10 Most Memorable Things – Europe

It’s been a week or so since we’ve returned from the European part of our new adventure. We are settling into our new rental home in Fall City (near Seattle), unpacking, and re-establishing our Seattle life. As we unpack and organize, we’ve all had a good chance to reflect on our travels. We all put together our “top 10” lists of the most memorable things for us each of us from Europe. You’ll see a few similarities, some differences and some, well, fun surprises.

Aidan’s Top 10

  1. The floooooood oooh spooky: That flood was something. Man, it totally deserves a highlight. It was scary and fun at the same time! I am sorry I got excited. *Clears throat* okay so I felt like I was going to get hypothermia I was so cold on the bench and then I hung like a towel on the tree after the water was too high on the bench. But it was hard to climb the tree because I could barely move my legs.
  2. The best gelato ever in Orvieto: I loved that place. It was in a good spot. The gelato flavors tasted real and not artificial. The chocolate was creamy and smooth and delish. The fruit flavors tasted like you were eating fruit off of the bush.
  3. El Gollo del Oro in Roma: I loved that restaurant. The food was amazing. The place was beautiful. I had fun taking pictures and talking and eating.
  4. Provence, France: I really enjoyed it there. It was peaceful and nice, good weather, nice cats. The grape trees were fun to play in. The town was really nice but save the town for a minute.
  5. Orvietto Duomo: That place was pretty cool. I liked the colors of the stone and the interior also the exterior design was cool. The gargoyles were cool and the chapels were cool.
  6. The Cappuccin bone place in Roma: This place man the bones and the patterns and designs were overwhelming and amazing. But the children skeletons were kind of disturbing and the fact the 100s of people’s bones were there was too.
  7. Walking to town in France by myself: I thought it was pretty cool going by myself and mom and dad putting that much trust in me to do that.
  8. Barcelona: Barcelona was cool but not as cool as France. It had better food and that counts for something. We lived in a nice spot had good food.
  9. Double 00, Barcelona: Let me just say I am pretty sure we all loved that place. Yes? No? Okay, awkward. I liked the building. The food was amazing like the passion fruit mousse.
  10. Argentinian grill, Barcelona: Again we all liked that place lets establish that one more time. The place had a nice modern feel with some fanciness added in that. And most important of all the food was amazing.

Nev’s Top 10

  1. The food in Europe, in general really, over-rode my expectations. I never expect much, if anything, and the food was delicious. Generally speaking, it was better than the US. It’s usually fresh and the flavors are to die for. The things that would have cost a lot of money for little in return in the US, cost less in Europe for way better results. I tried differently cooked things I eat often such as chicken, and tried new pastas. Sauces were full of flavor, and interesting starters were tasty. We had cultural food from Spain, Italy, and France and it was awesome.
  2. The transportation in Europe is really efficient (unlike the US) such as the train system. We rode a lot of trains to get to different cities/towns and countries. I’ve always wanted to ride a train, but I learned it’s not that great. The scenery on the way and the graffiti you pass is interesting but otherwise it’s just a long ride. But the fact that you can get on a train to go to another city or country in Europe instead of having to go on a plane is pretty cool.
  3. The sculptures and art we saw were cool. The David for example. I could look at it for hours. I was actually looking forward to drawing it. It was really detailed and the anatomy was spot-on. Some of the other sculptures were beautiful too. And some of the paintings and other art were nice, even though it was mostly about Jesus and stuff but it was still really detailed and unique.
  4. Throughout our trip I came across a lot of local cats, and some were stray. The strays were fed daily by local people which was nice, the cats recognized their feeders too. They were friendly and I liked petting them. It was nice to see that nice, cozy local small town feeling I suppose. It seemed like there were more cats in Europe than dogs, and I didn’t see any stray dogs.
  5. The flood had an adrenaline rush that I’d never felt before. I’ve never been in a situation until now that made me think Aidan and/or dad might die. I also had never been in a flood. It was something interesting that happened and not the same old daily things. It showed me how grateful I am to have my family. I could have lost them. I realized I take them for granted sometimes and I regret that. I love them more than they know, and wish every day I knew how to thank them properly for what they do for me.
  6. In Provence we stayed at a house out in the country. It had big grapevine fields that were fun to run through. The sunsets were beautiful along with the stars because the sky was so big and open. There were also two cats that lived there, which I practiced my photography on. The female’s name was Cloe and she was gorgeous. She liked me to and remembered me whenever I came back from somewhere in town. She’d crawl into my lap and let me pet her. She was a hunter too, it was fun to play with her and give her things to chase.
  7. I’ve only had gelato a couple times before Europe, and it just tasted like ice cream so I thought that’s how it was supposed to taste. But then I had gelato and Europe and it amazed me. All the flavors there were to choose from, some of them being strange and never would have thought of there being a flavor of anything – but they turned out good. Each gelato place was different. No chocolate flavor tasted the same, but all of them were good.
  8. The Italian haircut I got was cool. It was the best haircut I’ve ever gotten. It was clean and the guy made sure to get every hair. It was cool to watch him do different settings on the buzzer, and to see him in such focus. And he got all the little hairs off of my head when he was done which was nice. It felt fancy compared to my Costa Rica haircuts.
  9. The small on-hill town we stayed at in Orvieto was nice. It was quiet and most of the town didn’t allow cars. All of the streets were like alleyways. The restaurants were mostly small local family ones. One of them was amazing with homemade pastas and sauces that melted in your mouth. The church there was pretty too, and had amazing paintings.
  10. In Florence there was a market that was really cool. It was like a farmers market but with items, leather items mostly. There were leather jackets, belts, bags, wallets, bracelets, and lots of other things. We got a bunch of stuff there. Some things we weren’t expecting to come back with. Mom and dad were really excited about the things there, which was nice to see. There were cool gadgets and fresh smelling leather.

