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.


June 20, 2010

Father’s Day and Rainy Days

Filed under: children, Spain, weather — midway2go @ 6:18 am
Well, it’s Father’s Day, and while the kids and I have sent our private greetings to our important dads I thought it was worth noting here.  Any more holidays and this blog will turn into a living calendar, which isn’t very interesting.  So, time for a flashback to Galicia…
We woke up to rolling gray clouds and wind, happy to be warm and dry in our hotel in Finsterra.  On an old plastic tricycle Rory  Nora took turns careening down the path in front of the hotel, making a ninety degree turn halfway down that more times than not spilled them off into the grass, screaming with pleasure. Good thing they had a chance to get some energy out; we had in store for us one of the most draining car days in the history of the automobile. We were off to explore the Costa da Morte, the Coast of Death, the backcorners of Galicia, already the backwater of Spain, which is, you might say, the backwater of western Europe. None of the three maps I had showed enough detail to make sense of the small tracks branching off from the unlined road we found ourselves on. We drove in circles, popping out to follow a cove around, but then to lose the road to the tip of the cape only to find ourselves facing a t-intersection, both ends of which led to towns we’d already driven through.

Do you like my use of the royal We? It was all my fault I didn’t know where I was going. If they’re no help navigating at least they don’t criticize, either. Rory and Nora had no idea we were driving in concentric circles all over the northeastern corner of Spain. They sat happily doodling in their books, listening to a Harry Potter audiobook on the iPod, trying to ignore my wild muttering. We passed some pink signs that promised the “Route of the Dolmens,” so off we went, chasing down stones marked on my Tourist Map of the Costa de Morte as islands in blue, nowhere near roads. We drove down the secondary roads, to terciary roads, then on gravel tracks, tracking down these Galician cousins to Stonehenge and the mighty standing stones of the north. Over dinners and around cafe tables I’ve been telling the kids stories from the Outlander series, by Diana Galbaldon, which center around travelling through time by passing through standing stones. This has really peaked Rory and Nora’s interest, and willingness, to drive for ages in mist and rain to look for old rocks.

We finally chased down what had to be the final track to the “Dolmen de Pedra Cuberta,” or the dolmen of the covered stone. We turned off the gravel road through a valley, surrounded by small plots of cleared land running up the sides of the hills. A path, barely wide enough for a car, bumped along, weeds and rocks scraping under the car, puddles from days of rain obscuring the tire ruts. Finall, after maybe 300 yards, my faith in the quasi-all wheel driveness of the Green Eel found its end, and we stopped. On foot! I cried, and, glad to be out of the car, Rory and Nora tromped on, pushing through tall wet grasses and quickly learning to avoid a low but violently prickly weed. Even I was beginning to have a hard time seeing this adventure as, well, fun, as the path dribbled away to almost nothing. I noted that the couple of farmers working in the valley sure were doing a lot of yelling. Gradually I noticed that some of it seemed to be directed to our side of the hill. Twenty feet on I thought, Gosh, it seems like he might even be yelling at us. So, there we stood, on a hill in the rain, trying to decipher screamed Spanish on the wind. I tried hollering back, “Are you talking to us?” which made the tiny little figure in the distance more animated. Were we walking on landmines? Was this hollow ground? Was this place protected by a fierce little band of Galician farmers, all wearing navy wool sweaters and funny black hats and wielding hoes, some rural Knights Templar? If so, why lure tourists here with the funny pink signs? Finally I made out that all the action was at the beginning of the path, back where we came from. I screamed my thanks, and we headed down, past the parked car, all the way to where we first turned off the road. There they were, huddled together against time. I will say that, though obviously less grand than the more celebrated stones circles that I’ve visited in Britain and Brittany, these guys really had their pull. They are so much a part of nature, not small but almost invisible at first, but definately placed,very on-purpose. Rory and Nora had a go at time-travel (too far from Beltane, thank goodness), and we toyed with the idea of a Covered Stone Family Picnic, but Rory said it felt disrespectful, so we slogged our way back to the Green Eel, tore down the wet path in reverse and slid out of there, back on the trail of pink signs and ancient connections.

