One to Grow On

December 28, 2010

Celtic Camping: I Can’t Recommend It

Filed under: children, food, Great Britain, Ireland, weather — midway2go @ 11:22 am

Two weeks in Ireland, a week each in Oban and the Isle of Skye in Scotland, followed by three sensible nights in an Inverness hostel and a visit to the Pilbeam family, themselves veteran world travellers ( and fabulous hosts who live just outside Edinburgh.  Can I recommend camping in damp countries whose high temperatures in August nudge 67?     Heavens, no.  We nearly froze.  Camping with two children is nothing like experiencing the pubs of Ireland (the only place in that green land where it never rains) or the castle B&B’s of Scotland.  Still… 

We scared ourselves silly (okay, I scared myself) hiking the Cliffs of Moher.    At the National Heritage Living Museum (or some such thing) in Ireland Rory learned his name means “Red King,” and for days he would only come when so called.  We had hours of fun poking numb fingers into tidal pools where the Cuillins ease into the sea.   We were shocked by the violence and passion of “The Troubles” bubbling right on the surface  in Derry (and I was shocked to find I had booked us into a B&B just a few door down from a police station which had been bombed the previous week.  Oops).   Anne Pilbeam’s chocolate mousse cups are legend in our house, and Ian’s tales of Sammy the Seal turned out to be true (he looked like a giant aquatic dog).    We walked the moors of Culloden on the anniversary of the day Bonnie Prince Charlie landed in Glenfinnian to reclaim his father’s throne.   At the Scottish National Museum (one of the best we saw anywhere, by the way) we couldn’t tear ourselves away from the emigration stories.   An interactive display asked you to imagine you were leaving home, maybe forever, and we found that quite easy to do…  And we tell and retell every story Mr. Noel told us while we camped at the charming Alie River Hostel in Doolin.   So, cold?  Yep.  Heaps of lasting memories?   Well, the Red King hasn’t forgotten yet, and the requests for Irish Stew just keep coming.


July 14, 2010

Rome for three, hold the pizza

Filed under: children, food, Food Allergies, Italy — midway2go @ 3:20 am

July 1, 2010

The Happy Wonders of Agriturismo

Filed under: children, food, Food Allergies, Italy — midway2go @ 5:09 am

We left Palau and ended up almost by accident in Cala Gonone, a town nestled into the base of a mountain on a gulf dotted with stunning  beaches and coves accessable only by boat.  Talk about happy accidents.  And what could make this one have an even happier ending?   How about an agriturismo perched on the side of a mountain with massive tent pitches?   The idea of an agriturismo is to have a working farm offer rooms (or tent space) to tourists.   The tourists get to see a farm up close, and the farm gets extra income.  This farm was well-known for serving up amazing dinners, family style.  The kind woman who ran the show (Signora McDonald?) didn’t bat an eye when I said we couldn’t have any gluten.  She barely flinched when I added milk and cheese to the no-no list.  I could hardly bring myself to mention my being a vegetarian, but I did, and she handled this final blow with grace and dignity.  She informed me that they couldn’t serve me fish, since all the meals featured the products from their farm, that they could only offer me an egg dish for my main plate.  I was thrilled.  A seafood reprieve!   We beamed at each other, Rory and her sons discovered that Pokemon transcends language, and a friendship was born.

Rory and Nora and I spent the next day taking a boat service from beach to beach.  The water was incredible.  The beaches were mostly white rocks, not sand, which hurt horribly climbing in and out of the steep surf, but didn’t cling and linger on our towel.  We spent a happy hour doing “math,” grouping and regrouping the beautiful jellybean-like rocks there by the sea.  

As fun as that was, my favorite memories will center around the food.    Both nights we started with an antipasti, marinated eggplant and roasted peppers for me, prociutto and other meaty delicacies for Rory and Nora.  Along with these came the best olives I’ve ever had.  I know, I know, I’ve said that before.  Still…   after that came, the first night, a simple pasta in a tomato sauce.  It was delicious.  So delicious,in fact, that when we weren’t served it the second night, Rory sat at the table and cried.  Really, it was that good.   Just look at those big, sad brown eyes.   The first night Rory and Nora were served braised “cabra.”  Nora didn’t care for it and swiped my fritata, but Rory polished off his and hers, raving about the complex flavor that reminded him of cheese.  He said it like meat from heaven covered with melted cheese.  I thought, after that, that he wouldn’t mind being told it was goat, and he didn’t, although he was sad to think it would be hard to find back home.  The second night we had the best lentil soup I’ve ever had, and I know beans.   After we ate we were summoned around back to see Signor McDonald roasting some suckling pigs by an open fire.  After fruit and coffee they came around with a digestivo,  mirto, a Sardinian liquor, like concentrated red wine syrup.  Monumental meals, both.  This may be the pentacle of camping.  We slept without our rain flap, under  a full moon as orange as freshly squeezed juice.  In the early morning I awoke  to the deep rumbling of bells as the sheep were brought to their breakfast.  All day we shuttled from one amazing beach to the next, and came back to a meal that was local, fresh, and delicious.   Possibly the rest of our camping life will  be, well, less.  Such a burden to live with.