Deb’s Top 10

  1. Genoa flash flood
    This has to go at the top. It was certainly not the most enjoyable but will likely never be forgotten. I’ve written some about this already. I admittedly still run scenarios in my head from time to time about what I would have/could have done if Andy had missed when he dove and grabbed for Aidan.
  2. Farmhouse near Bonnieux, Provence, France
    Our little farmhouse outside of town was a gem. The time here was very relaxing and peaceful. I loved sitting out on the daybed by the grape fields, snacking on delicious French cheese and drinking the local wine. This was my first time in France. I found the people to be so friendly and very patient with my complete lack of French language skills.
  3. La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain
    This was breathtaking for me. The scale, vision, and cohesion of elements from floor plan, elevations, materials, texture, sculpture, and all the way through natural and artificial light is awe-inspiring. I hope to be able to go again when it is finished. The kids promised that they would go.
  4. Playing along the city wall in Avila
    We were just walking along the outside of the wall to get back to our hotel. This particular spot along the wall sort of drew me in. There were many boulders in the grass along the wall, shade, grass and tiny wildflower. Those things made it a bit of a magical spot to stop and play. We climbed, laughed, talked, and just sat to rest. It was lovely.
  5. Gelato at Il Gelato di Pasqualetti in Orvieto
    I was in Ovieto 15 years ago. That was my first trip to Italy. After sampling a multitude of offerings, I concluded then that this was the best gelato. Coming to Orvieto again, I could only hope that it might still be there and still be as tasty. It was still there and after many more gelato samplings in the intervening 15 years, I believe it still to be the BEST gelato.
  6. Güell Park, Barcelona
    We ended walking around the public area of the part because we did not know that you needed to purchase tickets ahead of time for the Gaudi sculpture section. It turned out to be a wonderful thing. The public area was not terribly crowded. We walked around the beautiful gardens and then were drawn to some harp music. We ended up sitting, listening, and watching under a beautiful stone archway that provided wonderful acoustics for a local harp player. The organic design, the music, the gardens, and the harp player herself made it seem like a magical fairy garden.
  7. Hearing Aidan say “this is cool” in the Medici Chapel, Firenze
    The kids were not always enthusiastic about the various venues, or the trains, or the prep reading.  Occasionally I would wonder if all of it was worth it and if they were actually getting as much out of the trip as we had hoped. This one, unprompted comment was the thing we were hoping to hear. It was worth the wait.
  8. Seeing Nev’s huge smile and enthusiastic “thanks” to the barber in Rome.
    Again, Nev was not overly excited about going on this trip. We had many conversations about observing and appreciating the subtleties of different cultures. Watching the precision and attention to detail during the haircut was amazing to me. It was something I had not seen before. It never occurred to me that Nev would notice. This moment – the big smile, the look of enjoyment and respect, the enthusiastic thanks and handshake – was the one for which I had waited. Just like Aidan’s above. This was when I knew something had clicked and learning had happened.
  9. Cheese at the wine festival in Barcelona
    I like good, strongly flavored cheese. I had not had any for the past 10 months as Costa Rican cheese are quite mild. Andy and I stumbled upon this outdoor festival of local wines, cheeses, and cured meats. I let Andy pick the wines for sampling and he let me pick the cheeses. I did this mainly by following my nose. I selected the ones that smelled the most interesting.  I somehow ended up with an unknown variety of a local blue cheese. It was so good I cried – just a little bit. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the taste of that cheese.
  10. Watching Flamenco dancing at local bar in Seville
    Andy and I spent a late evening at a local bar in Seville watching local residents gather and dance Flamenco. We could have gone to watch professionals but this was so much more fun. They clearly did it because they truly enjoyed the art form and the camaraderie. The best part was one of the men teaching the dance to some newcomers. He explained the same way to several different people the hand movement as reaching up to change a ceiling light bulb. It was fantastic to watch.

Andy’s Top 10

  1. The flood of Genoa
    The flood should have been frightening in many ways. It’s memorable to me for some good reasons though. I saw Aidan in a crisis situation and he handled himself really well. I was proud of him. It had been awhile since I had been in a situation like that and it was a bit eerie to feel that sense of calm and focus when things go south. Most importantly, I felt like we all bonded and were truly together as one family that night. As the young adults get older, those moments get rarer and I cherish them.
  2. La Segrada Familia
    I had only heard about La Sagrada Familia and seen some pictures, none of which could truly do this amazing architectural feat justice. I was awestruck at the care toward each detail Gaudi had and legacy Gaudi has left to finish this task. Could have spent days there. I am not usually moved deeply by architecture, but here in this special place I was.
  3. Gladiator camp, Rome
    The gladiator practice with Aidan was fun, of course, but the real memorable highlight was the history lesson on Rome. I thought I appreciated what the Romans had accomplished, but I had a new found respect for their achievements listening to our very passionate gladiator trainer. Having 40 or so people in Roman armor show up for a celebration after our class was pretty memorable too.
  4. Piazza Signoria, Firenze
    I had forgotten how truly incredible this Piazza was. I sat there entranced, looking at the sculpture and taking photographs. I really wanted to sit and draw. Maybe next time. The highlights also included how transfixed Nev was and how peaceful Deb looked sitting there.
  5. World’s Best Gelato
    What is a ten best list without the world’s best gelato? I often get disappointed when I return somewhere and a wonderful place I had discovered is now gone (this just happened in Ashland, Oregon on our way back to Seattle in the car). I was so happy to see our little gelato discovery was still right where it was in Orvieto, as if 15 years had not gone by. It reminded me of Deb and my first trip there.
  6. Dancing with my love in Sevilla
    We don’t know Flamenco. After listening for awhile, though, we thought we’d try it. We did more of a salsa/swing step, but it worked with the music and the people there were very accommodating. It’s always magical dancing with Deb. At 1am in Sevilla, Spain, dancing to a new kind of music in a small, local little club, it was priceless.
  7. Watching the street artists in Firenze
    Watching (good) street artists is another thing I could do for hours. She wasn’t the type doing caricatures. She was using pastels on the black cobblestone street and recreating a Renaissance painting. I though Nev might like watching her and suggested it. It was wonderful to see that Nev has the same ability to watch and appreciate art in the making. What a wonderful unschooling moment.
  8. The Duomo cupola tour, Firenze
    I really hoped to do a secret passage tour in Firenze. While it was not meant to be, the cupola tour was close. I love wandering through the “hidden” spaces of great buildings. The really memorable part, though, was seeing the dome art up close. It’s one thing to see it from several hundred feet below. When you see it close, you really have a much more profound appreciation for what these amazing artists did. In many ways, it is a lost skill. CG is just not the same.
  9. Montserrat mountains
    I love mountains. I need to live by them and Deb needs to live by the sea. That’s why Seattle is such a great place for us. The mountains around the Montserrat monastery were beautiful and unearthly. I have never seen such terrain before. I would have loved to hike in those mountains. Sitting and looking at them was a close second and a memorable experience.
  10. Three hours in line with Aidan at Portaventura
    This one is probably a surprise, especially if you know Aidan. In the Portaventura theme park, we waited about three hours to see a big Halloween “haunted forest.” Aidan is like me – always moving and impatient. What was memorable about the three hours, especially reflecting on it now, was that it was just the two of us hanging out and we had a good time, despite the cold and waiting. I saw him engage total strangers in (very mature) conversation. I saw him describe all sorts of favorite shows, Youtube videos and video games with excitement. We played games (like the one where balance and you try to push each other over). We talked about a lot of things. And he must have thanked me twenty times for staying in line with him. It was a little like a long run…the first 15 minutes were tough, but then you get into the “zone.” I need to find a way to get into that zone with him more often.

We went on this five week odyssey to give Nev and Aidan a chance to see history, religion, art, and architecture up close and give them a real appreciation for history and Europe. We took away so much more. Looking at what was memorable to everyone here, it’s clear that each of us had our own perspective filled not just with memorable places, but memorable experiences with each other. We travelled five weeks with just backpacks and were together every day. We saw some lights go on. We saw some inspiration. And we became closer. Now that’s the most memorable experience. Pura vida.

Avila

The next stop on our new adventure was the historic walled city of Avila in northern Spain. The city has grown a bit beyond the original walled city which is around 1300 years old and is regarded as the finest walled city in all of Europe. It sports the famous nine gates wall comprising 87 towers. In our trip planning, Debbie discovered this intriguing city and so it easily became one of our stops.

The ride to Avila from Sevilla ended up being a bit of an “Amazing Race” adventure in itself. We started on the high-speed “AVE” train in Sevilla. It would take us to Madrid, where we would take a “short train” from the long distance arrival train station (Atocha) to another train station called Chamartin to catch our medium range train to Avila.

Arriving in Madrid, we had 45 minutes to get to our Avila train. It was the only train out to Avila with seats available. We were told it was plenty of time and that the ride to the Charmatin station was free. This might have been true if we actually knew the train station.

After we exited the train, we made the mistake of going into the main terminal area, which then made us have to buy tickets again to get to Chamartin station. That would not have been too bad, but signage was unclear about whether we could take the metro or a local train (it was actually both). I made a guess and got us 4 local train tickets.

Once on the local train we had another bit of a panic as to where to get off; there were 4 stops with “Chamartin” signage. We got help from a local and found the stop, no problem. We exited in Chamartin station and had about 10 minutes still left to get our train. We found it after a bit of searching on one of the various train boards but there was no platform marked.

