For me Park Guell was one of the highlights of Barcelona, though once again I was struck by the absence of park-like spaces the way we know them in Australia. You could sit on benches, including the beautiful mosaic benches shown below, but there were no big open grasses spaces to sit. There was plenty of garden space, but it was for looking at from the outside, not for sitting within. However, the structures were amazing, and we took a gazillion photos just here.
Of course, it wasn’t originally designed as a park. Gaudi was commissioned to design a fabulous garden city, in which individual plots were to be sold for houses to be built on. However, the plots never sold, and eventually Josep Guell, who owned the land, donated it to the city of Barcelona to be a public park.
Once again, before we were travelling with the kids, we didn’t spend as much time exploring the park as we might have on our own. They enjoyed it for a while, but eventually the need for ice creams outweighed the need to see more mosaics!
We picked a fabulous day to visit the city, with blue skies and a warm sun. Although San Francisco is famed for being warmer in the fall than in summer, usually by November the chill is setting back in. Not today.
We spent most of our time sitting in the sun at the childrens playground, which is a fairly large space with everything from a climbing web to a long slide, and a sandpit for the littlies.
It also has four bucket style baby swings, three big kid swings (the flexible kind that even my hips can fit in), and a full chair style swing with back. Since the swings are always such a hit with my girls, both if whom could swing for hours, it’s always good to find the rare place when there are enough of them.
I actually spent most of the time we were there sitting on our picnic blanket on the grass chatting to my friend, keeping half an eye on the kids, while chris was good enough to follow Elli around. But, we placed ourselves near the sandpit where she was happy to spend a lot of time.
When we’d eaten our picnic and judged that the kids had had enough time playing not to stage a mutiny (a bit over 2 hours) we packed up and went exploring. The Japanese Tea Gardens were our goal, but we didn’t tell the kids that at first, just in case we didn’t make it – there are maps around the park, including one right next to the children’s quarter, but we weren’t quite sure of our bearings, nor of how far it was.
In the end it took us about an hour and a half to get down there, though only about 20-30 minutes to get back (we’d driven, and parked up at the children’s playground), and without meandering five year olds I reckon it could be about a ten to fifteen minute walk.
We walked via the flower conservatory, which we didn’t go into since you had to buy tickets, but we stopped outside and bought hot chocolates and coffees all round. They weren’t terribly good, but they were warm and the guy was kind enough to give me an extra cup half filled with whipped cream for Eliane, which made her very happy.
The kids also had fun climbing trees, running around like fairies, and generally exploring as we went, so I was happy to take the time.
In the end we got to the tea gardens with only an hour to go before they closed, which was okay, though we could easily have spent more time there. The kids enjoyed exploring the paths, crossing the streams on bridges and stepping stones, and admiring the fish in the large pond and the water falls. We enjoyed all that and the serenity of the atmosphere besides.
There is a Japanese tea house in the gardens which sells four kinds if Japanese tea, various small Japanese dishes including a very good miso soup, and some small cookies and soft drinks if you need something ‘regular’ for the kids.
We had a pot of tea which Liam and I shared (they brought two cups automatically, though the other three teas were all sold by the cup for the same price), and a plate of 9 little Japanese cookies which the children shared, and Chris had the miso soup. By the time we finished there they’d locked up the front gate of the Gardens, and we had to go out a side gate.
It cost $7/adult to enter the Tea Gardens, and $2/child of five and over. That seemed reasonable, but still added up to $20 for us (we had an extra five year old with us). They do have three periods of free entry during the week however, though all at morning times on week days.
(Actually, we’re staying in Seaside, not Monterey, but it all runs together…)
One of the great things about visiting with good friends is that even when it’s been nearly eight years since you last saw them, once you get together it just seems like yesterday.
It’s weird in a way. You spend so long building up to this big trip, it seems like it should feel more intense somehow when you get there. Like you should feel everything a little more strongly. Instead, it just feels normal, making it hard to comprehend, at the end, that it’ll likely be another several years before you see each other again. I’ve had this same sense of unrealness with all the good friend’s we’ve visited, where it seems so normal, but by it’s very normalcy, somehow seems surreal.
We’ve just spent a lovely three day weekend with some good friends who I used to live with when I was at university in Santa Cruz. They have three children of similar ages to ours, their eldest just about to turn eight and their youngest just six months old. Last time we saw them they had only a three-month-old baby, and we had a nearly two-year-old Liam.
What makes the time until we see them again seem more poignant, and more real, is knowing that next time we come, the elder children will likely be teenagers, and the youngest two will have skipped right through the toddler and preschool years and into grade school.
I’m so proud of my children. It’s true that some days the two big ones have driven me up the wall with their bickering, but all in all they have been doing very well, charming people right left and centre, and all three of them have coped with the long plane rides amazingly well.
One of the nice things about traveling with kids, is the laughter that bubbles up when boring adults would be dozing or staring into space.
