Saturday in Spain VII

“Maman, wish we went to Spain,” a wistful little 3 year old voice tells me at least once a week. “How we get to Spain?”

“We would fly in an airplane.”

Konik heaves a sigh of exasperation and replies, “But you have to take a car to the airport.”

“Ok, yes, we would take a car to the airport and then get on an airplane and fly to Spain.”

He gives me a satisfied smile and then continues, “Wish we went to Spain and then I will unlock all the doors.” He holds up the large key ring that normally hangs on the back of the door.

I see you

I see you

The keys are really our only souvenir from our trip to Spain — long before Konik was born, but he has heard the stories and seen the pictures. And like the other two kids, he has developed a desire to travel and see places. The poor child has barely had the chance to leave the state, but he knows there’s more out there to the world. And he’s 3. I love that.

Mr. Gren, baby Rana, and I took our vacation to Valencia, Spain in February 2006. I had bought a Lonely Planet guidebook prior to going and had studied the few pages on Valencia, marking things that I thought we should try to see. One of those was the Plaza Redonda — a circular market place not too far from our hotel. We ended up criss-crossing through it quite often on our way to other locations in the Velle Ciutat (Old City). It was interesting, but I’m not sure it was worthy of a guidebook mention.

The Plaza Redonda, also known as El Clot (The Hole) is not an obvious place to get to. Despite being a decent-sized little circle with shops all around the outside, the only ways in are through narrow little spoke-like roads that aren’t immediately apparent when you’re walking down larger, more active streets. It gives the Redonda the feeling of seclusion, which is always fun in a secret sort of way when you’re in a big city. The shops and walkway near them are all covered, with the center fountain open to the sky (hence “the hole”).

The only picture I took of la Plaza Redonda was, inexplicably, at night.

The only picture I took of la Plaza Redonda was, inexplicably, at night.

Several of the shops sell sewing notions, fancy handkerchiefs and Valencian lace. Nowadays, I would probably be paying closer attention to those shops, but back then I wasn’t sewing at all. There was one shop on the corner of one of the little spoke roads that was quite different — a blacksmith’s shop selling all kinds of iron works. I don’t know if it is still there; I’ve read that a lot of the shops have changed in recent years. But at the time, it was a lot of fun to poke through. The set of antique-looking keys caught our eye.


Obviously, they are cast iron reproductions, but I loved them. The style of the keys (each of which are different in shape and size) reminded me of the key I used to open the door to my 500 year old apartment in Grenoble where I did my study abroad. We wanted a souvenir that was not too big, heavy, or awkward to bring home with us and these keys fit the bill. Little did I know that they would be so attractive to my children seven years later.

Today, Konik and I looked at some pictures from Valencia and I showed him a photo of an ancient door on the Torres de Serranos.

“Maman, when we go to Spain, I bring dese keys. I will open that door.”

“Someday, Buddy, someday.”

Saturday in Spain VI

Lemon tree, very pretty
And the lemon flower is sweet
But the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat

Living in a less-than-tropical climate, the idea of citrus trees just growing, just wherever has been fascinating to me ever since a visit to Arizona when I was 4 and saw an orange tree in someone’s backyard. All that latent fascination came bubbling back up when we visited Valencia, Spain. Not only were there orange trees, there were lemon trees, too! I loved the combination of the bright yellow lemons amongst the glossy, dark green leaves.

Orange trees!

Lemon tree! And me and Baby Rana!

Ever since that trip to Spain, I’ve dreamt of having my own lemon tree. This spring, Mr. Gren came home from work with a small, potted Improved Meyer lemon tree. During the summer, I let it live outside on the porch, but brought it into the cabin once it started getting cool out. Just in the last couple of weeks, the lemons have turned from the same dark green as the leaves to bright yellow. Sadly, most of the leaves have fallen off and I’m not sure why. I hope my little tree survives!

Saturday in Spain V

Today’s episode of Saturday in Spain is brought to you by…

A chihuahua in a window.

He was very perturbed that we walked under his window and was even more agitated that I stopped to take a picture of him. But come on, that’s funny stuff.

Saturday in Spain IV

Somebody call King Arthur. Oh, and don’t forget Indiana Jones. Quests and crusades are over. That’s right, the Holy Grail has been found. Maybe you didn’t know that. Were you still looking?

A little dark, and this after I lightened it! Sorry!

It’s housed in the Valencia Cathedral in Spain. There are lots of other places that claim to have the grail, but apparently this chalice has the Holy Roman seal of approval. After all, the Pope used it! You can read more about the history of it here on the cathedral’s website.

It is housed in a special chapel in the cathedral. We had to wait for a service to finish before we could go in and look. Obviously, you can’t get too close.

Saturday in Spain III

After our little bus adventure through all the outskirts of Valencia, some walking, a helpful policeman, and another bus ride, Mr. Gren, baby Rana and I ended up at our hotel, Hostal El Cid. The lady who ran the hotel immediately fell in love with Rana. “¡Que muñeca eres!” Apparently she was the most adorable baby in Spain because everyone we met ended up proclaiming her doll-like cuteness. We were led up the stairs to our room where we could finally put down the suitcases we had been lugging for hours. It was a small room but clean: a bit cramped with two beds in it, a small shower in the corner and a sink next to it. The toilet was down the hall. After we had had some time to settle in a bit, we realized that there were no towels. Looking back, I don’t know why we didn’t just go down and ask. I think we must have chickened out, thinking that perhaps we were supposed to have brought our own? Obviously, we hadn’t. We decided we’d just have to go buy a towel from somewhere. Again, don’t look for logic in any of this. Baby Rana also needed diapers and we may as well go explore the city a bit.

