We said goodbye to our Springer Spaniel and left for the Charlotte airport at 5:30. Two hours later, when we arrived at our departure gate, we heard an announcement requesting volunteers to be bumped from the flight. Betsy and I had a quick meeting and considered their offer – $700 flight credit per person, a flight to New York tonight, a night at the JFK airport Raddison, and first class seats Friday to Spain. Sadly, it wasn’t the $1400 flight credit that swayed us, it was the temptation of first class seats to Europe. With mixed feelings, we watched USAirways flight 728 take off with our suitcases, but without us.
Along with Brooke from San Diego, another bumpee, we walked to the new departure gate, and flew to New York, arriving at midnight. We summoned the Raddison’s airport shuttle, but at the Raddison we were turned away without a room. It seems that USAirways did not make the reservation after all, and there were no vacant rooms. Along with Brooke, we took the shuttle back to the airport, but all USAirways and American Airlines staff were gone for the night. We found a hotel reservation desk that was still open, and after telling us there were no rooms anywhere, they asked if a motel would be OK. I would have accepted a cot in a closet at that point, so a reservation was made at the JFK Inn, we called for their shuttle, and at 2:30 am my head hit the pillow.
We checked out at noon and took the shuttle back to JFK. We located a USAirways representative who listened to our sad story and made copious notes on the computer. He gave us a phone number to call and promised we would be reimbursed for our motel room. At 5:00pm we boarded the Airbus and began our first class experience. I spent the first ten minutes playing with my seat controls. I was quite pleased to find that my seat could be turned into a six foot long flat (though narrow) bed.
I started looking forward to dinner as soon as I heard I wouldn’t have to choose between chicken and pasta. I enjoyed the Starter’s Plate – warm bread with extra virgin olive oil, veal consommé, smoked duck with mango and peppers sauté and fresh leaves salad, and cheese plate with grapes. Sadly, I was then full, so I canceled the delivery of my chosen main course – grilled beef tenderloin with goose liver pate and truffle sauce, sugar snap peas and sautéed potato with herbs. I did manage to rouse myself for the dessert course however – almond and apple cake, and raspberry sherbet.
I have flown to Europe a dozen times without ever successfully falling asleep, but I was optimistic that would change now that I could fully stretch out. Unfortunately I never slept for more than a few minutes at a time, but I definitely enjoyed being able to extend both legs completely.
We had five hours to wait in Madrid before boarding our plane to Bilbao. An hour later we arrived, and were mightily relieved to see our luggage appear on the carousel. We had been told it would arrive a day before us and be held safely for us in Bilbao, but instead the Madrid luggage handlers had taken the more prudent course of placing it on the flight we were now ticketed for.
Erik was waiting for us at the airport and drove us the final hour to Colindres, where we were greeted by Marga, Nora, and Ian, and also Marga’s sister Belén and her friend Unai. It has been reliably established that after traveling to Spain it takes several days for my appetite to catch up to me, but I always enjoy a small portion of Marga’s homemade chicken soup after arriving in Colindres.
Nora was anxious to show her grandparents her newly acquired bike riding skills, so after lunch we went for a walk and ride down by the waterfront. Nora’s bike-riding skills were impressive, but Ian stole the show. He had recently mastered riding his pedal-less bicycle, and followed his sister everywhere. At each of the three street-crossings on the way to the bicycle path along the river basin that drains into the Bay of Biscay, the kids stopped before the street and repeated the mantra they had been taught (wait for the people!).
While the others prepared and ate dinner (ribs and peppers), I made my excuses and went upstairs for bath and bed. As usually happens, it took me several hours before I actually slept.
Every day in Colindres begins the same way for me. I rise about 7 am, dress in the dark, proceed carefully downstairs, and putz around for a bit until it is time to make my daily pastry run. I walk a short five blocks to the Bar La Mar where I enjoy a cafe con leche grande. Six minutes later I walk the last block to the cruasantería where I get a freshly made croissant for each of the adults and, if they have it, something with a little chocolate for Nora and Ian.
Things tend to start slowly on a Sunday morning in Spain. The pastry was consumed about 10, and plans were made to drive to the Encierro de Ampuero. We dressed in our whitest clothes, and Erik provided Betsy and me with the traditional red neckerchief.
With Marga and Belen driving, the eight of us arrived in Ampuero at a quarter to twelve. Punctuality has never seemed very important in Spain, but one thing that always starts on time is a Running of the Bulls (Encierro). At exactly noon, a loud explosion announced to the many thousands in attendance that the first bull had left the ring, and a minute later a second explosion meant the last bull had left the ring. About five minutes later, the third and final firecracker announced to all that the run was over and all the Bulls had returned to the their pen after running through the town.