June 29, 2010

Big Rocks by the Sea

Filed under: animals, children, food, Food Allergies, Italy — midway2go @ 7:05 am

Question:  What’s more fun than beautiful, swimmable sea?

Answer:    Beautiful, swimmable sea plus great climbing rocks!

Last week we floated across the Mediterranean on a ferry from Barcelona to the Italian island of Sardinia. Well, it’s heaven. We’re camping in Palau, on the northeastern corner in a busy part of the island called the Costa Smeralda.  Our campsite is surrounded by huge granite boulders and overlooks a tiny little inlet teeming with sea creatures. Rory spends all his time 30 feet off the ground, scampering around rocks and hiding from the sun and wind in a little cave he found, tucked into the side of a rock wall.   Nora filled up her bucket with sea snails, hermit crabs, and loads of kelp, before commandeering my dish pan and graduating to sea urchins and jellyfish.  She managed to catch five jellyfish before we learned that the gorgeous pink ones give a nasty sting.  She escaped unharmed.  An Italian named Aldo took us under his tutelage, and we learned all about urchins.  We sat there by the edge of the sea and ate the creamy orange eggs straight from the shell.  Then he took Rory out snorkeling to show him where to find them.   No wonder we came, planning to stay a couple of nights, and stayed a week.

June 17, 2010

Ten Years in Barcelona?

Filed under: children, food, Food Allergies, Spain — midway2go @ 5:50 am

I found a Will Shortz book of crossword puzzles at our last hotel, and I´m feeling the effects…   Today is mine and Brandon´s tenth anniversary!  And Rory and Nora and I are in Barcelona!  Is that a good clue, or what?  

We´re in an internet cafe off the Ramblas, the street in Europe where you are most likely to have something stolen right off  you.  This is my own opinion, based on years of antecdotes and thumbing through guidebooks.  I´m typing with my backpack in my lap, so we´ll make this quick and save photos for later.  We surprised ourselves by catching the bus this morning from the campground 10 miles north of town.  Rory and Nora said we wouldn´t be up in time…  We´ve turned into nightowls here in Spain.  We strolled through the market and had a fabulous breakfast at a stall in the back.  I had fried eggs with fried potatoes, Nora had  slice of Tortilla de Patatas with some zucchini, and Rory had filet mignon with potatos.  He´d been looking thin again since his last growth spurt, and I think the refried beens and lentils for days on end weren´t satisfying our growing Jethro.   I can see how having  a teenage boy could get expensive. 

We´re off to visit yet another aquarium, although I think we just saw most of the ocean for sale on ice in the market.  We´ll stroll around, stop for coffee, look at the living statues, but all the time I´ll be thinking of ten years ago, a roomful of family and friends, and Brandon.   Happy Anniversary!

June 9, 2010

All the way to the end of the earth

Filed under: children, food, Food Allergies, Spain — midway2go @ 6:59 pm

Here we are at Fisterra, or Land’s End in Galicia.  As Rory pointed out over dinner, there sure are a lot of these!

We left Sevilla the day after Nora’s birthday, which was the start of the festival of Corpus Christi.  In Sevilla they carry these massive platforms with saints and flowers and riches on them.  The procession inlcudes priests and girls in their first communion dresses and lots of regular people being very casual with four foot long candles. 

We drove to Toledo, slowly roasting in the car all the way, to find a campground that looked way better on paper than in real life.  It occupied a bluff opposite the river Tajo, and the old town of Toledo was just visible, pink, in the light of the setting sun.  However, the beautiful pool hadn’t opened for the season, the shade at our site was spotty and the ground was gravelly, but, worst of all, a field nearby hosted a “Corpus Christi” festival all week, starting around 8:30pm and lasting until after 5am.  There was rock-n- roll; there was rave; there was screaming from the crowd.  There was very little sleep.  We stayed long enough to meet a man who made swords in Toledo (note: he was down to just 8 fingers) and to eat some marzapan, and split for the cooler corner of Galicia.

