American in Spain

Visiting Spain in 2012

June 19, 2012

The following is a document written by my father, Paul Rasmussen, about his trip to visit us in Spain in June 2012.

Bench Resting

Tuesday and Wednesday, May 29 and 30, 2012

Our plan was to take the dogs to the kennel at 1:00 and to leave for the airport at 1:15. That plan failed when we discovered the Pet Parlor was locked up tight with nobody answering the door or the phone. I put down two extra bowls of water for the three dogs and gave them a stern lecture about the need for rationing, but one of them is a westie, and I wasn't optimistic. On the way to the airport I called my friend Tom, but he wasn't home. An hour later he called back and said he would take care of things, so we flew to Spain as scheduled to spend time with our our son, his wife, and our granddaughter. Americans in Spain

Betsy and I enjoy visiting Spain, but I am retired now, and need sponsorship. Drink Coca-Cola!

Our eight hour flight to Madrid arrived a little early, and as we taxied the last half mile at a walking pace, the captain explained that a local sound ordinance prohibited him from pulling up to the gate before 7:00 am. We collected our luggage, and since we were in no hurry, we waited about 40 minutes for the AeroCity van instead of taking a cab. We arrived at the Hotel Plaza Mayor around 9:00, and we were allowed to check in right away. After an hour's rest, we went down to the Plaza for coffee and churros.

We like Madrid, and especially the area around the Plaza Mayor. While we enjoy people-watching on the Plaza, we find sitting at one of the hundreds of outdoor cafes within two blocks of the Plaza even more interesting. All day we alternated between hour-long rests in our room and 90 minute walks.

It generally takes days for my stomach to adapt to European time zones, and this trip was no exception. Half of a small bocadillo was all I wanted to eat on Wednesday, along with a couple of beautiful-looking cherries we bought at the market, and a margarita. At 8:00 we went to bed.

Madrid is great, but if Barcelona is your destination, take a look at BCN Travel, the local experts for tours and excursions in Barcelona.


Nora got her good looks from Mommy, her dress from her Abuela, and her tapas from the waiter.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

I woke up after about 12 hours sleep, and we went down to the street for coffee and churros, and another walk around the Plaza. The trucks are allowed into the Plaza in the mornings, and all the shops were receiving their supplies for the day.

At noon we checked out, and took a taxi to the airport. Fortunately, I took a Dramamine before we left. Unfortunately I took it only a few minutes before we left, and it did not effectively counter the rapid accelerations, decelerations and turns of the taxi. I didn't lose my churros, but it was necessary for me to sit motionless at the airport for twenty minutes before proceeding.

We called Erik to tell him our plane would be 20 minutes late arriving in Santander, and 90 minutes later we arrived. Santander is a relatively small airport, and it took us no time at all to pick up our bags. Our son was waiting for us, and half an hour later we were in Colindres.

Paul and Betsy - El Guti

That is me on the left and my lovely wife Betsy on the right. Wait. No, that's right.

We were greeted there by Erik's beautiful wife Marga. Erik went back to work in his home office, and Marga, Betsy and I took the four minute walk to Nora's daycare center. Nora was very glad to see us - especially her grandma, who is one of her favorite playmates. We walked to the playground behind the church next to their home, but when Marga left for home, Nora noticed a few minutes later and wanted to follow.

Betsy and I had brought a present for Nora - a LeapPad - a child's version of a tablet computer. To no one's surprise, Nora called it her "iPad". It has a touchscreen, and Nora needed very little instruction. I tried to point her towards the applications which teach reading, but she found the Dora the Explorer videos and wanted to watch those.

Marga made fried anchovies for dinner, along with a green salad, and before long it was 10:00 and time for me (and also Nora) to go to bed. I lay awake until three, which is fairly common for me when visiting Spain.

Friday, June 1, 2012

I got up at 8:00, and walked to the bakery when it opened at 9:00 for some fresh pastry for breakfast and some bread for later in the day. I returned to freshly squeezed OJ and hot coffee. After breakfast I gave Nora the first of the books we had brought for her - Little Owl's Night, by Divya Srinivasan.

Friday is market day in Colindres. A large group of traveling street vendors set up their wares in a different town every day. Every Friday they are in Colindres. We always walk past all the clothing stalls before buying olives and cheese in the food section. This time Betsy bought a belt. Last year I got my old man hat.

Happy Paul

I wasn't kidding about being retired. I'll shill for just about anything now. Drink San Miguel!

A little past 11 we stopped at a bar overlooking the street vendors for a glass of wine and tapas. On the way home we stopped at Susinos, the small grocery store operated by Erik's friend (and my friend!) Andrés Susinos. Andrés' brother and sisters work there too, and over the last six years we have gotten to know them pretty well. While Andrés speaks English well, His brother, Bruno the butcher, knows about as much English as I do Spanish. We amuse each other by speaking loudly.

