48 hours in Venice – Kid Free

This fall I had the rare opportunity to get out of town and vacation with my sister and our friend.  We planned to meet in Venice, Italy for a couple days and then embark on an eight day cruise to the Greek Islands. Woohoo!

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I used my American Express Points for my flight and took Iberia Air out of Granada’s very small airport through Madrid and landed in Venice, Italy.   When I got there I took a waterbus or water taxi, which I had never done before.  Before I left Spain, the hotel I booked offered me a private water taxi for 130 Euro but that was way out of the budget.  I found out that for 15 Euro I could take a public water taxi – The Alilaguna.  It really was a small boat, and it took about 40 minutes to get to my stop.  Being October, it was quite chilly at night on the water so if you do this, I definitely recommend bringing a sweater and jacket.

I met the girls and they had a glass of Chianti waiting for me (classy move!).  We lugged my suitcase to my hotel, which is not really easy on the cobblestone pathways.  There are not really “streets” or cars or taxicabs but you get through Venice by walking through the intricate pathways up stairs, downstairs and over the many canals.  Right away I was taken with the city.  It’s just so unique.  I found every turn to be magical, with a cafe, Italian restaurant, great shopping and the gondoliers available to take you where you want to go. But getting luggage to the hotel is not so easy. I recommend good walking shoes.

My sis and our friend stayed at the Splendid Venice which was a really cute hotel. They had booked it before I had planned to go and got a good deal. By the time I committed to going it was out of my price range.  The hotels in Venice are really expensive – I was surprised to see that prices are comparative to New York City.  After quite a bit of surfing I found a hotel – The Duodo Palace on Booking.com.  It was $342 for 2 nights which was really good for Venice and included breakfast.  This boutique hotel was located near the Teatre la Fenice. It incredibly charming and the staff was so kind.

 

I got there around 9:30 p.m. and dropped off my luggage at my hotel.  We went out for dinner and things seemed to be closing up so we chose a restaurant close by Al Theatro, right next to the Teatro la Fenice.  We were the last people in there (one night without the kids and I’m closing down the joint) and after dinner we were offered Limoncello.  We weren’t quite ready to go to bed and we were so excited to be in this fantastic city.  One one of the waiters made us a special Italian concoction of gelato and an eclectic mix of Italian spirits then showed us around town.  They brought us to a fun bar and introduced us to a random crowd of locals as well as fellow travelers including a nice honeymooning couple from the states.

The next morning we slept in then visited St. Marks Square and St. Mark’s Basilica.  We got a skip the line pass through venetoinside.com with a time slot in a 10 minute increments.  We were instructed to go into St. Peter’s door which is to the left of the main entrance.  You’re not permitted to bring backpacks in and you must be dressed appropriately – no shoulders showing, or sleeveless or low-cut dresses.  Also taking photos or video inside is not permitted.  Inside was truly beautiful and right away you wish you could snap a few shots.

For lunch we had big decisions to make – pizza or pasta? Pasta or pizza? And what kind.  So many restaurants to choose from! And so what if some of us are lactose intolerant…isn’t that why God made Lactaid?  Oh, and my sister drank Italian beer out of a boot!

We stopped in at the various vendors and little shops and bought some Venetian masks and earring made out of Murano glass.  I usually don’t get time to shop when I’m on the go with the kids so it was nice to take my time!

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Next we had to do a gondola ride, which was the highlight of my trip to Venice.  It is as amazing as it looks and we had a gorgeous day.  The gondola ride cost 80 Euro for about 30 minutes.  There were people trying to negotiate and the gondola owner was getting really upset and offended.  These guys take their jobs very seriously and they were NOT going to make a deal.

It amazed me how the buildings are actually under water and the first floors of many building can’t be used.

Our gondolier was so cool he wanted to pose for pics with us.  I love the striped outfit so we had to get shirts to send home to my little nieces and nephew (you can find them in every other store).

Saturday night we popped into the Ateneo Di San Basso at the Piazza San Marco and got to check out a little opera.  It was a last minute decision as we walked by the place, the man outside gave us information. Tickets were only 28 Euro and we had the time to spare. It was really beautiful and it’s not necessarily my thing but it was a small crowd, not stuffy at all and the music was Omaggio a Antonio Vivaldi-A Tribute of Le Quattro Stagioni Di Vivaldi (Vivaldi’s Four Seasons) Most of the music was highly recognizable.