The Madrid train station is pretty long and has 18 platforms (like gates in an airport). We came up in the middle. The board had our train number and “REG EXPRESS” next to it, but no platform identified even after a few minutes. We thought perhaps that “REG EXPRESS” meant that it left on a specific platform. I saw destinations lit up above each platform entrance and so I started running down the north end of the platform reading each one, hoping that one would be ours. We had about 6 minutes until our train left. Deb and the young adults followed closely enough in case I found it but not too far so they didn’t have to run to the end.

The north end was a bust so I ran to the south end. It would have been a lot more fun except that we are all wearing our Tortuga backpacks (thank goodness for those). Mine weight about 30 pounds and when I ran I didn’t exactly have a narrow profile. I got to be the blocker though for the others 🙂

The south end was no better and when I saw that our gate was not down there and that we had one minute until our train left, I expected that we’d be left behind.

Deb looked at the big board one more time and saw that our platform number had been posted! Of course, it was number 13. We all sprinted to the platform entrance, down the walkway and into the train just before it took off. While it was super stressful, it was a great, and successful, “Amazing Race” moment. Without the stress, I don’t think you get the excitement. But, we would probably have just settled for boring when it comes to catching the last train in a foreign country with two young adults in tow.

We arrived in Avila without any problems and it was a short walk to our hotel. Deb and I let Aidan and Nev relax while we scoped out the town and a place for dinner. We took a long walk all the way to the walled city part of Avila, next to the Church of San Vicente.

Avila - Church of San Vicente

Avila – Church of San Vicente

Church of San Vicente

We found what we thought was a good restaurant next to a helado (gelato) shop and went back for the young adults. On the way back to the restaurant we had chosen, we happened upon what we thought would be a better restaurant choice. We were really hoping for some great food after our experiences in Sevilla and we were not disappointed.

Avila is out in the country and there is evidently a lot of farm-raised beef. We had some of the largest and best steaks we’ve ever had (and that’s saying a lot since Deb is from Kansas). We all had great meals and our bad luck food streak was over.

The next day we went out to see the amazing walled city of Avila.

avila walled city

avila walled city

Avila Flying Buttresses

Avila Flying Buttresses

Model of Avila

Model of Avila

Avila

We started with a walking audio tour of the ramparts (the ledge up on the wall). It was a pretty interesting setup for an audio tour. As we walked by different areas, we would hear details about those areas specifically.

Walking the walls was not only fun but really gave us insight into defending a castle or walled city. This walled city was interesting in that about every forty yards or so there was a tower which jutted out from the wall.

Avila Front Gate

Avila Front Gate

Walls of Avila

Walls of Avila

Walls of Avila

Walls of Avila

Towers

These created more “surface area” for defense and gave defenders the ability to protect the wall better. The walls were all rock, about three feet thick. Despite a few areas where the wall had been repaired over the centuries, it looked like it wasn’t going anywhere.

The wall is named the “nine gates wall” because there are nine gates or portals around its circumference. Some are very small and a few are pretty large – car or carriage size. Two of the larger ones were on the sides and one of the smallest was at the very back end of the walled city.

The patron saint of Avila is Saint Teresa of Jesus. Santa Teresa founded the Carmelite order of nuns – a very secluded order of nuns. I had actually visited a Carmelite convent when I was in Catholic high school – at least I visited the door to the convent.

After the wall tour, we explored the interior of the walled city. They tried to keep the original layout and architecture as much as possible while allowing for modern conveniences like cars.

As you’d expect, the streets were very narrow and so all roads were one-way. It must be a nightmare maze for cars (good!). The streets were all cobblestone and many of the buildings were the original stone.

Avila Inside

Avila Inside

Avila Inside

Avila Inside

The Streets of Avila

Inside the walls there is of course a great church. We didn’t get an explanation of why this church wasn’t Santa Teresa’s church. It was gothic and was a really interesting shade of uniform gray rock. There was a large basilica on one side, flying buttresses, and a spires. The gargoyles seemed pretty worn but it had wonderful lion statues surrounding the church.

Avila Cathedral

Avila Cathedral

Avila Cathedral

Avila Cathedral

Avila Cathedral and Lion

Avila Cathedral and Lion

Avila Cathedral

After a day of touring the inside, we walked back to our hotel. It was a great walk as we got to walk along the walls of the city. There was a green area between the walkway and the walls and you could almost get a sense of what this walled city looked like hundreds of years ago.

There were many rocky areas near the walls, which Aidan enjoyed climbing. We had a lot of fun in the late afternoon sun sitting on the rocks, taking pictures, and just enjoying the environment.

Fun on the Rocks of the Avila Walls

Fun on the Rocks of the Avila Walls

Fun on the Rocks of the Avila Walls

Fun on the Rocks of the Avila Walls

Deb and Nev

Deb and Nev

The Walls of Avila

That night we walked back to Avila and found another wonderful restaurant. The steak was fantastic once again and so was the duck. They had twenty entries under “sherry” and Deb and I enjoyed a fine sherry from the region for dessert. Nev and Aidan had to suffice with lava cake.

We left Avila the next morning. It was a short, but wonderful trip. Evidently, though, we switched our “bad food luck” for “bad train luck.” Our exit wasn’t nearly as exciting as our entry, but we had some stressful moments.

Our (original) train was to leave at 10:05 and take us to Madrid, Chamartin, where we had so much trouble before, and then catch a short connection to Madrid, Atocha for our next leg to Barcelona.

We arrived at 9 and Deb found an earlier train that could take us directly to Atocha without the confusing inter-city transfer, so we gladly hopped it. At 10:05, it stopped at one of its stops in El Escorial. It seemed like many other stops, although we noticed a number of people getting off. Then, they turned the train off.

The people who got off took another train. We were there alone. Based on what Deb heard, this train went all the way to Atocha. Well, we learned it did not. We had to catch another train to get there.

We were stuck in El Escorial at 10:20. We had to catch our train to Barcelona at 1:10pm and then our train from Barcelona to Avignon, France at 5:30. There wasn’t much time between the trains. So our “Amazing Race” stress started up again, but this time we couldn’t run or do anything. Frankly, I’d take running versus sitting any day of the week. At least you feel like you are doing something.

Everything worked out though. There was another train coming in an hour at 11:15 and it would get us to Atocha by 12:25 – plenty of time to catch our high-speed train at 1:10pm. The little snafu didn’t hinder us – as I write from our high-speed Ave train comfortable cruising to Barcelona at nearly 300 kilometers per hour – but it did tell us to be wary of trains near Avila in the future.

Traveling by train is at once more comfortable and more hectic than traveling by air. We hadn’t traveled by train in Europe much before and so hadn’t really appreciated this. Booking trains can be confusing. Transferring between trains can be stressful. Sitting in the comfort of a high speed train is indeed a wonderful experience.

The AVE trains, at least in Spain, have these most amazing bocadillos (sandwiches) with serrano ham and manchego cheese on a grilled baguette. Pure heaven. These have become a highlight of our travel. In fact, we now call the high-speed AVE trains the “sandwich trains.” We all were looking forward to the sandwich trains from Madrid to Barcelona and then from Barcelona to Avignon.

I think we have the rail system down now. The young adults now have a feel for what travelling by rail should be like (unlike rail in the Pacific Northwest). We’re not sure what “curve ball” we might find in the next stop, France, but we are ready for it. We are looking forward to more great adventures, interesting discussions with Nev and Aidan, and amazing places to see. Stay tuned. Pura vida.

PS: More pictures!