Betsy and Erik

At high tide, all but the first 20 feet behind Betsy and Erik fills with water from the Bay of Biscay.

Back at home Nora enjoyed a bowl of chicken soup, and then Erik, Betsy and I walked her to her daycare program to drop her off for her normal 1:30 to 5:30 play session. Fortunately Nora enjoys her daycare program, and no longer cries pitifully when dropped off there. Instead she gives a hug and a kiss to her Grandpa, her Grandma and her Poppy and happily enters the room. She has been going here for three years now, and is now one of the big kids. In September she will be three and a half, and will begin school. Fortunately, she was recently accepted into the school right across the street from Erik and Marga's home.

After dropping off Nora, we walked down by the waterfront and followed that around to the other side of town, then walked back through town, stopping at several bars along the way for a vino tinto and tapas. A little before 3:00 we returned home. Marga works from 7:00 am until 3:00 pm every day, and Erik likes to have lunch ready when she gets home. We had steak and asparagus, along with bread and wine, and it was delicious.

The long walk by the water, and a few glasses of wine sent me upstairs to lie down and rest my eyes. Fifty minutes later I woke up, and Betsy and I walked to Nora's daycare program to pick her up. Nora ran to her Grandma and dove into her arms, which certainly settled Betsy's concern as to whether Nora would allow herself to be picked up by us without her mother present.

Betsy Pushing Nora

Betsy spent hours pushing Nora on the swing at the park.

At 5:30 every day, immediately after being sprung from her daycare, Nora is used to walking to one of the many children's playgrounds in town, and playing for an hour or two. Today was no exception. We stopped at the first play area we came to. Nora pulled a ball out of the bottom of her stroller (her stroller still goes with her to daycare, but is seldom used for anything other than storage any more), and proceeded to play with it, varying every minute or so between the thousands of available games. Kicking it back and forth between the triangle of Grandma, Grandpa and Nora seemed to be the most popular, no doubt because that was what the big boys do 14 hours a day on all the playgrounds and in all the fields. Also popular was sitting on the ground with your legs splayed open and rolling it to the other guy.

Chasing the ball as it slowly rolls away and almost stepping on it several times when you get close and breaking your head wide open on the stones paving the area around the church was my least favorite game, and I did not personally engage in it.

When we returned home around 7:30 Nora ran and gave her Mommy and Poppy and hug and kiss, and then settled down to her job of playing with Grandma while Grandpa watched. On our last trip there they had spent a considerable amount of time using colored snap-together blocks to build houses and walls, and both Grandmother and Granddaughter picked it up again without missing a beat.

Soon it was dinner time, and Marga served us all a fine meal - green salad, turkey ham slice, bread, cheese and wine. It wasn't long after that before my Friday was over. 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

I slept long and well, and rose at nine. Although Saturday, Marga had to work a half day, as the boss had bought a net-load of fish the day before. As Quality Manager, food preparation laws require her attendance once in a while. Betsy and I walked to the bakery for the daily bread and pastry, and as usual, our son had made coffee and squeezed fresh orange juice in the five minutes we were gone. Betsy had selected "flautas" (flutes) this morning, long and flakey.

Reading with Grandma

Nora keeps her Grandma's English-Spanish dictionary handy while Grandma reads to her.

After breakfast we pulled out a new book for Nora, and Betsy read it to her. Titled Margaret and Margarita on the top and Margarita y Margaret on the bottom, it alternated between English and Spanish as it told the story of two three year-old girls meeting in a park and becoming friends. Apparently intended to smooth the transition in America, Betsy realized it might help Nora understand her half-Spanish half-American heritage. Nora liked it very much, and happily sat many times on Grandma's lap while Grandma read it to her. The words were fairly simple, and Betsy's Spanish pronunciation was just about able to pull it off, but Nora had to correct her a couple of times.

Marga got home at 11:00, and we all got ready to go out and party. I can't really give them the gold, since I once spent seven days on a cruise with a ship-load of Brazilians during carnival week, but one thing the Spanish seem to positively excel at is partying.

Every large and small town has regularly scheduled festivals. The birth days and death days of all the saints is not enough, so towns have invented and perfected over hundreds of years dozens of other good excuses to dress up and get together to have fun with their friends in the streets and parks. Several send bulls down streets. The people of one town in the Rioja district keep their wine at a high quality level by taking the worst half of it and pouring it and spraying it on each other. At another, people throw tomatoes until everything is red. I love this picture of Nora's recently departed great-grandfather covered in soap suds at the festival in Extremadura.

Fiesta de Espuma

Marga's grandfather was a wonderful, fun-loving man. He is missed by many, including Nora.

