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The flight went basically without incident, and we arrived in Madrid successfully. We had a bizarre experience with the metro because they were renovating part of the line going from the airport. We thought we had 5 stops to go on the metro line from the airport, but we noticed that after 3 stops, we would stop again at the 2nd station from the airport! The train was just travelling back and forth between the airport and the 3rd station, when we thought it would be travelling on towards town. It felt really bizarre and twilight-zoney because neither of us noticed that the metro was changing direction. We travelled that length of track 3 times until we figured out we needed to calculate a new route to our hotel.
We stayed at Hostal Helena, which was really great. It was a little older feeling (i.e. slightly run down), but it was really clean and the Señora was really friendly and kind. She was very sweet to the children. There were two beautiful balconies, too. There was also a communal kitchen, which was not advertised on the website, but was a great perk especially with children. We had some communication difficulties because my Spanish is not great, but her English was worse! It was fun to try, though, and we got everything worked out.
After we got all settled into the hotel, we took a walk down to Puerta del Sol. The children loved running free in the pedestrian streets between Gran Via and Puerta del Sol. It was very hot. We walked over to Plaza Santa Ana, but decided we were too tired to deal with the whole tapas/restaurant experience (translating everything, and dealing with the children’s needs in an unfamiliar environment) so we walked back up to El Corte Ingles and got a picnic. A feast of kings! Olives, wonderful cheese assortments, fine bread, orange juice. We even found chips and good salsa (a little rare in Norway). We enjoyed our picnic lunch on the balcony.
After naptime, we supplimented our picnic supplies with a bottle of sidra and ventured over to the Retiro park. We enjoyed another lovely picnic and then found the playground. C made some Spanish friends and had a really great time. The language barrier does not exist when you are 3 years old, I guess!
Katy(posted on Jun 21, 2006 at 9:25 pm)
So, there was a communication error, and we thought Lauren would be arriving a day earlier than she did. We waited around and worried about Lauren being able to make it to the hotel from the airport. But then after figuring out our error, Chris decided he should just go pick her up at the airport. He and C left early in the morning. I guess they ran into a the morning rush hour on the subway and were packed in like sardines, which C did not like. They found Lauren at the airport, and then briefly lost C. He just decided to take a trip up the escalator by himself, but then came right back down. C is not good at overriding his natural tendency to explore and often doesn’t follow directions… recipe for a lost child. But he is just 3 years old.
Ruby and I spent a quiet morning at Hostal Helena playing in the room and out on the balcony. When they finally arrived, Lauren was very wiped out by jet lag, and lugging her enormous amount of luggage. She took a big nap in the early afternoon, but we got her out walking in the evening. We searched for La Farfalla, but found it closed. It opens for dinner at 9 pm! Those crazy spaniards… :) We wandered a bit further south and found a place called Los Conspiradores (or something like that). Nice ambiance, friendly waiter. We had an excellent tortilla, maybe the best I’ve ever had. Definintely better than I’ve ever made. We also enjoyed a nice plate of sheep cheeses, and Lauren confirmed her dislike of sheep cheese. We also enjoyed another dish called “pisto manchego” which was stewed vegetables with a hearty bread. And, of course, muchas cervezas. Ruby hadn’t been very enthusiastic about eating since we arrived, but she loved the tortilla.
Katy(posted on Jun 24, 2006 at 9:03 pm)
We had churros at Rick Steves’ recommended breakfast-churros place off of Epoz y Mina. It was pretty good, and I appreciated that it wasn’t bustley. Bustle and kids don’t mix. I am really really glad that we brought the portable booster seat for Ruby. It’s come in handy. I’d also like to point out how much I love cafe con leche and cafe solo (it’s a single shot of espresso, but I think it’s a long shot… that just means that made it a little differently, if you are not familiar with coffee.)
We went to El Retiro where we explored a bit and walked around the water. We didn’t do rowing today, but we watched the ducks. We found the “brain trees” again, and took some better pictures of them to show to a former colleague of Chris, a computer game artist.
We ate at a sidewalk cafe, sort of north and east of the park. We were looking for the El Corte Ingles to pick up a picnic, but a restaurant seemes easier. We had a good tortilla and a nice fritura mixta (various fried fruits of the sea). And of course cerveza!
After lunch we headed home for nap. Napping and a picnic dinner takes up most of the afternoon and evening and we only have time to grab ice cream before bed time. It’s been really hot. Too hot for Ruby, I think. She’s been taking 2 or 3 naps a day, usually falling asleep while Chris holds her as we walk.
Katy(posted on Jun 27, 2006 at 1:43 pm)
These are the pictures that Chris took of the “Brain Trees” for his friend (who has a dog named Baron Krypto Space Puppy, if that gives you an idea of the kind of guy he is :)
Katy(posted on Jun 27, 2006 at 9:40 pm)
We had churros for breakfast again… yum! I noticed this morning that we lost Ruby’s hat yesterday :( so she is wearing C’s for a while. He hardly ever kept it on, anyway.