I have wanted to come to Galicia since my first anthropology class with Dr. Kelley.  It seems like such a magical place, green cliffs meeting the sea, big rivers carving their way into the Atlantic, a whole region with its own language (Gallego) and culture.  I have to say, though, that sitting in Toledo, in our un-air-conditioned car, the idea of driving seven hours FARTHER away from the rest of Europe seemed like a lot of work.  It’s very remoteness, sitting on top of Portugal in the far northwest corner of Iberia, is the charm of Galicia.  Brandon pointed out that if I didn’t go with four more months in Europe ahead of me when would I ever go?  So, here we are.

We camped in Nigran in the Riaxas Baixas area for five nights, and it was by far the best camping we’ve done in Spain.  The folks there were super friendly, and the beach was beautiful.  I knew we were the only foreigners splashing around on the beach that day; no one else would go near the “freezing” water.  We had great day exploring the nearby town of Baiona, once the most important Atlantic harbor in Spain.  It was into Baiona that the Pinta, the first of Columbus’s ships to return, first brought the news of their exciting discovery of a shortcut to Asia.  An almost exact replica of the Pinta is there in the harbor today,and I am going to tell you that I would think twice, and again, and again, before I would cross the Atlantic in that boat.  It was tiny.  Tall, but little.  And the Nina, one of Columbus’s other ships, was a couple of meters shorter still.  Wow.  AND, nine of twenty-six sailors on board the Pinta were under fifteen years of age.  So, it was a little boat largerly sailed by children.  Mercy. Well,  we had a fun hour climbing all over it.    I learned that Columbus and his crew, in addition to stuff like tobacco, potatos and corn and loads of other new foods that I knew about, also brought back hammocks.   On the outbound journey, and theretofore, all sailors just plunked down on deck when it was their turn to sleep.   I also learned tons of new Spanish words, mostly seafaring terms that I most likely will forget by next week, but, still, it was fun. 

Once the rain rolled in camping in the Snug Bug became a bit too snug, and a bit damp.  We woke up one morning to find ten snails sliming their way under the rain cover on the net part of our tent.  We watched and learned  how they move, how they sniff, how they retract when you tap on the net, how they poop.  Nora even found out what was under the shell when she accidentally stepped on one (there’s a big green organ under there, and  more wet brown stuff). 

We hid out from the rain in the car, driving to Ponte de Lima in Portugal for a few hours.  We weren’t there long, but I can say that I definately can’t fake speaking Portugese.  It really is not Spanish.  I can also say that the all-black look is very big again this year for the over-75 crowd.  We played around with some Roman solidier statues by the Roman bridge over the river (still in use), bought some hand-embrodiered napkins and learned to play water flutes.  Rory and Nora are enchanted.  Rory can make his sound like some attacking weapon out of Star Wars, but Nora is pretty faithful to the birdsong.   I got lost on the way back (surpirse, surprise), and we coasted over the bridge into Spain on fumes.  Gas in Portugal was a full 30 Euro cents per liter more than in Spain, which works out to be about $2 MORE per gallon.  Yowsers. 

We packed up, in the rain, and left Nigran this morning.  The tent and its parts were so wet I had to pack them separately in plastic bags.  I am not looking forward to setting up camp next time, but the forecasted nine days of rain was a great excuse for a night in a hotel.  We rushed to get to Santiago de Compostela in time for the pilgram’s mass at noon, but I got lost (surprise, surprise) and we only made it in time to see hundreds of people lined up to take communion while a nun sang.   In all the cathedrals and churches we’ve visited, this one felt like a working factory.  It was doing its real business, not just a show, and it was packed.  It would have been a lot more moving if Nora wasn’t jerking on my hand, wanting to leave.  This is travel with children.