Walls of Avila

Walls of Avila

Avila Cathedral Tower

Avila Cathedral Tower

Details Inside Avila

Details Inside Avila

Details Inside Avila

Details Inside Avila

Walls of Avila

Walls of Avila

Avila

Avila

Sevilla

Following our fun side stop in Portaventura on our new adventure we went to the city of Sevilla. It is a city alive with history and flamenco. You might also have heard that it had a barber 🙂

We got in late our first night and had to stay in a hotel called the Petite Palace. It was high-tech as advertised and was a good place to get settled before we moved to our apartment for what we thought would be three days.

The next day we found our apartment and settled in. It was a beautiful place in the area of Triana, across the river in Sevilla. The apartment was perfect and had everything we needed, including a washer and dryer.

Sevilla Apartment

Sevilla Apartment

Our Apartment

Nev had come down with a bit of a cold and so on our first day in Sevilla we took it pretty easily. Nev rested, Aidan hung out, and Deb and I did some chores interspersed with some lovely outings to local bars and cafes.

One thing we had to do was start booking travel and accommodations. We didn’t book any places or trains before we left so we could keep our itinerary pretty flexible – which was a very good thing. We worked with the young adults to see what sounded most interesting and set our schedule accordingly. The down side is that it took some time, especially Debbie’s, to figure what trains we needed to catch, when, and where to stay. Our most complex part of the trip was coming up and so we had a good bit to do.

Essentially, we spend a few days in Sevilla and then take a rain to Madrid and then to Avila for one day and night. We wanted to stay a little longer but there is a huge festival there at the time we are and we were lucky to find a place. Right after Avila we have to take 3 trains to Avignon, France and then a car into the interior of France.

Deb and I did get to explore the city a little that first day. Unlike Barcelona where the buildings in the area we stayed were all very old, Triana had a mix of very old and very new buildings. The new ones stuck out a bit like sore thumbs. However, the older ones were lovely, as you might expect.

Triana, Sevilla

Triana, Sevilla

Sevilla - Triana Bridge

Sevilla – Triana Bridge

Sevilla – Triana Area

Nev was feeling better on day two after healthy doses of vitamin C, ginger and garlic (an immune booster). We all took similar doses as a precaution.

Day two was spent primarily in the Alcazar Palace. It is in the center of the city in the El Arenal area, near the Cathedral. It is one of the few actual palaces in the world where the royal family still stay. Sorry, no royal sightings for us. However, it was scheduled to be closed a couple of days later for Game of Thrones filming. No Game of Thrones actor sightings either.

The palace is an incredible mix of very old Moorish architecture, medieval architecture and newer gothic architecture and it is immense. As you walk through the many rooms, gardens, and areas, you see the fusion of all of these influences. It was hard once again not to want to explore the whole place and take pictures. But, the young adults only have so much patience and so we spent a few hours exploring and then did something else.

Alcazar Palace

Alcazar Palace

Alcazar Palace

Alcazar Palace

Alcazar Palace

Alcazar Palace

Alcazar Palace

Alcazar Palace

Alcazar Palace

Alcazar Palace

Alcazar Palace

Alcazar Palace

This is probably a good place to talk about the food in Sevilla. It was, well, not the experience we had in Barcelona, sadly. We tried a number of tapas restaurants here, including the one our landlady said was her favorite, but sadly the food was at best only mediocre. On one occasion, I got a plate (solomillos de cerdo) with a few pieces of pork swimming in a lake of melted butter. At a sushi place (where the sushi itself was good), Nev ordered potato salad and got this horrible dish that looked like a plate of fluffy marshmallow sauce. It tasted worse.

Our final night in Sevilla, though, we got a great recommendation for a place called 3 de Oro and that almost made up for the other experiences. Aidan and I shared arroz con langosta (rice with lobster). It was sort of like a risotto but more brothy and very, very tasty!

On our second night, Deb and I wandered around looking for a flamenco club. We found one and it started up about midnight. There was a crowd of folks who were clearly regulars and about 12:30 the music started. It was really great watching the local dancers. It was particularly ammusing to watch one local man teaching teaching some other men by explaining the the high hand movement was like reaching up and turning/changing a lightbulb. Flamenco is to Spain as samba is to Brasil, salsa is to Mexico, and tango is to Argentina. We watched for awhile and then decided to try it out.

In flamenco, it seems, there is almost no touching. There is a lot of hand movement though. Deb and I found a song that was much more salsa-like and we did sort of a fusion of salsa/swing and flamenco. We had a blast.

The next day we started with a shock. The folks who rented our place showed up about 11 to check us out! We expected to stay another day. The owners lets us have another 30 minutes and we quickly found another place to stay and packed everything up. It took only 20 minutes. Then we were back on the road again to the Petite Palace for our final night. Too bad. We loved the apartment. It was a really good thing though. We had thought about going to Cordoba for a day trip that day, leaving early and returning late. What a fiasco that would have been!

Once settled, we recovered by taking a little tour of the El Arenal area in a horse-drawn buggy. Our horse, Romero (Rosemary), was quite the character and loved being petted. The young adults wanted to try it and it was a great way to see many different areas.

Sevilla Military Building

Sevilla Military Building

Sevilla - El Arenal Area

Sevilla – El Arenal Area

Sevilla - El Arenal

Sevilla – El Arenal

Sevilla – El Arenal Area

After our buggy ride, we visited the Cathedral of Sevilla. It is the third largest church in the world (after the Vatican and St. Paul’s in Britain). The church is about 500 years old, but it was built on top of a mosque dating back a thousand years. The bottom third of tower of the Cathedral is actually part of the original mosque and the upper two-thirds are Catholic gothic architecture. The cathedral is the definition of gothic architecture, however.

Cathedral of Sevilla

Cathedral of Sevilla

Cathedral of Sevilla

Cathedral of Sevilla

Cathedral of Sevilla - statue

Cathedral of Sevilla – statue

Cathedral of Sevilla

Cathedral of Sevilla

Cathedral of Sevilla

I was excited because by this point I had learned that our Sony Cybershot DSC-RX100 is a truly incredible little camera. It has a surprisingly good zoom capability and the pictures are so high resolution that you can capture great deal from far away. This cathedral had some really interesting details, especially gargoyles, that were hard to see from the ground, but were great to see when we reviewed the photos later and zoomed in. I love gargoyles and so had to crop some of them into their own photos. I’m sure they won’t be the last.

Cathedral of Sevilla - gargoyle

Cathedral of Sevilla – gargoyle

Cathedral of Sevilla - gargoyle

Cathedral of Sevilla – gargoyle

Cathedral of Sevilla - gargoyle

Cathedral of Sevilla – gargoyle

Gargoyles at the Cathedral of Sevilla

After our daily enrichment of helado (gelato), we returned to our hotel and then prepped for dinner and leaving the next day. We wanted to see a flamenco show and watch the experts but it was sold out. Fortunately, Nev was feeling much better and we ended the day with a great meal.

Overall, we enjoyed Barcelona more than Sevilla. Sevilla had some wonderful features, but the combination of food, sights, and events in Barcelona much better.

It’s the nature of travel. Sometimes you have a magical experience in one place and a mediocre one in another. Meanwhile, others have the opposite experience. The thing about us when we travel is that we remember the great things and forget the rest. We will fondly remember dancing at 1am in a small flamenco bar in the middle of Sevilla, the surprisingly magical gargoyles of the Cathedral, the amazing architecture of the palace and our wonderful little apartment in the Triana area.

We are off to Avila on the train now. It’s the home of the nine gates wall and evidently wonderful game dishes including pheasant and quail. It’s a good time to remember the fun of Sevilla and look forward to our next adventure. Pura vida.

