nuremberg. So what did we do? We took a photo.

Nuremberg Cathedral (not sure that is the official descriptor) as a backdrop for the Christmas Market.

Details from the Christmas Market... Santa Ornaments

Details from the Christmas Market - Handcrafted Ornaments

Details from the Christmas Market - this is one detail I would volunteer for - Cookies!

 

Details from the Christmas Market - Not even sure where to begin in describing it, but I like it!

Okay that’s it for Nuremberg!  Next post will be about our time in Munich. Cheers!

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