While we were winding our way through the city streets to get to our hotel, we had noticed a tourist information center not too far away, so that’s where we headed this time. I asked the lady at the information desk if there were a store around where we could buy diapers and bath towels. She whipped out a map and highlighted a department store a few blocks away called El Corte Inglés. Off we went!

We found the store and then ended up walking all the way around it trying to find the door. They didn’t make that easy. We had been hoping for something in the Target price range. This store ended up being more in the realm of Macy’s. Have I mentioned that we were on a shoestring budget? Maybe even less than that. More like, half a shoestring or dental floss budget. Our eyes popped out when we saw the price tags on the bath towels. But our other options were 1) air-drying after a shower, or 2) not showering for ten days. Neither sounded appealing. There was no way we could afford regular sized bath towels, so we looked at the next size down which were about the size of a welcome mat. At 10 euros a piece these would have to do.

You know how new towels have that fabric softener stuff all over them to make them nice and fluffy in the store and virtually impervious to moisture? Yeah, we had failed to take that into account. After the first shower, using our little towels we discovered that there was not a lot of absorption going on. “Drying off” consisted of wiping the water down our bodies with our oversized chamois cloths, leaving us nice and moist. Ok, not so nice. Mr. Gren and I are pretty good at making the best of things, so we continued toughing it out with our tiny towels and damp skin, hoping that eventually they’d start absorbing more.

Need more coverage.

A few days into our trip, a set of bath towels magically appeared in our room. Apparently, it had just been an oversight all along. Towels were provided! We felt a little bit silly then, but it was a relief to finally be able to get dry.

We still have our little overpriced towels and, after multiple washings, they still don’t really absorb. But I doubt we’ll get rid of them — they’re one of our few Spanish souvenirs after all.

Saturday in Spain II

So, they tell me yesterday was Friday. I don’t know where all these Fridays keep coming from. Around here, everyday feels pretty much the same, so it’s hard to tell the difference. Anyways, that’s another French Friday no-show, so you get the second installment of Saturday in Spain.

Spanish was the first foreign language I learned. I started in 8th grade and continued on into college, even though by that point, my French had largely eclipsed it. But the Spanish is still in my brain, hiding. And there are a few weird cases where a certain word in Spanish has always been stronger than the equivalent in French. Lápiz versus crayon, for example. When we planned our trip to Valencia, Spain six years ago, I was a little nervous, but hoping that Mr. Gren was right — that it would all come back to me when I needed it. I booked our flights and hotel and came up with a loose itinerary.

One fun thing about Valencia is that it is very Castilian and they speak with that classic lisping accent. I was all prepared to lisp my S’s. I was not prepared, however, to lisp every single consonant. My first experience with it was when we got off the plane and were waiting out on the curb in front of the airport, trying to figure out which bus we needed. I asked a man about the bus schedule and my ears strained hard to decipher words through all that lisping, but it was enough to get me locked in on the Spanish of the area. After that, it was fun. The airport we landed at was quite a ways away from the city center and I remembered from looking online that there was a bus we could take to a more central terminal which would put us within walking distance of our hotel. After figuring out the buses with the man on the sidewalk, Mr. Gren, baby Rana and I boarded the one that would take us into the city. It was a strange bus ride. It wound up and down every block through the outskirts of town, stopping every two minutes it seemed. We saw parts of Valencia that tourists definitely never see. We were on that bus for over an hour, trying to keep our luggage out of people’s way and trying to keep the baby happy.

Finally, we pulled into a big, bustling hub. We got off the bus and walked out to the sidewalk and I started getting a funny feeling. Looking back at the bus station, we saw that it was a hub for long-distance coach buses. This was not where we were supposed to be. But clearly, none of those buses were going to take us any further into town, so we set out walking, hoping to find another bus stop. Around the block we did find one and it happened to have a large map of Valencia posted on the back of the shelter. From where we were standing, we could see the large, dry riverbed that runs right through the city and we could identify it on the map. But we couldn’t find a street sign to narrow down our location. Luckily, right about that time, a police officer happened to be walking by. Using my new Castilian Spanish, I asked, “Perdoneme, señor… donde estamos??” He laughed and was very friendly and helped us find our location on the map. He asked where we needed to go and told us where we could catch a bus that would get us to our hotel. I like that police man. We had to walk a little further dragging our luggage and pushing a baby stroller, but we made it to the right bus and got into the beautiful center of Valencia without any more trouble. And my Spanish was rolling back in, just like Mr. Gren said it would.

Saturday in Spain

Ok, so most of yesterday went by before I realized it was Friday. With Mr. Gren’s screwy schedule and Rana home from school now, I never know what day it is. Sorry, guys. So, to make up for the lack of French Friday, you get Saturday in Spain. Will this be a recurring feature? Maybe. Depends on how many times I forget French Friday, I guess.

When Rana was 4 months old, our little family took a ten day trip to Valencia, Spain. It was a great trip and we saw so many cool things. It was the tightest vacation budget ever, but there’s a lot you can do for free or extremely cheap if you just look around!

One day, we went to visit the bullfighting arena. It wasn’t bullfighting season, but they did have a little museum that we checked out. In the offseason, they use the arena for other exhibits and such. When we came out the other side of the arena, we saw this sight (this is my photo; please don’t use without permission).


Epic Battle

El Matador might be a little outmatched this time around.