PS: Once more, in case you like photos, I’ve included a lot more below.

sevilla tower

sevilla tower

Sevilla - Triana Area

Sevilla – Triana Area

Sevilla - Triana Area

Sevilla – Triana Area

Fun with Cameras

Fun with Cameras

The Pigeon of Alcazar Palace

The Pigeon of Alcazar Palace

Alcazar Palace

Alcazar Palace

Alcazar Palace - Ceiling

Alcazar Palace – Ceiling

Alcazar Palace - Dragon Balcony

Alcazar Palace – Dragon Balcony

Alcazar Palace - Deb

Alcazar Palace – Deb

Alcazar Palace

Alcazar Palace

Alcazar Palace

Alcazar Palace

Alcazar Palace

Alcazar Palace

Alcazar Palace

Alcazar Palace

Alcazar Palace

Sevilla Military Building

Sevilla Military Building

Sevilla - El Arenal Area

Sevilla – El Arenal Area

Sevilla - El Arenal

Sevilla – El Arenal

Cathedral of Sevilla

Cathedral of Sevilla

Cathedral of Sevilla

Cathedral of Sevilla

Cathedral of Sevilla

Sevilla - El Arenal Area

Sevilla – El Arenal Area

Fun with the Camera

Fun with the Camera

Alcazar Palace

Alcazar Palace

Portaventura

Between Barcelona and Seville on our new adventure we took an unplanned little side trip to the “Disneyland” of Spain, Portaventura (or “door to adventure”). It was a great unwinder for the young adults from history, cities, and a lot of travelling. It was also Halloween time and so we had some added fun.

Portaventura is about a 90 minute train ride from Barcelona. We stayed at hotel in the theme park and got to ride attractions both the entire day we arrived and some of the next. It’s a little like Disneyland, except that there are fewer characters and they are all from the 30s (and in public domain I expect), such as Woody Woodpecker and Betty Boop.

Unlike Disneyland, it has some pretty extreme rides. It has the tallest rollercoaster (and longest drop) in Europe: Shambhala. It used to be in the world but the US created some taller ones since 2012. It also has the fastest (read more G-forces) roller coaster (Furius Baco) and the highest freefall drop in a water park slide.

Shambhala

Shambhala

Nev in Shambhala

Nev in Shambhala

Shambhala & Dragon Khan Panorama

Shambhala & Dragon Khan Panorama

Shambhala

Furius Baco

Furius Baco

Furius Baco

Park access was included in the hotel price, but we opted for some additional “express passes”. Unlike Disneyland again, these passes essentially let you go right to the front of the line. On any ride. I highly recommend these! They saved a lot of 90 minute waits.

While we were saved from 90 minute waits on the rides, the Halloween attractions were immune to the time distortion effects of the express passes. Nev and I waited 2 hours for the REC passage exhibit. REC is a really scary movie by a Spanish director which the US copied and named Quarantine. This scary attraction was based on the movie.

The attraction was fun and a tiny bit scary. I love things like this as inspiration for our own Halloween parties!

That evening Aidan and I went to see La Selva de Mieda (“haunted forest”). We started in line at 9:30 with a wait time of an hour. 3 hours later we finished. The attraction was awesome and took about 10 minutes to walk through, but boy, 3 hours in line was a lot. I had to exhaust every one of my creative parenting ideas to keep Aidan tranquilo. We probably would have left the line but the line was very clever (or insidious depending on your point of view). About every 30 minutes there was a single line stretch around a bend where yet another “hidden” set of line switchbacks waited. So, you could never really gauge how long the line was.

In the end we had a great time and it was great having some focused fun Aidan time. We were exhausted, and sore, at the end and the memories of the scary ride lines will certainly continue to haunt me J

While we were in line, and while Nev retired early, Deb had full access to the park and she was in roller coaster heaven.

Foot of Shambhala

Foot of Shambhala

cargile00490

Tea Cups - Sort Of

Tea Cups – Sort Of

Tataki Splash

Tataki Splash

More Fun

The food at Portaventura was surprisingly good – at least based on our expectations set by American theme parks, including Disneyland. There was also a distinct reduced presence of endless sugary foods compared to US theme parks.

With the express passes we covered all of the things we wanted to do. Many times. And much more. In the end, a good time was had by all. Now we are on a train to the third part of our European adventure: Seville. The young adults have studied Seville a bit and so are expecting some great Flamenco dancing, food, and castles. They don’t know about the barber yet! 🙂 Pura vida.

Barcelona

We are officially off now on the second stage of our new adventure – Europe for 5 weeks of fun, unschooling and new experiences. Our first stop on this journey is the city of Barcelona.

We had a long, two-legged flight to get here which included a full dash between two very far gates at Schipol airport in Amsterdam. It started our travel journey and warmed up the young adults to five weeks of travel. Fortunately we settled into our nice apartment in Barcelona and recovered fairly well from jet lag.

Getting to our apartment, we got a reminder of how important security is here with all of our stuff. We had 4 locks on the door, three of which were multiple bar deadbolts. Barcelona, like many cities, has a number of opportunistic thieves as well as regular break-ins of uninhabited apartments.

cargile00026

Our Apartment’s Door Locks

This prompted two of the first key discussions with the young adults about travelling. The first was how important it was to always keep your bag (backpack) in sight and even if you are sitting with it, to wrap a strap around your ankle. They got that one down pretty quickly. The other one, which they are still working on, is that in travelling, everyone is responsible for their own bag and their own stuff. So, for example, I won’t magically know where someone’s socks are. J

We spent the first few days recovering and exploring the city and its wonderful restaurants. Barcelona is an amazing city – a fusion of old world Europe and modern Europe. We stayed most of our stay in the older area known as El Born, which I highly recommend. The buildings were almost a century old and the narrow streets, fountains, and open spaces were wonderful.DSC00029

cargile00028

cargile00050

cargile00099 cargile00043 Castel de Tres Dragons

Some Elements in El Born

Tapas are a highlight of Barcelona and “Chef” Aidan was very interested in trying all of the different tapas. We started with Double Zero, a sushi tapas place. It turned out to be one of the best places we’ve tried and where we had the most incredible, and well-deserved, dessert medley. This prompted Aidan to come up with an idea of creating a dessert tapas restaurant. We think it’s a good one!

Asian Albondingas Double Zero Dessert Sampler

Double Zero and its Amazing Tapas

We had another memorable experience at an Argentine grill.

Squid Ink Risotto

Our Argentine Grill Experience

I personally was very excited to rediscover Patxaran. It is this wonderful liqueur that is distinctly Basque. I had a good friend from Barcelona who once brought me a bottle. He said it was very hard to find outside Northern Spain and extremely rare in the US (at least a few decades ago). I had tried to find it a few times without success. Somehow I managed to remember the name (and exotic spelling) and found it here! Everywhere. What a treat. Patxaran is a liqueur created with various herbs blended with anise.

The Spanish timetable was very different from Costa Rica. Everyone seems to get up later. Most shops don’t open until noon and when they are not open, they all have these roll-down panels that are covered with graffiti. All of the graffiti has a creative flair and some are spectacular from an artistic perspective. Here’s just one example (some better ones didn’t make it).

cargile00083

Graffiti on a Shop Roll-Down Door

At night, it is almost as if you are in a different city. The shops open after noon but stay open until very late. All of these roll-down steel doors turn into fantastic shop windows, restaurants, pubs and heladerias (ice cream shops). The streets become a hive of activity. There are lots of people wandering around and the energy is palpable. They city stays this way late into the night. The most crowded dinner times are 9-10m and that’s when you see the peak of activity. We adapted fairly quickly to the Spanish way of life though – getting up later, eating late, and staying out late. This actually served Aidan and I well for a side adventure after Barcelona which I’ll tell you about another time: Portaventura.

