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

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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.

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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

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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).

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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Montserrat Basilica

Montserrat Basilica

Montserrat

Montserrat

Montserrat

Montserrat

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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!

New, New, New

It’s been a busy two weeks here on our new adventure and we have several new things to share. One of the interesting things the changes have shown us is that Karma seems to be working for us.

The easiest addition was Vie’s new Kitty. Meet “MnM”!

MnM

MnM

But wait, how did we come to get a cat? After all, we are dog people and Deb is allergic to them? Well, a week ago we volunteered to help round up cats and dogs in Playa Potrero that needed to be spayed or neutered. It’s a huge problem here with the street dogs. Our friend Dawn has helped 11,000 cats and dogs over the last decade or so getting “fixed”, recovering from disease and injury, getting adopted and more. I was going to blog about our adventure last week, but the vet ended up getting sick right after we started so we had to delay a month.

On our first run, though, we went to pick up a mama cat and her litter of kittens. Vie really bonded to one and held it most of the time. Later that day Deb and I chatted and told Vie that we (Vie) could get a kitten. Of course, a ton of excitement followed along with preparations to get the kitty. We picked up MnM this morning and have been getting her settled in…along with the rest of us.

You see, the biggest addition was a new place to live! Take a look at Casa Mariposa Amarilla.

Casa Mariposa Amarillo 1

Casa Mariposa Amarilla

Casa Dutry, our previous place, was ok but it had some challenges. First of all, it was really dark. There wasn’t enough light anywhere, which made it feel like living in a cave. It had a really small kitchen, which was difficult to work in, particularly with Aidan’s unschooling cooking projects. It also didn’t have a ton of living space. We are pretty much together all of the time, so that made it a bit difficult. There were other inconveniences, like the dust, but none of these were horrible.

Casa Dutry

Casa Dutry

What we realized though, was that we were only going to be here a little while longer. We either wanted to be on the beach or have a view. It really came down to the opportunity cost of not enjoying where we lived. Living on the beach has other challenges (flooding, sand fleas, etc.) and Deb has a real soft spot for sunset views.

We (well, Deb) had been looking for a few months now. I mentioned that we found an amazing place and got a good deal, only to find that the owner’s email had been hijacked and we were in the middle of a developing scam. We avoided the scam and helped the owner, but were sad about losing the place. We knew it wasn’t meant to be and so we kept looking.

Deb had been using online tools to find places. We are both pretty independent and figured that we could do anything we needed to if we worked hard enough. What we learned here is that the people network really helps immensely. We heard of a cool place in Flamingo from Colleen, our friend and yoga instructor. It was Casa Mariposa Amarilla (“yellow butterfly house”), and we fell in love with it.

Silvia, the owner, is an amazing woman. Unfortunately, she had some really bad trouble with previous renters and was very worried about who to rent to, even though she really needed to rent it and get back to New Hampshire. Here’s where the social network – and I don’t mean Facebook – came to our aid. We know a lot of folks here now and tend to like meeting, talking with, and helping folks. Colleen put in a good word of course. Then Silvia was at her chiropractor and mentioned she was on her way to show the house to us. Her chiropractor happens knows us from yoga and social connections and also put in a good word. Things just started opening up then. Within a few short days we got the house and despite what you see in the pictures, it was not a lot more than our combined costs at Casa Dutry. Silvia seems to be pretty excited and relieved as well.

Casa Mariposa Amarilla is incredible. I never actually expected we’d be living someplace like this.

Casa Mariposa Amarillo 3

It sits on the hillside above Flamingo beach at the end of its street. The view is simply incredible, especially from the fourth floor!

Casa Mariposa Amarillo 4

It is known locally as the “birthday cake house” because it is bright yellow and has these tall white lamps that look like candles.

Casa Mariposa Amarillo 2

It has 3 floors and a roof deck. It’s a four bedroom house and we have an office! I was excited about that in particular because when we have to do work, we don’t have to cart everything out to the kitchen table. The master bedroom is on floor two along with Jack and Jill young adult rooms, now occupied by Aidan and Vie. Surprisingly, neither opted for the bedroom on floor 3 all by itself with two decks. And of course, it has the fourth floor roof deck where sunsets are truly amazing.

