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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What I Miss Most About America While Living in Spain.

I took some time off from blogging about our adventures in Europe. Many of my friends seemed pretty distraught during the election process and my blog was probably not a welcomed distraction.  I was preparing to take in some unhappy Americans who had threatened to leave the country (so far, no visitors!) Hopefully this Thanksgiving weekend will bring families together in the U.S. and not tear them apart. I do suggest minimizing political commentary unless you want a serious food fight, pumpkin pie and all!

This year my own family will be in Palm Desert and I’m a bit homesick.  Here in Spain, it’s a normal school day for us on Thanksgiving but we have a nice group of new friends and we are planning a special dinner at a local restaurant (including turkey and pumpkin pie) for the American ex-pats.  They don’t celebrate Thanksgiving here but the stores do announce BLACK FRIDAY specials which made me laugh.

To get into the holiday groove, I have put together the American things I am extremely thankful for (and miss dearly) while we are away. Agree or disagree or agree to disagree but I contend that these things help make American great.

1.) A BIG, FAT, JUICY CHEESEBURGER:

There is nothing like an American burger. Throw on some bacon, mushrooms and cheese and I’m in heaven. The burgers here just aren’t the same and I can’t seem to figure out what kind of meat I’m supposed to buy.  I’ve asked in the stores but I’m not that sophisticated with my Spanish and the folks in the stores don’t seem to know themselves. I’ve tried several kinds of ground meat and the kids won’t eat them.  If anyone knows where I can find amazing ground beef in Southern Spain, do tell.  When I get home to California I’m heading straight to In ‘n’ Out!  What’s your favorite American burger spot?

2.) STARBUCKS:

I miss the fact that I can find a Starbucks at pretty much any town in America, especially in the fall or winter with their cute cups – YES, even The Red One and even when they get your name wrong.  Starbucks in the one spot that embraces the idea of the THIRD SPACE and I don’t think we find that so much anymore in America. This concept was written about by sociologist, Ray Oldenberg, in his book,  Celebrating the Third Space  and is explained as:

 “…Oldenburg identifies “third places” as the public places on neutral ground where people can gather and interact. In contrast to first places (home) and second places (work), third places allow people to put aside their concerns and simply enjoy the company and conversation around them. Third places “host the regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work.”

My favorite thing about Starbucks is the inspiration I draw from the people inside: There are always a few students studying together, a single woman working on a new business plan or some guy writing the next great American novel or screenplay.   The friendly barristas are usually working on a few creative side projects themselves. Whether you’re a fan of the coffee or not, it gives people a sense of community with their board of activities and book exchanges.

3.) BARNES AND NOBLE:

I miss this place for a few reasons, 1.) It’s hard to find books in English here and 2.) Just like Starbucks, it offers a rare third place, where people can browse, see a published author speak and find something in common. I miss visiting there with the kids, they always get super excited about buying a carefully chosen book with a gift certificate they got for their birthday. There are plenty of bookstores here in Spain but haven’t found one with chairs where I could sit down and enjoy them for a moment.

4.)TARGET:

I miss the idea of one-stop shopping at Target. Here in Spain,  I go to seven different stores to get the things I need for the week…on foot. I miss grabbing my coffee (Starbucks) and slowly going down each aisle where I can get school supplies, a bath mat, a sweater, dinner and a birthday present at the same time.

5.) TRADER JOES:

I love seeing what’s in the “Fearless Flyer” each week that would tell me about the new exotic items. At TJ’s I could get the makings of an Italian, Indian and Thai meal for the week and pair them all with a great bottle of wine. Plus, the kids are always willing to try something new that they are cooking up.  For the most part I know I’m making healthy choices for the kids too!

6.) AMERICAN MOVIE THEATERS:

It would be nice to be able to see a first run movie – in English. There is a theatre that has an English screening (with Spanish subtitles) one time a week but it’s about 20 minutes away by cab. Although we are fans of the Spanish self-service popcorn stand here (we might have to import that idea!).

7.) EATING DINNER OUT BEFORE  8:30 P.M.:

Here in Spain, I’m a prime candidate for the “early bird special”.  Even a casual dinner isn’t really possible until 8 pm and that’s too late for this lady. We can get coffee or some tapas but dinner isn’t served until I’m well into my PJ’s Monday through Friday.

8.) RESTAURANT RATINGS:

In LA and NY (and I’m sure other American cities) I appreciate seeing the health code rating clearly in the window. It gives potential customers an idea of its cleanliness. So you know it’s totally safe to head in to your local “dive bar”. Without that information I feel like I’m working without a net. There are tons of restaurant options here but it would be great to weed out the ones that aren’t as clean. It would make choosing one much easier!

9.) BLACK BEANS:

Totally random I know but it’s one of the few sources of protein my family will agree on. The kids love bean burritos but only like the black beans.  Even the Mexican section (a very small section) of the grocery stores don’t have black beans.  They have a million different types of beans that are awesome but of course, I can’t find the one I want.

10.) NAIL SALONS:

I miss the stiff competition of nail salons in many cities in the U.S. where I can pretty much find a salon on every other corner (at least in Los Angeles!).  The competition in America keeps prices low and having so many salons allows me to pop in when I have time.  Here in Granada, an appointment is a must.  My friend and I walked around with our daughters all over town for a couple hours looking for a place on a Saturday – no dice!  Most places offer just manicures and the places I’ve seen for pedicures don’t have the big massage chairs that I love and the foot massage leaves something to be desired.

Tonight is said to be the biggest bar night of the year in the United States, so go out, grab a drink with your favorite people and keep it classy America!

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

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.

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…