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Conner's Big Adventure 2017

Spain - Part 1

SPAIN | Tuesday, 30 May 2017 | Views [639]

When in Spain, eat paella!

When in Spain, eat paella!



The Journey

Week one was absolute madness!! Of my own doing of course, but still…. It started when we woke up at 4:00am so we could make the drive to Zagreb to catch our flight to Valencia. Conner was strangely wide awake despite getting just half the amount of sleep he normally gets. We got him up with just enough time to pee before being transferred into a dark, cold car, snugged up in a blanket with a pillow against the window. I would have been passed out before the door closed. Not Conner, he stayed awake for the whole drive. Freak. The drive between Zadar and Zagreb was as beautiful as this time as it was the first time, and we arrived in the city with what should have been plenty of time to get checked in at the airport. Of course the sidetrack to fuel up the rental car used up the greater portion of that time. Is there any country that doesn’t have morning rush hour?? Good thing everything else went smoothly (and I mean that sincerely this time). Rental car returned, we got to the gate just a few minutes before the plane started boarding. Since this was a much shorter flight, the airplane was much smaller. At one point I looked over and saw Gregg and the man across from him both sleeping, each with their legs sprawled out to the side in order not to be smashed into the seat in front. One of the few times I have appreciated being short! The flight went by quickly, which is a good thing since drinks were only provided if you didn’t mind paying $4 for a tablespoon of soda in a glass of ice. Ah the joys of budget airfare. We then had a 6 hour layover in Barcelona which was just enough time for me to fantasize about being able to leave the airport for a quick whirl around the city, or even just lunch, before coming back to the reality that is travel with a six year old…. Have you ever traveled long distances with a six year old? If your answer is “no”, allow me to backtrack a bit and I will enlighten you.

You arrive at the airport with a sigh of relief after hours of hearing “I’m bored, I hate being in the car!” You then spend 15 minutes trying to get your child out of the car by explaining that the seatbelt buckle is in the same place it was when they got into the car, and that their “tired” legs will in fact hold them up if they exit the car. Reminding them that they hate being in the car only results in hearing “I’m tired!” at louder and louder volumes. Under no circumstances will reminding them that they have just had three hours in which to sleep in the car where they sincerely declared they were “not tired” help at all. Finally out of the car, you give your child one very small, very light, very easy to carry item (pillow, toy bag, ukulele case, etc…) as you and your spouse suddenly morph into octopuses in order to carry the rest of the luggage necessary for keeping the entire family alive and entertained. Remember the old woman in the junkyard in Labyrinth? Yeah, that’s about it. You make it about 50 feet before your child gives you a look like a kid in a sweat shop and falls to the floor in apparent utter exhaustion (bonus points if this occurs in the most inconvenient, high traffic area possible). Grow one more limb to carry child’s unfair burden. You make it to the check-in line and suddenly your child simply cannot contain his or her instantly acquired abundance of energy and begins swinging around each and every one of the line markers they can reach. Eventually you give in and bribe them into some semblance of stillness at which point you immediately make an ass of yourself by knocking over one of the line markers you just told your child to stop touching when you bump it with your junk lady load. You make it through check-in and head toward your gate and your child now declares that they are starving. This is where you bust out your creative truth speaking skills as you convince them that there is food waiting for them at the gate (aka somewhere in your junk lady bundles) which gets them moving and hopefully through the security line, although this is likely to require more bribery. On the way to the gate you will pass escalators and moving sidewalks which are some of the strongest child magnets known to mankind. You use your best negotiating skills and finally settle on three trips up and down the escalators before moving on to the next set of escalators. Repeat this process until you finally make it to the gate. At the gate you take up an entire row of chairs in order to unload your bags and lay out every morsel of food you have with you before your child settles on the first choice you offered (before you unloaded and laid out the buffet...). Three trips to the bathroom later and it’s time to board. You get to your seats and stow the bag of carefully selected toys and snacks under the seat while ignoring the fact that, subconsciously of course, you know the only thing you actually needed to bring on the plane was the Kindle. This is one of those times in parenthood where you script the call to your mother apologizing for every time she had to take you anywhere beyond the mailbox. Don’t worry though, you will soon have a moment when you remember exactly why putting your sanity on the line in order to travel is all worth it, I promise :-).

So here we are at the airport in Barcelona and we have established that leaving the airport is definitely not an option. Thankfully there is a nice outside courtyard with plenty of space for Conner to get his crazies out. We play and eat the last of our delicious meats and cheeses from Croatia, and before long it’s time to board the next flight. 40 minutes later we arrive in Valencia where we will stay for the night before driving four hours down to our apartment in Vera for the month.