On Saturday, the closest festival to Colindres was in Santoña. Although almost a 15 minute drive, you could actually see Santoña quite well from Colindres, as it was just across the water. The tide in that area makes a 400 yard or more difference, and I am pretty sure that at low tide I could have swum from Colindres to Santoña in 15 minutes.

To say parking was at a premium would be to considerably underestimate the problem. Erik dropped us off and drove around until he found a parking spot someone was backing out from, then miraculously joined up with us. We walked through town slowly. To say that there were musicians, dancers on small wooden stages and music blaring from loudspeakers on every block and at every street corner would be to vastly minimize the festivity. More than half of the crowd was dressed in Sevillana style. The women (and some men) wore long frilly proudly-colored dresses, most often red. The gents were dressed in similar Seville style. Nora proudly wore her Sevillana dress and black high-heeled dancing shoes, and participated in the dancing several times.

Street Dancing - Santoña

The Sevillana Festival in Santoña provided dancing on almost every street and street corner.

We alternated between nursing a crianza at an outdoor cafe while munching on tapas and watching the crowd pass by, and wandering down small streets full of others doing the same. We wandered to the waterfront, and while Erik and Marga sat on a bench looking out onto Colindres, Nora swung on the swing and played games with her grandparents. Her favorite was watching the bad boys fill water balloons, waiting until they left, then approaching the water fountain from behind, holding out hands under the flowing water, then, with Grandpa on her left hand and Grandma on her right, walking backwards the 50 feet to the bench.

We returned to Colindres around seven. Erik on his iPhone and i on my Pad partnered together to play bridge against some robots using the BridgeBaron software. We got beat up pretty badly at first, but we rallied towards the end. Soon it was time for dinner, which, for Betsy, Nora and me consisted of baked salmon, wine, olives, cheese and bread. Erik and Marga went to Laredo for dinner, leaving about nine o'clock.

Tower Architects

Building towers before bedtime was a favorite activity.

Nora did not mind being left with her grandparents, and after playing and playing and two more times and one more time and brushing her teeth, Betsy took her through her complicated bedtime routine without a hitch. Her eyes were closed, the room was dark and the door was closed - for about 20 seconds, then she wanted her Poppy. Badly. No amount of reasoning seemed to help, but shortly after Betsy gave up reasoning and just sat in the room reading her book to herself, Nora's screams turned to sniffles. A minute later her sniffles turned to reason, and she told Betsy "I am ready to be good now and go to sleep and when I wake up have Mommy and Poppy here". And she was.

When I heard Erik and Marga come home at 12:30 I went off duty, and turned on my iPhone's White Noise application. Later I found out that Erik and Marga had returned home only long enough to bring the clothes in from the clothesline, and then went out again, returning at 2:00. Oops.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

I got up at 8:30. When Nora got up, I gave her and read her a new book - Oh, The Places You'll Go, by Dr. Suess. I have high hopes for Nora.

The bakery in Colindres doesn't open until 10:00 on Sunday morning. I did tell you that Spaniards like to party, right? I returned home at 10:05 with a variety of flakey pastry, mostly Neapolitanas de chocolate. After breakfast the house was cleaned and swept and the plants were watered. Then it was time to hit the street. We walked to the middle of town, then stopped for a drink and tapas. Erik and Marga are loyal Cantabrians, and try to frequent as many of the establishments in Colindres as they can. Some bars are selected because they are run by friends of Erik, Marga or Nora, but usually establishments are chosen because of the quality of the free food they give you when you buy a drink.

Rabas and Wine

Betsy feels at home in Northern Spain. She likes a good Rioja wine, and lemon on her calamari.

At 2:30 we went inside at a favorite place and ordered their meníº del dí­a. This is a lovely arrangement where, from 2 until 5 or so, you get a three course meal along with all the bread, wine and water that you want for a flat per-person fee ranging from 8.5 euros on up, most commonly about 11 euros, great for cheap holidays. I chose paella for my first course. It was delicious, and the amount that was served to me would have fed a small boy scout troop. My second course was croquettes, also very good. I chose flan for desert, as I practically always do when given the option.

A brief two hours later we were done, and it was time for a walk. The weather was great, and there is a great deal that can be seen from the waterfront when the tide is low. About halfway along the waterfront we stopped on a park bench for 20 minutes or so and watched Nora pick wildflowers. Her imagination moves her mouth in funny ways, and she talked to herself about having to deliver an order of twelve flowers to someone. She had picked several orders worth by the time we resumed our rambling.

After we had covered a couple of miles (and worked off enough of our food and wine) we stopped at another bar and had a drink and rabas (deep-fried squid rings). We stopped next at a park, where Betsy and Marga took turns pushing Nora on a swing, and Erik and I watched all the child-child interactions around us.