One of our favorite things about Barcelona is the ability to get around. Without cars. Like most European cities, they have a good and well-organized metro system within the city and an excellent train system between cities and countries. It’s a dominant form of travel for Barcelonans. The bus system, which we did not try, seemed very ubiquitous and simple. The surprise though was the system of bikes. They have a whole “subscription” bike system that is somewhat similar to the various emerging “subscription” car systems in various US cities like Zipcar. They have “banks” of bikes at most major intersections and you swipe a card, grab a bike, and then return it to another bank. The bikes have special bars that “plug in” to a simple locking system. I’ve not seen a better version of this implemented.

Deb and I had several logistics-related things to do when we first got here (like getting Eurail passes validated, getting train tickets, trying out the metro, etc.) and so Aidan and Nev had more time to hang in the apartment and “study up” a bit on Spanish history, the city of Barcelona, Gaudi and Montserrat – all things we planned to include in our Barcelona “curriculum.”

What became clear to us pretty quickly, though we should have anticipated this based on Nev and Aidan’s history/religion project this summer, was that like most kids and young adults, reading about history was boring for them. Indeed, that’s why we wanted to come here – to see some of the incredible historical places of Spain and Italy. It was a bit like digging a deep splinter out trying to get Aidan to read about Sagrada Familia and other places we would explore. Deb and I would be in lines for tickets and Aidan would text us about how much more he had to read.

We settled on having him find some YouTube videos while we were away. He tends to learn better when he can hear and see vs. read. What was pleasantly surprising, though, was that both Nev and Aidan liked it better when we would tell them things about history orally.

We had some great discussions about religion, especially Catholicism, organized religion, and even what a saint is. I noted for the record that Brazil is rightly affronted because they only have two saints and tens more in the queue for review.

We also had some great related discussions about why people value gold (which is a tough one to really get into as it is not obvious indeed), why currencies are based on it, and also supply and demand economics. These weren’t incredibly deep or thorough by any means. But they were engaging and that was more important to us. Nev even said that one of Deb’s descriptions of Roman history was clearer and better than anything anyone could read in a boring textbook.

In the end, we all have been learning a lot about learning history here, but more importantly, I think we and the young adults are learning about how to learn about history. Nev and Aidan are clearly digital native. They learn differently and have different experiences of learning based on the technology and other tools they are exposed to. We even had a great discussion in a cab about this.

I basically said that if they have kids, their kids will probably be experiencing holographic information and “shows” the way they watch YouTube and Deb and I watched TV in our day. They noted that we are tech savvy and “get” YouTube, but I pointed out that even so, one tends to fall back on what’s comfortable – the media one grows up with. It was a surprisingly insightful conversation, like one we might have at a tech conference. This all “counts” as unschooling in our book, by the way.

After a day of logistics, Deb and I stopped at a Catalan wine festival. We love wine, especially Spanish wines, and so it was wonderful to experience Catalan wines. We had some amazing, and generously-poured, wines and some incredible cheese. It was a fantastic date night.

Catalan Wine Festival

The Catalan Wine Festival

Arc de Triomf (Barcelona)

Arc de Triomf (Barcelona-Style)

This brings up another interesting thing about Barcelona, the heart of Catalonia. As you may know, Catalan wines, like much of Catalonia, is similar but very distinct from Spain. The Catalonians take very definite pride in this. Catalan, as a language, is similar to Spanish, but then again about as different as Portuguese and Italian are from Spanish.

When we arrived, all of the signs had as a primary language Catalan. The secondary languages were Spanish or English. Everyone speaks Catalan first and many seem to prefer English to Spanish. It took us a bit to adjust but we can begin to read Catalan now. Mostly. As we travel to Seville, I expect our Spanish will be more useful.

What’s pretty amazing about Barcelona and Catalonia is the intense national pride – Catalonian, not Spanish. You see Catalan flags everywhere, hanging from balconies, on cars, and on futbol jerseys. Of course, FC Barcelona is here and you really can’t go anywhere without seeing a store or a person sporting FC Barcelona clothing. While very European, and certainly similar to Spain, Barcelona definitely feels like a different country. We may be wrong; we’ll see shortly as we adventure to Seville.

We took a wonderful little trip to Güell Park in Barcelona. It is a work of Antoni Gaudi, the famous architect of La Sagrada Familia which I’ll get to later. Tickets to the sculpture park were sadly sold out, but we took a stroll through the grounds which he also designed. It was an enchanting experience. We sat and listened to harp music and then explored the structures he created. It gives you some insight to the way he integrated nature into his architecture.

Guell Park Debbie at Guell Park Guell Park

Güell Park

After the young adults had studied up a bit, we took a day trip to Montserrat, the famous monastery up in the mountains. Wow. The monastery and mountains were incredible. I’ve never seen that type of topography before.

cargile00119

Montserrat

Monserrat

The trip to Monserrat involved a train, a tram, and a funicular. It was a bit of a trip, but well worth it. I’m not sure if I was stunned more by the mountains or the monastery. The monastery was beautifully minimal from the outside. True to most Catholic churches, it was beautiful and opulent inside.

Montserrat Basilica cargile00145

Montserrat Monastery

The mountains were mesmerizing to me. They were so natural and yet so alien given the sedimentary rock composition and the very organic forms the mountains took. The architect Gaudi, whom I’ll mention more in a bit, must have been inspired by these mountains, especially as he was an aficionado of nature. I could have spent all day just in those mountains taking pictures.

Montserrat Mountains cargile00260

Montserrat Mountains

On our final day in Barcelona we visited one of the most magical places I have ever been – La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s masterpiece. That is saying a lot given that it is a church and given that I have had the fortune to see many magical places.

I truly don’t know where to begin, so I will begin with Gaudi. He started this architectural feat in 1882 when he was 30. He died in 1926 and had several generations of craftsman following his legacy since then to complete this great church. It should be complete mid-century. When you see the images, you’ll not only see why it has taken so long, but also what a genius he was, particularly given that this was started in the 1800’s.

La Sagrada Familia

DSC00575 DSC00591

La Sagrada Familia

construction construction

Constant Construction

I was certainly impressed with the architecture, which took inspiration from nature as you can easily see.

Tower Stairway

Tower Stairway

Columns Inspired by Trees

Columns Inspired by Trees

Interior Columns

Interior Columns

Natural Inspiration

I was even more impressed with Gaudi’s command of math and geometry, which is also nature at its best. Imagine the columns in components ranging from 6 to 12 vertices. Now twist each of these components (e.g., an extruded – or “3D’ – dodecagon) 30 degrees. Now create a mirror image of it and superimpose the two. That gives you the geometry of one section of column.

The stained glass (a Barcelonan artists created these), statues (a Barcelonan sculptress created these), architectural details (such as the tree of life or the apostolic symbols), were all incredible. I could have spent days wandering and exploring here.

DSC00566

Seal of Marc

Seal of Marc

Tree of Life

Tree of Life

Turtle "Gargoyle" Sculpture

Turtle “Gargoyle” Sculpture

Architectural Elements

I was never a huge architecture geek. I was never ever moved by architecture or much else created by people. I was here.

La Sagrada Familia was a perfect end to our Barcelona adventure. Thousands of miles away we started our journey in Costa Rica, where the locals have the term “pura vida” which I’ve mentioned often. I get the sense Gaudi would appreciate that sentiment. As would much of Catalonia I expect. Pura vida.

PS: In case you like photos, I’ve included a lot more below, especially of La Sagrada Familia, Montserrat and the mountains.