Now we’re here at Fisterra.  Our hotel is great, and the rain that ran us off from the campsite has vanished.  Rory and Nora swam in the freezing cold pool, and a bee got trapped in Nora’s towel and stung her on the arm.  Her first bee sting!  She was really brave, and even posed for a photo with her attacker, who died for his sins.  For dinner we shared a massive fish baked whole with potatoes and tomatoes.  The kids were picking out bones and tapping the huge teeth (what in the world did the beast eat?)  They weren’t bothered at all to be dissecting a carcass at the dinner table.  When in Galicia…

June 7, 2010

Nora’s 6th Brithday, and then some

Filed under: children, food, Food Allergies, Spain — midway2go @ 7:27 am

Nora is 6!  For weeks Nora has started each day with the Birthday Countdown:  Guess what?  23 days until my birthday!  22 days until my birthday!  21 days until my birthday!  Brandon’s visit came and went, and the Birthday Countdown marched on.  For our birthdays this year we have all been choosing a big event to mark the day, in lieu of a partyand family  and presents (although there have been more of those than I would have thought…).  Rory chose to go to a ninja house in Japan.  I visited Salisbury Cathedral (of which I had ridiculously happy memories of visiting years ago with my beloved Dr. Kelley) and visiting Fiona and Rich and their girls in Cornwall (who took us to see the sun set over the ocean AND popped open a bottle of champagne- I think I chose wisely!  Blog to come!)  Nora chose to stay at a hotel in Sevilla (she was very clear about NOT camping on her birthday) and go to a flamenco show. 

So, we loitered in southern Spain for the week after Brandon left, camping in the Alpujarras on the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevadas and in Tarifa.  We toyed with the idea of going into Morocco for a  day or two, but we were all having food allergy issues from all our restaurant visits with Brandon, and I just didn’t have the heart to go over for just a day.  Instead we went to America – to Rota Naval Base, that is.  We spent dollars in the commissary, bought guide books in the bookshop, and watched lots of movies.  We even had oe fabulous afternoon on a beach on base.  The water was warm; the waves were gentle.  We dripped sand into massive formations and watched the sea reclaim them.  Then, leaving, we were nearly arrested by three Spanish national police. Oops.  Despite the open gate and the boardwalk leading to the water the beach was, we were told, closed.  Hmmm, right.  I explained that I had been given directions to the beach by the hotel front desk (it was a 5 minute walk), and they were prepared to let me go as being “malinformada,” but then te bomb dropped:  I didn’t have my I.D. with me.  Now, this was something to get excited about.   The American M.P.’s were called.  Rory and Nora and I had to sit and wait,  sandy and damp and slightly burned (me, of course).  The M.P.’s showed up, except that they didn’t speak SPainsh, so there was a lot of hand waving and sign language and muttering on both sides.  I don’t think the M.P.’s thought we were much of a threat to  Spanish national security.  I toyed with the idea of translating, but then sat there instead and mulled over the true meaning of the fifth amendment.  Finally it was decided that the two Americans plus one of the Spanairds would accompany us back to the hotel where my I.D. waited.  The final complication: Rory and Nora and I were on foot.  I had a picture in my mind of the M.P.’s driving very slowly behind us all the way to make sure the three of us didn’t make a break for it.   I’m sure there’s a Bruce Springsteen song about that, a mom and two kids, running for their freedom…

Okay, back to Nora’s birthday.  We left Rota with our names cleared and with a desire to get stationed there someday.  Driving north we passed Jerez de la Frontera then had an hour of driving across baking hot countryside.  Now, a word about the Green Eel, our car we picked up in England (thanks, again, Lucy- you rock).  It is a wonderful car, a Subaru Outback with a huge trunk for camping and enough room in the back for Rory and Nora to spread out.  It was two sunroofs, a great stere0 with an iPod dock so we can all listen to audiobooks together.  It’s zippy and looks more expensive than it really was(and will be for sale in September in Britain, if anyone is interested!).  What it is lacking is air conditioning.  Now, I knew that when I bought it, but standing in Fleet, England, hopping up and down to keep my feet warm, it seemed like no big deal.  Well, driving into the sun on a freakishly hot day in Andalucia it was a huge deal.  By the time we got to Sevilla my clothes were soaked through with sweat and the thermometer at the parking garage read 44 degrees- celcius.  That’s well over 100F.  I vowed to do early morning drives after that.

