Posts Tagged ‘food’
After an amazing trip to Rome for my 40th, with no kids (wahoo!), John and I did a quick turnaround in Dublin to grab the kids and head out on spring break. Since Ireland has the most ridiculously large amount of school holidays, they had two weeks off. We took advantage of this to travel Tuesday through the following Wednesday. This gave us an 8-day trip, cheaper flights because it was mid-week both ways, and John only had to take off four days, because of Easter. Win win. We decided to head back to Spain, since there is so much to see there and I have the added bonus of speaking the language. Plus, I love it. So, the plan was this: four days in Barcelona, 2 days in Valencia and then 2 days in a beach town just south of Barcelona, called El Vendrell. Because there are so many of us, we need two hotel rooms wherever we go. This can limit the hotel choices as well. Luckily, John is a Starwood member with some good ranking, so they tend to upgrade us, or at least give us a bottle of much-needed wine when we arrive.
We got to Barcelona late, arriving at almost 11. The three big kids did well, cruising on the excitement of the trip. And Noah was also amazingly good, considering he was up about five hours past his usual bedtime. The only hiccup was when the cabdriver accidently smacked Lincoln in the mouth with a suitcase as he was loading the trunk. Lincoln had bent down to retrieve the beloved blankey and the guy just didn’t see him. That might be a record….getting a fat lip before we even leave the airport.
We got to the hotel about midnight. Now this being Spain, the land of dinner doesn’t start until 11pm, it didn’t occur to me that we wouldn’t be able to get milk for Noah when we got there. But the hotel, a Sheraton, was located in more of a business area, not a tourist or residential zone. As such, there was nothing opened around and their own restaurant had just closed. I explained my dilemma to the nice African man who was putting in the extra bed and opening the adjoining doors for the room. He took me down to the restaurant, went in back and got someone to sell me a carton of milk out of the kitchen! So nice. And he wouldn’t even take a tip! He said he had a two-year old at home and knew how it was.
We spent the next several days site seeing and enjoying Barcelona. The weather wasn’t great, but better than what we had left behind so we were happy. The city has lots of attractions that kids are into. We did the aquarium, the chocolate museum (although some of the chocolate sculptures were grey they were so old. Not that the kids cared. Look! Chocolate Spongebob!), and a gondola ride all the way to the top of Montjuic. This last one has an amazing view of the sea to the front and all of Barcelona to the back.
We also had long lunches with lots of wine for me and John, so that we probably enjoyed the kid stuff more than normal. We were lucky to have a great dinner out one night with our Dublin friends, the Smiths. They were also there for the break, but were headed north for a few days on the Costa Brava, while we were headed south to Valencia. We had paella and jamon and basic merriment while all the kids made videos of each other at the other end of the table. Speaking of food, I was so proud that the kids decided on this trip that they liked patatas, croquetas, and the jamon, which they referred to as “bacon ham”. Who wouldn’t like “bacon ham”??
Saturday morning before Easter we were supposed to head out to Valencia. I had rented a car online with Avis, but through the American website. I got a great deal and had rented a 6-seater. Once I got to the Avis, it turned out that the car they gave me was a 5-seater. SMALL 5-seater. It was the same car I had rented, but apparently there are different versions. This Avis was a small rental depot in a warehouse area. All the cars they had there were only there for pickup for reservations. It wasn’t like the airport where they have tons of cars to choose from. This little thing was it. Also, because it was Easter weekend, there were no cars available anywhere else in the city. So, I drove the tin can back to the Sheraton, praying that John could figure out what to do. I just couldn’t see how the six of us (including a car seat) and four big bags and a stroller were going to fit in this car. I explained the situation to him and with a grave look on his face, he went down to the curb to see for himself. A few minutes later, he came back and claimed he thought we could make it fit, if two kids shared the front seat. With no bigger car available, the trains sold out, and a pre-paid reservation awaiting us in Valencia, we went for it. We looked like a clown car. It was like one of those wooden block puzzles that only fits together if you fit the pieces in correct order. Five very cramped hours later, we made to Valencia to the Westin there. On a beautiful little side street, the Westin was a true oasis. The center courtyard was done in a Moroccan style, with flowers and tall palms, and tinkling fountains throughout. Truly charming. We sat in the sun and had a much needed cocktail, while the kids blissfully watched Disney Channel in English. (The Disney Channel in Barcelona had only been available in Spanish.) I’m not sure why they were so excited by this….they’ve seen so many of the shows so many times, that they could translate it from memeory.