DSC00253

 

Montserrat Basilica

Montserrat Basilica

Montserrat

Montserrat

Montserrat

Montserrat

cargile00215

St George

St George

Looking Down a Tower

Looking Down a Tower

Turtle Column Pedastel

Turtle Column Pedestal

Spire Tops

Spire Tops

View of Barcelona construction DSC00572

Guell Park

Guell Park

Gaudi's House

Gaudi’s House in Guell Park

Guell Park

Guell Park

The Passion Facade

The Passion Facade

The Road Home and Stuff

I can’t believe the first stage of our new adventure is already coming to an end so soon. A short 10 months after we left Seattle for Costa Rica we will be leaving and on to our next, shorter, adventure. We are already actively planning and packing even while we continue our adventure here. The return trip is much easier in many respects, but harder in some.

I noted that it was only the end of stage 1. As I mentioned earlier, we decided to leave early since we are heading into (technically we are already in) low and rainy season. It’s low, but not rainy. Still, many places are starting to close and many friends are moving back to their home countries until November. So, we are switching operations to Europe. We are “trading” our last two months in Costa Rica for about 5 weeks in Spain, France and Italy.

In stage 2, I return to California and my parents’ house for a visit for two weeks while Deb stays in Costa Rica with the dogs. The dogs have to wait until Sept. 15th to travel due to the heat. Deb returns on the 17th and we head to Spain on the 21st, starting our final stage, stage 3.

Deb is hard at work developing a loose itinerary for us all. We know we land in Barcelona, Spain and leave from Florence, Italy. Everything else is pretty open. We know we want to hit a few small towns in France on the way to Italy. We plan to visit Cordoba in Spain for the castles and Orvieto in Italy for the incredible church there that hosts the works of Luca Signorelli (an incredibly talented Renaissance painter, like Michelangelo, but with a penchant for depicting the apocalypse and scenes from hell). The Catholic Church relegated him to this church on a large butte. We will also definitely visit Rome; Deb and I are going to Gladiator Camp. We did invite the young adults, but sadly, no takers there. Deb will certainly be “badass!”

As Deb does the planning, I’ve been doing the packing and finishing up my class(es). We have also both been studying and working towards our Advanced Diving Certification. Never a dull moment.

On the class front, I got asked to add another class on Prototyping to my schedule. It is a two day workshop over two weeks of elapsed time. It’s been a lot of fun to put together but it’s also been a ton of work in the middle of everything. Fortunately, it works with my current schedule in San Jose – I teach Information Visualization Thursday evening and Saturday morning and then Prototyping Friday evening. I and my class usually head out for food and drinks after one or both classes so it’s been a lot of fun.

Just to brag about my students a bit, they just turned in an assignment to create an information visualization on some aspect of the World Cup and I was blown away by the quality of the thinking and the execution. These folks all have day jobs, mostly in high-tech, and then they take night classes several days a week. In just about a week they created some visualizations that in many cases are on par with work I’ve seen on the NY Times.com site (they are well known for their excellence in information visualization). More importantly, they have focused on some really interesting stories and insights from the Cup, such as why Brazil lost so badly(!), why Costa Rica did so well despite the fact that their FIFA statistics are not stellar and how Costa Rica used passing as a super power. I’m super proud and excited to see what they’ve done so far. Here’s a quick example:

ITAvsCRC

Costa Rica’s Secret Combinations, Mauricio Varela

In between trips to San Jose, I have been starting to pack. Fortunately, and here I reveal my inner geek, I created a big spreadsheet when we first came down itemizing everything in our 6 carry-on bags and 6 stowed bags to facilitate staging and packing. That makes it very easy to do everything in reverse. Mostly.

restaging

Re-Staging

In our two trips back, we returned here with some additional things. We added some “stuff” while we were here, most of which we won’t be bringing back, and of course some things didn’t last through our adventure. We mostly leave with the same number of bags and items. It’s interesting to see what made it and what didn’t.

First off, we have to account for additional things we brought back from the US. This includes paints, paintbrushes, and other material to paint Deb’s painting. I brought back additional technology, mostly for the young adults to make videos which they never did. Deb has all the material she got for her home made lip balms, deodorants, etc. – something she will continue to do when we return, so those all go back.

In the spirit of reducing “stuff”, we actually did not get much down here and what we did get will likely stay – being given away or sold. We will sell Fanta (our truck), our bikes, TV and a few other things. We will find good homes for the blender, crock pot, boogie board, hammock, yoga mats, printer, and sand-castle-making supplies. We used all of those things regularly but won’t need them or can’t get them home.

Very few things that we got here make the return cut list. Deb got a few hand-made bikinis. Those are coming back. They were also excellent purchases. I’ll leave them to your imagination. We’ll take our diving instruction materials back, along with Deb’s painting (which will likely be an adventure on its own). And of course, our newest family member “M and M”. That’s about it. It’s nice to maintain our low volume of stuff.

What is fascinating to me is what won’t make it back and what didn’t get used. We’ve been here almost a year and we really brought minimal supplies. Looking at where we are now, it is really clear to me what we truly need and what we don’t

The young adults have grown, especially Aidan. We are throwing away or giving away almost all of his clothes and shoes. The poor guy has no shoes that still fit – not that he needed them here! Likewise, Nev has a bunch of stuff that doesn’t fit. They, along with all of us, are getting rid of a number of clothes that we have simply worn through wearing them so much over the course of the last year. These include most of our swim suits, flip flops and t-shirts.

Then there is the technology. It’s been a hard year on our tech. Fortunately, I made sure we had redundancy in key areas. We’ve gone through four computer mice(!), three headsets/headphones, two digital pens, one Bluetooth music player, one keyboard, one tablet and a large number of recharging cables. Deb’s Mac and my parts of my tablet are on their way out as well. Kudos to all the smart phones, (Nokia, Apple, Samsung), Kindles, Xbox, and the Dell laptop which, despite heavy use all are no worse for wear.

In terms of what didn’t get used, there are many things. It’s good food for thought for others doing this (and we now know several!). We brought too many clothes and shoes. I brought several nice clothes anticipating that I might have to return to do some consulting. That was fortunate because I use them when I teach class, but I still brought too many short sleeve collared shirts. I found that black Armani t-shirts are versatile and great for going out here. I’d say that I could have cut my clothing by 2/3 and not noticed. In fairness, though, some of these things we didn’t use in Costa Rica we will use in Europe.

We didn’t use our nice Sony camera as much as we should have; it was just too big to easily take everywhere despite the nice pictures it takes. We are getting a smaller one for Europe so we actually use it. Likewise, we just started using the GoPro for diving but before that had not used it much. We didn’t watch any of the movies I brought on DVD and didn’t play most of the Xbox games we brought. And sadly, I never got a chance to use my volleyball.

Up until when I was asked to do a class on prototyping I would have added all of the backup drives I brought to this list. I had brought them more for safety but had not used them until I needed some key material for the class and then they became invaluable.

Almost everything else was used and used frequently, particularly cooking items, the very few board games and the large monitor (which was truly indispensible for my classes).

Of course, we didn’t come here to get “stuff” to bring back. Rather, we came for experiences and adventure, and we certainly got a lot – almost everything we hoped for. We all (mostly) learned a new language. We learned yoga and surfing. I got to play soccer in another country. We learned to dive. We got to explore the rain forest, the volcanoes, the jungle, and the beaches. We got to see (and in some cases live with) wildlife that we had never seen before. We got to have sunrise meditations and sunset cruises. I’ve had a wonderful opportunity to teach in an exciting new University program. Deb got a chance to give back and work for a kids’ organization and help organize a fundraiser. We got to appreciate another culture and make lots of new friends, some of whom have become as close as family. We got to help our young adults unschool and learned a lot about ourselves in that process. We got to spend lots of time together as a family. That’s the “stuff” life is made of.

And that’s just stage 1 of our adventure. Stay tuned for more. Pura Vida.

