Travel

From One Coast To Another

by Becky on July 22, 2013 · 2 comments

in Travel

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What an ordeal, leaving Barcelona.  No, really: we became so attached to that city.  And Miss Lavender’s treasured DIY Door out on the sidewalk, waiting for someone else to discover it and haul it home. The idea of dragging an old door out to the street for someone to claim it probably seems odd, no? But that’s the custom: you don’t want it, maybe someone else will, so we parked it on Provenza, five blocks down from the Sagrada Familia cathedral.

Adios Barcelona!

I hope someone appreciated it. And the care that went into its re-making. And the “Adios” spelled out in bold letters for passersby to consider.

Adios Barcelona!

our Barcelona home

Our place looked naked once it was time to head to the airport.

Late in the afternoon on the 11th of July, our plane took off, and as it banked over the city and began to climb, I watched Montjuic and the harbor grow smaller and smaller.  Finally I had to close my eyes because I couldn’t watch everything disappear altogether.

We landed in Berlin, where, at around 9:30, the sun was just setting. Of course the Eleven O’Clock Dad had to stop and grab the moment.

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Once we’d settled in, the Camera Man left the airport for a while and took himself on a walk.

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Berlin, Germany

The crew tried to get comfortable. Tough, though, on those nasty metal chairs.

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airport sleeping

Or on the ground . . .

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We made it through the night, boarded a plane for L.A. the next morning, and, roughly twelve hours later, landed in California, cleared customs, loaded our gear into the cars of some (very good) friends, and made our way down the coast to Newport Beach, where the Eleven O’Clock Grandparents live on the weekends.

From the Mediterranean Coast, to the Pacific Coast: Goose loves the sun either way.

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Not a bad thing, being back. The weather’s been glorious. And it’s brilliant, being with family and friends. But it may take a minute or two for me to accept the fact that I will be homesick for BCN. Maybe for a while.

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Right now, on the other side of the world, it’s 6:20 am. Sun’s up. The city I grew to love is stirring. And I am so deep-down grateful that we grabbed ten months that would otherwise have gone by anyway . . . and took off for Barcelona, Spain.

(Photo:  the lifeguard tower at 39th Street in Newport Beach. )

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This last Saturday, Miss Lavender and her Dad were on a mission: get to the airport to catch a petal.

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Miss Lavender knows the drill now: metro, to the train, to the shuttle, to the terminal, where an adored friend was coming through customs.

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Nothing looks or feels quite like a friend from back home–in the flesh, naturally!

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When Miss Lavender’s friends travel to see her, I think about them as they’re flying. I knew exactly when Miss Tulip was getting on a plane in California, I knew when she landed in Dusseldorf, and I knew when her plane from Germany was meant to land in Barcelona. When another mother puts a daughter on a plane–a plane destined to carry her toward us–I feel like that daughter is, for the moment, a little bit mine.

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Miss Tulip seemed just the right flower fairy name for this Eleven O’Clock Friend–one of Miss Lavender’s MUN (Model United Nations) classmates from their high school back home. A little wisp of a thing, Miss Tulip is nevertheless one of those Super Smart Girls who nail their college boards and end up on purpose in classes like AP physics, for example.  She is quick, clever, droll. And lots of fun.

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Something about seeing your daughter laugh, hard, with a friend.

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Something about seeing them together, Miss Lavender and the beautiful Miss Tulip. Welcome!–and may your spring break in Spain be as brilliant as you are!

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When Opportunity Knocks

by Becky on January 14, 2013 · 2 comments

in Travel

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Sometimes we wonder, What are we doing here? Other times we think, Why didn’t we do this sooner?   For those who may be entertaining the idea of coming abroad with kids, here are my Top Five Challenges and my Top Five Opportunities–thoughts about living in a foreign country as a family.

Challenges

One.  I miss my books.  I do.  Especially the library in my home.  I’m a bibliophile, and so are my kids.  I likewise often miss having access to city libraries with books in English.  Our library here is beautiful, but for my kids, it’s more of a homework station than a place to browse and borrow from.