Valencia was a gem. There is a gorgeous linear park, which is actually a string of separate parks that was developed along the old riverbed that runs through the city. At one end is The City of Science, and amazing all-white complex made up of several different buildings, including a performing arts hall, planetarium, natural science museum and aquarium. We had come here specifically for the aquarium, so that is where we headed our first full day in the city. Kids love aquariums, no doubt. And I was interested in comparing it to the aquarium in Atlanta. It didn’t disappoint. It had Beluga whales, penguins, an aviary, and its own dolphin show. However, I would have to say that it was showing its age a bit. Also, it’s made up of several small buildings. To see the attractions you have to go down stairs or an elevator in each building and most of them are not connected to each other. So, it was a LOT of up and down, up and down, especially with a stroller. Per our custom, we decided to have a nice long sit-down lunch. There was a circular restaurant (again, downstairs) where you are surrounded by a wall of fish.
While the prices and the atmosphere were more along the lines of fine dining, it was full of children since it was smack in the middle of the aquarium. Funny thing was, the maître d’ was hilariously pretentious and full of himself. Not even in Rome, at my crazy nice birthday dinner, did anyone take their duties so seriously. Anyway, once we were done eating, we took some pics of the kids in front of the fish, which at one point caused Lincoln to tell John, “Hey. You already had your turn at the fish wall, Buddy!”.
On the way to and from the aquarium, we had noticed this unbelievable kid park, in the linear park. It had an enormous play structure built to look like Gulliver from Gulliver’s Travels. The day we were leaving Valencia for El Vendrell, we made a point to stop at this park and play. It is a must-see if you are ever in Valencia.
It looks like Gulliver is a giant, lying in the sand, and everyone climbing on top are as small, by comparison, as the Lilliputians. You could slide down his belt, five people across and in fact, I saw several families doing just that. You could climb up his hair or explore his show. It was so very, very cool.
El Vendrell is a very small beach town just about an hour south of Valencia. It definitely is local, and probably filled with Spanish sun seekers in the summer. However, at this time of year, it was decidedly sleepy. We stayed at Le Meridien Spa Hotel. A beautiful property, right on the beach. But it had a weird history, which we didn’t learn until we stayed there. Apparently it was built in the 1920’s as a sanatorium for young boys from the city with tuberculosis. It was thought that regular exposure to sun and sea air was a good cure. It was run by an order of monks. Sadly, just a few years after it opened civil war broke out in Spain and 15 of the monks were murdered and it closed. I found this very grim and hoped that there would be no late night visitations from murdered monks. Luckily, there weren’t.
It wasn’t quite beach weather, but kids don’t care and they had a ball playing in the sand and swimming in the rooftop pool, which was blessedly heated. John and I also got to partake of the spa a bit. It included a huge pool with about ten sets of different jets meant to relax different parts of your body. The funniest ones were these three tall ones that curved over the edge of the pool like a half circle, about two feet high. They were labelled “cervical jets”. I thought this was hilarious. I think they meant cervical in relating to the spine. But still….cervical jets? It reminded me of another bad translation we saw, in Rome. On the spa menu, they listed one massage as an “Afterbirth massage”. I know what they meant, but still……I don’t want my cervix jetted or my afterbirth massaged, thank you very much.