In order to protect their town (and their Bulls), a seven foot tall heavy wooden wall is erected around the entire route of the bull run. Only those people who have chosen to run with the Bulls are allowed inside. The other 10,000 people claim spots on a standing rail outside the wall, or perch on balconies, rooftops, and light poles. Those of us arriving after 11 are pretty much guaranteed no visibility of the actual bull run, but that means little since what we really all came for was the fifteen hour party that follows each Encierro. Erik, however, has learned that if he asks a wall-percher for permission, he can hold his camera in the eighteen inch gap below the erected wall and record the action on his iPhone.
An obviously experienced crew disassembled the protective barrier within five minutes, and the throngs surged into the town. We mingled with the crowd, and started spending our money. Large helium-filled balloons for the kids; beer and wine for the adults. A dozen or more small bands wandered around, playing loud energetic music. Each band was accompanied by a dozen or more friends of the band. They clapped and sang and danced, and helped excite the crowd. The bands seemed to respect each other, and seldom started a song when another band was playing within 30 meters.
After an hour or so we found a outdoor garden with an open table, and sat for 30 minutes, enjoying a couple of plates of rabas (a local fried calamari dish) and some more wine. We wandered around some more, watched the street performers, and eventually headed back to the cars and returned to Colindres.
Around six o’clock Belen and Unai left for the ninety minute drive to Mondragón, and the rest of us went for a long walk down by the river. The kids took their bikes. Nora rode the whole way, but after a few miles, two year old Ian claimed he was all tuckered out, and he and his bike had to be carried the last kilometer home.
Marga prepared dinner around nine o’clock, once again I begged off and went upstairs to bath and bed.
Erik works for an American company based in Raleigh, and since Monday was Labor Day in the U.S., it was a holiday for him. Not so for Marga however, so while she left for work before seven, the rest of slept in a bit. I returned from the Bar La Mar and the cruasantería around nine, and Betsy, Erik, Nora and I ate breakfast around 9:30. Soon after that Ian announced his desire to greet the day.
We felt the need to visit Spain twice this year in order to help develop Ian’s mastery of English. Erik had made it very clear when Nora was born that he did not want us to speak Spanish to her. Everyone else could do that better than us, he said. Instead, it was our job to speak English, and the more the better. It was amazing to watch her English skills develop these last few years. All children are different though. Nora was very shy at two, Ian is very outgoing. Nora was physically awkward, Ian runs like Ronaldo. Nora was speaking in complete sentences, Ian is still joining words together. Nora and Ian spent all of August with their Abuelos in southern Spain, so I was a bit concerned about our ability to communicate.
I needn’t have worried. Like Nora at two, he seems to understand everything. If you ask a question, he answers. If you make a statement – no matter what – he repeats the last two or three syllables in apparent comprehension. His language acquisition is truly remarkable to behold, and I am proud to have a small part in the play.
We walked to Susinos for our daily bread, and about noon we went out again. After dropping Ian off at his day care, we walked to the town’s bus stop. For several years now I have been wanting to learn how to take a bus from Colindres to Laredo. When Betsy and I visit, it is not possible for all six of us (including two car seats) to all travel in Erik and Marga’s car. Also, I want to be able to take Nora and Ian to the beach on days when their Mommy and Daddy are working.
While waiting at the bus stop, the town’s taxi driver parked in his spot nearby, and Nora and Betsy asked him how much it would cost for the four of us to be taken to Laredo. His 7€ charge was only one euro more than the bus, so off we went. We walked for awhile along the four mile long crescent shaped beach, then refreshed ourselves with some tapas (Spanish tortilla and sardine on fresh bread) and wine. After that we walked to the 600 year old section of town that I like so much. Its narrow cobblestone streets have bars and restaurants tucked into each nook and cranny. First we went to Guti’s, owned by a friend of Erik’s. It is a favorite place of mine. They specialize in grilled mushroom appetizers, and José Luis always brings us something special for no charge. He had just finished making a paella, so he brought us a plate. Eventually we walked to the bus station and took the short trip back to Colindres.