We left our hotel in NYC via an airport shuttle at 6am today, when it was still dark, and also rainy. Ours was the last stop at the airport and as we swished around the various terminals, Eliane – and therefore Mikaela and Liam and then Chris and I too – whooped and laughed as we went over the bumps of joining ramps and whirled around corners. They also exclaimed in pleasure to see the airport train in action (we caught an airport train between terminals in Madrid, but you simply can’t get enough of such joys).
It’s a cliche to say that being with children can renew your own pleasure in simple things; that taking a child’s view of the world can give you fresh joy and excitement, but it is no less true for all that.
There is a house right next to ours in Pyles, with a large courtyard out the front, where the children and I have just been entertained with pomegranates, chocolate wafer bars and stories of the owner’s grandchildren and his renovation woes. He is currently renovating the house (and not, I think, living there), and was waiting there today for someone to come help him with the kitchen, but he had not arrived.
He told me that getting work done on Karpathos is very slow. “Greeks in Greece don’t like to work,” he said. He said the Greeks in other countries – Australia, America, Germany – work very hard. But here in Greece they want to play cards, go to the cafeneio, talk.
He also said that the economy here on the island is not too bad, but in Athens, in the cities, very bad. Lots of people without work. Of course, that’s what then launched him into his spiel about Greeks in Greece not liking to work, but then I’ve frequently heard people in Australia complain about ‘dole bludgers’ who (supposedly) don’t really even want jobs. It was interesting to hear his take on things though.
He broke up two pomegranates for us to eat, scraping all the segments into a bowl, and cut up two or three small apples – all grown by him I think. I gorged myself on pomegranate because the children didn’t eat much (Mikaela tried only one tiny segment), and I suspect the polite thing here is to eat everything you are served, though I must look that up the next time the internet cafe is open. When I had to go to get Elli to bed (when we could hear her crying – she and Chris were still at home), he made me take the rest of the pomegranate with me, tipping it into my hands, and said to leave the kids who were busy playing on his grandchildren’s toy pedal quad bikes. They came home not much later though. I hope they said proper thank yous!
Written later on:
Today has been filled with gifts of traditional or homemade Greek food.
First there was the visit next door, with the pomegranate Liam had been so wanting to try.
Later, while I was nursing Eliane to sleep, I heard someone come to the door. It turned out to be someone Chris had met at the mini market the previous evening, bringing some of his homemade wine, that he thought had come out too dry, but that Chris might like, since he didn’t like the sweet wine they sold at the shop.
In the afternoon we went to Lefkos Beach, but then in the evening we went down to the local cafeneio, owned by one of our host’s nephews (the father of the woman we met yesterday who lives behind us). It appeared to be a bit of a boys club, with the nephew who had met us at the airport sitting outside on the veranda with a group of men, including his brother, the owner, and not a woman in sight, however they invited us to sit down and chatted on.
After a while their sister, who we had met a couple of days earlier, but who had only a little English, came by. She didn’t sit down but stood on the stairs chatting animatedly with her brothers and asking us what we’d been doing and how was the water (at the beach) and making much of Mikaela, in particular, with her ‘beautiful eyes’, which Mikaela withstood stoically.
She then brought out a plate of small cakes/biscuits smothered in icing sugar, and passed them around, insisting on giving Eliane a second one, then getting a wet cloth to clean her up as the icing sugar spread all over her! Her brother explained to us that her daughter had been accepted into law school today so she was treating everyone to these cakes in celebration. While she was there our backdoor neighbour came by and gave us a bag of baklava her aunt had made that day ‘for your breakfast tomorrow’ – when we got home we discovered there were 20 of these treats! Luckily they have no nuts or sesame paste, just the pastry with the sugar/honey syrup, otherwise it would probably just be me and Elli eating them! (Edited to add: we managed to get through them all over the next couple of days, and they were Yum!)
Next thing the mother of the law student (another of our backdoor neighbours aunt’s, now I think of it) wrapped up the remaining cakes and told us to take them for breakfast too, but not before taking back any cakes she had made the men take that were still uneaten, which she then also pressed on us!
Luckily Liam, Elli and I all liked them, but I had to quietly eat Chris’s when no-one was looking, because it had nuts in it, and Mikaela had two lollies (off the same plate), but didn’t try a cake.
While I am sitting here writing all this on my iPhone, drinking the (I’m sorry to say) pretty awful homemade wine we were given, I’m listening to a bazooka player who is just across the lane way from us and feeling properly grateful to be here. It seems like half the town are related to our friends back in Canberra, and the rest all know who we are. They have been incredibly welcoming and have gone out of their way to take care of us. It’s been really wonderful. Only two days left!
Today was our second full day in Greece, and the 12th day of our trip, and the tension was a little high. The kids were a bit ratty – grumpy and fighting – on and off all day, and perhaps we were too. I think part of it, especially for Liam, was probably that they’re missing the kids we were staying with in Barcelona. It’s like the typical first week of school holidays blues.
Nonetheless we had a great day. We went into Pigadia, the capital of Karpathos, which is also called Karpathos itself and which is really quite a bustling town by comparison to the surrounding villages, like Pyles, where we are staying. Plenty of cafes and lots of shopping, though it was all a bit empty at this time of year. There are 7000 people on the island (more like 35000 in the summer months!), and I’d guess a lot of them either live or at least work there.