The morning of Nora’s birthday she awoke with a squeal.  I had set out a little table of presents, and she was thrilled to find I had bought the right sticker dolly dressing books all the way from England.  Brandon called to sing happy birthday, and she was one happy puppy.  In the afternoon we headed over the the cathedral to check out Christopher Columbus’s tomb and to hoof it to the top of the Giraldi tower, rising more than 300 feet over the roofs of Sevilla.  Nora, to be fair, didn’t want to go in the first place.  Rory and I did, very much, and off we went.  It was awful.  Hordes of people, multitudes of school groups, lines everywhere.  An audioguide for children was available in English, but  whoever made it seemed to think that being for children meant a paucity of information coupled with a patronizing tone.  The entry on Columbus’s tomb went something like, “I won’t bore you with facts about Columbus.  You must know all about him already!  Let’s talk instead about the symbols on the chests of the four pall-bearers.”  My kids glared at me like I’d been keeping Columbus a secret (it’s true, I’m no great fan…).  “Climbing” the tower was more like standing in a slow moving line at McDonald’s- over-weight ten year-olds shouting to each other while retirees sighed loudly at the delay. Yikes. 

 [Yet another non-birthday related observation: In Britain, lots of folks look fat.  Women, men, and kids.  Here in Spain, almost none of the adults are fat.  Maybe a beer belly (sherry belly?  who knows?) here or there, but no really fat people.  The kids, however, are definately chunky.  I’d say more fat kids than thin ones.  Shocking.]

The highlight of the day was supposed to be the flamenco show, but in truth I think Nora enjoyed playing with her presents and dressing up in her flamenco outfit.  I thought the show was amazing, even though I know it’s for tourists.  It started at 8pm and lasted 90 minutes, and Rory and Nora both did a fair bit of yawning.  I thought the music was amazing.   Flamenco grew out of the Gypsy culture brushing up against the other cultures of Andalucia, Moorish, Jewish, Spanish.  With only a guitar the artists created another world with their hands, their heels, and their voices.  The songs sounded like the Islamic call to prayer, and the dancing looked like drawing flowers in the air.  It was quite intense and powerful, and I was thrilled that NOra wanted to go for her birthday.  She didn’t really know what to expect, but the dresses and the flowers in the women’s hair were inspiring.  Rory, of course, like the 2 male dancers best (we’ve nicknamed them “Shiny Suit” and “Tight Britches”). 

After the show we sat down at a table on the sidewalk and ate tapas and drank a chilled glass of Rioja (well, I did, anyway) and reflected on dance and music and birthdays.  Now, everyone in our family has had his or her birthday for this year.  Last year, looking ahead and worrying about what was to come, we thought the birthdays would be some of the hardest days to be apart. This name for this blog grew out of that concern over these special, red letter days, and what it would feel like to live through them.  Now, with all four of them behind us, they seem, well, just like birthdays.  Anticipation, secrets, calls with singing, special plans.   Our family may be spread out over three continents, but that just can’t change some things.  So, happy birthday, Nora.   May your whole year be blessed and joyful.

May 22, 2010

Africa, almost

Filed under: children, food, Food Allergies, Spain, travel, weather — midway2go @ 11:22 am

We were really close.  I mean, really, really close.  We had reservations in Fez, I had the train connections from Tangier to Fez copied into my notebook, and the ferry tickets were bought.  We left the house in La Herradura right at 10 and made good time to Tarifa.  We even thought we might be in time for the 1pm ferry and not have to wait until 3pm to cross.  We could see the Rif mountains of Moroccoo across the Straight of Gibraltar.  We were so close.

Well, the woman in the red FRS ferry compnay jacket told us, screaming to be heard over the wind, the 1pm ferry was cancelled due to weather, and the forecast for the 3pm ferry wasn’t looking good.  The decision to go or to cancel would be made by 2pm.    We explained, with big eyes, that we had made arrangements (indeed, had spent most of the previous day making arrangements, but I didn’t tell her that), that we had reservations.  She offered that we could drive back to Algeciras and take a boat to Ceuta, or wait until the next day.  She was quite gracious and kind in explaining that our tickets would be valid on any crossing their company made, on any day.  By the time this was all shouted back  and forth it was 11:53am in Morocco, and we had until noon to cancel our hotel reservations.  In 45 seconds we cancelled a sidetrip planned for days and dreamed of for years. 

I got through to the hotel, who couldn’t find my reservation anyway, and we made the most of our afternoon in Tarifa.  We were literally blown from one street into smaller and smaller alleys, trying to get out of the wind.  My hair looked like I’d teased it for the prom, and Nora was almost blown off some rocks she was scrambling around on.  I was grumpy and irritable and my skin hurt from the wind.  I told Brandon, Seems like we’ve been somewhere else where the wind blew like this and I was miserable.  He said, Yeah, we lived in Kansas.  Oh, right. 