I noticed that several times when a boy would be chasing a girl, the boy's monitor (usually a parent in the evening and a grandparent during the day) would swoop down on the boy as if worried that the boy might hurt the girl. The boy would be admonished with "¡Guapa! ¡Guapa!". This translates into "Pretty Girl", but it became clear that the meaning was "Don't hurt her", which was short for "She's a girl, and that is not how we treat girls". Several times I saw the parent stroke (or come close to stroking) the girl's cheek, which Erik explained to me was a sort of "This is how we interact with girls - with tenderness!".

Crossing the street with Grandma

Nora always holds an adult's hand when she crosses a street. After Mom, second choice is Betsy.

When we returned home it was 8:30. So . . . We left home around one to go out for dinner and got back at 8:30. I can't remember doing that in America. We ate dinner at 9:30, and I promptly went to bed.

Monday, June 4, 2012

I forgot that the bakery doesn't open until 9:00, so I made two trips to the bakery, at 8:30 and 9:00. After breakfast, Nora and Betsy had great fun going around the table and cleaning up the pastry crumbs under everyone's chair. Betsy was the broom-person and Nora was the dustpan-person. Their enjoyment was such that I could tell right away that this was going to become a regular part of our morning routine this week.

Sweeping with Grandma

Fresh pastry tends to leave quite a few crumbs to be dealt with.

Time slipped away, and it was 11:30 before we hit the street. We walked directly to Nora's favorite playground where I watched her spend a happy hour, playing a little bit with some other children, a little bit with her Poppy, and a great deal with her Grandmother. She likes swinging best, but when she has people watching her she likes to do semi- dangerous things like climb up the rope ladder to the slide, or slide down to the ground with her legs wrapped around the pole.

At 12:30 we walked back home to heat up Nora's lentils, and after she'd finished lunch, Betsy, Erik and I walked Nora to her daycare program, and then went for a walk around town.

Erik made pasta and sausage for lunch, and I continued my practice of taking an after lunch nap. I was up in plenty of time to, along with Betsy, get Nora from daycare. After an hour at the playground, Nora accepted my suggestion that we go the El Tablón for a drink and some peanuts. We both like that place because they always have free peanuts, and you can smash them with your fist on the table and sweep the shards onto the floor with the back of your hand.

When we left the El Tablón, which could be hit with a pitching wedge from Erik's bedroom if he opened the window, we turned right instead of left and ended up at the Comarca. While Betsy and I sat outside with our vino tintos, Nora played with her wind- up motorcycle (it had been hiding in the bottom of her stroller) in a corner away from the street. When Betsy noticed that the shop which advertised teaching English was open (it had been closed the other times she had investigated it) she went in and asked about the possibility of someone there teaching her Spanish. The son of the proprietor spoke English very well, but it was a request he wasn't familiar with, and he had to speak with his Dad before stating a cost. Betsy gave him Erik's number, and told him her schedule.

Back at home Betsy and I played with Nora. I read her some books, and Betsy sat on the floor building structures from blocks, or went inside Nora's toy house with a flashlight and closed all the windows. Too soon it was dinner time (chicken vegetable medley) and bedtime.

Piggie Back

Sometimes Nora's feet got tired. “My feet are tired, Grandma”. Good thing Grandma was there.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

I got up early (8:30 - my standards have changed), and chose the book I would give Nora that morning - Rosie's Walk, by Pat Hutchins. There was no time for playing after breakfast. Nora had a dental appointment.

An examination last month had led to a series of appointments for some repairs to her baby teeth, and this would be her second filling. The first, a week ago, had not gone well. The audio is available, though difficult to listen to. This appointment, however, went remarkably well. Nora was actually looking forward to it up until the last 3 minutes before she went back to be strapped in and tortured once again. She screamed for her Poppy and I pictured her tearing the place apart, but after a couple of minutes she quieted down, and after another relatively quiet ten minutes it was over. She hugged Poppy very hard and sniffled for a minute, but five minutes later she was proud of what she had done, and after another five she had an ice cream cone in her hand and was looking forward to her next dentista visit.

Dentist Office

I snapped a picture of the dental chair after Nora was done in case there was a claim for damages.

Nora didn't go to daycare, but instead stayed home playing on the floor all afternoon. with her grandmother. The dentist had given Nora a present - a cut-out book of a  Barbie-like woman called Raquel and her fold-here cut-out wardrobe. Betsy cut out Raquel, and then meticulously cut out her clothes with the fold-here tabs for tightening to her paper-thin body. When it was time to enjoy hours of changing her clothes, however, Nora put her own spin on the game. I suspect she envied all the fun Grandma had been having with the scissors, but when she got her hands on the scissors, things changed. From then on, for the next three days (until I buried the body parts), Raquel lost head after hand after foot, while Betsy, until the tape ran out, patched her back together.