After the opera we hit Harry’s Bar and got a spot at the bar – this is supposedly the home of the Bellini.  It was a cozy place on the corner right by the water and it’s legendary for being a great restaurant and watering hole for celebs and famous folks in Venice.  We didn’t see any there but we did enjoy a very expensive – I want to say it was a 16 Euro Bellini!

The next morning I got up and enjoyed a cup of coffee (ALL BY MYSELF!) and the breakfast that was included. It was a simple spread but had all the basics.  No crazy omelet bar, but a European selection of breads, meats, cheeses and fruits.  I planned to meet the girls at their hotel and getting my luggage there seemed like a task so I called on Constantino, a cool porter I met walking around town.  He is available 24 hours and will throw your luggage on a cart and take you where you want to go.  He’s small but mighty powerful! He can be reached at 327 1346658.

From the Splendid Hotel we took the water taxi to the dock where we got ready to sail off into the sunset.  I would certainly come back to Venice again, I fell in love with it’s charm and I know it would be a different experience each time whether it’s with the kids, my husband or my parents we would have a fantastic time in this magical city.

 

 

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It’s My Class and I’ll Cry If I Want To

I didn’t just cry.  I bawled.  It ain’t easy.  Learning a new language is very difficult even when you are immersed in it.  Two days ago my Spanish teacher here in Granada pushed and pushed iCrying schoolgirln front of the class, asking me the same question over and over as if the answer was with me and I was just holding back from her.  She made me the center of attention, criticized a paragraph I wrote and told me (actually reprimanded me), “You need to think in Spanish. Not in English.” I started to melt down.  I panicked.  How can I think in Spanish if I’m not from here and I don’t completely understand the language?  At that moment, I didn’t know my name much less the difference between ser and estar and how to conjugate verbs into indefinido, perfecto, conditional, etc.  The whole reason I was in the class was to learn to think and speak Spanish.  Yet I was failing.  I felt like a little girl again.  I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes and I was afraid to blink so I stared forward and tried not to move.  It was too late, I blinked and they went streaming down my face.  I was frustrated with myself, really annoyed with her, and it all came out in that moment.

Before moving to Granada I felt somewhat confident about learning Spanish. I had studied it for three years in high school with a very strict teacher who helped me to achieve a 92% on the New York Regents exam.  That was one of my proudest moments in high school.  My teacher had been really tough and pushed us throughout the year, prepping for the exam.  I also studied the language for two years at Villanova University as part of my liberal arts degree.   Now that we are spending the year in Spain I was excited to learn and to enjoy the process.  I think that’s why I got so frustrated – I was flailing or failing at something I actually LIKED and WANTED to do.  Something I chose to do.  I wanted to be a role model to my kids.  There have been days when they’ve come home from school frustrated, telling me they had cried.  I want them to learn resilience and now I’m the one having trouble adapting and feeling afraid to get back up.   I let my sons and daughter know I had a hard day and I could empathize with them.  I’m only studying two hours a day. They are at school for five.  They are studying math, science, social studies, Spanish and French.  I’m only taking Spanish.

It’s been awhile since I’ve learned something completely new and one of my life goals is to learn a new language to keep my mind sharp.  I’m starting to suffer from short term memory loss and at my age, I am very aware that things could head down hill fast if I don’t keep my mind going and continue to challenge myself intellectually.   But it’s not easy.

I was surprised at the visceral response.  My husband later confided that I looked so upset, he was afraid I might punch the teacher in the face.   I suppose in the past I had been studying as a means to an end.  In high school it was to get a good grade to get into college.  In college it was to fulfill a requirement.  But now, it’s something I want and something I need to do for myself.  And that’s where the frustration lies – not being able to do something I want to do.

The tables have turned and the kids have become my role models this week.  I have to get up and go to class – no excuses.  I have to find other ways to study and remember the information using the apps and resources available to me – Duolingo, flashcards, class materials, and watching TV in Spanish.  I will continue to talk to the local people and not be afraid to fail.  Setting smaller goals might help me too. “Becoming fluent in Spanish” might be setting the bar high for the next week or month. Perhaps trying on a new tense each day and practicing.

I salute anyone who has had the courage to learn a new language.  I have plenty of friends, many in LA who speak more than one language and I’m blown away by their ability to speak clearly and concisely and think in two (sometimes three) languages.  It takes confidence and the ability to put yourself out there and make yourself vulnerable.  Learning a new language requires patience and practice and resilience.  You’ve got to want it and to work for it.

I’m going to try my best to get back up and start again.  This teacher is not going to bring me down.  I’ve got this – but I can’t say I’m sad we are visiting London this weekend where I can regroup and feel confident again!

