It’s 5:30 p.m. in Madrid and it’s about time to wake up the boys from siesta. While it’s crazy that they are napping in their beds from 4:00-6:00 p.m., it’s even crazier that we will keep them out exploring the city streets tonight until 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. I just keep chanting mottos like “Live like the Locals!” and hoping that our nocturnal body clocks will make our jet lag recovery easier when we return home on Saturday.
For week 2 of our Spanish adventure, we have already run like bulls through the streets of Pamplona, hiked the foothills of the Pyrenees, and eaten our weight in churros and jamón in Madrid. While we loved our week in San Sebastían, it has been thrilling to see other pockets of Spain.
On Sunday afternoon we loaded up and drove a couple hours east to a small village called Ardanaz where we rented an old rustic farmhouse with our friends, The Miller’s. Rob and Laura moved from St. Louis to Italy last summer and have taken full advantage of traveling around Europe as much as possible, so they hopped an EasyJet to explore Spain with us for four nights. Their two girls, Corwyn and Saelin, are pretty close in age to Everett and Louie, so the fun factor exponentially leapt once our boys had some cute girls to show off for.
When we drove our jam-packed little European rental cars into the village of Ardanaz, we may have doubled its population. The GPS led us to Calle San Vicente, but we struggled to find number 26 as we inched through narrow cobblestone roads lined with rustic stone houses, many of which were abandoned. I spotted a woman sitting in her garden with her dog, so I got out and gave my limited Spanish a whirl. Luckily, all I really needed to say was “la casa de Rakel” and she pointed me to the correct home where a middle-aged woman with a beaming smile emerged. Rakel immediately pulled me in for the double-cheeked kissing ritual. I never know if you are actually supposed to kiss the cheek or just brush cheeks and make the kissing noise. It all happened so fast that I’m not even sure which reaction I went with, but it didn’t seem to matter as she greeted all eight of us with the same warm embrace. Based on my communication with her from the AirBNB website, I could tell that Rakel spoke little English. It turned out that she spoke no English at all, so I had to put my high school Spanish memory stores to serious work. As she led me around the farmhouse, we had a few moments where we got stuck in translation purgatory–but I was surprised by how quickly and eagerly Spanish phrases and vocabulary leapt out from my long-term memory caves to play. We ended our tour in the cave-like kitchen framed with rustic wooden beams and clay tile. On the long table, she presented a gift of Rioja wine, local cheese and sausage, and freshly cracked walnuts. Everett immediately grabbed the nutcracker and the wooden bowl of nuts and immersed himself into the mechanisms of opening walnuts and hazelnuts while the rest of us lugged in suitcases and prepared for our 48-hours in this lovely pueblo.
That first night, we drove a short 10 minutes in to the city of Pamplona to explore the streets where throngs of people gather for the famous running of the bulls during the San Fermin festival each July. Thankfully the city is pretty calm on a Sunday evening at the end of May, so we enjoyed strolling through an outdoor book fair, having beer and burgers on the square, and chasing our children through the streets that make up the famed bull route.
The next day we simply climbed the foothills behind our house to hike a beautiful trail through wildflower fields and undulating slopes of wheat. When the wind blew, it was like an animated art show in the wheat fields. The sun’s reflection paired up with the wind to create changing patterns across the countryside. My favorite part of this day were the red poppies that dotted every vista and the vino blanco we enjoyed at our peak-side picnic. The kids were overjoyed to get back to our farmhouse where they could play in the backyard. Even though the pool and hot tub were not yet up and running, they found random sticks of bamboo to build forts and played “school” under the swing’s awning. Rakel’s yard also offered an outdoor cage with doves, a chicken coop, and a pond stocked with fish, turtles, and frogs. There was clearly no reason to leave this little village, so we spent the rest of the evening grilling dinner on the patio and embracing this respite of simplicity in the middle of our hustle and bustle adventures.
Yesterday we said goodbye to the sweet Miller family and loaded up our little white Skoda SpaceBack for one last jaunt through the autopistas of Spain. After a few hours, we made it to the Madrid airport where we returned our keys and oh-s0-clutch GPS system to Hertz and loaded our boys and luggage into a taxi for our last destination: Madrid. The boys had two things in their mind upon entering Madrid: bull fights and churros con chocolate. We indulged them with the long piping hot donuts and cups of warm pudding-like chocolate laced with cinnamon. However talking them out of the bull fights is a different beast as we pass tacky souvenir shops lined with bull kitsch and red capes. You see, I made the mistake of reading the boys the classic children’s story “Ferdinand the Bull” before we left for Spain as a little introduction to Spanish culture before we arrived. They were instantly intrigued and insistent that they should see a bull fight while we were here. In fact they spent many afternoons leading up to this trip chasing our poor senile dog Otis through the backyard with a stick playing “matador.” As you can imagine, Louie led the charge on that game. Since “Ferdinand the Bull” is a very benign and far less violent rendition of the actual bull sport beloved in this country, it took some careful explanation of why a bull fight is not on our itinerary this trip. Maybe they will settle for a bull T-shirt and a red cape.
Today we spent the day wandering in Retiro Park. Everett peed his pants in a rowboat in the middle of a pond full of floating tourists, but other than that–it was a lovely day. And that’s why I hoof around these ancient cities with an REI daypack stuffed with extra clothes, right? At least my preparedness is not futile. We ate fresh shaved Jamón Iberíco from a paper cone, bocadillos de calamare, and ceviche. And now as it approaches 7:30, we will head out for a night out in the busy streets on Madrid. Paella is our quest tonight and there will probably be another round of churros con chocolate as well. I’ve got the Ergo strapped around my waist, extra underwear and baby wipes cushioning my coin purse of Euros, and sunglasses perched on my head to ward off those rays that won’t dip below the horizon until well after 9:30 p.m. Buenas Tardes, Madrid!