Wednesday, 21 November 2007

We traveled to Granada, Spain today, on a train that took three hours to ramble through the hills and over the dales. As we approached, the land got flatter. Rows upon rows of scrubby trees, I think they were olive trees, stretched into the distance. Alayna perfected the little box she commandeered from our hotel room to house her latest clay family. She covered the outside of this box, which once held a shower cap, with clay. Designed as a little house, it has hardened, and she plans on adding grass, and eventually little decorations for each of the holidays (a turkey, Christmas tree, etc).

It was four by the time we got to our hotel, so we didn’t do much on this travel day. The kids finished another day of school. We’re not expecting to get much school done during much of our Africa stay, with busy days and lots of moving around, so we’re happy to get some lessons under our belt before we leave Europe.

Leave Europe. After almost four months, we’ll be leaving Europe on Saturday and heading to Morocco. We’re really excited about this next leg of our adventure, not sure what to expect but we know it will be a little different. Clay just read today that a man in Rabat, Morocco is trying to set the world record for biggest bar-b-cue by roasting a thousand pound camel on a spit. Sounds like good eatin’ . . .

Since there wasn’t much exciting happening today, I’ll include some up to date stats that Clay compiled on the train today:

18 countries visited, plus three more that we passed through

38 hotel rooms, which happens to average to exactly 3 nights per room

13 plane flights

More than 20 train rides

About 15 boat rides

More than 3000 miles of driving

While Clay was busy compiling stats, I was taking turns reading my latest Agatha Christie novel, our Spain guidebook, and our Morocco guidebook. I’ve never had so much fun doing homework, wherever that “home” might be.


Thursday, 22 November 2007

The main reason we went to Granada is to visit the Alhambra, a beautiful Moorish palace festooned with keyhole doorways and intricate tile patterns, fountains and carved ceilings and lots of mystique. We walked out the door and turned the corner, where Nate stepped in a big pile of dog doo. Not such a great start to our day, but undaunted we jumped on a bus to take us up the hill to the palace.

While waiting for our pre-assigned time to enter the Alhambra, we explored a more recent palace, built by Charles V, once the Christians conquered the Muslims and drove them out of Granada. We wandered around some ruins that once protected this hilltop, climbing up and down towers and around old walls that once houses soldiers and blacksmiths. While descending one of the towers, Alayna hid at the bottom to scare her brothers. She accidentally jumped out at an Asian woman and scared her instead. Her cheeks blushed bright pink and I think she’ll stop jumping out at people for a while.

We love to embarrass Alayna, because it’s so easy. While hanging out in a square, we noticed a woman with a baby in a snuggly on her tummy. “I wish someone would carry me around on their belly like that, all warm and comfy,” I complained. Clay was happy to oblige so I wrapped my arms around his neck and my legs around his waist and sent Alayna into a conniption fit as she tried to hide her “embarrassing parents”.

The Alhambra was amazing. We walked through a labyrinth of rooms, many opening onto pretty courtyards with fountains. The walls were decorated with tiles in all sorts of patterns, and the ceilings were carved with a detail that boggled our brains. Phrases from the Quran were repeated over and over throughout the palace, we found the symbol used for “Allah”. There were no pictures of people or animals, in Islam only God is the creator of these things, and Muslim architecture features patterns and water instead. It was a good introduction for what we will see in Morocco, and gave us a chance to talk to the kids a little about Islam and what it teaches.

The kids’ favorite part of the Alhambra was the gardens. There was a huge area where thick bushes had been allowed to grow six or seven feet high, then carved into wall with archways, creating a sort of green, growing castle. Each of the “rooms” of the castle had gardens or fountains or pretty stone patterns in them, so it was like a big adventure. New things to discover around each green turn. Another thing the kids loved were all the cats, we counted twelve by the time we left. Many were tame and let us pet them, even rolling over to have their bellies scratched. It felt good to pet a little animal again, we miss our doggies.

The boys all got their hair cut today. I was really pushing for haircuts in Sevilla (The Barber of Seville), but it didn’t happen. Alayna and I stayed behind at the hotel, but Clay filled us in on their newest cultural experience when they returned. He said the hairdressers were dressed very strangely. Baggy pants, and shirts that were baggy in the sleeves, but totally cut out in the back, in a big circle from their necks to their waists. Their bra straps cut across their backs. He said they all had bowl haircuts in the front, shaved above their ears, and then longer in the back, and lots and lots of makeup. Regardless of strange attire, they cut hair just fine, and their haircuts should last us through Africa, we hope. Clay’s only complaint: they cut his sideburns into a triangle.