Valencia was a brief experience, but we did learn right away that driving is equally as tight as in Croatia and parking is almost impossible. Silly me, I forgot to download maps of Valencia, so while I knew where we were supposed to be staying Google maps wouldn’t direct us there. If you ever want to test a relationship, drive yourselves to a brand new city, the larger the better, and help each other navigate to some random location with nothing but a street map and a cranky 6 year old in the back seat (if no such child is available a particularly yappy Chihuahua should do the trick). This not being our first experience in this particular test Gregg and I apologized to each other for being assholes and made our way through an impressive number of one-way streets and completely strange intersections and roundabouts to arrive at our apartment for the night. The apartment itself was beautiful and thankfully had its own spot in an underground parking garage. Safely settled in, it was now dinner time. This is where my dietary restrictions become incredibly irritating. For most of our travels not being able to eat gluten hasn’t been all that bad. Most grocery stores have had a small selection of essentials (flour, bread, crackers, sweet treats, etc…) and for the rest I just eat simpler foods, which is great, or we head to any of the fantastic restaurants that either have naturally gluten free dishes, or are happy to help accommodate my annoying auto-immune disease (made easier by simply claiming I am coeliac rather than trying to explain Hashimotos Thyroiditis in any language, including English). The first couple of days in a new city, however, royally suck in terms of food for me. Tired, grumpy, and hungry are not great assets when it comes to attempting to navigate a foreign grocery store (with a tired, grumpy, and hungry spouse and child) in search of food that is safe for me to eat, or even finding and agreeing on somewhere to eat dinner in place we don’t know, in a language we don’t understand, with food that won't make me sick. This is why in Valencia we ended up walking 2 miles to a dedicated gluten free restaurant that was a bit more expensive than we have been trying to stick with, but it was yummy and they had treats to bring home for breakfast the next morning. Plus I didn’t have to ask a single damn question about the menu which makes it a huge win in my book. The next morning Gregg went for his usual morning walk while Conner and I enjoyed our breakfast treats on the balcony. He came back with a bag full of fresh and delicious fruits and veggies, and some snacks to get us through the drive down to Vera.

While the drive down to Vera was not quite as stunning as in Croatia, it was still beautiful with its rolling hills and valleys. I don’t think there was a 10 minute stretch when we didn’t pass some sort of crops or orchards. I now understand why the fruits and veggies seemed so fresh! Living the last 13 years in Alaska, I am used to considering anything that isn’t either already starting to rot or picked at the peak of flavorlessness “good quality”, so we have been absolutely spoiled these last few months by getting to eat produce that was recently picked when it was ripe! It was fun trying to guess what was growing on all of the strange little trees we drove by, beyond the obvious oranges of course. A few smelly cattle farms later we arrived in Vera.



Vera is a beautiful little town about 8km from the coast. We arrived late in the afternoon and were welcomed and given the keys to our apartment by a very friendly lady working the café downstairs. The apartment was smaller than I remembered when I booked it, but it was also nice, clean, and functional with a designated underground parking spot :-). We dropped our bags and went walking around a bit to stretch our legs from the long drive. In the first five blocks Vera already felt like a different place than Croatia. People here are much more outwardly sociable (not to be confused with friendly! Croatians were incredibly friendly, just less outgoing I think) and without that quiet reserve that we found in Croatia. Everyone smiles and says hello as you walk by, and kid squeals and friendly chatter make up the background noise of the city. The sidewalks are beautiful red cobblestone and brick and are incredibly clean. There are playgrounds every couple of blocks, all clean and nice. We made our way to a restaurant called Terraza Carmona for a late lunch/early dinner only to find that the kitchen had closed at 4:00pm and wouldn’t open for dinner until 9:00pm (Surprise! You’re definitely in Spain now!), however the tapas bar was open. Great! We wanted to try some tapas anyway. Lucky for me there were a few delicious selections that were gluten free including clams and a yummy fish dish in a chunky tomato sauce, AND they brought me gluten free bread! Much restored we decided to brave the grocery store on the walk back to the apartment to stock up for the drive to Madrid. Wait, didn’t we just get here? Why yes, yes we did, and now we are leaving. That’s about all we got to see in Vera because the next morning we got in the car once again and drove the 5 hours it took to get to Madrid.