Casa Mariposa Amarillo 8

Casa Mariposa Amarillo Deb

Roof Deck at Sunset with Deb and Champagne

The house also has a palapa (roofed building with no walls) out in the back and an amazing infinity pool, complete with, of course, a mariposa amarilla.

Casa Mariposa Amarillo 5

The Infinity Pool

Everywhere you look, and I mean everywhere – the metalwork on all of the railings, the pool, the carvings on the doors, the tiled welcome mat, the address tile, the stained glass lamp on the stairway post, and more – there are mariposas amarillas.

Lucy and mariposa

Casa Mariposa Amarillo 7

Muchas Mariposas Amarillas

The structure to the left of the house isn’t part of what we rented. It has one floor for Silvia and her family when they come down. The bottom floor of that structure is where our caretakers, Sandra and William, live with their family.

You can probably tell we are excited. We can’t wait to finally have some dinner parties and other events here. Our old place was just too small and dark. Aidan has already made friends with JJ, Silvia’s son, and Hairo, William’s son. We expect his Spanish to take a dramatic upturn shortly! J

The final addition was the hardest. While we love Moose, Deb was not so comfortable with his reliability. Now that the tourist “high season” is pretty much over, we want to start travelling and see more of Costa Rica. Moose is great for local runs but we didn’t relish the thought of being stranded hours out of the nearest big town with a dead car.

moose

Moose

Our friend, Dusty, happened to be leaving for Argentina to work for an NGO there and he was selling his SUV. It’s 1986 Toyota 4Runner. While it is older than Moose, it is in better condition because it has spent 99.8% of its “life” in San Jose rather than out here on the beach and dirt roads. Dusty has successfully taking this vehicle on numerous trips to San Jose and around the country. He’s done all the road testing for us and we know from our new mechanic that it is in great shape. So, welcome “Fanta.” Aidan named it J

Fanta

Fanta

Fanta was only a little more than Moose, but now we don’t have to rent a car to travel long distances. He has his own quirks, but he will serve us well. And who could beat an orange car! We’ll find a good home for Moose as soon as all the paperwork is done. Anyone need a car with tons of personality?

It didn’t really surprise us that we found a kitten who needed a home, an amazing place, or a more reliable car. Things like that happen down here far more than you might expect. Our yogi friends tell us it’s the power of meditation and positive thoughts and we are inclined to believe them.

We are not very religious people at all, in fact, quite the opposite. We are somewhat spiritual in a really open-minded way. We do believe in Karma.

Karma means action, work or deed; it also refers to the principle of causality where intent and actions of an individual influence the future of that individual. Good intent and good deed contribute to good karma and future happiness, while bad intent and bad deed contribute to bad karma and future suffering. (Wikipedia)

You might look at it as another form of “do unto others…” or “what goes around comes around.” It is very people-focused, like us. We’ve always enjoyed helping people throughout our lives. And that seems to come back to us at times. This is likely one of them.

Of course, it might also just be pura vida. That might be stretching things, but who’s to say? After a few weeks, it does tend to take hold. It’s even great for detoxifying type-A habits. Any way you look at it, we have some new things to keep us busy in new ways now. Speaking of which, we still have unpacking to do! Pura vida!

More Updates

It’s been a little while since I posted some general updates about our life on our our new adventure. A lot has actually been going on despite the fact that we now don’t have jobs (mostly) and we live in a tropical paradise. We are definitely acclimating to tropical life, the slower pace, and pura vida. At the same time, we are who we are(!) and we are not sitting still much. We are finding lots of things to keep us busy.

I mentioned a few things in recent posts:  Deb finished working remotely for her job in Seattle at the beginning of February. She went back to Seattle to complete everything and brought us back more supplies. Around that that time she also took over a lot of the unschooling, giving me a little break.