PS: At least one of us (Nev) got to really appreciate Seattle’s cold weather!

Plans and Updates

Time flies by quickly on our new adventure. It feels like I just blinked and May is already gone! We’ve been doing a lot of travelling and visiting as I’ve mentioned in the last few posts. At the same time, we’ve been continuing to unschool and have some fun updates. Deb and I have also started planning our return. True to our nature, our “return” may take some unorthodox twists.

But first, I have to describe our most amazing boat trip. We had some good friends (and our young adults’ god parents) visit recently. We saw them in Nosara and then they came to stay with us for a few days. While here, we wanted to go on a catamaran cruise. It is off-season here now and when we booked, we were the only four on the boat (Aidan and Vie did not seem to be interested). When we went on the trip, there were still only the four of us and so we had this whole amazing boat to ourselves! It was a magical experience. I think I took about 100 photos of Deb.

SONY DSC

Deb at sunset. One of my favorites.

Our last unschooling updates were just before Vie and I left for SakuraCon in Seattle. Since then we’ve had a few changes, including getting used to calling Vie by the nickname “Nev.” It is short for “Never”, which, I think, has to be the perfect nickname for a 13 year-old going on 16. J

“Nev” and I had started working on a video game project for unschooling. We were going to actually build Body Defenders, the video game I prototyped in grad school in which you play the immune system defending the body against germs. We started out using Gamestar Mechanic, a fabulous site for teaching core game design and mechanics to young adults without overly focusing on either coding or visual design. Our original goal was to use this as a “warm-up” to solidify our game design skills before moving to a more robust game engine like Construct 2*.

As we got into the project, Nev realized video game design wasn’t really the “thing.” Perhaps I was projecting my interest or perhaps the path was a little too much too fast. We got far enough in where I did a fun little game in Gamestar Mechanic called A Germ’s Journey so I could learn the tools. You can actually go there and play it (I will put the link out once Gamestar Mechanic approves it for publishing). Aidan was my avid play-tester. I think it was more fun for me than Nev though.

Nev switched again but this time to something where we see some strong passion: writing. I saw Nev writing for hours at and on the way home from SakuraCon. It was an interest many years ago and it seems Nev has rediscovered it. Deb and I are excited because we see real interest. Nev is working now on the elements of good creative writing. Combined with the skills Nev is honing in illustration, we could see a path to a graphic novel in the future. There is a short story in progress, but we can’t see it quite yet. Meanwhile, check out one of Nev’s latest illustrations for Mother’s Day:

mum n mnm

Nev’s Mother’s Day card

Aidan has continued swimming on the Country Day swim team and has enjoyed that a lot. He is starting to get a swimmer’s build but hasn’t quite gotten the competitive attitude yet. Swim season is ending soon and we’ll need to find a new activity for him.

Meanwhile, Deb and I added a project on history and religion. Aidan had been asking about world religions and so this was a good “teaching moment.” We let Nev and Aidan choose an event, time, or country to study more deeply. They had each covered a few topics in various school years, but had not covered much breadth. Nev chose the American Revolution and Aidan chose the Crusades, which was a good mix of history and religion.

Deb architected this unschooling project really well. There are, of course, readings which we help the young adults find and some guiding questions on each topic. She also brought in some movies such as Kingdom of Heaven, The Patriot and The Crossing. We let Nev and Aidan also find and try some video games that are based in the era. We were a little more limited there and didn’t find anything of note. We also wanted them to look for their own material so they get a good feel of the diverse points of view on any history subject.

We are a few weeks in and they are starting to work on their final “deliverable”; a presentation on their subject with a point of view. They can make it as multimedia rich as they want and this gets them looking at art images, broadening their exposure more. They only have to present to us, but that skill, along with developing good skills in how you communicate are key. Aidan has had a lot more experience with this from University Cooperative School but Nev had virtually none.

Along the way, we’ve had some good discussions about war, points of view, “good” and “bad” guys and a number of other higher level themes that translate to today’s events. We can’t wait to see what they do in their presentations.

I was going to start work on the next project after history – namely math and science. We wanted to start that less popular subject with some history of math and science to provide some good context and not just start with math equations. Deb is picking that up as I got a bit “distracted” with another project.

Ana Domb Krauskopf, the director of the interaction design program at University Veritas, asked me to teach a class there in August. This was the school where I gave an evening talk back in February. Ana also asked me to speak at her Experience Design Summit also in August. She came out for a “brain spa” day with Deb and I where we brainstormed the class, other speakers for the Summit, and possibly doing an executive workshop in 2015.

My world just got a whole lot busier overnight. The class will be Visual Language and the Representation of Complex Information. Essentially it is about information visualization, a core component of interaction design. Fortunately, I have done a lot of industry work in this area across several different companies. It is a lot of work to pull a new class together but I (and Deb when I can grab some of her time) will have a lot of fun.

The evening program class is 4 weeks in August. I will do the Tuesday class remotely and then take the bus to San Jose to be there in person for the Thursday and Saturday classes. I’ve already met the group of talented and diverse students and am really excited to see what they can do.

Finally, we are also starting to plan our return. Originally, we expected to come back to Seattle in October…and we still are. Prior to that though, we are looking into jumping to Spain for several weeks. September and October here on the coast of Costa Rica are very rainy and are the deep part of the off-season. Many people we know will be away and many businesses close during these months; i.e., it is pretty dead.

Deb, in another of her creative moments, thought we could leave Costa Rica early and move to Spain for a few weeks. September is a great time to be in Spain and we already know the language, at least reasonably well. Mostly.

We are hoping to excite the young adults with some castle visits and some “living history.” Aidan can learn a new cuisine along his cooking path. Most importantly, we can use this precious time we have even more effectively. We will be out exploring vs. arguing with reasons for staying indoors. The plan is brilliant. We have a number of logistics to work out though, along with everything else. And now, time is feeling very short.

Time is an interesting thing. A year, for example, seems a long time, and indeed, it can be. It can also be very short. We’ve found routine here and things to fill our time, punctuated by the occasional, magical experience. I think though that I, at least, and perhaps all of us to a degree, take for granted where we are and what we are doing. Perhaps it has ceased being novel.

I know Aidan and Nev can’t wait to go back – to varying degrees. Neither are really taking advantage of this opportunity as much as we would have liked. Every person I’ve spoken to who lived in another country growing up look back at it as a rare, life-changing experience. However, most said that at the time, they too, wanted to go “home.”

If only we could have the foresight of many years from now when we are in the here and now. What would we do (have done) differently? I think about that almost every day now, not wanting to miss an opportunity here – especially getting to know my young adults better. And yet, still, I find that I could do better.

At some point we will need to return to work and our pre-adventure lives. One thing will be different, at least for me. I will have a different perspective on what I do with time. And that perspective extends to work, what we do, who we spend time with, where we live, and almost everything else. “Passing time” is now an abhorrent phrase. There are so, so many things to experience. Fortunately, we still have a lot of “time” left here. Hopefully, we will all put it to good use. Pura vida.

* As a postscript on game engines, we are really in a period of time similar to the desktop publishing revolution, which I lived through. When desktop publishing tools came out, it made this skill accessible to far more people and non-designers started using them and did some amazing (and some horrible) things. Now, we have a number of excellent game engines available to help develop full video games. I looked at nine of them, narrowing to three. The range was from simple tools for kids, like Scratch, to robust tools like Unity 3D which was used for a number of professional games. I had chosen Construct 2 as a good balance between simple and accessible, and power and customization. I found two good overviews of these tools in case you are interested: 5 Free Game Development Software Tools To Make Your Own Games and the more basic Tools for Binning Game Developers.