We arrived home just after Marga returned from work. While Marga picked up Ian at day care and took him to the park to play for two hours, Nora, Betsy and I played a game called “Principal, Teacher and Student”. First the principal meets with the teacher to explain what subject matter should be covered that day, then the teacher and the student sit down and work through the workbook. I had selected the curriculum from the selection at Wal-Mart the morning we left – Kindergarten Skills. It supposedly covered the letters, numbers, colors, and shapes knowledge which a USA kindergartner should have received before starting first grade. As principal, I was pleased that the teacher was able to leave the student alone in the office working in the workbook for fairly long periods of time by herself.
We had ham and tomatoes for dinner, along with bread, cheese and wine, of course. When we were done, Bellota, the hamster, was brought to the table for our amusement.
After breakfast we walked a mile to the other side of town in order to exchange a pillow Erik had purchased last week, then came back and took Ian to daycare before taking our usual pre-lunch stroll through town. We stopped first at “the wine bar”. Actually, all the bars serve wine, but this place serves wine they make themselves. Then we stopped at “the Italian place”, followed by “the new place” (used to be a ham store). The bars compete with each other by trying to offer better free tapas with your drink than the others, so we tend to stop at the places that give us the best food.
Back at home we had garbanzo soup for lunch, and then played with Nora while Erik worked in his office. At 5:00 Betsy walked Ian’s bike to daycare, picked him up and watched him ride around and around everything in sight.
We had sausages and salad for dinner. About 9:00 Nora went down to the third floor and invited her friend Carmen up for a treasure hunt. Each time they found a new clue they ran back to me and I helped them read it. Nora already knew how to read “look” and “the”, and we sounded out all the “in”, “under”, “on”, and “toilet” words. Although Nora had already spied the prize (a pack of rainbow colored tic-tacs) on Daddy’s guitar, she pretended she hadn’t. This wasn’t her first treasure hunt.
After breakfast we went to Susinos for our daily bread, and for some chicken for dinner. As he always does, Bruno cut our chicken breasts into very thin pieces. As Ana, who works the cash register was checking us out, Leti, who normally works the cheese counter, showed up, reached under the counter, and presented me with a gift – a bottle of Rioja, and a bottle of Cava (Spanish champagne). I didn’t expect this, but I suppose I should have. When we visited in May, we brought a Raul jersey that had been bought directly from the New York Cosmos website, and shipped to our house. Erik explained that this was a favor to Leti, who was a big Raul fan. Apparently it was much cheaper for the jersey to be shipped to the U.S., although it still cost €100, which she gave Erik when he handed her the shirt. This reminded me of the Raul jersey I had purchased years ago for about €20 at the Friday Colindres street fair, and which was still languishing unworn in my closet, so on this trip I brought it as a present for Leti, and gave it to her on Monday.
We dropped off the groceries at home. Nora was invited to Carmen’s house for lunch, so we dropped her off there before walking Ian to daycare. After stops at some favorite bars (the Kubik, and Willy’s), for coffee for Betsy and wine for me and Erik, we went to the Italian place for a pizza lunch.
After my post-lunch siesta, Betsy and I took a walk through town. Eventually we came upon Marga, Nora and Ian playing in the park, as we thought we would. Marga likes for her kids to spend evening time outside, for lots of good reasons. Erik works afternoons and evenings at home in his office with the door closed, and a quiet house makes work a little easier. Ian is 2.5 years old now. “Quiet” is not his middle name.
Everyone hoped to go to bed early, since mañana would be Nora’s first day in first grade, but it was after 10:00pm before the first head hit a pillow.
I broke out of my rut Thursday, and walked right past the Bar La Mar. Fifty meters later I stopped at the Westfalia, a much larger bar. I “read” the paper while I enjoyed my café con leche, and instead of waiting ten minutes for the cruasantería to open, I stopped at a tiny bakery that had its door propped open and bought an assortment of breakfast pastry.
The schools in Spain, or perhaps just Cantabria, do some things very well. When school starts in September, it begins gradually. It starts on a Thursday. Normally school runs from 9:30am to 1:00pm, and 3:00pm to 4:30pm, but until October it is just 9:30am to 1:00pm. In Spain, “kindergarten” lasts for 3 years, and concentrates on socialization. Children keep the same teacher all three years. Nora had a superb teacher, and she was really looking forward to first grade and the prospect of homework.
Since the school’s front door is almost 150 meters from Nora’s front door, she has to leave for school no later than 9:25 if she is going to have time to socialize before school. We all wanted to watch Nora enter school on her first day, but Ian was still in bed, and I drew the short straw. Sure enough, in the short time they were gone Ian woke up (without crying; his normal way). I offered to change his diaper, and he was kind enough to show me which drawer held the clean ones. As soon as it was on, he squatted, grimaced and grunted. I was glad to hear Betsy coming up the stairs.