If we didn’t have reservations in Morocco, we didn’t have them in Spain, either.  We spent a few minutes looking for our good Iberian atlas (it’s gone), then a few more looking at the large, useless map.  We made a couple of calls to hotels in various towns in Portugal and settled on staying in Spain and going to Arcos de la Frontera, a great Andalusian town built on a knife’s edge of land with cliffs falling away on either side.  We got a room in the Parador, counted ourselves lucky, and headed out for the 60 mile drive.  Well, the car battery was dead and we had to be jumped,  our map turned out to be incorrectly labelled not once but twice, and a section of the road was closed, necessitating a 20 kilometer detour.  More than three hours later we pulled into Arcos, tired and hungry but glad not to be driving 4 more hours into Portugal. 

Our balcony at the Parador literally hung over the side of the gorge.  One wrong step would have meant a perilous plummet to a pulpy death.  [Brandon put in that last sentence about pulpy death.]  I had imagined  Brandon and I sharing a bottle of wine out there while the kids  drifted happily off to sleep.  Well, more dreams gone with the wind.  Instead we sat for hours over plate after plate of yumminess at a little restaurant in the dungeon of the palace.  By the door was a tiny little barbecue.  We ordered everything off the menu that we could eat:  favas cooked with atrichoke hearts in garlic sauce, mushrooms in a spicy sauce, pototo salad, freshly roasted red peppers with onions, mixed salad, spicy pork on skewers, stewed lamb, pork loin wrapped in bacon on the grill, tiny lamb chops…  We rolled ourselves uphill and straight into bed.

Today we’ve poked around, looking in shops and eating at small metal tables.  I think I could devote some serious time to the study of olives.  Yum.  I had a glass of sherry at lunch so rich, so sweet, it was like icy velvet in my mouth.  Nora has been flamenco dancing her way around the city.  She is constantly moving, snapping, stomping.  We found her flamenco shoes for her birthday, red with black polka dots and squat little heels.  She can’t wait- 11 more days.  And Rory asked great questions in the church today.  The Spanish altars are so elaborate and ornate, but some of the statues and paintings seem to breathe.  Young Mary is a doting nursing mother;  a beaming Joseph holds young Jesus.  An eldery bearded man holding a large sceptre we decided was supposed to be God, but we had reservation (I think he looks more like King Triton, Ariel’s father in Little Mermaid).  Mary stands beside Christ on the cross, crying gemstone tears.  We saw not one word of scripture nor one Bible, but there was message a plenty.

Tomorrow we head to Seville for a couple of days before Brandon has to go back, but We Are Not Talking About That.  What’s next for the three of us?  I don’t know, but it’ll have to be good.  We are going to be three sad sacks in need of distraction.  Maybe we’ll try again for Africa.  I really, really want to go, although I would much rather go holding tight to Brandon’s hand in the medinas.  Still, it would be fabulous.  And we are so close!  Courage, mon enfant!  I tell myself.  We’ll see if it works.

May 20, 2010

Alhambra, almost

Filed under: children, food, Food Allergies, Spain, travel — midway2go @ 10:25 am

Tuesday passed hopping in the water, getting out and warming up, then getting back in.  Brandon perfected his rock jumping, and even I thought about getting in the sea.  I sat there, watching the water surge into the little tiny cove, thinking of the feel of the salt on my skin, drying in the sun, and getting used to the feel of the algae slick underfoot.  I wanted to get in.  Then a big wave crashed in and soaked me up to my waist, and my desire to immerse myself was sucked out to sea along with the wave.  Oh, well.

Wednesday was to be our big day in Granada.  We had been talking about the Alhambra and the history of the Moors in Spain.   Just think.  This  part of Spain was under Islamic rule for 800 years.  Then, think that it’s less than 700 years since Isabella and Ferdinand gave the Moors the boot and brought in the Inquisition.   Incredible.   So, we were off to visit the Alhambra, the last bastion of the Moors in Iberia, and it felt like a great car trip.  We turned up the Bon Jovi and the soundtrack of Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron, and sang ourselves hoarse as we crossed the Sierra Nevadas heading one hour inland.  The sun was shining, and it was a glorious day to do some sightseeing.  Now, the last time I visited the Alhambra, in my post-college backpacking days, you just walked up and stood in line for tickets.  These days, you can buy tickets a year in advance online (but we knew but hadn’t done), so we were hoping to get lucky and get our tickets the old-fashioned way.  Well, no luck.  Carol, get your stinking tickets NOW! 