 

 

Granadas In Granada

Our carmen here in Granada, Spain has several fruit trees in our backyard including a granada tree (that’s a pomegranate in img_0264
Spanish).  We have over 50 ripe ones so today my eight year old and I decided to try a couple new recipes using the granadas as well as the ripe lemons.

We picked the fruit off the tree and opened them up to find beautiful, red seeds, that were sweet and delicious.  I sent my older son to the local, organic market with a list in Spanish – plain low fat yogurt and miel (honey in Spanish), we made a delicious dip for our Granny Smith apples.

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We used the lemons by combining a teaspoon of olive oil with plain yogurt as well black pepper to make a great salad dressing.  We made a salad with arugula, tomatoes, chickpeas and pesto chicken and topped it off with my little man’s salad dressing. Yum! Dinner is served.

Playing Hooky with Hockney

Since we took our kids out of school in Granada and brought them to Madrid to see the Oklahoma City Thunder play Real Madrid last night we figured we needed to add some culture to our trip in order to justify the absences.  We stayed the night at the Novotel Madrid Center located around the corner from the Barclaycard Center.  It was perfect because we had three beds in each room that were really comfortable plus a rain shower.  In Europe a family of five has to get two rooms.  The Novotel was the most reasonably priced (133 Euros) and caters to business people and families.  There is a variety of restaurants available down the street for breakfast and we even found one that served eggs or huevos. That’s not always easy to find here.

We took the 20 minute walk through the city with the kids to the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, one of Madrid’s acclaimed art museums.  We saw art by David Hockney, Wassily Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein, Salvador Dali and Paul Klee.  And that was just the first floor! (or floor 0 as they call it here).  We were excited to see a painting by Mark Rothko since I had the opportunity to teach a lesson about him as an art docent last year in California. We also caught a special exhibition of Gustavo Caillebotte.

Visting one floor of this museum is plenty when you’re rolling with a crew like mine (2 boys 11 and 8 and a 10 year old girl, oh, and a husband). They were actually pretty interested and I figured less is more in order to make an impact or lasting impression.  We used the headsets so we could move at our own pace, learn more information and find what inspired each of us.

I do recommend heading there if you get the chance to visit Madrid.  I’m in love with this city and all it has to offer!



Real Madrid vs. OKC Thunder

We had the opportunity to see my eight year old’s favorite NBA team, The Oklahoma City Thunder play Real Madrid at the Barclaycard Center in Madrid.  It was an awesome match up and ended up being a very exciting game!

We came armed with a big, homemade poster to cheer for Russell Westbrook.  The kids ended up on the big screen at the arena and even got Westbrook to smile and wave at them. It was a big thrill for all of us! 

The game was a sell-out crowd. We had American hot dogs. (Oscar Meyer weiners).  They didn’t serve alcohol but they have non-alcoholic beer on tap. The stadium was nice and clean (except for the fact that there was NO SOAP or even soap dispensers in the restrooms).

Madrid scored a last minute shot to take the game into overtime.  OKC lost the game 142-137 it was a great match up and we had a lot of fun! Here are some highlights…

Street Art in Spain

Spain is full of graffiti, or street art.  Granada seems to be covered in it and I’m trying to decide whether it distracts from the beauty or gives the city an edge and character.

Do you love it or hate it? I can’t decide. It depends on which corner I turn.  Most of it I despise, particularly when it’s just tagging on an ancient church.  It just reeks of disrespect. Apparently there is a hefty fine of 3000 Euros but I haven’t seen that as a deterrent here.

But I can tell you there are some amazing murals found on the walls throughout the city and it would be great to see these artists talents put to better use or at least have their art positioned or commissioned where it would be appreciated.  In some places the government is actually commissioning some of these artists to spray paint on walls throughout Europe.

In 2014 Madrid ran a “contest” for street artists. Really, it was just a ploy to identify the artists work so they could arrest them in the future.  Pretty smooth!

The Oasis hostel actually offers a free tour of the street art in the city.

Do you love it or hate it?  Where have you seen the best street art?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and I’ll be on the lookout for the most interesting, creative street art.  Stay tuned.

Some samples around town:

 

3 Days in Madrid with the Kids

Last month we visited Madrid as a family and I’ve been meaning to blog about it for some time.  We really loved Madrid. The architecture, the bustling city, the history, art and food were all amazing.  We stayed at an Airbnb (See my previous blogpost) which was centrally located next to Plaza de España.