Nora had pasta for lunch, and when Marga got home we had a lovely meal - pumpkin risotto. Tiny almond slices gave it a great texture, and it was delicious. After dinner, Nora helped Betsy do the dishes.

Washing Wine Glasses

Nora is always moving. I thought of clipping my pedometer to her for a day, but I was afraid of what it might show. She played all evening, and for all I know, into the night. After a wonderful meal of salad, lomo, anchovies, bread, cheese and wine, I went to bed.

Modelling New Dress

Betsy let Nora help wash her Mother's nice wine glasses. Grandmas are like that.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

I got up at eight, bought our morning pastry, and we ate breakfast shortly after nine. Betsy and Nora did their breakfast clean-up number while I tried not to laugh. I had a new book for Nora which I read to her, Swirl by Swirl - Spirals in Nature, but before long Betsy and Nora returned to their cutting-up-Raquel game.

Nora went upstairs to put on her pretty new dress, and we went out to the street. First we went to the librerí­a, about a 9 iron from Erik's bedroom, and we bought Nora her own pair of scissors. I didn't want to support this macabre game Betsy and Nora had produced, but as the guy watching all this from the couch, I was scared witless several times when Nora brandished the non-blunt scissors in a much-too-cavalier way.

Nora's new scissors

Nora and Grandma inside Nora's house. She was pretty proud of owning her own scissors.

We travelled another 100 yards to Susinos Grocery, and Erik bought meat for burgers he would make for lunch. I thought burgers would be beef, but Bruno the butcher is also Erik's neighbor (he has become a friend of mine as well), and Bruno gave Erik what he knew Erik wanted from previous hamburger requests - about 3/4 beef and 1/4 pork. Bruno sent it through the grinder several times, and we returned home to store the meat in the fridge. Before long we left for the playground. On the way there, Nora, remembering her previous game in Santoña, wanted to walk backwards with me holding one hand and her Grandma holding the other.

After feeding Nora her lunch, we took her to daycare, and then Betsy and I went bar- hopping on our own while Erik drove to Laredo to pick his friend Eva. We stopped in at a few bars we had not previously been in on this trip, including the Sakura, which is a Japanese restaurant/bar run by a nice Chinese family who Erik has befriended. The teenager behind the bar chatted with us as best we could (his understanding of Spanish didn't seem to be much better than his understanding of English, and I am ignorant of the Chinese language), and somehow we communicated in a manner satisfactory to both of us. I don't think it was the drink that caused me to offer him my hand, but the sake he had served me at no charge might have been a small factor.

Eating Tapas

Enjoying drinks sitting outside at a favorite bar. We almost always sat outside. Drink San Miguel!

We got back home just a few minutes before Erik returned with Eva, who had arranged a quick visit with her friends Marga and Erik on her way to a wedding. Eva, as Marga had done, had gone to veterinary school in Spain and was employed at an abattoir in England. Her English was flawless, and she was a pleasure to chat with. Erik served us burgers, along with potato chips, and all the major condiments (tomato, lettuce, fried onions, mayonnaise, ketchup and mustard), and mine tasted great.

Eva, Betsy and Marga went to pick up Nora at 5:30. Betsy reported that Nora fell asleep in her stroller around six o'clock, and the women walked for miles, stopping for a coffee twice, pushing Nora in her stroller. She was still sleeping when they returned at 7:45, but she woke up at eight. While Marga drove Eva to the Laredo bus station, and Erik worked in his office, Betsy and Nora played inside Nora's playhouse. Nobody went to bed before 10:30 that night.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

I made the 9:00 bakery run, the gals cleaned the floor, I gave Nora a new book (Zero, by Kathyrn Otoshi), the girl got dressed, and we hit the street at eleven. Erik ran into the hardware store on the street level floor of his building for water filters, we swung on the swings at the playground, and we bought tomato sauce, almonds, and meat for meatballs at Susinos. We got home at 12:30, and Erik made Nora's lunch (soupy soup).

Swinging in the park

Nora plays with other girls her age sometimes, but when her Grandma is visiting, well…

Last time Betsy and I visited Colindres, we had enjoyed a meal at the Sakura, the Japanese restaurant run by Erik's Chinese friends. Marga doesn't like Oriental food, and she approved my plan of having another meal there, but this time for lunch - the main meal of the day. So, after dropping Nora off at daycare, Erik, Betsy and I made our way to the Sakura.