We started the day early and got to the park again, to take a rowboat out for a spin on the lake before it got too hot. There was a max of 4 people per boat, though, so Ruby and I stayed ashore. Lauren and Chris had lots of fun in the boat, rowing and teasing each other. I thought C would enjoying boating, but he didn’t seem to really care so much that he was in a boat.
After rowing we had a picnic and played at a playground for a bit. I discovered a second-hand store for children’s clothes (called Segundo Manito, how cute!) that was near the park so we went there. The prices are definitely better than in Norway, though I found better prices at big department store sales in Barcelona.
When we got home, we decided that Ruby seemed really too hot and she had been sleeping a lot of the day and was listless when she was awake. So I went to the pharmacy and got a thermometer and some aspirin. Her temperature was 39.4 C (almost 103 F) and I decided it was time to bring that fever down. We gave her some aspirin and she slept for 4 hours, then awoke and seemed fine. After a small meal she went to bed and slept through the night.
Chris and Lauren went out tonight. They went to a cafe around Calle Carretas, south of Puerta del Sol. They had much fun and Lauren met a guy named Leo who claimed to be in charge of the “Lista de Leo” which he put Lauren’s name on. The “Lista de Leo” granted free entrance to the something-Joy Disco (a very popular local disco).
Katy(posted on Jun 28, 2006 at 11:32 am)
Ruby and Chris slept in this morning (Ruby was still recovering), and Lauren slept in, too. C and I went down to the cafe right next to our building. I can’t remember a name, but it started with a “G” and it was right outside Gran Via 44. We had churros y chocolate and cafe con leche with a criossant. It was 4 euros! I can’t get over how much cheaper things are in Spain vs. Norway. C and I had a very nice time together in the cafe. He and I don’t get to spend a lot of time just the two of us.
I read a whole newspaper in Spanish (mind you, I only have 3 years of high school Spanish to go on)! Why can’t they speak Spanish in Norway? It’s so much easier than Norwegian…
We visited Atocha station today (one of my favorite railway stations, there is a big arboretum section in the center of the station, it’s really nice). We bought our tickets to go to Barcelona.
In the afternoon there were thunderstorms and we ate an early dinner in a cafe to avoid some rain. Afterwords we visited the gardens and cathedral near the palace, Catedral de la Almudena. They were actually having a service in the cathedral, so we didn’t stay long. I like that cathedral a lot, because it reflects traditional cathedral styles while feeling very modern. The colors of the design on the ceilings are so bright and vibrant.
After our visit to the cathedral we slowly made our way back to Hostal Helena and had a quiet, slow evening. Ruby was still not feeling 100%, and neither was Chris. After everyone went to bed, I wasn’t feeling tired at all so I went out to the balcony to do some sudoku and enjoy the Spanish air. It started to thunder and lightning, and eventually to actually rain so I packed up to go inside. But the door was shut, and there are no handles on the outside! I banged on the door for about 10 minutes (felt like much longer!) before someone heard me and let me in.
Katy(posted on Jun 29, 2006 at 8:56 pm)
Chris’s introduction for the Japanese translation for Learn To Program was due today. We found a nice cafe with free internet. It was 2 metro stops north and maybe a bit east of Hostal Helena. It seemed like a nice young area. Chris suspected that the cafe’s clientelle were (ah-hem) oriented in a different direction that he is. Lauren and I visited later, and the waitress was hitting on Lauren.
This was a pretty slow day, trying to give Ruby ample time to recover. We visited the Reina Sofia museum, and they had a nice Picasso installation. It’s the 25th anniversary of the Guernica being back in Spain. We had lunch at the museum cafe, and explored a bit more. My favorite Miró was not on exhibit, for some reason. :(
We enjoyed more street performers this evening after our picnic dinner on the balcony. There was one group that enthralled C: a group of classical musicians (all string instruments) that plays outside the El Corte Ingles right near Hotal Helena. We’ve stopped to listen to them a few different times.
Lauren and I went out tonight. We were going to visit the Joy disco, since Lauren got herself on the “Lista de Leo”, but once we got there the door man said that list didn’t get used until about 2:30. Too late for us! So we went over and tried out a couple of Irish pubs south of Puerta del Sol. Guiness on tap… can’t beat it! A stranger bought Lauren a rose.
Katy(posted on Jun 29, 2006 at 9:32 pm)
I found out, purely by accident, that there is a zoo in Madrid. We headed out pretty early in the morning. Admission was ridiculously expensive (more than 60 euros for all of us), and it really was not a great zoo. Pretty much every other zoo I’ve ever been to was better. But we had fun. We visited only a few of the exhibits and really tried to take it at the childrens’ pace. We visited an open air monkey enclosure, then the elephants. After that we walked past the bears on the way to the aquarium.
The bears were very circusy in their behavior, sitting close the edge of their enclosure and doing tricks to people would throw them peanuts. I didn’t like it at all — this experience was a good example of the zoo as a whole. It was much more old-time-zoo gawking at the animals, rather than modern zoos which focus on education and preservation.
We walked through the little aquarium, which was less enjoyable than it could have been since everyone else was ignoring the “no flash, no running, no yelling” signs. It was a little crazy. But there was a sea turtle and some other interesting fish. After that we visited the dolphins, which was really great. It was no SeaWorld, but it was fun to watch the dolphins swimming around playing. It was much cooler by their big pool, too, which was very nice!