Two.  I miss knowing that my dollar buys a dollar’s worth of goods.  The exchange rate has been fluctuating here, and that affects ex-pats of all stripes!

Three.  School.  I have the highest repsect for people who consistently home school.  Wow.  We’re home schooling our younger son, and it’s a full time proposition–both exhilarating and demanding!

Four.  Friends.  My kids often miss friends from home.  We consequently love skpye!

Five.  Kitchen “swag.”  I spend a lot of time in the kitchen and sometimes miss my kitchen gadgets.  (Anyone got a waffle iron?)

Opportunities

One.  Spanish!  And Castillian Spanish, no less.  Wow, I love this language.  I love that we live in a place where the majority culture doesn’t speak my kids’ language.

Two.  Living urban.  I love big cities.  I love how each one has a distinct personality.  Barcelona is both cosmopolitan and very intimate.  In character, it’s both big and small at the same time.  I love that we walk everywhere, sometimes many miles in a day, and that I can never quite seem to see it all.

Three.  The religious architecture.  When I walk five blocks south to the Sagrada Familia cathedral, I’m never not in awe.  Whether it’s the small Basilica del Mar in the Born district or the massive Barcelona cathedral, I am often moved to tears when I walk inside.  Entering a European church for the first time–whether in Budapest, Vienna, Amsterdam, or Cadaques (Costa Brava, Spain)  is one of my greatest pleasures.

Four.  Friends.  Yes, some of my kids’ friends are at home.  But some were always here, waiting to collide with my children (not really, but it feels that way!).  My son’s new friends include an Estonian boy whose family lives here in Barcelona, and a Catalan boy whose family lives in our apartment building.  My daughters have acquired wonderful new friends, some from Bolivia and Peru, some from Venezuela, one from Russia.  All are bilingual, some multilingual, and all of them are refreshingly open to widening their circles, a trait that seems to be common in kids whose families have moved frequently.

Five.  Just the sheer differentness of it:  look, feel, food, languages, people, cultures, cityscapes, seascapes.  Brilliant.

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What do you do on a chilly December afternoon, when the usual diversions (Golden Spoon with friends after school) are temporarily unavailable? Why, you head to the cemetary, of course, where surprises abound (and where some great YA novel is just dying to write itself . . .).

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Morbid, you say? Why morbid? Haven’t the dead the right to be acknowledged for the cold beauty of their resting places?  And to wonder at the presence of the Curious Girl in their midst?

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I like to imagine the faintest of smiles on the faces of the Inhabitants of Poblenou as they wondered to themselves that day, “Those traces of lavender in the air: were they real?”

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At home in the states, each of my kids has his or her own orbit, complete with school, activities, friends, sports, and what not. Here, in contrast, it’s mostly the “what not,” which generally means exploring the country, something we do a lot of.  What Not has its advantages.  I mean, how often, when you’re seventeen, do you spend the day zigzagging the countryside from one castle to another?–most of them hundreds of years old?

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From kindly old gentlemen who function as self-appointed tour guides, you learn about the feudal system of goverment and how it functioned in Northern Spain. From younger siblings who want to scale the walls of every old fortress your family happens upon, you learn patience. From the undulating hills, everywhere flecked with medieval towns, you learn that life before the Twentieth Century really existed and that it was by turns violent and peaceful.

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Sans your American Life, what do you do?  You travel.  And you learn to see!

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Eleven O’Clock Road Trips

by Becky on November 20, 2012

in Travel

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Years ago we lived in Carmel, California, a place so beautiful you could only otherwise imagine it on the front of a postcard. Colliding with all the tourists there always made me smile. Inevitably, they’d wander down to the bottom of Ocean Avenue, content to put their feet in the sand at Fourth Street. I always admired the folks who hiked all the way down to the River Beach, the place the locals owned.

We’re River Beachers today, heading up toward the mountains to poke around in the spots the locals claim. But they’re marvelous sharers, these Catalunyans. So gracious, and always eager to give us little tours when we ask questions. I could learn a thing or two from them.

I’ll be back with stories.

Hasta pronto!