The Sakura's business model would never work in America, but things are different in Spain. Their offer is this: we will make and bring you anything you see on our menu, as often as you wish, as much as you want, for as long as you are sitting here, for 10 euros per person. I don't remember everything I ordered. I do remember eating sushi sampler, sashimi sampler, fried chicken, hard bread, shrimp dumplings, salmon roe, quail, tempura shrimp, prawns with Japanese sauce, curry rice, Japanese noodles, egg rolls, sake, white wine, pork dumplings. Every time I ordered something, I was asked "¿Uno o tres?" I finally figured out that if I said "tres", all three of us got to try it.

Salmon Roe

The salmon roe was delicious and the service fantastic at the Sakura. Eat at Sakura!

Perhaps because I sprang for lunch, Erik offered to buy me a grass liqueur at the Comarca on our walk home. I never have, and never will, turn down the grass liqueur from Spain.

When we returned home, Erik went to work in his office, and I took a nap. My only job was to be up in time to pick up Nora at daycare at 5:30, and I succeeded easily. After an hour or so at the playground, we headed home for a delicious dinner of meatballs. I was in bed by ten.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Up at 8:15, bakery at 9:03. Cuatro nepolitanas de chocolate today - one for Nora! After the sweeping up, I read Nora the new book for the day The Quiet Book, by Deborah Underwood. Then Nora got dressed and we went once again to the Friday street market. We stocked up on green olives to bring back to the States, We enjoyed a red wine and tapas at the same bar we had patronized one week ago, and watched the street vendors and their customers.

Bench Resting

The many walks we took balanced well with the many drinks I had. On the whole, I lost weight.

Back at home, Nora ate her macaroni lunch, and we again walked her to daycare. We had enjoyed a wonderful lunch on Thursday, and we had special plans for Friday's lunch as well. We spent 1:30 until 3:00 walking drinking and eating. Six different places, six different tapas, and for me, six red wines. It was all marvelous. Back at home, Erik left Marga to prepare her own lunch while he went to work in his office, and I took a nap.

Betsy and I picked up Nora for the last time at 5:30. We went to the park by the Catholic Church, and after 30 minutes or so of play there, we went to the larger park two blocks away. On our way home from there we stopped in again at the El Tablón for peanuts and a gin and tonic.

Back at home we had a great dinner made up of leftovers from previous meals. Erik put Nora to bed around 9:30, and then he and Marga went out dancing with their Friday night dinner and dancing buddies. Things were great on the home front until 12:30, when Nora woke up crying. It didn't take long for her Grandma to put her back to bed and sleep though, and she didn't remember it in the morning.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Everybody but me got up a little late Saturday morning. Breakfast wasn't until 9:30 or so. The book I gave and read to Nora was One, by Kathryn Otoshi.

At 11:00 Marga's father, mother, and sister arrived to spend the day with us. Juan and Marce had brought two pairs of shoes for Nora, and a jump-rope. What followed was about 30 minutes of everyone demonstrating their jump-roping. Skills ranged from my stone feet (though Nora wasn't much better) to Marga's rapid reliable jumping.

Jump Rope

Marga's father Juan shows Nora how the rope works. Nora was better swinging than jumping.

At 12:00 we piled into two cars and drove the 4 miles to Laredo. We walked through the 400 year-old section of town, all narrow, cobblestoned, pedestrian only streets. I love it there. We visited a couple of bars, but spent an equal amount of time waiting outside the old monastery at the top of the town, where all indications were that a bride and groom would soon be exiting.

Nora and Grandpa Laredo Monastery Waiting for the bride

Watching the front of a church (in this case, a monastery) for the bride and groom is fun, sort of.

My feet don't handle standing much better than they handle jumping up and down, so I found a stoop and sat there for ten minutes or so. Soon I was joined by Nora, who was curious about why I was sitting when everyone else was standing. My logic survived her scrutiny, and she plopped down next to me. She was carrying Betsy's English-Spanish Dictionary, and we had a great time. She would say "What color?". I would say "Orange". She would then semi-randomly select a page from the orange section and show it to me. I would then semi-randomly select a word and read it. "Eat" I might say. We would both think for a second or two, then I would finish "Eat is comer". She would repeat "Eat is comer!", and we would both laugh.

At 2:30 we continued our walk to El Guti, the restaurant Erik had selected for us. One of the two brothers who own and run it, José Luis, is a friend of Erik's, and always gives us a little something extra when we eat there. We chose the meníº del dí­a. While we were munching on fresh bread and considering menu options, José Luis stopped by several times and showed us the meal he was serving, which was a nice touch. I chose the starters sampler for my first course, and the grilled pork and beef kabob for my second course. I had chocolate mousse for dessert.

Laredo Beach Marce and Betsy Laredo Beach

In Laredo we walked down to the beach, where the tide was quite low, and the sand quite fine.

After dinner we all went for a walk on the Laredo beach. The tide was low, more than 300 yards below the high tide mark. Nora was cute the way she held up her dress as she walked.