We went in there primarily to buy some washing line and sunglasses, since I broke mine on the plane trip here. We got some for both kids too, who have been complaining of the glare a lot. We walked around a bit though, down to the harbour, and around some of the tourist shops.
Then we went to the beach recommended by a woman in the supermarket (who had lived in Geelong, Australia for many years!), Small Amopi, which was awesome. The water was clear and turquoise – it was exactly the sort of beach you expect from a Greek island. There were umbrellas on the beach, many with banana lounges set up under them, and most of the people on the beach were sunbaking on similar lounges. It was only after someone came down and asked us to pay fit sitting under one (€2) that we realized the umbrellas were someone’s business (what did we think? We didn’t, I suppose), and also realized that the empty banana lounges could have been ours for the asking too – €5-6 for two, plus an umbrella. Next time, maybe.
It was a small beach and just lovely for the kids. Quite a steep drop from toe deep to knee deep, but gradual after that, and no surf at all. I took Eliane in for a good swim, then I spent the rest of the time swimming out deeper with Liam, while Chris supervised Mikaela and Elli playing at the edge and in the sand.
Tonight the great-niece of our absent host popped in to visit us and see if we need anything. She just lives right behind us, with her husband and toddler, but she works in town (Pigadia) during the day. She said we should have a family meal with them on Sunday night – she’ll consult with her mother and let us know the details. Most everyone we’ve met here in the village knows the family who own this house, and I think a good half of them are related!
We spent the entire day yesterday in travel, leaving our friend’s house in Barcelona just before seven in the morning, and getting in to the house here in Pyles on Karpathos a little before 10pm.
I was a little dismayed to find the mattresses still in plastic when we arrived – I’d been warned, but had completely forgotten. The house is still a bit of a work in progress, its master having spent three months here last summer (he lives in Australia, but grew up here), which turned out to be not quite enough to complete renovations. However, we had sheets and quilts (some sent over with us, some already here), and we had all the children tucked in bed by around 11pm, with ourselves not far behind.
We were met at the airport by the lovely godfather of the friend who ‘lent’ us this house (the latter being the son of the ‘master’ I mentioned), and he has now taken Chris and the big kids to hire a car and hopefully do a little shopping, showing them what’s what. He gave us a little bit of a tour on the way from the airport, but it was dark and we were tired, so we didn’t take much in, though it was exciting to see all the tavernas and the boats on the harbor at a little Greek fishing village and think “Wow, we are really in Greece!”
This morning we’ve been able to get a better look at the house and the view – the house we are in is the traditional Greek white with blue trim, surrounded by similar houses. The view from the balcony is of a church immediately below us and the sea in the distance, in one direction, with rocky mountains in another. Pyles is not a seaside village, but like most Greek islands Karpathos rises steeply from the sea. I suspect we will drive down to a beach this afternoon.
The tourist highlight of Karpathos, aside from the beaches, is Olympos/Olymbos, which is still very much a traditional Greek village, where most of the women, at least, still wear traditional dress. However Olymbos is on the other end of the Island, which almost makes it like a separate island altogether. Access is by ferry (some two hours) plus bus, or by four wheel drive, as there is still no paved road joining the two ends of the island (though they’re working on it). The car hire company said we could swap over our family car for a four wheel drive for one day for an extra €15, but they are only four seaters. We could take the ferry, but expecting the kids to sit through a two hour ferry ride each way for something that will be, let’s face it, at best of passing interest to them, is probably not really the best use of one of our five precious days here. So no Olympos for us.
Happily, I think there will be no shortage of things to do at this end of the Island, between the beaches and the capital, Pigadia, and the people here in town, half of whom seem to be related to our absent hosts.
Having been here now for 5 nights, I can say I am really glad we’ve arranged our trip this time to – mostly – be spending around a week in each location, although already this time in Barcelona seems to be rushing by.
Last time we travelled overseas, we had just Liam, who was then not quite two, and we had a number of stops of two-three nights. There were good reasons for that, namely, trying to fit people in, not wanting to put people out by staying with them for too long, and having limited money for accommodation on the places where we couldn’t stay with anyone, for whatever reason. But by the end of five weeks, we were all feeling a bit tired and cranky.
You’d think those reasons would be more true this time, traveling with three kids, but somehow it hasn’t worked out that way. We are still spending the shortest times in the places we have to pay for accommodation, and we’ll have the road trip up to Portland to visit my brother and his family, where we’ll stop a night or two on the way up and one on the way back, with only four days there (they have a new baby and no older children so we didn’t even ask them to put us up), so that will be quite disruptive for the kids, but mostly we’re spending a good chunk in each location.
There are a couple of people we visited last time who we are just not managing to fit in this time, which I’m sad about, but with three kids and the longer overall trip (there was no Europe component last time), I think it’s more important than last time for them to have time to settle.
The time in Barcelona *is* flying though, and our kids are going to really miss having the other kids to play with when we get to Greece.
Travel blog and information from Barcelona to San Francisco and back to Canberra