so, before any more time passes, i feel like i should at least mention that we went to barcelona in june. it was our last family vacation abroad before moving here to texas. it's crazy to think that it was only two months ago when we were there -- by now it almost feels like someone else's life, something that we might have read about in a magazine but something that we surely didn't experience for ourselves! time sure has a funny way of playing tricks on your memory!
anyway, here's what happened: as is typical of the briggle family, when adam gets invited to a fun european city, gracie and i inevitably tag along. (think salzburg, hamburg, athens, brussels, milan, etc... you get the point!) this time, it was in sunny and sexy barcelona. sign me up!!!
the timing for this trip was really strange: it was right after our friend shelby came out to visit, and right before our move -- basically, shelby came, a few days later we left for barcelona, and then by the time we got back we had just a little over a week to wrap it up and say goodbye. so in a way the timing was AWFUL, but in another way it was perfect -- with all of the stress of packing, bureaucratic paperwork, and going away parties, we NEEDED a holiday! and better yet, the apartment we rented for the week didn't have internet access so we were offline for eight solid days! nice!
we rented a flat, only 30 meters from the beach. and, a useful travel tip to you all: whenever going to a new city, especially if you're going to be there for more than just a couple of days, SERIOUSLY consider getting an apartment! we were looking at hotels along the beaches in barcelona, and everything was at least 180 euros a night and very small looking. but we got ourselves an apartment, very close to the beach, for 100 euros a night -- nice! we had our own kitchen to make breakfast in, a fridge for gracie's milk bottles, a washer/dryer combo, and no noisy drunk tourists running up and down the hallways. it was perfect! it was TINY, but perfect.
our apartment was on a tiny little street, not as nice as this one, but comparable. it was in one of those typical tenement buildings that you think of when you think of big european cities. we loved it! tons of grocery stores all just minutes away by foot, and as i said, REALLY close to the beach.
so this would be a typical day in barcelona: adam would wake up early, get ready for his conference, and leave before gracie and i would roll out of bed. we'd eventually wake up around 8:30 or so, sometimes as late as 9:00 (!!! -- I LOVE HAVING A GOOD SLEEPER! what a good girl!!!), and make some breakfast: usually some yummy roll or chocolatey pastry that we picked up at a bakery the day before, some fruit, and maybe some cheese or chorizo. then while she was watching dora the explorer in spanish (ever wonder what dora teaches if the show is in spanish? she teaches english -- naturally!), i would get us packed up for the beach.
i'd pack up a bag of the necessities: sunscreen, lots of water (had to buy it in giant bottles at the grocery stores in the area as the local water was NOT good), snackies, books, sand toys, towels, a blanket, camera, and a beach umbrella that was left for us by a previous renter. then we'd hit the streets!
before gracie and i got to the beach, we'd usually stop at another bakery, produce stand, or supermarket for snacks, waters, and stuff for lunch. one time we found a covered market where we got some lekker stuff for that evening's dinner. then we'd make our way to the beachfront. (and as soon as we turned the corner so she could see the beach, she would instantly scream and squeal and go "ooooh!" and point, in case i missed it and maybe forgot that she would want to go get a better look.)
we'd hang out for several hours -- i'd get us all set up in the sand, while gracie dug nicely in the shade provided by our beach umbrella. and she'd just dig! and dig, and dig, and dig. what a good girl! i'd lay next to her, reading a book (i plowed through "the kite runner" in about 4 days flat!), and then we'd get up and jump in the water. i tried to be aware of our stuff, since barcelona's beaches are notorious for pickpockets, but since gracie and i usually went to the beach in the morning, it wasn't as crowded. besides, i left my purse and most of my money back at the flat, and the only thing they could possibly steal would be the camera -- it would suck to lose our pictures, but it wouldn't ruin our vacation. so i was willing to risk it.
after several hours at the beach, usually around 1:00 or 1:30, we'd head back to our flat for a late lunch. i can't remember what i fed gracie -- it was probably something we normally would eat at home (like a hotdog and some veggies). since we had a kitchen of our own it wasn't hard to find something decent and inexpensive to feed her. while she was eating, i would be cleaning up and sweeping up all the sand, pouring it out of her beach shoes and out of our bags, and getting her crib ready for naptime. this usually took at least half an hour or more, and by the time she was ready to nap i was ready for one myself!
she was usually exhausted at this point in the day, with all the sun and sand and fresh air, so she'd fall asleep right away. then i'd get out my book, pour myself a cerveza frio and eat some chorizo and bread until she woke up.
funny story: one day gracie and i explored a different area of barceloneta beach. i kept noticing that there was this area way down along the spit that seemed much less crowded than the rest of the beach -- i didn't know why this was, i thought maybe it was just less crowded because there weren't any cafes or bars down there. so one morning she and i checked it out. and i walked almost all the way to the end, and down the sand dunes, with gracie and all of our stuff in the hot catalan sunshine... got us alllll set up, and i look around... and everyone's NAKED. like, not just topless (which is common on any public beach in barcelona), but full monty naked. they were kind of giving me looks like "what are you doing here?" and i didn't know if it was because i was a tourist, or because i had a child with me, or if it was because i was still wearing my swimsuit. but omg, i was so exhausted from the long walk that there was no way i getting us packed up again to head down to the other end of the beach. so i thought, when in rome (or in this case, barcelona), do as the romans (or the catalans) do. so i stripped down and gracie and i went skinny dipping all morning with the cute gay couples (this was also the gay beach apparently) and old hairy men. it was strange at first, but i got over my american modesty pretty quick.