Finally, it was time to head home. We jammed back into the car and hit the road for Barcelona airport, about thirty miles away. Last time we travelled out of BCN, it was a nightmare, so we wanted lots of time. Ten minutes in, we are approaching a tunnel, with a traffic message board over it. The board is flashing about an acidente about ten miles down the road. The traffic is deadlocked and we just passed an exit, but are now stopped too. Luckily, there is an insane lady behind us who decided to BACK DOWN THE ONCOMING ramp to get down the road below. In other words, reverse down the ramp against the cars coming towards her. John decides to follow suit, but wisely turns around so we are at least headed face first into our deaths. It was the only time in all our years together that I had to close my eyes, I was so scared. I would’ve been yelling at him, but I didn’t want to freak out the kids or make him swerve. Unbelievably, we made it down to the other road, where there was no delay, just lots of fast-moving cars and headed for BCN on back roads. Luckily, there was a lot to see on the back roads, including numerous signs pointing to a town called Peniscola. Not Pensacola. Peniscola. Which led to tons of jokes about penis cola and butt cola and so on and so on. Thank God for potty humour on road trips, with no DVD player or electronics. It reminded me of road trips when I was a kid. We spent hours on such diversions. Until my mom couldn’t take it anymore and gave us all Dramamine so we would fall asleep. Hmm. I wonder where I can get my hands on some Dramamine for next time……
It’s always interesting to go somewhere new and have your notions of how life should be challenged. Sometimes this is done in a major way through politics or religion. But more often its achieved through the minutia of daily life, like food and grocery bags. For example, in Ireland the government now requires that all grocery stores charge for bags. The result is that most people bring their own bags each time. The stores all sell bags in a range of qualities and prices from a crappy plastic one for about 5 cents to a really nice woven one with handles for about $3, that Pottery Barn would probably sell for $45 as “the Ultimate picnic bag”. This is great, right? Good for the environment, etc. However, I almost ALWAYS forget my bags. Even when I put them in the back of the car for next time, when I get to the store, I have no bags. So I buy more. I will own 10,947 grocery bags by the time I leave here. But that really is a user error. So, here are my lists:
Things I Love
1. Nice, reusable grocery bags
2. Fresher produce, meat, & dairy
3. Being able to walk many places
4. The kids’ international school
5. That people get out and do stuff, no matter the weather.
6. Being able to easily get foods that are considered exotic or foreign at home (Indian, Spanish)
Things I Should Love but Secretly Hate
1. The resuable grocery bags – only because I never remember to re-use!
2. Fresher food – I have never had to throw away sliced bread after three days before.
3. Being able to walk many places – sometimes I am just lazy and take a cab anyway.
4. The kids’ international school – I feel like an outsider sometimes. Plus, I could’ve lived my whole life without hearing “Blowin’ in the Wind” sung in German.
5. The expectation that you should go out and do something in spite of the bad weather.
6. Lack of foods that I miss…..Mexican, more than one kind of sausage, mac-n-cheese.
All of this is good for me and makes me get out of my rut. But I will admit that there are days when I wish I were back in my rut. Maybe redecorating it or something. I am sure when I go home I will lament the lack of good Indian food in the grocery store and our blatant disregard for the environment with all those free plastic grocery bags. But then again, I can just bring back some of the 10,947 bags I will have amassed here. Best of both worlds!!
While this is not about the England trip, I wanted to address something that everyone seems fascinated with: how much food costs here compared to home. That is the one question I get asked more than any. So, here goes: it’s more. A lot more, not even taking into account the dollar to euro conversion, which also bites. Ireland is essentially a big island, so it’s like living in Hawaii in one way only: almost everything gets flown in. Other than beef, dairy, and bread, everything is more expensive. Fruit is really outrageous. A small contain of berries, let’s say ¼ pint, is about $4. Strawberries are about 4xs as much as at home and not as good. Other berries however, like the blueberries, are the best I have ever tasted. Super sweet! The selection of brands is very close to what we have at home. A big thing here is fresh pre-made food. They have great, freshly made food packaged to go practically everywhere.
Another thing that is strikingly different are the convenience stores. Most of them seem to be a local brand, SPAR. They carry the usual convenience store items….overpriced toilet paper and milk. But they also have freshly made sandwiches, soups and even hot food. I would never eat something “fresh” from the convenience stores back home. But here, it’s really nice. Sometimes, they even have little table and chairs on the sidewalk in front.
In my on-going quest to find my peeps, I crashed a Mommy and New Baby boot camp last week. I had headed up towards the water for a run. Once I got up to the beach area, I noticed a small group of women with buggies working out on the grass. I went up and found out that it was a formal boot camp. The teacher asked if I wanted to try it out. I said sure, so I had an hour of unexpected boot camp. It was great, except that I was reminded that I am a rickety clown. I plan to go back this week. And this time I’ll take baby Noah.