When we left the beach we stopped for a drink. Juan bought me a gin and coke, which was a first for me. I had no trouble finishing it.

Marga and Belén left to check out a shoe store a block away. A half hour later the rest of us ambled down there. A half hour more, and we were all ready to leave, Marga having purchased two pairs of shoes. Just as the last of us was about to make our escape, Belén noticed a pair of shoes in the window and called Marga back to take a look. At that point the group split up, with one group heading home, and the other group heading back into the store. I chose group one.

The others got back home right after we did, and we said our goodbyes for now to our Mondragon family. Erik and I walked to the El Tablón bar to watch part of the Portugal- Germany game, then we bought a couple bottles of wine and went home.

Three Grandparents

Nora assists her Abuela and Grandma with their communication while I suck on my gin and coke.

Erik labeled a couple of glasses A and B, and put two red wines in front of me, challenging me to tell the difference. The first smelled great, and it tasted great too. The second didn't offer my nose a thing, but it tasted great too. My wisdom told me the first was the best wine, but the aftertaste of the second wine went straight to the side of my brain that controls my speech. The side that doesn't was slightly surprised to hear my mouth say "I like that second one best". I set up Erik similarly, and he, unlike me, identified them correctly.  

Dancing Girls

It was impossible to keep from laughing when watching Nora dance. Here Betsy joins in.

Marga served a wonderful dish of hot sautéed mushrooms, and along with cheese, bread and olives, it all really hit the spot. I don't remember if I had wine with dinner that night.

After dinner Nora orchestrated a game. Pretending the spanish fan was a camera, she would splay it out in front of her face, insist we all smile, and then, assuming we were smiling, would make shutter clicking noises as she "took pictures". If someone was not smiling though, she would frown and say "Grandpa isn't smiling". The others would say "What do you you have to do?", and she would laugh and dance. That always got smiles from everyone in the room, which allowed her to take more "pictures".

I remember more rope jumping after that, but I can't remember if I participated. I went to bed at 12:30, and suspect the others must have as well.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Around 3:00 the overhead light switched on, and I heard Nora say "Poppy?". I heard a parent responding, and felt Betsy rising as well, so I kept my eyes shut. It was explained to me in the morning that Nora sometimes did that, and of course she had forgotten that Poppy wasn't sleeping there.  At nine the church bells rang. And rang, and rang and rang. I worried that the bell ringer was hung-up, but it eventually stopped. At 9:15 the cacophony resumed. I reasoned that this must be a special Sunday, and got up, but at 9:30 and 9:45 there was nothing.

We ate breakfast at eleven, and we went out for a walk in the rain at twelve. We stopped several times for a drink and tapas, and returned home at 2:45 for lunch. I had a nap, and then Erik and I walked to the El Tablón to watch the Spain-Italy game. We got good seats not far from the TV. The place was not totally packed, but it was totally noisy. It got totally quiet when Italy scored its goal. Fortunately Spain scored soon afterwards. The crowd accepted the result without too much concern. I think everyone was still pretty confident that their team would move on. Spain has survived worse first-round European Soccer Championship results.

Piggie Back

Two peas in a pod. Nora took to her Grandma like a cowgirl takes to her favorite horse.

Back at home, Erik organized a blind taste test of four different wines - a white, a pink, an expensive red, and a cheap red. A glass of water and a loaf of bread were provided for palate cleansing. I went first. I swished and smelled the first one, and swished some more. I stuck my nose way into the glass and snorted like a pig. Finally I took a sip. I was sure I would be able to tell a pink from a white from a red, so when I couldn't classify it white or pink, I decided it must be one of the reds. I sipped some more. It tasted good. Still . . one more sip . . well, I couldn't be sure until I had tried the others. I went on to B, and since I had taken three sips of A, I thought I owed it to B to take three sips of it too. It was OK, but I still couldn't definitely place the color. On to three sips of C, and three of D. OK, that was the good red, the one before was the white, and . . what did I decide about the first two? There was nothing to do but return to A, and B, and C, and D again, this time remembering as I went. Sadly, when done, I realized I should have been taking notes all along. I uselessly ordered a piece of paper and a pen, and asked for glass A one last time. I suggested that a rule be set that allows cycling through the 4 glasses no more than three times. When I had glugged the last, I decided that was the good red, because it sure was good. I think that was the only one I got right.

Blind Wine Taste Test

Marga takes the blind taste test. She did much better than I did, but I had a great time testing.

Betsy, Marga, and Erik followed me. After Betsy tasted all four, she named them correctly, but then asked to try them one more time to be sure. Then she switched two of them, which was still better than I had done. Marga and Erik also out-tasted me.