the afternoons were always different: sometimes gracie and i would go find an old church to explore, or sometimes we'd find a street band to dance to. one time we took a bike ride to the gothic quarter and found our way to some famous cathedral, the name of which i forget now. the first time i wanted to go there, i was way underdressed (a common complaint by the catalans of the tourists), and the "bouncer" wouldn't let me in. this time i brought a shawl with me to drape around my shoulders, and they allowed me access.
this particular church had a pretty courtyard area with ducks and swans walking around, and a beautiful well which was said to have healing properties -- you were invited to drink from it and pour the water on the areas of your body which needed healing.
i lit a few candles before we left.
one afternoon we found a street band ("el tumbao de juana" -- they are awesome! check out their myspace page here!) which gracie LOVED LOVED LOVED. my favorite part was the handsome gentleman dressed in white, whose sole job it was was to get the beautiful ladies up and dancing to the tunes. oh, and he sold a couple of cd's as well. (we bought one!)
(trying to embed a youtube video of gracie dancing to the tunes -- if it doesn't load on your computer then follow this link to see gracie's video)
sometimes we'd just go sit at a sidewalk cafe and watch people walk by. i'd order a mojito or something fabulous like that, and gracie would sit in her chair drinking her juice, and we'd watch all the doggies and bikes and little kids run around. people watching sure is fun, isn't it gracie?!
eventually it'd be time to eat. usually we'd eat out at a restaurant, or order something to bring back to the flat. our favorite was to order the little pizzas at a cafe located on barceloneta beach. it was cheap, filling, and gracie liked to pick the sausages off her pieces, so apparently it was entertaining too.
we didn't spend all our time alone, though. there were a few days in there when adam was able to duck out early from the conference, and we did stay for a couple of extra days just so that we'd have time to explore barcelona as a family. one day we went to the picasso museum, which was really fascinating, but not necessarily the best activity to do with a toddler. :-)
here's another story: the day that we went to the picasso museum, we decided to try to get lost along the way to explore more of the city. we came across a church called iglesia santa maria del mare or something like that -- st. mary of the sea. and anything dedicated to mary is something i want to see! so we ducked in to explore this gothic beauty... anyway, we're walking around and we realize that gracie is insisting on some word -- "may mi. mi mi! mi mi! may may!" and pointing. sure enough, she was pointing to the beautiful statue of MARY up at the altar! she was saying mary! without any prompting or guidance from us! isn't that amazing?! it must be because when we lived in hengelo, we would always go to the big catholic church to light candles at the mary altar, so i guess she recognized mary, even though she looked different here in this particular church.
(and now, as i type this, i have an asterisk to add to this story: gracie will say "mary" for just about anything remotely religious: a cross, a church -- or a building that looks like a church -- any statue or big porcelain doll, any oval-shaped pendant on a necklace -- i wear a mary necklace frequently and she knows her from there as well! but i'll take it! i think it's awesome that she knows this word and knows mary!)
adam also got some beach time with us. (he kept asking me, "aren't you beached out? you guys go EVERY day." my reply? "NO! let's go hit the beach!") we were able to go in the morning once or twice with him during the week, but we made the mistake of going in the evenings a couple of times, and the beaches are CRAZY crowded after about 3:00 pm. but if you're prepared for it, it's okay. the beaches, i have to say, are not the cleanest ones around, but they're actually not bad. of course, we're not beach snobs or anything, and there was something festive and fun about having thousands of people, from all around the world, half naked there in the sunshine with us. there were vendors walking around selling "cold" beer (their words -- not mine -- i'd say "lukewarm" or maybe even "not quite chilled" if i was being generous), and lots of women selling massages... i almost signed up for one, cuz they're cheap and lord knows my feet were killing me after all the walking we'd been doing that week, but i wisely realized that these women NEVER wash their hands. no way did i want a part of that. imagine all the bodies they touched throughout the day, all the germs they picked up, all the sweat and alcohol and grime that they'd been collecting -- then PAY them to touch me with the same hands? no thank you! grody! but i digress -- my point is that even though the beaches were crowded, it was FUN! there were other little kids for gracie to play with, there were different languages all around us, there were beautiful people from every corner of the globe, and there was the mediterranean, blue and expansive and gentle. it didn't matter that we couldn't find a quiet patch of sand to spread out in -- it was one giant beach party and we were just happy to be invited!
(youtube still not synching up with my blogger account -- so follow this link to watch another video of gracie, this time she's on the beach with daddy!)
eventually it was time to go. back to our lives in hengelo, and back to the chaos of moving. it was a real treat to be on vacation in barcelona, without internet (yes, i somehow survived, and i REALLY loved it!), in the sun and waves, all sandy and sunkissed with gracie, seeing the sights with adam, painting my daughter's toes, eating chocolate covered churros... it was just what we needed, one final time.