We found one more grouping, without the help of the Farmers’ Local, and were foiled twice by tracks turned into lakes. By the time we crossed the main road I had had enough of small scale sightseeing and was ready to get on up the road. We finally fed onto a highway and got caught up in something like rush hour in A Coruna just before 4pm. Maybe a mad rush in the rain to get back to work from siesta? Not very traditional, surely. We made it through the city and, at last, into the part of Galicia known as the Rias Altas, the High Rivers, where the highest cliffs in Europe stand above the crashing Atlantic, where massive rivers carve the land into fingers reaching out to sea. I had been looking forward to this for a long, long time. I thought we’d stand at lookouts, cooing happily, then tuck into a rural hotel and have a nice big fishy dinner. We headed up, off the main road again, only to find that the weather was getting uglier and uglier. Little streams began to run parallel to the road. Once or twice they crossed the road to fall away down the opposite shoulder. Our road was climbing up to mount those massive cliffs, and I started to get a little uneasy. Twice we drove through enough water to make me nervous, nothing dangerous, but a couple of inches that had me creeping along. Near the top our way was blocked by a couple of work trucks cleraing a tree that had blocked the road. I asked one of the men if they road was closed. No, it was open. I asked if it was dangerous. Yes, it was. I asked did it get better from here? No, worse. We turned around. We drove the long way around, only to find that in the closest town to the cape whole stretches of the main road were under water. One of the tiny little cars, the kind they have here that runs on a moped engine and only merits a tiny little moped-size license plate, was stuck, quickly becoming stranded. It was then I gave up on traipsing around the cape. In this weather we’d be more likely to be blown over the edge or go down the maginificent cliffs in a mudslide. No, in this mild hurricane we’d just keep driving.

We found haven just south of Viveiro in a beautiful 15th century manor house-turned-hotel. The next morning the road we had driven through was on the front page of the regional newspaper; it had worsened through the evening until it was a river running through the town. I saved a clipping. We spent two nights at the Pazo del Trave, and although I hate to have missed the views from the Rias Altas I did enjoy the quiet and the rest I found there, and now I have a great excuse for bringing Brandon back!

 We spent a couple of nights there, hiding out from the rain and making good use of the wifi to plan our next few moves.  We drove five hours along the coast, out of Galicia and into Asturias.  We spent a great afternoon a the Museum of the Altamira.  The caves of Altamira were inhabited more than 18,000 years ago, and folks lived in them off and on for thousands of years until a landslide blocked the entrance about 4000 years ago.   When the caves were reiscovered in the late 1800’s, th first scientists to go in bevlieved the paintings they saw there to be a hoax.  The colors were too vivid; the perspective and execution, too avanced to be authentic.  Further study proved these paintings to be genuine paleolithic art, justabout as good as it gets (or as good as we’ve found so far!)  THe cave itself is closed to the public, but a “Neocave” was built in the museum, all the bumps and crags of the cave, faithfully rendered, with none of the damp and chill of the real thing.  We had visited the Pileta Cave in Andaluscia, with much simpler paintings from abouthe same time frame.  While the paintings were less elaborate I loved the experience of climbing up to the cave entrance, then following the slick rock path down past the stalagmites and stalactites dripping with water, watching the shadows throw by the gas lanterns.  I found it really easy to imagine sheltering my family through the long cold ice age winters there.  The Neocave, on the other hand, was pretty slick.  The rest of the museum was amazing and answered lots of questions we had about life 15,000 ago.  We spent four happy hours there, then headed back into the pouring rain.

Our next stop was Santillana del Mar, a medieval town so well preserved that our usually reserved Lonely Planet guidebook gushes on and on, claiming it looks like a movie set.  Well, it would have to be a movie involoving lots of animals lined up two by two… 


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.