Deb has added back more structure in Vie and Aidan’s unschooling and despite a little resistance, that seems to have helped a lot. She’s also brought in more structured/planned physical activity – “PE” if you will – so the young adults are getting out more and using technology less. We are also planning, with them, some excursions around Costa Rica now that the “high season” of tourists is winding down. One fun event we are working on this week is doing paintball. There is a course by Liberia airport and so we’ll all go out and try a “real-world” video game.

Another brilliant addition is structured time for “unstructured” discussion; i.e., just talking with Aidan and Vie. We have already had several great discussions including microeconomics, although that’s not how Deb introduced it. It was about simple basics like supply and demand, cost of items, etc. Then that led to microeconomics videos on Khan Academy, write up of understandings and questions, followed by more discussion. These are all things we experience daily and yet we rarely look at them as learning opportunities. So far, the young adults have been really engaged in these discussions.

Deb is also working on developing some possibilities for a business in real estate. She has always been interested and took a class while she was in Seattle. Her instincts are incredible and, not surprisingly, she has some creative and innovative ideas for rental properties here or in Seattle. Right now we are looking at interesting properties here as she finds them. We’re taking it slowly as she does her research. It’s one of several things we have going on here on the “side burner.” She loves the idea of having rental properties and I am fully on-board – at least as long as she deals with the people aspects, which she loves. I am happy being the “numbers” guy behind the scenes. Besides, wouldn’t you want to buy or rent from Deb? J

Aidan’s new activity is swim team. There is a local school here – Country Day – that allows non-students to participate in sports and other activities. They have a great pool and great coaches who are friends of ours from Spanish classes (everything here is really two degrees of separation from everything else). He is an awesome natural swimmer and has Deb’s talent. Now he’s starting to discover a bit of a competitive streak! Doesn’t he look like a young Michael Phelps?

SONY DSC

Aidan is also still cooking and loving it, of course. He started positing his recipes up on Food.com. He has his famous steak recipe I’ve mentioned before as well as a host of new ones. You can find them all under “enderSpartan828 the chef”). You have to read a few of his descriptions. He has a fun, and goofy, sense of humor. You’ll definitely get that as you read his recipes. Here’s his latest creation: KFC Copycat Chicken. I think it tastes far better and is far less greasy than KFC.

SONY DSC

As an aside and for those of you who did not instantly get Aidan’s alias, it is not, as you might think, tied to Ender’s Game or the Spartans from antiquity. It’s a combination of an “enderman” from Minecraft and the modern version of Spartans from the Halo video game franchise.

Vie has been doing some pretty incredible digital Anime artwork using a tablet. It’s pretty amazing what you can do now on these. They really feel like you are drawing on paper with all of the subtly of hand drawing, plus digital capabilities that make it richer in many ways. Vie is way better than me on the tablet. I wish I could show some examples, but, well, Vie has an artist’s temperament and isn’t satisfied with anything enough to share it. Yet. News flash: Vie just sent me this and said I could show it!

friends forever

Vie is now starting to take the digital art the next step and work on animation. Vie is going down that long path of learning Adobe Flash. The first few weeks will likely be frustrating but it’s a tool that can take you from animation through coding to video game development. I’m still working on getting Vie to do a video game with me J .

Both Aidan and Vie have really taken to DIY.org, one of many cool resources on the web we use in unschooling (see our Resources page for others). It combines gamification with topics from DNA to crafts to game development to coding and lets learners earn achievements for various accomplishments. I’ll be talking more about this later in an upcoming post on gamifying unschooling. And for grammar geeks, I did just use gerunds in a row.

Deb and I added additional Spanish learning through duolingo now, at the invitation of some good friends who will be coming to visit in May. It is also a “gamified” learning site. Look for us there as “delyca” and me as the very unoriginal “andycargile.” The young adults are also extending their Spanish through StudyStack, another great online resource.