Today is Thanksgiving. We knew it wouldn’t be an ordinary day, it couldn’t be. No Macy’s Day parade or football or turkey dinner. We had to celebrate somehow, we have much to be thankful for. Clay figured out a way to get the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special on his computer, and we ordered pizza to be delivered to our room. That’s about as close as we could get to home. The boys belly laughed at Snoopy wrestling with a lawn chair, and Woodstock all dressed up as a pilgrim. Thanksgiving dinners should always be accompanied by belly laughs. Lately the kids have been begging for stories about Clay and me from when we were kids, so we pulled a few of those out throughout the day. Thanksgiving should also include lots of family stories.

At bedtime I wanted to read some sort of scripture about being thankful, so I turned to the Psalms. I knew David had written some Psalms of thanks. I started flipping through and Psalm 130 caught my eye, it was perfect. After I read it Clay asked, “What Psalm was that?” I told him Psalm 130, and he smiled. “I just googled Thanksgiving Psalm, and it recommended Psalm 130.” Pretty cool, huh? That night we all gathered around to say our prayers (it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without some good prayer), and each of us thanked God for something. Nate’s was especially poignant, he thanked God for being slow to anger. I think I could learn something from that.

Clay thanked God for homesickness.  Because we have something to be homesick for. Our family and friends, neighbors and home. There are many things we miss, and while we wouldn’t trade this trip for the world, we look forward to the day we step off the plane and find ourselves back at home sweet home. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone, we hope you belly laughed and shared some stories and ended your day with a prayer and a thankful heart.


Friday, 23 November 2007

It’s our last day in Spain, last day in Europe, and I had plenty I wanted to do. Everyone seemed to have lots of energy as we stepped out the door, we’re all excited and expectant about what is to come. The skies were blue, the sun was shining, we left our rain jackets behind.

Our first stop was the Royal Chapel, where we saw the tombs of Ferdinand and Isabel, the ones who financed Christopher Columbus’ journey to the New World. Their statues were carved from Carrara marble (the same stuff Michelangelo used to carve David). We saw the picture of Boabdil handing the keys of Granada to Ferdinand when the Christians conquered this last Muslim stronghold. This was more meaningful after seeing the Alhambra yesterday, and knowing we’ll be heading to Morocco tomorrow, where almost all things will be Muslim. We saw Isabel’s crown and prayer book, and the fancy gold box that held the jewels she gave to Columbus so he could sell them and use the money for his venture.

After the chapel, we caught a bus that took us up the hill to the neighborhood of Sacromonte, where gypsies have lived for centuries in the caves dug out of the hillside. We walked down some narrow alleyways, where we had to press ourselves to the walls when cars passed by, until we found the main road leading into Sacromonte. We had read that modern-day hippies squat in some of the abandoned caves, many of them are youngsters who have left their wealthy families up north and are determined to drive their parents crazy by being the ultimate underachievers.

We encountered some hippy-looking “kids” (in their late teens or twenties?) making trips up and down the hill lugging firewood to a humble little home. They weren’t dirty or unkempt, and strangely they all seemed American. Clay really wanted to find out their story, we thought about offering to help carry firewood and see if we could find out what they were doing here and how they got here, but I was a little hesitant. I hated to treat them like tourist attractions, and I wasn’t sure what they would say in front of the kids. We followed them up the hillside with a camera in hand, taking pictures of the view of the city and Alhambra across the valley. We smiled and said “hi”, but never really talked to them. Now I wish we had, I’ll always wonder about their stories. Maybe I’ll just make one up.

We visited an open air folk museum a little further on, where they had examples of the cave dwellings and the crafts the gypsy people were most known for. The kids loved this, especially Alayna, who felt right at home in these little cubby holes of rock with things they needed hanging from the ceilings, a cozy bed tucked into the back. We discovered that at one time, in the 1950’s, over 3,000 people lived in caves in these hills, but the numbers have shrunk. Most of the caves have been abandoned, some of them are being taken over and renovated as modern-day dwellings, not nearly as primitive. While we were in Granada, we only saw a few real gypsies, hanging out by the cathedral trying to read palms for money. They weren’t wearing gauzy scarves and long, dangly earrings. They were wearing sensible sweaters and shoes, and seemed like pushy grannies, nothing more. So much for romance, but we still had fun exploring this part of the town, and imagining what it must have been like.

We walked back down into town, stopping in a square for lunch and adding to our total of cats that we’ve encountered in Granada, I think we’re up to 25. The whole way down we walked along tiny little lanes, so skinny cars could barely squeeze past. We admired some graffiti, especially a face that had been painted on a wall that had some bricks exposed, making the jagged teeth of a smile. We’ve noticed that among the typical bright words that you usually see in graffiti, there are some very well done paintings of faces, children, old men, or landscapes, bordered by the more mundane, bright, vandalism-type stuff.

Once back at the hotel, we rested a while before heading back out for dinner. We settled on an okay place, but not satisfied with a vegetable soup and chicken finale, we found a crepe place and indulged in hot chocolate and chocolate crepes. A fitting end to our stay in Europe, where we partook in chocolate from morning ‘till night.