Driving from Vera to Madrid was a challenge for a few reasons. First being that we were all more than tired of traveling after making our way from Zadar to Zagreb to Valencia and then to Vera. Second being that in my frazzled state of consciousness I had forgotten to contact the host of our Madrid apartment to let them know when we were coming and, more importantly, to find out how we were supposed to get the keys! We solved this problem by stopping midway in Albacete to use good old McDonalds Wi-Fi and got instructions from the host explaining that we were to pick up our keys at the concierge desk. Perfect. A little lunch and we were back on the road. The upside of this trip was that we had downloaded maps of Madrid and Google helpfully took us right where we needed to go. Also, thanks to Conner’s creative mind, we have now played the A-Z game with everything from animals and foods to song artists and car models (anyone have a car starting with a Q??). It really does make the drive go faster :-).

Driving through Madrid was much like Valencia, fast and narrow with lots of one way streets. Gregg and I passed the “Madrid relationship test” without too much grief and we arrived at our apartment, once again, just before dinner time (we’re not very fast learners). After a bit of research (and much huffing, eye rolling, and snarking) I declared that we were going to a restaurant 2-1/2 miles away and we could either walk or take a taxi, but I wasn’t giving up our hard won parking spot by the apartment. Guess which option Gregg picked?

Walking through Madrid was an unexpected surprise. I’m not much of a big city person, but Madrid was a very pretty city with attractive architecture, large, clean sidewalks (can you tell I’m obsessed with clean streets? Really I just hate carrying around packs of handy wipes for when Conner steps in something or falls/plays on the ground next to meandering trash piles, dog shit, or suspect puddles…), and lots of parks and playgrounds. There was one park in particular that we walked past, though I can’t remember the name, which was immense in size and a very cool design of trails and trees and fountains. The city just seemed to have a very friendly and inviting feeling. There were plentiful bus stations as well as subway stations all along our chosen path, which we could have used if we had had a scrap of mental energy left to attempt deciphering public transportation routes in a new city.

An hour later we arrived at a little restaurant called Pizzasana. If you are keeping track that means that we walked at a roaring speed of 2-1/2 mph, aka 6 year old “I’m too tired” walking speed. By this point we are all understandably starving, and I am happy to say that Pizzasana was exactly what we needed. The owner was there that night and greeted us, in English, with a big smile. He explained that the only thing on the menu that had gluten in it was the pasta, which left me with lots of choices. Happy girl right here :-). The owner disappeared into the kitchen for a moment and returned to walk us through the menu, and to say that he had the chef working on some nachos for Conner “on the house” while we were deciding. This guy was my momentary hero! I was even more impressed when the nachos came out loaded with three types of meat and even more cheeses. Conner’s eyes nearly jumped into the bowl after his tongue. Finally decided, we ordered ravioli for Conner, steak for Gregg which came with asparagus and fries, and for me chicken wings with a crazy chutney and a “hamburger” which was actually an entire steak on a bun with arugula, mushrooms, onions, provolone, and Iberico bacon. And fries. On top of all that the owner went into the kitchen and personally cooked our meal for us. Holy crap we were stuffed and we still had an entire meal’s worth of food leftover. Some of the best food we have ever had and the total bill, including drinks, was $48. With everyone fed and feeling much less grouchy, the walk home was a nice, leisurely stroll with the occasional light drizzle to cool us off. A much needed respite in the middle of a crazy and stressful week.

The next day was actually our reason for driving all the way to Madrid. There was a training course I was meaning to take when we returned from our travels abroad, but circumstances changed and I had to get it done before June 1st. The only opportunity within reach was in Madrid, so there we were. I successfully navigated myself through Madrid’s morning rush hour (major accomplishment for me!) and spent the day training while Gregg and Conner walked around in Madrid visiting 15 playgrounds that were all within 2 miles of the apartment. 15! It was some much needed play time for Conner, and Gregg got to walk around exploring the city which is pretty much his favorite thing to do. A quick walk up to the market when I got home and we had a simple dinner in our itty bitty apartment (when I say itty bitty, I’m talking about a kitchen that is almost too small to open the refrigerator door and a bedroom that is a loft over the little living room). The next morning we were out of the apartment by 11 and on our way back to Vera for the remainder of our month in Spain. Phew!

So, to recap, our introduction to Spain went like this:

Day 1 – Drive 3 hours to Zagreb, travel for 9 hours to get to Valencia

Day 2 – Drive 4 hours from Valencia to Vera

Day 3 – Drive 5 hours from Vera to Madrid

Day 4 – Finally in one place for 24 hours!

Day 5 – Drive 5 hours from Madrid to Vera


I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear that we didn’t touch the car for 3 days after that. Thankfully Vera is a small town with lots to walk to :-).

Tags: madrid, navigating, spain, travel, valencia, vera

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