I’ve had a few interesting activities myself. I just returned from a trip to San Jose to give a colloquium to the brand new interaction design program at University Veritas. The Directora of the program, Ana Domb Krauskopf, has put together a wonderful and new curriculum and assembled a very talented set of students. This is the inaugural year. From everything I’ve seen, this looks to be a world class program and an excellent place to recruit interaction designers in the future.

I have to thank Mariana Lopez, one of the instructors at the University, for this serendipitous opportunity. She recently graduated from CMU’s program and happened to spot me on LinkedIn “on a family adventure in Costa Rica”. She invited me to lunch and we chatted about interaction design. She connected me to Ana and then things progressed from there. It’s pretty amazing how things just come together sometimes.

I had barely put away my heavy tech gear (big monitor, keyboard, etc.) that I used to work on my colloquium deck when I got a ping from Mylene Yao, the CEO of a startup in Silicon Valley who asked if I was interested in helping them with an Angel pitch deck. This turned into a really interesting and fast little creative project. Univfy is a remarkable startup that uses some hardcore predictive analytics to help women on their journey of in vitro fertilization make better decisions by giving them far more accurate assessments of their chances to conceive.

It was an interesting transition from my “normal” routine here to a fast-paced, focused project. It’s been awhile since I had the luxury of working on a creative project for 7-8 hours straight a day. I mean that in the best sense. Even before coming to Costa Rica, it was rare in my last few positions that I had even a few hours outside my days of mostly meetings to really focus on something creative. I either had to spread projects out over time or do them “after hours.”

This was refreshing. It was invigorating. It also made my brain hurt in a good way! Most importantly, this project went very smoothly even though I was completely remote. In fact, it was ahead of schedule. I’ve done a lot of decks like this working with execs and the remote nature didn’t create challenges at all. I firmly believe, contrary to conventional wisdom, that creative work, at least like this, can be done remotely without the work suffering. It’s happening more and more globally (see oDesk and Elance as growing examples). For me, it gives me the ability to balance everything better. I’m hoping more opportunities like this come up.

On the “home front”, we are still searching for a new place. Our current rental house isn’t terrible, but it’s a bit dark and the kitchen is small, especially when several of us are working on a project. We are also hoping that if we can find something closer to the beach that the young adults will be able to get to the beach more often on their own. Our search for a new place actually led us to a bit of an unlikely adventure.

Deb found an incredible place on the hill overlooking Playa Penca, a nearby beach. While we were willing to spend a bit more to get closer to the beach, this was out of our range. Deb, wanting to practice her negotiation skills offered a deal where we’d rent it for 8 months (through the low season) but for less than half the asking price. Surprisingly, they said yes! We went and looked at the place and fell in love. It was on 6 lots, had three large bedrooms and a lot more space. It had an outside palapa and a huge kitchen, along with a handyman who lived on site in a separate house. That’s when the adventure part kicked in.

The owner wanted us to pay for the whole rental up front, which was a lot of money, and sign a contract in 3 days. That wasn’t too odd for rentals here, but asking us to wire the money to London was. As Deb investigated this erratically-communicative owner, she learned that in fact this wasn’t the owner. The actual owner, who was quite nice, never got our emails; they were intercepted from the VRBO site. It seems someone hijacked his email and was looking to scam him, and us. Even follow up emails about this never made it to him. Sadly, he never got our proposal nor agreed to our negotiated price.

We had aspirations of tracking down the culprit, especially since we had his bank and routing information. I really wanted to set up a sting. Unfortunately, the owner didn’t seem to be terribly interested, so we dropped it, along with our hopes for renting that house.

Fortunately, we did not wire a lot of money to a scam artist.  Deb’s diligence and “spider sense”, along with good karma and pura vida, combined to keep us from that fate. We have one back-up plan but are still looking. We know something will come through. It always does when you least expect it. At least, it has consistently come through here for us.sche It might be a little metaphysical, but we really do think that if you contribute to the system of good karma it comes back at some point.  It probably sounds far more off the beaten path in Seattle than it does down here with all of the yoga, surfing and pura vida, but that’s okay. We are, after all, intentionally off path. Pura Vida.