I said goodbye to Marga. She leaves for work before 7:00 each morning, so I would not see her again on this trip. I thanked her for taking such good care of my two kids.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Everyone got up early. There would be no pastry today. We took Nora in to daycare at 9:00. No matter that Marga and Erik only pay for her to be there from 1:30 until 5:30, what's a couple of hours between friends. Erik drove us to Santander, and we hugged goodbye.

Paul in Madrid Gazpacho in Madrid

The weather in Madrid was fantastic. Here I enjoy my calamari while Betsy sips her Gazpacho.

After an uneventful flight to Madrid and an unremarkable cab ride to our hotel, we checked in again at the Petit Palace Plaza Mayor. We threw our bags in our 7th floor room and hit the street. We chose a meníº del dí­a from amongst the hundreds of small restaurants surrounding the Plaza Mayor, and enjoyed a leisurely lunch. I had paella, calamari and flan.  We stopped briefly back in our room, and then went for a long walk. We walked past the Royal Palace, and through many squares and parks. When I was sure we were thoroughly lost, we discussed our options, and decided to ask someone to point to the Plaza Mayor. I chose a young lady who was looking at a map, and after explaining to me in English that she and her friend were shopping their way to the Plaza now, she consulted her map, and pointed. Betsy and I walked that direction for a while, then turned left into what was apparently a Chinese section of Madrid. Many signs were in two languages, neither of them English. We turned left again, and stopped at a table on the street where I had a gin and tonic and Betsy had a coffee.

Madrid Street Performers Madrid Street Performer

Street performers in Madrid help make street wandering a fun time. We dropped a few coins.

We went in the direction our waiter pointed, but not everything in Madrid is rectangular, and before long we were making decisions on our own. When Betsy finally asked a policeman, we were only a short five blocks away.

We rested briefly in our room, and then went out one last time. We sat at a table on the Plaza and ordered flautas and some red wine. On the way back to our room, we got a small cup of ice cream. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

We got up at 6:00 and were in a cab heading to the airport before 7:00. This cab driver apparently knew a shortcut between the Plaza Mayor and Terminal one, as he beat previous records by ten minutes and ten euros. The plane back was far from full, perhaps because they seemed to be running a Worst Film Festival. The three films shown on our nine hour flight home were Journey 2 - Mysterious Island, Tooth Fairy 2 (starring Larry the Cable Guy), and Percy Jackson & the Olympians - The Lightning Thief. I guess the Biggest Loser award must go to Tooth Fairy 2, since that was the only one of the three that I could simply not watch.

Elegant Granddaughter

Sitting on a park bench in Santoña. That is Laredo and Colindres on the other side of the water.

Arriving at Charlotte's international terminal in a small half-full plane in the early afternoon is simply marvelous. We tore through customs and waited just a few minutes for our bags, and another minute for the airport shuttle to Long Term 2.

This had been our longest trip to Spain yet, and also the longest we had plopped ourselves into the home (and bedroom, even) of our son and his family. That it all went as well as it did is probably mostly a testament to the grace and cultural suppleness of Marga, who puts up with us so well that she doesn't even seem to be putting up with us.

Two Grandmothers

Nothing could be finer than being photographed sitting between your Grandma and Abuela.

Erik, to some extent of course, has to put up with us. On this trip, as on others, he impressed us with how balanced he is. When he gets up in the morning and puts on his play clothes, he spends the morning caring for and playing with his three year-old daughter. After he takes her to daycare at 1:30, he makes lunch for himself and his wife, then changes into his work clothes, goes into his office, puts on his headset, and becomes part of an office located in Raleigh. The time in his office-zone is 9:00 am. He takes a short meal break, but when he emerges again (if he doesn't stay late), the clock in the office-zone may say 5:00, but the one in the hall says 11:00 pm. Fortunately, his work clothes are pajamas, and his feet know the way upstairs.

Pretty Women

Marga is a fantastic wife to Erik, mother to Nora, and daughter-in-law to Betsy and me.

Nora is three, and pretty full of herself. She asks lots of questions, and never fails to follow up with "Why?". I know that at some time Erik must have taken my suggestion that he follow John Rosemond's advice and answer the annoying "Why?" with "Because I said so", because I heard Nora telling Betsy several times "I have to (I forget what) because Poppy said so!". Most of the time though - much more than I had the patience for - Erik would explain to Nora why things are as they are. I suspect that taking the time to do so does little or no harm, and pays dividends in language development. Certainly Nora is the most language-developed three year-old I have ever seen.

Flamingo Impression

Nora likes to keep moving. Watching her observe and learn something new was a real pleasure.

In the interests of full disclosure I should mention that Nora is my granddaughter and I love her. My father isn't here to know her, and my mother can no longer travel to Spain, so if it seems (it does to me) that I have extra love to give her, that is probably why.