Day 1
We started off our trip on City Tour Madrid which is a double decker version of the Hop On-Hop Off Bus. That way we could all listen to the tour in English and relax while we got an overview of the city.  The first stop we got off was The National Museum of Natural Science which my kids really enjoyed.  It was relatively small and easy to navigate for about an hour or two – dinosaur bones and artifacts from every era.

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We stopped off for sangria and paella in Plaza Mayor which was built in the early 1600’s. There are plenty of choices for food, and the kids loved seeing the performers and running around the cobblestone area.

Our second stop was the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium where Real Madrid, the soccer (or fútbol) team plays.  Honestly, I wasn’t that excited about seeing a stadium, but I ended up being really impressed!   Madrid is very proud of their team and the extensive tour included the trophy room, videos of the most famous plays, the field, the players seats, even the locker room.  My kids (ages 11, 10 and 8) were pretty fired up, especially my daughter who is passionate about the sport.

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Day 2 

Since we had been traveling so much my back and muscles were aching from planes and trains so I booked a massage.  I was hoping to find a spa that would give me the Spanish experience but after plenty of online research I found Kenika Thai Massage.  It is located across from the soccer stadium in an office-type building. The staff was so warm and friendly and offered tea.  The massage was just what I needed – plenty of pressure and my masseuse worked out the kinks.

That was until I jumped on a Segway!  I think that was my favorite thing I had done since being in Europe. My youngest son is a huge fan of the movie Paul Blart: Mall Cop and he’s always wanted to try one.  The kids were actually awesome on them!  The tour guide took us through the city and into Parque del Buen Retiro known as El Retiro Park.  It was so beautiful with a lake and rowboats, roses and even peacocks.  We learned so much about the history of the city. The park is so big and it was really hot so for us the Segways were perfect.  We cracked up as we whizzed past people and the kids kept high-fiving pedestrians as we passed them.  We stopped a the Mercado San Miguel where you can try so many different Spanish foods or grab a quick beverage.

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That evening we hit a Flamenco Show  at Essential Flamenco which was in a very small, img_7826cozy, cave-like environment where we sit very close to the perfomers and feel the drumbeats and really experience the dance.  There are so many choices in Madrid but we chose a show that was on the earlier side since we have the kids.  Plus we got free sangria! My kids all had the opportunity to learn the Flamenco in 2nd grade at their elementary school in Los Angeles.  I was so glad they could appreciate it!

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We ended the night with Churros y Chocolate – one of Spain’s most famous dishes and I think their best.  What a concept. Love them both!  We ate and watched the street perfomers. Madrid is such a fun, lively city!

Day 3:

We took a tour of the Royal Palace with headsets in English.  The kids seemed to be totallyimg_0178
interested in this grandiose attraction and were curious about the way the royal family once lived.  They had really never seen anything like it and neither had I!

It was really hot in Madrid so we grabbed a late lunch and walked Gran Via, a main drag in the city.  Afterwards we all enjoyed the air conditioning, Wifi, and pool at our apartment building.  I relaxed while my husband took the kids to the movies see The Secret Life of Pets, or Mascotas in Spain!  He thought it would be in Spanish but it ended up being in English with Spanish subtitles.  It was still a cool, new experience.

The next morning my husband headed out to rent a car for our trip to Granada but there was not an automatic car that was big enough for us!  So he took my oldest son and I bought trains ticket for myself and our other two kids.  We were sad to say goodbye to Madrid…but guess what? We are heading back this week! Stay tuned!

A Fun Scene From Paul Blart. You’re Welcome!

 

Mascotas!

 

Tapas in Granada, Spain

This is a great look into the Tapas Life! Thanks Jill at Jillsurbanfoodcrawls.com!

Jill's Urban Food Crawls

Sierra-nevada-granadaGranada sits at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains in the Andalusian region of Southern Spain. Visgoths, Romans, Moors and Christians have left their marks on the city that is now Granada. The Moors surrendered Granada to Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492, completing the Reconquista and ending 800 years of Muslim rule in Spain.

Despite all of its rich history, the city has a youthful energy thanks to the University of Granada, which has 80,000 students on five campuses around the city. Granada is filled with young people lounging in the parks and sitting outside at cafes.

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Eating out is a favorite past time in Andalusia, and Granada is one of the few Spanish cities where you still get free tapas with drinks. This tradition of always having a bite of food with alcohol goes back centuries. In fact, it is rare to see Spaniards drinking without…

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