After a long nap and some down time at the hostal, we went out in search of La Farfalla. I had been toying with the idea of finding Mexican food somewhere in Madrid, but it never panned out :(. We showed up a bit early (La Farfalla opens at 9 pm), so we went down a couple blocks and had a beer at Los Conspiradores. At 9 we went back to La Farfalla. I love that place! We had a nice house wine, a crisp little salad, and two lovely pizzas (a margherita and a quartos quesos). The children were getting a little restless so Lauren and Chris took turns taking them for walks in the street. It was very nice of Chris and Lauren to let me sit and enjoy one of my favorite restaurants in Spain. It’s not that it’s in a picturesque location, or that is serves really great Spanish food (it’s actually mostly Italian). I think I like La Farfalla so much because it’s the kind of place I would go to a lot if I lived in Madrid. And I like to ponder what it would be like to live in the places I visit.
Katy(posted on Jun 30, 2006 at 1:28 pm)
We got packed up and moved out of Hostal Helena with no problems, leaving just in time to get to the train station. The timing was really perfect. We didn’t have to rush, and we also didn’t have to wait. The train was boarding when we got there.
The train ride itself was ok, though C refused to nap and Ruby did not want to sit still. Ruby forced my to play with her in the bathroom for 20 minutes, turning the push button faucet on and off. Small, cramped, stinky, no-window room on a swaying train. Recipe for motion sickness.
On arrival in Barcelona, it was pretty late to we went to the hotel finding service at the Tourist Information office. They found us a place easily, close to the center of town, but in an area where I hadn’t spent much time. When we got there, the desk staff was ditzy, there was no elevator to our rooms on the 3rd and 5th floors, and the atmosphere was bland and unfriendly. And it cost twice as much as Hostal Helena. That’s Barcelona for you.
After settling in, we went out in search of dinner. We found a place called the Bra Cafe which we visited many other times during our stay in Barcelona. Very good patatas bravas! In was situated in a small plaza in the neighborhood to the left-hand side of Las Ramblas. (Most Barcelona maps are not oriented with north at the top; rather they are made so that Las Ramblas runs vertically from top to bottom, making the top north-west.) We ate and relaxed a bit, and C played with some of the locals.
Aferword we explored the area a bit more, finding some good kebab places and an Indian restaurant we never got to visit, as well as many friendly grocers and cafes. And none of it felt touristy or overpriced. Finally we found a slice of Barcelona where people actually live and exist.
Katy(posted on Jul 2, 2006 at 12:50 pm)
This was a very quiet and restful day. No pressures, no to-do lists. We had a very late breakfast at a nearby street cafe and got a free gift of sand toys when I bought some new sunscreen. This part of Barcelona is great, near the university and to the left of Las Ramblas. Much less touristy and much less bustle. More manageable for us.
A while back I asked on 43 Places for suggestions for children’s activities in Barcelona. There were lots of answers. One person replied and shared a video of his friends playing on large musical play equipment at a park. He gave us the rough location as well.
We searched out the park and found the equipment. It was very very cool! Be sure to watch the videos. We spent most of the morning in the park, playing with the various equipment or just in the sand. Lauren spent a lot of time at the nearby mall. Understandable that she wouldn’t want to sit around a playground all day! We ate at the mall at a really great outdoor restaurant with good cerveza and good traditional Spanish food (a lot better than American mall food!). We tricked the kids into napping in the mall (holding them and walking them around till they fell asleep) and slowly nursed a frapaccino at the local Starbucks (yes, Starbucks).
After naptime we returned to the park and play some more until heading home around bedtime. It was a truly wonderful no-stress, no-frills day with the kids. They needed it.
(Day 10: Meeting the Grandparents — We packed up and moved out the unspectacular hotel and made our way to Las Ramblas. We were set to meet Chris’s parents infront of Hotel Lloret. All went as planned and we made our way to the apartment. I was pleasantly surprised on arrival at the apartment. The BCNInternet agent who met us with kind and friendly, and despite a small mix up with the keys, let us in. It was large and bright and well-equiped with comfortable, modern furniture. I was very pleased.
C fell asleep on the way there, so I stayed with him in the apartment while Dave, Wendy, Chris, Ruby, and Lauren went out to get lunch.
C woke up shortly after they returned from lunch. I think he had had just about enough of all this change and was on the verge of an emotional meltdown. Chris, in a feat of papa-skills, took him on a tour of the apartment and pointed out all the regular things that were just like our apartment at home. The shower, the dishwasher, the sofa, the washing machine. C calmed down.
The rest of the day went uneventfully, with Grandma and Grandpa fighting off jetlag. We ate at the Hard Rock Cafe near Plaza Catalunya. I guess Grandpa Dave enjoys visiting the different Hard Rock Cafes in the cities he visits. We got a veggie burger… the first I’ve had in 10 months. That was nice!
Unfortunately I got no pictures today, though! I’ll ask Grandpa Dave to share his soon.)
Katy(posted on Jul 2, 2006 at 1:28 pm)