Erik and I watched some of Wednesday’s Apple product presentation, drooling over some of the new iPad’s features, and wondering whether the iPhone 6s would be worth the trouble of changing phones (I think so; he is less sure).
After taking Ian to daycare, Betsy, Erik and I took our normal hour-long stroll through town, stopping at the Montecarlo and the Athens for some refreshment along the way. We were back at Nora’s school when the 1:00pm siren wailed and 200 children ran out and into the arms of their parents and abuelos. There are hundreds of differences between Erik’s town of Colindres and my home town of Morganton. Not the least of these is dropping off and picking up children at school. In Colindres, nobody drives their child to school or home. In Morganton, everybody does.
Nora emerged full of excitement and stories about her class and teacher. It was clear she was off to a good start. We walked the four minutes to Sakura – my favorite Colindres restaurant. There, for less than €11 per adult, one can eat like an emperor, ordering anything or everything from their extensive Japanese menu. Their grilled prawns in Japanese sauce is my favorite food worldwide. I started and ended with that, inserting the grilled duck, chicken, fried rice, croquettes, and some sushi between prawn orders. For some reason I don’t expect to ever understand, our bottled water costs more than our hot sake, and they don’t charge me for my after-dinner liquor, nor for Nora’s meal.
Thursday afternoon I got a call from our MasterCard’s fraud division. We had informed them we would be in Spain, so they thought that the $1600 purchase made in Idaho that day might not be authentic. Since we had only used the card at the lousy JFK Inn in New York, the culprit was clear.
Out of my rut now, I didn’t even go out for coffee Friday morning. We had toast and cereal for breakfast, then walked to the Friday market. More than a hundred traveling vendors set up their Easy-Up tents on the closed streets of a different town each day of the week. On Fridays, they are in Colindres. Most of the wares are standard flea market stuff, but some of the food is really high quality. The olive man was my target on this day, as I was determined to bring back a quart or more of green, soaked in anchovies olives. I do not know why every green olive for sale in Morganton is pitted, including those at the olive bar at Ingles. In any case, my extensive research over the last 10 years has concluded that the best olives in the world are sold in Colindres, on Fridays, by the traveling olive man.
We stopped at a couple bars on the way to pick up Nora at school. The first place gave us a small bowl of green olives with our drinks. The tapas provided at the second place was a small bowl of liver. I got to eat Betsy’s portion.
After we picked up Nora, we dropped our groceries at home and walked to the grill where Erik had arranged for us to have lunch with his friends Arvinder and Marisol. Like me, Arvinder is 66, and learned Fortran in 1968. It was fun talking to him, and also to Mariosa, his wife. We all had the menú del día, a 3 course meal including wine and water for €10. I had paella, fish, and ice cream.
At 5:00pm Marga, Betsy and Nora retrieved Ian from daycare and went to the school playground, where I later joined them. Ian rides his bike, kicks his ball, and just generally runs around. Nora meets friends and plays imagination games. She rode her bike to the far end of the fenced-in playground, put fallen leaves in a plastic bag, rode back, and served us a salad, which we pretended to eat.
Nora ate dinner at Carmen’s house, and we had broccoli and lamb chops made from turkey. Soon Nora was back, along with Carmen. They ran around laughing and giggling like children.
Only Betsy was up when I returned with the morning pastry, so I left it on the dining room table and took my wife out for breakfast. We had coffee and tortilla at the Montecarlo, and then walked home. Soon everyone except Ian was up, so we sat and I had my third breakfast. Ian joined us at 11:15am.
A little before 1:00pm, while Marga cleaned, showered and cooked, Erik, Betsy, Nora, Ian and I went “to the street”. We stopped at the Limite for wine and rabas (calamari). Erik had arranged to meet his friend Augustín there, so that Augustín could share his garden produce with us. Another friend, Elena, also joined us. We shared an order of chopitos (fried baby squid), then walked to another bar, where Augustín bought an order of fried shrimp and showed me how to eat them (hold the head, bite off and chew the rest, and throw out the head). I had not intentionally eaten shrimp shells before. They were good!
We had beef stew for lunch back at home about 3:00pm, then went to the Chinese store, which unlike every other store in Colindres, does not close for several hours every afternoon. Our mission was to buy the prize for the promised treasure hunt. Both kids came on their bikes, repeating all the way Grandpa’s mantra – Slowly . . . Slowly.
