We just completed our first European family road trip by car. On April 14th, the first day of Semana Santa (Holy week leading up to Easter Sunday), we drove West across Andalucia (southern region of Spain) to Seville with George’s sister, Elise. Before I continue, it’s important to note that Semana Santa is probably the biggest holiday in Spain and everyday there are religious processions, the first of which took place the day we arrived in Seville. Seville is one of the epicenters of it all so you can imagine how our entry into the city and finding parking went. Once we did though, we worked our way through the crowd amidst the first religious procession of the week only to land at our Airbnb which allowed us to stand on our balcony and watch the procession of the Virgin Mary go right on by. George was giddy with excitement like a little kid. “Can you believe that?” was all we heard him say for hours and even days following. The procession continued throughout the evening in our hood, forcing us to walk circles around old town for quite some time before we managed to intercept the Virgin Mary so that we could get back to our Airbnb.
Day two in Seville was short and sweet as we had my mother and my sister’s family to meet in southern Portugal. About 3 hours later, we were settling into a beautiful little villa in the town of Carvoeiro in the Algarve region of Portugal (southern coast) and as it turned out, we were in for a surfing-themed vacation. Portugal is one of the hot spots in the world for surfing so everywhere we looked, there were surf shops, surfing hotels and a surfing fest/competition on our last day. The kids and their cousins even had a day of surf lessons and played in the waves in the town of Lagos.
Though our time was limited, we managed to explore a few different towns, eat some amazing Mediterranean food, and relax together. Little did we know, there was a diesel strike in the whole country while we were there. George and my brother-in-law had to drive almost all the way back to Spain just to get fill up the cars. Some of the highlights of the trip included the amazing limestone cliffs along the coast, practically playgrounds for climbing and crawling around, beautiful seashells, watching experienced surfers in Sagres (the most southwestern point of Portugal), getting lost in the Portuguese pottery shop, and discovering the importance of sardines (Davis even tasted them…for a 50 cent euro), Algarve storks and cork trees in Portugal. Some favorite dishes of the week were octopus salad, risotto with cod and spaghetti with clams. I’m excited to have found another way to feed my kids fish without them knowing it! The sound of the Portuguese language was new to most of us, almost resembling the sounds of Russian and Polish and we worked on our pronunciation all week of “thank you” in Portuguese which is “obrigado/a.” They seem to use this word more frequently and for more purposes than I recall in any other language. My mom, sister and I painted together and the kids played a mean game of Monopoly and lots of Hide and Seek.
Our final day together before family flew back to the States was bittersweet as we honored my late father on what would have been his 80th birthday. He was a surfer while growing up in California, and we could not get over how we spontaneously landed our final night (his birthday) in a surfing hotel just opposite the surfing competition (this was our plan B after our originally scheduled Airbnb did not work out). He must have been there with us in spirit!
After a difficult goodbye with our relatives , we concluded our road trip with a brief drive through Lisbon and then pretty much a straight shot back to Almuñécar, including a late dinner stop in Córdoba. Exhaustion and grief engulfed us as the five of us tried to navigate our car through the charming, very narrow streets of old town Córdoba to find dinner, only centimeters away, at one point, from resembling a scene from Mission Impossible, getting stuck between the street walls. A delicious Spanish meal and atmosphere at Bodegas Mezquita Cruz del Rastro gave us the energy we needed to complete our journey back to Almuñécar.
Our time with American friends and family these past couple of weeks has made the kids very homesick. The ease with which they could converse, the comfort of being with those whom they know care for and love them and their envy of these friends and family’s ability to return to what they know and love are real humps to get over. And now that we are back from our travels and visits, the challenge is finding more courage, once again, to interact with a less familiar community and step into a classroom where a less familiar language is spoken and values are shared.