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Want to check out an old medieval town with Señoritas Lavender and Zinnia?  (And their charming sidekick?)

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One of the great things about traveling in the fall is that the streets belong to the locals again. Which means they’re nearly deserted. Lots of room to spread out and explore.   And this town, Montblanc, which dates back to the early 1100’s, begs to be explored.

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The people of Montblanc believe that St. George slayed the dragon right here in their town.  (Honest!)  You can almost picture the battle happening just . . . there, around the corner!

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Fearsome as he might have been, that dragon wouldn’t have been any match for the Eleven O’Clock Team, including the dragonslaying wunderkind known as Goose Caboose.

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Phew!–I was mighty glad they had me covered! It left me free to contemplate the fineness of the day.

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I saw these smiles today, and I wanted to eat them, just swallow them down to see if having three big, toothy grins rolling around inside me would pump up my own smile.

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I decided that if there’s ever a time that I can look at these photos of our day in the Catalunyan countryside and not burst out laughing, I should check to see if I have a pulse.

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Just before I said goodbye to my older son nearly three months ago, I challenged him to smile big, everyday, for a whole year, just to see how it felt. He immediately warmed to the idea, and we decided to call the effort 365 Smile. Sometimes we exchange stories about the people we trade smiles with. I actually still remember some of the faces those smiles belong to.

Man, it feels good to watch people get their smiles out.

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Feels just as good to remember that I have one too.

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You know those moments that, when they happen, feel both totally spontaneous and perfectly planned?–like they were always meant to happen but just needed the right kind of chaos to seed them?  Well, the chaos, we definitely had:  two adults and four kids in a small, European car in Amsterdam, where we almost killed several people who, blithely pedaling along on their bikes, had no idea they had just missed a date with death.  And did I say four kids?–three teens and one eight-year-old?  And did I mention that the teens, all arms and legs, simply could not manage to fold themselves comfortably into those darned seats?  Moreover, did I add that the eight-year-old (now nine, and with a new permanent tooth coming in on top!), the smallest person in the car, was certain he was being breathed on, squished, smashed, and generally disrespected by his (mostly patient) older siblings?

So, on the road to Zaanse Schans, when several cows grazing in a roadside pasture ignited an idea in the mind of one of our daughters, we seemed meant to stop and capture the moment on film.  And now that the oldest, gone for two years, is away from us, this little video gives us all the perfect opportunity not only to see him and hear his voice again but also to contemplate what happens when kids and cows and cameras are thrown into collision.

The cure for road trip madness:  a video camera, several imaginative kids, and as many laid back Dutch cows.

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My youngest adores his older sisters. Mostly. And, like all “caboose” children, he sometimes finds the girls exasperating, like when they try to tell him his business. Or kiss his face so much he worries his dignity has been permanently compromised. That’s the beauty of getting out of the house. Out of town. Out of the country, even! In a new venue, all that sister love translates into the most miraculous forms of distraction.

On the coast of the Mediterranean: combing the sand for beach glass and rocks to add to a special collection. Brilliant.

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Especially if you’re a boy who loves rocks of every kind, and more especially if you’re a boy with a sister who will stay in the sand with you until the tide comes up or the light dies or the world ends, whichever happens first. Having an older sibling of the female variety who loves to hunt for objects both small and beautiful–what a boon!

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And older sisters are the perfect people to show off to, aren’t they? So you think you can skip a rock the size of a cell phone all the way to Greece, do you? But whether you can or can’t isn’t the point. The point is that two sisters will watch . . . and watch. And when you decide to downshift to smaller rocks (for the sake of the beach, of course, since we wouldn’t want to empty it of all cell-phone-size rocks, now would we?) and surprise!–the little ones SKIP!–it’s the big sisters who holler and cheer like you’ve just been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

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Will the world ever be as easy to conquer as it was the day your teenage sisters made you feel like The Master of Costa Brava? Hooray for them for all the times they hugged you so tight they nearly squeezed the life out of you. Their devotion will come in mighty handy someday, when the presence in your life of two good women may likewise attract the presence of others.

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