January 9, 2010

It’s getting hot in here…

Filed under: Australia, children, weather — midway2go @ 4:54 pm
Yesterday we went to the Sydney Opera House to see a show. It was no opera, but it was incredible. We saw the Tom Tom Crew, Australia’s hip hop circus. The Crew consists of four very talented acrobats, a drummer, a Dj, and a human beatbox. Together they were magic. The acrobats moved like gravity didn’t apply to them, flipping through the air and flying over each other. Most of them trained in something called the Flying Fruit Fly Circus. I don’t know what that is, but I think Rory and Nora and I would like to sign up.

Here’s what Nora says about the Tom Tom Crew:

They were doing back flips, spinning on their heads, breakdancing. And they could stand on each others’ shoulders three people at a time.

Rory says:

They did this kind of see-saw thing, and blasted 10 feet into the air, and sometimes 20 or 30.

I don’t even have the vocabulary to talk about the crazy turntable antics and mixology that went on by Sampology, the DJ, or the drummer, who was the linchpin of the whole show. Tom Thun, the human beatbox, seemed like such a likeable fellow that I hate to call him a freak, but… what would you call someone who can make all the sounds of a jazz band while doing a beat background? Yep. Very entertaining, and incredibly talented, but a freak. Oh, and he can breakdance, spinning on his head, while beatboxing. So cool. Rory was jumping up and down in his seat. Look it up on YouTube. It’s that cool.

And we got to see the inside of the Opera House. The acoustics may be world-class, but the looks are nothing to scream about. Oh, well, the elevators have no ceiling, just open to the roof . That’s interesting, in a terrifying sort of way.

We came out of the Opera House into the sunshine I’d been dreaming of. The sidewalks and jetties were jammed with Sydneysiders and tourists making the most of the sun and the Friday afternoon. Everyone had a drink in hand, the conversations were at top volume. It looked like fun, like a whole city of people getting ready to have a really big time. I was happy to be a part of it, walking in the sun with Rory and Nora, trying to make up raps and beats and asking each other who we liked better, Beastie Boys or Tom Tom Crew (me: the Boys; them: the Crew) and if you could have the ability to drum like that guy or to flip through the air like the acrobats which would you pick (all agreed: the acrobats) and if you could be a lizard or a snake which would you choose (a lizard). The good feelings lasted the bus ride back to our neighborhood, through a quick dinner of Thai, and onto the dessert the kids have waited days for, gelato from a little place near our guest house. Rory went with lemon; Nora with mango, and I went for unlimited tastes of theirs. It was delicious, but not, we agreed, up to Valentino’s in Auckland. They’re still the best.

Today was our last day in Sydney (for this trip, anyway), and we finally were able to get in touch with a couple we were friends with in when we lived in Virginia. Nathan and Elissa very gamely threw their 2 kids in the car and rushed right over to hang out. No small feat considering the kids are two and one and Elissa is expecting their third. We had a great morning drinking coffee and catching up. Their daughter took a shine to Nora, insisting in a very sweet way on holding her hand everywhere we walked. Rory pushed their younger one in his stroller, and on the whole I think they both enjoyed playing the Big Kids for a morning.

This afternoon we had planned to go into Hyde Park to see the opening day of the Sydney Festival. Family-friendly performances were scheduled from 2pm on, but I found myself overcome by daily life on the road: the need to get groceries for dinner, the need to wash the few warm weather clothes we have, the need to sort through books and papers and schedules. The need to be still and move slowly in the first hot weather we’ve had in months. So now the kids are in bed, sprawled across their beds, sticky under the ceiling fan, while our wet laundry is strung up all around our heads. It’s taking forever to dry in the humidity, and I don’t mind one bit. Four nights ago I was huddled in a down sleeping bag under woolen blankets, sleeping in a hat. Now I’m in a tank top, my hair pulled up to try catch a breeze across my neck. Only two time zones but such a change.

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