 We couldn’t get into the palace rooms, but we were able to visit the Generalife, the Alcazar and the palace that Carlos I built in the 16th century.    Maybe we just didn’t know what we were missing (and I was keeping quiet), but we loved it all and thought it fabulous.  Correct me if I’m wrong but Islamic art relies on patterns and celebration of the written word rather than images of people and animals.  Rory and Nora found the idea of that really strange, but in the churches I grew up in we didn’t really have so many paintings or “images” either.  The emphasis there was on the Word, singing it and speaking it and memorizing it for stickers in Sunday School, so in that way I really get that about Islam.  Going through the Museo de Artes Bellas in the palace of Carlos I was a fascinating contrast of the celebration of the image in Catholic Spain with the celebration of the word in Islam.  Rory and Nora loved the small collection there.  They were suitably horrified by the pietas, with Jesus sprawled across the lap of his grieving mother, and awed by the altar pieces.   They quickly became experts on nail wounds and crowns of thorns, and they had lots of questions about death by crucifixion.   The power of the Word is one thing, but going through the museum with Rory and Nora I could see how potent those images are, especially for the less literate.  Very clever, those Catholics.  We spent the evening strolling around the small streets and alleyways of Granada and had a perfectly forgettable dinner in a hugely memorable square. So, you could say we saw the Alhambra.  Almost.

April 25, 2010

The Cotwolds and Singapore: Strange Bedfellows

Filed under: animals, children, food, Food Allergies, Great Britain, Singapore, travel — midway2go @ 7:28 am
When I imagined, from the relative luxury of my kitchen in Georgia, what this blog would be like I thought I would keep up with it nightly. I would sit down at the end of a full day, the children happily asleep in some other room, and recount tales of great adventure and humorous anecdotes of Rory and Nora on Foreign Land. My stunning and insightful photos would effortlessly fit into the narrative of my tale; indeed, they would be knitted seamelssly together. Well, ha, bloody, ha, as some fictitious Brit would say. I don’t think there has been one time when I’ve sat down and recounted the day afresh. Most nights I’ve collapsed into bed with the kids, falling asleep before they do (well, at least before Rory does). Other nights I’ve bemoaned the lack of internet access, although like now I can write on WordPad and copy and paste to WordPress later, so that’s a weak excuse. Mostly, I think, I just don’t have enough left at the end of a day filled with parenting two kids, planning ahead for travel and coping with the demands of day-to-day life on the move to record the miracles and nightmares as they happen.


So, here I sit, in a bed and breakfast in the Cotswolds in England, trying to change all that. I’m in a folding chair, hunched over the keyboard in the dark with the netbook propped on the side of a small dresser to be nearer to the eletrical outlet. Why am I here and not downstairs at the large, well-lit table, now that the kids are asleep? Good question. Be right back.   Okay, here I am. Our B&B, Tall Trees, in Stow-on-the-Wold has turned out to be not only comfortable and convenient but an amazing value. We have the whole upstairs of an annex to ourselves, and, since we’re the only guests, we have full run of the living area, the kitchen, and both patios. Perfect. I love this place. The town, like the whole region, is too cute to be believed. Honey-stoned buildings line each narrow street. Tiny purple flowers cascade out of chinks in drystone fences. Clipped grass, so green you want to nibble it alongside the sheep, fills every hollow. It’s lambing season. Daffodils and hyanciths bloom. Need I say more about the cuteness? It’s almost too much.   

Today we went to Snowshill Manor, the home of a collection of objects of a man named Charled Paget Wade. I say the home of his collection: he never lived in the house. He lived in a small home adjacent to the manorhouse. He bought the manor for his things to live in. He wanted to create a series of rooms in which the 22,000 objects in his collection could settle. He wanted to create another world to delight and enthrall his friends. He began collecting at the age of seven (this makes an enormous impression on Rory, aged eight). His grandmother had this old red Chinese cabinent filled with little knicknacks and treasures. If he was a very good boy the whole week and did as he was told and ate all his porridge he was allowed after church on Sundays to open the cabinent and touch some of the wonders within. From this grew his love of things.    