Carmen came up to play, and the two girls enjoyed following the clues of the treasure hunt. All but Erik and Marga enjoyed sausage and broccoli for dinner. Then, when Ian wasn’t looking, Marga and Erik slipped out for a night of dining and dancing with their friends in Laredo. Ian never cried (yeah!), but after exhausting our energy, we had to turn to Dora the Explorer to get through the night. The kids went down around midnight. Erik and Marga snuck in at 2:00am.
I rose at 7:30am, but Sundays start slowly in Spain, and I had to wait until 9:30am to get the morning pastry. Erik was fighting a cold, and crawled back into bed as soon as he saw his shadow. Betsy and I played with the kids, and eventually all but Erik went for a long walk/bike ride along the waterfront. Marga took the kids home before the rain fell, while Betsy and I walked by the fishing boats and stopped at the fisherman’s bar for a drink.
We had lunch at home around 4:00pm, took a fast nap, then went out to the playground. Nora rode around on her roller skates with Carmen, while Ian played with anyone and everyone. It was fun watching him interact with much older boys
When it started to get dark, we came home, and enjoyed a wonderful ham and artichoke hearts dinner. Since tomorrow was a school day, we all went to bed around 10:30pm, except for Ian and Erik, who stayed up several more hours playing.
I was glad to climb back in my rut Monday morning, stopping at the Bar La Mar for coffee before bringing home the morning pastry. Nora went to school, Ian got up to eat and play, and before long it was time to take him to a daycare. Erik, Betsy and I stopped at the wine bar, the Italian place and the Alps. Today’s tapas at the Alps was some sort of stewed pig’s ear. Betsy didn’t care for it.
When we got Nora at her school at 1:00pm, we crossed the 50 feet to Susinos to get the day’s groceries, and also tomorrow’s, since Tuesday was a holiday, and Susinos would be closed. We have visited Colindres many times in the last ten years, and become good friends with the brothers and sisters who run Susinos, so we said our goodbyes, and promised to return in March.
Erik had cooked a tasty Shepherd’s Pie for lunch. While he went to work in his office, Nora taught her Grandma some ballet moves. Later Nora put on her Heelys™, watched a YouTube video showing how to use Heelys™, practiced in the house for 20 minutes holding her Grandma’s hand, then went down to the playground with her Grandma for some serious Heely™ gliding.
At 5:00pm it was time to get Ian at daycare and ride bikes by the waterfront. Unfortunately, Nora had an accident and skinned her knee. As she told it, her hand slipped from the handlebar, she got too close to something, turned away, hit a stone in the path, and went down. While we applied first aid back home, an extremely empathetic Ian told the story over and over. “Nora owwie! Nora owwie! Bike! Down! Owwie!”, but I know that kid now, and I wonder what made her swerve.
Marga had to work late, but came home in time to cook dinner. Once again Nora’s friend Carmen joined us for our evening meal – lomo, and tomato with tuna.
I rose slightly after 7:00am again. For the first time on our visit it was raining, and it looked like it would rain all day. Since this as a holiday, there would be no school for Nora, and no daycare for Ian. When I returned with the pastry, Marga was in the kitchen squeezing oranges and making coffee. I knew she had been up late last night designing a yogurt factory (as one does), so I had expected her to try to sleep in, but mothers and fathers can’t always sleep when they want to.
To help keep things interesting, Ian [redacted until insurance claim has been settled]. We are all hopeful Ian will not have to serve time.
Erik prepared lunch while the rest of us dressed and played. When the ingredients for his pizzas were cooked and ready, we all went down to the street for a paseo. We stopped at a couple of bars, then Erik walked home to start cooking the pies. They were excellent!
The rain stopped, but the wind was blowing at Scotland speeds, and while Erik went to work, the rest of us played games indoors until dinner time. My favorite was when Nora set up my iPad on the living room coffee table, then used FaceTime on Mommy’s iPad to connect to it so they could hear me and I could hear them. I was instructed to keep my eyes and ears closed, count to 20, then use my iPhone to text Betsy’s iPhone with my guesses as to where they were hiding. Who said technology wasn’t fun?
We rose at 12:20am EST. Marga had already left for work. At 7:00am, Spanish time, Erik took his sleepy kids to Carmen’s place on the third floor. Fortunately Ian decided Carmen’s mother’s fluffy robe and up-stretched arms were an improvement over that weird elevator ride with Dad.
The trip home went very smoothly. About 6:40pm EST we walked in our front door, to the delight of our Springer Spaniel.