Charles Wade collected anything form any place and any time, provided it met three criteria: excellence in craftmanship, excellence in color, and outstanding something else (maybe design?). The resulting house was incredible. I had read that the rooms were crammed full with all manner of stuff with no plan or design. Now, to me, that means toasters piled up to the ceiling beside plows and saints reliquaries. Total chaos. But the roms didn’t feel that way at all. Maybe they would to a museum’s curator, but to me they made wonderful sense. All the things that were wheeled or moved or transported were together. All the oldest hand-woven rugs and coats of arms and saints relics hung in a foyer. In another room Chinese snuff jars and Japanese picnic boxes stood around bejeweled dressers from Italy. I thought it was wonderful, even though we had to leave halfway through to get Rory to a toilet and Nora pitched a fit, crashing after eating half of a pink mouse made entirely of sugar, and yelled her way through the amazing gardens.    

For those of you still reading, not just skipping on to the photos (so, my husband and his mother- thank y’all) you may wonder how we got to be here in the Cotswolds from North Carolina? What came before? Ah, well, that may have to wait. I want to go back even further to Singapore, our destination when we left Perth and the clear, logical flow of this blog. We had planned to spend maybe three nights in Singapore, but we stayed eight. Our first three days we spent just getting used to the idea of being in Asia. Our hostel, the Betel Box, was perfect, and Rory and Nora met some of the nicest folks in the world there while I tried to catch up on the Australia blog. Isn’t that funny? A group of (and I am not making this up) students from Uraguay who are doing their undergraduate degrees in Taiwan were there on break from classes, and they played Wii with Rory and Nora for hours. A couple named Rey and Eva from the Philippines showed the two of them incredible kindness. Really, the people we have met on the road have been the best part.    

After three nights we moved on to central Singapore, trading fabulous friends and facilites for location, location, location (and our room was no longer available). At Backpackers Central Hostel we had no windows in our tiny room, but we were just up the street from the Raffles Hotel, home of the Singapore Sling, across the street from a very convienent shopping mall, and walking distance to lots of places, like more shopping malls. It was alarming and oddly seductive. We became regulars at the Starbucks across the street (with the money we were saving in accomadation) and ate so many meals at the yellow plastic tables around the corner that the woman rolled her eyes when she saw us coming.    

I’m just about to it. The thing we had to face at least three times a day was Food. Singapore, mind you, is a city desgined to eat out in. No one cooks. Food is abundant, cheap, and delicious. It is also not dairy nor gluten free. I printed off cards carefully translated into Mandarin, Cantonese, Thai and Vietnamese that explained what we could and could not eat. I would show them to a prospective waiter or waitress. Usually we were asked to leave. This poor woman with the yellow plastic chairs foolishly agreed to take us on like a project, and we haunted her door. Before our time was up in town, though, it was clear we were all reacting to something we’d eaten, but who could ever say what? We’d had yummy vegatables swimming in brown sauces, boiled eggs so runny we had to crack them into a bowl and drink them, and coconut rice with a dried fish head and chili sauce for breakfast. Rory and Nora are still sniggering at the fish ball soup. We spotted in the grocery store a selection of of other balls: pork, beef, or beef tendon. Beef tendon balls? Food there existed in it’s own sphere. We were tourists, wierd Americans whose tastes and fancies could not be reckoned with. Why would they change a perfectly good recipe, made for ages just like that, for us? One time I ordered the vegetarian soup off a lunch menu. It had rice noodles and no soy sauce, so that seemed fine. Well, when it came it was full of rice noodles and tofu, yes, but my vegetarian soup also boasted shrimp, fish and chicken. Eating was definately a challenge. We’d be eating something so yummy and good, Rory would say, “you just know this is going to make us sick.” And it did.    

Still, we loved Singapore. We’re still talking about our day at the zoo. And, for the record, when I snapped the picture of the baboons in front of Rory they were not doing THAT. I also cannot say enough good things about the weather. I LOVE that climate. My skin, so tempermental and fussy, was creamy and soft and happy. My hair was almost curly (well, that may be a stretch). The back of the hostel, where the toilets cubbies and shower stalls were, were open, walled only to the waist. No glass, no screens. It felt like the rainforest or like camping. We’d stand there at the end of a long day, fresh from a cool shower, and we’d brush our teeth with bottled water, leaning our elbows on the wall and looking out at this huge city, this nation-state given over to high-rises and shopping and lattes. The air would be full even then of the sounds of bugs and birds calling in the heavy wet air, over the sounds of horns and voices shouting down the alley, and I couldn’t what world I was in. First? Third? Who cared? We loved it.   


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